The broad concourses in baseball's newest stadiums have plenty of room for concession stands and kids' games, in addition to the recycling containers that demonstrate a focus on the environment.
The sport, mired in tradition and slow to adapt to younger generations, is making a concerted effort to green up and possibly even lead the way in some eco-efforts. Certain initiatives, from recycling to solar roofs, should be visible to fans catching a game this season.
To have baseball validate the need to deal with climate change, water conservation and other environmental issues is powerful, says Allen Hershkowitz, a senior scientist and director of the sports greening program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. In 2008, the organization joined with Major League Baseball to create a league-wide strategy.
"If baseball could help usher in environmental progress, frankly I think this is a historic shift in the environmental movement," Hershkowitz says. "It is a historic acknowledgement by what is arguably the most mainstream institution in the U.S. that environmentalism matters."
The impact, Hershkowitz says, will be on fans as well as the companies that sell goods and services and advertise at the parks. When fans see baseball promoting recycling or solar panels, it rubs off, whether it's in Atlanta, Cleveland, Phoenix, Seattle or the two new stadiums in New York, he says.
"We have a tremendous power to assist in shaping how young people who love sports and who love baseball and who love our players see the world, and try to demonstrate to them — or actually more accurately to try to learn from them — about their concern on this issue," says John McHale, executive vice president for Major League Baseball.
Some environmental efforts are originated by the clubs. Others are organized by Major League Baseball, which uses events such as the All-Star Game on July 14 in St. Louis to further promote the environmental agenda.
The idea of designing baseball stadiums with environmentally friendly aspects is a recent phenomenon, says Mike Wooley, principal with Kansas City-based Populous, formerly HOK Sport Venue Event, which designed Citi Field and Yankee Stadium and renovated Kansas City's Kauffman Stadium this year.
It's an opportunity to save money and reduce the stadium's impact on the environment, Wooley says.
"A lot of times teams and buildings get criticized because of the tax dollars that have been put into building these facilities over the last 20 years," he says.
As a result, he says, the teams and owners ask how they can be good stewards of the environment. "It only makes sense to incorporate sustainable design elements into these facilities," he says.
Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., was the first professional sports venue to receive LEED (silver) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, and other teams such as the Florida Marlins are pursuing that designation with new stadium plans.
But parks that have not sought LEED approval still showcase some of the trends in green buildings, such as the waterless urinals at Citi Field, home to the New York Mets. The urinals, low-flow toilets and faucets are expected to save about 4 million gallons of water annually.
Solar panels have been installed at a few parks, including Boston's Fenway Park (above) and Jacobs Field in Cleveland. A 15,000-square-foot green roof at Citi Field is expected to retain cool air in the summer and heat in the winter.
There's no reason not to recycle at Atlanta's Turner Field. The recycling containers are next to trash cans throughout the park, making it easy to toss in a plastic soft-drink cup or paper plates.
The Braves and Coca-Cola Recycling launched their green initiatives this season, adding more than 250 recycling bins and barrels. Recycling facts appear on stadium screens during the game.
"This is something that almost every organization I can think of has embraced," McHale says. "It just is generally becoming a part of the way we live our lives, and it makes a lot of sense for ballparks and other places that serve as meeting places or large groups of people to implement."
Other efforts include looking at the concessions, with organic ingredients part of the lineup at the Houston Astros' Minute Maid Park.
Major League Baseball has not determined its carbon footprint, but McHale says that likely will be its next major effort. Some teams, such as the Cincinnati Reds, have already tried to offset energy use by purchasing carbon credits.
"I think that's going to be a growing area of concentration," he says.
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