The San Francisco Giants are one of the first teams in the country to play in a stadium partially powered by renewable energy.

After a big-league game, pro sports locker rooms are usually strewn with discarded athletic tape, wet towels, and dirty uniforms, with little regard for cleanliness or order. So Willie Jenks, visiting clubhouse manager for the Cleveland Indians, was impressed last year when he saw Chicago White Sox ace Mark Buehrle actually chide a teammate for absent-mindedly tossing a plastic bottle into the garbage can instead of a nearby recycling bin.

“What are you doing?” Jenks remembers Buehrle saying. “You’re right, my bad,” the teammate replied, moving the bottle to the correct spot. “From that point on,” Jenks says, “I saw him continuously put it in the recycle bin.”

Jenks can claim credit for the new convert. He makes a point of pulling plastic bottles out of the trash in front of the visiting players, and Buehrle obviously noticed. “You know if you throw that in the garbage, Willie’s going to reach in and pull it out,” the pitcher told his errant teammate. “So why not just put it in the recycle bin?”

A small victory, to be sure, but it’s the opportunity to teach those small lessons and change attitudes that drove NRDC senior scientist Allen Hershkowitz to begin working with Major League Baseball and other sports leagues. Hershkowitz, who has spent his career figuring out ways to combat the rising tide of trash generated by our consumer culture, is the force behind big-league efforts to educate players and fans, make team operations greener, and build more energy efficient stadiums.

When Game 1 of the World Series starts tonight in San Francisco’s AT&T Park, the hometown Giants will take the field in a stadium that boasts solar panels (installed in advance of 2007’s All-Star Game) and was recognized in April for energy efficiency and sustainability by the U.S. Green Building Council. Their opponents, the Texas Rangers, regularly recycle everything from infield grass clippings to cardboard and office paper, according to MLB.com.

Hershkowitz, whose previous efforts include greening the Academy Awards and getting the executive branch of the federal government to commit to using 20 percent post-consumer recycled paper, started working with baseball and other sports leagues on greening efforts in 2003 at the urging of NRDC Trustee Robert Redford.

The latest result is a 38-page report produced by NRDC and the Bonneville Environmental Foundation, which encourages the use of solar power at big-league arenas and stadiums and serves as a how-to guide. The commissioners of the five major professional sports leagues — MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL and Major League Soccer — distributed the report to their teams in September.

“Sports has an unparalleled impact on the lives of billions of people,” Hershkowitz says, and represents a new way to reach groups that might not usually be inclined toward environmental awareness. “We have to have a cultural shift as well as an economic shift. It’s a culturally meaningful initiative.”

And it’s making a visible difference that sports fans can see when cheering on their favorite teams. Seven sports venues, including Cleveland’s Progressive Field, Boston’s Fenway Park, and the Staples Center in Los Angeles, now have solar arrays. Leagues post green tips on their websites and play public service announcements before games. Stadiums and arenas have adopted recycling efforts and installed waterless urinals.

Fans may not head to the ballpark with the environment in mind, but over time, Hershkowitz and his allies in the commissioners’ offices hope the message will sink in. “When you have (all these teams) saying, ‘Yeah, we have to do something about renewable energy,’ I think it’s a very important statement on our need to address ecological issues,” Hershkowitz says.

Awareness is one of the main goals even when it comes to installing solar panels. Solar power can’t meet all — or even a majority — of the energy demand at most stadiums. But seeing those gleaming arrays collecting power from the sun can get fans’ attention.

“The education is really what we’re after here in Cleveland,” said Brad Mohr, assistant director of ballpark operations for the Indians, who were the first American League team to utilize solar power in June 2007. “It’s a demonstration piece. This entire place would have to be literally covered in solar panels for us to make a reasonable dent to our electric bill.”

Mohr joked that the Indians wisely installed their solar pavilion next to an all-you-can-eat concession stand. As would-be diners wait in long lines for their grub, they’re greeted by a presentation that provides the history of the project, displays real-time energy production, and offers advice about how fans can get involved.

“We have thousands of people literally forced to watch that presentation while they’re waiting for their food,” Mohr joked. “Pretty sneaky, huh? Lunch and learn. The great thing is, they’re actually asking these questions during games.”

The solar energy guide for major league teams also offers in-depth tips for how stadiums and arenas can cut into the 72 percent of energy they currently derive from fossil fuels. To help cut costs, the guide includes a breakdown for tax incentives and other measures by geographic region.

“It’s great that it’s specific by marketplace, by subsidies, and funding that is out there,” said Scott Jenkins, the vice president of ballpark operations for Seattle’s Safeco Field. He said the stadium has saved more than $1 million dollars in recycling and gas costs through greening efforts. “It’s a great statement to say that this is something we should be doing.”

Jenks, the Cleveland clubhouse manager, is a perfect example of how those statements can make a difference. Only a few years ago, he didn’t even recycle at home. But seeing the changes at his ballpark — the Indians started locker room recycling in 2009 and began composting this season — has made him vocal about the environment in front of visiting players.

“There have been players that have said, ‘Why don’t we do this at our ballpark?'” Jenks said. “‘We should be doing it at our clubhouse.’ It’s a learned behavior.”

Original Article  >>

Other Reading:

U.S. Stadiums Go Solar: Major Pro Sports Leagues Move Together Toward Renewable Energy  >>

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