MLB's environmental efforts getting noticed

By: J.P Antonacci

Canadian Baseball Network

Pro sports aren’t typically thought of as the poster child for environmental sustainability. Chartered flights, megawatt Jumbotrons and concession stands full of cans and plastic bottles do not a small carbon footprint make.

“It’s pretty tough” to make green choices in pro ball, says Canadian pitcher Scott Diamond. “It’s the big leagues, so pretty much everything is readily available.”

Diamond, currently with the Toronto Blue Jays Triple-A affiliate, is among a growing group of players that are thinking green at the ballpark and beyond.

“The biggest step for me was looking at it from a nourishment standpoint, and trying to always choose the best option – whether that’s local, organic or a sustainable source,” he said.

“My brief time in Minnesota, that’s one of the things the chef and a lot of other players started to embrace. They realize that providing players with the best (food) sources or healthy choices is hopefully going to lead to better performance and longevity on the playing field.

“And as you can see, the general public has started to really become aware of it and started to make those choices themselves.”

After signing with the Atlanta Braves in 2007, Diamond said it was “eye-opening” to learn that comprehensive recycling and waste diversion programs, like the kind he grew up using in Guelph, weren’t widely available in the southern United States.

He became motivated to promote environmental awareness, which he does on social media by tweeting about issues like animal rights and deforestation.

“Just making that extra step to get the most out of the Earth, and the most out of the products we create from the natural resources,” said Diamond. “I think that’s more of a Canadian thing.”

GREENING THE GAME

Paul Hanlon, MLB’s director of facility operations, wants the millions of fan who fill major league stadiums every year to spare a thought for the planet. Starting in 2006, the league partnered with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) to look at ways to make baseball more environmentally friendly.

“The low-hanging fruit was recycling,” Hanlon said. “There are 30,000 fans a night coming into the ballpark – that’s a lot of bottles and cups and cans used.”

In addition to putting out more recycling bins, clubs began replacing older lights with more efficient LED bulbs. In 2015, the Seattle Mariners became the first MLB team to only use LED lights in their stadium, including the lights over the playing field. The Yankees, Astros, Rangers and Rockies followed suit this year, replacing bulbs that burn out every few years with LED lights that last up to three decades.

“We couldn’t be happier,” Hanlon said, noting that teams are glad to be saving energy, but are also pleased with their lower electricity bills. He hopes more clubs will convert all their lights to LED in the near future.

As examples of other ongoing projects, Hanlon pointed to stadium gardens, such as the rooftop gardens at Boston’s Fenway Park, which provide fresh produce for concession stands and restaurants.

Some stadiums have installed green paths that encourage fans to walk, bike or take transit to the park. Underneath Minnesota’s Target Field are holding tanks that collect diverted water, which is later reused to hose down the bleachers.

The annual Green Glove Award, given by the league to the team that diverts the most waste from landfill, is hotly contested.

“Our clubs are the reason we’re able to do this work,” Hanlon said. “They want to compete with each other, and they want to be the best.”

Sustainability has become a core principle of MLB’s operating philosophy, as seen in the creation of the MLB Greening Program. Working with NRDC staff, the league came up with Green Tracks, a software tool that compiles in-stadium data like energy and water usage. Clubs use this data to make greener choices.

In Toronto, Rogers Centre bathrooms have been retrofitted with low-flow toilets, and new high-speed hand dryers use 88 per cent less electricity than the original dryers installed in 1989.

All garbage collected inside Rogers Centre is sorted offsite, where recyclable materials are removed. All garbage bags and toilet paper are made from recycled material, and every kitchen and concession stand separates its organic waste. In fact, the fryer oil is given to a poultry farm for use as a feed additive, and thousands of kilograms of leftover food are donated to community groups every year through a partnership with Second Harvest.

The league goes green on a grand scale at the All-Star Game. Recent years have seen rooftop solar panels installed at Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium, and ushers roaming the aisles at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati to collect plastics and cans.

“If we can do that at a sold-out event like the All-Star Game, this is something our clubs can look at doing on a more regular basis,” Hanlon said.

The league will announce greening efforts for this summer’s All-Star Game in San Diego on Earth Day, April 22.

Baseball’s environmental efforts are getting noticed. Hanlon participated in a sports and sustainability forum at the White House in 2012, and MLB became the first pro sports league to have all teams join the Green Sports Alliance.

Hanlon believes green initiatives that start at the stadium can continue at home by adding a dose of environmental education to the fan experience.

“When it comes down to it, we consider ourselves a real social institution. You know, 81 home games for each team, thousands of people through each stadium. If you see folks recycling at the ballpark, you’re going to think twice about throwing that bottle or can in the garbage at your apartment or house,” he said.

“If we can show we’re making the commitment every single night, you can do the same thing at home.”