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Sports Facilities Look to a Greener Playbook

Maracana StadiumThe FIFA World Cup is one of the largest sporting events on the planet – a symbol of global passion and national spirit. It also has a massive carbon footprint, thanks to human migration to and within the host cities as well as the consumption of arenas themselves. These structures accommodate tens of thousands of fans at a time and literally light up the night.

Stadium venues and their energy excesses are a part of sports culture, but they can have significant environmental impacts on surrounding communities and landscapes. At capacity, a sports facility becomes home to the population of a small city, with upwards of 70,000 fans at a typical NFL game. That density creates environmental problems related to water and power consumption, resource conservation, and greenhouse gas emissions. Indeed, most of these venues were constructed long before the topics of climate change or LEED were part of our lexicon.

However, sports organizations and facilities operators are beginning to acknowledge the need for environmental stewardship. Major League Baseball (MLB) has worked since 2008 with the Natural Resources Defense Council to launch the Team Greening Program. The initiative promotes sustainable practices managed by individual clubs and encourages every team to adopt an official environmental policy, including using renewable energy.

AT&T Park in San Francisco recently became the first MLB ballpark to receive LEED Silver certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. Five hundred miles to the south, San Diego’s Petco Park has implemented sustainability measures that include a sophisticated recycling program for everything from plastics and aluminum to cooking oil and food waste.

In 2009, University of Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium received LEED Silver certification by using locally sourced steel during construction, recycling a vast majority of construction waste, designing a reflective roof to reduce the heat island effect, and building a storm water management system that captures and treats onsite runoff prior to discharge. 

A decade ago, Emirates Stadium in London implemented a passive and mixed-mode ventilation system, skylights and glass paneling, and photovoltaic solar power panels. These improvements have reduced the venue’s overall energy consumption.  The stadium’s voltage optimization equipment alone has reduced the power consumption by approximately 20%.

As for the upcoming 2014 World Cup in Brazil, FIFA has budgeted $20 million dollars for sustainability measures alone, including building waste management, reducing and offsetting carbon emissions, and sourcing renewable energy. FIFA plans to make the 2014 World Cup the first with a comprehensive sustainability strategy.

Just as expanded capacity and once cutting-edge features such as artificial turf and retractable roofs once came to define progress in the world of sports facilities, perhaps tomorrow’s venues will compete amongst themselves on sustainability and environmental efficiency. 

Collin Ramsey is an environmental analyst at FirstCarbon Solutions. Image credit: Filipe Matos Frazao /

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