Green may be the new black in pro football, at least for the next year, with the Green Bay Packers winning the Super Bowl Sunday. But even before the team from Wisconsin prevailed in Dallas, sports venues across the country have been trying to green themselves up - to save some money, of course, but maybe a little bit as well to burnish the image of excess that surrounds professional sports events.
Super Bowl XLV was played in the spanking new $650 million Cowboys Stadium, which by one account is one of the "top 10 green stadiums" in the country. Hard to imagine how such a mammoth place could be green, but according to SunRun, a home solar service company that rated the stadiums, the Dallas Cowboys' home is aiming to reduce its solid waste by 25 percent, its energy use by 20 percent and its water consumption by a million gallons annually.
M&T Bank Stadium, the home of our Baltimore Ravens, didn't make the cut for SunRun's top 10 green stadiums. It doesn't have solar panels, like Seattle's Qwest Field, nor was it built to meet LEED energy and environmental standards, as was the Nationals' newish baseball stadium in Washington.
But M&T's working to reduce its environmental footprint nonetheless. Jeff Provenzano, director of football facilities for the Maryland Stadium Authority, says he's aiming to green up Baltimore's gridiron enough to earn LEED certification for energy-efficient and environmentally sensitive operations and management of an existing building - something he says no other existing NFL stadium has done to date.
"Green is the new buzzword in all aspects of what we do," Provenzano said.
It's not easy to go green, when you're packing 70,000 people - about the population of Towson - into a stadium. But working in partnership with the Ravens and the stadium's food and housekeeping vendors, Provenzano said they've managed to make major inroads in recycling the mountains of trash generated by every event, and to trim the facility's eye-popping electric bills.
"We do a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff that most people don't realize or probably care about at the end of the day," he said.
Five years ago, Provenzano notes, the stadium recycled about two tons of bottles, cans and paper after every game. Now they recycle 7 1/2 to 8 tons after every event there, he says, including the handfull of college football games and the lacrosse and soccer contests.
All the game debris that's not recyclable - 20 to 25 tons per event - gets hauled down the street to the RESCO incinerator, where it's burned to produce steam heat for downtown buildings.
M&T and the Ravens aren't satisfied with that level of recycling, though, and are starting to go after the tailgaters outside the stadium who generate tons more trash. This past season, they launched a pilot program targeting tailgaters, and got about a ton a game out of one small but party-happy lot. Provenzano says they're aiming to expand the effort next season, with an ultimate goal of 4 to 5 tons.
The stadium has managed to shave its electricity bills, too. M&T used nearly 1.5 million kilowatt hours of power last month, but that was nearly 300,000 fewer than got burned in January 2008, Provenzano said, and the Ravens didn't play a January game there three years ago. Energy reduction came about the hard way - through weatherstripping and going around turning off every one of the 400 refrigerators in the stadium between games, among other things. The stadium also replaced the scoreboard with more efficient, and cooler lighting, eliminating the need for some 54 tons' of air conditioners to keep it from overheating.
"The proof's in the pudding, the bills have gone down," Provenzano said. Where the stadium paid a whopping $1.8 million for electricity five years ago, it's budgeted to spend $1.1 million this year.
M&T also uses about half the water it did five or six years ago, Provenzano says, from 16 million gallons a year to 8 million. Part of that came from cutting back on watering the field, but another part came through rigorous policing of the multitude of bathrooms there to find and fix leaky toilets and faucets, the facility manager said.
M&T hasn't gone in for the more obvious green gestures, like installing solar panels, at least not yet. "We're still waiting for the right application, with the right return on investment," Provenzano said.
But waterless urinals may be next on the to-do list. Provenzano said one was installed in the employee area of the stadium as a test, and he's looking to put some in fan bathrooms in the near future.
Provenzano said his dream would be to earn a LEED silver rating for M&T, which would make it the first "old" NFL stadium to get such green recognition. But like everything else in pro football, there's plenty of competition to go green as well as win the Superbowl. The stadium authority official pointed to the Philadelphia Eagles and their home, Lincoln Financial Field.
"You can't be but impressed when a team shows up to your stadium and when they're unloading their equipment truck, they have their own recycling containers," he said, and they take their reusable waste back with them.
(M&T Bank Stadium from the air, first Ravens game, 1998. Baltimore Sun photo by Doug Kapustin)