Preserving the Environment

The Gridiron Goes Green

May 30, 2014
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The Gridiron Goes Green
The 49ers will be playing in a more environmentally conscious stadium later this year. Getty Images
Forget tackles or touchdowns. The NFL focuses on eco-friendly stadiums.

The National Football League is no stranger to huge viewing audiences: This year’s Super Bowl was broadcasted in 198 countries and territories in over 25 different languages according to the International Business Times.  With these numbers, the NFL is using its clout to spike awareness in environmental issues.

How so? Several NFL clubs are jumping on the green trend by introducing solar panels, wind turbines, electric charging stations, and other low-carbon alternatives to their stadiums.

The San Francisco 49ers are joining 10 other clubs who have formal green-energy programs. Their new $1.2 billion stadium features a “living roof,” of plants topping the buildings surrounding one of the rooftop lounges. The 18,000-square-foot “garden” provides natural insulation as well as reducing the building’s energy use.

At home in Silicon Valley, 49ers President Paraag Marathe, told the Wall Street Journal, “where we are, it’s sort of our mandate. If it wasn’t environmentally responsible, we wouldn’t be as successful, ”

Additional eco-friendly aspects include 1,000 solar panels on top of the stadium and on the pedestrian bridges connecting the parking lot to the 68,500-seat stadium. Electric-vehicle charging stations have been installed as well as drought-tolerant Bandera Bermuda grass, which cuts water usage in half.

Coordination with NRG Energy Inc. and SunPower Corp. has helped to make the stadium net energy neutral, meaning it can generate all the energy it needs for the 10 home games that are expected to be played in the upcoming season.

Paul Allen, Natural Resources Defense Council and Microsoft co-founder as well as the owner of the NFL champion Seattle Seahawks, helped to launch the Green Sport Alliance in 2011 to encourage sports teams and venues to improve their environmental performance. Currently, the alliance boasts 246 members, 110 teams and 129 venues as well as seven leagues that are involved — including Major League Baseball, the National Baseball Association, National Hockey League, among others.

As more sports teams go green, it helps alter the public’s knowledge about environmental objectives. Plus it simultaneously aids the organizations by lowering energy costs.

Scott Jenkins, chairman and president of the alliance, and general manager of the New Atlanta Stadium told the Wall Street Journal “Everywhere you turn, it’s a win-win.” His new stadium for the Atlanta Falcons (which will open in 2017) will include a rainwater-collection system to use for irrigation and cooling.

These strides are great, but to some, it has taken the NFL too long to make them. With such huge viewing numbers (according to NBC’s press releases, Sunday Night Football, finished the 2013-14 season as the Number 1 show in primetime, bringing in about 21.7 million viewers), many critics feel the NFL is lagging. In fact, a 2013 study done by Danyel Reiche, an assistant professor of comparative politics at the American University of Beirut, discovered that only a small number of NFL teams have officially gone green.

In his study, Reiche claims, “the NFL itself, is doing nothing” to get clubs to alter their practices besides from spreading the information of what is already being done.

Although NFL officials say they don’t have the right to push team owners to make these changes, green practices have been implemented at the Super Bowl and Pro Bowl, according to Jack Groh, director of the NFL’s environmental program. At this year’s Super Bowl, the food vendors stopped using plastic-foam containers.

The Philadelphia Eagles, one of the first to go green back in 2003, placed energy-saving timers and sensors at Lincoln Financial Field to help with lighting and cooling equipment. The stadium also has 11,000 solar panels and 14 wind turbines, which, according to Don Smolenski, team president, have cut the team’s power consumption by half in the past decade.

And New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium — the home of the Giants and Jets — has solar panels, refrigeration sensors, and other green features which, since 2010, have cut the stadium’s energy use by as much as 20 percent, according to stadium spokesperson Nicole Fountain.

Also scoring points for their green actions? The Houston Texans, Minnesota Vikings, St. Louis Rams, and Washington Redskins.

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