Eagles soar among green sports teams, report finds

An artist's view of solar panels at Lincoln Financial Field. The installation is due to be completed by December.

Philadelphia’s sports teams may be having their troubles on the field these days, but their greening efforts have just garnered raves from the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The national environmental organisation, in collaroration with the Green Sports Alliance earlier today  released a report quantifying all the greening practices of professional sports teams.

As might be expected, the Eagles figure prominently.

The NRDC analysis -- done on staff time, with no funding from any teams or leagues --  called the franchise a “national leader” in the sports greening movement and said a system currently under construction that includes solar panels and wind turbines will be “the most extensive onsite renewable system of any U.S. sports stadium.” It also will generate 100 pecent of the energy the team needs.

(I've asked the team for a construction update. So check back later for details.)

The Eagles are featured in one of 15 case studies. It shows how they have gone progressively greener since implementing their program in 2003, reducing their electricity consumption by more than 33 percent.

During that time, they conserved enough energy and purchased enough green power to provide electricity for 7,150 average American homes for a year, the report found.

Overall, greening efforts are saving hockey, baseball, football, and other professional sports teams substantial amounts of money, the report found.

And, perhaps more importantly, they’re “confirmation that a cultural shift has taken place in the U.S. regarding the mainstreaming of environmental stewardship,” said Allen Hershkowitz, director of the NRDC’s green sports project.

Called “Game Changer: How the Sports Industry is Saving the Environment,” the report is unabashedly self-congratulatory, but with plenty of data and evidence to back it up.

Reading its 117 pages is actually kind of heartwarming.

“Game Changer” highlights the experimental wind turbine at the field where the Cleveland Indians play, the LED scoreboard at the Seattle Mariners stadium, the low-flush toilets at the Minnesota Twins field, the Gallons for Goals water conservation plan of the National Hockey League, the composting efforts of the St. Louis Cardinals, the eco-friendly cleaning products of the Montreal Canadiens.

Teams are donating unused food to food banks, composting their grass clippings and commissioning T-shirts made from recycled plastic. Virtually all have vigorous recycling programs.

As for the big bucks: The Orlando Magic saves $750,000 with its energy efficiency program; in three years, the Portland Trail Blazers saved more than $1 million through energy savings, water conservation and waste diversion. And so on.

The sports greening project originated with Robert Redford, who is an NRDC trustee. The discussion at Sundance centered on how to better communicate with the public about science.

A relevant statistic emerged: While just 13 percent of Americans say they follow science closely, 61 percent say they follow sports closely.

Meanwhile, professional sports is a more than $400 billion industry, with hundreds of millions of fans and a supply chain that includes some of the most visible and influential companies on earth, Hershkowitz noted at a teleconference earlier today.

Why not get the big professional sports organizations to weigh in and green up their games?

The idea gained traction quickly. Six teams — why is it not surprising that they were mostly Seattle teams? — formed a Green Sports Alliance that by now is working with more than 100 facilities and teams in 13 professional leagues.

“It really shows the power of these success stories and the broad interest of the sports industry in this work,” said the Alliance’s executive director, Martin Toll.

The group is gathering this week in Seattle for a summit, which was part of the reason for releasing the report now.

Hershkowitz, who has served as an advisor to many teams, said he found “zero resistance” from teams — clearly, in part because there was money to be made, but also because they wanted to embrace the movement.

“This report really does document a tipping point in the way America society views environmental stewardship,” he said.

The idea isn’t just to green the teams, but to use their huge public platform to inform and inspire the rest of us to take similar action — to conserve energy and water, to compost, to recycle, to reduce waste.