Earth Day initiatives becoming commonplace

Earth Day initiatives becoming commonplace

Starting with Opening Day, the Major League Baseball calendar features many special days: Jackie Robinson Day, Mother's Day, Memorial Day, Father's Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Roberto Clemente Day and Veterans Day.

Earth Day truly belongs on that list now.

There was a time during the past decade when the important worldwide date was something you recognized with scattered examples of clubs' environmental stewardship, looking for a common bond. Sunday is Earth Day 2012, and around the national pastime it arrives with an instituted resolve that brings daily club news of harnessing wind, installing solar arrays, carbon offsets, hydropower, recycling and composting, paperless ticketing, conservation awareness, sustainable food practices and much more.

The initiatives are a fact of life in front offices, along with player scouting and game production. It has been the gradual infusion of change that all started in 2006, when MLB became the first sports league to partner with the Natural Resources Defense Council and subsequently formed the "Commissioner's Initiative on Sustainable Stadium Operations and Team Practices" -- now known simply as the MLB Greening Program.

"Baseball is a social institution with social responsibilities, and caring for the environment is inextricably linked to all aspects of the game," Commissioner Bud Selig said. "Sound environmental practices make sense in every way and protect out natural resources for future generations of baseball fans."

"Earth Day should give all of us reason to reflect on our own efforts to act responsibly and sustainably," said Pirates chairman Bob Nutting. "We all have a responsibility to do as much as we can to protect our environment."

If you work in baseball today, you work in environmental practice. It touches virtually everything you do. Green practices save clubs money in addition to saving the planet. Examples are everywhere you look, few of them more prominent than the innovative, corkscrew-shaped wind turbine that stands sentinel atop Progressive Field. It was installed at the start of this season, making the Indians the first club to harness wind power.

Dr. Majid Rashidi, a professor of Mechanical Engineering at Cleveland State University's Fenn College, is the creator of the "helical wind turbine" design, which amplifies airflow around a central cylinder to power four small turbine fans. Funded through grants from the Department of Energy and the state of Ohio, it is more conducive for urban areas and confined spaces than a traditional long-blade wind turbine, and rated at 25,000 kilowatts per year.

"Dr. Rashidi's new technology is playing a significant role in the advancement wind energy," CSU president Ronald Berkman said. "We are proud to showcase this exciting new design in our hometown, along with the Cleveland Indians, and use this venue to move the technology closer to commercialization."

"With this project we hope to not only benefit the environment by increasing our use of renewable energy, but also help an impressive new technology generate local jobs by taking advantage of Cleveland's great manufacturing workforce and factories," said Brad Mohr, Indians assistant director of ballpark operations.

Led by Gaylord Nelson, who was then a Wisconsin senator, the first Earth Day was on April 22, 1970 -- the same day Ed Stroud scored in the 18th inning as the Washington Senators beat the Yankees, 2-1. Artificial playing surfaces were becoming the rage then, over real grass.

Oh, how times have changed. In honor of this Earth Day, "to inspire awareness and appreciation for the Earth's natural environment," the Athletics will give a redwood seedling to 10,000 fans before the game against Cleveland, courtesy of FSC certified Mendocino Redwood.

The Mariners will once again stage a carbon-neutral game with carbon off-sets, renewable energy credits and water restoration certificates. This is the fifth consecutive year the Mariners have off-set carbon impacts for Earth Day. Impacts to be offset include:

Emissions associated with natural gas used to operate Safeco Field on April 22 (1,425 Therms of natural gas); 134,640 gallons of water (180 cubic feet); disposal or recycling of waste generated during the game (estimated to be 5.5 tons, more than 80 percent of which will be recycled); 52,000 kilowatt hours of electricity; air travel emissions for the White Sox from Chicago to Seattle and on to Oakland, as well as the air travel emissions for the umpire crew from Anaheim to Seattle and on to Dallas-Ft. Worth; hotel-related emissions for the White Sox and the umpires (50 hotel rooms); and ground travel to and from the ballpark by staff and fans (180,000 car miles).

Actor Ed Begley Jr., has been working with Panasonic on a solar panel installation system for his new home that he is building in Los Angeles. When he heard that the same thing was happening at Safeco Field, the actor and environmental activist had praise for the Mariners.

"The installation of Panasonic's bifacial panels at Safeco Field sounds like a home run to me," Begley said. "Safeco Field will reap many benefits with this unique solar panel system, where electricity is generated from both sides. For Safeco and the Mariners, it makes economic sense to use the power of the sun to help reduce their energy costs. In addition, it puts them in the environmental forefront with their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) program."

The Royals are on the same page, announcing along with local power company KCP&L this past week that they have a new solar energy partnership at Kauffman Stadium which will result in the largest in-stadium solar array in MLB. A sign of the times, this was a key part of the press release MLB sent out regarding the All-Star Game's community impact in Kansas City this summer.

KCP&L installed a 28.8 kilowatt solar array (120 240-watt panels on the roof) that will produce approximately 36,000 kWh of renewable energy each year. This marks the first step in a long-term commitment between the Royals and KCP&L to maximize renewable energy resources at the ballpark.

"The Royals are committed to making Kauffman Stadium one of the most environmentally-friendly facilities in sports," said Kevin Uhlich, Royals senior vice president of business operations. "We are excited to partner with KCP&L to bring the latest technologies in sustainable energy to the ballpark, especially as we prepare for the 2012 All-Star summer."

The Cardinals added solar panels this year at Busch Stadium, too.

The Pirates launched their greening initiatives program in 2008 -- named "Let's Go Bucs. Let's Go Green." On the eve of Earth Day 2012, the club announced significant progress. The program, which focuses on recycling, conservation and awareness, successfully diverted more than 61 percent of the PNC Park waste materials out of the waste stream in 2011 (it was 27 percent the first year). That figure includes approximately 78.4 tons of glass, 18 tons of aluminum cans, 24.7 tons of plastic, 12.4 tons of paper, 154.7 tons of cardboard, 24 tons of used cooking oil, 59 tons of yard waste and 97 tons of other recyclable materials.

"I am proud that we continue to take a leadership role in this critical area and in the steps we have taken, and will continue to take, to recycle, conserve and build awareness," Nutting said.

Miller Park, home of the Brewers since 2001, has received one of the most prestigious honors for facility sustainability and conservation efforts. The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) has announced that Miller Park is LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified in the category of Existing Building Operations & Maintenance, making it the first stadium with a retractable roof and just the third MLB park overall to receive the designation.

In Colorado, pitcher Jeremy Guthrie is part of the Rockies Games of Green initiative, and he encourages fans to submit entries in his Guthrie Go-Green Classroom Challenge. Elementary, middle and high school classes are invited to present an environmental project they have done (or will do by the May 4 deadline) that will make a positive impact on the environment.

At last season's World Series in St. Louis, Green Teams were all over Busch as a very visible presence with sustainable practices. At the 2011 All-Star Week, "All-Star Green Teams" presented by Pepsi circulated throughout the stadium during all ballpark events to collect recyclables from fans. In addition, 100 new recycling bins were installed at Chase Field for All-Star Week and were to remain there permanently. Food waste and food-soiled paper from the stadium is turned into compost, which can be used as fertilizer for soil and promote plant growth to help increase land and air quality. It was the first time a composting program had been implemented at an MLB All-Star Week and it is estimated that 66 tons of material would be diverted from the landfill through recycling and composting efforts.

MLB's relationship with NRDC led to the creation of the Team Greening Program featuring NRDC Team Greening Advisors, web-based software tools tailored to each club featuring advice and resources for every aspect of operations. This unprecedented program offers specific local advice concerning such topics as energy use, purchasing, concession operations, water use, recycling and transportation.

In 2010, MLB developed software to collect and analyze stadium-operations data. It marked the first time a professional sports league had implemented a software program throughout its league to collect data for the purpose of documenting environmental practices and for sharing information about environmental best practices at stadiums.

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. Read and join other baseball fans on his MLB.com community blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.