Major League Baseball: Going, Going, Green!

In collaboration with the NRDC, baseball teams across the nation have started going green through conservation, alternative energy, and recycling programs.
By David Schimke
June/July 2009
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Baseball is going green bit by bit. In 2008 the Pittsburgh Pirates recycled 5,913 pounds of aluminum cans and 33,547 pounds of plastic bottles, like this one.

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Last year, Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball league instituted rule changes designed to speed up the game — not because it was sensitive to the attention span of the casual fan, but because it estimated that a 6 percent reduction in playing time could cut carbon dioxide emissions by more than 200 tons over a season.

It’s unlikely that Major League Baseball will rewrite its rulebook to appease the polar bear, given that change comes glacially to America’s grand old game. Outside the lines, though, the league has made initial steps towards going green and reducing the size of its cleat-print.

The work began in 2002, when Allen Hershkowitz, senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), began lobbying baseball to green its facilities. By the 2008 season, Major League Baseball and NRDC were ready to unveil a range of initiatives — from no-flush urinals to energy-efficient vending machines to programs printed with soy-based ink.

Several teams stepped up. For example, the San Francisco Giants, the Colorado Rockies, and the Cleveland Indians installed solar panels to help power their facilities. The Seattle Mariners initiated an ambitious composting program, and the Pittsburgh Pirates embarked on a trendsetting recycling campaign and outfitted their talent scouts with flex-fuel cars.

Last season, the Washington Nationals christened a stadium built with 95 percent recycled steel and lit with high-efficiency bulbs. The New York Mets’ new home is designed to encourage the use of mass transit and has an on-site irrigation well.

Skeptics argue that any activity that attracts 80 million people a year can’t help but be inherently wasteful. But Hershkowitz says that’s exactly why NRDC decided to start playing ball. “If the environmental movement is going to succeed, we have to start making nontraditional allies and start influencing the millions of decisions that millions of organizations make each day.”

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