MLB teams continue to make ballparks 'green'

Giants, Yankees lead the way, but all 30 clubs becoming more environmentally friendly

February 8th, 2019
AT&T Park is seen from an overhead view as the San Francisco Giants play the Milwaukee Brewers during a baseball game Wednesday, June 15, 2016, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP

Ten years ago, Major League Baseball made a commitment to become more environmentally friendly, aiming to overhaul its entire operation in an effort to find ways to be more efficient in everything from how it recycles paper products to what kind of lights it uses in ballparks across the country.
Today, every Major League team has adopted practices that have given a new meaning to the word "green," beyond the color of the grass that beautifies the playing fields.
"The last 10 years, it's grown from what it started as -- a few clubs -- to what it is today, where all 30 teams are participating in some fashion," said Paul Hanlon, MLB's senior director of ballpark operations and sustainability.
Two recent developments have pushed this issue back to the public forefront. The San Francisco Giants won their 10th Green Glove Award in 2018, recognizing the highest waste diversion rate, after rerouting 94 percent of all waste from their ballpark, newly renamed Oracle Park, from local landfills.
And the Yankees, who, according to Hanlon are one of MLB's leaders in sustainability initiatives, recently added a full-time staffer to spearhead their efforts: Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, a recognized industry leader in environmental science. Hershkowitz will act as an enviornmental science advisor to the Yankees, a position that is believed to be the first of its kind in professional sports.
The Yankees and Giants are among many trend-setting teams that have processed the data available to them and made sound decisions regarding their ballparks to cut down on waste and inefficiency. The Giants, for example, are able to sort all of their trash, which leads to only a tiny fraction of the total volume ending up in a landfill.
"That's not easy for an existing building" Hanlon said. "That type of certification is phenomenal, especially for a building that hosts as many events during the year that they host."
The other big step teams have taken in recent years? Installing LED field lighting, a more energy efficient product that has a lifespan of 30 years and lowers costs over time. It wasn't long ago that this type of lighting was considered risky, given the uncertain outcome of how it would play for the fielders and how it would be received by the fans.
The Mariners were the first to take the plunge in 2015, after talking with everyone they possibly could to make sure the LED lights were going to work for them. The next year, five teams adopted LED lights, and today, 18 ballparks utilize this mode of electricity.
"Energy costs, when it comes to LED lighting specifically, drops dramatically," Hanlon said. "Maintenance costs are lower. You're not changing things out every few years."
And here's a cool factoid many may not know: At 12 Major League ballparks -- in San Francisco, St. Louis, Phoenix, New York (Citi Field), Denver, Boston, Washington D.C., Oakland, Baltimore, Cleveland, Seattle and Pittsburgh -- teams operate their own gardens or farms, and more than half use those items to source food for concession stands and restaurants in the ballpark.
In addition to providing food for the stadium, the gardens also serve as a teaching tool to inform the public about the importance of their local environment. It's also a ballpark-tour highlight and a fan-gathering spots throughout a game.
Other efforts include MLB assembling "Green Teams" during key times of the baseball calendar, such as the All-Star Game and World Series. The teams consist of groups of students who actively take a role in promoting green impact and environmental awareness.
Also, last year's All-Star Game is expected to be the first professional team event to be certified as environmentally responsible by the Council for Responsible Sport.
"We want to be able set an example that you have thousands and thousands of people every night that are coming into this building," Hanlon said. "And if a ballpark is able to do this night in and night out, we want that to inspire people at home to think about those things as well, and what they're really putting into each individual bin in their house or their apartment."