Getting to the Game: Delivering Green Transportation Options to Sports Fans

Growing up in the Washington region -- albeit off-and-on because my Dad was in the foreign service -- steeped me in fandom for the Washington Redskins. My college years were an especially propitious time to favor them since they won two Superbowls in that time (1988, 1992). I remember reveling in the quarterbacking prowess of MVP winners Doug Williams and Mark Rypien and other star players including wide receiver Art Monk, cornerback Darrel Green and defensive players Charles Mann and Dexter Manley. Washington can be a small town, and consequently I have randomly met those last three players during my years as a resident here, which needless to say was a thrill each time.

  So imagine my delight when my colleague Allen Hershkowitz invited me to see the Redskins play their first regular season game at home against the Cincinnati Bengals this past Sunday. I was especially pleased to see that NRG had installed 8,000 solar panels on the stadium, which produce up to 2 megawatts of energy, enough to power 20% of the stadium’s energy needs. NRG also played a big hand in financing the new stadium and consequently has its logo emblazoned prominently throughout the stadium including on electric vehicle recharge stations right outside it (as you can see the stadium is named after another big corporate partner behind its construction, FedEx).

As I walked up to the stadium I walked through a very nice looking part of the parking lot shielded from the sun by what turned out to be solar arrays! Hundreds of workers spend six months putting the panels up (see cool time-lapse video of construction here) and it now provides provides 1/5th of the stadium’s power on game days and all of it at other times. This information was conveyed to the 90,000 fans in attendance that day via twin giant screens.

These remarkable projects – EV recharge stations and the parking solar array – are just the tip of the iceberg for pro sports right now. As NRDC colleagues Allen, Alice Henly and Darby Hoover write in their new report Game Changer: How the Sports Industry is Saving the Environment, over the past decade NRDC has worked with individual teams as well as leagues including MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL, USTA and even the NCAA. This is a pretty smart strategy Allen and his team have developed, since while just 13 percent of Americans follow science a whopping 61 percent of us say we’re sports fans. It is a huge chunk of the economy at $400 billion a year. Imagine if even a fraction of that money, and more important that fanaticism, were devoted to reducing pollution.

It all started in Philadelphia in 2003, when Lincoln Financial Field was built to host Philadelphia Eagles games. This stadium cost a half-billion dollars to build and seats more than 68,000. The owners, Jeffrey and Christina Lurie, have instituted an impressive suite of programs to conserve resources and boost renewable energy. Water use is 21 percent lower than it would have been, and electricity consumption is cut by 1/3. 100 percent of team operations are powered by wind energy via renewable energy credits and the Eagles are now installing about 2500 solar panels and 80 20-foot-high wind turbines to improve on that record.

Transportation to and from the game can have big environmental effects unless companies address it. Many of the projects Allen and his team have launched do just that. Take the EV stations at FedEx field, for example. The Staples Center in Los Angeles offers similar stations, and also has a partnership with the Los Angeles Kings to offer discounted tickets to those who take public transportation. The USTA National Tennis Center in Queens, New York, also encourages the use of public transportation which has nearly doubled the percentage of fans getting to games by train or bus since 2000 when it was just 32 percent (in 2011 it was 60 percent).

In fact this is one area where I think the Redskins, FedEx Field and NRG could improve. I took the Washington Metro to the stadium, and the tickets weren’t discounted and it was a mile walk to the stadium. Not an unpleasant walk, with new houses on the right and several lanes of traffic moving at a snail’s pace on the right, but definitely a deterrent if the weather’s unpleasant and/or if someone is physically challenged. It may be too expensive to cover the sidewalk all the way to the stadium – although a mile-long solar array would be awesome – but door-to-door shuttles and ticket discounts are a good idea.

That aside, we couldn’t ask for a better day for football. Sunny, weather in the 60s, basically a perfect early fall day. And lots of points on the scoreboard too – 69 total! Unfortunately, the Redskins lost by a touchdown. Thankfully it’s early in the season! I look forward to watching them play for many more  years in their impressively green stadium.

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