CEP: Editorial - Alternative Paths to Sustainability | AIChE

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CEP: Editorial - Alternative Paths to Sustainability


This is an expanded version of the Editorial that appeared in the print version of Chemical Engineering Progress,October 2012.

Alternative Paths to Sustainability

When I wrote last month’s editorial about my trip down the path to sustainability, I intended it to be the third article of three (“On the Path to Sustainability” in July, “AIChE’s Path to Sustainability” in August, and “A ChE’s Path to Sustainability” in September). My journey began while I was on vacation in Arizona at the beginning of the summer. Unexpectedly, I experienced sustainability from a different angle during my annual end-of-summer staycation. Thus, this fourth article on sustainability — in sports.

As I waited in the security line at the United States Tennis Association’s (USTA) Billy Jean King National Tennis Center to attend the US Open, something caught my eye. Intrigued, in true nerd-engineer fashion, I walked around it, studied it, and took this picture with my iPhone.

I emailed the photo to the rest of the CEP staff (back at the office, hard at work on this issue) and asked if they could figure out what it was and to what it was attached. They recognized it as a solar panel and noticed that it looked thin and flexible. Since we have written about wearable electronics in past issues, their guesses of clothing, such as a kilt or a new addition to Serena’s wardrobe, maybe a cape, seemed logical. Other guesses included panels along a wall or an awning. None of those were correct, though.

What intrigued me turned out to be trash cans that had a solar panel on the top.

Again, being a nerd-engineer, I researched these receptacles on my iPhone while waiting for the first match to begin. I learned that they are solar-powered trash compactors that provide a 5:1 compression, thereby reducing the number of trash pickups required by up to 80%. Made by BigBelly Solar (www.bigbellysolar.com), they are part of a line of products that combine solar-powered compaction, integrated recycling solutions, and network management software and services into systems that enable municipalities, parks departments, universities, and others to reduce the operating costs, fuel consumption, and emissions associated with the waste collection process.

The answer, which relates to my theme of sustainability, made me wonder what else the USTA was doing to make the tournament — which attracts more than 700,000 people from around the world over its two-week duration — more environmentally friendly. My journalism instincts kicked in, so I tracked down Trina Singian of the USTA’s corporate communications office to find out. This was the fifth year of the USTA’s Green Initiatives program, through which it has:

  • diverted over 570 tons of waste through recycling and composting
  • prevented more than 1,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions
  • offset enough electricity to power 600 homes for one year
  • recycled close to 1 million plastic bottles
  • entertained over 1.5 million fans who arrived via mass transit.

I found several of the program’s elements quite interesting. The lanyards used and sold at the event were manufactured in part from used tennis ball cans collected at the 2011 US Open. To match the carbon emissions generated from player travel to the tournament, Viridian Energy supplied Green-e Climate-certified Sterling Planet carbon offsets acquired from a landfill gas utilization project. Tennis balls were collected after matches and players’ practices for reuse in other USTA programs and for donation to community and youth organizations throughout the U.S. To encourage fans to use mass transit, each day Esurance gave 150 fans a $4.50 MetroCard to cover the round-trip subway fare.

This year, the USTA joined the Green Sports Alliance (http://greensportsalliance.org/members-partners), a nonprofit organization of more than 100 teams and venues from 13 different leagues that works to improve the environmental performance of sports facilities and operations. The Alliance collaborated with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and in September issued the reportGame Changer: How the Sports Industry is Saving the Environment, which reveals the collective impact the professional sports industry is having on advancing environmental protection in North America. The report presents 20 case studies of teams, venues, and events that have led the green movement in pro sports by adopting sustainable solutions to their energy, water, and waste-management needs, and documents the bottom-line benefits of these projects.


Of 126 professional sports teams in the five major North American leagues, 38 have shifted to renewable energy for at least some of their operations, and 68 have energy efficiency programs.

  • Staples Center in Los Angeles has a 1,727-panel solar array covering 25,000 ft2 of the arenaʼs roof. The 345.6-kW system supplies 5–20% of the building’s energy use (depending on load) and produces 525,000 kWh annually, saving an average of $55,000/yr.
  • This year, Clevelandʼs Progressive Field became the first professional sports facility to install a wind turbine, which generates more than 40,000 kWh/yr.
  • Philadelphiaʼs Lincoln Financial Field will be the first stadium in the U.S. capable of generating 100% of its energy through a mix of solar panels, a generator that runs on natural gas and biodiesel, and, soon, 14 wind turbines.
  • Safeco Field in Seattle replaced an old incandescent scoreboard with a new LED scoreboard, lowering annual electricity consumption by more than 90% and reducing energy costs by $50,000/yr.


Many innovative water conservation techniques have already been integrated into sports facilities, including:

  • San Franciscoʼs AT&T Park uses an irrigation clock that collects local data and establishes zone-based watering times, reducing irrigation water use by 33–50%. Changes in the composition of the infield surface have reduced field watering by 33%.
  • Target Field in Minneapolis installed low-flush toilets and aerated faucets that use 30% less potable water than conventional fixtures, saving approximately 4.2 million gal of water annually.
  • For the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals and 2011 Winter Classic, the National Hockey League (NHL) purchased over 4.5 million gal in water restoration credits from Bonneville Environmental Foundation to balance the amount of water used during the events. Through its Gallons for Goals programs, the NHL restored more than 6.7 million gal of water to a critically dewatered river in the Northwest — 1,000 gal for every goal scored during the regular season.

Waste management.

Virtually all professional sports teams have developed recycling and composting programs. All major sports concessionaires have developed environmentally preferable offerings. The increased demand for sustainable products, such as compostable serviceware and recyclable paper products, has resulted in competitive pricing and far more waste being recycled and composted instead of sent to landfills.

  • The Cleveland Indians have cut their trash in half, from 1,262 ton/yr to 613 ton/yr, by implementing an enhanced recycling program. This reduced the number of trash pickups by 64%, and saves $50,000 annually.
  • The St. Louis Cardinalsʼ 4 A Greener Game program is credited with recycling more than 1,836 tons of solid waste, more than 575 tons of yard waste, and more than 110 tons of composted organic material since it began in 2008.
  • The Montreal Canadiens implemented a purchasing policy that requires the organization to buy only environmentally friendly cleaning products. Eighty percent of purchases now include products that are locally made and/or composed of reused or recycled content.

Cost savings.

Cutting waste, whether energy waste, water waste, or trash, reduces costs.

  • From 2008 to 2011, the Portland Trail Blazers recouped $411,000 in energy savings, $165,000 in water savings, and $260,000 in waste diversion savings, for a total of $836,000. As of 2012, they’ve now saved over $1 million.
  • Through numerous energy-efficiency efforts, the Seattle Mariners saved approximately $1.5 million in utilities costs from 2006 to 2011 by reducing natural gas use by 60%, electricity use by 30%, and water use by 25%.
  • In one year, the Miami Heat’s energy-efficiency measures saved $1.6 million and consumed 53% less energy than the average facility of similar size and use.

“The motivation for sports to engage in greening is simple. The games we love today were born outdoors, and without clean air to breathe, clean water, and a healthy climate, sports would be impossible,” said Allen Hershkowitz, director of NRDCʼs green sports project. “A cultural shift in environmental awareness is needed in order for us to address the serious ecological problems we face, and the sports industry, through its own innovative actions, has chosen to lead the way. Pro sports are showing that smart energy, water, and recycling practices make sense. They save money and prevent waste. That’s as mainstream and nonpartisan as it comes.”

Like the sports industry, AIChE is working to reduce its environmental impact. As I mentioned in my August editorial, early-bird registrants for the 2012 Annual Meeting in Pittsburgh this month (Oct. 28 to Nov. 2) could opt out of receiving a printed program book. I’m happy to report that over 25% of those who have registered to date chose that option.

In last month’s editorial, which focused on reducing paper consumption, I pointed out that an editor’s job involves lots of paper — much of which is essential to doing our jobs effectively. I’m proud to say that while researching this article, I refrained from printing the 118-pg Game Changer report, and instead read it on my iPad and laptop. Another small step along the path to sustainability.


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