MLB getting into the Green scene
Green initiatives are no longer the provinces of hippies and tree-huggers. Going Green is a staple of the sports and entertainment venues industry and it can be profitable too. This is the segment that evaluates costs, attempts to understand from a community relations perspective, and articulate a Green initiatives policy. How innovative Green technology is changing the way we look at our stadiums and sports arenas; and transforming them into a model of sustainable projects. Going green is not just an option in the stadium business, it is the way forward.
The Major League Baseball (MLB) Environmental Program efforts include comprehensive onsite gardens, Green Teams to collect recyclables, LED field lighting and solar panel installations. Key initiatives include Green Team activations, front office volunteer efforts, food donations to local charities and substantive programs operated by MLB clubs.
The Major League Baseball (MLB) is an American professional baseball organization and the oldest of the major professional sports leagues in the United States and Canada. A total of 30 teams play in Major League Baseball: 15 teams in the National League and 15 in the American League.
The Major League Baseball All-Star Game, also known as the ‘Midsummer Classic’, is an annual professional baseball game sanctioned by Major League Baseball (MLB) and contested between the all-stars from the American League and National League.
‘Green education begins at home’ – this is the message which Paul Hanlon, Senior Director, Ballpark Operations & Sustainability, MLB, US, sent out during the Coliseum Online Week EUROPE Worldwide – held from March 22nd-26th, 2021. In an exclusive to ‘Coliseum’, he says that if people can ingrain ‘Green’ lessons into their mindset, the MLB Environmental Program’s half the purpose will be met.
Paul Hanlon throws light on how the above program began, how the program was developed when “we realized we needed to pivot to really get more engagement and how that worked out for us” and how the MLB plans to tread into the future.
Giving an insight into the MLB Environmental Program, Paul Hanlon informed, “The MLB Environmental Program began in 2008. It is very much a club and team-driven initiative. Our club ballpark operators approached our office and said that we really want you to get more involved in the environmental space and we feel that the voice of baseball and voice of sport is very important in this regard. We are made up of 30 clubs, so you have 30 different markets and 30 different individually owned teams. So, our job in the League office is really to tie all of that together, share back practices and bring everyone together.”
MLB Ballpark Operations
Ten people comprise the MLB Ballpark Operations group. Informed Hanlon, “We monitor the MLB Relationship with the 30 Ballpark Operations Groups in the League office. So, everything to do with the running of the ballpark from a day to day standpoint as well as also the special events that we have during the season and it includes everything from the security side, facility management, guest services, concessions, and the unique way we do things at baseball.”
MLB Jewel Event Ballpark Operations
- The All-Star Game is held every year in July. Operating these events with an eye towards not only on the guest experience but really buying in into the purpose of environmental operations as well;
- Field of dream; and
- International events.
2008 – MLB Environmental Program Launch
Informed Hanlon, “The program began in 2008 and it was a club-driven idea. We had about five or six teams come to the League office and say, ‘We really can do something in this space. We use a lot of energy, we use a lot of water, and we have a lot of waste that is generated from our individual facilities. How can we be more environmentally conscious? How can we be more efficient in our space?’ So, Major League Baseball contacted the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) here in the United States and worked on how we can build the program. With NRDC they sat down and surveyed all 30 clubs and got their hands around what they were doing at that point of time.”
- Recycling bins – Hanlon informed that when the program launched in 2008, the focus was on recycling bins – adding more recycling bins to the ballparks;
- Energy audits – The focus was on energy audits. All 30 clubs wanted to see how much energy was actually being used; and
- LEED certification.
Hanlon continued, “My predecessors decided at that time – if we are doing this (read MLB environmental program), we do 30,000 people a night at our ballparks, or 81,000 either, and you can start the change of behavior at home – be conscious of how much paper you are using, how many single-use plastics you are using, and we really held to that core principle of – we can do it at our stadium, at our ballpark, then we can do it home.
2009-2011 – MLB Environmental Program
The program continued to grow on the club side of things. As the program grew, the focus started to expand to:
- Community events;
- Green tracks – data collection;
- Food donation – if one thinks at the end of the night there was untouched food, it could be donated to a local shelter; and
- ‘Green Glove Award’ which recognizes the highest diversion rate per club and that is used as a tool to motivate other clubs to put more environmental efforts in place.
Hanlon maintained, “It’s expensive to start changing over and once you make that upfront, it will return sums over time but we wanted to prove – your team is doing this, you can also do it as well. We activated the Green Teams at the MLB Events. This is where the change in philosophy kind of started. We started looking at – how my predecessors kind of looked at how the environment was being managed at MLB and at the club. On the MLB side, it was kind of managed through community relations, through marketing and they would bring facility management counterparts in depending on what the project was – there were community activations which were all incredible parts of this but at its core we can make the most impact is in individual facilities at a ballpark because the Environmental Program was actually being managed at the ballpark through the facility management. So, in 2012, I was brought aboard and they decided they wanted the Program to be overseen by someone with stadium experience. I had that operations background and thus took over the reins.”
2012 – MLB Environmental Program
He asserted, “We will shape the environmental operation in a baseball to a flat what is happening at the ballpark and also the departments which are amazing pieces of this. Yet, pulled in with core people that are actually managing it – facility operations people and so I would bring in a sponsorship person if we needed a partner on something or I would engage community relations for a particular volunteer event to do. So, we started looking at that because at that point there were just a few clubs really involved in this whole Environmental Program. We were out there to turn the story which was an authentic story and that was key to everyone on this call – you need to be authentic and all of them come for doing the work, it is just at different levels that they might have been doing the work at that time and so I needed a decision that was probably lesser learned which was member skepticism was I pulled back our public facing side of what we were doing because I really wanted to get our house in order.”
Hanlon added, “I felt strongly we were doing all of the work but I wanted to figure out a way to involve all 30 clubs at some level and establish a dedicated point of contact. Well, at certain clubs, maybe the person who was managing it, moved on to do something else, so establishing that hardcore relationship with the club where you know who to go to for all of these things and then we started on the road to best practice sharing – we had monthly calls that we set up, distribution lists depending on who the right person was at the club, encouraging collaboration amongst club departments like at your club you can’t push the message out unless you are engaging your PR department, your marketing department, your communications department, you are really setting up ways that they were a part and then engaging with vendors as well. I mean a lot of people that approached us we wanted to be sure that we were working with the right people. We wanted to build this up and then share that story when we have all 30 clubs fully on board.”
2013 – MLB Environmental Program
The club focus is on:
- Recycling and waste;
- Recycling bins;
- Composting; and
- Food donations.
The top official further informed, “And then we turned to LED lighting – we are 30 ballparks, none of the ballparks lights were LED and the MLB team Seattle Mariners said in 2014 that they wanted to experiment with LED lights and risk making the investment. We wanted to make sure it works from a broadcasting standpoint so that it looks good on TV and they took the chance and went ahead and it worked wonders. We went from one ballpark in 2014, took this risk to 22 that are now fully LED on the stadium side. There are other places in the building like offices were LED was being changed out. But, that actual playing field lighting – solar panels became something that a lot of our clubs were considering.”
Water was something that MLB started to focus on as water is life and cannot be wasted:
- Rainwater capture and finding new ways to convert water to different ballpark uses whether it’s watering the grass or cleaning seats – how does one become more efficient in that;
- Low flow fixtures – When construction work is going on or a space is being renovated – low flow fixtures using less water should be used; and
- Overall reduction of plastic from a construction standpoint.
All-Star Week Activations
Remarked Hanlon, “We have that club focus but then we have the ability at our June events – we have different events that we put on as baseball but we really want to showcase what our clubs are doing but we also want to do it as a League be it in a college program or we work with the local college and then that group collects recyclables. There is volunteer event, there is collecting of recyclables.”
He added, “We look to different offsets – whether its player travel or staff bus travel, water restoration credits – all the water used during our All-Star events. Bring our food donation programs that our clubs are doing through these events, All-Star Walking Path – encouraging people to take public transportation and get up and walk from a downtown area to a ballpark instead of taking a cab or an Uber.”
Hanlon continued, “Looking at our broadcast compound, the group that’s there putting on the TV broadcast in the 10 days that they are in the ballpark, hundreds and hundreds of plastic bottles get piled up which can be very damaging to the environment. So, we put in refill stations and then provide them with a bottle and then we also put it for Council for Responsible Sport Environmental Certification something which we are incredibly proud of but it really ties in all of the efforts that we are doing.”
2013-2019 All Star Green Teams
What MLB does to promote Green Teams during games – engaging with fans, they put the Green Team logo on the videoboard and the ribbon board.
2013-2019 – All Star Green Teams – Volunteer Events
In Miami in 2017, the local college students got into Green activities and also took part in environmental initiatives in the ballpark as well.
2013-2019 – All-Star Walking Path
Informed Hanlon, “In our All-Star Walking Path, we just look at different ways where we can promote the habit among fans of walking to the game. We had an issue in Minneapolis (US) where there was no parking downtown and we had to put all our hotels downtown. So, instead of getting people to take cabs or drive from their hotels, we painted a Green Line on the sidewalks and that painted Green Line showed people how to get to our ballpark in our All-Star Game. Let’s put this in place as an initiative and then get it to be in the normal course of doing business for All-Star. And that we really want to do with a lot of this. We want the initiative to become the normal course of doing business.”
2013-2019 – Postseason & World Series
Hanlon informed that nothing can be planned in advance for the World Series – as the venue for the World Series is not decided beforehand – “This is a little harder for us to have it set – things that we do all the year for we don’t know where we are going to be for the World Series. Unlike the Super Ball or World Cup, we know we are going to be in a particular City and we can plan an event. We may not know what City we are going to be in until the night before, so, we send out a standard group of expectations that we have for our club and say, ‘You need to provide a Green Team or are you going to do this should there be a World Series. How many water bottles would you like and you need to put in water refill stations for your compound’ – different ways that things are required to be done.”
MLB Green initiatives
- All 30 clubs enrolled in the Green Sports Alliance;
- Twenty-one ballparks armed with LED field lighting;
- Twelve ballparks currently utilize onsite gardens;
- Eleven parks across MLB and MiLB are LEED-certified;
- Ten teams utilize solar power;
- Nine clubs boast regular season Green teams; and
- Seven teams permanently eliminated plastic straws from their ballparks.
Exulted Hanlon, “I am so proud of our clubs – they make my job easy because as we started to engage more, all of our clubs wanted to participate in one way. Twenty one of our clubs have LED field lighting, 12 of our ballparks currently utilize onsite gardens.”
He added, “All 30 clubs are into food donation programs. We are for something called Measurabl which is the events version of data tracking. All clubs interact – just from sending their billing, they interact into the system and automatically read their electricity bill, their water bill, their recycling bill and this gives them an idea of where they are from a data perspective. We get the Green Club Award every year based on the club that has the highest diversion rate. In 2019, the MLB team San Francisco Giants were at 95 percent, and the MLB team Seattle Mariners were at 92 percent – so it really helped create a competition among the clubs. Not one of the ways you need to engage stakeholders. We want them to come to these conclusions on their own and inspire them to do more in this space as regards Green practices. We are also in partnership with different educational platforms whose curriculum put together the operations that our clubs are doing.”
2019 – London Series
We played a bit ballgame in the 80,000-capacity London Stadium in 2019 and we were able to put a Green Team together and work with London Stadium to really talk through and promote what they are doing in this space.
2020 – Earth Day
Hanlon puts in, “We started to really tell the story of what’s being done as far as the sustainability factor is concerned – our clubs are genuinely doing all of these things in this space and it is important to share and for people to know. So, we relaunched our website – MLB.com/Green, we took over the different social media channels that we control with the MLB Green logo, and we have scripted a success story.”
2020 – Postseason activations
During the postseason, MLB introduced the water filtration system because they were in a bubble atmosphere in 2020 when COVID-19 first took the world by storm .Okay, we don’t have fans, but how can we still make sure we are keeping up the momentum of these efforts. For the water filtration system, we had these terracycle boxes which can recycle anything and we put those in all of our COVID testing rooms and any place where items would normally be recycled. We offset the water and energy used. I am very proud of my team that we were pushing the Green initiatives despite the deadly coronavirus situation.”
2021 and beyond – MLB Environmental Program
Hanlon informed, “We are focusing on the All-Star Game and the focus is on the fan engagement around us. The next big surplus is engaging with our partners – the good partners to our existing corporate partners where they are in the space where we can mutually help each other. Collaborations within the organization what I mean by that is just that facility operations place. We call these initiatives for very very long time but we really want this to be standard operating practices and they are becoming that – LED lighting is becoming the norm, water conservation is becoming the norm and we have to continue on that path and that’s why I see this going.”
He wrapped up by stating, “I think it’s more of an incentive to build Green – we want to get people in the mindset that what is being done in the ballpark should be emulated at their home. Getting fans interested on our different platforms. We want to motivate to make change at home and that’s where they gain – they are helping the environment. We want to set a standard that they can follow at home and I think that’s where the benefit comes in when people watching a game at home gets to learn from the ballpark on how to compost a plastic container, this cardboard container, do I recycle it. That change in the mindset is where the benefit comes in.”
Paul Hanlon’s main motto is to put environmental initiatives in place and work for protecting the environment through the MLB Environmental Program because he is well aware of the fact that there is no Planet B.
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