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April 26, 2007

Feeling Blue About Greening

Earth Day Comes and Goes

by Will Weiss

Before delving into the Earth Day that could have been, and perhaps was supposed to be but wasn't, in light of new information, I'd like to issue a pair of corrections to the essay that ran in this year's edition of the Baseball Prospectus.

First, in the section on MLB and Green Construction, I noted in one sentence that the Washington Nationals are using crushed glass as a substitute for clay or hard rubber as the field's base-this is false. I wasn't told what would be used for the base; only that what I reported was incorrect. The crushed glass issue, as it turns out, is one of many hot-button topics regarding the many parties involved with the construction of the Nats' new ballpark. Second, per officials at HOK, the Mets are not going green with CitiField, the new stadium set to open in 2009. If there are green plans, nothing has been made public. This is interesting, considering the timing of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's 130-point, 25-year plan to make New York an example of green urban living.

Earth Day came and went with much fanfare and debate in the celebrity and political realms. This reflects the broader concern with these issues in society. Green Web sites are sprouting at weed-like rates. Just this past week, both EcoGeek.org and EcoSherpa.com were launched, courtesy of the Lime network. Sprig, a spinoff from Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive, and The DailyGreen from Hearst Magazines also went live. In addition, National Geographic Online acquired The Green Guide, and subsequently developed its own microsite folded within NationalGeographic.com. This growing multitude is springing up in the wake of leading sites like TreeHugger, broadening the eco-movement online and posting green news across hundreds of platforms, including sports.

Nevertheless, Earth Day passed with much less comment in the sporting world. Major League Baseball teams are taking proactive measures to spread the message of environmentally conscious behavior among its fan base. But where was the league helping the cause and offering support?

Based on conversations and correspondence with MLB headquarters and the Natural Resources Defense Council, I thought the announcement of their partnership would be announced on or around Earth Day-it wasn't. However, it makes sense to wait from a PR standpoint in light of the tenuous situation of the proposed site of Cisco Field, the Oakland Athletics' new home in Fremont, California. The problem? Its proximity to a semiconductor plant that emits highly toxic chemicals like arsine, hydrogen chloride, chlorine, and ammonia. Given Robert Fisher's status as an A's board member and NRDC trustee-the NRDC/MLB partnership was Fisher's brainchild-making the announcement now would hurt any leverage the NRDC has gained through its survey work with the teams, as well as in its work with other prominent organizations like the group that produces the annual Academy Awards ceremony.

Still, that sort of necessary spin doctoring aside, MLB missed an opportunity last Sunday to position itself as a league to be a leader in the green movement. During local telecasts, cameras could have shown recycling bins at various sites around a certain stadium. With the weather finally cooperating across much of the country, announcers could have done some research or spoken to building operators and groundskeepers on eco-friendly measures taken to maintain field quality.

A detailed search of recent MLB press releases netted only one hit on teams celebrating Earth Day. The Cincinnati Reds partnered with local energy provider Duke Energy to become the first "carbon neutral" professional sports team. The team's Web site noted that to do so, the team purchased credits that will help fund solar farms and wind energy alternatives, which emit no carbon. (All electricity produced at ballparks emits carbon.) The Reds hosted a similar event on Opening Day at Great American Ballpark.

However, details of other teams' activities are slowly coming to light. Three weeks ago, the Colorado Rockies unveiled a plan to install a 9.89-kilowatt, 46-panel solar array to curtail emissions produced by their LED scoreboard. Education will be a focal point of the new solar-powered board. The Web site Renewable Energy Access reported that "in the walkway just under the system, a flat-panel monitoring system will show fans the real-time consumption of the Rockpile LED board as well as the real-time energy production from the solar array. Fans will also be able to learn more about solar energy throughout the season at an educational display inside the ballpark."

One of the Rockies' chief NL West rivals is entering the fray as well. With the help of Pacific Gas & Electric Co., the San Francisco Giants are installing 590 solar panels above the gates bordering the Port Walk of AT&T Park (or is it Cingular: the New AT&T Park? Can someone decide on a name that will stick already?). The only catch is that the panels will not power any part of the stadium, since the Giants get their power from an outside provider. According to a report in the San Francisco Examiner, the panels will generate nearly 120 kilowatts of power for the city. The point of contention is that the city is asking residents to pay for the $1 million project.

At present, it is clear that even proactive teams like the Reds, Rockies and Giants are just beginning to explore ways of broadening their eco-friendliness, and in so doing, they're setting positive examples for their fans. Figuring out who fronts the money for large-scale projects like the AT&T Park panels in San Francisco and in the construction of Cisco Field in Fremont (or wherever the A's stadium will rise) will determine just how serious MLB teams and cities are in providing a civil service as well as a winning product.

Will Weiss's essay "Green-Lighting Environmental Change: How Baseball is Changing Its Outlook" appeared in Baseball Prospectus 2007. You can reach Will by clicking here His weekly blog analyzing media coverage of the New York Yankees can be found at Bronx Banter.

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