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The Cincinnati Reds claim many firsts in baseball annals. The Reds are recognized as baseball’s first all-professional team, and they were founding members of the American Association and later the National League. They’re the first MLB team to have staged night games, and they are the first team to have had a pitcher throw consecutive no-hitters, with Johnny Vander Meer
accomplishing the feat in 1938. The second of Vander Meer’s no-hitters occurred during another first: the first night game ever played at Ebbets Field.

Nearly 70 years later, the Reds are striving to become the first team to be fully green in its ballpark operations. The organization considers itself as a steward of the Cincinnati community, and has considered green measures and put them into practice ever since Great American Ballpark opened in 2003, largely due to the foresight of Declan Mullin, the team’s vice president of ballpark operations. Prior to assuming his post in Cincinnati, Mullin worked for Spectacor Management Group, where one of his primary responsibilities was performing energy audits and making suggestions to help SMG’s arena operators run their facilities more efficiently.

At Great American Ballpark, high-efficiency lighting illuminates all parts of the stadium, from the structures that light the field to the internal office areas. In addition, a computerized motherboard regulates the ballpark’s lighting system. At various points during a game, the unit will recognize areas in greatest need of either heating or cooling (luxury boxes, team clubhouses), and transfer power to that area from an area of the stadium that doesn’t exhaust as much power. During postgame cleanup, stadium lights are programmed to shut off on a timed basis, contingent upon the area of the stadium that is active.

Most recently, as reported in this space, the Reds have designated days when the team purchases carbon credits to offset the ballpark’s emissions. To date, Opening Day and Earth Day have been the only two days the Reds have purchased the credits. More purchasing days will be scheduled during the season.

“We pursued the initiative on our own,” Mullin said. “We did a study and monitored the trends, that per game we emitted 96 tons of carbon dioxide per game. At that point, we asked, ‘What can we do?’ We researched companies that were USDOE certified and initiated discussions with them and got the word out that we wanted to decrease our carbon output.”

The program, in partnership with Ohio-based utility company Duke Energy, is helping to support a wind farm in Tamil Nadur, India. “You go into it thinking, ‘This isn’t going to get a lot of mileage. People don’t think of reducing carbon emissions at a baseball game,'” Mullin said. “But the response has been positive.”

The team is now exploring other green energy options through Duke Energy through a program called “Go Green Power.” The program, which the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio approved last week, allows consumers to purchase a block of 200 kilowatt hours of energy from renewable resources such as wind, water and biomass. Participants in the program would also have an option to buy an additional 100 kwh of energy at a charge of $2.50 per block of 100.

“We had asked [Duke Energy] if we could purchase green energy, and now we can,” Mullin said. “Our program concentrates on Ohio sources of renewable energy, which should provide additional encouragement for their development here, while giving our environmentally conscious customers an additional option for their electric service,” Duke Energy president Sandra Meyer said in a statement.

The higher price of renewable energy is the major reason many teams have resisted greening their operations. Mullin maintains, however, that teams who own and operate their stadiums can improve their profit margins by going green. They just have to be willing to spend more in the short term. “It’s easier to implement these measures when it’s first-cost,” Mullin said. “It might be a little expensive at first, but the team will reap the benefits of the savings in the long run. To retrofit a ballpark with green provisions will cost more, and that’s the drawback.” Mullin added that the Reds enjoyed an immediate financial boon from their green measures. “Our utility bills are about 29 percent lower than a team operating a similar facility without these measures in place,” Mullin said.

Challenges in Going Green

  • Paper accounts for the majority of the trash produced in businesses, and ballparks are no exception. At Great American Ballpark, all the paper in the offices is recycled, the cups and napkins used in concessions are made from recycled paper, and there are numerous recycling bins for paper products and plastic bottles throughout the ballpark’s concourses.
  • Non-recyclable items being thrown into the bins is a continuing problem, according to Mullin. “We’ve struggled with this, because people inevitably throw trash in the recycling bins, and those materials become contaminated,” he said.
  • The Reds have also struggled in achieving success in their attempts to encourage fans to take mass transit to the ballpark. Mullin estimated that less than the percent of ballpark patrons use mass transit. There is a Park & Ride program for those traveling to Cincinnati from northern Kentucky, and the team suggests that groups coming to the games take the city bus system. The Cincinnati Metro system wanted to shut down the program because so few people were utilizing it, but the team convinced the city to keep it active. The team does not provide incentives or credits to fans arriving to the ballpark in hybrid cars or other fuel-efficient or economy vehicles.
  • Despite its location along the Ohio River, the Reds do not have a specific water treatment program in place. There is a 30,000-gallon stormwater tank where water is sanitized and pumped before being released into the river. However, a means to recycle graywater-water that has been used in the home (except water from toilets) that can be reused for purposes such as landscape irrigation-is not in place.

Assessment

The state-of-the-art power efficiency system the Reds have implemented at Great American Ballpark is a model for teams constructing new stadiums. While there are some facets of green operations in which the Reds are lacking, overall the team should be commended for the innovative steps it has taken to reduce its emissions and promote a message of public service to its fanbase.

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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