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Green game changers: Pittsburgh sports arenas reinvent this once smoggy city’s image

By Connor Mulvaney

The Pioneer

Photo by Connor Mulvaney
Photo by Connor Mulvaney

PNC Park went green by recycling most of the waste created by fans at their games and donating leftover prepared concessions.

Heinz Field installed advanced lighting and air conditioning systems to conserve more energy.

Highmark Stadium also showed its environ- mental friendliness by using recycled steel to construct the seating area and recycled rubber for the field’s turf.

Although the city of Pittsburgh was built on the steel and sports industries, only one of these markets proved to be sustainable for not only the city’s economy but the environment as well. The new green Pittsburgh embraces its historic sporting community to increase sustainability and clear the city’s smoggy reputation.

“We are very excited to grow into becoming even more green in the future,” said Melissa Lazar, President and CEO
of Highmark Stadium.

With the help of the Green Sports Alliance, a national organization of green-minded sports teams and venues, Highmark Stadium and the Riverhounds will have plenty of room to do so.  The Riverhounds and Highmark Stadium are both members, as are the Pittsburgh Pirates and PNC Park. Originally founded in 2010 by six west coast sports teams and five venues, the Green Sports Alliance encourages networking and offers seminars to help each member increase their environmental friendliness.Since its inception, it has grown to more than 160 teams and venues from 15 sports leagues.

“Pittsburgh is really reinventing itself and sustainability is a big part of that picture,” said David Muller, Membership Director of the Green Sports Alliance. “Having teams on board with that, with the local teams which are obviously iconic and command a lot of attention, I think is a really powerful statement for Pittsburgh’s growth as a city, the green sports movement, and for us as an organization.”

Muller also noted that the efforts of Bob Nutting, owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates, earned him the Game Changer Award from the Natural Resources Defense Council for the Pirates’ “Let’s Go Bucs. Let’s Go Green.” campaign.

“A lot of teams only do work in the back of the house, so to speak. They sort the trash afterward, things like that,” said Muller. “But the Pirates really made it part of their community and fan outreach initiative. I think this work becomes most powerful when fans know what’s going on and are participating in it, and so we really like to see that.”

Great programs like “Let’s Go Bucs. Let’s Go Green” require commitment to the green cause from ownership down through the organization, according to Muller.

“It’s like anything new, it’s a challenge,” PNC Park Daylight Supervisor Bill Komora, said of the park’s efforts

The Pittsburgh Pirates launched their “Let’s Go Bucs. Let’s Go Green.” initiative in 2008 to concert the help of the ballclub, PNC Park and concession providers, Aramark and Levy Restaurants, to minimize their impact on the environment.

Energy-saving strategies used at PNC Park include energy-efficient and motion sensor lighting fixtures, as well as heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems that use outdoor air and run on timers. Other practices used with the help of concession providers include biodegradable utensils for concessions, donation of leftover prepared food, use of recycled papers and EPA recommended cleaning products, and extensive recycling and composting, according to the Pirates’ website.

Since the program began, recycling totals by PNC Park have more than doubled. The diversion rate of trash collected from the park, or percentage of waste materials diverted from regular landfill disposal, according to the Pirates’ website, was 27 percent in 2008. Last year 69 percent of trash was diverted. This year, according to Komora, they hope to recycle 83 percent of waste created by fans.

The club hopes to recycle as much waste as possible, according to Komora.  Previously, recyclables that did not fit in the receptacles were thrown away. However, that trend will soon be reversed, as the bar will continue to be raised.

“[In this organization] we need more, we need better. If you can do 91%, can’t you do 93%?” said Komora.

Outside the Pirates organization, Komora believes there could be improvement.

“I don’t think an eighth of the fans are even aware of [our efforts],” said Komora.  “Recycling is mandated at [our] homes, so businesses should recycle.  Most people just aren’t aware. They know ‘we go to the ballpark, we make trash, we leave’. It’s an interesting concept.”

Although fans might be oblivious to the Pirates’ and other organizations’ efforts, Komora admits they are a large part of the process.

“If memory serves me, [the Pirates organization estimated] four pounds of trash per person.  Four pounds of trash doesn’t seem like a lot, but if you put 25,000 people here, four pounds of trash per person is 100,000 pounds of trash,” Kimora said.

Heinz Field also employs a recycling program, which reused about 78 tons of recyclable materials.  In addition, the arena recycled 10 tons of cardboard and 1,000 gallons of cooking grease, according to Stadium Operations Coordinator Brian Opacic.

Inside the field, restroom toilets now use one gallon per flush, as opposed to 1.5 gallons.  There are also about 5,000 energy efficient LED lights, and 1,000 light sensors installed inside the stadium that respond to both sound and motion.  In addition, a control system that can override light sensors helps control energy usage.

The heating, ventilation and air conditioning system is also set on a timer, and can be controlled by a central system to ensure greater efficiency, according to Opacic.

Across the three rivers, the Pittsburgh Riverhounds and their new home, Highmark Stadium are also reducing and reusing.

“We are also taking advantage of every opportunity to recycle inside the stadium,” said Lazar.

The steel used to build the stadium seating is 60-70 percent recycled, according to a release from the stadium group.

The aluminum used in the bleacher section is also 70-80percent recycled content.

The field itself is even greener than it appears, as the recycled tire-based synthetic turf needs no water, pesticides or fertilizer.  The manufacturer of the turf also recycles its product at the end of its usable life to produce carpet backing, flooring, and even fuel.

Energy-saving fluorescent and LED lighting are used throughout the stadium, including the scoreboard lights.  Motion sensing light fixtures are also commonly used.

Highmark Stadium encourages fans to be more environmentally friendly, as well.  It is purposely located near bus stops and the “T” subway line to make Riverhounds games accessible without driving a car and emitting greenhouse gases.

The stadium construction also includes an extension of the South Side bike trail to allow fans to easily ride their bikes to games.
While Pitt and Duquesne officials did not respond to numerous efforts to seek comment, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s website the AJ Palumbo Center at Duquesne University is now “very cooling diverse”.  The Palumbo Center is cooled by electric chillers as well as absorption chillers powered by waste heat and natural gas.  The Petersen Events Center, home of the Pitt Panthers, has an adjacent lawn known as the Petersen Events Center Rain Garden designed to naturally absorb extra water from heavy rain, according to Pitt’s website.

While most teams in Pittsburgh each try to do their part in becoming friendlier to the environment, Muller appreciates all efforts to help the cause.

“We are certainly trying to be a prominent member of this movement to do everything we can to push it forward, but we’re not alone,” said Muller.  “From the alliance, we value having [The Pirates and Riverhounds] organizations individually and having a presence in the city of Pittsburgh, and we hope that others will follow their example and look to them for the leadership they’re displaying.”

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