Pure Genius

Nats pitchers and catchers report to a green ballpark

Nats pitchers and catchers report to a green ballpark

Posting in Energy

Wins were hard to come by for the Washington Nationals last season (59-103), but their LEED-certified ballpark--getting greener every year--is a model for the league.

With opening day just around the corner, Nationals Park is getting ready to celebrate its second anniversary. In those two years, there hasn’t been much reason to rejoice on the field (the team had their worst season ever in 2009 and did only a fraction better in 2008), but the franchise has become a big winner for the environment.

When it opened in March 2008, Nationals Park became the first major sports venue in the nation to become LEED Silver Certified by the U.S. Green Building Council. The ballpark, a brownfield redevelopment near Washington’s Anacostia River, is expected to serve as an anchor for urban revitalization.

Among the ballpark’s environmentally friendly features when it was built:

  • Water-conserving plumbing fixtures;
  • Energy-conserving light fixtures;
  • Building materials with a minimum of 10 percent recycled content, many of which were locally produced;
  • Drought-resistant landscape plants;
  • A 6,300-square-foot green roof above a concession area beyond left field;
  • An intricate ground and stormwater filtration system that screens for organic debris like peanut shells; it also separates water used for cleaning the ballpark from rainwater falling on the ballpark, and both sources are treated before released to sanitary and stormwater systems;
  • Parking for fuel-efficient vehicle sand carpools.

But the Nationals and their owners, Lerner Enterprises, didn’t stop at the LEED certification. To learn more about what the Nats are doing to push the green envelope even farther, I talked to Matt Bush, director of ballpark operations, who said at the end of our conversation, “Don’t loose faith; we’re going to have a good team this year.”

Your LEED certification was for construction of the ballpark. What else are you doing to promote green?

The LEED certification was just the start. My next goal is to reach Gold certification for an existing building. We recycle the cooking oil from the fryers in the kitchens, we recycle wood pallets from ballpark deliveries, we use all green cleaning products, all the paints in the ballpark are environmentally friendly, we use environmentally friendly corn starch cups, and we have recycling cans that were supplied by Coca-Cola. I also bought a fleet of Gem electric vehicles—four-passenger for getting people around and utility flatbed trucks for maintenance and transporting materials.

The green roof beyond left field at Nationals Park

What else?

I just started a re-lamping project to change fixtures to LED so it will use one-sixth the power of a normal bulb and last five to 10 times longer. I would love to partner with someone to do some wind and solar power in the ballpark. I’ve been looking at putting solar canopies on top of the parking garages, and I’m looking at wind power generators along the upper roofs of the ballpark. Our location between two rivers is ideal. There is always a breeze up there. I also want to create more green roofs and even green walls, like the six-story one that PNC Bank did.

Have you been able to realize any cost savings yet?

When you figure we’re saving 3.5 to 4.5 million gallons of water a year, that’s that much more [water] that doesn’t have to go through the system and be purified again. Same thing with saving power. I don’t turn my field lights on until 15 minutes before the ballgame. It’s more than cost savings, because it’s saving the environment.

Are there any systems that didn’t work as expected, or that you’ve had to tweak along the way?

Not really. HOK, the D.C. government and our owners did a good job of planning. The stormwater management system is intensive with its maintenance—you have to take the gravel out, wash it down and replace all the materials every four to five years. We usually power wash it every couple months.

What kind of special training is required for your staff?

Our cleaning contractor is Green Seal certified. Our guest services staff goes through a rigorous training on making sure things are recycled in the proper places, and the concessionaires train the same way.

What about with the players? I’ve been in that dugout, and there’s sunflower seed shells, bubble gum wrappers and used cups all over the place.

You know how baseball games go--if you’re not chewing something or spitting something on the ground, or throwing a cup on the ground… that’s just not baseball. In their own way, the players are making changes for the better: They now chew bubble gum instead of tobacco, and that’s better for everyone.

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Melanie D.G. Kaplan

Contributing Editor

Melanie D.G. Kaplan is a Washington, D.C.- based journalist. She is a regular contributor to The Washington Post and National Parks Magazine. Her website is www.melaniedgkaplan.com. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure