by matthew stewart | October 3, 2013 | Lifestyle
The Eagles have placed their green efforts front and center as a way to foster social change.
High atop the stadium, the wind turbines were designed to match the existing structural steel.
The solar panels were tested to ensure they could withstand the vibrations from post-touchdown fireworks.
Lincoln Financial Field boasts the largest solar array in the Philly area and the largest in the NFL.
For Earth Day, Eagles owner Christina Weiss Lurie and a student plant flowers at Franklin Square.
Green. When visitors look out over Lincoln Financial Field on game day, that’s all they see: the field, the players’ uniforms, the fans’ jerseys, even the seats. When Eagles owner Christina Weiss Lurie surveys the surroundings, she sees all of that too, of course, and much, much more.
Since 2003, when the Linc opened, Lurie has been working to make the stadium as eco-conscious as possible. It started with a simple recycling program that gave each employee a deskside blue bin. “It was ‘Let’s focus on recycling; that’s something that we can do at the stadium,’” she remembers. “‘If that’s all we do year one, that’s the first step.’”
Ten years later, the Linc is on its way to achieving LEED certification, the gold standard for green buildings. The Eagles’ season kicked off with 11,000 solar panels and 14 wind turbines, installed earlier this year, fully operational and producing three megawatts of electricity (about six times the energy needed for home games). An ongoing $100 million-plus renovation project includes recycling of the building’s refuse and the installation of new green materials. Work is even being done to conserve and repurpose water in and around the stadium.
Conservation is part of the DNA of Lincoln Financial Field and the NovaCare Complex. These sweeping changes are all part of Lurie’s landmark Go Green campaign, a program she began when the Linc opened, combining green initiatives and sustainable business practices. Lurie, the Eagles’ staff, and the Linc’s employees and vendors may have the most successful conservation program in the NFL. And when the Eagles were named Sport Team of the Year in 2011 by the international social change organization Beyond Sport, it gave Go Green and their community-based programs global recognition.
“We had this unique opportunity to educate 70,000 fans and millions of others who tune in by television or the Web or mobile and social media,” says Lurie. “I knew that we could make a difference. I felt that Go Green would become a path to sustainability. As we learned, it’s a journey that changes all the time.”
The recycling program is a perfect example. The deskside blue bins were followed by the Linc working with outside consultants like The Sexton Group and the nonprofit National Resources Defense Council to source recycled paper. Eventually the stadium converted to 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper, yielding a savings of 10 tons of paper annually, or the equivalent of about 170 trees.
From there, the Go Green team began to tackle how garbage was handled and disposed of. The Eagles management realized that this would require the cooperation of outside vendors like Aramark, which took over concessions at the stadium in 2005.
“There’s a great story that I think is emblematic of the teamwork,” says Leonard Bonacci, the Eagles’ vice president of event operations and event services. “In the middle of this process of recycling, we went upstairs and grabbed a bag out of the trash in the middle of a game, brought it downstairs, and dumped it on the table. And with Aramark, we went through it piece by piece and said, ‘Can we recycle that?’ Everything that was a no we pushed over to Aramark and asked, “Could you buy this from somewhere else so that it’s recyclable and compostable?’ And they did.”
“This has very much been a collaborative effort,” says Kevin Hughes, general manager of facilities for Lincoln Financial Field at Aramark. “It’s something that has evolved. Greening was important with the ownership of the Eagles, and that made everyone want to put their heads together. We began by deconstructing the waste stream. In 2007 we matched every trash can with a recycle container; each concession stand was provided with blue bags; and at the end of every game a recycle pick was implemented in the seating bowl.” This cooperative effort also included converting cooking oil to biodiesel at the concessions overseen by Aramark. “We now do biodiesel purchases,” says Lurie. “By sending our used kitchen oil and grease waste to local reprocessors that convert it to biodiesel, which we then use to power our equipment, we can close the circle.”
As the Go Green staff was instituting the recycling and composting program, they realized that the key to success was the fans. But what was the best way to educate them? “We try not to be preachy with the message,” says Bonacci. “In our bathrooms there’s a sign that says, ‘Recycle your beer here, but recycle your bottles outside in our recycling containers.’”
In addition to using humor and an ad campaign designed to reinforce good practices during games, the Go Green team also needed to figure out how to make the recycling process as effortless as possible, so they asked a very basic question. “How many footsteps will a fan take before they give up and throw their bottle in the trash instead of recycling it?” says Jason Miller, the Eagles’ vice president of facility operations. “We’ve placed trash cans and recycle bins within a 40-foot footprint, so that people can actually understand and realize what they’re doing.” They arrived at this 40-foot standard by looking at Disney theme parks. “Disney did a study to see how far people walk before they throw something on the ground,” says Bonacci. “We did the same thing and, sure enough, the number of stuff we were capturing went up, the number of stuff on the ground went down.”
The current football season is the first for the new solar panels and wind turbines, and besides radically reducing the Linc’s energy usage, they send a bold visual message. Lurie knows that what’s novel can also be educational. “The solar panels and the turbines do more than provide energy,” she says. “They’re a statement. We have a unique platform to make a difference and to inform the public, so why not use it?” The Linc’s recycling practices have also evolved to conserve energy. The “bowl picks” that collect recyclable and compostable items after every Eagles game and other major events are now done the following day. “We used to do it after the game,” says Miller, “but then we’d run into the situation where we’d have to turn the sports lights on to get it done. We decided to wait until the next day and use the natural light.”
The Go Green program has also invested in technology that allows water rather than chemicals to be used for cleaning. “The Orbio technology is based on the electrolysis process, where water, salt, and electricity are used to create a safe concentration of sodium hydroxide, an effective cleaning agent and degreaser,” Miller explains. “Any water we reclaim allows us to bring it back to the machine and do it all over again.” Lincoln Financial Field has also made improvements to its water conservation, like reducing the amount of water used by urinals from one gallon to half a gallon and installing more-efficient aerators. Working closely with the Philadelphia Water Department, the Linc has begun to offset storm water run-off by installing two rain gardens. “They manage one acre of storm water, which means they capture that first one inch of rainwater that hits the ground and keep that out of our sewer system,” says Joanne Dahme, general manager of public affairs for the PWD. “That’s a big win for us.”
The Eagles management is dedicated to keeping teamwork at the core of Go Green. The team is even pushing its initiatives outside the stadium into the homes of its employees, encouraging them to invest in solar energy by offering financial incentives in the form of stipends. “We pay the difference for employees switching over to green, clean energy,” says Lurie. “I really believe in the words ‘partnership’ and ‘team.’ None of us can do what we do on our own. When we partner up, then it’s really possible to make change.”
photography by jeff gale