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Indeed, back in 2009, the venue was dubbed the “Greenest Stadium in the NFL” by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It even uses solar power (about 1,350 panels) to generate the electricity for the programmable LED light display across the top of the stadium.
For the big game in early February, the big focus has been on the green business practices embraced by the concession organization, which is converting all kitchen waste oil to biodiesel fuel, composting the kitchen scraps, donating leftover food and recycling the mounds of cardboard, plastic, glass and other materials that remain after fans leave the stands.
But if you really interested in innovative green technology applications in the professional sports world, you’ll need to look a bit farther west to Cleveland, where the Browns football team is testing an anaerobic digester from InSinkErator (yes, the garbage disposal company) as a means of diverting food waste at FirstEnergy Stadium.
It’s the first professional sports installation for the new technology, called Grind2Energy, although it isn’t actually on site. The system uses food scraps from the concessions – an estimated 35 tons per season — which is ground into a slurry and transported to the quasar energy group at Ohio State University. (It’s part of the school’s research and development organization for the agricultural department). There, the material is used as a feedstock. The end result is biogas and other fuels, along with nutrients that can be used for fertilizer (enough for three football fields full of crops).
This particular installation is a collaboration between the Browns, FirstEnergy Stadium, and the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy. That’s because an important ingredient in the process is cow manure, which produces methane.
Anaerobic digesters aren’t exactly new. They are traditionally used by forward-thinking dairy farms (like Stonyfield Farms) to offset electricity needs and reuse waste rather than carting it away and dumping it other places.
“Digester systems are something this country’s dairy farmers have used for years,” said Tom Gallagher, CEO of the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, said in a statement about the deal. “But we have just begun to tap what is possible. Through new partnerships – whether it’s with a stadium, or a hospital or a chain of supermarkets – dairy farms in all 50 states are able to house this type of system and turn food waste into value for local communities.”
The system hosted by the Browns will produce enough electricity to power one home for about 1.5 years, and enough natural gas for 32 homes. So, it’s not huge, but it represents an example of projects that might matter at a local level.
Consider how many homes have built-in garbage disposals for grinding up food waste. Now, imagine if municipal governments got involved to put that substance to a revenue-producing use.
From a business perspective, the interest in finding better ways to handle food waste is become more pronounced: driven in large part by the United Nations revelation in 2011 that up to 1.3 billion tons of food are wasted annually, about one-third of everything produced for human consumption.
From a marketing standpoint, professional sports teams could play an important role in making technologies for dealing with this problem – as well as other nagging natural resource concerns such as wasted water — more visible. There’s even a four-year-old organization dedicated to this, the Green Sports Alliance (GSA), which now has 212 members. (The group was founded by Paul Allen’s Vulcan and the Natural Resources Defense Council.)
“Cities and local communities really identify with their professional teams, so when we see franchises make these partnerships and these commitments, we think there’s a potential multiplier effect for every fan that’s going to walk through those turnstiles,” said Allen Hershkowitz, director of the Sports Greening Project at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
There’s even brand-new money to be made in thinking green, at least in the minds of the auto-racing world. The FIA Formula E organization (not a GSA member) is planning a Grand Prix series starting in September in Beijing specifically for all-electric vehicles. Pictured below is the Spark-Renault SRT_01E, which is capable of speeds in excess of 150 miles per hour. The car got its first public debut in early January during the International CES show in Las Vegas.
“We expect this Championship to become the framework for research and development around the electric car, a key element for the future of our cities,” said Alejandro Agag, CEO of Formula E Holdings
At the very least, it’s clearly a great way to break down many of the performance myths associated with electric vehicles.