Major League Baseball LEEDs With a New Stadium

Jan. 1, 2009

The 2008 season was the first for the Washington Nationals to play professional baseball in their new stadium. But that facility is more than shiny and new. It is the first professional-league stadium in the country to achieve LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification from the US Green Building Council. In fact, the new ballpark rated green enough to earn the LEED Silver rating.

“Creating a green ballpark was as fundamental as any requirement when we decided to embark on this mission to build a new state-of-the-art stadium for the Washington Nationals,” says Gregory O’Dell, CEO of the DC Sports and Entertainment Commission.

Located in southeast Washington, DC, along the Capitol Riverfront adjacent to the Navy Yard, the new stadium is close to the Anacostia River. Baseball fans will enjoy the bonus of sweeping views of the US Capitol, the Washington Monument, and other sections of Washington, DC.

The stadium’s exterior façade has a striking design of steel, glass, and precast concrete that fits into the architecture of the city. The beige cast concrete echoes the color of the limestone found in many of Washington’s monuments and landmarks. The east wing of the National Gallery of Art, which was designed by I. M. Pei, inspired the stadium architects’ design. The concourses and seating decks are distinctly different from each other, giving the feel of particular neighborhoods.

The stadium’s proximity to the Anacostia River meant that its stormwater design team, from Delon Hampton & Associates, Chartered, of Washington, DC, had to carefully consider the potential problems of runoff and water pollution. The water filtration system separates water used for cleaning the ballpark from rainwater. Both sources of water are treated before they are released to the sanitary and stormwater systems.

Organic debris, such as peanut shells and leftover bits of hot dogs and buns, along with discarded paper wrappers, can clog drains and cause serious problems. The enhanced 40- by 20-foot sand filters installed in six underground locations screen out all such matter and redirect bowl washdown to the sanitary system.

A manhole for sampling stormwater runoff to measure pollution levels was installed on the playing field. The field is planted with a blend of three varieties of Kentucky bluegrass. The subsurface consists of 93% sand and 7% soil for maximum infiltration. It also contains a granular product installed to help retain nutrients and hold water in dry weather.

Drainage line made of 6-inch polyethylene pipe is spaced every 12 feet. They drain into 24-inch pipes, and from there runoff enters the site’s sand filtration system. The warming track is made of crushed aggregate stone, which allows runoff to infiltrate slowly.

Unlike stadiums of past years, Nationals Park is not surrounded by gigantic parking lots. This absence of massive impervious surface is a defacto stormwater management strategy.

The roof areas at Nationals Park are reflective to minimize heat gain. An extensive green roof tops the concession stand and bathroom area beyond left field. Measuring 6,300 square feet, this green feature added points toward the LEED certification, because it lessens both heat gain and stormwater runoff.

Nationals Park also won LEED certification points for its ease of access and proximity to public transportation. Although the park has 41,000 seats, it has only 1,200 parking spaces. Five percent of these spaces are reserved for carpoolers and drivers of hybrid vehicles. Baseball fans can arrive by foot, bike, bus, taxi, or train. They can also drive to the old Robert F. Kennedy Stadium 3 miles away, park there, and take a free shuttle bus.

Washington Nationals Park also earned LEED points because it sits on a reclaimed brownfield, the former location of an asphalt plant. The site became part of the EPA’s Voluntary Cleanup Program. Construction workers unearthed layers of old bricks 12 to 14 feet below grade, which indicates that roads probably ran over the site in the 1800s, until trash and fill were dumped on top.

Excavators removed approximately 34,095 truckloads of contaminated soil from the 19-acre site. Previously contaminated groundwater was treated. Now a grove of cherry trees—the city’s best-known tree—is growing behind the outfield bleachers.

Recycling played–and continues to play–a big part of the new ballpark’s culture. About 100 bins are set up throughout the stadium so that fans can conveniently discard recyclable items. The bins are complemented by four recycling compactors onsite. Almost all paper products used at the stadium are recycled.

Recycled materials account for about 20% of the stadium. Leftover construction material, a whopping 5,500 tons of it, was also recycled. This emphasis on large-scale recycling contributed points to the LEED certification. Other building materials, while not recycled, were produced in the region. Using them reduced transportation costs and helped the local economy.

Water conservation covers the bases at Nationals Park. Installing air-cooled chillers, instead of the water-cooled type, will save 6 million gallons of water annually. Low-flow lavatory faucets and low-flush toilets will reduce water consumption by 30%, saving 3.6 million gallons a year. Native, drought-resistant plants were used for landscaping to reduce the need for irrigation.

The lights used on the field beam from energy-conserving bulbs. These energy-efficient bulbs reduce overall light pollution in the metropolitan area and are projected to use 21% less energy compared to typical field lighting. A 1,500-watt green generator will save $440,000 in energy over its expected life of 25 years.

Thermally efficient walls save energy and make the stadium more comfortable. The paints, glues, and adhesives used in construction and decorating were those rated to contain low levels of volatile organic compounds. Now the air is kept healthful by the exclusive use of environmentally friendly cleaning materials.

The stadium, which cost $611 million to build, was completed in a record 23 months. It was designed by HOK Sport Venue Event (HOK SVE), based in Kansas City, MO, and Devrouax + Purnell Architects of Washington, DC.

Three firms constructed the stadium: Clark Construction of Bethesda, MD; Hunt Construction Group of Indianapolis, IN; and Smoot Construction Company of Washington, DC. One or more of these three firms participated in building 11 of the 16 Major League Baseball stadiums most recently built in the US.

Including enough green features to earn the LEED Silver rating with 34 points increased the stadium’s overall construction cost by less than 2% over traditional construction costs. This minimal amount will be recovered many times over by future savings in trash removal, water, and electricity costs, in addition to possible savings in municipal stormwater fees.

Stan Kasten, team president of the Washington Nationals, says of the new park, “We were able to create a ballpark that not only preserves our precious environment, but also preserves the history and traditions of baseball in the nation’s capital.”

As for the certification, Kasten says, “The whole design team went above and beyond the call by achieving LEED Silver certification–it’s like we asked them for a home run and we got a grand slam.”

Besides Nationals Park, HOK SVE has been involved with more than 600 sports projects, facilities to serve both collegiate and professional athletes. Probably one of the best-known specialty architectural firms, HOK SVE started a revolution in stadium design with its innovative work on the Baltimore Orioles’ Camden Yards.

The firm has a long relationship with sustainable design practices. It was a founding member company of the US Green Building Council, and some of its members helped to develop the LEED standards.

Architectural  Students and architects who are interested in principles of sustainable design can consult The HOK Guidebook to Sustainable Design. As do a number of architectural firms, HOK SVE has its own sustainability coordinator.

The first LEED Silver–certified collegiate nonplaying sports facility in the US was also a HOK creation. Located at the University of Connecticut, the Burton Family Football Complex/Mark R. Shenkman Training Center, which opened in the summer of 2006, also earned 34 LEED points.

Site reclamation accounted for some of the points. Others were earned for the use of energy-efficient infrared heating units, instead of traditional heating; the conservation of water and energy during construction; the inclusion of recycled materials during construction; and recycling leftover construction materials.

The ventilation system was designed to improve indoor air quality and reduce that “locker room smell.” That effort also earned LEED points.

Stormwater runoff from atop and around the complex was lessened by the use of permeable pavement and bioretention swales. They also help to infiltrate and treat the stormwater.

Rick Martin, HOK SVE managing principal, describes the University of Connecticut facility as “one of the most significant milestones in the history of collegiate sports facility design.” He termed the project “a model in our continued emphasis of sustainable design as a standard.”

Achieving LEED Silver status for the University of Connecticut facility was even more cost effective than at Nationals Park: less than 1% of the overall project budget. That expenditure will pay for itself in five to 10 years.

Future HOK SVE design projects include the Minnesota Twins Ballpark, set to open in 2010, and a football stadium for the University of Minnesota, which should be ready for the 2009 season. Both of them are being designed with LEED certification in mind.

The Twins’ $544.4 million park will seat just 40,000 but will be more spacious than most parks and have more amenities for fans. Located on an 8-acre downtown site, the ballpark will earn LEED points for its access to public transportation, including bus, bike trail, light rail, and commuter rail lines. The university’s future stadium is being built on a redeveloped brownfield site and will incorporate recycled concrete from grain elevators that were torn down to make way for the new stadium.

Another HOK Major League Baseball project is Citi Field in Queens, New York. This new $800 million ballpark for the New York Mets will be finished by Opening Day in 2009. The facility features recycled steel beams, a green roof, concrete made from coal combustion ash, measures for both energy and water conservation, and bioswales and permeable pavement to reduce stormwater runoff. The EPA recognized the ballpark’s sustainable features, and it will no doubt earn LEED certification.

The first collegiate ballpark to earn LEED certification is Medlar Field at Lubrano Park, on the campus of Pennsylvania State University. This $30 million baseball stadium is also used by the State College Spikes, a minor league professional team. It seats 5,400 fans. Designed by L. Robert Kimball & Associates of Pittsburgh, the ballpark opened in the summer of 2006 and received its LEED certification in July 2007.

Medlar Field’s sustainable attributes include water-efficient landscaping with native plants, a 76% count for recycling construction waste, and a wind turbine system to provide part of its power. The ballpark also has waterless urinals and connects to a shared gray water system on campus.

The first professional sports team nonplaying facility to earn LEED certification is the $34 million training facility and administrative headquarters for the Detroit Lions in Allen Park, MI. Designed by Gensler, a San Francisco–based architecture firm, the building was finished in 2002.

Its flooring is made of recycled rubber and bamboo, the most rapidly regenerating wood. Low-volatile-organic-compound carpet, paint, and other nontoxic materials were used wherever possible. Lighting costs were reduced by the extra daylight coming in through floor-to-ceiling windows and lights that automatically turn off unless they sense motion in the room.

The training area is surfaced with FieldTurf, a synthetic turf made from recycled tires and (appropriately) athletic shoes. Wetlands surrounding the buildings were preserved, and existing trees were kept to act as natural privacy screens.

The Lions are owned by the Ford family, whose efforts to make the Ford Motor Company factory be more protective of the environment are well known. Roger Gaudette, manager of engineering and construction for Ford Motor Land Development Corporation, says, “In designing the new Detroit Lions Training Facility, we placed a major focus on obtaining LEED certification.”

The US Green Building Council’s LEED certification standards were developed for schools, hospitals, corporate offices, and various types of public buildings. Architects, sometimes influenced by corporate sponsors, have begun to adopt the LEED standards for sports facilities as a convenient way to indicate and achieve green building design.

Of course, professional and collegiate athletic facilities have included sustainable design features and practices before and since the LEED standards were created. Some Major League Baseball teams with older stadiums have been adding green features sporadically in recent years. For example, the Colorado Rockies, the Cleveland Indians, and the San Francisco Giants have added solar panels in their facilities to reduce energy costs.

Other teams have expanded the recycling efforts they started several years ago, and many have added biodegradable containers for drinks and food sold to fans. Environmental practices vary from team to team, and sometimes not everyone, player or staff member, has participated.

But since 2008, every baseball team and the umbrella organization to which they belong, Major League Baseball, have been doing much more for the environment and in a unified way that is unprecedented in any professional sport league. They have joined forces with a major environmental organization, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), based in Washington DC.

“This commitment by our national pastime to enhance its ecological profile in a meaningful and public way marks a watershed in the history of baseball and the environmental movement,” says Allen Hershkowitz, senior scientist for the NRDC.

Baseball Commissioner Allan (Bud) Selig agrees. “Baseball is a social institution with social responsibilities, and caring for the environment is inextricably linked to all aspects of our game.” He adds, “Sound environmental practices make sense in every way and protect our natural resources for future generations of baseball fans.”

The scientist, baseball fan, and the sport’s commissioner have worked together with people from both organizations to create an intensive environmental partnership. The result of their collaboration is a detailed software program—two years in development—which was given to each Major League Baseball Club.

The NRDC Team Greening Advisor is Web-based and includes environmental advice and resources for every aspect of the operation of a professional baseball team. The advice is specific and localized for each club.

Topics covered in the software include energy use, purchasing, concession operations, water use, recycling, paper-reduction strategies in offices, and transportation of players and staff members. Beyond the practical and cost-effective tips are long-range plans such as developing an official environmental policy and offsetting the environmental impact of team and fan travel.

But the greening of baseball doesn’t stop with the construction of LEED-certified facilities and improved club operations. Major League Baseball and the NRDC will be giving educational materials to fans to encourage them to improve their environments in their homes and businesses. Fans can also read online or download the NRDC Team Greening Advisor software from each Major League Baseball club’s website or from

Building a green stadium or renovating one to add features that help the environment is expensive. However, at least some of the cost can be recouped through lower costs for water, energy, municipal sewer and/or stormwater user fees, maintenance, and supplies. Viewed over the long term, green projects are increasingly cost effective.

Along with the money saved come tremendous public relations advantages. These include reduction of collective carbon footprints; the chance to educate both fans and corporate sponsors on how they, too, can help the environment; and the clear indication that the team’s players and staff members care about something that benefits everyone.

LEED certification is a convenient way of keeping score, and of measuring how green a sports facility is. Sports are, of course, a competitive business. Competing in a green facility, preferably LEED certified so there’s no question exactly how beneficial it is to the environment, is one type of competition in which everyone, even the losing teams, benefit.

The influences that have brought the LEED certification to sports arenas and facilities are too well-established to wane. Universities and colleges are already accustomed to meeting LEED standards in order to qualify for government funds for their other buildings.

As athletic facilities at the collegiate level increasingly seek LEED certification, professional team owners will feel the pressure to do likewise. Not doing so would bring questions from local public officials as well as from citizens. If they expect to receive public funds for construction, teams will almost certainly have to incorporate sustainable design features.

LEED certification for public buildings is already mandated in numerous American cities and is being considered by other cities and several states.

Because stadiums and athletic facilities are so expensive to build, they are expected to last for at least 25 years. Seeing the handwriting on the wall—states and cities following the lead of others and mandating LEED standards—means that it’s common sense for stadium designers to go ahead and incorporate as many sustainable features as are feasible and cost effective in a particular facility.

Another reason that LEED certification will increase in sports facilities is the influence of the collaboration between the NDRC and Major League Baseball. The NRDC is also working with the leaders of other professional sports. Eventually it will reach sports fans who don’t attend baseball games, but do come to watch hockey, NASCAR, or other professional sports.

While LEED certification is an American program, the greening of sports facilities isn’t limited to the US. HOK SVE has taken its sustainable design features for sports arenas abroad. The firm designed Stadium Australia and Nanjing Sport Park in China.

A future international HOK project certain to draw attention is the main stadium for the 2012 Olympic Games in London. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has also played a part in the greening of stadiums. As far back as 1999, the IOC wrote a program of ideas for the conservation of natural resources at Olympic sites.

Whether the Washington Nationals become one of the best American teams, they’re already at the top of the green standings with their new ballpark. It seems particularly fitting that the first LEED-certified stadium for America’s national pastime is in the nation’s capital. 

About the Author

Margaret Buranen

Margaret Buranen writes on the environment and business.

Photo 39297166 © Mike2focus |
Photo 140820417 © Susanne Fritzsche |
Microplastics that were fragmented from larger plastics are called secondary microplastics; they are known as primary microplastics if they originate from small size produced industrial beads, care products or textile fibers.
Photo 43114609 © Joshua Gagnon |
Dreamstime Xxl 43114609