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Copyright 2018 The Washington Times
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The Washington Times


As Major League Baseball takes over the Washington region for the 89th MLB All-Star Game and its accompanying activities, more than baseball is on the schedule. In fact, MLB has enough planned in the eco-friendliness department that the D.C. Council's recent bill looking to ban plastic straws may look small by comparison.

Take, for example, Friday's volunteer "greening" community service event at Richard England Clubhouse 14, a Boys and Girls Clubs outpost in Northeast Washington. The league expects more than 100 volunteers ranging from employees of the league and the Washington Nationals to youth baseball and softball players to spend their afternoon landscaping, removing trash, painting and repairing benches for the clubhouse.

Baseball is sometimes considered by its detractors a little old-fashioned, but MLB is determined to see that the modern game is on the cutting edge of environmental awareness. In what it sees as a matter of corporate social responsibility, the league has ramped up these efforts year over year since launching its sustainability program in 2008.

But this year officials have a new goal. MLB wants the 2018 All-Star Game to be the first event in professional team sports to receive certification from the Council of Responsible Sport, a board that encourages socially and environmentally conscious sporting events.

"Historically we haven't thought about throwing away the nacho tray or the soda cup, or the plastic straw in the soda cup, for example," said Shelley Villalobos, the council's managing director. "Right now there's a large movement to rapidly increase awareness and action to moving towards more sustainable alternatives that don't leave a lot of plastic going into the oceans."

The council works with willing event managers and judges them with a list of 61 available "credit points." If an event reaches enough criteria to earn at least 27 points, it will receive certification, and more points lead to gold, silver and "evergreen" levels.

Events rack up points by doing everything from reducing waste and conserving water to establishing scholarships and legacy events to continue helping a community after the event.

For instance, 66 players will travel to and from Washington from the other 26 Major League cities to play in Tuesday's game. The league plans to calculate the carbon footprint of that travel and purchase "carbon offsets," or monetary credit toward other projects that reduce greenhouse gases, through the Bonneville Energy Foundation.

Paul Hanlon, MLB's senior director of ballpark operations and sustainability, first met Villalobos last year at a conference on "green sports." His department already was doing several things the council rewards in the certification process, and Mr. Hanlon and his team felt it was the right time to try for a certification.

"A lot of what we learn is from our clubs," Mr. Hanlon said. "It's a very club-driven initiative, but we also want to show our clubs as well, 'Hey, we're able to do this for an All-Star Game. Maybe this is something you could look at (doing) for the last month of a season."

Some recent NCAA Men's and Women's Final Fours are the largest events to receive the certification so far. The rest are mainly foot or cycling races and some PGA Tour events. MLB will learn whether it earned the certification about a month after the game is played.

But why should the sport industry take a leading role in green efforts? Critics might say it's merely a marketing ploy. But Villalobos believes sports are perfectly suited toward considering a "triple bottom line" of people, planet and profit.

"We say that sport can help lead the transition to a more circular economic model because sports events are places where people consume lots of goods primarily food and beverage and it's a prime place to educate people about the materials that they're using to partake in those activities," Villalobos said.

For its part, MLB has been up-front with baseball fans about eco-friendliness for several years' worth of All-Star Games. Fans going to Nationals Park for All-Star events should expect to encounter the league's "Green Teams" young people collecting recyclables in the stands and educating park-goers on "positive environmental practices" during the week's activities.

"You'll definitely be able to feel it when you walk around Nationals Park on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, that there's a commitment to this," Mr. Hanlon said.

It helps MLB's cause that Nationals Park itself is green. It was the first pro sports stadium to receive a LEED certification from the Green Building Council back in 2008.

The Council for Responsible Sport took inspiration from the LEED certification process when it designed its own model, Villalobos said. The council was founded in Oregon in 2007, but MLB is the first of the major four sports leagues to seek certification for an event.

"We are poised for growth and we're excited about it. And we're grateful truly that Major League Baseball is taking this step of transparency, to open their doors," Villalobos said. "That's a big step and it's not a step we've seen other professional leagues take yet around their championships and their big events."

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July 13, 2018


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