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Nationals Park falling behind in green standings

When Nationals Park opened, it was the first LEED-certified ballpark in Major League Baseball, achieving the "Silver" standard. Four seasons later, the once-groundbreaking green ballpark is in danger of being bumped out of the top tier of sports venues.

Photo by The Ardvaark on Flickr.

With Ryan Zimmerman, Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann on the field and Bryce Harper on the way, the Nationals have dramatically upgraded their on-field product. Nats Park amenities have been spruced up as well, with an expanded scoreboard pavilion and new food stands like Shake Shack.

But in a new video by CSN Washington, the Nats are touting the same green features as when the park opened in 2008:

From green roofs to efficient lighting to water filtration to the bicycle valet, the Nationals' efforts are all valuable—but they're no longer cutting edge. In the years since Nats Park opened, the Minnesota Twins have opened Target Field, also LEED Silver certified. Then the Pittsburgh Penguins raised the bar further, opening a LEED Gold certified arena.

And all of those stadiums have been outdone by a college facility. The University of Florida's Heavener Football Complex is LEED platinum-certified, the highest possible rating.

So how can the Nats get back to a leadership position?

Renewable energy. If the Boston Red Sox can put solar panels on Fenway Park, there's no reason why the Nats can't have some as well. Even the Washington Redskins, whose owner is no friend of the environment and who manage to screw up almost everything else, have installed a sizable solar array at FedEx Field.

Put the players out front. Nationals pitcher Collin Balester is part of Players for the Planet, speaking out on the need for recycling & climate action. Why not include him in these clips along with the front office staff?

Tear down the awful parking garages. Not only are they eyesores that block views of the Capitol, not only do they sit empty most of the time, but they encourage driving to a park that's next to one Metro stop and a 15 minute walk from several others. Imagine how much revenue the Nats could recapture from The Bullpen across the street by turning the garage space into an inviting area to eat, drink, shop and socialize. Yes, DC paid tens of millions of dollars to build the garages—but letting the mistake stand won't get that money back.

Get serious about reducing fans' trash. Nats Park only recycles plastic bottles and aluminum cans, while the District's municipal recycling service takes all kinds of plastics, as well as glass, aluminum and paper. The red-helmeted recycle bins aren't marked well enough as such, and trash is often discarded in them. The Nats should also require their vendors to use only biodegradable food packaging.

Stop selling ads on everything to polluters. It's not quite in the same league as Pittsburgh's "green" arena selling its naming rights to a polluting coal company. But the Exxon Mobil-sponsored left field wall billboard, Exxon Mobil-sponsored 7th inning stretch, Exxon Mobil-sponsored organic cotton hat, and Exxon Mobil-sponsored stadium replica really distract from the Nats' efforts to show they care about the environment & public health.

Finally, how's this for a headline: "Nationals Sign Local Environmental Blogger as Left-Handed Reliever"! Think about it, Mike Rizzo.

Miles Grant grew up in Boston riding the Green Line, and has lived in Northern Virginia riding the Orange Line since 2002. Also blogging at The Green Miles, he believes enhancing smart growth makes the DC area not just more environmentally sustainable, but a healthier and more vibrant place to live, work and play. 


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Solar panels: True, they could put them up, but I'm not sure it's feasible to do any significant amount. Nats Park does not have a large surface parking lot to put up solar a la FedEx Field. They could put them on the stadium itself, but only a small portion (possibly to the point if green washing) I think would be suitable for solar panels.

Recycling: I don't think you can get a glass bottle in the stadium (they are all aluminum I think) so adding glass recycling wouldn't add much. Paper would be a little better with the programs they hand out and such, but I don't think any of the food related paper waste is recyclable.

Tearing down the parking garages is a great idea, though I think the argument is more compelling from an urban perspective than a environmental one.

by Steven Yates on Nov 18, 2011 10:39 am • linkreport

The parking garages weren't designed to be permanent, anyway. The original plan was to put them underground, but the District was unwilling to increase the ballpark construction budget. I think the idea was to eventually tear them down, and relocate the garages underneath new structures in that area north of the ballpark.

by Ron on Nov 18, 2011 10:42 am • linkreport

The city's agreement with MLB to get the team stipulated 1,225 on-site parking spaces, with huge penalties if the stadium didn't open on time, which is why they went with the cheap and quick parking garages. If the city had done the deal it was trying to put together with Herb Miller, instead of two three-story garages, you would have had two 12-story mixed-use buildings with three stories of parking underneath. So, if you think the parking garages block views now, imagine what two twelve-story buildings just past the outfield would look like.

I also imagine that they are bound to keep those 1,225 on-site spaces, so if they get rid of the garages, they'll have to dig to replace the parking. Not going to be cheap, and won't happen unless they do a big deal for multi-story development on top of the spaces.

Feel free to read the reams and reams I wrote about the parking garages back when this was all fought over in 2006.

by JD on Nov 18, 2011 10:46 am • linkreport

I've met Collin Balester, and he's a great guy (who also does great work for cancer awareness) but there are two reasons he's not more prominently featured by the team: 1) he's a relief pitcher, and 2) he's far from guaranteed a spot on the 2012 team. Having a guy who's no longer playing for you be the face of your "green" efforts isn't exactly inspiring.

by Nate on Nov 18, 2011 10:48 am • linkreport

The Nationals don't own the stadium so I really doubt the team or the Lerners are going to spend a dollar improving something they rent.

The District decided to build a LEED stadium, the Nats don't get credit for that. Conversely, if you want to lobby someone to make improvements to it, you should start with the DC Convention and Sports Authority

by freely on Nov 18, 2011 10:55 am • linkreport

I personally think the parking garages are quite well hidden, at least from the entrances and from inside the park. Now, if the area ever becomes an actual lively neighborhood, people will be looking at other parts of the structure more often.

by Tim on Nov 18, 2011 10:58 am • linkreport

I guess there's some merit to these, but my eyeballs just about permanently rolled up inside my head at this idea:

Stop selling ads on everything to polluters

This is at best narrow-minded idealism. You're going to tell someone else who they shouldn't accept money from? Really?

I can be for energy efficiency, for reduced dependence on oil in the future, but asking the Nats not to sell advertising to companies like Exxon is stupid.

by Fitz on Nov 18, 2011 11:09 am • linkreport

Fitz, who's saying the Nats can't take money from whomever they please? But they're trying to both cash Exxon Mobil's checks AND hang banners proclaiming themselves as environmentally-friendly. The term for that is greenwashing.

by Miles Grant on Nov 18, 2011 11:16 am • linkreport

Tearing down the garages would be a nice idea if the promised parking can be integrated with the stalled Half Street development.

Views of the Capitol will be moot by that point, since Half Street will be in the way but it would make for a somewhat better view inside the stadium. For whatever reason, the park is pointed in the one direction that will never get a "monumental view".

by Michael on Nov 18, 2011 11:24 am • linkreport

Non-sarcastic suggestion for the parking garages: Plant something on them. The garages at National Airport look pretty good because they've got all that greenery hanging off of what would otherwise be an enormous chunk of concrete. So does PDX's garage, now that I remember. Has anybody ever suggested that?

by Rob Pegoraro on Nov 18, 2011 11:25 am • linkreport

The Nationals don't own the stadium so I really doubt the team or the Lerners are going to spend a dollar improving something they rent.

They don't own it, but they do control it. They've already put a great deal of money into the stadium since taking control. If the changes work to make money for the Nats and improve the fan experience, they'll be interested in it.

by Alex B. on Nov 18, 2011 11:28 am • linkreport

I think you make a really good point about trash management. I think it's great that the Nationals have special recycling bins, but it's often a mystery which hole to put a plastic cup in vs. an aluminum bottle... I was impressed on a recent trip to Costa Rica that most public spaces have dedicated bins for organic, paper, plastic, and metal. They don't really take up that much more of a footprint than two large barrels.

@Miles I kind of agree with @Fitz here. Selling ads to Exxon has nothing to do with being LEED certified. I'm going to say you took a cheap shot here.

I don't know whether it would be feasible or not, but I would like to see some method for on-site storm water treatment. There are tons of impermeable services and the one or two green roofs that they have don't make much of a dent. They could develop some sort of catchment system that could help the ball park and possibly the nearby recreational parks with water supplies for landscaping in the summer.

I think something else that might be cool and eye-catching would be small urban wind-turbines along the river-side.

by Phil Lepanto on Nov 18, 2011 11:40 am • linkreport

Why is Exxon-Mobil considered a 'polluter'? In my experience, the oil companies are among the best at implementing best practices in regards to environmental protection. Is it maybe you have a grudge against oil companies which make possible a means of transportation which you obviously have prejudices against given your desire to see the garages taken down? It's one thing to make your views known, but it's entirely another to be wrong in your facts. Look it up. The oil companies, particularly their refinery operations, are far ahead of most industries in general in regards to green practices.

by Lance on Nov 18, 2011 11:41 am • linkreport

Yeah, I hate how Exxon Mobil makes everyone buy cars and their oil. If polluters is how the National’s determine who and who not to take money from, then what should they do with the polluters sitting in the stands?

by RJ on Nov 18, 2011 11:41 am • linkreport


What money have the Lerners put into the stadium since the tax payers built it for them?

Honestly curious because I haven't seen any improvements at the park since it opened.

by freely on Nov 18, 2011 12:08 pm • linkreport

"Why is Exxon-Mobil considered a 'polluter'?"

3 words, The Exxon Valdez.
2 more, Yellowstone River.

"the oil companies are among the best at implementing best practices in regards to environmental protection"

You know...practices like "top hat", "top kill", "junk shot", etc. etc.

Come on Lance...

by thump on Nov 18, 2011 12:16 pm • linkreport

Why shouldn't Exxon-Mobil be applauded for sponsoring a team that plays in a 'green' ballpark. There is no rational argument for not taking their money in advertising.

by JMC on Nov 18, 2011 12:17 pm • linkreport

Nats Park has daul flush toilets but nobody knows they do, as they don't post instructions. We have the same dual flush toilets where I work, so I recognize them. You pull up on the handle for liquids and push down for solid flushes. They could add that instuction and save a boatload of water.

by Sharon on Nov 18, 2011 12:28 pm • linkreport


There have been minor improvements like the upgrade concessions behind the scoreboard and they add some "art" around the stadium and parking garages. But that is about it.

by RJ on Nov 18, 2011 12:30 pm • linkreport


Fitz, who's saying the Nats can't take money from whomever they please? But they're trying to both cash Exxon Mobil's checks AND hang banners proclaiming themselves as environmentally-friendly. The term for that is greenwashing.

There's no conflict between touting your environmental-features, done by the Nats through LEED certification, and accepting cash-for-advertising from Exxon. Exxon is in the oil industry, so what? The internal combustion engine isn't going away and right now there's nothing (or in the foreseeable future) that comes close to matching it's functionality at a similar cost. We can continue reduce to dependence on autos, phase out outdated models, push for the consumption of electric and hybrid-drive vehicles and so on. That said it's still not going to change the fact that we will continue to require autos for driving distances that electric-drives cannot meet, long-haul trucks for transportation, fuel the airline industry, construction vehicles, heavy machinery, back-up power, etc.

Our economy will continue to depend on oil in the near and foreseeable future because oil serves as a fuel for a prime mover that we will continue to require: the internal combustion engine.

by Fitz on Nov 18, 2011 12:41 pm • linkreport


This year was the completion of the 'scoreboard walk' area with the Shake Shack and other new concessions. In previous seasons, they've added the statues in the entrance plaza and other such improvements.

I don't recall off the top of my head the exact terms of the lease, but the gist of it is that the District owns it, but the Nats have full managerial control over it and responsibility for those kinds of improvements and maintenance.

by Alex B. on Nov 18, 2011 12:59 pm • linkreport

"Tear down the awful parking garages. Not only are they eyesores that block views of the Capitol"

It's a myth that the parking garages block views of the Capitol. They only block views of the intervening buildings, both existing and yet to be constructed, that block views of the Capitol. But if you want to suggest that it would be better to see those buildings than to see the ugly parking garages, you have no argument from me.

by Feel Wood on Nov 18, 2011 1:09 pm • linkreport

Ok, so they added some concessions, which the owners then profit from and a few asthetic flourishes. After the District built them a 600 million dollar stadium, the LEED improvements alone costing ~30 million bucks, I don't really consider a ~ million dollars in profit producing stuff for them " putting a great deal of money" into the stadium as you say.

Point of view I guess...

by freely on Nov 18, 2011 1:12 pm • linkreport

If you want to read the lease, go ahead. They're required to make annual contributions to a capital improvement fund to pay for any renovations and maintenance.

The only reason you've seen limited improvements to concessions and public art is because the stadium isn't even five years old! You shouldn't need to make substantive improvements to a structure that young.

The larger point is that your logic is flawed. You argue that the Nats have no incentive to invest in the stadium because they don't own it. I suggest you read the lease and actually see who's obligated to pay for what.

by Alex B. on Nov 18, 2011 1:30 pm • linkreport


Relax, you are the one who said they've already made substantial improvements, not me.

A million bucks of self serving profit producing construction does not constitute "putting a great deal of money" into a 600 million dollar stadium.

And you should re-read sections 6.3 and 6.4 of the lease.

The Team isn't required to escrow money every year for improvements, the DC Sports Commission is.

The lease gives the team the discretion to make capital improvements, but it doesn't require them to.

by freely on Nov 18, 2011 1:44 pm • linkreport

@ Michael: This is the reason why the stadium faces the way it does:

Major League Baseball Rule 1.04 states: "It is desirable that the line from home base through the pitchers plate to second base shall run East Northeast."

It's the direction that best minimizes the impact of the sun on players who would be most at risk from being blinded while looking for a ball traveling at high speed (e.g., first basemen taking a throw from 3rd during an afternoon game, batters looking at 95MPH fastballs in a south facing stadium, etc).

by jg on Nov 18, 2011 2:12 pm • linkreport

@jg ... While that rule dictates how the field needs to be laid out, why does the stadium surrounding it need to be laid out in the same manner? i.e. is there some rule that it needs to be centered behind home plate? The stadium really is a total failure when it comes to taking in the surrounding views from the seating areas. At a minimum, the seating could have a view of the river there ... though a view toward the Mall would be better.

by Lance on Nov 18, 2011 2:20 pm • linkreport

While that rule dictates how the field needs to be laid out, why does the stadium surrounding it need to be laid out in the same manner?

Er, the stadium is laid out so that fans can, you know, watch the game.

I can't believe I had to explain that, but it fits with my many experiences at Nats Park where I and about 3 other people appear to be the only ones there watching the game rather than spending 4 innings in the Shake Shack line.

by MLD on Nov 18, 2011 2:43 pm • linkreport

first of all, the stadium was only around $200 million. most of the $600 million you're touting was for land acquisition. DC paid to green the ballpark on a very limited budget. the Lerners sold the sponsorship to Exxon and are in charge of day to day operations. they are trying to continue greening the ballpark by making lighting efficiency improvements, improving scheduling (running HVAC less to save energy), using green housekeeping products and services, and sorting your waste into trash and recyclables. that's right, cleaning crews comb through the stands to pick out recyclables while your waste is collected for disposal and before they wash the "bowl" with biodegradable detergents. By the way, DC has single stream recycling. if you're still sorting plastic, glass and metal you are wasting your time. throw your stuff in the recycling bins and quit bitching. some of the vendors at the park are providing biodegradable drinkware. if anyone in DC doesn't know how to use the dual flush toilet, i am at a loss to explain why. I have to assume you're just lazy or drunk on expensive ballpark beer if you don't flush up when you whizz. and as the economy rebounds, you will see all sorts of mixed use development continue to pop up around the ballpark, whether or not the garages come down. but it will be a few years before the property value in that neighborhood escalates to the point where replacing them with new development makes sense. I highly applaud the encouragement to the Nationals and the District to continue greening the park, but don't forget about Verizon Center or numerous other venues that didn't even start off green, let alone aren't attempting to go there.

by aj on Nov 18, 2011 2:46 pm • linkreport

The commission's requirements to escrow money for capital improvements and contingency funds is less than the team's lease obligation. That money goes into the maintenance pot.

The larger point is this: it's not about requirements, it's about incentives. The Nationals have all of the incentive to maintain the park, since they have full control over it.

by Alex B. on Nov 18, 2011 3:01 pm • linkreport

"I don't know whether it would be feasible or not, but I would like to see some method for on-site storm water treatment. There are tons of impermeable services and the one or two green roofs that they have don't make much of a dent. They could develop some sort of catchment system that could help the ball park and possibly the nearby recreational parks with water supplies for landscaping in the summer."

So the ballpark has an extensive stormwater treatment system - there are 6 20'x40' sand filters below the field to clean stormwater before it ever leaves the site - and it includes an elaborate filtration system to weed out all your hotdog buns and peanut shells. there was not enough money in the project budget to include storage and plumbing for re-use, but unlike most of DC, the ballpark is not on a combined sewer so releasing it into the storm system after treatment does not have the harmful impacts it would elsewhere in the city. in addition to treating stormwater and bowl washdown water, there is a second, separate groundwater treatment system to remediate all the contaminated groundwater that flows from former industrial sites around the ballpark beneath it on its way to the Anacostia River. one of the largest "green" investments on the ballpark was a smart remediation system that can identify changing contaminants as ground water moves beneath the site and can treat it before it gets to the river. that ballpark is a brownfield remediation MACHINE for the duration of its lifespan and the Anacostia is now in much better shape than before the ballpark got there. it's not a PV display or wind turbine, but it's a very hardworking system with huge environmental benefit.

by aj on Nov 18, 2011 3:12 pm • linkreport

I'm dislike the fact that I can't bring a reusable water bottle into the stadium. I mean i know that they want to prevent alcohol from being smuggled in, getting more to drink than the price includes, etc; but I don't want to use a plastic bottle. I think they can find a way to deal with this.

by Vanmo96 on Nov 18, 2011 6:12 pm • linkreport

No green gimmicks so a few interlopers can get a six figure salary telling everyone else how they should live.

by TGEOA on Nov 19, 2011 9:43 pm • linkreport

I can believe the company this is going to put me in, but I think banning Mobil-Exxon ads is more greenwashing than anything else you've listed here. It will do absolutely nothing for the environment. Mobil-Exxon is mostly in the business of getting you to buy their gasoline over someone else's. But, they aren't particularly geared towards getting you to use more gasoline. It won't reduce the amount of gasoline sold by 1 gallon.

And calling them polluters is, while true, a bit pointless. Do you use electricity? Guess what, you're a polluter. Do you ride Metro, or drive, or take taxis or eat beef or use anything that is shipped by train or truck or boat or airplane? If so, then you're a polluter. You show me a company that is not a polluter.

Now if you think they're particularly egregious then we have legal remedies for that (assuming they've broken the law). If they haven't broken the law, there are ways of dealing with that too. You can buy an ad next to theirs, for example, denouncing them.

But the idea that somehow banning ads by energy companies is somehow "green" is ridiculous. Should we ban PEPCO ads? Car company ads? Where do we draw the line.

We should focus our efforts on things that will actually have impact.

by David C on Nov 20, 2011 2:53 pm • linkreport

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