How the New York Yankees hope to score in sustainability

Two weeks before the New York Yankees opened their 111th baseball season — as Derek Jeter and his teammates were in Florida finishing up their spring training schedule — the Yankees' vice president of stadium operations, Doug Behar, was out in California, attending a spring training session of his own. 

Instead of exhibition games and batting practice, Behar made the cross-country trek to attend an all-day course exploring the intricacies of food scrap composting and more sustainable waste management practices. And while Jeter and company were enjoying the Tampa nightlife, Behar was hanging out with several of my NRDC colleagues and me, as well as trash experts from around the nation at the annual conference of the Solid Waste Association of North America.

This was not a glamour trip for Behar, an unpretentious gentleman with four World Series rings who is the behind-the-scenes captain of daily operations at the House that Ruth Built. Behar was at the Solid Waste Association conference for good reason — he and the team’s ownership are committed to making the Yankees major league leaders in environmental sustainability.

At the day-long organics collection course, Behar listened carefully to discussions regarding the environmental benefits of keeping food scraps and yard trimmings separate from other refuse so that these organic materials can be used for compost and to produce clean biogas. He learned about the equipment used to collect organics most efficiently. And he participated in conversations regarding the best ways to communicate with the public to boost participation in composting programs.

This course was hardly Behar’s first experience with environmental concepts. For several years, the Yankees have been implementing more sustainable operations at their new stadium.

And the team’s sustainability campaign is already producing some impressive results. 

For example, Yankee Stadium:

  • is adjacent to numerous subway lines and a new commuter rail connection, used by tens of thousands of fans before and after every home date, which helps to slash the stadium’s per-game energy footprint;
  • uses high efficiency sports lighting, which cuts electricity costs in half;
  • buys only Energy Star appliances for stadium kitchens, restaurants and concession stands, which save 20 percent to 40 percent of the energy required for similar products of standard design;
  • obtains 100 percent of its power from U.S. wind farms; 
  • recycles paper, cardboard, glass, plastics, aluminum, food scraps, grass clippings, cooking oil, batteries, lamps and light bulbs, electronic waste, toner cartridges, carpet and furniture; and
  • donates prepared but unsold food to local food shelters after every game.

Of course, many other teams also adopt sustainability programs at their own ballparks. Credit for this ongoing cultural shift goes to Major League Baseball Commissioner Allen “Bud” Selig and MLB’s team of senior executives who are implementing the commissioner’s environmental vision (in partnership with NRDC’s Greening of Sports team: Allen Hershkowitz, Darby Hoover and Alice Henly).

(Attention out-of-towners: how is your favorite sports team doing on the sustainability front? Check out NRDC’s Sports Greening Project here.)

Back in California at the solid waste conference, Behar described to me some of the sustainability practices that the Yankees have put in place over the last several years, as well as his hopes for expanding composting operations at the stadium in the months to come. He concluded: “We’re doing a lot, but we’ve still got work to do!”

Of course, that’s true. Like businesses everywhere, the Yankees' sustainability record isn’t perfect.

But having heard, firsthand, his commitment to make Yankee Stadium among the greenest in all professional sports, I can tell you this: even with the 2014 baseball season only several weeks old, Yankee VP Doug Behar is already a winner.

This story originally appeared on the NRDC Switchboard blog and is reprinted with permission. Photo of baseball player by Philip Eppard via Shutterstock