Buy me some peanuts and (water-efficient) Cracker Jack

As a lifelong baseball fan, I’m proud that in 2008, Major League Baseball became the first professional sports league to partner with the National Resources Defense Council, teaming up with the respected environmental organization to launch a wide-ranging sustainability initiative. MLB Commissioner Bud Selig declared at the time that “caring for the environment is inextricably linked to all aspects of the game,” and that baseball “is in a unique position to exert positive influence in the area of environmental stewardship.”

That might sound like pure publicity, but over the last five years MLB has consistently turned its words into action, particularly in the area of water conservation. It’s all too easy to take water for granted, and baseball—America’s national pastime—could play a key role in instilling the idea of water stewardship in the national consciousness.

For  three teams—the Miami Marlins, the Minnesota Twins, and the Washington Nationals, all of which have opened LEED-certified ballparks—the minimization of water use has been particularly impressive.* The Marlins used landscape design featuring native and water-efficient plant species to reduce potable water use for irrigation by 60 percent (compared to similar projects), and all three teams reduced overall water use by 30 percent (relative to the baseline— baseball pun!—of the 1992 Energy Policy Act’s fixture performance requirements).

*“Particularly impressive” is almost certainly an exaggeration, but this is a water blog, after all.

To conserve water, these teams combine a host of tried-and-true measures—such as water-efficient urinals—with more innovative techniques. The Twins, for instance, use a custom-designed stormwater recycling system that helped them capture and reuse more than 1.8 million gallons of rainwater over the past two years.

My view of a recent Nationals/Diamondbacks game at Nationals Park

My view of a recent game at Nationals Park. The Nationals beat the Diamondbacks, 3-2.

The Nationals, meanwhile, have developed a unique filtration system that protects the nearby Anacostia River by separating stormwater from water used to clean the stadium, treating them both, and only then releasing them to the district’s sanitary and stormwater systems. Oh, and they’ve also got a 6,300-square-foot green roof that absorbs stormwater, reducing runoff. Next time I head to Nationals Park, I’m definitely checking it out.

These aren’t the only baseball teams doing exciting things with water conservation, or with sustainability more generally. MLB has developed a comprehensive software system to collect and analyze data on energy consumption, water use, waste generation, and paper purchasing at its 30 stadiums, and many teams have taken concrete steps to reduce their environmental impacts. Sustainability has become a baseball-wide mission, and water conservation has been a critical part of that.

So here’s the 64,000-gallon question: If baseball is doing such a good job of conserving water at so many of its stadiums, why hadn’t you heard about it until now?

I’m only guessing, of course, that you hadn’t heard of it, but it’s an educated guess. I’m a pretty big baseball fan—I follow my hometown Los Angeles Dodgers almost religiously, and I keep up with news from around the league. But unless I’d been actively looking for information about baseball and sustainability, I never would’ve known any of this.

I’ve been to hundreds of Dodgers games, I read MLB.com regularly, and I’ve watched countless playoff games on TV. And I don’t remember seeing, hearing, or reading anything about saving energy, conserving water, or minimizing waste.

Granted, my memory is far from perfect, so maybe I’m forgetting some quick reference. It’s also possible that my beloved Dodgers are at fault—their “Going Green” webpage is among the least informative in all of baseball. Indeed, the reality is that most teams have made substantive information about theirgreenefforts available on their websites.

But even if baseball isn’t hiding its sustainability work, it certainly isn’t doing much to promote it, outside of a few webpages. And if, as Selig said, MLB wants to “exert positive influence in the area of environmental stewardship,” it could be doing a far better job.

Dodger Stadium. Note the lack of water-efficiency signage.

Dodger Stadium on a warm summer night. Note the lack of water-efficiency signage.

Baseball has already taken the first and arguably most difficult step—developing and implementing specific, meaningful sustainability measures. Now all 30 teams must actively promote those measures, and encourage their fans to apply the principles behind them to their own lives. Every stadium needs to host tours and educational programs on the importance of sustainability, as the Twins’ Target Field already does. Every team needs to develop signage and promotional videos, featuring star players, that highlight their stadiums’ energy efficiency, water conservation, and waste reduction measures.

Social media campaigns (#StrikeOutWaste, anyone?) would also go a long way toward increasing visibility. So would in-game announcements at the stadium, on TV, and on radio. I can say with confidence that if legendary Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully asked listeners to take shorter showers to save water, the next morning millions of Angelenos would skip showering altogether.

Is it possible that some baseball fans would be put off by a heavy focus on environmental issues? Yes, but it all depends on the messaging. If Bud Selig starts hyping a carbon tax, that might not go over so well. But if Mariano Rivera says that he wants baseball to be enjoyed by generations to come, and that this will only be possible if we conserve and protect the water that keeps our stadiums beautiful? That’s going to resonate.

So, baseball: If you’ll pardon the mixed metaphor, the ball is in your court. You’ve done some great work—now start telling people about it.

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