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Waste Heat (Not Sweaty Bodies) Powering U.S. Sports Stadiums

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New Activism
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Editor’s Note: This post is part of a student blogging series on The Business Of Sports & Sustainability. Students attend the Presidio Graduate School which offers the only MBA-level sustainability program focused exclusively on the sports industry. You can follow the series here.

By Allyn McAuley

Many sports leagues are looking for efficiency gains -- beyond faster routes and better passes.

In the sports industry alone, 68 of the 126 teams in the five major professional sports leagues (MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL and MLS) have invested in energy efficiency, and at least 146 collegiate sports departments have energy efficiency programs in place -- leading to massive energy and financial savings.

For example, the Portland Trail Blazers’ LEED Gold Moda Center features 100 percent renewable energy resulting in annual energy savings of 2.5 million kilowatt-hours and $2.1 million since 2008. These initiatives have enormous impact and have paved the way toward environmental stewardship, and now many sports facilities across the country are going beyond equipment upgrades to develop innovative, whole-system approaches to reducing their carbon footprints.

One of the most exciting energy efficiency initiatives is the capture of waste heat to be used as energy. The University of Colorado, Boulder, home to the Buffaloes, is striving for LEED Platinum certification for its new recreation center, which boasts a closed-loop heating system that utilizes waste heat from the ice rink to heat the swimming pool. Target Field, home of Major League Baseball’s Minnesota Twins, utilizes steam from neighboring Hennepin Energy Resource Center (HERC), Covanta’s waste-to-energy facility that transforms solid waste into electricity.

The University of Colorado, Boulder


The University of Colorado, Boulder is aiming for a near net-zero rec center, which features heat recovery on all ventilation units, a multi-level switching lighting system, and waste-heat capture from ice rink refrigeration systems.

Typically, cooling towers are used to funnel waste-heat from HVAC systems into the atmosphere, squandering a valuable resource. Instead of a cooling tower, the rec center uses the outdoor swimming pool to keep this energy in the system. Waste-heat from the ice rink chillers is used to heat the swimming pool, hot water tanks and air flowing through the building.

These technologies create a closed-loop heating system that is able to filter hot and cold air to where it is needed. The University of Colorado, Boulder’s system is projected to result in a 70 percent reduction in energy use and $300,000 of savings per year.

Target Field


The Minnesota Twins have developed an industrial symbiosis with HERC that employs materials commonly considered waste as fuel inputs for productive processes.

Target Field provides the waste-to-energy facility with municipal solid waste (MSW) for fuel, and HERC in return provides heat to Target Field by generating steam from the incineration of the solid waste via NRG Energy Center’s downtown heating system.

Burning MSW can create air pollution, so it is imperative to keep recyclable and non-combustible materials out of the furnace. HERC is regulated by the EPA’s Maximum Available Control Technology (MACT) standards, which require emissions-control systems that achieve the maximum reduction of dioxins and other harmful gases deemed possible by the EPA from escaping into the atmosphere during incineration. The Twins prevented 5,419 tons of waste from reaching landfills between 2011 and 2014. The Twins' first choice is to recycle or compost, which they were able to do with 3,327 tons of waste generated. The remaining 2,092 tons that could not be easily recycled were sent to HERC to make energy. HERC burns 365,000 tons of garbage per year, about 35 percent of the total waste generated by Hennepin County facilities, to produce energy that powers 25,000 homes.

What can we learn?


The University of Colorado, Boulder, and the Minnesota Twins are two organizations that are thinking outside the box to deepen their energy savings.

What innovative approaches to energy efficiency have you heard about that go beyond the low-hanging fruit of lighting, insulation, and equipment upgrades? What can sports organizations do to reduce their environmental footprints and promote stewardship?

Tell us about it on Twitter at @TriplePundit and @PresidioSports

Image credit: 1) Flickr/Paulisson Miura 2) University of Colorado, Boulder

Allyn McAuley is a 2015 MBA candidate at Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco, California, USA. Allyn's focus area is the development of software solutions to help those who are solving the world's most pressing environmental and social problems.

Presidio Sports headshotPresidio Sports

This “micro-blog” is the product of the nations first MBA/MPA certificate program dedicated to sustainability in the sports industry. Led by Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, Senior Scientist at NRDC, The Business of Sports and Sustainability certificate is housed at Presidio Graduate School, the nation’s top sustainable MBA program. Posts explore the connection of sustainability with operations, branding and fan engagement of the sports industry including leagues, teams, venues, sponsors, vendors and surrounding communities.

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