Alan Bethke, senior vice president of marketing for Subaru of America, and Tim McDermott, president of the Philadelphia Union, celebrate Subaru Park becoming the first soccer stadium in Major League Soccer to achieve zero landfill status on Oct. 23, 2021.
With a deep run in the 2021 MLS playoffs and reaching zero landfill status, the Philadelphia Union has much to celebrate on the field as well as off.
In October 2021, the home of the Philadelphia Union — Subaru Park in the Philly suburb of Chester — became the first soccer-specific venue in Major League Soccer to achieve zero landfill status. The league-first accomplishment came out of an ongoing partnership between the Union and Subaru of America.
The Union and Subaru estimate they will divert more than 350,000 pounds of waste from local landfills annually beginning this season. Of course, the move took commitment and hard work, but Philadelphia Union President Tim McDermott said deciding between profitability and sustainability is a false choice.
“You can do good in the community and still have a positive net impact on your bottom line. Those two don’t have to conflict with one another,” McDermott told 3p. “Oftentimes when somebody may think about moving to a zero-landfill stadium, there are probably a lot of initial hesitancies with it taking a lot of time, energy and resources… The reality is it is not costing us anything. And on top of that, we’re making this huge impact on the environment in a positive way and showcasing Philadelphia Union and Subaru as leaders in doing what is good and right.”
Inside the partnership: How Subaru Park achieved zero landfill status
The Union was in good hands with Subaru in this space. The automaker has been a trailblazer in achieving zero landfill status since its Indiana site became the first American automotive manufacturing plant to reduce, reuse and recycle all its waste back in 2004.
“Working to protect the environment has always been a passion for us at Subaru,” Alan Bethke, senior vice president of marketing for Subaru of America, told 3p. "Over the years, we’ve perfected our zero landfill expertise to help entities, including national parks and our own production facilities, reduce the amount of hard-to-recycle waste they send to landfills.”
In Chester, Subaru Park was able to eliminate much of its waste stream before fans even got their tickets, as an evaluation assessed that many products sold inside the stadium could be replaced with recyclable or compostable alternatives. The installation of more than 100 easy-to-identify recycling and composting containers also encouraged fans to properly dispose of their waste.
All in all, Subaru Park managed to cut food waste in half for each fan while increasing the amount fans recycle five-fold. The Union and Subaru hope these efforts will extend beyond the confines of the stadium. "Our partnership with the Philadelphia Union is geared toward benefiting the greater Philadelphia community, and we knew our waste reduction knowledge could make a difference for fans who visit Subaru Park,” Bethke said.
McDermott points to himself as an example of how this work can have a ripple effect — he says he’s taking techniques he learned through the process and using them in his daily life, especially at home.
Fans, a club and a company: A union built on community
Subaru and the Union are essentially neighbors. The Union’s corporate headquarters, as well as its stadium, are in the Delaware County suburb of Chester, about 20 miles south of center city Philadelphia. Subaru of America’s U.S. headquarters are across the Delaware River in Camden, New Jersey.
The two first came together back in 2020 around a joint commitment to “doing good” and “serving the community,” McDermott said.
It’s not surprising to see why. A grassroots effort from raucous fans endearingly dubbed the “Sons of Ben,” named after Philadelphia’s own Benjamin Franklin, inspired the city to found its own soccer club — making the Union stand out as a club “for, by and of the community,” McDermott continued.
Through fan votes and fan counsels, the Union has held true to its founding principles of community engagement since its inaugural season in 2010. This commitment holds true in its partnership with Subaru of America.
“It all harkens back to the concept of doing good in the community. What I’ve seen from Subaru is that they wake up every day with this mindset of ‘how do we make our community better today?’” McDermott told us. “It’s not about showing a vehicle; it’s about showing people that they’re more than a car company.”
The partnership has also elevated the Subaru Love Promise, the automaker’s vision of being a positive force in the communities where its employees live and work. Subaru and the Union have also joined forces to host large-scale pet adoption events, donate more than 25,000 servings of fruits and vegetables to community food banks through Garden for Good on the grounds of Subaru Park, and develop a mini soccer field in Camden.
Calling on more soccer clubs to join in
McDermott and Bethke say they hope other North American venues, which have overall been slower to achieve zero landfill status than their European counterparts, will follow in Subaru Park’s footsteps.
"We hope our work with the Philadelphia Union will set the standard for environmental best practices at professional sports stadiums nationwide," Bethke said.
As the 2022 MLS season kicks off, more initiatives out of this Union and Subaru partnership may soon be on the way as well, including tree planting efforts as well as projects focused on the Delaware River.
This article series is sponsored by Subaru and produced by the TriplePundit editorial team.
Images courtesy of Subaru
Based in Atlanta, GA, Grant is a nonprofit professional and freelance writer passionate about affordable housing and finding sustainable approaches to international development. A proud graduate of the University of Maryland, Grant spent four months post-grad living in Armenia where he worked for Habitat for Humanity and the World Food Programme. He enjoys playing trivia with friends but is still seeking his first victory - he ceaselessly blames his friends lack of preparation.