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Philadelphia Eagles go greener with eco-friendly stadium

Wind turbines, solar panels, biodiesel power — and a personal call of praise from President Obama.

January 09, 2011|By Neela Banerjee, Washington Bureau

Reporting from Philadelphia — Regardless of how the Philadelphia Eagles fare in the National Football League playoffs, Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie already has received a congratulatory phone call from the president.

President Obama's comments a few weeks ago commending the team for giving a "second chance" to quarterback Michael Vick drew more attention, but the president actually phoned Lurie to praise the Eagles for their pursuit of an environmentally friendly stadium.

Lurie and his wife, Christina Weiss Lurie, are retrofitting Lincoln Financial Field with wind turbines, solar panels and a biodiesel-reliant power plant with the goal of making it the first major U.S. sports facility to be self-sufficient on renewable fuel.

The Luries' ambitious timetable calls for everything to be ready at the 67,000-seat stadium by next season's NFL opener.

Eighty wind turbines along the upper rim of the stadium, 2,500 solar panels on an overhang and facade, and a 7.6-megawatt power plant in a parking lot are the latest examples of the team's greening effort. But it's a mission that began when the facility opened seven years ago and extends deep into its daily operations.

Nearly everything that can be recycled, from tarps to cooking oil, is repurposed. Much else is composted, including the unexpected, such as beer cups made of corn-based plastic.

Thanks to efficiencies, the stadium uses far less power now than it did when it opened, all from renewable sources — though some is purchased from outside.

"It's smart business because it saves money and protects us against a rate hike," Lurie said. "But in owning and managing an NFL team that's on national TV, to have that kind of iconic symbol converting to renewable energy, we hope it can be a good example and encourage other businesses to do even better than us."

Utility costs are the second-biggest expense for the team, behind payroll, said Don Smolenski, the Eagles' chief operating officer. The Eagles' power project is a partnership with a Florida company called SolarBlue. The company will invest $30 million to install the panels, turbines and power plant, which will run on biodiesel but can use natural gas as a backup.

In return, the Eagles have agreed to buy all their power from SolarBlue at a fixed rate for the next 20 years, saving the team about $60 million in energy costs. The Eagles estimate that the project will bring annual reductions in carbon dioxide emissions that are equivalent to taking 41,000 cars off the road.

The wind turbines will be the most visible part of the project. The team ordered a sleek helix design, rather than the typical propeller model, to reduce noise, protect birds and challenge the complaint that turbines are eyesores.

Such attention to detail, verging on the obsessive, marks the Eagles' "Go Green!" campaign, which despite its scope has largely been under the public's radar, according to local environmentalists.

"It's implemented each and every year with integrity, not just a flash in the pan, and it's not an effort to do one important thing and milk it for decades," said John Hanger, Pennsylvania's outgoing secretary of environmental protection. "They looked at just about every part of the operation at Lincoln field, at the behavior of their fans and employees."

The Eagles started small when the stadium opened in 2003, with blue bins next to trash cans in the offices. Now, 80% of the stadium's trash is recycled; 20% goes to the landfill — and the goal is zero.

The team takes its recycling bins and compostable tableware on road trips. It even tries to offset carbon emissions from its travel by planting trees outside Philadelphia and, more recently, in Louisiana.

If the team replaces a carpet, the contractor must explain how the old carpet will be recycled and specify how much recycled material is in the new one. The team is working with the restaurant that sells French fries at its concession stands to develop a compostable plastic cup for its melted cheese.

The grass clippings from the field are composted. Old cooking oil and grease are converted into biodiesel, which is brought back to power the stadium's lawn mowers. Leftovers from the kitchen are donated to local shelters, and food waste is composted.

Recycling bins are everywhere, but getting fans to change habits is difficult, said Kevin Hughes, the stadium's facilities manager. So all garbage bags are opened and waste is separated from recyclables. "Once someone throws it away," Hughes said, "we touch it again."

The Eagles are at the forefront of the NFL's greening effort. There's a monthly "green" conference call that about a dozen teams take part in to share best practices. The Super Bowl has a large-scale recycling and reuse effort.

Other teams have been in touch with the Luries, who never stop looking for new efficiencies.

"People are developing skins for buildings that can consume carbon dioxide," Christina Lurie said. "If that kind of thing becomes commercial, we want to be there for that too, continuously improving."

neela.banerjee@latimes.com

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