By Martin Leggett

The Olympics may be the ultimate showcase for sporting endeavor (not to mention offering an endless parade of branding opportunities), but increasingly they also give the host city an opportunity to burnish its environmental credentials. And London got off to an early lead in this eco-friendly fray, having bannered London’s 2012 Olympics with the ‘greenest Olympics ever’ tag  before even winning the bid in 2005.

So sustainability has been built into London 2012 from the start, with green measures including comprehensive carbon accounting, the FSC certification of newly-constructed venues, and the inclusion of the Games’ food suppliers into sustainability assessments. There have been snags – the renewable energy target of 20% hit hurdles, after the on-site wind turbine failed to materialize. And the shine was knocked off London’s sustainable transport initiative, by the decision to suspend the UK capital’s hydrogen bus service on ‘security grounds’.
Going for gold, for green
But irrespective of whether London has gotten gold in its quest for green, one thing is becoming apparent – the energetic pairing of sporting enterprise and green innovation is proving a winning combination. Sport is a vibrant, clean and healthy expression of the best in human aspirations – qualities that chime readily with the rising chorus of the clean energy economy, over the last decade.
That spark of synergy can be tracked back across the Atlantic, to the US in January 2010, when the Green Sport Alliance (GSA) was inaugurated. This non-profit organization was bought into being under the wings of Microsoft founder, Paul Allen, and the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), with aim of infusing sport with green aspirations. It now has over 90 sports venues and teams as members, representing 13 sports leagues, and has helped foster a sea-change in sport’s environmental commitment.
Stadium powerhouses of clean energy
Some of the most innovative and interesting schemes, in the burgeoning clean energy economy, are being pushed forward under the GSA’s banner – and include some of the biggest names in the US sports. The Washington Redskins cloaked their stadium in 8,000 solar panels, in 2011,  enough to pump out 2 MW of clean electricity. The Seattle Seahawks are going on ‘two further’, adding wind turbines and biofuels to the mix, bringing an 8.6 MW rating for their off-field stadium powerhouse. That is saving big money on sports facilities energy bills (at least 20% overall), but it is also raising the promo game for both sides of the equation.
There is two-way flow of positive image at play in these sport/green marriages – professional teams get the eco-kudos of being associated with the rising star of clean, healthy energy. And sports teams provide an unparalleled channel for getting the clean energy message across. “Venues provide great publicity for solar and renewables in general,” Chris Meehan (of the state Clean Energy Authority) told the Washington Post. “They reach a far broader audience than most other publicity efforts and they make solar sexier by tying it to something that people enjoy.”
Dodgers, ‘Skins, Bears and (EV) chargers
And it’s not just renewable energy generation that sports teams are turning to, in order to realize the green potential of their facilities. Stadiums, in turns out, are an ideal location for one the most critical pieces piece of the unfolding green economy – the charging infrastructure to power the growing cohorts of electric vehicles (EVs) hitting America’s roads.
The LA Dodgers were early entrants into this field, installing 5 chargers for the public at their Elysian Park stadium, but plenty of others have recently sprinted into the EV charging game. The Washington Redskins have paired their solar panel installation with a 10-station charging facility for sports-fans arriving by EV. In Chicago, the Bears have kicked off their EVSE program with three stations for Soldier Fields. And the Portland Trail Blazers are living firmly up to their name, with the addition of ten advanced level-2 Blink EV-charging stations to the roster.
Plug and play?
Tiny though these numbers may seem, they are likely to be only the beachhead for a swelling influx of EV infrastructure into sporting fixtures – mirroring the rise in EV numbers themselves. While all-battery EV sales have been somewhat pedestrian of late, plug-in hybrids – which let drivers go electric for most of their shorter journeys – have been more popular, with sales rising fourfold to 13,000, in the first half of 2012, according to (as quoted in the LA Times).
Those new drivers need a place to charge, preferably somewhere that fits into their weekly routine, allowing them to just plug-and-play. Sports facilities are a prime candidate to offer such a service. Charging times at stadiums can be as long as the game is nail-biting, allowing for the fans’ EV batteries to be fully topped up . As Howard Sunkin, senior Vice President at the LA Dodgers, told Krysta Levy, of the University of Southern California: “Dodger Stadium visitors appreciate having a charging station at the stadium so they can plug in when they get there. Then once they get ready to leave the charging station they need not worry about powering up again.”
That important, albeit small-scale, convenience for EV drivers could be one day something much bigger. Stadiums, with their acres of car-parking space, and massive facilities, could one day become major hubs in both clean electricity generation – and in clean energy storage. With the possibility for megawatts of solar and wind energy generation, and the charging of thousands of EV batteries, some see great potential for sports venues in providing a valuable store of electricity – one that could have utility companies interested, as they begin their roll out smart grids.
That’s for the future. But right here and now, the pairing between clean tech and sports looks set to continue to grow stronger. And a healthier society, and a healthier economy, could the real ultimate medal-winners from the partnership.
Martin is a freelance writer from the UK, who specializes in writing on the strategic impact of environmental issues. After a 10-year sojourn as an analyst at Brady plc –  a Cambridge-based provider of services to commodity investment banking professionals – Martin set himself up as self-employed writer at the beginning of 2010. Since then he has written for a number of environmental websites and companies, and has been one of the principle journalists for green news website, The Earth Times.