Is Tennis' US Open The Greenest Big Sporting Event In The Nation?

US Open recycling photo

image: USTA

I don't know if the United States Tennis Association puts on the greenest major sporting even in the country, of even if you could define that, but the US Open, held over the first two weeks of September at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Queens, New York, certainly has to be close to the top.

TreeHugger has been following the USTA's green initiatives for the past couple of years. Here's an update on the Open's ambitious energy, recycling, composting and transportation programs.Energy. For the past several years all the electricity at the US Open has come from wind power, via purchased renewable energy credits. The USTA has been able to purchase these at the same rate that it would pay for fossil fuel-generated electricity--most green power programs charge a 1-2ยข per kilowatt-hour premium. Over the course of the event and the event prep roughly 2000 MWh of electricity are consumed. Being able to get even this small discount on the RECs saves the event roughly $20,000--not to mention radically reducing greenhouse gas emissions from power use. New in 2011 is that GDF Suez is supply the RECs.

Energy efficiency has also been a big drive. Stats in previous years showed roughly a 4% reduction in overall energy usage through efficiency. Exemplifying that: By using more efficient servers to host the US website, IBM has been able to reduce the energy consumption association with promoting the event electronically by 40%, while reducing the cooling demand on the servers by 48%.

Recycling. For the past several years the entire facility has been supplied with recycling bins, in all locations placed side-by-side with trash bins. IN 2009, the first year where 100% of the facility had recycling, 133 tons of waste was diverted through recycling; in 2010 that rose to 145 tons. In terms of plastic bottles, 290,500 were recycled last year.

Recycled or not, that's a lot of plastic bottle consumption. But one thing new for 2011, which may or may not actually reduce those plastic bottles being used in the first place, is that water fountains have been installed in some locations.

As far as tennis ball cans and the balls themselves are concerned, recycling and reuse of them remains a high priority.

Of the 70,000 balls used during the tournament, all are donated to community and youth organizations for reuse. While balls may fall below professional level specs for tournament play pretty quickly, there's still plenty of bounce left in them for practice outside of the tournament.

All those balls come in roughly 23,000 cans, all of which are recycled. New for 2011 is that the metal tops to the cans that keep the balls pressurized until use are now collected by the match umpires and recycled as well.

Food Waste. When I last visited in 2009, composting was just beginning at the US Open. Now it's been expanded to all of the kitchens at the venue. This means 50 tons of food waste is now being collected and composted. In addition, 985 gallons of waste cooking grease is being collected and turned into biodiesel.

New this year is a pilot program where all the plastic cutlery and cups are now compostable, and all the plates are compostable as well.

Transportation. Continuing previous efforts at greening how people get to the Open, either to play or spectate, 60% of all vehicles transporting players are now hybrids (this year supplied by Mercedes Benz) and 58% of spectators are now arriving via subway or commuter rail. That's nearly a doubling from a decade ago.

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