“We Are Family” has been the watchword for the Pittsburgh Pirates and its hometown fans since the team adopted the Sister Sledge tune as a theme song during its remarkable 1979 World Series-winning season. This familial bond remains strong today, as demonstrated through the Pirates’ many community-minded sustainability programs.
In 2008, the Pirates started an environmental-focused initiative, “Let’s Go Bucs, Let’s Go Green,” that initially focused on recycling, composting, energy efficiency, and educational outreach. “We are not launching this program because ‘going green’ is a popular trend. We are doing it because it is the right thing to do,” Bob Nutting, team chairman, explained when introducing this campaign.
The team placed 180 recycling receptacles around the Pirates’ stadium, PNC Park, and established a Green Team to collect recyclable waste after games.
Concessionaires switched to using more biodegradable items, including corn-based cups, while the team increased paper recycling in its offices. Additionally, motion detectors and energy-efficient lighting were installed to reduce electrical consumption.
Since the program began, more than 7 million pounds of materials have been recycled at PNC Park, which includes more than 670 tons of plastics and 1,600 tons of cardboard. The team has averaged a diversion rate for waste of more than 70% since 2008, which adds up to nearly 1,700 tons of material annually. However, the rate is rising, with the Pirates hitting the 75% mark in 2020 and 80% in 2021. The franchise’s success with waste prevention has garnered them a Major League Baseball (MLB) Green Glove seven times since 2008 for having the best diversion rate among its fellow NL Central Division ballclubs.
Preventing food waste has been a significant component of “Let’s Go Bucs, Let’s Go Green.” The team has composted approximately 8,000 tons of food waste since the program’s inauguration. From 2019 through 2021, the Pirates donated nearly 19,000 meals to 412 Food Rescue, a local anti-hunger nonprofit. In addition, the team gave the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank more than 22,000 pounds of untouched prepared food. The amount of greenhouse gas emissions prevented by the club repurposing its leftover food equals approximately 4,326 miles driven by a typical vehicle.
The Pirates debuted an urban garden at PNC Park in 2018 that grows around 300 pounds of produce. Fresh vegetables and herbs get used in various food items sold at the stadium and in meals prepared for the ballplayers.
Likewise, the garden’s soil includes a compost mix made from the stadium’s food waste, the growing beds are lined with PNC Park’s repurposed items, and collected rainwater serves as the garden’s main water source.
The Pirates’ concern for the environment extends beyond the walls of PNC Park. The stadium is located along the Allegheny River. In 2019, the team partnered with Venture Outdoors to clean up trash polluting the Allegheny and the nearby North Shore Riverwalk.
More recently, the Pirates teamed up with the locally-based energy company Duquesne Light on a campaign where a tree gets planted every time Pittsburgh hits a home run. The Duquesne Light Power Hitters initiative particularly targets underserved neighborhoods that lack sufficient tree cover. Adding trees creates shade and absorbs sunlight, which lessens the effects of “heat islands.” This effort is vital because “heat islands” — areas with many roads, buildings, and other surfaces emitting heat — worsen water quality, raise energy usage, and decrease human health quality.
Pirates players have stepped up, too, by participating in programs hosted by organizations, such as Players for the Planet and Project Green Schools, where they spoke about the problems caused by pollution.
“We at the Pirates are proud not only for the success of the environmentally friendly practices here at the ballpark but also in our efforts to continue to utilize our unique public position to help promote the importance of sustainable practices in order to make an even greater impact on our environment,” stated Nutting.
The Pirates and the people of Pittsburgh have a long history together. Only one MLB team has been operating under the same name longer than the Pirates — the Philadelphia Phillies, born in 1890, are one year older. Through their various sustainability projects, the Pirates have shown dedication to strengthening the community bond for future generations.