A founding member of the Green Sports Alliance (GSA), the Seattle Mariners team is a pioneering leader in Major League Baseball’s (MLB) sustainability initiative. The leap to become “the first baseball team to spend a sizable amount of money to go green” came in 2006 when the Mariners hired Scott Jenkins as VP of Stadium Operations. Jenkins identified sustainability as a core situation to address, not just as a team but for the community.
“As the center of a city, the ballpark has the ability to galvanize fans behind a zero-waste movement and can inspire people to make changes,” he said.
Recycling was an early focus for Jenkins, and his projects led the Mariners’ stadium, then called Safeco Field, to be hailed as the first MLB ballpark to completely overhaul its waste programs.
Initial green measures featured placing hundreds of recycling bins next to garbage cans. The team put up how-to posters and artwork to educate fans on how to use the containers properly. It also played home composting training videos and created two “environmental superheroes,” Captain Plastic and Kid Compost, to teach children about recycling.
Significant success really arrived after Jenkins decided to ban nearly every non-compostable item from the stadium. Recycled corrugated paper products replaced Styrofoam containers, while concession stands were stocked with utensils made from potato leftovers and cups composed of compostable corn resins.
Although these recycling programs were financially risky, the team recouped its investment quickly. Hauling waste to a compost facility wound up being cheaper than using a landfill. This change resulted in nearly $70,000 in savings as it increased its diversion rate from approximately 12% in 2007 to over 82% in 2010.
The team has continued improving its recycling numbers, moving closer to reaching its zero-waste goal. Since 2010, the team has averaged around an 85% diversion rate and represents recycling close to 3 million pounds of paper, plastic, glass, aluminum, food waste, grass clippings, and other organic matter.
Contributing to this improvement has been the addition of 16 zero-waste stations, which offer the only landfill-bound waste containers in T-Mobile Park, to its collection of compostable/recycling containers. The Mariners’ concessions partner Sodexo Live!, has helped to reduce waste by donating more than 100 tons of food since 2011 to local food banks and other feeding programs.
2010 was also when MLB inaugurated the Green Glove Awards to honor teams with the best recycling numbers. From 2010–2020, the Mariners were the American League champions, and they topped MLB in 2017 with a 96% rate and tied the San Francisco Giants for the title in 2020 with a 98% mark.
The Mariners also took steps early to conserve natural gas consumption while installing dual-flush toilets and low-flow urinals, cutting water use by over half. Additionally, a greywater system filters recycled municipal wastewater through an internal system so that it would be used to water the field.
The stadium’s initial energy efficiency upgrades included swapping out incandescent bulbs for compact fluorescent lights (CFLs). Switching to LED lights in the out-of-town scoreboard generated energy savings equal to powering 100 homes a year and reduced electricity costs too.
In 2015, the Mariners became the first MLB team to outfit its stadium with LED lights, which lowered annual energy usage by more than 780,000 kWh. T-Mobile Park nowadays has LED fixtures inside and outside, dropping energy use by 75% over traditional lighting. It also receives a power boost of 40,000 kilowatt hours a year to its distribution grid from Panasonic HIT® Double solar panels on the sky bridge connecting the stadium to the parking garage.
In 2008, the Mariners made history by hosting MLB’s first “Carbon Neutral” game on Earth Day. The game’s emissions and consumption of natural resources were balanced by purchasing renewable energy credits, carbon offsets, and water restoration certificates.
Beyond the many Green Gloves awards, the Mariners have earned numerous other accolades, including GSA’s 2016 Environmental Innovators of the Year Award for its green operations and innovative partnership and the Environmental Protection Agency Food Recovery Challenge Sports & Entertainment Award in 2017 for diverting 761 tons of food waste.
However, the ballclub isn’t resting on its laurels. Recent eco-friendly additions to T-Mobile Park have ranged from four new Level 2 electric vehicle chargers to offering more vegan and plant-based menu items. The Mariners also have committed to involving sustainability in every phase of its current $200+ million stadium upgrade plan.