Eagles soar with sustainability programme
The Philadelphia Eagles may be nursing a broken wing after losing to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFL’s Super Card Weekend, but in the sustainability space, the franchise is flying.
While many organisations have only recently embarked on their sustainability journey, the National Football League’s (NFL) Philadelphia Eagles can date its efforts all the way back to 2003, with the opening of Lincoln Financial Field.
Since then, the Eagles have grown the team’s Go Green initiative to encompass the whole organisation and not just its home turf, setting a number of firsts in the process.
More recently, in September last year, the Eagles became the first professional sports team in North America to install and utilise a hydrogen re-fuelling station to power passenger vehicles. This was accomplished through a partnership with manufacturer PDC Machines.
The station produces green hydrogen energy by taking electricity from the stadium’s 10,456 solar panels and adding water. The sole emission from this technique is in the form of water vapour, which is a clean fuel compared to petrol or diesel.
Additionally, the Eagles were the first sports team to offset team travel by helping to plant seagrass. According to the Ocean Conservation Trust, seagrasses are one of the most valuable and biodiverse habitats on the planet. Most importantly, seagrass meadows help to combat climate change by absorbing and storing carbon. Seagrass is up to 35 times more efficient at absorbing carbon than rainforests of the same size, and store 10% of the ocean’s carbon despite only covering 0.2% of it.
"Since 2015, the Eagles have saved more than one million plastic water bottles with the installation of water filtration fountains at the team’s facilities."
The Eagles’ offsetting investments are through a partnership with Ocean Conservancy and the Ocean Foundation. Since 2020, team travel has been offset through seagrass and mangrove restoration efforts specifically in Puerto Rico. A mangrove is a shrub or a tree that grows along coastlines and tidal rivers, and boast special adaptations to take in extra oxygen and remove salt.
The franchise offset more than 456 metric tons of carbon dioxide through its partnership with the Ocean Foundation, by planting three acres of seagrass in 2021.
That same year, the Eagles became the first professional sports team to receive ISO 20121 certification, which was designed to help organisations integrate sustainability into management practices and processes.
The Eagles publish a sustainability report every year, with the most recent now live on the team’s website.
“Since we began our sustainability journey, we have always kept track of our initiatives and progress. The means in which we have done that over the years have changed, but the goal has always been to keep ourselves accountable,” Norman Vossschulte, Director of Fan Experience and Sustainability for Philadelphia Eagles, tells Global Sustainable Sport.
The Eagles also formed the E.C.O (Engagement, Communication, Operations) Committee to help advance the Go Green programme, with subcommittees meeting each month to discuss ideas that can be implanted across the team’s ongoing sustainability efforts.
“This has helped us share our story with our fans and keep ourselves accountable internally throughout our journey,” says Vossschulte. “It has also helped us shed light on our corporate partnerships, who have helped us along our journey.”
Additionally, Lincoln Financial Field – despite being built over two decades ago – has always held sustainability at its core.
There are approximately 10,456 solar panels installed at the 67,594-capacity stadium, with the venue recognised by LEED Gold certification from the US Green Building Council.
Norman Vossschulte with the LEED Gold & Silver Certification, and GBAC STAR accreditation
Lincoln Financial Field was awarded the certification after implementing practical and measurable strategies and solutions, in 2018. More specifically, it exceeded in areas aimed at achieving high performance including sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection and indoor environmental quality.
“Since 2015, the Eagles have saved more than one million plastic water bottles with the installation of water filtration fountains at the team’s facilities,” says Vossschulte. “In addition, the installation of simultaneous flush urinals throughout Lincoln Financial Field save more than 5,000 gallons of waste per event during the 2022 season.”
However, Lincoln Financial Field’s first LEED certification can be traced back to 2013, when it was awarded Silver level. The Eagles were the second team to be awarded this certification.
“The stadium’s renewable energy and water efficiency efforts, coupled with its recycling programme, were all motivating factors that led to the award,” explains Vossschulte.
Lincoln Financial Field also diverts over 99% of its waste from landfill sites, according to Vossschulte.
"As an organisation, we have always made it a priority of ours to partner with other organisations who share similar visions and philosophies."
“We have created a closed-loop recycling programme with Braskem, collecting bottle caps and plastic products and turning them into new material for use at Lincoln Financial Field,” he says.
The Eagles first partnered with Braskem in 2018 and have since worked together on an industrial-sized cleaning of South Philadelphia’s FDR Park, in 2022. This large-scale project was repeated once more in 2023.
There has been a real push from the Eagles in recent years on sustainability, with the team continuously recognised for its efforts. In September 2020, Lincoln Financial Field achieved Biorisk Advisory Council (GBAC) STAR accreditation, which is the highest standard awarded for prepared facilities.
GBAC, a division of the International Sanitary Supply Association (ISSA), recognised the stadium for implementing the most stringent protocols for cleaning, disinfection and infectious disease prevention.
With 2020 representing the peak of the global COVID-19 pandemic, the team at Lincoln Financial Field was able to demonstrate compliance with the programme’s 20 core elements, from standard operating procedures and risk assessment strategies through to personal protective equipment, emergency preparedness and response measures.
Tork, a provider of business hygiene solutions, has been a partner of the Eagles since 2007. As part of the collaboration, sustainable Tork products have been integrated throughout Lincoln Financial Field and the Eagles’ training space, NovaCare Complex.
The franchise has teamed up with a number of organisations to achieve its sustainability goals over the years, with Vossschulte explaining that other businesses have helped the Eagles to implement numerous schemes and programmes.
“As an organisation, we have always made it a priority of ours to partner with other organisations who share similar visions and philosophies, especially as it relates to the environment,” explains Vossschulte. “Our partners allow us to take our vision and turn it into reality. Other times they open our eyes to something we hadn’t thought about before.”
Food service and facilities services provider Aramark partnered with the Eagles to aid its composting and recycling programme, while plastics company Braskem developed a closed recycling scheme for bottle caps and other plastic products. Additionally, Braskem created an online education platform for Philadelphia county schools to teach students about Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) career opportunities.
The bottle caps that are collected by Braskem are repurposed into products such as a replica Vince Lombardi Trophy – which is awarded to the winning team at the season-ending Super Bowl – and plastic bikes for the Eagles Autism Challenge.
Fans have also played their part in environmental efforts, with the Eagles providing rain ponchos produced by GreenGear Supply Company. The ponchos are made from sugarcane ethanol, a renewable raw material that has a carbon-negative life cycle, which can be reused or recycled through the Eagles’ Go Green programme.
All Pro Reels, CC BY-SA 2.0
With an obvious dedication to environmental sustainability, the Eagles also work within Philadelphia through initiatives that range from reducing gun violence through to increasing participation in youth football. The Eagles work with numerous non-profit organisations to help tackle issues within the local community, while also celebrating the work carried out by its own players.
“Our organisational mindset is that the path to sustainability is a journey. There’s never going to be a time where we sit back and say, ‘We’ve done our part’,” concludes Vossschulte.
“For any organisation personally invested in the environment, it’s important to understand what your resources are, how they can help and what needs to be done to maximise those efforts. For us, it’s all about staying ahead of the curve, continuously evaluating our operational procedures, and learning from other like-minded organisations.”
You can read more about the Philadelphia Eagles’ Go Green programme, here.