Soccer Goes Green
New York Red Bulls Training Facility & Stadium in East Hanover and Harrison, N.J
By Dave Ramont
These days, many businesses are evolving to become more eco-conscious in their everyday routines. The New York Red Bulls—an American professional soccer team—are one organization embracing this movement. The team's training facility in East Hanover, N.J., was the first facility in the country to be Environmentally Certified by the Sports Turf Managers Association (STMA). Two weeks later, their stadium in Harrison, N.J., became certified as well.
STMA is a nonprofit association for people who manage sports fields worldwide. CEO Kim Heck explained that many of their sports turf manager members were leading the charge in more sustainable practices, but that their deeds were not being documented in any way. "We realized four years ago that we were behind the eight ball on this, that we were lagging behind in being able to document the good practices of our members," Heck said. That's why they started the certification program, which rewards facilities that showcase ecological stewardship and sustainability practices.
The new program was launched in June 2016. Zack Holm, assistant groundskeeper with the Red Bulls, said it was a big goal of theirs to get certified. "At the beginning of the year we sit down individually and as teams and set goals for ourselves, and this was a goal. It was something that was attainable, like for a sales person that wants to sell a certain amount of tickets, for us we want to have a field that's responsible to the environment, and this was a way to quantify that."
The STMA's environmental committee spent four years developing the certification program. Currently, 11 facilities have been fully certified, and more are in various stages of the two-pronged process. Heck explained how first the sports turf manager at a facility would download the self-assessment form which addresses 10 environmental practice areas. Once the assessment is complete, STMA scores it. To pass, a facility must achieve 80 percent compliance on each of the 10 sections, which include: stormwater management; fertilization; pesticides/integrated pest management; recycling; composting; mowing; energy conservation; shop buildings and storage areas; irrigation and water quality testing; and educational outreach.
If a facility passes, they move on to the attesting phase. This needs to be executed by an academic in agronomy or environmental sciences, a Certified Sports Field Manager (CSFM) or someone who's very involved in an environmental group—so long as this person is not employed by the facility. The sports turf manager receives their attesting form back in a PDF and the attester visits their facility, walking through the 10 practice areas with their own survey. "Then they would validate that the practices the sports turf manager said they are following are indeed being followed, and then they're recommended for certification," Heck said.
Holm pointed out that since the Red Bulls Training Facility is in a suburban area, and their stadium sits in an urban neighborhood, different techniques are used to achieve sustainability. For instance, in the case of stormwater management, the training facility incorporates retention ponds while the stadium utilizes the Storm Filter 100. "It's a system of filters that filters the storm water before it goes to public waterways," Holm said.
The green industry in general—agriculture, sports turf, golf—gets a bad rap for pesticide use, according to Holm. But, he said, "At the training facility we only make a handful of applications a year because of excellent growing conditions. At the stadium we have very poor growing conditions—low light and no air movement—so during the summer we spray every 10 to 14 days for certain diseases. But we're doing so according to labels and rotating products using the latest technology, so while we use a good deal of fungicide we are still being environmentally responsible."
Regarding fertilization, both facilities have fertigation systems and both use foliage fertilizer every two weeks. Granular fertilizer in small amounts is used only in spring and fall, which was a big plus on the certification assessment. With regard to irrigation and water, both facilities have water quality systems to inject acid because the water is basic. They both have moisture meters and get water tested a few times a year by a lab. Holm said the stadium uses artificial lighting—four big and four smaller units from stadium grow lights, along with two "cubes" that are placed in the field. "They measure a whole host of things including soil and air temp, sunlight, soil moisture and leaf wetness."
Heck said that lots of resources are available to their members regarding environmental practices, and they have an education manager and information outreach committee who put out technical bulletins and other materials, including educational information about the 10 practice areas. Additional details on the Environmental Facility Certification can be found at STMA.org.