A major pillar of 5T Sports’ business is to help Minor League Baseball clubs save money and engage their fans by operating more “greenly”/efficiently. With that in mind, we’re starting an occasional blog series that will highlight some of the great green strides minor league clubs are taking. Leading off are the Spokane (WA) Indians, the Class A Short Season affiliate of the Texas Rangers. They have taken a measured, decade-long approach to greening their operations. While they still have a way to go in their “greening journey”, significant progress has been made, for the environment, the bottom line and the fans. 5T Sports spoke with Spokane Indians co-owner Andy Billig about where they’ve been, sustainability-wise, and where they are going.
5T Sports: Why and when did the Spokane Indians start on its “green journey”?
Andy Billig: Well, it started as a response to the energy crisis of the early 2000s, about 12 years ago. We knew we needed to use less energy and in so doing, hopefully we’d save a few bucks.
5T: How did you and the rest of Indians’ management approach the greening project?
AB: We had 3 Phases. Phase I was as successful as it was simple: We changed the start-time of our games from 7 PM to 6:30. Since we play in a short-season league (the season runs from June-August, when the days are long), moving the start time ahead a half hour allows us to use the lights 20% less than with a 7 PM start. This was a win-win-win-win as we 1) saved electricity—good for the environment, 2) saved money, 3) garnered some positive publicity for us and our stadium naming rights partner, Avista, the local utility, and, perhaps most importantly, 4) our fans loved it as they found it to be more convenient.
5T: Wow, win-win-win-win…that’s a lot of wins!
AB: We’ve found that the green programs that are the stickiest—by that I mean most successful—are the ones with multiple beneficiaries, as in the case with moving the start times ahead. So we are always striving for those types of green programs.
Andy Bittig, co-owner of the Class A (short season) Spokane Indians, has overseen an ambitious, 3 Phase, 10+ year greening program. (Photo Credit: Spokane Indians)
5T: What was Phase II?
AB: Phase II, involved the hiring of a local Sustainability Consulting firm to take a comprehensive look at our operations and to make recommendations as to how we could be more energy efficient. We made small, but effective changes in our back office operation, including 1) using cleaning products that were less toxic, safer and better and 2) recycled paper, and 3) recycling (we’ve done ok, will continue to do better.) Now, the biggest items on the energy efficiency/energy savings checklist turned out to not be doable.
5T: What were they?
AB: #1 was changing the field lighting. The problem is, since we’re a short-season club, we only have 38 home dates. That means that the payback on more efficient lights would be decades. Even though we’re a small business, we are willing and able to make upfront investments with reasonable ROI/payback times. But with the new lights, that time horizon was just too long. #2 was transportation. Bus transit in the Spokane area doesn’t service the ballpark very well so it’s not really an option. We worked with Spokane Transit to try and change schedules to make it easier for fans to use it but it just didn’t work—at least not yet. We did add bike racks and fans have made use of those.
5T: And what was Phase III?
AB: Phase III was a renovation of Avista Stadium, which was built in 1958. Most of the improvements that were made in 2013 had an environmental benefit attached. We rebuilt the concession stands and renovated our offices—before, everything was inefficient, now it’s the opposite—new efficient indoor lights, efficient HVAC, and even efficient hot dog machines. And we installed solar panels on the roof.
5T: The solar panels sound like a big deal? How did that come about?
AB: It is a big deal. As with all of our stadium improvements, this project was a partnership with Avista, Spokane County and the Indians. The county paid for the basics of the stadium remodel but the club paid for the extras—including the solar system. It’s a net metering model—we get credit for all of the power produced.
View from the right field bleachers at Avista Stadium, home of the Spokane Indians. Indians management completed a major renovation of the ballpark in 2013 that included a significant move towards energy efficiency.
5T: Do you have any results on Phases I, II and/or III, in terms of carbon emission reductions, money saved, etc.?
AB: So far we haven’t tracked carbon emission reductions—we just don’t have the staff/bandwidth to do that. We will be getting results on the energy savings from the first year of the solar panels soon.
5T: How have the fans reacted to the greening efforts?
AB: We did publicize Phase I and some aspects of Phase II. The reaction from fans was strongly positive, especially to the changing starting time. We can do a better job of telling our green story but we want to be careful that we do it in a “Spokane Indians” type of way.
5T: What does that look like?
AB: Well, Phase II birthed Recycle Man in 2008.Kind of like Buzz Lightyear from Toy Story + recycling = Recycle Man! Like Buzz, Recycle Man takes things very seriously—especially recycling. He became so popular—became a “thing”, really. There are Recycle Man trading cards. He does appearances in town. And everything he does reinforces the recycling message.
5T: Have the Texas Rangers, your parent club, taken notice of your greening efforts?
AB: I am sure they like our efforts but the Rangers are more focused on everything that goes on between the white lines (i.e. on the field) and we deal with everything off the field.
5T: Will there be a Phase IV?
AB: There will be—except we’re not sure when it will be. We need to keep getting better on recycling of stadium garbage and food waste. We also need to get creative on transportation to and from the stadium if we want to take another significant step forward on reducing our environmental footprint.
5T Sports thanks Andy for his time and also for his and his staff’s consistent, greening efforts over the past decade.