Green Sports Alliance Summit Chicago, Day 1: Soldier Field, "A Stadium in a Park"


Chicago became the center of the Green-Sports world Monday as the the 5th annual Green Sports Alliance Summit kicked off. And, given my use of that hackneyed football analogy, it’s fitting that our first stop was a tour of venerable-yet-revitalized Soldier Field, “A Stadium in a Park.”

The Green Sports Alliance gave attendees a number of great stadia/arenas to choose from, including US Cellular Field, home of the White Sox, and Toyota Park, home of Major League Soccer’s Chicago Fire. But, since I could only choose one, the decision was easy: The legendary Soldier Field. Home of the Chicago Bears. Dedicated to America’s soldiers. Opened in 1924. Reopened in 2003, after a renovation that resulted in the first-ever LEED Existing Building (EB) certification for an NFL stadium.
While the renovation and subsequent operation of the stadium itself hit many of the right green notes (use of recycled concrete, recycling of plastics, low flush toilets, LED lights, etc.), it was the “Stadium in a Park” approach to greening the exterior of Soldier Field that really caught my eye, during a tour led by Soldier Field’s Director of Operations Bill Shaw.
In its original incarnation, Soldier Field was surrounded, not surprisingly, by acres and acres of parking lots. This may have been functional but, aside from game/event days, this prime waterfront real estate was empty and not at all welcoming. That all changed when the Bears and the city of Chicago Parks Department took on the renovation project. Mayor Daley (the younger), a strong advocate for a more sustainable Chicago, insisted that the area become greener. Thus the areas surrounding Soldier Field were transformed into a public park that connects the lower downtown area to the museum district and piers to the north. There’s a 10 mile bicycle path and acres of green space. A patch on the south side of the stadium was landscaped to become a sledding hill (Chicago does get some snow, I’m told). Some of the grass in the part of the park near the east entrance of the stadium was taken from Soldier Field itself. The entire feel of the area became one of openness and Soldier Field, per the nearby signage, became a “Stadium in a Park”–a part of the landscape, not necessarily its center (except when the Bears are home).
Exterior Soldier Field

View of the parkland east of Soldier Field from the stadium’s roof. This park was created as part of the renovation of Soldier Field in 2002-2003. (Photo credit: Lewis Blaustein)

Where is the parking? On the north side of the stadium, there’s an underground lot, which features EV charging stations, covered by a green roof. On the south side, it’s beyond the park, which gives the fans a chance to get a good walk in on the way to the game. Mass transit is plentiful, both from the subway (or “El”), commuter rail and also bus. The area just to the west of Soldier Field has been redeveloped so that many fans walk to games and concerts there. One thing I’d love to know is what percentage of fans take mass transit or walk to Soldier Field; Mr. Shaw said that data was not available. It should and, hopefully, in the not too distant future, will be.
As for the greening of game/event day operations, Mr. Shaw highlighted advancements in energy efficiency, increased recycling in the luxury suites, the recycling process overall, and a composting pilot program that started a few weeks ago (kitchen only). Overall, Soldier Field diversion-from-landfill rates are at 30%–those should go up significantly if the composting pilot is successful and expands to include post-consumer waste as well as from the kitchen. They do have a long way to go compared to venues like Columbus, OH’s Ohio Stadium, home to the Ohio State Buckeyes, which diverts over 90% of its waste from landfill.
Soldier Field

The view from a luxury suite at Soldier Field, home of the Chicago Bears (and the Grateful Dead this weekend). (Photo credit: Lewis Blaustein)

On the whole, the tour was impressive. Turning a 90 year old stadium into a LEED Certified building while maintaining the original look and feel (the colonnades!!) took much effort and a strong commitment from team, venue and city. And redeveloping the areas surrounding Soldier Field into public park land makes the Bears much more a part of the community–and Da Bears already were an integral part of Chicago’s fabric to begin with. But there is significant room for improvement–we will follow up with Mr. Shaw and Co. to see if Soldier Field moves in Ohio Stadium’s direction, diversion-wise (is Zero-Waste a goal? If not, why not?) and to see if they will start to measure mass transit usage.
More to come from the Summit–watch this space!
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Email us: lew@greensportsblog.com
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