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regardless the standings, the tribe is scoring big in the field of sustainability

Brad Mohr, Assistant Director of Ballpark Operations - Photo Bob Perkoski

Trash bin where the mixed recyclables are collected

Progressive Field recycling

Progressive Field 42-panel solar pavilion

Progressive Field Wind Turbine

Wind Turbine Controls



Cleaning the seats at Progressive Field



Part of our charm as Clevelanders is our loyalty, which shines like a diamond when it comes to the Indians. Whether the Tribe is trouncing the Twins (or, sadly, vice versa), Indians fans remain true through thrilling victories and devastating defeats. But discerning fans that pause to take a peek behind the dugout will find something they can always cheer: one seriously green team.
 
Brad Mohr's official title is Assistant Director of Ballpark Operations, but he's also manager of all things green and sustainable at Progressive Field. The position entails more -- much more -- than making sure fans have ready access to those ubiquitous bottle-shaped recycling receptacles. His work must improve the bottom line while seamlessly meshing with the franchise's image. After all, fans come to the park to see a ball game and have a good time. Environmental impact is not foremost in their minds, nor should it be according to Mohr.
 
"I think it’s a very fine line for me to be preaching to [the fans] about anything, including sustainability," says Mohr. But that doesn't mean he can't use the Indians brand to advance progressive thinking.
 
Since March of this year, the top deck of Progressive Field has housed a cosmic-looking wind turbine designed by Professor Majid Rashidi, chairman of Cleveland State University's college of engineering. Although Mohr doesn't yet have statistics on the turbine's power output, he expects it to produce between 30K and 40K kilowatt hours per year. Numbers notwithstanding, the unusual corkscrew-shaped structure, which features four six-foot rotating turbines and LED lighting, is operational and already having an impact.
 
"The concept and the experiment are working," says Mohr, touting the turbine's visibility and its inherent fit with the park. The design was intended to evoke Cleveland's industrial history, with features such as the distinctive lighting that echoes smokestacks of yesteryear. In addition to the obvious local exposure, the project has garnered national attention in publications like Huffington Post and Popular Mechanics.
 
The park's other high-visibility green project is a 42-panel solar pavilion. Installed in 2007, it houses vending equipment adjacent to the airy "All You Can Eat Seats" on the park's upper deck. The panels generate approximately 10K kilowatt hours per year.
 
Mohr readily admits that the projects do not have a huge impact on the park's overall annual electrical consumption of 18 million kilowatt hours. But that doesn't diminish the impact of what he calls "demonstration pieces."
 
"Our thinking is to use our platform and standing in the community to get people to think about sustainability, to think about alternative energy, to think about recycling here in Cleveland and Northeast Ohio."
 
Did someone mention recycling?
 
Big venues generate big waste -- but also big opportunity. After every game, three sets of staffers "sweep" the seats. The first sweep is for recyclables, the second for compostables, and the third for trash. The comingled recyclables slide down giant chutes and are collected in a 36-yard bin in the bowels of the park. When the program began in 2008, it rescued 140 tons of refuse. That number is up to 196 tons for 2011.
 
An expansive area adjacent to the trash collection room is dedicated to keeping items out of the landfill. A whopping 62 tons of cardboard per year is baled and recycled. Another 20 tons of pallets are recycled per year. Unused food from concession stands that can't be donated to the Cleveland Food Bank is composted at a rate of 20 tons of per year. Fryer oil is collected and sold for conversion into biofuel, a green alternative to diesel fuel for specially outfitted vehicles.
 
"We did about 10 tons last year," Mohr says of the grease. "That's a lot of french fries."
 
Also, the park's 130 year-round office employees recycle all loose paper and obsolete electronics.
 
In 2007, the park generated 1,262 tons of landfill trash. Mohr's efforts started in earnest in 2008, and within a year landfill tonnage was down to 958.
 
"When our senior staff in our finance department saw how much money we were saving on our trash hauling and getting money back for our recycling, I really got some credibility and was told to go find some other things to do," Mohr says. "Since then we have cut our trash going to landfill literary in half."
 
Another invisible green practice was born out of sticker shock. In 2009, the park's electricity rates jumped 24 percent. In response, Mohr enacted a "just in time" policy, training staff not to turn on grills, lights, escalators, televisions, etc. until the absolute last minute before fans arrive or to just accommodate preheating.
 
"Those things add up," says Mohr. Indeed they do: The tactic reduced consumption from 23 million kilowatts per year to 18 million.
 
"If you think about Progressive Field, we're like a little city," says Mohr. "If we're rocking here with 30,000 to 40,000 people, we're a Cleveland suburb. When we have a game going on, we are easily the biggest bar in town; we're the biggest restaurant in town. That's a lot of electricity for a lot of people."
 
Mohr's vision reaches well beyond the confines of Progressive Field. Last month, he was one of four MLB representatives asked to participate in a forum on greening in sports hosted by the White House. Mohr also is a member of the Major League Baseball Green Committee. The group's Green Track program is the first of its kind to track energy and water use as well as recycling efforts for large-scale sporting venues.
 
"We have a little competition at our stadium managers' meetings every year," says Mohr. "It gets everybody comfortable with greening because this is new to a lot of ball parks." Mohr often fields questions from other managers about how the Indians have reduced trash and energy consumption while borrowing ideas from other franchises.
 
So, how do the Indians stack up against the competition in the sustainability realm?
 
"We're doing very well," says Mohr, conceding that other venues are driven by legislation and green-minded fans, particularly on the West Coast. But Clevelanders are coming along.
 
"It's mostly coming from the children of fans," he says. "They expect to see recycling bins. I have seen parents try to toss a plastic bottle into a trash bin. The kid will stop them and say, 'There's a recycling bin right next to it. Put it in there.' That's the audience we need to capture."

Photos Bob Perkoski

Read more articles by Erin O'Brien.

Erin O'Brien's eclectic features and essays have appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and others. The sixth generation northeast Ohioan is also author of The Irish Hungarian Guide to the Domestic Arts. Visit erinobrien.us for complete profile information.
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