Volunteer “Green Teams” will help reduce waste and educate fans

Major League Baseball’s Cleveland Indians teamed with three graduate students from Case Western Reserve University’s Weatherhead School of Management to help produce a report highlighting the ballclub’s efforts to make Progressive Field more eco-friendly.

Former MBA students Roslyn Chao, Lauren Saks and Varun Reddy, who attained their degrees in 2016, took on the assignment as part of Professor Chris Laszlo’s Sustainable Value and Social Entrepreneurship course. Laszlo is executive director of the Weatherhead School’s Fowler Center for Business as an Agent of World Benefit.

The Weatherhead School students also proposed a business strategy for the team’s sustainability program and made recommendations for future “green” projects, Laszlo said.

“It was an invaluable experience pairing classroom learning with hands-on application in a setting that involved a professional sports team and the interests of the various stakeholders,” Laszlo said.

The Indians issued the sustainability report in April. The analysis involved the students’ work during the 2015 and 2016 baseball seasons.

“We were thrilled to partner with students from the Weatherhead School of Management to complete our sustainability study and report,” said Jerry Crabb, the Indians senior director of ballpark operations. “Not only did they show initiative to assist us on a sustainability project we identified, but our ability to utilize their passion and knowledge on the subject was instrumental to the success of our Indians 2016 Sustainability Report. We take a lot of pride in our sustainability business practices and owe a great deal of gratitude to Roslyn, Lauren and Varun for providing us an informative way to educate the public on our efforts.”

The Indians made the connection with the Weatherhead School after learning that the students were interested in helping with the team’s sustainability strategies as a project for the course they were taking.

Photo of recycling center at Progressive Field

Photo credit: Cleveland Indians

In particular, the students documented the team’s efforts to limit waste that winds up in landfills, Chao said. According to the Indians’ sustainability report: In 2016, the organization recycled and composted more than 46 percent of waste generated at Progressive Field, diverting more than 230 tons of waste from landfills, reducing carbon and methane emissions from organic waste. The Indians hope to increase that rate to 60 percent this season.

In their research, the students drew guidance by the National Resources Defense Council and the Green Sports Alliance, the eco-advisors for professional sports. In addition, the students spoke to many of the team’s community partners and area stakeholders to better understand the leadership role that the Indians have taken in helping to design sustainability targets.

After these discussions and assessing the team’s energy, water and waste systems, the students compiled data and information for the team’s Sustainability Report.

The students sought to develop a Fan Recycling Youth Leadership Program, which evolved into volunteer “Green Teams,” aiming to increase the diversion rates of landfill waste. The team hopes fans also buy into the effort to decrease the impact of plastic bottles and cans and food waste.

The Weatherhead School students collaborated with community groups, businesses, environment-focused groups, local colleges and universities and the Cleveland Metropolitan School District to develop the involvement program. Volunteers from these groups will walk the stands between select innings to collect waste products from fans during games at Progressive Field.  Volunteers will have the opportunity answer fans’ questions about the many sustainability projects and technologies implemented at the ballpark.

“After exploring Progressive Field and learning about the systems and technologies they have installed to manage energy, water, waste and other natural resources, we were amazed,” Chao said. “This project was not only fun, but with knowledge of the team’s efforts and collaborations, it contributes to a more positive fan experience.”

This article was originally published April 27, 2017.