Playing Hard Ball with Big Oil

ExxonMobil dismisses protest, seeks to communicate eco-efforts through park sponsorship

Steve Dwyer, CSP Reporter

WASHINGTON -- A protest scheduled today outside the Washington Nationals ' baseball stadium is aimed at calling attention to Exxon Mobil Corp. 's formal sponsorship of the ballpark—regarded as the first and so far only eco-friendly facility in Major League Baseball. While ExxonMobil said that the relationship is a natural fit, Greenpeace USA and the Chesapeake Climate Action Network contend it serves as an incongruous partnership. The two organizations are staging Monday what they have dubbed the "Strike Out Exxon" campaign directed at Fairfax, Va.-based ExxonMobil's sponsorship of the [image-nocss] park.

Nationals' Stadium is the first one in the U.S. to be Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED)-certified as a "green" ballpark by the U.S. Green Building Council. The protesting groups contend that ExxonMobil does not match the ballpark's high energy efficiency standards.

"ExxonMobil remains a major roadblock to any meaningful solutions to the climate crisis," said Kert Davies of Greenpeace USA, in a statement appearing on the group's website.

Through the sponsorship, the oil giant has its corporate logo splashed across various park signs and is also a sponsor of the seventh-inning stretch. Moreover, there had been discussions that ExxonMobil might consider shelling out big bucks for the naming rights to the $611 million, 42,000-seat park, which opened in March 2008. Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, said "naming the nation's first green ballpark 'ExxonMobil Park' is almost unthinkable, redefining the word oxymoron."

The campaign wants the Nationals' owners to guarantee the 42,000-seat, $611 million park—which opened in March 2008—will never become "ExxonMobil Stadium."

While not eager to absorb negative publicity, ExxonMobil is not putting much stock into the protest. Alan Jeffers, a spokesperson for ExxonMobil, told CSP Daily News that the company has established a solid track record surrounding energy efficiency. He added that when it comes to best-practices energy use and conservation the company "practices what we preach, and it makes sense for us to be a sponsor of the new park."

Jeffers said that ExxonMobil is able to use the sponsorship as a platform to communicate to those attending games how they can participate in better energy conservation and reduce their so-called "carbon footprints."

He added that ExxonMobil has never been officially contacted by either CCAN or Greenpeace to discuss its production or refining activities, and adds that the oil company is angered by the Strike Out Exxon campaign.

ExxonMobil is not planning any formal counterprotest at the ballpark, said Jeffers.According to its website, Nationals' Park is categorized as a brownfield redevelopment that is located near the Anacostia River. It is anticipated that the ballpark will serve as an anchor for urban revitalization of the area, including a new mixed-use entertainment zone. The ballpark site was enrolled in the Voluntary Clean Up Program and therefore provides an opportunity to leave the roughly 25-acre site a much better environment then when it was received. Environmental remediation efforts are ongoing. The ballpark 's location is easily accessible to public transportation, including access to nearby metro stations and local bus routes.

Other "green" aspects of the facility include:

Water conserving plumbing fixtures are used throughout the project, saving an estimated 3.6 million gallons of water per year and reducing overall water consumption by 30%. Energy conserving light fixtures help reduce light pollution and realize a projected 21% energy savings over typical field lighting. Content of building materials used on the project contain a minimum of 10% recycled content, and other interior materials including adhesives, carpet glues and paints were specified with low VOC contents. Many of the building materials used on the project were produced regionally, which cut down on transportation costs while promoting the local economy. Landscape plant materials specified are drought resistant, conserving water by eliminating the need for irrigation. Roof materials offer a high degree of reflectance, minimizing the amount of heat released to the environment. A 6,300-square-foot green roof above a concession/toilet area beyond left field minimizes roof heat gain. 5,500 tons of construction waste were recycled.

Click herefor a diagram detailing the sustainable aspects of Nationals' Park.

In describing the company's own environmental activities, Jeffers said that ExxonMobil has worked to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from its own operations as well as from energy use by consumers. "We are working on technologies with the potential for near-term impact on emissions, while at the same time looking for breakthrough technologies for the future," said Jeffers. This research is being conducted by the company's own research staff, in partnership with academic and private groups, and through programs such as the Global Climate & Energy Project at Stanford University, he said.

"In 2007, greenhouse gas emissions from our equity operations were 141 million metric tons. Despite changes in our businesses toward more energy-intensive production, our greenhouse gas emissions were reduced by about five million metric tons from 2006," explained Jeffers. "About 3 million metric tons of this reduction resulted from efficiency actions taken in 2007, while the balance of the reduction was due to changes in our operations and better GHG emissions measurement in some of our facilities.[The volume reduction] serves as the equivalent of removing about one million cars from roads across the U.S."

The spokesperson also said that the company has embarked upon a $100 million venture to reduce carbon dioxide levels, within a carbon dioxide capturing program in Wyoming. "The program converts carbon to a liquid where we then can re-inject the liquid into the ground rather than having it escape into the atmosphere. It's very similar to the initiatives that are being done by the coal industry."

Game on!