At the U.S. Open, tennis goes green (with the help of Alec Baldwin)

The U.S. Open is pushing a green agenda -- with the help of some prominent corporate partners. We visited this year to learn more about recycling, energy and awareness at the event.
Written by Boonsri Dickinson, Contributing Editor

When I walked off the Flushing, Queens-bound 7 train last Thursday morning, the smell of grass was unmistakable.

It was time for the 2010 U.S. Open, and I was only steps away from the hundreds of thousands of people buzzing inside the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center nearby.

My day at the Open was a great one -- I sat in a non-nosebleed seat and watched Roger Federer play Andreas Beck during a rather hot, but thankfully breezy, match.

(Unfortunately, I did not stay long enough to see this fight break out. Wow.)

As Federer and Beck swatted the neon green felt ball back and forth, thousands of fans above munched on delicious food, at least by sporting event standards: burgers, hot dogs, chicken sandwiches, deli sandwiches, sushi and lobster rolls, each order accompanied by recycled paper napkins and cool water from plastic bottles.

Recycling bins at the event were strategically placed near each garbage can -- even the laziest fans had no excuse for not using it.

That may be the most obvious "green" move at the Open, but as I learned in a pre-match tour from the United States Tennis Association, it's hardly the only one.

First, the USTA sat the bloggers down to watch the PSA campaign featuring 30 Rock actor Alec Baldwin. If you've watched any of the matches, you've probably seen them already. (To the right, an image of Baldwin at the event.)

Here are some things I learned about the U.S. Open's green initative:

  • The 20,000 tennis ball cans are recycled and the balls are reused.

  • The food is composted. (We walked through the kitchen and saw where the compost goes. It was smelly, alright.)

  • The ballcap I wore to the event is 50 percent post-consumer waste, which is the equivalent of two one-liter plastic bottles.
  • IBM, which provides the technical muscle for the event, actually only uses six servers. In 2008, it used 60; that translates to a 40 percent reduction in energy use.
  • I got the chance to sit in the Mercedes-Benz F-CELL car, a hydrogen electric vehicle powered by a fuel cell. It has a range of 240 miles and you can refuel it in a few minutes. (Unfortunately, you can't own the F-CELL. You can lease it for about $600 per month.)

  • The ticket I used to enter the facility was made of 30 percent post-consumer waste. You can't even tell.
  • The paper towel dispensers only let you take out one at a time, so don't get greedy! The paper towels themselves are made of 40 percent post-consumer waste.

  • Stonyfield Cafe offers an organic snack menu.
  • Green-terns (yes, short for, "green interns") go around and make sure people are composting and recycling things correctly. Think glorified hall monitor -- in a good way.

I took videos of my experience, which I will post later.

The big (green) lesson here is akin to falling dominoes: that is, that the U.S. Open's green effort is notable because it has the potential to make a large impact.

Why? Because the event's fans tend to be high spenders and influencers within their own companies.

In some places of the country -- my old home of Boulder, Colo. comes to mind -- recycling and composting are a mindset and a way of life. It takes the effort of an entire community.

Here at the U.S. Open in New York City, it's clear that budding mindset is beginning to mature.

Photos: Mike Stobe/Getty Images

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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