By: Jay Pennell
Nestled in the heart of the Pocono Mountains, the 2.5-mile Pocono Raceway is surrounded by a lot of green. However, the forests surrounding the track are not the only thing that make Pocono Raceway one of the greenest tracks in NASCAR.
From a solar farm, to grazing sheep, to recycling and upcoming composting programs, Pocono Raceway is helping lead the charge to make NASCAR as environmentally responsible and sustainable as possible.
Well before going green caught on as a movement, track president and CEO Brandon Igdalsky understood that reducing the facility’s energy costs and impact on the environment was essential to the track’s future.
“At the end of the day it becomes a cost-savings effort for the facility, but also it’s a big piece of future business. It’s what fans are looking for, more importantly than anything,” said Igdalsky. “The younger fans want the sense of sustainability. They want the sense of doing the right thing. That’s the direction we’re headed. It’s how people are living their lives these days.”
One of the biggest programs that has helped Pocono move in the direction of more sustainability is the 3MW Pocono Solar project. With new regulations in Pennsylvania, the track re-evaluated their energy sources, and in August 2010, the decision was made to use solar energy to power the facility.
The 3MW Pocono Solar project is located across from the track between turns two and three, and covers a total of 25 acres. Consisting of 40,000 American-made photovoltaic modules, the solar project provides the equivalent energy needs of nearly 300 homes.
The track has also established a web site in which fans can view real time data about the energy produced and learn how solar energy works. While the backend of the site allows the facility team to see if there are any issues with the system, the consumer-facing site provides fans a way to understand what it all means.
Since coming online six years ago, Pocono’s solar project has generated more than 22 million kilowatts hours. The energy produced is equivalent to over 107,000 propane cylinders, has saved nearly 300,000 gallons of gas, and the total CO2 offset is equal to nearly 67,000 trees.
In addition, Pocono works with local farmers to bring in 50 sheep to help with lawn maintenance at the facility throughout the summer months. By bringing in the sheep, the track not only helps local farmers, but also reduces its carbon footprint by eliminating the
need for additional fossil fuel burning equipment.
Surrounded by the Pocono Mountains, the raceway has also made a large commitment to planting trees across the site. One of the largest and most meaningful donations came when the track donated seedlings for the Flight 93 Memorial.
“One year, instead of 10 trees per green flag dropped during one of our races we did 8,000 seedlings,” said Igdalsky. “All of those seedlings were donated to the Flight 93 Memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. I was just out there earlier this week and had a chance to see how the trees are growing now. It’s a remarkable piece of American history, and to know that we collectively as a sport had a little hand in that memorial, and for generations to come people will be able to see that, it makes you feel good about your work and what this sport is doing as a whole.”
While Pocono Raceway helped lead the charge in going green both in NASCAR and in the state of Pennsylvania, the challenges still remain.
Igdalsky admitted the renewable energy market has “bottomed out” a bit in Pennsylvania over the years due to how legislation is handled differently from other states around the country, but Pocono Raceway continues to lead the way in the area, providing advice and consulting to other businesses from outside the state. While some of that is related to motorsports, it also covers a wide variety of other industries as well.
“When it was new, the whole world was picking up the phone and calling,” said Igdalsky.
Among those reaching out was the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles. Thanks to a solid working relationship, the organization contacted Igdalsky and his team to help with information about the solar project for Lincoln Financial Field.
“To have two of the three largest renewable energy powered sports stadiums in the country and both here in the state of Pennsylvania working together on solar, that says a lot about how sports in the state really thinks,” he said.
Already leading the way in solar energy, Igdalsky is always working to find more ways to be environmentally responsible and develop new programs to put in place at the track. Moving forward, that area is focused on recycling, composting and keeping waste out of landfills.
“The biggest thing right now for us – something we’re working really hard on at the moment – is waste diversion,” he said. “We’ve set a goal by 2018 to have 75 percent of all the waste that we produce will not go to a landfill. It will either be recycled or composted.”
Outside NASCAR, a number of stadiums and arenas claim to have a 99 percent waste diversion ratio, but Igdalsky was quick to point out their efforts are much easier than that of a racetrack. While other venues are nearing that 100 percent waste diversion number, Igdalsky understands that having campers and tailgaters on the facility will hinder the track’s efforts to reach that level.
“When fans bring in their RVs, they’re not necessarily bringing in compostable bags and packaging and everything else,” he said. “However, we’ve seen tremendous support for our recycling programs from our campers. We obviously want to continue to grow that program. Our big focus right now is on the composting side of things and trying to keep all of the waste away from landfills.”
The work of waste diversion is not something Igdalsky wants to push just at his track. Using Pocono as the “guinea pig” example, he has urged other facilities in the sport to work on this initiative and collectively develop programs that can be implemented across the board.
Much like the when the Philadelphia Eagles tapped the resources of Pocono for their facility, Igdalsky and his staff are working closely with Penn State University to continue their march toward becoming even more environmentally responsible.
“We’ve teamed up with them and their sustainability program there to help us put our long-term plan together and really grow what we’re doing,” said Igdalsky. “We’re working with the students, but we also hope to bring on one of those graduate students full time with us to become our sustainability director and take ownership of the program here and keep running forward with it.”
Invested in sustainability for years already, Igdalsky understands things are always evolving and he hopes to keep Pocono Raceway at the forefront of those changes.
“Obviously, things are always going to change and you have to keep moving forward with what other people are doing and what technologies become available,” he said. “What you’re seeing is a growing trend in sports throughout the United States that becoming more sustainable is the right thing to do and more people are doing it. With the food and beverage vendors now on board, other partners throughout the facility becoming part of the process, you can really put everything together and make it work seamlessly.”
Igdalsky is also taking what he has learned over the years and sharing it with others in the sports world.
He currently serves as a board member of the Green Sports Alliance. The GSA represents over 300 sports teams and venues from 20 different leagues and 14 different
countries. The alliance allows teams, leagues and venues to share best practices and solutions for the challenges that come with being environmentally responsible. By working with other sports organizations within the GSA, Igdalsky and Pocono Raceway are making a serious impact not only in NASCAR, but around the world.