The Environmentally Green Stadium: Vision vs. Reality

September, 2016

In the era of building new coliseums to the football gods, the NFL is pressuring cities to update or rebuild their stadium facilities and in exchange they can become a Super Bowl city. If a city agrees to the exchange then they would gain from the economic windfall of hosting Super Bowl and benefit from tourism dollars. The latest team to play along was the San Francisco 49ers and the city of Santa Clara (1 hour from San Francisco) bid for the rights to build a new stadium for the team. The team was in dire need of a new facility and Santa Clara wanted them there, it was a win-win scenario.

Bids for the project came far and wide but the international architectural firm HNTB won out. The group heading the effort wanted the firm to focus on green technology with a fan friendly experience in mind. HNTB designed a stadium that includes a natural grass field; a seating capacity of up to 75,000 people; luxury suites on one side of the field and on the other side a fan upper deck to bring people close to the action. The owner and CEO of the 49ers’ Jed York, wanted this stadium to be family oriented and very intimate because he wanted the fans to engage with each another and to have an overall unparalleled game time experience.

What make this stadium unique is that it’s registered with the U.S. Green Building Council (the largest structure in the U.S.). For their efforts, Levi’s stadium received the GOLD LEED Certificate, the first ever given to a football stadium.  This certification was based on the fact that the structure has accessible Wi-Fi; convenient public transportation; solar panels; a green roof and environmentally friendly components were used in the construction of the building.

The Flaws

This ambitious project is not without its critics. Most 49er fans have complained that the stadium needs more shading to protect them from the afternoon sun, which is so intense at times that by the third quarter of games the seats are empty as fans try to find shade. The original design was slated for the city of San Francisco because the temperatures are typically cooler by the San Francisco Bay but the city of San Francisco was unwilling to finance the new stadium. This is when Santa Clara pounced on the opportunity to have the stadium in their city but the 49ers organization fatally decided to use the San Francisco design plan instead of adapting it to Santa Clara’s warmer climate. Fans are now calling on the organization to install canopies around the stadium to shield them from the sun.  No word, as of yet, if the organization is willing to pay for this new addition. 

Despite the oversight, Levi’s Stadium has set the precedent that the Sports industry can play a part in our efforts towards sustainability. They could make this trailblazing decision even more impactful if they address the design flaw in the lack of shading and then everyone could win in this scenario.


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