Tech Center: NASCAR works hard to be green

April 30, 2013, Ron Lemasters Jr.,

To quote that sage of all things rational, Kermit the Frog, it ain’t easy being green.

When you’re NASCAR, which offers motorsports as its main product, it can be even more difficult.

Fuel-burning race cars generate fumes, use petroleum-based fuel and lubricants, consume mass quantities of resources and attract crowds in excess of 100,000 to each of its races over a 10-month period.

Yet, NASCAR is making it a lot easier to be green while still providing great racing, outstanding family entertainment and a corner of the culture that is devoted to the lifestyle.

So how does all this work? It starts with commitment to the process, the addition of several partners and the will to be sustainable and self-contained at the same time.

NASCAR has the largest recycling and environmental sustainability programs among all U.S. sports, the world’s largest solar-powered sports facility (Pocono Raceway), a tree-planting program capturing 100 percent of the emissions produced by on-track racing, and the largest recycling program in sports with Coca-Cola Recycling, Coors Light, Safety-Kleen and Creative Recycling.

See? It can be easy being green.

There’s a method to what can be seen as sort of an oxymoron. NASCAR is about going fast, racing hard and beating the other driver, and to do that you have to stay in the gas longer and harder. To folks who are concerned about what that does to the planet, it can be a real downer.

By taking initiatives like recycling and conservation seriously, the “damage” that is done is mitigated by the effort to make it a zero-sum game.

For instance, take automotive fluids. NASCAR machines used hundreds of gallons per race weekend, and in days past, they used to be thrown away after use. Enter Safety-Kleen, a partner with NASCAR for the past 20-plus years.

Safety-Kleen is a $1.2 billion company that recycles automotive fluids to the tune of a quarter-million gallons per year and more. Add in oil filters, fluorescent light bulbs, aluminum, steel and even metal shavings, and you have an environmental impact a lot closer to zero than was once the case.

Extrapolate the volume of fluids used at a typical three-series NASCAR race and apply it to the millions of people who still change their own fluids in passenger cars, and you have the gist of why NASCAR is doing this.

Drew Patey, Safety-Kleen’s director of motorsports programs, told the New York Times that it’s working. “Guys in the heartland who didn’t see recycling as a priority are seeking us out,” he said.

Green initiatives started out as a way for green-minded folks to minimize the impact humans have on the planet.

NASCAR has taken the initial steps a few miles down the road, especially in terms of recycling.

The largest such program in all of professional sports sees nearly 20 million bottles and cans recycled each season through the auspices of NASCAR sponsors Coca-Cola and MillerCoors. There’s a portable compactor at each race that can crush more than 1,000 containers per minute, and there’s cardboard recycling going on as well.

Earlier this month, NASCAR announced the addition of Liberty Tire Recycling as part of the NASCAR Race to Green project.

More than 120,000 Goodyear Racing Tires are recycled every year among the top three NASCAR series. Every race yields additional units for recycling -- at least those that don’t wind up as coffee tables for race fans.

“By recycling more than 140 million tires annually, we reclaim nearly 1.5 billion pounds of rubber for innovative, eco-friendly products,” said Thomas Carter, Liberty Tire Recycling vice president of alternative fuels. “We look forward to enhancing NASCAR Green’s best-in-class recycling program by keeping its discarded tires out of landfills and transforming them into smart, sustainable products that improve people’s lives.”

Planting trees is always worthwhile, and the NASCAR Green Clean Air Tree Planting Program Delivered by UPS neutralizes the carbon emissions of all of the racing in NASCAR’s three national series. Liberty Tire Recycling will provide GroundSmart Mulch™ that will enhance the landscaping of trees that are donated to areas of need throughout the country. The rubber mulch lasts longer than its wood mulch counterpart and prevents soil from washing away. Additionally, Liberty Tire Recycling products, such as rubberized asphalt will be used to repave racetracks and parking lots at NASCAR Home Track racetracks across the country.

It can be hard to be green these days, but with initiatives like the ones NASCAR is implanting every day, it isn’t.

It’s also fairly lucrative, which means all ends are met on both ends of the spectrum. By recycling, conserving and generally being good corporate citizens, NASCAR is also saving tons of money, which can be used for improvements that will help fans, charities and more green initiatives.

One of the benefits of the program was the ability to continue its commitment at its headquarters buildings. NASCAR recently moved into two new LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified office buildings, the 20-story NASCAR Plaza in Charlotte (Silver LEED) and the new International Speedway Corporation and NASCAR headquarters in Daytona Beach (Gold LEED).

In 2008, when the recession was first starting to take hold, NASCAR embarked on its green pathway. Five years later, it’s going strong and making a difference every time a race car hits the track.

In 10 more years, it’ll hopefully have crested new heights for good ol’ Planet Earth.