Technical Corner

Do Recreation Facilities Really Need Earth Day?

August 23, 2022

Earth day has been celebrated every April 22nd since founder Gaylord Nelson, a former U.S. Senator, witnessed the 1969 oil spill in Santa Barbara, California. Inspired by the student anti-war movement, he believed it was essential that energy be shifted to concerns about air and water pollution. After continuous work, Nelson helped spread his message to national media and promoted events across the United States. In 1970, 20 million Americans listened and took to the streets. It was not until 1990 that Earth Day went global, spreading the message across 200 million people in 141 countries. There is no debate that weather patterns are shifting – just ask a Texan. What is causing it has as many opinions as the possible contributors. Regardless of where a person may stand in respect to the contributors to environmental change, we all have a moral obligation to treat the only world we have as respectful as possible. Recreation professionals need to build environmental impact into everything we do. Being environmentally aware is a professional obligation.

The ORFA continues to raise awareness to the issue of aging recreation infrastructure. We know that much of Ontario’s and Canada’s recreation facility inventory is in the senior phase of their life-cycle. As these buildings are decommissioned, they will need to be disposed of. Creating a recycling plan as part of the decommissioning will be essential so that we may redirect as much as possible away from landfill.

The next generation of facilities must be more environmentally aware when considering construction methods and materials. Failing to properly invest at the design stage is merely passing environmental issues on to future owners, managers, operators, and users.

Industry corporate members are investing in change. Battery ice resurfacers and edger’s continue to evolve and over the last couple of years, much of the ground equipment from mowing equipment to chain saws have gone electric. I question whether or not they are in fact environmentally friendly, as the impact in mining the raw materials required to create the batteries, as well as disposal factors, need to be included in the purchase analysis. 

The growing inventory of primary refrigerant options claiming to be “environmentally friendly” as we race to replace ammonia as the most environmentally friendly refrigerant available is interesting to watch unfold. Ammonia is a compound of nitrogen and hydrogen found naturally throughout the world. There are other reasons to possibly move away from ammonia as a primary refrigerant but environmental impact of its use is clearly not one of them. Any shift to new refrigerants requires facility management to do a deep dive into the facts as to where it comes from, what was involved in the creation, and what impact will escape, and disposal have over the long-term.

As we look for the “next best thing” we often fail to do the simple things like, keeping the plant room clean so dirt does not impact motors and filters, controlling refrigeration head pressure, maintain primary and secondary refrigerants, recycle condenser and compressor cooling waters, adjust bowl heat temperatures to match secondary refrigerant temperatures.

Recreation uses high volumes of water. Too often we fail to invest in simple operational best practices such as adjusting hot water supply temperatures, controlling the amount of water that goes into the flood water tank to not over fill it, or reducing how much water is actually applied based on ice condition rather then routine flooding habits. Before we invest in expensive water degassing equipment, we need to ask, have we done everything we can at a no, or low-cost approach first.

Knowing when the best time is to actually water sports fields while having a system that confirms that we are not under or over watering these greenspaces is another simple approach. To evaluate our commitment just ask if the sports fields watering system is on even after it has been raining for several days?

Failing to have a system that adjusts sport field or other safety lighting systems based on actual need or not being adjusted as days grow longer or shorter. Have you noted days where the lights are on, but no one is using the facility?

Keeping all our fossil fueled equipment properly tuned with tire pressures being correct are simple energy reduction commitments.

Aquatic operations need to find the sweet spot for water temperature for both optimum performance and user satisfaction, while carefully controlling make-up water to keep a safe, healthy and energy efficient aquatic environment.

Operators that actually understand facility air handling and dehumidification and are able to make adjustments in real time based on facility use and outdoor conditions can significantly impact energy use. Heating and cooling thermostats are often completely out of reasonable adjustment and left to under perform year-round. I frown when too often we are prepared to invest in some form of technology that claims to be able to outperform a properly trained facility staff.

When was the last time anyone evaluated the facilities passive energy use? Vending machines, computers, lobby display screens are all examples of equipment that are often on 24/7/365 consuming energy. Does the facility regularly evaluate weather stripping condition and act on the findings?

I could go on, but think I have made my point. The original question was, “do recreation facilities really need and Earth Day”? Simple stated and answered in my opinion, Yes! It is highly doubtful that anyone reading this will be moving to Mars anytime soon, so April 22nd is our reminder that everyday in our industry is earth day. It is our annual recommitment to whatever is possible to reduce the environmental footprint of our operations every chance we can for future generations. The ORFA builds energy management into all of its certification training courses. Remember, if we do it right now, these will be the habits passed on to the next generation of practitioners to build from.

    Comments and/or Questions may be directed to Terry Piche, CRFP, CIT and Technical Director, Ontario Recreation Facilities Association

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