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Carbon Neutral Nets Can’t Offset Fan Skepticism

Back in January, I wrote in this space about the Nets Go Green initiative, in which the NBA’s New Jersey Nets announced their intentions to push for carbon neutrality, “adopt sustainable practices” wherever possible, turn off the lights when they weren’t in the room, et cetera. In retrospect, much of my skepticism regarding the initiative was obviously a result of my broader cynicism about the team’s current ownership group. It doesn’t mean I was wrong to doubt the Nets’ commitment to sustainability, but…I don’t know, I’m trying to have some insight. My relationship with these guys is complicated.

Bruce Ratner, the flubby real estate developer behind such Brooklyn boondoggles as MetroTech and the Atlantic Center Mall, bought the Nets from some bickering Jersey millionaires in 2005 and immediately announced plans to move the team to Brooklyn as the centerpiece of his Atlantic Yards development. I grew up in Jersey, and don’t appreciate Ratner stealing my hometown team – a team I watched when they were as close to unwatchable as sports teams get – but even unbiased eyes could see the trendy, buzz-grabbing BS behind the “Go Green” initiative.

This might have been easier for me because of my inherent distrust for Brett Yormark, Ratner’s singularly oleaginous PR whiz, but there were numerous other reasons to look askance at what seemed, at the time, like a pretty flagrant attempt at a greenwash. Considering the orgy of grandiose and ill-conceived (and now legally challenged) construction that the Atlantic Yards development represents – and considering the bulkload of weasel words in the Nets’ initial press release – it’s still tough to give Ratner any points for a sustainable mindset. And yet…

And yet, a bit of crow-eating is probably in order. Not broadly: it’s still a ridiculous waste for the Nets to leave New Jersey when there’s a perfectly good arena – easily accessible via mass transit and already constructed, if not LEED certified – waiting for them in-state, in Newark. And the overstatement of the Atlantic Yards project remains almost impossible to overstate: much of two neighborhoods would be demolished so that Ratner could raise a patch of ostentatious Frank Gehry-designed skyscrapers in the midst of a neighborhood of three- to six-story buildings.

But specifically, the Nets did meet what I originally found an ill-defined goal: on Tuesday, April 1, they became the first professional team to host an authentically carbon-neutral game. Every bit of energy expended in the team’s loss to Philadelphia that night was offset by, uh, carbon offsets. The Nets Go Green site even details the identities and locations of these offsets, which seem (at first gloss, at least) to avoid some of the problems with carbon offsets described in this article from Plenty.

Still, I don’t think I’ll finish that crow. The initiative worked for the Nets – they got a nice mention in the New York Times, which essentially wrote a Yormark press release in writing, “In a league known more for sideline celebrities and fancy cars, the Nets are standing out with their commitment to going green.” And it’s hard to knock a carbon-neutral professional sports event. But the broader point of my earlier post still stands: sustainability is about more than just branding, and the Atlantic Yards development – pigheaded, wasteful and, to reiterate, mind-bendingly grandiose – remains emblematic of a mindset more concerned with greenbacks than green building. So credit where it’s due on the carbon neutral game…but at the risk of sounding sour, let’s remember that there’s very little sustainable about throwing up 16 new buildings (LEED Silver or no) in a neighborhood that doesn’t much want them.

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