When Philadelphia decided to bid on a chance to host the World Cup in the summer of 2026, officials had only one choice of a stadium close to meeting FIFA’s size and sustainability goals: the 69,000-capacity Lincoln Financial Field.
But the Eagles organization still has to prove it’s green enough for FIFA.
“We started this process a few years ago,” said Norman Vossschulte, the team’s director of guest experience. “When FIFA came to us, one of the documents we received was actually a sustainability document. We were supposed to document everything we do on the sustainability front.”
FIFA said in a statement to The Inquirer that it has “continued to strengthen its requirements” regarding sustainability, calling it a “central theme of FIFA’s approach toward stadium development, whether that be environmental, social or economic.”
Philadelphia is one of 17 U.S. finalist cities bidding to host matches; 10 will be chosen as hosts with a final decision expected early this year. FIFA paid a visit to Lincoln Financial Field in September to check out its match-play potential, training facilities, and sustainability.
Many of the greening efforts at the Linc have been well-publicized: The roughly 11,000 solar panels on its sides, the parking lot’s roofed areas, and street level still constitute the largest array in the NFL. The Linc, through several upgrades, still consistently makes lists of top green NFL stadiums even though it is nearly two decades old.
The eggbeater-like wind turbines that once spun atop the stadium are gone after they proved problematic and spare parts were hard to find. Before removal, they ended up more a marketing tool than power source.
But the Eagles organization also has taken many other less flashy steps toward sustainability.
Among the top is a prestigious LEED Gold certification the Eagles received for the stadium in 2018. LEED is a global program for green-building certification with four levels, a base certification and silver, gold, and platinum.
Lincoln Financial Field produces 4 megawatts of power a year from its solar array, which is owned and maintained by NRG. The stadium uses about 10 megawatts a year. On days when the stadium is not in use, the array produces energy that gets sent back to the grid.
The organization gets its remaining energy by purchasing credits from suppliers that use renewable energy.
In addition, the team phased out plastic straws at the stadium and NovaCare Complex, replacing them with an alternative made from renewable, compostable resources, eliminating roughly 500,000 plastic straws a year. It instituted a stadium-wide composting and recycling program, diverting 4,000 tons of waste a year from landfills. That includes the use of on-site biodigesters that decompose food waste.
The stadium also slashed use of single-use water bottles, switched to LED lights or fluorescent light alternatives, installed timers for lighting and HVAC, uses environmentally friendly cleaning products, provides beverage cups made of corn, switched from plastic to wood coffee stirrers, and installed carpets made from recycled fibers.
Further, Eagles ownership created a 6.5-acre forest in Bensalem and planted 5,900 trees with help from the Conservation Fund and the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
An Olympic level of green
But the organization wanted to take its efforts further for the FIFA bid with a certification from the Geneva-based International Organization for Standardization, or ISO.
“So while LEED certification is really good,” Vossschulte said, “ISO really is a way to get down to the nitty-gritty DNA of the organization.”
ISO is an independent, nongovernmental international organization that establishes technical standards for everything from packaging to currencies to product safety.
In 2018, the Eagles received an ISO sustainability certification for a stand-alone venue hosting large events established for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. That meant the stadium had to meet a number of detailed metrics and goals ISO could track.
Vossschulte said the process got detailed down to how much paper is used, or printed double-sided, and how much the organization engaged fans on sustainability.
The recertification was important, he explained, because FIFA requires ISO certification to hold a World Cup match. In fact, the Eagles helped a city in the South also bidding for the World Cup with obtaining its own ISO certification. So the team sought recertification, granted Dec. 31 after an independent third-party ensured the organization remained in full compliance with the ISO standards.
FIFA stays mum
Vossschulte noted that although the Eagles do not know whether they will ultimately be chosen to host, “We think that we have a very, very good chance, not just because of our sustainability, but also simply because of our location, and what Philadelphia means in America and to the world and its proximity to soccer fans.”
Other cities bidding to host matches are Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Cincinnati, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Miami, Nashville, New York/New Jersey (MetLife Stadium at the Meadowlands), Orlando, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington in the United States; Guadalajara, Mexico City, and Monterrey in Mexico; and Edmonton and Toronto in Canada.
FIFA remains mum on its choices, saying only, “Sustainability and legacy considerations have been an integral part of the bid evaluation. This, of course, extends to such considerations inherently linked to the proposed infrastructure to be utilized in connection with the hosting of the tournament, in particular stadiums.”