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Alice Henly’s Blog

Take Note Collegiate Athletics: Sports Greening Is a Business Win for Professional Sports

Alice Henly

Posted September 5, 2012

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Screen shot 2012-09-05 at 9.37.23 AM.png“Environmental stewardship resonates with all of us who love baseball and seeing it played on green grass and under blue skies. As we strive to fulfill our social responsibilities, the national pastime will continue to protect our natural resources for future generations of baseball fans and set an example they can be proud of,” writes Major League Baseball Commissioner Allan H. (Bud) Selig, in his Preface for the groundbreaking NRDC report, Game Changer: How the Sports Industry is Saving the Environment, released today. 

“Major League Baseball pledges to continue to devote its time, energy, influence and resources toward making lasting contributions to our fans, their communities and our society as a whole,” continues Commissioner Selig. “It is my great hope that the work of Major League Baseball and its Clubs can stand as an example and inspire others to join in this vital effort.”

Professional sports leagues, teams and venues across North America have already joined Major League Baseball to champion environmental protection, thanks to the NRDC Sports Greening Project. In fact, all Commissioners of professional sports leagues in the United States have made commitments to environmental stewardship and are actively encouraging the teams in their leagues to incorporate sustainable measures into their operations and fan outreach.

The NRDC Game Changer report chronicles the greening successes of the professional leagues and teams, from advanced recycling and composting programs to energy efficiency initiatives and onsite renewable projects. The 20 detailed case studies in the report offer guidance on how to green sports operations of all kinds. They also confirm that going green is smart business, enabling teams and venues to cut operating costs, strengthen corporate branding, attract sponsors and enhance the fan experience, while providing many environmental benefits.

The professional sports greening success stories featured in this report provide valuable lessons for organizations of all types. Though universities, in particular, should take note: sports greening is a triple win, benefiting the bottom line, the community and the planet. After all, collegiate athletics greening is arguably the next frontier for the sports greening movement. 

Many college athletics departments nationwide—from the University of Washington and the University of Colorado at Boulder to the Ivy League—have already undertaken impressive environmental initiatives, including recycling challenges, LEED-certification for thier athletics facilities, and onsite solar installations. However, college athletics departments are just beginning to tap into the enormous potential to save money and strengthen their brand, while engaging their huge communities of athletes and sports fans on issues of environmental stewardship.

Ideally, the practical examples, business success stories and expert recommendations included in this report will inspire many more collegiate sports programs, and the businesses that service them, to follow the good example of our nation’s leading professional sports organizations. This library of better practices in professional sports greening is the ultimate guide for collegiate athletic departments interested in enhancing their operations, with the help of campus sustainability departments, faculty and students. 

Choose a case study from your region to help inform your green upgrades. Each of the professional team and venue case studies in Game Changer includes four sections that help explain the sports greening process: (1) Why go green: what motivated teams and venues to start greening? (2) Where to start: how did teams and venues begin, who was involved, and which greening initiatives were investigated first? (3) Challenges overcome and ongoing: challenges teams and venues faced, tactics they used to meet these challenges, and hurdles they still face; and (4) Lessons from the field: important lessons from team and venue experiences as they implemented their green initiatives.

The business case for greening, proven again and again in the report, is one of the most convincing and practical reasons to start operating more sustainably and efficiently. Professional and collegiate sports organizations across the continent are already reaping many financial benefits from their sports greening programs. 

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Game Changer provides many concrete professional sports examples for the business case of greening to help stimulate broader interest in this work.

  • Greening provides direct financial savings: MLB’s Seattle Mariners saved approximately $1.5 million in utility costs (electricity, natural gas, water and sewer service) from 2006 to 2011 by reducing natural gas use by 60 percent, electricity use by 30 percent and water use by 25 percent. The report also features many other teams that have saved over $1 million thanks to greening their operations.These include direct cost savings, new sponsorship opportunities, additional appeal for donors, enhanced fan/student experience and stronger community ties.
  • Greening attracts sponsors: The NBA’s Miami HEAT saved $1.6 million in a single year due to its greening efforts and also attracted about $1 million in new corporate sponsors that aligned with their greening efforts.
  • Greening enhances the fan experience: The Philadelphia Eagles’ efforts to post recycling signs around their venue and provide recycling bags for NFL tailgaters resonated so much with the community that fans roll up their sleeves to help hand out and fill up the recycling bags, which are later picked up by Eagles staff.
  • Greening strengthens community ties: Aside from the operational benefits of going green, MLB’s St. Louis Cardinals have received only positive feedback for the team's greening initiatives, including thousands of favorable media articles, local community achievement awards and immense fan applause, proving these efforts are worthwhile beyond the business case by representing the core values of the surrounding community. You will also learn in this report about the largest public recycling event in the history of New York City, sponsored by Major League Baseball.
  • Greening provides competitive advantage to attract tenants and entertainment clients: The NBA’s AmericanAirlines Arena has significantly improved brand image and provided a point of market differentiation by being environmentally conscious, which has attracted new clientele and corporate partners. For this venue, going green has provided a platform to attract entertainers who want to play in green venues.

Ideally, existing collegiate athletics greening leaders will be inspired to implement one or more of the great variety of impressive environmental initiatives described in this report. For athletics departments new to sustainability, Game Changer is the perfect introduction to the sports greening movement. Hopefully it will convince you of the huge value greening will bring to your staff, students, athletes, alumni, donors and institution as a whole.

Download NRDC’s full report, Game Changer: How Sports is Saving the Environment, at Read more about the significance of this report in Allen Hershkowitz’s latest blog.

For more information about the NRDC Sports Greening Project go to and check out NRDC’s online sports greening guide, the NRDC Greening Advisor at

Photo Credits: Microgrid Solar

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annSep 6 2012 11:22 PM


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