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How the Sports Industry is Saving the Environment

Allen Hershkowitz

Posted September 5, 2012 in Green Enterprise, Living Sustainably, The Media and the Environment

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Click here to take actionToday NRDC released its report on the sports industry’s embrace of environmental stewardship titled “Game Changer: How the Sports Industry is Saving the Environment.” The 120 page report provides a collection of never-before-assembled case studies of the sports industry’s most prominent and successful greening initiatives from across North America.

The report includes an extraordinary Preface from Major League Baseball Commissioner Allan H. (Bud) Selig. If ever confirmation was needed that the environmental movement has moved to a new, mainstream location in American society, this first-of-its-kind public statement by Commissioner Selig about our National Pastime’s commitment to environmental protection provides it. It’s now: Motherhood, Apple Pie, Baseball….and environmental protection.

Game Changer is dedicated to NRDC Trustee Robert Redford, who launched the sports greening movement when he first suggested back in 2005 that NRDC begin reaching out to sports to get our message out. It provides detailed financial and operational information about how twenty sports team venues and league “Jewel Events” have incorporated ecologically intelligent practices into their operations and fan engagement.

In 2006, just six years ago, the sports greening movement did not exist. Today, the sports greening movement is one of the most influential and visible collaborations in the marketplace. In fact, it holds the potential to become one of the most important collaborations in the history of the environmental movement. 

As a more than $400 billion industry with hundreds of millions of fans and a global supply chain that includes some of the most visible and influential corporations on Earth, it goes without saying that shifting the operations and procurement of the sports industry towards ecologically preferable products can have meaningful market and cultural influences. Indeed, given the cultural and market force of the sports industry it is bewildering that it was not until 45 years after the first Earth Day that environmental advocates allied ourselves with the sports industry.

Few sectors are as influential as the sports industry. While 13% of Americans say they follow science, 61% say they are sports fans. It is clear that bringing environmental information to our cultural leaders is as important as bringing that information to our political leaders. Indeed, perhaps it is more important. Sports is the ultimate cultural unifier and if you want to change the world, you don’t emphasize how different you are from everyone else. We need to bond through our common connections, not emphasize our differences.

The underlying motivation for the sports industry’s embrace of environmentalism is the many ecological pressures we face, which is driving more and more sports leagues, teams and venues to reduce their environmental impacts and educate fans throughout our nation about environmental stewardship. Game Changer also includes a brief summary of those ecological pressures.

Given the costs associated with running a professional team and its venue, the opportunity to operate more efficiently can bring about meaningful benefits. You can read in Game Changer about how the sports greening movement is proving the business case for greening: it documents the teams and venues that have saved millions of dollars in the past few years through energy efficiency measures, water conservation, recycling and waste reduction. In fact, some teams are saving more than one million dollars annually.

Here is a summary of ten findings you’ll read about in Game Changer: 

  1. All Commissioners of professional sports leagues in the United States have made commitments to environmental stewardship. All Commissioners are actively encouraging the teams in their leagues to incorporate sustainable measures into their operations. As a consequence, all of pro sports is now engaged in greening, at the league level, at the team level, and involving fans, supply chains, and their communities, and the movement is still growing.
  2. Professional sports has proven the business case of sports greening: from cost savings and brand enhancement to developing new sponsorship opportunities and strengthening community ties. Numerous teams have already saved over a million dollars thanks to greening measures. Some are saving more than one million dollars annually. Many more are saving hundreds of thousands of dollars and are seeing other tangible business benefits from their greening work.
  3. 15 professional North American stadiums or arenas have achieved LEED green building design certifications, 18 have installed on-site solar arrays, and virtually all have developed or are developing recycling and/or composting programs.
  4. More and more sponsors are joining with leagues and teams to promote ecologically preferable products and communicate their commitment to our cause. The supply chain of professional sports is responding to our movement.
  5. Three sports leagues, Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League and the National Basketball Association have developed environmental data measurement programs to monitor energy and water use, waste generation and recycling, and paper use.
  6. Of the 126 professional sports teams in the five major professional North American leagues, 38 teams have shifted to renewable energy for at least some of their operations and 68 have implemented energy efficiency programs.
  7. All of the large sports concessionaires that collectively feed tens of millions of people each year have developed environmentally preferable menus for at least some of their offerings.
  8. All of sports’ Jewel Events now incorporate greening initiatives into their planning and operations, including fan outreach, including: The Super Bowl, The World Series, The Stanley Cup and The Winter Classic, The NBA Playoffs and Finals, The US Open Tennis Championship, the NBA, MLB, NHL and MLS All Star Games, and The World Cup.
  9. All leagues have programs to educate their fans about environmental issues, in particular the need to recycle and to reduce energy and water use.
  10. Perhaps most promising of all, the greening of sports teams and venues has become an international movement. It is spreading throughout Europe and into Asia. Stadiums in the UK, in Spain, in Germany and Taiwan have incorporated environmental features into their design and operations, and have promoted that work among their fans. The Olympics and the World Cup now require environmental plans in every country’s application to host those games.

Millions of pounds of carbon emissions have been avoided, millions of gallons of water have been saved, millions of pounds of paper products are being shifted toward recycled content or eliminated altogether, and millions of fans have been exposed to the sports industry’s embrace of our cause.

Certainly much work remains to be done, but it is heartening to note that teams and leagues across North America are implementing meaningful changes and educating tens of millions of fans about environmental stewardship. Sports and the environment are inextricably linked. The games we love today were born outdoors and without clean air, clean water and a healthy climate, sports would be impossible. The professional sports greening movement is using the world’s most iconic, culture influencing organizations to advance ecological stewardship.

Game Changer is being released on the eve of the Green Sports Alliance Summit, which is taking place in Seattle and is bringing representatives from teams, leagues, and venues together to celebrate and advance the sports industry’s embrace of environmental stewardship. The Green Sports Alliance, which was co-founded by NRDC, now has more than 100 team and league members, growing by more than 700% in the past year alone, and that too is an indication of the force of the sports industry’s commitment to environmental progress.

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Comments (Add yours)

Enviro Equipment, Inc.Sep 6 2012 03:34 PM

I follow all the big sports and with the exception of seeing containers around different stadiums for recyclables, I haven't heard one peep about any pro-environmental initiative by any sport… until now.

The point I'm trying to make is that while I don't doubt the major sports leagues commitment to promoting environmentally sound practices, if this is the first I've heard of such commitments, then they need to do far better job of publicizing them.

A SiegelSep 8 2012 10:11 PM

Sigh ...

To a certain extent, it seems like this is like News Corporation getting a high rating for its Greening since it runs its internal operations in a 'green' manner while putting out falsehoods about climate science via Faux News and other venues.

What about the transportation loads? What about how fans get to stadiums? What about amplifying the voices of athletes who recognize the need for sustainability? (For example, Brendon Ayanbadejo https://twitter.com/brendon310 "Financial+Environmental+Social+Ethical conscience =Sustainability.")

Do we praise for the items on the edges without highlighting the larger issues / full context?

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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