Dear EarthTalk: How eco-friendly are professional sports leagues and their teams? Which stand out especially for their green efforts?
— Al Simpson, Medina, OH
Professional sports, like many other pursuits, are getting greener every day. While pro leagues and teams have traditionally been the last to go green, it has all changed in recent years. Maybe it’s the fact that wasting less saves money. Or that going green generates good public relations. Or that it’s just the right thing to do. Whether it’s any or all-of-the-above, professional sports certainly have never been greener.
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a leading environmental non-profit, has worked with several sports teams and leagues to green their operations, and has bundled a collection of case studies into a recently released report, “Game Changer: How the Sports Industry is Saving the Environment.” One example is how baseball’s San Francisco Giants have so far saved 171,000 kilowatt hours of energy at its stadium, AT+T Park, through a series of lighting retrofits. Another is the building of a 3-megawatt photovoltaic solar array at NASCAR’s Pocono Raceway, which offsets 3,100 metric tons of CO2 each year and provides enough power to operate the raceway and 1,000 nearby homes. Still another is basketball’s Minnesota Timberwolves’ construction of a 2.5 acre green roof that prevents annually a million gallons of storm water from spilling into the Mississippi River from atop their Minneapolis arena.
NRDC hopes its report can help educate sports professionals, their suppliers and the millions of fans that patronize the teams and their venues about the business case for greening, from achieving cost savings and enhancing brands to developing new sponsorship opportunities and strengthening community ties.
To further these goals, NRDC, along with Paul Allen’s Vulcan Inc., launched the Green Sports Alliance in 2010, bringing together venue operators, team executives and scientists to exchange information and develop solutions to their environmental challenges. The findings gathered are made available to Alliance members so that they can better understand how sporting events can be performed in an environmentally sensitive manner. Alliance members represent more than 100 teams and venues from 13 different leagues.
For teams that want to go green but don’t know where to start, NRDC created a Greening Advisor program, featuring sustainability tips and green inspiration. Teams from each of North America’s major sports leagues can find treasure troves of information at the intersection of saving money and the planet.
NRDC calls the greening of pro sports “a cultural shift of historic proportions” and delights in the fact that “North America’s professional leagues, teams and venues have collectively saved millions of dollars by shifting to more efficient, healthy and ecologically intelligent operations.”
“At the same time, the sports greening movement has brought important environmental messages to millions of fans worldwide,” says NRDC. “Sport is a great unifier, transcending political, cultural, religious and socioeconomic barriers. It also wields a uniquely powerful influence [and] in so doing, promotes a non-political public commitment to environmental protection.”