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Game Changer: How the Sports Industry is Saving the Environment

Executive Summary

The professional sports industry includes some of the world's most iconic, inspirational and influential organizations. In a cultural shift of historic proportions, the sports industry is now using its influence to advance ecological stewardship. 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. Sport is a great unifier, transcending political, cultural, religious and socioeconomic barriers. It also wields a uniquely powerful influence, both cultural and economic, that provides much-needed leadership in sustainable practices and, in so doing, promotes a nonpolitical public commitment to environmental protection.

This 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. In compiling this information, our goal is to celebrate the sports industry's growing embrace of environmental stewardship as more and more sports leagues, teams and venues invest in energy efficiency, water conservation, recycling, renewable energy, safer chemicals and fan engagement focused on remedying some of our most pressing environmental problems.

In my two decades as Commissioner, I have seen our sport take important strides forward on this essential issue. 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 to set an example of which they can be proud."
-- MLB Commissioner Allan H. (Bud) Selig, excerpted from preface in Game Changer

A principal goal of this report is to educate sports professionals, their supply chains and millions of fans about the business case for greening, from achieving cost savings and enhancing brands to developing new sponsorship opportunities and strengthening community ties.

The case studies in this report are sports greening success stories that provide valuable lessons for organizations of all types, whether they are involved with the sports industry or not, highlighting what teams, venues and league jewel events are doing to protect our planet and educate their fans. Each of the team and venue case studies includes four sections that help explain the 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.

Key findings from the case studies include these:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Among all sports leagues, Major League Baseball has the best-developed environmental data measurement program, followed by the National Hockey League and the National Basketball Association.
  • 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 energy efficiency programs.
  • 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.
  • All Jewel events, including the World Series, the Super Bowl, the Stanley Cup playoffs, the NBA playoffs and finals, the MLS Cup the US Open Tennis Championships and all of the league All-Star Games, now incorporate greening initiatives into their planning and operations.
  • All leagues educate their fans about environmental issues, in particular the need to recycle and to reduce energy and water use.

Perhaps most important, millions of pounds of carbon emissions have been avoided, millions of gallons of water have been saved, and millions of pounds of paper products are being shifted toward recycled content or eliminated altogether.

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. Collegiate athletics, alongside minor leagues, high school athletics and other organized youth sporting events, are the next frontier for the sports greening movement.

Many college athletics departments nationwide have already undertaken impressive environmental initiatives, from LEED-certified facilities and onsite solar arrays to recycling challenges between schools. Colleges are just beginning to tap into the enormous potential to benefit their bottom line and engage their huge communities of sports fans on issues of environmental stewardship.

The motivation for sports to engage in greening is simple. The games we love today were born outdoors, and without clean air to breathe, clean water and a healthy climate, sports would be impossible. In fact, nature is the ultimate source of all economic value. No commerce or culture is possible without clean air and water; fertile topsoil; a chemically stable atmosphere; raw materials for food, energy and medicine; or the natural processing of waste by the millions of species inhabiting our soil, water and air.

It is the availability of these wells of natural capital that makes sports and other types of human activities possible. Business leaders must devote the same level of effort to keeping this natural capital intact that they devote to more traditional capital.

The sports industry's increasing demand for ecologically better products can help industrial leaders understand and embrace that goal.

This report is a celebration of the sports industry's impressive environmental accomplishments to date, of the extraordinarily important work being done largely behind the scenes, out of the spotlight. This document confirms that going green is savvy business, enabling teams and venues to cut operating costs, strengthen corporate branding, attract sponsors and enhance the fan experience, while providing many environmental benefits.

Ideally, the practical examples and expert recommendations included in this report will inspire many more sports teams, and the businesses that service them, to follow their good example. The lessons from those who manage sports facilities will help us move toward ecological stability, crucial for social and economic prosperity. Current and future generations depend on these efforts, and on the prospect that others the world over will notice and emulate this industry's inspiring greening work.

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Learn about greening initiatives taking place throughout North American colleges.

Read Collegiate Game Changers: How Campus Sport is Going Green »

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