Pro Athletes and Teams Celebrate Environmental Stewardship

On Thursday night, professional athletes, team owners and stadium operators from around the country gathered in New York City. They didn’t come to play ball. They came to attend NRDC’s Game Changer benefit and celebrate the sports greening movement that is sweeping the nation.

Seven years ago, this movement didn’t exist. But NRDC reached out to Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig and Vulcan Sports & Entertainment and together we launched the Green Sports Alliance to help teams conserve energy and water, cut down on waste, and make supply chains more sustainable.

We started working with five teams. Now we work with more than 160 teams, 16 leagues, and every jewel event from the World Series to the Stanley Cup to the US Open

Last night, we gathered to honor this tremendous progress. Lisa Leslie was our master of ceremonies. Leslie is a former Los Angeles Sparks star who has won four Olympic gold medals, three WNBA Most Valuable Player awards, and two WNBA championships. She told the crowd how proud she is that the Staples Center—her old home court in LA—has become a leading green arena. It now has more than 1,700 solar panels that generate as much as 25 percent of the building’s electricity and water conservation measures that save more than 7 million gallons every year.

Former WNBA star Lisa Leslie and I at NRDC's Game Changer event.

Gary Bettman, the commissioner for the National Hockey League also spoke. Bettman spearheaded the NHL’s campaign to increase the league’s environmental sustainability. He said hockey players are natural allies in the fight against climate change, because they want to save winter—and the ice ponds that will give rise to the next generation of hockey stars.

Bettman described the NHL’s effort to educate fans about environmental sustainability. To me, that is the most exciting part of the sports greening movement.

Only 13 percent of Americans follow science, but 61 percent call themselves sports fans.  More than 73 million fans attended Major League Baseball games last year. The NBA has 800 million fans worldwide and the National Hockey League gets 1 million hits per day on its website.

When a team shows a clean energy PSA during a game, it reaches more people than an academic paper on climate change. And when fans arrive at the stadium these days and see low-flow toilets, more sustainable food, and energy efficient light bulbs, it helps make environmental solutions an ordinary part of everyday life.

I have been an advocate for nearly three decades, and I know environmental groups can’t win our battles alone. We need Americans from all walks of life to come together to protect the air we breathe and the water we drink. Major league sports can mobilize tens of millions of people on behalf of the environment.

At last night’s event, NRDC honored leaders who are helping make environmental sustainability as American as baseball and apple. Bob Nutting introduced sustainable practices to the Pittsburgh Pirates and mobilized other MLB teams to go green. Scott Jenkins helped launch the sports greening movement with his work at the Philadelphia Eagles and Seattle Mariners and his chairmanship of the Green Sports Alliance. Peter McLoughlin runs Vulcan Sports and Entertainment, which has led the charge for environmental stewardship with its teams—the Seattle Seahawks, Seattle Sounders, and Portland Trail Blazers. And Steve Tisch, John Mara, and Woody Johnson have made the MetLife Stadium one of the most sustainable venues in the nation.

These leaders are following a long tradition. Last night, Lisa Leslie reminded us that professional athletes and teams have stood at the forefront of many cultural changes, from Jackie Robinson breaking the race barrier to Billie Jean King paving the way for greater equality for women. I am thrilled to see that now teams are making environmental stewardship the next big breakthrough.


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