Game Changer: New Report Spotlights Pro Sports’ Sustainability Leaders

Documents How Leading Sports Teams, Leagues & Venues are Cutting Energy, Waste, Water & Costs, While Shifting Public Attitudes toward Greening; Includes Preface from MLB Commissioner Selig

SEATTLE (September 5, 2012) –Solar panels and recycling bins are becoming as common as hot dog vendors for professional sports teams and their venues, according to a report released today by the Natural Resources Defense Council, in collaboration with the Green Sports Alliance. The new report reveals the collective impact the uniquely influential professional sports industry is having on advancing environmental protection in North America, documenting innovative and cost-effective steps taken across all professional leagues.

“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,” said Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, director of NRDC’s green sports project.  “A cultural shift in environmental awareness is needed in order for us to address the serious ecological problems we face, and the sports industry, through its own innovative actions, has chosen to lead the way. Pro sports are showing that smart energy, water and recycling practices make sense.  They save money and prevent waste.  That’s as mainstream and non-partisan as it comes.”

The report, Game Changer: How the Sports Industry is Saving the Environment, presents 20 case studies of teams, venues and league events that have led the green movement in pro sports by adopting sustainable solutions to their energy, water, and waste needs. The findings document the bottom-line benefits of greening and the role of sports as society’s newest advocate for environmentally-sound practices, sentiments shared by Major League Baseball’s (MLB) Commissioner Allan H. (Bud) Selig, who provided the report’s Preface and jumpstarted pro sports’ greening efforts in 2006.

“In my two decades as Commissioner, I have seen our sport take important strides forward on this essential issue,” wrote Selig, who will be presented the Environmental Leadership Award at the Green Sports Alliance Summit Gala at Safeco Field in Seattle on September 6. “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.”

Play-by-play: Innovative strides teams, leagues and venues are making to improve sustainability


Of 126 professional sports teams in the five major North American leagues, 38 have shifted to renewable energy for at least some of their operations and 68 have energy efficiency programs. Examples detailed in the report include:

  • Solar – STAPLES Center has a 1,727-panel solar array covering 25,000 square feet of the arena’s roof. The 345.6-kilowatt system supplies 5 to 20 percent of the building’s energy use (depending on load) and produces 525,000 kilowatt-hours annually, saving an average of $55,000 per year.
  • Wind – In 2012, Cleveland’s Progressive Field became the first professional sports facility to install a wind turbine, which generates more than 40,000 kilowatt hours per year.
  • Renewable Mix - Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field, home of the National Football League’s (NFL) Philadelphia Eagles, will be the first stadium in the U.S. capable of generating 100 percent of its energy through a mix of solar panels, a generator that runs on natural gas and biodiesel, and, soon, 14 wind turbines.
  • Efficiency - The Seattle Mariners replaced an old incandescent scoreboard with a new LED scoreboard, lowering annual electricity consumption by more than 90 percent and reducing energy costs by $50,000 a year.


Access to fresh, safe water is an increasingly dire concern across the globe.  The report details  myriad innovative water conservation techniques that have already been integrated into facilities.  These include:

  • Irrigation – San Francisco’s AT&T Park uses an irrigation clock that uses up-to-the-minute local data to establish zone watering times, saving 33-to-50 percent in irrigation water use. Changes in the composition of the infield surface have reduced field watering by 33 percent.
  • Efficiency –Minnesota Twins’ Target Field installed low-flush, dual flush toilets and aerated faucets, which use 30 percent less potable water than conventional fixtures. This shift is saving approximately 4.2 million gallons of water annually. 
  • Water Restoration Credits – For the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals and 2011 Winter Classic, the NHL purchased over 4.5 million gallons in Water Restoration Credits from Bonneville Environmental Foundation to balance the amount of water used during the events. In early 2012, NHL Green introduced Gallons for Goals, committing to restore 1,000 gallons of water to a critically dewatered river in the Northwest for every goal scored during the regular season. The NHL announced in April 2012 that the league replenished more than 6.7 million gallons of water.


Virtually all professional sports teams have developed recycling and composting programs.  Meanwhile, all major sports concessionaires have developed environmentally preferable offerings. The increased demand for sustainable products - like compostable serviceware and recyclable paper products – has resulted in competitive pricing and far more waste being recycled and composted rather than sent to landfills.  Examples include:

  • Recycling – The Cleveland Indians have cut their trash in half from 1,262 tons to 613 tons by implementing an enhanced recycling program.  This reduced the number of trash pick-ups by 64 percent, saving $50,000 annually.
  • Composting – The Cardinals’ “4 A Greener Game” program, launched in 2008, is credited with recycling more than 1,836 tons of solid waste, more than 575 tons of yard waste, and more than 110 tons of composted organic material.
  • Supply chain impact - The Montreal Canadiens implemented a purchasing policy requiring the organization buy only environmentally-friendly cleaning products.  80 percent of purchases now include products that are locally made and/or composed of reused or recycled content.

Cost Savings

The report also features the economic benefits of greener practices.  By cutting waste – whether it’s energy waste, water waste or trash, you reduce costs. Examples include:

  • The Amway Center, where the Orlando Magic play, installed high-efficiency systems that consumes approximately 25 percent less energy than a conventional system.  This saves nearly $750,000 a year. 
  • From 2008 to 2011, thanks to their greening efforts, the Portland Trail Blazers recouped $411,000 in energy savings, $165,000 in water savings and $260,000 in waste diversion savings, with a total savings of $836,000. As of 2012, they’ve saved over $1 million.
  • Through numerous energy efficiency efforts, the Seattle Mariners saved approximately $1.5 million in utilities costs from 2006 to 2011 by reducing natural gas use by 60 percent, electricity use by 30 percent and water use by 25 percent.
  • In one year, thanks to their energy efficiency measures, the Miami HEAT saved $1.6 million and consumed 53% less energy than the average facility of similar size and use.

“The sports industry is proving that greening is smart business,” says Alice Henly, a principal author of NRDC’s Game Changer report. “From cost savings and brand enhancements to new sponsorship opportunities and strengthening community ties, sports organizations are reaping the tangible economic benefits of greening which is essential to keeping their operations efficient.”

The report also emphasizes the cultural impact of the greening of pro sports. While only 13 percent of Americans say they follow science, 61 percent identify themselves as sports fans. It notes the hundreds of millions of people who watch sporting events each year, and the widespread visibility of league championships such as the NFL’s Super Bowl, MLB’s World Series, the Stanley Cup and the NBA Finals.

“The teams and leagues are modeling techniques that we all need to be doing at home and at work,” said Darby Hoover, NRDC senior resource specialist. “If the Cardinals, Eagles, HEAT and many other teams can do it for tens of thousands of people every game, we should be able to start thinking about greening too. You don’t need to be a pro to do this stuff. Recycling and getting smarter with our energy and water use can benefit our household and business budgets too.”

The report stresses the urgent need to change attitudes about the importance of environmental protection by noting the most recent evidence of climate change. This decade has experienced nine out of 10 of the hottest years on record, with 24,000 heat records broken in the U.S. in just the first six months of 2012. By 2025, about 4 billion people will live in areas experiencing severe water stress if significant steps are not taken to reduce water consumption.

"As an alliance of over 100 sports teams and facilities, we've seen first-hand the impressive work being done to reduce the environmental impact of the sports industry,” said Martin Tull, executive director of the Green Sports Alliance.  “With the release of this report the world will learn about this good work. Hopefully this report will encourage and guide other teams and venues to follow suit."  

Venues and teams highlighted in the report include:

  • Atlanta’s Philips Arena, home of the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks
  • Cleveland’s Progressive Field, home to MLB’s Cleveland Indians
  • Houston’s Toyota Center, home of the NBA’s Houston Rockets
  • Los Angeles’ STAPLES Center, home of the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers, the NHL’s Los Angeles KINGS and the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks
  • Miami’s American Airlines Arena,  home of the NBA’s Miami Heat
  • Minneapolis’ Target Field, home of MLB’s Minnesota  Twins
  • Montreal’s Bell Centre, home of the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens
  • Orlando’s Amway Center, home of the NBA’s Orlando Magic
  • Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field, home of the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles
  • Portland’s Rose Garden Arena, home of the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers
  • San Francisco’s AT&T Park,  home of MLB’s San Francisco Giants
  • Seattle’s CenturyLink Field, home of the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks and MLS’s Seattle Sounders
  • Seattle’s Safeco Field, home of MLB’s Seattle Mariners
  • St. Louis’ Busch Stadium, home of MLB’s St. Louis Cardinals
  • Toronto’s Air Canada Centre, home of the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs and the NBA’s Toronto Raptors

League-level “jewel events” profiled for their environmental initiatives include:

  • The MLB All-Star Game
  • The U.S. Open, United States Tennis Association (USTA)
  • The NHL All-Star Game, The Winter Classic and the NHL draft
  • The NBA All-Star Game and Green Week
  • The NCAA Final Four

Profiles of green building leaders in professional sports include:

  • Jeld-Wen Field, Portland, Oregon
  • Miller Park, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
  • Marlins Park, Miami, Florida
  • Soldier Field, Chicago, Illinois
  • BBVA Compass Stadium, Houston, Texas
  • Barclays Center, Brooklyn, New York

The complete report is available online from NRDC at: