Greener Pro Sports

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Dear EarthTalk: What’s being done to “green up” professional sports? I know that the last two Olympic Games both made some effort, but are there others? — Rob Avandic, Chicago, IL

The last two Olympics were indeed greener than any before, but environmental awareness isn’t limited to the realm of international amateur competition. In fact, in just the last few years all of the major professional North American sports leagues have made strides in greening their operations.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has helped blaze the trail through its “Greening the Games” initiative. Since 2003, when the National Football League’s (NFL) Philadelphia Eagles turned to NRDC for help saving energy and reducing waste, NRDC has helped dozens of pro teams evaluate their environmental impacts and make changes. Today the Eagles obtain all of their energy at Lincoln Field from wind power, pour fans’ beverages in biodegradable corn-based plastic cups, power their scoreboard with solar panels and have reduced electricity use overall by a third. The NFL itself has also jumped on the bandwagon, implementing various green initiatives at the Super Bowl, the Pro Bowl and other big events.

In 2008, NRDC teamed up with Major League Baseball (MLB) to first green the All Star Game and, the following year, the World Series. Subsequently, NRDC assessed each team’s environmental footprint and made recommendations for improving it. Several teams have gone on to build or refurbish their stadiums with sustainability in mind. Boston’s Fenway Park, Atlanta’s Turner Field, Washington, DC’s Nationals Park, and San Francisco’s AT&T Park all get high marks for pro-environment features and operations.

In 2008, NRDC began working with the U.S. Tennis Association (USTA) to green its signature event, the U.S. Open. For one, this led to a move to 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper for tournament programs. And an environmental review of all operations at the National Tennis Center in Queens, New York led to a number of green improvements, including the switch to 90 percent post-consumer recycled paper for some 2.4 million napkins and a move to wind turbines for the tournament’s electricity.

The National Basketball Association (NBA) jumped on the NRDC sports bandwagon in 2009, working with the group to organize its first annual Green Week in early April whereby the entire league works in concert to generate environmental awareness and funding for related causes. As part of the festivities, which took place in 2010 as well and will happen again in April 2011, each NBA team hosted community service events including tree plantings, recycling drives and park clean-up days.

NRDC got the National Hockey League (NHL) in on the act as well, helping to green the Stanley Cup Finals and working with individual teams as it did with baseball and football. In announcing the launch of the NHL Green program, league commissioner Gary Bettman commented that it’s only fitting for professional ice hockey to care about staving off global warming: “Most of our players learned to skate on outdoor rinks. For that magnificent tradition to continue through future generations we need winter weather—and as a league we are uniquely positioned to promote that message.”

CONTACTS: NRDC, www.nrdc.org/greenbusiness/guides/sports/; MLB Team Greening Program, mlb.mlb.com/mlb/official_info/community/team_greening.jsp; NBA Green, www.nba.com/green; NHL Green, www.nhl.com/ice/eventhome.htm?location=/nhlgreen; USTA, www.usta.com.

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