Green Sports: Moving from Winning to Greening

America’s sports organizations are increasingly focused on Green initiatives and environmental issues. According to Allen Hershkowitz, a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), sports organizations including Major League Baseball*, the National Basketball Association, the U.S. Tennis Association, and the National Hockey League are now partnering with the NRDC in a variety of “Green” ways.

Getting the sporting industry behind Green and environmental issues has been a slow but steady process, continues Hershkowitz: “It took the environmental community 30 years from the first Earth Day to partner with sports.” He adds that getting sports organizations and governing bodies involved in these issues is an important part of increasing public awareness, as “only 13 percent of Americans follow science, but 63 percent follow sports.” The hope is that as more Americans realize their favorite teams are getting on the Green and sustainable bandwagon, fans will follow suit, implementing environmentally preferable practices in their personal lives, schools, and work environments.

To help the movement along, in 2010 the NRDC conceived and founded the Green Sports Alliance, of which I am a board member. This organization, which started with six professional teams and five sports facilities, today counts more than 200 professional and collegiate teams and sports venues as members, working together to share ideas and information on how to incorporate more Green and sustainable practices into their own operations. While the emphasis in professional sports has historically been only on winning—rather than Greening at the same time—this mindset is now changing fairly rapidly.

What Took Them So Long?

So why has it taken so long for sports teams to become more involved in the environmental movement? One reason is that many major league sports organizations are not directly involved with the operations of the venues in which they play. Yet Greening these facilities and helping them to use energy, gas, water, and other natural resources more responsibly is core to Greening the industry as a whole.

Another roadblock has been the fact that sports facility owners and managers – similar to building owners and managers – have historically been concerned that making a facility Greener and more sustainable would be costly and offer little return on the investment. Thankfully, examples are beginning to surface that prove that this is not the case. For instance, according to the Green Sports Alliance, the Seattle Mariners baseball team has reported saving more than $2 million by reducing their natural gas use by 60 percent and their electricity use by 30 percent from 2006 to 2009 at Safeco Field.

Going Green Benefits the Bottom Line

Today, the sports industry is increasingly aware that becoming more environmentally responsible can have several benefits. In fact, venues of every size are reporting achieving operational cost savings by implementing Green and environmental practices.

Some other benefits of implementing environmentally responsible operation programs include:

Good PR. Several studies indicate that people want the businesses they support—or, in this case, the sports teams for which they cheer and the facilities where they play—to be Greener and more environmentally aware. Trumpeting the fact that a team or venue is incorporating environmentally positive measures into its facility operations is meaningful to fans—especially those in younger demographics—and can help build fan loyalty.

Increased revenue. According to a study by Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania,** there is evidence that becoming Greener and more sustainable can actually boost a team or venue’s bottom line, as well as reducing costs. This study reports that environmental activities and messages attract increased numbers of fans who place greater significance on environmental issues. According to the researchers, these fans have “become a new source of revenue which has the potential to power profits and environmental efforts over the long term.”

Public awareness. As discussed by Hershkowitz, one of the biggest impacts of the Greening of the sports industry is its potentially significant impact on the behavior and attitudes of millions of sports fans. In fact, according to the Wharton report, “Messages delivered at games, on TV, and online influence tens of millions of fans on a regular basis.”

Of course, while all this is a great start, we still have a ways to go. For instance, millions of sports fans drive to sporting venues to see their favorite teams play, producing large amounts of greenhouse gases every year; however, in time, these kinds of issues can be addressed as well. The good news is that the American sports industry is certainly beginning to see the light—and that light is Green.


Stephen P. Ashkin is executive director of the Green Cleaning Network (a not-for-profit organization dedicated to educating building owners and suppliers about Green cleaning), president of The Ashkin Group (a consulting firm specializing in Greening the cleaning industry), and a board member of the Green Sports Alliance. Considered the “father of Green Cleaning,” he is also the coauthor of The Business of Green Cleaning and Green Cleaning for Dummies.


* In 2005, Major League Baseball became the first professional sports league to partner with the NRDC.

* Plunckett Research Limited®