Pro Sports Go Green. Do Fans Care?

Pro sports teams around the country are hyping their renewable energy use and promising to become more efficient. Will that help make their fans greener?

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The Philadelphia Eagles' Lincoln Financial Field is the greenest stadium in pro sports.

The NFL season finally kicked off last night when the Dallas Cowboys came to New York—or actually the New York-adjacent swamplands of New Jersey—to take on the defending Super Bowl-champion Giants. (As a Philadelphia Eagles fan, I would have liked some sort of double-forfeit scenario, but it wasn’t meant to be.) The sky-high TV ratings of the NFL Kickoff game is a reminder that—Presidential campaigns and political conventions aside—what Americans really care about is professional sports. Doubt that? Nearly 167 million Americans watched this year’s Super Bowl, well above the 130 million or so people who voted in the 2008 Presidential elections.

The sheer influence of pro sports prompted the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) to begin working in 2003 to help green the multi-billion dollar industry. Yesterday NRDC released a report highlighting some of the best environmental initiatives being carried out by NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB and WNBA teams—more than a quarter of which have shifted to renewable energy for at least some of their operations, while more than half have energy efficiency programs. How much of an impact a little solar and a little extra insulation have against the incalculably huge carbon footprints and energy bills of the nation’s pro sports teams isn’t clear. But NRDC hopes that pro sports—perhaps the one area where Americans of all political stripes come together—can demonstrate that going green isn’t extreme, as NRDC green sports project director Allen Hershkowitz put it in a statement:

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.

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Or at least that’s what NRDC and environmentalists are hoping. Clean energy and efficiency are pretty mainstream and non-partisan notions, especially when they’re removed from the messiness of politics and stripped for the most part of any mention of more sensitive topics like climate change. If solar panels and biodiesel are good enough for the Eagles—whose Lincoln Financial Field is set to become the first stadium in the U.S. capable of generating 100% of its energy on site—it should be good enough for all Americans. Maybe even Cowboys fans.

Highlights from the report include:

  • The NHL has introduced Gallons for Goals, committing to restore 1,000 gallons of water to a critically dewatered river in the Northwest for every goal scored in the regular season. (Of course, this means that every time your favorite goalie stops a shot, he’s actually hurting the environment. Although that may explain what Penguins’ goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was doing during last spring’s playoffs.
  • This year the Cleveland Indian’s Progressive Field became the first stadium to install a wind turbine, which generates more than 40,000 kilowatt hours per year. (No word on whether the Chicago White Sox will try to tap the wind energy generated by major league strikeout leader Adam Dunn’s swings and misses.)
  • The Seattle Mariners replaced an incandescent scoreboard with an LED one, reducing electricity consumption by more than 90%. (It’s not part of their green program, but the Mariners are also saving on electricity consumption for their scoreboard by simply not scoring. That’s offensive conservation.)
  • In one year, energy efficiency at the Miami Heat’s American Airlines Arena resulted in 53% less energy use than the average facility of the same size. This saved the team $1.6 million—enough to buy you about 7 games of Lebron James.

MORE: The Philadelphia Eagles Go Green