Every sports industry Jewel Event — the Super Bowl, the World Series, the Stanley Cup, the NBA Playoffs and Finals, the US. Open Tennis Championships, Major League Soccer's Championship Cup, every All Star Game, and the NCAA Final Four — all now power their events with renewable energy and purchase carbon offsets to reduce their contribution to global warming.

Sports world teams up against climate change

By Allen Hershkowitz

As I listened to President Obama present his important plan to meaningfully reduce the carbon we spew into the atmosphere each day, (and stimulate new jobs in doing so), I was struck by how far along on this issue the sports industry already is.

According to Scott Jenkins, the Seattle Mariners VP for ballpark operations and chairman of the board of the Green Sports Alliance, a US-based association of more than 170 sports teams and venues from 15 leagues:

“We are pleased today to see President Obama outline his plan to address climate change, expand clean and renewable energy and improve energy efficiency. Green Sports Alliance member teams and venues have been embracing conservation efforts and cleaner sources of energy not only because it is better for the environment, but it is also better for our bottom line. Since the health of the sports industry depends on a stable climate we appreciate his leadership on this critical issue. Sports venues throughout our nation have demonstrated that adopting smart environmental strategies is good for both the environment and for business.”

Every sports industry Jewel Event — the Super Bowl, the World Series, the Stanley Cup, the NBA Playoffs and Finals, the U.S. Open Tennis Championships, Major League Soccer’s Championship Cup, every All Star Game, and the NCAA Final Four —  all now power their events with renewable energy and purchase carbon offsets to reduce their contribution to global warming.

In a market shift of historic proportions, the commissioners of every major professional sports league have all endorsed the need to act to address global climate disruption and other ecological issues.

According to David Stern, commissioner of the National Basketball Association, “Climate change is just about number one on [our agenda for] the future of the planet.” And in a letter sent to members of Congress in February of this year that seems to anticipate everything the president said in his climate speech, Kathleen Behrens, the executive VP of the National Basketball Association, wrote:

“Our league…accepts the conclusions of innumerable scientific experts and government agencies that climate change will only worsen if we do not effectively reduce the air pollutants that are driving it. The signs of extreme heat and extreme weather in recent years are unmistakable…Based on the advice of the world’s scientific community…the NBA agrees that our current regulatory system may need to be more creatively employed in order to provide the timely and effective response we need to address the challenge of combating climate change. We see no reason why our nation’s governmental leadership should not join with the efforts launched by the NBA and other businesses to promote effective standards and incentives designed to help our nation mobilize in time and at the scale needed to address the risks of climate change…The logical place to start is with standards to reduce the carbon pollution from electric power plants, the nation’s largest source of carbon pollution.”

The National Hockey League, along with Major League Baseball, has for years been measuring energy use at all of its venues and will soon begin the process of setting carbon reduction goals with each NHL venue. AEG, our nation’s largest operator of stadiums, arenas and theaters has a goal to reduce its carbon emissions from all operations by 20 percent by 2020.

NASCAR has incorporated recycling and non-fossil fuel use to reduce its carbon footprint, and a NASCAR track in Pennsylvania hosts the largest solar array of any sports facility in the United States.

Major League Baseball’s commissioner Alan H. (Bud) Selig has said, “The principles of sustainability and environmental stewardship are now integral to the culture of Major League Baseball…Sound environmental practices make sense in every way and protect out natural resources for future generations of baseball fans.”

For almost ten years, the commissioners of every professional sports league have been encouraging energy efficiency enhancements and the development of solar power. In 2010 all league commissioners circulated a guide to the development of on-site solar arrays to all 140 professional teams and the operators of their stadiums and arenas. (See the list of solar arrays at pro sports venues below, and view the Solar Guide for Stadiums and Arenas distributed by all commissioners here.)

In response to their commissioners’ encouragement, 18 pro-sports teams have already installed solar arrays at their venues to help reduce their emissions of carbon pollution, 38 teams have shifted to renewable energy for at least some of their operations, and almost 70 teams have adopted energy efficiency measures. Collectively all of these teams have saved millions of dollars annually by reducing their carbon emissions. And throughout collegiate sports, solar installation, greenhouse gas reducing composting and recycling programs and other cost-effective carbon reduction initiatives are so widespread that it’s impossible to list all of the impressive accomplishments taking place around campuses throughout the United States.

If there is one thing that President Obama’s climate speech reveals, it is that a cultural shift toward environmental awareness is taking place in the United States. As lessons from the sports industry reveal, we are changing the way we think about our relationship to the planet.

Given how important a stable climate is to professional sports teams, and how much work and investments the sports industry has made to work for it, it makes sense for the sports industry to fully support the urgent yet common-sense steps the President has laid out. It will be good for sports, good for business and good for our fans.