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The Green Movement in Professional Sports

By Emily Hunter

Athletic stadiums and sporting events across the country contribute significantly to environmental waste and degradation. Major League Baseball (MLB) uses more than 900,000 baseballs per regular season, and the 2012 National Hockey League (NHL) Winter Classic used 3.5 million gallons of water over merely a week. Sports fans generate about 39 million pounds of trash every year from food and drink containers. Although these numbers are daunting, professional sports teams are acknowledging their impact and are taking action by altering their practices.

The Green Sports Alliance (GSA) was created in 2010 to bring together sports executives, venue operators, and environmental scientists to discuss ways to make professional sporting events and arenas more sustainable. Today, there are nearly 600 teams from 15 sports leagues across 14 countries involved in the GSA. Member teams and venues set their own sustainability goals, and the GSA directly supports them by conducting research, creating networks with industry leaders, holding an annual Green Sports Alliance Summit and more.

MLB has taken steps in order to encourage sustainability by both fans and teams. At MLB All-Star games, “Green Teams,” which are made up of volunteers, collect recyclable bottles and cups directly from fans. The MLB also has an annual Green Glove Award, which is given to the team that has the highest waste diversion rate. Last year, this was given to the San Francisco Giants for diverting 94% of their waste from landfills. These initiatives reward green practices by the team organizations, the stadiums they play in, and the fans that attend their games.

Green initiatives have created significant financial savings for these leagues as well. The AmericanAirlines Arena, home of the Miami Heat, achieved LEED certification in 2009, and was LEED Gold recertified in 2014. LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a globally recognized green building rating system, and LEED certification is a symbol of sustainability achievement. The National Resource Defense Council (NRDC) released a cost-savings analysis on the Heat’s LEED certification process. According to the report, the total cost of modifications was $73,384, and there is an annual savings of approximately $1,616,480. The Heat had a full return on investment in less than a year, showing that going green through energy efficiency mechanisms in sports arenas is not only environmentally ethical, but also financially responsible.

One organization that is particularly concerned about the state of the environment and is making impressive strides to become greener is the NHL. Many ponds, particularly in Canada, are no longer freezing over or staying frozen long enough; frozen ponds are where many kids first learn to play hockey. As the climate changes and water scarcity increases, hockey may be directly and negatively impacted. In response, the NHL created NHL Green, an environmental initiative to reduce carbon emissions, invest in sustainable energy, recycle, and several other actions within NHL hockey rinks. According to their website, their mission is to “improve the natural and built environments where hockey is played by championing sustainable innovation and community development.” The organization released a sustainability report in 2014, which is the first of its kind of any professional sports league and was followed by a second report last year. The NHL has had a number of accomplishments in their environmental initiatives. These include being the first professional sports league to be on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) National Top 100 users of green power in 2015, as well as a 2% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions between 2014 and 2016, according to their 2018 sustainability report.

The green movement in professional sports can be an example for other organizations, industries, and communities to follow. Hundreds of millions of Americans watch professional sports and attend sporting events, and the industry is estimated to make $485 billion a year. This is a monumental platform which can be used for more than sports. When praising the NHL’s environmental efforts, Gina McCarthy, former EPA Administrator, said, “They make [the issue] real for people. It isn’t just about some far-off drought problem, it’s about whether we can take our kids skating anymore.” Environmentalism in sports makes these issues personal, which is crucial in inspiring others to be concerned and take action.


Grant, Thomas J. (2014, January 1) Green Monsters: Examining the Environmental Impact of Sports Stadiums. Villanova Environmental Law Journal. Retrieved from https://digitalcommons.law.villanova.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1349&context=elj.

2018 NHL Sustainability Report. (2018, March 18).  NHL Green. Retrieved from http://sustainability.nhl.com/report/#!/home/index.

Henly, Alice et al. (2012, September). Game Changer: How the Sports Industry is Saving the Environment. NRDC Report. Retrieved from https://www.nrdc.org/sites/default/files/Game-Changer-report.pdf.

LEED (n.d.). U.S. Green Buildings Council. Retrieved from https://new.usgbc.org/leed.

LoRe, Michael. (2016, March 16). EPA administrator ‘incredibly proud’ of NHL Green. NHL.com. Retrieved from https://www.nhl.com/news/nhl-green-week-gina-mccarthy-epa/c-279660470.

MLB Green (n.d.). Retrieved from  https://www.mlb.com/mlb-community/mlb-green.

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