Professional sports teams, led by Major League Baseball, put greater emphasis on environmental programs.

 

As Earth Day approached in April, Major League Baseball announced plans to introduce a comprehensive software system that will collect and analyze environmental data related to all 30 teams' stadium operations. In order to determine best practices for the league as a whole, MLB officials plan to quantify information regarding energy and water consumption, waste management, recycling and paper usage throughout the season on a monthly basis.

The move presents a first within professional sports leagues, and Allen Hershkowitz, a senior scientist for the New York City-based nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council, called it "arguably the most important environmental initiative in the history of professional sports." The NRDC - which since 2006 has helped pro baseball teams reduce their environmental impact - assisted in the development of the league's new software system. The council also is in discussions with representatives from the NBA, the NFL, the NHL and MLS to adopt similar approaches, Hershkowitz says. "As a result of this announcement, we are very likely to see all professional sports leagues and clubs in the next few years begin to measure their environmental impacts," he wrote in his blog at www.nrdc.org.

A 2009 survey of more than 50 pro teams regarding their sustainability practices revealed that 80 percent expect emphasis on environmental programs to increase in the future. Conducted by ProGreenSports, a Falmouth, Mass.-based firm dedicated to helping sports organizations realize the business advantages of environmental sustainability programs, the survey also indicated that 80 percent of responding franchises have formed or are considering forming an internal green team, while 50 percent have developed or are considering the development of a sustainability program with both long- and short-term goals.

Recycling continues to be among the easiest and quickest options. "Pro sports teams are getting serious about going green, and recycling is at the top of the list," says Mark McSherry, president of ProGreenSports. "We see more and more teams that are measuring recycle rates, conducting waste audits and setting recycle-rate goals. Recycling is fan-facing, and teams are increasingly recognizing the sponsorship and branding opportunity."

So are organizers of major sporting events. The 2010 Winter Olympics were the greenest in history, with nine new buildings drawing heat from the Pacific Ocean and exhaust systems, and incorporating green roofs and solar panels. Even the gold, silver and bronze medals had a touch of "green" in them, as they were created using token bits of recycled electronic components salvaged from trashed computers in Belgium. And the NFL used renewable energy to power Super Bowl XLIV and the 2010 Pro Bowl.

While the FIFA World Cup, which gets under way this month in South Africa, has been criticized for leaving a potential carbon footprint estimated at 2.75 million tons (a nine-fold increase from the last World Cup held in Germany, environmentalist watchdogs say, and twice as high as the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing), nine national teams with Nike contracts will compete wearing polyester jerseys completely fabricated from recycled plastic bottles. The bottles, harvested from landfills in Japan and Taiwan, were melted into yarn and then spun into a fabric that the sports-apparel giant is hailing as the most environmentally friendly and technologically advanced jersey in the sport's history. Each one comprises up to eight recycled plastic bottles, reducing energy consumption by up to 30 percent compared to manufacturing virgin polyester, Nike reports. The World Cup teams wearing the jerseys will be Australia, Brazil, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Portugal, Serbia, Slovenia, South Korea and the United States.