Teams from Six Major Leagues Form Green Sports Alliance

Teams from Six Major Leagues Form Green Sports Alliance

“Outside of the family, the most influential cultural role models in our society are athletes and entertainers,” says Allen Hershkowitz, senior scientist for Natural Resources Defense Council.

To be sure, religion and government are major influences as well, but neither are “something that everybody can come together on,” he says.

Interest in sports cuts across geopolitical lines. Sports shows are the most watched TV programs worldwide, Hershkowitz points out. Pro sports, especially, and the athletes who play them have vast potential to engage and inspire their fans.

That’s the premise behind Green Sports Alliance, whose formation was announced this week at Safeco Field in Seattle, Wash. The alliance is focused on reducing the environmental impact of pro sports, its venues and operations -- and getting fans to join the effort.

The nonprofit's founding members are teams from six pro leagues -- Major League Baseball’s Seattle Mariners, the National Football League’s Seattle Seahawks, the National Basketball Association’s Portland Trail Blazers, the National Hockey League’s Vancouver Canucks, the Seattle Storm of the Women’s National Basketball Association and Major League Soccer’s Seattle Sounders.

Joining them are the five venues that are home to the six teams -- Safeco Field, Qwest Field, the Rose Garden, Rogers Arena and Key Arena -- and nine business partners that include the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Bonneville Environmental Foundation, Portland State Institute for Sustainable Solutions and the NRDC, which has worked with teams and leagues to green pro sports since 2004.

The new organization also has the blessings of the commissioners for MLB, the NFL, NBA, WNBA, NHL and MLS -- all of whom provided endorsement statements for the alliance’s launch.

“I’ve been doing this work for 30 years and I’ve been hitting myself in the head,” says Hershkowitz. “Why didn’t we do this 30 years earlier?”

Though his statement was partly in jest and partly in celebration of the unprecedented collaboration by alliance founders and supporters, the efforts by the pro sports groups reflect the growing concerns about environmental sustainability and stewardship within the mainstream. The alliance also represents the evolution of the environmentalism and the mainstreaming of the movement.

Or, as Hershkowitz says, “if you want to change the world, you don’t emphasize how different you are from everybody else.”

Instead, you tap common interests and concerns -- like how to conserve energy and water use, turn to renewable energy to ease dependence on the grid, green your supply chain for products used to operate, stock, maintain and clean facilities, manage waste and increase recycling -- all of which can help significantly reduce costs.

Within the leagues, numerous teams are working to do that and GreenBiz.com and its sister site GreenerBuildings.com have highlighted several of their stories, such as: The San Francisco Giants’ AT&T Park, the first ballpark in MLB to deploy a solar energy system, achieving a more than 75 percent recycling rate as well as the first LEED-Silver green building certification for an existing structure; the Minnesota Twins and the Washington Nationals each attaining LEED-Silver certification for their ballparks; the NBA expanding Green Week efforts; the Rose Garden nailing the first LEED-Gold rating for an NBA facility; the Atlanta Braves’ work with Coca-Cola Enterprises on recycling; and the LEED certifications earned by the American Airlines Arena, home of the Miami Heat, and the Philips Arena, the lair of the Atlanta Hawks, the Atlanta Thrashers and the Atlanta Dream.

While several of the pro leagues and their teams have partnered with the NRDC over the years, the new alliance provides the organizations a platform to share better practices, successful strategies and ensure that their efforts are authentic while working across leagues to give their programs maximum reach.

In development for about 18 months, the alliance grew from a concept that originated with the NRDC and representatives of sport teams owned by Paul G. Allen , says Hershkowitz. A Microsoft founder, Allen owns the Seattle Seahawks and Portland Trail Blazers and co-owns the Seattle Sounders Football Club.

By launching the alliance, the message that "team presidents, commissioners and stadium operators are sending to the marketplace is potent," Hershkowitz wrote in the NRDC's blog, Switchboard. "To do business with professional sports, environmental criteria must be part of your business."

Photo illustration images CC licensed by Flickr users Don Nunn, ArtBrom, Shalecia, marbla123, Doug L, rahego, Wiros, Ed Yourdon, theilr and Chris1254.