Today’s guest column comes from Amanda Little (née Griscom), one of my favorite writers on energy and the environment, and it’s on a very timely topic–the greening of sports. Amanda is the author of Power Trip: The Story of America’s Love Affair With Energy, and she was a long-time columnist for Grist.org and Salon.com. Amanda has also written for Outside, the New York Times Magazine, Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone, Wired, New York, InStyle, O Magazine and the Washington Post. She is the recipient of the Jane Bagley Lehman Award for excellence in environmental journalism. Amanda’s now blogging for Forbes.com, where this column originally appeared.
Why is it timely? Because just the other day, the Philadelphia Eagles unveiled plans to install solar panels, wind turbines and a co-generation plant at Lincoln Financial Field, making the stadium quite possibly the “greenest” in the sports. The gridiron goes off the grid, you could say. And if you think sports is a sandbox, with little impact on the “real world,” think again, about, say, Jackie Robinson’s influence on the civil rights movement. If you want to change the minds of people at the grass roots, about climate or energy or recycling, there’s no better place to start than with sports.
As the San Francisco Giants celebrate their 2010 World Series triumph, they’re quietly coveting another, humbler feat—one that’s perhaps no less historic in the long run. The Giants are one of the greenest teams in professional sports, and they’re proving that sustainable practices fatten the bottom line even as they ease the burdens on the planet.
Their stadium, AT&T Park, which accommodates about 45,000 fans, runs its scoreboard on solar power, recycles and composts nearly 50 percent of its waste, sources eco-friendly napkins, containers, utensils, toilet paper and the like, and has enough efficiency features to cut the stadium’s annual energy and water bills in half. That amounts to huge savings, given that stadiums can consume as much energy as small cities.
The Giants are on the front end of a trend that’s quickly gaining traction in major league baseball and throughout the NFL and NBA. Teams are stepping up recycling and efficiency in their facilities, attracting lucrative corporate sponsorships with green messaging, and raising consciousness among fans. If the trend continues to build in the next two years, we may find that games do more to push environmental progress in the U.S. than politics.
Especially now, given the acrimony in Washington, professional sports may have a broader and more profound influence than any other single entity on American mindsets, slicing through socioeconomic and political divides. “More than 150 million Americans – half our population – regularly follow professional sports,” Allen Hershkowitz, Senior Scientist at Natural Resources Defense Council, told me. Hershkowitz founded the NRDC project greensports.org, a pro-bono consultancy that advises teams and leagues on environmental strategies.
For nearly a century, professional sports have galvanized social movements and ginned up American patriotism. Baseball, for instance, desegregated a decade before the nation did, helping catalyze the civil rights movement. Women’s basketball and softball leagues were organized before women had the right to vote. [click to continue…]