Major League Baseball Scores a Home Run in Greening Initiatives

This year marked a remarkable comeback for the San Francisco Giants, who despite a rocky early season, came back to sweep the Detroit Tigers and win the World Series. Although normally drawn to the drama of the Fall Classic, this year’s sustainability story peaked my interest in this year’s contest.

Major League Baseball (MLB) has put environmental issues front and center on baseball’s biggest stage. The first professional sports league to partner with the National Research Defense Council (NRDC), MLB officials and NRDC experts came together to discuss a league greening initiative titled the “Commissioner’s Initiative on Sustainable Stadium Operations and Team Practices”.

Backed by a variety of league events and team initiatives, the MLB is encouraging teams and venues to start greening and incorporating sustainable measures into their operations. To kick off the league’s initiatives, the NRDC developed the NRDC Greening Advisor, an online environmental resource that has been customized and distributed to each team in the league.

World Series contender’s strong supporters of greening initiatives

The Giants have made numerous efforts to promote environmentally responsible living. In partnership with Pacific Gas and Electric, the Giants installed a solar panel system to generate energy in San Francisco – the first such system in a MLB park.  These efforts build off the Giant’s shining achievement in 2000 when the AT&T Park became the first Major League ballpark to receive Leed Silver Certification.

Further east, the Tigers have taken steps to green their ballpark with the installation of the Tiger Den Seats, audience seating comprised of recycled plastic milk jugs.

Sport and Sustainability

The driving force behind the MLB’s greening initiatives remains its commitment to the fundamental principles of sport.

“Baseball is a social institution with social responsibilities and caring for the environment is inextricably linked to all aspects of the game. Sound environmental practices make sense in every way and protect out natural resources for future generations of baseball fans.” – MLB Commissioner, Allan H. (Bud) Selig

In addition to the environmental benefits, the monetary benefits for professional sports leagues are robust, from saving thousands of dollars on energy, waste, and water bills to creating new sponsorship opportunities and enhancing brand value with corporate social responsibility.

We give a thumbs-up to MLB’s commitment to sustainability, although certainly much work remains to be done. Having recently participated in the “Sports and Sustainability” discussion held by the White House, the MLB continues to be an example of major league sport industry’s success in adopting more sustainable practices.  As teams such as the Philadelphia Phillies continue to add solar energy projects to their list of investments, we will continue to monitor MLB into 2013.  Check back with us for more updates on how MLB is taking the next steps in the clean energy movement.

Major League Sports Gulping the Green Gatorade

Flickr / Daveybot

It’s inspiring to browse the headlines on sites like NHL Green and the Green Sport Alliance these days and see the range of sustainability initiatives being adopted by major sporting leagues, teams and facilities.

Whether it’s venue recycling programs, such as those introduced at the MLB’s 2011 World Series or the upcoming Cal Athletics zero-waste games, food waste reduction programs, such as the NHL’s Rock and Wrap it Up! Program, through which over 160, 000 meals have been recovered across the NHL, or innovative energy conservation and generation programs such as the Cleveland Indians solar panels and wind turbine project and the Stadium Managers Association’s Energy Bowl competition.

In fact, check-out this great video from the series Energy Now! that highlights some of the renewable energy initiatives being undertaken by pro football stadiums around the league.

[vimeo http://vimeo.com/29972293]

Clearly sports groups see the business case for sustainability on both the bottom line and corporate image. And many franchises have smartly focused on projects that are key “touch points” with fans, like recycling.

But as our colleagues in the sports world are well aware, showing up at the rink is one thing, you’ve got to step up your game if you want to be a regular out on the ice.

Next steps: robust measurement and reporting systems

Flickr / laffy4k

From our vantage point, there is plenty of excellent work and quality discussion around the value of greener sports – see videos from the 2011 Green Sport Summit presentations and panel discussions online – what we’re not seeing to any real degree is compelling and robust measurement and reporting on actual outcomes of green programs.

A quick Google search brings up few results in the realm of sustainability reports from leagues and teams, particularly in North America.

That being said, we did come across the 2010 and 2011 annual sustainability reports from the Saint Paul RiverCentre, Xcel Energy Center (home to the NHL’s Minnesota Wild) and their partners. While largely focused on recycling programming, we were impressed to see a section on green purchasing, highlighting the group’s Green Purchasing Playbook that identifies third-party standards like Energy Star and Green Seal across a range of product categories as well as policy guidelines that outline the prioritizing of green product merits over cost. The playbook has paved the way for many products to be switched to greener alternatives. In fact, 65% of the facilities’ custodial papers and cleaners are now purchased to these standards.

We were also pleased to recently come across a run-down of the NBA’s Portland Trailblazers sustainable purchasing program including a Green Cleaning Policy, local and organic refreshment sourcing and energy conservation programming.

The Sustainability Report from the Saint Paul River Centre and Xcel Energy Center is an example of a great first step into reporting by the sporting industry. As this field progresses we hope to see more reports aligned with recognized standards, like the Global Reporting Initiative and ISO 20121, bringing more rigor to measuring and reporting on operations and impacts.

Triple-bottom-line Reporting

Reeve Consulting is discussing with one of the major sports leagues creating a triple bottom line report for one of their marquee annual events, creating an opportunity to highlight and hopefully measure innovative sustainability projects within a more defined framework.

Flickr / s.yume

More than raising the profile of the event, such a report will back-up the good news stories with credible measurement, adding weight to the claim that the league is raising their game on sustainability. And beyond reporting on environmental programming, a triple bottom line focus will additionally invite reporting on the social initiatives undertaken by teams and leagues, for example, the Vancouver Canucks for Kids Fund or Whitecaps Youth Summer Camps.

A shout out to Saint Paul River Centre and Xcel Energy Center for taking the first shift, we’re looking to see other pro sports team step up and establish leadership and new benchmarking in this area.