by Nathanial Weimer, UMN Law Student, MJLST Staff
Sporting events are a nightmare in terms of the environment. The vast number of spectators involved–over 16 million paying fans attended NFL games last year, according to NBC Sports–leave behind massive amounts of trash, while stadiums face huge challenges with water conservation and electricity consumption on game days. Fans also have to transport themselves to and from the event, using large quantities of fuel. And, of course, the problem extends to all stadium events, whether professional or college, football or a different sport. Such a widespread problem needs a powerful solution, one that goes beyond merely suggesting that teams “do the right thing”. The fact is, teams that effectively deal with this problem must be rewarded, and those rewards must contribute to on-field success. By linking sustainability to team performance, the green movement can benefit from the competitive spirit that drives sports.
Many sports teams have already taken steps toward making their stadiums green. SustainableBusiness.com lists professional sports teams with effective environmental strategies, while the EPA has organized waste reduction competitions between collegiate football programs. The University of Minnesota became a leader with the construction of its new football field; upon completion, TCF Bank Stadium became the first collegiate or professional football facility to achieve LEED Silver Certification for environmental design.
Several motivations have contributed to this move towards sustainability. Some owners have used environmental campaigns as a way to strengthen community ties, or improve a team’s brand image to attract sponsors, according to Switchboard. Reductions in energy consumption, often through the installation of solar panels, can greatly reduce utility costs. Groups such as the Green Sports Alliance, a non-profit originating in the Pacific Northwest, have collaborated with professional teams across different sports to incite a higher level of environmental responsibility. Still, the greatest motivation in sports is noticeably missing–winning.
Achieving environmental sustainability requires continuous improvement. In order to ensure that sports teams continue to innovate and strive for improvement, their waste management accomplishments must be able to contribute to their on-field success. In professional leagues, this could easily be accomplished through a salary-cap bump. An NBA team with a model sustainability program could be allowed to spend, say, $5 million more a year on its roster than a team without such a program. Alternatively, draft odds could be adjusted. Instead of losing 59 games in the hopes of landing number one draft pick Anthony Davis, the Charlotte Bobcats could have installed low-flush, dual flush toilets and aerated faucets like those at Target Field. College programs, “arguably the next frontier for the sports greening movement” according to Switchboard, could be rewarded for their environmental initiatives through postseason considerations. Bowl Games could be allowed, or even encouraged, to take a program’s sustainability accomplishments into consideration. NCAA basketball tournament seeds could be similarly tweaked.
While going green might save money on utilities and attract corporate sponsors, the fastest way to make money in sports is to put a successful product on the field. Connecting greenness to on-field benefits would boost community involvement as well–an NBA fan is far more likely to volunteer to sort recycling when she thinks her efforts might help her team find cap room to sign a Dwight Howard. By the same token, collegiate boosters are more likely to donate money towards sustainability projects when those projects earn benefits that would otherwise go to a bitter rival. Sports, after all, are about competition, and winning feels better when you defeat somebody. Giants owner John Mara, when asked about the competitive outlet provided by greening efforts, agreed: “Most of all, I want to beat the Philadelphia Eagles.” It shouldn’t matter that by bringing competition into the quest for sustainability, we all win.
The environmental responsibility of sports events has come a long way. Many stadiums feature technology aimed at tackling the challenging problem of waste management. Still, the fight for sustainability remains an uphill battle, and teams must strive to find new ways to improve their stadiums. Rewarding committed teams with performance-related benefits not only preserves this commitment to innovation, it strengthens it.
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