Can professional sports do more than politics to save the planet?

by Amanda Little, via Grist.org,

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 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 the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), told me. Hershkowitz founded the NRDC project greensports.org, a pro-bono consultancy that advises teams and leagues on sustainable 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.

Today environmental advocacy is getting big play in ballparks, even though it’s facing crippling barriers in the Beltway. During the playoffs and throughout the World Series, Robert Redford loomed large on Jumbotrons. “The coming decade may be our last chance to head off environmental crises like global warming,” he intoned between innings in a public service announcement for the NRDC. “We can choose a different future. But we’ve got to do it quickly. And each of us must play a part.”

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