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Environmental Protection

No Matter Who You Root for, Sports Fans Should Be Saying “Go Green!”

Photo: Courtesy of Tim Gouw

The sports industry is constantly innovating to become more efficient, generate less waste, decrease energy use, and reduce its environmental footprint. Just as the games we love are fast-paced and evolving, so, too, is the sports greening movement.

As a fan, have you noticed what your favorite sports teams are doing in the sustainability space? As sports leagues and teams continue to improve their sustainability initiatives, they will motivate millions of fans to implement sustainable practices at home, work, and play via fan engagement campaigns, in-game public service announcements, athlete involvement, and stadium infrastructure. 

When attending your local team’s games, have you ever been inspired to bring some of their eco-friendly practices back home? Here are three sustainability focus areas where you can take a page out of the sport industry’s playbook and bring it back to your home field.

Food for the win

Innovative food options have been finding their way into sports venues around the world. The Seattle Mariners offer toasted grasshoppers as a concession option — edible insects have long been a sustainable global protein source and are seen by the United Nations to have positive environmental, health, and livelihood benefits over more ‘traditional’ protein sources. 

A majority of venues are offering meatless concessions as well, offering plant-based versions of game-day staples like hotdogs and burgers — the famous Dodger Dog now comes in a veggie version.

If you attend a San Francisco 49ers’ game, you may eat vegetables and herbs grown in their own rooftop stadium garden, to the tune of 7,500 pounds of produce grown annually. The garden is part of their 27,000 square foot green roof, which also reduces heating and cooling needs in their suite tower.  

Fenway Farms, which sits above the Red Sox front offices, is a garden that produces about 4,000 pounds of produce annually, assists with energy conservation via improved thermal performance, and lends to storm water amelioration. 

Other venues focus on sustainable and regional sourcing. The Sacramento Kings’ Golden1 Center has a “Farm-to-Fork” philosophy that sources 90 percent of its ingredients from within a 150-mile radius of the stadium.

Several venues, including Golden1 Center, are recycling their fryer oil to be converted to biodiesel by local companies. From the kitchens of the 2019 US Open, more than 12,000 gallons of food grease were converted into biodiesel fuel! 

Many venues work with local organizations to donate leftover food to those in need within the community. Super Bowl LIII collaborated with EPA-Second Helpings Atlanta to prevent more than 17,000 pounds of food from going to waste, enough to provide over 14,200 meals to those in need in the Atlanta area.

What can you do as a fan?

If it’s game day, go out of your comfort zone and try something new at the stadium — whether it’s a plant-based or locally sourced option, support your team and the planet by trying out their sustainable offerings.

At home? Consider participating in Meatless Mondays (or going plant-based one day a week). If everyone in the United States skipped meat or cheese just one day a week, it would be the equivalent of taking 7.6 million cars off the road!

Buying and eating local foods plays a huge role in reducing your carbon footprint, and supporting your local economy and community. It also benefits local farmers, which in turn supports soil health, conservation efforts, and local businesses.

Lastly, you can support food recovery organizations and food banks. Donate if you can or consider volunteering your time. 

Racing toward zero waste

Waste is an ongoing issue in the sports industry and an area that arguably experiences the most innovation. Venues continuously seek to reduce the waste produced during events while trying to improve the gameday experience for fans. From reducing single-use plastics to implementing composting, minimizing the overall waste generated at venues remains an issue at the forefront of the sports greening movement.

The Portland Trail Blazers have a closed-loop composting system at their venue. They collect compostable materials in clearly marked bins — including compostable serviceware — during games and events, which is then sent to a local composting facility. The compost material is then returned to the venue where it is used for landscaping. This closed-loop system has saved the organization millions of dollars by reducing waste hauling and landfill costs. 

Some sports venues have turned to biodigesters to manage their waste. Biodigesters turn food waste into energy or they decompose food waste so it’s small enough to send through the sewer. The Philadelphia Eagles’ use two aerobic digesters and diverted more than 36 tons from landfill in 2018.

Single-use plastic reduction is also at the forefront of waste reduction. Hundreds of sports venues have bid farewell to plastic straws and other single-use plastics.  Many events, such as marathons, are transitioning away from single-use plastic water bottles to compostable cups at drink stations. Taking it one step further, the 2019 NHL All-Star Game featured uniforms made from upcycled marine plastic debris, incorporating sustainable innovation and storytelling.

What can you do as a fan?

Take efforts to reduce the waste you generate in your daily life by using durable goods whenever possible. Replace single-use plastic dishes, utensils, and cups with glass, metal, or ceramic options. Bring your own reusable shopping bags with you and use a refillable water bottle instead of single-use plastic ones. 

Consider asking for no straw when you dine out or bring your own reusable option. Did you know that plastic straws are among the Top 10 items found during beach cleanups alongside plastic bags and cigarette butts?

Consider composting at home. Many cities offer gardening clubs and community resources to get you started. Reduce waste by placing collection bins in various places around your home and office to make recycling convenient. Use different bins that follow your city’s recycling policies so you don’t have to separate it out later.

When cleaning out your closet, consider donating items instead of throwing them out. In Europe alone, 3.1 million tons of textile waste is sent to landfills or incinerators each year, so choosing to donate them keeps them out of the landfill.

When attending a sporting event, look around for composting and recycling bins, and see what efforts the venue is making to reduce its waste. If you’d like to know more about what they’re doing, ask! Many facilities and operations staff are happy to tell you what happens behind the scenes, and typically offer tours on non-event days where you can learn more and see it in action.

Lighting the way

Sports venues are replacing existing lighting systems with LED lighting. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that if LED lamps displaced virtually all others by 2030, total annual lighting sector energy consumption in the United States would decrease by 60 percent. 

Upgrading to LED lights saves money and the lights can have a life expectancy of more than 30 years (depending on the product). Yankee Stadium will reduce its energy demand by more than 16.4 million kWh — an amount equal to reducing carbon emissions by 12,469 tons — as a result of its LED lighting installation.

The St. Louis Cardinals updated to LED lights earlier this year and the new lighting system provides a quality of light that is 90 percent of the quality of natural light with improved uniformity, while reducing shadows and glare — something that is crucial when trying to catch that fly ball. The stadium will benefit by seeing less labor needed to maintain the lights and there is up to a 60 percent decrease in the energy required to operate the lights.

What can you do as a fan?

If you’re inspired by sports venue LED lighting upgrades, consider replacing your home’s five most frequently used light fixtures or the bulbs in them with models that have earned the ENERGY STAR. In doing so, you can save on your utility bills (approximately $45 each year) and reduce your greenhouse gas emissions. 

By choosing the ENERGY STAR LED lightbulbs, you’ll be using 90 percent less energy than conventional bulbs and they’ll last 15 times longer.

Make a play

As the sports world strives toward making positive, sustainable progress in their industry, you can also make a difference in in your own home and community. Take the excitement you have for your favorite team and let it inspire you to make a positive, sustainable play where you live!

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