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Sports teams create a sustainability league of their own

Reps from baseball, basketball, football, soccer and hockey teams have formed the Green Sports Alliance, aiming to share green practices across leagues and sports venues.

Think about your average professional sporting venue and all that comes with the home games: Thousands of fans leaving an impact on the parking lots, restrooms and seating areas. Countless kilowatt hours of electricity devoted to the display of stats and random fan videos. Not to mention: How did they get there? Train? Car? Bus? Not exactly the picture of environmentally friendly.

Motivated by green gurus on several Northwest teams owned by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, six professional sports leagues are rooting for environmental sustainability in a unique way: they have a created an inter-league non-profit organization that will work with teams to reduce their environmental impact.

The organization, called the Green Sports Alliance, has gotten the thumbs-up from Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, the National Basketball Association, the National Women's Basketball Association and Major League Soccer. The founding teams include the Seattle Mariners, the Seattle Seahawks, the Portland Trail Blazers, the Vancouver Canucks, the Seattle Storm and the Seattle Sounders FC.

When I spoke with the Green Sports Alliance's executive director, Martin Tull, on Monday night, he said the goal of the alliance is to help teams share best practices related to energy efficiency, waste management, water consumption, green purchasing and transportation. The alliance is studying 19 or so different environmental base line indicators; its partners in these efforts include the Natural Resources Defense Council, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Bonneville Environmental Foundation and sustainability experts from Portland State University.

"There are a number of stadium and arena operators that have made progress on these issues. We're looking at how they did it, why they did and whether those practices are repeatable across other stadiums," Tull said.

Here are some examples of what Green Sports Alliance teams are already doing individually:

  • The Seahawks have invested in a series of major green partnerships since 2006, when it required First & Goal to start measuring recycling. Most recently, it has committed to using non-toxic cleaning supplies at Qwest Field. In addition, it will only purchase post-consumer paper products for toilet paper, hand towels and office paper.
  • The Mariners pushed their recycling rate up to 70 percent in 2010, up from 12 percent in 2006. It has also saved about $1 million in electricity, water and other utilities since that timeframe. The Mariners stadium, Safeco Field, has the lowest energy intensity of all the ballbarks that participate in the EPA Energy Star program.
  • The Storm has cut out more than 80 percent of its printed literature; what it DOES print goes onto Forest Stewardship Council certified materials. It has also been active in purchasing offset for energy and in switching its purchasing to recyclable premiums when possible.
  • The Canucks team is working on a series of energy efficiency retrofits, including a switchover to LED lighting.

Members of the alliance will have access to benchmarks and project management information from the other teams, a practice that the alliance hopes will speed up progress on sustainability efforts in professional sports venues across the country.

So, for example, the other teams in the league would benefit from the research done by the Mariners on waterless urinals. Over time, the alliance will build a database of partners that can help sports teams get their sustainability programs more quickly and more efficiently, Tull said. It also will promote these green efforts with fans across all the leagues: to get their fired up about sustainability in their own living rooms. Who knows, maybe the alliance will have its own form of stat cards covering their green credentials?

Right now, the effort is limited to professional teams, Tull said.

Said Allen Hershkowitz, senior scientist for the National Resources Defense Council, and an environmental advisor to professional sports teams:

"The commitment by these six professional teams, from six different leagues, to enhance their environmental profile in a meaningful and public way marks a watershed in the history of professional sports. This type of inter-league collaboration is unprecedented. The Green Sports Alliance is showing its commitment to making real environmental progress by systematically evaluating their members' green impacts -- just like sports stats. All professional leagues should follow their lead."

The Green Sports Alliance will be headquartered in Portland, Ore. It plans to hold a conference in August called the Green Sports Summit that will bring together facility managers, event producers and marketing directors from across professional sports. Since the NRDC is now working with more than 100 professional teams on their green efforts, I'm betting there will be more than just the six founding teams in attendance.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com