Major league baseball's green season

As Robert Redford notes in the video above, the environmental footprint of major league baseball (or any professional sport) is “formidable”: from the energy to run the stadium, to the gas consumed by fans traveling to a game, to water used in bathrooms and to keep field grass green, many resources go into the production of America’s national pastime. Yesterday, the partnership between MLB and the NRDC announced a significant initiative to assess and address that footprint: “…a comprehensive software system to collect and analyze stadium operations data to develop and distribute best practice information across the 30 Clubs” that will go into use this season.

NRDC Senior Scientist Allen Hershkowitz didn’t hold back on his enthusiasm for this project, calling it “…the most important environmental initiative in the history of professional sports, worldwide.”

Yes, that’s quite a claim. But this effort goes well beyond the green events seen in recent years that bring attention to recycling, public transportation, and renewable energy installations at league venues. According to Hershkowitz, the new software will analyze four areas of resource use and management:

  1. Energy use, including total energy used, sources of energy, and use of renewable energy;
  2. Waste generation, including total waste generated, materials diverted for recycling and composting, and cost of disposal;
  3. Water use, including amount of water used, water conserved, and cost of water use, and;
  4. Paper procurement, including the amount of recycled paper used in Club offices, in stadium restrooms and for yearbooks, game-day programs and media guides.

A greener major league baseball: the ripple effect

While there are numerous reasons that collecting such data could be useful — recognizing the economic costs of poor resource management, fan education, etc. — Hershkowitz takes note of one area that puts this move on par with the “greening” of large retailers like Wal-Mart — the supply chain effect:

All industries meet on a professional baseball field. The chemicals industry helps keep fields well tended, the food and beverage industries feed millions of fans each year, the auto and energy industries are major sponsors of League and Club events. With MLB now saying that not only is it going to encourage teams to reduce their environmental footprint, but it is going to work with Clubs to help them keep track of that footprint, the clear message is being sent to all supply chain industries that environmental criteria need to be a meaningful part of their own business.

This is an exciting development. No doubt there will be some who argue that MLB can only really green itself by going out of business: the environmental costs are so high that even significant improvements still result in a massive footprint. But the potential ripple effect is equally significant…

And, yes, there will still be plenty of green events at baseball stadiums… many this month to coordinate with Earth Day. If you’re interested in attending one, check out the League’s Team Greening page for information.

Feel free to give a shout-out to your team’s environmental initiatives below…