Sustainability in sports is on the rise, but are major leagues meeting the challenge?


Can Major Sports Score for Sustainability?

In a world where the roar of the crowd and the thrill of victory often drown out concerns about sustainability, it's time to raise a few questions. While we cheer for our favorite teams and athletes, a darker side of sports remains in the shadows. The impact of supply chain and sustainability issues in the world of sports is often overlooked, but it's a matter we can no longer afford to ignore.


Major sports events generate colossal amounts of waste and greenhouse gases. A typical NFL game, for instance, leaves behind a staggering 35 tons of waste with the Super Bowl accounting for 50 or 60. And let's not even get started on the environmental footprint of air travel for players and spectators, especially during major international events.


In this arena, it's crucial that sports leaders and organizations step up to the plate. They must recognize the urgency of aligning their actions with Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) goals. These goals are not mere buzzwords but a crucial step towards a more sustainable future for the sports industry. It's a challenge that demands more than just token gestures.


But the question remains - are the major players in the sports industry equally committed?


To answer this, we encourage you to stay informed. Sign up for the EcoBlvd newsletter, where we delve deeper into the sustainability matters that sports organizations may prefer to keep in the shadows. It's time to bring the sustainability of major sports into the spotlight. Together, we can make a difference.

Sustainability Initiatives in Major Sports Leagues: Are They Doing Enough?

In the grand stadiums and on the world's most iconic playing fields, major sports leagues have become battlegrounds of athleticism and spectacle. Yet, beneath the cheers of the fans and the glory of victory, a different contest unfolds, one that goes beyond scoreboards and statistics – the battle for sustainability.

This contest extends to various facets of sustainability in sports, including an ongoing debate over the choice of playing surface. Across sports, particularly in the context of American football, the selection between real grass and artificial turf is a point of contention. The NFL, in particular, has been considering a move to real grass to reduce the risk of injuries to its players, emphasizing the broader environmental implications of such choices. This discussion is framed by a broader dialogue on the environmental impact of artificial grass versus natural grass, one put into a great context in this article by Eden. The impact of this decision transcends one sport and serves as a case study for the broader sustainability goals of major sports leagues, prompting questions about the long-term ecological footprint of the choices they make.

The Sports Field Dilemma: Artificial Grass vs. Natural Grass

The environmental considerations span not only the NFL but also various sports that have opted for artificial turf. Artificial grass, though low-maintenance and attractive for sports and recreation, poses environmental challenges. While it eliminates the need for constant watering and mowing, it's made of plastic, and the recycling process is complex, leading to concerns about pollution and waste disposal. Artificial grass can end up as landfill waste, potentially taking centuries to degrade, releasing toxins into the environment. These materials can also enter waterways, harming marine life, and the surface can become uncomfortably hot on sunny days.

In contrast, natural grass, despite its higher maintenance requirements, offers various environmental benefits. It contributes to air quality by absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen, reducing pollution, and offering noise reduction around urban areas. Additionally, natural grass helps manage stormwater, reduces environmental heating, and plays a crucial role in soil erosion prevention. However, a blend of artificial and natural grass is also a viable option for those seeking low-maintenance landscapes while enjoying the ecological advantages of real grass. The debate over grass choice underscores the broader ecological challenges major sports leagues must address as they aim to score sustainability goals.


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  • Geen Initiative: The NBA Green Initiative encourages sustainability through initiatives like recycling, using eco-friendly materials for uniforms, and engaging with local communities for environmental awareness.

  • Green Sports Alliance Membership: A member of the Green Sports Alliance - a non-profit organization with a mission to reduce the environmental impact of professional sports and to inspire fans to join in these efforts

  • Reducing Aviation Emissions Reduction: During the 2022-23 NBA season, the league successfully reduced team aviation impacts, saving over 50,000 miles of travel, which contributes to lowering carbon emissions.

  • Plastic Bottle Reduction: The NBA has made significant progress in reducing its environmental footprint by decreasing the use of plastic bottles, achieving an 80% reduction in plastic bottle consumption within NBA offices.

  • Commitment to Emissions Reduction: The NBA has set ambitious sustainability goals, aiming to halve emissions by 2030 and striving for net-zero emissions by 2040, demonstrating a strong commitment to environmental responsibility.


  • Recycling Challenges: While the NBA has implemented recycling programs in its arenas, challenges can arise in ensuring that fans and attendees actively participate in recycling efforts. It can be difficult to monitor and enforce recycling practices in a large and diverse crowd.

  • Limited Renewable Energy Adoption: Not all NBA arenas have adopted renewable energy sources like solar power. The availability of clean energy options can vary by location, and the installation of renewable energy systems may face logistical and financial challenges.
  • Community Engagement Consistency: While community engagement is a key part of the NBA's sustainability efforts, the level of participation and commitment from teams and players may vary. Achieving consistent and widespread community engagement can be challenging.


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  • Reducing the Carbon Footprint: The NHL Green program focuses on reducing the league's carbon footprint. They've invested in sustainable ice maintenance, energy-efficient lighting, and arenas powered by renewable energy. From 2010 through 2019, the league had successfully avoided over 730,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions through various sustainability efforts.

  • Greener Rinks Campaign: Build and maintain ice using the least amount of labor and energy through their Greener Rinks campaign. As of a few years ago, the program reported that participating rinks had collectively saved over 320 million kilowatt-hours of electricity and 55 million gallons of water.

  • NHL Venue Metrics: Launched NHL Venue Metrics, a sustainability platform that teams and their venue partners can use for data collection, validation, and reporting and insights.


  • Energy-Intensive Stadiums: Hockey arenas require a substantial amount of energy to maintain ice surfaces and host games. Despite efforts to use more efficient systems, the energy demand can still be substantial.

  • Water Usage: The process of maintaining ice surfaces in NHL arenas consumes a considerable amount of water. Water conservation and sustainability practices related to ice maintenance can be challenging.

  • Resource-Intensive Nature of Hockey: Hockey equipment, such as sticks, skates, and protective gear, often involves resource-intensive manufacturing processes and materials.

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  • Commitment to Sustainability: FIFA has committed to making its tournaments more sustainable, including using solar power in stadiums and adhering to sustainable standards.

  • UN Sports for Climate Action Framework: Joined the UN Sports for Climate Action Framework in 2016 to help gather sports federations, organizations, teams, athletes and fans in a concerted effort to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.

  • Ambitious Emissions Goals: FIFA has pledged to halve its carbon emissions by 2030 and aims to achieve net-zero emissions by 2040, demonstrating an ambitious approach to addressing its environmental impact.
  • Emissions Reduction and Offsetting: FIFA has taken steps to reduce and offset the unavoidable greenhouse gas emissions associated with the operations of the FIFA World Cup™ tournaments. This commitment extends to events such as the FIFA Women's World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023, emphasizing its efforts to mitigate its carbon footprint.


  • Large CO2 Footprint: According to FIFA, the football industry contributes to 0.2% of global CO2 emissions.

  • Environmental Impact of Constructing New Stadiums: One of the significant sustainability concerns in soccer is the environmental impact of constructing new stadiums. The process of building large-scale venues for international events can result in land disturbance, deforestation, and the generation of significant construction waste.

  • Energy-Intensive Stadium Operations: Soccer stadiums often require a significant amount of energy for lighting, heating, and cooling. These operations can be energy-intensive and contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, particularly in older, less energy-efficient venues.

  • Waste Generation: Major soccer events, including the FIFA World Cup, generate a significant amount of waste, including packaging, food waste, and disposable items. Managing and reducing this waste effectively is a sustainability challenge.




  • Committed to Net Zero Emissions: NASCAR has made a bold commitment to achieving net zero operating emissions by 2035 as part of the launch of Nascar Impact in 2023. This reflects a dedicated effort to reduce the environmental impact of its operations.

  • Renewable Energy and Sustainable Fuel: In the next five years, NASCAR is committed to providing 100% renewable electricity to all its facilities and racetracks. Additionally, the organization plans to introduce a new sustainable racing fuel, demonstrating its commitment to eco-friendly energy sources.

  • Recycling and Electric Vehicle Charging: NASCAR is taking steps to enhance its sustainability initiatives by implementing recycling across all tracks and offices. The organization is also installing electric vehicle (EV) charging stations, contributing to the promotion of cleaner transportation.

  • Charitable Initiatives: NASCAR hosted a 75-hour "giveathon" in May 2023 with the goal of raising $750,000 for more than 500 nonprofits. This initiative underscores NASCAR's commitment to supporting charitable causes and making a positive social impact.


  • Carbon Emissions: The high-speed nature of NASCAR racing involves a large number of cars running at high speeds, resulting in significant carbon emissions as the vehicles are capable of releasing 120,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per race.

  • Limited Use of Alternative Fuels: While NASCAR has made efforts to promote alternative fuels, including ethanol blends, the majority of race cars still run on gasoline with 2,600 to 3,000 gallons of gas used in one day's race. Expanding the use of alternative and sustainable fuels remains a challenge.

  • Resource-Intensive Manufacturing: The production of NASCAR race cars and equipment can be resource-intensive, with materials and energy required for manufacturing and transportation.

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  • Great Waste Diversion: 2022 Green Glove was awarded to the San Francisco Giants who had 97% Waste Diversion Rate.

  • Gold Certification: The 2019 MLB All-Star Game was awarded Gold Certification by the Council for Responsible Sport, achieving more than 75% of its total best practices.

  • Turning Old Stadiums Sustainable: Some MLB teams have successfully implemented green initiatives in historic and iconic stadiums. This shows the adaptability of sustainability practices in venues with historical significance, preserving the heritage of the sport while embracing eco-friendly practices.


  • Season Length: MLB has one of the longest regular seasons in professional sports, spanning from early spring to late fall. This extended season results in increased energy consumption and operational costs for maintaining stadiums, lighting, and climate control over a more extended period.

  • Field Drainage and Water Runoff: Maintaining proper field drainage and preventing water runoff can be particularly challenging for baseball stadiums. Managing water flow during heavy rain can pose environmental and infrastructure challenges.

  • Land Use for Stadiums: The construction and maintenance of large baseball stadiums often involve significant land use, including the clearing of land and disruption of local ecosystems. Ensuring responsible land use and minimizing environmental impact are important considerations.


NFL logoPros:


  • Short Stadium Lifespan: NFL stadiums have a relatively short lifespan, often necessitating new construction or extensive renovations within a few decades. This frequent turnover of venues can result in substantial resource consumption and environmental impact, especially if older stadiums are not repurposed or demolished sustainably.

  • Waste Generation from Game-Day Operations: NFL game days generate large quantities of waste, including food packaging, disposable items, and promotional materials. Managing and reducing this waste effectively, especially in the context of large, diverse crowds, is a sustainability challenge that the NFL continues to address.

  • Limited Fan Engagement with Sustainability: Encouraging fans to actively participate in sustainable practices, such as recycling and waste reduction, can be challenging. Promoting and enforcing environmentally responsible behaviors among a diverse and large audience remains a persistent issue.

USGA logo



  • USGA Sustainability Guidelines: The USGA provides guidelines for evaluating golf course sustainability, emphasizing both environmental and economic aspects. This approach promotes a comprehensive assessment of a course's impact.

  • Environmental Benefits: Well-managed golf courses have the potential to deliver environmental benefits that can rival or even surpass those of poorly managed nature reserves. This perspective underscores the importance of proper golf course management.

  • Reclaimed/Recycled Water: More than 13% of golf courses have embraced the use of reclaimed, recycled, or gray water for irrigation. This practice contributes to water conservation and minimizes the environmental impact of golf course operations.

  • Zero-Waste Golf Tournament: Although not directly under the USGA, the Waste Management Phoenix Open Golf Tournament is a remarkable example of sustainable event management. By hosting a zero-waste tournament, where compost and recycling containers replace garbage cans, and incorporating 60 solar-powered compactors, they demonstrate a commitment to reducing waste and energy consumption.


    • Golf Ball Waste: Approximately 100,000 golf balls are lost to waterways annually, contributing to significant waste. However, Canadian-based company Biodegradable Golf Balls offers a sustainable solution. These eco-friendly golf balls dissolve in water and are non-toxic, minimizing environmental harm and waste. Additionally, customization options make them easily distinguishable on the green.

    • Water Usage: While golf course irrigation accounts for only 0.5% of the 408 billion gallons of water used daily in the United States, it remains a concern, particularly in water-scarce regions. Effective water management practices are essential for addressing this challenge.

    • Pesticide Usage: Golf courses often rely on pesticides to maintain pristine playing conditions. While necessary to control pests and diseases, the use of pesticides raises concerns about their environmental impact and potential harm to local ecosystems. Reducing pesticide usage while ensuring course quality is a sustainability challenge for golf.


    To truly assess these efforts, we must critically examine the facts, question their impact, and evaluate the commitment of major sports leagues to sustainability. We should ask whether more significant steps should be taken, considering the colossal influence these organizations have on the global stage.

    Sustainability in sports is not a luxury; it's a necessity. The whistle has blown, and it's time to decide if major sports leagues are playing the game of sustainability or merely warming the bench.



    From the massive waste generated during major events to the significant carbon emissions produced, it's evident that the sports industry plays a considerable role in environmental impact. As consumers of entertainment, it's our responsibility to encourage and demand more sustainable practices from major sports organizations. Only through collective effort and a commitment to sustainability can we ensure that our favorite sports continue to thrive without harming the planet. Let's raise our voices and challenge the status quo, pushing for a greener, more sustainable future in the world of sports.