Tackling Carbon Pollution from Sports Fans

By Nancy Bsales & Kathryn Sarkis

Over the last 10 years the sports industry has started to achieve meaningful reductions in greenhouse gas emission by implementing programs to improve their environmental footprints. Nevertheless, sporting events continue to have a big carbon footprint. According to the NRDC, in 2011 Major League Baseball’s 73 million fans went to 2,430 regular season games. Team owners and organizers still face a bevy of unique challenges when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions, but they can look to other industries that produce large events for ways to help reduce the environmental impact.

Conferences, for example, have been reducing emissions per attendee year on year and sporting events and conferences share similar challenges when trying to reduce emissions:

Source Conference Sporting Event What to do
Venue x x Infrastructure, sustainable energy choices, efficient lighting, RECs and offsets to mitigate energy emissions.
Freight x x Fuel efficient trucking, supply chain management for bulk shipments
Waste x x Electronic ticketing ,team app at game time to follow the game, recycling  and composting programs
Food x x Source local, consider packaging, composting
Company/Team Travel x x Choose green hotels, choose efficient aircraft when chartering, offset.
Attendee Travel x x Mass transit alternatives, TEAM peddy cabs for city venues, car pooling incentives, offset option for transportation. Electric charging stations

Like conferences, organizers of sporting events tend to have more control over infrastructure and operational decisions. Many teams have gone a long way in addressing emissions related to the operation and maintenance of their sites. According to the same NRDC report, 38 pro sports stadiums use renewable energy and 68 have energy efficiency programs. In addition, programs around sourcing and waste management can further reduce site emissions.

Like conferences, a large part of emissions come from the act of coming together (travel accounts for over 80% of emissions for conferences). Teams fly and fans drive to stadiums. Transportation is an important part of sports culture, especially when tailgating can be as much fun as the game itself.  As the chart below illustrates, emissions from attendance quickly add up:

Travel emissions per game, vehicles only

Stadium Parking spots Total miles driven CO2e(lbs)
Dodger 16,000 960,000 828,459
AT&T Park (S.F Giants) 4,000 240,000 207,115
MetLife (NY Jets and Giants) 23,800 1,428,000 1,232,332

**based on 30 mile distance, 22.5 mpg, 19.417 lbs CO2e per gallon

The sports industry can look to the conference industry when thinking about taking steps to address individual travel emissions. TerraPass works with MeetGreen to include carbon offsets as part of a comprehensive emissions plan. Conferences such as Oracle’s OpenWorldGreenBuild and Dreamforce now give attendees the option to purchase a carbon offset with their conference registration. Similarly, stadiums could build a carbon offset into the purchase of a parking pass, offer incentives for carpooling and taking mass transit, and work with transit companies to supply easy, affordable mass transit.  Moreover, when building new stadiums and arenas, infrastructure for transportation should be a high priority. The US Open for Tennis is a great example of successful mass transit, with 60% of attendees travelling by subway and railroad in New York to reach the US Open every August.

Sporting events are an important agent in the fight against climate change because increasingly sporting events are one of the few common experiences people have. Regardless of income level or political affiliation people come together to cheer for or against the same teams. When sport franchises show a commitment to improved environmental practices and offer solutions to their fans they are able to reach a wide cross-section of the public, who might have limited exposure and reason to care about environmental issues.


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