Bros for Sustainability

Sustainability is not a sexy word. Enter the NFL, NHL, NBA, and MLB.

National Journal
Lucia Graves
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Lucia Graves
Nov. 25, 2013, 8:57 a.m.

For dec­ades, the en­vir­on­ment­al move­ment has been re­ly­ing on sci­ent­ists, skinny eco-geeks, and uni­cycle-rid­ing free­gans to dis­sem­in­ate their mes­sage. No more.

En­vir­on­ment­al groups both on and off the Hill are work­ing to change the face of the Amer­ic­an foot­ball hero from a manly man who eats red, an­ti­bi­ot­ic-laden meat, drives a gas-guzz­ling Bat­mobile, and es­chews com­post­ing to one who does none of those things.

Rep­res­ent­at­ives from five of Amer­ica’s ma­jor sports leagues hit the Hill on Thursday to dis­cuss the work they’re do­ing to re­duce their green­house-gas emis­sions. The Na­tion­al Foot­ball League is meas­ur­ing the green­house-gas ef­fects of the Su­per Bowl this year, and last year it con­duc­ted sol­id-waste man­age­ment and re­cyc­ling at all ma­jor Su­per Bowl fa­cil­it­ies. Ma­jor League Base­ball sta­di­ums have ad­op­ted sol­ar pan­els. And the Na­tion­al Bas­ket­ball As­so­ci­ation has come out in sup­port of En­vir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Agency stand­ards to re­duce car­bon pol­lu­tion from elec­tric power plants.

To have these leagues work­ing with the likes of the Bicam­er­al Task Force on Cli­mate Change is as­pir­a­tion­al and some­what polit­ic­ally loaded. Earli­er this year, the NFL aban­doned plans to part­ner with the Health and Hu­man Ser­vices De­part­ment in pro­mot­ing health care re­form after Sens. Mitch Mc­Con­nell, R-Ky., and John Cornyn, R-Texas, con­tac­ted pro­fes­sion­al sports as­so­ci­ations ad­vising them not to pro­mote the law.

For now sus­tain­ab­il­ity ef­forts are more dir­ec­ted at fans than play­ers, the em­phas­is be­ing on how eco­nom­ic­ally savvy it all is. Giv­en how much Amer­ic­ans look up to ath­letes, there’s more at stake than the bot­tom line. “I do know that we have some play­ers who are very in­ter­ested in this work,” said Craig Har­nett, chief fin­an­cial of­ficer of the Na­tion­al Hockey League, cit­ing Ca­na­dian de­fense­man An­drew Fer­ence and former Rangers goalie Mike Richter.

That mat­ters. While only 13 per­cent of Amer­ic­ans say they fol­low sci­ence, 61 per­cent identi­fy as sports fans. “We need a cul­tur­al shift in the way people think about their re­la­tion­ship to the cli­mate,” said Al­len Her­shkow­itz, a seni­or sci­ent­ist with the Na­tion­al Re­source De­fense Coun­cil who’s been lead­ing the en­vir­on­ment­al for­ay in­to sports. “Cul­tur­al shifts are not led by gov­ern­ment.”

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