Harmony Day Pollies vs Professionals soccer match 28th February 2011

By: Megan Cahill

Climate change is a global crisis impacting all aspects of life, including professional sports. While the industry is generating millions of dollars in revenue, professional teams and sporting events are also producing massive carbon emissions at a time when climate disasters seem like an everyday occurrence.[1] Just last week, a professional soccer game was cancelled and NFL games were nearly postponed due to the poor air quality caused by the west coast fires.[2]Environmental experts assert that this is just the beginning of large sporting events being impacted by the ever-growing effects of a changing climate and warming planet.[3] Due to the negative effects large sporting events have on the environment as well as the influence professional athletes and clubs have on the everyday consumer, professional sports have the unique opportunity to create positive change; the implementation of sustainability programs and stricter Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations would help them achieve that purpose. 

In addition to the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, which are not directly enforced on professional sports teams, the EPA has implemented a Green Sports initiative. However, ‘membership’ is voluntary; there are no fines or penalties for not complying with sustainability programs.[4] Instead, the Green Sports initiative provides advice and recommendations on ways to pursue sustainability in sport for fans, leagues, events, and even colleges and universities.[5]It benefits the business aspect of sport while also protecting the environment.[6]

There are other programs with similar goals; for instance, the United Nations Sports for Climate Action (Sports for Climate Action), a group which “aims at supporting and guiding sports actors in achieving global climate change goals.”[7] Further, Sports for Climate Action has a set of five core principles which it requires its participants to adhere to.[8] Using the Sports for Climate Action framework, the United States should implement formal regulations that incentivize and penalize professional sports teams, stadiums, and leagues to create practical, long term sustainability solutions. Money from fines and penalties could go directly back into the sustainability effort. In the long term, this approach would create job opportunities and decrease operations costs.[9] While a number of stadiums and professional sports teams have initiated some sustainability efforts, professional sports as a whole should be doing a great deal more. 

[1] Gina S. Warren, Big Sports Have Big Environmental and Social Consequences, 85 Mo. L. Rev.  495, 500 (2020); see also The Business of Basketball: Forbes Releases 22nd Annual NBA Team Valuations, Forbes (Feb. 11, 2020), https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbespr/2020/02/11/the-business-of-basketball-forbes-releases-22nd-annual-nba-team-valuations/#4eed434575ff; Thomas Barrabi, What is the NFL worth? Revenue, team values and other financial facts, Fox Business (Feb. 3, 2020), https://www.foxbusiness.com/sports/nfl-worth-revenue-team-values (valuing the average NFL and NBA franchise at over two billion dollars). 

[2] Dan Murphy and Tracy Wholf, Air quality issues expected to increasingly impact sports, ESPN (Sept. 12, 2020), https://www.espn.com/espn/story/_/id/29870359/air-quality-issues-expected-increasingly-impact-sports (explaining that “American pro sports leagues are really far behind, frankly, when it comes to policy change on [environmental] issues”). 

[3] Id.

[4] See Kevin McHale, Give the Fans What They Really Want: How Professional Sports Stadiums Across the World, 49 Tex. Envtl. L. J. 127, 133 (2019); EPA Green Sports, https://www.epa.gov/green-sports (noting that the love of sports is something many Americans have in common, and the dedication to sport can be channeled into “saving energy, cutting waste, and preventing pollution” at stadiums, events, and leagues). 

[5] EPA Green Sports, https://www.epa.gov/green-sports.

[6] EPA Green Sports, https://www.epa.gov/green-sports/why-green-your-sport (last visited Sept. 20, 2020) (noting that in addition to environmental benefits, Green Sport improves business success by reducing operating, waste, and disposal costs). 

[7] United Nations Climate Change, https://unfccc.int/climate-action/sectoral-engagement/sports-for-climate-action#:~:text=The%20Sports%20for%20Climate%20Action,collaborating%20on%20areas%20of%20mutual (last visited Sept. 20, 2020). 

[8] See id. (listing the five principles as 1) “Undertake systematic efforts to promote greater environmental responsibility;” 2) “Reduce overall climate impact;” 3) “Educate for climate action;” 4) “Promote sustainable and responsible consumption;” and 5) “Advocate for climate action through communication”). 

[9] See generally Greener Sports Venues Are Reducing Costs, Knowledge at Wharton, (last visited Sept. 20, 2020) https://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/greener-sports-venues-reducing-costs/#:~:text=Stadiums%20have%20installed%20wind%20and,%2C%20real%20bottom%2Dline%20savings (explaining, for example, that Major League Baseball stadiums can save millions of dollars per year just by reducing natural gas and electricity use).

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