Today the White House is hosting a conference on the greening of sports. U.S. sports are a multi-billion dollar industry, and a more responsible approach to sustainability within the four major leagues (and other sports from race car driving to tennis) could go far beyond recycling bins and uniforms made out of repurposed plastic bottles. The sheer size of the sporting industry has a massive effect on food, water and of course, building materials. Add overseas sporting events including the upcoming Summer Olympics in London, and the ecological and social issues grow even larger.

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Arenas and stadiums are at the core of how sports can minimize their impact on the environment. Some of the more creative stadiums have embraced innovative reuse. When Camden Yards—the home field of baseball’s Baltimore Orioles—opened 20 years ago, one of the ballpark’s most distinct features was an old warehouse that towers over the field and hosts shops, restaurants and the team’s offices. The domed stadium of the Detroit Lions’ Ford Field, benefits from natural light, recycled steel and a concourse that preserved part of a historic street that at one time anchored downtown Detroit. Currently 15 major-league stadiums have LEED certification and at least 17 boast solar arrays. NASCAR has also worked with companies such as Panasonic to install solar panels on its Infineon racetrack in northern California.

Other attempts at sustainability are all over the map. For this year’s All-Star game in Kansas City, the organizing committee purchased carbon and water offsets. Seattle’s Safeco Field has an aggressive composting program that deals with all those uneaten hot dogs (and sushi!). Baseball’s Chris Dickerson founded the non-profit Players for the Planet and has hit a home run with over 195,000 pounds of electronic waste collected and diverted from landfills.

All of these moves are important because in a country where six in 10 Americans describe themselves as sports fans, the leagues and star athletes have a huge opportunity to demonstrate to fans that environmental stewardship can rank in importance along with athletic performance and fashion. Considering sports’ positive impact on race relations and gender equality the past 60 years, perhaps another massive social change—a cleaner and greener earth—is just a few kicks and slam dunks away.

Via New York Times

Photos courtesy Leon Kaye, Wikipedia (Mrmiscellanious)