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How Baseball Could Usher in a Greener American Future

Presidio Graduate School’s Macroeconomics course for Spring 2012 is authoring a series of articles. The articles on this “micro-blog” reflect reactions and thoughts on news items, economic theory, and other issues as they pertain to the concept of sustainability.  Follow along here.

By Bret Mueller America’s pastime, professional baseball, has been a thread in our social fabric that has woven together fans from all walks of life for the last 143 years. Throughout its history, Major League Baseball (MLB) has exemplified a proud legacy of service to American society and a pioneering spirit. Seven years before the Supreme Court ruled in favor of desegregation under Brown vs. the Board of Education, MLB boldly broke the color barrier with Jackie Robinson’s instatement into the league. Today, MLB looks to be stepping up to the plate as a role model for society just as it did for racial equality, but this time for environmental sustainability. In the words of Bud Selig, the Commissioner of MLB:
“…Baseball is a social institution with important social responsibilities. Just as Baseball took a leading role in the development of relations between the races in the United States…so must it turn its attention, efforts, and influence to other important social issues, [including environmental stewardship]…This issue is of increasing importance to our fans and our sponsors. Sound environmental practices make business sense, help clubs be good citizens and protect our natural resources for future generations of fans.”
Since the Commissioner’s acknowledgement of MLB’s responsibilities in a world in which a growing global population is consuming natural resources at an exponentially unsustainable rate, both the league and a number of teams have taken wide strides towards environmental stewardship. In 2005, MLB partnered with the Natural Resources Defense Council to develop baseline consumption metrics and to solicit advice on how to mitigate environmental impacts within its supply chain and operations. Teams such as the Kansas City Royals, the Milwaukee Brewers, the Seattle Mariners, and the San Diego Padres responded, respectively, by installing solar panels on facilities, earning stadium LEED certifications, instituting recycling programs, and donating vegetable oil from ballpark concessions to local school bus fleets for biofuels. Last year’s MLB All-Star Game was recognized as the greenest in history, featuring composting amenities, renewable energy, low-flow water appliances, and environmental education. The economic and social implications of MLB are enormous. The sport’s popularity is translating into rising revenues and team net values. In 2011, MLB proceeds totaled $7.2 billion, and between 2005 and 2010 the league’s cumulative average growth rate was 5.9%. Each year, about 75 million fans spanning all generations, sexes, classes, and races attend games. The environmental implications of MLB are immense as well. To put things in perspective, in one season, games generate 836 million discarded beverage containers. Fortunately, new measures implemented by various teams are having profound positive impacts on their environmental footprints and bottom lines. For instance, in 2011, the Mariners achieved an 80% recycling/composting rate, diverting nearly 200 million pounds of waste from landfill. Between their landfill diversion and energy efficiency efforts, the Mariners are saving about $600k annually in operational costs. Wins like these are inspiring similar strategies from MLB competitors and other professional sports teams alike. To date, 14 of the 30 MLB organizations have voluntarily joined The Green Sports Alliance, a non-profit coalition of major sports teams pledging to “help sports teams, venues, and leagues enhance their environmental performance.” If leveraged, MLB’s common appeal and powerful influence could help usher in a greener era into American society. If MLB can successfully demonstrate an ethic, and the business value, of environmental responsibility to its broad and diverse demographic of fans, it may provide an arena for sustainable change that is immune to political scrutiny, and thus rally social progress just as it did with racial equality. The next logical step for MLB to drive environmental stewardship home could be instituting an ambitious unified sustainable business strategy throughout the league. It’s clear that if you, MLB, build it green they, the fans, will come. But the question is: if you build it green will they follow? Bret Mueller is a 2013 MBA candidate in Sustainable Business Management at the Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco, CA. Contact him at bret.mueller@presidiomba.org.

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