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The Green Sports Movement’s Next Horizon: Game-Day Food


Editor’s Note: This post is part of a student blogging series on The Business Of Sports & Sustainability. Students attend the Presidio Graduate School which offers the only MBA-level sustainability program focused exclusively on the sports industry. You can follow the series here.

By Gabriel Krenza

Sports entertainment and game-day fare have been inextricably linked since the inception of organized competition. Ancient murals of the Olympic games depict Mediterranean audiences feasting on lavish arrays of exotic cuisine. Today, the Super Bowl is the most widely watched event in the country. One in every three Americans tuned in to watch the event. It should come as no surprise that it also stands as one the largest days of food consumption in the United States -- second only to Thanksgiving.

Sports fandom and viewership transcends generational differences, political boundaries and even social classes. It’s a phenomenon that unites people in the common desire to be entertained through unfettered and pure competition. It brings together people from many walks of life to sit and bare witness to the joy, passion and grace that organized competition inspires. As Pulitzer prize-winning American journalist George F. Will said, “Sports serve society by providing vivid examples of excellence.”

Over the last 10 years, professional sports leagues in the U.S. have displayed tremendous examples of excellence through successful efforts to integrate environmental best practices into daily operations. Teams and venues in all professional leagues have adopted energy efficient, solar-powered LED lighting systems, waste reduction through comprehensive recycling and composting programs, and responsible water use initiatives. Technology innovation continues to drive best practices in stadium and arena operations.

The new frontier: Stadium food

The green sports movement’s next great horizon lies in the lifecycle of food, the environmental impact of producing it and fans' relationship to it. Conservative estimates link a sixth of all global warming greenhouse gas emissions to agriculture and food production -- nearly the same as the entire transportation sector. In the United States, about 80 percent of fresh water consumed is used by agriculture. The production of livestock for meat and poultry is a resource=intensive practice that accounts for much of this water use. The Food and Drug Administration indicates that 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the U.S. are used on livestock. Antibiotic use in livestock has quadrupled since 1970, from around 7 million pounds in 1970 to 29 million pounds in 2010. Four times the amount of antibiotics were sold for use on food animals than on humans in 2011.

Food service providers at stadiums and arenas can raise awareness of this by serving meat produced using better practices. While many production standards exist that address the humane treatment of livestock animals, there is yet to be a comprehensive unifying certification for meat or poultry production that supports environmental better practices throughout the supply chain, from pasture to plate. USDA organic certification addresses many of the issues, but it is often cost prohibitive for both producers and consumers. Many organizations, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, Rainforest Alliance and Food Alliance are working to define best practices for beef specifically. Serving better meat, and less of it, is one way that sports venues can support a better food system.

Let’s briefly take a look at one of America’s favorite game-day food items: the hot dog.

Americans consume more than 7 billion hot dogs in the months between Memorial Day and Labor Day. According to the National Sausage and Hot Dog Council, we consume an estimated 150 million franks, on July Fourth alone. That’s the equivalent to the meat produced by more than 21,000 slaughter-weight cows. From an environmental standpoint, the hot dog is an efficient use of the whole animal. It utilizes trim and other parts that would otherwise go to waste.

But the stigma of a hot dog being unhealthy is not without warrant. High in carcinogenic preservatives and a lack of transparent labeling have made hot dogs an easy target to paint with the “junk food” brush. Committing to serve antibiotic-free, hormone-free hot dogs would be a powerful statement for concessionaires to make.

Now is the time to engage fans in a conversation about the impact of their food consumption habits. There is just too much at “steak” not to!

Image credit: Flickr/digitizedchaos

Gabriel Krenza is Strategic Advisor in food procurement at the Natural Resources Defense Council and Senior Advisor in Food Policy at the Green Sports Alliance.  Gabriel is also an MBA candidate at Presidio Graduate School.

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This “micro-blog” is the product of the nations first MBA/MPA certificate program dedicated to sustainability in the sports industry. Led by Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, Senior Scientist at NRDC, The Business of Sports and Sustainability certificate is housed at Presidio Graduate School, the nation’s top sustainable MBA program. Posts explore the connection of sustainability with operations, branding and fan engagement of the sports industry including leagues, teams, venues, sponsors, vendors and surrounding communities.

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