NCAA Final Four Goes Green

The cultural shift toward ever increasing environmental responsibility taking place in the United States is being given added momentum by the current NCAA Final Four event.

For the first time in the history of the NCAA Final Four, a Sustainability Committee was formed to incorporate ecologically intelligent practices into the event's planning and production. The paper products and other supplies that were purchased, the facilities and services being relied upon, have all been selected with a sensitivity towards reducing the threats we all face from global warming, deforestation, toxic wastes, and hazardous chemicals in our water and food.

After all, without clean water and clean air, without a chemically stable atmosphere, we cannot play basketball.

As one of the most culturally influential sporting events in the United States, it is gratifying to see the NCAA Final Four producers take its environmental obligations very seriously. This year NRDC was honored to have been a founding member of the NCAA Final Four Sustainability Committee, teaming up with LG Electronics, Waste Management, Reliant Park, the City of Houston, and the George R Brown Convention Center to help launch the long journey we all need to take to reduce our collective ecological footprint.

The first thing we did was commission a Sustainability Performance Assessment to gauge current sustainability practices at the facilities and identify opportunities for improvement. This Sustainability Performance Assessment was used to develop the baseline data against which the NCAA Final Four Sustainability Committee is measuring our achievements.

With support from the City of Houston, 100% of the energy used by George R Brown Convention Center was supplied by renewable wind power; solar panels are being used to operate emergency power systems; and energy efficient water pumps that use 60% less energy than the previous pumps were installed.

At the Reliant Stadium, carbon offsets into wind and solar power projects were purchased from the Bonneville Environmental Foundation, which by itself results in avoided global warming emissions totaling 210 US tons in CO2 equivalents, representing about 509,000 auto miles.

Recycling bins are conveniently located everywhere one walks at the event: 600 recycling bins have been permanently added to the facility, and there is now a one-for-one ratio of recycling bins to waste bins at this giant facility. At least four times during each game the large jumbotron screen looming over the stadium reminds attendees to "act responsibly" by recycling their waste.

(Go here for more details on the NCAA Final Four event's environmental initiatives.)

There are 400,000 student athletes in the NCAA, and millions more pay attention to NCAA events. What a contrast it is today to witness the embrace of environmental stewardship by the NCAA Final Four producers, as well as all the major professional sports leagues in North America, while political ideologues in Congress and in many state governments attack essential environmental protection agencies. Politically inspired attacks on environmentalism not only ignore scientific facts, but run counter to mainstream American culture.

Sports matter. The most widely watched TV shows worldwide are sports shows. And professional sports is a multi-hundred billion dollar non-partisan business, so its embrace of environmentalism helps us deflect ideological and politically inspired attacks on the environmental agenda.

Besides helping to accelerate a cultural shift in how Americans view environmental issues, this work is helping to send a meaningful signal to the multi-hundred billion dollar supply chain of professional sports. The environmental message that the NCAA is sending to the marketplace, which is also being sent as well by the team presidents, commissioners, and stadium operators in professional sports, is potent: in the 21st century, environmental criteria must be part of your business.

(Go here here for more information about NRDC's work greening professional sports.)