Check out some examples below of how our column will come to you each week…
Dear EarthTalk: How eco-friendly are professional sports leagues and their teams? Which stand out especially for their green efforts?
— Al Simpson, Medina, OH
Professional sports, like many other pursuits, are getting greener every day. While pro leagues and teams have traditionally been the last to go green, it has all changed in recent years. Maybe it’s the fact that wasting less saves money. Or that going green generates good public relations. Or that it’s just the right thing to do. Whether it’s any or all-of-the-above, professional sports certainly have never been greener.
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a leading environmental non-profit, has worked with several sports teams and leagues to green their operations, and has bundled a collection of case studies into a recently released report, “Game Changer: How the Sports Industry is Saving the Environment.” One example is how baseball’s San Francisco Giants have so far saved 171,000 kilowatt hours of energy at its stadium, AT+T Park, through a series of lighting retrofits. Another is the building of a 3-megawatt photovoltaic solar array at NASCAR’s Pocono Raceway, which offsets 3,100 metric tons of CO2 each year and provides enough power to operate the raceway and 1,000 nearby homes. Still another is basketball’s Minnesota Timberwolves’ construction of a 2.5 acre green roof that prevents annually a million gallons of storm water from spilling into the Mississippi River from atop their Minneapolis arena.
NRDC hopes its report can help educate sports professionals, their suppliers and the millions of fans that patronize the teams and their venues about the business case for greening, from achieving cost savings and enhancing brands to developing new sponsorship opportunities and strengthening community ties.
To further these goals, NRDC, along with Paul Allen’s Vulcan Inc., launched the Green Sports Alliance in 2010, bringing together venue operators, team executives and scientists to exchange information and develop solutions to their environmental challenges. The findings gathered are made available to Alliance members so that they can better understand how sporting events can be performed in an environmentally sensitive manner. Alliance members represent more than 100 teams and venues from 13 different leagues.
For teams that want to go green but don’t know where to start, NRDC created a Greening Advisor program, featuring sustainability tips and green inspiration. Teams from each of North America’s major sports leagues can find treasure troves of information at the intersection of saving money and the planet.
NRDC calls the greening of pro sports “a cultural shift of historic proportions” and delights in the fact that “North America’s professional leagues, teams and venues have collectively saved millions of dollars by shifting to more efficient, healthy and ecologically intelligent operations.”
“At the same time, the sports greening movement has brought important environmental messages to millions of fans worldwide,” says NRDC. “Sport is a great unifier, transcending political, cultural, religious and socioeconomic barriers. It also wields a uniquely powerful influence [and] in so doing, promotes a non-political public commitment to environmental protection.”
CONTACTS: “Game Changer” Report, www.nrdc.org/greenbusiness/guides/sports/game-changer.asp; Green Sports Alliance, www.greensportsalliance.org; NRDC Greening Advisor, www.greensports.org.
Dear EarthTalk: What is the scientific consensus on all the extreme weather we’ve been having—from monster tornadoes to massive floods and wildfires? Is there a clear connection to climate change? And if so what are we doing to be prepared?
— Jason Devine, Summit, PA
Extreme weather does not prove the existence of global warming, but climate change is likely to exaggerate it—by messing with ocean currents, providing extra heat to forming tornadoes, bolstering heat waves, lengthening droughts and causing more precipitation and flooding.
“A changing climate leads to changes in the frequency, intensity, spatial extent, duration and timing of extreme weather and climate events, and can result in unprecedented extreme weather and climate events,” reports the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an independent group of leading climate scientists convened by the United Nations to provide the world with a clear scientific view on the current state of knowledge in climate change and its potential environmental and socio-economic impacts.
While most scientists don’t dispute the link between global warming and extreme weather, the once skeptical public is now starting to come around—especially following 2011, when floods, droughts, heat waves and tornadoes took a heavy toll on the U.S. According to a poll conducted by researchers at Yale University’s Project on Climate Change Communication, four out of five Americans reported personally experiencing one or more types of extreme weather or a natural disaster in 2011, while more than a third were personally harmed either a great deal or a moderate amount by one or more of these events. And a large majority of Americans believe that global warming made several high profile extreme weather events worse, including record high summer temperatures nationwide, droughts in Texas and Oklahoma, catastrophic Mississippi River flooding, Hurricane Irene and an unusually warm winter.
The IPCC wants world leaders to err on the side of caution in preparing their citizens for extreme weather events that will likely become more frequent; earlier this year they released a report entitled “Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation” to help policymakers do just that. The report is considered a must read in coastal, arid and other especially vulnerable areas.
As for the U.S. government, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) tracks weather and storms, while the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) deals with the impacts of extreme weather and other disasters. But critics would like to see Congress and the White House do more to increase Americans’ preparedness. “The U.S. [in 2011] experienced a record fourteen weather-related disasters each in excess of a billion dollars—and many more disasters of lesser magnitudes,” reports the non-profit Climate Science Watch (CSW). “Yet the U.S. has no national climate change preparedness strategy; and Federal efforts to address the rising risks have been undermined through budget cuts and other means.” CSW and others are calling for the creation of a new cabinet-level agency called the National Climate Service to oversee both climate change mitigation as well as preparedness for increasingly extreme weather events.
CONTACTS: IPCC report, www.ipcc-wg2.gov/SREX/images/uploads/SREX-SPMbrochure_FINAL.pdf; Yale Project, http://environment.yale.edu/climate/files/Extreme-Weather-Climate-Preparedness.pdf; FEMA, www.fema.gov; NOAA, www.noaa.gov; Climate Science Watch, www.climatesciencewatch.org.
Dear EarthTalk: I read that a single child born in the U.S. has a greater effect on the environment than a dozen children born in a developing country? Can you explain why?
— Josh C., via e-mail
It is well known that Americans consume far more natural resources and live much less sustainably than people from any other large country of the world. “A child born in the United States will create thirteen times as much ecological damage over the course of his or her lifetime than a child born in Brazil,” reports the Sierra Club’s Dave Tilford, adding that the average American will drain as many resources as 35 natives of India and consume 53 times more goods and services than someone from China.
Tilford cites a litany of sobering statistics showing just how profligate Americans have been in using and abusing natural resources. For example, between 1900 and 1989 U.S. population tripled while its use of raw materials grew by a factor of 17. “With less than 5 percent of world population, the U.S. uses one-third of the world’s paper, a quarter of the world’s oil, 23 percent of the coal, 27 percent of the aluminum, and 19 percent of the copper,” he reports. “Our per capita use of energy, metals, minerals, forest products, fish, grains, meat, and even fresh water dwarfs that of people living in the developing world.”
He adds that the U.S. ranks highest in most consumer categories by a considerable margin, even among industrial nations. To wit, American fossil fuel consumption is double that of the average resident of Great Britain and two and a half times that of the average Japanese. Meanwhile, Americans account for only five percent of the world’s population but create half of the globe’s solid waste.
Americans’ love of the private automobile constitutes a large part of their poor ranking. The National Geographic Society’s annual Greendex analysis of global consumption habits finds that Americans are least likely of all people to use public transportation—only seven percent make use of transit options for daily commuting. Likewise, only one in three Americans walks or bikes to their destinations, as opposed to three-quarters of Chinese. While China is becoming the world’s leader in total consumption of some commodities (coal, copper, etc.), the U.S. remains the per capita consumption leader for most resources.
Overall, National Geographic’s Greendex found that American consumers rank last of 17 countries surveyed in regard to sustainable behavior. Furthermore, the study found that U.S. consumers are among the least likely to feel guilty about the impact they have on the environment, yet they are near to top of the list in believing that individual choices could make a difference.
Paradoxically, those with the lightest environmental footprint are also the most likely to feel both guilty and disempowered. “In what may be a major disconnect between perception and behavior, the study also shows that consumers who feel the guiltiest about their impact—those in China, India and Brazil—actually lead the pack in sustainable consumer choices,” says National Geographic’s Terry Garcia, who coordinates the annual Greendex study. “That’s despite Chinese and Indian consumers also being among the least confident that individual action can help the environment.”
Readers can discover how they stack up by taking a survey on National Geographic’s Greendex website. But brace yourself if you are a typical American: You might not like what you find out about yourself.
CONTACTS: Sierra Club’s “Sustainable Consumption,” www.sierraclub.org/sustainable_consumption; National Geographic Society’s Greendex, www.nationalgeographic.com/greendex.
Dear EarthTalk: In recent years the hotel industry began to green up operations, but has it yet gone beyond leaving out little cards to encourage you to re-use your towels and linens?
— Sam Tsiryulnikov, Los Angeles, CA
Some hotels and hotel chains take sustainability more seriously than others, but the industry as a whole has certainly become greener in recent years. Those little cards may seem like token environmentalism, but they can actually result in significant water, waste and cost reductions. The website Economically Sound reports that a 150-room hotel can conserve 72,000 gallons of water and 480 gallons of laundry soap every year by placing the cards in its guest rooms. The Marriott chain reported saving as much as 17 percent in hot water and sewer costs at its hotels thanks to implementation of its Linen Reuse Program.
While many hotels and chains print up their own cards, thousands more purchase them from the Green Hotels Association, a non-profit launched two decades ago to bring together hotels around the U.S. and elsewhere that share a commitment to the environment and sustainable use of natural resources. The organization’s Catalog of Environmental Products for the Lodging Industry contains a wide range of environmentally friendly energy- and water-saving products. For example, 500 laminated copies of the group’s best selling card (asking guests to consider not having sheets changed every day) costs hoteliers just $200. Another example is the toilet tank fill diverter, which saves about 3/4 of a gallon of water per flush while remaining invisible to guests. The little gadgets cost hotels around $1 and as such pay for themselves in no time thanks to reduced water bills. The catalog also features dispensers that eliminate the waste of stocking every bathroom with soap bars and little bottles of hair and skin care products.
Another group promoting a greener hospitality industry is the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), which works to improve the quality of tourism around the world. Under its Environment Initiative, WTTC aims to solidify a global vision on how the tourism industry can foster sustainable development. It has been especially pro-active around the mitigation of carbon emissions and last year, along with the International Tourism Partnership (ITP) and 12 major hotel chains including Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott and Starwood, launched the Hotel Carbon Measurement Initiative, which aims to help hotels reduce, measure and communicate their carbon footprints. This is particularly relevant, says WTTC, for hotels’ corporate clients who want to quantify the carbon footprints of their hotel stays, meetings and events.
Another positive trend is the Four Seasons’ 10 Million Trees Initiative. The hotel chain is celebrating its 50th anniversary by planting 10 million trees across the 34 countries in which it operates with the hope that the effort will help combat deforestation and global warming and attract more customers concerned about the state of the planet.
Beyond what the major chains are doing, eco lodges run by or in partnership with native people or tribes have popped up all over the tropics and beyond; examples include Guludo Beach Lodge in Mozambique, Africa and Posada Amazonas in the Peruvian Amazon. Staying at such a place is a good way to ensure that locals can benefit from tourism and not be tempted to pillage their region’s natural resource base.
CONTACTS: Economically Sound, www.economicallysound.com; Green Hotels Association, www.greenhotels.com; WTTC, www.wttc.org; ITP, www.tourismpartnership.org.