Kelly Thompson, Associate Manager, Sustainability

Have you ever thought about the impact a sports game has on the environment?

Below are some of the things that have a harmful effect, what some stadiums are doing to combat that, and what you can do to help.

Getting to the Game

Let’s use the Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, home of the National Football League’s (NFL) Dallas Cowboys, as an example. The new stadium opened in 2009 and cost $1.3 billion to construct. It has the second largest seating capacity of all NFL stadiums at 80,000 spectators but can hold up to 110,000 with standing-room-only sections. Public transportation (buss, train, etc.) is not readily available near the stadium, so let’s say each car going to the game holds two people on average. At a sold-out game that’s 55,000 cars trying to get into the stadium, then sitting in traffic leaving it!

We all know that a car idling not only wastes gas and money (you get zero miles per gallon when you’re not moving), but it also impacts the environment. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), if each spectator’s car idles for an hour sitting in traffic, it is estimated that approximately 1,077,950 pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent will be emitted from this game alone!

To put that into perspective, annually, that amount of CO2 is equal to the greenhouse gas emissions from 95.9 passenger vehicles, carbon sequestered from 4.8 acres of forest, or the amount of emissions avoided by recycling 170 tons of waste. So, one football game makes a large impact on the environment… from transportation alone.

Unbelievable Utilities

Have you ever wondered how much electricity is used to power the jumbo TV, digital boards, retractable roof, bright lights, concession stands, HVAC, and other equipment in the stadium? It’s been estimated that this stadium spends around $200,000 in utility bills a month, which is over three times more than the median American household’s annual income.

Teams that Care about Sustainability

Many executive leaders of sports teams have realized that sustainability means saving money and just overall smart business. Below are examples of some proactive steps that professional sports teams have taken:

  • The Rose Garden arena, home of the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers, has implemented an energy- efficiency program that saves about 771,000 kWh annually.
  • The recycling program started by the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles has diverted 3 million pounds of waste from landfills and uses 100% green power.
  • The Cowboys Stadium has set a goal to reduce its solid waste by 25%, energy by 20%, and water use by 1 million gallons a year.


Progressive stadiums have implemented various conservation methods such as sustainable purchasing (recycled-content paper products and office supplies, local organic food sourcing), bottle and paper recycling, efficient LED lighting, natural ventilation, etc.

In 2010 a nonprofit organization called the Green Sports Alliance was formed to help sports teams, venues, and leagues reduce their environmental impact. The Seattle Seahawks, Portland Trail Blazers, Seattle Sounders FC, Seattle Mariners, Seattle Storm, and Vancouver Canucks were the inaugural members and have made strides to improve energy and water efficiency, as well as reduce waste, in their stadiums with the organization’s help.

How Fans Can Make a Difference

To reduce your environmental impact when going to a sports game, think of doing the following:

  • Use public transportation to carpool to the game. It’ll save you money, too!
  • When tailgating, make sure you recycle your empty bottles and containers.
  • Make sure you put recyclables in the correct bins.
  • If you’re cooking food in the parking lot, bring washable silverware and plates so less is disposed of when you finished eating.
  • Leave your car idling as little as possible. If there is a long line leaving the stadium, turn off the ignition until traffic clears out.


Have you seen sustainability being practiced at a sports game? What would you expect to see implemented?

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