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Procurement in Professional Sports: Sustainability in Focus

Procurement in Professional Sports: Sustainability in Focus

The professional sports industry is massive by any measure, with billions of dollars spent by fans every year to enjoy events ranging from basketball to football to racing and dozens of other sports. But behind the dazzle of tens of thousands of fans cheering on their teams, an incredibly complex system of procurement and logistics keeps major events running smoothly and ensures that players have access to the best equipment and services available on the market.

Efficient and effective purchasing practices are vital to the success of any professional sporting organization, team or event. From complex construction projects to the sourcing of uniforms, equipment, medical services and merchandise, procurement touches all areas of sporting operations, and an increasing focus on sustainable practices is changing how sports teams operate.

A research paper published by the Supply Chain Management Association (SCMA) in 2016 notes that the business of sport was projected to be worth $73.5 billion in 2019 in North America alone. From the design and construction of major amphitheaters and stadiums to ticket sales and providing comfortable seating for fans, every sports organization must fulfill a variety of expectations when it comes to satisfying the legions of fans who are dedicated to accompanying their favorite players throughout the season.

In this article we will review some interesting facts related to sustainability in purchasing and how major sports organizations have stepped up to the plate to set an example for other industries.

Green procurement in sports

The Seattle Mariners baseball team has been at the forefront of the greening of procurement operations among professional sports teams. By rolling out new energy-efficiency practices, the Mariners have been able to generate more than $2 million in savings since 2006 and have reduced natural gas consumption by 60 percent and electricity use by 30 percent.

Scott Jenkins, Vice President of ballpark operations and Chairman of the Green Sports Alliance, told the SCMA that if all other teams in the league adopted similar practices, the collective savings would amount to $16 million per year -- a clear incentive for the adoption of green procurement and other environmentally-friendly initiatives.

A survey of the 126 major sports teams across five leagues in North America found that 68 teams already had energy efficiency programs in place in 2013, while a minimum of 38 were using renewable energy sources. (This number has undoubtedly grown since then.) Additionally, all the major caterers that provide food services to arenas and stadiums now offer "environmentally preferable" food and beverage options.

Professional Sports Teams and the Natural Resources Defense Council

The Green Advisor is a joint effort between the National Football League (NFL) and other major sporting leagues and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) that aims to encourage professional sports teams to implement ecologically-friendly initiatives.

Back in 2003, the owners of the soon-to-be-built Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia (home to the Eagles) asked the NRDC to help reduce the project’s carbon emissions both during and after construction. After that successful initiative, in an interesting twist of fate, legendary actor and NRDC trustee Robert Redford suggested that the NRDC seek to partner with other sports teams, and the rest is history. Today, in addition to the NFL, the NRDC has partnered with the National Basketball Association (NBA), the National Hockey League (NHL), Major League Soccer (MLS) and the US Open Tennis Championships.

These partnerships have led to several exciting initiatives. For example, in 2010 the NRDC authored high-level guidelines detailing how sports teams could bring solar power to stadiums, arenas and other facilities.

The NRDC also partnered with Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen to create the Green Sports Alliance (GSA), a nonprofit that encourages the adoption of sustainable practices by sports organizations. In 2016, the GSA launched the “Mascots Forever” initiative to draw public attention to species preservation, and is working with venues to offer antibiotic-free meat and vegetarian food options for fans. Today, more than 300 sports teams and sporting venues are members of the GSA, setting an inspiring example of how major organizations can adopt sustainable practices.


The success of initiatives like Green Advisor and the Green Sports Alliance show how large organizations can take steps to reduce their impact on the environment while setting an example for other industries. With respect to procurement, these efforts also showcase how buyers can implement environmentally-sound purchasing practices, and how vendors can respond to these opportunities with products and services that support environmentally-responsible choices.

Moving forward, public and private sector organizations can adopt sustainable practices and encourage their vendors to do the same, resulting in value creation for everyone – especially future generations.

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