This summer may turn out to be one of the hottest summers on record. Whether you’re a runner, basketball player, or anything else, chances are good that you’re going to have a lot of warm, cloudless days in the sun to play your sport or just stay active. Everyone—weekend warriors and marathoners alike—has to buy gear, and that means making a decision about the future of our planet.
Sports gear is big business in the United States. According to the National Sporting Goods Association, total sales amounted to $37.7 billion in 2009. And an industry so large is bound to take its toll on the environment. Chemical compounds and materials often used to make sports equipment such as polyvinyl chloride, polyurethane, thermoplastics, and fiber-polymer composites can harm local ecosystems, require energy-intensive processes to produce, and can take long periods of time to recycle or break down.
Companies and customers alike recently have started taking the environmental impact of the industry into account, to inspiring results. Even the professionals have been greening up their act. Major League Baseball has drawn up individualized green solutions for each of its 30 teams, and nonprofit groups such as the Green Sports Alliance and the National Resources Defense Council have been improving the carbon footprint of various teams, leagues, and stadiums. This past year, the National Football League offset Superbowl XLV’s enormous energy expenditure through wind power renewable energy credits.
The real effort to reduce sport’s footprint starts at home, however. It’s easier than ever to keep sustainability in mind when suiting up for summer sports. It’s Easy Being Green has discussed green ways to enjoy winter sports, but what about summer? Here are some quick tips to keep your fun sustainable.
Recycle, don’t buy. Everyone has some old pair of cleats lying around, or an old leathery baseball glove, or some variation on that theme. Instead of biking to the nearest sporting goods store, dust off your equipment, or borrow from a neighbor, and head to the park. You can be surprised how much wear you can get out of a piece of equipment. Despite Nike’s recent support of a potential climate bill and sustainable business practices, it’s better to stick with their motto on this one: just do it, with whatever gear you have already. It’s a poor ball player who blames his or her shoes, anyway.
When buying, don’t buy brand new. If you have to buy, then don’t go straight for something brand new. Check to see if there are some garage sales, flea markets, or second-hand stores in your area. If that doesn’t work, then you’re still in luck: The recycled sporting goods store Play It Again Sports has branches across the country, and a website to find the one nearest you.
When buying new, buy green. Luckily, companies have begun using green technologies to make sports equipment more sustainable. When buying new sports gear this summer, find something manufactured from biodegradable and natural materials using low-cost manufacturing methods. Brooks Sports remains the standard for green running shoes. Both Etiko and Fair Trade Sports have you covered if you’re looking for a basketball, soccer ball, or football. And for baseball bats, check out BamBooBat, a New York-based company manufacturing bats from bamboo. Most of all, though, keep researching: The greening of the sports equipment field is an ongoing and quick-moving process, and the options for athletic environmentalists become more diverse all the time.
Use a water bottle. It’s a no brainer: Bottled water is harmful to the environment in myriad ways. Every athlete knows it’s important to keep hydrated, especially during a summer as hot as this one could be. Whether you’re hitting the field or the court, avoid the already bottled disposables and spring for the reusable kind of water bottle.
This summer is great time to find a way to minimize the environmental impact of your sport of choice. There’s a new competition in town: Who will be the greenest athlete around?