Chris Dickerson remembered cringing as he looked at the excess of empty, discarded plastic bottles by his Triple-A teammates in Louisville.
"One guy uses eight bottles a day, whether it's Gatorade or water or juice," he said, "and all of this stuff is being thrown in the trash cans."
The sight of all that waste a couple of years ago was the tipping point for Dickerson, a Cincinnati Reds outfielder.
"Multiply that by a week, by a year, by the 15 teams in that league. You're looking at a tremendous amount," said Dickerson, who developed a passion for ecological issues while witnessing pollution problems as he grew up in Southern California.
In 2008, he helped found the nonprofit organization Players for the Planet to encourage pro athletes to be environmental ambassadors in their communities, proving the possibility that jocks and treehuggers can coexist.
As a Minnesota-based sports marketing agency is banking on, professional franchises — like any profit-driven businesses — are finding more ways to go green and make money at the same time.
There is a certain insular, indulgent culture in the sports world that can create hurdles for social causes like this to take hold. Sometimes, they're masked as mere symbolic gestures and goodwill-generating promotions for teams. The sheer enormity of stadiums makes it difficult to keep carbon footprints small. Players can get caught up in the big-league lifestyle.
"It's hard to get just any athlete and even then, they're like, 'I love what you're doing, but I can't really endorse it because I'm driving a big truck and I have a huge house,'" Dickerson said. "So some of the things these athletes do aren't necessarily a green lifestyle. They like the idea, but they're not necessarily that green. I think that's why a lot of them are hesitant to be part of it."
Dickerson praised the use of solar power at Fenway Park in Boston and Progressive Field in Cleveland as progressive ideas he'd like to see replicated more throughout the majors. He pointed to supportive e-mails and letters he has received as examples of momentum. He also insisted real change can be accomplished in easy steps.
"That's the message we're trying to get across: It doesn't have to be a huge shift in your daily lifestyle," Dickerson said. "It's little things like getting a recycle bin, turning off all the lights when you leave your house, trying to cut down on your air conditioning, using compact fluorescent light bulbs."
Dickerson even has a sign above his locker that says, "Trees are for hugging."
In Minnesota, trees are being planted by the Department of Natural Resources — 100 of them each time a Twins pitcher breaks a bat during a game this season in partnership with the team. Target Field, when it opened this year, was given the highest Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design score for a major league ballpark by the U.S. Green Building Council.
With Twins CEO Jim Pohlad pushing the issue during the construction process, an extra $2 million was budgeted for LEED features. Architect Populous and builder Mortenson helped factor in features like a rainwater recycling system that's used to irrigate the field and wash the seating area.
By the team's estimate, 20 percent of customers take mass transit, and more than 400 people ride a bike to games.
"We didn't know we'd be building new bike racks, but certainly that's a good problem to have," Twins president Dave St. Peter said.
Arguments can be made that sports, by size alone, are simply anti-green.
"You can always look at things in different contexts," said John Carmody, director of the Center for Sustainable Building Research at the University of Minnesota. "Should we have four teams sharing one stadium? Should we be building a stadium at all? But the more realistic and pragmatic approach is that various organizations, like baseball teams, have their needs. We aren't questioning whether they're having a field. We're saying that within the context of having a field, we're going to make it as sustainable as possible."
Baseball isn't alone. As the green movement has begun to mesh into mainstream society, the pace of environmentally driven activities has picked up throughout the industry.
The NFL's Environmental Program helps plant trees around the communities that host the Super Bowl and seeks to reduce waste and carbon emissions around the annual event.
In April, during the NBA's Green Week, players wore socks made from 45 percent organic cotton during games. The Dallas Mavericks gave away reusable grocery bags for fans who brought plastic trade-ins. The Phoenix Suns, for a game against the rival Spurs, handed out 10,000 "Beat San Antonio" signs for fans made out of paper certified by the Forest Stewardship Council as being eco-friendly.
The NHL touted sustainability initiatives at the draft last month in Los Angeles, like receptacles for recyclables at Staples Center and leftover food donations to a downtown homeless shelter. The recently retired Scott Niedermayer became unofficially known as hockey's treehugger, the captain of the Anaheim Ducks and Team Canada who tried to persuade teammates to drive hybrid vehicles as he does. Boston Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference recently took a Sierra Club-organized tour of the oil spill site in Louisiana to help raise awareness of environmental issues.
"As athletes you have more of a platform for anything you may want to speak your mind about, something that's close to your heart," said Twins pitcher Kevin Slowey. "It's neat to hear somebody like Dickerson stepping forward and doing that. I think everybody appreciates it certainly. You look at the canisters in here, the recycling's always full, and it's a neat thing. It doesn't take a lot to make a difference, and I think that's maybe the message that translates the best: a little bit goes a long way."
This is big business, though. The name of the game, even with every best intention, still revolves around the other kind of green.
"At the end of the day, the industry will move only if there's money to be made," said Mark Andrew, founder of the Minnesota-based sports marketing agency GreenMark. "You can actually make a profit by doing right by the environment."
GreenMark's mission is to put sports organizations in touch with green businesses to create sponsorships. GreenMark, which also counts the Boston Red Sox and San Francisco 49ers as clients, connected a company that specializes in clean-water innovation, Pentair, with the Twins to implement the rainwater recycling system for Target Field.
Pentair's profile was raised, and the team gained a major sponsor.
"Sports has lagged behind the rest of the private sector in implementing truly green practices and operations," Andrew said. "However, they're catching up and sports as an industry is doing a much better job than they were."