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Corporate Social Responsibility and Environmental Sustainability: Why Professional Sport is Greening the Playing Field

This study explores institutional forces affecting environmental sustainability in professional sport teams and leagues in North America. Central research question was: how are institutional conditions leading professional sport organizations in the US to address environmental sustainability as a priority? In addressing this question, researchers employed a semi-inductive approach within the framework of institutional theory and look at the role of interactions between teams and leagues and other stakeholders, and the influence of the regulatory environment.

Interviews with sport executives and executives from partner groups, 122 websites and organizational documents, and 56 media reports were examined. Data revealed how environmental management practices are being diffused in professional sport organizations. Evidence indicated associative behavior among sport organizations with respect to environmental management. Data also illustrated that media played a role in driving and defining the type and extent of involvement in professional sport teams’ environmental sustainability efforts.

The research revolved around the discussion on environmental sustainability as it affects a team’s or league’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) related initiatives (i.e., averting legal recourse, saving money, as well as building stronger relationships with stakeholders (e.g., customers, fans, local communities, federal governments and corporate partners)), and speculate how these efforts might evolve and inform the development of environmental sustainability in organizations in the sport, service and entertainment sectors.

In conclusion, this study brings attention to one aspect of CSR that has received very little attention in the academic literature, but should be considered by managers and leaders, particularly with the emerging emphasis placed on environmental awareness in society as of late. More importantly, the results of this empirical examination contribute to institutional applications of CSR as posited by Campbell (2007) and validate institutional theory as an appropriate lens through which to view CSR practices. Examining CSR behaviors focused on the environment and the institutional pressures leading to the adoption of these efforts in major league professional sport uniquely contributes to the academic literature on CSR.


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