SEATTLE -- Surrounded by many of the bright lights in the environmental realm, in the heart of the green diamond in the greenest of ballparks, Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig on Thursday night accepted the Green Sports Alliance's first Environmental Leadership Award.
"It is no exaggeration to say that Baseball Commissioner Allan H. 'Bud' Selig is the single most influential environmental advocate in the history of sports," Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, senior scientist of the National Resources Defense Council, said as Green Sports Alliance members rose in applause from their seats at tables assembled in the infield at Safeco Field.
The occasion was a dinner presentation, the Summit Evening at the Ballpark, by the nonprofit organization, whose mission is to help sports teams, venues, and leagues enhance their environmental performance.
Alluding to the enduring impact of Jackie Robinson and recalling the poetic words of former MLB Commissioner Bart Giamatti, Selig accepted the award on behalf of his industry, which has been at the forefront of the sports' green movement since joining forces with the NRDC in 2006.
"On behalf of Major League Baseball, I thank the Green Sports Alliance for this great recognition bestowed upon our game," Selig said.
"Several days from now -- Sept. 9th -- will mark 20 years since I became the Commissioner of baseball. It continues to be an extraordinary honor. I fell in love with the game as a child, when I was bold enough to dream of a life in baseball. That dream came true.
"As Commissioner, I always aim to act in the best interests of our game and to protect its future. Tonight, we gather because all of us share in the goal of protecting the future of our most precious asset -- our environment."
Selig referred to the courage of Robinson in integrating the sport in 1947 in Brooklyn as his inspiration for taking the lead in the greening movement.
"Jackie debuted in the Major Leagues more than a year before President Truman signed the executive order that integrated the United States military, and it came seven years before the Supreme Court issued its decision in the Brown v. Board of Education case.
"It has always been a particular point of pride to me that Major League Baseball's integration came first. The enormous national attention on the struggle of one heroic baseball player, Jackie Robinson, personified the fight for equality. It gave strength and encouragement to those trying to do the right thing in every part of the United States. It is truly powerful to think about.
"The shining example of Jackie Robinson convinced me that we could never waste baseball's power to shape our national sense of the kind of society we should strive to be."
By taking the initiative, Selig inspired all other major American sports to adopt similar greening programs, according to Hershkowitz. Responding to a suggestion by the NRDC, Hershkowitz made contact with Selig in New York in January 2006.
"The greening collaboration was born," Hershkowitz said. "In 2006, there was no sports greening movement. In 2007, Mr. Selig created the first green initiaitive. By 2009, every professional sports league in the U.S. had meaningful environmental greening programs in stadiums - and it all started with Bud Selig."
Boston Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference, a powerful environmental voice from the National Hockey League, delivered an inspiring message that urged professional athletes to use their influence by actively joining the greening movement.
"Everyone has a role to play in the most important competition of our time," Ference said. "Most of all, we have to be people of action. It doesn't matter -- race or gender or politics. We're all in this together. There are some great, thoughtful people on all your teams. Make them proud and let them brag about what you're doing to protect your future.
"I really do think all of this comes down to respect. Either you respect your kids, city, future and nature -- or you don't. There's a simple fact that we are about doing it the right way ... to lead to a better place."
Ference applauded Selig and Major League Baseball for its initiative.
A message was read from President Obama, commending the GSA for doing its part to "putting America on the path to a sustainable future."
The Green Sports Alliance Environmental Leadership Award is presented to a member of the sports industry who has demonstrated leadership and has provided significant contributions to environmental sustainability. The award is voted on by the Green Sports Alliance Board of Directors, which is comprised of representatives from professional sports organizations.
Scott Jenkins, chair of the board of the Green Sports Alliance and vice president of ballpark operations for the Mariners, has been a driving force in the movement for years. A world-class distance runner at the University of Wisconsin, Jenkins was a force in the construction of Miller Park in Milwaukee as a Brewers employee, hired by Selig in 1997.
"A year and a half ago, we launched the Green Sports Alliance," Jenkins said. "More than 100 teams and 13 leagues are members of GSA, and more are joining all the time.
"Commissioner Selig made environmental sustainability a priority for Major League Baseball when many organizations were still trying to figure out if it was the right thing to do. He recognized that MLB's leadership in this area could not only help reduce our impact on the environment but could serve as a powerful symbol for our fans."
Since 2008, MLB has incorporated environmental features into jewel events such as the All-Star Game and postseason play. Awarding Minnesota the 2014 MLB All-Star Game, Selig commended the Twins for their sustainability practices at Target Field.
In December 2009, a Greening Committee was created by Major League Baseball and the NRDC. Its first recommendation was the creation of a new software tool for sustainable ballpark management, launched in 2010. The software system collects and analyzes stadium operations data to develop and distribute information throughout the sport.
"We know that an essential part of a successful and durable relationship with our fans is that we must demonstrate to them -- with action -- that what is important to them is also important to us," Selig said. "We know that our relationship is strengthened if our fans believe that their investment in us will, in turn, result in initiatives and practices that they can be proud of.
"Moving our game in this direction, I have been enormously assisted by owners who have made a personal commitment to sustainable practices."
The commissioner parted with praise of the host Mariners.
"From 2006 to 2011, the recycling rate at Safeco Field increased from 13 percent to more than 80 percent," he said. "Nearly everything used here -- including all food-service items -- is recyclable or compostable.
"Financial savings have accompanied these sound practices. The comprehensive efforts of the Mariners are emblematic of the difference that Major League Baseball and all of our clubs are making in our environment.
"I am proud of how far we have come on this important issue, and it is my great hope that Major League Baseball's millions of fans have heeded the example of our national pastime."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.