Safety. Playability. Appearance. These are the three pillars of sports field management that we write, speak and debate over.

If a sports field manager were to have a mantra, these three words would be good ones. But there is a fourth pillar – we just haven’t recognized it nearly enough.

Environmental stewardship has always been a part of professional sports field management, turf management and all green industries. Today, a new momentum in ecological concern provides us with an opportunity to improve on our efforts. And the Sports Turf Managers Association (STMA) is leading the way by developing its Environmental Facility Certification Program, which aims to be ready by the end of the year. “Our members have always been protectors of our environment,” says STMA CEO Kim Heck. “The Environmental Facility Certification Program actually documents their practices and validates the good work that they do. We can then communicate this stewardship to our local communities and to the entire sports industry.” For the sports facility manager, this certification will be a great tool to get started on the sometimes daunting issue of environmental conservation.

As professionals, we have to get our emotions and stereotypes out of the way and do our jobs.

If your only thoughts of environmental issues involves immediate stereotypes of “tree-huggers,” think of it as an efficiency program and get on board.

If, on the other hand, you espouse “chemical-free” turfgrass management, wake up. Water is a chemical. When you step out on a sports field to manage it, you accept the charge as a land manager for that plot of ground. As such, you understand that your decisions and actions in managing this land can have significant and important impacts on other lands and natural resources on which people depend.

When applying products of any kind, you have a responsibility to do it competently, lawfully and in accordance with the labeled directions. In using water for irrigation and other uses, you are obligated to operate efficient equipment and use sound practices. In your shop, you have more responsibilities in the storage and protection of certain types of commonly used products.

Sports fields find themselves in a precarious place in the media and public view these days. Natural grass is scorned as a “thirsty water hog” requiring a lot of “chemicals” that could harm the ecosystem. In California, green irrigated turfgrass is almost solely targeted as the cause and solution to water shortages during a historic drought, when it is actually only a small part of water usage.

Meanwhile, artificial turf is under attack on all sides for alleged health and environmental concerns, but the epidemiological and environmental studies that could go a long way in settling the issues are complex and expensive.

It may get interesting as this new “grass-is-bad/turf-is-bad” paradigm meets head-on this month with our love of sports, as the fall scholastic sports seasons begin. Irrigation-starved natural grass fields could be too hard, and sunbaked artificial turf fields too hot in the Golden State.

In California, where can we play sports and feel good about the playing surface?

All this while the demand for quality playing fields and surfaces continues to grow, causing chronic field shortages in many communities across the country. Certifying your facility as environmentally sound in its build and operation could help alleviate these concerns and showcase yet another reason why your athletic facility is a community asset.

You see, our communities have entrusted these plots of land to our care. Environmental stewardship impacts every part of our operations. So here is another chance to attest your professionalism and improve the image of the industry and your facility. Take your politics and emotions out of it and get on board with the STMA’s Environmental Facility Certification Program as soon as it debuts.

Safety. Playability. Appearance. Environmental Integrity.

That’s a better mantra.