By Izabel Loinaz
Last week, the second annual Green Sports Alliance Summit wrapped up in Seattle during the last days of what was a gloriously unusual sunny spell for the city. The Green Sports Alliance (GSA) is a nonprofit organization that helps the professional sports industry enhance its environmental performance and harness potential for large-scale behavior change.
The GSA has come a long way since it was founded in March 2011 by 11 teams and venues in the Pacific Northwest and by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). The GSA’s membership has since grown to more than 100 teams and venues in the U.S., Canada and China. During the summit, the GSA unveiled its resources page, helping sports organizations plan and implement sustainable business practices via tools such as the Green Sports Alliance Operations Road Map and the NRDC’s Game Changer: How the Sports Industry is Saving the Environment. The first Green Sports Alliance Environmental Leadership Award was presented to Major League Baseball Commissioner Allan H. “Bud” Selig, represented by the first-ever FSC certified baseball bat and a stunning Dale Chihuli emerald bowl.
While the bulk of the panel discussions were focused on operational efficiencies and metrics (such as energy consumption, waste diversion and fan engagement), a handful of new discussions and panelists encouraged participants to reach beyond the “low-hanging fruit” and take a larger systems approach.
Michael Goodfellow-Smith, director of QUEST for Future Solutions and consultant to England’s Manchester United Football Club, urged that the concept of “green” be eliminated altogether and that teams focus on regenerative initiatives. Kevin Hagen, director of corporate social responsibility at REI, answered the question “What is the ROI of sustainability?” with “What’s the business case for irresponsibility?” Hagen also urged attendees to look beyond the “bright green dot” and “decentralize sustainability” by “disassociating sustainable business practices from compromise.”
Establishing effective and useful metrics to manage the enormous volume of resources may not seem sexy, but organizations tackling the issue for their own facilities are deeply committed to their charge. Finding a standard by which to benchmark across a diverse field has proven to be challenging. Universally, those teams ready to take their sustainability initiatives to a more sophisticated level are not satisfied with obtaining LEED certification and calling it a day.
We heard numerous stories of venue managers literally opening up waste receptacles, spilling the contents on a conference table to showcase waste to their staff. Vendors are now being held accountable for eliminating landfill-bound products. These stories paint a picture of passionately-committed leadership walking the walk.
Sharing stories and best practices happened both onstage and off, illustrating the unique culture of the pro-sports industry. The spirit of fierce competition on the field/court/pitch – balanced by collaboration and camaraderie off – perhaps poises this sector of the business world to lead by example if not by cutting-edge innovation. “As an industry, we can stand up proud and say, ‘Yeah, we are doing our part’” Joe Abernathy, VP for stadium operations for the Saint Louis Cardinals, said candidly. “We may not be the first to do it or the most innovative, but over time we can see we have really made an improvement.”
The future of greening sports looks bright. GSA executive director Martin Tull announced that the 2013 summit will be held in New York with hopes to double attendance once again. In the meantime, the organization will continue to grow its membership and partnerships, as well as plan regional workshops and expanded member programs. Plans are also under way to work closer with universities and their athletic programs, taking the green sports movement to a tribal fan base ripe for engagement – and perhaps inspiring the next generation of leadership in the process.
Izabel Loinaz is a consultant to the sports, fitness and healthcare fields, and holds an MBA in Sustainable Management from the Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco. Follow Izabel on Twitter @IzabelLoinaz & LinkedIn