Leveraging the Love of Sports to Drive Sustainability

By Vanessa Roscoe

It comes as no surprise that over half of all Americans identify themselves as sports fans. The sports industry brings in, on average, $14.3B annually in earnings – an unsurprising figure given that individuals spend about 8 hours a week consuming sports content. This economic activity fueled by growing consumption patterns provides an unprecedented opportunity for environmental and social impact. Some organizations have recognized this and are stepping forward to integrate sustainability and change business-as-usual paradigms.

The power of alliance

The Green Sports Alliance is the perfect example of such an organization. The 3rd annual Green Sports Alliance summit recently convened in New York City, drawing an impressive crowd of over 600 teams, CSR professionals, sports enthusiasts, sponsors, venues and athletes. For four days, the sports industry’s most influential leaders brainstormed solutions and shared best practices for making measurable environmental and social impact. Sessions were held with industry experts, with panelists hailing from MLB, Circuit of the Americas, NHL and USTA, to name a few. Plenaries were mixed with workshops, roundtables, keynotes, venue tours and LEED training sessions. The conference covered a variety of topics, but largely focused on fan engagement, venue and team operations, procurement, sponsor relations, transportation and waste management.

Academic institutions have also recognized the value of an education focused within Green Sports with the hopes of creating the next generation of leaders. Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco is one such school offering a Certificate in Sports and Sustainability in conjunction with MBA and MPA degree programs focused on Sustainable Management. The certificate program is directed by Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, Ph.D., Senior Scientist at the National Resource Defense Council and Founder and Director of NRDC’s Sports Greening Project. At the Green Sports Alliance Summit, Dr. Hershkowtiz reiterated the industry opportunity, citing “18 percent of Americans pay attention to environmental issues and 56 percent pay attention to sports.”



Measuring success 

For many, the result of leveraging the power of sports to address today’s most urgent environmental and social challenges have been proven by the numbers. The Moda Center, formally named the Rose Garden Arena, in Portland, OR – home of the Portland Trailblazers – makes the financial case for sustainable practices, realizing operational savings of $3M over the past five years on a $500,000 initial investment. This is not a unique example, as countless stadiums have economically benefitted from implementing robust facility plans. The most successful have included detailed waste management strategies for composting and recycling, alternative energy generation on-site and opportunities for fan participation, such as incentives for biking and using mass transit to games. Partnerships have also proven to be the key to success – a hot topic at the summit. Sponsorships and investors are immensely important to one’s sustainability practices, both for getting projects off the ground and for driving continual momentum and excitement.

It is imperative that those within sports – facilities managers, teams, fans, athletes, etc. – step forward and seize the opportunity for impact. Getting involved with the Green Sports Alliance is one way to do so. The Alliance provides the knowledge and network to collaborate with peers to develop sustainability-focused solutions that will fast-track change within professional and collegiate sports. The next generation of fans will thank us for it.

What other sustainability best practices within sports have yielded big results? 

[Image credit: American Zen, Bowman, Flickr]

Vanessa Roscoe recently graduated with an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio and is passionate about outdoor sports and environmental education. Follow Vanessa on Twitter @vanessaroscoe and LinkedIn.

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