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How Sports Are Influencing Sustainable Practices


By Maggie Nelson

We sat down with the Arizona Diamondbacks, Portland Timbers and San Diego Padres to talk sustainability, the position sports teams are in to influence their massive audience, and how we can all live more environmentally-conscious lives.

These teams, alongside their peers, have made sustainable practices a priority in their organizations. The Green Sports Alliance now includes nearly 300 members from 135 teams, and teams across all major leagues are sparking conversations about what it means to run an environmentally-conscious organization. With their influence on and involvement in their communities, alongside a widespread viewership, sports teams are in a unique position to promote sustainable practices to the masses. In fact, only 13 percent of Americans say they follow science, while over 60 percent say they identify as sports fans.

Mark Golub, president of business operations for the Portland Timbers, explained, “Being a sports team, we have a platform and awareness that maybe some other organizations don't have; [one] that we need to use responsibly.” He continues by saying: “The beauty of sports, in my mind, is this unique ability to bring different groups of people together. It cuts across age, gender, socioeconomic [status], and is a place where anybody can have a shared experience.”

Sustainable practices are ingrained in the Timbers’ day-to-day operations at Providence Park, where the Major League Soccer team plays. The stadium is LEED silver certified and was awarded for its recycling efforts, and the team has several practices in place to help reduce waste and give back to the community. The organization founded their Stand Together program to team up with their fans to support the Portland community, and have partnered with organizations like Relan to repurpose their old stadium banners into unique fan engagement products like tote bags and document cases.

Golub stated: “[When] you listen to our fans, there are a lot of things that are important to them, but the fact that we are an organization that cares about the environment, cares about the community, is very important to them and definitely resonates in the research that comes back.” The Timbers’ strong connection with their community is reflected in their fan attendance: The team has sold out every home game since their inaugural season.

The Timbers are not the only team with a strong focus on fusing together their community and environmental initiatives. In fact, it appears to be a common theme across most sports leagues. When describing their move to Petco Park in 2004, Mark Guglielmo, vice president of ballpark operations and the general manager of Petco Park for the San Diego Padres, explained that the team wanted to be good neighbors and seek opportunities to do the right thing in the community and for the environment.

Since their move to Petco Park, the Padres have implemented a number of sustainable practices throughout their organization, from the management offices to the stadium. They also recently completed a $15 million renovation of their 20-year-old spring training facility, earning a LEED gold certification. Petco Park also recycles used cooking oil through a partnership with Buster Biofuels, a local San Diego company, where the oil is converted into biodiesel fuel to help fuel some of the county’s high school busses, as well as the cleaning and groundskeeping equipment used at Petco Park. The Padres also donate their old turf to local ballparks and golf courses.

“We have a full cycle [on our] whole [operation], which is really what it's all about,” explained Guglielmo.

For the Arizona Diamondbacks, implementing sustainable practices proved to be a unique challenge at Chase Field, an air-conditioned stadium with a retractable roof in the middle of the desert. But spend a few minutes with Graham Rossini, vice president of special projects and fan experience for the Diamondbacks, and you’ll quickly realize that sustainability is a key focus area for the team, a mindset embedded from the top down in the organization.

“[Our executive leadership] believe[s] in the vision; they believe in the social responsibility that we have in our marketplace, and to our fan base, to say [that] we can be a very powerful example for others to change behaviors,” Rossini said. He continued, “It’s not … a dollars-and-cents decision on why we improve the air handlers or change out the lighting on the concourse.”

In addition to designing a LEED-certified spring training complex, the Diamondbacks also built the APS Solar Pavilion, a 17,000-square-foot structure outside of Chase Field that generates 75 kilowatts of solar power for the stadium. The team is also engaged with the community, partnering with Arizona State University students on green business initiatives, and also supporting the Reimagine Phoenix program, a citywide initiative with a goal of reducing landfill waste by 40 percent by the year 2020.

What is true across many of these organizations is that they are dedicated to the communities in which they reside, and they see a real opportunity to use their position as sports organizations to help spark conversation and promote sustainable practices. Rossini explained: “[We have] over 2 million fans in our ballpark … tens of millions more watching games on TV, and the educational and communication platform that we have because of that [allows us] to say, ‘Look at what we're doing in a facility as complex and difficult to operate as Chase Field.’ If we're doing it here, in your smaller office building or commercial center or even your home or day-to-day life … these changes should be a lot easier to implement.”

There is a substantial amount of time and resources dedicated to green initiatives across sports organizations today, and teams are starting to realize the positive impact on those investments. Jackie Venture, operations coordinator for the Miami Heat, stated in the NRDC’s Game Changer Report that “in one year, thanks to our greening and responsible energy consumption measures, we saved $1.6 million.” She continued, “We also attracted about $1 million in new corporate sponsors ... who aligned with our greening efforts.”

However, the idea of “doing the right thing” is also important to teams like the Timbers, Padres and Diamondbacks. Gloub stated, “[The Timbers] generally have a good sense of what particular programs under our sustainable umbrella involve and yield, but some of the things we do is because it's just the right thing to do.”

Sports leagues are in a unique and influential position to promote sustainable practices to the masses, to spark conversations about the importance of sustainability in our day-to-day lives, and to help initiate change. Though there is always more work to be done, teams like the Timbers, Padres and Diamondbacks have taken critical steps in changing the way we talk about and incorporate sustainable business practices into our own lives. More importantly, the message the teams are sending is this: Small steps add up, and little changes make a big difference.

“Don't try to boil the ocean,” Guglielmo explained. “Take small steps. Take small steps every day, and over time you will see how much you have accomplished."

Image credits: 1) Unsplash 2) Flickr/bryce_edwards 3) Flickr/squeaks2569 4) Flickr/104Muttons

Maggie Nelson has a passion for small businesses and solopreneurs. With a background in marketing, management, and client relations, she now helps businesses find their voice and share their stories in this big, wide digital universe.  

Interviews courtesy of Relan and Transitioning to Green:

Relan is a mother-daughter run, WBENC certified woman-owned small business that offers ways to repurpose and remarket billboards, banners, and other fabric marketing materials to engage customers, fans, and employees. All of Relan's products are manufactured in the USA. 

Transitioning to Green is a global sustainability management consulting firm providing leading-edge client solutions to a wide variety of challenges facing businesses and organizations from all sectors. TTG helps leaders think in new and creative ways – to be more innovative, collaborative, and effective.

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