At their best, sports unite people. In cities around the world, you’ll find people of all walks of life coming together in support of a favorite team. For those few hours during a big game, it doesn’t matter how much money you make or which part of the city you call home. You, and everyone around you, are bonded behind a common cause.
Increasingly, the world’s largest sports franchises are leveraging this powerful influence to make an impact off the field. Leagues, teams and sporting companies are engaging with their communities to help make them healthier, more equitable and more sustainable places to live and play. From healthier food choices and onsite renewable energy at sporting venues to community outreach and engagement, these efforts have proven a hit with fans.
Founded by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen’s philanthropy organization Vulcan, Inc., the Green Sports Alliance catalyzes many of these efforts around sports and sustainability. Its membership includes hundreds of industry stakeholders from around the world, who share best practices around improving operational efficiency and engaging fans.
A movement that began with vegan hot dogs and stadium recycling stations has become decidedly more serious in recent years, as sports industry players seek to align their work with global efforts like the Paris climate agreement and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Case in point: In December 2018, sports industry leaders came together with the United Nations to launch the Sports for Climate Action Framework at the U.N. Climate Change Conference (COP24) in Katowice, Poland. The Framework has a dual focus: Promote a set of principles the sports industry can use to reduce its climate impact, and leverage sports a "unifying tool to drive climate awareness" among the public.
Founding signatories include the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the French Tennis Federation, the World Surf League and the Formula E racing league, among other international sports organizations.
"With its global reach, universal appeal and the power to inspire and influence millions of people around the globe, sport is uniquely placed to drive global climate action and encourage crowds to join in," Prince Albert II of Monaco, chair of the IOC Sustainability and Legacy Commission, said in a statement. "As countries ... prepare to turn their climate commitments into reality, we stand ready to leverage the power of sport to support their efforts.”
In April, the New York Yankees baseball franchise became the first North American sports organization to sign on to the Framework, pledging to put forth climate policies that align with the Paris agreement.
Building on the Yankees' announcement, the Green Sports Alliance is calling on all of its members to follow suit. “The Alliance recognizes the vital need for the sports industry to address climate change and play a significant role in combatting it,” Roger McClendon, executive director of the Green Sports Alliance, said in a statement. “For more than 15 years, Alliance members have been applying the type of climate action now embedded in the Sports for Climate Action Framework."
Indeed, sports industry players from around the world are already setting bold climate targets and putting them into action. For example, on Earth Day, global sports and entertainment company AEG became one of the first companies to sign on to the Science-Based Targets Initiative's new, more stringent emissions standards. John Marler, vice president of energy and environment for AEG, discussed the move during a webinar with 3BL Media and called on other industry players to act on climate change.
“We consider it basic corporate responsibility,” Marler told TriplePundit. “If this is what the science community is calling for, we have to hit that level and we have to do our part.”
All in all, with its broad-sweeping popularity and monumental clout with fans, the sports and entertainment sector is well positioned to be a public face for global agendas like the Paris agreement and the SDGs. Will they rise to the occasion? That remains to be seen, but leading industry players are already raising the bar. This year, in partnership with AEG, we'll dive into some examples and discuss how the industry can push the SDG agenda forward. You can follow along here.
Mary Mazzoni, Senior Editor, has written for TriplePundit since 2013. She is also Managing Editor of CR Magazine and the Editor of 3p’s Sponsored Series. Mazzoni’s recent work can be found in Conscious Company, AlterNet and VICE’s Motherboard. She is based in Philadelphia.