With the first tee times dating back to the early 1400s, the Old Course in St. Andrews, Scotland is far and wide known as the birthplace of golf. It’s poetic, then, that as golf’s home country welcomed world leaders to Glasgow’s COP26 to tackle the generation-defining challenge of climate change, the first-ever PGA tour champions event committed to zero-waste teed off some 4,000 miles away in South Florida.
The TimberTech Championship’s pledge to zero-waste is signaling a new era in golf — one that cares as much about going green as it does hitting the green.
The AZEK Company, who owns the decking company TimberTech and sponsored the Boca Raton-based PGA Champions Tour event for a second straight year, set up a wide range of eco-friendly initiatives to qualify as a zero-waste tournament (the event’s certification is pending). For one, they sourced plant-based, compostable cutlery throughout the event to eliminate single-waste plastics. Compost bins throughout the course were well-marked and valiantly guarded by green shirt-wearing volunteers who helped attendees understand how to properly dispose of their waste. If trash snuck into the wrong bin, volunteers would perform the unglamorous (read: heroic) task of fishing through and resorting through the trash to keep the zero-waste promise alive.
AZEK’s commitment to creating a zero-waste event was reinforced by the golf club which hosted the tournament. Broken Sound Club (pictured above) was just the second golf club in the United States and 14th in the world to be certified by the Golf Environment Organization (GEO), an honor reserved for the most sustainable courses. Its on-site compost digester will transform the waste collected during the tournament into soil, which can be used to plant and maintain wildflowers. The wildflowers not only beautifully dot the banks of the lakes woven into the club’s grounds, but they also nourish bees hailing from the 22 beehives that live on campus.
The tournament is just a microcosm of the investment AZEK has made into sustainability. They’ve named their flagship sustainability initiative “Full-Circle,” a nod to the circular decking economy it’s hoping to achieve through its intensive recycling program.
“Our purpose is to revolutionize outdoor living to create a more sustainable future,” Amanda Cimaglia, VP of ESG at AZEK said. “We’ll do that through a thoughtful, consistent approach — both inside and outside the walls of our organization, and the TimberTech Championship is just one example of that.”
AZEK leverages partnerships across the country to collect scraps of materials including lumber, PVC pipes and plastics. These scraps are sent off to one of its two — soon to be three — recycling centers where the materials are broken down and repurposed into beautiful, long-lasting decking boards.
AZEK hopes its opening of a manufacturing facility in Boise, Idaho, will inch it closer to achieving its goal of recycling one billion pounds of recycling goods annually by 2026. It’s possible the once-ambitious goal is achieved before the self-imposed deadline — in 2020 alone, AZEK recycled 400 million pounds of materials.
A major factor in reaching that lofty goal is embracing the different types of recycling materials that end up at their facility. Though milk cartons may be the crown jewel of recycling these days, AZEK CEO Jesse Singh said being selective over which materials to convert into decking “defeats the purpose.” He mentioned AZEK is after hard-to-recycle materials — items that would otherwise clog a landfill for years on end.
The company is anchored by its core tenet: “Always Do The Right Thing.” In an era when clients are increasingly conscious of investments, a business that inextricably links environment, social and governance to its operations represents wins for all stakeholders: customers, investors, AZEK and most importantly, the environment. Singh knows this well.
“We’re taking hundreds of millions of pounds of scrap, waste, and landfill-bound trash and processing it for the core of our product,” he said. “So, the more we use, the more we’re doing for the environment and the better our margins are. The positive impact we have on the planet is real; it’s tangible.”
Through the “Bags to Beauty” initiative, AZEK enabled attendees at the TimberTech Championship golf tournament to feel the tangible impact of their recyclables. Fans were encouraged to bring plastic grocery and shopping bags to the tournament - bags which would later be sent to one of AZEK’s recycling materials and transformed into decking materials. Attendees were also able to see firsthand the product that these recycled goods can create, as two TimberTech decks were staged as viewing platforms for fans cheering on golfers at the tee box of Hole 10 and the green of Hole 16.
AZEK, in partnership with the timber company Weyerhaeuser, also pledged to plant 322 trees in the host state of Florida - one for every fan who added their name to a wall showcasing the A-Z-E-K letters.
The quest for zero-waste also takes quite a bit of creativity. Even the drab, grey artificial turf that lined the floors of the Media Center tent will be sent to a local art nonprofit for upcycling.
Cimaglia said she hopes the zero-waste efforts will inspire other PGA events to become more sustainable: Though she cautioned that it doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing approach.
“We want this tournament to be a model for other tournaments,” Cimaglia said. “Others may choose to go zero-waste, like we have, but there’s any number of other initiatives that companies can do and build on year after year.”
AZEK will have a chance to continue championing sustainability on the golf course as TimberTech returns as the title sponsor to the South Florida tournament through 2023.
Disclosure: TimberTech covered the costs of the author’s recent trip to the tournament’s venue in South Florida.
Image credit: Broken Sound Club via Facebook
Based in Atlanta, GA, Grant is a nonprofit professional and freelance writer passionate about affordable housing and finding sustainable approaches to international development. A proud graduate of the University of Maryland, Grant spent four months post-grad living in Armenia where he worked for Habitat for Humanity and the World Food Programme. He enjoys playing trivia with friends but is still seeking his first victory - he ceaselessly blames his friends lack of preparation.