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The Greening of Sports to Save the Planet?

by Marc Mondor, AIA, LEED Faculty

The Green Sports Alliance meshes the power of sports and competition as a unifying force with the need to show leadership towards a sustainable economy that works toward zero carbon emissions.  While I enjoy spectator sports and appreciate what sports signify to popular culture, I am often struck by the waste and frivolity that accompanies the zeal.  evolveEA recently performed a Waste Audit at Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field as part of our ongoing work with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the sheer volume of waste generated during a typical home football game was truly striking.  For sports, resource use is simply the by-product of a job well done, even an indicator of profitability.

Sports is a $1.3 trillion global industry, with over $450 billion of this spent in the US. And small wonder – sports figures and celebrities have the greatest influence on us, aside from family. Sporting events occur constantly and can reach every one of us.  Sports engage us on a visceral level and have the power to forge lifelong allegiances, create rivalries, and symbolize a city or even a country.  Think of Brazil with soccer, Canada with hockey, Norway with skiing, Kenya with running, and so forth.

IMG_3933Attending the Green Sports Alliance Summit in Chicago recently, I was able to participate in the launch of the Global Leadership Council.  This new initiative will promote sustainable business practices, help the green sport network better penetrate the industry and help identify shortcomings in the process, The GSA started in 2007 when its now-president, Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, challenged the owners of Major League Baseball to set and meet sustainability goals. He upped the ante at this year’s Summit, relying upon his 30 year career as an NRDC scientist, declaring, “The earth’s projected temperature rise of 6 degrees in the next centuries will end human life.” After a stunned silence, he stated the problem and proposed a lofty challenge: “The sustainable economy doesn’t exist. We need to create it.”

The GSA has grown into the most influential sports greening organization in the world, which now boasts over 300 professional sports teams and leagues around the world as members. A step taken this year is the acceptance of businesses and vendors as GSA Partners. Businesses, who will naturally clamor for the work and association with these national and global brands, form a symbiotic relationship with the teams and venues, offering different strengths. The significance of this relationship is not lost on the GSA, with the pronouncement that “engagement of the business sector through sports can save the planet.”

The compelling aspect to the GSA’s approach is the coupling of leagues, teams and venues as members. From our experience, working with organizations (teams) and their cultures (management and fans) in addition to working on their venues (stadiums), our People-Process-Place approach, creates more customized, durable and effective efforts. Leagues and teams have an opportunity to lead, which given the naturally competitive nature of teams and athletes, is creating an entirely new competitive arena – environmental effectiveness related to energy saved, waste diverted, water saved, community events, and so forth.

Perhaps the next threshold of success in this long road will occur when Las Vegas has a line on the Energy Utilization Index and waste diversion rates of the nation’s footballs stadiums and basketball arenas. Now that’s something I would bet on.