Climate One Radio Episode: The Greening of Professional Sports

Climate One 

To listen click here.

Host: Greg Dalton

Guests:
Justin Zeulner, Executive Director of the Green Sports Alliance
Julia Landauer, Championship NASCAR Driver
Dusty Baker, Manager, Washington Nationals
Jennifer Regan, Chief Sustainability Manager, We Bring It On
Chris Granger, former president, Sacramento Kings
Vivek Ranadive, owner, Sacramento Kings

Interviews were recorded at the Green Sports Alliance Summit in Sacramento in June, 2017.

Pro sports is big business. But what are all those overlit stadiums, thirsty soccer fields, roaring engines and acres of hot dog wrappers doing to our planet?

Like other big businesses, major league sports is starting to catch on to the benefits of going green – on the field and in the arena. Greg Dalton visited the Green Sports Alliance Summit to speak with team owners, athletes and sustainability experts who are working to reduce carbon impact of major league sports. And to share that win with their fans.
“While not everyone is interested in science, many people are interested in sports,” says Chris Granger, former head of the Sacramento Kings. “So if we can use our platform to do things that create real change, even on a micro level that’s something we’re going to do.”

Fittingly, the gathering was held at the Golden 1 Center, home of the Sacramento Kings basketball team and the first indoor arena to be certified LEED platinum – the highest level of recognition for environmentally conscious buildings.

Granger spearheaded the building of the arena during his tenure as the Kings’ president, and he was proud to show it off to Dalton. Why go green? Because, he says, the fans asked for it.

“We did about 100 different focus groups, and the number one thing that people wanted –outside of a championship banner — was for Golden 1 Center to be a model of sustainability,” Granger reports. “So this is something that really matters to our community.”

The team’s environmental mission is incorporated into every aspect of the solar-powered stadium – literally from the ground up. It was built on the site of a demolished mall, which was recycled for materials used in the new building’s construction. Nearly all of the food sold is locally sourced; waste is composed or recycled. The basketball court itself is made in part with recycled athletic shoes donated by players and fans.

“You don’t just do solar and say we’re done,” says Justin Zeulner of the Green Sports Alliance. “So you try to figure how am I gonna compost, how am I gonna recycle. But more importantly, how are we gonna engage the fans?”

Jennifer Regan, sustainability director at the consulting firm We Bring It On, believes that for fans, environmental wins are a natural extension of team spirit.

“Sports is the opportunity to tell the story of high-performance, that magical moment,” Regan says. “And that magical moment can be us coming together as people, as fans to celebrate a team, that win — or us winning climate change.

“And so it’s not a far leap to think about us celebrating our wins as a community, at our community gathering place.”

What about a sport that lives and dies by its rabid consumption of fossil fuels – the louder and dirtier, the better? Greg asked two-time NASCAR championship driver Juliana Landauer how the auto racing world can reconcile its blackened, oval-shaped footprint with the goals of carbon reduction.

“I don’t think anyone is trying to say that that the problem doesn’t exist,” Landauer admits. “But what steps can we take to try to offset that? How can we be better?” Although she doesn’t see an all-electric NASCAR in the near future, Landauer hopes that changes in fuel blends and even in the makeup of the cars themselves can be introduced to the track.

Landauer got the environmental bug while earning a science degree at Stanford. An avid recycler and advocate for STEM education, she takes her position as a role model very seriously.

“More than three quarters of NASCAR fans are aware that climate change is an issue,” she says. “NASCAR has, I think, like 80 million fans. And so if you’re able to articulate the importance of doing your own part to offset that, that’s a huge impact.”

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