Allen Hershkowitz, PhD
Green Sports Alliance
This month, March 2016, we celebrate the fifth anniversary of the Green Sports Alliance. What started as an idea raised during a casual conversation in 2009 between a venue operator and an environmental scientist has turned into the most influential environmental organization in the world of sports. Starting with six teams from five professional leagues, the Green Sports Alliance now has more than 350 members from 20 leagues in fourteen countries, and includes scores of collegiate and corporate members as well. Alliance affiliates are growing in Australia and Europe, and Alliance staff and members are influencing sports venue design and operations, sports businesses, fan engagement, and sports media throughout the world.
In only five years of existence the Green Sports Alliance has emerged as an international influence. Our most recent annual convention, the Green Sports Alliance Summit, the largest and most influential environmental conference in all of sports, attracted 800 sports industry stakeholders from 10 countries. At the 2015 climate negotiations in Paris, known as the COP21, where representatives from 196 countries came together to advance a climate agreement, the Green Sports Alliance convened numerous panel discussions on the issue of how sports is helping to reduce the threats from climate change with international sports industry representatives. Confirming the Green Sports Alliance’s international reach, we collaborated at the Paris COP21 with sports leagues, federations, media and business representatives and GSA partners from around the world, including the UNEP, Climate Action, the French Ministry of Sports, UEFA, Formula E, the French Tennis Federation, European Professional Club Rugby, the Australian Sports Environment Alliance, Protect Our Winters, the Golf Environmental Organization, the British Association of Sustainability in Sport, HOK, Allcot, and many others.
Indeed, within five short years the Green Sports Alliance has emerged as the advisor to more sports leagues, teams, venues, events and sports-related businesses about environmentally intelligent operations than any other organization. And in collaboration with our members and partner organizations, the Alliance has helped to bring environmental information to tens of millions of fans as well.
The Green Sports Alliance did not create the sports greening movement. In fact, the creation of the Alliance was itself an outgrowth of momentum towards environmentally intelligent operations embraced by professional sports starting in 2004, when the Philadelphia Eagles formed an ecological partnership with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), where I served as a Senior Scientist. A year later, in 2005, Major League Baseball became the first professional sports league to launch and environmental program when Commissioner Emeritus Allan H. “Bud” Selig teamed up with NRDC to create the “Commissioner’s Initiative on Sustainable Ballpark Operations.” In 2007 the NBA teamed up with NRDC to create “NBA Green” and in 2008 the NHL and NRDC created “NHL Green.” That same year NRDC teamed up with the United States Tennis Association and Major League Soccer (“Greener Goals”) to create environmental programs at those sports organizations. Shortly afterward, the NFL established its in-house “Green Committee” and NASCAR launched “NASCAR Green.” All of these environmental programs continue to exist and work closely with the Green Sports Alliance.
With that early momentum as context, conversations began in 2009 about creating an organization that might pull together and mobilize the sports industry’s disparate efforts into a powerful non-political sports-based environmental movement. After more than a year of preparatory work, the Green Sports Alliance was officially launched at a press conference in Portland, Oregon on March 21st 2011. Since its founding the Alliance has been focused on sharing accurate, up-to-date, non-partisan environmental information with our members. We do so in part by sharing lessons from leading venues throughout the nation that are adopting ecologically preferable practices. Sharing information about energy efficiency, on-site renewable energy, recycling, food donations, composting, water conservation, and LEED certification is an Alliance priority. So too is our interest in leveraging the influential visibility of sports to educate businesses throughout the multi-hundred billion dollar sports supply chain, and millions of sports fans, about the reality of climate change and other ecological risks. In short, the mission of the Alliance is focused on leveraging the cultural and market influence of sports to promote healthy, sustainable communities wherever we live and play.
Professional and collegiate sports include some of the world’s most iconic, inspirational and influential organizations. As a result of our work mobilizing environmentalists from within and outside of the sports industry, the culture of sports is changing, using its influence to advance ecological stewardship. And when the culture of the uniquely visible, $1.3 trillion sports industry changes, the culture of our society at-large changes along with it.
Greening is the process of reviewing operations and procurement policies with an eye toward reducing environmental impacts. It is an ongoing enhancement process that all businesses need to engage in to advance sustainability. For the past five years the Green Sports Alliance has cultivated an innovative, sports-based approach to greening large venues, the supply chain, and encouraging environmentally intelligent behavior with fans. Indeed, new innovative approaches to greening our economy are needed because so much remains to be done and the stakes of getting it wrong are very serious. The ecological issues we face are urgent and enormous. We have a narrowing window of opportunity in which to limit the ecological damage we are causing, to reduce global warming impacts, to save our oceans and the fisheries they support, and to protect biodiversity and our last remaining wild spaces. Scientists tell us that if we continue on our current trajectory there is a high probability that global temperatures will eventually rise by at least six degrees Celsius, which would be the end of human life on planet Earth.
No doubt, much hard work remains to be done. However, there is also no doubt that the world’s professional and collegiate leagues, conferences, federations, teams and venues are moving towards more sustainable operations. As of this writing, scores of professional and collegiate stadiums and arenas
have achieved LEED green building design certification, have installed onsite solar arrays, have energy efficiency programs, or have shifted to renewable energy for at least some of their operations. Millions of pounds of carbon emissions have been avoided, and millions of pounds of paper products have been shifted toward recycled content or eliminated altogether. Recycling, composting, and food donation programs have been developed throughout professional and collegiate sports. The large sports concessionaires that collectively feed tens of millions of people each year have all developed environmentally preferable menus for at least some of their offerings.
Yes, much work remains to be done. But it is heartening to note that meaningful changes are occurring throughout sports and that tens of millions of fans are being educated about environmental stewardship by teams and leagues around the world. More than any organization in the world, the Green Sports Alliance is helping to make that good work a reality. Along the way, we have helped the sports industry collectively save millions of dollars by shifting to more efficient, healthy and ecologically intelligent operations. In fact, the sports greening movement is without doubt among the most diverse, visible and fastest growing initiatives in the environmental movement. Ecologically enhancing the way sports venues are operated, greening the supply chain of sports, and using sports media platforms to promote environmental messages holds the potential to influence the behavior of billions of people, and a global supply chain that touches every industry.
With your support, the Green Sports Alliance will continue its good work for many years to come.