By Brian J. Barth
Gretchen Bleiler, a dreamy-eyed American snowboarder with an Olympic medal shining under her hoodie, stood clinking cocktail glasses with the likes of Dr. Neil Hawkins, the poker-faced vice president and chief sustainability officer of the Dow Chemical Company. Moments earlier, Lewis Pugh, a hunky Briton known for swimming among Arctic ice floes wearing nothing but Speedos, a swimming cap, and goggles, had just wrapped up a speech about his firsthand experience with melting polar ice. Pugh and Bleiler were part of the unlikely delegation that showed up at the COP21 climate talks last December, hoping to inspire sports teams, athletes, and fans around the world to seize the torch of sustainability.
Should these individuals’ efforts prove successful, the environmental movement would gain an enormous new constituency. But how, then, do we grapple with sports’ own impact on the environment?
There are few things that mobilize as many people with as much passion as sporting events. The Super Bowl is routinely the most watched television broadcast of the year, attracting well over 100 million viewers. (For comparison, recent presidential debates averaged between 10 and 20 million viewers.) And while corporations have always been eager to tap into a sports fan base, it’s only recently that some environmental groups have sought to do the same.