Dr. Allen Hershkowitz had an idea. The environmental scientist – strapped with decades of experience under his belt – wanted to bring his expertise to the NBA in an effort to introduce sustainability on a global scale. Hershkowitz teamed up with NBA social responsibility and player programs president Kathy Behrens and former NBA Commissioner David Stern to turn that idea into reality and NBA Green was born.
“Frankly, I wanted to be a writer,” Hershkowitz said when reflecting on his early career. “I started college as an aspiring poet; I wound up with a Ph.D focused on New York City’s energy system. The best careers are unplanned.”
Twenty years after he received his doctorate, Hershkowitz’s research led him to the sports world. He began in Major League Baseball, launching an initiative on sustainable ballpark operations. His first mission was to help the Boston Red Sox install 28 solar panels in Fenway Park. Through sports, he realized that his message could reach an audience larger than the science community.
“Less than 20% [of adults in the United States] follow science, and over 80% follow sports. So, if you want to educate people and hopefully change behavior, you need to meet people where they’re at,” Hershkowitz told NBA.com. “Look, every day in every newspaper there’s a sports section. There’s not a science section every day, there’s a sports section.”
But it was Stern who reached out to Hershkowitz after seeing the work he had done in the sports realm. Stern’s commitment for environmentalism was familial as his wife, Diane, was serving on the Board of EarthJustice at the time. The duo knew what they wanted to do and how to get it done.
“David took me by the shoulders said, ‘Whatever you need you let me know.”
So, they got to work.
Providing environmental information catered to each NBA venue was step one. Then came recycling initiatives as a way for fans at each venue to visually see and participate in the process.
“If we set up compost bins and recycling bins in the concourses of the venues, the fans understood that we were committed to environmental responsibility,” Hershkowitz said.
Thanks to Allen’s guidance and the leadership of Commissioner Adam Silver, NBA Green has continued to grow. Since its inception, the league has made major strides in its efforts towards sustainability.
Today, 10 NBA arenas have gained certification in the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) system. The Portland Trail Blazers cite this certification as “a globally recognized symbol of sustainability achievement.”
“When this program started it was good to have, it was the right thing to do. Now, it’s a must have. Now it is an essential business management obligation,” Hershkowitz said. “It affects the operations of all of us.”
Throughout the season, teams have been been part of the process. Members of the Trail Blazers planted over 3,000 trees in 2022-23 through Threes for Trees, while members of the Miami Heat participated in their annual Beach Sweep at North Miami Beach. The Milwaukee Bucks, Phoenix Suns and Sacramento Kings will also participate in various Earth Day activations as well.
Everyone can participate in prioritizing sustainability, according to Hershkowitz. Increasing the amount of plant-based options among dietary choices and using a refillable water bottle instead of single-use plastics are good ways to start. The NBA’s Carbon Footprint Quiz helps fans learn how to minimize our carbon footprint based on particular lifestyle.
“There is no big answer to global climate disruption,” Hershkowitz said. “Nothing is too small to matter.”
NBA Green Vision Statement: The NBA is committed to promoting environmental sustainability in the communities where we live, learn and play. Through NBA Green and the power of basketball, the NBA will continue to inspire our fans and partners to minimize environmental impacts and help activate broader industry and societal progress through our actions, transparency, education, and engagement.