By Mary Draves, Dow
What if we leveraged the power of sport to help build more sustainable communities?
It’s widely recognized how sports benefit individual players – building discipline, confidence, fitness and leadership skills. What’s less recognized is the positive influence that sporting events can have on a community, especially when it comes to promoting a more sustainable future. From encouraging smarter waste management to building inclusion, sporting events have the reach to influence hundreds of thousands of people and be an important enabler of sustainable development.
That is why corporations like Dow are increasingly seeing the potential of sponsorships and corporate partnerships for their social as well as commercial value. Through our partnerships with organizations such as the International Olympic Committee and LPGA, we’ve seen how collaboration can catalyze efforts and advance environmental, health, education and social inclusion objectives.
Dow and the LPGA: Hitting the Links Between Golf, Inclusion and Sustainability
Take our commitment as the title sponsor of the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational (Dow GLBI), the only team event for the LPGA. From the start, we saw an opportunity to extend our sponsorship far beyond the golf course and advance sustainability and inclusion in the Great Lakes Bay Region in Michigan. Our 2025 Sustainability Goals seek to develop sustainable frameworks that integrate science and technology, cross-sector collaboration and value chain innovation and lead to increased adoption of solutions that promote a lower-carbon, circular economy and build stronger, more resilient communities. With that in mind, we worked with more than 250 local partners, involved thousands of area youth in leadership and STEM activities, recycled or reused 68 percent of the waste generated from the tournament and benefited 59 community organizations in the event’s first year.
Our efforts resulted in two firsts: The 2019 Dow GLBI became the first GEO Certified® golf tournament on the LPGA tour and the first women’s event worldwide to achieve GEO certification, an internationally recognized ecolabel developed specifically for the golf industry. Every applicant for the GEO Certified® ecolabel is visited by an accredited, third-party verifier and must demonstrate a positive environment, and economic and social impacts across six categories.
Below are a few takeaways and observations from our experience:
Start with a vision and long-term stretch goals: Our Dow team worked with tournament organizers to draft a five-year sustainability plan. Our first year focused on the tournament’s footprint. We established a carbon, waste and water baseline and implemented best practices to achieve waste, water and energy savings, while also engaging businesses, vendors and community organizations. In the next couple of years, we’ll focus on the tournament’s handprint by implementing innovations in carbon offsetting, educational partnerships and ambassador support. Finally, in the fourth and fifth years of the tournament, we hope to share blueprints that can be leveraged by other sporting event organizers in areas such as the circular economy, clean power, net-positive water impact and golf accessibility.
Invite your collaborators to help problem-solve: We found the more inclusive we were, the more we generated creative ideas that moved us forward together. A few examples:
- Business and community leaders: During the tournament, we invited community and business leaders to a sustainability breakfast. The goal was to brainstorm one idea that could be implemented to advance sustainability in the community. After discussing a variety of needs, the winning idea was a regional recycling initiative for businesses that leverages learnings from a local community college and is being managed by a regional business alliance. Dow is contributing minimal seed money to implement the project.
- Suppliers: When sharing our sustainable procurement code with vendors, we also invited them to share their best practices and ideas. This resulted in a vendor donating hybrid power generators to power scoreboards, which saved fuel and emissions.
- Academia: We engaged area business students at a local university to pitch project ideas for the tournament as part of their sustainable business management class. Some projects were implemented and resulted in the tournament earning innovation credits during the GEO certification process.
Find fun and practical ways to educate spectators and reinforce sustainable practices: To encourage healthier habits, the tournament organizers teamed up with the local hospital to launch the Step for Healthy Living Challenge. Attendees were challenged to track their steps while at the tournament, resulting in more than 1,450 individuals tracking more than 28 million steps. To help minimize waste and encourage recycling, a Green Team of volunteers helped spectators properly sort trash and educated them about better recycling practices. To engage children in science, a free STEM in Sports Center was full of activities and games that children could play – all based on sports and how they relate to STEM. Local sports teams and recreational centers contributed to the exhibit, which is now traveling to area schools and museums.
At first, science and sports may seem like an unlikely combination. Yet, they’re both about improving performance and breaking new ground. Both find ways to improve what humans are capable of.
With that in mind, we believe that collaborative partnerships between business and sporting events can drive engagement and advance a series of impactful sustainability projects in communities. That way, long after the competition is done and spectators have gone home, the positive legacy of these events lives on. And that’s a win for everyone.
Read more about the Dow GLBI and its community impact in the tournament’s newly published sustainability report.
Chief Sustainability Officer and Vice President of Environment, Health and Safety