Creating a Behavioral Change Through Sports: Green Sports Alliance Summit 2014

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The Green Sports Alliance Summit, started by Dr. Allen Hershkowitz- senior scientist at the National Resource and Defense Council (NRDC), has grown since its inception in 2011 to include more than 114 teams from seven different sports leagues.  Members of the alliance include organizations with Populous-designed facilities including Arrowhead Stadium, Kauffman Stadium and BBVA Compass Stadium.  The organization’s motto: A Better Way to Play.

I had the opportunity to attend this year’s Summit and was thrilled to find so many like-minded individuals in the sports industry from whom I could learn about the importance of sustainability in sports. Through an expo hall, panel and keynote presentations and tours of facilities – including AT&T Park, Earthquakes Stadium and Levi’s Stadium – the experience provided incredible insight on where the green sports industry is headed.

Inside the summit expo, there was a nice mix of owners and consultants who are all working to bring sustainability to the forefront of clubs’ minds.  There are vendors that show their compostable plates, a company that has re-invented the retrofit LED light bulb, green roof vendors, composting companies and the like.  A facilities manager for a stadium or arena can see the latest trends in the market in one place – an incredibly valuable experience as teams continue to green their facilities.

The content ranged from individual presentations to compelling panel discussions. James Curleigh “JC,” President of the Levi’s Brand, was the opening keynote speaker for the summit.  JC told a compelling story of how a company who knows jeans has come to epitomize leadership in sustainability.  Levi’s success is accomplished by carefully examining every step in their manufacturing process and finding ways to trim the fat. For example, they have turned used plastic water bottles into a fabric that sheds moisture and stains.  They have an impressive system – lean and mean – that increases profit for the company with other benefits like creating zero waste all while producing a superior product.  Much can be learned from Levi’s approach to innovation and sustainability and applied to the processes that drive construction and operations of sports facilities.

Back at the Santa Clara Convention Center, the breakout presentations covered the ongoing efforts within the industry towards energy reduction, cost savings and increased profits.  Edgar Farrara, Director of Sustainability for Circuit of the Americas (COTA) in Austin, Texas, discussed an important component of sustainable operations – making the most of your facility on non-game days. COTA will be host of numerous races, including the first Formula 1 Grand Prix race in the United States, along with the Summer X-Games, more than twenty concerts and various festivals annually. Through STEM enrichment activities like solar car building and racing, the facility has been able to engage the community and educate them on sustainable practices.   They even make their own honey from the apiary on site and aptly call it Sticky Tires Honey.

Stories like these are a reminder that there are new opportunities for sports venues and their design.  Allen Hershkowitz notes, “Only 13% of Americans follow science, but 63% follow sports.”  Of that 63%, 81% of fans expect their sports experience to be green.  Shockingly, only 62% of the ‘general population’ expects their sports to be green. What does that mean? Sports fans are more likely to expect a green experience than the average person – and team owners, athletic directors and leagues have an opportunity to cater to that. Based on this data, many owners across the country have concluded that they are marketing themselves to a growing portion of the population that expects green initiatives to be visible in the teams they support and the venues where they attend games. Green design has become a consideration in many facilities and team owners and operators have more incentive than ever before to create buildings that are environmental stewards in their communities.

And the next generation fan is more invested than ever.  For Millennials, sustainability is a way of life.  The savvy consumer makes choices every day that reinforce their choice to live sustainably from the local markets they shop to the electric car they drive.  Sport owners know their consumer is smarter than average.  The next generation fan notices that the serving plate is compostable and that the food being served is local fare.  Through their teams’ commitment to sustainability, they create a tidal shift that affects fans and the population’s behaviors far beyond the walls of a stadium.

To read more about the Summit, visit http://summit.greensportsalliance.org/.

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