A Gathering of Sustainable Minds- The Green Sports Alliance Summit and Creating a Sustainable Future for Sports Business

October 1, 2012

In a previous post, I spoke to the emerging integration of sustainable design strategies in the design process.   We saw how this integration has significant benefits for many aspects of a project, but particularly to the bottom line- impacting construction costs as well as post-construction operational budgets.

At the 2nd annual Green Sports Alliance Summit, held September 5-7 in Seattle, Washington, my previous understanding of sustainable sports business as an emerging paradigm was shattered.  This paradigm has fully arrived, evidenced by the hundreds of individuals in attendance representing every professional sports league and more than fifty professional and collegiate sports teams.  Populous’ Greg Sherlock, who introduced keynote speaker Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, and I met individuals from teams as varied as Arsenal Football Club in London, England, to Major League Soccer’s Portland Timbers Football Club, but perhaps most importantly, we had the immense pleasure of listening to a multitude of individuals speak to their efforts in the sustainable sports business movement.  This included:

  • Current NHL player Andrew Ference, who discussed his efforts to implement socially and ecologically conscious practices into the operation of his team’s clubhouse.
  • Syd Mandelbaum, CEO & founder of Rock & Wrap It Up!, who has dedicated his life to providing food for the hungry (a result of learning the perils of hunger his parents had to endure as survivors of the Holocaust) by using his connections in both the music and sports industries so the prepared “leftovers” from major entertainment or sporting events are given to local homeless shelters and public kitchens.
  • Jason McLennan, CEO of the International Living Future Institute and a practicing architect who is a leader in the implementation of a carbon-neutral, green building certification process.
  • The afore-mentioned Dr. Hershkowitz, a senior scientist with the National Resources Defense Council, who has worked closely with American professional sports leagues to further the “greening” of sports facilities. Hershkowitz led the effort of the NRDC to produce a report entitled “Game Changer: How the Sports Industry is Saving the Environment”, in which detailed case studies are presented on the positive environmental impact of thirty-five sporting facilities or events (sixteen of which are Populous projects!).

From these and the many other speakers that presented their ideas during the three day summit, certain trends began to emerge:

  • First, sustainable sports business is not a trend.  As we said earlier, it is here and it is now.  It’s clear that senior facility operators are leading this charge, communicating the return on investment to owners. Unfortunately, resistance still remains from some architects based on concerns about up-front costs. Accordingly, life-cycle analysis provides a valuable tool for illustrating the return on investment and is the typical way architects overcome such concerns.
  • Next, and perhaps the most evident, was the acceptance of the technology related to sustainability.  From Populous projects Busch Stadium and Progressive Field installing roof-top solar panels for on-site energy generation to Pocono National Raceway installing a large-scale PV array, technology is proving the short- and long-term financial benefits of sustainable design.
  • Finally, the most important trend seems to be the involvement of fans in the message of sustainability.  Falling in line with the mission of Populous Activate, many teams are actively pursuing opportunities to educate and inspire action amongst their many and diversified customers, whether during game-day events, through graphic imagery or as part of sponsored areas within their venue or stadium.

Luckily, at Populous we’re not playing catch-up with the rest of the industry.  We have 14 LEED certified projects of all levels which amount to over $2.728 billion in project costs, and we have another 12 projects registered under the LEED system for certification, which will add an additional $687 million to that figure.  Beyond LEED, Populous has undertaken the monumental task of integrating sustainability into the design process as a core value – we are asking the right questions, we are applying the right strategies, and therefore we can say with full confidence that sustainable design has indeed become good business.  So the question is- where can we go from here?


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