Thursday, 31 July 2014 04:32

3 Things I Learned at the 2014 Green Sports Summit

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1. For Professional Sports, Environmental Responsibility presents a big first step beyond Checkbook Philanthropy.

Those who know me have likely heard my rants about how the pro sports community get stuck in the world of "checkbook philanthropy." Donating money to causes programs is certainly admirable and I don't dismiss the benefit it provides the recipients. But what's been missing here is engagement. A pro sports franchise hosting a fundraiser and writing a check to charity doesn't create any long-term engagement with the cause partner or the fan base. It makes the team look good and it helps put some dollars in a charity's bank account. Fast forward 24 hours and everyone is back to business as usual, and the likelihood of fans getting more deeply involved with the cause is minimal at best.

However, when a pro team and their venue takes a strong position on environmental responsibility through actions in their facility, they're creating the opportunity to engage with their fans on an ongoing basis about a topic that impacts everyone. At the summit, Michael Lewellen, Portland Trail Blazers VP of Corporate Communications and Public Engagement (notice the title? ;-) put it best when he said, "Expressing an opinion is different than adopting a behavior." When teams host fundraisers for a local charity, they're expressing their opinion about support for that particular cause. But actually installing sustainable energy solutions, adopting recycling and composting practices, and providing low impact transportation options to the venue are behavior changes. This is truly leading by example, and it's a chance for teams to engage with fans throughout the season and beyond. That's a big win for all.

And do the fans really care? Well, the GSA and Turnkey Intelligence presented some stats to back-up the assertion that in fact, yes, fans do care. 81% of sports fans "express concern for the environment," and 58% "expect teams & leagues to use environmentally friendly practices."

2. Where were the Sports Brands? Sticks, Balls, Shoes & Jerseys can be Green too.

Maybe it's because I have a long history in the sporting goods side of the business, but I noticed a distinct absence of sporting goods, footwear, apparel and hardgoods brands at this event. Granted, the roots of the Green Sports Alliance are in pro sports venues, and much of the programming was geared towards facility operations, but I was really surprised that few representatives from within the product side of the sports industry chose to participate, on any level. James Curleigh, formerly of outdoor brand Keen (a very cause conscious footwear brand) and current President of Levi's Brand gave a rousing keynote presentation on sustainability and outlined Levi's natural alignment with the San Francisco 49ers new stadium. Reebok's Director of Social Responsibility was there to participate in a panel discussion on Women, Sports and the Environment. And the good folks from Kleen Kanteen and Liberty Bottle Works were in the exhibit hall (thank you for the water bottles!). But that was about it.

While I realize budgets are tight and you can't be at every trade show and conference, it does strike me as odd that brands who do have a strong track record in environmental responsibility - Nike, Puma, The North Face, Patagonia  - were not represented in any way. Hopefully as the platform around "green sports" continues to grow, we'll see more involvement from this side of the industry. And I'll keep doing what I can to foster that.

Green Sports Alliance

3. Big Things Happen when you Think Outside the Arena, Stadium & Track.

Just when I thought it was all about LED lighting and proper sorting of recyclables, the Sacramento Kings hit me with an alley-oop I didn't see coming. Team President, Scott Granger, told to the audience about a new initiative the team and venue will be taking on this coming season, thanks to input from the GSA. The self-proclaimed "America's Farm-to-Fork Capital," Sacramento is located in a major agricultural region in California's Central Valley. As such, many of the area's restaurants source their food from local farmers. And starting this season, so will the Kings. The vast majority of their food concessions will be sourced from the local area, which helps the team offer fresher & healthier food, reduces their costs for transportation and storage, lowers carbon emissions for less transport of the food, and supports the local economy. And if that weren't enough, they'll be composting the food waste and putting that back into the local farming community as fertilizer. That beats the Triangle Offense any day.

Besides the goings-on in SacTown, there's also quite a bit happening in the world of motor sports. The debut of Formula E later this year - all electric Formula 1 style racing - presents a great opportunity for racing fans to see what's possible with Electric Vehicles. And no, these aren't souped up Prius' blitzing around the track. These are 175 mph race cars, all piloted by top level F1 drivers. Should be a fun ride.

Motorsports venue Circuit of the Americas in Austin, TX is embracing a whole slew of environmental and social programs to stay connected with the local community, including STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) programs for local students to learn from motor sports pros, and operating a bee farm where they produce their own brand of honey.

Overall, this was a great event and I was really impressed with all of the efforts that are being made throughout the sports community to address environmental concerns. While we're still in the early stages of rallying the sports community to put its full weight behind this issue, this conference was an indication that momentum is building, and soon the "green wave" in sports will mean a lot more than just Tulane athletics.



Highlights from 2014 Green Sports Summit

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