NASCAR's sustainability race: Q&A with Mike Lynch

[Editor's note: Mike Lynch, NASCAR’s managing director of green innovation, will discuss NASCAR’s environmental wins at the GreenBiz Forum in San Francisco on Feb. 28 as part of a sports and sustainability panel.]

NASCAR likes doing things big and its sustainability efforts are no exception.

From tire recycling to using biofuels, the car racing giant is putting itself in pole position. The NASCAR brand carries a lot of weight in the sports world and that girth has allowed it to introduce some of sports’ biggest green solutions to a largely receptive audience.

Lynch spoke with GreenBiz reporter Jennifer Inez Ward about the unique position in which NASCAR finds itself to share its green initiatives with a massive audience and the sports industry.

Jennifer Inez Ward: Why is the sports industry in a position to offer unique sustainability solutions?

Mike Lynch: What a sport can do is it can give very broad general public and business-to-business visibility to green technology and solutions that are already perhaps broadly deployed in the marketplace, or are ready to be deployed because they’ve been proven but not adopted fully yet.

If you choose any particular segment of the green landscape where a technology is proven — plug-in vehicles is one example — deploying the infrastructure is something that needs to happen. Electric cars work. Plug-in hybrids work; they get a much higher net mileage per gallon of gasoline then a purely combustible car does. Yes, you need more charging stations, but the charging stations themselves are actually a working technology.

But when you talk about a plug-in car, or use of ethanol fuel or the use of green material in the construction of the interior and exterior of a car, there is an inherent skepticism that is just a normal human reaction.

However, if you place any of those examples into the context of a sport and show how a product, solution, fuel or a technology can actually be used either in the venue, or in the supporting infrastructure, or the broadcast or in the playing of the competing sport itself, it gives the general public and even the business-to-business community a tangible way to relate the fact that whatever it is, it is good for the environment. It’ll save money, it's good for the country and it creates jobs.

If you just say that outside of a sports context you run into that natural skepticism and the inherent belief that there is a conflict of interest because whoever is saying it maybe has a reason or an incentive to adopt the technology, whether it’s the president, the government or a company.

In the case of NASCAR or a sport, none of us are going to use a product unless it works. And unless it does what they say it does, that understanding by the fans and by the business-to-business community around the sport is what gives an inherent validation platform characteristic to the fact that you can bring green technology solutions and use them and show their relevance.

Also, it just makes it tangible and real and puts it in the context that the audience cares about and thinks positively about, because it’s something they consume electively and that they love.

Next page: Standing out from the crowd

NASCAR image by Beelde Photography /