5 ways to re-write the sports sustainability playbook

5 ways to re-write the sports sustainability playbook

Professional and collegiate sports leagues are starting to shoot higher when it comes to sustainability — but it's not high enough.

A full season of zero-waste football games at Ohio State. A carbon-neutral National Hockey League season. The opening of state-of-the-green-art Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, home to the San Francisco 49ers, which, among many other things, recycles 86 percent of its water.

These terrific sustainability accomplishments in the realm of sports are but a tiny sampling of the green advances that have taken place in sports in just the last couple years. Team and league executives, venue operators, architects, engineers, etc. all deserve credit for having the green vision and for the hard work involved with turning that vision into a greener reality.

Still, the sports industry needs to go much bigger, much faster if we’re going to be able to say in 10, 20, 30 years down the road that we did what we could to slow the climate change train as it headed for the cliff. Plus, we already know that the key catalyst to getting bigger, faster is to get masses of fans involved.

You may say, “It isn’t sports’ job to fight the climate change fight. Sports is entertainment. The object of sports is to win the game, not to fight climate change.”

To that I say, with respect, you’re wrong. Sports play such a huge role in peoples’ lives. Depending on the study, 65 percent to 70 percent of humans are, at the very least, casual sports fans. That means the industry is ideally positioned to play a leading role in societal change.

And it has. During World War II, the most recent existential threat the world faced, sports stepped up. In the U.S. alone :

  •  Sports teams ran scrap drives in which fans brought iron, rubber and other materials to stadiums, ultimately to be repurposed into materiel for the war effort.
  •  Hillerich & Bradsby, makers of Louisville Slugger baseball bats, turned their wood-turning skills to the production of the M1 carbine rifle.
  •  Also in baseball, more night games were played to give factory workers, many working double shifts due to the short supply of labor, a morale boost.
  •  Famous athletes fought in combat (Ted Williams), promoted the war effort (Joe Louis) and played ball on army bases both stateside and in the South Pacific theatre while serving in non-combat roles (Joe DiMaggio).

Sports clearly has the power to influence and move masses on behalf of a cause. It just needs a kick in its collective pants.

And so, by the power vested in GreenSportsBlog by GreenSportsBlog, we are going to amp up the pace of the greening of sports by the implementation of these New Green Sports Rules:

1. Every sports event broadcast must air at least one 30-second public service announcement (PSA) themed to the climate change fight.

So far the greening of sports has been an “Inside Baseball” (or football or hockey or basketball) kind of thing. My bet — one I would gladly lose — is that the awareness among sports fans of the greening of sports is very small. For example, my guess is that less than 5 percent of Super Bowl XLIX viewers knew the game was carbon neutral. That needs to change, fast. One way to change this is through a powerful, direct, climate change-focused PSA campaign, á la the PSAs the NFL aired about domestic violence. Big game (Super Bowl, Final Four, World Cup) broadcasters will run additional climate change-related features. Hey, Super Bowl 50 will have six hours of pre-game programming; CBS can carve out five minutes on the NFL’s climate change work. Which means at least five minutes out of the 360 will be interesting.

Each year, polls will be taken about the awareness of the PSA campaigns and about viewers’ attitudes about climate change, pre and post seeing the spots. If the awareness levels don’t increase substantially, the number of PSAs will go up. If attitudes don’t change, the content will until minds and hearts are moved.

2. Fossil fuel company ads and signage are banned from all sports stadia, arenas and broadcasts.

I know what you’re saying: “Lew, you’re treating the fossil fuel companies as though they are tobacco companies.” You’re right. Next rule:

3. Auto racing (NASCAR, F-1, Indy, drag racing) must commit to using only Electric Vehicles (EVs) by 2030.

15 years should be enough time to get from where we are now (Formula E, an all EV racing circuit already exists; and NASCAR has made an impressive commitment to greening) to all EV racing, all the time. Heck, Mars One is slated to start taking humans on a one-way trip to the Red Planet in 2024. Maybe we need to move the 2030 date up a bit.

4. Fans who travel to games via mass transit get a rebate (amount TBD), paid for from parking revenues. Fans who come by bike or walk also qualify. EV and hybrid drivers do as well.

Fan travel is the biggest contributor to sports’ total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Provide meaningful incentives for fans not to drive and fewer will. That means, in some cases, cities will need to offer better mass transit options. And I’m adding a New Green Sports Rule 4A right now: Teams cannot receive any public money whatsoever for a new stadium or arena that is not accessible to existing planned subway/light rail. This is meant for you, Atlanta Braves, who will move into a new suburban ballpark in 2017, nowhere near the MARTA train system. Not good.

5. Conduct fan contests to find the Greenest Teams in sports — then reward.

Let’s use the NFL as an example: All 32 teams would participate in a contest to see which club diverts highest percentage of its game day waste from landfill. The winning club gets awarded a supplemental pick in the NFL Draft. Now that would be real Holy Grail, linking greening off the field to winning on it.

This article originally appeared at GreenSportsBlog.