Reaching the sustainability summit: Golf is on the ascent

Golf ball
ShutterstockLukas Gojda
It's time to come together on and off the field.

What can sports do for the environment? For the past few years, the industry has been upping its game for enhancing the bottom line through sustainability. This summer, the best and brightest sustainability thinkers and doers across the major sports gathered to compare notes.

The 2016 Green Sports Alliance Summit took place at Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas. The many brainstorming and thought-provoking conversations focused on how the sport industry can have the most impact on our society through local communities, and by leveraging the sport industry’s sizeable bottom line.

I attended the GSA summit last year in Chicago and was impressed, so I trusted it would attract some of the best and brightest sport industry and sustainability experts, along with being a great time to see trusted friends in the industry. 

Future generations will be key to enhancing business through sustainability, so when I saw more young professionals attending the event, and their eagerness to participate and network, I was inspired. The GSA summit is a fantastic place for industry experts to come together on ideas with the budding millennials who are ready to fight for what's right in sports. Presentations, panel discussions and keynote speakers from all facets of the industry offered their personal experiences and why they stood behind the sport sustainability movement.

GSA’s message aligns nicely with its partners and corporate sponsors, along with communities where the summit is hosted: "Leveraging the cultural and market influence of sports to promote healthy, sustainable communities where we live and play." 

So my main question after attending the 2015 summit was, "Why is golf not present?"

Not many people know this, but the golf industry is estimated to drive more than $70 billion in revenue into the U.S. economy. It raises more charitable donations than the National Football League, National Hockey League and National Basketball Association combined, donating close to $2 billion a year.

And while there are sustainability impacts from golf — its high usage of water, chemicals and pesticides, not to mention the sometimes narrow views of the industry’s leaders, which can inhibit positive change — we have to start somewhere. The goal is not to shame the golf industry. It's to work together for the greater good through sport.

After some lobbying, things improved this year. We spent the last year gaining the support and buy-in of some of the top leaders of golf's governing bodies to embrace a conversation around sustainability and collaboration. My business partner Gina Rizzi and I, through our firm, IMPACT360, worked with GSA and successfully lined up the first golf industry panel in the summit’s seven-year history.

This was no small feat. It involved holding many stakeholder conversations to product GSA to feature golf at its summit. I moderated the panel "Golf's Sustainability Agenda: The Power of Partnerships," which included Eddie Ainsworth of the Professional Golfers Association Colorado section; Rhett Evans, CEO of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA); Pat Finlen of the Olympic Club; and Rizzi, who also represented Arcus Marketing Group.

Each discussed ways in which they are working together to meet environmental and social goals. Examples included: 

  • Development of the first corporate social responsibility report, being released this month, featuring one of America’s oldest athletic venues, the Olympic Club.
  • Development of the GCSAA best management practices to address irrigation and responsible chemical and pesticide use on golf courses.
  • Military, youth and diversity inclusion programs to expand opportunities within golf through the PGA Colorado Section's PGA Reach Foundation.
  • Developing partnerships to expand the game's impact through sustainability.

We’re just teeing all this up. Next year’s GSA summit will be hosted at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento and is bound to be epic. It is imperative that golf industry leaders join forces with GSA and start to develop industry allies with other sport organizations.

For a traditionally rooted sport such as golf to change, the industry as a whole will need to step outside of its comfort zone and challenge the status quo. By exploring more diverse and unique opportunities to work together and learn what other sport industry teams, leagues and organizations are doing to address sustainability, it could lead to a win-win for all. 

The planet needs all hands on deck to stop climate change. Who better to support the cause than professional athletes and some of the most lucrative sports organizations in the nation? It's time to come together and fight the good fight, both on or off the field.