The new sporting green
Here, in two statistics, is the reason scientist Allen Hershkowitz spent the last six years wooing professional sports teams to support his environmental work.
“Less than 18 percent of Americans say they pay attention to any science, including environmental science,” Hershkowitz, a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said Monday at the Seattle Mariners’ Safeco Field. “Fifty-six percent say they pay attention to sports.”
He was announcing the Green Sports Alliance, a new partnership of the Mariners, Seattle Seahawks, Seattle Sounders FC, Seattle Storm, Portland Trail Blazers and Vancouver Canucks to promote their environmental stewardship and urge other pro teams to follow suit.
The teams and their home venues will share data, best practices, and strategies for getting attention for their individual greening efforts – cutting energy and water use and promoting recycling, alternative transportation, sustainable sourcing and renewable energy. The broader goal is to enlist spokespeople – teams and athletes – who are decidedly more popular than politicians and environmental advocates.
“[We’re] basically trying to instigate cultural pressure for better environmental protection,” said Hershkowitz, who founded greensports.org, NRDC’s pro-bono consulting shop for teams and leagues.
He’s worked with the Academy Awards, Grammy Awards and Broadway theater companies out of the same conviction that culture leaders can be useful allies in promoting sustainability. Pro sports stadiums have the added advantage of being some of the most visible and iconic buildings in cities.
The six teams are far from the first to promote their environmental work. The Philadelphia Eagles announced last fall that they were adding solar panels and 20-foot high wind turbines to their stadium; the Atlanta Braves say they cut energy bills by $350,000 a year through stadium retrofits. What’s new is the multi-sport cooperation uniting teams from six leagues: the NFL, the NBA, the WNBA, the NHL, Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer. The Northwest may be a natural launching ground, but they’re hoping to add as many teams as they can.
Team representatives at Monday’s press briefing were a little vague on the actual changes they’re making, though they made it clear they see commercial opportunity in greening their brand and the brands of sponsors.
“One of the keys for us to tell our story on this is sponsorships,” said Scott Jenkins, the Mariners’ vice president of ballpark operations.
Safeco Field already has some 500 compost bins for its biodegradable cups, utensils and trays (per city mandate). The Mariners’ recycling mascot – Captain Plastic – will get a sidekick this year – Kid Compost – to educate fans.
The team made less visible changes to its energy and water systems and building controls, which are saving $500,000 a year, Jenkins said. Qwest Field next door, home of the Seahawks and Sounders FC, hired the building-efficiency company McKinstry to help them make similar changes.
The Storm, meanwhile, offer free parking to fans who carpool to Key Arena. And a Trailblazers executive talked up, as only a Portland resident can, the Rose Quarter’s grass-fed-locally-sourced burgers with Tillamook, Ore., cheese on buns from a local bakery.
Will fans already bombarded with green marketing going simply tune out the new claims, especially at stadiums already plastered with advertising? Maybe – and Jenkins said the Mariners were limiting their new marketing. The bigger benefit might be getting fans accustomed to new behaviors and devices – like compost bins and low-water faucets.
Those things won’t seem so novel and unusual – so hippie-ish – once people have used them at football and baseball stadiums.