Natural Resources Defense Council: Changing The Game

Sports, a $400 billion global business and with billions of fans around the world, has, in many respects, taken the lead in making business more sustainable.  And it can and will do a lot more as the “Green Sports Movement” builds.  So said Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, Senior Scientist, Urban Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in a compelling talk at the Better Business Bureau’s CSR Conference in New York on Tuesday.


Hershkowitz highlighted how NRDC has teamed up with the major sports leagues in the US to “Green The Games” since 2004.  NRDC is the exclusive sustainability non-profit partner of the NBA, NHL, MLB, Major League Soccer, the US Open.  They also work with the Council of Ivy League Presidents and other college sports associations.  NRDC’s work has led the leagues to examine a wide range of business practices, from purchasing decisions to transportation choices, from energy use to waste management policies, all with an eye towards to reducing sports’ environmental impact.

And, even though, as Hershkowitz noted, the greening of sports has gone on under the radar in most respects, the fact is sports has proven the business case for sustainability, through:

  • Reduced costs through energy efficiency
    • 15 stadia are LEED certified, which not only means they were constructed in as energy efficient a manner as possible, but also that they’ll operate efficiently
  • High-profile shift to clean energy
    • 18 US stadia/arenas have on-site solar
  • Improved brand image among fans and other stakeholders by becoming better corporate citizens
    • 67% of stadia/arenas have recycling and/or on site composting
  • And last but certainly not least, additional sponsorship revenue (if you hadn’t noticed sports and money go together like Minneapolis and St. Paul!)

And, if you think the sports-sustainability marriage is a bit of a PR play, a cynical “let’s keep protesters at bay”, kind of thing, you might want to think again.  While a bit of skepticism is certainly healthy, sustainability has visibility at the top of the league hierarchies.  Baseball commissioner Bud Selig, NBA commissioner David Stern, and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman are all engaged on a personal level with Hershkowitz and the NRDC to maximize the positive impact of a sustainable business approach on the leagues’ operations and, at the same time, to use the incredible megaphone the leagues have and the passions sports generates to get fans to change their behavior in ways that will help us SHAWKI (Save Humanity As We Know It–for those who haven’t read earlier posts).

Per a prior post, I believe fan engagement is where the teams/leagues need to push much, much harder (and overcome their fear of wading into a political minefield) than they have to date.  Dr. Hershkowitz’ talk made me more hopeful than before that sports will continue that push–a push in which I plan to play a role.

21 thoughts on “Natural Resources Defense Council: Changing The Game

  1. Just tweeted this post link. Being hopeful about making changes is critical. It’s way too easy to sink into “this is impossible” and let everything ground to a halt.

  2. Absolutely. Optimism is an inherent element of sports–after all, Cubs fans are still Cubs fans despite not having won a World Series since 1908. Thus, an injection of optimism, combined with real and significant sustainability measures, make sports an ideal industry to play a leading role in the fight to reverse climate change.

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