The GSB Interview: Russell Seymour, Chairman, British Association For Sustainable Sport (BASIS)

The mission of the British Association for Sustainable Sport (BASIS) is to “nurture and support sustainability and sustainable development in all aspects of sport” in the United Kingdom. In some respects, it is a smaller, British version of the Green Sports Alliance. GreenSportsBlog spoke to its Chairman, Dr. Russell Seymour, to find out how BASIS plans to green sports across the pond.

GreenSportsBlog: Russell, how did you get to the intersection of Green and Sports?

Russell Seymour: Well, it’s a circuitous journey. I started out as an academic in Ecology, Environmental Sciences and Biodiversity Management at the University of London.

GSB: So there’s the environmental piece…What about the sports piece?

RS: I’ve always been a sports fan and an athlete. Actually, and unusually for the UK, I’m more into American football than, well, football (soccer). In 2000, I added a part-time job in security at Lord’s Cricket Ground in London, aka “The Home of Cricket”. Lord’s will be home to the 2019 Cricket World Cup Final, by the way, as England and Wales host the tournament. Eventually I moved away from academia and my part-time job morphed into a full-time one. The CEO at that time, Keith Bradshaw, was forward thinking and always looking for ways to innovate so, after working in a couple of different roles at Lord’s I became the first Sustainability Manager at a UK sports venue.

GSB: Which is a good segue to the British Association for Sustainable Sport or BASIS… getting sports teams and venues to embrace sustainability. How did you come to start BASIS?

RS: When we started our environmental initiatives at Lord’s I thought that other sport venues and clubs would want to do the same. We hosted a meeting in September 2010 and we had 17 people come along. Six months later, we convened again, this time at Wimbledon, home of the All England Lawn Tennis Club, when 33 showed up. So we knew we had something. From that second meeting a steering group was formed including representatives of the All England Tennis Club/Wimbledon, the Emirates Stadium (home of Arsenal FC of the Premier League), the Rugby Football Union (Twickenham Rugby Stadium) and the Welsh Rugby Union (Millennium Stadium), the England and Wales Cricket Board, the Jockey Club, Golf England and UK Triathlon. Since then Wembley Stadium, the national stadium of England, has also joined. And so BASIS was born. We launched officially in October 2011 at a conference, attended by nearly 80 delegates, hosted at the Emirates Stadium, and including an opening keynote speech from Frank Supovitz who, at that time, was Senior Vice President of Events for the NFL. He was in London for the International Series game at Wembley Stadium.

Russell Seymour

Russell Seymour, Chairman, British Association for Sustainable Sport or BASIS. (Photo credit: BASIS)

 

GSB: What is BASIS’ mission?

RS: Our key goal, simply stated, is to incorporate sustainable development principles into sport facilities and venues at all levels including professional and recreational sport. We facilitate conversations, encourage discussion and educate our counterparts, participants and the fans. We’ve put on 4 conferences at which case studies are shared, in an approach somewhat akin to that of the Green Sports Alliance Summits.

GSB: Tell us a bit about the content of the conferences…

RS: …On environmental sustainability, we tick the major boxes: Energy efficiency, stadium construction, waste, transportation and fan engagement. BASIS also examines social aspects of sustainability and sport beyond environmental sustainability. For example, we’ve included sessions on how sport can help to reduce crime in communities and how it can engage people with dementia.

GSB: That sounds all encompassing. Can you share some highlights from the most recent conference?

RS: Our latest conference was in Cardiff, Wales in November 2014 at the Millennium Stadium, the home of Welsh Rugby. The agenda was comprehensive and wide ranging… Populous Architects shared their thinking on sustainable venue construction. The European Healthy Stadia Network discussed sustainable, active transport to/from games (i.e. walking, cycling). GoCarShare (focus of an earlier GSB interview) talked about ride sharing. We had case studies about sustainability initiatives at the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games in Scotland, waste management at the 2014 Ryder Cup at Gleneagles, Scotland, and calculating the impacts of the “Grand Départ” (or “Big Start”) of the 2014 Tour de France, which took place in Yorkshire, England. Reaction from the nearly 100 attendees was very positive. This year’s conference will take place in October in London and it would be great to welcome delegates from the US.

Grand Depart

Scene from the “Grand Départ” (or “Big Start) of the 2014 Tour de France in Yorkshire. A case study on the environmental impacts of that portion of the race was presented at the 2014 BASIS conference. (Photo credit: Telegraph.co.uk)

 

 

GSB: Speaking for the entire US, thanks for the invitation! Where does fan engagement fit in terms of the Greening of Sport in the UK?

RS: I’d say that in professional sports we’re not engaging with fans enough at the moment as most venues are still working to improve their performance before taking the message to the fans. In fact, while we have a few stand-out venues, it’s fair to say that, generally, the US is more advanced on Green-Sport than we are on most metrics, and especially fan engagement, but we’re working on closing the gap.

GSB: In the US, the pro leagues, to one degree or another, are greening themselves. Most notably, the National Hockey League’s 2014-2015 campaign will be the first carbon neutral season of any major sport. How are their UK counterparts doing?

RS: With the notable exception of London 2012, the British pro leagues and other sport governing bodies are not fully engaging with the sustainability agenda and, at best, see it as an operational and management issue; none have really taken it on as a strategic issue.

GSB: Why do you think that’s the case?

RS: That’s a tough one. I think sport is lagging behind other business sectors in the UK. Sport is of course aware of the environmental problems, we do a bit to manage them but no one is making the philosophical link to embed sustainability into sport.

GSB: Aside from the major exception of Forest Green Rovers, the Greenest Team In Sport (in action today in a playoff match vs. Bristol Rovers for promotion to League 2.)

RS: …True, a great story that. We need more of them…

GSB: Hopefully they’ll make it up to League 2, which will increase their profile. How much does money play in the slowness of British sport to fully embrace sustainability?

RS: The challenge is, that in the UK, profit margins in sport are so tight that financial security is considered to the exclusion of all else. Finally, I think we as an industry sell ourselves short in that we don’t see the positive impact sport can have on the environment—and the positive effect sustainability can have on the top and bottom line. BASIS aims to integrate sustainable development more deeply into sport at all levels, starting this year with an aggressive set of goals, including adding full-time staff, new member venues and teams, and more events.

GSB: That is a full plate, indeed.

Please comment below!

Email us: lew@greensportsblog.com

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