Looking Back at the First PAC-12 Sustainability Conference

The Pac-12 Conference is a leader on the field and court — member schools UCLA and Stanford are at the top of the “total NCAA championships won” list. And, the conference also leads in Green-Sports: It is the first conference to have all of its schools become members of the Green Sports Alliance. And, in late June, it became the first conference to host a sustainability conference. GreenSportsBlog spoke with University of Colorado Athletic Director Rick George, Dave Newport, the University of Colorado Environmental Center Director, and Pac-12 Deputy Commissioner Jamie Zaininovich, to get a sense of why green sports are important—and how the Pac-12’s leadership can influence all of college sports.

 

For basketball fans, Hall of Famer and announcer Bill Walton’s enthusiastic, stentorian tones are instantly recognizable. But, in late June, instead of intoning, slowly and dramatically, about, “the incredible three point genius of Steph Curry,” Walton talked Green-Sports at the first Pac-12 Sustainability Conference: “[Sustainability is] good policy, good economics, and it’s good for all of us! What more can you ask for?…The Pac-12, the Conference of Champions, we’re leading the charge forward.”

The genesis of the recent Pac-12 Sustainability Conference came from University of Colorado Athletic Director Rick George. “We are the first NCAA Power 5* league to join the Green Sports Alliance,” said George. “So it seemed fitting to me that we be the first Power 5 league to host a sustainability conference.”

 

Rick George UofC Ath

Rick George, University of Colorado Athletics Director (Photo credit: University of Colorado Athletics)

 

According to Dave Newport, the University of Colorado Environmental Center Director, “Rick George’s main goal was to create a forum at which the 12 schools could help each other raise our ‘Green Games’.”

Jamie Zaninovich, Deputy Commissioner and Chief Operating Officer of the Pac-12, thought more broadly, looking to host a conference that would “bring together athletics professionals, sustainability professionals, rights holders, and marketers from both inside and outside (my italics) the Pac-12 to have productive conversations on further integrating sustainability into intercollegiate athletics.”

 

NCAA: WCC Staff Headshots

Jamie Zaininovich, Pac-12 Deputy Commissioner and Chief Operating Officer (Photo credit: Pac-12 Conference)

 

With those goals in mind, Newport, his colleague at USC Halli Bovia, and sports and sustainability staffers at the 10 other Pac-12 schools created an ad-hoc “sustainability conference planning group” to put things in motion.

While George initially offered to host the event in Boulder, it quickly became apparent to the planning group that attaching the Pac-12 Sustainability Conference to the June, 2017 Green Sports Alliance Summit in Sacramento made the most sense. “Sacramento, right in the Pac-12’s backyard — the league office is in San Francisco — is a great location for our member schools, so costs would be kept low,” said Newport. “Plus it would be easier to draw people from non-Pac-12 schools since they’d already be out there for the GSA. And the late June timing was right.”

 

Bill Walton Poster

Poster for the Pac-12 Sustainability Conference, designed and created by Bill Walton (Credit: Pac-12 Conference and Bill Walton)

 

Over 150 people registered — the Pac-12 expected about 100 — small enough, per Newport, “so people could really learn from each other,” yet big enough to generate buzz and energy. Interest was not limited to the Pac-12. Attendees included an NCAA senior executive — more Newport: who was “very interested in figuring out how to seamlessly weave sustainability in to the 92 championships they administer” — as well as representatives from the Big 12, Big Ten and SEC schools.

As for what was discussed, perhaps not surprisingly, Sustainability Sponsorships (how to raise money for green-themed initiatives) and Engaging Fans (to be sustainable at home, work, and play) were the two subject areas that bubbled to the top of the conference agenda.

 

Sustainability Sponsorships

Seth Matlins, Executive Vice President of Branded Impact at IMG/IMG College, the sports marketing and sponsorship sales firm for six Pac-12 schools#, dug into the aspects of sustainability that should appeal to sponsors of college sports. Matlins holds that fans tell the story: “87% of [college sports fans] believe business should place equal weight on societal issues and business issues. 68% want the US to lead global efforts to slow climate change,” he said, citing the College Sports Fans over-index.

Colorado’s sports marketing and sustainability teams presented a case study highlighting Ralphie’s Green Stampedethe green-sports sponsorship platform that has yielded fruitful partnerships with BASF, Eco-Products, Pepsi, Wells Fargo, White Wave and others.

 

Fan Engagement

“CU Boulder and the Green Sports Alliance hosted a “Think Camp for Fan Engagement” last fall to develop a ‘Fan Engagement for Sustainability Playbook’,” said Newport. “We rolled out the skeleton at the GSA Summit and it was very well received, the evaluations were through the roof.”

 

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Dave Newport, University of Colorado Environmental Center Director (Photo credit: University of Colorado)

 

The Playbook walks users (sports marketers, school sustainability professionals and more) through the steps needed to create and measure effective sustainable behavior change campaigns. And it connects fans with their teams’ sustainability initiatives and encourages them to participate in sustainable actions both in and out of the stadium.

After quick tutorials on how to 1) choose sustainability topics and 2) develop effective campaigns, attendees worked with their school groups to follow steps laid out by the Playbook and plan their own fan engagement-sustainability campaigns. Many focused on getting fans to properly recycle and/or compost in stadium and while tailgating.

Colorado Athletic Director George has no doubts that fans will enjoy engaging with green-themed initiatives from their favorite Pac-12 school: “Green/sustainability is a natural connector between the schools and the various communities we serve. Everyone wants a cleaner, healthier environment, after all. So people get this.”

But for fans to get it, they have to know about it. 

And they will.

“Pac-12 Networks covered the conference and produced a video that is being aired throughout the summer,” shared Zaninovich. “We’ve also included coverage of our schools’ sustainability work on various Pac-12 Networks live broadcasts, including football games.”

 

What’s Next?

The Pac-12 Sustainability Working Group was born at the conference. Made up of representatives from each of the league’s 12 athletic departments and from each school’s sustainability office, the team will work to ensure that the conference keeps pushing the green envelope on sponsorships, fan engagement, and overall awareness of the league’s sustainability advancements. This is a big deal.

“Hard as it may be to believe, before the Sustainability Conference, many sustainability people didn’t know the athletic directors,” noted Newport. “The Conference helped and the Working Group will help, too. We walked in as 12 schools; we walked out as one Athletic Conference, committed to growing the impact of sustainable college sports.”

Will there be a 2018 PAC-12 Sustainability Conference? And will other Power Five Conferences follow the Pac-12’s lead?

Atlanta is likely to host the next Green Sports Alliance Summit, not exactly a good geographic fit for a conference whose easternmost school is in Boulder, CO. But there are Pac-12 Athletic Directors meetings to which a Sustainability Conference could be attached.

Given the enthusiasm and initiatives coming out of the first Pac-12 Sustainability Conference, I doubt it will be the last.

 

* “Power 5” are the biggest, most powerful NCAA sports leagues/conferences. They include the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and the Southeastern Conference (SEC)
^ In addition to Colorado, the PAC-12 schools are Arizona, Arizona State, Cal-Berkeley, Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, UCLA, USC, Utah, Washington, and Washington State.
# Arizona, Cal-Berkeley, Oregon, UCLA, Washington, and Washington State are the IMG schools. Learfield, IMG’s main competitor, handles Colorado, Oregon State, Stanford and Utah.

 


 

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