In the space of only eight years, the sports-greening movement has made phenomenal strides, from the mainstreaming of the greening the games (i.e. LEED certified stadia, Zero-Waste games) to the NHL’s carbon neutral seasons to 170+ teams and 15 leagues becoming members of the Green Sports Alliance to…you get the idea.
Yet, at least anecdotally, most sports fans know little if anything about the greening of sports. This has to change, and fast. But what will drive that change?
Dave Newport, Director of the Environmental Center at the University of Colorado (Boulder), and a leading light in the sports-greening movement, gets at some of the drivers in his thought-provoking blog post, “The Problem with Sports and Sustainability…Sustainabilistas Have a Solution” GreenSportsBlog talked with Newport about Sustainabilistas, their solution, how Green-Sports can garner media attention and more.
That the University of Colorado (CU) is at the forefront of the sports-greening movement is about as shocking as the New York Jets needing a quarterback. Boulder is certainly at the top of the list when it comes to Greenest Small City in the US.
But it’s one thing to reside in one of America’s greenest cities; it is quite another to take advantage of that favorable geography and become a #greeensports leader. Newport, as Director of the Environmental Center at CU, and working with the Athletics Department, has done just that, and in ways that go beyond the greening of the games.
In particular, he saw that corporations with sustainable products and/or services would want to access the CU fan base in the same way as a traditional sports sponsor (think beer or car)—and would also want to help in the greening of CU sports. The CU Environmental Center Director also has pushed the PAC-12, of which Colorado is a member, to join the Green Sports Alliance, becoming the first Power 5* NCAA conference to do so. To quote an Apple ad from what seems like a million years ago, Newport thinks (and acts) different.
Thus, it was with great interest that I read “The Problem with Sports and Sustainability…Sustainabilistas Have a Solution,” Newport’s March 8 thought-provoking blog post that identifies one of the biggest challenges facing the sports-greening movement—one that GreenSportsBlog has been known to harp on from time-to-time; namely that “sports leagues and TV networks tell us there are precious few seconds available during a TV broadcast for sustainability info-stories [to put on the air]…So while great work is being done to green the games, the unrivaled platform of sports is not being used to influence fans to be more sustainable in the own lives.”
Dave Newport, Director, University of Colorado Environmental Center (Photo credit: Dave Newport)
With the problem properly diagnosed, what of the “Sustainabilista Solution”?
I was expecting a call to arms of sorts—for the Green-Sports world to put pressure on ESPN, Fox Sports and the networks, to run Green-Sports-themed Public Service Announcements (PSA’s) and to have announcers mention Green-Sports initiatives.
But, according to Newport, green-sports is not, at this moment in time, substantial enough of a movement for the networks to devote significant air time to this green cause or that. I thought 1) I don’t necessarily agree with this, and 2) I greatly respect Newport’s thinking on green-sports and need to get his take. So I picked up the phone…
GreenSportsBlog: So Dave, if now is not the time to push the networks that air sports on TV (which is to say the Big 4 broadcast networks, ESPN, Fox Sports, etc.), what is, as you term it, the “Sustainabilista Solution”?
Dave Newport: The Sustainabilista Solution starts by reaching fans that go to games, at stadiums and arenas. They’re the fans that spend the most money on sports, are most invested and are the people college^ sports sponsors can connect with most directly. Media attention—and thus reaching fans that consume sports on TV and radio—will follow once the green-sports world demonstrates consistent success in promoting sustainability to fans at stadiums, and once sponsors get on board.
GSB: Follow the money, right? OK, I want to make clear I am of a mind to push the networks now—present them with the hard data that shows sports fans care about the environment and climate change and that the time is right to run green-themed PSA’s, celebrate Eco-Athletes, etc. But I am also eager to understand your thought process on this, so say more.
Dave: What we’re talking about as “The Sustainabilista Solution,” is one that starts with sustainability-focused sponsors. It represents a new business model for sports sponsorships, one that encourages fans to change behavior in their daily lives. The old sports sponsorship model was, essentially “B-to-C”…
GSB: Meaning Business-to-Consumer?
Dave: Yes. Beer, auto, etc., etc. Buy this beer! Sign up for that insurance policy! Sustainability-focused sports sponsors, on the other hand, may also have a distinctly “B-to-B,” or “Business-to-Business,” approach. At the University of Colorado and elsewhere, that means working with companies that don’t necessarily sell directly to consumers but to other businesses. And—now, this is really important…the “Sustainabilista,” B-to-B sponsors are not selling a product most of the time. Rather, they are selling behavior change to a more sustainable way of everyday life for the sports attendee.
GSB: How does that work? Can you give an example?
Dave: Definitely. Take BASF, the world’s largest chemical company and the leader in the bio-polymer or bio-plastics market. Never before a sports sponsor, they became a sustainability sponsor of the Seattle Mariners and Safeco Field and then CU.
GSB: And now the Yankees…
Dave: Right, the Yankees as well…As I said, BASF is sponsoring sports, not in order to sell a product, but to sell a behavior change…
GSB: Which was/is…?
DN: Composting. BASF makes the bio-polymers used in compostable cups, compostable silver wear and plastic bags. If fans commit to composting at home, they’ll likely buy compostable products like compost bags, which may well be made with BASF products. But even if not, the environment wins. So BASF aligns with teams that compost—like us—and, through their marketing efforts, show the fans that come to the ballpark or stadium how to do so. The idea being that if a Yankees fan sees his or her team composting, the fan will show allegiance to the Bronx Bombers by changing behavior. Pepsi is another great example.
GSB: Wait, Pepsi isn’t a B-to-B company; they’re as B-to-C as they come!
Dave: Of course you’re right, in most cases. But with the “Bring Your Bottle Back to Life” campaign which launched at CU with the 2015 football season, Pepsi demonstrated its interest in fan behavior change—in this case to improve recycling rates at Folsom Field and, ultimately at home. It’s a really great program—fans drop any plastic bottle—it doesn’t have to be a Pepsi product, into the recycling bins around the stadium. Those bottles were turned into CU t-shirts, which were given away to fans at subsequent home games.
University of Colorado PSA announcing Pepsi’s “Bring Your Bottle Back to Life” campaign, which encourages fans at CU football games to up their recycling game at the stadium–and at home.
GSB: Great campaign and PSA, Dave. But is there any way to measure the effectiveness of “Bring Your Bottle Back to Life” away from the stadium?
Dave: We have done research of our fans that indicates they are more willing to recycle at home. In the big picture, stadiums and teams that model smart environmental behavior—recycling, composting, LED lighting, etc.—will find that their fans will do the same at home. Just like with any other sponsorship. For example, fans wear Nike if their favorite player or team does. No matter if we’re talking a product or environmentally friendly behavior, the fan will want to mirror that behavior. And that is the “Sustainabilista Solution”
GSB: Well Dave, I like the “Sustainabilista Solution.” Now, let’s try and get ESPN to feature it on E:60#!