FIFA, the governing body of world soccer, gave the world a ghoulish October, clearly demonstrating in one 31-day span that its so-called commitments to sustainability are nothing but a shambolic greenwash. At the beginning of the month, the organization gave the go-ahead to a globetrotting, greenhouse gas guzzling 2030 Men’s World Cup that will take place on three, count ’em, three continents: South America (Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay), Africa (Morocco) and Europe (Portugal and Spain). Then, on Halloween, it married greenwashing and sportswashing by all but confirming that the 2034 Men’s World Cup would be held in Saudi Arabia.
Also last month, a smaller but potentially significant counter to FIFA’s greenwash-ery took place with the 8th annual observance of Green Sports Day on October 6. The Green Sports Alliance (GSA) launched the event in 2016, getting a very notable assist from President Obama in the process. But for the next four years, Green Sports Day mostly treaded water.
Things began to change for the better in 2021 when a triumvirate of athletes, entrepreneurs, and academics in Canada led a youth-targeted climate education program on what became Green Sports Day Canada. And last year, the GSA green-lit a rebirth of Green Sports Day in the USA, with high profile ‘green lighting’ of stadiums and arenas.
That brings us to October 6, 2023. What could the GSA and its Canadian counterparts do to increase awareness of and engagement with GSD?
Two Zoom calls in mid-October, one with Shay Strawser and Katie Gavitt of the GSA, and the other with Gill Orris of the Green Sports Day Canada team, revealed three changes in the approach to GSD 2023 versus its predecessors:
A comprehensive toolkit made participation in Green Sports Day easier than ever for teams, venues, and more.
An amped-up focus on measurement of GSD’s reach and engagement. As the late management guru Peter Drucker famously said, “what gets measured gets managed, and what gets managed matters.”
Collaboration wherever possible between the GSA and its Canadian counterparts, allowed for the GSD whole to be greater than the sum of its parts.
How did Green Sports Day 2023 turn out? Here are some results.
An easy-to-use toolkit, developed by the GSA, helped to drive increased engagement on Green Sports Day 2023. It provided interested sports and affiliated organizations (i.e. media) in the USA, Canada, and around the world with suggestions on prospective climate commitments, GSD activations, and social media content.
“The toolkit was downloaded by 150 entities,” shared Shay Strawser, the GSA’s manager of marketing, communications and events. “A dozen climate commitments came in, from the World Surf League to the University of Minnesota Gophers to the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers.”
The Blazers and its Moda Center home court pledged to replace all single-use alcohol cups with reusable cups arena-wide this season as part of its longer-term goal of becoming zero-waste by 2030. Per a club statement, “Rip City Reuse cups are being provided to fans at no additional charge with return bins located throughout the arena.”
Shay Strawer at the 2023 Green Sports Alliance Summit (Photo credit: Alabastro Photography)
“Over 160 organizations conducted at least one activation on Green Sports Day,” reported Strawser. “In addition to working with Green Sports Day Canada, we collaborated with allies like the Council for Responsible Sport, GEO Foundation for Sustainable Golf, Players for the Planet, and Sport Positive Summit.”
What did those activations look like?
The Athletes Unlimited women’s volleyball league kicked of its 2023-24 season on Green Sports Day in Mesa, Arizona. Activations included 1) posting about GSD on its social channels, 2) talking about it on its ESPN broadcast, 3) highlighting Arizona Sustainability Alliance, a local community-based organizationat the matches and, 4) giving out reusable straws to fans at the game.
Green Sports Alliance Executive Director Roger McClendon on the court and scoreboard at the Athletes Unlimited season opener on Green Sports Day 2023 at Mesa, Arizona (Photo credit: Green Sports Alliance)
The Super Bowl LVII champion Kansas City Chiefs got into the Green Sports Day spirit. “We worked to inspire fans and our staff with Green Sports Day events,” said Brandon Hamilton, the team’s CMO and EVP of Marketing. “We hosted UnDumpster Day, a day dedicated to creating opportunities for our fans to recycle unwanted items, and a volunteer day with staff to plant trees, build gardens and beautify our community through a cleanup.”
Brandon Hamilton of the Kansas City Chiefs (foreground), members of the team’s staff, and fans plant a garden on Green Sports Day (Photo credit: Kansas City Chiefs)
A three hour nationwide virtual summit highlighted GSD activations in Canada. It offered sports organizations concrete steps on how to take climate action.
“We had an incredible lineup of presenters,” enthused Gill Orris, a British Columbia-based sustainability advisor who works with the Canada Games Council among others. “Adam van Koeverden, a retired Olympian, and the Parliamentary Secretary for the Ministry of Sport Canada and for Environment and Climate Change, spoke. Former minister of Environment and Climate Change, the Honorable Catherine McKenna, gave a rousing keynote. Lindita Xhaferi-Salihu, director of the UN’s Sports for Climate Action Framework, provided an update on their work. And Seyi Smith, an Olympian in both the 4×100 sprint and bobsled and now the CEO of sports sustainability consultancy Racing to Zero, gave a case study on their work that will help to make Curling Canada more sustainable.”
Beyond the virtual summit, the Canadians launched a ‘lighting venues green’ initiative on Green Sports Day, following the GSA’s lead from a year ago.
“We lovedthe ‘Lighting Venues Green’ program that the GSA ran in the States in 2022,” Orris noted. “So, this year we took the baton, with Ottawa’s Landsdowne Park, the iconic CN Tower in Toronto and six other venues across the country lighting up green on Green Sports Day.”
Gill Orris of the Canada Games Council (Photo credit: Canada Games Council)
This represents Green Sports Day’s social media reach in 2023, a stunning 60 percent rise from 2022. Engagement was strong, with over 32,000 people interacting with Green Sports Day social posts. While the USA and Canada represented the bulk of the reach and interactions, 13 other countries also chipped in.
“Easy accessibility to the toolkit and a broader range of Green Sports Day activation options helped to propel the growth,” said Kate Gavitt, a member of the GSA’s marketing and event team. “We provided a variety stakeholders with pre-Green Sports Day tutorials, which also helped drive the improved results.”
Katie Gavitt at the 2023 Green Sports Alliance Summit (Photo credit: Alabastro Photography)
Screen shots of Green Sports Day social media from Duke University Athletics (top) and World Surf League
Even with positive 2023 results, Strawser, Gavitt and Orris know that there is much work to be done to make Green Sports Day resonate as a staple of the Green-Sports calendar and, more importantly, to reach a broader audience.
“How can we take Green Sports Day to another level?,” Orris asked rhetorically, “I believe that athletes need to play a bigger role. Can you imagine a program, covered by sports media, that brings athletes together virtually in cities all over the world, offering tangible, measurable, actions that fans could take to make a difference on climate?”
GSB’s Take: I can imagine it! How about a Green Sports Day #ClimateComeback Telethon? I’d be up for that. For real.
I also think GSD organizers, with some wind at their backs thanks to encouraging 2023 results, need to aim higher in 2024. Given the scope of the climate crisis and the urgent need to go bigger on climate solutions, it says here that:
- Activations should go beyond tree planting and trash cleanup events.
- The emphasis should shift away from offsets and towards carbon reduction offerings.
- Sports media need to be engaged to give GSD more coverage.
GSB looks forward to seeing a bigger, more impactful Green Sports Day next October 6. Watch this space!
Photo at Top: Ottawa’s Landsdowne Park, which includes TD Place, home of the Ottawa Redblacks of the Canadian Football League (Photo credit: Green Sports Day Canada)