Green Sports Alliance Summit 2016: A Preview


The 6th annual Green Sports Alliance Summit takes place in Houston, TX at Minute Maid Park, home of the Astros, from June 28-30. The Summit’s theme is The Power of Partnerships. What does that mean, exactly? To find out the answers to this and other Summit-related questions, GreenSportsBlog went right to the top, talking with Alliance Executive Director Justin Zeulner and President Dr. Allen Hershkowitz.

GreenSportsBlog: Justin, I recall that the theme of the 2014 Green Sports Alliance Summit in Santa Clara was Creating a Legacy Through Sustainability and that last year’s event focused on Growing the Team: Engaging Fans Through Sustainability. Later this month, at the 2016 Alliance Summit in Houston, The Power of Partnerships takes center stage. Tell us what that means to you.
Justin Zeulner: Well, having been involved with the Alliance since Day 1, I’ve lived and seen the growth and maturity of the sports greening movement. Sports teams, leagues and venues started greening the actual games (i.e. LEED certified stadia, greening operations, etc.). Then they moved ahead and started to engage fans in greening efforts. Then corporations started to get involved. Well, the next step of the evolution of Green-Sports will be on display in Houston. With The Power of Partnerships, we’re going to show how all of these stakeholders—teams, venues, fans, and corporations—can and are working together to make one plus one equal three.
Zeulner GSA

Justin Zeulner, Green Sports Alliance Executive Director (Photo credit: Green Sports Alliance)

GSB: That sounds great; what does that mean in practice?
JZ: It means that, in Houston, we will show examples of how teams, venues, corporate partners and non-profits are working together on social responsibility initiatives, promotions, education and other programs that bring fans in and result in changed attitudes and behaviors. Nothing can beat the power of sports when it comes to bottling and directing passion. This is just as true with sustainability-related initiatives as with any other cause. If you structure incentives in a compelling way, fans will, for example, ride a bike to the game, or eat healthier foods while at the game.
GSB: I’ve not done the former yet—I did walk one time to Yankee Stadium from my apartment on West 96th St., about a 4.5 mile walk—but I do eat healthy at games whenever possible. And nowadays, it’s increasingly possible…But back to The Power of Partnerships…
JZ: …Absolutely. One thing attendees at the summit won’t want to miss is our 2nd Thought Leadership Forum—a panel discussion among executives from teams, leagues, sponsors, venues which will discuss ways the sports-greening movement can accelerate the pace of engaging athletes, fans…We also will feature our first-ever Athletes Engagement Program. Andrew Ference of the Edmonton Oilers and retired NFL linebacker Will Witherspoon, eco-athlete pioneers, will discuss the athlete’s role in the green-sports movement and what they and the Alliance can do get more athletes involved.
GSB: Ference has been a beacon among eco-athletes; taking classes remotely in sustainable entrepreneurship at Harvard while playing in the NHL? As Charles Barkley would say after watching Steph Curry hit a 30 foot 3-pointer with someone in his face, “that’s ridiculous!”
JZ: No doubt about it. That’s why the Alliance is proud to present Andrew with our Environmental Leadership Award on Wednesday evening June 29 at BBVA Compass Stadium, the LEED certified home of MLS’ Houston Dynamo.
BBVA Compass Stadium

LEED Certified BBVA Compass Stadium, home of MLS’ Houston Dynamo and site of the Green Sports Alliance Summit’s Awards event on June 29. (Photo credit: Zanda.com)

GSB: I can’t think of a more deserving winner. Speaking of Houston, I think it’s great that the Alliance broke out of its roster of blue state/green cities like Portland, Brooklyn, Santa Clara and (Sweet Home) Chicago—absolutely understandable, by the way—to plant a flag in red state Texas. How has the Houston experience gone from the Alliance’s point of view?
JZ: Houston really embraced us from when we first went down there about a year ago. The city has gotten much greener over the last decade and there are several universities in the area that are leaders in all manner of sustainability education…Rice University’s Administrative Center for Sustainability and Energy Management (ACSEM) is one of the country’s leading sustainability education lights, to cite just one example. And the University of Houston has a 2 year-old football stadium that included many state-of-the-green-art elements.
GreenSportsBlog: Allen, your annual President’s Address at the Alliance Summit is a State of the Green Sports Union, at least that’s how I view it. Without giving too much away, what will be the thrust of your talk in Houston?
Dr. Allen Hershkowitz: One of the themes will be diversity—as in the diversity of groups now involved in the sports greening movement. I mean, only 6 years ago, when I co-founded the Alliance, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), where I worked, was the center of the sports greening movement. As the membership of the Alliance grew, and NRDC and the Alliance encouraged others to get involved, we’ve seen in a relatively short amount of time tremendous growth in the number and diversity of organizations that are working on advancing smart environmental initiatives in sports. Just off the top of my head, there’s Sustainable Surf, Sailors for the Sea
GSB:…and 11th Hour Racing, also in the sustainable sailing space…
AH: Yes, and Golf Environmental Organization, Council for Responsible Sports, Protect Our Winters, and Rock & Wrap It Up for food donation from stadiums and arenas. Then there’s MLB’s environmental program, NHL Green, NBA Green, the USTA’s greening program, MLS has a greening program and of course NASCAR Green…I just came back from Europe meeting again with Roland Garros and the French Open, UEFA, European Professional Club Rugby, the IOC’s environmental people, and many other others, and I’m creating an international sports greening alliance to be based there, but which will mobilize sports greening efforts worldwide. UEFA has done a remarkable amount of greening work for the EURO, and Roland Garros was ISO Certified^. Over in the UK, there’s BASIS, and in Australia there’s the Sport Environmental Alliance. I can go on and on…It’s really a global movement, and I want to help that grow. So, in my remarks at this Summit I will be celebrating these organizations and the meaningful work they’re doing in the sports-greening world.

Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, President of the Green Sports Alliance (Photo credit: Green Sports Alliance)

GSB: This is great on its face, but what are the practical advantages to this diversity?
AH: Great question. Several years ago, if a company wanted to affiliate with the NBA and/or with one or more of its clubs, they might have had to start with by approaching NRDC and then, later, the Alliance and we’d introduce them to our contacts at the league, a time consuming process. Now if a company wants to affiliate with the NBA or its teams on a sustainability initiative, they can go directly to the league via NBA Green. With this diversity of green-sports platforms comes a greater degree of sophistication, of refinement targeted to environmental opportunities in specific sports. We, and the organizations I mentioned, have been at this awhile now. That we means we are better able to provide strategic vision for corporations wishing to advance their sustainability-related social responsibility goals, which means the Power of Partnerships has been greatly amplified.
Now, along with—the Alliance—which is sort of an umbrella organization, companies can turn to a menu of highly qualified, experienced, eco-minded, sport-oriented organizations with which to work, along with a select group of green non-profits like NRDC and WWF. This allows all of us to continue to build a broad-based movement that will lead to more positive ecologically significant changes. Which is terrific. And, which is why we want anyone and everyone who is at all interested in learning about the sports greening movement to come to Houston.
GSB: Is there still time for folks to sign up? If so, how should they go about it?
AH: Yes, there’s still time. Just visit the “Register” section of the Summit website. The rest is easy.
GSB: Sounds great! See you and the Alliance team down in Houston.

^ ISO = International Standardization Organization, the standard-setters for sustainable events.
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