The Green Sports Alliance’s (GSA’s)12th annual Summit will take place at Minneapolis’ US Bank Stadium from June 21-23.
GSB caught up with GSA board chair and PlanLED EVP of strategic partnerships Scott Jenkins to get his overview on the state of the Green-Sports movement and to get a preview of the GSA’s first in-person gathering since 2019.
GreenSportsBlog: Scott, I know that you, GSA executive director Roger McClendon and the rest of the GSA team have to be thrilled to finally have the Summit be in person after going virtual the past two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic!
Before we get into what the GSA has planned for next week’s conference, I’d love to get a quick update on what you’re working on with PlanLED, a leader in LED lighting solutions, including for sports venues.
Scott Jenkins: We are very excited to be back in person for the Summit in Minneapolis next week.
As for PlanLED, we are at the forefront of lighting innovation, efficiency, and quality for sports venues, including Yankee Stadium and Busch Stadium in St. Louis. We also sell to industrial facilities, schools, office buildings and more. The science of human-centric lighting is a particular focus and our goal with our LED lighting systems is to bring outdoor quality light indoors. The result is improved productivity, energy savings, and lower carbon emissions.
Scott Jenkins (Photo credit: John Hwang/PlanLED)
GSB: Well, with the Yankees incredible start obviously attributable to the PlanLED lighting at Yankee Stadium, I imagine the rest of MLB will want to follow suit.
Let’s pivot to next week’s Summit in Minneapolis. You’ve been involved with the GSA since its beginnings in 2011. Taking the long view, how do you think the Summits have changed over the last decade?
Scott: Well Lew back when we started in 2011, we had to make the business case for sustainability for the sports industry. It’s easy to take that for granted now, but back then there was no guarantee that sports teams, leagues, and other leaders would get on board. So, while we cleared that hurdle, talking about climate change in those early days was not going to happen…
GSB: …Oh I know, I was there in Brooklyn in 2013 and Santa Clara 2014. I was frustrated that climate change seemed like the Lord Voldemort of the GSA Summits — ‘the topic that could not be discussed!’ Then in 2015, at Soldier Field in Chicago, things changed…with ‘Dear Future Generations: SORRY,’ a powerful climate-themed rap by Prince Ea.
Scott: I know! That was an important moment. Again, it seems hard to believe now but even as recent as 2015, climate change was a controversial topic for the sports industry. Now, most of the industry realizes that the well-being of the sports business, from teams to athletes to fans, and the economy more broadly, is dependent on a stable climate. Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic has crowded out other issues, including climate. But climate and environmental protection is a more serious, consistent part of the conversation than ever in sports.
GSB: How do you see that conversation going? And how do those conversations get turned into climate action?
Scott: We frame the climate issue in two ways: As both a threat and as an opportunity.
On the threat side, it is of course significant…
GSB: …Or existential!
Scott: …Existential as well. Absolutely. And sports leaders are starting to get it. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver speaking out directly on the threats that climate change poses as well as the potential opportunities at last month’s Aspen Ideas festival in Miami is probably the highest profile example.
The challenges to taking on climate change are immense because the threats are both complex and urgent. And we humans don’t deal all that well with complexity…
GSB: …That’s so true, but that idea is often used as an excuse to do nothing. You know, the ‘climate change is such a vast problem, we can’t really do anything about it’ line of thinking.
Scott: That’s exactly why the world, and that definitely includes sports, needs to be proactive on taking real climate action. There are serious opportunity costs to doing nothing. And the opportunities, from energy efficient lighting to low-carbon transportation, are enormous. Add to that the unique opportunity sports has to engage millions of fans…
GSB …As opposed to say, accounting. While it plays a crucial scorekeeping role in the climate action game, you don’t see millions of people saying, ‘Accountant Jean Smith’s choice to use straight line depreciation on that tax return makes her a lock for the Hall of Fame!’
Scott: Exactly! The sports business can be a powerful signal to the world that resource reallocation to clean energy, energy efficiency and more is a smart strategy. Other businesses will certainly take notice.
GSB: Turning to next week in Minneapolis, how will the GSA Summit take on the threats and opportunities at the intersection of climate change and sports?
Scott: Great question, Lew.
One ‘opportunistic’ initiative that we will highlight at the Summit will be Play to Zero, the initiative we launched last year in partnership with Arc to guide sports venues, teams, and more on a ‘Roadmap to Zero’ by benchmarking environmental performance and improvements across a myriad of metrics, with the goal of getting to zero. That of course includes tracking carbon emissions, and the waste, energy and water usage that generate those emissions.
Federico Addiechi, FIFA’s head of sustainability, will talk about how the organization plans — on the pitch and beyond — to make good on its commitment to ‘deliver sustainable tournaments’ from environmental, social, and financial perspectives. This is especially timely — and somewhat controversial — with the 2022 FIFA Men’s World Cup set to kick off in Qatar in November. A few months later, the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup will take place in Australia and New Zealand. And of course, sustainability will have a high profile at the 2026 FIFA Men’s World Cup in Canada, Mexico, and the USA.
Federico Addiechi (Photo credit: FIFA)
GSB: About this year’s host city, a couple of years ago, I wrote a four-part series on how the Twin Cities is the ‘green-sportsy-est’ metro area in the USA. Talk a bit about Minneapolis’ and St. Paul’s star turn at the Summit…
Scott: Absolutely! Sticking with soccer…
Focusing on the social aspects of sustainability, St. Paul native and retired US Men’s National Team player Tony Sanneh will share how, through The Sanneh Foundation, he works to connect young people with culturally responsive programs and opportunities for improvement.
On environmental sustainability, we will host a panel dedicated to the ways the Twin Cities’ six pro teams, University of Minnesota Athletics, and the venues are addressing sustainability threats and opportunities.
Tony Sanneh (Photo credit: The Bush Foundatio)
GSB: The Twin Cities are a great model for Green-Sports from a venue perspective and Minneapolis is a terrific choice for Summit host. Final question: For late deciders, are there still tickets remaining for the Summit and if so, how do folks go about registering?
Scott: There are still tickets left, Lew, and all it takes is a couple of clicks to register by going to the Alliance website.