Sportecology.org: A Platform for Green-Sports Practitioners To Connect with Academic Research

The growing Green-Sports world has spawned a cadre of academics who study the movement’s myriad of topic areas. The result is a blossoming of substantive, peer-reviewed research.

The challenge for academics in this newly busy and somewhat unruly space is how to get the research — and its insights — into the hands of Green-Sports practitioners in ways that can be easily digested and acted upon.

Stepping up to try to solve this problem is Madeleine Orr, a PhD candidate in Sport Management at the University of Minnesota. She and several colleagues from Green-Sports academia are launching Sportecology.org on Earth Day — April 22 — as a platform to connect people working in Green-Sports with research that can help propel their efforts forward.

 

“Academic journal articles are very important but for the most part, nobody reads them except for other academics. The insights in those articles aren’t getting to the people who need them. That is true in the Green-Sports world. We created Sportecology.org to bridge that gap and to become the ‘CliffsNotes’ of sustainable sports.”

So said Madeleine “Maddy” Orr, PhD candidate at the University of Minnesota and faculty member in Sport Administration at Ontario’s Laurentian University, about the new venture she and a group of leading sustainable sports academics are launching on April 22 — Earth Day.

 

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Madeleine “Maddy” Orr (Photo credit: Katya Moussatova)

 

Orr envisions Sportecology.org as a platform that will help Green-Sports practitioners — from facilities managers to sustainability coordinators at college athletics departments to organizers of mega-sports events to journalists and more — improve the quality and accelerate the impact of their work.

“Groups like the Green Sports Alliance, Sport Environment Alliance in Australia and BASIS in Great Britain are all doing great work but it is largely anecdotal, based on case studies of one organization’s experience or successful initiative” noted Orr. “Peer reviewed research can give practitioners credibility and offer empirical, scientifically tested evidence to support their ideas and programs. But they can’t get that credibility if they don’t know the research exists.”

Academics will benefit because their audience will be bigger and broader.

“Believe me, no one in academia dreams of having their work gather dust on a shelf,” shared Orr. “I would talk to sport-sustainability colleagues at conferences run by the North American Society for Sport Management (NASSM) and we’d all ask ‘how can we work better with practitioners; how can we get them to access our work.”

The idea of what would become Sportecology.org popped into the Toronto native’s head in 2015, picking up real steam about a year ago.

“I started to build a database of sport-sustainability journal articles to help me study for my PhD exams, writing it out long-hand at first,” recalled Orr. “At some point, I started to think ‘this should be for everybody.’ So I began to build out what would become Sportecology.org, including starting a digital record of all the files on my computer.”

Each two-paragraph book review-like entry includes:

  • Article name and author
  • What question(s) is the author trying to answer
  • What’s the context of the question(s)
  • What the author found

Orr, after compiling the first 100 of the 200 or so existing peer-reviewed Green-Sports-focused journal articles, realized she needed assistance to get the platform up and running. That help started to appear after she presented her idea for Sportecology.org at last year’s NASSM conference in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

“I teased the idea in one of my presentations and the audience seemed to love it,” Orr recalled. “Soon after, I got an email from Brian McCullough at Seattle University saying he was interested in collaborating, which was fantastic in helping to get us started. He’s now our Co-Director.”

Orr secured some initial seed money from the University of Minnesota — where she’s getting her PhD — and Laurentian University to get the website off the ground.

 

Maddy 3MinThesis 2018

Maddy Orr pictured with University of Minnesota Vice-Provost and Dean of the Graduate School, accepting the award for the UMN’s 3 Minute Thesis First Place Winner in December 2017. Maddy was subsequently a finalist in the Midwest Association of Graduate Schools’ 3 Minute Championship Round in 2018 (Photo credit: Silke Moeller)

 

Other members on what is turning out to be a Sportecology.com All-Star team from the Green-Sports-Academia intersection include Walker Ross, who starts at the University of Florida Southern College in August, Tiffany Richardson, a mentor of Orr’s from the University of Minnesota, NC State’s John Casper, Sylvia Trendafilova at UT Knoxville, Tim Kellison at Georgia State, and Jamee Pelcher, who studied under McCullough and will begin her PhD studies at the University of Tennessee this fall.

The initial interest from Green-Sports academics and the energy brought by the burgeoning Sport Ecology Group begat more funding — from “small grants from universities and companies in the green space,” said Orr. This allowed the group to bring student “Green Teams” to the recent NCAA Women’s and Men’s Final Fours and for Orr to produce a Green-Sports podcast series called Climate Champions, on which I was an interviewee. The podcast will launch in June 2019 as a limited series, and will be available on iTunes and Spotify.

 

Maddy Tampa2019

Maddy (far right, kneeling) and some of her students in Tampa where they served as the Green Team at the recent NCAA Women’s Final Four (Photo credit: Mykelti Stephens)

 

After Earth Day, the Sportecology.org team will shift their efforts into a higher gear.

Per Orr, “We will have student interns this summer who will help us get the remaining sport ecology journal articles up on the site by August. Every month, a team member will write a news summary article. And we will highlight the news and activities of the academic side of the sport sustainability arena every quarter. We’re also building a ‘story map’ of all the sport management programs at universities, and organizations that have Green Sports programming or commitments, to accelerate collaboration between the private and university sectors. The goal is to become an easy access portal for Green-Sports practitioners, as well as professors, students and anyone interested in the topic.”

 

GSB’s Take: If one wanted evidence of the maturing of the Green-Sports world, the launch of Sportecology.org is a good data point. It says here that the site will quickly become a valuable resource for practitioners of all stripes, including GreenSportsBloggers. I for one look forward to digging into Sportecology.org come Earth Day.

 


 

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The GSB Book Review: “Routledge Handbook of Sport and the Environment”

You know the green-sports movement is gaining traction when anthology textbooks/handbooks about the subject, made up of more than 30 scholarly articles, are published. Enter Brian P. McCullough, Assistant Professor in the Sport Administration and Leadership program at Seattle University. He, along with Timothy B. Kellison, Assistant Professor of Kinesiology and Health at Georgia State University, are the principal editors of “The Routledge Handbook of Sport and the Environment.” Here then is GreenSportsBlog’s first ever book review.

 

I thought the new “Routledge Handbook of Sport and the Environment” (click here for the link to the book) was the first Green-Sports textbook ever published. Brian P. McCullough, one of its two principal editors, set me straight.

 

Routledge

 

He let me know it is a graduate-level follow up to “Sport Management and the Natural Environment” (Routledge), a 2015 text for undergraduate students by Dr. Michael Pfahl of Ohio University and Dr. John Casper of North Carolina State University (NC State).  “Timothy Kellison from Georgia State University and I co-wrote a chapter in that book,” McCullough related. “Later that year, Routledge Publishing reached out to me to see if I would be interested in writing and editing a textbook for graduate students, doctoral candidates and green-sports practitioners. I enthusiastically said ‘yes’ and immediately brought Tim in.”

 

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Brian P. McCullough, principal editor of the “Routledge Handbook of Sport and the Environment” (Photo credit: Seattle University)

 

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Timothy B. Kellison, principal editor of the “Routledge Handbook of Sport and the Environment” (Photo credit: Georgia State University)

 

The duo’s overarching goal was to build upon what Pfahl and Casper had done and firmly establish green-sports as a legitimate sub-genre of academic research and scholarship within sport or environmental management. What resulted is a 34 chapter anthology, with 46 contributors — some who have written on green-sports before, as well as others who have written on sport or environmental management.

My main takeaways after reading a smorgasbord of six of the 34 chapters, are that “Routledge Handbook of Sport and the Environment”:

  • Demonstrates that green-sports as a “thing” has moved beyond its “start up,” 1.0 phase to its “early growth,” 2.0 phase. Green-sports is clearly still in its early days, certainly in terms of broad fan awareness and also as far as environmental actions on the ground are concerned — the percentages of LEED certified stadia/arenas and Zero-Waste games are still relatively low at this point. That said, sustainability has taken root within the sports industry — the NHL’s carbon neutral seasons, more LEED certified stadia/arenas being built every year, and LED lighting becoming commonplace, are but three of many examples. This handbook’s mere existence and, even more so, its 34 chapters of meticulously researched green-sports scholarship demonstrates the topic’s depth, its diverse avenues for study and also its interest for academics. It is an important marker of green-sports’ increasing maturity.
  • Will serve as an important text for sport and/or environmental management graduate students. In particular for those pursuing sport management, the text can provide a solid grounding in sustainability that they then can bring to jobs with teams, leagues and venues, thus deepening sustainability’s roots within those organizations.
  • Can be a valuable reference for sustainability practitioners, operations professionals, and communications executives at sports leagues, teams and venues. It provides rigorously researched examples of a wide variety of environmentally-focused initiatives that can be built upon by teams and venues currently sitting on the green-sports sidelines.
  • Will lay the groundwork for future, more refined and meaningful green-sports scholarship and textbooks. McCullough’s and Kellison’s work shows that the state of academic research at the intersection of Green & Sports is in its early days, reflecting the newness of the field overall.

 


 

Here is a quick synopsis of the six chapters mentioned above:

Chapter 3: “Economics, sports and environment: incentives and intersections”

Allen R. Sanderson, an authority on sports economics issues and the author of the “On Economics” column for Chicago Life magazine, and Dr. Sabina L. Shaikh, a behavioral economist and director of the Environmental Studies program at the University of Chicago, examine the three-way intersection as it applies (or doesn’t) to the Olympics, NFL, auto racing, tennis, golf, and college athletics.

 

Sabina Shaikh

Sabina L. Shaikh, PhD (Photo credit: University of Chicago)

 

According to McCullough, “[Allen and Dr. Shaikh] use this chapter set the stage for how and why different sets of fans engage or don’t engage in sustainable behaviors and what can be done to ‘move the needle’.”

 

Chapter 5: “Climate change and the future of international events: A case of the Olympic and Paralympic Games”

Will past Olympic and Paralympic Games host cities be suitable venues in a climate changed world in 2100? Dr. Lisa M DeChano-Cook, Associate Professor of Geography at Western Michigan University and Dr. Fred M. Shelley, Professor of Geography at the University of Oklahoma take that on in Chapter 5.

The authors calculated estimated February and August 2100 temperatures by assuming average temperature increases of 1°C and 4°C. They also took into account potential sea level rise by 2100 of 0.3 meters at the low end and 1.2 meters at the high end.

With those parameters, prior Winter Olympic and Paralympic venues Sochi, Squaw Valley, and Torino are likely to be unsuitable hosts in 2100 in both the low and high scenarios. Calgary, Lake Placid, Lillehammer, Sapporo and St. Moritz are likely to be suitable in both scenarios. Every other Winter Olympic site is predicted to be either be unsuitable and/or “at risk” in at least the high temperature rise case if not both.

Athens, Rio and Tokyo (the site of the 2020 Games) are seen by the authors as likely being unsuitable Summer Games hosts in 2100 in both the low and high temperature rise cases. Amsterdam, Helsinki, and Los Angeles, the host in 2028, are all unlikely to make the grade in 2100 due to sea level rise. Best bets among prior host cities to be able to host in 2100 include Berlin, London, Melbourne, Mexico City (a surprise to yours truly), Munich, Paris (the 2024 host), Stockholm and Sydney.

 

Tokyo Olympics

The Japanese team enters the Tokyo Olympic Stadium for the opening ceremonies of the 1964 Summer Olympics. Drs. DeChano-Cook and Fred M. Shelley project that Tokyo will be an unsuitable site, due to climate change, by 2100. (Photo credit: IOC).

 

Chapter 10: “Marketing sustainability through sport: The importance of target market insights”

McCullough didn’t have to go far to find one contributor — Dr. Galen T. Trail, a colleague at Seattle University. They cowrote “Marketing sustainability through sport: The importance of target market insights.” In it, Trail and McCullough use data collected from a 10-mile running event to determine that different market segments respond differently to sustainability-focused engagement initiatives (i.e. recycling, offsetting travel related emissions). The researchers went beyond basic demographics (i.e. income, age) to delve into psychographics: values and attitudes; activities, interests and opinions; lifestyle, and more to determine how committed people who participated in or attended the race would be to taking different environmental actions.

 

Chapter 22: “Tailgating and air quality”

A possible linkage between “Tailgating and air quality” is examined by the aforementioned Dr. Jonathan M. Casper of NC State and his colleague, Dr. Kyle S. Bunds. The chapter represents the first attempt to understand the impacts of air pollution, if any, on tailgaters.

Thanks to a grant from the EPA, the authors were able to design an innovative study that would be conducted in and around Carter Finley Stadium, home of NC State football during the 2015 season. They used five stationery monitors to capture ambient air every 10 seconds at the perimeter of the tailgating parking lots. Another mobile device measured exposure to pollutants inside the lots and also in the stadium itself.

The stationery monitors showed that air pollution levels were in the healthy range during pre-game tailgating — this was somewhat surprising to me — and while the game was going on. But they spiked to unhealthy levels after the game when fans exiting the parking lots at roughly the same time lead to significant traffic congestion. The mobile devices showed similar results — “fair” air quality in the tailgating areas with spikes in CO₂ and carbon monoxide (CO) due to “flowing traffic, idling vehicles, generators (particularly older generators), and charcoal grills.”

 

Carter Finley Sensors

Researchers strategically placed stationary air quality monitors in each of the major tailgating lots at NC State’s Carter-Finley Stadium. (Photo credit: NC State University Sustainability Office)

 

The authors offer some ideas on how venue operators can encourage fans to reduce emissions. This study seems like the tip of the iceberg for what could promise to be a rich area of inquiry.

 

Chapter 25: “Sport participation to create a deeper environmental identity with pro-environmental behaviors”

Drs. Vinathe Sharma-Brymer, an inter-disciplinary educator working in Australia, England and India; Tonia Gray, a senior researcher at the Centre for Educational Research at the University of Western Sydney; and Eric Brymer, a Reader at the Carnegie School of Sport at Leeds Beckett University, teamed up to show how, if managed effectively, participation in some outdoor and adventure sports (OAS) can cultivate a deeper environmental identity and pro-environmental behaviors. In fact, some political conservatives who become OAS enthusiasts may less likely to become climate change deniers.

 

Chapter 34: “A pragmatic perspective on the future of sustainability in sport

Messrs. McCullough and Kellison close the handbook with their assessment of the current state of play of green-sports and where the field is likely to go. Their main conclusion is that, for green-sports to become more than a small, niche movement will require “those interested in mainstreaming environmental sustainability…to press the many organizations that have committed either halfheartedly or not at all…through economic incentives, social pressures, or legal mandates. Until then, the promise of sport as a powerful vehicle for environmental change will remain unfulfilled.”

Couldn’t have set it better myself.

Click here for a link to chapter 34.

 


 

The “Routledge Handbook of Sport and the Environment”, edited by Brian P. McCullough and Timothy B. Kellison, published by Routledge, can be purchased on Amazon and Google Books.

 


 

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