Dr. Allen Hershkowitz co-founded the Green Sports Alliance (GSA) in 2009 when he was Senior Scientist and founder of the Sports Greening Project at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). Since November 2014, Dr. Hershkowitz has served as President of the Alliance. With the organization growing in size and influence and with the challenges from climate change growing in severity, GSB was glad to have the chance for a brief sit down with Allen recently to discuss some new developments at the Alliance and the site for its 2016 Summit.
Before we get to our interview, here are some highlights of Dr. Hershkowitz’ Keynote address at this summer’s Green Sports Alliance Summit in Chicago:
- Sports hold the key influence billions of people to help heal the planet.
- The Alliance and its members’ commitment to environmental stewardship is succeeding and that influence must be wielded positively as “we have our work cut out for us” in terms of the climate change fight.
- In the last year, GSA has expanded internationally, with a growing presence in Europe and Australia. The UN has partnered with the GSA to help bring the sports world together during this December’s climate talks in Paris (COP 21)
- GSA’s “Champions of Game Day Food” report will, says Aramark, lead it to change some of the food they serve at stadia and arenas. The study features 20 venues serving healthier food choices and adopting more sustainable food practices
- Businesses are looking to join the Alliance; thus GSA convened a steering committee during the Summit and is now launching its Corporate Members Network.
- GSA will be issuing a study later this year, “Mascots Forever”, that will detail how roughly 60% of animal mascots of US pro teams are at risk of extinction. Major League Baseball (MLB), Major League Soccer (MLS), the National Basketball Association (NBA), National Football League (NFL) and the National Hockey League (NHL) all support the GSA’s efforts to educate the sports industry about the extinction threats posed to species.
Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, President of the Green Sports Alliance. (Photo credit: Dr. Allen Hershkowitz)
Now, to the interview with Dr. Hershkowitz:
GreenSportsBlog: Is there any concern on the part of the Board of GSA about opening up membership to corporations, perhaps about undue corporate influence?
Dr. Allen Hershkowitz: No. They’ve come to us, requesting to be involved—asking how can they be more helpful in advancing the Alliance’s mission (help sports teams, venues and leagues enhance their environmental performance). So, we had the first meeting of the steering committee of our Corporate Members Network during the Chicago Summit, co-chaired by companies doing great things in the green sports world: BASF, HOK and UPS. The meeting centered on creating and refining the objectives of corporate membership, as well as on the membership criteria. More companies will be added to the Network and those will be announced soon. We believe strongly that corporate involvement in the CMN will be a positive step.
GSB: Are you applying a litmus test to companies looking to join the Corporate Members Network? For example, even a company like UPS, at the forefront of greening itself and its industry, is taken to task by many for its membership in the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a lobbying group that, among other things, has supported groups that advance climate denial/skepticism…
AH: We realize that no one is perfect; no one has a monopoly on virtue. And we have a big goal, to use sports to positively impact climate change–when your goal is that big, you know you’ll bump into things you don’t like. Now, that said, we do have deal breakers when we consider corporate members. We won’t accept companies whose operations are not in line with our mission…
GSB:…Which categories are those?
AH: We won’t take fossil fuel extraction companies, like oil or coal mining companies. Tobacco is another obvious no. But, aside from these categories, we also know that companies can change. For example, Kimberly-Clark was once seen as an environmental bad actor. They changed their behavior over time and now, in many cases, they’re taking a leading role in sustainable business. So things can change.
GSB: Now let’s turn to the Green Sports Alliance Summits. At Santa Clara in 2014, fan engagement was the star, but climate change seemed to take a bit of a back seat. Well, climate change was front and center here at Chicago 2015, along with sustainable food. I was trying to think of what might be the focus for 2016 and I came up with advancing climate change/environmental as political issues (i.e. price on carbon) with those increasingly engaged fans. Is that something the Alliance is looking at?
AH: Not really. You see, we’re not a single sector trade association, like doctors or truckers, for whom it’s relatively easy to take political positions. We’re a market-based coalition made up of architects and foodservice providers, stadium managers and collegiate athletic departments. It makes it very difficult to gain agreement on political issues so we don’t take positions on them.
GSB: So where will the 2016 Summit be held?
AH: The Alliance just announced that its 2016 Summit will be held in Houston, at Minute Maid Park, home of the Astros, at the end of June.
GSB: Well, I for one have been thinking that The Alliance should go to a city outside of the Blue State, Green-leading north. So from that perspective, you can’t get much better than Houston. Congratulations and thank you for talking with us.
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