There is likely no one better to talk to about the past, present and future of the Green-Sports Movement than Scott Jenkins: For almost two decades, Scott has worked in stadium/ballpark operations in positions of increasing responsibility–he now is the General Manager of the New Atlanta Stadium (future home of the Atlanta Falcons and the new, as yet unnamed Atlanta MLS team). And, he was in on the birth of the Green Sports Alliance back in 2008 and is now its Board Chairman. Scott and I spoke during a break at the recent Green Sports Alliance Summit in Santa Clara.
GreenSportsBlog: Scott, it’s great to see the energy and ingenuity coming from 700+ folks at this, the 4th Green Sports Alliance Summit. You were there at the beginning 5-6 years ago. Could you have imagined this kind of growth in such a short time?
Scott Jenkins: While we were confident, there’s no way we could’ve foreseen that the Summit and the Alliance would grow this big, this fast.
GSB: How did the Alliance come into being?
SJ: Well, back in the mid-late 2000s, top executives connected with the pro sports teams in Vancouver, Seattle and Portland–like Jason Twill (Head of Sustainability, Vulcan, Inc., the firm owned by Paul Allen, owner of the Seattle Seahawks, Seattle Sounders and Portland Trail Blazers), Justin Zeulner (then Director of Sustainability at the Trailblazers, now with Vulcan), Dr. Allen Hershkowitz (Senior Scientist, Natural Resources Defense Council, and the leader of their “greening sports” initiatives) and myself (VP, Ballpark Operations, Seattle Mariners)–had been talking informally about things like recycling and diversion from landfills. And so, informally at first, the Alliance was born in the Pacific Northwest.
GSB: The Cascadia Region (Vancouver-Portland) certainly has greenness in its DNA so it makes sense an idea like the Alliance would take shape there. Did you get all of the teams in that region in from the start?
SJ: We got all of the Seattle teams, the Trail Blazers and the Vancouver Canucks. The Portland Timbers were not in MLS at that time so they joined later on.
Scott Jenkins, Co-Founder and current Board Chairman of the Green Sports Alliance and General Manager of the New Atlanta Stadium, future home of the Falcons and Atlanta United (Photo credit: Green Sports Alliance)
GSB: So how did you formalize things?
SJ: We knew that, to attract the business communities that support and sponsor sports teams and leagues and that would help build the green-sports movement, we’d have to become a registered 501(c)(3). So we built a startup non-profit by getting some funding from team ownership. We’re a lean organization, made up mainly of volunteers, with 4-5 paid staff. The first thing we did was our 1st Summit, in Portland in 2011. 150 people came. And so we knew we were onto something.
GSB: Did you intend to always stay a Cascadia Region entity or was it part of the plan to go bigger?
SJ: Some folks thought we should stay in the Pacific Northwest but the consensus was that that was too limiting. Going national was the right thing to do as we now have 113 teams and 131 venues as members.
GSB: So you’ve grown like gang-busters from the team-and-venue and the attendees-at-Summit perspectives. What’s next?
SJ: I’d say we’ve matured as GSA version 1.0 and are now on to version 2.0. Version 1.0 was the growth phase in terms of getting team and league buy-in as well as industry and supply chain (i.e. greener products used in the sports industry) support.
Version 2.0 means engaging fans and athletes in the greening of sports. That’s where the power is! Our goal is a big one, as it should be, and that is to drive cultural change around sustainability. And nothing drives cultural change like sports. If we’re successful it’ll be good for sports, good for fans, good for the players, good for the environment and good for business.
GSB: Speaking of athletes, it’s great that guys like former Stanley Cup winning goaltender Mike Richter and St. Louis Rams linebacker Will Weatherspoon are here, demonstrating that there are indeed eco-athletes. But it is my contention that the Green-Sports movement desperately needs an über star, like a LeBron James, Peyton Manning or Serena Williams to say that “climate change is real, it’s human caused and we gotta do something about it.” Why do you think that hasn’t happened yet?
SJ: It’s tough for most players–they’re laser focused on their sports; climate change is complex, the science is complex. In general, they see going out on climate change as risky…
GSB:…Is it really that risky? Things are changing fast on this issue, and in the right direction. Especially for people under 35, the question about climate change being real is settled in the affirmative. I don’t see why Peyton, why LeBron would be afraid of speaking up on this!
SJ: You’re absolutely right. A recent research study showed that 81 percent of sports fans care about the environment. Really, what we need to do is to show the people at the top that we’re at a tipping point–and that it’s a great opportunity for a real leader to step up.
GSB: We gotta get LeBron, Peyton or someone of that ilk to speak at Green Sports Alliance Summit Five next year in Chicago. Can you guys work on that?
SJ: We’re on it!
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