The GSB Interview

The GSB Interview: Shelley Villalobos, Council For Responsible Sport


The Council For Responsible Sport is a non-profit, based in Eugene, Oregon, that certifies through a rigorous certification program, socially and environmentally responsible sports events, with a heritage in road races.

GreenSportsBlog believes this to be a very important endeavor and was thus pleased to be able to chat with Shelley Villalobos, the Council’s Certification Director, about its history, its current work and the future of green sports events.

GreenSportsBlog: When did the Council get started?

Shelley Villalobos: It was founded in 2007 in Portland.

GSB: Portland? What a surprise!

Shelley: It figures, I know, that one of the greenest cities in the US would be the birthplace of something called the Council For Responsible Sport!

Anyway, runners from the Portland area got together with The Freshwater Trust to organize a waterfront triathlon to celebrate that the Willamette River was again swimmable. The organizers of that run had strong values of environmental and social responsibility, which guided all race production decisions.

The seed was planted to set and maintain standards for road races and endurance events by a small group of Portlandians and it started to grow throughout the Pacific Northwest and then, with the Nike Women’s Half Marathon in San Francisco, to California and beyond.

GSB: What does the Council mean by “responsible sport”

Shelley: Well, our definition is a broad one that focuses on the many ways event planners can increase an event’s social benefits while, at the same time, reducing its environmental footprint. Our certification program is at the heart of our efforts to support, certify and celebrate responsibly produced sports events. The third iteration of our certification standards, version 4.1, took effect in January of this year.

GSB: What’s in version 4.1?

Shelley: It’s a collection of 61 total standards across five categories that events can strive to achieve, with basic certification awarded when 27 of the standards (45 percent) have been met.

The Planning & Communications section asks event organizers, among other things, if they’ve chosen sites that minimize environmental impacts, if they produce a sustainability report. Do they notify the community and solicit feedback on how to mitigate the negative impacts of the event on that community? Then we go into Procurement, which deals with considering the impacts of the physical goods being purchased, brought onsite and distributed.

A ‘stretch credit’ for many events is providing access to locally produced food. Next is Resource Management.

GSB: That’s what I was waiting for!



Shelley Villalobos, Certification Director for The Council For Responsible Sport, based in Eugene, OR. (Photo Credit: The Council For Responsible Sport)


Shelley: Very important, of course.

This covers waste diversion, water and energy use and carbon management. Then there’s an Access and Equity section that looks to see how event organizers are including under-served and under-represented groups by reducing barriers to their participation. Finally, organizers are encouraged to report on the long term Community Legacy of their event.

Is there new green infrastructure as a result? Were the goals of the sustainability report, if written, achieved? What was the total local economic impact of the event?

GSB: This is a very comprehensive certification process, to say the least. How did 4.1 change vs. 3.1?

Shelley: We made 4.1 more adaptable, less prescriptive. By that I mean that we give out options for “a la carte” credits–a sort of menu for event organizers to add greening or social elements to the extent that makes sense for them, so if they don’t do them all, they’re not penalized.

We also offer ‘innovation’ credits for the great work that events do that are unique to their event and not otherwise included in the standards. These adjustments made our standards more relevant to more types of sports.

GSB: So this answers my next question–which was to be “Does the Council certify only road races?” Obviously the answer is no.

Shelley: We stuck exclusively with road races until 2012, when the Waste Management Phoenix Open came to the Council and said “we want our 2013 event to be certified!”

GSB: They’ve become a model of how to green an event!

Shelley: Yes, they have. They’ve certainly earned their gold-level certification status!

GSB: What about cycling?

Shelley: The Courage Classic Bike Tour in Tacoma came to us to get certified around the same time as the WM Phoenix Open and since then the TD Five Boro Bike Tour hosted by Bike New York, with tens of thousands of people riding through the city, has become certified also.

GSB: Are their cycling-specific standards and golf tournament-specific standards?

Shelley: No. The standards are not specific to running or to any sport, for that matter. Running was the heritage of the Council but the leaders realized pretty quickly that the standards are mostly translatable no matter the sport. A women’s Roller Derby team in Eugene, OR got their big annual tournament certified last year, for example.

GSB: A green Roller Derby? Who knew?!!


emerald city roller girls

The Emerald City Roller Girls on the jam. The Eugene, OR-based roller derby team had their 2013 annual tournament certified by The Council For Responsible Sport. (Photo Credit: Emerald City Roller Girls)


GSB: It sounds like you don’t have to do much in the way of selling…

Shelley: You’re right. We don’t sell our certification, per se. Events come to us when it’s right for them and they see the value in the third-party certification we offer. It’s been on an all on a request basis thus far.

SB: That’s fantastic! The Council is a 501 (c) (3) non-profit. How do you generate revenue? Through donations?

Shelley: Nope. We charge a fee for applying for certification to cover administrative costs and help us continue building resources to help events be successful in their social and environmental initiatives. The amount is based on the number of participants or spectators.

GSB: Sounds like a great model. How’s business?

Shelley: Growing! In 2013 we certified 14 events (Ed. Note: To see a photo montage that shows what responsible sports events look like, click here.) This year, we’re on track for 35.

GSB: Have you had any interest internationally?

Shelley: Yes. We went to the United Kingdom in 2011 to certify the Paralympics Great Britain training camp. Canada has had a couple events achieve certification, and we had our first Mexico-based event this summer, the Mexico City Marathon. Several events in Italy including the Milano Marathon, as well. After the US, we get the most hits to our website from Brazil, Italy, then Spain.

GSB: Speaking of Brazil, does the Council certify mega-events like the World Cup?

Shelley: We’re glad to take on the more high-profile events as they come. The Waste Management Phoenix Open, with 500,000+ fans, draws the biggest attendance of any PGA Tour event. The 5 Boro Bike Tour I mentioned in New York City attracts more than 50,000 cyclists. The Bank of America Chicago Marathon has 45,000 runners and a million spectators. The bigger the event, the bigger the impact of these positive behaviors and of course it helps with awareness of our brand too.

GSB: Sounds like the Council is at the epicenter of the Green-Sports movement. What’s your role there?

Shelley: Yes, there is lots happening right now, which is awesome to see! I manage our certification program, which means serving as a resource to events seeking certification. I share best practices with event managers, check and approve/disprove documentation, and answer all kinds of questions, among other things.

GSB: WOW! You are at the epicenter of the epicenter!

Shelley: Thanks! Our vision is a world where responsibly produced sporting events are the norm and our mission is to help make that a reality.

GSB:  Congratulations on the work that the Council For Responsible Sport has done towards that goal and good luck for what will most certainly a busy 2015.


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  1. Great post. Found this really informative – did not know organizations like this even existed.
    Two questions:
    1. Do you have any stats on the negative impact “non-sustainable” or “irresponsible” sports/sports events have on the environment? As in, if all “irresponsible” sports were to become “responsible”, what would be the magnitude of the impact ?
    2. Are consumers or athletes rewarding sports companies, sports venues, and/or sports events for being sustainable ?
    Thanks for writing and educating us all!

  2. Thanks for the comment, TheSustainableInvestor–and for your great blog (! Your first question is a GREAT one–and before I take a stab at it, I’m going to refer it to Shelley Villalobos of the Council For Responsible Sport to get her take (she may have access to figures that I don’t). On the 2nd question, also a good one, there was a July 2014 quantitative research study conducted by Turnkey Intelligence among 1,007 US sports fans (qualifications: attend 2 or more sports events/year). Major findings: 1. Sports fans are DISPROPORTIONATELY concerned about the environment vs. the general population. 2. Women sports fans are more concerned about the environment than their male counterparts (not surprising to me) and are very open to teams marketing to them with environmental messages. There’s more in the data that leads to a “qualified yes” answer to your question. The qualification is that teams who are doing the right thing(s) aren’t yet marketing their greenness enough. To learn more, read our August interview with Steve Seiferheld of Turnkey Intelligence. Steve managed the study and presented its findings at the Green Sports Alliance Summit in Santa Clara, CA in July. Here’s the link:

  3. Hi SustainableInvestor,
    With regards to your question about the magnitude of impacts of sports, it’s almost impossible to gauge the impacts of sports events — professional, college or participatory — on the environment and adjacent communities. Just in the U.S., there were 28,200 running events staged in 2013, with some 19 million finishers; that’s a lot of travel, trash and community impact. Add to those numbers,Gran Fondo and century bike rides, triathlons and, yes, even roller derby tournaments. Some of these events have been certified “responsible” by the Council for Responsible Sport, many others go to great lengths to reduce and manage their impacts, while some, unfortunately, make little effort whatsoever. And even though there’s not a certification scheme for professional or collegiate sports events like the Council’s, the same statement holds true: many go to great lengths to reduce and manage their impacts, some don’t.
    Suffice it to say, as more and more sports event organizers get on the green sports bandwagon, there will be more waste diverted from landfills, greater use of renewable energy and public transportation, more thought given to community impact and positive legacy, and more awareness generated among participants and fans about the good work being done, which can only lead to a tremendously positive impact at events, in stadiums and at home.

  4. […] Shelley Villalobos, Certification Director at The Council For Responsible Sport: Learning to recycle at summer camp. […]

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