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Sports and Sustainability June 1, 2011

When people talk about sustainability they rarely think about how sports teams can implement sustainable measures. Sport entities are usually associated with entertainment and their objectives are generally to outperform other teams when in fact, sports and certain aspects of sustainability are directly linked. Sports teams are rewarded for their performance. Performance relates to sustainability because teams need to protect and develop the well-being of their players. In order to excel, players have to be in excellent health through proper diet and consistent exercise, which is directly related to one of the objectives of sustainability: nurturing human health. Basically, sports teams are already implementing some ‘people’ related sustainable measures without giving much thought to the benefits that can be obtained. Sports teams can further benefit from these practices by integrating sustainable initiatives throughout the entire organization.

Office of Sustainability

Some sports teams have started departments that focus their efforts on sustainability. Unfortunately, effects from the economic crisis have caused some of these teams to curtail their sustainability efforts. A survey conducted in 2009 of 50 professional sports teams suggests that only 25% of the teams currently have full-time employee dedicated to their green program or are actively considering adding a full-time green employee. Sports teams are recognizing the potential benefits of environmentally sustainable initiatives and this number is expected to grow. The same survey suggests that 80% of teams have formed or are actively considering forming an internal green team. Internal green teams would provide sports teams with the necessary expertise to address social and environmental issues.

Sustainable Advertising

Advertising agencies are taking initiatives to make their line of work as clean and sustainable as possible. EcoMedia, an environmentally friendly advertising firm, created the EcoAd, an innovative way to provide green funding for sustainable projects nationwide. The EcoAd provides organizations with the option to sponsor environmentally friendly projects. These organizations are recognized through an EcoAd leaf that would appear on the advertisement. Through sponsoring these projects, organizations can demonstrate their vested interest in environmental initiatives while providing funding where it is needed.

As teams worldwide sold their jerseys as billboards to gambling websites, some take an alternative route. One example is FC Barcelona, who offered UNICEF their jersey to promote their organization while agreeing to donate at least €1.5 million ($2.1 million) over five years to support their programs for children worldwide. Additionally, with FCB’s partnership with IDB, the sports team will provide their knowledge and experience in sports for children and young people as well as their Barça trademark. This joint effort aims to “help prevent violence, promote social inclusion, and to complete their education and improve employment opportunities.”

Sustainable Facilities and Equipment

All sports entities have facilities and sports equipment to manage and maintain. Facilities have a longer lifespan than sports equipment, which is more consumable and renewed on a constant basis. Constant renewal of sports equipment creates large amounts of waste. Initiatives carried out by sports teams worldwide include recycling used sports material by donating it to developing countries and children in need. Alternatively, sports equipment itself can be derived from recycled material. Although sustainable initiatives regarding sports equipment rely mostly on the team’s sponsor, sports teams can use their position to require that sponsors deliver equipment that meets sustainable benchmarks. In the case of FCB, their sponsor, Nike,  has been carrying out sustainable initiatives on their own. The FCB jersey is fabricated out of polyester created out of plastic bottles and each jersey is made out of exactly eight bottles. Additionally, the energy consumption in producing these jerseys is 30% less that the energy needed in producing a convention shirt. According to Nike, the jerseys they supplied during the World Cup in South Africa used a total of 13 million plastic bottles picked up from landfills in Japan and Taiwan.

FC Barcelona has reached out to Ecoembes, a non-profit organization aiming at reducing waste in sports arenas, to reduce waste in their sports facilities. FC Barcelona owns several facilities, including a stadium that can seat 99,354, a Sports City, basketball court, and an ice rink. Integrating 435 recycling points for paper and plastic containers throughout their facilities resulted in over 171,000 kg (380,000 lbs) of waste being recycled during the first year that would have otherwise ended up in a landfill.

Future of Sports Sustainability

Although initial implementation of sustainable solutions is generally expensive in the short run, results in the long term can be profitable, saving on waste and energy consumption. Benefits from implementing sustainable initiatives in sports teams are becoming more accessible to all sporting organizations, but there are sport entities that are more will to take the lead.  If the most prestigious teams carry out sustainable initiatives, other will follow, creating a domino effect. Already there are some sports organizations in the USA that have started to implement various sustainable measures.

The Philips Arena, home to the Atlanta Thrashers, and the American Airlines Arena, home to the Miami Heat, meet the requirements of the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. Additionally the Verizon Center, home to the Washington Capitals, and Rose Garden, home to the Portland Trail Blazers, have implemented energy conservation systems that save them thousands of dollars per month. 



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