How the Sports Industry Can Save Money—and the Planet

·4 min read

Today’s guest columnist is Scott Jenkins of the Green Sports Alliance.

If your “eyes glaze over” when you read about sea-level rise, epic snowstorms, or water and food shortages, they will clear up quickly when players can’t breathe because of wildfire smoke or fans can’t reach events through flooded streets. The effects of climate change are real, and owners, league executives and the sponsors and businesses adjacent to sports can do something to help mitigate the disruptions and losses that are already playing out.

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Last summer, nearly one in three Americans experienced a natural disaster fueled by climate change. Record-breaking drought, devastating wildfires, extreme heat, tornadoes, hurricanes, excessive rain and flooding are becoming more frequent and severe.

Besides the direct costs such events can impose on teams and leagues, the connection to paying customers is in jeopardy. Fans, younger ones in particular, recognize their future is at risk, and they have begun holding businesses accountable for their actions by choosing where to spend their money based on how those businesses align with their values. Proactively addressing these concerns will engage and grow the fan base.

Governments have started the decarbonization process by laying out plans and pulling the levers they can, and many businesses and even some sports teams have made commitments to cut carbon emissions by 50% by 2030 and to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

Commitments are nice, but action is needed.

So what can the sports world do? The industry has a different set of levers that can create enormous momentum—and those levers can help not just environmentally but financially, too.

Water and energy are getting more expensive. Conserving those two resources reduces expenses and environmental impacts. Smarter design, green engineering, and innovations in operations deliver efficiencies that reduce utility expenses by as much as 50% over the life of a building. By adopting and showcasing innovative technologies, the sports industry can engage fans and even attract additional corporate partners, generating revenue.

Every training facility and venue can and should be powered by 100% renewable energy. The technology exists, and the sports industry should lead the way and commit to making this happen by 2025. The upfront cost to install renewable energy systems or the premium to buy renewable energy from a utility is a fraction of what is spent each year on draft picks that have only a slim chance of making it. The investment will save resources and money and send a strong signal to our fans and corporate partners to join us in this fight to save our future.

The sports business is loaded with competitors, and not just the ones in uniform. Owners, executives, agents and managers are all in it to win. They have taken risks, developed profitable businesses, reaped profits, built organizations and, hopefully, put a few trophies in the lobby to boot. Success follows decisive action in the moment as well as looking into the future to plot the moves needed to defend and grow their interests. Those are the qualities needed to win the fight against a warming planet.

When the Green Sports Alliance launched 12 years ago, it was fortunate to have support from commissioners Bud Selig, David Stern and Gary Bettman. Embracing sustainability was viewed as both the right thing to do and good for business. In the past, it was easier to dismiss the scientists—even though there has been almost universal agreement by the scientific community—but people now realize how much more is at stake. Sustainability still is the right thing to do, but there is an equally urgent moral imperative. We must act fast to preserve the sports industry as well as life on earth.

The Green Sports Alliance’s newest program, Play to Zero, is a platform that allows teams, leagues and individuals to chart a path to zero emissions, measure and benchmark progress, share accomplishments and engage fans and sponsors in the journey. It will help anyone contribute to a more sustainable future, but it’s not the only way to get there and the most important thing anyone can do is get started, regardless of how.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s recent public statement supporting climate action was good to see. But this is just a start. We need strong leadership and real action. All leagues must end their reliance on fossil fuels and major sports commissioners Bettman, Roger Goodell, Don Garber, Rob Manfred and Silver need to commit to making that happen by 2025. The money is there, the tech is there, the need is overwhelming.

Jenkins, co-founder and board chair of the Green Sports Alliance, has developed and operated sports venues including Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Safeco Field, Lincoln Financial Field and Miller Park. The 12th annual Green Sports Alliance Summit is June 21-23 at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. 

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