A Good Start, Big Opportunities Ahead: The Greening Of Sports

Memorial Day marks the end of (just about) the first third of the Major League Baseball season.  It’s a time when teams reassess whether they are going to be contenders, pretenders, bottom feeders, or, in the case of this year’s Houston Astros and Miami Marlins, historically bad bottom feeders.

In the world of North American professional sports teams and leagues, as it pertains to sustainability, I’d say that:

  1. They are more or less in the early stages,
  2. There are hopeful signs (maybe teams/leagues are pretenders now can become possible contenders if they play their cards right),
  3. But there’s a lot more that needs to be done before any sort of victory can be claimed.

I’d venture to say the vast majority of US/Canadian sports fans are unaware of the greening efforts that have been undertaken by the major professional sports leagues and associations, from Major League Baseball to the National Basketball Association, from the National Football League to National Hockey League, from Major League Soccer to the United States Tennis Association.  As to whether they’d care is another question.

In fact, all of the leagues and associations have taken some, what I would call, small but significant first steps, largely with the help of The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and its “Greening Advisor” platform.

Beginning in 2004, the NRDC Greening Advisor team has helped the leagues and teams promote/enact energy efficiency, recycling programs, waste reduction, water conservation and other smart operations.

One initiative I’d like to highlight is the NHL’s Green program and its work in water conservation.  Or, more specifically, ice conservation.  Partnering with Rinkwatch.org, an organization at the intersection of pond hockey/backyard skatint and climate science (who knew?), NHL Green asks pond hockey players in Canada and the northern US to document how many outdoor hockey days there are in a given season (they are declining).  While concern about polar bears animates certain folks, the decline in pond hockey days will likely engage a different and sizable population.  Pretty cool, no?

This program, along with those from Major League Soccer, the NBA and others are good starts BUT there’s a long way to go.

You’ll know that the leagues and teams are more green contenders than pretenders, when, they use their massive power to truly engage fans–the ones who come to the ballpark and the even many more who watch on TV.  The numbers of fans are so great and their passion so intense that, if a sponsor can borrow just a portion of that passion towards a green goal, they, the team and league, and the environment would all be winners.  More on what the next steps could look like in Friday’s post.

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We Need To Play To Win The (Climate Crisis) Game…Hello?!?

In sports, what keeps us interested and glued to our TVs is the score.  Who’s winning, who’s losing.  As former Jets coach Herm Edwards famously said–and you HAVE TO WATCH THIS–“You play to win the GAME!  Hello!?!”

The use of numbers goes far beyond just who won and lost, of course.  Sports and statistics go together like Minneapolis and St. Paul–they are the lifeblood of scouts and General Managers who try to discern from measurements of past performance how players and teams will fare in the future.  “Moneyball”, the Oscar nominated film based on the book by Michael Lewis, examined how advanced statistics and computing power changed the way baseball players were valued.  New-fangled stats like OPS, WHIP and VORP (don’t ask!) allow for a more detailed, more nuanced measure of baseball players.  Fans have gotten into the act by playing GM in all manner of statistics-based Fantasy Sports leagues, creating their own “teams” by drafting real-life players and then, using statistics to determine who wins.

Keeping score and statistics are every bit as integral to the world of sustainability as they are to sports.

One number that shows humanity is NOT “playing to win the game” is 400.  That represents the number of parts per million of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the Earth’s atmosphere as of a couple weeks ago.  350 is the number that leading climate scientists say is the safe upper limit for CO2.  Batting .400 in baseball, an incredibly positive and rare achievement, is something that hasn’t been done since 1941 (Ted Williams, .406).  Passing the 400 PPM of CO2 in the atmosphere mark is something that’s never been seen in recorded history, going back 800,000 years.  There are estimates that this level may have existed over 3 million years ago, but that was before humans existed.  And, the bigger problem is, we’re moving towards 450-500, not back to 350.

If we’re going to move in the right direction, numbers will play an integral role.

There is a fast-growing movement towards measuring corporate emissions of greenhouse gases/carbon footprint, along with other environmental indicators.  Organizations like the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), the International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC) and (my client) the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) are all developing metrics that will allow investors to be able to compare corporations’ environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance or lack thereof on an apples-to-apples basis.

The grand slam (2 posts, 2 sports analogies, not bad) will be hit if/when a company’s ESG (i.e. non financial) performance can be linked to its financial performance.  There already is some research showing this connection; more is being done.  Once this link is conclusively proven, it’s not a stretch to see that investors will favor the companies with the strong ESG performance because they expect greater financial returns.  The laggards will have to raise their ESG batting averages (sorry, I can’t help myself) and a race to the sustainable business top will ensue.  And, since industry is such a huge contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions, it may well be that measurement of ESG performance will play a key role in moving that PPM number in the right direction.  We need these kinds of measurements to play to win the sustainability game!  Hello?!?

PARTING SHOTS

  • One of the largest sports advertisers, InBev Anheuser-Busch, has thrown its weight behind an anti-fracking push in Germany.  Concern about water quality for its beers brewed there led to this move.  Does anyone think they’ll get behind anti-fracking movements in the US?  Will be interesting to see.
  • More than 60% running shoes’ Carbon Footprint comes from manufacturing.  I imagined that transportation would represent a much greater percentage.  Good news is lots is being done to lower the manufacturing portion of that carbon footprint.
  • Finally, yesterday I attended the monthly New York Association of Energy Economics luncheon.  The speaker, John Licata, Chief Energy Strategist at research consultancy BluePhoenix spoke about Economic Energy Disruption–the idea that Climate Change/Extreme Weather can have severe effects on energy security and other issues.  In trying to predict which energy sources will win going forward and which will fall by the wayside.  To illustrate this, John used the metaphor of BRACKETOLOGY from March Madness.  He has CoGeneration winning over Offshore Wind but I think he’s undervaluing solar!!!  I bet Mike Francesa of WFAN would not get into this debate.Energy Sweet 16 Bracketology

 

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Welcome To GreenSportsBlog

I’ve decided to start a blog on the intersection of sustainability, (better known as “green”), and sports.  Your first reaction might be “What the heck does the ‘intersection of green and sports’ mean?

At first glance, there seem to be no obvious commonalities between, say, the severity of the Climate Crisis and how the Mets are doing.  Actually this is a bad example because both the Climate and the Mets are doing quite badly at the moment.  But, I digress.  One commonality that is interesting to me and, hopefully, to my readers, is PASSION.

That sports fans are passionate is the ultimate “duh”.  All you need to know is the word “fan” is derived from fanatic to know that sports fans are, well, NUTS.  We scream, call radio stations to vent (especially “Vinnie From Queens”), paint our faces, cry, and spend tons of $ to buy merchandise,  travel to games and buy super-sized HD LCD TVs.  We bet, get into verbal and physical fights.  A University of Alabama Crimson Tide fan, upset that in-state rival Auburn won the College Football National Championship in 2011, went to Auburn, poisoned a 150 year old tree that had become a symbol for Auburn football (fans, after a big win, would throw rolls of toilet paper all over the tree.  I never said sports fans make sense), called a radio show to brag about it, got arrested and was proud of it and finally copped a pleaRoll Tide! indeed.  And there are lots of us.  Think about it–if no one cared about sports a 30 second spot on the Super Bowl wouldn’t fetch $3 much less the $3+ million it went for this past February.

People who care about the climate crisis, doing something to turn the crisis around and thus save the Future of Humanity As We Know It are also passionate about it.  And yes, we do call in radio shows and scream (see the protest at the White House against the Keystone XL Pipeline in February that drew upwards of 30,000 people) and get arrested.  Thing is, there are not enough of us, at least not yet, to exert enough pressure on governments and businesses to push through the policies and change the behaviors to change climate “field position”.  Sorry for the first sports analogy of this blog.  I promise you it will be the first of many.

The problem is, according to roughly 99% of scientists publishing in the climate science-related fields, that humans are the cause of climate change that is on pace to essentially destroy ourselves, if nothing is done to limit carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions–the main sources of climate change.

This seems a much bigger problem than whether the Jets will ever win another Super Bowl in my lifetime.

Yet, as someone who is passionate about both sports and solving the climate crisis, I know that I often get more wrapped up in the Jets, Knicks, whatever, than figuring out how to help companies become more successful by being more environmentally friendly.

An answer to the question “can we solve climate change in time” may depend, in large part, on whether humanity can muster the consistent passion of sports fans.

This blog will examine this issue, and others related to sports and the climate crisis.  It will hopefully be informative, provocative, sometimes humorous.  And, if it gets you to scream about doing something serious about the climate (in addition to screaming about the refs in the Knicks/Pacers series), well, then I’ll consider this blog a success.

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