What do the mining industry and professional mountain bike racing have in common? For starters, they both rely upon nature to provide an appropriate venue and therefore require special management strategies to mitigate biodiversity impacts.
What do The Masters Tournament and The Coca-Cola Company have in common? The future of both will be significantly impacted as our resource use – water, in particular – outstrips demand in a resource and climate change-constrained world.
Many such questions have come to mind, as I live in the San Francisco Bay Area where lately it’s hard to go a week without a news article, announcement or advertisement about the upcoming America’s Cup sailing regatta.
With “More Than a Sport” as the tagline, The 34th America’s Cup (AC34) – now the third largest sporting event in the world – is ramping up to entice millions of people to my city over the next two years. And they aim to do it responsibly.
A movement towards more sustainable sports is underway. Perhaps it was prompted by popular demand, inspired leadership, or as a result of what was learned from the 2008 Beijing Olympics (the first time several athletes contemplated whether to attend the Games due to poor environmental conditions).
Over 50 North American teams and venues have already joined the Green Sports Alliance, a non-profit formed recently to help evaluate and enhance the environmental performance of sports. “Walking the talk” goes a long way in sports, where fans want to be a part of a community, have fun while saving money, and get inspired by healthy people… who live on a healthy planet.
Here’s what’s going on in the sporting world that really has me fired up:
The Greening of Sports Demonstrates That When Considered in the Earliest Phases, Sustainability Works Best
The International Olympic Committee showed great leadership in the 1990s when it started requiring that the Olympic games bidding process address environmental impacts. Since this time, environmental discourse and performance has been increasingly used to legitimize successful proposals and partnerships in sports at large.
Take the 2018 FIFA World Cup, for example. Finalist venues in the bid-writing process were asked to provide energy, waste and water estimates assuming a sold-out game, as well as estimates on the ratio of fans that would arrive via various modes of transportation.
This level of detail inspires me, because while events like the FIFA World Cup and the Olympics happen infrequently, the social and environmental impacts are immense. Planning in advance is key. Having detailed information early in the process leads to the largest return in the areas that are likely to otherwise become “hot spots”.
Case in point: starting with the bidding process, the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games applied its carbon management strategy over a 7-year period (as opposed to just the 17-day Games period), and included pre-Games operations Green House Gasses.
Embedding sustainability into the conception phases of the event allowed for broader stakeholder involvement and spurred strategic venue selection and village design that minimized energy and travel requirements. According to the sustainability report, this led to a 77% waste diversion rate and nearly a 20% savings in direct emissions alone.
Managing sports is a business. So it’s fair to point out that early-stage planning in any business – whether light-weighting raw materials during the product design process to minimize emissions in transit, or implementing green procurement policies at a start-up – having sustainability “in the DNA” makes good sense.
Sustainable Sporting Events Bring Ideas for a Sustainable Future to Life, and have a Massive Multiplier Effect
Just like multi-national brands, sporting events have an opportunity to reach millions, even billions, inspiring them to adopt more socially and environmentally friendly attitudes.
But even with 70% of the world tuned in, as was the case for the Beijing 2008 Olympics, spectator engagement is a tricky topic. The approaches of the Olympic games are not yet known for effectively fostering the adoption of pro-environmental behavior.
But we are in the early stages…
Former Olympic medalist Jill Slavery, who currently heads up Sustainability for the AC34 has studied this topic at-length and writes in her book Sustainability and Sport, “The Olympic Games is marked by the notion of bringing forth human-kind’s highest ethics and ideals… I have seen the ideals associated with Olympism drive people to accomplish outstanding feats in the face of adversity. I would like to see this ethic move people to protect our environment and promote sustainable living.”
The AC34 has consulted with the city of San Francisco to develop a zero waste plan, and intends to create a carbon offset fund for the event. Furthermore, they plan to encourage spectators to travel to the events by public transport or carpools, and are partnering with NGOs to highlight issues affecting ocean health.
The opportunities for behavior change are immense, from increasing consumer demand for sustainable seafood to providing opportunities for volunteering and community-building, to providing a platform for sports heroes to communicate what they experience first-hand: the beauty and fragility of our oceans.
Hosting this event in the green-credentialed San Francisco Bay Area not only reinforces AC34’s aspirations but will also set the bar high for other large-scale events to come.
Hats off to the responsible event organizers for envisioning the change they want to see, in lieu of more strict governmental regulation. Their foresight pairs nicely with leading outdoor adventure and sporting goods manufacturers – such as Puma, Patagonia and Timberland – who are increasingly championing the design of environmentally friendly products and using their brand platforms to communicate and achieve a sustainable future.
Sustainable Sports Spur Innovation
Sydney and Vancouver provide examples of two cities that leveraged their Olympic opportunities to become thriving and desirable places to live, work and play. And Beijing has benefitted from aggressive governmental efforts to curtail traffic, boost emissions standards and halt construction prior to the games.
These are examples where sustainability is regenerating entire communities. We have also seen sustainability regenerate products and entire companies (I’m picturing IBM’s Smarter Planet campaign and GE’s Ecomagination).
And once organizations are on a sustainable path, a ripple affect of innovations through their entire value chains can occur, too. Just ask the longest-standing sponsor of the Olympics: Coca-Cola. It’s no coincidence that as the Olympics have gone green, Coke has partnered with organizations such as WWF and Greenpeace to unleash its new PlantBottleTM and deliver its products in hybrid trucks.
Also noteworthy was when Coca-Cola reduced approximately 4,000 metric tons of carbon during the 2008 Beijing games by implementing hydrofluorocarbon (HFC)-free technologies for its cooling equipment. HCF-free is now Coke’s defacto process at sporting events.
The world needs large-scale change, so it’s exciting to see service providers, sponsors and vendors playing bigger. Why simply aim for changes at the margin when we can ask more disruptive questions, as Coke did (“How can we cool our products without the use of potent greenhouse gasses such as HFCs?”)?
As travel to and from world class sporting events has been known to comprise one half of the total carbon footprint, this level of innovation reminds me of a company mentioned in my last blog entry… Virgin airlines. Virgin is testing possible solutions to the question “How can we fly without fossil fuels?”
Game on, indeed.
As sustainability becomes an inevitable strategic issue in the business of sports, we can learn a lot about front-end sustainable design, fostering pro-environmental behaviors and saving money and resources while building passionate customers.
Next up in the charge for green? The 2012 London Olympics, for one. Expectations run high, as the economic boom-time bid branded the games the “greenest to-date”.
Rather than sitting idly in one of the worst recessions in recent history, now is the time for the Olympics, AC34 and all innovative sport franchises to sail fearlessly into the future. Now is the time to lay a sustainable foundation, find value in their supply chains, deploy creative thinking broadly and play bigger.