Green Sports Alliance Scores Points for Sustainability

Molly Soat
Marketing News Weekly
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Key Takeaways
  • ​​​​Professional and collegiate sports leagues are ramping up their sustainability efforts via partnerships with the National Resources Defense Council.
  • In February 2010, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, owner of the NFL's Seattle Seahawks, partnered with the NRDC and other sports teams to exchange information on sustainability best practices for sports venues and team travel.
  • That partnership, the Green Sports Alliance, now includes Major League Baseball, National Hockey League, NFL and NCAA teams. 

In an effort to boost customer loyalty and promote their value to their communities, professional and collegiate sports leagues are ramping up their sustainability efforts via partnerships with the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a New York-based nonprofit international environmental advocacy group. The green efforts are paying off in ways that extend well beyond improved brand perception—namely, notable savings on stadiums’ energy bills.

In February 2010, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, owner of the National Football League’s Seattle Seahawks, conceived and founded an organization through which he would partner with the NRDC and some of the Northwest’s professional sports teams to exchange information on better practices in sustainability for sports venues and team travel, and develop solutions that are cost-competitive and environmentally sustainable for the leagues. That partnership, called the Green Sports Alliance, now includes two-thirds of Major League Baseball clubs, as well as half of the National Hockey League, nearly half of the NFL and more than 20 NCAA Division I teams. The NRDC was an obvious partner for Allen, since the environmental organization regularly partners with green industry groups, like the Broadway Green Alliance and the Conservation Alliance for Seafood Solutions.

On July 21, the NHL released its first Sustainability Report, working with the NRDC to track the league’s carbon footprint, including water and power usage, and pollution from team travel. MLB has been collecting league-wide environmental impact data since 2011, and the NFL’s initiatives include individual team efforts such as the San Francisco 49ers new stadium, which features a living roof and is set to open for the 2014-2015 season. NCAA football teams, meanwhile, have built LEED-certified stadiums and training facilities and run waste diversion programs during games.

“The 2014 NHL Sustainability Report is arguably the most important statement about the environment ever issued by a professional sports league,” Allen Hershkowitz, a senior scientist and co-founder of NRDC's Green Sports Alliance, said in a statement posted on the NHL’s blog. “The report's focus on controlling fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions is a mainstream wake-up call that climate disruption poses an existential threat to everything we hold dear, including sports and recreation.”

Leagues are always looking for ways to keep fans engaged during the off-season, so the NHL’s report was well-timed, says John Rowady, president of Chicago-based sports marketing and media services firm rEvolution Marketing. “The NHL Green initiative is generating a lot of positive buzz for the NHL during its off-season. It makes sense, as a part of a larger branding mission, to align with socially responsible causes that fit as it generates positive PR for the league and the cause.”

Adds Kevin Bartram, senior vice president of sports marketing at Auburn Hills, Mich.-based event and experiential marketing firm George P. Johnson: “Sustainability provides a unique opportunity for promoting innovation and for using social media to attract younger consumers to follow a sports brand. … Just as entertainers are often able to make an impact on the view of a cause held by the broader public, so too can athletes make an impact on perception and behavior. Fans do listen to their idols and the broader public will pay attention if the message is intelligently communicated by an athlete. When a team or venue sets an example by engaging in green actions, the experiential demonstration itself can be better than words, leading to direct behavioral change.”​ 

This article was originally published in the Aug. 12, 2014, issue of Marketing News Weekly.

Author Bio:

Molly Soat
Molly Soat is a staff writer for Marketing News and Marketing News Weekly. E-mail her at
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