Green is the New Black: Keeping Events Eco-Friendly Also Makes Them Profitable | Sports Destination Management

Green is the New Black: Keeping Events Eco-Friendly Also Makes Them Profitable

Sep 04, 2019 | By: Mary Helen Sprecher

Is green the new black?

Event owners and rights-holders are implementing eco-friendly initiatives. Done correctly, they help reduce the footprint of events – while having the ancillary benefits of raising awareness and building good relations with destinations.

Bonus round: They provide a great marketing angle, and something that can be played up to the media.

It’s easy to combine ecological outreach, and events from college tailgates to the Olympics are jumping on board with sustainability programs. The best news is that many initiatives can be implemented, even at the local level.

Incentive Programs

RecycleMania, which previously sponsored The GameDay Recycling Challenge, a nationwide competition among universities to reduce and recycle the waste generated at home football games, has broadened its scope to create “the Campus Race to Zero Waste” for 2020. In the past, for the Game Day Recycling Challenge, RecycleMania posted a scoreboard showing where each participating school ranked in its eco-friendly worked, such as through pounds of recycling collected. Count on the forthcoming initiative to use similar techniques.

Awards made at the state level can also encourage eco-friendliness. The Pittsburgh Three Rivers Marathon was named the winner of two Zero Waste Achievement Awards by the Pennsylvania Resources Council.

The 2018 marathon weekend of events achieved a 94 percent waste diversion rate. Approximately 37,673 pounds of waste was either recycled, reused or composted after the race. It was the fifth year in a row the event successfully diverted 90 percent or more of its waste from landfills.

The IOC (yes, that IOC), whose president, Thomas Bach, stated that climate change was one of the reasons fewer cities are bidding to host the Games, has announced a program to “reward through carbon offsets those international federations and national Olympic committees who have demonstrated willingness to tackle greenhouse gas emissions "within the scope of their sports organizations and respective events.”

It comes as part of a joint scheme between the IOC and Dow, the organization's official carbon partner. IOC head of sustainability Michelle Lemaitre claimed the initiative would help persuade more organizations in the Olympic Movement to take action. "We consider climate change to be one of the biggest emergencies humanity has ever faced, and the IOC wants to ensure that the Olympic Movement addresses it in an impactful way," Lemaitre said.

Ongoing Sustainability Efforts

The USTA this year celebrated the 12th anniversary of its US Open sustainability initiative, continuing the tournament’s decade-plus commitment to reducing the environmental impact of the US Open, marked this year by a focus on global climate action and increased sponsor and partner participation.

USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center is home to three LEED certified structures including: Louis Armstrong Stadium (LEED Silver); Grandstand Stadium; and the Transportation Building. Additionally, landscaping uses largely native, drought-resistant plants.

Among the steps being taken at the fan level (more appear on the site at the link above) are the following:

Recycling: Fans are encouraged to recycle plastic bottles from drinks. (Fun fact: the ballperson polos, shorts and skorts this year are all made from recycled materials and each uniform contains approximately 10 recycled bottles.)

Commuting: Rather than commute by individual car, spectators are encouraged to take the subway or a bus. (The US Open also runs its own shuttle between its official hotel and the tennis center).

Other measures include

Food Service:

  • 12,000 gallons of food grease from US Open kitchens will be converted into biodiesel fuel. 
  • More than 70 tons of food waste from the US Open kitchens will be collected to be turned into compost for landscape and farming uses.
  • Paper or compostable straws will replace plastic straws across the site.
  • The majority of the service ware throughout the site is compostable, comprised of bio-based materials.
  • The US Open food concessionaire is locally sourcing approximately 20 percent of its produce and ingredients for the food offered on site. 
  • The US Open expects to donate almost 15 tons of food to the local community.
  • Imperfect produce, which would otherwise be discarded, is used as well

Paper Products:

  • Napkins in the general concession area are comprised of 100 percent recycled material.
  • The US Open Daily is printed on paper certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and printed on machines with dual-printing capabilities.
  • US Open tickets are provided electronically


Marriott recently announced it will be doing away with its travel-sized tubes of shampoo, conditioner and bath gel with larger bottles (which will remain in rooms and be refilled after guests leave) in an attempt to reduce plastic waste. According to CNN, Marriott said the small bottles aren’t generally recycled, and that eliminating them will reduce plastic disposal by 30 percent, or nearly 2 million pounds of plastic it sends to landfills annually.

Marriott isn’t the first to look to its guest bathrooms as places where recycling efforts were needed; in July, IHG, which owns Holiday Inn, said it would replace travel-sized tubes with bulk-sized toiletries beginning in 2021. Hilton Hotels previously announced that it is recycling used soap, transforming it into new bars of soap after they've been crushed and sanitized.


A variety of mobile apps can help individuals reduce their carbon footprint; however, many of these contain ideas that can be enlarged upon and promoted in sports events.

External Value

Establishing events that result in a lower carbon footprint can be have value even beyond the eco-friendliness (which is its own reward). Recycling programs and challenges based on sustainability efforts inspire spectators and athletes and educate them on the importance of living a greener life. At the same time, they build good will with sports commissions, conventions and visitors bureaus and cities as a whole, and can be one more ingredient in making an event more inviting when seeking bids from new destinations (or even when trying to secure a long-term contract in one area). Additionally, eco-friendly events are more marketable, and the special challenges or measures being taken are more likely to catch the ear of the media, should they be publicized well enough, and far enough in advance.

Ultimately, there is also economic impact to consider. While it may be a stretch to say green events make more, they may spend less on energy and use fewer resources that do come at a cost. Additionally, there may be local rebates or other rewards programs for programs that institute cost-saving measures. And ultimately, they may be more appealing to both athletes and spectators – which can boost economic impact in a very direct way.

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