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Sports Go Sustainable: The Greening of Events

10 Feb, 2016

By: Tracey Schelmetic

Sporting events, whether they are team games or organized road races, generate a lot of positive things: enthusiasm, teamwork, entertainment and money for teams and sponsors. Unfortunately, it also generates a lot of not-so-great things: namely, a whole lot of garbage and waste. Fortunately, the issue is coming to the forefront. Sports event planning professionals are are recognizing that increasingly, the key to marketability is tied, at least to some degree, to the event's sustainability.

In fact, according to MediaPost's Marketing CPG, growing environmental needs and consumer concern are increasingly steering consumer spending habits. According to Mintel, “63% of U.S. consumers feel that ethical issues are becoming more important, and 56% stopped buying from companies they believe are unethical.”

What does that translate into? Events, even on the largest scale, greening their profiles to align themselves with the new consumers.

The 1994 Winter Olympic Games in Lillehammer, Norway set a precedent for green games – more than 200 environmental initiatives were carried out during the event -- and since then, many new initiatives have helped to clean up sports. And Tokyo 2020 is set to be the most sustainable Games yet.

The incoming generation, Millennials, are poised to become the next spenders on sports, and they're both eco-concscious and altruistic, two characteristics that feed directly into the initiatives. In fact, there are a number of events in which the Millennial footprint can be seen clearly:

Making Football Beautiful
The GameDay Recycling Challenge (GDRC) is a consortium made up of the College & University Recycling Coalition, the non-profit group Keep America Beautiful, a nonprofit 501c (3) organization called RecycleMania, Inc. and glass and metal packaging solutions company Ardagh Group. The challenge engages hundreds of thousands of collegiate football fans in a waste reduction and recycling competition every fall. This year, it pitted 99 colleges and universities against each other in a fun and friendly way with the goal of engaging fans to reduce their game-day waste, while composting and recycling more. GameDay Recycling Challenge fans recycled or composted nearly 2.5 million pounds of game-day waste during the course of the fall season.

“Here`s an innovative way to understand the significance of the environmental footprint of GameDay events,” said Stacy Wheeler, president, RecycleMania, Inc. “Rather than pitch it all, GameDay Challenge stadiums are refining how they recover and recycle their waste, and at the same time educate a new generation of stadium fans.”

The challenge awards the winners in two ways: by determining the amount of recyclables recovered as a percentage of total trash, and by weight of recycling received. (Smaller colleges would be disadvantaged by the volume determination.) This year, two schools were awarded by the GDRC: Ohio University, which recovered and recycled 95.71 percent of its game day trash, and by Louisiana State University, which recovered a staggering 86,400 pounds of recyclable material. (The complete results of the challenge may be found on the GDRC’s Web site here.) According to organizers of the GDRC, the 99 colleges and universities that participated recycled or reused 2.1 million pounds of bottles, cans, paper, cardboard and other recyclable materials, and composted or recovered 457,000 pounds of  food organics. Diverting these materials from the landfill prevented the release of an estimated 3,650 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MTCO2E). This is roughly equivalent to eliminating the annual greenhouse gas emissions from 768 passenger vehicles, or the emissions produced by the annual electricity use of 333 households. The recyclable or compostable materials were recovered from both inside the stadiums and the tailgating areas in parking lots.

Greening the Running
The Council for Responsible Sport debuted in 2007 at the City of Portland Triathlon in Oregon. Today, the CRS offers a certification program to race events whose organizers strive to produce socially and environmentally responsible events. The council provides hands-on coaching and a variety of support group programs. On its Web site, the group notes that independent certification provides participants and sponsors with the assurance that an event has made a thorough and systematic effort to become more responsible.

Today, more than 128 events have been certified by CRS. While most of them are road races or triathlons, other events they have certified include roller derby, golf, cycling, dodgeball, track and field events and even Paralympics training camps.

The Council for Responsible Sport maintains a point system, and events can be certified to different levels. Basic certification requires achievement of 45 percent of total credits, silver recognizes achievement of 60 percent of credits, gold indicates achievement of 75 percent of credits and evergreen honors events that have achieved at least 90 percent of the group’s certification credits. (The few events that have achieved Evergreen-level certification include the Marin County Triathlon in San Rafael, California; the Birmingham Half Marathon in England, and the Waste Management Phoenix Open golf event.

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