Giving Back

Inside the Green Sports Alliance

Thousands upon thousands of professional and college sports games are played every year — all with their own carbon footprints. At the Green Sports Alliance Summit, the goal is to shrink them.

The meetings and conventions industry has made great strides in implementing green practices and combating waste, but if you really want to address sustainability from a continually occurring, event-based level, you have to talk about professional sports teams. Every Sunday during football season, there are more than a dozen games whose attendance rivals a large-scale conference. Thirty Major League Baseball teams each have a carbon footprint that stretches over 162 games a season. And on it goes.

The Green Sports Alliance is on it. Founded in 2010 by the investment company Vulcan Inc. and the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Alliance encompasses more than 250 professional and collegiate sports teams, venues, and events in 20 different sports leagues. They come together every year at the Green Sports Alliance Summit, which was held most recently at the Santa Clara Convention Center this past July 21–23.

“This is the only place that all of the professional leagues as well as now these collegiate leagues can convene around this one topic of sports greening,” said Sara Hoversten, the Alliance’s communications and outreach coordinator and a co-producer of the Summit. The program is designed to give attendees “the ability to really engage their peers in this dialogue and exercises around improving solutions that will not only advance the operations and the branding of the teams and venues, but will also really advance the sports-greening movement.”

Initially the Alliance’s membership was made up largely of venue operators, but as it’s branched out to include marketing, community relations, and other departments, attendance at the Summit has similarly diversified. More than 650 sports-industry professionals participated in this year’s Summit — a record number for an event that has grown steadily since its 200-attendee debut in 2011.

Along with tours of Bay Area stadiums and arenas, this year’s Summit offered case studies on transportation initiatives, involving athletes in sports greening, and engaging stakeholders at the collegiate level, as well as workshops that included sustainability reporting, sponsorships, and food strategies.

And, of course, there were the Summit’s own green initiatives. Through composting and recycling, the event diverted 93 percent of its waste from landfills. It used carbon offsets to make up for transportation emissions associated with the Summit, and water-restoration certificates to balance the nearly 72,000 gallons of water consumed at the convention center and in hotel rooms. And Summit tote bags were made from recycled vinyl banners provided by Alliance member teams.

“We have to obviously walk the walk,” Hoversten said. “We can’t host an event that isn’t green when we’re pushing all of our teams and venues to do something. And one of the things that we want to show them is that you can have a very brand-aligned and compelling and exciting event that also maintains these higher green environmental standards.”

Christopher Durso

Christopher Durso formerly was executive editor of Convene.