Greening the Sports Industry with Alice Henly of NRDC

oikos International Student Reporter Marissa Rosen had the opportunity to meet and to chat with Alice Henly, Research Fellow at NRDC Green Sports, at the Wharton IGEL conference on April 26th. Alice and Marissa discussed the NRDC’s fan engagement strategies which have reached over 40 million NFL, NHL, MLB, and USTA enthusiasts, as well as new initiatives for the Ivy League sports conference and her sustainability challenges and successes along the way.

As a result of NRDC’s work, more than 100 professional teams have adopted environmental initiatives at their stadiums or arenas. This is certainly impressive! What would you say have been the hardest aspects of implementing change in the standards business practices of the professional sports venues?

The greatest challenge for many of our sports partners (like all organizations) interested in implementing a company-wide environmental program is finding the money to invest in the project. The single most important practical insight from our work to date is that starting with cost-saving environmental initiatives is crucial for garnering institutional support for a comprehensive sports greening program. Improved efficiency means less waste, which often translates into cost savings, as well as energy, water and other resource savings. We have found that business development and cost-cutting opportunities are essential for most effectively advancing our partners’ environmental agendas. A sports greening program that starts with financially-sound environmental initiatives helps the program gain momentum by helping to cut costs, strengthen the company’s brand, attract “green” sponsors, and engage a broader fan-base.

We always target the low-hanging fruit first, which yields the triple dividend of cutting costs, benefiting the environment and protecting public health. Reducing paper use, for example, saves money. The manufacture of virgin paper contributes to climate change, water pollution, the loss of forests and hazardous air pollution. A typical office disposes of about 350 pounds of wastepaper per employee annually. Switching to double-sided printing can cut this figure—and corresponding expenditures and environmental impacts—almost in half. Significantly reducing paper use reduces air and water pollution, disrupts fewer habitats, and saves precious resources like forests, energy and water, all while benefiting the bottom line.

The NRDC Sports Greening Project focuses on reviewing the day-to-day operations and supply chain relations of professional and collegiate sports with a focus on reducing ecological impacts. By implementing strategies like reducing energy use and waste, our project enables our sports partners to see the economic benefits of operating more efficiently, as well as the social benefits of giving back to their communities and promoting public health. We developed several tools to enhance the effectiveness of our project:

  • We created the NRDC Greening Advisor, free web-based guides for each major professional sports league that cover everything from purchasing to waste management. The NRDC Greening Advisor earned the U.S. EPA’s Environmental Merit Award in 2008 in recognition of its being the most comprehensive operations greening guide ever assembled.
  • We developed a guide entitled Solar Energy for Your Stadium or Arena, in partnership with the Bonneville Environmental Foundation. The guide encourages all sports facility operators to install on-site solar technology and provides detailed information about the process including: physical requirements, costs, available funding and incentives, and proposals.
  • We produce many Public Service Announcements featuring sports icons such as Venus Williams to educate fans about the environmental work of our partners.

Another important greening challenge for many major sports venues is access to robust and complete facility-wide information on energy and water use, as well as waste generation and other product procurement tracking. As the old saying goes, you manage what you measure. So as part of our ongoing collaboration with professional leagues, we are helping develop comprehensive software systems to collect and analyze facility operations data and encourage better practices by individual teams. Thanks to our project, MLB was the first professional sports league to implement a program in 2010 to collect league-wide data in order to document practices and share information about environmental efforts. The program quantifies facility operations data regarding energy consumption, waste management and recycling, water consumption and paper purchasing, with the opportunity to expand to additional metrics. The NHL launched their system in 2011 and we are working on similar tracking systems with the NBA, NFL and MLS for dissemination to all professional teams.

The NHL, MLB, NBA, NFL and MLS Have Partnered with the NRDC

What do you feel has been your largest personal contribution to the “Green Sports” arena, and what were the tangible outcomes from your work?

The NRDC Sports Greening Project is the most influential sports greening project in the world. NRDC pioneered the field of sports greening in the United States by engaging the world’s most iconic sports organizations in an industry-wide initiative to advance ecological stewardship. The NRDC Sports Greening Project works with more professional and collegiate sports leagues, teams and partners on environmental stewardship than any other project in the world. Our many project participants include: Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League, Major League Soccer, the National Football League, the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the Council of Ivy Group Presidents, the United States Tennis Association, the Green Sports Alliance (GSA), the Stadium Managers Association, Wharton Sports Business Institute, Ernst & Young, AEG, and approximately 140 professional sports teams.

The NRDC Sports Greening Project has led many major sports facilities nationwide to upgrade their infrastructure, improve efficiency and reduce their environmental impact. Thanks to our project our partners together have already:

  • avoided over 20 million pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent (based on cumulative RECs and carbon offsets purchased by leagues and teams),
  • saved over 10 million pages of paper annually (based on total avoided printed media guides),
  • installed over 19 thousand solar panels atop major sports facilities
  • restored over 1.4 million gallons of water to critically dewatered rivers and streams in the Western U.S. in 2011 alone (thanks to league- and team-based initiatives to balance water use during games) and conserved millions of gallons of water annually (based on cumulative savings from water efficiency initiatives including water-efficient fixtures and green roofs),
  • instigated over 80 recycling programs and over 20 composting programs in sports facilities and recycled millions of pounds of material (based on cumulative diversion rates).

All major U.S. professional leagues have distributed our Solar Development Guide to their teams (138 teams in total), within 62 independent markets, and to all U.S. sports facility operators. The guide was well received and there are now 11 major on-site solar systems.

On a more personal level, I recently launched a new sports greening partnership with the Ivy League. By teaming up with NRDC, the Ivy League made a landmark greening commitment as the first collegiate athletics conference in the name of environmental protection. I am working with the League to reduce the environmental impacts of its championship events and provide greening resources to all Ivy athletic departments, with the goal of minimizing the environmental footprint of their operations and supply chains. To kick off this partnership, we integrated ecologically intelligent practices into the planning and production of the inaugural Ivy League Women’s Rowing Championship, which took place on Sunday, May 13th at Cooper River Park in Pennsauken, N.J.

What have been the most effective ways to utilize the fans and get them involved in sustainability efforts?

The NRDC Sports Greening Project uses sports—which transcend political, cultural, socio-economic barriers—as the mouthpiece for environmental protection in order to more effectively tackle the serious ecological threats facing our planet and society. We seek to use our sports greening project as a vehicle to integrate environmentalism into mainstream American culture and behavior by informing and inspiring millions of Americans about the importance of environmental stewardship.

Our NRDC Sports Greening Project has had unparalleled outreach to millions of fans and businesses via the screening of environmental Public Service Announcements (PSAs) that we developed for our major league partners. To date the sports greening PSAs that we created in partnership with the NBA, the NHL, MLB and the USTA have reached over 40 million people about the importance of environmental stewardship. We have produced many PSAs over several years with icons including Billie Jean King and Robert Redford.

Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Philadelphia Eagles, will be the first pro stadium in the U.S. to generate 100% of its own electricity.

Locally in Philadelphia, the home of the NFL Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field will be the first professional stadium in the U.S. capable of generating 100 percent of its own electricity onsite with the installation of about 2,500 solar panels, 80 20-foot-high wind turbines, and a generator that runs on natural gas and biodiesel. Do you for see other NFL stadiums following this example, and if so, when?

The Philadelphia Eagles have made a very impressive commitment to environmental stewardship across all of their operations and are an excellent role model for their peers both within the NFL and across all professional sports leagues. I think the Eagles’ green initiatives will definitely spark greater interest in environmental programs throughout the NFL. In fact, another great example of a recent environmental accomplishment within the NFL is the Chicago Bears’ Soldier Field receiving LEED Certification. Soldier Field is the first NFL stadium to receive the award of LEED-EB Certification (which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Existing Buildings).

About the Author: Marissa is a Saint Louis native with an educational background in Communication and Biology from the University of Missouri – Columbia. She currently works full time at the University of Pennsylvania where she supports workplace sustainability as a Staff Eco-Rep, and is a Master student in Environmental Studies, concentrating in Advocacy and Education. Marissa will be an intern with Sustainable Brands for summer 2012, and will manage social media accounts to promote the greening of the associated multinational corporations. Marissa is an avid traveler and enjoys dancing, hiking, and jogging.

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2 responses to “Greening the Sports Industry with Alice Henly of NRDC

  1. Pingback: IGEL’s Greening the Supply Chain Conference Report | IGEL @ Wharton

  2. Pingback: Community Engagement through Penn’s Sprouting Athletics Eco-Reps Program | IGEL @ Wharton

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