Sports Can Be the Leader for Sustainable Initiatives

The sports green movement holds the potential to be the most influential initiative in the history of the environmental movement,” Allen Hershkowitz, senior scientist for the Natural Resources Defense Council, tells me in the lobby of the Hyatt Regency Santa Clara.

It’s the first afternoon of the Green Sports Alliance Summit, and the longtime advocate of sustainability is in his wheelhouse, reciting facts, figures and anecdotes of how sports is taking the lead in this important movement. “If the sports industry wants it and promotes it, the world can change. Sports has led to change in race relations, inclusion and in so many areas, it will now change the world in the environmental sphere. We are seeing a culture shift in sports. There is no turning back.”

This is the theme from the fourth annual summit over three days last week. Attended by more than 600, it serves as an incubator for ideas and professional networking, all with designs on helping teams, venues and leagues enhance their environmental performance. From Hershkowitz, to Levi’s brand President James Curleigh to San Francisco 49ers CEO Jed York, the message is clear: Sports can serve as a driver for environmental efficiency.

York impresses with his understanding of and commitment to the efforts, and he is thrilled to announce that Levi’s Stadium was certified for LEED Gold for new construction last week. He stresses the efforts were not cosmetic or simply green-washing, but instead rooted in business. “We are functionally green because it makes business sense,” he says. He also sounds a cautionary note to organizations that aren’t as progressive. “You’re not going to be relevant to consumers if you’re not sustainable.” One common denominator throughout is of “little wins.”York declares, “It’s not that difficult to do these efforts. Take little wins and build from that.”

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