AEC Solutions / Operations/Management / Retail and Hospitality Buildings

Leveraging the Cultural Influence of Sports to Advance Green Building

The multibillion-dollar sports industry has a strong cultural influence. Is there a way to channel that power toward green-minded thinking?

October 3, 2013

Jesse Owens debunked Hitler’s theory of Aryan supremacy by becoming the most decorated athlete of the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, winning four gold medals. Jackie Robinson broke the major-league color barrier a decade later when he debuted for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. With his famous 1966 phrase, “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Vietcong,” Muhammad Ali mobilized opposition to the Vietnam War and inspired prominent civil rights activists like Martin Luther King, Jr. Billie Jean King propelled pay equality by upsetting Bobby Riggs in 1973. And Magic Johnson, in his public battle with HIV, brought the epidemic to mainstream conversation.

To be sure, sports maintain a long-standing tradition of cultural influence. We use them to connect with people, both at work and in our personal lives. We plan our evenings, weekends and vacations around them. We spend our hard-earned salaries on coveted tickets and our marketing budgets on broad-reaching sponsorships. We even choose where we live and learn based on the local sports environment. For the 58 percent of Americans who self-identify as sports fans, sports have a profound impact on the choices we make.

Today, that influence is stronger than ever. As sports transcend socioeconomic, political and religious barriers, the multibillion-dollar global industryAmerica’s 14th largest industry—unites people from all walks of life, reaching individuals, businesses, institutions and holistic communities.

With some of the world’s most iconic, inspirational and influential figures and organizations, the sports industry is an ideal catalyst for green building.

That’s why the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) recently partnered with the Green Sports Alliance to advance LEED, green schools and the organizations’ shared missions by pairing resources, merging audiences and expanding their collective impact.

From AT&T Park in San Francisco, to Philips Arena in Atlanta, to TFC Bank Stadium at the University of Minnesota, more than 25 collegiate and professional sports facilities have been LEED certified. The University of Oregon’s Matthew Knight Arena recently became the NCAA’s first LEED Gold-certified arena, and numerous other facilities, including multiple NFL stadiums, are LEED registered. LeBron James, Julius Peppers and Bryce Harper are just a few all-star athletes to play in a LEED-certified stadium, arena or ballpark.

When they visit these venues every year, millions of fans experience the benefits of green building firsthand. They see water conservation, energy efficiency and responsible waste management in action, and with the right communications strategies, fans can see the tangible outcomes of these initiatives. Through their partnership, USGBC and the Green Sports Alliance are working with teams to compellingly showcase their green building achievements on a global scale in a way that demonstrates value to business, the environment, the community and, of course, the fans.

For teams with more elementary sustainability programs, the organizations are collaboratively producing resources to help facilities operate in more healthful, economical and environmentally friendly ways.

USGBC is also working with the Green Sports Alliance to promote green schools through the Green Apple initiative of the Center for Green Schools at USGBC. In 2012, they brought together four professional teams in Seattle—the Seahawks, Mariners, Sounders and Storm—to augment a school garden to build momentum toward the inaugural Green Apple Day of Service. The first collaboration of its kind in the sports industry, the immensely successful event was featured at Safeco Field during the 2012 Green Sports Alliance Summit with Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, among other high-profile attendees from the sports industry.

Earlier this year, USGBC and the Green Sports Alliance released a co-developed Green Apple Toolkit for sports organizations, which encourages them to engage their communities in environmental stewardship with a focus on green schools. The toolkit includes out-of-the-box, in-game promotional opportunities and information about the Green Apple Day of Service. Thanks to the toolkit and other collaborative efforts of USGBC and the Green Sports Alliance, teams at all levels participated in the 2013 Green Apple Day of Service in communities across the country, from Philadelphia to Kansas City.

At the Green Sports Alliance’s 2013 Green Sports Summit in August, USGBC engaged with attendees about LEED and Green Apple on the exhibit floor, and Rachel Gutter, director of the Center for Green Schools at USGBC, led a discussion about community engagement. The Green Sports Alliance will be represented at the Green Apple booth at next month’s Greenbuild Conference and Expo in Philadelphia.

 As the sports industry plays a growing role in the green building movement, look for a stronger presence of athletes, teams and leagues among LEED users, Green Apple supporters and Greenbuild participants.  

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