Let the Games Be Green

Written By: Auriane Koster, Ph.D.

With summer, comes one of my favorite pastimes...Major League Baseball! Growing up on the East Coast, summer was always the time to go outside and play and watch sports. The dreary winter was over, and it was time to bathe in the sunlight. While the summer brings on a new meaning in Phoenix, it is still an important time for sports. Which got me thinking...how are major sporting events starting to integrate sustainability? Phoenix has hosted some of the largest sporting events in recent years. This year was the NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four, last year was the College Football Playoff National Championship, 2015 was the Super Bowl, 2011 was the MLB All-Star game, and every year is the Waste Management Open and Sprint Cup Series.While the games were exciting, were they sustainable?

This year’s Final Four included a plethora of sustainability initiatives. The event hoped to be zero-waste, and our very own Laurel helped to ensure that items were properly recycled. The event also included an e-waste recycling drive and a donation drive of gently used t-shirts. You could also sign the Green Pledge, which asked signers to choose one action item within four categories: recycle, energy conservation, water conservation, and reduce carbon emissions.

Another event to go zero waste is the annual Waste Management Phoenix Open, one of the rowdiest golf tournaments. Otherwise known as “The Greenest Show on Grass,” the Open achieves zero waste by composting, recycling, and turning waste to energy. In conjunction with GreenBiz (an organization that “advances the opportunities at the intersection of business, technology and sustainability”), Waste Management also hosts an Executive Sustainability Forum, including a keynote and panel discussions.

Landfill diversion seems to be a common theme for large sporting events. After Super Bowl XLIX, ASU School of Sustainability students led the clean-up of the University of Phoenix Stadium, sorting recyclables from non-recyclables. With the game came the NFL Urban Forestry program, planting trees throughout Phoenix.

When the MLB All-Star game came to Phoenix, so did its partner, the Natural Resources Defense Council. The event included in-stadium messaging, recycling, composting of food waste and food-soiled paper, and Green-e Certified renewable energy offsets. Even the red carpet that was used was made of 100 percent post-industrial recycled nylon yarn!

The 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship was also known as Playoff Green. The event focused on five sustainability areas: solid waste recycling, prepared food recovery, material repurposing, an urban forestry project, and renewable energy/travel offsets. Additionally, Jack Groh, the Sustainability Consultant for the College Football Playoffs and Super Bowl XLIX, did a wonderful lecture at ASU’s School of Sustainability, providing some insight into what it takes to make a major sporting event sustainable.

Almost all of the major sports teams and venues in Arizona are members of the Green Sports Alliance. With a total of 180 teams across 15 leagues, the organization, led by a Board of Directors, “leverages the cultural and market influence of sports to promote healthy, sustainable communities where people live and play.” It is good to know that when you are supporting your favorite team, they are supporting going green!

In a little over two weeks I am about to complete my first half Ironman. Sustainability at large sporting events makes sense; a lot of people in a small space, consuming a lot of items! But triathlons are quite different. While yes, there may be a crowd at the finish line, the competitors are usually separated and are traveling tens, if not hundreds, of miles. But IRONMAN (the company that puts on the races) is doing their part, too. For some of the races, they are able to partner with Waste Management, who not only provides recycling, but is also helping IRONMAN to track their environmental impact and view sustainability trends over time. You can watch Tom Carpenter, Director of Sustainability Services, discuss the sustainability initiatives here.

As you can see, many different sports, leagues, and organizations are giving extra thought to sustainability and how their events can make a smaller impact on the environment. Given all these great major league and college-level sports sustainability initiatives, how can you make sporting events at your school or community sustainable?