Green Sports Alliance recruits fans, athletes and suppliers to join the big leagues in protecting the earth

“When you tell fans (like Trail Blazers' execs did), ‘Hey, we want you to bike to our games,’ thousands of people come out and start biking to games,” he said. “Then they think ‘Oh, I did it once, I can do it again.' You see hundreds and hundreds of people biking to games, and then you see people biking to work, not just games. You ask fans to participate in recycling and join us to start composting, then they start doing it at home.”

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GSA helps instigate energy efficiency audits including water conservation audits. The organization arranged for energy efficiency and water conservation audit at the Staples Center in Los Angeles where the Lakers, Clippers and Kings play. What they found was there are 170 urinals, each consuming 44,000 gallons of water a year. The Staples Center was using 7 million gallons annually, and they were paying for that water, according to Hershkowitz. GSA helped them apply for a grant from the city of LA to replace those water consuming urinals in a time of drought. They took the urinals and switched it to waterless urinals that saves them $6,000 to $7,000 a month. Those efforts can be replicated in other venues.

Zeulner also explains the positive results when higher-level executives take part in these movements, because then they are aware they have an “obligation” to make a difference, and they can encourage fans to be a part of this initiative.

“When you tell fans, (as Trail Blazers' execs did), ‘Hey, we want you to bike to our games,’ thousands of people come out and start biking to games,” he said. “Then they think ‘Oh, I did it once, I can do it again. You see hundreds and hundreds of people biking to games, and then you see people biking to work, not just games. You ask fans to participate in recycling and join us to start composting, then they start doing it at home.”

It applies to organic food and composting in the arena as well, he added, people think ‘why aren’t I doing this at home?’ and those are the type of movements GSA hopes to promotes.

Photo Courtesy of Vancouver Canucks.

We’re facing urgent ecological issues. This is the basis for our work,” said Hershkowitz, “but to deal with these issues, the single most important thing that we can to do address our ecological problems. The single most important thing we can do is change cultural attitudes and expectations about how we relate to the earth. That’s not going to be led by government.”

Cultural shifts are often instigated by sports, he added, whether it's Jesse Owens back in 1936 breaking the Aryan myth, Michael Sam on marriage equality, Magic Johnson de-stigmatizing the discussion on HIV or Jackie Robinson integrating baseball and moving civil rights more broadly forward.

“Sports is a great cultural arbiter, a great cultural unifier. Outside of the family, the most influential role models are athletes and entertainers,” said Hershkowitz. “And by harnessing that influence culturally, as well harnessing that power in the market place, we think we can make a lot of progress.”

Many professional sports league, including the NHL, release an annual sustainability report to monitor energy consumption and environmental impact. This helps them ensure they are constantly moving forward.

"Major environmental challenges such as climate change and fresh water scarcity impact communities everywhere, which is why the National Hockey League and its 30 member Clubs remain committed to sustainable business practices,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a press release. “We look forward to continuing this important work with the Green Sports Alliance because this effort is the right thing to do for the environment and is enormously meaningful to the long-term success of our League."

Photo of Dr. Allen Hershkowitz (left) and Justin Zeulner from GSA.

The future for ‘greening’ sports

A lot of GSA’s work is focused on the venue operator: energy efficiency, water conservation, waste reduction and recycling and smaller use of chemicals at the venues. Ultimately, the team wants to figure out how to protect biodiversity. The two great ecological crises of our time are climate disruption and biodiversity loss, said Hershkowitz. The green sports industry has been focused a lot on the climate, water and toxic issues. For the New Year, GSA wants to look into species preservation.

“Just recently over the last year and a half we have been working with researchers and with the leagues to develop an initiative to help protect animal species,” said Hershkowitz. “In the US there are about 153 professional sports teams, 77 of them share 50 animals as mascots. Of those 50 animals, 31 are endangered in the wild; this includes Canada as well.”

A new “mascots at risk” or “mascots forever” initiative is in the works to expand the green sporting movement with GSA.

“If we can use the platforms of sports to educate people about not buying ivory because it’s causing slaughter of elephants, or if we can use sports to educate people about not buying shark fin soup, because 11, 000 sharks everyday are slaughtered for shark fin soup,” continued Hershkowitz. “If we can use the platform of sports to help educate people about species preservation, that would be a meaningful, meaningful initiative and that’s the most competent example of how we’re expanding our work.”

View a case study on the Canucks' sustainability work below:

Vancouver Canucks - Case Study September 2013-2

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