How Sports Could Change the World…Again
Sports have always had a powerful influence on the world’s politics, international diplomacy, human culture and shaping the attitudes of society. And while sports continue to put human faces and names to difficult issues concerning various types of discrimination and social injustice, sports are uniquely poised to change the world in one of the most profound ways ever imagined.
Sports can shape cultural attitudes.
Sports have a way of getting people of various backgrounds together to start conversing in a way that transcends political, sociological and ideological boundaries. Think about how Jackie Robinson helped change America’s attitudes about racial discrimination and helped pave the way for civil rights activists. Think about how Billie Jean King helped shift attitudes related to gender inequality and LGBT rights. More recently, think about the first openly gay NFL player, Michael Sam, and the mark he’s made on history.
But now, with the most important issue facing the future of mankind; the looming threat of anthropogenic climate change, the sports world has a new responsibility to help promote change. Despite the warnings (such as the IPCC report) based on overwhelming scientific consensus, general opinions about man-made climate change – its threat level and/or existence – are still deeply divided.
Only sports has the market influence and cultural visibility necessary to shift the attitudes of climate change deniers and encourage them to embrace environmental stewardship.
The majority of fans who follow the NFL, NHL, NASCAR, MLB, PGA, LPGA, IndyCar Series, College football, College basketball, and the Olympic games, tend to be high turn-out voters who skew Republican. It’s no secret that a majority of climate deniers vote Republican. Surprisingly, education, knowledge and income levels are not significant factors when it comes to climate change acceptance. It stands to reason then, that climate change acceptance is much more of a cultural issue than a factual one.
No other industry outside of sports has embraced sustainability on such a massive scale.
There’s no doubt that most professional sports leagues and clubs are serious about embracing sustainability. For years now, sports stadia and various arenas for football, baseball, basketball and other sports have gone to great lengths to try and green their facilities and business practices. In fact, no other industry outside of sports has embraced sustainability on such a massive scale. They’ve been successful thanks to the assistance provided by Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, (a.k.a. – the Godfather of Greening.)
Dr. Hershkowitz is a Senior Scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). He’s the director of the NRDC Sports Project, and he helped to establish the Green Sports Alliance. Dr. Hershkowitz has helped to ‘green’ several iconic American organizations, including the Academy Awards, the Grammy Awards, the MLB, NBA, NHL as well as the U.S. Tennis Association. (The title of ‘Godfather of Greening’ was given to him by the magazine, ‘Yoga + Joyful Living’ in 2009.) You can view his bio here.
In his blog, Dr. Hershkowitz wrote, “The single most important thing we can do to address the urgent ecological challenges we face is change cultural expectations and attitudes about how we relate to the planet…the NHL is using [their] market influence and cultural visibility to positively encourage millions of hockey fans – and the global businesses that support hockey—to embrace responsible environmental stewardship.”
The National Hockey League’s 2014 Sustainability Report
The NHL is the first to have ever released a league-wide Sustainability Report. The report emphasizes that reducing greenhouse emissions is an “obligation of all businesses, sports leagues and others alike.”
The report is prefaced by this powerful opening statement:
“Perhaps more than any other sport, hockey is impacted by environmental issues, particularly climate change and freshwater scarcity…Many of the NHL’s players, both past and present, learned to skate outside on frozen lakes, ponds and backyard rinks. The game of hockey is adversely affected if this opportunity becomes unavailable to future generations.”
The hope is that more organizations will follow the NHL’s example and create sustainability reports of their own.
Sports leagues know that what’s good for the planet is good for business.
In a 2013 discussion, representatives from the NHL, NFL, NBA, MLB, WNBA and the U.S. Olympic Committee all stated that “their [respective] league felt a social responsibility for improving the environment…they also stressed that it [sustainability] was good for business.”
And nearly a year later, the five panelists in the 2014 CSE Sports Marketing Symposium’s discussion all agreed that “sustainability efforts in the sports world will only increase as common sense and good business sense further align,” a message that Republican climate deniers could surely understand.
What the sports world needs to do now.
I remember watching and listening carefully for any mention of sustainability during Super Bowl XLVIII. It was held at MetLife Stadium, once dubbed the “Greenest Stadium” in the NFL. It holds 1,350 solar panels which powers its impressive LED lighting display. The stadium converts all its kitchen waste oil to biodiesel fuel. It composts all kitchen scraps from concessions. It donates leftover food, and recycles most of its waste. For better or worse, Super Bowl XLVIII was also the first ‘Mass-Transit Super Bowl’ for its reliance on public trains and buses to transport fans to and from the stadium.
But just how much advertising space was used during the Super Bowl to showcase any of the event’s green aspects? How much time was given during the game to point out any of the amazing sustainability efforts of both the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos? Was there even a comment about it from any of the game’s announcers?
Nope. Nada. Zilch.
It seems all the amazing sustainability efforts that sports have taken the lead on have remained largely behind the scenes. Any information about a stadium’s sustainability initiatives can usually only be found buried on a web page, on someone’s blog, or in a press release somewhere. It seems that sports leagues are hesitant to “preach to their fan base,” when in fact, that’s exactly what they ought to be doing.
Do you think sustainability should be better promoted during broadcasted sporting events? Share if you think sports can help change our national attitude to green!