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Green Sports Alliance Annual Summit Emphasizes Urgency for Sustainability within Sports

Edited by Kenneth Tran

Chelsea Apostol, a 2023 Green Sports Alliance Summit attendee, holds a memorabilia plaque with the motto ‘Intention, Impact’ on June 28, 2023. (Photo/Marian Mohamed)

Instead of a concert, a hockey, or a basketball game, the Climate Pledge Arena hosted hundreds of attendees from notable sports and entertainment organizations, leagues, teams, stakeholders, and businesses for the 2023 Green Sports Alliance (GSA) Summit.

The three-day event took place between June 26 and June 28 and featured panels and breakout sessions for how organizations, businesses, and individuals within sports and entertainment can enact viable practices that aid in curbing the cycle of the climate crisis. Given the undeniable importance of sports for countries and cultures worldwide, sports and entertainment also needs to recognize the impact on our environment, from direct venue emissions, to waste management and diversion, and even transportation emissions of fans traveling to games. For example, the NFL Environmental Program estimates that a typical NFL game “generates about 35 tons of waste, and that can balloon by up to 50% for the Super Bowl.” As the Green Sports Alliance states, sports “is uniquely positioned to amplify environmental causes and activate passionate fan bases the world over.”

The Green Sports Alliance (GSA) was kickstarted by Paul G. Allen’s Vulcan Inc, the Natural Resource Defense Council, and with alliance members such as the Seahawks, Seattle Sounders FC, Seattle Storm, Seattle Mariners, and other notable team organizations within the Pacific Northwest. Since its inception in 2010, hundreds, within the US and globally, have been added as alliance members as the GSA continues to hold yearly summit meetings.

“My responsibility is to inspire those, to help educate, and convene those folks that have the power to influence,” said Executive Director Roger McClendon.

Roger McClendon, Executive Director of Green Sports Alliance (GSA), addressed the crowd on day one of the GSA 2023 summit on June 28, 2023. (Photo/Alan Alabastro)

McClendon further emphasizes the general power that sports and entertainment have on our lives and the power it has to connect individuals, communities, and countries for a specific love. That connection has the potential to create change within our society, especially in our environment.

A day prior to the summit at Climate Pledge Arena, GSA worked with the Duwamish River Community Coalition to take 120 attendees on a boat trip along the Duwamish River to see the environmental landmarks of Washington and to educate them about the detrimental and disproportionate effects of climate change on South End communities, according to GSA’s Manager of Marketing, Communications, and Events, Shay Strawser.

Throughout the summit, the GSA aimed to utilize its resources as a global platform to emphasize that sports conglomerates have exactly the same impact and footprint as other conglomerates around the world when it comes to the environment.

Day one and two of the summit featured 14 panels and 8 breakout sessions on topics ranging from athlete leadership, how teams and venues can engage their audience in sustainability, and the importance of innovative environmental practices supporting the next generation. Taking feedback from previous summits and the needs of expected attendees, Strawser and her team compiled a list of twelve subject matters.

Brianna Treat, the Director of Sustainability for the Climate Pledge Arena, leads a discussion about the benefits of net zero-carbon buildings and venues on June 28, 2023. (Photo/Alan Alabastro)

An in-depth exploration process like these panels and breakout sessions allow for further conversations and approaches to broad topic matters such as leadership, innovative ideas, or justice and equity that affect specific demographics such as athletes, stakeholders, audiences, youth and marginalized communities.

“We sit in meetings with leaders and sports members all year long, and we hear about where they need to grow, what they’re looking to hear,” said Strawser. “We really try to utilize that to create the most valuable experience at the summit. They can walk away feeling inspired and also feeling like they can go back and start to take action.”

Strawser brings much of her vision and goals of the GSA from her personal experience as a former athlete running cross country and track for Temple University, constantly drawn to how sports could influence equitable and transformative change within climate action. This also includes starting conversations around improving major sports organizations and programs' relationships with current and future generations of young people. In that improvement, setting a precedent for youth to delegate a role and voice in sustainable measures and amplifying the important work that youth sports programs are taking on.

Throughout the day, speakers emphasized the personal impact of this summit, GSA, and the climate crisis and sustainability issues on their own lives. Chef Molly DeMers, Executive Chef of The Climate Collective and a speaker for the ‘Ingredients for Successful Partnership,’ walked off-stage during one of her responses to bring her daughter to the stage, explaining that all the work she puts into sustainability efforts is so that her daughter wouldn’t have to deal with the ramifications.

“It’s so important that we remember that this isn’t a business,” said DeMers. “This is our human lives. I think about her every time I make a decision [and think about] how it’s going to impact your future kids.”

On the big stage, Chef DeMer, Executive Chef of the Climate Collective, holds her daughter as she passionately expresses the need for sustainable measures and practices so that future generations don’t need to deal with the fallbacks of inaction. (Photo/Alan Alabastro)

Additionally, DeMers emphasized the need for transparency, both for the younger generation and with fans not gullible to the complacency and inaction on the climate crisis from individuals and groups in positions of power. That transparency is integral when arenas like The Climate Pledge arena are developing partnerships against Scope 2 and Scope 3 emissions, including tracking the emissions of the food deliveries made to the arena and working with companies specializing in compostable food wrapping paper, according to DeMers.

The significance of these partnerships comes as FIFA announced Seattle as a FIFA World Cup 2026 host city. On day two, speakers from LA28, Dignity Health Sports Park, and FIFA each proposed their respective organizations’ impact on the environment as global sports and entertainment conglomerates.

Looking back at the FIFA World Cup 2022, Qatar already raised alarms with the increasing airplane emissions of traveling fans in a month and the thousands of liters of water needed to maintain fields for all eight stadiums. Federico Addiechi, FIFA Head of Sustainability, stated that there needs to be a diplomatic approach to meeting each sports organization and host country's environmental needs when a major event like FIFA takes place.

An established relationship with GSA could aid FIFA in understanding each city's existing environment, sustainability plans, sports, and entertainment infrastructure. GSA provides resources such as the Play to Zero “Building For The Next Generation: Venue Playbook”, created by Michael Kraus, GSA’s Director of Sustainable Events and Analytics, which provides a comprehensive guide to exploring and engaging with sustainable venues for sports and entertainment.

Attendees of the 2023 GSA summit sign in for a tour of Lumen Field on June 26, 2023. (Photo/Alan Alabastro)

It’s part of a comprehensive series of guides, including the venue's approach to composting and food waste, zero waste initiatives for college sports organizations, engaging fans through sustainable marketing campaigns, etc. The playbook presents five fundamentals, including “green venues are good investments, commit early to excellence, ensure maximum benefit to communities, build for our future, and measure, adapt, and monitor.” The playbook also encourages groups to involve local communities from the beginning and to trust the experts who provide adequate, capable, and reliable information.

“Involving local voices, world-class experts, owners, operators, everybody has to be at the table,’ said Kraus. “Everybody has to be at the table together to solve [the problem], that is really diving into the differences region by region and the differences between all these different groups.”


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