Sporting Enterprises Race To Be Green
Vancouver is the first Olympics to make sustainability part of its official mission statement and claims to be the most eco-friendly games in history. Not to be outdone, the 2012 London Olympic Planning Committee has already declared that it will be the "most green and sustainable" games ever.
While it is difficult to imagine a stadium filled with guys drinking beer out of their hats and sucking down hot dogs as a model of eco-living, the race for green in sports has begun. The Philadelphia Eagles launched its "Go Green" program in 2003, and other teams and leagues have followed suit -- Fenway Park uses solar power for hot water; Yankee Stadium's structural steel is from nearly all recycled sources.
Like the Olympics, other sporting events are going green. MLB's All-Star Games have successively increased their sustainability measures. Last year, the USTA's U.S. Open officially went green, focusing on renewable energy, materials procurement, waste diversion and public awareness.
As sporting events go green, so must corporate sponsors. Lexus, IBM and Canon all played roles at the U.S. Open. As AdAge reports, "'It won't purely be about who's going to pay the millions for [the sponsorship] but what is the sustainability package they bring to the table,' according to sustainability consultant Andrew Winston."
In Vancouver, Coca-Cola pledged its first zero-waste, carbon-neutral sporting event, making the company one of the first major brands to undertake such a complex effort. Why? As AdAge reports, "'... we know from the research that sustainability is important to all of our customers. It has an impact on how customers are perceiving our brand,' says Coke's Thierry Borra."
This fact is not lost on the sports industry. According to a poll of sports executives released by the Sports Business Journal, eco-efforts are being driven by business decisions and the desire by brands to be seen as green leaders. The poll showed that 87% of sports teams are incorporating green because it is an important issue or for its PR value. When asked where sports properties can make the biggest green impact, the second-highest response (29%) was by leveraging the brand to increase awareness of green initiatives.
This last point makes the strongest case for going green in sports. While sporting events may not have the environmental impact of other businesses such as heavy industry, they do have one thing these industries don't -- a large and engaged audience.
It's unlikely that many energy consumers know much about their energy company. However, many of us know every detail about our favorite teams -- it is this audience that provides such a powerful platform for sports to leverage sustainability efforts and communicate a green message to build their brands.
The risk here, of course, is failure. Should Coke fail to deliver on its aggressive green promises in Vancouver, or should London 2012 fall short, these brands and their third-party partners such as the Natural Resources Defense Council and World Wildlife Fund, would be subject to criticism and accusations of greenwashing and loose standards.
Thorough planning is the best way to mitigate such risks -- Coke's planning began with a pilot program in the 2000 Olympics. By taking a deliberate, open and honest approach, sports enterprises can successfully increase their competitive positioning among consumers, and go for the gold.