Sustainability Needs a Rally Cry

By Christine Costa

Screen Shot 2012 08 01 at 2.08.27 PM Sustainability Needs a Rally CryA little over a week ago, the White House hosted a “Sports & Sustainability” roundtable. Members of sports leagues, teams and supply chains, including the Green Sports Alliance, Philadelphia Eagles, Busch Stadium and Coca Cola, attended to discuss natural resource issues, green building efforts and supply chain management. And while these infrastructural and operational issues are critical to “greening” one of the nation’s more influential industries, we could not help but ask, Where’s the consumer in all of this? After all, the sports industry is dependent on its fans (61% of Americans, in fact) and its fans often define their lifestyles by the industry’s players and brands.

Albeit localized, the sports industry has made incremental strides:

  • As of the beginning of 2012, there are 10 professional sports stadiums that have achieved LEED™ certification from the United States Green Building Council.
  • Major League Baseball purchased water restoration credits from the Bonneville Environmental Foundation for the 600,000 gallons of water that would be used during All-Star Week ballpark activities.
  • The National Hockey League sends unused food at arenas to local soup kitchens, keeping 105 tons of food out of landfills.
  • The Arizona Diamondbacks have added 150 new bins for plastic and aluminum bottles in Chase Field and compost all the food and paper waste, keeping 95 tons of garbage out of the landfills in nine months.
  • The Philadelphia Eagles get about 25 percent of their electricity from renewable sources.
  • Staples Center in Los Angeles recently replaced 3,000 halogen fixtures with LEDs, reducing energy consumption by 12 percent.

Major League Baseball has begun to move from leading by example to educating and inspiring its fans – running PSA’s at the World Series and forming a partnership with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). But the industry has not yet hit on that emotional connection between its investments and its fans’ everyday values. The green movement in sports has mirrored many other industries – making improvements that come slow, lack visibility and get caught up in the science, not the emotion. But fans love the speed, competition, community and inspiration their teams provide. Sustainability needs a rally cry of this nature.

So how do we get there?
The sports industry has long been a forum for driving major cultural shifts, connecting emotionally with its fans. Here are a few lessons from the past as a tiny effort to inspire that important shift from B2B to B2C and C2C communications:

livestrong 150x150 Sustainability Needs a Rally CryLivestrong Campaign
One of the most popular athlete campaigns in recent memory, The Lance Armstrong Foundation, through a partnership with Nike, launched this cause-related marketing (CRM) campaign focused on cancer education and awareness. The campaign did not focus on the science and investments in cancer research and survival. Rather, its simple, universal message struck a chord across demographics. Livestrong has touched over 50 million consumers with yellow bracelets, which have become an iconic symbol across the country standing for strength, health and survival.

Lessons learned:

  • The issue was made personal through a well-known athlete – Lance Armstrong
  • Secure a strong partnership(s) from a consumer brand – Nike
  • Create a single, consistent message that serves as a rally cry – Live Strong
  • CRM needs a strong national distribution channel – major retailers like Foot Locker and Niketown
  • Ensure major influencer support through public relations, partnership and grassroots efforts – bracelets have been worn by Olympic athletes, presidential candidates and celebrities

ErnieElsforAutism Sustainability Needs a Rally CryEls for Autism
Looking toward a more recent issue-based awareness campaign, superstar golfer Ernie Els has successfully launched a campaign to raise $30 million to support the development of an Autism Center of Excellence. To secure donors and raise awareness of the Autism epidemic that has swept the nation over the past several years, Els created the “Els for Autism Golf Challenge.” This program is the largest donation drive to date within the industry and in two years, Els is one third of the way to meeting his goal. Els commitment to the issue is the outcome of his 9-year-old son being diagnosed with Autism.

Lessons learned:

  • Spokespeople with an emotional connection with the cause are critical – Els son was diagnosed with Autism
  • Setting a reach goal that the community/nation can work towards collectively provides strong incentive to make individual commitments – Els has set a clear goal to raise $30 million
  • Creating an annual event loyal fans and fellow donors can come together for creates a sense of personal commitment and sense of community around an issue – Els hosts an annual golf tournament
  • Creating micro-events throughout the year provides valuable, localized touch points with community members and stirs ongoing media attention – Els and his supporters have hosted local golf days, afternoon teas and fundraising drives locally throughout the nation

The health of the environment and the people who live within it are closely intertwined. It’s time the sports industry applies these lessons and commits not only to operational and infrastructural changes within the industry, but a cultural shift as well.

Christine is IMRE’s Sustainability Practice Leader and works out of the IMRE Los Angeles Office. She can be reached at

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