Rip City Eco-Summit

What filled the streets of Seattle with 700,000 people last year?eco_summit_header

What cuts across all demographic, economic, political and religious lines?

What makes people leap out of their seats and cheer?

What’s one of the most powerful business drivers of getting a handle on climate change?

If you said sports, two points!

On April 9, the Trail Blazers hosted the First Annual Rip-City Eco-Summit at the Moda Center, their LEED Gold facility in Portland, Oregon.

“We’re excited to partner with the Portland Trail Blazers to host the inaugural Eco Summit at the Moda Center,” said Martin Tull, Executive Director of the Green Sports Alliance (GSA). “Environmental experts and sports executives are coming together to talk about the role that sports teams can play in reducing environmental impact and inspiring fans.”

The Green Sports Alliance, created by Trail Blazers owner Paul Allen and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in the fall of 2009, started with just six founding teams in Portland, Seattle and Vancouver, B.C.  Their goal was to improve the environmental performance of professional sports. The alliance has since grown to 220 teams across North America.

Darby Hoover, Senior Resource Specialist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said, “We wanted to get the sustainability message out.  One of our Board members, Robert Redford, suggested, “We should be going where people are – which is a baseball game or a basketball game. If we want to communicate with people, it’s important that we emphasize our similarities, not our differences.

“We had three goals in working with the Alliance,” said Hoover.  “We wanted the ability to make meaningful, on-the-ground footprint changes at sports venues.  We wanted people to get the message that environmental awareness doesn’t have to be work, it can be play!  Through sports, we can associate environmental messaging with leisure, not doom and gloom.  And we wanted the ability to influence the supply chain. All industries meet on a baseball field, in a basketball arena, on a hockey rink. A high-powered sports team can influence the whole market.”

In just five years, the success stories abound.  While many municipalities in the Pacific Northwest and California already have the infrastructure in place for recycling, composting, and sustainable energy, other areas of the country have found that a sports venue can be a really powerful tenant, helping to drive a growing sustainability infrastructure. For example, the Cleveland Indians put wind turbines in place.  The Miami HEAT achieved LEED certification.

And it’s not just saving the world.  It’s a powerful business model.  “We’ve saved $4.1 million in operating costs in the past five years,” said Justin Zuelner, sustainability director for the Trailblazers.  “That’s a 630% return in five years.  Now that’s a business case.  And we did it while cutting our carbon footprint in half.”

Just as sports teams compete in to see who’s going to be number one in the play-offs, they are now competing to see who’s the most green.

The teams track their environmental performance with help from the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Environmental Protection Agency.  That’s created some competition, said Martin Tull.

“When one facility puts up 3,000 solar panels, the next time an owner is going to build a stadium, he wants to have 3,001,” Tull said.

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