Winning With Zero Waste

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Courtesy of BioCycle Magazine

In the business of professional and collegiate sports, with top priority on championships, player injuries, and filling stadium seats, attending a meeting with Martin Tull, Executive Director of the Green Sports Alliance (Alliance), seems like a walk in the ballpark. “When we speak to potential members, we often say, ‘Would you like to know how other teams are saving millions of dollars through conservation programs?’” states Tull. “Almost always they answer, ‘Yes! We would like to know more!’” Increasingly, more and more teams are finding it harder to turn down what Tull and the Alliance have to offer.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Vulcan Sports and Entertainment (a division of Paul G. Allen’s Vulcan Inc. which owns the Seattle Seahawks, Seattle Sounders, and Portland TrailBlazers) founded the Alliance in 2010 with a stated mission, “to help enhance the environmental performance of sports teams, venues and leagues.” In just three years after the national launch, Alliance membership has grown from six teams to over 230 professional and collegiate sports teams and venues, representing nearly half of all teams in all professional leagues in the United States.

Since BioCycle wrote about the Alliance last summer (see “Professional Sports Teams Raise Bar on Zero Waste,” July 2013), the organization hosted a successful Summit in New York City with over 600 attendees; held three regional workshops across the nation; entered into the world of racing with the induction of Andretti Formula E (also adding big names like the Sacramento Kings and Miami Heat); and is organizing its fourth annual Summit to be held in Santa Clara, California, July 21-23, 2014. “We have focused this year’s Summit to be about ‘creating lasting legacies in communities’,” notes Tull. “We wanted to move beyond short-term tactical solutions, and begin thinking about sustainability strategies at sports teams and venues as part of a long-term commitment to communities.”

The Alliance promotes environmental initiatives, ranging from nontoxic and effective cleaning solutions for venues, to alternative transportation for getting fans to and from games. One area of sports greening that has seen a lot of recent growth is recycling and composting programs at sports venues. The Alliance assists members with implementation of necessary program components in coordination with organizations like the NRDC and representatives from supporting industries, such as the compostable products industry. In March 2014, Darby Hoover, NRDC Senior Resource Specialist, authored the Guide to Composting at Sports Venues. The guide provides step-by-step advice on establishing or expanding organics recycling programs at sports venues, utilizing case studies and profiles to exhibit how various teams have developed strategies for making organics recycling work at their venue. Steve Davies is the Director of Marketing/Public Affairs for NatureWorks LLC, one of the largest producers of compostable polylactic polymer plastics branded under the name Ingeo. BioCycle had the opportunity to speak with Tull, Hoover and Davies, to learn about some of the necessary components for establishing recycling and composting programs at sports venues, and how the Alliance and NRDC help to facilitate these programs.
Necessary Components

Buy-In
To ensure efficient and effective institution of any policy change that modifies “business as usual,” buy-in must occur at all levels of an organization, starting at the top. The case is no different for implementers of greening programs at sports venues. “We started at the top with the Commissioners of each league, encouraging them to adopt environmental initiatives,” notes Hoover. “This communication prompted each Commissioner to issue a statement saying sustainability is a priority for their respective leagues. This was highly beneficial when we began reaching out to teams, because they already knew sustainability initiatives were supported by the league. Having buy-in all the way to the top is key to us — we need to keep everyone talking the same language.”

The Alliance helps to facilitate buy-in from professional and collegiate teams by highlighting the financial savings associated with greening initiatives. “We always start with the business case for sustainability — if you can make the business case, then you don’t have to rest on the environmental impacts or altruistic reasons for implementing greening programs,” explains Tull, mentioning that the recent influx of members has certainly added an edge to the argument for joining the Alliance. “We start with the business case, and if we need to throw in the hardball pitch, we go with, ‘Why are you one of the only teams not doing this?”

The trick is finding strategies that continue to promote buy-in down the organizational pecking order, to staff members that may have more work as a result of a recycling or composting program. Exhibiting the impact that these programs can have, whether that is in natural resources saved or greenhouse gas emissions reduced, can be an effective medium of achieving staff buy-in. According to Hoover’s guide, by collecting unsold concession food and redistributing it through food assistance programs, the National Hockey League (NHL) annually diverts 100 tons of food waste from the landfill; provides more than 150,000 meals to hunger relief programs in hockey communities; and reduces approximately 79 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent from the environment. “The main value of these statistics is getting buy-in from everyone involved with a team or sports venue,” explains Hoover. “It is these people that are involved in reducing their organization’s carbon footprint or the amount of food they waste. For this reason, statistics like these often have the most resonance internally.”

Regional Infrastructure And Partnerships
Regional variation in professional and collegiate sports venues makes it difficult to use a “cookie cutter” approach when it comes to greening initiatives, especially recycling and composting programs that rely on multiple partners and regional processing infrastructure to be successful.

A lack of organics recycling processing facilities is sometimes pointed to as an inhibitor for adoption of composting programs at sports venues, but increasingly this is becoming less of an issue. “More and more composters nationally are going through the permitting process to handle food waste,” notes Davies. “Furthermore, there are facility operators who realize they can use compostable bags and serviceware as a tool to increase the amount of food waste taken in.” To elaborate on that point, Hoover says that the commitment of sports venues to divert their organics can encourage development of regional organics recycling infrastructure. “If you are picking up separated organics from a sports facility, you have a predictable, clean stream of material that haulers and facilities will want,” states Hoover. “For this reason, I included a section on infrastructure in the Guide to Composting at Sports Venues. Sports facility operators don’t necessarily need to know many details about different composting systems, but an increase in the development of organics recycling infrastructure is something I feel teams are able to encourage.”

Once the infrastructure variable has been figured out, it becomes essential to open conversations with all the stakeholders involved to ensure everyone has the same idea for an effective recycling and/or composting program, and that the idea works for everyone. This can be a lot easier for composting initiatives if recycling programs at venues are already in place. “If infrastructure and messaging around recycling already exists by the time a composting program is implemented, then teams and venues already have a lot of the information they need to set up the infrastructure and involve partners for an organics recycling program,” notes Hoover. “We encourage building on communication and infrastructure that teams already have in place by the time they initiate composting programs.”

And when the decision is made to begin a composting program at a sports venue, implementers find it is easiest to start small in areas where staff still has control over collection. “Often times composting programs start at the suite level, where venue staff is still collecting material,” states Davies. “Once a venue has shown that they can collect source separated organics, and those organics can go through local processing infrastructure, then a venue will propagate that program throughout the whole stadium or arena.”

The Alliance facilitates strong partnerships between sports venues and stakeholders in the service, hauling and processing industries by bringing all parties together to discuss challenges they are facing, and cooperative solutions. For example, the Alliance recently convened a roundtable discussion in Washington, D.C., that brought together a number of food and beverage service providers to talk about sustainability, issues of food waste, and the roles that individual parties can have in tackling those issues.

Read the full article in BioCycle Magazine

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