Make Sustainable Events with Less Green

By Juli Anne Patty, October 6, 2014

This summer the NHL announced its intentions to go green. Citing business and social reasons, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman set forth goals for the organization’s progress in the 2014 NHL Sustainability Report. The NHL isn’t alone: the big leagues are all getting in on the sustainability movement. But we aren’t all big leagues with big budgets. When it comes to moving toward greater sustainability for non-professional events, what’s a sports event owner to do? Good news: with a little advice from experts, you can make major moves toward more sustainable events without breaking the budget.

Keith Peters is the executive director of the Council for Responsible Sport, an organization offering guidelines for sustainable event planning and certifications for events, ensuring event organizers are doing the work they claim to be doing. As sustainability becomes a more sought-after event trait, certification by the Council and other similar organizations can be a beneficial marketing tool. But certification is not the Council’s first goal, says Peters. Progress is.

“The most important thing event organizers can do is do something. Get started,” says Peters. “It’s better to do anything now to become more sustainable than to wait and do nothing at all.”

But first, what is sustainability exactly? There are many benchmarks, but most people define sustainability as practices that conserve resources, involve the community and find ways to give back.

Regardless of the specific definition, sustainability is important to many people. Budgets, however, are important to pretty much everyone. Luckily, it turns out that sustainability measures don’t have to take away from your bottom line at all. In many cases, they can be implemented at low or no cost. It’s all a matter of strategy. Here are a few tactics to get any event moving toward sustainability, at any budget.

Boston half marathon

Make a plan

If sustainability is important to your event, the most important thing you can do is make a plan. The more you can involve your team, the better. It’s a cost-free way to begin incorporating sustainability into your event’s DNA at every level. Once responsible planning becomes an ingrained part of your organization, finding ways to conserve, reuse and reinvest will become part of normal operations.

“If you’re interested in running a more responsible event, remember it’s not just about environmentalism,” says Ethan Nelson, waste prevention and green building, City of Eugene, Oregon. “Sustainability has a triple bottom line—economic viability, environmental management and social equity. One of the best things to do is utilize the Council’s framework. You don’t have to get certified to use the framework, and it’s a good way to start a roadmap.”

That framework is available at the Council for Responsible Sport’s website, and the organization offers a free guide it developed with Eugene Cascades & Coast Sports.

TD 5 Boro Bike Tour

Take Out the Trash

Waste is one of the biggest and most visible results from any sports event. We’ve all seen overflowing garbage cans and streets filled with crushed paper cups. For that reason, taking the trash out of your event – literally – can be one of the most effective ways to start a sustainability initiative.

“Waste management is going to be your most easily attainable [sustainability strategy] in every venue type,” says Lindsay Arell, LEED AP O+M sustainable programs manager, Colorado Convention Center. “Pretty much every event will produce some level of waste, so that’s always a great place to start. Also, it’s visible to attendees and stakeholders. By having a waste management plan in place, you are able to demonstrate your program a little and engage your attendees.”

As the program manager for RE:think Business, Carolyn Stein helps local businesses demonstrate their commitment to sustainability by fulfilling a certain amount of actions. As a team member of the Emerald City Roller Girls, she helps host bouts, including an international roller derby event, with the goal of producing zero waste.

“Look for resources available in your community,” says Stein. “We have recycling and composting bins that are free for our sports event, and any community event, to use. Generally speaking, a really easy way to start off with basic sustainability is make recycling available.”

While offering recycling bins is a cost-effective option, it’s important, says Nelson, to ensure that those bins don’t get filled with non-recyclable material. That, however, offers a chance to give something back to the community.

“A lot of things will require more volunteers, such as ambassadors posted at recycling bins to make sure you don’t get a contaminated recycling stream that’s going into the landfill anyway,” says Nelson. “That’s an opportunity for the ambassador to talk to people and explain what you’re doing.”

Get the Word Out

Communication is a key strategy for any sustainability initiative, and one that costs little to nothing.

“This piece can be overlooked, but if there is any backlash, it’s because people didn’t know how to prepare for and participate in the program,” says Arell. “You don’t want to take away something, like plastic water bottles, without providing an alternative or at least an explanation.”

Take the Emerald City Roller Girls, for example. Instead of giving away those t-shirts that eventually get stuffed in a drawer, they give away water bottles. They provide plentiful spring water filling stations, which are donated by a local water delivery company.

Alternative transportation

Start Somewhere

Anyone who participates in sports knows our environment and our community are essential to our ability to continue enjoying the events we love. A few more budget-conscious sustainability kick starters:

-Skip printing. Do all marketing and programs online.

-Research your purchases. More expensive “sustainable” products are sometimes the regular items repackaged.

-Provide alternative transportation options, such as safe bike routes or negotiate free or reduced-cost bus fare for participants and/or fans.

Wherever you choose to begin your sustainability program, pick something and start there. The first step is always the most important.

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