Behind The NBA’s Battle To Promote Sustainability


With over 1.3 million viewers tuning in to watch its regular season games, the NBA has a unique platform to facilitate social change. Last week, the NBA utilized that platform to educate its teams and fans about ways to reduce their collective environmental footprint. NBA Green Week presented by Sprint allowed the NBA and its teams to encourage environmental responsibility throughout their communities.

When asked why the NBA dedicates a week of its season to NBA Green Week, NBA senior vice president of social responsibility, Todd Jacobson, said, “Social responsibility is part of our league’s DNA. Through the NBA’s reach and the profile of our players, we have the ability to address important social issues, such as environmental awareness. In partnership with the Green Sports Alliance, the NBA, its teams and players are committed to taking steps to promote environmental stewardship and encourage our fans to join us. NBA Green Week presented by Sprint is our chance to highlight some of the great work taking place around the league, while promoting environmental awareness and encouraging our fans to think about their effect on the environment.”

Notably, NBA Green Week is the only week-long initiative hosted by any professional sports league that is entirely focused upon educating fans about environmental stewardship. One example of the week’s events is the NBA’s commitment to plant a tree with the Arbor Day Foundation every time that #NBAGreen was posted on social media or three trees every time a three-pointer is scored during the week’s games. Beyond tree planting, the NBA also partnered with Sprint to host phone recycling events and has also purchased renewable energy certificates in conjunction with Bonneville Environmental Foundation to cover the energy used during the week’s games.

Highlighted throughout the NBA Green Week agenda was the NBA and its teams’ partnership with the Green Sports Alliance. Founded in 2010 to inspire teams, fans, leagues and venues to embrace sustainability, the Green Sports Alliance counts numerous NBA teams and their venues as members.

In 2015, teams are continuing to identify standards of best practice for developing sustainability plans that they can not only adopt, but will also motivate their fans to engage in green practices. Several initiatives engaged in by some NBA Green Sports Alliance members serve as great examples of how teams can incorporate sustainability into their business model and positively impact the environment. These initiatives can easily be replicated by other teams, both inside and outside of the NBA.

Portland Trailblazers


The initiative: Inaugural members of the Green Sports Alliance, the Portland Trail Blazers and their arena, the Moda Center, are sports leaders in the green arena. Recently, the team launched the Threes for Trees campaign. In partnership with Daimler Trucks, the Trailblazers plant three trees for every three pointer scored during the season. 3,000 trees will be planted this spring in Portland’s Sandy River delta.

Ideas for other teams:  Other teams should consider ways that they can utilize particular areas of team success to drive sustainability.  Additionally, the lesson from the Trail Blazers, is that corporate sponsors are willing to come on board to support these endeavors.  Thus, teams’ corporate sponsorship teams should be creating activations centering around sustainability and pushing those to sponsors.

Miami Heat


The initiative: After the first NBA Green Week in 2008, the Miami Heat realized it could attain LEED certification for its arena, the AmericanAirlines Arena. In 2009, AmericanAirlines Arena received LEED Gold certification. In 2015, AmericanAirlines Arena became the first sports and entertainment venue in the world to achieve LEED Gold recertification status. “From becoming certified to recertification, we were focused on keeping up and managing our own standards. We want to keep leading the industry in terms of sustainability, because in sports, there are still very few stadiums that are LEED certified,” said the Heat’s operations and sustainability coordinator, Jackie Ventura.

Ideas for other teams: One thing that allowed the AmericanAirlines Arena to obtain LEED Gold recertification, was the Heat’s adoption of unique strategies to reduce arena waste. In this regard, it launched the Re-Heat program, which saves over 5,000 pounds of concessionaire’s food from the trash can, and instead, redirects it to local homeless shelters. Other teams can follow the Heat’s lead by identifying unique ways to reduce arena waste that also benefit their communities.

Golden State Warriors


The initiative: The Golden State Warriors pride themselves on the sustainability and green initiatives adopted not only at the team’s arena, but its headquarters and practice facilities as well. One recent initiative has focused upon recycling water bottles at the team’s headquarters. There, over 67,000 water bottles annually avoid the landfill through recycling initiatives.

Ideas for other teams: Water bottles continue to be one of the greatest causes of landfill waste. Other teams should follow the Warriors’ lead and institute sound recycling policies for their employees’ water bottles. Alternatively, teams can distribute reusable water bottles to their employees and provide water filling stations in their offices. Teams can also host giveaway nights where they distribute free reusable water bottles to fans to educate them on the waste issues that arise with disposable water bottles.

Houston Rockets


The initiative: Recognizing the presence the team holds in the Houston community, the Rockets hold an annual electronics recycling drive annually. The drive gives local Houston citizens an opportunity to turn in televisions, computers and other electronic components to have them safely and properly recycled. This initiative not only keeps these items out of landfills, but ensures the possibility of their proper re-use.

Ideas for other teams: Many teams host similar e-cycle events, but the key is to allow for the event to actively engage fans with the team. Thus, teams should consider including green giveaways in their events or ensure that there are educational materials on hand for fans to pick up about how they can make their home more sustainable. Furthermore, teams should engage employees to become involved in the recycling events by providing incentives to the employees who bring in the greatest number of electronics to be recycled.

Phoenix Suns


The initiative: In 2012, 966 solar panels were installed at the Phoenix Suns’ home, the U.S. Airways Center. The project, a joint effort between the Suns and APS with an estimated cost of $1.26 million, has some serious environmental impacts. The solar panels create 378,000 kWh of solar energy per year, which amounts to 20 Suns’ games worth of clean energy.

Ideas for other teams: A handful of other NBA teams have installed solar panels on their arenas. Given the steep price of these, though, teams should seek to involve corporate sponsors to partner in the initiative. Furthermore, teams can utilize the solar panels as a way to engage their communities. For instance, teams can host elementary and middle school aged children on field trips to visit and learn about solar electricity.

Alicia Jessop

Founder of Ruling Sports


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