Sports franchises in Green Sports Alliance aim to have positive environmental impact

(Amanda LaCasse/DD)
The Green Sports Alliance is a non-profit organization that aspires to spread a positive environmental impact upon sports. The Arizona Diamondbacks and the Phoenix Suns are both members of the alliance. (Amanda LaCasse/DD)

On the courts and fields, everyone’s favorite teams are competing as usual. However, once the uniforms come off, many franchises are part of one team: The Green Sports Alliance, where the goal is to have a positive environmental impact.

“Green sports is doing what you can with the resources provided to make sure that you provide entertainment while being environmentally conscious,” Hector Dorame, US Airways Center facility services manager for the Phoenix Suns, said.

This is the mentality of the Green Sports Alliance, which originally started in Washington when the Seattle Seahawks and Seattle Mariners began discussing mutual environmental efforts and venue improvement.

“Lend a show to the community, but at the same time be environmentally conscious,” Dorame said.

Their efforts eventually transformed into the Green Sports Alliance in March 2011. The organization’s roster now includes 120 teams across seven different leagues operating in 135 venues. The Arizona Diamondbacks and Phoenix Suns, two of Arizona’s most prominent teams, are both members.

“From the very start it was an unprecedented collaboration between teams from different leagues,” GSA Membership Director David Muller said.

The Diamondbacks were one of the early MLB teams to join in 2012, and the Suns joined in July of 2013, making Phoenix one of the key hubs of the green sports movement, Muller said.

Other Arizona teams include the Arizona Cardinals, ASU Sun Devils and University of Arizona Wildcats.

Matthew Helmeid is the director of special projects and brand development for the Diamondbacks, and praised the information-sharing and initiative GSA facilitates.

“It’s really been an awesome group for us to be involved with,” Helmeid said. “They’re committed to promoting the green initiative in sports. They share the best practices and they advocate change. If you need an idea, chances are these guys have it.”

Every month, the GSA hosts webinars when various experts can speak to members about everything from fan engagement to retrofitting older stadiums. Once a year, there is a large summit at a selected city to see what that organization has done to improve.

“It’s everyone in one room. You’ll have presentations from NASCAR, from MLS, from whatever entities might be relevant at the time,” Helmeid said.

Information covers everything from heating and cooling venues, to working with food providers to use recyclable eating utensils. Each venue or team, coming from a different situation, explains progress and challenges through tours of facilities.

“The big picture, the reason why this group was started, what got everybody passionate about it, was sports as a vehicle, sports as a platform, to reach more people with a larger cross section,” Muller said. “We operate as a wide-open tent.”

To participate, teams need to outline their environmental goals and challenges. At that point, if accepted, the requirements include participating in events and paying yearly dues.

Dorame explained that, for the Suns, in the early stages of membership, most of their involvement has been to gather information to plan for improvement.

“We don’t operate like a typical large facility,” Dorame explained. “We wanted to be able to get references, examples and communicate with people that were in the same environment we were.”

With an older building like US Airways, renovation can pose some challenges, especially when it comes to the budget for changes. And Phoenix’s infrastructure does not allow for practices like large-scale composting. These two factors can tie their grand ideas down, Dorame said.

“I think the biggest part we’re able to play is by attaching our name and our voice to a movement that is just proven to be good,” Dorame said. “The fact that we’re able to put the Phoenix Suns behind a voice of Green Sports Alliance, or green sports, or even just green for that matter, is the biggest thing that we can contribute to our city right now.”

Muller was optimistic about the growth of GSA, and hopes that eventually it will be a much more recognizable organization among the fans of the participating teams.

“Most teams honestly have a long way to go with this … we’re still young,” Muller said. “So far, we’ve only been limited by the numbers of hours in the day.”

Contact the reporter at grsandle@asu.edu