On this special episode of Global Sport Matter Podcast, Stephanie Gerretsen of the Global Sport Institute speaks with Roger McClendon, Executive Director of the Green Sports Alliance, Sofi Armenakian, Director of Operations and Sustainability at the Atlanta Hawks and State Farm Arena, and Jordan Enke, Senior Vice President of Stadium Operations at Austin F.C. The panel discusses how sport is setting its own path within the sustainability industry for others to follow.
“I think we can sometimes lose the audience by speaking in terms and utilizing terminology that is so foreign to them.”
Sofi Armenakian, Director of Operations and Sustainability with the Atlanta Hawks and State Farm Arena, points out the challenge that the sustainability industry can have when integrating with sports: terminology. Instead of trying to teach terminology, it’s better to simply illustrate the point in ways that help audiences of all kinds understand the importance and magnitude of this work. Sofi notes that in practice, she and her team helped build pride among fans by sharing that the one million pounds of waste they diverted is equivalent to 12 centerhungs, each of which weigh about 86,000 pounds.
“So if you don’t want to be left behind, you don’t want to become one of those dinosaur companies or businesses, you have to pay attention to what’s happening.”
Roger McClendon, Executive Director of the Green Sports Alliance , points out that just like in the corporate world, those that cannot adapt to changing behaviors and values of their customer base may become extinct. As proprietors of fan experience, owners are attuned to listening to changes in trends and may also be competitive enough to want to be first. This is an opportunity for organizations like Green Sports Alliance to work with the organizations and those in positions to implement change that can communicate these changing trends to the C-suite executives and others in the front office.
“Because more often than not, you come into a sports facility, you’re focused on the athletes, you’re focused on the core in the game, there’s so much more. And it’s fun when people do start picking out some of the little easter eggs…”
Jordan Enke, Senior Vice President of Stadium Operations at Austin F.C., talks about how the construction of their stadium in Austin, TX was a holistic approach that integrated sustainable development in more areas than just inside of the building. There’s the open green space and trail system they created that encourages more active use and connection to parts of town that were previously separated. The proximity to public transit systems, working with the natural environment to mitigate problems like flash flooding and stormwater. Jordan also shares that on tours of the Austin FC stadium, guides point out how sustainable development was incorporated into the construction in order to reduce resources and waste. Fans who have been on these tours then become ambassadors, in a way, by sharing what they’ve learned with others and furthering the message.
Sustainability is defined as the integration of environmental health, social equity and economic vitality, in order to create thriving, healthy, diverse and resilient communities for both this generation and for generations to come. As a $620B industry, sport is deeply embedded in communities around the world with a distinct platform that can be leveraged to safeguard the environment. Some sports leagues and organizations have begun implementing sustainable practices and processes into their day-to-day operations and overall design. This conversation highlights how sport can integrate sustainability into stadium design, zero waste event management, as well as creating brand value and recognition at the professional levels of sport.