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November 10, 2016

Supporting Sustainable Sports: Waste Management Partners with the Council for Responsible Sport

Waste Management is pleased to support the Council for Responsible Sport (the Council) and share in their vision of a world where responsibly produced sports events are the norm. Founded in 2007, the Council is a non-profit organization that has been leading the charge to help produce sporting events that support social justice, ecological stewardship and resource conservation, in partnership with host communities. They provide objective, independent verification of the socially and environmentally responsible work event organizers are doing, and to actively support event organizers who strive to make a difference in their communities.

Starting in 2011, Waste Management worked closely with the Council, helping the Chevron Houston Marathon Committee achieve waste diversion credits for certification of the Houston Marathon and the Olympic Marathon Trials. We have also participated in periodic working groups with the Council to help update the criteria for waste diversion at sustainable events.

Sporting events are like snowflakes; no two are alike. As a result, the Council’s certification is flexible, consisting of 61 grading criteria, or credits. For basic certification, events need to achieve at least 45 percent of the possible credits. For Silver and Gold status, events need to meet 59 percent and 74 percent of criteria, respectively. And for Evergreen certification, the Council’s highest honor, events need to qualify for at least 90 percent of the credits. In 2010, Waste Management began sponsoring the Waste Management Phoenix Open (WMPO), a PGA TOUR event with a zero waste focus. In 2013, for the first time, we asked the Council to certify the event according to their independent sustainability criteria; WMPO achieved Gold certification from the Council that year and Evergreen certification in 2015.

Why Sustainable Sports?

From a local 5K fun-run to a multi-day destination event, event organizers can increase an event’s social benefits while reducing its environmental footprint.[2]

Incorporating sustainable initiatives into sporting events planning can translate into significant benefits for organizers, fans, and host communities alike, including:

  • Lowering procurement and direct energy costs
  • Reducing overall impact on the environment
  • Educating attendees and vendors about sustainability issues
  • Building goodwill with host communities
  • Creating a positive long-term legacy

As we discussed in our previous blog post, “Greening the Game: Sporting Events as Opportunities for Expanding Sustainability,” teams, fans, governing agencies, and vendors alike have been focusing on ways to “green” sports for the past decade. Increasingly, however, social and economic considerations are making their way into discussions of how to create truly sustainable sports.

What Does Responsible Sport Look Like?

The Council’s standards address the social, economic, and environmental impact of each event by dividing awardable credits into five broad categories. Each of the five categories includes an innovation credit, awarded for original and creative thinking around responsible sport.

  1. Planning and Communications requires organizers to develop a formal plan that both reduces the event’s environmental footprint and increases its social impact. For first-time planners, this stage can be challenging; however, once created, the plan can be updated and reused for future events.
  2. Procurement asks organizers to have a written sustainable procurement policy to share with vendors and other stakeholders. Sustainable procurement may involve buying from local vendors, buying from vendors that source sustainably, and supporting women- and minority-owned businesses.
  3. Resource Management, the largest section, gives event organizers a chance to showcase environmental stewardship. It calls for organizers to track resource use and waste production associated with an event, and then to work toward improving performance over time. This includes waste diversion, water use, energy use, and greenhouse gas emissions.
  4. Access and Equity promotes outreach to, and access for, underrepresented groups, with a mandatory written plan that details how the organizers will reduce barriers to participation and make the event as inclusive as possible.
  5. Community Legacy measures the event’s overall impact on the city or county where it takes place. It looks at the economic influence, long-term infrastructure impacts, as well as in-kind or cash donations and financial support made to the host community.

The Benefits of Sustainable Sport Certification

Any certification worth its salt involves some level of difficulty; otherwise, it would have no real value. Despite the challenges, however, creating a sustainable event—and getting a third party to certify it as such—can have tremendous benefits to the organizers, the participants, the fans, and the community where the event takes place. For event producers, third-party certification programs provide objective standards to strive for, defining sustainability in quantifiable terms. For athletes and attendees at events, third-party certification builds trust, helping to distinguish which organizations act according to values that they want to support. Standards also provide an essential communications tool for sharing sustainability achievements with host communities.

Certifying an event as sustainable, and effectively communicating about it, can produce benefits that outlast the event itself, including:

  • Generating positive public relations and media
  • Attracting new sponsors for future events
  • Bringing sustainability-minded fans to future events

It may feel daunting to look at the full range of 61 credits for running a responsible sporting event. However, as we have learned from experience, there are many initial steps that event organizers can take to make their event more sustainable:

  • Provide public transportation options if feasible. Some of the most significant environmental impacts come from transportation to and from events; both the emissions from fans that travel and the environmental degradation from building parking lots or having cars parked on natural lands. Work with local officials and transportation companies to get people to the venue; it’s better for the environment, and it generally makes the event more accessible to more people.
  • Promote proper waste disposal. Make recycling bins available next to every garbage can, and provide appropriate signage about what’s recyclable and what isn’t. By making recycling easy and convenient for participants, you can increase waste diversion rates significantly.
  • Engage stakeholders. Sustainability is everybody’s business, from the athletes to the fans to members of the local community. Solicit input from stakeholders about the environmental and social goals that are most important to them, and get their input on how best to achieve them; this will increase your chances of success.
  • Reduce resource usage. Simple steps like going paperless at planning meetings or replacing incandescent lightbulbs with energy-efficient LED or CFL ones can be a good start.
  • Consider offsets. Purchasing carbon offsets and water restoration certificates supports off-site programs that counteract an event’s energy and water consumption and can expand its reach to new communities. Carbon offsets should always prioritize thoughtful social and economic impacts in addition to environmental solutions. Restoration certificates can help improve agriculture irrigation, save wetlands, and return rivers back to stability.

Working in Partnership with the Council

Waste Management’s history of working with the Council and with event organizers striving to integrate sustainable planning into sports has made us uniquely qualified to partner with the Council to help them support, certify, and celebrate responsibly produced events. To this end, in early 2016, the Council named Waste Management Sustainability Services as the primary evaluator for 2016 events. With this collaboration, Waste Management teams serve as on-site auditors for events that apply for Council certification and help the Council provide more consistent and systematic evaluations, bringing a professional perspective to the evaluation process.

Specifically, our teams provide verification for credits that must be observed in person. We travel to the events, tour events with organizers, record observations, and offer recommendations on how events can improve in the future. We provide feedback to the Council in a confidential survey, but the Council always makes final certification decisions independently, based on all its grading criteria.

Waste Management is excited to bring our wide network of sustainability experts to the role of third-party observation for Council certification. It’s our hope that our experience planning and implementing sustainable events can help event organizers seeking Council certification to learn and improve. In turn, we hope that our on-the-ground feedback assists the Council as they provide event organizers with specific, relevant, and constructive input.

Sporting events can leave a lasting impact on their host neighborhoods. And with the right planning,, when spectators, vendors, and participants are engaged in a thoughtful event, created from the start with environmental, social and economic effects and benefits in mind, it can be the perfect opportunity to promote sustainable thinking, for the benefit of us all.