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NBA's Green Week Is Unique

Allen Hershkowitz

Posted April 4, 2013 in Curbing Pollution, Environmental Justice, Green Enterprise, Health and the Environment, Living Sustainably, Moving Beyond Oil, Saving Wildlife and Wild Places, Solving Global Warming, The Media and the Environment

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The National Basketball Association’s Green Week is globally unique in all of professional sports: No other league or team dedicates an entire week every year to educating tens of millions of fans about the importance of protecting our planet.

NBA Green Week, which is implemented in collaboration with the Natural Resources Defense Council, Sprint, Sterling Planet, and other NBA partners, is focused on educating players, teams, sponsors and fans about the need for environmental stewardship.  Next week is the fifth year that the NBA will promote its Green Week nationwide at all basketball arenas and on broadcast TV. And this year’s event is truly historic: The NBA’s commitment to offset all the electricity used during Green Week games will result in a carbon avoidance of more than 10 million pounds. That's one of the largest pollution offset initiatives ever by any sports league worldwide.

Perhaps more importantly, this year the NBA is announcing its launch of a comprehensive environmental data gathering system focused on arena operations across the league’s 30 teams. This new environmental data gathering system is much more than a single Green Week initiative: It is going to improve the way NBA arenas are managed throughout our nation into the foreseeable future.

Initially, four categories of environmental data will be collected by the NBA: 1. Energy use, including total energy used, sources of energy, and use of renewable energy; 2. Waste generation, including total waste generated, materials diverted for recycling and composting; 3. Water use, including amount of water used and water conserved, and; 4. Paper procurement, including the amount of recycled paper used in Club offices, in stadium restrooms and for yearbooks, game-day programs and media guides.

Five years ago the NBA joined with NRDC to accelerate a cultural shift in the way people think about their relationship with the planet. At that time NBA Commissioner David Stern and senior leadership at the league recognized that we need a cultural shift in environmental awareness to effectively address the serious ecological problems we face as a planet. Hence, the NBA’s greening program was born.

Few organizations can be as influential as the NBA: five percent of the planet is connected by social media to the NBA’s league, teams, and players. Bringing environmental information to our cultural and business leaders, as the NBA is doing, is as important as bringing that information to our government leaders. Indeed, perhaps it is more important. There is a reason why the largest industries on Earth pay millions of dollars to affiliate with the NBA. They know that is an effective way to influence the culture of the marketplace.

The sports industry has almost unparalleled cultural influence: While only 13% of American say they pay attention to science, 61% consider themselves sports fans. Sports is the great unifier. NBA’s Green Week is an attempt to encourage its arenas and global supply chain to embrace ecologically preferable operations and production. The supply chain of the NBA is large and encompasses all industries, from plastics and food to energy and water, from textiles to paper. By promoting environmental awareness the league is helping to raise consciousness about the many ecological pressures we face in a non-politcal way.

Make no mistake about this: NBA Green Week is only one initiative of the NBA’s year-round greening program, known as NBA Green. Every day the NBA family continues to identify and implement environmentally sound practices across all of its business areas.  To date, five NBA team arenas - Philips Arena (Atlanta Hawks), AmericanAirlines Arena (Miami Heat), Rose Garden Arena (Portland Trail Blazers), Toyota Center (Houston Rockets), and Amway Center (Orlando Magic) - have received Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification by the U.S. Green Building Council. Additionally, five NBA teams have installed solar panels on their arenas, garages, or practice facilities: the Golden State Warriors' practice facility, the US Airways Center (Phoenix Suns), STAPLES Center (Los Angeles Clippers and Lakers), the Denver Nuggets' Pepsi Center, and the San Antonio Spurs' AT&T Center.  Also, in September 2009, the Minnesota Timberwolves installed a green roof spanning 115,000 square feet on the Target Center, making it the first green roof on any North America arena and currently the nation's fifth-largest. And the NBA is a proud member of the Green Sports Alliance, a cross-league initiative that NRDC helped to establish, focused on sharing ecologically better practices among all teams and leagues in professional sports.

Millions of fans will take notice of the NBA’s important environmental initiatives and I hope that each one will take a small step or two of their own to reduce the ecological pressures we’re struggling with. Added together, these incremental shifts in business and consumer behavior can help us combat global climate disruption, save biodiversity and protect the resources and ecological services we depend on to live.

Lessons from previous cultural shifts that have moved our society forward suggest that the shift needed today in our thinking about the environment will not be led by government. Clearly, governments are not leading the way in addressing the urgent issues of global climate disruption, biodiversity loss and so many other ecological threats.

The NBA’s commitment to reduce its ecological impact and promote this goal publicly and prominently through Green Week, its commitment to help educate basketball fans and businesses worldwide about the importance of environmental protection, is advancing the cultural shift we urgently need in a major league way. The NBA’s Green Week confirms why that league is regarded as one of the world’s most responsible sports organizations.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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