Guest Blog by Allen Hershkowitz P.h.D Founding Director of Sport and Sustainability International

Allen Hershkowitz, Ph.D. is a Founding Director of Sport and Sustainability International, a coalition of the world’s leading sports federations, leagues, teams and venues committed to leveraging the cultural and market influence of sports to promote healthy, sustainable and just communities. He is also the co-founder and former president of the Green Sports Alliance and previously served as a Senior Scientist at the Natural Resources Defence Council.

Positive Impact conducted a telephone interview with Allen Hershkowitz on our monthly theme, “What is the role of events in creating good health and wellbeing in the world?”

This blog post summarises some of Dr Allen’s thoughts and experiences which he spoke of during the interview:

What is your goal with Sports and Sustainable Impacts?

Sports is a $1.5 trillion industry and crosses over with a lot of industries through suppliers and sponsors. In the US, only 16% of people follow science whilst over 80% follow sport. The way to do this is to change the cultural expectations and attitudes when thinking about sustainability, through developing trusting networks such as churches and sports teams to open people’s minds to the facts. The goal of SandSI is to leverage the market leverage of sports and the cultural influence of sport to help advance the unity around responsible environmental stewardship.

What challenges do the event and sports industry need to address to improve health and wellbeing?

The supply chain of sports is supported by an infrastructure who are environmentally ignorant and don’t prioritise sustainability when designing their facilities. Whilst the infrastructure is now changing and moving towards sustainability, it is being built up and subsidised in an environmentally insensitive way. We need to switch production from environmental ignorance to environmental intelligence.

Environmentally inferior products are generally cheaper, so there is a need to encourage the switch to environmentally better choices in all areas of sports events e.g. merchandising, energy, food and drink through investment in the production of these products to make them more competitive. Sports need to ask for environmentally products and services. It’s such a large customer, it will encourage the supply change to change their behaviour.

Is a lot of education on the subject required in the sports community or are they just going for the cheaper option?

Initiatives and science behind sustainability are changing constantly, so people need to be educated on the topic on a regular basis. There is a not a single initiative which can combat climate change or ocean acidification on its own, many small changes are required. We need to move from the environmentally ignorant decisions which have been made in the previous centuries to more environmentally positive changes quickly, since the decisions of the past have changed the chemistry of the atmosphere dramatically, which will have a major impact on earth soon.

Do you have any examples of events encouraging good health and wellbeing?

A good example was UEFA Euro 2016, who did not provide any private parking to encourage people to take public transport, a unique initiative at such a large event. A recent example is Roland Garros (The French Open) getting IS0 20121, whilst the International Olympic Committee environmental strategy is one of the most forceful endorsements of the Sustainable Development Goals in the industry.

One area which the events industry needs to concentrate on is the need to develop science based carbon reduction goals.  Paris agreement states that non-state actors need to record carbon emissions then create reductions goals.  If this was done actively by all sports organisation, it would have a significant impact on carbon emissions.

What is the role of major sporting events to promote healthy and sustainable communities?

There is a fundamental relationship between the environment and sports, since most of them originate outdoors, means that organisations are working on including environmental stewardship and sustainability into their social agenda.

Sports organisations all have community programmes which for example; help literacy, reduce racism, promote gender equality and reduce homelessness. Most teams are usually the most prominent businesses in their communities, in terms of generating community support. They are integrated into the community, therefore are dependent on the good will and health of the community. Its where their fans and future athletes come from so they want the best environment for them, which they can achieve through encouraging sustainable and healthy lifestyles.

What could other types of events such as corporate could do to support health and wellbeing?

All events need to take account of their environmental impact though energy, food choice and waste. These opportunities save money and enhance the brand’s reputation.

Environmentally intelligent events are an indication of an intelligent management. When you look at the stock market, the highest performing companies are the ones with the most advance sustainability plans. When looking at the DOW Jones Sustainability index, the top companies constantly outperform those on the DOW Jones index.