Throughout our coverage of sustainability in professional sports, we’ve noticed how teams make conscious decisions that impact themselves and their communities equally. Creating these ideas is no easy task. Plenty of teams have hired consultants that have brought significant influence.
Green Sports Alliance is perhaps the most notable, as it has been at the forefront of sustainability in amateur and professional sports. Even before that, the athletic world was helped thanks to the work of a leading consultant, Dr. Allen Hershkowitz.
If you’re unfamiliar with Hershkowitz’s work, a quick visit to his LinkedIn and Wikipedia pages can paint a pretty neat picture. He received his Ph.D. in political economics from the CUNY Graduate School, where he studied the energy systems of New York City.
In 1988, he began his career with the Natural Resources Defense Council, working as a senior scientist. He helped the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) develop strategies to make forestry and paper production more sustainable.
He left his mark in sports, serving as director of the Sports and Entertainment Greening Project, the Solid Waste Project, and the Paper Industry Project.
Hershkowitz worked with the NRDC until 2014. There, he met then-MLB commissioner Bud Selig. Hershkowtiz helped create white papers for professional baseball teams on how to be greener. The first breakthrough came when he launched an initiative to get 28 solar panels installed at Fenway Park, home to the Boston Red Sox.
The NBA began working with Hershkowitz in 2007. The late former commissioner David Stern’s wife, Diane, served on the board of Earthjustice, the environmental law advocacy firm. They knew he had a lot of influence in the professional sports world.
Stern’s leadership and Hershkowtiz’s insights ushered in the first wave of the NBA’s eco-activism and community engagement. NBA Green, which is part of the greater philanthropic outreach program run by the league called NBA Cares, has become a top sustainability in sports movement. The work includes 10 NBA arenas with Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certifications, many of which use compostable kitchenware, have low-flow plumbing fixtures, and installed solar panels. The effort has gone beyond putting recycling and composting bins in the concourse.
The players are getting involved, too. During the 2022–23 NBA season, the Portland Trail Blazers continued their “Threes for Trees” campaign. For every three-point shot made through the season, the Blazers plant a tree, and 30 trees per three-pointer made in the playoffs.
The team planted more than 3,100 trees just in 2022–23, rounding up to more than 40,000 total planted since the program started in 2017.
In addition, the Miami Heat held their annual Beach Sweep at North Miami Beach. Heat players, staff, and volunteers from various institutions joined the effort. This season, the team helped restore a popular hiking/biking trail.
Photo Courtesy Miami Heat
The expansion of NBA Green wouldn’t be possible without Hershkowitz and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s ongoing commitment to keeping the NBA involved with current issues.
NBA Green’s efforts have expanded beyond the U.S. border. One example is the new outdoor basketball courts made from recycled glass in Madrid, Spain. NBA Cares and Ecovidrio, a recycling nonprofit in Spain, led the project. The league also opened an eco-friendly basketball academy in Senegal that promotes sustainable living.
In addition to running their sustainability initiatives, many NBA arenas and teams are working with Oak View Group. Using their GOAL Plan to map sustainability at games and other events, they now have a clearer picture of what more they could be doing. Teams like the Atlanta Hawks, San Antonio Spurs, and the Phoenix Suns have used Oak View’s strategies and software to improve their arena sustainability and team operations.
Photo Courtesy Miami Heat
NBA Green is part of the United Nations (UN) Sports for Climate Action Framework, an initiative encouraging organizations to use their public sway to advance sustainability solutions globally. They’ve developed five principles to drive this change:
- Undertake systematic efforts to promote greater environmental responsibility
- Reduce overall climate impact
- Educate for climate action
- Promote sustainable and responsible consumption
- Advocate for climate action through communication
Ideally, sports teams and leagues can cut their emissions in half by 2030 and achieve net-zero by 2040.
None of this would be possible without the work of Hershkowitz. His knowledge of sustainable systems has improved the NBA, MLB, MLS, and other sports organizations. He still serves as a sustainability advisor for the NBA while doing the same for the MLS and New York Yankees.
He is also chairman and founding director of Sport and Sustainability International, another eco-sports nonprofit driving sustainable change.
The company has representation in more than 50 countries as the global sports industry works to respond to climate change.
“When this program started, it was good to have; it was the right thing to do. Now, it’s a must-have. Now, it is an essential business management obligation,” Hershkowitz told NBA.com. When The Business Download reached out for comment, he doubled down on this stance.
You see more eco-conscious initiatives in athletics today. With the work of people like Hershkowitz and other nonprofits like EcoAthletes and Green Sports Alliance, more professional sports organizations are embracing the sustainability movement.