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UM Finds Pro Sports Going Green To Woo Fans, Cut Costs

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Professional sports realized long ago that fans like to drink beer during games, but only recently did they discover that fans prefer to throw used cups in recycle bins, a University of Michigan study shows.

Though not required, professional sports teams and leagues have started going green in a strategic move to meet the growing environmental demands of fans, forge partnerships with nontraditional sponsors and cut costs, says Kathy Babiak, an associate professor at the UM School of Kinesiology.

Not much research has been done on the greening of sports, she said. Most of this kind of research focuses on traditional industries, like manufacturing, that harm the environment. Those industries are often forced into compliance by regulations or financial incentives.

In a study appearing in the journal Corporate Social Responsibility and Environmental Management, Babiak and colleague Sylvia Trendafilova of the University of Tennessee found that the greening of sports happens for strategic reasons and in response to fan demands.

Teams “are seeing this as an opportunity to enhance their reputation and image,” Babiak said. “They are viewed as better citizens within the community and this also gives them an opportunity to develop relationships with nontraditional partners or organizations or sponsors. They are going to companies like waste management or water purification companies, which are whole new partnership areas for professional sports.”

Environmentally sound practices such as recycling and using renewable energy are a relatively new phenomenon in professional sports, the researchers say. Within the past few years there have been shifts in environmental practices at the league and team levels.

In 2003, the Philadelphia Eagles — leaders in the environmental sports movement — launched the Go Green initiative. The cornerstones of the project include recycling, using renewable energy, neutralizing carbon output, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and planting trees. Since 2004, electricity consumption has declined by almost 50 percent at the stadium, which offsets emissions equal to about 17 million car miles annually.

But teams don’t only save on costs, the researchers say. The new partnerships formed are economically advantageous for the team and the partner company. For example, a waste management sponsor could potentially become a partner in a recycling venture.

“There are two ways to think about it,” Babiak said. “There’s an opportunity for revenue generation in the form of sponsorships and partnerships, and cost savings in the form of energy efficiencies such as energy-efficient light bulbs or solar power or recycling.”

Babiak and Trendafilova say that environmental initiatives of sports leagues are usually driven by team management or the commissioner’s office, but that the athletes, themselves, often do their part.

“A lot of NHL players have purchased carbon offsets for team related travel,” Babiak said.

The paper, “CSR and environmental responsibility: Motives and pressures to adopt green management practices” is available at: www.interscience.wiley.com/journal/123329021/abstract

For more on Babiak: www.kines.umich.edu/faculty/full-time/babiak.html

Listen to or download a podcast to trends in the greening of professional sports at http://ns.umich.edu/podcast/audio.php?id=1300

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