Last week, at the NASCAR Green Summit, keynote speaker Al Gore admitted he once thought NASCAR and green were as likely together as sharks and tornadoes. Well, shark-nado has surfaced. To my surprise, Americas biggest sport, with over 100 million fans, has become a leader in sustainability. The half-day gathering at the Spertus Institute in Chicago celebrated the fifth anniversary of NASCAR’s innovative green initiatives. Curious? Here’s what I learned about their eco-forward leadership.
Strategic partnerships with teams, tracks and 25 official partners/sponsors has enabled NASCAR Green to set sustainable benchmarks. Their on- and off-track green platform includes:
- corporate headquarters in Daytona Beach that has achieved LEED Gold certification
- installation of 20 Eaton Level 2 electric vehicle (EV) charging stations at NASCAR offices in Daytona Beach, Charlotte and Concord.
- a massive tree planting effort sponsored by UPS (over 166,000 trees) that offsets 100% of the emissions produced by on-track racing
- six raceways use renewable energy, including the Pocono Raceway – the worlds largest solar-powered sports facility
- at track beverage container recycling with Coca-Cola, Miller and Coors, at track cell phone recycling as part of Sprint’s Recycle for Victory” program, automotive fluids recycling with Safety-Kleen, and Goodyear tire recycling with Liberty Tire. NASCAR is considered the largest recycler in sports.
- racetracks and at track parking lots across the country repaved using Liberty Tire Recycling rubberized asphalt
- use and promotion of Green Earth Technologies clean and green, American-made automotive lubricants and cleaners, as well as household cleaning products
- a biofuels program using 15% ethanol blended fuel with partners Sunoco, American Ethanol and the National Corn Growers Association. Since 2011, NASCAR has surpassed four million miles driven across its three national series on Sunoco Green E15.
Incubating & Showcasing Green Tech
Other critical partners in motor sports naturally include the auto industry. Ford, Chevy/G.M. and Toyota executives presenting at the Summit stressed their shift toward sustainability. This is not greenwashing – its real stuff, noted the Chevy Volt manufacturer. While admitting “theres no silver bullet…one size doesn’t fit all…its a progression not a stop start in the greening of transportation, they are working on a variety of advanced technologies to power cars without petroleum including biofuels, cellulosic ethanol, electrification, liquified natural gas (LNG) and hydrogen fuel cells. Success will depend on continued joint
development partnerships, enablers and infrastructure. Nothing offers better street cred for broader public adoption than racing venues. NASCAR has been turning the spotlight on relevant new tech advancements from hybrids to electric cars. Electric pace cars, such as the Ford Focus and Fusion Energi, demonstrate that EVs are cool to drive without any compromise in performance. After all, if it’s good enough for NASCAR, consumers are more willing to buy-in.
Driving Cultural Shifts for Environmental Action
Most importantly, NASCAR is using its massive influence to transform the way their fans think about the environment. The high visibility, unashamedly green sponsorships – flaunted on uniforms, cars and raceway signage – help green brands and eco-friendly efforts, such recycling, renewable energy and toxic chemicals reduction, go mainstream. According to a 2012 study, NASCAR fans are twice as likely as non-fans to view their household as very green and always looking for new ways to positively impact the environment. As Al Gore put it, When a beloved organization stands up, it makes a difference. People take notice of the green values projected by NASCAR and ideally embrace these responsible behaviors as well.
More to Come
In addition to recognizing the eco-efforts of commercial sponsors and track operators at the Summit, NASCAR announced several new, somewhat unorthodox collaborations with non-profit leaders:
- Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) – NASCAR and NRDC will work together to promote energy efficiency, the use of renewable energy, and recycling and composting of wastes at racing facilities and corporate facilities, as well as the marketing of healthier food and fan education.
- U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) – NASCAR and DOE will advance the adoption of clean energy technologies. Additionally, they will partner on clean energy and auto-related research with universities, national laboratories, and private sector companies.
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – NASCAR and the EPA will work together to increase environmental performance and raise awareness of green products and solutions that can benefit NASCAR partners and fans. NASCAR will encourage its suppliers to get Economy, Energy and Environment (E3) tune-ups, help promote sustainable manufacturing and economic growth throughout the country, deliver more sustainable concessions at NASCAR events, expand the use of safer chemical products (that have earned EPA’s Design for the Environment (DfE) label), conserve water, reduce waste and promote recycling.
Granted, this popular pastime revolves around fast cars burning a gallon of fuel every four to five miles and the consumption of plenty of other resources along the way. Still, considering the positive influences and overall impact, NASCARs environmental efforts are a big deal. As Al Gore stated, lets keep going our work is not over yet. On an uncommonly hot day in Chicago, he pointed out Daytona Beach and Florida, home of NASCAR corporate headquarters and the prestigious Daytona 500, are most at risk from climate change.
Hey, what about the rest of spectator sports?
Going green makes business sense to all teams and arenas! As NRDC points out, sustainability initiatives can offer direct financial savings, attract green sponsors, improve brand image, enhance the fan experience, strengthen community ties and spur on local economic growth. Under the leadership of Allen Hershkowitz, NRDC has been greening the games with all major sports leagues, including Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, Major League Soccer, the United States Tennis Association and the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
The sports industrys growing embrace of energy efficiency, renewable energy, recycling, water conservation, safer chemicals and healthier food is educating millions of fans about the importance of protecting the environment and natural resources on which we all depend. Through their leadership on the field, court, rink or track, professional and collegiate sportsand their sponsorsare showing their many fans practical, cost-effective solutions to some of our planet’s most dire ecological issues.
Check out the NRDC Game Changer report which overviews five league jewel events, such as MLB All-Star Games and the U.S. Open, as well as case studies of sixteen professional teams and venues. Some key findings: 15 North American stadiums have achieved LEED green building certification, 18 have on-site solar arrays, 38 teams use some renewable energy, 68 teams have energy efficiency programs, virtually all have recycling and/or composting programs, and all leagues educate fans about environmental issues. See this website for more info and videos.
Sadly, in the green city of Chicago, no teams/stadiums are leading in environmental stewardship. Come on, if NASCAR can blaze an eco-friendly trail, surely our beloved hometown teams can follow pace!