Planning for Environmental and Social Responsibility

When Athletic Business published its first issue in February 1977, I was a grad student in recreation administration at California State University, Long Beach. After an unremarkable stint as an undergrad at UCLA (notwithstanding the success of the men's basketball team), and a few years just kicking around, I had decided to pursue my passion β€” sports β€” to see where it would take me. Forty years later, as I reflect upon a lifetime working in sports, one thing is clear: I made the right choice, and not just because of all the fun I've had.

Keith Peters is a former race director, PR director for Nike and executive director of the Council for Responsible Sport. He remains active in retirement as a board member of the council.Keith Peters is a former race director, PR director for Nike and executive director of the Council for Responsible Sport. He remains active in retirement as a board member of the council.

Little did I suspect as I prepared for a career in recreational sports how much that field would change over the years. Who could have predicted how ubiquitous sports participation and the business of sports would become? Indeed, by any measure, sport has become a barometer of our cultural values and norms β€” both good and bad.

According to a recent report from Running USA, there were nearly 17 million finishers in U.S. road races in 2016, compared to five million finishers in 1990. And 57 percent of 2016 finishers were women! That's quite a story of growth and inclusivity β€” but what about all those finishers' medals and T-shirts? Are they truly a metaphor of accomplishment, or are they merely symbolic of our society's preoccupation with the acquisition of consumer goods?

I've spent the past 10 years trying to connect the dots between sports and environmental and social responsibility. While I fondly recall pitching empty wine bottles into the recycling dumpster at Cal State, it took Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth to awaken me to the challenge of turning individual action(s) into productive cultural norms. After all, recycling and reducing one's carbon footprint are laudable lifestyle choices, but the net impact only becomes significant when those activities become mass-participation events.

Sustainability Standards

The Council for Responsible Sport offers an event certification with 61 standards to create more-sustainable events, addressing the following areas:

β€’ Planning & Communications

β€’ Procurement

β€’ Resource management

β€’ Access & Equity

β€’ Community Legacy

Learn more at

In 2007, I was asked to lead a "Greening Your Running Event" workshop. One thing led to another β€” initially I established a consultancy to help road races become more ecofriendly; ultimately I became executive director of the Council for Responsible Sport, a nonprofit certification body that promotes the vision of a world in which responsibly produced sporting events are the norm.

How can we β€” those of us in the business of building, programming and operating athletic, fitness and recreation facilities and events β€” engage our stakeholders more fully in the pursuit of environmental friendliness and social responsibility?

To effectively build the emotional connections you'll need to achieve your goals and objectives, I recommend focusing on two key storytelling initiatives:

1. Develop a formal plan to reduce your event's environmental footprint and enhance its social impact.

Why? There are too many areas for potential improvement for your good intentions and ideas to go unwritten. After all, how will you know when you get "there" if you don't know where you're going? Without a formal plan, you will lack the necessary framework for objectively evaluating your efforts post-event.

Key ingredients: The only actual tools you'll need to formalize a plan to reduce your event's environmental footprint and enhance its social impact are pen and paper, whiteboard and marker, or a computer keyboard. Of course, you'll need commitment from the event's senior leadership team and key team leaders who will support the on-the-ground effort on an ongoing basis, as well as a clear block of time to consciously map your path to a more responsibly produced sports event.

How-to: First off, make a commitment to yourself and your team to take the time needed to thoroughly address the task at hand. You'll want to come up with a set of realistic goals and measurable objectives for reducing your event's environmental footprint and enhancing its social impact. You'll also want to develop a working list of tactics to undertake.

Remember, Rome wasn't built in a day. Your goal may be simply to add one new initiative to the "menu" each year. The whole point of this column is to provide you with the information and inspiration you'll need to try something new.

Here's a list of questions you might find helpful as you sit down to develop your plan:

β€’ Specifically, what are your goals and objectives?
β€’ What level of support and enthusiasm does your event's senior leadership team bring to the table?
β€’ Who among your sponsors, vendors and civic partners will support these efforts?
β€’ Who will actually manage this aspect of your event on a day-to-day basis?
β€’ Which of the many options are doable and affordable?
β€’ How will you fund initiatives that have a cost impact?
β€’ How and with whom will you share your accomplishments and lessons learned?

Measures of success: Just as there is no perfect plan, there is no specific format required. The main thing is to put your intentions, ideas and commitments down in writing, and make sure you have the buy-in you'll need to attain your goals.

2. Publicize your intent β€” tell stakeholders what you are trying to accomplish and how they can help.

Why? To accomplish the goals and objectives you've laid out in your plan, you're going to need a lot of support β€” from moral supporters to actual roll-up-your-sleeves worker bees, the more the merrier. If you don't let folks know what you're trying to achieve, how can you hope to maximize awareness and participation?

Key ingredients: Your publicity efforts can take many forms, from traditional advertising, press releases sent to interested media and signage at your event to a special section and/or announcements on your event's website and postings on the many social media outlets that are replacing traditional media as the go-to resource for news β€” particularly news about events that stakeholders have an emotional connection to.

How-to: All you really need is a clear sense of the story you want to share and a strategy for telling that story to a particular group of stakeholders. Depending upon your appeal, you may choose to make the same pitch to a variety of groups via different media channels.

Let's say you want to meet two complementary objectives: 1) maximize use of local transportation options by participants, volunteers and spectators, and 2) reduce the carbon footprint of local travel to your event.

To achieve the first objective, you might rely upon a variety of media channels to raise awareness of what the transportation options are β€” from mass transportation (which may be discounted for event participants) to carpooling or bike valet parking.

To achieve the objective of reducing the carbon footprint of local travel to your event, all you really need to do is get people to take advantage of the various transportation options. You don't even have to tell folks about your second objective; with an effective publicity plan, the reduction in carbon footprint will take care of itself.

Measures of success: You'll know you've effectively told your story when you notice an increase in support for your initiatives and/or an actual change in behavior.

Of course, it's going to take a lot more than just developing comprehensive plans and publicizing your intentions to reduce your organization's environmental footprint and enhance its social impact, but I'm confident that a focus on impactful storytelling coupled with a well-conceived plan can provide one giant step toward the vision of a world in which responsibly produced sporting events are the norm.

This article originally appeared in the July | August 2017 issue of Athletic Business with the title "Developing a plan for environmental and social responsibility" Athletic Business is a free magazine for professionals in the athletic, fitness and recreation industry. Click here to subscribe.


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