How “green” is NASCAR?

Green Sports Alliance COO Justin Zeulner, BS ’94, MBA ’04 answers this question and more

By UO student Lili Wagner

What do the NBA, MLB, NHL, MLS, and other sports teams, leagues, and venues across the country have in common? The Green Sports Alliance. Led by COO Justin Zeulner, BS ’94, MBA ’04, the Green Sports Alliance drives a widespread effort to “green” the sports industry.

“I’m a Duck, and after college I started working in the ski industry, with Willamette Valley Ski Pass,” said Zeulner. “I learned two things there: first, sport is an amazing vehicle to move and inspire culture; and second, the environment is changing rapidly, and I was seeing it.”

Throughout his professional career he has worked to unite these two lessons. Working for the Portland Trailblazers, he was again shown the major cultural market influence of sports.

“Sport can change what communities look like,” he said. “Think of Jackie Robinson, Billy Jean King, Muhammad Ali. As an iconic part of a community landscape, a sports team can really have an influence. Working with the Blazers, we started talking about environmental stewardship as an obligation.”

After working for the Trailblazers, he moved to Paul Allen’s Vulcan, and then, with Vulcan’s support, to the Green Sports Alliance, where he applies his professional expertise on the intersection of sports business and environmentalism today.

Think of Portland’s Moda Center. Hours before the Blazers take to the court, the venue comes alive, lit up with thousands of bulbs and warmed by a massive air system. Fans drive into the city en masse, arriving at the venue to buy refrigerated drinks and purchase merchandise and food shipped from around the country, before settling down to watch forty-eight minutes of basketball.

Indeed, the sports industry has a $1.3 trillion global supply chain, which Green Sports Alliance works to make more environmentally conscious and more engaging to fans and communities. The non-profit, which grew originally from the Pacific Northwest, now boasts of 279 members, including 132 teams, 140 venues, and seven leagues.

The Green Sports Alliance requires members to measure and track consumption. Zeulner remarks that if you track performance, you will see reduction. The NHL is a current leader in its efforts to measure and manage its consumption, after releasing the first environmental report recognizing carbon its footprint last year.

“Our members are doing some incredible things,” Zeulner said. “NASCAR, for one, is surprisingly progressive. Drivers are pushing to use biofuels, to advance that. The Formula E series is a race entirely for electric engines. In surveys, NASCAR fans are more environmentally conscious than other fans, and fans in general are more conscientious than the average citizen. Their venues are also leading in solar use.”

The Alliance helps members reach their environmental goals through direct support and focused research; facilitated networking with recognized leaders in the industry; compilation and sharing of best practices in venue operations; and team communications, workshops, a monthly webinar series, and much more. Green Sports Alliance also brings together environmental, sports business, and venue professionals for a unique summit on the complex environmental issues facing the sports industry today.

“There is no end,” said Zeulner. “It isn’t just how ‘green’ you can get, either. It’s the influence you can have on people, which is immeasurable. Where it’s going to go is the most exciting part.”