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The Big Green Game Changer

Written by  Stephen P. Ashkin

Lawn Green

Many Cleaning Contractors may not be aware of it, but there is a big game changer coming their way when it comes to green cleaning—and it has little if anything to do with cleaning. A growing movement is underway to make the professional sports industry greener, and because professional sports is one of the largest and most powerful industries in the country, this move should have a significant impact on just about every other industry.

The group behind this movement is the Green Sports Alliance, which is the brainchild of billionaire Paul G. Allen, a Microsoft co-founder, who owns the company Vulcan Inc. Vulcan was established in 1986 and made its mark in a number of industries from real estate and capital investment to media companies and sports. Based in Seattle, Washington, Allen (and his companies) own and operate the Portland Trail Blazers and the Seattle Seahawks and have a partial stake in the Seattle Sounders soccer team. Due to his influence and location, it should come as no surprise that some of the earliest members of the Green Sports Alliance were these teams as well as the Seattle Mariners, Seattle Storm, and Vancouver Canucks, which are all professional sports organizations located in either Seattle or nearby Vancouver, British Columbia.

The goal of the Green Sports Alliance is to help educate professional sports owners, managers, and players as well as those who own/operate sporting venues around North America. This education will focus on “practices and solutions to their environmental challenges that are cost-competitive and innovative,” according to the Green Sports Alliance website. “The information gathered from this collaboration is available to Alliance members in order that they gain a better understanding of how sporting events can be performed in an environmentally sensitive manner.”

Beginning in March 2011, with six professional teams, the Green Sports Alliance has grown to nearly 300 professional and collegiate teams from 20 different sports leagues and 14 countries. Members are doing their part to make sports green by implementing ongoing strategies to reduce waste, use energy and water more efficiently, and eliminate the use of toxic or unhealthy chemicals in cleaning, along with other programs and initiatives.

“In my own work, I’ve tried to anticipate what’s coming over the horizon, to hasten its arrival and to apply it to people’s lives in a meaningful way,” says Allen. A strong advocate of protecting the environment, he believes that working through the professional sports industry is one way to “hasten this arrival.” The influence of sports
According to Forbes Magazine, the professional sports industry in the U.S. is projected to grow to around $145.3 billion in 2015. This amount encompasses not just professional teams, but the various industries related to the industry such as sports marketing, sponsorship programs, sports media (traditional and social media), and sports facilities. This makes it one of the country’s most significant industries. And why is it so big? That answer is simple: hundreds of millions of people around the world from all backgrounds are huge sports fans, whether it’s rooting for specific sports teams or folowing their favorite sports celebrities. In fact, more than 60 percent of Americans—180 million people—identify themselves as sports fans. It’s those numbers and that relationship that can make the Green Sports Alliance so powerful. As more and more professional teams transfer to and promote their green and sustainability practices, the belief is it will influence these hundreds of millions of people as well as other industries and entire governments. Why? Because it has happened before.

The Jackie Robinson and Magic Johnson stories
Many younger people in the professional cleaning industry are likely unaware of the fact that for decades African Americans could not play on major league baseball teams. There was no “official” policy saying this; it was just understood as the way things were. So black baseball players had their own teams as part of the “Negro Leagues.”

In 1947, Jackie Robinson became the first African American to play in the major leagues—for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Although there was considerable consternation about this hiring, the backlash was less than anticipated. Slowly, other major professional teams followed suit, hiring black players to appear on their own squads. By the 1960s, the Negro Leagues had faded into history because the hiring of African Americans became commonplace not only in sports, but in time, across almost every other industry.

Another more recent example happened in November 1991. While taking a physical, Los Angeles Laker Magic Johnson tested positive for HIV. When he went public with this information, it made news around the world, mainly because until then HIV and AIDS were considered diseases affecting only certain groups. There was a lot of fear and misinformation about these diseases. Johnson’s coming forward helped demystify HIV and AIDS. Because Johnson was a popular figure in sports, everyone learned much more about these issues, and many of the misconceptions soon dissipated.

These are just two examples of how professional sports has the power to change the wider culture. It shows that “if the sports industry wants it and promotes it, the world can change,” says Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, co-founder and president of the Green Sports Alliance. “Sports has led [the way] to change race relations… It will now change the world in the environmental sphere [as well]. There is no turning back.”

The Green Sports Alliance and green cleaning
Green cleaning is the use of cleaning chemicals, supplies, and equipment as well as methods and processes that result in a reduced impact on the environment, while still meeting the cleaning goals of protecting human health and improving the appearance and health of facilities. While many may still have questions about how to implement a green cleaning strategy, most of us are aware that this is what green cleaning is all about. However, do you think that most of the facility managers and building owners we work with understand what green cleaning entails? Even more important, are they aware of the benefits that building users can derive from a green cleaning program? The Green Sports Alliance plans to be instrumental in making people around the world more aware of the need for green cleaning and how we can take steps toward protecting the health of our world. This is where the professional cleaning industry comes in. Our industry has already taken a leadership role when it comes to the use of environmentally preferable cleaning products and promoting sustainability. In time, more and more of us will be working in tangent with the Green Sports Alliance, not only in terms of greening the facilities we maintain, but also in educating building users about why green cleaning and sustainability measures are so important for everyone.

Stephen P. Ashkin is founder of the Green Cleaning Network a not-for-profit organization dedicated to educating building owners and suppliers about Green Cleaning, and president of The Ashkin Group a consulting firm specializing in Greening the cleaning industry. He is considered the “father of Green Cleaning” and is coauthor of both The Business of Green Cleaning and Green Cleaning for Dummies


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