Communication for Sustainable Development

Nike, Trail Blazers take role in first-ever Green Sports Alliance Summi

When Nike employees introduced the notion of adopting sustainable business practices some 20 years ago, then chief executive officer Phil Knight was not impressed.

"Phil Knight wasn't as much in love with the concept as some of the rest of us, but he never got in the way," Nike executive Sarah Severn said Monday night of the sports footwear and apparel giant's co-founder.

Severn was on a panel with three other sports executives to help kick off the Green Sports Alliance Summit, which continues today and Wednesday at the World Trade Center in downtown Portland. More than 100 people are attending the conference, including representatives from professional sports teams and sports venues, which is the first time the environmentally conscious organization has held such an event.

The summit started Monday night with just one panel discussion, held at the Gerding Theater. Besides Severn, the panel included Sarah Mensah, chief operating officer for the Trail Blazers; Joe Abernathy, vice president of stadium operations for the St. Louis Cardinals; and Dave Krichavsky, the NFL's community affairs director. The four were seated in four leather chairs on the theater's stage, fielding questions from moderator Allen Hershkowitz, senior scientist of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Summit continues today
The Green Sports Alliance Summit is open to the public, but limited to available tickets. General admission is $350 for sessions at the World Trade Center, 121 S.W. Salmon St.
In answer to a question about the influence of their organization's leadership on sustainability, Severn said Knight may have been skeptical years ago about sustainability and preoccupied with criticism of the company's overseas manufacturing practices.

Mark Parker, a vice president at the company when the notion of sustainability was gaining a toehold, has been supportive from the start, she said.

"He has been an advocate for this all the way," she said.

In 1997, Severn and others at Nike wanted to seek the help of William McDonough with Nike's product packaging. McDonough, a designer and advocate of sustainable development, is author of the book "Cradle to Cradle," a widely read book that examines the broad scope of consumption and design. In 1999, Time magazine named him a "Hero for the Planet."

Parker helped make sure McDonough had an audience with Nike packaging designers, Severn said. Parker also has brought Hannah Jones, vice president for sustainable business and innovation, aboard the senior management team.

Parker's support "has been hugely empowering for all of us working in this area," Severn said.

Others on the panel had their own stories about their different journeys through the maze of sustainability in the world of sport.

Mensah noted the Blazers' several green initiatives, some of which resulted in the team and its business partners achieving gold LEED certification status for the Rose Garden. Mensah and team president Larry Miller said the team is seeking platinum status, the highest level possible.

Mensah said one of the biggest energy usage impacts for the team is the number of people who use automobiles to travel to and from the stadium. The Blazers have advocated for its fans to use public transit and bicycles, she said, "but we're addicted to our cars."

Mensah gave a shout out to team owner Paul Allen, who she said provided seed money for the creation of the Green Sports Alliance. In its formative stages, the organization was dominated by Northwest teams: the Trail Blazers, Seattle Mariners, Seattle Seahawks, Seattle Sounders, Seattle Storm, Vancouver Canucks and those teams' playing arenas.

Abernathy sometimes sounded apologetic for his organization's efforts in comparison to those practiced by the Blazers and other teams in the Northwest. "In the center of the United States, this stuff doesn't come along that fast," said Abernathy, vice president of stadium operations.

But the Cardinals have implemented major recycling programs, with help from key business partners Anheuser-Busch and Coca-Cola, he said. And the team casts a critical eye on the vendors' proposals that claim to be green.

"The challenge becomes not only making the right decisions," he said, "but seeing if you could get payback for that. We wanted to make business decision that will reduce the among of energy use, reduce the amount of water use, reduce the amount of solid waste."

The NFL began its league-wide emphasis on sustainability at the Super Bowl, Krichavsky said.

He singled out the Philadelphia Eagles' Lincoln Financial Field as a top example of sustainable practices in the league.

The team's retrofit of the 67,000-seat stadium includes the addition of wind turbines along the upper facade of the stadium, solar panels on overhangs and building facades plus a 7.6 megawatt co-generation bio-diesel power plant in the parking area.

Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, the former NBA All-Star point guard for the Phoenix Suns, was among speakers who welcomed participants to the conference. Johnson said a planned downtown sports arena would be crucial to keeping the Sacramento Kings from moving from the city, noting that the arena's location would benefit from public transportation and the structure would be built with sustainability in mind.

Johnson, though many years removed from his playing days, said, "I get nervous when I come to Portland," proceeding to recite the Blazers' starting line-up from the early- to mid-1990s.

Miller, who introduced Johnson, declined in an earlier interview to discuss any aspect of the NBA, citing the continuing league lockout against players.

So, when he brought Johnson to the stage, Miller said, "I'm glad to be able to talk to a former NBA player like Kevin Johnson, because I can't talk to any of the current NBA players."


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