Sustainability in Sports

09 May 2023 by Richard Kent
blog author

​I've been paying attention to the happenings at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta since they broke ground. Mostly though, I've been following the news about the architecture, the camera shutter-inspired retractable roof, the record-setting soccer match attendance, the interesting decisions around cutting food prices... the list goes on.

But somehow, I missed the boat on the sustainability work that Arthur Blank and AMBSE team have been doing. A few headlines:

  • In 2020, they achieved zero-waste status at an Atlanta United FC match

  • In 2022, over 91% of the 4 million pounds of waste at the stadium was diverted from landfills

  • Off the back of an initial $1M investment in a landfill trash elimination effort, they are projecting a $400,000 annual return

According to Statista, 626,000 fans attended Falcons games in Atlanta; and, from what I can find on MLS game attendance statistics, over 800,000 fans attended Atlanta United FC matches at home last year. Now, add to that all of the concerts, high school games, and other events that happen throughout the year. That's a lot of people generating a lot of waste, but through significant education of employees and fans, "the stadium saw more than 95% compliance from fans putting trash in the right receptacles." Today, they're seeing a massive return on their investment.

In my opinion, there are a couple of different ways to think about this. You can just look at the back-end numbers and see a clear business case that can - and should - be copied by other teams and venues. Now, think about the combined impact if every team or venue in America were to do something similar… That's significant.

But we should also point out how many fans were impacted by these efforts, that were directly exposed to, and played a huge part in, these results.

I spend my days calling and interviewing top executives for sustainability roles all across America. I always hear the same thing: sustainability initiatives aren't just purposeful, they are profitable.

The average person doesn't have this kind of access or knowledge, so that's where I think stories like this are so special. As Chris Granger said in the article, "Sports teams and venues have a platform on the topic of social change, and we have the ability to shine a light on issues that matter in a way that many businesses don't." Unlike B2B enterprises, financial institutions, or even many consumer-oriented companies, entertainment venues and sports teams have a unique opportunity to contextualize sustainability initiatives to the public.

As a former athlete who spent a lot of time in large stadiums and who now works in sustainability, I love seeing my worlds collide. And I'm looking forward to seeing more on this exciting sector for sustainability talent.

Richard brings a wealth of recruitment experience to our New York team, where he leads Research Function in North America, supplying in-depth client and candidate research and talent mapping across all industries. As Head of Research, he has helped cleantech clients find Technical and Business Development leadership, impactful non-profits recruit executive leadership, and Fortune 500 brands identify Heads of Sustainability.