The NBA arena that plans to end single-use plastic starting this season

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When the Phoenix Suns open the 2021-2022 NBA season at home on October 20, fans will likely notice the new banner hanging from the rafters to celebrate the Suns’ run to the 2021 NBA Finals.

They may also notice that their drink comes in a biodegradable, compostable cup made from plant material, as well as the recycling and compost bins that are now in the hall instead of garbage cans.

Those changes are the result of a new naming rights partnership with Footprint, the materials science technology company committed to eliminating single-use plastics—typically a common occurrence in an arena between beer cups, food trays and containers, and plastic silverware and straws.

“We don’t just have a tip; we have a tipping point of change,” said Susan Koehler, Footprint’s Chief Marketing Officer. “We believe this location will transform and show the world how to go plastic-free.”

Organizations in all sectors are making huge investments to achieve environmental, social and governance goals, and that includes professional sports. Leagues like the NFL and NBA now have sustainability-focused programs, LEED certification is almost a given for every new stadium development, and NHL and MLS teams have worn Adidas jerseys made from recycled materials to reduce both the environmental impact. decrease as well as increase awareness.

“We have a responsibility to play a role in our communities and make them better places to live,” said Dan Costello, Phoenix Suns Chief Revenue Officer. “It is possible to do good and do good at the same time.”

Putting sustainability first

There are few better ways for a sports team to signify a commitment to sustainability than through a stadium naming agreement, the most visible and lucrative business partnership that can generate more than $10 million a year in some NBA markets. . The terms of the Footprint deal were not disclosed, but the company is reportedly seeking at least a 10-year deal worth $9 million a year, according to the Sports Business Journal.

“We don’t just pick companies to take a check; we really target companies that fit the personality of who we are as a team, known for innovation and technology,” Costello said. “Environmental and social governance is important to us, and we know they mean something to other businesses – we’re trying to create a place where they can share those stories too.”

The Suns have tried to embrace sustainability before. Their arena was one of the first in professional sports to add solar energy, in 2012. The arena has also adopted other eco-friendly practices, such as using LED lighting and having contactless faucets and toilets to conserve water.

Telling the story of what can be done in terms of sustainability in an arena now and in the future is the goal of the Footprint Center, which is also the home of the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, Koehler said. The partnership also includes Real Mallorca, the Spanish football club owned by Robert Sarver, the president of both the Suns and Mercury.

“There are 41 NBA home games, but there are Mercury games, other sporting events, concerts, Disney On Ice, conferences,” Koehler said. “It’s an opportunity to invite the public in the state and around the world to experience what sustainability looks like.”

The first change is the removal of single-use plastic items such as plates, packaging and utensils for Footprint’s recyclable and compostable plant fiber products. Trash cans are also being replaced with recycling and composting bins. Additional Footprint products will be added over time, as well as other sustainability-focused practices.

The arena will also serve as a “living innovation lab,” Koehler said, where other companies can learn more about how sustainability efforts are being received by tens of thousands of people every night.

Footprint and the Suns want to engage fans, from videos about sustainability and how to manage their waste on the giant scoreboard during matches, to encouraging people to sign up for a Climate Pledge initiative to eliminate plastic from their lives. The Suns and Mercury will also be encouraging players to participate in the pledge, as well as other entertainers performing in the arena.

Koehler said she hopes the arena pushes sport further towards a more sustainable mindset and future. She said Footprint, which was number 45 on the 2021 CNBC Disruptor 50 list, has already received several calls from sports teams in the US and worldwide since this deal was announced about what could be done about sustainability in their arenas and stadiums. .

“The sports industry is going to see that there is a movement around sustainability and what it means to be a part of it – I think all stadiums will see it as something they have to do and there will be minimal rules for transparency of what that means Koehler said. “You see how consumers’ attitudes are changing towards companies and brands towards sustainability and they’re basically saying, ‘We will reward the companies that make the change, and [those companies] should have a responsibility to take care of the planet and its people.”

Professional sports embrace the environment

While the sports industry has moved towards more environmentally friendly practices in recent years, the fact that sustainability messages are now literally in the name of an arena is “truly unprecedented,” said Garrett Wong, a member services manager at the Green Sports Alliance, an environmental trade organization. in the sports industry.

Wong also pointed to Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle, to which Amazon bought the naming rights for more than $300 million over the life of the deal in August 2020. Instead of putting its company name on the building, Amazon devoted it to drawing attention. on climate change. The arena, which will be home to the NHL’s Seattle Kraken, aims to be the world’s first carbon-free arena powered by renewable energy, and also aims to get rid of single-use plastics by 2024.

In October 2020, Ball Corp. acquired. the naming rights to the Denver arena that the NBA’s Nuggets and the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche call home, in part in an effort to further demonstrate its plan to replace plastic products with recyclable aluminum products.

Bringing that message to the fans’ attention is a change not only for the sports teams, but also for companies like Footprint, said Kristin Hanczor, Senior Partnership Manager of Green Sports Alliance.

“Before this year, you would never have stepped into an arena where you used the word Climate or Footprint — this is all new to sports fans,” she said. “This is also an important part for those companies to tie their name to a sports team and really tell fans why they’re there.”

The opportunity to use sports as a means to get more people thinking about sustainability is something that Koehler will not miss as fans will now be cheering in an arena with the company’s name on it.

“We love our sport, Americans love their teams; if we can help fans learn how to make a difference and we make it interesting, there’s an opportunity for widespread transformation,” she said.

Troy Swope, co-founder and CEO of Footprint, will be one of the speakers and panelists at this year’s Disruptor 50 Summit – CNBC’s annual celebration of the next generation of great public companies. Sign up to join us here.

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