Tennis goes green
Industry manufacturers and organizations join in the fight to improve the environment.
By James Martin
Somewhere, Al Gore is smiling. Or at least he would be if he checked out what the tennis industry has been doing of late to reduce its carbon footprint on the environment.
In the last couple of years, tennis manufacturers, tournament directors, and power brokers have joined the fight to improve the environment. Efforts have ranged from the symbolic to the substantial, and in typical tennis-industry fashion, plans have been a bit fragmented as everyone, it seems, pursues their own green policy. But the good news is that the ultimate goal is the same — to reduce tennis’ negative impact on the environment.
That’s particularly been the case for racquet manufacturers. “The industry is becoming more green overall,” says Linda Glassel, vice president of marketing for Prince Sports. “Every brand has been trying to be more eco-friendly.”
Head, for example, announced in September a partnership with the global environmental charity Cool Earth, which fights climate change by protecting endangered rainforests. Under this agreement, Head will purchase credits that will go to helping preserve rainforests, which lock up atmospheric carbon in their vegetation to the tune of 150 tons of carbon per half-acre. Many believe that reducing rain-forest destruction is the first step in tackling climate change.
“Educating sports enthusiasts about the affects of carbon emissions is an important part of why we’re doing this,” says Head CEO Johan Eliasch. “We all depend on a stable climate to ski, play tennis, or dive [which are the three main sports that Head services]. If we don’t wake up and make a difference now, we won’t be doing these things in their natural environments much longer.”
With its efforts, Head hopes to preserve 7,000 acres of rainforest, or the equivalent of 100,000 tennis courts. It also will soon start including information on its products about the Cool Earth initiative to encourage sports enthusiasts to become more environmentally responsible.
Another major company, Wilson, has been tackling the green issue by changing their manufacturing and production processes. Since last March, at least 25 percent of each Wilson tennis ball can has been made of recyclable materials in an effort to reduce the amount of plastic that ends up in landfills. Wilson says that for 2007, this program will result in landfill waste being reduced by 330,000 pounds.
Wilson’s ultimate goal is to use 100 percent recyclable materials for its ball cans, though certain challenges persist, like finding recyclable material strong enough to keep the can’s structural integrity and maintain the appropriate amount of pressure. But Wilson’s string and grip packaging is already made of 100 percent recyclable materials.
The company’s [K] Factor racquets are also environmentally friendly. That’s because the process to build them requires less chemicals and resins than the company’s other racquet models. Jon Muir, general manager of Wilson Racquet Sports, estimates that there’s 15 to 20 percent fewer chemicals used in [K] Factor frames.
“We decided we needed to do something tangible, not just say we support the environment,” Muir says. “It’s one thing to say you support the environment, but I challenge the industry and ask them what are you actually doing to help. We’ve shown real numbers and real costs. I’d like to see our competitors show that, too.”
That’s one philosophy and approach. Another is first gathering more information on the sporting industry’s impact on the environment and developing a consensus on what to do. This is the game plan for Prince, which has joined forces with Billie Jean King’s GreenSlam Initiative.
The goal of GreenSlam is to raise awareness for everyone in sports — pro and recreational players, spectators, and companies — and, ultimately, establish a Green Dream Team of global companies and launch an eco-friendly line of sporting goods equipment, apparel, shoes, and accessories.
“I’m challenging myself — the industry of sports, professional athletes and fans, to take positive action to help counter the negative effects of climate change,” King said during the US Open, where she announced the initiative. “It’s simple — if the billions of people who live and love sports take just one single step, we can help win back our planet.”
One aspect of GreenSlam will be a program to help consumers take their old sporting equipment to drop-off centers, such as tennis clubs and stadiums, where it can be reused instead of being thrown away. As Prince’s Glassel puts it, “Rethink, recycle, and reuse … What can we do with the resources we have so we’re not putting all of our old equipment in landfills.”
Other items on the GreenSlam agenda include raising funds for ecologically supportive sporting events, as well as forming an independent council of “greening experts” to help set the agenda and share information with venues, companies and promoters.
Basically, GreenSlam would become a clearinghouse for all environmentally related issues as they relate to sports, and a place where everyone, from promoters to players to manufacturers, can go to get up-to-date information and analysis.
One of King’s other passion projects, World TeamTennis, is also leading the green charge. No surprise there, since WTT has long been the sport’s laboratory for change.
In 2007, WTT signed FirmGreen, a company that develops alternative energies from local renewable sources, to a multi-year sponsorship. Under the deal, FirmGreen planned to donate renewable energy credits and greenhouse gas emission offsets to help WTT reduce its carbon footprint for two California teams, the Newport Beach Breakers and Sacramento Capitals. To calculate emissions associated with league play, FirmGreen was set to review all event-related activities, from travel to venue lighting. And in 2008, it will expand its efforts to all of World TeamTennis.
Last year, WTT even rolled out a recyclable green carpet, instead of the customary red one, during player introductions in Newport and Sacramento.
“You have to start somewhere,” says WTT CEO Ilana Kloss. “We’re proud to be the leaders in innovation, whether it’s colored courts or environmental efforts. In a way, World TeamTennis is a think tank. And we’re happy to share what we learn with the industry.
“This is Billie Jean King’s philosophy,” Kloss adds. “Set an example and teach people how to do the right thing.”
“It’s simple,” says Billie Jean King. “If the billions of people who live and love sports take just one single step, we can help win back our planet.”
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