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Seattle University


Adding Some Green

SU professor is helping to lead international efforts that bring sustainable practices to sports

Written by Dean Forbes
July 17, 2018

The game-day ticket that doubles as a free round-trip transit pass. The giveaway compost bin or energy efficient light bulb. Sports teams and organizations around the country are promoting their “green” side in hopes of adding some green to the bottom line but also to influence their large fan bases to up their game when it comes to sustainability habits at home. But are their efforts effective?

“You can easily get businesses involved in sustainability, however, it’s not the best way to engage individual customers. So if we can leverage sport as a platform to engage fans in sustainability while attending an event, it may go on to influence their everyday lives,” says Brain McCullough, PhD, associate professor of Sport Business Leadership in the Albers School of Business and Economics.

McCullough is an expert on sports sustainability both in terms of what teams and organizations can do and whether their work can influence their consumers in everyday life.

That scholarship has earned him roles in two current, high-level international sports sustainability programs, one by United Nations Climate Change and the other by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for the Los Angeles Games in 2028.

“It’s been a good year. It’s very exciting,” says McCullough.

UN Climate Change

Seattle U is among 30 organizations from around the world, including FIFA, Green Sports Alliance, FIA, NHL and World Rugby that are working on the UN Climate Change program on greater sustainability in sports.

According to a UN announcement, “UN Climate Change will work with the sports sector on a number of issues, including on measuring and reducing the direct impacts of sports events and other activities in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement. Furthermore, they will work to better understand the precise impact of climate change on sports and leisure activities and to find ways to increase the communication and public awareness potential of the sector in driving broader and deeper engagement on climate action around the world.”

The group will identify five key tenets of sustainability for sports federations and organizations to commit to. McCullough’s task, along with his longtime academic research partner Timothy Kellison of Georgia State University, will be to evaluate and analyze the tenets so that sports groups can compare themselves to each other as efforts move forward. The goal is to complete the work in time for the UN Climate Change Conference in Poland this December.

McCullough was tapped to join the UN project by Claire Poole, founder of Clearbright Consulting in the UK and a former consultant to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) for Initial Sport and Climate Dialogue.

"Brian’s leadership and expertise in this space, his focus on the environmental impact of sport spectators and the context of sport to influence behaviors of spectators, both on game day and everyday life, made an invitation for him to join this dialogue an obvious choice,” says Poole. “He is hugely respected in the international community and as we drive this important work forward, his contributions have really put the Sport Business Leadership program at Seattle University on the map within this global community.”

“It’s been a very exciting and challenging opportunity,” says McCullough. Students in his sport sustainability leadership certificate program also participated. “This is a great example of the leading-edge academics of the MSBL program being applied by students in a meaningful experiential learning opportunity. Students proposed creative solutions to a real life and developing situation in the sport industry.”

IOC Grant

In July McCullough and Kellison were awarded a grant by the IOC’s Olympic Studies Centre to measure Los Angeles city and county voters’ perceptions of the 2028 Olympic and Paralympic Games’ proposed sustainability initiatives, with the hopes that another grant will allow them to follow up after the games are finished. Olympic host city bids are required to include very robust and progressive environmental plans.

“In the past 25 years, host cities have increasingly focused attention on environment-related issues. Given the growing focus on environmental sustainability across sport, the purpose of this project is to examine the degree to which local residents are engaged and impacted by an Olympic city’s environmental legacy plan,” wrote researchers in their winning proposal.

McCullough and Kellison will estimate the economic value of all components of the LA 2028 Sustainability Vision, to determine what aspects of the plan are favored most by local residents and identify the extent to which residents’ environmental attitudes and behaviors change with the games.

“In addition to extending the academic literature on sport and sustainability, the results of this study can be used to inform policy and governance in future Olympic cities seeking to design and deliver an Olympic and Paralympic Games with a lasting positive impact on the community and a positive environmental legacy,” they wrote in their proposal.

“With the announcement of the LA summer games, we knew this would be a terrific opportunity for us to apply our research,” says McCullough.