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Seattle University

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Greening the Games

Written by Dean Forbes and Mike Thee
November 6, 2015

For Brian McCullough, the epiphany came while he was in graduate school at Texas A&M. "Being a Californian who was going to school in Texas and not seeing any recycling bins at sporting events piqued my curiosity." McCullough, whose academic interests had been focused up until then on diversity and religion in sports, "started looking at how sustainability can be incorporated into sports."

This became the focus of his research. He went on to earn his PhD from Texas A&M and today is a leader in the field of sport sustainability. He joined SU's Master of Sport Administration and Leadership faculty two years ago. In January, he will begin teaching the first cohort of students in the new Certificate in Sport Sustainability Leadership.

"This is the first program of its type in the world that meets the need for professionals who can embed environmentally sustainable practices in sports organizations," says McCullough, program director. "Our certificate will meet the needs of amateur, professional, local, national and international athletic programs seeking to be leaders in sport sustainability."

Applications are now being accepted for the certificate, a 15-credit, online program that addresses the growing demand for increasing environmentally and ecologically sustainable practices in the sports industry. The certificate is administered by the Master of Sport Administration and Leadership program and is part of the Center for Environmental Justice and Sustainability. Some students enrolling in the certificate program are already in the sports industry; others have a background in sustainability and are looking to break into the sports. Most students will be able to complete the program in nine months.

The sports industry presents many opportunities for incorporating sustainable practices in facilities and operations. For McCullough, it is just as key to engage fans in a team's green efforts-not only within the context of a sporting event but in their everyday lives. This has been a key component of his research.

Influencing fan behavior can be tricky, though. "That's your consumer; you don't want to tell your consumer what to do and possibly alienate them," he says. And others may be indifferent to the message: "We recognize that many fans are more interested in whether a certain player may need surgery than how many pounds of compost were collected at the last game.

Brian McCullough is program director for the new Certificate in Sport Sustainability Leadership.

"On the other hand, it is important to balance environmental programs with customer experience and eventually engage fans in a conversation that encourages them to transfer their behaviors (to everyday life)."

McCullough says that while some sports leagues-notably the National Hockey League and Major League Baseball-have been early leaders in sustainability, most sports organizations do not have a person or function specifically assigned to address the need to operate in a more sustainable way. "The time will come when that will happen," he says.

Sports businesses need to be convinced that sustainability "will save them money in the long run and help them differentiate their product," says McCullough. As such, a key part of the certificate program will be on using data and proven results to inform decisions.

The certificate builds on the already highly ranked master's-level courses and the sports business program at Seattle U. The curriculum focuses on the environmental aspects of sustainability that impact all elements of a sports organization, including facilities, finance, marketing, sponsorship, team operations, supply chain and legal. All students must complete a practicum where they act as outside sustainability consultants, conducting research and analysis and making specific recommendations that are then presented directly to the sport organization they are working with.

In addition, students are required to take the U.S. Green Building Council LEED Associate certification exam. LEED, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a green building certification program that recognizes best-in-class building strategies and practices.

You can learn more about the program here.