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INSIGHT: Amazon and Seattle Kraken’s ‘Climate Pledge’ Is Promising, but Incomplete

July 28, 2020, 8:01 AM

The Seattle Kraken, Oak View Group, and Amazon made waves in announcing plans to rechristen the new and much-improved Key Arena as Climate Pledge Arena. It’s an intriguing move, and easily the highest profile pro sports venue naming rights deal to be centered so prominently around sustainability. It’s an encouraging, but incomplete start.

Underpinning the name are several promising commitments: a fully carbon-neutral facility, a functionally zero-waste operation, and the “greenest ice” in the world has seen—complete with electric-powered Zambonis. These represent potentially game-changing achievements, building on years of increased momentum across the sports industry to build better and greener buildings.

However, amidst these meaningful pledges is a glaring blind spot, one missed not only in Seattle, but by the sports industry as a whole: a true commitment to environmental justice.

The Need to Think Beyond Buildings

Discussions of sustainability in sports have focused largely on how to better design, build and operate sports facilities. Stadiums and arenas have grown more adept at reducing energy and water consumption, utilizing greener supplies and materials, reducing trash, promoting recycling, and accommodating public transit.

But in any given community, the reach of a sports team is far greater than the footprint of its stadium or arena. To be truly bold and innovative on sustainability, teams must work harder to think beyond their buildings.

Practically every city that a pro sports team calls home also is home to thousands of residents disproportionately impacted by the negative consequences of the collective mismanagement of our air, water and soil. Tragically, America has a decades-long legacy of dumping pollution onto the doorsteps of our poorest communities. These sacrifice zones are where we place everything no one else wants—incinerators, coal fired power plants, waste treatment facilities, bus depots, lower-income housing, roads and much more.

Climate Justice Is Linked to Racial Justice

As others have noted, climate justice is inextricably linked to racial justice. When communities of color say “We Can’t Breathe,” take them seriously and literally. Disproportionately, fossil fuel facilities locate in Black and brown neighborhoods. Disproportionately, the over 100,000 Americans who die prematurely each year from air pollution are African American and Latinx.

This reality is not unknown to the people of Seattle. A recent American Lung Association report, ranked Seattle as the ninth-worst city in America for air pollution. The resulting toxic exposures are linked to higher asthma, kidney, and cancer rates, along with a host of other public health concerns. Several additional studies have highlighted the disproportionate impact of diesel and industrial emissions in South Seattle. We must come together to address these public health challenges, if young children and athletes will ever be able to reach their full potential on and off the field.

As recent protests have raged in cities large and small across the country, Seattle has been home to some of the boldest and loudest voices in the fight for racial justice.

It follows then that in all cities, and at all moments, Seattle’s team can’t afford to leave climate justice out of its climate agenda.

Moving forward, we encourage a few additions to the “Climate Pledge:”

  • conduct a “Climate Justice Audit” to assess how team, venue, and corporate partner operations (including Amazon) adversely impact environmental and health conditions in low-income neighborhoods;
  • forge and fund authentic collaborative partnerships with local frontline leaders in climate-focused organizations dedicated to improving the health, safety and economic prospects of low-income communities of color;
  • review and enhance internal diversity, equity, and inclusion policies to ensure that the team and venue’s workforce—particularly in senior management roles—adequately integrates the voices and perspectives of communities disproportionately impacted by the climate crisis;
  • create an independent community advisory council to review, monitor and report out on the team’s long-term progress against Climate Pledge commitments, including additional metrics on climate justice; and
  • leverage the team’s considerable marketing assets to build a truly comprehensive education and advocacy campaign around the Climate Pledge initiative that enables fans, employees, corporate partners, and the general public become more educated and mobilized around climate justice issues

The Seattle Kraken, Oak View Group, and Amazon rightly deserve praise for pushing the envelope on sports and sustainability. But there is still more to do. Moving forward, let’s hope they ensure that all issues and all stakeholders have a seat at the table.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. or its owners.

Author Information

Mustafa Santiago Ali, founder and CEO of Revitalization Strategies, is a member of the Environmental Protection Network, and vice president of Environmental Justice, Climate and Community Revitalization at the National Wildlife Federation, and served as associate administrator in EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice for more than two decades.

Kunal Merchant is a member of the board of directors of the Green Sports Alliance, and managing director of Lotus Advisory, a firm that advises professional sports teams and leagues on strategy, public policy, and social impact.

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