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Serving green

Major sports events are increasingly investing in reducing their carbon footprints and making themselves more environmentally friendly. The US Open tennis tournament is one of the events to have earned a reputation as a green pioneer. Tom Walker investigates

Tom Walker, Leisure Media
Rafael Nadal playing at the center in New York
Novak Djokovic playing at the center in New York
The complex has 22 courts and has hosted the US Open since 1978

Our courts may be blue, but we’re thinking green: that’s the environmental pledge of the United States Tennis Association (USTA), the national governing body for tennis, which hosts more than 700,000 fans each year during the two weeks of the US Open at The Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York.

A grand venue for a Grand Slam, the complex houses a total of 22 courts across 46.5 acres and has been home to the US Open every September since 1978. The centre’s three main courts are among the largest tennis stadia in the world, with the main arena – the Arthur Ashe Stadium – boasting a capacity of 23,200.

The green thinking pledge was formulated in 2008 as part of USTA’s efforts to implement more environmentally-sound practices at the US Open. The reasons behind the strategy were manifold, but at its heart were two key issues – the need to match spectators’ increasing expectations of seeing green initiatives in practice and the need to cut energy costs.

Since its launch, the green initiative has resulted in more than 850 tons of waste being diverted through recycling and composting; saved more than 1,100 tons of greenhouse gas emissions; offset enough electricity to power 600 homes for one year; recycled almost 1.5 million plastic bottles; and delivered a campaign to reduce private transport so that most of the fans now arrive using public transport.

USTA has increased and diversified its green initiatives each year since 2008 and this year the governing body came up with a record number of new schemes. Among the fresh projects were the creation of compost from waste collected in 2012, which was used to feed plants at the 2013 tournament. There were also measures designed to influence fan behaviour. Working together with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), USTA put together a 30-second public service announcement entitled ‘Impact’ – broadcast regularly during the event – encouraging fans to reduce their paper, water, and energy use in order to lessen the collective impact on the environment.

Working together
As well as the partnership with the NRDC, USTA has teamed up with other organisations as part of its green strategy. In 2012, it joined the Green Sports Alliance, an organisation of sports teams, venues and leagues aimed at enhancing the environmental evolution of professional and collegiate sports. That co-operation led to the US Open becoming a part of the third annual Green Sports Alliances Summit held in New York. The summit saw 500 industry professionals, all with roles in sustainability, visit the US Open. The USTA also hosted delegates for a behind-the-scenes tour of its work to lessen the event’s impact on the environment.

Gordon Smith, USTA executive director and chief operating officer, said: “Our commitment to reducing our environmental impact is an important endeavour and we are continually seeking ways to enhance our greening efforts. With the comprehensive ecological programme we’ve established at the US Open, we hope to foster environmental progress and inspire fans to create a positive change.” 

The tennis legend whose name the stadium carries is an enthusiastic supporter of the green initiative. “To solve the serious environmental problems facing our planet, we need to shift our culture toward more sustainable practices,” Billie Jean King says.

“Sports are hugely influential and can play a significant role in causing a ripple effect of enormous proportions, encouraging industries and consumers to improve the choices they make. I’m proud to have helped launch the greening of the US Open and the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center with NRDC and I applaud they work they’re doing to green professional sports.”

Recycling & composting
- There are fan waste recycling programmes in place with recycling and compost receptacles throughout the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

- All tennis balls used during the matches and player practices are collected to reuse in USTA tennis programmes and donated to various community and youth organisations throughout the US.

- From the kitchens at the US Open, more than 12,000 gallons of food grease will be converted into biodiesel fuel.

- More than 180 tons of food and compostable plates, utensils and napkins will be collected to be turned into compost for landscape and farming uses.

Paper Procurement
- The 2.4m napkins in the general concession area are comprised of 100 per cent recycled material

- All US Open-related printed materials (media guides, marketing collateral and the Daily Drawsheet) were composed of at least 30 per cent post-consumer waste

- US Open tickets are printed on paper comprised of 30 per cent post-consumer waste, and parking books, parking visors and coupon books are printed on paper comprised of 10-15 per cent post-consumer waste.

- The paper towel dispensers located throughout the spectator areas have been replaced with motion-sensor dispensers.

Originally published in Leisure Management 2014 issue 2
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