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From Purpose to Action: Building a Sustainable Future Together
A New Era of Sports Sponsorship:
Connecting Branded Merchandise with Circular Innovation

Despite more leagues and arenas introducing initiatives to curb waste from concessions and encourage recycling, the science and innovation necessary to create lasting impact across the board (or the court or field) are still missing. That's where Dow and its partners come in.

Few activities can unite diverse groups as powerfully as sports, which bring strangers across the world together for comradery and entertainment. It begs the question: If society can rally behind an athlete tossing, hitting or kicking a ball, why is it not easier for people to come together in an effort to better the planet?

With more than US$71 billion in revenue in 2018, the North American sports market is one of the largest in the world. And where there’s booming industry, influence follows.

There are cases where sport has been used to propel social issues to the main stage — the US Women’s Soccer Team fighting to reconcile the gender pay gap and Colin Kaepernick kneeling to shine a light on racial inequality. And while organizations are also making strides in addressing sports’ environmental impact — such as Amsterdam’s Johan Cruijff Stadium replacing its seats with those made from recovered ocean plastic — there’s still a ways to go, especially in the US.

Estimates of sporting events’ impact on the environment are hard to measure — between direct outputs such as food and plastic waste and equipment turnover, and more ambiguous sources such as fan transportation and venue construction — but researchers all conclude that spectator sports generate a huge footprint.

And despite leagues and arenas introducing initiatives to curb waste from concessions and encourage recycling, the science and innovation necessary to create lasting impact across the board — or the court or field — are missing.

Merging sport and science

Image credit: Dow

That is where Dow and its partners come in — Dow is committed to advancing a circular economy by collaborating across the value chain to help keep plastic materials in use and out of the environment.

Dow recently kicked off its third annual Great Lakes Bay Invitational (GLBI) — a women’s professional golf tournament focused on delivering “net-positive” social and environmental value.

Delivering innovative solutions for the sports world, GLBI showcases Dow’s expertise in materials science and demonstrates the company’s pursuit of a circular economy. In addition to promoting environmentally friendly spectator experiences such as encouraging travel around the grounds via bicycle, this is also the first GEO-Certified course on the LGPA tour.

GEO certification requires a five-year sustainability plan and commitment in partnership with the GEO Foundation to establish sustainability initiatives and best practices. As a GEO-certified event, the GLBI is planned and executed with sustainability in focus — from minimizing water, waste and greenhouse gas emissions to innovating the design of post-consumer recycled solutions.

"This collaborative project reflects how the Dow GLBI teams up to deliver innovative solutions to help create a sustainable event that minimizes waste to the environment," said Dow GLBI Executive Director Chris Chandler. "By collaborating with our partners, we can continue to enrich the Great Lakes Bay Region and set a benchmark in sustainability for other golf tournaments and their commercial partners on the LPGA Tour."

At this year’s GLBI, Dow is working with key partners KW Plastics, Evolve Golf, Core Technology Molding Corporation and Shupan Recycling to reuse and recycle the previous year’s high-density polyethylene (HDPE) plastic mesh fencing into useful golf items. Nearly one ton of this mesh — equivalent to about 50,000 plastic bottles — has been recycled into 20,000 ball markers and 5,500 divot tools; the mesh from the inaugural event was recycled into golf tees. This effort contributes to the roughly 78 percent of waste generated at the event that is recycled or reused — a 10 percent increase from GLBI’s inaugural year.

“Our partners went above and beyond to create the ball markers and divot tools for this year’s Dow GLBI,” said Toby Smith, Senior Customer Manager, Dow Packaging and Specialty Plastics. “It’s only by working together with other like-minded organizations like these that we’ll continue to discover and scale sustainable solutions that extend the useful life of materials and the resources that go into making them. I can’t thank them enough for the collaboration.”

The Dow-LGPA partnership is transforming the old model of detached sponsorship by working together to integrate best practices into operations & events, establish new sustainable tour-wide policies, provide education, guidance and tools to support events and partners, and inspire others to get involved.

Scaling the model beyond golf

Dow believes golf has massive potential to help catalyze change, especially around sustainability. It is a game with a strong connection to the land and growing, global interest from diverse players and fans who recognize that courses around the world will be increasingly impacted by climate change if there is not urgent action.

But golf is just one sport.

The global sports sponsorship market was worth an estimated US$57 billion in 2020 and is expected to grow to almost US$90 billion by 2027 (Statista). These billions coming from brands that have power. What if that power was directed toward things such as building a more inclusive future or healing the planet? It begs the question: How is your business developing initiatives that align directly with your brand’s values?

Investing in sustainability in sports is good for the planet, for people and for business. Connecting sports and sustainability is just one way to start.

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