How Green was the 2008 US Open? Were there net-ecobenefits?

Roger Federer clamoring for more 7 express trains

This year, with much fanfare, the U.S. Open went "green." Greening meaning the United States Tennis Association (U.S.T.A) reviewed its operations and supply chain and strove to reduce environmental impacts. Well, the balls were green and the court was green. And, not having been at the tournament in previous years, it is possible I did not have enough perspective on how much greener it may have become. But, while I applaud all greening, and especially the greening of sports events, since they often do have enormous outreach potential to their millions of television viewers, in the view of this casual observer/attendee, the Open could have been plenty greener.

USTA green initiatives
The goal of the U.S.T.A was to make the 2008 tournament one of the first green sporting events in the world. Partnering with the NRDC, Evian, Lexus, IBM, and Constellation Energy, the USTA incorporated green initiatives such as: passing out 100,000 wallet cards with eco-friendly tips; a plastic bottle and aluminum can recycling program; and over 80 Evian recycling receptacles spread around to make recycling easy. And now that the Open is over, approximately 20,000 Wilson tennis ball cans will be recycled, and the 60,000 balls that were used will be reused for the National Tennis Center, and then donated to community/youth programs. The 2.4 million napkins used in the concessions were made from 90% post-consumer waste. Lexus, the "official vehicle of the U.S. Open," which provided transportation for the tennis players, used hybrid vehicles to "comprise 20% of the overall fleet." And the Open attempted to promote mass transit by giving away $4 MetroCards, in partnership with NRDC to 100 fans on each day of the two-week event. Are eco-friendly tips as far as events can go?
This is all well and good, but to me, the Open's much vaunted greening, though certainly welcome, seemed less than truly exciting. I do not want to seem to slight increasing recycling efforts and promoting eco-friendly tips, but these things no longer seem so inspiring to me. I do think the U.S. Open and other sporting events can be optimum places for green messaging, but I wonder how effectively this subtle messaging actually changes people's behaviors.

Increasing public transit ridership
And, I for one wish that instead of having the $4 MetroCard giveaways, the U.S.T.A. could have better coordinated with the city to have additional 7 express trains running to Manhattan before and after the games. Because, as many other riders could probably attest, waiting for the local after midnight, when many of the matches finished, was enough to drive people away from public transportation for future games. The MTA does a much better job of this with baseball events at the nearby Shea stadium. Is an attendee who has spent $70 for a ticket to the Open really likely to decide to use a $4 MetroCard just because it was free instead of a quicker mode of transportation? Encouraging public transit is certainly a good thing, but making it an easier option would be much better.

Bottled water?
The greening of the Open was probably hindered by the fact that its main sponsors were Evian and Lexus. Evian has been a sponsor since 1985 and has a new 5 year sponsorship contract with the U.S.T.A. Attendees did notice and use the increased number of recycled containers this year, but it will be obvious to most TH readers that having a bottled water company as a main sponsor of a green event can be somewhat problematic. It sends the message that recycling these bottles is the best way to go, and does not encourage people to drink New York City's excellent tap water, or to use reusable water bottles. In addition to having recycling stations, the Open could also have sold reuseable bottles and had more easily accessible water fountains around for refills.

Hybrids or luxury cars?
Regarding Lexus, although it was laudable that they were shuttling the players in Hybrid vehicles, awarding the Open winner with a brand, spanking new Lexus ISF highlighted that luxury not energy efficiency is the focus of the company's image. It's nice that Lexus is now making hybrids to balance out sales of their popular SUV's, but having Lexus as a main sponsor just emphasized for me the soft-core nature of the Open's overall greening.

Suggestions
Public Transportation: In future years the Open could collaborate more closely with the MTA. They could also promote ride sharing on a fan message board or rideamigos.com.
Energy: The Open could also have representatives from Community Energy or other renewable energy vendors tabling to promote and encourage attendees to purchase renewable energy or use energy more efficiently. This would drive home the point that if the Open can switch to wind power, so can the attendees.
Waste: There could have been on site composting, volunteers could have been stationed at each recycling bin to ensure that attendees put things in the appropriate containers.
Food: There could have been local/organic food served and less meat served.
Water: Attempts could have have been made to further reduce event water usage.
Emissions/Footprint: They could encourage attendees/viewers to calculate and reduce their own footprints and show if they calculated their own.

I congratulate the Open on taking steps headed in a greener direction, especially the purchased wind power, and the napkins made from sustainable paper. I think these changes could have ripple effects if other events follow suit. But for this first-time Open attendee/longtime environmentalist, it seemed the sponsors and the insufficient number of express subways inhibited the Open from really being as green as it could be.

What do you think? Did you go to the Open and notice it being greener than before? How do you feel about sponsoring companies for events like this and their effect on greening?

More on Tennis

Bay Area recycling tennis balls
Japan recycling tennis balls
Tennis center in Japan with green walls
Billy Jean King's eco-sports initiative
Check out USTA's website to read more details about the greening efforts

Tags: Bottled Water | Hybrid Cars | Public Transportation | Recycling | Television | Wind Power

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