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Sustainable Marketing and Athletics

Posted 1 September 2011 by admin to Opinion.

In the realm of green marketing, endorsements from celebrities can carry a lot of weight, especially with children and individuals unaware of such initiatives. From Al Gore to Richard Branson to Harrison Ford, there is a long list of celebrities who actively support sustainability campaigns, and have even started their own.

However, the number of athletes who go out of their way to support sustainability initiatives remains relatively minimal. Athletes are some of the most influential members of society and can drastically shift consumer preferences with endorsements for specific environmental causes.

There have been signs of change in recent months with Tennessee Titans linebacker Will Witherspoon publicly supporting the ecolabel Animal Welfare Approved. Witherspoon’s family owns Shire Gate Farms in Missouri, and he promotes and encourages children to eat quality, organic food from certified farms.

Former Stanley Cup winner and Olympic Gold medalist Scott Niedermayer recently became Canada’s freshwater ambassador for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) where he will work to “elevate fresh water as a policy issue and public relations issue”. He is also a vocal supporter of PETA and has expressed his support for environmental movements and belief in global warming.

These individuals are setting a great example of how to give back to the environment and publicly show support. Another way to endorse sustainability is for athletic apparel companies to put visible ecolabels on the jerseys worn by athletes. Millions of jerseys are sold every year and though people will be less likely to pay a premium for ones with ecolabels, simply having the label will go a long way towards informing people about the value of sustainable purchasing.

One company that does put an ecolabel on its products is LookFly, a British ultimate frisbee apparel company, whose label is called NewLife. They sponsor a number of teams in the UK as well as Vancouver’s own, Furious George, who recently won the 2011 Canadian Ultimate Championships. All of LookFly’s clothes are made from recycled PET plastics. The yarn is made in Italy and then transported to England where it is knitted, manufactured and printed within a 20-mile radius of Lookfly headquarters.

Many athletic apparel companies still have a long way to go to be considered leaders in sustainability. If enough athletes apply pressure on their teams and leagues to not award sponsorship contracts to suspect apparel manufacturers, these companies would be forced to seriously reconsider their supply chain management or forgo substantial revenue streams.

But until this happens, the best way to encourage best practice may be to purchase products made by companies that make sustainability a priority. A quality ecolabel can be a good indicator of whether this is the case.