Seeing green opportunities

Southwest resident starts environmental sports marketing company

The bright lights and flashing jumbotrons, the scattered peanut shells and crushed Cracker Jack boxes, the strewn plastic beer cups and hot dog wrappers.

It's not a stretch to see the sports stadium as a temple of litter and excess. From sprawling hard-surface parking lots to the heaping trash containers, there's plenty to concern an environmentalist.

But as the Minnesota Twins and other teams around the country look to design eco-friendly elements into stadium projects, there are signs the sports world may be switching to a greener playbook. And a Southwest resident hopes to be the one waving teams around the bases.

Mark Andrew, 56, a former Hennepin County commissioner who lives in Lynnhurst, has launched what he believes to be the world's first environmental sports marketing company. GreenMark will work with colleges and pro teams at adding green elements into everything from stadiums to souvenirs and then marketing those efforts to showcase the team's commitment to the environment. Andrew said he already has two clients, though neither had been publicly announced as of this printing.

Stadium debates in Minneapolis and elsewhere suggest the opening pitch for green-friendly sports facilities has already been thrown. The State Legislature in its stadium bill this year stipulated that if the project can acquire grants to cover added costs, it must be built to LEED standards. LEED is short for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and is the standard certification for green building in the United States.

Twins President Dave St. Peter said the team's ownership has long been interested in an environmentally sustainable stadium, but the Ballpark Authority is still studying what elements will be feasible in the final design. He said much more should be known about the schematics by around March.

&#8220It's not part of any master marketing strategy as much as it is about being a good corporate citizen, and I think it represents some of the core Minnesota values that make this a great place to live,” St. Peter said.

The Washington Nationals' baseball stadium will be the first in the country built to LEED-certified energy and environmental standards. They include water-conservation systems, energy-efficient lighting and the use of recycled building materials.

Organizers of major sporting events are also paying attention to environmental impact. This year's World Cup soccer tournament successfully encouraged more than half of attendees to take public transit to the games instead of driving, according to the United Nations Environment Program. And the 2012 Olympic Games in London have adopted a &#8220One Planet” theme and policies to reduce greenhouse emissions.

&#8220We're at the very beginning of a trend, a ripple that is going to be a tidal wave of public demand for green buildings,” says Andrew.

He sees himself as someone who can make things happen for teams seeking to respond to that growing public cry. Say a team is thinking about installing a green roof above its arena. GreenMark would find corporate sponsors that would pay to be associated with the project through signs or other forms of advertising.

The company's clients won't be restricted to sports teams either. An electrical company might have a new energy-efficient light bulb it wants to promote. GreenMark could arrange a demonstration or giveaway for the product at a big league sports event, for example.

Sports teams come out winners by being able to showcase how they are being good citizens and stewards of the Earth. And the environment will benefit from reductions in things like greenhouse emissions and stormwater run-off. The biggest impact might come from the stage stadiums would offer green-friendly building design.

&#8220These buildings are just massive public billboards that give you a chance to say ‘Look at the good we can do through green buildings,'” says Andrew.

GreenMark's target market will be teams that are building or renovating stadiums, not only because it stands to have the biggest impact, but also because it's a good way for teams to diffuse cynicism about their other efforts.

&#8220It won't be possible to be phony about it if the buildings are green,” says Andrew. &#8220That is their insurance policy against accusations of greenwashing.”

The company is mostly a solo venture for now, though Andrew has a few employees helping with research and administrative duties. He expects to grow quickly, announcing some big clients and high-profile partners in the next few months, he says.

Andrew isn't a stranger to environmental causes. He was a co-founder and president of the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group at the University of Minnesota. He was a co-chair of Minnesota Earth Week. And as county commissioner from 1982 to 1998, he helped create the county's recycling program.

&#8220He's been involved in environmental issues for a long time, and he's a born promoter. That's what this is about as well, promoting this idea and ethos,” said Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin.

&#8220I think this is a case of someone really following a passion,” said Dave Mona, founder and chairman of public relations giant Weber Shandwick and a color commentator for University of Minnesota football radio broadcasts. &#8220It's clearly a niche business, but he's done a lot of research.”

Now, with a motto of &#8220doing well by doing good” Andrew wants to help make incorporating green building design as second-nature as separating bottles and cans is today for thousands of county residents.

Dan Haugen can be reached at [email protected] or 436-5088.