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The B. League’s Nagoya Diamond Dolphins have become the first top-tier professional Japanese sports club to sign on to a climate change initiative spearheaded by the United Nations, joining a growing movement of sports teams tackling social issues in their community and beyond.

The U.N. platform, called the Sports for Climate Action Framework, is part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) initiatives.

The initiative calls on sports teams and organizations from around the world to take leadership in the fight against climate change and undertake systematic efforts to promote greater environmental responsibility as well as reduce climate impact.

Prominent names on the list of nearly 200 participants include FIBA, FIFA, the NBA, the New York Yankees and Spain’s La Liga. The International Olympic Committee is also on board, as are organizing committees of the Tokyo and Paris Games.

The Diamond Dolphins signed on in late December, representing a recent push by Japanese teams to institute sustainable development goals (SDGs) and corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs within their organizations.

“Climate change is a pressing issue to our club as well and it is an extremely meaningful opportunity for us to tackle a global-scale issue along with some of the world’s biggest organizations,” Diamond Dolphins president Yuki Yamashita said in a statement.

The Dolphins’ decision is based not only on altruism, but also on furthering its business goals in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. Yudai Sonobe, the manager of Nagoya’s business strategy promotion group, said during a webinar late last month that COVID-19 had made it harder for the club to earn revenue from sponsorships, causing it to shift its investment strategy from advertising into CSR-related areas. He added that participation in the climate initiative was a part of a planned emphasis on the club’s global strategies.

As the first step of the team’s environmental activities, the Dolphins have tried to replace plastic plates, forks and knives at concession stands and food trucks with eco-friendly materials such as biodegradable utensils in order to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. They are looking to reduce plastic usage by 83.1% before the end of the 2020-21 season.

Members of the Sports for Climate Action Initiative increasingly consider global warming to be a now-or-never issue. Allen Hershkowitz, who serves as the environmental science advisor for the Yankees, believes that “urgent actions” are needed in regard to the environment before the planet faces significant climate disruptions, and that sports are powerful platforms to promote climate literacy and sustainable ecological behaviors.

“In the United States, about 16% of all adults follow science (news) while 80% follow sports every day,” Hershkowitz said during the webinar, which was hosted by general incorporated association Sport For Smile. “This is probably true around the world, there’s a section for sports every day, (but) there’s not a section on science every day.”

Framework members are not penalized for failing to meet their goals but are expected to make efforts toward meeting carbon neutrality objectives laid out by participants in the Paris Agreement, which aims to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and increase renewable energy usage and efficiency.

“The Yankees themselves have a goal of being net carbon zero by 2030,” Hershkowitz said. “We’re well on our way to achieving that.”

Hershkowitz added that energy efficiency can help sporting organizations save money. He said the MLB club is installing an energy technology that contributes to reduced greenhouse gas emissions at Yankee Stadium, which he said can save “hundreds of thousands of dollars every year” for the team.

Hershkowitz says more investors and consumers are paying attention to whether companies are conscious about climate change, and sponsors are likewise keeping track of how sports teams and organizations are engaging.

“They don’t want to be affiliated with a business that is implicated in making things worse for the environment,” said Hershkowitz, who has also provided environmental sustainability advice to the NBA, NHL and Major League Soccer.

At this point, Nagoya is the only second Japanese team on the Sport for Climate Action platform behind J. League second-division side Ventforet Kofu, but many Japanese teams and organizations have launched their own CSR and SDG programs to contribute to sustainable societies around their own local communities.

During the webinar, the B. League’s Chiba Jets Funabashi, NPB’s Yomiuri Giants and the J. League presented their own CSR/SDGs activities. They expressed interest in learning more about the Sport for Climate Action program, indicating that more Japanese teams might join Nagoya in the near future.

“We are working very hard with the progress around the United Nations Framework for sports and progress is strong,” said Claire Poole, CEO and Founder of Sport Positive Summit. “We are all excited that more Japanese organizations can join us on this journey and feel you have so much to offer this movement, and we look forward to seeing more organizations come join us on this journey.”

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