In our series Modernizing NASCAR, we detail the innovation happening in the sport — at the tracks, in the media and across the business. ISM Connect manages the digital fan experience at 23 NASCAR tracks throughout the racing season under the name of RaceFanCentral.
This April, the Yankees became the first major North American sports team to sign the UN Sports for Climate Action Framework. Launched by UN Climate Change in 2018, this initiative invites sports organizations across the world to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement by pledging to combat climate change, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and promote sustainability.
While this is a significant step forward in the global conversation for addressing climate change, Major League Baseball isn’t alone in its efforts — nor are they first. Other sports leagues and organizations are actively committed to both sustainability and environmentalism.
NASCAR, in particular, is taking major strides to reduce its carbon footprint and build innovative solutions for a greener world.
Launching the NASCAR Green initiative
In 2008, NASCAR launched NASCAR Green, an initiative intent on “minimizing NASCAR’s environmental impact while bringing value and inspiration to the Motorsports industry, its partners, employees and fans.”
For eleven years and counting, NASCAR has used this platform to build solar-powered stadiums, recycle tires and oil, and plant trees to offset carbon emissions.
In a 2013 interview with GreenBiz, than managing director of green innovation, Mike Lynch, noted that NASCAR is serious about combating climate change and encouraging others to do their part as well.
“When you talk about a plug-in car, or use of ethanol fuel … there is an inherent skepticism that is just a normal human reaction,” Lynch said. “However, if you place any of those examples into the context of a sport … it gives the general public and even the business-to-business community a tangible way to relate the fact that whatever it is, it is good for the environment. It’ll save money, it’s good for the country and it creates jobs.”
Building the largest solar-powered sports facility
In 2010, NASCAR launched the biggest renewable energy stadium project in the world and the first major sports venue to run entirely on solar power at Pocono Raceway. This included a system of 40,000 solar panels across 25 acres of land that lower carbon emissions by 2,370 metric tons each year.
By 2017, Pocono Raceway’s solar panels had offset over 16,800 metric tons of carbon dioxide, enough to fuel roughly 3,600 passenger vehicles. They even power an additional 250 homes in the area.
Pocono Raceway isn’t the only solar-powered track on NASCAR’s roster, either. Other NASCAR tracks with solar power include Daytona International Speedway, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Michigan International Speedway, Sonoma Raceway, Jr. Motorsports and Roush Fenway Racing.
Creating a new bio fuel blend
In 2011, NASCAR partnered with Sunoco and American Ethanol to create a new biofuel called Sunoco Green E15 for its cars. This 15% ethanol blend reduces greenhouse emissions by up to 20% while actually increasing horsepower.
Drew Kabakoff, then brand manager of Sunoco, explained in an announcement on the NASCAR Green website: “We worked to develop the new Sunoco Green E15 fuel as a team, and started from scratch to create a brand new fuel. The Sunoco fuel is loaded each week onto a dedicated fleet of Sunoco tanker trucks, and then pumped directly into the team’s fuel cans.”
As of 2016, NASCAR has powered 10 million miles with this groundbreaking biofuel.
Planting more than 500,000 trees
As part of NASCAR Green, the association launched its Green Tree Planting Program in partnership with the Virginia Department of Forestry and the Arbor Day Foundation. The program makes good on NASCAR’s promise to plant trees throughout the US — particularly in areas affected by natural disasters — in order to offset its carbon emissions.
In 2013, NASCAR even invited fans to select an area in need on an interactive map, donate a tree, and share their contributions on social media.
Since the Green Tree Planting Program launched in 2009, NASCAR planted over 400,000 tress across the US
Recycling at the racetracks
NASCAR partners with companies like Goodyear, Coca-Cola, Coors Light, and Safety-Kleen to recycle resources and waste at its venues. Since 2008, NASCAR recycled 120,000 Goodyear tires and 200,000 gallons of oil each year, as well as 25 million bottles and cans.
Each stadium has its own recycling initiatives, too. Pocono Raceway and Monster Energy invited fans to bring one empty can of the beverage brand in exchange for free admission to the track. In 2015, Richmond International Raceway launched its first composting program, processing over 5.4 tons of food and donating over 1,000 meals to the local community. And Roush Fenway Racing works with vendors to help recycle about 96% of each car.
“We have by far the largest and most diverse recycling programs in sports,” Lynch told GreenBiz. “We’re recycling bottles and cans like other sports venues do and we’re doing it on a massive-volume scale that no individual sports team can match just because the sheer number of events and attendance that we have.”
Empowering fans to promote sustainability
NASCAR isn’t in this fight alone. Fans have proven willing to listen to these messages and help create change.
According to a recent NASCAR study, 88% of fans believe in climate change and 76% feel a personal responsibility to do something about it. Five years after NASCAR Green launched, these fans were even 100% more likely than non-fans to say their household was very green — a number that increased year over year.
In her January 2019 interview with GreenBiz, NASCAR’s senior director for green innovation, Catherine Kummer, attributed this support to the fact that many fans are outdoorsmen and women who enjoy — and want to protect — the environment.
“Their actions … are most important,” she said. “Will they contribute to our digital tree planting tool? Will they better understand their carbon footprint? Will they push our social and digital content…. to date, they have and that’s what makes sport and sustainability impactful.”
Amanda Walgrove is a freelance writer covering marketing, technology, and social media. Her work has appeared on Advertising Week, Inc., and Entrepreneur.