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2.1 The Trail Blazers: An Example of Organizational Change

In Oregon, over 30 large and small businesses including ski resorts and investor groups signed the BICEP Climate Declaration. Three major brands were represented in that list: Adidas, Nike, and the Portland Trail Blazers. I wondered what prompted these highly visible sports-related organizations to make such a public and unified statement. Although the Trail Blazers employ only about 300 people, tens of thousands of volunteers and part-timers work in their arena. In 2012, the team had the second highest attendance in the National Basketball Association (NBA) with an average of 20,496 fans per game. Their website suggested they had an interesting story to share, so I arranged to speak with Justin Zeulner, their former Senior Director of Sustainability and Public Affairs.

One August afternoon, I sat down with Justin in a building adjacent to the Moda Center, the world's first professional sports arena to achieve LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold certification under the US Green Building Council's (USGBC) Existing Buildings standard. LEED is a voluntary, consensusbased, market-driven program that provides third-party verification of buildings. It was developed in 2000 by the USGBC, a nonprofit committed to the construction of cost-efficient and resource-saving (e.g., energy, water) buildings. New and renovated buildings which meet LEED-developed criteria can earn points which result in Certified, Silver, Gold, or Platinum level rating. In 2014, 1.7 million square feet of building space was being certified per day around the world. Like the Arbor Day Foundation, the USGBC provides a road map used by others seeking to become more environmentally sustainable.

Justin described the evolution of thought regarding sustainability for him, his organization, and the surrounding business community. In the early to mid-2000s, Justin was working as operations leader and his executive management team asked him “What is this sustainability?” Simultaneously, frontline employees asked him “Why aren't we recycling?”

I remember going to a sustainability summit at the Nike headquarters here in Portland. The topic was financial sustainability and how can corporations stay viable over time because very few companies do survive for three decades. And when I went back the next year (to the summit) all of a sudden they were talking about environmental stewardship. It changed from more of a corporate sustainability and finance focus to this different path.

Within 5 years, the Trail Blazers had renovated the Moda Center. In 2010 the Trail Blazers invested $560,000 in operations improvements around the arena. By 2011 they had recouped $411,000 in energy savings, $165,000 in water savings, and

$260,000 in waste diversion savings, with a total savings of $836,000. They projected that their savings would reach over $1 million by the end of 2012. They joined forces with northwest-based teams from six professional sports leagues to launch the Green Sports Alliance. Today, they are among the most progressive teams in the world of sports in terms of their environmental initiatives. They helped moved the NBA toward a deeper engagement in environmental issues (Henly et al. 2012).

This brief glimpse into changes occurring with the Trail Blazers illustrates how societal Discourses are changing for organizations. Executives, employees, and summit planners heard things which caused them to ask questions, to seek and provide new information, and to ultimately implement change.

 
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