If you've tuned in to the Summer X Games recently, you were probably too busy watching Bob Burnquist pull a 720 varial to notice all the eco-friendly add-ons. But since 2004, the Games — a mammoth action-sports competition organized by ESPN — have featured ramps made from Forest Stewardship Council-certified wood, electricity provided by Sol-Ride, a tricked-out bus equipped with photovoltaics and a generator, an intensive recycling program, and a long list of eco-friendly sponsors like Whole Foods, Stonyfield Farms, and Silk.
Action sports — an umbrella term for stunt-based versions of skateboarding, biking, surfing, snowboarding, and other sports—have become so popular that several competitions have homes with major TV networks. And for the past few years, a non-profit called the Action Sports Environmental Coalition (ASEC) has been working to make these events some of the greenest in the sporting industry, and using them as a vehicle to educate youth about the environment.
Frank Scura, ASEC’s founder and director, sees today’s youth as tomorrow’s consumers. He hopes that by integrating eco-messages into the action sports culture, he can help the next generation of adults make better choices. But common sense dictates that one can’t just set up a public interest display and hope that kids will stop by and read the literature. So in the ASEC booth, kids’ skateboarding idols sign autographs, and they give out trading cards printed on 100 percent recycled paper that feature environmental quotes from top athletes and a variety of eco-facts. And X Games sponsors create interactive activities that test kids on eco-facts — and then reward correct answers with samples of their products. “We’re basically paying kids to learn about the environment,” says Scura.
According to Jason Salfi, ASEC board-member and owner of Comet, which makes eco-friendly skateboards using sustainable materials and non-toxic finishes, action sports don't have a long-standing history of being eco-friendly. But for yesterday’s generation of activist skateboarders, promoting the environment is a way to reinvigorate that political unrest, and in a sense re-connects the sport with its ties to the punk, anti-conformity, and anti-consumerist movements that were once integral to skateboarding’s counterculture. “In the 1980s, skateboarding was very political.
Now, these 30-something skateboarders that grew up in that era are bringing this political culture back to skateboarding. They're starting companies, working with youth.” Some of the top athletes in action sports, like skateboarders Bob Burnquist, Jen O’Brian, Cara Beth Burnside and Danny Way, have signed on, hoping to pass on a little bit of political rebellion to the next generation. Other members of the board include actress Daryl Hannah, eco-activist Julia Butterfly Hill, and Clifford Bast, a former global manager for Hewlett-Packard’s corporate environmental program.
It only took two years for the X Games to become one of the greenest sporting events in history, thanks in large part to ASEC’s work. Now ASEC is branching out to other venues. They’ve started applying the same principles to an even bigger competition, the NBC Dew Tour, and they host several educational skateboarding events every year. At the “Recycle Your Brain” skateboarding demo held this past Earth Day at the Whole Foods in San Mateo, California, Burnquist had 150 skateboard-toting kids shouting “No Pesticides!” during an eco-trivia game.
ASEC’s efforts have proven fruitful in action sports, and recently more mainstream sports have jumped on the eco bandwagon. For the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy, the planning committee made extensive efforts to adhere to EU voluntary environmental guidelines. And back in the U.S., the first-ever LEED-certified baseball stadium, which will be home to the Washington Nationals, is slated for completion in 2008.
Now ASEC is setting its sights on the future: Scura wouldn’t reveal the details, but he says that ASEC is planning a huge eco-sporting event for 2007 in China, as a precursor to the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. China has committed to greening the Games, and ASEC is hoping their event will show the Beijing committee how eco-friendly sports events can be. Keep watching — maybe football will be next.
Story by Jacqulyn Lane. This article originally appeared in Plenty in August 2006. This story was added to MNN.com in June 2009.