WELL Story: Making waves in the sports industry with Allen Hershkowitz PhD

WELL Story: Making waves in the sports industry with Allen Hershkowitz PhD

Tuesday, July 24, 2018
/ By:
Vienna McLeod and Victoria Malloy

WELL Stories

We’re thrilled to have had the opportunity to talk with Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, Chairman and Founding Director of Sports and Sustainability International, about the intersection of sports, sustainability and health. This discussion comes at an incredible moment for both health and sustainability, which have never been more of a polarizing force in our economic, cultural and political discussions. We talked with Allen about the power and responsibility of sports industry leaders to connect their communities to the issues that matter most to the health of our people and planet.

What brought you to the sports industry?

I am an environmental scientist, so the question is - why am I so involved in sports and entertainment? The short answer is that 16% of Americans follow science and 80% follow sports. People are not reading the journals of the National Academy of Science, but they are reading the sports pages of their local paper. That’s why I shifted my focus from working in scientific forums towards an engagement with sports. If you want to influence behavior you need to work where people are. Through engaging with organizations like the USTA, the NHL, NASCAR, the NBA and MLB, I’ve been able to reach communities that were not accessible through traditional scientific platforms.

How do you instigate cultural shifts through the platform of sports? What is the potential impact?

There are various platforms available to influence culture and behavior: government, science, religion, film and music. Sport is a powerful social unifier. If you want to influence behavior and instigate a cultural shift in thinking, sport is an effective way to reach people and businesses alike. Sport is non-partisan. Sport brings people together, despite their racial demographic, socioeconomic status, their gender or political orientation. Billie Jean King on gender equality, Mohammed Ali on civil rights, Jesse Owens in the 1936 Olympics challenging the Aryan supremacy myth, Magic Johnson de-stigmatizing HIV infection - these are just a few of many examples of how sports have helped change cultural values.

"Fundamentally, unless we all come together culturally and unite in response to the great ecological challenges of our time, we are not going to make the type of progress we need to make."

As an economic force, sport is about a 1.3 trillion-dollar industry. Every industry meets on a professional sporting field; The food industry, the energy industry, the water industry, the plastics industry, the chemical industry, the textile industry, the transportation sector, all of these industries are either sponsors to sport or suppliers to sport. If sports organizations acknowledge that climate change is a real threat, that promoting renewable energy and healthy indoor spaces is important, the supply chain will take notice, and that supply chain is global, so from a cultural and economic perspective sport is enormously powerful.

Are building owners in the sports industry changing their mindsets to shift towards healthier design choices?

Sports are all about performance. Without clean air, without clean water, without healthy food performance, sport, is impossible. Which is why, bringing health and wellness into alignment with sports is just a natural fit. If sports venues, clubhouses, locker rooms, aren’t healthy, that threatens literally billions of dollars of assets - the athletes and the huge market they support. Healthy locker rooms matter to athletes. If a sports venue is the healthiest venue in the world, that team will have a competitive advantage in being able to attract top athletic talent. The owners of teams are economic and cultural elites, they’re influential. If we can educate them about health, well-being and ecologically intelligent stewardship, if we can start integrating WELL into the suites and eventually other sectors of the venue to get better food, better lighting, better air, encourage movement, that’s where we’ll see impact.

What insights can the health and wellness movement draw from the sports and sustainability movement?  

Venue operations offer important opportunities to advance more sustainable and healthy practices. We’ve made meaningful progress promoting energy efficiency, recycling and composting, healthier food options, water conservation and smarter transportation options. One of the reasons why many sustainability initiatives have been successful is because they save money. The challenge for WELL and the healthy building movement more broadly is to validate and communicate its ROI.

Where do you see the healthy building movement evolving in the next 5 years?

This movement has gone global. One of the most satisfying offshoots of my work with sports is affiliating with the International WELL Building Institute and trying to enhance the health and well being of the millions of people who attend sport events every year and the health of the hundreds of thousands of athletes who work in these venues. I don’t know if there is a market platform that could be more influential than the alignment of sports and wellness. The objective of sustainability is to protect life. I’ve been doing this work for over 35 years and frankly the WELL Building Standard is one of the most exciting and necessary innovations in the history of sustainability.


Dr. Allen Hershkowitz is an environmental scientist, visionary, activist, writer, lecturer and strategic sustainability advisor. Blending technical expertise with the influence of iconic cultural sectors, Dr. Hershkowitz leverages the cultural and market influence of sports and entertainment organizations to promote environmental literacy to mass audiences. Dr. Hershkowitz advises numerous NGOs, corporations, professional sports federations, leagues and teams in the United States and Europe, including the NBA, the USTA, the NHL, NASCAR, MLB, Roland Garros, and the IOC.

Dr. Hershkowitz serves currently as Chairman of the Board and Founding Director of Sport and Sustainability International, a global non-profit organization with membership in more than 50 countries comprised of the world’s leading sports federations, leagues, teams and venues focused on creating sustainable, healthy and just communities. Prior, he co-founded and served as President of the USA-based Green Sports Alliance, a nonprofit bringing together U.S. sports teams, leagues and venues to integrate environmental stewardship throughout their operations. Dr. Hershkowitz also co-founded the Broadway Green Alliance, an organization comprised of Broadway theaters and touring productions committed to using the visibility of theater to promote responsible environmental stewardship. He also co-founded the Environmental Paper Network, a coalition of international environmental organizations focused on promoting sustainable paper production and use.

A native of New York, Dr. Hershkowitz received his Ph.D. in political economics, specializing in energy resources economics, from the City University of New York Graduate School in 1986. He earned a M. Phil. in political economics in 1982, a B.A. (cum laude) from the City College of New York in 1978 and a Certificat D’assiduite from the University of Grenoble in 1975. He shares his time between his home in New York State, Europe, and California and is the father of three children.