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Green, Green, Green! How NASCAR’s Green Initiative Distributes, Plants, and Sustains Trees

NASCAR’s Green Initiative can be seen at the race track and beyond as the sanctioning body strives to make a positive impact on the environment through its various programs, including the Tree Planting Program in conjunction with the Arbor Day Foundation (Photo by Daniel Shirey/NASCAR via Getty Images)
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NASCAR’s Green Initiative can be seen at the race track and beyond as the sanctioning body strives to make a positive impact on the environment through its various programs, including the Tree Planting Program in conjunction with the Arbor Day Foundation (Photo by Daniel Shirey/NASCAR via Getty Images)

For over a decade, NASCAR has “gone green,” and we’re not talking about taking the green flag at the start of a race, but rather going green with its NASCAR Green initiative to help in preserving the environment. One of the first programs launched was the NASCAR Green Tree Planting Program, which continues today through a strong partnership with the Arbor Day Foundation.

“The tree planting program was one of the first programs that we began,” said Catherine Kummer, Senior Director of Green Innovation with NASCAR. “It was a way to do something around our races while reducing greenhouse gases based on the fuel we use.”

Although they reduce greenhouse gases, NASCAR executives wanted to know what more they could do to make a positive impact.

“We looked at all of the cars in the top three series, (the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, Xfinity Series and Camping World Truck Series) and weekly and touring series and after verifying that one car would emit roughly the same amount that a tree would absorb over its lifetime, we came up with the idea to annually plant a tree per car,” said Kummer.

The group spearheading the program at NASCAR knew they couldn’t do it alone, so they called the experts  – The Arbor Day Foundation. The Arbor Day Foundation is a non-profit that inspires people and organizations alike to plant, cultivate and nurture trees.

“The partnership with Arbor Day Foundation allowed us to make sure we were able to reach a large number of people and educate them about our initiative, while also ensuring that the planted trees were monitored and maintained.”

Through the partnership with the Arbor Day Foundation, NASCAR is offsetting some of the environmental impacts caused by the sport by planting trees and thus having a substantial positive effect on the environment.

NASCAR Green decals are even placed on the official pace car during race weekends to bring awareness to the program and its initiatives. (Photo via NASCAR)

What Kummer and her team have found is that trees resonate with NASCAR fans, and people who watch NASCAR are more likely to help support the environment than the non-NASCAR fan.

According to a report from NASCAR Green, NASCAR fans are more than five times as likely as non-fans to associate NASCAR with environmental responsibility. Furthermore, 88 percent of NASCAR fans believe that the earth is going through a climate change and 76 percent of those fans feel a personal responsibility to combat it. (Sources: Custom Environment-Related Tracker commissioned by NASCAR and conducted by Toluna (January 2018) and Official NASCAR Fan Council Weekly Post Race Survey (April 2016)).

“By planting a tree, NASCAR fans know they’re doing something good and bettering their environment,” said Kummer. “We’ve honed in on the areas of need and allowed fans access to our digital map, showing where we’ve planted trees or each region we have a project occurring. We urge our fans to plant trees. It’s a dollar per tree and the impact is incredibly substantial. Last year, when we really pushed the application, we had over 4,000 trees planted in 72 hours.”

On April 20, NASCAR and the Arbor Day Foundation launched a new tree recovery effort. This goes beyond the idea of planting a tree to offset environmental emissions but focuses on what the two entities can do in areas that have been affected by climate-related natural disasters.

“Last year with the hurricanes and wildfires, we asked ourselves, ‘what else can we do?’ ‘And how can we get our partners more involved in these markets that have been ravaged by these disasters?’” said Kummer. “Our contacts at the Arbor Day Foundation mentioned the distribution events. They bring in 500 to 1,000 trees and give them to local residents who have lost everything.”

Planting trees during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway on April 21, 2018 in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo via NASCAR)

Once the executives at the Arbor Day Foundation have given the “all clear” in regard to the health the of the area, the tree distribution and planting begins. For those impacted by the disasters, the 3 to 5-foot trees handed to them are the very first trees planted in their yard.

“At one of our events in Tennessee in early April, we had hundreds of people lined up an hour before the event began,” said Kummer. “We had everyone from military veterans to children excited for the chance to plant a tree and have a fresh start.”

When multiple areas are affected by a hurricane or other disaster, it’s a tough choice to determine which market to enter. Thankfully, NASCAR has been able to center its activation on markets that were recently affected and had NASCAR tracks nearby.

Miami, Houston, and Sonoma are on the radar and the partnership will also return to the Fontana area.

What’s neat about the initiative is the number of official partners that have gotten involved and the fact that the next generation partnered with NASCAR Green as well.

Partners such as Safety-Kleen and Comcast have come together to support the efforts, while Hotels for Hope, NASCAR’s official hotel provider, is stepping up as well, just to name a few of those involved.

Additionally, graduate students at Arizona State University and Wake Forest University, who are getting degrees in sustainability, are working on projects analyzing the intersection of business and sustainability in the sport. Those students, who may not be NASCAR fans at first, are certainly hooked by the end.

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“The majority of the time they aren’t race fans at first,” said Kummer. “Not only do we get to help the environment, but we’re also educating new fans on our wonderful sport. It’s neat to see how the conversation goes from talking to someone who loves the environment but doesn’t really follow NASCAR to coming back and talking to them and having them ask how Jimmie Johnson did because they missed the race.”

As for the future of NASCAR Green, it’s all about continuing to make an impact on the environment and working with partners to make a difference.

“The opportunities are endless and the next decade is going to be incredible,” said Kummer. “Just looking at what the private sector outside of sports is doing gives me a ton of hope that things will continue to expand and grow in corporate sustainability.”

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