NAScar-bon neutral?

By DEIRDRE FULTON  |  May 30, 2007

Pappas, who has been a racing fan since he was racing go-karts at age 11, is also the executive vice president of Pappas Enterprises, Boston’s first for-profit green-building firm. Pappas knows his bottom line — and it leaves room for carbon-neutrality. He’s making a business decision to ensure that his team’s specific amount of carbon output is balanced by an equivalent amount of emissions reduction elsewhere.

True, Renewable Choice is sponsoring Team TransSports’ foray into offsets (providing their service in exchange for advertising space on the team’s 2007 Porsche). But Pappas sounds as though he’d have found a way to do it even without a sponsorship.

“Ultimately the most difficult part about it is writing the check,” he says. “Once you decide [to offset] it’s just a reprioritization of some of your budget in order to do that.” Renewable Choice is offering free evaluations to any team that wants to find out its own carbon footprint and offset it; Pappas thinks lots of teams will take them up on the offer. Simply being associated with eco-friendliness is a selling point for him and others, he adds. “You’d be hard pressed to tell me what kind of sponsor wouldn’t pony up an extra few bucks for that amount of goodwill.”

Across the country in Arizona, another racing enthusiast is making similar assumptions. Dale Jensen is a big shot in sports — he’s the largest single owner of the Arizona Diamondbacks, he’s a co-owner of the Phoenix Suns, and he’s a co-promoter of the Champ Car series, which this year is reviving the classic Formula One street race through downtown Phoenix.

The Grand Prix Arizona hasn’t taken place in more than a decade, and in it Jensen saw a golden opportunity. The guy is a consummate businessman, the kind who says his great problem-solving ability is a gift. He’s also an environmentalist who, with a partner, is building what he calls an “Emerald Village” — 21 square blocks of LEED-certified buildings (stamped with approval by the US Green Building Council) and sustainable living in downtown Phoenix.

He’s using this year’s Grand Prix to promote that mini-utopia and all the ideals that go along with it, and by doing so, he won’t be preaching to the choir. The well-connected promoter promises that the event will be “star-studded up,” and calls the whole thing a “classic bait-and-switch.”

Instead of organizing a typical eco-festival where attendees are already “wearing Birkenstocks and have drank the Kool-Aid,” he’ll says he’ll reach a projected 150,000 racing fans — a different demographic, safe to say. The first annual EarthShift Expo, the rebirth of the popular street race, will attract crowds with its cars, then throw in 30 hours of non-race-related environmental content for good measure.

Jensen is going all out. The save-the-date cards for EarthShift have seeds in them and can be planted in the ground (after you write down the date, of course). Drink vendors will use biodegradable cups. And the event will be carbon-neutral — all its carbon emissions will be offset; Jensen says they will organize a local tree-planting endeavor.

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