Climate Action

NBA’s new campaign seeks to shift environmental behavior

By Allen Hershkowitz, Founding Director, Sport and Sustainability International

  • 18 April 2017
  • Websolutions

By Allen Hershkowitz, Founding Director, Sport and Sustainability International

This week the NBA will launch the Energy All-Stars “Time Out Tips” campaign, which holds the potential to become one of the most environmentally impactful campaigns ever promoted by a sports organization. The campaign’s important objective is focused on promoting energy-use reduction by motivating fans to perform easy-to-do, money-saving actions. 

The campaign launches league-wide on Saturday (Earth Day), and the league’s online promotion runs through May 22. The campaign features former NBA players Bill Walton, Dikembe Mutombo, Jason Collins and Felipe López, as well as former WNBA players Swin Cash and Ruth Riley, all coming to life as animated 3-D bobbleheads. The NBA’s willingness to marshal the participation of former players, as well as its focus on influencing individual behavior and documenting those behavioral changes, makes this campaign unique. The ambitious scope of this initiative — the goal is to inspire more than 1 million energy-saving actions by fans — is also unprecedented.

This innovative and important project is the outgrowth of a collaboration between the NBA’s sustainability program and the National Environmental Education Foundation, a non-profit organization committed to advancing environmental literacy nationwide. Reflecting a satisfying trend for those of us working to broaden the influence of sustainability in sports, NEEF’s collaboration with the NBA underscores the expanding diversity of influential environmental groups marshalling their expertise to affiliate with sports organizations to advance progress on urgent environmental issues. 

The campaign’s animation platform imagines a coed game featuring the former NBA/WNBA players. During a timeout, instead of talking game strategies, each character shares their own energy-saving tip, reminding fans there are simple, everyday things we can all do to save energy, save money, improve our health, and have a positive impact on the environment. The former NBA/WNBA players encourage fans to learn how to save energy at home by opting-in to receive a series of energy-saving tips by texting the word “TIMEOUT” to 49767 on their mobile phones. As fans participate, confirming the tips they’ve acted on via simple SMS replies, the estimated collective environmental and social impacts from the total individual actions taken will be measured.

Easy-to-do but high-impact actions will be communicated throughout the campaign via social media and in-arena outreach and will be reinforced by daily text message prompts encouraging fans to make small but meaningful adjustments to the way they use energy at home. Six energy-saving actions will be promoted, including:

  1. Blocking drafts by weatherproofing windows and doors.
  2. Unplugging electronics when they’re not being used. 
  3. Switching from warm- to cold-water washing. 
  4. Setting computers and other electronic devices to sleep mode. 
  5. Replacing the five most-used light bulbs with more efficient Energy Star or LED bulbs.
  6. Installing a programmable thermostat, or adjusting the settings a few degrees.

No single undertaking can solve our global ecological challenges. The ecological pressures we face today are the result of millions of ecologically ignorant decisions made over centuries, poor decisions that continue to be made even today. That needs to change. Now we need millions of ecologically intelligent decisions, and to avoid instigating more irreparable environmental damage we can’t wait centuries — or even years — to act. Smart ecological action is needed now by government, businesses and individuals. All of us should have confidence that doing small things matter because small changes collectively lead to big effects. That is the premise of the NBA’s innovative mass-audience energy-efficiency campaign, and it is certainly the case when it comes to influencing individual energy-use patterns. For example:

  • U.S. households use an estimated 22.5 percent of the country’s energy.
  • The average American home wastes an estimated 3,400 KWH of energy every year (the equivalent of running an electric oven at 350 degrees 24/7 for 72 days!). 
  • 125 million U.S. households each spend around $2,200 a year on home utility bills.

At the completion of the campaign, the NBA and NEEF will quantify the collective environmental and financial impacts of the collective energy-saving actions that this initiative will inspire. Based on projected participation rates and preliminary measurement, NEEF estimates that collectively the emission of tens of thousands of tons of greenhouse gases will be avoided and tens of millions of dollars annually will be saved as a result of this NBA campaign. Moreover, given the reduction in emissions associated with the use of the fossil fuels that still dominate our energy sector, thousands of costly health-related impacts caused by air pollution will be avoided as well.

The NBA’s energy-efficiency campaign was conceived in order to creatively engage people individually and collectively on how they can take small steps to make a helpful difference on the environment. It also is motivated by a recognition that the current impacts and future threats we face from climate change are more frightening, and are occurring more rapidly than ever, and that virtually every credible scientific forecast confirms that without meaningful and rapid action the global climate crisis will grow even more catastrophic.

Allen Hershkowitz is a Founding Director of Sport and Sustainability International (

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