14 Jul

Green By Association

How Environmental Management Programs Help Clubs Stay Ahead of Sustainability Trends

As sustainability becomes a priority for emerging generations, private clubs must begin contemplating their role in maintaining the club itself and its surrounding properties. Despite the growing public concern about the environment, 65% of general managers said that their club could make more sustainability efforts according to Chambers’ “Club of the Future” survey. Though there are many ways that clubs can go green, conservation programs like Audubon International help clubs not only execute sustainability efforts, but also display these efforts to current and potential members.

“Getting certified can help courses understand what they are lacking and they’re doing well in terms of sustainability,” explains Tara Donadio, Audubon International’s Director of Cooperative Sanctuary Programs. Audubon International, a 25-year-old nonprofit that champions environmental conservation in public spaces, offers a program that focuses exclusively on golf courses. “Our largest program – the Audubon Sanctuary Program for Golf – works with public, private, and resort courses to help educate them on how to reduce their environmental impact,” says Donadio.


According to Donadio, it typically takes courses about 1-3 years to be recognized as certified sanctuaries. After consulting with Audubon International to discover what the club is doing well and where they need to improve, clubs must work on five key factors before becoming certified:

  • Water Conservation
  • Water Quality
  • Wildlife and Habitat Management
  • Chemical Use Reduction and Safety
  • Outreach and Education

Once a club’s course achieves status as a certified sanctuary, then what? There are definite benefits of creating strong relationships with environmental organizations like Audubon International.

Donadio has seen courses seek out certification for numerous reasons, including a pure desire to do good in the world. “Some are motivated by the ‘feel good’ factor. They want to do right by the property and its wildlife by reducing their environmental impact,” she says.

But being environmentally conscious is not just about the amorphous idea of “making a difference” or winning karma points. These altruistic acts actually help clubs from a financial perspective. According to Chambers’ “Club of the Future Survey,” only 26% of club managers feel that club sustainability efforts are impeded by cost-effectiveness.  But not all sustainability practices cost a pretty penny – at least not in the long run.  “When courses reduce water and chemical usage and implement other sustainability practices it can be a large investment. But it ultimately helps the bottom line,” says Donadio.

In fact, many of the efforts promoted by Audubon International actually end up saving clubs money. Though the procedures or facilities required to reduce chemical usage or increase water efficiency may be expensive upfront, they can lower the dollars spent on these resources over time. This is particularly important when it comes to water, which is becoming a scarcity in parts of the country.

The potential savings don’t stop at long-term utility costs. Consistently improving the sustainability of your operational practices can save you from possible citations and government fines, a common problem among golf courses nationwide. Bettering property water quality and chemical usage also protects your staff from potentially dangerous situations — and the liability that comes with that.

Aside from saving a few dollars, implementing environmental conservation efforts also  plays an essential role in connecting clubs with the surrounding community and shaping brand. “It helps courses tell their story,” says Donadio, “They may already be making conservation efforts, have a beautiful habitat with special or endangered wildlife on the property – but getting certified sets tangible goals. It’s a great way for courses to show their achievements.” In many ways, allowing the community to actually see your efforts in the form of robust environmental programs and certifications has similar benefits to performing charitable acts, which Chambers’ Executive Vice President and Past President of CMAA Skip Avery discusses in his column Perspectives from the Other Side.

While clubs certainly don’t need to develop relationships with environmental management organizations to go green, they can provide a kind of blueprint for building a quality sustainability program. Engaging groups like Audubon International proclaims to the world that the club cares – about your local ecosystem, your staff, and the community at large!

Interested in learning more about private club sustainability? Get in touch with us!

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