The Phoenix Suns have formalized a partnership with Footprint, a locally based materials science company dedicated to sustainable technology. The partnership with Footprint will help transform the home of the Suns and Mercury into a laboratory for sustainable solutions, just ahead of the Suns’ tip off to the 2021-2022 season.

Beginning with the team’s season opener Wednesday night, fans will see the replacement of plastic utensils and other concession items with Footprint’s plant-based alternatives. Over time, the arena will introduce additional Footprint products and technologies.

Footprint, which is based in Gilbert, was founded in 2014 by former Intel Engineers, Troy Swope and Yoke Chung. The company’s mission is to end the use of single-use plastics through the development of plant-based fiber technology.

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Footprint was recently recognized on the CNBC Disruptor 50 list and works with companies such as McDonald’s, Kraft Heinz, Beyond Meat, and Conagra. While nothing has been finalized, it was reported that Footprint has engaged in talks to go public by way of a merger with Gore Holdings VII Inc., a deal that would value the company upwards of $3 billion.

With the return of fans to sporting events, this partnership highlights the need for venues to implement more sustainable practices. Large scale sporting events and concerts present unique environmental challenges. One EPA study found that each year sporting events produce 39 million pounds of waste per year.

“The sports industry is going to start seeing that there is this movement around sustainability and what it means to be a part of it — I think all stadiums are going to see it as something they have to do and there will be minimum bars of transparency of what that means” said Footprint chief marketing officer Susan Koehler to CNBC.

Through this partnership and the transformation of Footprint Center, the Phoenix Suns and Footprint have positioned themselves to be at the forefront of this emerging innovation.

The front office leadership of the Phoenix Suns have emphasized this point and what this means for the organization.

According to managing partner Robert Sarver, “The idea is Footprint will create an innovation lab for us within our arena, and then we can take that and get other arenas throughout the world interested in doing the same thing.”

“They are going to help us eliminate single-use plastic within our arena and we are going to help them promote their brand so that over time they will be a household name,” said Sarver.

At an official ribbon cutting ceremony last week in front of the arena, Suns’ president and CEO, Jason Rowley, reiterated these sentiments. “We are confident that through the support, commitment and hard work of all stakeholders, Footprint Center will serve as the model sports and entertainment venue for sustainable innovation.”

Others in attendance included Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego, and Larry Fitzgerald, who was named as the first Footprint Ambassador. Mayor Gallego spoke to the crowd and emphasized the importance of this partnership to the greater Phoenix community.

“Just last night, the Phoenix City Council and I approved an updated, comprehensive Climate Action Plan that accelerates our goal to reach net-zero before 2050,” Gallego said. “I’m proud to have partners like the Suns and Footprint who are fully engaged in creating a healthy, sustainable future for Phoenix.”

The Suns have long been leaders when it comes to issues of sustainability and environmental concerns. They were one of the first arenas to switch to solar energy and have introduced various water conservation efforts.

Coming off a historic season, which included a Western Conference championship and a Finals appearance, the Phoenix Suns will have an amplified platform to continue to promote this type of innovation.