Can too much of a good thing be a bad thing?

That’s an issue some properties may face when working with companies that want to use their sponsorships to promote social agendas.

Typically, such corporate partners require sponsored properties to enlist in the effort in ways that go well beyond providing extra booth space or running ads in a program book. Thus far, such situations have surfaced around marketers such as Clif Bar, Inc., New Belgium Brewing Co. and other companies that have environmental stewardship as a core value.

They have begun to insist that properties they sponsor have a “green factor” that matches their own. This affords the sponsors a high visibility platform for touting environmental responsibility and also shows that their business practices are consistent with their stated philosophy, i.e., they won’t promote their products through events that are environmentally irresponsible.

Take Clif Bar. In addition to sampling its energy bars and other products, the company uses its deals to promote “global cooling” by helping sponsored events become climate neutral.

Around last month’s Sea Otter Classic cycling race, for example, Clif Bar worked with the event to offer premier paddock parking for pedal-powered and hybrid vehicles, as well as cars with occupancy by three or more people. It also purchased renewable energy credits to offset the carbon dioxide emissions produced by participants traveling to and from the event.

“Many properties don’t initially understand the depth to which we hope our sponsorship will have an impact on them and their environmental footprint,” said Jeff Johnson, Clif Bar’s director of grassroots marketing. “It requires a partnership from the initial conversations all the way through to the event.”

While it is difficult to argue with the planet-protecting goals of such sponsors, what impact do their practices have on properties seeking marketing partnerships with them?

For the most part, the rightsholders IEG SR spoke to who have deals with companies such as Clif Bar say that meeting the needs of such sponsors is not onerous, and in fact often provides long-term benefits for their events and organizations.

Yet for some properties, requests made by sponsors have crossed boundaries. One event producer that has worked with Clif Bar noted that he drew the line at helping the company set up meetings with cosponsors to discuss those companies’ environmental policies and practices. “We were uncomfortable taking it to that level and involving our other partners,” he said.

Based on the experiences of properties that have worked with Clif Bar, New Belgium and others, IEG SR offers the following advice for any rightsholder entering discussions with companies that require operational changes.

Specify sponsor expectations upfront. Although spelling out details is a necessary practice in any sponsor/property relationship, it is even more important when sponsor requirements impact operational and logistical aspects of the property.

“If you don’t have those parameters built into your cost structure, you’re going to have problems down the road with a sponsor who may expect more than you can give,” said Chad Issaq, head of Superfly Productions’ partnership department, which represents the Clif Bar-sponsored Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival.

“While that is something you worry about with any sponsor, it can be much more difficult to manage with a partner who is sponsoring because they have an ideology they are trying toshowcase,” he added. “You really need to spell out what you are obligated to do in each year of the contract.”

Secure multi-year commitments. Given infrastructure changes and related elements of agenda-driven partnerships, they require a much greater commitment from the property than typical sponsorships. In return, sponsors should be willing to make a long-term pledge to the property.

“That is something we’ve learned as our sponsorship strategy has evolved,” Johnson said. “We have done a lot of one-offs, but it’s difficult for a property to commit to change if they don’t see you coming back year after year. Events are more open to change when they know we want to come back.”

Johnson points to the Amgen Tour of California cycling race as an example. Although property owner AEG was agreeable to promoting Clif Bar’s climate-neutral positioning through the tour, it required a multi-year commitment to close a deal.

“We realized early on that we needed a long-term commitment to create things that we couldn’t do with a one-off partnership,” said Michael Roth, AEG vice president of communications.

Determine who is responsible for extra costs. Making a property “green” often entails additional expenses, such as purchasing recycling stations. Clarifying who is going to pay is a key issue that must be squared away during negotiations.

In Clif Bar’s case, the company pays for some incremental expenses incurred by the property, but not all. Around the Amgen Tour, for example, Clif Bar purchased energy credits to offset the event’s carbon dioxide emissions, while AEG had to commit to on-site recycling and composting–a “significant cost,” according to Roth–and provide manpower for the event’s bike valet area.

Because of Clif Bar’s long-term deal, AEG was able to spread those costs over several years, Roth said. In turn, the property’s ability to sign multi-year contracts with local waste management companies along the route allowed it to secure more favorable rates from those vendors, he said.

Maintain control. Although allowing a sponsor to influence a property’s business decisions may be necessary, and in many cases beneficial, rightsholders must remember that they are taking on a sponsor, not a business partner, even if the line between the two is sometimes very fine.

In particular, properties should be careful not to let a sponsor’s presence–and its agenda–overwhelm the event and other sponsors.

For its part, the Sea Otter Classic asked its existing partners for feedback on Clif Bar’s involvement before signing a deal. “You need to maintain the integrity of your event, and that’s something sponsors respect,” said Frank Yohannan, the cycling festival’s president.