The GSB Interview: Val Fishman, VP Corporate Partnerships, Bonneville Environmental Foundation

VAL FISHMAN IS VP CORPORATE PARTNERSHIPS OF PORTLAND, OR-BASED BONNEVILLE ENVIRONMENTAL FOUNDATION (BEF), AN ENTREPRENEURIAL NON-PROFIT DEDICATED TO “FACILITATING THE WIDESPREAD ADOPTION OF SUSTAINABLE, PLANET FRIENDLY PRACTICES” AND ALSO A MEMBER OF THE GREEN SPORTS ALLIANCE BOARD.  SHE HAS LED BEF’S ENVIRONMENTAL CONSULTING EFFORTS WITH A VARIETY OF SPORTS TEAMS AND LEAGUES. THE GREENSPORTSBLOG SAT DOWN WITH VAL TO TALK ABOUT THOSE PROJECTS, HER VIEWS ON THE GREEN + SPORTS INTERSECTION AND MORE.

GreenSportsBlog:  Hi Val.  How did you come to a career in helping businesses, including sports-related enterprises, become more sustainable?

Val Fishman: I started out in media sales (radio) and was very successful. Moved to the dot.com world during that boom and did well there too.  But I was bored.  Along the way I got into scuba diving and saw environmental degradation up close and was stunned at how fast it was happening.  So I knew I needed a new direction.  I started that new direction within the radio world, creating an internal sustainability program at ClearChannel in San Francisco.

GSB:  That’s fantastic!  I’m surprised a company with as conservative a reputation as ClearChannel would go for that.

VF:  I let ClearChannel management know that I would stay on only if they let me pilot this program (greening our offices/studios).  They agreed.  We started in 2005 and it was a big success–the employees loved it!  But things changed when Bain Capital bought ClearChannel, and so it was time for me to move on.  Eventually I moved to Portland and heard about a job at BEF where I could work with companies interested in proactively addressing their environmental impact.  I said to myself “this is what I need to be doing”.  And for the last 3 years it’s been extremely rewarding.

VAL FISHMAN

Val Fishman, VP Corporate Partnerships, Bonneville Environmental Foundation

GSB:  What does the name “Bonneville Environmental Foundation” mean? It’s a bit confusing.

VF:  It can be, that’s why we are shortening it to BEF. 15 years ago BEF began as an entrepreneurial environmental non-profit initially tasked with fulfilling Bonneville Power’s public purpose work.  Now, we act as a consultant to corporations, associations, foundations and NGOs.  We start with understanding our client’s sustainability goals.  Then we provide environmental solutions (in the areas of energy, carbon, or water) to determine how we can best help meet those goals.  And because we’re a 501-c3, any margin we realize goes back into environmental programs.

GSB:  So you not only help your clients with their environmental programs, your success also leads to additional benefits to the environment!  How cool is that?!?  How did sports come to play a significant role at BEF?

VF:  At least 8 years ago, BEF became a primary resource for Allen Hershkowitz’s sports greening efforts at the NRDC.  Primarily, BEF supplied RECs (Renewable Energy Credits), Water Credits and Carbon Offsets for sports entities seeking a way to balance the environmental impact associated with some of their events.  This blossomed into a consulting role for BEF on high-profile projects, including solar and wind installations at sports stadiums.  When the Green Sports Alliance was started a few years back, it was only natural for BEF to be a Founding Member and to take on a leadership role.

B-E-F

GSB: Speaking of Portland, tell me about BEF’s work with the Portland Trail Blazers.

VF:  The Blazers already were sustainability leaders in the pro sports industry.  Their home (The Rose Garden) was the first arena to achieve LEED Gold certification.  They power their facilities with renewable energy. So they already were on the right path.  In 2011, BEF helped them extend the impact of their sustainability initiatives with engaging, community-based programs that produced meaningful environmental benefits. They became the first professional sports team to balance 100% of their arena’s annual water use through the purchase of Water Restoration Certificates. As a result the Blazers restored 10 million gallons of water to central Oregon’s critically dewatered Middle Deschutes River. We also helped engage fans in their commitment to water conservation with a booth stationed at their annual Green Game.  BEF staff distributed free water faucet aerators to help reduce their water footprint at home.

GSB: What about your work with the NHL and its Gallons For Goals program?

VF: Along the lines of what we do with the Blazers regarding water restoration, the NHL developed Gallons For Goals.  In that program, the NHL Foundation pledged to restore 1,000 gallons of water to the Deschutes River, the Colorado River and others, for each goal scored in league play during the 2011-2012 season.  Since over 6,700 goals were scored during that season, 6.7 million gallons were restored.  The program is entering its third season.

GSB: How did BEF communicate Gallons For Goals to the fans?

VF: BEF helped launch Gallons For Goals by setting up a water sustainability exhibit at the 2012 NHL Winter Classic Spectator Plaza at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia. We managed a contest where entry required fans to pledge to reduce their water usage, distributed faucet aerators and spoke to fans about the NHL’s commitment to freshwater stewardship. Goals and gallons were tallied and tracked on the NHL Green homepage, http://www.nhl.com/green, another high profile touch point for fans.

GSB: What percentage of BEF’s revenues are sports related?

VF: Well, despite the high profile examples we just spoke about–and others, including co-authorship with NRDC and Green Sports Alliance, of the “Solar Electric Guide for Your Stadium or Arena” and the Ski Green campaign, sports may represent only 1% or so of our revenue.  The good news is we see sports as a major growth area.

GSB: Considering sports-related revenues are only 1% I’d say you are making a significant impact already. Taking a macro view of the Green + Sports intersection, how do think the sports industry is doing overall?

VF: I’d say that the sports industry is behind the broader corporate sector but it’s moving in the right direction.  The Green Sports Alliance has played a major role here in improving the industry’s “green grade.” So far teams have done a great job of understanding and managing their waste streams, including e-waste.  But even with that, the carbon footprint of sports is huge.  60-80% of that footprint is related to transportation to-and-from sports events.  How do we change that? It’s a tremendous challenge, to be sure, but it’s solvable.

GSB:  Could teams add a “Carbon Fee” onto the ticket price and then offset that carbon?

VF:  Absolutely.  We explored this, and quickly learned there is a lot of red tape involved in ticketing, beyond BEF’s ability to solve.

GSB: My bet is that if there’s a way for sponsors to help sports teams mitigate transportation-related carbon footprint, BEF will be in the middle of it. I look forward to hearing more about this in the coming months.

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