The Best and Worst of Green-Sports, 2018

Eco-athletes became more of a thing in 2018 — and that’s a very good thing.

This statement is not data-based. I haven’t seen data on the number of athletes who engage on environmental issues.

Yet anecdotally, I can say that I spoke to more eco-athletes in 2018 than in any other year since starting GreenSportsBlog in 2013.

Given the dire climate news coming out of recent UN and U.S. government reports, the world needs this year’s eco-athlete “thing” to become a wave in 2019. But that is for another day.

Today, we bring you an eco-athlete-infused BEST AND WORST OF GREEN-SPORTS, 2018.

 

BEST GREEN-SPORTS STORY OF 2018

Leilani Münter, The “Vegan, Hippy Chick with a Race Car”

There are three great reasons why Leilani Münter, the “vegan, hippy chick with a race car,” is GreenSportsBlog’s Best Green-Sports Story of 2018. Münter…

  1. Signed A Well-Fed World and TryVeg.com to sponsor her ARCA series car for an eight race campaign
  2. Earned two top ten finishes
  3. Sampled vegan Impossible Burgers to 30,000 racing fans (they loved ’em!)

 

Leilani Munter Scott LePage

Leilani Münter, GreenSportsBlog’s “Best Green-Sports Story of 2018” (Photo credit: Scott LePage)

 

Thing is, no one would have blamed Münter if she had decided to give up her career as a driver in NASCAR’s ARCA Presented by Menard developmental series before this year.

Her strong commitment to only work with brands that align with her lifestyle and the issues that animate her — most notably veganism, animal rights and the climate change fight — has limited her ability to secure the sponsors and thus the funding necessary to enter races. In some years, Münter has competed in only one race; in others none at all.

But Münter did not quit, although she came close several times. The Minnesota native kept selling the idea that auto racing fans would react positively to vegan messaging — and food. “Some of the vegan brands I called on said ‘the NASCAR fan is not the right audience for us.’ I said ‘you don’t need to talk to vegans; they’re already converted. You need to talk to people who are not already in your world.’ Auto racing fans fit that definition.”

Her logic and persistence — she pitched sponsorship of a vegan-branded car for six years — paid off in 2018 when two non-profit organizations, A Well-Fed World and TryVeg.com, signed on as her lead sponsors to carry the Vegan Strong message. The deal allowed Münter to run an eight race campaign, which included an eighth place finish at the ARCA race during Daytona 500 week and a ninth place result at Michigan International Speedway.

More importantly, Münter and Vegan Strong teamed up at five of her eight races to fund the sampling of vegan Impossible Burgers in the Fan Zones to 30,000 fans. The fans ate ’em up, literally and figuratively.

“Many fans were skeptical at first and didn’t want to try the Impossible Burgers,” recalled Münter. “But once they did, they loved the taste and texture! And when you tell them it’s better for their health and for the planet, they got more excited.”

 

Leilani at Tent

Leilani Münter takes a photo of skeptical racing fans trying Impossible Burgers at the Daytona International Speedway Fan Zone in February (Photo credit: Natalka Lindstrom)

 

I am excited to see what Münter will do for encore to spread her vegan, along with her animal rights and climate change-fighting messages. On the latter, she is a big advocate of electric vehicles — her personal car is a Tesla, powered by solar panels on the roof of her house.

Münter says to expect an announcement about her 2019 plans in early January.

 

PAST WINNERS

2017: The Athletes of Protect Our Winters (POW)

2016: The Rio “Climate Change” Olympics Opening Ceremony vignette

2015: Pac-12 Conference

2014: Forest Green Rovers

 

MORE ECO-ATHLETES WHO MADE A DIFFERENCE IN 2018

I’m happy to say that Leilani Münter is not a lone wolf eco-athlete. She is joined by a veritable All-Star squad of sailors, skiers and more who spoke out and/or took action on the environment this year.

Team director Mark Towill and skipper Charlie Enright led the Vestas 11th Hour Racing Crew to a fifth place finish in the ’round-the-world Volvo Ocean Race. Sustainability is a core element of the team’s DNA. They communicated their ethos of a cleaner, healthier environment to thousands of fans at race stops via an interactive Exploration Zone.

Jessie Diggins, who along with teammate Kikkan Randall, won the gold medal in the women’s team sprint freestyle race at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Diggins also found the time to engage on the climate change fight. She supports a revenue neutral carbon fee and dividend program (CF&D), similar to the bill that was recently introduced with bipartisan support in the House of Representatives. Diggins told the New York Times, “Saving winter is something I believe in…and I feel like we’re actually really at risk of losing it.” 

 

Jessie Diggins NYDN

U.S. Olympic cross country gold medal winner and carbon pricing advocate Jessie Diggins (Photo credit: New York Daily News)

 

Arizona Cardinals rookie quarterback Josh Rosen talked climate change in a March interview in ESPN The Magazine: “One cause I’ll champion is the environment. It touches everything. I mean, the war in Syria started because of the drought and famine that destabilized the country and led the population to revolt against the government. I know global warming is a partisan issue for some stupid reason, but it touches everything.”

Sam Martin, punter for the Detroit Lions and an advocate for renewable energy, helped broker a deal that resulted in new solar installations at Ford Field and the club’s nearby Allen Park training facility. North Carolina-based Power Home Solar approached the team through a preexisting partnership with Martin and his Sam Martin Foundation,

Milwaukee Bucks point guard Malcolm Brogdon and four other NBA players announced the launch of Hoops₂Ojoining the fight for access to clean water in East Africa. Staying in the Beer Capital of the U.S., Brewers’ pitcher Brent Suter penned an OpEd urging action on climate in Fast Company. 

 

GREENEST NEW STADIUM OR ARENA OF 2018

Audi Field, D.C. United

It took D.C. United a quarter century to build its own, soccer-specific stadium. Audi Field sure looks like it was worth the wait as the 20,000 seat, $500 million stadium earned LEED Gold certification when it opened in July. Five months later, it added another honor by being named GSB’s Greenest New Stadium/Arena of 2018.

Audi Field drew our attention for a number of reasons, including:

  • The rooftop solar panel installation that provides roughly one million kilowatt hours of electricity annually, enough to offset nearly one third of the stadium’s electricity usage
  • Nearby access to D.C. Metro system’s green line train
  • An advanced, energy-efficient building envelope/skin
  • A storage vessel that collects rain water underneath the building. When it rains, water drains under the pitch into the vessel where it is slowly released so it doesn’t go into the nearby Anacostia River.

 

Audi Field

A packed Audi Field during the national anthem on opening night (Photo credit: WTOP/Noah Frank)

 

Fiserv Forum, the new home of the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks, deserves honorable mention. On track to receive LEED Silver certification, the downtown arena is the world’s first bird-friendly sports and entertainment venue, thanks in part to a collaboration with the American Bird Conservancy.

 

PAST WINNERS

2017: Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United

2016: Golden1 Center, Sacramento Kings

2015: CHS Field, St. Paul (MN) Saints

2014: Levi’s Stadium, San Francisco 49ers

 

BEST TEAM ON/GREENEST TEAM OFF FIELD OF 2018

TIE: Philadelphia Eagles, Super Bowl LII Champions and Atlanta United F.C., Major League Soccer’s 2018 Title Winners 

The Eagles checked the on-field box for their Best Team On/Greenest Team Off Field Court of 2018 award when they captured the franchise’s first Super Bowl in dramatic fashion, as backup QB Nick Foles outdueled Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, 41-33. Off the field, the Eagles became the first pro sports team to earn ISO 20121 certification for integrating sustainability practices into their management model. Among other things, the team:

  • Deployed edgy, humorous billboards that encouraged support for GO GREEN, the Eagles’ long-running fan-facing environmental program on Lincoln Financial Field’s concourses, ramps, and yes, even the restrooms.
  • Installed an interactive LED screen at the NovaCare Complex, the team’s practice facility down the street from “The Linc”. “It shows our employees how much energy our solar panels and wind turbines are producing every day, how much we recycle, and more,” said Norman Vossschulte, the Eagles director of fan experience.

And, just before we went to press, the Eagles announced that Lincoln Financial Field earned an upgrade from the US Green Building Council to LEED Gold status — it had qualified for LEED Silver in 2013.

 

Dallas Cowboys v Philadelphia Eagles

Sustainability-themed signage on display at Lincoln Financial Field (Photo credits: Philadelphia Eagles)

 

 

Atlanta United secured its spot on GSB’s Best Team On/Greenest Team Off Field podium by winning the MLS Cup trophy in only its second season of play. The “Five Stripes” knocked off the Portland Timbers 2-0 on Saturday night.

The team’s green cred is also championship caliber. After all, they play at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the world’s first LEED Platinum pro sports stadium, sharing it with the NFL’s Falcons. Stadium management uses its massive, wrap-around scoreboard to share the green story with fans, 73,019 of whom showed for MLS Cup, the largest crowd in league history.

 

M-B Stadium

Green messaging greets fans of Atlanta United, the newly-minted MLS Cup champion, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium (Photo credit: Lewis Blaustein)

 

PAST WINNERS

2017: Golden State Warriors

2016: Cleveland Indians

2015: New England Patriots

2014: Ohio State University

 

GREEN-SPORTS GREENWASH OF 2018

Eco-Sailor Sir Ben Ainslie Signs Title Sponsor Deal with Fracking and Chemical Company Ineos

Sir Ben Ainslie is the most decorated sailor in Olympics history. As skipper of Land Rover BAR, the British entrant in the 2017 America’s Cup, he also won deserved plaudits for making environmental sustainability, in particular ocean health, a core value of his team.

One thing Sir Ben did not win was the 2017 America’s Cup, despite spending in the neighborhood $135 million over the four-year cycle. By some estimates, it will cost as much as $175 million to mount a legitimate campaign for the 2021 Cup.

So when British fracking^ and chemical company, Ineos, and its founder Jim Ratcliffe, offered Ainslie $153 million to fund the lion’s share of his 2021 Cup quest, Sir Ben had a choice: Take the money and risk being labeled a greenwasher, or keep his good name and his well-earned global reputation as an eco-athlete among fans, competitors, sponsors and more.

He chose Ratcliffe’s fracking money.

 

Ainslie Ratcliffe

Jim Ratcliffe (l), CEO of Ineos, with Sir Ben Ainslie (Photo credit: Toby Melville/Reuters)

 

Not surprisingly, GreenSportsBlog chose Sir Ben for Green-Sports Greenwash of 2018.  

And it wasn’t close for second place.

 

PAST “WINNERS”

2017: Super Bowl LI, Houston*

2016: Super Bowl L, Santa Clara, Super Green But (Virtually) No One (Outside of the Green-Sports Ecosystem) Knew About It*

2015: College Athletics Departments That Talk a Good Green Game But Took Koch Brothers Sponsorship Dollars

2014: Sochi Winter Olympics

 

Fracking (also known by its more technical name, hydraulic fracturing) is a process by which large amounts of water and sand, combined with often hazardous chemicals, are injected, at high rates of pressure, into rock formations to fracture surrounding material for the purpose of extracting oil and gas. Its negative environmental and health impacts are legion, many of which would’ve concerned pre-Ineos Sir Ben. These include contamination of groundwater, large volume water use in water-challenged regions, methane pollution which exacerbates climate change, exposure to toxic chemicals, and fracking-induced earthquakes.
* 2017 and 2016 designation was titled “GREEN-SPORTS MISSED OPPORTUNITY OF THE YEAR”

 

 


 

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A Greener Formula E Begins Its Fifth Season in Saudi Arabia

The ABB FIA Formula E Championship begins its fifth season December 15 in Ad Diriyah, Saudi Arabia. GreenSportsBlog digs into the key sustainability advances the open wheel, all-electric vehicle (EV) series made during the off-season, as well as the challenges of doing business in Saudi Arabia in the current political climate. 

 

Did you know that, for each of its first four seasons, Formula E drivers had to swap cars during the race? That’s because the range per charge on the cars was not sufficient to finish a 50-minute race.

That changes with the start of season five this weekend — as a new era of electric racing begins with Formula E’s breakthrough Gen2 cars.

“Technological improvements on EV battery range will allow each driver to drive only one car per race,” said Julia Pallé, Formula E’s senior sustainability consultant. “Less ‘range anxiety’ is a big thing for Formula E drivers and EV drivers out on the open road.”

 

Julia_Palle_2016_HIGH RES

Julia Pallé, Senior Sustainability Consultant for Formula E (Photo credit: Formula E)

 

From reductions in team expenses and carbon emissions to smoother flowing races, the benefits of one car-per-race are clear for Formula E.

“Our drivers tested the new cars in October in Valencia, Spain,” shared Pallé. “They were super excited. Only one car was needed, and the new cars — with Spark chassis — a battery with double the storage capacity and also were faster. And they also draw comparisons to the Batmobile!”

 

FormulaE_Gen2

The new Formula E Gen2 car. Its longer range battery will allow racers to drive only one car per race (Photo credit: Formula E/LAT)

 

Also new to Formula E’s fifth season will be the Jaguar I-PACE eTROPHY, which will be a kind of a sidebar series on Formula E tracks. In addition to the open wheel EV races, each Formula E weekend will now feature a race with production car EVs that anyone can drive on the open road. Think adding a stock car race to an IndyCar race on the same weekend and you’ve got the gist. “We’re confident fans will like the Jaguar I-PACE eTROPHY series,” shared Pallé. “The racers will be driving EVs that the fans can imagine driving themselves.”

 

Jaguar iPace

Jaguar iPACE cars will compete for Formula E’s eTROPHY (Photo credit: Top Car Rating)

 

Fomula E’s fifth season begins in the unlikely locale Ad Diriyah, near the Saudi capital of Riyadh. Going to Saudi Arabia holds both opportunities and risks for Formula E.

 

OPPORTUNITIES: ON THE ENVIRONMENT AND WOMEN’S RIGHTS

Pallé sees the planting of the Formula E flag in Ad Diriyah as an important step towards building an EV infrastructure in an area that is looking to diversify and modernize its economy: “Formula E wants to help open and build the EV market in the Middle East and Africa. The effects of climate change are already being felt at disastrous levels in those regions and so accelerating the transition to EVs is crucial. That’s one big reason we’re opening the season in Riyadh and it’s also why we will be racing in Marrakech, Morocco for the third year in a row this season.”

On another front — gender equality — many elements of Saudi society have been closed off to women. Things that women in most of the rest of the world take for granted — like driving, for example — have been off limits until only recently.

The Saudi government, now under the rule of the young and controversial Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS), showed recently that it wants to move from the 19th to the 20th century by extending the right to drive to women. Formula E is looking to accelerate and normalize this new way of living on the Arabian Peninsula. “Many of our teams will have a female driver on our last day of driving in Ad Diriyah,” Pallé shared. “We have a ten-year contract with Riyadh and expect the role of women to increase in our races there going forward.”

 

FormulaE Ad Diriyah

Formula E comes to Saudi Arabia in advance of its races in Ad Diriyah this weekend. From left, Alejandro Agag – Founder & CEO of Formula E, Susie Wolff – Team Principal of VENTURI Formula E Team, Felipe Massa – VENTURI Formula E Team driver, His Excellency Eng. Saleh bin Naser Al-Jasser, Director General of Saudi Arabian Airlines and Andre Lotterer – DS TECHEETAH driver (Photo credit: Formula E/LAT)

 

RISKS: KHASHOGGI AND YEMEN

Despite women being allowed behind the wheel and other advances, doing business with and in Saudi Arabia in 2018-19 is a challenge for any brand, Formula E included.

The brutal murder of Washington Post columnist, U.S. resident and MBS critic Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi embassy in Istanbul, Turkey in early October certainly has made things more difficult.

And that is on top of the Saudi regime’s three-plus year bombing campaign — supported by the USA, France, Great Britain and eight other Sunni muslim states — in support of the government of neighboring Yemen in its civil war against Houthi rebels, backed at least in part by Iran. Yemen is now the world’s most calamitous humanitarian crisis. According to the United Nations, from March 2015 to December 2017, over 13,000 people have been killed with estimates of an additional 50,000 dead as a result of civil war-related famine.

On the one hand, Formula E, by its presence in Saudi Arabia, can be accused of supporting the Kingdom’s actions. On the other, if they decided not to go to Ad Diriyah, that could slow down the gender equality reform portion of the complex Saudi story. Formula E, at least for now, believes that engaging with the Saudi government and, even more so, the Saudi people, is the way to go.

“We are focused on what we can influence — the opening up of Saudi Arabia from sustainability, EV, and mass participation points of view,” responded Pallé.

 

Woman driver Saudi

A Saudi woman is all smiles after a driving lesson in Jeddah in March (Photo credit: Amer Hilabi / AFP)

 

The plan is for Formula E to race in Ad Diriyah for at least ten years. They will work with race organizers on the ground to help the event earn ISO certification, the standard for sustainable events.

After leaving Saudi Arabia, Formula E’s season will feature 11 more race weekends, concluding in Brooklyn, New York on July 13-14.

 

GSB’s Take: Kudos to Formula E for an innovative off-season. Starting the new campaign with drivers only needing to use one vehicle per race due to increased battery efficiency is a big deal. So is the launch of Jaguar I-PACE eTROPHY series, featuring EV sedans that fans could imagine driving themselves.

Launching its fifth season in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia holds reputational risks for Formula E, given the violence being fomented by the Saudi government and Crown Prince MBS on both micro and macro levels. If I had a vote, I would let the powers that be in Saudi Arabia know that Formula E will not be back in 2020 if the bombing in Yemen continues.

 


 

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GSB News and Notes: Scottish Footballer Goes Green, FOX Kids TV Show Features Eco-Athletes, Patagonia To Donate Millions in Savings from Trump Tax Cut to Green Charities

Happy Friday! In a TGIF GreenSportsBlog News & Notes, we feature a diverse trio of stories:

Russell Martin, currently player-coach for Walsall F.C. in the third tier of English football, recently made waves by announcing he’s switched his political affiliation to the Green Party. “Awesome Planet,” a part of the Xploration Station three-hour block of science-focused television shows airing on FOX stations, recently aired an episode featuring eco-athletes. And Patagonia, the über-green outdoor clothing and gear company, announced it will donate the $10 million it saved as a result of the 2017 Trump/GOP tax cuts to environmental non-profits. 

 

RUSSELL MARTIN TAKES A POLITICAL STAND AS ECO-ATHLETE 

Russell Martin has earned fame as an international footballer, playing for the Scottish National Team as well as for Norwich City F.C. when it was a member of the English Premier League^.

Now the player-coach at Walsall F.C., which currently plays in England’s third tier, Martin’s notoriety will likely jump up a notch or two, thanks to his recent announcement that he’s joined the U.K.’s Green Party.

 

Russell Martin
Russell Martin (#4 in blue), in action for Scotland against Germany in 2015 (Photo credit: Matthias Hangst/Bongarts/Getty Images)

 

“I’ve voted Labour all my life,” Martin told Stuart James in the November 23rd issue of The Guardian. “But knowing…what the [Green] Party represents, I just thought this aligns with my values and morals.”

Those values and morals include water conservation and veganism.

On water, “I used to get peppered at Norwich because I was always saying: ‘Turn the tap off’ when the lads brushed their teeth in the changing room,” Martin related to James.

Regarding his eating habits, Martin shared with James that he’s “been a vegan for four years, plant-based, so that awakens you socially to become a lot more conscious about things. I’ll be honest, that wasn’t for ethical reasons at first, it was purely health. I was struggling with ulcerative colitis and I did a lot of research into diet and what could help. But then when you become involved in that it raises your awareness of the ethical side. You actually look at it and think: ‘This makes sense.’”

Martin put his money where his mouth is when he became part-owner of Erpingham House, the largest vegan restaurant in Great Britain. He also owns an EV and promotes sustainability and environmental awareness to the children who pass through his Russell Martin Foundation, based in his home town of Brighton, which started as a football academy but is now a registered charity.

 

Russell Martin II

Russell Martin (Photo credit: Jonny Weeks, The Guardian)

 

Despite the time and energy that the dual player-coach roles demand, Martin is happy to take on the environment and climate change. “There’s stuff we can’t control – the Brexit madness – but there’s stuff that we can have an influence on and help future generations,” he told James. “I’ve got three young kids and I want it to look as good as possible for them by the time they hit my age.”

GSB’s Take: Russell Martin is one of a small but growing number of athletes who are speaking out on environmental issues, including climate change. He seems unfazed by any potential backlash. Martin told James that he’s “past the point of worrying what others think. It’s not like: ‘Is it going to harm my employment opportunities because of where I vote and what I stand for?’ If it did, I wouldn’t want to work for those people anyway.”

Given Martin’s willingness to speak out on environmental and climate issues, his top level playing pedigree, and his newfound coaching experience, it would not surprise me one bit to see him coaching for Forest Green Rovers, the world’s Greenest Team in Sports. Currently FGR resides in England’s fourth tier, one level below Walsall.

 

GREEN-SPORTS FEATURED ON FOX NETWORK’S “AWESOME PLANET” SATURDAY MORNING TV SHOW

Explorer Phillippe Cousteau, Jr. has, for the past five seasons, taken young viewers on adventures all over the world on “Awesome Planet.” The show is part of the three-hour Xploration Station block of science-based programming that airs on FOX stations across the U.S.

 

Phillippe Cousteau

“Planet Awesome” host Phillippe Cousteau, Jr. and his wife Ashlan prepare for a dive off the coast of the Marshall Islands (Photo credit: Phillippe Cousteau, Jr.)

 

In October, the grandson of the legendary aquatic conservationist and filmmaker Jacques Cousteau devoted an entire half-hour episode to three eco-athletes:

  • GreenSportsBlog fave and Olympic silver medal-winning snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler, advocating for action on climate to ensure that snow sports can continue to thrive in her native Colorado
  • Surfer Zane Schweitzer, who showed kids how plastic ocean waste is impacting the beaches of Hawaii
  • Boxer Jose Ramirez, fighting for access to fresh water in California as a member of the Latino Water Coalition

 

Surfer Zane Schweitzer’s segment on “Planet Awesome” (5 mins 7 secs)

 

The Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles also made an appearance, as they were lauded for their leadership role in bringing highly visible solar installations to stadiums.

Awesome Planet draws an average weekly audience of 750,000 viewers.

GSB’s Take: Every survey I’ve seen shows that American 16-23 year-olds, the older half of Gen-Z*, favor substantive action on climate change. Thus it’s not surprising that Awesome Planet would feature athletes and teams who are engaged in the climate change fight and other environmental issues. Concern about climate change polls over 50 percent among all age groups, across the political spectrum, with the exception of the most conservative Republicans. That tells me that programming highlighting eco-athletes targeted to a general audience would go over well. Hint to CBS Sports: How about a Green-Sports segment during the many hours of your Super Bowl LIII pregame coverage?

 

PATAGONIA TO GIVE ITS ENTIRE TRUMP TAX CUT WINDFALL TO ENVIRONMENTAL CHARITIES

Patagonia said last month that it will donate the $10 million it saved from recent tax cuts to environmental protection groups. In a withering letter, CEO Rose Marcario called the Trump- and GOP-backed tax cuts “irresponsible.” Changes to the corporate tax rate went into effect in 2018, giving corporations a massive boost by dropping their tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent.

 

Rose Marcario

Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario (Photo credit: Patagonia)

 

“Instead of putting the money back into our business, we’re responding by putting $10 million back into the planet,” Marcario wrote in the statement. “Our home planet needs it more than we do.”

The company said the donations would be incremental to its existing “One Percent for the Planet” pledge through which it has donated one percent of its sales each year since 1985 for “preservation and restoration of the natural environment.” According to Forbes, Patagonia revenue topped $750 million in 2017.

According to Ryan Miller, writing in USA Today on November, 29th, the company plans to give the $10 million to “groups committed to protecting air, land and water and finding solutions to the climate crisis.”

The company’s announcement came less than a week after a Trump administration report warned of the dire threat that human-caused climate change poses to the United States and its citizens. President Trump told reporters “I don’t believe it,” when asked about the study’s conclusions.

GSB’s Take: I yield the floor here to Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard for his take on the tax cut and the Trump administration’s approach to climate change: In a companion statement to CEO Marcario’s, Chouinard said, “Our government continues to ignore the seriousness and causes of the climate crisis. It is pure evil.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

 

* Gen-Z is made up of people born from 1995-2012

 


 

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The GSB Interview: Jason Twill, a Green Sports Alliance Founding Director, on the Organization’s Birth

The Green-Sports movement is in a transitional phase from its initial 1.0 version — the greening of the games themselves — to its 2.0 incarnation — engaging fans on environmental and climate issues.

The Green Sports Alliance, now eight years old, is also in the midst of change, as it searches for a new executive director to lead the organization firmly into the Green-Sports 2.0 era. That the Alliance is the most established Green-Sports trade association in the world may be taken for granted by many. But for those who were present at its birth, the odds of the GSA reaching its eighth birthday was by no means a certainty back in 2011. An organization dedicated to the Greening of Sports? What did that even mean?

With that in mind, we spoke with Jason Twill, one of the GSA’s Founding Directors and co-author of its bylaws. This long-form interview gets the inside story of how the Alliance came to be, the fascinating route Twill took to be — as Lin Manuel Miranda famously said in Hamilton — in the “Room Where it Happened,” and how the Alliance and other similar organizations around the world can help build a Green-Sports 2.0 world.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Jason, the story of how the Green Sports Alliance came to be is something I’ve been interested in for some time, so thank you for talking with us. Tell us about your background and how you came to be involved with the Green-Sports movement in its embryonic stages.

Jason Twill: Thanks, Lew. It has been quite a circuitous route. Toward the end of high school in Warren, NJ, a New York City suburb, I tended bar in Hoboken, which was a quick train ride away from Greenwich Village. I have this memory of emerging from the depth of the underground like I had crossed some imaginary threshold into this world of excitement — streets buzzing with energy, layered with a diversity of people and cultures that make The Village great and the antithesis of suburbia, which I hated. That’s when my passion to create better cities and communities began, and I have never looked back.

GSB: What came next?

 

Jason Twill

Jason Twill (Photo credit: Jennifer Twill)

 

Jason: I studied art and political economics at Colorado College; and I also had the privilege of studying in Florence, where the piazzas and labyrinthine grid was a very different sort of urban environment. I loved it! I then moved to New York and was interested in pursuing fashion design. Took a construction job to pay the bills while studying at the Fashion Institute of Technology and Parsons School of Design.

GSB: What happened to loving cities and urban architecture?

Jason: I told you it was a circuitous route! I got the fashion bug in Florence. So, back in New York, I spent my days on construction sites and evenings at fashion shows and working with designers. This confluence of construction and design is what ultimately led me back to a passion for architecture. It hit me like a ton of bricks when I was visiting the Getty Center museum in L.A. I found myself looking at the buildings and landscape as art and became set — finally — on becoming an architect.

I applied to Columbia for urban studies and architecture and, while waiting to start, took a summer job in 2001 with architecture firm Mancini Duffy. Their offices were in Tower 2 of the World Trade Center. I was in the building on the morning of 9/11. Escaped by just a hair, along with others from the firm, but I lost a lot of friends that day. So I postponed school and went back to the firm to help them rebuild their practice. I noticed several friends there suffering from post-traumatic stress. Having been through a lot of adversity in my life, I set up an informal 12-step-like program in which we all supported one another to get through the fear and anxiety we were experiencing.

At that time, my co-worker and future wife, Jennifer, gave me a book, “The Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America’s Man-made Landscape,” by Jason Howard Kunstler, a fantastic, non-technical explanation of suburban sprawl in the post-World War II era. It made me reflect on my own experience growing up in the suburbs and how much the built environment shapes our social patterns and behaviors. I literally closed that book and knew what I wanted to do with the rest of my life: Disrupt the real estate sector through ecologically and socially conscious development models. So I pivoted from Columbia to getting a Masters in real estate development and finance at NYU.

 

GEOGRAPHY OF NOWHERE

 

GSB: Did that even exist in the early 2000s?

Jason: Not really. I had to advocate for NYU to introduce things like LEED certification. But there were already a lot of great experts in this space I could learn from outside of school. I essentially earned two masters, with conventional real estate courses at NYU augmented by reading tons of books^ to teach myself these other pathways. Also volunteered to help get the US Green Building Council’s New York City chapter going, worked on some of the first LEED buildings in New York, and then I was fortunate enough to meet Jonathan Rose…

GSB: The legendary New York City real estate developer and sustainability champion…

Jason: Exactly. I wrote him a letter; he invited me to his office for coffee and a talk He’s been a friend, mentor and inspiration ever since. During that time, from 2003-2007, I worked for a couple of smaller private developers, championing sustainable and equitable design. The timing was right; by 2005, the market had shifted and I was getting more traction on things like LEED certification. We also had our first son, Sullivan. He had a series of illnesses and the first case of influenza A in the city in 2007, which scared the hell out of us as new parents. We thought this might have something to do with the post 9/11 air quality in New York, so we decided to move to another city. Austin, Portland, and Seattle were on our radar because of their progressive governance and industry stars.

GSB: Where did you end up?

Jason: We chose Seattle, the epicenter of the green building movement. I was very fortunate to receive an offer from Vulcan Inc. and we relocated in 2007.

GSB: Vulcan Inc. is the business and philanthropic entity founded by Microsoft co-founder, the late Paul G. Allen.

Jason: Yes! The six years I spent at Vulcan were some of the most productive of my career. I became a practitioner of city-making as a senior project manager working on all aspects of Paul Allen’s portfolio. We looked to inspire change in areas he was most passionate about: art, science, music, technology, and sports. I supported Vulcan Real Estate on the delivery of a new community called South Lake Union, an industrial area filled with old warehouses just north of the city’s central business district.

GSB: What did it become?

Jason: Paul originally purchased the land and gifted it to the city so they could create a park. But citizens voted down a tax measure to fund construction and the city handed back the land. Paul pivoted and turned it into a mixed-use, sustainable community. Over time, it emerged as one of the first Innovation Districts in North America, now home to Amazon’s HQ1, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft. At the same time I was working on South Lake Union, I started incubating what would become the Green Sports Alliance. When the financial markets crashed in 2008, things slowed down at Vulcan. My boss, Ray Colliver, got approval from Paul to apportion more of my time to embed sustainability even deeper across Vulcan’s business portfolio. Our office was across the street from CenturyLink Field, home of the NFL’s Seahawks, one of the teams Paul owned…

GSB: …The others being CenturyLink tenants — MLS’ Seattle Sounders — in which Mr. Allen’s estate has an ownership stake, and the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers.

Jason: Ray introduced me to Darryl Benge and Mike McFaul, who ran CenturyLink operations. They were already looking to invest in sustainability measures, so I started to support them in getting some runs on the green scoreboard.

GSB: What kind of things did you help them do?

Jason: We planned and implemented a comprehensive resource conservation plan that included the installation of nearly a megawatt of solar panels on the roof of the adjacent WaMu Theater, EV charging, LED lighting retrofit, waterless urinals, waste strategies, and more. We also started to explore how we could generate fan awareness and impact behavior through strategic branding and messaging. And then this larger dialogue started to occur around green sports.

 

Solar CenturyLink

A solar array tops the roof of the WaMu Theater adjacent to CenturyLink Field, home of Seattle’s Seahawks Sounders (Photo credit: Seattle Seahawks)

 

GSB: How so?

Jason: In 2009, I met Justin Zeulner, who worked for the Trail Blazers. He was doing terrific green stuff there, including getting Moda Center certified as one of the first LEED Gold arenas in the world. I was also introduced to some folks at the WNBA’s Seattle Storm

GSB: …the current WNBA champs!

Jason: …and the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks, and became mates with green-sports pioneer Scott Jenkins, who was managing Safeco Field for the Seattle Mariners.

GSB: Scott’s now the Chairman of the Board of the Green Sports Alliance and General Manager of Atlanta’s LEED Platinum Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Jason: With all these relationships building, we were sharing strategies and partners that could help us ‘green’ the venues, so all the proverbial kindling was there to start a fire, just waiting for the spark. It came when my boss Ray Colliver, who always pushed me take things further, sustainability-wise, with Paul’s teams, handed me a Sports Business Journal issue focused on sustainability. I noted an article by Allen Hershkowitz, then a Senior Scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), leading their sports and entertainment greening platform.

Already a big fan of NRDC’s work, I called him and said, ‘Hi, I’m Jason, I work for Paul G. Allen, who owns a few sports franchises and we want to work with NRDC to drive a bigger agenda for sustainability in sports.’ We had a couple of conversations — he was incredible. I really love the guy and we were exploding with ideas from the start. Allen offered to fly out with his key staff to meet, while my colleague Dune Ives and I started to explore what we could create in this space from Vulcan’s perspective.

GSB: Dune is now executive director of the Lonely Whale Foundation, a group established by actor and activist Adrian Grenier, which is leading initiatives on ocean health and the anti-plastic straw movement.

Jason: Yes, Dune has an unbelievably beautiful mind and is a force of nature in the sustainability movement. We mapped out the mission statement, vision, and objectives for what initially became the Pacific Northwest Green Sports Alliance. Then, on February 1, 2010, using our draft work as the agenda, we hosted a workshop with Allen and his NRDC colleagues. Representatives from five of the region’s pro teams (Portland’s Trail Blazers and Seattle’s Mariners, Seahawks, Sounders and the Storm), as well as officials from the City of Seattle, the Bonneville Environmental Foundation, and Green Building Services joined in.

From this initial group of passionate change makers, The Pacific Northwest Green Sports Alliance was born! The Vancouver Canucks joined shortly thereafter. I became its Chair to help get it going. Pretty quickly, we received interest from teams and venues beyond the region, so we dropped “Pacific Northwest” from the name. We secured a seed money grant from the Bullitt Foundation — an organization led by Dennis Hayes, founder of Earth Day, focused on environmental change in the northwest. This funding was crucial and, along with investments from NRDC, Vulcan, and each of the teams, we hired Martin Tull, a brilliant change-maker from the Portland sustainability community, as the founding executive director. He built the Alliance into a stable, sustainable non-profit organization.

GSB: So you guys basically bootstrapped the Green Sports Alliance off the ground.

Jason: We all had full-time jobs, but fueled by a passion for change, we put the time and energy into making this happen. There isn’t any one founder of the Alliance; we all worked really hard and collaboratively, playing a vital part in its success to this day. Our beginnings are quintessentially captured in this famous Margaret Meade quote:

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

We definitely hit on something and there was a big, public launch at Safeco Field, home of the Mariners in spring 2011. By that time, I had stepped down as chair, handing the reins to Scott Jenkins, already a key figure in the movement. Since then, I’ve served as a Board executive committee member.

It’s important to acknowledge that we did not create the Green-Sports space. There was already a ton of great work and leadership happening around sports and sustainability in North America and globally. We just created a platform to bring all these leaders together to share best practices and accelerate the progress of the Green-Sports movement.

We also wouldn’t be where we are at today without the technical and financial support of the NRDC team led by Allen Hershkowitz, along with terrific scientists and technical experts like Darby Hoover and Alice Henly. With their support we were able to publish documents like the “Game Changer” report that provided case studies highlighting the amazing sustainability work happening across the pro leagues. This helped us grow from the inaugural six founding teams to a roster that includes pretty much all major league teams in North America, plus many college athletics departments and conferences.

 

Jason Twill GSA origins

A gathering of some of the key players in the founding of the Green Sports Alliance, including: FRONT ROW: Scott Jenkins (2nd from left), Dune Ives (3rd from left) and Justin Zeulner (right). MIDDLE ROW: Jason Twill (2nd from right). TOP ROW: Allen Hershkowitz (2nd from left), Martin Tull (right) (Photo credit: Green Sports Alliance)

 

Jason: That growth was also driven by annual GSA summits starting with our inaugural event in Portland in 2011. Martin Tull, working with a local team, the Board, and the NRDC, miraculously put it together in just a few months.

GSB: A Herculean effort! How did it go?

Jason: It was a big hit. Over 200 people came. Ex-NBA All-Star and then-Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson keynoted. People from across North America who were interested or already working in this space attended. They really appreciated a forum on sustainability solely focused on the sports industry. The next year, our Summit in Seattle attracted closer to 400 people and we knew we had hit our stride.

 

KJ at GSA 2011 Dabe Alan

Retired NBA All Star and ex-Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson addressing the first Green Sports Alliance Summit in 2011 in Portland (Photo credit: Dabe Alan)

 

GSB: I went to the third Summit, in Brooklyn in 2013, and even more people came. And the rest, as they say, is history. What is your role as a board member?

Jason: I try to provide big-picture thinking and thought leadership on how to best grow the movement. We started with greening the games and the venues…

GSB: …What I call Green-Sports 1.0. I believe that’s the way it had to be. But we’re past the time to pivot to Green-Sports 2.0, engaging fans — with the important megaphone of the media — to change their environmental behaviors, including as it relates to climate change.

Jason: I agree. Even in those very early days, I would look across at CenturyLink Field and think, ‘for every Seahawks game, we have something like 10 percent of the entire population of Seattle in one room,’ which prompted me to ask, ‘How do we change the hearts and minds of billions of sports fans across the world and tell a new story of sustainability in our time?’

GSB: How is that going?

Jason: Nelson Mandela probably captured it best when he said

Sport has the power to change the world. It had the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. Sport can awaken hope where there was previously only despair.

Now think about channeling that power toward addressing climate change, the defining challenge of our time. We still have a lot of work to do to realize this dream, but the Green Sports Alliance and all of our partner organizations have this opportunity before us if we work together.

GSB: Those include GSA Japan, which launched earlier this year, BASIS in Great Britain, Sports Environment Alliance (SEA) in Australia and New Zealand, along with Sport and Sustainability International (SandSI) in Europe. Is this separation — some might say Balkanization — a good thing when the Green-Sports movement is relatively small?

Jason: Great question. I don’t see this as Balkanization at all. All these organizations are able to respond to their local cultures and contexts. I do see the ability for all of these groups, including Beyond Sport and others, to collaborate for maximum global impact through locally meaningful initiatives. In fact, that is one of the things I want to help foster as a GSA Board Member since I am now living and working in Australia. I am in conversation with a lot of the folks at these other incredible organizations, as many of us in the Alliance are. I think it is in all of our interests to work together, using the power of sports to ensure a safe and sustainable future for all life on our planet.

GSB: I’ll sign for that! What are you doing in Australia?

Jason: Staying true to my passion for cities, I set up Urban Apostles, my own development and consulting business. We specialize in regenerative urbanism and affordable housing models for cities. I like to say we work at the intersection of the sharing economy and art of city making.

GSB: What is regenerative urbanism?

Jason: Regenerative urbanism considers going beyond the ‘sustainable’ paradigm for cities since our current form of urbanization is not doing nearly enough to address issues like climate change and social inequity. For me, it’s a way of conceiving our cities as ‘living systems,’ and planning and developing them in a manner which creates conditions conducive for all life forms to thrive. Imagine a city that responds to the evolutionary needs of all the life within and around it. We look to shift from ‘human-centric’ urbanization models to ‘life-centric’ ones. Earlier this year, I also founded and launched City Makers’ Guild. It’s an education, advocacy, and research group promoting more equitable and inclusive cities.

GSB: Congratulations and good luck with both. And thank you for your important, visionary work that helped give birth to the Green Sports Alliance and is accelerating the move to Green-Sports 2.0.

 

^ Books on green design Twill read during his time at NYU included “Natural Capitalism,” by Amory & Hunter Lovins, with Paul Hawkens. “Ecological Design,” by Sym Van der Ryn and Stuart Cowan. “The Green Real Estate Development Guide,” by William Browning and the Rocky Mountain Institute

 


 

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GSB News and Notes: Veja Enters Running for World’s Most Sustainable Sneaker Maker; Arsenal Can Run Match-Day Power via Battery; Field Hockey Seeks Sustainable Alternative to H₂O-Reliant Artificial Turf

GreenSportsBlog spans the globe in today’s News & Notes column. First, we go to Paris to tell the story of how outsider sneaker brand Veja is challenging green giants Adidas and Nike on sustainability. Then we head to North London to check out Arsenal and its newly-deployed, Tesla-made storage battery. And we end up in India where the governing body of international field hockey (FIH) is committing to develop waterless artificial turf fields.

 

VEJA JOINS ADIDAS AND NIKE IN BATTLE FOR WORLD’S MOST SUSTAINABLE SNEAKER TITLE

Adidas, with its Parley for the Oceans line of athletic footwear (and apparel) made from repurposed and upcycled materials, including plastic ocean waste, is a strong contender for most sustainable sneaker company in the world. Rival Nike would no doubt protest, citing its super-light, super-efficient Flyknit sneaker line which reduces waste by 80 percent, as the reason why they should be the green champ.

But both athletic shoe giants had better watch out for a new entrant into the mix, Paris-based fashion brand Veja.

 

Veja

A Veja sneaker being manufactured in Brazil (Photo credit: Veja)

 

The primary goal of Veja co-founders Sébastien Kopp and François-Ghislain Morillion, is to manufacture sneakers from the most ecological materials and ethical suppliers possible. According to Alyssa Danigelis, writing in the November 12 issue of Environmental Leader, “The company uses raw materials sourced from organic farming and ecological agriculture in Brazil.” The footwear is manufactured there as well.

 

Kopp Morillion

Veja co-founders Sébastien Kopp (l) and François-Ghislain Morillion (Photo credit: Corentin Fohlen, Encore)

 

Danigelis reports that the duo call Veja “their ‘project,’ with one foot in design and the other in social responsibility.” On the latter, Kopp and Morillion are committed to protecting the Amazon, upcycling materials, and being transparent about chemical testing.

“A lot of our clients are discovering what is behind Veja after they buy one or two pairs,” Kopp told Andrea Lo of CNN Business. “[They] usually come back for more after learning the brand’s story.”

Veja, which means “look!” in Portuguese, and its sneakers are drawing attention from celebrities like Meghan Markle — the Duchess of Sussex — and others, for the right reasons:

  • The company purchases organic cotton directly from farmer associations in Brazil and Peru, all while respecting fair trade principles.
  • Each sneaker sole is made from 30 – 40% natural rubber. Since 2004, Veja has purchased 130 tons of wild rubber, preserving 120,000 hectares of the Amazon.
  • One Veja sneaker SKU is 100 percent vegan…
  • …The others that do contain leather only use product that has been certified Gold by the Leather Working Group. And some of it is “fish leather” from tilapia that has been discarded by freshwater fish farms. According to Danigelis, “the skin gets upcycled through a handcrafted process involving vegetable dyeing.”
  • Kopp and Morillion are Veja’s sole shareholders because they believe that bringing in outside investors could compromise the company’s integrity.

The founders are transparent about their limitations. Per Danigelis, Veja’s “shoelaces aren’t made from organic cotton and the eyelets…come from metal the company didn’t source themselves.”

Since it costs five to seven times more for Veja to make sneakers than it does Adidas, Nike and the others, the founders decided to stay away from advertising and rely instead on word-of-mouth. This has allowed Kopp and Morillion to stay competitive on retail price, which ranges from $95 to $195.

GSB’s Take: Absent taking a deep dive into sustainability reports from Adidas, Nike and Veja, it is impossible to say which sneaker company is the most sustainable. But with Veja demonstrating a serious, long-standing commitment to using organic and eco-friendly raw materials, it shows it belongs in the conversation. I expect that the green race between the two giants and the hungry outsider will be a virtuous one.

 

ARSENAL STORAGE BATTERY CAN HOLD ENOUGH ELECTRICITY TO POWER A FULL GAME

When Arsenal hosts English Premier League blood rival Tottenham Hotspur at The Emirates Stadium Sunday at 9:05 AM EST in the latest version of the “North London Derby,” the outcome may be determined by which of the two quality sides has the most energy.

Regardless of the result on the pitch, Arsenal has a decided advantage in energy storage.

The team recently unveiled a Tesla-manufactured battery storage unit at its 60,000-seat Emirates Stadium in north London that can store enough energy to run the stadium for 90 minutes, the length of a match.

 

Arsenal Tesla Storage

The Tesla storage system at Emirates Stadium in North London, home of Arsenal (Photo credit: David Price/Arsenal Football Club)

 

Per a November 26 story by Patrick Hodges in Bloomberg“the two-megawatt lithium-ion battery installed by Pivot Power LLP — which will operate it for 15 years — will allow the soccer club to buy electricity when it’s cheaper and use it at peak times. Arsenal said it plans to add a further one megawatt of storage next summer.”

The battery can also generate income for the club through a deal with utility company National Grid in which the battery can be used to stabilize the grid. Basically, the Arsenal battery can sell electrons to the utility on non-game days when demand is high.

“This is a big step forward for us in being efficient with energy usage, and building on our work in reducing our carbon footprint as an organization,” said Vinai Venkatesham, Arsenal’s managing director, in a statement on http://www.arsenal.com.

 

Arsenal Vinai

Vinai Venkatesham, Arsenal Football Club managing director (Photo credit: The Economic Times)

 

Arsenal already was a Premier League green leader. It was the first club to switch to 100 percent green electricity — supplied by Octopus Energy — and the team installed energy efficient LED floodlights.

“Arsenal is showing how football clubs and other big power users can save money and support the U.K.’s climate change and clean air targets,” said Pivot Power’s Chief Executive Officer Matt Allen. “Batteries are central to creating a cost-effective, low-carbon economy.”

GSB’s Take: While the price of energy storage has come down dramatically — and that trend is projected to continue — big increases in the deployment of batteries at stadia and arenas will also depend on future reductions in their size. 

 

FIELD HOCKEY LOOKS FOR MORE WATER-EFFICIENT ARTIFICIAL TURF

International field hockey made a commitment to water efficiency at the recent 46th FIH Congress in New Delhi.

Thierry Weil, the governing body’s CEO, said that while international hockey at the highest level would continue to be played on artificial turf, the federation was in talks with key manufacturers and suppliers to develop a surface that would not consume water. The current surface requires constant watering to allow a smooth game and minimize injuries.

 

Field Hockey

Field hockey at the international level is played on Astro turf, which requires lot of water to make the surface playable (Photo credit: L. Balachandar/SportsStar LIVE)

 

“We are looking to achieve this by the Paris Olympics in 2024, but try and do it much earlier, develop a surface close to the quality we have right now on turf with water,” Weil told Uthra Ganesan of Sportstar LIVE. “We cannot continue to put all this water on turf when people next door may not have enough to drink.”

GSB’s Take: India and Pakistan, hotbeds of world-class field hockey, are both suffering significant water shortages and those are projected to continue. Thus it makes sense for the FIH to take on the water crisis by working to develop artificial surfaces that don’t use H₂O. I wonder if there will soon be a natural grass surface that uses little to no water. If so, grass would be preferable to a waterless artificial surface because the latter is much hotter. 


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The GSB Interview: Brent Suter, Milwaukee Brewers Pitcher and Climate Change Fighter

Milwaukee Brewers’ pitcher Brent Suter is not your typical major league pitcher.

He played his college ball at Harvard. His fastball, when he really airs it out, barely reaches 90 miles per hour in an era when 97-100 mph heaters are commonplace.

But what really sets the 29-year-old lefty apart from his peers is his interest in climate change and his willingness to speak up about it.

GreenSportsBlog, always on the lookout for eco-athletes, was pleased to read Suter’s OpEd on the urgency of climate action that appeared in a recent issue of Fast Company magazine. And we were even more pleased to be able to talk with Suter about his baseball career and his relatively newfound role as a climate change fighter.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Brent, thank you so much for talking with us today. I will get to your interest in the climate change fight in a bit. First, tell our readers how you got your start in baseball.

Brent Suter: My pleasure, Lew. We moved around a lot when I was a kid. Born in Chicago, moved to California when I was two, then to Atlanta when I was four and finally to Cincinnati when I was seven.

GSB: Were you a Cincinnati Reds fan growing up?

Brent: Oh yeah! When Ken Griffey, Jr. came to the Reds, that was THE BEST!

GSB: Was baseball your first love?

Brent: No doubt about it. I did play football and basketball as well — I was a role player in the latter. But baseball was always number one. I was primarily a pitcher but also played first base and centerfield.

 

Brent Suter 3

Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Brent Suter looks to apply the tag to a Kansas City Royals runner (Photo credit: Benny Sieu, USA Today Sports)

 

GSB: When you were in high school did you think to yourself, “Hey, I’m really good at this; I’m going to be a big leaguer,” or was it more like “Hopefully baseball can help get me into college”?

Brent: It was definitely more the latter. I wasn’t thinking big leagues when I was a kid or in high school. I did believe in myself, worked hard and enjoyed it. But my goal was to get into college.

GSB: Were you heavily recruited coming out of high school?

Brent: Not so much. Actually I had to sort of sell myself. I do remember going to a college showcase the fall of my senior year at which high school players try out for a bunch of recruiters. I threw harder than I ever did before. I had a video made and sent the tape, along with an email to the Harvard baseball coach. He loved it and sent an assistant down to Florida to see me pitch at another showcase. It went great.

GSB: Were you always looking to go the Ivy League route?

Brent: Not really. I always wanted to go to a good school and play baseball there. Harvard was the only Ivy League school I was in serious contact with and it turned out to be a perfect fit!

GSB: What did you study at Harvard?

Brent: Environmental science and public policy…

GSB: …What a great combination!

Brent: Absolutely! I love math and science. Got to learn about renewables, the policy implications of decarbonization and much more.

GSB: What got you into the environment, renewables and climate change?

Brent: I always had affinity and an appreciation for nature and the outdoors. But the big thing for me on climate change was seeing Al Gore’s documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” while I was in high school. Say what you will about Al Gore from the political point of view, his film was able to communicate the serious reality of climate change in a way that inspired many, including me. Before seeing that film, I really had no idea about climate change.

GSB: It inspired me too! In fact, I was trained by Vice President Gore and his Climate Reality Project in 2012 to give the slide show presentation that was at the heart of the movie to community groups in my area. Back to your time at Harvard, how hard was it to balance your academic load and baseball?

Brent: It was challenging at times. You have to be so efficient with your time. That said, Harvard has tremendous resources and I met such an interesting, high quality group of people. It was a whirlwind but an incredible one at that. I loved Harvard and the connections I made there will last a lifetime.

 

Brent Suter 6

Brent Suter on the mound for Harvard (Photo credit: The Harvard Crimson)

 

GSB: Did you have a sense from early on at Harvard that you were on track for the big leagues?

Brent: Not at all. It wasn’t until after my junior year that I started to think pro ball might be a possibility. I was lousy as a junior but I had a strong Cape Cod Summer League season after that. And I backed that up with a decent senior year. Still I wasn’t on scouts’ radars so I went to a showcase for New England regional scouts in Amherst…

GSB: …I didn’t know these showcases existed.

Brent: Oh they’re a big thing all over the country. Anyway, the day of my showcase, it was really cold out and only two scouts showed up. And I was very sick. But somehow, I threw the best I ever had!

GSB: Kind of like Michael Jordan scoring 38 points in Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals when he was sick with the flu?

Brent: I wouldn’t go that far but I guess I got the attention of at least one of the two scouts because the Brewers picked me in the 31st round of the 2012 draft.

GSB: Amazing! Where did you go then?

Brent: To the Brewers’ team in the Arizona Rookie League, made up mostly of high school prospects. I thought to myself, “Sheesh, I’m one of the oldest guys here!” And then things started to fall into place for me in some unusual ways.

GSB: Please explain…

Brent: Two days after I showed up in Arizona, a pitcher on the Brewers’ club on the next level up punched a wall in frustration and injured himself. So I got sent up to the Helena (MT) Brewers in the High Level Rookie League. I struggled at first but then turned it around. The next month, the Brewers’ team in Single A ball — the next level up — needed a pitcher for their stretch run. I got the call and was able to close out the championship game. That led to an invitation to the Fall Instructional League — that was a big deal. It seemed like I was always the right guy in the right situation. And that continued until I made it up to the big club.

GSB: Aside from being in the right place at the right time, how did you make it and stick in the big leagues with a pedestrian fastball?

Brent: Great question. One of my first days in rookie ball I realized I had a natural cut on the professional baseball which has lower seams than college baseballs.

GSB: I had no idea that was the case…

Brent: …Now I use that cut to elevate the ball over swings and thus miss the barrel of hitters’ bats as much as possible.

GSB: …Even if the speed isn’t blowing them away.

Brent: That’s right.

GSB: And that cutter put you in the Brewers’ starting rotation…

Brent: Eventually I became the club’s fourth or fifth starter. My approach is to attack the strike zone and give the team a chance to win the game every time I take the ball. I felt like I was starting to find my stride this year when injury struck. I suffered a torn ulnar collateral ligament in my pitching arm in July.

 

Brent Suter 7j

Brent Suter (2nd from right) with Milwaukee Brewers teammates (from left) Junior Guerra, Manny Piña, and Freddy Peralta (Photo credit: Milwaukee Brewers)

 

GSB: Which led to Tommy John surgery — in which a healthy tendon extracted from an arm is used to replace an arm’s torn ligament — which means a year-long rehab. How’s that going?

Brent: Rehab is going great and my arm feels strong. I’m working out five to six days a week and rehab three times a week. My goal is to make it back by August or September of next year…

GSB: …Which would put you smack dab in the middle of the stretch run to the playoffs. And, from afar, it seems like the Brewers are a great team to want to come back to.

Brent: Oh yeah! We really are a team that plays for each other; it’s a great group of guys. And this season we were were so close to getting to the World Series, losing to the Dodgers in seven games in the National League Championship Series (NLCS). So we have some unfinished business for sure!

GSB: Good luck with that! Now we know you’re interested in the environment and climate change. How did that turn into you writing an OpEd in Fast Company?

Brent: Since I’ve been in pro ball, I’ve wanted to play with a higher purpose in mind. Given my interest in climate and the environment since seeing “An Inconvenient Truth” in high school, and given the recent onslaught of extreme weather, it seemed natural for me to move in that direction. About a year ago I got involved with the Urban Ecology Center, a great nonprofit in Milwaukee. They work to return abandoned waste lands back to their natural, pristine states. Then they bring kids who don’t have access to nature out to the newly restored lands. Urban Ecology Center does an awesome and important job. I also connected with ECO, the environmental collaboration office of the City of Milwaukee.

GSB: What do they do and what is your role with them?

Brent: They are a small city government agency that is working to make Milwaukee a green hub, environmentally and economically. Their initiatives include Milwaukee Shines, which provides financing solutions for residential and business customers to reduce the up front cost of solar, and Milwaukee Energy Efficient (Me²). We’re just starting our relationship. I’ve filmed a short video with them and we have had some brainstorming sessions about everything we can do next season. I also wrote the article that ran in Fast Company for ECO. ECO had a relationship with the magazine and the next thing I knew, the article went live.

 

Brent Suter teamed up with the City of Milwaukee’s ECO initiative for this 50 second video

 

GSB: Did your Brewers’ teammates know about your interest in climate before the Fast Company piece? And if so what do they think?

Brent: Oh they all know about it! I mean, some people give me the “side eye” look and some good-natured ribbing when I would bring in reusable water bottles and tupperware. The truth is they really respect my passion for the environment and climate change. A couple of guys have really bought into it. Ryan Braun is one…

GSB: …The former National League MVP.

Brent: Exactly. And our manager Craig Counsell has been involved with Urban Ecology Center!

GSB: Craig Counsell seems like a guy who really gets it in a number of ways. Now are there any guys in the Brewers’ locker room who are deniers or skeptics on climate change? And how do those conversations go, if you even have them?

Brent: Oh there are a few. I’ve gotten into debates on climate with some of the guys. I find them both entertaining and frustrating. On the latter, I just find it is hard to change any minds. It doesn’t get ugly but we just don’t move the needle with deniers. But I think, in the big picture, the pendulum is starting to swing in the direction of sanity and science. And I want to play a part in continuing to move the conversation in the right direction on climate.

GSB: That’s great as the Green-Sports world is desperate for eco-athletes. Of course I hope your career lasts for a long, long time. But as far as your post-baseball career is concerned, does the environment and/or climate change figure into your thinking?

Brent: No doubt about it — 100 percent! I’m interested in environmental consulting, the renewable energy business. It’s early days in terms of my networking; I’ve talked with an environmentally-focused hospital cleaning company. There will be more to come.

GSB: Fantastic! I wish you the best with that, along with your rehab, and getting to the World Series — where hopefully the Brewers will play the Yankees! And, please, keep spreading the Green-Sports word.

Brent: You don’t have to worry about that!

 


 

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Eco-Athlete’s Journey: Stacey Cook, Olympic Skier, Climate Activist

One of GreenSportsBlog’s major initiatives this year is to feature “eco-athletes” whenever we can. They are a small but growing breed and they need the oxygen to share their views and passions when it comes to the climate change fight and other environmental issues.

Winter sports athletes make up a big percentage of the eco-athlete”population. That is no surprise since their playing fields — snowy mountains or valleys — are at high risk due to the effects of climate change. It is great to see alpine and nordic skiers, snowboarders, and more, go outside of their comfort zones by lobbying for climate action in Washington and in state capitols. One such athlete is the recently retired U.S. Olympic downhiller, Stacey Cook.

GreenSportsBlog chatted with Stacey about her journey from tagging along on ski outings with her big brother to developing her own talents on the slopes to discovering her voice beyond skiing through climate change.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Stacey, I am so heartened to see so many elite winter sports athletes getting involved with the climate change issue. And that’s why I am happy to talk with you, an Olympic alpine skier who went way beyond her comfort zone to get involved with climate activism. My guess is you’ve been skiing your whole life. Is that right?

Stacey Cook: Right you are, Lew. I grew up in the Lake Tahoe area of California in a tiny town called Truckee. Snow was a constant so I got into winter sports, skiing in particular, from the time I was four years old. Dad taught my older brother and me — that was the only thing to do in winter — and I had a raw passion for it almost from the get go. And I grew up with great skiers — Julia Mancuso, an Olympic gold medalist in giant slalom, is a lifelong friend.

GSB: Did you go for the alpine events from the beginning — downhill, giant slalom, and slalom — or did you try cross country?

Stacey: Alpine all the way! I loved it. It was total freedom. I was on a team with my older brother and his friends — I was on the slopes from 9-to-5, basically.

 

Cook_Stacey

Stacey Cook (Photo credit: US Ski Team)

 

GSB: Did you know you were good? Were you kicking your brother’s backside?

Stacey: No clue. I did some recreational racing when I was a kid, nothing serious. But I really owe a lot of my success to my older brother Gary — a very strong skier who ended up focusing on football, playing at UNLV plus one season with the Oakland Raiders — I spent so much time chasing him around that I had to get good just to keep up. Someone told my dad he should enter me into a race when I was ten. He did and, you know what? I won!

GSB: WOW!! Did that get you into the competitive youth skiing circuit?

Stacey: Not really. Tell you the truth, I was oblivious to all that. Really, I was passionate but I wasn’t on a travel ski team at all. But what happened was that, in my teens, people I used to beat started to beat me. They were on a team and took it more seriously than I did. And you know what? It pissed me off! So I committed, when I was 16, to make myself a real skier.

GSB: How did you do that?

Stacey: Well, I had a great coach who gave me confidence. So I made a presentation to my parents. I wanted to move to Mammoth Mountain three hours away. I went into the costs, the benefits…

GSB: …How old were you?

Stacey: I was going into my senior year in high school. I had enough credits to graduate after the fall. So after my fall soccer season, I moved to Mammoth on my own and lived with a host family along with other athletes from Washington. Mammoth Resort was founded by Dave McCoy (now 103 years old), who helped back me. It made things much cheaper for my family. So I could follow my passion and become a strong racer. I stayed there and two years later, I made the national team. And from there I went from being unranked to the 2006 Olympics in Torino.

GSB: What event?

Stacey: I was all about the speed events — downhill and Super G.

 

Cook_Stacey 2015

Stacey Cook in action at the 2015 Alpine World Championships in Vail, Colorado (Photo credit: Nathan Bilow, Getty Images)

 

GSB: Wow! A daredevil. High risk, high reward?

Stacey: You know what? I was abnormally healthy over my career — no surgeries — but unfortunately, my crashes came at the Olympics. I crashed in Vancouver in 2010, crashed in practice in Sochi in 2014 and then, in Pyeongchang this year, I got something called “compartment syndrome” in my legs two days before the Games.

GSB: Never heard of it. Sounds serious.

Stacey: It can be very serious. It cuts blood flow to the nerves and muscles. I did 12 hours of rehab a day to try to compete but I couldn’t even do a training run. I was in tears but I was able to make it to the Opening Ceremonies. Which was huge because that was my last Olympics.

GSB: So what to do next? And where does the environment and climate change come in to the mix?

Stacey: Well, I’ve been outside in nature basically my whole life. And my dad was a water fowl hunter, the California Waterfowl Association has a great wetlands and species preservation program. That was my introduction of sorts into environmentalism. But it was traveling all over the world over the many years of my career that really drew my attention to climate change. I saw firsthand how ski communities were being impacted by snow shortages and how that problem was increasing over time.

GSB: That is something I’ve heard from talking to a number of your friends-competitors. So what spurred you to action?

Stacey: I really have to thank Clif Bar, which sponsored me. They were the impetus. Clif makes it easy for athletes to join the climate conversation. I mean, we live in our own bubbles and to take on a complicated issue like climate change is not easy at all. That’s why their resources allowed me to expand my horizons. Plus they have many other athletes in similar situations.

GSB: When did your relationship with Clif, the company with a quintuple bottom line ethos, start?

Stacey: I met folks from the company back in 2008 and loved what they were all about. But Nature Valley was still the US Ski Team sponsor in that category at the time. But when Nature Valley dropped out and Clif replaced them, the door opened and I walked through.

GSB: They are an incredible company.

Stacey: They really are. I spent a lot of time at their headquarters, talking with sports marketing and other folks. They actually listen to your concerns.

GSB: What a concept!

Stacey: Right?? Clif really educated me on climate change. So I was ready this spring when I went to Washington with Protect Our Winters (POW) for the first time to lobby Members of Congress on climate change from a snow sports perspective.

GSB: How did that go?

Stacey: I hate to say it but I was scared. I’m from a tiny town and I’d never done anything like this. I mean, talking to congressmen and women? Senators? Are you kidding?

GSB: I can understand that to a point. I mean you’ve been in the Olympic downhill. THAT’S scary…

Stacey: To you, maybe. But I’ve been skiing my whole life. No, talking to congress members about climate change was much scarier.

GSB: So how did you do?

Stacey: I was a little shaky at first but became energetic by the end. What turned it around was simply telling stories — stories about the changes we’ve seen to the environment. This turned out to be easy. I mean I’ve seen glaciers recede past chair lifts in some areas. And that change happened within the time span of my career. In the end, winter sports athletes are canaries in the coal mine when it comes to climate change. We see its effects first.

 

Cook_Stacey CCL

Stacey Cook (center), alongside four other U.S. Winter Olympians for their lobbying day on Capitol Hill this spring. From left, it’s Maddie Phaneuf (biathlon), David Wise (halfpipe), Stacey Cook, Arielle Gold (snowboard) and Jessie Diggins (cross-country skiing). Protect Our Winters and CLIF helped organize and fund their trip (Photo credit: Citizens’ Climate Lobby)

 

GSB: With whom did you meet?

Stacey: Senators and House members from states with big winter sports industries. We met Dean Heller, Republican senator from Nevada…

GSB:  …He will soon be an ex-senator as he lost his race to Democrat Jacky Rosen…

Stacey: True. We also met with House members from Colorado, Minnesota and New York. We impressed upon them the economic costs of climate change on their economies. We weren’t making any hard asks but I believe we get them and their staffs more engaged on climate than.

GSB: That’s a great start and then I heard you followed it up by lobbying for the bill in the California state legislature in Sacramento that the state be powered 100 percent by renewable energy by 2045.

Stacey: It really was incredible. Ceres, the nonprofit that is helping to transform the economy to build a sustainable future, led the lobbying effort. Clif, Target and Kleiner Perkins

GSB: …The venture capital firm?

Stacey: Yes…They were all involved. I got to learn what big companies are doing around climate change, which was fascinating and impressive. Thing is, Ceres had never used an athlete to help lobby.

GSB: So you were the first? That is SO GREAT!

Stacey: I know! We created a bit of a stir. Having an athlete as part of the team perhaps allowed us to catch the ear of more Assembly members than would have otherwise been the case. And the bill passed the Assembly in late August.

GSB: The California State Senate had already passed its version of the bill back in May 2017 so the Assembly’s passage meant that outgoing Governor Jerry Brown had something to sign. And he did! Congratulations for your role in all this.

 

California SB100

 

Stacey: Thank you, Lew! I can’t wait to see the great things this new law does for the climate, environment and business in my home state.

GSB: What’s up next for you? Running for office?

Stacey: No way! My plans are in flux a bit. For now, I’m continuing to work with Clif, in particular working with other Clif athletes on the environment, helping them get their voices out there. And I will do more with POW. I do know that, whatever my work turns out to be, the environment will be part of it.

 


 

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