GSB News and Notes: FIFA Commits to Climate Neutrality w/ UN; Levi’s Stadium Veggie Rooftop Garden; Zero-Waste Tailgating at Colorado-Boulder

Both the NFL and college football are in full swing. As are the English Premier League, Spain’s La Liga, and all other major European football—as in soccer—leagues. It is therefore only fitting that our GreenSportsBlog News & Notes column be futbol and football heavy. FIFA, the international governing body of world soccer, in partnership with the UN, committed to climate neutrality by mid-century, as well as to reduce carbon emissions at the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Levi’s Stadium, the LEED certified home of the San Francisco 49ers and site of the most recent Super Bowl, became the first NFL stadium to open a rooftop garden. And in a nod to the 50th anniversary of Star Trek, the University of Colorado, Boulder, is going where no sports team has gone before by offering fans a Zero-Waste tailgate zone. 



FIFA, the governing body of world soccer, announced on September 8 that it became the first international sports organization to join the UN climate change secretariat’s Climate Neutral Now initiative. 

Climate Neutral Now represents a global community of corporations, NGOs/non-profits, events and individuals committing to becoming climate neutral by the second half of the 21st century. It launched last September, led by a founding group of corporations, including Microsoft, Sony, the adidas Group and Marks & Spencer. The Athens Marathon became the first major sports event to join.


While mid-century is still 36 years away, FIFA also made a carbon reduction and offsetting pledge for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. As FIFA Secretary General Fatma Samba Diouf Samoura said, “We also commit, as we did in Brazil in 2014, to measuring, reducing and offsetting our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions at the next edition of the FIFA World Cup…Beyond that and through the power of football, we also aim to inspire greater awareness and best practices in sustainability standards.”

Measuring and offsetting GHG emissions are, of course, both crucial, but what’s really interesting to me is the emissions reduction piece. My original reading of FIFA’s statement led me to believe that FIFA would compare emissions from Russia 2018 against Brazil 2014. But, according to Lindita Xhaferi-Salihu of the UN’s Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), “reduction in the Climate Neutral Now context refers to those actions which will be undertaken by the organization (FIFA) to avoid GHG emissions from being generated.”  Once an organization identifies causes and sources of their emissions, they are in a good position to identify opportunities to reduce some of those emissions.” 

So the reduction to which FIFA is referring has nothing to do with 2014—it is all about reducing emissions for Russia 2018 vs. some to be determined benchmark. Per Ms. Xhaferi-Salihu, “FIFA and its partners will, in the near future, publish a projection of for FIFA World Cup 2018 footprint. Once all emissions sources associated with the event are identified, strategies for reducing these emissions will need to be devised. This is a very important step in Climate Neutral Now initiative.”

They then will measure the actual emissions of the event. So it’s Projected Emissions – Emissions Reductions = Actual Emissions. Those emissions would then be compensated for by credible offsets.


Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium, site of the final game of the 2018 FIFA World Cup. FIFA has committed to significant environmental actions and carbon offsets for the 2018 World Cup, on its way to carbon neutrality by mid-century. (Photo credit:

While I do understand that FIFA’s Climate Neutral Now pledge refers to measuring, reducing and offsetting Russia 2018 emissions, I do think it would be most meaningful for mega events like the FIFA World Cup and Olympics to come up with some kind of metric(s) that compare emissions in some meaningful fashion, over time (Brazil 2014 vs. Russia 2018.) Of course venues change, number of attendees change, travel miles to-from and travel within country changes. But perhaps there are ways to take these variables into account to come up with a calculation of carbon footprint intensity per World Cup/Olympics/etc? I’m no expert on the math of it all and I know this type of calculation would be laden with all sorts of assumptions. Still I think this type of analysis would allow organizers of mega sports events to know if they are becoming more energy/carbon footprint efficient over time.



Levi’s Stadium, home of the San Francisco 49ers in Santa Clara, set the bar for state-of-the-art green NFL palaces when it opened in 2014. Its green bona fides are legion—click here to read a GreenSportsBlog review from July 2014 to get a sense of how green the stadium is—and it was awarded LEED Gold certification by the US Green Building Council before it even hosted its first event.

While the Niners are expected to near the bottom of the league this season—they’re 1-1 after getting hammered, 46-27, at Carolina on Sunday—Levi’s Stadium continues to build on its “best in green class” reputation as it became the first in the NFL to open a vegetable garden on the roof—Faithful Farm. The Boston Red Sox, with Fenway Farms, were the first pro team in any sport to have a vegetable rooftop garden.

Writing in the September 8 issue of Ruling SportsAlicia Jessop shared that Faithful Farmlocated on the NRG Solar Terrace “spans 4,000 square-feet [and] since July, has been producing tomato, summer squash, pepper, eggplant and herb crops. Nearly 40 rotational crops and herbs have been planted in the garden, with each ingredient being harvested to use in dishes served at Levi’s Stadium.”


Faithful Farm, the new rooftop garden atop Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, CA, home of the San Francisco 49ers. (Photo credit: San Francisco 49ers)


As Jessop’s notes, Executive Chef Dinari Brown and staff will provide fans with “truffled summer squash and Dungeness crab risotto, ratatouille nicoise, crispy tempura shishito peppers and shichimi dusted colossal prawns and heirloom tomato and fried eggplant napoleon.” 49ers fans can only hope the team’s play is as tasty as the food.



The University of Colorado-Boulder has been a leader of the green-sports movement on campus for several years now. Folsom Field, home of Colorado Buffaloes football, has been Zero-Waste^ since 2008. 

But it’s one thing to go Zero-Waste inside a stadium; it’s quite another to do so in the parking lot. CU has done just that by transforming Franklin Field, the beautiful grass field adjacent to the stadium and a centerpiece of Colorado tailgating, into the Aluminum Can Zone Presented by Ball Corporation.

Franklin Field was a happy place to be on September 10 for two reasons: 

  1. The Buffaloes won their home opener with ease, 56-7 over the Idaho State Bengals, and,
  2. Fans were treated, as they will be all season, to a vehicle-free, family-friendly, and zero-waste tented tailgating experience. The area comes complete with recyclable aluminum containers, compostable food ware (courtesy of CU sponsor EcoProducts, featured in this 2015 GreenSportsBlog story), as well as compost and recycling receptacles. Interactive exhibits provide context for tailgaters, highlighting the sustainability leadership of both CU Athletics and Ball.

But, vehicle free? Now I’m sure some fans come to Colorado games by bicycle with their tailgate fixins’ loaded into their backpacks, but many if not most have to drive to campus. What about them? Not to worry, you car-driving-Buffaloes-fans-who-want-to-tailgate-at-Franklin-Field! You can park in the underground garage of the new, solar-powered Indoor Practice Facility adjacent to the Aluminum Can Zone.


Aerial view of Folsom Field (r), home of University of Colorado Buffaloes football; Franklin Field, site of Zero-Waste, vehicle-free tailgating, to its left (rear-ground); and the solar-powered Indoor Practice Facility in the foreground. (Photo credit: University of Colorado Athletics)


Let’s hope that Zero-Waste tailgating soon spreads from Boulder to a college football stadium near you!

^ Zero-Waste = Diverting 90% or more of waste from the landfill.
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Two Eco-Athletes Who Like to Go Fast Talk Green Sports: Sir Ben Ainslie and Leilani Münter

Eco-athletes—sports figures who take on environmental issues—are a rare breed as compared to athletes who get involved with causes like cancer, domestic violence, and, increasingly, racism. There are several oft-cited reasons: environmental topics can be overly complex; the political nature of “green” issues can be daunting to some athletes; and the relative lack of financial muscle behind environmental causes means athletes often look to those that are better funded.

But there are athletes who, despite the obstacles, take a strong stand on behalf of environmental issues. Two such eco-athletes, Sir Ben Ainslie, skipper of Land Rover BAR, Britain’s challenger for the 35th America’s Cup, and Leilani Münter, the self-described “Eco, Vegan, Hippie Chick with a race car,” met up at an America’s Cup prep race in Chicago in June. They shared the challenges and opportunities around making their sports and teams more sustainable; why sustainability, the environment and climate change resonate with them; and how they can potentially learn from each other.


Sir Ben Ainslie is a man with a laser-like focus.

That focus helped him win sailing gold medals in four straight Olympics and an America’s Cup in 2013 as a member of Oracle Team USA. It is serving him and his team well as he navigates the marathon of training, prep races and finals in his attempt to win Great Britain’s first-ever America’s Cup in 2017 as skipper of the Land Rover BAR team.

But Sir Ben and his equally focused team took a break from training this spring.

To watch a movie.

The squad took in Racing Extinction, the powerful 2015 documentary film that, well, focused attention on the issues of endangered species and mass extinction. These issues are powerful, life affirming motivators for Leilani Münter, the “eco-vegan-hippie chick with a race car” and an on-camera presence in the film.

Sir Ben and the team were moved by the movie—they are supporting the film’s “#StartWith1Thing” challenge, encouraging individuals to take environmental action—and found common cause with Ms. Münter. You see, Land Rover BAR is going for an unprecedented double: win the America’s Cup while, with the help of Exclusive Sustainability Partner 11th Hour Racing, becoming the most sustainable sports team in the UK and beyond.

So when 11th Hour Racing invited Ms. Münter to speak at a public screening of “Racing Extinction” as part of the festivities surrounding the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series races in Chicago in June, a meeting with Sir Ben became a foregone conclusion.

“All the Land Rover BAR team watched ‘Racing Extinction’,” said Sir Ben, “so we all knew Leilani from the documentary. We knew about her terrific sustainability work and that she likes to go fast!”


Sir Ben Ainslie and Leilani Münter discuss pre-race tactics in advance of the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series event in Chicago in June. (Photo credit: HarryKH/Land Rover BAR)



Seeing the film and meeting Ms. Münter also inspired Sir Ben and the team, already at the forefront of Green-Sports, to deepen its commitment to the environment. “[Seeing ‘Racing Extinction’] really drove home a number of issues,” offered Sir Ben, “It means the work we are doing with the team around sustainability – whether that is 100% renewable electricity at our base, eliminating single-use plastics, seeking innovative ways to reduce fuel consumption, researching the life cycle of the materials and boats we use, promoting biodiversity, engaging with our local communities and younger generations, as well as our meatless Mondays that we launched as a result of us watching the film – is all really important.” (See below for a more detailed list of Land Rover BAR’s sustainability initiatives)

That the Land Rover BAR skipper cited her as the inspiration for the team’s move to Meatless Mondays made Ms. Münter’s day. “This makes me so happy!” exclaimed the pioneering eco-stock and Indy car driver. She believes that Land Rover BAR’s high global profile will help plant environmental action seeds in the sailing community and other sports.



The Sir Ben-Leilani Münter conversation covered more than Meatless Mondays, including the common ground sailing and auto-racing share in terms of reducing emissions as well as waste.

Sir Ben picks it up from here: “Both sports are designing, manufacturing and competing in high performance carbon fiber racing machines. Both are powered by fuel – the difference is where we get the fuel from. We obviously use the wind, which is totally renewable – however we do support the test and race boats on the water with fuel powered support rigid inflatable boats (RIBS) and we have looked at innovative ways to reduce these emissions. In addition, we are looking at the end of life of carbon fiber as we want to help drive an industry solution creating a more circular approach to the use of composites before it becomes a major issue. Like us, NASCAR is promoting the use of biofuels as well as solar to power team bases and tracks, which is excellent. And Formula E, a new international open wheel series, uses fully electric cars for their circuit.”

Ms. Münter added that, given Indy cars, like America’s Cup boats are also made of carbon fiber, she hopes to see sailing and auto-racing governing bodies provide encouragement and incentives to teams to recycle carbon fiber boats and race cars at end of life.

Chicago IL. USA. 12th June 2016. The Louis Vuitton America's Cup World Series. LandRover BAR the British America's Cup team skipperd by Ben Ainslie. Shown here celebrating taking 2nd place in the event (Photo by Lloyd Images)

The Land Rover BAR boat foils, rising several feet above Lake Michigan, as it picks up speed during the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series in Chicago. (Photo credit: Lloyd Images/Land Rover BAR)



Preserving endangered species was another topic that animated both Sir Ben and Ms. Münter.

Sir Ben: “We are taking direct action to help reverse the loss of native species at our home base in Portsmouth; housing 1,000 adult oysters as a pilot project to help restore the collapsed Solent oyster fishery which has been affected by environmental changes, predation from invasive non-native species, and unsustainable fishing practices. We also have Bee Hotels, and an urban garden with flowering plants to support the bees. Like all bees, ours are facing massive decline due to habitat loss. The team communicates about all these projects to our fans but also to industry – whether that is sport, the marine industry or the construction industry – our goal is to inspire excellence and drive positive change.”

Ms. Münter takes a more macro, multi-media approach to species preservation, bringing attention to the issue through her film work in Racing Extinction, as well as in writing—her powerful article about the threat of immediate extinction facing the very last Rabbs Fringe-limbed Tree Frog was featured in The Huffington Post.

Her advocacy for the vegan lifestyle, solar power, and electric cars comes through in her public speaking appearances.

This was on display at the recent “Climate and Sports Roundtable,” hosted by the White House Office Office of Science and Technology Policy, at which she touted the benefits of the vegan lifestyle.

Not surprisingly, Leilani Münter “walks the ‘eco, vegan’ walk” in her personal life: The solar panels on the roof of her home provide enough clean energy to power not only her home but also her fully electric Tesla Model S.



If it’s not obvious already, one more thing these two racers share is a willingness; a need to push the envelope. This is the case, no matter if the subject is preserving endangered species or figuring out how to go a couple of millimeters per second faster than before.

And so it was that Eco-Vegan-Hippy Chick with a Race Car got to experience America’s Cup racing up close as she served as Land Rover BAR’s honorary “6th Man” (a guest who’s on board the boat during the actual race alongside the 5-man crew) on one of the two days of America’s Cup World Series racing in Chicago.

“I fell in love with sailing—there was a smile glued on to my face the whole race,” gushed Ms. Münter, “Some parts of it reminded me of a pit stop, the way the guys have to coordinate when the boat is starting or turning. It was like a ballet on water, watching the team maneuver with all of the ropes, never once tripping up. Now I’m a sailing fan and will root hard for Land Rover BAR to take home the America’s Cup.”


Leilani Münter, ready for her turn as the “6th Man” with Land Rover BAR in advance of one of its races at the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series in Chicago in June. (Photo credit: HarryKH/Land Rover BAR)


For his part, Sir Ben was impressed: “It’s tough to be a guest racing on-board the foiling (when the boat is going so fast it literally rises above the surface of the water by 2-3 feet) AC45s – but Leilani did great.” Land Rover BAR also did well, finishing in 2nd place in the field of six behind Artemis Racing of Sweden in Chicago.

As turnabout is fair play, Sir Ben has an open invitation to visit Ms. Münter at her Charlotte, NC home base for a vegan meal and a turn at the wheel of her EV. Of course that might have to wait at least until July 2017 because, between now and then, Sir Ben will be busy training with his Land Rover BAR team and contesting the remaining America’s Cup World Series races^ in the run up to its final push to win the 35th America’s Cup in Bermuda next spring in as sustainable a fashion as possible.

You can follow Land Rover BAR’s sustainability efforts via #RaisingTheBAR.





  • A smart building management system now monitors energy and water consumption, and renewable energy the team’s new home in Portsmouth.
  • Since moving to the team base, 100% of electricity is from renewable sources, 21% of which was generated by the team’s Low Carbon PV panels saving 201 tonnes of CO2e.
  • Waste from the team base was reduced by 52% between 3rd and 4th quarter, 2015.
  • First sports team in the UK to achieve the international ISO20121 certification for sustainable events across all its activities.
  • 9m2 of artificial reef and oyster cages were installed with support from Base Supplier MDL to encourage an increased population of oysters in the Solent region.



  • Testing a new, cleaner, more efficient process to recycle carbon fiber from its resin composite.
  • Creation of first life cycle model for manufacture of test and race boats, to be converted into a marine industry tool with help of Title and Innovation Partner Land Rover.
  • Developed in tandem with Exclusive Technology in Sustainability Partner, BT, the “Virtual Chase” boat will save approximately 0.8 tonnes CO2e per person remaining in Mission Control.


^ Following Chicago, Land Rover BAR won the America’s Cup World Series race in its home base of Portsmouth, England. The team came in 3rd at last weekend’s event in Toulon, France and is in first place in the America’s Cup World Series overall with one more prep race to go in Japan, November 18-20. Points earned in the America’s Cup World Series will count towards the America’s Cup Finals in Bermuda next June.


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The GSB Interview: Jonathan Smith, CEO, Golf Environment Organization

Golf is a sport with unique environmental challenges and opportunities as compared to most others due, in large part, to its close relationship with landscapes, ecology and the natural environment. GreenSportsBlog has been chronicling the efforts, especially in the US, to green the game from tee to, well, green (click here, here and here for examples). Now we turn our attention to the work of the Golf Environment Organization (GEO), the international non-profit that is entirely dedicated to advancement of sustainability in the sport around the world. We spoke with its CEO, Jonathan Smith, about GEO’s programs, which aim to conserve nature and resources and help maximize the positive social and environmental impacts of golf around the world.


GreenSportsBlog: Jonathan, you are a rarity—a true Green-Sports veteran—having been involved since 1996, well before I was even aware of Green-Sports’ existence!

Jonathan Smith: Yes, when you put it that way, I guess I am a bit of a graybeard. I have always loved and participated in sport, playing golf, rugby, cricket and football (soccer) from a young age. I relish the teamwork and tests sport brings, which now feel very relevant to addressing the global sustainability challenges we all face.

GSB: And you come from the Home of Golf, Scotland.

JS: Indeed, and growing up in Scotland it was hard not to get into golf! And I guess to some extent golf played a part in attracting me to University of St. Andrews where I studied Geography. From there I enjoyed summers working at The Open, before moving into environmental management – with a large private landowner and government agencies. I then jumped at the opportunity to combine two great passions when the Scottish Golf Union became the first in Europe to employ a full time Environmental Manager in 1996.


Jonathan Smith, CEO, Golf Environment Organization. (Photo credit: Golf Environment Organization)


GSB: So what did an Environmental Manager do back in ’96?

JS: Well, things were very different then. Club awareness was lower, environmental regulation was a topic of discussion and concern rather than the reality it is now, and peoples’ understanding of sustainability and the inter-relationships between social and environmental issues was less widespread. But, even back then, there was strongly emerging interest, people “naturalizing” courses, becoming more energy efficient and the beginnings of industry wide efforts to get the golf community really proactive in environmental issues.

GSB: So how did the courses, some of which have to be among the most well-loved in the world, react?

JS: They reacted well. Course superintendents in particular have been aware and involved in sustainability for many years, so they wanted support with the “how.” The majority had already bought into the “why”!

GSB: So how did GEO come into being?

JS: It was the coming together of a number of people and organizations worldwide who were interested in collaborating– thinking about the environmental solutions the industry would need and going about creating, testing and improving dedicated industry solutions. We remain extremely grateful for the early and ongoing support offered by The R&A^, with whom we work very closely, European Tour, Rolex and Jacobsen#, now joined by many other partners and supporters.

GSB: How do you go about greening the game and communicating the industry’s increasing greenness, overcoming its real and/or perceived massive water, as well as other environmental footprints?

JS: From GEO’s perspective, we’re here to help add perspective, credibility and new solutions in support of the industry’s efforts. One thing we have seen is that teamwork and collaboration are absolutely vital, and not just within the sport, but externally too. That’s why we spend a lot of time amongst the sustainability mainstream, including the ISEAL Alliance*, WWF, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and The Gold Standard*. Like you, we see the relatively large land area and water footprint (in certain regions) of the sport as very real and legitimate sustainability challenges. But these must be looked at in context, taking into account the sustainability-related positives that are taking place. For the most part, golf is working to utilize land and water resources responsibly and productively – whether through the protection of greenspace and nature; carbon sequestration; air and, contrary to public perception, water quality improvements. And our work goes beyond the environment and takes a more holistic view of sustainability to include the health and wellbeing of golfers; employment and prosperity; and volunteering and social cohesion

GSB: What are some of the sustainability initiatives and solutions GEO has helped to develop for the sport?

JS: Over the last few years, we’ve developed a suite of sustainability solutions and services with our partners, focused on a simple strategy – engage, support, promote and mitigate. We created the OnCourse® solutions platform to provide practical environmental guidance and support to existing and new facilities, as well as a sustainability standards and a certification system for existing and new courses. A new industry climate mitigation scheme will also soon launch as well.

GSB: How does OnCourse® work?

JS: It is a technology platform that provides streamlined sustainability recording and reporting templates such as pesticide use, waste management and water sourcing, combined with best practice guidance to help superintendents and others understand and evaluate existing performance; identify new opportunities; plan, deliver and report improvements. If clubs then choose to become GEO Certified®, which is independently verified, they are able to confidently promote their sustainability leadership to players, governments, and other key stakeholders.

GSB: How many courses are using OnCourse® and are certified through GEO?


GEO Certified flags flying on a GEO Certified Golf Course. (Photo credit: Golf Environment Organization)


JS: Right now there are only around 1,400 clubs using OnCourse® in 40 countries. Most are located in Europe, with the UK and the Netherlands leading the way. Currently 170 facilities hold the GEO Certified® mark, spanning every continent in the world (except the Antarctic!) All GEO Certified® reports are publicly available and they show the wide range of positive activities taking place in golf, from rainwater irrigation and solar powered golf buggies, wildlife protection and reintroduction projects to outdoor classrooms for local school.

GSB: What about making golf tournaments more sustainable? I’d think that kind of high profile would be important for GEO and golf.

JS: Working with Ryder Cup, The Open and a number of European Tour and PGA Tour events, we have developed a deep knowledge and understanding of golf tournaments and how to most effectively and efficiently integrate sustainability. A tournaments standard, support and certification program is well developed and starting to roll out.

GSB: What’s next for GEO?

JS: There is a lot going on just now – it’s a really exciting time actually. We’re upgrading the OnCourse® program to make it even more user friendly and the voluntary sustainability standard for new course developments was released this month, thanks to the help of the world’s leading golf architect and builders associations. And our tournaments program is already generating considerable interest in its early months. New industry campaign materials, climate mitigation scheme, significant external partnerships and endorsements, and more reporting of the real results and positive impacts that this inclusive community initiative is having.

GSB: Wow! That’s a busy summer, indeed. Not much time for golfing, I imagine.

JS: Not at all, I’m afraid.

GSB: How do you communicate what GEO is doing to golf fans? Are there Public Service Announcements (PSAs) that air on golf broadcasts? If not, why not and when will that change?

JS: Our focus for communicating about GEO’s work so far has been with key decision making and leadership groups within the sport – associations and federations, clubs, developments, tournaments etc, engaging and supporting them them rather than promoting directly to golf fans. That said, part of our work is supporting the clubs and tournaments that we work with to communication to fans about the positive work that they do…

GSB: …I get that, of course. But, aside from the incredibly admirable example of the super-green Waste Management Phoenix Open, there’s not all that much about the greening of golf that is communicated to fans at tournaments and even less to the bigger audience—those watching on TV. Finding “eco-golfers” would certainly help. What do you think will get the golf to promote green messaging to fans via broadcast media? How can GEO help make that happen?

JS: There is an increasing amount of sustainability communication going on at golf events, The Open at Royal Troon this year is a good example of that with their GreenLinks program, and European Tour’s GreenDrive as well both of which we’re involved in. But as you say more can be done – this will happen as organizers and venues grow more confident in promoting their good work and as the media begin to realize that not only are there interesting stories out there but that people are interested in hearing them. GEO is working to make that happen by providing credible recognition which clubs and tournaments can be confident in promoting, and by increasing our work to support communications through promoting collective campaigns – including as you suggest – the possibility of ambassadors.


^ Based in St. Andrews, Scotland, The R&A organizes The Open Championship, golf’s oldest major championship and administers the rules of golf.
# Jacobsen, headquartered in Charlotte, NC, is a leader in turf management products.
* Global sustainability standard setting organizations.
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GreenSportsBlogger Interviewed on Green Guy Radio Program

Before Sunday’s heart-stopping Week 1 NFL action, yours truly, the GreenSportsBlogger, took to the airwaves to discuss Green-Sports with Eric Moncrief, host of the Talk With Green Guy radio show.


The NFL season kicked off this weekend with a million games decided by a touchdown or less. Or so it seemed. One of those thisclose affairs involved my New York Jets. Unfortunately, Gang Green became Gang Groan as they dropped a gut wrenching 23-22 home opener to the tough-but-beatable (at least yesterday) Cincinnati Bengals.

Thankfully, especially for the listening audience, Eric Moncrief, host of the Talk With Green Guy radio show on Atlanta’s iHeart Radio station, WGST Talk Radio AM 640, had the good sense to schedule our interview about the intersection of Green + Sports in the morning, three hours before the Jets game. Which meant we were able to have a calm, cool, collected and, I hope, for the listeners’ sakes; captivating 8 minute-ish conversation. It centered on my Green-Sports journey as well as on some of the green initiatives taken by the NFL and a few of its teams. These include not only my Jets (that they share MetLife Stadium with the Giants makes both clubs about as green as you can get from a construction-related carbon emissions point of view) but also Eric’s Atlanta Falcons, who will be moving into the über-green Mercedes-Benz Stadium in 2017.


Eric Moncrief, host of the Talk With Green Guy radio program on Atlanta’s WGST AM 640. (Photo credit: Eric Moncrief)


Click here to find the link to the show. My segment starts at the 28:12 mark but the whole 39 minute show is well worth the listen. In fact, I am confident I am not going out on a limb when I say that if the Jets, and, for that matter, the Falcons (also a Week 1 loser, at home to Tampa Bay), played football at the same level as Eric conducts his show, the two teams’ fan bases would be a heck of a lot happier.

And, speaking of happy, I am glad to report that Eric invited me back for another segment on the Talk With Green Guy radio show in October.


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Green Leaders Talk Green-Sports, Part 4: Caryl Stern, CEO, US Fund for Unicef

Over GreenSportsBlog’s 3+ year existence, we’ve spoken with many leading lights from across the Green-Sports spectrum. But the Green-Sports niche, while growing, is still relatively small. How much does the niche have to grow until it reaches critical mass? What will sports look like once that’s achieved? What are the key challenges the sports green movement has to overcome? To get some answers, GreenSportsBlog is going outside of the Green-Sports world to take a look inward. We are talking, in an occasional series, with leaders from various corners of the sustainability, business and non-profit worlds with little or no connection to sports to get their views on the sports-greening movement. So far, we’ve spoken with Joel Makower, chairman and executive editor of GreenBiz Group; Jerry Taylor, a leading libertarian DC lobbyist who was climate denier/skeptic, “switched teams” and is now a climate change fighting advocate; and Dr. Michael Mann, one of the world’s foremost climate scientists.

For our fourth installment, we bring you Caryl Stern, President and CEO of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF. She shares how sports has helped the U.S. Fund build UNICEF Kid Power, a phenomenal program that’s working towards solutions to two intractable problems that are flip sides of the same coin: inactivity in the U.S. and acute malnutrition around the world. Oh yeah, there are green aspects to UNICEF Kid Power.


EDITOR’S NOTE: Our interview with Caryl Stern is not as tightly focused on the Green-Sports intersection as is typically the case here. Please indulge us as we believe what the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, along with its partners, is doing with Kid Power, is so important to human sustainability, that we need to tell its story. And to do that, we needed Caryl Stern to tell her story. We hope you enjoy the read and feel how I did during the interview, and that is HOPEFUL.


GreenSportsBlog: Caryl, I can’t wait to talk about UNICEF Kid Power—it’s one of the most impressive and potentially impactful public health, human capital development and, yes, green initiatives I’ve ever seen. And I’ve seen plenty of impressive programs. But before we get there, I’d like to hear how you got here—here being the President and CEO of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF.

Caryl Stern: Well, perhaps it’s destiny that I work in the child humanitarian aid and relief world as my mother was a child refugee of the Holocaust, coming to the U.S. by herself when she was only six years old. Of course if it was destiny, I sure wasn’t aware of it when went to SUNY Oneonta for a BA in Studio Art nor when I got my MA at Western Illinois University in College Student Personnel Administration. After that, I got a job at Northwestern, running their non-credit Continuing Ed programs. When I started they offered 100 courses; 2 years later that number was up to more than 1,000. So I figured Higher Education Administration was my thing. I also completed my doctoral course work at Loyola in Chicago.

Eventually I became the Dean of Students at the Polytechnic Institute in New York City. While there, I was asked to join a task force on diversity with Brooklyn Borough President Howard Golden during the Koch administration. From there, I was hired by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).


Caryl Stern, President & CEO, US Fund for UNICEF. (Photo credit: Timothy Greenfield)


GSB: WOW! Getting hired by the ADL, which is most well-known for fighting anti-semitism, seems high up there on the destiny meter. What did you do for them?

CS: I was fortunate to have the opportunity to work on their A World of Difference anti-bias program. It featured an after school and prime time anti-bias TV series, including classroom curriculum and community-based programming. I created the curriculum, was responsible for content development and sold a corporate sponsorship to AT&T. I loved this program. Eventually I became the COO at the ADL.

Then, the U.S. Fund for UNICEF called me with the chance to be their #2 in command. I jumped at the opportunity to join such a great organization. And then, wouldn’t you know it, three weeks later, the CEO left. While they looked for a permanent CEO, I had the interim role.

Now, you have to understand that I’d never worked in the humanitarian aid space before and had never been to Africa nor seen this type of work up close. But, I got to work and I worked hard.

GSB: …I bet you went to Africa pretty quickly…

CS: Correct. And then I got the CEO position. That was almost ten years ago.

GSB: Congratulations! So, you’re the President and CEO of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF. How did you put your stamp on the organization?

CS:  I was so excited to have this opportunity to put children first around the world, supporting UNICEF’s incredible mission, while making positive changes for the organization. To that end, I dismantled the existing, top-down management structure in favor of a more collaborative team approach that allowed managers to make more decisions. We also became much more donor-centric; listening closer to what the donors wanted, which informed our next strategic plan. In turn, this led to the development of meaningful programming that met both donor wants and, most importantly, met the needs of kids around the globe.

GSB: …Sounds very entrepreneurial to me.

CS: Yes, and our success showed we were on to something. We were proud to be able to double our financial results in six years, despite the financial crash.

GSB: Impressive! So, now that we’ve got your and the U.S. Fund for UNICEF’s backstory, let’s talk about UNICEF Kid Power. Where did that come from?

CS: About 2 1/2 years ago, I was presented with two bits of information that were the flip side of the same coin. 1) In the US, 1 in 4 kids are considered “under-active,” which has been a major factor in the epidemic of unhealthy kids here, and 2) In the developing world, 1 in 4 kids are severely malnourished. So I challenged my team to come back to me with ideas for how we could, simultaneously, make a dent in both challenges. And, although I’d love to take credit it was Rajesh Anandan, our Sr. VP of UNICEF Ventures who came up with the innovative idea that became UNICEF Kid Power, which was born in 2014.

GSB: What, exactly, is Kid Power?

CS: In a nutshell, UNICEF Kid Power allows kids to get active and, in the process, save lives. As kids get active with their Kid Power Band – the world’s first Wearable for Good, they earn points that “unlock” packets of Ready to Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF) that UNICEF uses to help malnourished children in the developing world. The more kids move, the more points they earn and the more lives they save – all while learning about global citizenship!

And, Kid Power is Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) compliant, which parents are really grateful for.


US Fund for UNICEF’S Kid Power bands. (Photo credit: US Fund for UNICEF)


GSB: Caryl, this is a BRILLIANT concept! How did the U.S. Fund for UNICEF turn it into reality?

CS: We actually created a startup internally with our Kid Power team and partnered with Calorie Cloud – a nonprofit health startup that aided in the development of the Kid Power technology platform.

Next, our product had to kid-tested, which meant it had to be cool, fun and unbreakable. So we developed a prototype, but then the question became: How do we get it in the hands of kids on a larger scale? We decided to show it to Kathy Kennedy, President of Lucasfilm

GSB: …Which is where Star Wars films reside…

CS: Right…And they have a powerful Force For Change initiative. Kathy saw Kid Power as a perfect program for them. So they became one of our Presenting Sponsors.

GSB: Star Wars? Not too shabby a franchise with which to partner, I’d say. But what’s the Star Wars hook here?

CS: We did special Kid Power Bands in Force for Change editions, including Star Wars black and green.

GSB: Love that! Then what happened.

CS: Then we went the sports route! Specifically we spoke to KJ, Kevin Johnson, mayor of Sacramento, CA and former NBA All Star…

GSB: …and the prime mover behind keeping the NBA Kings in Sacramento, in large part through the building of an über-green new arena, the Golden 1 Center. This is our first green sports mention, more to come! What was Sacramento’s and the Kings’ role?

CS: Oh, Kevin Johnson and the Kings have been terrific! KJ offered to pilot the UNICEF Kid Power school program in Sacramento in the high need, Title 1 schools in the city (at least 70% of students are on supported nutrition programs), and the Kings have served as motivation for the kids. Kings players have gone to schools to celebrate the program and there have been on-court celebrations at halftime at some games.

Also, Arizona State University worked with us on a research study that divided the Sacramento pilot kids into two groups—an experimental group in which kids got the full Kid Power school experience, with the fitness bands and teachers got a laptop and the kids would sync the laptop with their band and activity information, and an aggregate number of steps per class was calculated. Then the kids could see where the packets they unlocked would go in terms of supporting malnourished kids around the world.

The control group got everything minus the altruistic and impact messaging—so they were left with the message that increased activity was just “good for you.” The findings showed that the experimental, “do good” group were 55% more active than their peers in the control group, showing the self-esteem building power of giving kids – especially less fortunate kids – the chance to give back.

After the Sacramento pilot in 2014, we added Boston, Dallas and New York in 2015, and then broke out nationally in 13 cities in spring 2016 with more expansion planned in 2017.

GSB: All of this makes sense on the importance of physical activity. Now, how do you convert physical activity into food packets? What’s the formula?

CS: Great question. It takes approximately 2,400 steps to earn 1 Kid Power Point. When a kid is on a “mission” – a virtual goal-based journey that happens in the UNICEF Kid Power App and highlights a country kids are impacting with RUTF – it takes 10 points to unlock a packet of RUTF. When not on a mission, they still accumulate points and have impact – it takes 25 points to unlock a packet.

The National Institutes of Health recommend that kids aim for around 12,000 steps per day (approximately 5 UNICEF Kid Power Points).

I should note the transformative power of the RUTF that kids are unlocking. It is a protein and vitamin rich peanut paste that’s easy to transport and store, and it tastes good. It has allowed kids to be treated for malnutrition more easily, in their communities, rather than having to travel to a hospital. Malnutrition impacts all aspects of a child’s life – if a child isn’t healthy, the child can’t play. And if a child can’t play, she/he will be lethargic and won’t do well in school.

GSB: Was this still solely funded by Lucasfilm, which is a division of Disney?

CS: We were thankful that Target joined us a Presenting Sponsor and a philanthropic partner, which helped fuel the program’s expansion and allow families everywhere to get active and save lives – in addition to the school program piece. UNICEF Kid Power Bands are available at Target, and $10 of the $39.99 purchase price goes directly to support UNICEF’s nutrition work.

First the bands were only available online, and we saw very high demand. Now, bands are available in all Target stores as well – making it even easier for families to join the team and get active together.

GSB: As you continue to grow, what are your goals? I understand you’ve got 170,000 kids involved. That’s impressive, no doubt about it. And I gotta believe that number can go way up!

CS: Our 170,000 Team Members who have unlocked more than 1.8 million packets of RUTFs. It is estimated that Kid Power has provided a full course of lifesaving nutrition for more than 12,000 kids! 

Our new goal right now is to grow to have 1 million kids with UNICEF Kid Power bands. In addition to our national sponsors, we’ve also been fortunate to have a number of local sponsors that are helping students participate in the school program. And, if schools in more affluent areas want to get involved, they can do so through our partnership with the Scholastic Teacher store.

GSB: 1 million kids sounds more like it; that would mean, what, 10+ million units of RUTFs? Now, what about international growth? I mean I know you’re the U.S. Fund for UNICEF but…

CS: We had international pilots in the Netherlands and Scotland last year, and are considering additional options to engage kids overseas.

GSB: Caryl, UNICEF Kid Power is just fantastic; it may well be the most powerful kids humanitarian relief program I’ve ever heard of. Before we close, let’s talk a bit about the way sports is impacting Kid Power.

CS: Thanks, Lew. We’ve found that adding athletes to the Kid Power equation is its “special sauce.” It gives the program added juice and there’s nothing that can compare to sports in this regard, especially with kids. We’ve been really lucky with great athlete support. I want to make sure to recognize NBA center Tyson Chandler’s support. He loved the idea so much that he brought it to Dallas when he got traded to the Mavericks and got his teammates involved. Now Tyson’s in Phoenix with the Suns and is helping to do the same there.

Our other Kid Power Champions – tasked with cheering on the Team and leading virtual missions – include Maya Moore of the WNBA’s Minnesota Lynx and David “Big Papi” Ortiz of the Red Sox along with Olympians Aly Raisman and Alex Moore, among others. U.S. Fund For UNICEF has also seen great athlete support beyond Kid Power. When the Haiti earthquake struck back in 2010, we saw a big spike in online donations when Samuel Dalembert, an NBA player of Haitian descent, spoke up. The power of sports is unmatched.

DALLAS, TX - MARCH 30: UNICEF Ambassador Tyson Chandler (L) and president and CEO of the U.S Fund for UNICEF Caryl Stern at an event celebrating UNICEF Kid Power at Esperanza Hope Medrano Elementary School on March 30, 2015 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Peter Larsen/Getty Images for UNICEF)

UNICEF Ambassador Tyson Chandler (L) and Caryl Stern at an event in March, 2015 celebrating UNICEF Kid Power at Esperanza Hope Medrano Elementary School in Dallas, TX. (Photo credit: Peter Larsen/Getty Images for UNICEF)


GSB: And, finally, let’s talk Kid Power and Green-Sports…

CS: There are several green aspects to UNICEF Kid Power. Certainly getting kids to get more active, including walking, means they will be driven less, which means a lower carbon footprint…

GSB:…Something that could be calculated at some point.

CS: …And if kids get outside more, part of being outside could well mean being in nature and gaining an early appreciation for it. Right now, many underprivileged kids may not have exposure to nature. Turning that around will help the next generation become more environmentally conscious. And, on the undernourished side of the equation, we’re already seeing increased malnutrition in many areas because of El Niño and other extreme weather events that are being exacerbated and intensified by climate change. We want to ensure UNICEF has the resources to ensure that every child can survive and thrive. By getting kids to be part of the solution to end global malnutrition, we hope to do just that.

GSB: Well here’s hoping—and betting—that Kid Power will help kids in the developed world have a stronger appreciation for the environment, which will lead some of them to come up with ways to successfully fight climate change, to the benefit of kids in the developing world. THAT’S Kid Power!



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Greening of Golf Continues: PGA of America and Constellation Partner on Sustainability

The PGA of America announced what it called a “transformative” partnership with Constellation in which the energy services company became the PGA’s Official Energy Provider and Sustainability Partner. GreenSportsBlog attended the New York City press conference on September 1 at which top executives from the PGA, Constellation and the Green Sports Alliance discussed the multi-year partnership’s potential to take the already-greening golf industry to the next level.


Constellation, a subsidiary of Exelon (NYSE: EXC) and the largest competitive energy supplier in the US, is a leader among corporations at the intersection of Green + Sports. Its groundbreaking sustainability partnership with the NHL, launched in 2014, has helped the league move towards carbon neutrality, a first for any North American professional sports league.

Last Thursday, the company added to its roster of high profile Green-Sports initiatives by becoming the Official Energy Provider and Sustainability Partner of the PGA of America.

Founded in 1916, the PGA of America bills itself “as the largest working sports organization in the world, comprised of more than 28,000 dedicated men and women promoting the game of golf (i.e. teaching pros, club professionals, etc.) to everyone, everywhere.” It manages the PGA Championship, the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship, and the Ryder Cup when it is contested in the USA#. And there are 10,000 golf courses with which it is affiliated.

Constellation will help the PGA of America minimize the environmental impact of those signature events through a variety of measures, including the deployment of energy efficiency technologies and the use of Green-e® Energy Certified Renewable Energy Credits or RECs. The company will also help green the PGA of America headquarters in Palm Beach Gardens, FL and properties such as Valhalla Golf Club in the Louisville, KY area. The partnership will tee off soon: Constellation is working to minimize the carbon footprint at the 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, MN which takes place September 27-October 2.


Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, MN., site of the 2016 Ryder Cup, the first event to benefit from the PGA of America-Constellation sustainability partnership. (Photo credit: Golf Advisor)


Pete Bevacqua, CEO of the PGA of America, sees the partnership with Constellation, and the greening of golf more broadly, as essential to growing the game in the future. “Smart use of energy is a global trend. Golf is an energy intensive industry; we use a lot of power, water, acreage. This means we can do better and with Constellation we will,” said Bevacqua, “It’s no secret we have to attract younger players and young people come up to me often, asking what we are doing for the environment. We believe this greening effort will help us do this.”

Avid golfer Joe Nigro, CEO of Constellation, said greening the PGA of America is a challenge the company is anxious to take on, even though it will be a harder job than greening the NHL has turned out to be. This makes sense as there are thousands of courses staffed by PGA professionals as compared to only 30 NHL arenas: “While we won’t be able to walk in right away and conduct energy audits at all of the facilities with PGA professionals, we will start off with high-profile facilities like the headquarters and marquee courses and events; and then broaden our efforts from there. Water usage at golf courses is a tremendous expense and, in many areas of the country, in scarce supply; we can help make courses much more water efficient. Same thing with buildings in terms of heating, cooling and electricity usage. No matter the PGA of America venue, we will go in, benchmark all current energy usage and then track the improvements over time.”

<> at Chelsea Piers on September 1, 2016 in New York City.

Joe Nigro (l), CEO of Constellation, and Pete Bevacqua, CEO of the PGA of America flank the Ryder Cup at the New York City press conference at which they announced their multi-year sustainability partnership. (Photo credit: PGA of America)


The Green Sports Alliance’s Justin Zeulner brought the fans into the sustainability action, adding the “PGA of America now has a platform to ask its millions of fans to take green actions.” Amen!



It is great to see the PGA of America taking big, greening steps with its Constellation partnership. Yet, my skeptical eyebrows were raised when, during the remarks from Messrs. Bevacqua, Nigro and Zeulner, the words “climate” and “change” were not uttered once. This is hardly unique to the PGA of America. Many sports leagues and organizations talk green and take great green actions without mentioning climate change—which is the main reason, it seems to me, to go green in the first place.

Why the reticence? Here is just one GreenSportsBlogger’s opinion: More than anything, I think it’s fear of a backlash by deniers and skeptics who are, in the main, Republican voters. If my hunch is correct, this fear, while perhaps rational back in 2004 or even 2012, is now misplaced: Recent polling shows solid majorities of Americans believe climate change to be real and human caused (click here for results of a March, 2016 Gallup poll that bears this out.) Polls also show Republicans in 2016 are significantly 1) more concerned about climate change and, 2) more likely to believe its effects have already begun than they were in 2015. And what about the young people Pete Bevacqua mentioned as being key to golf’s future? According to an ABC News/Washington Post poll taken last November, “76 percent of 18‐29 year olds say climate change is a serious problem facing America, with 63 percent calling it a very serious problem.”

So, there’s no reason for the PGA of America, or any sports organization involved with greening efforts (which is to say just about all of them) to be afraid of saying “climate change.” The same holds true for Constellation.

The good news is, when asked about the absence of “climate change” from their talks, neither Nigro nor Bevacqua waffled. Here’s Nigro: “We believe climate change is real. Our efforts with PGA of America will on reducing carbon emissions. In so doing, we aim to bring the golf industry together to share best, sustainable practices.” Bevacqua sees greening and the climate change fight as doing right and doing good—for business: “While the PGA of America obviously can’t solve climate change by ourselves, we will, with Constellation’s help, do better, do what we can. It’s the right, moral thing to do and it will be good for business as well.” On the latter point, golf courses in the United States spend, on average, more than $54,000 annually on electricity. There is a wide range of contributing factors that make up that number, but on average, courses could see savings of 20 – 30 percent through energy efficiency improvements from the Constellation partnership.

And here’s some more good, green golf news: The PGA of America plans to tell its/Constellation’s greening story to its various stakeholders at the 2016 Ryder Cup. Per Bevacqua, “we will share our sustainability programs at the Ryder Cup on-site, at our corporate hospitality village, to the golf professionals and the industry and on NBC.”

The Ryder Cup just became a lot more interesting to GreenSportsBlog.


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The GSB Interview: Brandon Igdalsky, President/CEO, Pocono Raceway

What If I Told You* that one of the greenest sports venues in the US, if not the world, was an auto racing track in the Pocono Mountains of Northeast Pennsylvania? Skeptical, right? You won’t be after meeting Brandon Igdalsky, President and CEO of Pocono Raceway in today’s GSB Interview.


GreenSportsBlog: The story of how Pocono Raceway became one of the greenest sports venues in the US has to be a fascinating one! So Brandon, how did it begin?

Brandon Igdalsky: It started with my grandparents, Doctors Joe and Rose Mattioli. They were professionals in Philadelphia—Joe, also simply known as “Doc”, was a dentist, Rose a podiatrist. They invested in the Poconos back then and, in so doing, got involved as investors in the raceway. By the mid 60s, they’d taken control.

GSB: A dentist and a podiatrist running a raceway. Who’da thunk it? Did your mom or dad take over?

BI: Nope. It mostly skipped a generation— My mother and my aunt are both involved in various aspects of the company and also serve on our board. But my brother Nick, now the EVP and Chief Operating Officer, and I got the bug from a young age, working there during the summers. In fact I remember clearly the date—June 17, 1989. My grandpa said “you’re working with us.” I was 13. So I picked garbage, worked in the sewer plant, cutting the grass…

GSB: …All of the glamour jobs!

BI: Exactly!

GSB: So did you go straight into the business after high school or college?

BI: No, I tried a bunch of things, especially in the restaurant business, working both in Philly and the Poconos. But, ultimately, I came back to the raceway and to work with my grandfather.

GSB: Were you an auto racing fan growing up?

BI: Oh yeah, I loved auto racing, especially from being around it up close.

Brandon_Image (002)

Brandon Igdalsky, President and CEO of Pocono Raceway. (Photo credit: Pocono Raceway)


GSB: Where did the green piece of the story come in?

BI: Again, it goes back to when I was a kid. We had recycling bins, going way back in our neighborhood growing up.

GSB: …Pocono Raceway was ahead of the green game even back in the 70s!

BI: More like the 90’s. Of course I didn’t look at it that way; I just thought recycling bins were cool. And then, in my late teens, early 20s, I became more of an environmentalist. It came from being out in the Poconos. It’s just so beautiful and, well, green. And I’m an avid fisherman. So, put it altogether, I felt that we absolutely had to keep the Poconos pristine and healthy. There was no other option.

GSB: So once you had moved into management, was “going green” at Pocono Raceway your initiative and was it a natural extension of your personal passion for the environment once you got involved with running the place?

BI: Well, Doc also was very much behind our move to go green and it certainly was in the back of my head as I started to move up in the organization. Back in the early-to-mid 2000s, we partnered with Pepsi and Waste Management with our initial recycling program. But we wanted to go bigger than recycling and the way we looked at it, the way to do that was to go big with solar power.

GSB: On-site solar? At a raceway?

BI: Yes!

GSB: When and why did you come to solar as a solution?

BI: Great questions. In 2008, Pennsylvania started to deregulate the power market with the effects being felt in 2009-2010; the result being that electric bills were going to go way up; 30-45% in some cases.

GSB: I would’ve thought deregulation would mean lower prices. I guess I would’ve been wrong!

BI: You would’ve been. Anyway, back in the mid 2000s, I had been out in California, noticed that solar and wind were growing out there, also geo-thermal. By 2008, I could see that wind and solar were coming into their own. So, that October, I was down getting a cheesesteak in Philly…

GSB: …At Geno’s?

BI: No, Mama’s in Belmont. This was the day of the Phillies championship parade after they won the World Series—I’m a big Phillies, Eagles, and Flyers fan. I’m there and I over hear a guy at a table close by talking about solar. Turns out he was developing a 10 megawatt (mW) site not far from the raceway. We met with him a couple of times. Then out of the blue I catch up with a guy I knew growing up who had been in the racing business. He mentioned that his brother was developing solar projects. So I had a meeting with them. I asked him a ton of questions and I got the answers we needed. And off we went into the solar business.

GSB: Was Doc still in the picture at that time? If so, what did he think of all this And what did “going off into solar” entail?

BI: Yes, Doc was very much involved and in favor of going solar. We started with the idea of a 350 kW system on the garage area’s roofs. Then Doc asked how big can we go if we used some of the old parking lots that we didn’t need any longer. So almost 3 mW it was!

GSB: That actually is a pretty big start. How many event days do you have per year?

BI: Our biggest events are two NASCAR and one INDYCAR (open wheel) event weekends. Then we have smaller events going on almost every day between April and October, with 250-300 track days in that time period.

GSB: Were you looking to generate all of your electricity via solar or, as most sports facilities with on site solar do, generate only a portion and use the grid for the rest?

BI: Remember, I said we wanted to go big; we planned to generate all of our electricity on site, with solar. We have a 2.997 mW system that powers the whole operation at Pocono Raceway. In fact, we haven’t seen a power bill since 2010.

Solar Farm_8

Solar panels cover an abandoned former parking lot at Pocono Raceway. In August of 2010, it became the first racing facility to rely on solar power to run 100% of its facility. (Photo credit: Pocono Raceway)


GSB: Holy COW! That’s incredible and fantastic! It reflects, intentionally or not, the ethos of the 100% Sport initiative (#Go100Percent) that encourages sports venues and teams, and through them, the fans, to take positive environmental actions, including installing renewable energy.  How does this work financially? If you haven’t paid a power bill since 2010, you couldn’t have done a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA, the most common form of solar financing nowadays in which the residential or commercial customer pays nothing up front but agrees to buy the electricity that comes from the solar system for a 20- or 30-year period at an agreed upon price, with modest levels of inflation built in). Did you buy the system? That must’ve cost a fortune!

BI: We could’ve done a PPA but we chose to build and own it—that was what ‘Doc’ wanted. It was a $15.6 million project, all in. This generated not only power but also local jobs. And, whenever possible, we’ve used US-made components: solar panels from Ohio, steel and aluminum from California, and wood from sustainable forests in the northwest. The project was started in April 2010 and we were up in running by August. We also sell power back to the grid but, unfortunately, the Solar Renewable Energy Credit, or SREC market is in the dumps right now in Pennsylvania. The SREC price used to be $350; now it’s down to $12. The Pennsylvania Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard (AEPS) is not great. We have open borders (meaning out-of-state solar producers can sell SRECS in Pennsylvania,) with low demand and lots of supply. We are working with our legislature to try to right the ship and look long term.

GSB: So solar has not been a money maker for Pocono Raceway as yet?

BI: Not yet; we still haven’t reached break even financially. It’s not about the financial gains for us. Both Doc and I felt it was the right thing to do and I would do it again. And the PR value has been phenomenal.

GSB: Talk about the PR—how have your fans reacted?

BI: It’s very positive with the fans. They talk about it all the time. And now, over by the panels, we’ve got sheep roaming during the summer. No need to cut the grass in there, 50 sheep do it all summer for us. It’s really changed the environment around the racetrack and for the better. Also our fans, by seeing the way we do things, are greener than they ever were. When RVs and campers come into the parking lot, they get recycling bags in their welcome packs and they use them.

GSB: What kind of waste diversion rates do you have?

BI: We are just starting to really track it this year; our goal is to be at 75% diversion by the end of 2018. We are sitting close to 15% now and growing every year.

GSB: To get to that level, you’re going to have to compost. Have you started?

BI: We’re composting starting this year and expect to ramp up next year. We also donate more than 5,000 lbs. of unused food annually. And we have a long term plan to buy from local food growers right down the road so we’re going local whenever we can.

GSB: This is all FANTASTIC. Really. But I’m feeling a bit of a disconnect. And that is this: NASCAR is going green. Pocono Raceway is über-green. And I’ve seen the stats that NASCAR fans are greener than the average American. But my gut tells me something different; that NASCAR fans are Donald Trump voters (the most recent polling I’ve seen on this goes back to September, 2015, before the primaries began but it was Trump 44%, Hillary Clinton 10.4%, Ben Carson 7% and Bernie Sanders at 4%) and Trump says climate change is a hoax. And Brian France, NASCAR’s CEO, personally endorsed Trump. Please help me out here…

BI: …Well, there’s a lot to unpack. On the ground, at the track NASCAR has done a great job greening its operations. Recycling motor oil, tires, etc. They were doing that before NASCAR Green started in 2008. NASCAR Green has taken things to the next level. Now, on Trump, I’m not going to get into it that deeply on the national scene. But I will tell you, I do a fair amount lobbying at the state level in Harrisburg on behalf of renewable energy and a strong Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard (AEPS) and I see a shift, among the Ds (democrats) who were slow on this issue and even among Rs (republicans) who have mainly been opposed. The staunchness of the opposition is lessening, I can feel it, especially among the younger legislators. So I’m upbeat.

GSB: Sounds like your Grandpa! I hope other track operators follow your and Doc’s lead. Thank you so much, Brandon!


* I always wanted to use the “What if I told you…” line from ads for the ESPN 30-for-30 sports documentary series line in a GreenSportsBlog post!

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