The GSB Interview: David Muller, Green-Sports-Corporate Partner Matchmaker

David Muller has successfully shown sports teams, venues, and leagues, as well as corporations large and small, the value of attaching themselves to the Green-Sports Movement. After playing a key role in building the Green Sports Alliance from start up to mature force, Muller went off on his own to increase his impact. We sat down with Muller to get his take on the Movement, where it’s going and what he sees his role as being.

 

GreenSportsBlog: David, how did a kid from Springfield, IL find his way to the epicenter of the Green-Sports Movement?

David Muller: Things certainly didn’t start out that way. Yes, I am from Springfield. Grew up a Bulls fan during the Jordan Years, and of course love the Bears and White Sox too. But I didn’t intend to work in sports at all. I wanted to move west and went to Lewis & Clark College in Portland, OR as a Religious Studies major. Thought I would go the academia route but you know what? Whenever I looked at an academic, they seemed so unhappy—bored, really, and removed from the real world. So I ditched that plan and wandered—worked in education and journalism, taught English in Argentina, then worked in software project management. Over time I came to the conclusion that I needed to work in sustainability in some way, shape or form. Ended up going to the Bainbridge Graduate Institute’s (BGI) Graduate Business School for Sustainability in Seattle. Now part of Presidio Graduate School, I was attracted to it because it embedded sustainability in every aspect of the curriculum with the goal of making the world a better place through business, or “changing business for good” as the motto goes.

GSB: That’s a lofty goal, indeed…

DM: No doubt about it. They really want to change business from the inside out.

GSB: So how did you go from BGI to the Green Sports Alliance?

DM: During my time at BGI, Jason Twill came to speak. He was working at Vulcan

GSB: …Vulcan is Paul Allen’s company, Allen being one of the co-founders of Microsoft.

DM: Correct. Included among Vulcan’s assets at the time were the Seattle Seahawks, Seattle Sounders and the Portland Trail Blazers. Twill worked for Allen at Vulcan and was one of the co-founders of the GSA. He made the point that sports can change the world; that it can be a powerful platform for social change. I got it immediately, being an avid sports fan, having experienced in person and up close the power of sports to be a great unifier. Twill also said, “If you hear someone speak that inspires you, reach out to him/her.” So I took him at his word and did just that. The GSA hadn’t even launched yet, but Jason invited me to a board meeting/workshop. Soon enough I was an intern, there for its birth. And 9 months later, I was the second-ever staffer behind the original Executive Director Martin Tull.

GSB: What was your role there?

DM: I started out as a Jack-of-all-Trades, handling communications, writing blogs, and researching the ‘state of the state’ of the fledgling Green Sports Movement. I developed and managed the webinar program from its inception, focusing on the key identified impact areas of waste, energy, water, purchasing, transportation, and fan engagement, and featuring leading practitioners and successful case studies. We secured some terrific speakers early on, including several GMs and Directors of Operations of major professional sports venues, executives from international corporations like Aramark and Waste Management, as well as leading environmental NGOS and the U.S. EPA—and we quickly built a solid audience.

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David Muller (Photo credit: Matt Cohen)

 

GSB: How many people attend those webinars?

DM: We started with an audience of 20-30; as of the spring 2016, we were getting 150-200 people per webinar. And then I took on generating memberships among teams, venues and leagues.

GSB: How did you do there?

DM: Well, from about 20 members when I came on board in 2011 as Membership Director, the GSA grew to nearly 400 members as of 2016.

GSB: That’s really impressive, David. Congratulations! How much did the memberships go for?

DM: There were two levels: Basic was $500/year and Premier went for $2,500. Premier members got a deeper level of direct support on greening initiatives from myself and other staff, as well as more significant promotion through the GSA website, public communications, and events.

GSB: What kind of services did the GSA offer its members?

DM: As far as the team and venue members were concerned, the we helped them reach their sustainability commitments and goals, whether it be recycling, composting, energy efficiency, etc. We really became sustainability consultants for stadium operators who increasingly were getting the direction from team management that they needed to take smart and fiscally responsible actions to reduce environmental impacts.

GSB: And they weren’t equipped to do so…

DM: Well, we provided the sustainability expertise they needed by reviewing their operations, examining their supply chain, researching available grants and incentives, etc.

GSB: At $500-$2,500 per year, that’s a great bargain!

DM: We thought so. And the spirit of collaboration among GSA members and staff was incredible.

GSB: Can you share a specific example of how you and the GSA worked with a team?

DM: Ah, it’s tough to pick out just one…

GSB: That’s why I ask the tough questions!

DM: OK, I really enjoyed working with the Baltimore Ravens, M&T Bank Stadium and the Maryland Stadium Authority. My key contact was Jeff Provenzano, who at the time was running Stadium Operations at M&T Bank Stadium. When we first met in Baltimore, we spoke for almost three hours about how Jeff and his team, who already helped make the operations more efficient, needed to secure the investments to take their greening program to the next level. It was invigorating, really.

GSB: Did the Ravens buy in?

DM: The Ravens owners challenged the stadium ops team to prove greening measures could save them money. So, Jeff and his team showed them how this could work with a modest investment and a terrific pay off. The entire staff at the stadium was engaged in a massive effort to lower its energy usage. It started off with little things like closing doors when leaving the office, turning lights off, reporting spaces that were being heated/cooled even though no one spent any significant time there (e.g. supply closets). Over several months, they reduced their energy usage by some 40-50%, which translated to an annual savings of ~$500,000—or about the cost of a rookie contract at the time.

GSB: I bet that got their attention.

DM: No doubt about it. Ownership embraced this and agreed to invest some capital in the program. They decided to go for LEED certification for existing buildings, but in order to achieve it, they needed access to a substantial amount of comparison data from other stadiums. In the spirit of collaboration that really defined the GSA at the time, I was able to work with other GSA members and obtain the relevant, sensitive data the crew in Baltimore needed for their LEED application, and they were able to attain Gold status a year or two later.

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M&T Bank Stadium, now the LEED Gold certified home of the Baltimore Ravens, thanks in part to the work of David Muller and the Green Sports Alliance. (Photo credit: Baltimore Sun)

 

GSB: That’s a great story; one that the NFL should’ve told. Turning to the annual GSA Summit; that must also have been part of your responsibilities, no?

DM: Absolutely. The GSA was a very a small team the first few years, so everyone had to pitch in. We only had about three or four months of planning time for the first summit in Portland in 2011. Despite the short lead-time it turned out to be a big success—and we surprisingly turned a meaningful profit, mainly through getting the sports supply chain as sponsors/exhibitors–the Aramarks and Waste Managements of the world.

GSB: Did you manage that as well?

DM: No, sponsorships were mainly the responsibility of Martin Tull at the time, while I handled the memberships and communications.

GSB: As the Summit grew over time, with 700-800 attendees, the responsibilities must’ve grown with it.

DM: No doubt about it. I played a central role in designing the program, securing speakers, writing up session descriptions, coordinating volunteers, that sort of thing. And everyone else on the GSA team was multi-tasking as well. It was lots of work but it was also a lot of fun as we were all mission-driven and riding this rapidly-rising wave of engagement and activity.

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David Muller (l) presenting University of California, Berkeley with the Pac-12 Zero-Waste Award, at the 2015 Green Sports Alliance Summit in Chicago. (Photo credit: David Muller)

 

GSB: I can imagine. Why did you end up leaving GSA?

DM: Well, over time, in large part because of how many members we brought in while still maintaining a very small staff, the GSA became more focused on PR and storytelling—which they’re good at and is important—while moving away from the consulting, advisory, and operations support work. We simply didn’t have the capacity to continue the same level of service to individual members.

GSB: …Like what you did with the Ravens?

DM: Yes. And that’s what I was most interested in doing. Plus, I was also interested in the health and wellness aspects of sustainability and seeing how sports venues, and everyone who spends time in them, could benefit by focusing on people’s health and wellness within their operations, be it that of staff, fans, the active roster, etc. So, I left GSA last summer and became a sustainability-focused consultant. I’ve worked with small-to-medium sized health and wellness organizations including Green Seal, Delos/International WELL Building Institute (IWBI), and AtmosAir—to help them with market research and also how to compellingly present what they offer to sports venues.

GSB: I gotta believe sports venues and teams want to keep their athletes healthy—and their fans, for that matter. Good niche. Talk about your involvement in Sport and Sustainability International or SandSI.

DM: SandSI is an outgrowth of work I did in Europe in the spring of 2015 with Allen Hershkowitz…

GSB: Then the President of GSA.

DM: Yes. Allen, as well as Alice Henly, who also worked with Allen at the NRDC before coming to the GSA. I had connected in late 2014 with Neil Beecroft, who was the Sustainability Manager of UEFA at the time.

GSB: And, shameless plug, Neil’s a GreenSportsBlog interviewee.

DM: Yes. So in conversation with Neil, we kind of realized that while Europe is ahead of the U.S. in terms of environmental concern and government action, it was behind in Green-Sports. So, we accepted Neil’s invitation to meet with him and other leaders of the European Green-Sports Movement in Lausanne, Switzerland, as well as in Paris and London.

GSB: Lausanne is the capital of European sports, home of the IOC, FIFA and UEFA.

DM: The European sports entities, to a person, said “we need help” with greening. We were excited about sharing the knowledge we had gained over the previous few years, and making the GSA a truly global organization. But the GSA felt, at the time, that there was still a lot more to do in North America, and didn’t see an immediate ROI, so the European work was put on the back burner.

GSB: And, Allen, having left GSA, became one of the prime movers of SandSI.

DM: Yes. It’s still early days but things have really heated up over the past six months or so. I am an Organizing Committee member, and am helping develop the membership program for sports entities as well as corporations and NGOs.

GSB: Aside from the geographic differences, what do you see as the main distinctions between SandSI and GSA?

DM: I’d say the main differentiator is that SandSI takes a broader view of sustainability than the GSA. SandSI takes a “Triple Bottom Line” approach, considering social sustainability and ethics on an equal level with environmental and economic sustainability. The GSA made a strategic decision very early to become experts on the environmental side only, which made good sense at the time as a start-up trying to gain relevance. But I think an environmental-only approach puts a ceiling on what you can accomplish, because legitimate sustainability is comprehensive at its core, and the best environmental policies are always at risk of backsliding or discontinuation if the people responsible for carrying them out aren’t well-taken care of themselves.

GSB: I think that’s smart overall but my fear is that environment, and in particular, climate change, could be de-emphasized—just when the opposite is necessary.

DM: Oh don’t worry, SandSI places great priority on taking on climate change! But I think people often forgot that environmentalism is still ultimately about people, about keeping the environment clean and stable in order for humans to thrive. It’s not about saving the Earth for Earth’s sake (in the geologic timeframe, all of human history is but a blip), it’s about keeping the Earth livable so that our children, grandchildren, and grandchildren’s grandchildren have the opportunity to lead healthy, happy, meaningful lives as well. It is for them, as well as those already suffering from its impacts right now, that we confront climate change with all our resolve and ingenuity.

GSB: Amen!

 

 


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GSB News and Notes: Home of Cricket Goes to Bat vs. Climate Change; Tokyo 2020 Medals to be Made from Cell Phones; WeTap Presses for More Water Fountains at Stadiums

GSB News & Notes spans the globe, from London to Tokyo to Los Angeles. Lord’s, England’s “Home of Cricket” joins the fight against climate change. Olympic and Paralympic medals for the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympic Games will be made from recycled mobile phones. And WeTap, a Los Angeles-based non-profit, that promotes the availability of clean, fresh, reliable drinking water for kids, is pushing the Dodgers to improve access to drinking fountains.

 

ENGLAND’S HOME OF CRICKET STEPS UP TO CLIMATE CHANGE FIGHT

Lord’s Cricket Ground is “The Home of Cricket.” The managers of the London-based stadium and its prime occupant, Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), are working to fight and adapt to climate change. Their goal is to do what they can to avert more damage from the severe weather that has already cost millions of pounds and wrecked several historic cricket grounds.

lords

Lord’s Cricket Ground in London. (Photo credit: Lord’s Cricket Ground)

 

According to a February 6 story in Bloomberg from Jess Shankleman, the club and Lord’s signed an agreement with EDF Energy Plc that shifts its electricity consumption to 100 percent renewable energy. Lord’s made the move after an analysis showed storms and flooding linked to climate change caused more than 3.5 million pounds ($US4.3 million) of damage across 57 English cricket clubs in a single stormy month in 2015.

“We know climate change made the record wet weather in December 2015 considerably more likely,” said Piers Forster, director of the Priestley International Center for Climate at the University of Leeds, in a statement released by a group of civic groups called The Climate Coalition. “U.K. weather will always bowl us the odd googly^, but climate change is making them harder to defend against.

Shankleman noted that the England & Wales Cricket Board contributed more than 1 million pounds to 57 cricket clubs hit by flooding in 2016 (after an unusually wet 2015-16 winter, abetted by Storm Desmond) and has earmarked an additional 1.6 million pounds for this year. The Corbridge Cricket Club in Northumberland, the northernmost county of England, was forced to demolish a 130 year-old club house following Storm Desmond.

Russell Seymour, sustainability manager for MCC, told Bloomberg, that even though Lord’s wasn’t hit by Desmond, “it wants to raise awareness of the impacts that climate change could have on the sport.” 

It is doing so by mounting solar panels on top of Lord’s renovated Warner Stand that will generate both electricity and hot water. MCC is also installing a ground source heat pump to provide heating and cooling for the building.

_

2020 SUMMER OLYMPIC MEDALS TO BE MADE FROM RECYCLED E-WASTE

Olympic host cities have traditionally obtained the metal from for their medals by contracting with mining firms to unearth new gold, silver and bronze.

Not the organizers of the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

The Japanese public is being asked to donate old phones and small appliances to gather the over two tons of gold, silver and bronze for the more than 5,000 medals that will be awarded at the 2020 Games. According to a BBC report on February 2, the Olympic Medals project hopes to promote sustainability, build an appreciation among the Japanese public of their country’s relative lack of mineral resources, and to reduce costs.

Starting in April, specially marked collection boxes will be placed in telecom stores and other retail destinations and will remain there until the required amount of metal has been collected.

My guess is they’ll get to their number sooner rather than later.

There are an awful lot of cell phones in Japan to potentially recycle—in 2013, there were 147 million# for a population of 127 million (1.15 phones per capita). And the Japanese are gold medalists when it comes to recycling: As of 2007, the country diverted an incredible 98% of its metals* from the landfill, including cell phones.

Still, tying recycling to the Olympics is a brilliant idea.

“A project that allows the people of Japan to take part in creating the medals is really good,” said Tokyo 2020 sports director Koji Murofushi, “There’s a limit on the resources of our earth, so recycling these things will make us think about the environment.”

cell-phones-digital-trends

The Japanese people are being asked to recycle electronics, including cell phones… (Photo credit: Digital Trends)

 

olympic-medals-inhabitat

…In order to make the medals that will be awarded at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. (Photo credit: Inhabitat)

 

WETAP PUSHES FOR MORE DRINKING FOUNTAINS, LESS BOTTLED WATER, AT SCHOOLS, STADIUMS

WeTap, a Los Angeles-based non-profit that is the brainchild of Founding Director Evelyn Wendel, exists to improve awareness, access and use of public drinking fountains, reducing dependence on single-use plastic bottled water, while improving public health.

Wendel’s inspiration came while her kids were in middle school in the late 2000s. She noticed “every day at lunch time, the school cafeteria area would be littered with single use plastic.” This led to her realization that, if her children’s school had an issue with discarded water bottles, then all L.A. schools would likely have similar problems. This would, per Wendel, include schools in inner city urban environments, “where children are often raised in poverty and where school lunch programs are their only source of nutrition and hydration.” She saw that “a big part of the single use plastic water bottle dependence problem could be solved by making systematic improvements to the condition and maintenance programs of drinking fountains at schools, in playgrounds and parks and other outside venues, including sport stadiums.”

evelyn-wendel-2

Evelyn Wendel, Founding Director, WeTap, next to, what else, a drinking fountain in an L.A. park. (Photo credit: Rick Schmidt)

 

Volunteering in 2008 on water issues with California’s then-First Lady Maria Shriver led Wendel to start WeTap in 2009. “We developed an Android app at UCLA that GPS-mapped and assessed drinking water fountains,” she said, “That got us started and then we got a grant from Metabolic Studios of The Annenberg Foundation for an iPhone app.”

Which is a good thing, when one considers that:

  • One of L.A.’s parks, which hosts 2,000+ soccer playing kids as well as many baseball players every weekend, only has one water fountain by the soccer field and hoses attached to spigots near the baseball diamonds
  • Water fountains at public schools historically have not been properly maintained, leading to a lack of trust—and usage—on the part of students and faculty.

la-park-granada-hills-sports-and-rec-center

A rare drinking fountain at a busy Los Angeles park. (Photo credit: Evelyn Wendel)

 

WeTap’s lobbying of the L.A. Unified School District (LAUSD) and the State of California on behalf of the need for more and better water fountains paid off in 2016 with a $20 million dollar commitment from LAUSD to make drinking fountain improvements. The State of California kicked in $10 million to help provide drinking water solutions to schools the approximately 11,000 schools statewide. WeTap’s efforts also help push L.A.’s Department of Water and Power (LADWP) and the City of Los Angeles to install new hydration stations in several high profile locations around the city, including:

  • Griffith Park, the second largest urban park in the country.
  • In front of LA City Hall, on behalf of Tap Water Day, a yearly opportunity for water agencies, cities and school districts (and others) to rally together to make improvements and educate the public about how valuable and safe municipal tap water services are.

 

Not one to rest on her laurels, Wendel’s next step is talking to the Los Angeles Dodgers. She believes sports is the best platform to help WeTap scale the access-to-safe-clean-water-fountains movement quickly. So the Dodgers have a WeTap proposal in front of them that encourages the club to fund canteen give-away programs as well as to continue making drinking fountain improvements at Dodger Stadium. There is a challenge with the latter because increasing the number of fountains at the ballpark will cannibalize bottled water sales.

Wendel, not surprisingly, believes that is solvable. “We are not asking for a ban on bottled water sales but instead to provide free, fresh public water as required by law and to benefit healthy lifestyle habits for the general public while helping to keep the environment protected.”

I wouldn’t bet against her.

^ A “googly” is the cricket equivalent of a knuckleball in baseball—a bowled ball that has a deceptive motion.
“Global Competitiveness Report 20014-2015” (PDF). World Economic Forum. 2015.
* “Ministry of the Environment 2010: Establishing a sound material-cycle society: Milestone toward a sound material-cycle society through changes in business and life styles,” Government of Japan, Tokyo. www.env.go.jp/en/recycle/ smcs/a-rep/2010gs_full.pdf

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The Politics of Climate Change and Sports

After a spasm of activism during the 60s and 70s —mainly on civil rights, the Vietnam War and women’s rights—North American athletes, have, for the most, kept quiet about politics. That is clearly changing. Ignited by the Black Lives Matter movement, accelerated by the ascendancy to the White House of Donald J. Trump and spurred on by his recent immigration ban, politics and the issues of the day have increasingly found their way on to ESPN, si.com and other sports media platforms.

Climate change has not been on the politics-meet-sports agenda. This should surprise no one. You won’t find the topic near the top of the “most important issues” list facing the American public. It involves science, which can be daunting. And the sports world likely wants to stay away from angering the portion of the U.S. population that is still skeptical about/denying the reality and human causality of climate change.

Conventional wisdom would likely say that it is a good thing for the Green-Sports movement to stay away from the political crossfire. But the conventional is not always wise. Avoiding the realm of politics could actually stunt the growth of the Green-Sports movement and thus reduce its impact in the climate change fight, especially among sports fans under 35.

 

SPORTS AND POLITICS MEET AGAIN

“Republicans buy sneakers, too.”

That 1990 quote, attributed to Michael Jordan, was allegedly# uttered by His Airness in response to a request for an endorsement of Harvey Gantt, Democratic Mayor of Charlotte and an African American. Gantt was running that year for the US Senate seat in North Carolina held by Jesse Helms, seen by many as racist. Jordan didn’t endorse anyone, Helms was re-elected and the quote became a kind of shorthand for “Avoidance of Politics,” the basic default position for athletes (as well as for owners and sports sponsors/advertisers) for the next twenty or so years.

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Harvey Gantt, former mayor of Charlotte, NC. Michael Jordan famously did not endorse Gantt for US Senate in 1990 vs. incumbent GOP Senator Jesse Helms, allegedly because “Republicans buy sneakers, too.” (Photo credit: Alchetron)

 

Fast forward to 2016-17.

Things have changed, in particular regarding issues of race and, just in the last few weeks, immigration:

On race:

  • San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sparked nationwide controversy and conversation in September when he “took a knee”, refusing to stand during the playing of the national anthem as a statement of support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
  • Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney and John Tortorella, coach of hockey’s Team USA, among many others, criticized Kaepernick.
  • Jim Brown and Kareem Abdul Jabbar, veterans of the 60s and 70s protest movements, came out in support of the Niners’ QB, as did Megan Rapinoe, a key member of the US Women’s National Soccer Team.
  • NBA stars LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Carmelo Anthony made a strong Black Lives Matter statement during the opening segment of the 2016 ESPY Awards show.

On the recent “immigration/refugee ban” executive order from the Trump Administration:

  • Two of the winningest and most respected coaches in the NBA, San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich and Golden State’s Steve Kerr, voiced strong public opposition to the policy. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban echoed those sentiments.
  • Many athletes have done so as well, including retired NBA star Steve Nash, Toronto F.C. and U.S. Soccer captain Michael Bradley, and NASCAR’s Dale Earnhart, Jr.
  • News was made in the run up to the Super Bowl LI when Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady would NOT opine on the immigration ban.
  • Budweiser aired a 60 second, pro-immigration ad during Sunday’s Super Bowl broadcast (cost of air time: roughly $10 million). AirBnB ran a 30 second spot with a similar theme. Google’s and Coca Cola’s efforts, while not specific to immigration, celebrated ethnic diversity.

 

Budweiser’s pro-immigration ad that ran during Super Bowl LI

 

While many team owners would rather have their players keep their political views to themselves, a few are starting to encourage their players to take stands. Speaking at a November town hall on race and sports at Arizona State University, Stephen M. Ross, Principal Owner of the NFL’s Miami Dolphins, opined that “Athletes recognize their role in society. Let’s take advantage of that…I am probably in the minority of NFL owners encouraging players to express [their political] feelings and speak out. This country needs it.”

So, with apologies to Bob Dylan, “The Times, They are a’ Changin’…”

 

POLITICAL CLIMATE RIPE FOR SPORTS AND CLIMATE CHANGE, EVEN IN TRUMP ERA

…Except, for the most part, when it comes to climate change. Greening sports teams, leagues, and mega sports events have largely ignored or danced around climate change, especially when communicating their greenness to fans. (why are sports greening, after all, if not to, you know, help solve climate change?!?!) The networks that broadcast sports, and the sponsors/advertisers that support them also stay away from climate change.

If the climate change-themed vignette at the opening ceremonies of the 2016 Rio Olympics, seen by as many by a billion people worldwide, is the rare exception to the unspoken “avoid climate change” rule; that axiom is exemplified by the just completed Waste Management Phoenix Open (WMPO).

Let’s get this straight from the get-go: I LOVE the WMPO. Why? To use the tournament organizers’ words, it may well be the “most sustainable sporting event in the world.” The WMPO:

  • Has been Zero-Waste for four straight years with 100 percent of the waste generated at the tournament repurposed for beneficial reuse. This is especially impressive when one considers that more than 600,000 fans or more showed up over the course of the tournament, making it the most well-attended event on the PGA Tour by far.
  • Directly involved fans in the event’s greenness through Green Out SaturdayFor every fan who wore green to the third round on Saturday, the tournament hosts make a donation to three deserving, sustainability-focused, non-profits. Now in its seventh year, Green Out has raised over $390,000.
  • Supports Change The Coursea water sustainability campaign supporting water flow restoration projects. These include Northern Arizona’s Verde River, which flows into canals that provide water to the tournament course.

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Recycling and compost receptacles at the Zero-Waste Waste Management Phoenix Open. (Photo credit: Waste Management)

 

But visit the WMPO website and you will not find climate change mentioned on their sustainability-focused pages. Enter “climate change” into the search box and you will find it in the eighth paragraph of one press release highlighting the tournament’s designation as an “Inspire” event by the Council for Responsible Sport, a terrific, Eugene, Oregon-based sustainable sports event standards-setting organization.

It says here that leaving climate change out of the WMPO’s greening story was unwise.

I have been working in the sustainability world for 11 years and know very well that the politics of climate change are challenging. And I know Arizona voted for Trump and Trump is a climate skeptic/denier. And because the politics is tricky and because of the red-state-ness of Arizona, I know that talking directly about climate change runs the risk of some blowback from customers, fans, talk radio hosts and who knows who else.

And to all that, I say so what!

The current political climate, even with Donald Trump in the Oval Office, is more ripe than ever for the WMPO, an athlete, a sponsor/advertiser, and/or a network to talk to fans about climate change, especially those fans under 35.

  • Millennials (18-34 year-olds) and Generation Z (11-17), the Holy Grail cohorts for the sports industry, are proving to be extremely difficult to grab and hold. A significant chunk of the well-publicized ratings drop suffered by the NFL this season was attributable to younger viewers. Major League Baseball is considering rules changes to speed up the game to cater to the <35s.
  • Climate change is important to Millennials and Gen Z-ers. The issue is a much bigger deal for folks under 35 than it is for their older (and, on this issue, not wiser) counterparts. And while engaging on climate change will not attract younger folks to become sports fans (I’m not suffering from Green-Sports fever); doing so will help keep them in the fold once they’ve become hooked.
  • The reality of climate change—and humans causal role in it—is now accepted by a majority of Americans. According to an April 2016 poll from Gallup, a record 65 percent of Americans blame human activity for climate change. That means a significant number of Republicans think this is the case. And check out “A Conservative Case for Climate Action,” an Op-Ed in yesterday’s New York Times from three esteemed GOP economists.
  • Brands are less afraid of wading into the political pool and when they do, for the most part, they’re wading in on the progressive end—where climate change swims: While there were some online protests of AirBnB, Budweiser and Coca-Cola as a result of their politically-themed Super Bowl ads, they were relatively small in size and low in volume. Early reports show that the ads garnered more positive attention than negative. And, while one might expect “Blue State” brands like AirBnB and Google to air pro-immigration, pro-diversity ads, what does it say that quintessential “Red State” brands Budweiser and Coke did the same?

Finally, avoiding a challenge—i.e. shying away from mentioning climate change—is antithetical to what sports is all about. Think about almost every sports movie you’ve ever seen. Or Super Bowl LI* for that matter. You know the script: Player and/or team is behind, things are going badly. Formidable obstacles make victory seem impossible. Then player/team regroups, often heroically, working hard to comeback until an incredible triumph is won. Or a valiant loss is suffered with the journey deemed to be well worth it.

Keeping that “overcoming obstacles” ethos in mind, it’s time for the many precincts of the sports world that are greening to strongly and consistently say why they are doing so. And the prime reason in many cases is the climate change fight.

Now is the time for sports to take on climate change. It is why sports is greening.

We will delve into how that fight should be waged in coming posts. In the meantime, the sports industry should take on any incoming climate change flak; your team, your league, your brand will most certainly survive and thrive.

 

# There is some doubt as to whether Jordan actually said those exact words. He may have said it, indicated that was his position or it may have been Jordan biographer Sam Smith’s interpretation of Jordan’s attitudes about politics in general and the Gantt-Helms race in particular.
^ POTUS = President of the United States
* I rooted HARD for the Falcons but kudos to the Patriots for the most incredible comeback in Super Bowl history.

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Paris 2024 Promises Greenest Games Ever

Paris 2024, the committee managing the city’s Olympic bid, is promising to host the Greenest Games Ever. The centerpiece of the plan is to slash carbon emissions dramatically vs. the benchmarks of London 2012 and Rio 2016. But before this happens, Paris must win the 2024 Olympics sweepstakes against Budapest and Los Angeles.

 

The Paris 2024 Olympics bid committee promises to host the “Greenest Games Ever” by slashing carbon emissions by more than half compared to London 2012 and Rio 2016. To have the opportunity to make good on that guarantee, The City of Lights first has to win its competition with Budapest and Los Angeles to host the 2024 Summer Games—that decision will be made in September at the IOC meeting in Lima, Peru—and both of those cities have put forth very strong sustainability plans of their own. 

With the bid process coming into its home stretch—the Paris team submitted the third and final version of its “Bid Book” to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on February 2nd—leaders of each of the three remaining bid committees are aggressively making their cases. Paris bid co-president and three-time Olympic canoeing gold medalist Tony Estanguet said in an interview with South China Morning Post on January 30th, that, for his committee, sustainability is at the top of its priority list. 

“For us it is quite simple. Our vision is the most sustainable Games ever,” Estanguet said, adding that the bid was in line with the 2015 Paris Agreement to reduce greenhouse gases.

estanguet

Tony Estanguet, head of Paris 2024 Bid Committee (Photo credit: Paris 2024)

There seems to be substance behind Estanguet’s “Greenest Ever” claim, at least if the comparison is between Paris 2024 and its predecessors, London 2012 and Rio 2016, and not its rivals for the 2024 Games or, for that matter, Tokyo 2020. Should Paris 2024 become a reality, the bid committee says it would produce an estimated 1.56 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, down 55 per cent from the roughly 3.4 million tonnes created by the Rio and the London Games. Here are some of the key ways Paris plans to meet those aggressive targets:

  • Rely on existing venues and temporary structures. The only major new venue scheduled to be constructed is an aquatics center. 

stade-de-france

Stade de France, site of the Opening Ceremonies of Paris 2024 should that city win the right to host the Olympics. It is one of many already-existing structures, the use of which will keep carbon emissions low. (Photo credit: Stade de France)

 

  • Build the aquatics center as well as the temporary facilities with low carbon materials.
  • Following in the footsteps of EURO 2016 (hosted by France), greatly restrict private car parking at the Olympic venues. This will lead 100 percent of fans to use public or shared transit. You read that right: 100 percent of spectators will take public or shared transit. Metro, commuter rail, bus transit, bicycles and car sharing will predominate.
  • House 85 per cent of athletes  within 30 minutes of their competition venues, limiting their travel-related footprint.
  • Use existing infrastructure. According to Estanguet, “We have all the infrastructure – roads, hotels, airports – already in place. That allows us to claim we will be the most sustainable Games ever.”

To the Paris 2024 committee, embedding the notion of a sustainable Olympics in the minds of Parisians and people across France will be critical. Thus, the greenness of the bid will be promoted widely, and in a variety of ways, should The City of Lights be selected.  “During the seven years [between bid selection and the Opening Ceremonies], we want to educate people on sustainability,” said Estanguet.

While it is clear Estanguet’s “Greenest Games Ever” claim will be valid vs. London or Rio, we don’t know if Paris will have a lower carbon footprint than Budapest or Los Angeles.

LA24, in its third bid book, proclaims that it will be the first Energy Positive Olympics ever “by generating more energy through renewable sources and energy efficiency efforts than the energy needed to power the Games.” Take that one in. Who knew? And, as with Paris, the vast majority of venues and athletes’ villages already in place, and minimal construction required. Heck, the Zero-Waste LA Coliseum would be used for its third Olympics (1932 and 1984 were the first two).

As of this writing, Budapest’s third bid book has not been made available. In its first two iterations, the Hungarian capital city had proposed a scaled down, medium-sized city Olympics model, relying on boat transportation along the Danube and bike share to keep emissions down. 

According to Olympics bid experts, Paris is the favorite at this point.

  • Budapest is a first-time bid city with a growing Olympics opposition movement pressing for a late-in-the-bid-game referendum to exit the process. Needing 138,000 signatures within a month to force the referendum, organizers garnered 100,000 in the first two weeks. This cannot be helpful for Budapest’s chances.
  • Trying to bring an Olympics back to the Americas only eight years after Rio does not help LA.

Some also fear that the IOC, with a strong anti-American streak, will shy away from awarding the Olympic Torch to an “America First” President Trump. Of course, by the time of the vote, France, which has its presidential election on April 23rd, may well be led by Marine Le Pen of the far right Front National, “France First” party; well known for trafficking in Holocaust denial and xenophobia. Ms. Le Pen has disavowed herself of those positions. And, with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán often called a “Putinist,” the strong-man (woman) leader issue may be a wash.

Regardless of what city is chosen, this much is clear: A smaller environmental footprint logically will lead to reduced costs.

These are the keystones of Agenda 2020, a process instituted by the IOC three years ago for bids starting with the 2024 cycle. The IOC is convinced, and I concur, that the Olympics simply have to get simpler, greener, and leaner so they remain an attractive proposition for future hosts. This is especially the case after a slew of candidate cities for the 2022 Winter Games (Krakow, Oslo and Stockholm) and 2024 Summer Games (Boston, Hamburg and Rome) withdrew due to the sheer size and costs of organizing and putting on such an ambitious, sprawling event. 

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Four Teams Getting Green-Sports Right

A powerhouse of American collegiate (aka university) sports from the country’s heartland. The team trying to bring the America’s Cup home to Britain for the first time. One of the most anonymous teams in the NBA. And a fifth division English football team. What could these four seemingly unrelated sports organizations have in common? THE Ohio State University Buckeyes, Land Rover BAR, the Sacramento Kings and Forest Green Rovers are four of the greenest teams on the planet. This story was originally posted on 100% Sport’s website.

 

OHIO STATE UNIVERSITY BUCKEYES

Ohio State is one of the gold standard programs in college football, winning its eighth national championship in 2015. The 65,000+ student, Columbus-based school also owns 29 other National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) championships, including a title in men’s basketball, and multiple banners in swimming (11) as well as women’s rowing (3). There’s no other way to say it: Ohio State is a college sports powerhouse.

And, while Ohio’s pro loyalties are largely split between Cleveland in the north and Cincinnati in the south, it is Ohio State, in the centrally located capital city of Columbus, that is the closest thing to a unifying force in sports in the state. With more than 106,000 fans filling Ohio Stadium (aka The Horseshoe) at every home football game and with millions following the Buckeyes on TV, radio and online, the impact of Ohio State football is massive.

Panorama at Ohio Stadium

The Horseshoe, home of Ohio State football and, since 2013, its Zero Waste home games. (Photo credit: Lewis Blaustein)

 

Given the huge fan base and audience, the potential impacts of Ohio State’s Zero Waste home football games–the school just completed its 4th straight Zero Waste football season–are also staggering. Zero Waste events are defined as diverting at least 90 percent of waste from the landfill via recycling, composting, or repurposing. The Buckeyes diverted an insanely great 96.35 percent of in-stadium waste in 2015, winning the Big Ten Conference diversion rate championship for the fourth consecutive year. Results for 2016 are not complete but it looks as though OSU football’s diversion rates will be similar to the prior year’s.

Ohio Stadium is thought to be the biggest Zero-Waste stadium in the world. And the Schottenstein Center, aka Value City Arena, the 18,000+ seat home of Buckeyes basketball and hockey, which opened in 2000, is getting into the Zero-Waste action, expecting to get there sometime in 2017.

 

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Schottenstein Center, home of Ohio State University Basketball (Columbus, OH), will become a Zero Waste facility (diverting at least 90% of waste from landfill) by 2017. (Photo Credit: The Lantern)

 

Indications are Ohio State’s greening efforts are breaking through with fans:

  • Out of 175 people surveyed in 2014, all but 3 thought that Ohio State Athletics has some level of responsibility (slight, some, and strong) to add environmental efforts into their athletics operations. Yes, it’s a small sample size, but directionally it’s telling.
  • The rest of the campus is taking the green lead from Ohio State football: Diversion rates across the entire university have almost doubled since the pre-Zero Waste football days, rising from 16.1% in FY 2004 t0 30.4% in FY 2015.
  • Food waste, with the help of OSU Zero Waste volunteers, is transported to Price Farms Organic, a composting facility in Delaware, Ohio. The waste is eventually turned into a mulch called Stadium Scarlet (the school’s colors are scarlet and gray), which Buckeyes fans, most of whom are landscapers and/or homeowners, purchase for $40 per cubic yard.
  • A 101 kW, 237 panel solar array was installed in 2014 on the Recreational and Physical Activities Center roof, adjacent to The Horseshoe in the Buckeyes’ iconic Block O configuration. It makes for a great aerial scene-setter shot–and a terrific talking point.

O Roof

Solar panel array, in the shape of Ohio State’s “Block O”, atop the roof of the Recreational and Physical Activities Center, in the shadow of The Horseshoe. (Photo credit: Office of Energy and Environment, The Ohio State University)

 

Fans of the University of Colorado-Boulder, with its absolutely sterling record of sports-sustainability leadership (Zero-Waste, on site solar, state-of-the-art water conservation and restoration programs), might say “Ohio State is great, but what about us?” And they have a point.

Highlighting OSU is not a knock on Colorado—far from it. Our feeling was that Ohio State deserves particular kudos because it is in the green conversation with a school like Colorado (in eco-haven Boulder) despite being in the center of a state that voted for Donald J. Trump. That is a BIG DEAL!

 

LAND ROVER BAR

Sir Ben Ainslie is the most successful sailor in Olympic history, winning medals at five consecutive Olympics (1996 to 2012), including gold at the last four; he also played a key part in Oracle Team USA’s stirring comeback to capture the 2013 America’s Cup.

While his past is certainly legendary, it is two aspects of the future that animate Ainslie’s life these days. Number one is his role as skipper of Land Rover Ben Ainslie Racing (BAR), Britain’s entry in the 35th America’s Cup, to be contested in Bermuda starting in May. The challenge isn’t that big—no, it’s only about bringing the Cup to the UK for the first time ever. And Britain has been trying to win the darn thing since 1851!

That there’s room for anything else on Ainslie’s plate these days is astounding, but his will to win is matched with the need to do so with purpose —and his purpose is to use his platform at the top of the sailing world to advocate for clean oceans, the climate change fight and to bring sustainability to the rest of the sailing world.

Ainslie’s path to Green-Sports leader was kickstarted after the 2013 America’s Cup when he met Wendy Schmidt of the 11th Hour Project, parent of 11th Hour Racing, a non-profit dedicated to promoting healthy oceans through world class sailing teams. According to Ainslie, “Wendy instilled in me the responsibility someone like myself in sport has to [build a team] with sustainability as a core principle, a core belief.”

 

Ben Wendy Harry Kenney-Herbert-Land Rover BAR

Sir Ben Ainslie with Wendy Schmidt, co-founder of 11th Hour Racing, Land Rover BAR’s Exclusive Sustainability Partner. (Photo credit: Harry Kenney-Herbert/Land Rover BAR)

 

11th Hour Racing soon became Land Rover BAR’s exclusive sustainability partner and, from that point on, the team’s environmental efforts have been full speed ahead. A partial list of Land Rover BAR’s sustainability initiatives includes:

  • Building its home base in Portsmouth to BREEAM Excellent (the British equivalent of the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED) standards. Per Ainslie, “Probably the neatest thing about the base is the wrap — it makes it look pretty cool and it also helps the building retain heat in the winter and keep cooler in summer. And the sustainability of the base helps show our supporters, our partners, our competitors and also the media — who’ve been quite impressed — that we’re in this for the long haul.”

LR BAR Wrap

An aerial view of Land Rover BAR’s home base in Portsmouth, England, with the outer wrap covering the lower left portion of the building. (Photo credit: Shaun Roster)

 

  • Using 100% renewable electricity at the base

 

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Solar panels atop the roof at Land Rover BAR’s Portsmouth headquarters, help the building achieve BREEAM Excellent status. (Photo credit: Harry Kenney-Herbert/Land Rover BAR)

 

  • Employing Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) to make its operations as environmentally friendly and smart as possible. It does so by determining how best to use, reuse and dispose of materials from design to end-of-life.
  • Meatless Mondays for the team and staff
  • Drafted a sustainability charter for the other America’s Cup contestants to adopt

Moving half the team to Bermuda means Land Rover BAR has brought its sustainability commitment to the island in the Atlantic:

  • The team built its base in Bermuda employing sustainable construction features.  
  • 11th Hour Racing is funding an educational center open to the public, in close proximity to the America’s Cup Race Village where event organizers expect an average of 10,000 visitors/day during the competition. The 11th Hour Racing Exploration Zone features interactive exhibits on topics such as innovation and technology, ocean health, invasive species, the New Plastics Economy and renewable energy, as well as a STEM classroom. 
  • Along with Bermuda’s leading environmental organizations, the team and 11th Hour Racing are developing a legacy project around the lionfish, an invasive species creating havoc in the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean. The goal is to raise awareness, promote lionfish as a sustainable and delectable choice of seafood and support an innovative solution to mitigate the invasion. 

 

SACRAMENTO KINGS

It’s been a long decade+ for Sacramento Kings fans. On the court, the club hasn’t made the playoffs since 2004. And the team was under constant threat of relocation from 2006-2013.

That threat ended with the 2013 sale of the Kings to local businessman Vivek Ranadivé. And, despite another poor start this season, Sacramento fans and the community at large can be proud of the leadership the team is displaying in the NBA in the climate change fight through the construction and October 2016 opening of Golden 1 Credit Union Center, the first LEED Platinum arena in the world. Platinum is the highest level of certification awarded by the US Green Building Council, representing the top three percent of buildings certified.

At the top of the Kings’ green list is the club’s commitment to generate 100% of the building’s electricity from solar power.

And get this–going 100% solar was in response to the fans! In a powerful March, 2016 Huffington Post Op-Ed, Randivé recalled that, “survey[s] of over 20,000 Sacramentans and countless focus groups, one of the top answers to the question of ‘What do you want Golden 1 Center to be?’ was always the same: To become a model of sustainability. Our fans wanted a state-of-the-art arena that would deliver an unparalleled experience for both fans and the environment.” 

Randive & Company are giving the fans what they asked for. Golden 1 Center will be the first indoor arena in the world to derive 100% of its electricity from solar energy sourced within 50 miles of the arena–the Kings will buy 85% of its electric load from Sacramento Municipal Utility District’s (SMUD) new 10.9-megawatt solar farm; the other 15% will come from solar panels atop the building’s rooftop.

Want more green firsts? Golden 1 Center is the first arena in the world to be both indoor and outdoor. How can that be possible? By featuring five massive hangar doors above the grand entrance that open and allow the arena to use a natural cooling phenomenon in Sacramento – The Delta Breeze – to control the building’s climate efficiently, that’s how! 

golden-1-amplify

The hangar doors to Golden 1 Center open, letting fans—and the cooling Delta Breeze—into the arena (Photo credit: Amplify)

 

But, wait…there’s more: The Kings’ architectural choices are estimated to keep nearly 2,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually out of the atmosphere – equivalent to emissions from approximately 4 million vehicle miles.

Perhaps even more extraordinary than Golden 1 Center’s green features is Ranadivé’s exemplary forward-looking vision: “Our hope in creating Golden 1 Center was to help drive meaningful change in our community – which includes working to curb climate change and promote renewable energy. Businesses, including large sports franchises, have a core responsibility to help facilitate the world’s clean energy transition so that we can better protect the health and environment of future generations. The 1.2 million people who will pass through our doors each year will see first hand how adopting the best sustainability practices can improve the fan experience.”

 

FOREST GREEN ROVERS

From a distance Forest Green Rovers F.C. (FGR), with roots dating back to 1889, is like most every other club at the Conference/5th tier level. They play in a quaint, 5,000-ish seat stadium (The New Lawn). They have a small group of hyper-local followers. And they’re pushing for promotion to the league above them (as of this writing, a little more than halfway through the season, FGR stands in 2nd place, good for a spot in the promotion playoffs if the season ended today, and four points back of Lincoln City for first and guaranteed promotion.)

But, when you look closer, you’ll see a club that, on the pitch and especially off, should be a model for all professional sports teams on either side of the pond.

It starts with ownership. Dale Vince, OBE, became the club’s major shareholder and Chairman in 2010. He also is the Founder/Owner of Ecotricity, based in nearby Stroud, which is taking on the challenge of reducing up to 80 percent of Great Britain’s carbon footprint. Since 1995, Ecotricity has become a green “triple threat”, dealing with electricity (through wind and solar project development), AND transportation (EV battery chargers at highway rest stops) AND food (in the concept stage on wind powered tractors and other clean farm energy projects). The company is privately held, pays no dividends and so profits are plowed back into the building of more clean energy. Thus, Ecotricity’s motto: Turn (electric) Bills Into (wind) Mills. Al Gore is a fan. It is the largest private sector employer in the area. Ecotrcitiy has serious green cred.

That green cred extends to FGR, which is pioneering the Greening of Football. Along with putting a quality squad on the pitch, the essence of FGR is green…DEEP green:

  • The most revolutionary move was to go Meat Free at the club training table and then at the concessions stands at The New Lawn. You read that right: No meat at the stadium. Veggie burgers only. That must’ve been a DISASTER. Well, in an interview with The Independent in 2014, Vince conceded that, at first, there was “a fan revolt.” But then things turned. Now Vince says “I didn’t give in. [And] now no fan says the veggie burger is worse than a meat burger. They even come up to me and thank me, and say I’ve changed their lives.”
  • While energy efficient LEDs are increasingly the rage at sporting venues vs. the traditional, energy-sucking Metal Halide lights, Vince says LEDs are not energy efficient enough. So they’re looking into lower energy lighting. Does anyone doubt they’ll figure this one out?
  • There are solar panels on the roof and also ground-mounted solar powered car ports at The New Lawn. The latter are visible to all fans entering and leaving the stadium, further cementing the greenness of the club among the fan base.

New Lawn

The New Lawn, home of Forest Green Rovers F.C., in Nailsworth, England. Concession stands are meatless, solar panels line the roof and the parking lot. (Photo Credit: openbuildings.com)

And the organic pitch is mowed by a solar-powered “Mow-Bot.” I kid you not.

 

To Vince, sustainability is integral to the club’s DNA and its long term viability: “We’re building a football club that’s both environmentally and financially sustainable. We got involved for two reasons – social and environmental. The club is a big part of the local community, with a rich tradition, and it needed rescuing. For us, it was an investment in the local community. Secondly, the club offered an opportunity to take our sustainable message to a new audience – a large and passionate new audience largely unaccustomed to dealing with sustainability issues.”

Finally, click here to see a terrific 8-minute video from Collectively, a non-profit that uncovers, shares and scales up “exciting ideas for a future we want to live.” You get an unvarnished, up close view of what fans–both FGR and away supporters–think and feel about this fascinating experiment at the intersection of Green + Sports. Let us know what you think. Meanwhile, I’m ready for a veggie burger!

 

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Two Less-Than-Stellar Views of the Greenness of College Football’s National Championship Game and Bowl Season

Clemson’s 35-31 win over Alabama in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game in Tampa, FL on January 9 was an instant classic. Unfortunately, the greening initiatives surrounding the game didn’t come close to living up to what took place on the field. And, according to Todd LeVasseur of the College of Charleston (SC), that’s nothing: The entire premise of college football’s 42-game postseason bowl bacchanal is an unsustainable “Carbon Bomb.” 

 

AN UNINSPIRING GREENING EFFORT AT THE COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFF NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP

With sincere apologies to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the arc of the sustainability of mega sports events bends towards greening, but sometimes the gears shift into reverse. The green success stories (London 2012 Olympics, the Bay Area Super Bowl 50 Host Committee’s stellar work in 2016, EURO 2016, etc.) generally build upon each other. But, along with the wins there are also the green draws/mixed bags (Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Rio 2016 Olympics), along with a loss (the Houston Super Bowl LI Host Committee does not have a greening program) here and there.

The greening efforts surrounding the third annual College Football Playoff National Championship game, known as Playoff Greenfall squarely in the mixed bag category, failing to live up to the stellar quality of the game on the field.

It should have been a win.

Given the innovative sports-greening work being done on campuses from Ohio State to Colorado to UCLA and beyond, one would think Playoff Green would offer up state-of-the-art sustainability measures. Instead, Playoff Green seemed to settle for a field goal instead of going for a green “bomb.”

Yes, Playoff Green handled the basic blocking and tackling of green mega events, including:

  • Recycling at Raymond James Stadium, where the game was played.
  • Unused Food Donation to the Feeding Tampa Bay food bank.
  • Repurposing of construction materials, signage and other event materials.
  • Renewable Energy Certificates from TECO/Tampa Electric powered Raymond James Stadium and the downtown Championship Campus.

raymond-james-stadium

Clemson fans celebrate their team’s 35-31 last second upset over Alabama in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium (Photo credit: Julio Ochoa/WUSF TV)

 

The most innovative aspect of Playoff Green was the Gerdau Playoff Green Campus Challenge. Ten Hillsborough County schools were challenged to implement a series of sustainability projects on their campuses. Schools that successfully completed the Challenge earned grants for school supplies and urban forestry projects. This is a good program, especially for the students in Hillsborough County.

It’s just not good enough. Not at this point in the Mega Sports Event life cycle. We expect and deserve more. Here are some ideas as to what more could look like:

  • A Clean-Tech pitch-off from “green teams” from the four participating schools in the college football playoff plus local schools like University of South Florida.
  • Borrowing from UCLA’s EcoChella concert series, a concert the Saturday night before the championship game, powered by students from the competing schools and local Atlanta universities riding stationary bikes.
  • Power the Fan Village by mobile clean bio-fuels or other renewables
  • Playoff Green scoreboard and pre-game broadcast mentions (game broadcast would be better but pre-game would be a good start) as well as a section in the game program.

To the people managing the operations 2018 College Football Playoff Championship Game at the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, we say you’re welcome.

 

MAKING THE CASE FOR RADICAL DOWNSIZING OF COLLEGE FOOTBALL’S CARBON FOOTPRINT IN FOOTBALL-MAD SOUTH CAROLINA

Todd LeVasseur, Visiting Assistant Professor of Religious Studies and Environmental and Sustainability Studies, and the Director of the Quality Enhancement Plan at the College of Charleston (S.C.) is an even tougher grader than yours truly when it comes to the greening (or lack thereof) of college football’s post season, and college sports more broadly. He also has a heaping helping of guts.

You see, LeVasseur penned “College Football Has a ‘Carbon Bomb’ Problem,” an Op-Ed that ran in the December 26, 2016 issue of the Charleston Post and Courier.  

The “carbon bomb” to which he refers is the environmental profligacy of big time college sports in general (“institutional prioritization of athletics and the hidden ecological impacts of that prioritization”), with the über-carbon intense college bowl season (teams and fans flying all over the country for 42 mostly meaningless games) his particular focus. LeVasseur asserts “Colleges [and universities] are living in a reality at odds with basic climate science when they think it is ethically just to fly student-athletes and students across the country to play in and support a game whose importance is blown entirely out of proportion when compared to the true point of college: to develop critical thinkers who can change the world for the better.”

levasseur-cofc

Todd LeVasseur, College of Charleston (Photo credit: College of Charleston)

 

Now, you might say, “LeVasseur is a pointy-headed, anti-sports snob.” And you would be wrong—he is a fan of the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs and English Premier League soccer/football. He says he is fine with college sports but would like to see a much more limited, constrained version than is currently the case. In LeVasseur’s college football (and basketball) dreamscape, teams would:

  • Be a train ride apart from their league rivals
  • Travel on buses powered by biodiesel
  • Serve vegan options at the stadium (a la Forest Green Rovers of English Soccer’s 5th tier)

His model sounds more like the Ivy League (schools from Pennsylvania to New Hampshire), than the Southeastern Conference, which runs from Florida to Missouri or the American Athletic Conference, which stretches from Storrs, CT to Houston.

For LeVasseur’s approach to go from column to serious consideration to anything close to reality, there are some, as of 2017, insurmountable obstacles to overcome: A relative lack of concern in the U.S. about environmental and climate issues. The nationwide religious fervor surrounding big time college football and basketball. And the gazillions of dollars that go with the color and pageantry and rah-rah. So one could imagine that LeVasseur’s column, appearing in a paper in the middle of Clemson/University of South Carolina Country, might have sparked a wee bit of controversy (which is why I cited his intestinal fortitude in writing the story.)

Controversy was exactly the reason LeVasseur wrote it: “When I was made Director of the College’s Quality Enhancement Plan devoted to sustainability literacy, I met with the College of Charleston’s Marketing Director about promoting the plan to students and the broader community. I jokingly stated that I would believe higher education, broadly, was taking sustainability seriously when institutions were ready to have an honest discussion about the impacts of college sports. He encouraged me to generate an opinion piece along those lines.”

He says only one virulently negative response (“maybe you should leave the country…”) made it to his desk. Of course that could be a function of the fact that he doesn’t “search out the comments, there’s too much hate out there.”

It says here there’s about as much reason to hate on LeVasseur’s ideas as there was a reason for a Carbon Bomb to be unleashed by the playing of the St. Petersburg Bowl between Miami, OH (a mediocre 6-6) and Mississippi State (sub .500 at 6-7).

 

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The GSB Interview: Mick DeLuca, Greening UCLA Sports

UCLA has won 113 NCAA team sports championships, more than any other Division I school. But sports at the university involves much more than big time football and basketball. Many of the 65,000+ students and staff use the 16 recreational/athletics facilities, often alongside varsity athletes. Overseeing the well-being of the worker-outers as well as the facilities themselves is Mick DeLuca, Assistant Vice Chancellor of Campus Life. GreenSportsBlog spoke to DeLuca as he is also leading UCLA’s efforts to green its gyms and arenas. 

 

GreenSportsBlog: Mick, managing and greening the UCLA athletics’ facilities must be a massive undertaking. How did you get into this work?

Mick DeLuca: Well Lew, I’ve been working in the world of Student Life, Campus Life, Recreation and Sports for over 35 years, at the University of Denver, University of Wyoming and, for the bulk of my career, here at UCLA. And it is massive in that we have about 44,500 students plus 21,000 employees on a 408-acre campus, making it the most densely populated campus in the U.S. As far as Athletics and Recreation are concerned, our 23 facilities are available to all, from the All American basketball player to the recreational runner.

mdeluca-photo

Mick DeLuca (Photo credit: UCLA)

 

GSB: That’s in contrast to many big time Division I schools which manage separate facilities for the varsity athletes. I like the UCLA model better. And what a vibrant place to be; one of the iconic collegiate sports programs in the country.

MD: Oh no doubt about it. The UCLA brand is known worldwide. In fact, speaking of worldwide, we were very proud to be the Athlete Village and host 7 competitive sports during the 2015 Special Olympics World Games in Los Angeles, and our UCLA’s housing complex as well as our sports and recreation facilities are significant parts of the Los Angeles bid to host the 2024 Olympics, creating a new model for an athletic centric, sustainable Village and Games experience. Talk about green—one of LA24’s biggest selling points is its greenness in that most of the facilities are already built. Isn’t the most sustainable Olympics the one you don’t have to build? As far as UCLA’s recreation and athletics are concerned, I’d like to believe green was always been in our DNA, but, to be truthful, our real interest in it started to come about through the building and construction end, when LEED standards came into vogue, starting in about the late 90s-early 2000s. Then, quite naturally it seemed to me, we got involved with the consuming end, with resource management. By that I mean water, gas and electricity usage all became a big concern in the mid-2000s, not only from an environmental point of view, but also from a financial one.

GSB: That seems like a logical way to get into it. What about climate change?

MD: Well, we’re a university. And so as climate change came into prominence, again in the 2000s, interest in it and trying to do something about it touched just about every corner of UCLA, including recreation and athletics. As part of the University of California, we have pledged to become carbon neutral by 2025.

GSB: Which is very high profile…

MD: No doubt about it. And just as our sports teams and athletics department are held to very high standards, so too is recreation. Our “greenness” is one of the things we want to be identified with.

GSB: That’s great to hear. So let’s get specific. Talk about one of the highest profile greening projects on campus, the renovation of Pauley Pavilion, the home of the 11-time national champion UCLA men’s basketball team…

MD: …and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s volleyball^, women’s gymnastics*, intramurals, dance classes and open gym. Pauley is really one of the best examples of sustainable recreation/athletics space in the country in that so many people use it.

pauley

Renovated Pauley Pavilion, home of UCLA basketball, volleyball, and gymnastics. (Photo credit: Southern California Public Radio)

 

GSB: So any student or faculty member can go play pick up ball at Pauley?

MD: Yes…

GSB: That is SO COOL! Students can shoot hoops where Lew Alcindor# and Bill Walton and the rest played…

MD:…And they also have the John Wooden Recreation Center, which gets 1.47 million uses and 47,000 unique users per year. So when we look at green, we look at construction, consumption and also a healthy environment. We call it “Active Sustainability”, inclusive to all.

wooden-center

Exterior of the John Wooden Center. (Photo credit: UCLA)

 

GSB: That’s a very healthy approach…

MD: Anyway, back to Pauley. When we shut it down for a year in 2012 for renovations—we played at the old LA Sports Arena and and Honda Center in Anaheim in the interim—we went for LEED certification for existing buildings and, by the time we reopened in November 2013, we had attained LEED Gold status.

GSB: That’s great! How have the students reacted to the greening of UCLA athletics? Do they care?

MD: For sure; for the most part, they’re very into sustainability and the concept of sustainable communities. We’ve worked with students from our Education in Sustainable Living Program and had an Action Research Team Project to work on our Zero Waste initiatives, and Zero Waste Pauley Pavilion both for sporting events, and other large scale events. We also hired an Environmental Science alum, Katie Zeller, to embed as a Sustainability Coordinator shared by our Sports Venues and Recreation.

GSB: What does Katie do?

MD: What doesn’t she do?! She handles all sustainability reporting at all 23 facilities (emissions, waste, water usage and other climate change metrics), conducts research, ensures our events are up to ISO 2012-1 standards for sustainable events, liaises with other student sustainability action teams, and handles all sustainability program activations. She also collaborates with many campus departments and on campus initiatives, as well as works directly with student groups and student event organizers.

GSB: Could you give us an example of what a sustainability program activation looks like?

MD: One great example is our Ecochella, held at our Sunset Canyon Recreation Center. It is a bicycle-powered concert event in which local and student bands play for four hours with a sound system powered by the energy of students’ pedal power for a crowd of 1,000.

ecochella-imgrum

UCLA students use pedal power to provide juice for the Ecochella concert. (Photo credit: Imgum)

 

GSB: What a great way educate students about unconventional uses of renewable energy while showcasing the link between sustainability and health. Bravo! What about on-site renewables on or near UCLA athletics and/or recreational facilities?

MD: UCLA is on the cutting edge of research on solar power and we’re working on installing solar at a number of campus facilities including those that are central to student activities such as the John Wooden Center. This helps our researchers and builds awareness of solar among our fans and students.

GSB: You guys are leading on the field and, as it relates to sustainability, off the court. And you’re in great company being in the PAC-12, the first collegiate sports conference to become a member of the Green Sports Alliance. You’re in amongst the Green-Sports heavyweights in the PAC-12, with University of Colorado, Boulder and Dave Newport, as well as the great work being done at Arizona State. How do you look at the Green-Sports competition in the PAC-12?

MD: We have a healthy competition with the other PAC-12 schools for Green-Sports. We know friendly competition both moves people to action and raises awareness. And, of course, we also collaborate. It’s a “lift all boats” kind of thing because we all have the same goals: To raise awareness of the need to be environmentally friendly…Doing so drives cultural change. To leave the world a better place for the next generations. To leave no trace.

GSB: Sounds very “Burning Man”-ish! How does UCLA go about engaging fans about green?

MD: Pauley Pavilion is where we message the fans. In fact our players and coaches provide sustainability, recycling-focused messaging that you’ll see on the concourses. Football has been more of a challenge as we, of course, play our home games at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. The stadium and grounds are owned not by UCLA but by the City of Pasadena and the Rose Bowl Group. So we don’t control things over there. But, over time, we are creating a great partnership with shared values as we’ve pushed sustainability and fan engagement programs

GSB: That’s good to hear. So will be seeing fan-focused sustainability messaging at the Rose Bowl next season?

MD: Either 2017 or 2018.

GSB: I look forward to seeing what that messaging is—and to seeing UCLA play in the 2018 Rose Bowl Game.

MD: You and me both!

 

^ UCLA men’s volleyball has won 19 national championships; the women’s team has won 3 national titles.
* UCLA women’s gymnastics owns 5 national championships
# Lew Alcindor (UCLA ’69) led the Bruins to 3 consecutive national championships, was drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks. After winning the NBA championship in 1971, Alcindor converted to Islam and changed his name to Kareem Abdul Jabbar. He is the NBA’s all-time leading scorer (38,387 points). 
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