The GSB Interview: Andrew Winston, Author “Green To Gold”

ANDREW WINSTON IS A GLOBALLY-RECOGNIZED EXPERT ON HOW BUSINESS CAN PROFIT FROM ENVIRONMENTAL THINKING.  HE ADVISES SOME OF THE WORLD’S LEADING COMPANIES, INCLUDING BANK OF AMERICA, HP AND PEPSI.  THE CO-AUTHOR OF GREEN TO GOLD, THE BEST-SELLING GUIDE TO WHAT WORKS–AND WHAT DOESN’T–WHEN COMPANIES GO GREEN, WINSTON SERVED AS THE SUSTAINABILITY CONSULTANT FOR US SOCCER’S BID TO HOST THE 2022 FIFA WORLD CUP.  THAT BID ULTIMATELY WENT TO QATAR.  WINSTON’S LATEST BOOK, THE BIG PIVOT (2014), WILL EXPLORE HOW CORPORATIONS CAN MANAGE THE PROFOUND CHALLENGES OF A HOTTER, SCARCER AND MORE OPEN WORLD.  GSB TALKED WITH WINSTON ABOUT THE WORLD CUP BID AND THE GREEN + SPORTS INTERSECTION.

GreenSportsBlog:  Andrew, how did you get to this place–Sustainability Consultant, Author, Speaker?

Andrew Winston:  I worked in media marketing at companies like Time, Inc. (Ed. note: I worked at Time, Inc in ad sales but not at the same time as Mr. Winston) and Viacom.  Like everyone else in the 90s it seems, I went to a “.com”, also in branding and marketing.  When that business went under, I had the chance to think about what I really wanted to do and I had a passion for environmental issues. I started looking into how business and environment overlap, looking for ways to apply my experience to help change how business operates.  I went to get a Masters at Yale in Environmental Management then wrote “Green To Gold” (2006) with Dan Esty, a professor there.  My consulting, speaking, and writing business was a natural next step.

GSB:  And what was/is your relationship to sports

AW:  Well, I grew up playing sports, tennis mostly.  And, while I don’t follow any one sport very closely, my wife and kids and I got into the Yankees wild card chase lately, which, of course, didn’t end well.  That said, while sports are fun and a great way to stay active at all ages, I’m simply struck by the incredible, over-importance society places on sports.  It’s really quite amazing when you consider that the very existence of cities like Miami are threatened within the next generation or two but many teams and athletes and fans in those areas (or anywhere) are just not interested or are completely unaware of the scale of the climate change problem.

GSB:  I know!  That’s why I’m trying to enlist LeBron James in the Climate Change fight as he plays in Miami–at least until the end of this upcoming season.

AW:  The region is in danger.  How come LeBron isn’t in the fight?  Good luck getting him engaged.

Andrew Winston

Andrew Winston

GSB:  I’m working on it.  Moving beyond LeBron, what should sports do to change things around?

AW:  Look, the opportunity is there to take the passion that surrounds sports and borrow some of it to motivate and educate fans to make smarter choices.  You can’t hit fans over the head with green, true, but you can use “soft power” to do it.  Some teams and sports leagues get it already but most don’t.  The Portland Trailblazers of the NBA get it with their support of groups that are fighting to change policy on carbon emissions, their purchase of RECS, water restoration programs, etc.  But where’s everyone else?  It’s kind of like where the corporate world was 5-6 years ago, when a few forward-thinking companies got sustainability (i.e. Patagonia) but most didn’t.  Now the number of companies that get it and are doing many of the right things is much greater.  Sports need to have such a shift–and quickly because time is not our ally.

GSB:  I’m with you.  I actually think you need to get fans into this in a big way.  What if a pro league ran a contest that incentivized the team with the greenest fans (recycling, etc) with an extra draft choice?  That’s something fans can certainly relate to even if they couldn’t care less about climate change.

AW:  Absolutely, use the power of fans towards a green end.  All elements of the sports equation, teams, leagues, fans and municipalities, need to step up.  Imagine if teams demanded of cities that green infrastructure improvements be part of their agreement to sign long term leases?

GSB:  I don’t see how a city or a stadium authority could turn that down.  Sounds like the opposite of something the City of Austin did with Circuit of the Americas F-1 racetrack–in this case the city required COTA meet stringent environmental performance standards to be allowed to build and operate.  Pivoting to your role at the Green + Sports Intersection, I wanted to ask you about your work with US Soccer on the 2022 FIFA World Cup bid.  Was sustainability really a key part of the bid?

AW:  YES, it was a key component of the bid.  In fact sustainability accounted for two chapters in a bid that only contained 15 overall.  US Soccer really was on board and was including it in their marketing messages.  Travel with bio-fuels, green stadiums, and many other ideas were included in the bid.  Cities had to pitch to US Soccer to be part of the 8-12 cities that would ultimately host the matches.  And so mayors were falling all over themselves to proclaim how green they are and could be.  So we would’ve done a very good job, I’m convinced, but unfortunately Qatar got selected.

GSB:  Yeah, Qatar, which will build 8 air-conditioned, outdoor stadiums for the World Cup.  Now THAT’S green for ya!  Thank you so much for your efforts on behalf US Soccer and, more importantly, for your take on state of the Green + Sports movement.

AW: Thank you for the chance to talk about these important issues.

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2 thoughts on “The GSB Interview: Andrew Winston, Author “Green To Gold”

  1. Sports seems like a perfect situation to have a positive consumer response to a green image. There are really only two ways to force/incent business to act green: through government forced internalization of external costs enacted through a taxing of bad behavior by the courts or taxing authority (lawsuits for cigarette companies or carbon taxes) or consumer forced internalization of external costs through boycotts or affinity to green companies. The later requires a consumer emotional response which I would argue is very applicable for sports. In fact, sports can be the paramount test case since an emotional response is what sells tickets and encourages fans to root for their favorite team. Perhaps a win-loss record trumps a green effort, but the Giants and Steelers at this point might best go the green route given their dismal starts and lack of prospects for a winning record.

  2. Thanks for the insights John. After listening to Giants fans calling into WFAN off and on today I think that, if there’s was a way that a carbon tax could somehow help them beat “the Green” (the Eagles) this Sunday, the most hard core anti-tax-ites among them would sign on in a New York Minute.

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