Jill Savery is the archetype of an executive at the intersection of Green & Sports: Olympic athlete. Environmentalist. Head of Sustainability for the 2013 America’s Cup. Now CEO of sustainability consulting firm Bridgestone Strategies, Inc. GSB caught up with Ms. Savery to discuss her inspirational story and where she thinks the Green-Sports movement is going from here.
GreenSportsBlog: What a phenomenal background–Olympic Gold Medalist to Head of Sustainability of the America’s Cup! Were you always an environmentalist?
Jill Savery: Growing up in the Bay Area, I was always interested in the environment. I took environmental science courses at UC Berkeley and one of my early jobs after college was in Walnut Creek, CA, working in environmental review.
GSB: Ah, we get the “green” part. And of course, given that you took home Gold at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics in Synchronized Swimming, we get the “sports” part. (Ed. Note: This is the first time GSB has interviewed a Hall of Famer as Ms. Savery is in the International Swimming Hall of Fame). When and how did you make the connection between Green & Sports?
Jill: I’ve been interested in sports for as long as I can remember. My own athletic experience leading to the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, as well as a role with the US Olympic Committee (USOC), gave me the itch to work in sports. Still interested in the environment, I’d noticed major sporting event organizers were starting to green themselves— for example, Sydney in 2000 and Salt Lake City in 2002 took very early steps. It was then that the idea of Green-Sports started to hatch in my head. When I decided to get a Masters degree at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, I customized my course work to “sport and the environment” wherever possible. My thesis focused on fostering “pro-environmental behavior at the Olympic Games” by looking at opportunities at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games. Outside the US, the greening of major sports events was starting taking off, for example with the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany and its Green Goal program. I started to represent the USOC at International Olympic Committee (IOC) sport and environmental conferences.
GSB: So Yale gave you the knowledge base and, along with the your Olympic background, the contacts. How did you leverage those?
Jill: I was fortunate to have an amazing opportunity to work with London-based non-profit BioRegional Development Group on London 2012’s “One Planet Olympics” initiative. We partnered with WWF UK and the London 2012 organizers to embed sustainability into the planning, delivery and legacy of hosting the Olympic and Paralympic Games. We looked at areas like green building, recycling, reuse of construction materials, sustainable food, transportation and also social and economic aspects such as health, inclusion, and the supply chain.
GSB: We recently interviewed Simon Lewis who represented WWF UK’s involvement in the “One Planet Olympics” program for London 2012.
Jill: Yes! Simon and I worked very closely together on London 2012. BioRegional and WWF-UK jointly developed the “One Planet Living” concept
GSB: What worked best for London 2012 and what could’ve gone better from a sustainability point-of-view?
Jill: London 2012 is generally regarded as the most sustainable Olympic Games, building on what previous Olympic Games organizers have accomplished, such as Vancouver 2010. One thing that most people don’t appreciate is that the 7-year timeline from awarding of the Games by the IOC to the event itself is actually quite quick—there’s an enormous amount of construction and planning that needs to get done. The sustainable design of the London 2012 Olympic Park sporting venues that were planned early in the process were not as sustainable as we might have liked. But we did learn a lot and that was reflected in the facilities that were designed and built later on the process, like the super-sustainable Velodrome (indoor track cycling). London 2012 organizers focused on building only those venues that could be used after the event. They built temporary venues, such as for basketball, which could be taken down and reused later. Organizers also made great efforts to encourage spectators to walk, bike and take public transit to venues (versus using private cars), and upgraded infrastructure and pathways to make this a reality.
London 2012’s Olympic Velodrome, a stellar example of a sustainably designed and constructed sports venue (Photo Credit: The Guardian)
GSB: So, after London 2012, what was next?
Jill: I left BioRegional Development Group in 2011. I got back to the US and went to work with the America’s Cup in San Francisco. It was really the role that all of my prior professional and academic experience had prepared me for, as the sustainability bar was set incredibly high.
Jill Savery, Head of Sustainability for the 2013 America’s Cup (Photo Credit: Jill Savery)
GSB: How high was high?
Jill: Because the 2013 America’s Cup was to take place in San Francisco and the city has, as you are probably aware, advanced environmental regulations, we were required to be 1) Zero Waste, 2) Carbon Neutral, and 3) environmentally sustainable. We were also the first event in California to undergo environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), which resulted in many mitigation measures to avoid any potentially negative environmental impacts. The event was also reviewed under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
GSB: OK, I give! That bar was set high!
Jill: Wait…there’s more! In addition to the main event in San Francisco, we also were responsible for the America’s Cup World Series—8 mini America’s Cups all over the world, from Newport, RI to Venice, Italy. We wanted our efforts in all of our event locations to be as sustainable as possible.
GSB: So, did you clear the bar?
Jill: We did! The 2013 America’s Cup broke records in terms of diversion from landfill, and it was the first climate neutral America’s Cup in history. Our Sustainability Report describes our commitments and achievements. The watchdog America’s Cup Environmental Council and the City of San Francisco were both happy with our work.
GSB: Will you be involved in the next America’s Cup?
Jill: Planning for the next America’s Cup is underway, and a location for the event has not yet been announced. After the America’s Cup ended I started my own sustainability consulting firm called Bristlecone Strategies, based in Reno, NV. My goal is to work with various types of organizations, including sports organizations, venues, events, as well as the private and public sectors. Sustainability is mainstream and organizations around the world are taking environmental, social and economic issues seriously to improve performance, maximize efficiency and engage with stakeholders.
GSB: Good luck with Bristlecone. I’m sure you will be helping events and corporations clear ever higher sustainability bars!