The GSB Interview: BASF’s Chris Bradlee–Sponsoring Zero-Waste

 

BASF, the chemical company, is headquartered in Germany, with the US HQ in Florham Park, NJ. BASF has long been known as the company that “makes the products you buy better”. Over the last decade however, BASF has made significant moves in the direction of sustainability by investing in new business lines (solar, wind, water treatment, etc.) and by making existing business units greener. In so doing, a new motto has come to the forefront: “BASF creates chemistry for a sustainable future.” With this new, more sustainable approach, the company started to look at sports as a vehicle by which to communicate its greenness. BASF took a decidedly non-traditional approach to sports. Christopher Bradlee, Market Development Manager for BASF’s Biopolymers Division, has been a key player in the company’s move into sports. GreenSportsBlog caught up with Chris recently to get the story of BASF at the intersection of Green and Sports.

GreenSportsBlog: Chris, what does the BASF Biopolymers unit make?

Christopher Bradlee: We are a leader in compostable polymers. Our most well known brands, ecoflex® and ecovio®, are used in products like plastic bags, paper plates, and single service coffee capsules, among many others. Many of these products are used at ballparks and arenas so it made sense to us to look into sports.

GSB: BASF had never done much in the way of sports sponsorship, at least in the US, right?

CB: In the past, we had not participated in sports sponsorships. However, as we looked at our strategy and the different ways to reach the market, we realized that sports made sense to us from an audience perspective as well as from an environment perspective (since products that feature BASF polymers are used at stadia/arenas). Our first go-round was with the Seattle Mariners in 2011. They, of course, wanted us to become a Mariners sponsor. We moved ahead, but in a slightly different direction, becoming the Zero-Waste Sponsor of Safeco Field (home field of the Mariners). Which means we’re helping the Mariners to divert 90% of the waste produced at Safeco from landfill. Zero-Waste was a crucial distinction for our Board to give us approval of the deal. We are sponsoring the greening of the stadium and the fans, not the Mariners themselves.

GSB: That is BRILLIANT, both as a way to assuage the Board and to get your green message out!

CB: And the greening of Safeco Field is something BASF has a hand in!

Chris_Bradlee

Chris Bradlee, Market Development Manager for BASF’s Biopolymers Division. He’s been a leader of BASF’s efforts to sponsor the greening of select US pro and college sports teams and venues. (Photo Credit: Christopher Bradlee)

 

GSB: Why Seattle?

CB: Seattle is an important market for us: It’s very green-minded and the waste in town has to be collected in compostable bags so there’s a BASF-product reason to go there. The Mariners make sense because it’s a long, 81 game season so we could get our message out consistently.

GSB: How did the Mariners react to the “We’re not sponsoring the Ms, we’re sponsoring Zero-Waste at Safeco Field” way of doing things?

CB: They have been, generally speaking, very accommodating. And, while the sponsorship is non-traditional, we do use some traditional sponsorship tactics like banners and in-stadium signage. But everything we do, everything we communicate is about Zero-Waste and making it the “New Normal.” Our goal is to get fans to take home with them the green practices they learn at the stadium.

GSB: How do you do that?

CB: We have Sustainable Saturdays at Safeco Field, which is very popular. The “BASF Trivia Challenge” on the scoreboard asks sustainability-related questions. There’s a text-to-win component, in which a lucky fan wins a Samsung Galaxy with a free 1 year T-Mobile contract. We have special events, like Compostable Peanut Bag Day and Kitchen Caddy Day (a residential organics collector), which drew fans from Idaho to Vancouver.

GSB: How do you measure success?

CB: We’ve done surveys of attendees at Safeco and of people in the region. The results show that people are changing behavior in terms of composting food waste more religiously than before–some survey respondents say that their composting rates are 20-30% higher than before the program. One other measure of our success was that we got invited to the White House for a briefing on Green-Sports by former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.

GSB: How cool is THAT?!?!

CB: Very cool!

GSB: So, you’ve been with the Mariners for four years. Is there going to be a 5th in 2015?

CB: Well, we’re on a year-to-year deal with the Ms so we’re in discussions for 2015.

ZeroWaste Placard

Sign promoting BASF’s “Kid Compost Trivia Game”, as part of the company’s Sustainable Saturdays at Safeco Field, home of the Seattle Mariners. (Photo Credit: BASF)

 

GSB: So, where did you go after the Mariners?

CB: Next, we sponsored something called “Team Chemistry Challenge” at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor (again, not sponsoring the Athletic Department). In this case, several groups with greening products and/or services within BASF connected with several groups on campus, including the Athletic Department.

 

GSB: Is the “Team Chemistry Challenge” another way of saying Zero-Waste?

CB: No. In 2012, Michigan Athletics did not have a Zero-Waste plan in place. We tried to convince them but they decided not to go in that direction. But we chose to work with them because the Athletic Department is committed to producing greener sports events, to being more sustainable.

GSB: What did that look like?

CB: The centerpiece was an Innovation program that awarded a $25,000 prize for the best ideas to reduce waste at U of M sports events. We received ideas from energy consumption to construction, from waste reduction to recycling. It got a great response from the students and the broader community at large.

GSB: Since Michigan isn’t going Zero-Waste, why did BASF decide to go there?

CB: Like I said, they are making good on a commitment to make their athletic events greener. They’re open to engaging the community on this, and Michigan’s academic bent is also strongly in the direction of sustainability–which is a strong fit with BASF’s vision. If there’s a strong link between Chemistry and Sustainability at a given university, we’re interested.

 

GSB: I also see that BASF is involved with the University of Colorado (Boulder) Athletics Department. Is that Zero-Waste or Team Chemistry?

CB: Yes, that started in 2013, with Men’s and Women’s Basketball. In this case, we are, as with the Mariners, sponsoring Zero-Waste at the Coors Events Center in Boulder, home of Colorado Basketball. Similar to the Mariners, videos featuring facts about sustainability and recycling aired on video boards, and fans had the chance to participate in an interactive, sustainability-themed trivia game to win prizes.

 

GSB: How did it go?

CB: Very well. You have a very green-motivated population at Colorado-Boulder!

GSB: Will BASF sponsor Zero-Waste at Folsom Field for Colorado football?

CB: We haven’t gone that route yet but are looking into it.

 

GSB: Where else in the US sports world is BASF involved?

CB: This thing is growing rapidly within BASF. We just started a 3 year deal with the University of Texas, Austin this year which covers all sports, including football. This is both a “Team Chemistry Challenge” and a Zero-Waste sponsorship. Our approach with the Longhorns is to get involved wherever we can help the Athletic Department become more sustainable; from building and construction to energy efficiency. It’s truly a transformational approach. We’re also looking at the Atlanta Falcons, with their new stadium opening in 2017. And there are others.

GSB: You are a very busy guy!

CB: It’s really amazing when you think about it. In 2011, BASF had 0 sports-related sponsorships. In 2014-2015, we’ll have 6-7 programs! We really need a sports steering committee. Many groups are involved…Sustainability, Engineering, Corporate Communications. Because of our early successes with Zero-Waste at Safeco and others, sports has earned a tremendous profile within BASF.. Another thing–we’re using “Team Chemistry” and Zero-Waste on college campuses as a recruitment tool!

GSB: The recruitment angle is spot on. Congratulations, Chris. What BASF is doing is one of the best, if not the best case study of the power of the intersection of Green and Sports. Keep up the good work!

Please comment below!

Email us: lew@greensportsblog.com

Tweet us: @greensportsblog

 

 

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