The GSB Interview: Alicia Zatcoff, Sustainability Mgr, UCI Cycling Championships, Richmond 2015

Richmond, VA will become the epicenter of the cycling world from September 19-27, 2015 when it hosts the annual Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) Road World Championships. With over 1,000 cyclists from 70+ countries taking part in 12 races over the 9 days, and with 450,000 fans expected to attend, the 2015 UCI Worlds are likely to be the biggest sports event in Richmond history. GreenSportsBlog talked with Alicia Zatcoff, Sustainability Manager for the City of Richmond and the driving force behind the sustainability efforts for the 2015 UCI Road Worlds, to get a sense of how green the event will be.


GreenSportsBlog: Alicia, before we get into the greenness of the Richmond 2015 UCI Road Worlds, tell us how you came to lead the sustainability effort for the event.

Alicia Zatcoff: As the City’s Sustainability Manager, I saw leading the sustainability effort for the World Championships as an opportunity to leverage the event to further the city’s broader sustainability initiatives. Those initiatives improve the quality of life for the entire community and will continue to benefit our residents long after the World Championships are over.

GSB: What are some of those sustainability programs in Richmond?

AZ: One of the first things I did as Sustainability Manager was to work with the community and other stakeholders to develop the city’s community-based sustainability plan called RVAgreen. The sustainability plan includes 55 initiatives in five focus areas: Economic Development, Energy, Environment, Open Space and Land Use, and Transportation. Some of the 55 initiatives involve making the city bike friendly. Without the World Championships, those bike-related initiatives likely wouldn’t have happened. As a result, we’ll go from less than five miles of bike infrastructure in the city to 20 miles by the time of the race. That is in addition to the city’s greenways and a world class off-road trail system that runs along the James River., the best urban whitewater in the country.

GSB: What have been the results to date?

AZ: Well, we track what the city does related to sustainability and energy conservation. Since 2010, those efforts have saved the city $3.8 million

GSB: On behalf of the citizens of Richmond, I say WOW!!!

AZ:…And we will save $1.8 million per year going forward. And that’s the case even if we stopped today, the city would continue to save $1.8 million per year. The savings have allowed us to permanently fund my position, an Energy Manager and a Management Analyst.

Photo Zatcoff BW

Alicia Zatcoff, Sustainability Manager, City of Richmond, VA (Photo credit: City of Richmond)


GSB: Is the city funding new programs out of the savings that could yield more savings?

AZ: No, so we hope to get additional funding in the future that will enable us to generate even more cost savings for the city.

GSB: How does the mayor feel about the sustainability efforts? He must be thrilled!

AZ: In addition to savings, we’ve completed 17 of the 55 initiatives in the city’s RVAgreen Sustainability Plan and another 22 are underway. So, Mayor Dwight Jones has been and continues to be supportive.

GSB: Alicia, that is really impressive and a great example of how a municipal government can embrace sustainability in a way that benefits the city’s bottom line. Let’s take a step back. How did Richmond come to host UCI 2015?

AZ: The Mayor was approached in 2010 about Richmond hosting the UCI Road Worlds in 2015. He and his team studied the potential benefits and determined it was a great opportunity. In addition to the City of Richmond, the Commonwealth of Virginia and regional civic and business leaders pledged support for the bid. Richmond 2015, Inc., the non-profit entity that is overseeing the organization and management of the Road World Championships was formed at that time to oversee the bid effort.

GSB: Who else was in the running?

AZ: It was a two-city race between Richmond and Oman and Richmond won the bid, becoming the first US city to host the UCI Road Worlds since Colorado Springs in 1986.

GSB: That’s a big deal! Tell us a little bit about the event itself.

AZ: The UCI Road Worlds are a very big deal in the cycling world, perhaps trailing only the Tour de France and Giro d’Italia in notoriety. It is a 9-day festival of cycling with 12 races (Ed. note: these include individual and team time trials as well as long distance road races for men, women, under 23s and juniors). For the 2015 Worlds, we anticipate having 1,000 cyclists representing over 70 countries. The athletes compete for their country–the Road Worlds are the only cycling event, other than the Olympics, in which that’s the case. NBC Universal will provide TV coverage in the US.

GSB: That is very cool–my guess is that NBC Universal will promote it heavily as a way to help build the audience for Olympic cycling in 2016 –which will air on the networks of NBC. Switching gears, how did sustainability fit into the Richmond 2015 bid?

AZ: UCI does not incorporate sustainability as an official requirement of its bidding process to select a host city.

GSB: …Which makes them a bit of an outlier as compared to the Olympics, FIFA World Cups, etc…

AZ: …and that’s something weve let UCI know that we’d like to see change in the future . UCI does have a sustainability program called reCycling. It was created to help its members organize more environmentally responsible cycling events by addressing practices in transportation, energy and water conservation, recycling and waste management, accommodations, catering and supplies. UCI awards the eco-label to cycling events that have submitted an Environmental Management Plan documenting intended actions that meet the reCycling criteria. We submitted an Environmental Management Plan for the 2015 Worlds.

GSB: What did it encompass?

AZ: We chose to focus on four key areas that align with the City of Richmond’s broader sustainability goals so that we could leverage the World Championships to further our community-wide initiatives. Thus our focus is on reducing waste through recycling, composting, and other means; reducing greenhouse gas emissions in transportation; being healthy (healthy, local food, healthy lifestyle, bike safety) and leaving a positive environmental legacy (bike friendly city, urban greening, sustainable events, etc.). The UCI, after reviewing the Plan, awarded Richmond 2015 with the official UCI reCycling eco-label, the first ever given to a UCI Road Worlds event. We made the announcement on Earth Day 2015.

Richmond 2015-Eco-label Poster Press Event

City of Richmond Eco-Station displayed at the Earth Day 2015 press conference to announce the UCI eco-label earned by Richmond 2015. (Photo credit: City of Richmond)


GSB: Congratulations! But that does seem a little late in the game–an announcement in April 2015, with the event only 5 months off?

AZ: With an event this big, there are lots of moving pieces. Sustainability is just one piece of the overall event planning effort. Although we didn’t make the announcement for the eco-label until April, there had been and continues to be a lot of work going on behind the scenes. We have wonderful partners in the community and many residents who have volunteered their time and energy to serve on our sustainability team. We couldn’t do this without them. We also sought guidance from organizations that could help us make the event as environmentally friendly as possible. So we partnered with the Virginia Green Travel Alliance and the Council for Responsible Sport (featured in GreenSportsBlog in September, 2014).

GSB: How has that worked out?

AZ: They’ve both been wonderful partnerships. In addition to the UCI eco-label, we’re pursuing event certification from the Virginia Green Travel Alliance, which is Virginia’s initiative to encourage green practices in all aspects of its tourism industry including festivals and sporting events. We’re also seeking certification from the Council for Responsible Sport. Its certification is based on the event’s actual performance in key areas of: equity, access, community impact, and legacy. We’re also working with the Council on its Sustainable Sport Initiative to help other cities use sporting events to make their communities more sustainable.

GSB: What will fans along the race course and on TV see in terms of your sustainability efforts?

AZ: They’ll see a comprehensive, visible waste diversion system that includes our eco-stations for recycling and composting –our goal is to divert 60% of waste from landfill during the event. We will have a program in place for unused food. Cooking grease will be collected and repurposed into biodiesel. There will be water filling stations provided by the City’s Department of Public Utilities, reducing the need for bottled water. There is a program to bring prices down on compostable and recyclable cutlery and packaging to encourage vendors to use these items. We are buying Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) for the duration of the event for the Convention Center, which will serve as Ground Zero, hosting the Media Center, Expo and Fan Fest areas.

GSB: …Dang! You–along with the Council for Responsible Sport and Virginia Green Travel Alliance–are dotting the green “i’s” and crossing the green “t’s”. What about sustainable transportation?

AZ: There is a very comprehensive transportation and traffic management plan for the event that many people from many different organizations worked on over the past few years. Sustainable transportation options are an important part of the plan to limit vehicular traffic downtown and near the race venues. Event organizers have worked with city officials, the local transit provider and transportation companies to offer shuttles, public transit and other options for the event. We are encouraging bike riding to-from the event. And we will run a “Bike Valet” program. Event organizers created a website that provides day-by-day guides and information on navigation, transportation and parking.

GSB: What about staff?

AZ: We will have a dedicated Green Team of volunteers who will be highly visible throughout the race venues. The City of Richmond and community partners were fortunate to have been selected to receive an AmeriCorps (NCCC) National Civilian Community Corps Team. Members of the NCCC team will serve as Green Team leaders throughout the event. After the event, they will work on sustainability and urban greening projects in the community for an additional six weeks.

GSB: I have to say that this should put Richmond in a great position to host future like-sized sports and entertainment events.

AZ: That’s one of our goals. We purposefully approached our sustainability effort for the UCI Road Worlds in a way that would build the community’s capacity to make future events more sustainability. What we implemented for the Worlds, we did while thinking “how can we make it easier for others to do this?” To that end, we’re taking what we learned and creating a green event toolkit to share information and resources to enable others to benefit from our sustainability effort for the Worlds. But we’re not taking any victory laps just yet. First, we will work very hard between now and the end of September to put on the best and most sustainable UCI Road Worlds ever.

GSB: I have no doubt about that. Please let us know any results you can share once they’ve come in.

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