When folks talk about fuel supply and food supply as they relate to environmental/climate change, they most often do so as separate and distinct topics. Truth is, the two are tightly intertwined, especially if one looks at both through the lens of waste. A forward thinking non-profit, Sustainable America, is dedicated to making food and fuel systems more efficient and thus less taxing on the climate. Sports; with high profile and high capacity events, is a key industry for the group. Executive Director Jeremy Kranowitz talked with GreenSportsBlog about the intersection of Green, Sports, Food and Fuel.
GreenSportsBlog: Jeremy, I don’t believe most people link food and fuel to each other. Obviously Sustainable America thinks otherwise, and believes that this link is, in fact, very important. Can you summarize the group’s thinking on this and its mission?
Jeremy Kranowitz: Sure! For starters, Food is Fuel! The consumption of food and fossil fuels are inextricably linked. Our food and fuel systems are not nearly as robust as we think. Therefore our mission is as powerful as it is simple: To reduce U.S. oil consumption while increasing US food production by making our food and fuel systems more efficient and resilient.
GSB: That’s simple–and big! Can you dimensionalize it for us?
JK: Sure, our goal is to reduce oil consumption in the US by 50% by 2033 vs. 2013 and, at the same time, increase food availability by 50%.
GSB: That’s very ambitious, which is great. Let’s start with food. The problem in the US is not only one of lack of production but also of waste, right?
JK: No doubt about it. The amount of food waste in the US is staggering and is a major problem. Consider this: 40% of food produced in this country gets wasted, with 30% coming from consumers. And this waste takes a toll on our energy supplies–we use a tremendous amount of fuel growing and shipping food–thus there is a lot of fuel in food. According to Michael Webber, an Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Texas (Austin), 10% of all the energy used in this country goes into the growing and shipping of food. The amount of money this represents is staggering. After shelter, households spend more of their take home pay on food and transportation than on anything else.
GSB: Those numbers are massive. So how does Sustainable America plan to change things on the food side of the equation?
JK: We work to build awareness about the food waste problem and recommend actions that will ultimately yield behavioral change.
GSB: Could you give us some examples?
Jeremy Kranowitz, Executive Director, Sustainable America (Photo credit: Sustainable America)
JK: One of our initiatives, I Value Food, educates people about the aforementioned scope of the food waste problem and provides suggestions–composting, food donation, etc.
GSB: And where do things stand about the fuel waste side?
JK: On fuel, we’re promoting the many alternatives to oil–renewables, biofuels, and natural gas among them. Fuel efficiency is also a huge area of interest for us.
GSB: But natural gas is a fuel that is carbon-based so why is it on your list?
JK: NatGas is a less carbon-intense fuel than oil and so we see it as a bridge fuel until advanced biofuels and carbon-free fuels can more fully service the nation’s and world’s transportation needs.
GSB: Hmmm. Let’s put NatGas to the side for now as its role as a solution to the carbon fuel problem. It is a hotly debated issue, especially with the methane leaks often associated w/ NatGas that add greatly to its carbon footprint. We will stick with Sustainable America’s overall focus on the need to get off of oil. With that in mind, you talk a lot about resilience. What does it mean to you?
JK: Resilience is huge for us. We ask ourselves how can we think of alternatives to “business as usual” as it relates to dealing with shocks to the food and/or food supply like droughts and floods that can and/or will be exacerbated by climate change.
GSB: What are some examples?
JK: We’re interested in building awareness of and hastening the development of growing food indoors, which includes Hydroponics (growing food in water only, without soil), Aquaponics (growing food in water w/ fish and fish waste providing nutrients, again no soil), and the new and promising technology of Aeroponics, in which roots are misted with water and nutrients–this uses 1/100th to 1/1,ooo of the resources of traditional farm-produced food.
GSB: So I get Sustainable America’s mission–but I’m not clear about how sports fits in?
JK: Sustainable America launched in 2013. Early on, we asked Dr. Allen Hershkowitz to join our board as he was a guru in waste management at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)–he was a natural fit. He, of course, was working closely with the Green Sports Alliance at the time [Ed. Note: Dr. Hershkowitz left the NRDC and is currently president of the Green Sports Alliance] and told us that 13% of the public pays attention to science, and 61% pays attention to sports. When you consider that 25,000-75,000 people come to a game–a city’s worth of people in one spot for 3-4 hours– we realized we could teach a lot of people about waste through sports.
GSB: What did you do to turn Dr. Hershkowitz’ advice into action?
JK: On food waste, we worked with NASCAR to improve the sustainability of its races through Racing to End Food Waste. In April 2015, we worked with the Richmond, VA NASCAR track and its Sprint Cup race and engaged the fans by recycling 1.5 tons of cardboard, composted 5.5 tons of food and donated 1 ton of food, which turned into 1,350 meals.
GSB: Very impressive. Is there a follow-up?
JK: Yes! Richmond hosts two races each year; one in April and another in the fall. We’re going back in for the latter and will return the compost to the soil around the track, creating an orchard on site!
GSB: WOW! That is even more impressive. Who funded your efforts in Richmond?
JK: NASCAR paid for 50% of it and Sustainable America put up the remaining 50%.
GSB: And where do you see Sustainable America in the next 1-3 years as it relates to food waste?
JK: We’d like to serve as a mission-based consulting group for teams to get ahead of the food waste issue in a similar fashion to Richmond
GSB: And what about fuel waste and sports?
JK: We’re still in early days on fuel waste and sports but see great potential there. Our focus for now is with fleets that service stadiums to make them more efficient. Mark Teixeira of the New York Yankees has told us that he and some of his teammates cannot stand waiting for idling buses to take them to the airport for away games. In the future, we would love to find ways to get folks to waste less fuel in and out of parking lots on game days. Think of the tens of thousands of cars that are idling trying to get out of a stadium, and you have a huge fuel waste and carbon emissions problem. So we would like to pilot a program to lessen the idling time at games.
GSB: If you could make a big dent in idling as fans wait to leaves games, well, perhaps that would stop some fans from leaving early to beat the traffic. Except Dodgers fans–that’s in their DNA.
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