Houston, the oil capital of the US, is not, like Portland, or San Francisco, a Green-Sports hub. But there are “Green-Sports shoots” sprouting up in Texas’ largest city. The Chevron Houston Marathon is one of the success stories there, earning sustainable event certification from the Council for Responsible Sport since 2012. With the 2017 version of the race having taken place in January, we gave a call to Shelley Villalobos, Managing Director of the Council, to get a sense of how the Houston Marathon made out, sustainability-wise, and what the future holds.
Let’s dispense with the finery: The Houston Super Bowl Host Committee dropped the green ball.
As documented in a January GSB post, the Host Committee did not appear to offer up even a tepid effort to take the Green-Sports baton from the Bay Area Super Bowl 50 Host Committee.
Of course, Houston is not San Francisco, green-wise. Heck, it’s not even in the same sustainability league as Austin, 165 miles to its west. But Houston has some important green things going for it, including its longstanding, comprehensive greening initiative, Green Houston, and its status, per EPA, as the #1 user of Green Power in the country in 2015.
Despite the big missed opportunity at Super Bowl LI, Houston does have a solid, if not well-publicized Green-Sports heritage. The 2016 NCAA Men’s Final Four, held at NRG Stadium, site of Super Bowl LI, was the first Final Four ever to be certified as a sustainable event by the Council for Responsible Sport.
And the Chevron Houston Marathon has been certified by the Council since 2012 by the Council for Responsible Sport and is in the process of attaining its 2017 certification. Brant Kotch, Race Director and President of the Board of the Houston Marathon Committee sounded downright Portlandian when we said that the main reason his team undertook Council certification is “it’s our responsibility to take care of our planet for the present as well as for future generations. We thank the Council for helping to show us the way.”
Runners await the start of the 2017 Chevron Houston Marathon on January 15. (Photo credit: @PhotoRun)
With that in mind, we talked with Council Managing Director Shelley Villalobos to get her take on the Chevron Houston Marathon’s sustainability story.
GreenSportsBlog: Shelley, first of all, congratulations on the important sustainability certification work of the Council for Responsible Sport. It sounds like the Chevron Houston Marathon (CHM) has really made sustainability a key facet of its DNA. Take us through how that happened.
Shelley Villalobos: Well, they’ve been on board for six years now, getting their initial certification back in 2012 at the Silver level. That certification was focused on putting protocols and systems in place to track performance and things like energy use, waste generation and diversion and sustainability engagement with their youth program offerings. In 2013 they said, “we want to go for Gold!” And they did it that year and again in 2015. The recertification is still in process for this year’s event as they pull together documentation and report on how they did.
GSB: Could you tell us the difference between Silver and Gold? And is Gold the highest level certification possible at the Council?
SV: The Council’s 4.2 Responsible Sport Standards are like a menu. There are 61 opportunities across five categories (Planning & Communications, Procurement, Resource Management, Access & Equity, Community Legacy) to earn individual credits towards certification. Silver level is earned when 60% (36 credits) of the standards are met. Gold is earned with 75% of the standards implemented, and our highest level of certification possible, Evergreen, comes when an event meets 90% of the standards.
So to get from Silver to Gold, CHM had to expand their effort beyond what they’d done in the past. Some things they have been working on include tracking their printing more closely, reusing more signage from year to year (they ordered 380 signs less this year than last), eliminating unnecessary waste and expanding their direct outreach to underrepresented groups in the community.
One of my favorite things they did recently was work with their suppliers to eliminate the individual plastic bags around every finisher’s t-shirt and medal. It adds up when we’re talking about an event that 17,000 people participate in!
The Council for Responsible Sport works with its primary evaluation partner, Waste Management, to asses an event’s performance across the five categories of responsible sport according to the v4.2 Responsible Sport Standards for Certification.
GSB: What will it take for them to get to the next level?
SV: For an event like the CHM, once the basic policies and programs are in place it really becomes about engagement and education with event vendors, sponsors and other partners—looking for ways to engage in genuine partnership with people doing good work locally, like Green Houston that you mentioned, to get people in-the-know and involved with pertinent local sustainability issues. That looks different in every place. In some cities it means air quality and transit, for others it’s water conservation and river ecosystems restoration, but generally it comes down to organizers thinking creatively and looking to use an event platform to serve as a connection point for shared community values.
Then from the Council’s perspective, for events that have a legacy of certified responsible performance, we have an invitation-based program called Inspire. It recognizes the challenges long-standing certified events to share what they’ve learned with other organizers in a formal mentorship as well as tell their story publicly. CHM will likely be invited to that club when the current certification is up for renewal in 2019 (certification is good for two years). At that point, we’ll work with them to identify and connect them with another race or organization looking to create or expand their efforts and see what we can come up with!
Shelley Villalobos, Managing Director of The Council for Responsible Sport (Photo credit: The Council for Responsible Sport)
GSB: Well it seems to me that the Houston Marathon is tailor made for the Inspire level. Where does the Houston Marathon team’s sustainability drive come from?
SV: Brant Kotch really has been a driving force behind the event’s sustainability efforts (though he may humbly deny it!) as well as a few key staff. When the leadership is there, and there is a willingness to put some resource behind stated values, people tend to do great work. Brant even spoke last month at the Run Mexico conference in Mexico City to share the evolution of his event, including growing with an awareness of environmental and social impacts. We’ve heard from several organizers of races in Mexico since then who are interested in getting started and doing better. In the interest of full disclosure, Brant Kotch also sits on the Council for Responsible Sport’s Board.
GSB: Talking to Brant for two minutes let me know that he is a great ambassador for sustainable events and for the Council. There’s one question I have to ask…How does the Houston Marathon sustainability team deal with having an oil company like Chevron as the title sponsor?
SV: I can’t answer that for them, but I can say that to the best of my knowledge, the leadership to do better has come from within the marathon committee, not from the title or other sponsors. Realistically, there are probably very few events anywhere that would turn down title sponsorship dollars, period.
GSB: And, in Houston, the economy is largely driven by Big Oil…and Big Oil thus represents the lion’s share of potential title sponsors there.
SV: Agree. Texas more broadly has, of course, been the nation’s oil and gas hub. Tenneco (formerly Tennessee Gas), was the marathon’s title sponsor before Chevron all the way back to ’79. From an energy perspective, things are changing now. Texas is actually the #1 state for installed wind capacity (20, 321 MW as of 2017 according to the American Wind Energy Association).
Chevron acknowledges climate change on its website and has created a division—I don’t know how big or small—dedicated to evaluating emerging technologies in wind, solar and biofuels. That doesn’t change the fact that it’s a company that profits from the trade of fuels that are cooking the planet, but it does signal an effort to be at least somewhat adaptive to the current reality.
GSB: …Sadly, the current reality is that the Houston Marathon has to take Chevron’s money. I think we will know we are on the road to winning the Climate Change fight when we’re talking about the “Fill in the Blank Wind Energy” Houston Marathon. Back to the current reality and to get us to friendlier turf, I understand that Houston was involved in a sustainable sports event symposium of sorts, co-hosted by the Council. Tell us what that was about…
SV: Yeah! We collaborated with the City of Eugene to convene sustainability directors from several cities during the 2016 U.S. Olympic Track & Field trials hosted by TrackTown USA at Hayward Field on the University of Oregon campus. We talked in depth about what responsible sport means to their locales using the Council’s certification framework to jumpstart the conversation.
As a follow up, the participating cities jointly applied for (and were approved!) an Innovation Fund Grant around responsible sport resources development, funded by the Urban Sustainability Directors’ Network (USDN), a consortium of city sustainability directors in the US and Canada. We’ll be working on that project a lot this year.
GSB: Which cities were involved?
SV: In addition to Eugene; Chicago, Houston, Phoenix, Portland, San Jose, and Washington, D.C. participated in the July event, as well as sustainability representatives of the LA 2024 Olympic bid team. Minneapolis and Boulder joined on after that, and several cities are set up to be secondary ‘observers’ on the project moving forward, offering feedback and such, including Austin, Calgary, and Sacramento.
Representatives from the city governments of Eugene, Chicago, Houston, Portland (OR), and Washington D.C. alongside members of the Council for Responsible Sport board and staff. The group “Throws the O” (for University of Oregon) as they culminate a two-day summit exploring responsible sports events alongside the Evergreen Certified 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Track & Field in Eugene, OR in 2016. (Photo credit: City of Eugene, OR)
GSB: And what is this collaboration of cities proposing to do?
SV: The project is really about creating comprehensive responsible event programs consisting of guidelines, standards, recommendations and asset maps so that each partner city will be equipped to realize their own sustainable event strategies. So we’ll be working with them to create tools to help with reporting, involving sponsors and vendors, and working with local infrastructures (e.g are there facilities that can accept large amounts of compostable waste from events?) to understand what’s possible, then share results and compare and contrast stories.
GSB: That is an Olympian list of deliverables! We look forward to seeing the results.
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