The eighth Green Sports Alliance Summit that concluded Wednesday in Atlanta was the most substantive of the five such events I’ve attended. From the plenary sessions to the workshops to the stadium tours to the conversations with vendors at their booths, the hallmark for me was that I learned a ton!
With that as backdrop, here is a final recap of the substantive Green Sports Alliance Summit 2018.
PANEL DISCUSSES MICROGRIDS FOR SPORTS VENUES
“We are in the Excuse Removal business!'”
Karen Morgan, President and CEO of Dynamic Energy Networks, began “The Art of the Possible: New Business Models to Achieve Your Community’s Energy Goals” panel discussion with that proclamation.
Karen Morgan, President and CEO, Dynamic Energy Networks (Photo credit: Dynamic Energy Networks)
What excuses are Morgan and her team aiming to remove from the lexicon of sports owners?
That their stadia and arenas can’t become hubs of a microgrid — a form of distributed electricity generation that brings together a small network of electricity users with a local source of supply that, in the main, functions independently of the grid — because doing so is too costly, technologically challenging, and/or just too different.
Moderated adroitly by Anne Kelly, Ceres’ Senior Director, Policy, “The Art of the Possible” offered a detailed tutorial on the potential of microgrids to benefit not only sports venues but the surrounding community.
Morgan set the stage: “Our team invests in microgrid projects, often including solar and other renewables, taking on the financial risk from property owners. Our capital, provided by the Carlyle Group, one of the world’s largest private equity firms, is invested upfront. Property owners pay our investors back over time through power purchase agreements (PPAs), energy services agreements and other such vehicles. Schneider Electric contributes critical software integration expertise.”
Key members of the Dynamic Energy Networks microgrid All-Star team joined Morgan on the panel.
Mark Feasel, Vice President Electric Utility Segment and Smart Grid at Schneider Electric, evangelized about microgrids’/distributed generation’s three most powerful features:
- Digitization: “Data profoundly is transforming the effectiveness of energy assets. Solar, for example, has become exponentially more efficient thanks to digitization.”
- Decarbonization: “Distributed generation allows for the faster integration of renewables. We see decarbonization rates of up to 85 percent in distributed generation networks.”
- Decentralization: “For 100 years, energy was supplied to homes and businesses from a massive central hub, and consumers were passive. Now, with distributed generation, customers are proactive actors, getting more reliable, sustainable and predictable energy, sometimes at lower cost.”
Andrew Marino, Co-Head of Carlyle Group and a member of Dynamic Energy Networks’ Board of Directors, offered this take: “We see microgrids as a massive opportunity for distributed, integrated sustainable energy and a huge investment opportunity. And it’s not only renewables and storage. Electric vehicles are also part of the mix. All of our EV conversations involve integrating them with microgrids.”
Where does sports fit in?
Morgan said “Sports venues can be laboratories for energy innovation.” She then imagined the integration of Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Philips Arena^ and Georgia World Congress (convention) Center — the three structures form a triangle of sorts — via battery-powered energy storage: “This would become a resilient center for disaster relief. Sports venues are where the community goes. Five years ago, back up power was exclusively diesel-based, meaning it was dirty and took a half-hour or more to ramp up — remember the blackout at the 2013 Super Bowl in New Orleans. Now we can leverage solar, dispatch a battery for resilience. It is cleaner, quicker, more reliable and at a lower price. Microgrids will help venues win the right to host the best and biggest events. So, to team owners, venue owners, I say be leaders on microgrids and distributed generation.”
CARBON UNDERGROUND PRESIDENT SAYS KEY SOLUTION TO CLIMATE CHANGE IS…UNDERGROUND
“There is no solution to climate change that does not include drawing carbon back down from our atmosphere. And there is no mechanism with the scale and immediacy to draw enough carbon back down to mitigate climate change other than the restoration of soil. Doing so will be transformational.”
So said Larry Kopald, Co-Founder and President of The Carbon Underground, as a lead-in to a brief presentation Tuesday afternoon about his organization’s important but not-so-well-known work.
Kopald asserted that “According to the United Nations, mismanagement of soil has resulted in a loss of as much as 70 percent of topsoil worldwide. And that loss of topsoil is a big contributor to climate change. If we continue at the current pace, the UN predicts we may have as little as sixty years left before the soil-based foundation for feeding the planet is gone.”
The good news is that restoring health of our soil can happen quickly, will reduce atmospheric CO₂ levels, increase the water supply and is now seen by many, including Big Food, as a winning investment. According to Mr. Kopald:
- One acre of healthy soil stores 25,000 gallons of water
- Per a UCLA study, restoring health to our soil, and thereby increasing our water supply and beginning to reverse climate change, will reduce healthcare costs by up to 25 percent
- The largest food companies — Danone, General Mills and Unilever among them — support The Carbon Underground and are moving towards a system of “regenerative agriculture,” farming and grazing practices that, among other benefits, reverse climate change by rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring degraded soil biodiversity – resulting in both carbon drawdown and improving the water cycle.
- Individuals can do so as well, through The Carbon Underground’s “Adopt-a-Meter” program. For as little as $5, folks can adopt a meter of degraded soil and bring it back to health.
How can the sports world chip in? It seems that sports played outside, on grass and dirt like golf, soccer, baseball, and football, should support the work of groups like The Carbon Underground. Healthy soil is something almost all humans are in favor of — why not make it the centerpiece of a fan engagement program?
A MISSED OPPORTUNITY
After Kopald’s presentation, he moderated “Food, Fans and Farmers: Teaming Up for a Healthier Planet.” Panel members Will Witherspoon (sustainable farmer and ex-NFL linebacker), Robby Sansom (COO/CFO of Epic Provisions, maker of bars from 100 percent grass-fed animal protein), and Will Harris (fourth generation cattle farmer), all agreed that animal-based foods play an important, essential role in our diets.
Beyond the panel, there is clear disagreement about that point.
In fact, that same evening, the Alliance hosted a screening of the new documentary film, “The Game Changers.” Per the Alliance, “it tells the story of UFC fighter James Wilks as he travels the world for the truth behind the world’s most dangerous myth: that meat is necessary for protein, strength and optimal health.”
With that in mind, it says here that Wilks — who was at the Summit for a post-screening Q&A — should have been a part of Kobald’s “Food” panel. Having an athlete who thrives on a plant-based diet in a discussion with animal farmers would have been fascinating and illuminating.
James Wilks (Photo credit: vegan-fighter.com)
Also missing from the panel was a discussion of the climate change impact of animal-based foods — it is accepted science that it takes between seven to ten times more energy to get animal-based food to one’s plate than plant-based food.
So this was an opportunity missed — hopefully a fuller discussion about food can be part of the 2019 Summit lineup in Philadelphia.
CLEMSON UNIVERSITY PLAYS LONG GAME WHEN IT COMES TO BRINGING RECYCLING TO MEMORIAL STADIUM
That’s how long it took Tom Jones, Director of Custodial, Recycling, Solid Waste and Special Events at Clemson University, and his team to get recycling fully embedded at Memorial Stadium, the 81,500 seat home of Tigers football.
Talk about playing the long game.
As Jones told the story at the “Engagement through Operations, Staff, Fans, and Community” workshop, the Clemson athletics department was very resistant to the introduction of recycling bins at the stadium and, even more so, in the suites — they felt it would be a big annoyance. His approach: Listen to them, overcome their objections one by one, and advance recycling slowly.
“You’re not going to get anywhere trying to tell the athletics department what to do,” advised Jones. “We kept at it with a ‘soft sell’ approach. We showed them that, by having fans, whether in the tailgate area or in the stadium, separate their waste into trash and recycling would make the trash haul much lighter and quicker. They liked that. Then we showed them that the cost of recycling would be the same or lower than the cost of trash hauling. That got their attention. We got students to volunteer. That got their attention, too. But we didn’t pester them. Slowly, they started to come around. Finally, in recent years, the athletics department started coming to us, asking us to help them. Because we were solving problems. And now we have a solid partnership with athletics based on trust.”
Blocks of recycled cans and bottles collected by Clemson student volunteers at a home football game in 2014 (Photo credit: Clemson Newsstand)
BEST LINE OF THE SUMMIT
At the same “Engagement” workshop, moderator Monica Rowand, Sustainability Coordinator at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, had us break into groups. Our task was to come up with ways to improve recycling rates among fans, stadium/arena staff and the community. One of the folks in our group was Kelsey Hallowell, the head of waste reduction consultancy Reduction In Motion. When I asked what she does day-to-day, she replied “I get paid to trash talk!”
If Kelsey had a microphone, she would’ve dropped it.
See you in Philadelphia next June!
^ Philips Arena: Home of the Atlanta Hawks
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