GreenBiz Runs Another GreenSportsBlog Post; Our Interview with Emily Davis of DHL

GreenBiz (http://greenbiz.com), a leader in reporting news at the intersection of Sustainability & Business, occasionally runs GreenSportsBlog articles with a sustainable business bent. This is a big deal for GSB as GreenBiz, with its large monthly audience of 400,000+ visitors, helps expand our awareness and reach every time they post our content. On Friday, it posted our our story about global logistics leader DHL, and the role sports will play in promoting its greenness

 

We at GreenSportsBlog are always thrilled when GreenBiz, the leader in sustainable business media, chooses to run our content with a business angle. They did so again on Friday by posting our June interview with Emily Davis, the Sustainability Program Manager at DHL North America’s Supply Chain unit. We delved into how the largest logistics company in the world will go about achieving its audacious net zero emissions goal by 2050 and how their sponsorship of Formula-E, the electric vehicle car racing circuit, will help them get there. 

 

EmilyDavisheadshot2

Emily Davis, Sustainability Program Manager at DHL North America’s Supply Chain unit (Photo credit: Summer Safrit)

 

DHL Form-E

DHL has been a sponsor of Formula-E, the EV racing circuit, since its founding in 2014. (Photo credit: DHL)

 

Click here for the link to the GreenBiz story, entitled “The World’s Biggest Logistics Company Races Towards Net Zero Emissions.” And thank you for your continued support of our content, wherever you happen to read it.

 


 

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Looking Back at the First PAC-12 Sustainability Conference

The Pac-12 Conference is a leader on the field and court — member schools UCLA and Stanford are at the top of the “total NCAA championships won” list. And, the conference also leads in Green-Sports: It is the first conference to have all of its schools become members of the Green Sports Alliance. And, in late June, it became the first conference to host a sustainability conference. GreenSportsBlog spoke with University of Colorado Athletic Director Rick George, Dave Newport, the University of Colorado Environmental Center Director, and Pac-12 Deputy Commissioner Jamie Zaininovich, to get a sense of why green sports are important—and how the Pac-12’s leadership can influence all of college sports.

 

For basketball fans, Hall of Famer and announcer Bill Walton’s enthusiastic, stentorian tones are instantly recognizable. But, in late June, instead of intoning, slowly and dramatically, about, “the incredible three point genius of Steph Curry,” Walton talked Green-Sports at the first Pac-12 Sustainability Conference: “[Sustainability is] good policy, good economics, and it’s good for all of us! What more can you ask for?…The Pac-12, the Conference of Champions, we’re leading the charge forward.”

The genesis of the recent Pac-12 Sustainability Conference came from University of Colorado Athletic Director Rick George. “We are the first NCAA Power 5* league to join the Green Sports Alliance,” said George. “So it seemed fitting to me that we be the first Power 5 league to host a sustainability conference.”

 

Rick George UofC Ath

Rick George, University of Colorado Athletics Director (Photo credit: University of Colorado Athletics)

 

According to Dave Newport, the University of Colorado Environmental Center Director, “Rick George’s main goal was to create a forum at which the 12 schools could help each other raise our ‘Green Games’.”

Jamie Zaninovich, Deputy Commissioner and Chief Operating Officer of the Pac-12, thought more broadly, looking to host a conference that would “bring together athletics professionals, sustainability professionals, rights holders, and marketers from both inside and outside (my italics) the Pac-12 to have productive conversations on further integrating sustainability into intercollegiate athletics.”

 

NCAA: WCC Staff Headshots

Jamie Zaininovich, Pac-12 Deputy Commissioner and Chief Operating Officer (Photo credit: Pac-12 Conference)

 

With those goals in mind, Newport, his colleague at USC Halli Bovia, and sports and sustainability staffers at the 10 other Pac-12 schools created an ad-hoc “sustainability conference planning group” to put things in motion.

While George initially offered to host the event in Boulder, it quickly became apparent to the planning group that attaching the Pac-12 Sustainability Conference to the June, 2017 Green Sports Alliance Summit in Sacramento made the most sense. “Sacramento, right in the Pac-12’s backyard — the league office is in San Francisco — is a great location for our member schools, so costs would be kept low,” said Newport. “Plus it would be easier to draw people from non-Pac-12 schools since they’d already be out there for the GSA. And the late June timing was right.”

 

Bill Walton Poster

Poster for the Pac-12 Sustainability Conference, designed and created by Bill Walton (Credit: Pac-12 Conference and Bill Walton)

 

Over 150 people registered — the Pac-12 expected about 100 — small enough, per Newport, “so people could really learn from each other,” yet big enough to generate buzz and energy. Interest was not limited to the Pac-12. Attendees included an NCAA senior executive — more Newport: who was “very interested in figuring out how to seamlessly weave sustainability in to the 92 championships they administer” — as well as representatives from the Big 12, Big Ten and SEC schools.

As for what was discussed, perhaps not surprisingly, Sustainability Sponsorships (how to raise money for green-themed initiatives) and Engaging Fans (to be sustainable at home, work, and play) were the two subject areas that bubbled to the top of the conference agenda.

 

Sustainability Sponsorships

Seth Matlins, Executive Vice President of Branded Impact at IMG/IMG College, the sports marketing and sponsorship sales firm for six Pac-12 schools#, dug into the aspects of sustainability that should appeal to sponsors of college sports. Matlins holds that fans tell the story: “87% of [college sports fans] believe business should place equal weight on societal issues and business issues. 68% want the US to lead global efforts to slow climate change,” he said, citing the College Sports Fans over-index.

Colorado’s sports marketing and sustainability teams presented a case study highlighting Ralphie’s Green Stampedethe green-sports sponsorship platform that has yielded fruitful partnerships with BASF, Eco-Products, Pepsi, Wells Fargo, White Wave and others.

 

Fan Engagement

“CU Boulder and the Green Sports Alliance hosted a “Think Camp for Fan Engagement” last fall to develop a ‘Fan Engagement for Sustainability Playbook’,” said Newport. “We rolled out the skeleton at the GSA Summit and it was very well received, the evaluations were through the roof.”

 

dn.mug.2014.grin.gsa

Dave Newport, University of Colorado Environmental Center Director (Photo credit: University of Colorado)

 

The Playbook walks users (sports marketers, school sustainability professionals and more) through the steps needed to create and measure effective sustainable behavior change campaigns. And it connects fans with their teams’ sustainability initiatives and encourages them to participate in sustainable actions both in and out of the stadium.

After quick tutorials on how to 1) choose sustainability topics and 2) develop effective campaigns, attendees worked with their school groups to follow steps laid out by the Playbook and plan their own fan engagement-sustainability campaigns. Many focused on getting fans to properly recycle and/or compost in stadium and while tailgating.

Colorado Athletic Director George has no doubts that fans will enjoy engaging with green-themed initiatives from their favorite Pac-12 school: “Green/sustainability is a natural connector between the schools and the various communities we serve. Everyone wants a cleaner, healthier environment, after all. So people get this.”

But for fans to get it, they have to know about it. 

And they will.

“Pac-12 Networks covered the conference and produced a video that is being aired throughout the summer,” shared Zaninovich. “We’ve also included coverage of our schools’ sustainability work on various Pac-12 Networks live broadcasts, including football games.”

 

What’s Next?

The Pac-12 Sustainability Working Group was born at the conference. Made up of representatives from each of the league’s 12 athletic departments and from each school’s sustainability office, the team will work to ensure that the conference keeps pushing the green envelope on sponsorships, fan engagement, and overall awareness of the league’s sustainability advancements. This is a big deal.

“Hard as it may be to believe, before the Sustainability Conference, many sustainability people didn’t know the athletic directors,” noted Newport. “The Conference helped and the Working Group will help, too. We walked in as 12 schools; we walked out as one Athletic Conference, committed to growing the impact of sustainable college sports.”

Will there be a 2018 PAC-12 Sustainability Conference? And will other Power Five Conferences follow the Pac-12’s lead?

Atlanta is likely to host the next Green Sports Alliance Summit, not exactly a good geographic fit for a conference whose easternmost school is in Boulder, CO. But there are Pac-12 Athletic Directors meetings to which a Sustainability Conference could be attached.

Given the enthusiasm and initiatives coming out of the first Pac-12 Sustainability Conference, I doubt it will be the last.

 

* “Power 5” are the biggest, most powerful NCAA sports leagues/conferences. They include the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and the Southeastern Conference (SEC)
^ In addition to Colorado, the PAC-12 schools are Arizona, Arizona State, Cal-Berkeley, Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, UCLA, USC, Utah, Washington, and Washington State.
# Arizona, Cal-Berkeley, Oregon, UCLA, Washington, and Washington State are the IMG schools. Learfield, IMG’s main competitor, handles Colorado, Oregon State, Stanford and Utah.

 


 

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GSB News and Notes, UK Style: Arsenal Supporters Protest Owner Stan Kroenke’s Ownership of Hunting Channel; Oval Cricket Ground/SkyTV Tackle Plastic Ocean Waste; Forest Green Rovers League Two Debut Earns Big Media Coverage

With the 2017-18 Premier League (EPL) football/soccer season set to kickoff tomorrow/Friday, with Arsenal hosting Leicester City, and with a raft of interesting Green-Sports stories breaking out across England, now is a perfect time for a UK style GSB News & Notes. And, just like the EPL campaign, we start with Arsenal, as their supporters protest the club’s American owner Stan Kroenke and his ownership of a cable TV hunting channel. Then we move on to an initiative from London’s Oval Cricket Ground and SkyTV to build awareness of, and action on the plastic ocean waste issue. We end with GSB fave Forest Green Rovers (FGR). Their debut in the fourth tier of the English Football pyramid, League Two, after earning promotion from the fifth tier last spring, drew coverage from major media outlets the world over. Why? Because FGR is the Greenest Team in Sports.

 

 

ARSENAL SUPPORTERS PROTEST OWNERS OWNERSHIP OF CABLE TV HUNTING CHANNEL

Arsenal is one of the Premier League’s (EPL’s) most decorated clubs, with 13 league titles and a record 13 FA Cup trophies to its credit. It is also an EPL green leader: The club just extended its partnership with Octopus Energy to supply the Emirates Stadium with electricity generated solely from renewables. The stadium also puts its 100 percent of its food waste through an anaerobic digester, which then gets composted.

Gunners’ supporters seem to be supportive of the clubs greening initiatives but that hasn’t stopped them from criticizing the club’s American owner, Stan Kroenke, on another environmental issue — animal cruelty — specifically, his company’s ownership of My Outdoor TV (MOTV), a hunting-themed cable network. And they are, smartly it says here, pushing Arsenal’s main sponsors — Emirates, Puma and Vitality — to condemn Kroenke’s support for hunting.

According to Jack de Menezes of The INDEPENDENT of London, “a petition calling for [Emirates, Puma and Vitality] to call for Kroenke ‘to stand down’ has [as of August 3rd] nearly reached 50,000 signatures, as pressure continues to grow on the American billionaire following the launch of his hunting TV channel.”

Kroenke has faced searing criticism and outrage from Arsenal supporters after it was revealed on August 1 that MOTV is owned by his company, Kroenke Sports & Entertainment. Per de Menezes, the aforementioned petition calls for a “meeting between the Arsenal board, key sponsors, leading animal rights charities and most importantly, [representatives] of the international fan bases regarding this situation.” Tom Farmery of The Daily Mail reported that the dustup reached up to the highest levels of British politics as UK Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn joined the criticism of Kroenke’s MOTV app, which for £7.60 ($10.06) a month offers “the Netflix of the hunting world.”

But perhaps it was the BBC and its “Have I Got News For You” show that nailed the story with this tweet of a doctored jersey (“kit” in British English,) which Arsenal fans then picked up with a vengeance.

 

Arsenal Tweet

 

Can you see American sports fans protesting against a hunting channel? Or against fracking? While there certainly were marches against Mike Vick after he served his time for organizing dog fights, it’s hard for this reporter to imagine a movement against hunting in the US. And if that’s hard to imagine, it’s harder still to picture protests against, say, fossil fuel companies who sponsor sports events/teams. We certainly can learn some things from our British sports fan cousins.

 

LONDON’S OVAL CRICKET GROUND PARTNERS WITH SKY TV ON PLASTIC OCEAN WASTE CAMPAIGN

Sky TV, one of the UK’s two largest sports broadcasters (BT Sport being the other) is advancing Green-Sports in ways that its US counterparts ESPN, Fox Sports, NBC Sports, and CBS Sports, should emulate.

Kia Oval Stadium, the 24,000 seat South London home of the Surrey cricket club, partnered with Sky and its new Sky Sports Cricket channel to build awareness of the plastic ocean waste problem. The broadcaster, through its Ocean Rescue sustainability campaign, gave out refillable water bottles to fans who came to the stadium from July 27th-31st for the England-South Africa five day Test match. Thanks to a hat trick by star bowler Moeen Ali, the home side won by 239 runs. I have no idea what “England won by 239 runs” in cricket means…other than that England won.

 

England bowlers Moeen Ali and Stuart Broad are supporting the Sky Ocean Rescue initiative, which is encouraging consumers to reduce the use of single-use plastics

England bowlers Moeen Ali and Stuart Broad are supporting the Sky Ocean Rescue initiative, which is encouraging consumers to reduce the use of single-use plastics. (Photo credit: Sky Sports)

 

 

According to a story by Luke Nicholls in edie.net20,000 limited-edition re-usable bottles were given out at the London ground throughout the five-day Test affair, and “fans were encouraged to use 20 free water distribution points which were installed throughout the venue.” Giving out water bottles is hard to imagine at a stateside sporting event, or even at an English soccer/football match. But, perhaps the make up of the crowd at a five day Test match — where there are breaks for tea — gives the organizers confidence that the water bottles will be used in a proper, decorous fashion.

A Sky Ocean Rescue mobile studio was set up at the Oval, allowing fans to commit their own recorded pledge to become an #OceanHero. These were then shared via social media.

But it is on TV where Sky is really stepping up its Green-Sports game.

Sky News reports on the plastic ocean waste issue were played during breaks in the match and viewers were challenged to reduce use of single-use plastics in the home.

Sky Sports Cricket channel devoted parts of its Test match coverage to highlighting the impact plastic is having on the world’s oceans, using some cricket statistics that, per Nicholls’, are “shocking”: For example, “In the time it takes to bowl one over, the equivalent of four rubbish trucks’ worth of plastic will be dumped in the ocean.”

Now, I have no clue as to what “bowling one over” means or how long it takes, but I do know that if Sky Sports can broadcast environmental messaging during an important international cricket match, ESPN and Fox Sports can do the same during, say, an NBA playoff game or World Series games. Will they? Stay tuned.

To Sky CEO Jeremy Darroch, the Ocean Rescue campaign, which launched in January with a 45-minute documentary which aired across the company’s TV channels and has received almost 25,000 views on YouTube, is a no-brainer: “The dire health of our oceans is such an important issue, and one that needs to be urgently addressed. At Sky, we want to use our voice and the potential of our reach to inspire people to take action to protect our planet by bringing to life our amazing ocean for millions of people across Europe, and discussing the solutions.

England cricketer Stuart Broad, who is also supporting the initiative, noted that “by 2050, there’s a chance that there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish, which is really scary for our world, isn’t it?”

 

 

 

FOREST GREEN ROVERS EARNS DRAW IN FIRST LEAGUE TWO MATCH, ATTENTION FROM ESPN AND THE GUARDIAN FOR ITS GREENNESS

Forest Green Rovers (FGR), the Greenest Team in Sports (GTIS), played its first match ever in League Two, the fourth tier of English football, on Saturday, earning a 2-2 draw vs. Barnet in front of a raucous home crowd at The New Lawn stadium.

[NOTE: If you are a loyal GreenSportsBlog reader and are thus very familiar with the Forest Green Rovers story, feel free to skip the next three paragraphs. For GSB rookies, keep reading.]

FGR embarked on its journey to earn its GTIS designation when Dale Vince, OBE^, who also owns British renewable energy company Ecotricity, bought the club in 2010 and became team chairman. Over the next several years, he installed an organic pitch at the New Lawn, has it mowed by a solar powered Mo-Bot, and converted all of the stadium concession stands to vegan-only food.

You read that right.

The club’s fortunes on the pitch also improved since Vince took over, with FGR finally earning promotion from the National Conference, the 5th tier of English football, to the 4th tier League Two. This might not sound like much — sort of like a minor league baseball club moving up from Rookie League to Class A, if American sports had promotion and relegation — but it really is. That’s because, League Two is the bottom rung of The Football League, with the English Premier League at the top of the pyramid#.

[Welcome back, GSB veteran readers!]

Being in The Football League for the first time in its 128 year existence means more exposure for FGR. But because of the club’s green ethos, that exposure is growing exponentially, far more than for the typical League Two promo-tee.

For example, a long form piece by Ian Chadband, ran on espnfc.comwhich draws 11.48 million monthly unique visitors, two days before the Barnet match. It characterized FGR as: “a little sports club with big dreams like no other…The fairy tale, as they like to call it, of a village team on the verge of bankruptcy, who have risen to become the club from the smallest community ever to host a team in England’s professional Football League…[And] there’s the uniquely green bit, the fact that vegan-embracing, eco-friendly Forest Green have a very different ethos from perhaps any other sports organization.”

Stuart James, writing on July 31st in The Guardian, with its 30 million+ monthly uniques, dug deep into the food aspect of the FGR story. Vegan cuisine is not only on offer for the the fans; players and coaches are on all-vegan diets. Good thing for them that Em Franklin, the club’s chef, is a foodie’s — vegan or otherwise — dream: “The Q-Pie is brilliant – people love it,” Franklin told James. “It’s a shortcrust pastry base, puff pastry lid and it’s Quorn with soya béchamel white sauce, with thyme and leeks. It’s full and it’s filling because my portions are hearty! We’re doing a pasty as well this year – that’s something new. Because we’re vegan doesn’t mean it’s all lettuce and lentils.”

 

Em Franklin

Em Franklin, the chef at Forest Green, where the food is vegan. (Photo credit: Martin Godwin for The Guardian)

 

Speaking Wednesday to Brian Oliver of The Star Online of Malaysia, Ryan Harmer, FGR’s club’s commercial director summed it up this way: “In the past week we’ve had reporters here from China, been on Al Jazeera and ESPN, on German radio stations. In League Two that’s probably unheard of.”

 

^ OBE = Order of the British Empire
# From top to bottom, the Football League consists of The Premier League, the Championship, League One and League Two

 


 

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Green-Sports Startups, Part II: Underdogs United

Well known global corporations, from BASF to Nike to Tesla, have dipped their toes in the Green-Sports waters. While it makes sense from PR and mission points of view, Green-Sports, for now, represents a small aspect of these companies’ businesses. At the other end are startups for which Green-Sports is everything, or close to it. GreenSportsBlog recently launched an occasional series, Green Sports Startups. It focuses on small (for now) that see the greening of sports as existential to their businesses’ prospects for success. Our first such startup was Nube9, a Seattle-based company committed to making recyclable sports uniforms in the U.S.A. from American fabrics. Today, we pivot to Eric Duea and Stephen Gabauer, co-founders of Underdogs United, a startup that looks to close the green-sports circle by getting sports teams to walk the green walk by buying renewable energy credits that support crucial greening projects in the developing world.

 

Long-time readers of GreenSportsBlog know that we believe the sports world has done a very good job greening the games themselves (i.e. LEED certified stadiums/arenas, Zero-Waste games, etc.)

Leveraging the massive power and size of the sports fan audience (by some estimates, 65-70 percent of humans worldwide) to fight climate change? Not so much just yet, even though sports has a strong track record in support of social movements, from civil rights to women’s rights and more.

But that is starting to change.

And, if Stephen Gabauer and Eric Duea have anything to say about it, Underdogs United, the Green-Sports startup these lifelong golfers-turned-eco-preneurs co-founded last year, will help the sports world have a measurable and significant impact on the fight to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the effects of climate change.

 

Version 4

Stephen Gabauer, co-founder, Underdogs United (Photo credit: Underdogs United)

 

Eric Duea Headshot Casa Bay Photography

Eric Duea, co-founder, Underdogs United. (Photo credit: Casa Bay Photography)

 

And soon.

But first, some background.

For Stephen and Eric, it was sports first, then green. Stephen, who grew up in the Pittsburgh area, is an archetypical Western Pennsylvania sports lover. “I played baseball, basketball, tennis and golf. Diehard Steelers, Pirates and Penguins fan. Went to Penn State.” A chemical engineering major, he started his career in that field in Charleston, SC but quickly realized his true passion was sports.

To scratch that itch and also to continue a love affair with Germany that had been sparked during a college internship, Stephen found a masters degree program in International Sports Management in Konstanz, near the Swiss border. Sustainable golf course design and architecture became his focus — “my thesis was ‘Sustainable Tourism In The Golf Industry’.” Next was an internship and then a job with Scotland-based Golf Environment Organization (GEO), the non-profit dedicated to providing sustainability standards and support programs to the golf industry. Stephen managed development of OnCourse, a sustainability software that provides science-based tools for course superintendents, including “water management, energy efficiency, and a carbon calculator.”

Meanwhile, Eric grew up on golf courses in southern Iowa and knew from an early age that he wanted to work in the sport in some way, shape or form. “I was a strong player on the Iowa junior circuit and, in high school, led our team to the state championship. But, when I went to Methodist University, a Division III power in Fayetteville, NC., I knew my future wasn’t as a touring pro. 300 guys would try out for the men’s team. Our women’s team had won the NCAA D-III title in 25 out of 27 years at one point. It’s easy to get perspective quickly.”

So Eric became a PGA club teaching pro, working at clubs across the U.S., including the legendary Doral Country Club in South Florida and Wild Dunes in South Carolina, before moving to Sunriver, OR where he was in charge of the membership program at the exclusive Crosswater Club. His responsibilities included high-stress membership sales. Eric ended up burning out.

“High income golfers could afford Crosswater but there was nowhere in Central Oregon for the average family or junior golfer. I saw the need for a community 12-hole course, targeted to middle class families,” said Eric. As I started to put together the funding plan and the shoestring budget, I started to learn about the environmental aspects of golf course management. It intrigued me. The course didn’t end up getting enough funding so it never got built but the experience convinced me to work on the future and the sustainability of golf. So I went to Pinchot University on Bainbridge Island, WA for my MBA in Sustainable Systems. That’s where I really dug into sustainable golf.”

It was at Pinchot that Eric became aware of GEO. “I immediately reached out to them, they hired me as an intern and, then once I finished at Pinchot in 2015 they moved me over to Scotland for a job.”

Stephen and Eric started their collaboration while the latter was running GEO’s Sustainable Tournaments Program. They worked together to, per perform carbon footprint assessments for the European and PGA Tour events, as The Open Championship, hosted by the R&A#.

 

Eric Open Championship 2015

Eric Duea at the 2015 Open Championship (Photo credit: Underdogs United)

 

Stephen became fascinated with the opportunity to go beyond ‘reducing’ your carbon footprint and balance it out entirely – known as achieving ‘climate neutral.’ He learned about innovative social businesses in the developing world and market-driven technologies like clean cookstoves and water filters. These initiatives remove measurable CO2 from the atmosphere and produce certified ‘carbon credits’, which are then sold to corporations as a way to reduce and balance their carbon footprint. “I became very inspired by the statistic that 3 billion people are still cooking every meal over an open fire – especially after learning the consequences on the environment and people’s health. I wanted to experience for myself the challenges in Sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere — I knew that would be integral to my work.”

Jazzed by social entrepreneurship, and ready to get involved on-the-ground, Stephen’s next move was an easy one. He left GEO to pursue his passion for tackling these global challenges. So he went to Kenya and Uganda to work and partner with organizations focused on climate change and helping communities access critical services like food, energy, and water.

Meanwhile, Eric, pursued his own passion for taking on climate change through sports, as he worked on getting a GEO sustainability standard established for golf, partnering with the über-green Waste Management Phoenix Open and the RBC Heritage tournament in South Carolina.

And the two friends on the opposite sides of the world began to realize they were on opposite if complementary sides of a powerful Green-Sports economic equation. Stephen, in Africa, experienced the “supply” side — as in the overabundant potential supply of environmental projects that qualify for carbon credits, from clean water to renewable energy, from efficient cooking to reforestation. Eric, in the U.S., saw the “demand” side — as in the growing number of sports entities, from golf tournaments to college sports conferences, from the Super Bowl to the National Hockey League — ramping up the greening of their games, including via the purchase of carbon offsets.

And from those realizations, Underdogs United was conceived. Which means Stephen and Eric are living early-stage startup founder lives.

Until a couple weeks ago, Stephen was in East Africa, building relationships with partners like Impact Carbon to package life-saving and altering projects for Gold Standard certification^. “Many Ugandans now use firewood to boil water and cook meals,” imparted Stephen. “That is an extremely inefficient and carbon intensive process. Impact Carbon has a partially charcoal based stove that uses 70 percent less fuel, resulting in significant carbon reductions.” There is no shortage of potential supply of carbon credits from Kenya, Uganda, and across the developing world.

 

 

Stephen Uganda Officials Cookstove

Stephen Gabauer of Underdogs United with two Ugandan officials, next to an energy efficient cook stove. (Photo credit: Underdogs United)

 

Eric, meanwhile, worked the corridors at the late June Green Sports Alliance Summit in Sacramento, talking up Underdogs United and the benefits of carbon offset purchases to team front office executives and venue operators and anyone else who would listen. Reactions, reported Eric, were promising, yet…

…Being Underdogs, the guys know success isn’t guaranteed. Will sports organizations put real funds behind carbon credit purchases? And if they are so inclined, wouldn’t, say, Real Salt Lake want to invest in offsets in Utah rather than Uganda?

Yet…the timing could just be right for Green-Sports supply and demand to intersect.

Think about it:

  1. The biggest challenge all sports are grappling with is how to keep or gain the affections and loyalty of Millennials and Generation Zers (Ms+GZers).
  2. Massive pluralities of Ms+GZers not only accept the reality of climate change, its human causality, they expect to be the generations to take action.
  3. Many Ms+GZers in the developed world want to help their developing world counterparts escape poverty.
  4. Really big sports advertisers, from adidas to Anheuser-Busch, get climate change and the Ms+GZers thing
  5. Sports, already greening its games aggressively, should want to partner with the really big sports advertisers on socially responsible marketing programs that appeal to — drum roll, please! — Ms+GZers!

 

You know, even though I really like the Underdogs United name, Eric and Stephen may not be underdogs after all.

 

# Together with the US Golf Association, the R&A governs the sport of golf worldwide, operating in separate jurisdictions whiles sharing a commitment to a single code for the Rules of Golf, Rules of Amateur Status and Equipment Standards. The R&A also manages The Open Championship (aka The British Open) and the Women’s British Open, among other top-level tournaments in the UK.
^ One verified ton of CO2 reduced equals one carbon credit. The price of one certified credit ranges from $5-$20/ton.

 


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IOC Goes “Greenest” By Awarding Olympics to Paris 2024 and LA 2028

As cosmopolitan metropolises go, Paris and Los Angeles are as different from each other as two cities can be. But from an Olympics point of view, they have much in common. Each city has hosted two Summer Olympic Games (Paris, 1900 and 1924; Los Angeles, 1932 and 1984). Each will officially be awarded the right to host a third Olympics on Monday — Paris in 2024, L.A. in 2028. The latter was the last finalist in the contest for ’24 and, given the strength of its pitch, was awarded the ’28 Games before bidding even began. And each city put forth sustainability plans that will clearly become the gold standard for mega sports events.

Earlier this year, GreenSportsBlog profiled both bids from a variety of sustainability perspectives. Here are some excerpts, with the LA story changed to reflect the switch from 2024 to 2028.

 

PARIS 2024

Paris bid co-president and three-time Olympic canoeing gold medalist Tony Estanguet said in a January interview that, for his committee, sustainability is at the top of its priority list. “For us it is quite simple. Our vision is the most sustainable Games ever,” Estanguet told the South China Daily, adding that the bid was in line with the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement to reduce greenhouse gases. The Paris 2024 Olympics bid committee looks to make good on that vision by slashing carbon emissions by more than half compared to London 2012 and Rio 2016.

 

estanguet

Tony Estanguet, head of Paris 2024 Bid Committee (Photo credit: Paris 2024)

 

The bid committee says it will produce an estimated 1.56 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, down 55 per cent from the roughly 3.4 million tonnes created by the Rio and the London Games. Here are some of the key ways Paris plans to meet those aggressive targets:

  • Rely on existing venues and temporary structures. The only major new venue scheduled to be constructed is an aquatics center. 

 

stade-de-france

Stade de France, site of the Opening Ceremonies of Paris 2024 should that city win the right to host the Olympics. It is one of many already-existing structures, the use of which will keep carbon emissions low. (Photo credit: Stade de France)

 

  • Build the aquatics center as well as the temporary facilities with low carbon materials.
  • Following in the footsteps of EURO 2016 (hosted by France), greatly restrict private car parking at the Olympic venues. This will lead 100 percent of fans to use public or shared transit. You read that right: 100 percent of spectators will take public or shared transit. Metro, commuter rail, bus transit, bicycles and car sharing will predominate.
  • House 85 per cent of athletes  within 30 minutes of their competition venues, limiting their travel-related footprint.
  • Use existing infrastructure. According to Estanguet, “We have all the infrastructure – roads, hotels, airports – already in place. That allows us to claim we will be the most sustainable Games ever.”

To the Paris 2024 committee, embedding the notion of a sustainable Olympics in the minds of Parisians and people across France will be critical. And we’re talking financial as well as environmental sustainability —a smaller environmental footprint will lead to reduced costs. Thus, the greenness and efficiency of the bid will be promoted widely, and in a variety of ways. “During the seven years [between bid selection and the Opening Ceremonies], we want to educate people on sustainability,” said Estanguet.

Environmental and financial sustainability are two keystones of Agenda 2020, a process instituted by the IOC three years ago for bids starting with the 2024 cycle. The IOC is convinced, and I concur, that the Olympics simply have to get simpler, greener, and leaner so they remain an attractive proposition for future hosts. This is especially the case after a slew of candidate cities for the 2022 Winter Games (Krakow, Oslo and Stockholm) and 2024 Summer Games (Boston, Budapest, Hamburg and Rome) withdrew due to the sheer size and costs of organizing and putting on such an ambitious, sprawling event. 

 

LOS ANGELES, FORMERLY 2024, NOW 2028

The greenest sports venue and/or Olympic and Paralympic Village is the one you don’t have to build.

That has been and is the mantra of LA 2028, the newly renamed committee (formerly LA 2024, of course) managing the recently announced Los Angeles 2028 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games, and especially its sustainability team.

 

THE MOST SUSTAINABLE OLYMPICS VENUES ARE THE ONES YOU DON’T HAVE TO BUILD

When the LA 2028 bid committee first began planning the Olympic and Paralympic Village and Media Center, it, like pretty much every other Olympic bid in recent memory, was looking at massive redevelopment alternatives. Thus, it made sense to recruit Brence Culp as its sustainability director. You see, Ms. Culp had been in charge of many big redevelopment and urban renewal projects as the second in command to the CEO of Los Angeles County (appointed, not a political position) for five years. Prior to that, she worked at a redevelopment agency in LA.

 

Brence Culp LA 2024

Brence Culp, Sustainability Director, LA 2028. (Photo credit: LA 2028)

 

But a funny thing happened on the way to the major redevelopment projects for LA 2028. The bid committee team visited the UCLA and USC campuses. “Before we got to the campuses, we thought ‘oh, the dorms and the food will not be up to par’,” recalled Ms. Culp. “But, both UCLA and USC were absolutely stunning, from the dorms to the recreation facilities to the landscaping. The food was fantastic. So, it turned out the most sustainable Village and Media Center were the ones we already had!” In the LA 2028 bid plan, UCLA will be home to the Olympic and Paralympic Village and USC, near the downtown venue cluster, will host the Media Center.

Now don’t get the idea that, because she is not supervising a big urban redevelopment project, Brence Culp is at all disappointed. Far from it.

“Sustainability is core to our bid and our DNA,” declared Ms. Culp, “Gene Sykes, LA 2028’s CEO has a long background in conservation and environmental stewardship. So our core principles of sustainable environmental and financial stewardship, as well as social inclusion are baked in to everything we do. When we, (LA) Mayor Garcetti and our sustainability consultants, AECOM, looked at, oh, two dozen urban redevelopment sites for the Village, we kept on coming back to UCLA and USC^. Great for the athletes and media. Sustainable from an environmental and financial sense. Innovative in that we don’t have to build something new and shiny.”

And LA 2028 doesn’t have to build new and shiny sports venues. The area boasts a veritable Hall of Fame lineup of stadia and arenas from which to choose, including:

  • Honda Center (Anaheim Ducks)
  • LA Coliseum (USC football and host of Olympic Track and Field as well as the Opening and Closing Ceremonies in 1932 and 1984 as well as Super Bowls I and VII)

 

Coliseum 2024

Artist’s rendering of the renovated LA Coliseum. (Credit: LA 2028)

 

Since the venues are largely in place, the sustainability team’s initiatives focus on making them greener. Exhibit A is the StubHub Center.

Per Ms. Culp, “Under the leadership of the venue’s owner, AEG, StubHub Center is going ‘all in’ on sustainability as it will be the location of LA 2028’s Green Sports Park, highlighting the best in sport and green innovation. AEG is implementing robust water efficiency strategies, including use of municipal greywater for irrigation. They also built and manage an on site garden that includes a large chicken coop and a greenhouse. StubHub Center’s chef uses the garden’s fruits and vegetables in meals prepared for staff, athletes and other guests. AEG also came up with an innovative way to harvest honey from relocated beehives found on site –located safely away from spectators! Leading up to the Games, we will actively explore ways to enhance AEG’s current practices, including onsite solar.”

 

MASS TRANSIT RAMPING UP IN LA IN TIME FOR 2028

Moving from chickens and bees to pachyderms, the big elephant in the room, sustainability-wise, is transportation. LA is a sprawling area—Paris’ geographic footprint is significantly smaller—and its mass transit offerings have been, relatively speaking, limited. But that is changing fast, to the benefit of LA 2028 attendees and the environment.

“The LA area is in the middle of an historic mass transit investment and much of it will be operational by the 2028 Opening Ceremonies,” offered Ms. Culp, “And leading up to the Games, LA 2028 will work with Metro to further incentivize comfortability with public transportation among Angelenos.”

 

FINANCIALLY LEAN, INNOVATIVELY GREEN

As with Paris 2024, an important facet of LA 2028’s sustainability equation is financial. It stands to reason if an Olympic host committee can use existing athletic venues and existing structures for an Olympic and Paralympic Village and Media Center, it will save money. But how much? Well, LA 2028’s budget is projected to be $5.3 billion as compared to Paris’ projection of $9.3 billion. Both sound like lots of dough but consider that Rio 2016 spent $12 billion and Tokyo 2020 is looking at $30 billion. Russia spent $50 billion to put on the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games ($50 billion??? On a Winter Olympics, which is a much smaller enterprise than its summer cousin?? That’s insane.) London 2012, considered the sustainability gold standard among Olympics, spent about $12 billion. So both LA 2028 and Paris 2024 are demonstrating that sustainability is not good Olympics business, it is great Olympics business.

Despite its lean budget and its reliance on existing structures, LA 2028 is not skimping on sustainable innovation. “One of our priorities is bringing together folks who are advancing sustainable practices through sport. Thus, we have allocated $25 million in seed funding for high impact, sustainability-focused projects with our partners,” Ms. Culp said, “The goal is to leave a positive long-term legacy for the community.”

 

WILL FANS KNOW THE LA 2028 SUSTAINABILITY STORY?

This wouldn’t be a GreenSportsBlog column on the sustainability impacts of a mega-sports event if we didn’t delve into how LA 2028 plans to communicate its sustainability initiatives to the fans at the Games and to the potentially billions who will be watching on TV, online and who knows how else in seven years time. Rio set the marker, with its Opening Ceremonies vignette on climate change that was seen by an estimated 1 billion people worldwide.

While there are no firm fan-focused sustainability communications plans in place, Ms. Culp is confident “the more sustainable we make our Games, the more that broadcasters and other media will pick that up. And we will have plenty of eye-catching, sustainability stories, accented with a distinctly diverse and innovative LA flavor from which the media will be able to choose: From the aforementioned region-changing mass transit expansion to the use of locally sourced food to the use of recycled construction materials, and much more.”

 

LA 2028’S SUSTAINABILITY LEGACY GOES BEYOND VENUES AND MASS TRANSIT

A recurring theme to our conservation was this: Go big on environmental sustainability and innovation, add a diverse and vibrant culture and you have Los Angeles—and LA 2028. “I tell you, wherever I go throughout the area, people across the demographic spectra—gender, age, income, race—are very excited about the bid, with public support running at 88 percent,” said Ms. Culp. “It is almost impossible these days to get people in a mega city to row together in the same direction. We know that our emphasis on sustainability in our bid has helped to make this happen.”

 


 

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GSB News and Notes: Sustainability Effort for Tokyo 2020 Builds on Past Games; Aardvark Paper Straws at Stadiums and Arenas; Philadelphia Eagles Amp Up Green Efforts

The 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo are still more than three years away but sustainability planning is in high gear. GSB spoke with Takeo Tanaka, the man leading Tokyo 2020’s greening efforts. Aardvark brings its straws made from paper to sports stadiums and arenas, lessening the amount of plastic ocean waste in the process. And the Philadelphia Eagles, one of the early Green-Sports adapters, take their waste management to the next level with the installation of an Eco-Safe food digester.

 

TOKYO 2020 LOOKS TO TAKE OLYMPIC SUSTAINABILITY TO NEXT LEVEL

Takeo Tanaka, the Senior Director of Sustainability for the Organising Committee of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, has some audacious greening goals for the Games that begin on July 24, 2020.

“We are building a substantive, five-pillar approach to sustainability,” said Mr. Tanaka. “The five pillars—Climate change, resource management, natural environment and biodiversity, human rights, labor and fair business practices, and involvement, cooperation and communications—are the framework that will earn us ISO 20121 certification* and allow us to take the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 sustainability to its highest level.”

 

Tokyo 2020 SUS team

Takeo Tanaka (center, front), Senior Director of Sustainability for the Organising Committee of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games and the sustainability team. (Photo credit: Organising Committee of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games)

 

Three years out, the pillars are taking shape:

  • Tokyo 2020’s Olympic Stadium, as well as all new permanent indoor venues, a big indoor temporary venue — the Olympic Gymnastic Centre — along with the Olympic and Paralympic Village, were all designed and are being built with the expectation of achieving CASBEE^ certification,
  • Energy efficient, low emission vehicles (hybrids and EVs) will be used throughout the Games.
  • The Organising Committee is pursuing CO2 emission reductions in the distribution process by procuring seasonal foods and other goods that are produced close to Tokyo.
  • The sustainability team is working closely with the communications group on an innovative program that encourages Japanese citizens in all 47 prefectures (states) to donate old mobile phones and small electric devices in collection boxes. 100 percent of the two tons of gold, silver and bronze for the more than 5,000 medals that will be awarded at the 2020 Games will be made from the transformed e-waste. “Unfortunately, not many people in Japan know about the richness and the potential of ‘urban mines,’ said Mr. Tanaka. “I believe that this project will raise awareness of the existence and the value of useful metals buried in the urban environment. People will hopefully become aware of the usefulness of recycling and this will leave a positive legacy for society.”
    • The Tokyo 2020 Medal Project Towards an Innovative Future for All is being promoted to the public via a popular TV program and a public service announcement campaign from the governors of Tokyo.

 

Tokyo Olympic Stadium

Artist’s rendering of the Tokyo Olympic Stadium, expected to receive CASBEE green building certification. (Credit: Dezeen.com)

 

The Tokyo 2020 Sustainability Communications plan — to the media and the public — is still taking shape. Suffice to say, Mr. Tanaka and his team took notes on what their Rio 2016 counterparts did, from the “sustainability booth” at the Media Press Center, to sustainability-themed venue tours for the media, to the climate change vignette that was featured during the Opening Ceremonies.

According to Mr. Tanaka, the five pillars approach ensures that sustainability will always be a core component of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games DNA: “Not only is every division of the Organising Committee being trained on the sustainability initiatives, top management is involved as well. Sustainability is an agenda item at every Senior Directors meeting and sustainability-themed blogs have been posted to build awareness and interest among Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games employees and ultimately, volunteers.”

What about corporate sponsors, you ask? The Organising Committee created a Corporate Sustainability Network for Tokyo 2020 corporate sponsors, both local and worldwide. So far 37 of the 55 local sponsors have joined the network, which aims to engage corporate stakeholders, from employees to customers to management in sustainable initiatives surrounding the Games.

Oh, there’s one more thing you should know about Mr. Tanaka. Before leading the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games sustainability charge, he had a 30-year career at Tokyo’s electric company, where he worked on environmental issues and the preservation of Japan’s national parks. He’s also worked with the Nature Conservancy and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development on climate change and biodiversity issues.

Suffice to say, sustainability is in good hands at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

 

AARDVARK PAPER STRAWS HELP GREEN STADIUMS AND ARENAS

This Green-Sports story goes back aways, to 1888.

It was then a man named Marvin Stone invented the original paper straw and patented his idea. That patent became the foundation for Precision Products Group, Inc.  — the same company that manufactures Aardvark®, The Original Paper Straw, today.

Over time, as cheaper plastic straws came to dominate the category, the paper straw fell by the wayside. And, while straws are low interest items for consumers, the environmental costs add up. Consider that there are 1 billion plastic straws used each day, 500 million alone in North America. After their brief, one-time-use lives are over, where do they end up?  Either in landfills or oceans.

In 2007, in response to a growing anti-plastic movement, the main buyers of plastic straws in the U.S. — restaurants, hospitals, and other industries, including sports — began to look for more sustainable, eco-friendly options.

As a leading U.S. manufacturer of small-size cylindrical tubing solutions, Precision Products Group looked to create a straw that was less environmentally toxic. The answer was in their archives: Marvin Stone’s original 1888 patent for the first paper straw. Putting a modern spin on Stone’s original concept, Aardvark created a straw using 100 percent sustainable and renewable papers that was more sustainable and durable than any other paper straw ever made.  According to David Rhodes, Aardvark’s Global Business Manager, initially, “Aardvark was the only paper straw being made, but cheap and inferior China straws that get soggy and fall apart quickly entered into the market. Today, Aardvark remains the only quality and safe paper straw and the only [one that’s] Made in the USA.”

 

David Rhodes

David Rhodes, Aardvark’s Global Business Manager (Photo credit: David Rhodes)

 

The sports industry is of great interest to Aardvark, with its high profile, passionate, and thirsty fan bases. The company has made some impressive inroads over the past two years. “We work with ‘Party Goods’ retailers like Amscan and Creative Converting to offer paper straws with team logos emblazoned on them,” related Mr. Rhodes. “Right now, they have licenses with all 32 NFL teams and most of the schools in the Power 5 conferences. This is an ideal product for tailgaters. Fans can buy packages of, say, Green Bay Packers Aardvark straws at Packer retail stores and via Amazon. And, because fan loyalty is so strong, the margins also can be strong for the retailer.”

Jets straws

New York Jets paper straws from Aardvark (Photo credit: Aardvark)

 

But sports retail is a much smaller potential market for Aardvark than the concessions stands and restaurants at a ballpark or arena — as the latter represents 99 percent of straw usage. Cost has been a drag on Aardvark’s ability to crack that market. “Plastic straws cost about 0.5¢ each, whereas Aardvark paper straws cost 1.5¢ without printing on them and 2.0¢ with printing,” said Mr. Rhodes. “Looking at sports stadiums and arenas, since concessionaires give straws away, going to our product simply adds cost.”

Mr. Rhodes sees a potentially elegant solution to the thorny cost problem: Selling a combined, retail-concession paper straw combination to teams: “We can show teams that the profit they will realize from selling Aardvark straws at retail will offset the increased costs from giving our straws away at concession stands. And with retail-concession being a wash, we make the case that reductions in trash transportation costs and enhanced branding from going green make Aardvark a clear winner.”

According to Mr. Rhodes, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the about-to-open home of the Atlanta Falcons and MLS’ Atlanta United F.C, and CenturyLink Field, home of the Seattle Seahawks and MLS’ Seattle Sounders, are dueling to be the first facility to offer Aardvark straws at the concession stand.

Finally, GreenSportsBlog readers may recall our March 2017 interview with Olivia and Carter Ries, the teenage founders of nonprofit One More Generation (OMG!) and its One Less Straw campaign, designed to dramatically reduce the number of straws used and thus lessen plastic ocean waste. I asked Mr. Rhodes if he saw OMG as a competitor or potential partner.

Not surprisingly, he chose the latter: “We partner with and support OMG and other [plastic ocean waste] advocate groups, including Lonely Whale Foundation, Plastic Pollution Coalition, The Last Plastic Straw, 5 Gyres, Hannah 4 Change, Surfrider Foundation, Sailors for the Sea, etc. Our long term goal is to assist in reducing the overall amount of straw usage by 50 percent and then converting at least 10 percent of the remaining straws to paper. [Thus,] we suggest restaurant owners and employees only offer a straw [and a paper one at that] if a customer specifically requests one.”

Aardvark found that restaurants that offer straws only on demand see reductions in straw consumption of up to 50 percent, diminishing the increased cost of switching to paper straws and allowing restaurants to save money while saving the planet.

 

 

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES EXPAND GO GREEN EFFORTS WITH INSTALLATION OF ECO-SAFE DIGESTER®

The Philadelphia Eagles, a green-sports early adapter, recently announced they will team up with environmental partner, Delaware-based Waste Masters Solutions (WMS), on the installation of a BioHiTech Global Eco-Safe Digester®, a food waste digester and data analytics platform at Lincoln Financial Field. The unit uses a proprietary bacteria formula to break down pre- and post-consumer food scraps via aerobic digestion and send them through sewer systems with no residual solids.

 

BioHiTech Eco-Safe

BioHiTech Global’s Eco-Safe Digesters will be installed Lincoln Financial Field, the home of the Philadelphia Eagles, and will be managed and maintained by Waste Master Solutions. (Photo credit: BioHiTech Global)

 

This move builds upon the September 2016 installation of a waste digester at the team’s NovaCare Complex practice facility to help decompose pre-consumer food waste. Since then, more than nine tons (18,100 pounds) of food waste has been decomposed and, thus, diverted from landfills.

Cleantech leader BioHiTech Global – which develops and deploys innovative and disruptive waste management technologies like the Eco-Safe Digester – will handle, in collaboration with WMS, the design, construction and operation of the analytics platform.

Eagles minority owner Christina Weiss Lurie helped spearhead the team’s Go Green program in 2003 with the opening of an environmentally forward (especially for that time) Lincoln Financial Field. The club’s partnership with WMS is just the latest element of its comprehensive environmental program that also features on-site solar and small scale wind (eagle talon-shaped turbines spin atop the stadium), recycling and composting, energy and water conservation, reforestation and sustainability partnerships, as well as fan education programs.

 

Christina Weiss Lurie

Christina Weiss Lurie, minority owner, Philadelphia Eagles. (Photo credit: Christina Weiss Lurie)

 

* ISO 2012-1 is the global standard for sustainable events.
^ CASBEE is the Japanese green building certification that is somewhat akin to LEED.

 

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The GSB Interview: Graham Ross, CEO and Co-Founder, Kusaga Athletic

Graham Ross, the CEO and Co-Founder of Australia-based Kusaga Athletic, wants to disrupt the way apparel is produced around the world. His quest has taken him across the globe, from Brisbane to Sydney to Singapore, to running a marathon on the Great Wall of China, to London, and more. We talked with Ross about how Kusaga came to be, the “World’s Greenest T-shirt,” and much more.

 

GreenSportsBlog: First of all, before we get into your background and how Kusaga Athletic came into existence, I have to ask you, what does Kusaga mean?

Graham Ross: Well, Lew, my business partner and I were looking for a word that meant recycle but not in English. So Kusaga means “recycle” in Swahili. We thought it sounded good and that Swahili is spoken in a part of Africa where running is religion. So there you have it.

GSB: Love it! OK, now how did you come to launch Kusaga? Have you been in the apparel business?

GR: Not originally. I’m from Maryborough, a small, inland country town, about three hours’ drive north from Brisbane in Queensland in the Northeast of Australia.

GSB: Sounds pretty remote.

GR: But I always wanted to be in television production so I needed to get myself towards a city. I got my start at two stations, one in my hometown and then a larger station on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland. In both cases, I was the guy who did everything: from news to on-air, to commercial production and directing for sports like soccer…Also music festivals.

GSB: What a great start to a career in TV production! This was after college, I presume. Where did you go?

GR: Oh, I didn’t go to university at all. I had these jobs from ages 17 to 24 so I guess you can say I went to the “University of TV.”

GSB: Sounds like you got an advanced degree!

GR: Indeed! So the next step for me was to go to a station in Brisbane, the third largest city in Australia and on to the politics beat. But I wanted to get to the biggest market, Sydney. Turns out, only 18 months into my tenure in Brisbane, an editor was needed for a primetime show in Sydney. I flew down there for a trial run one morning, got offered a job at lunch and moved there two weeks later. I worked on a ton of programs…primetime, lifestyle and sports shows, you name it. Now, this was in 1995, when the TV production world was changing from videotape to digital. At that time, no one really knew what the opportunities of the new digital editing equipment would be, so I got training and quickly became schooled in it, in particular on a system called AVID, which worked like a tricked out Mac w/ specialized software. In the early days, it was somewhat complex and buggy and not many people were expert in it. Yet it was in demand. So I saw an opportunity to start an AVID-based business. I was newly married at the time yet spent $AUS160,000 — more than my house was worth — on an AVID system. It took awhile before I got my first piece of business, editing a corporate video for a nail salon of all things. From there we built up to handle post-production for many prime time shows in Australia.

GSB: Sounds like that $160,000 was a great investment…

GR: Oh yeah. And we grew rapidly, especially as cable TV started to explode in Australia. But, after a time, I got sick of making programs for networks without having any ownership so I formed a company with two former clients. We started in one room, grew to having a staff of 50. We produced our own shows and documentaries that aired on National Geographic Channel, Animal Planet and many others.

GSB: So you’d hit the big time…

GR: Yeah, it was great but it nearly killed me. It was very stressful, I was working seven days a week, dealing with lawyers more than producing, my weight was up to 90 kilograms (almost 200 lbs.)

GSB: So what did you do?

GR: Closed the business and moved to Singapore and followed my wife Jane and her job there with MSN for Asia-Pacific. This was 2008. Jane is a former journalist and she ran content for them. So I became a house dad for my kids, then 14 and 9. And I built up a new network of friends, including those in the triathlon world. I started doing them and really got into it. At a dinner party I met Matthew Ashcroft, who would become my business partner. He said he was going to run the Great Wall Marathon

GSB: There’s a marathon run on the Great Wall of China?

GR: A good chunk of it is run on the wall itself, yes. Anyway he asked, I said no, he called back, I said I’d do a half marathon. He called back and wouldn’t take no for an answer. So, we bonded as we were training for the race. Talked about business—Matthew was in TV but is 10 years younger than I so has a slightly different perspective. He wanted to be in a business with purpose. We started to explore what that looked like. Meanwhile, I did a bunch more triathlons, including an Ironman, and running races. After a time, I looked in my closet and saw that I had a million “finishers’ shirts” (t-shirts included in goodie bags by race organizers) that I never wore. The sponsors got nothing out of ’em because I’m sure I wasn’t unique in stuffing them in a closet. I also had no idea what fabrics were in those shirts. So I started to do research. Found out they were, not surprisingly, made of polyester, nylon, spandex and cotton. Was shocked when I learned about the horrific environmental impacts of polyester and cotton on water quality and greenhouse gas emissions. I was convinced we needed to do it better. I did some more research and found there were a bunch of fibers in labs that were not toxic, but were not commercially available at the time.

 

Graham & Matt GWM_Great Wall

Graham Ross (l) and Matthew Ashcroft, co-founders of Kusaga Athletic, finishing the Great Wall Marathon (Photo credit: Kusaga Athletic)

 

GSB: So you and Matthew, a couple of TV guys, researched your way into the athletic apparel business? Did you have any knowledge, beyond internet research, of fabrics, of materials?

GR: Not really. But we said to ourselves that we need to fundamentally reimagine the textile industry. You see, textiles hadn’t evolved. It was a lethargic business with a tremendous amount of waste. And we were stupid enough, I guess, to think we could make fabrics that were better for the environment and offered superior performance. So we put up our own money to start up Kusaga Athletic.

GSB: What did you do first?

GR: Serious R & D. Went to a factory in Korea; told them we have a bunch of natural fibers—bamboo, eucalypt and cellulose (waste wood) —and would like you to make them into yarn and then fabric. These fabrics would be compostable and biodegradable.

GSB: What did you want the fabrics to ultimately become?

GR: We started out with shirts for running, yoga, sportswear, gym and the outdoors, targeting the environmentally-focused, active person. Went to market late in 2015. Our first efforts were t-shirts for corporate events. Earth Hour became an early customer. We did a Kickstarter campaign in 2016 that raised $16,000, garnered 200 pledges and orders for hundreds of shirts. But there were significant challenges…We’d moved our manufacturing to Malaysia but the factory shut down. So we wrote our supporters a letter, telling them what happened. They wrote back saying, in effect, ‘we want our t-shirts but believe in your mission, so keep the money, and do what you have to do. We believe in you.’ That gave us the spring in our step that we needed. We looked to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and found the child of Vietnamese immigrants to the USA who had come back to be a seamstress. We showed her our fabrics; she had to learn how to work with them and did so in record time. That allowed us to get our shirts out to the pledgers who were really happy. So we had achieved one of our dreams to make a environmentally friendly t-shirt that performed at a super high level. But we still needed to upgrade our design and feel for our sportswear shirts.

GSB: How did you do that?

GR: We found a designer, Anna, originally from Bulgaria, now based in Sydney. Had run factories before, very direct. She played around with a bunch of designs. I was the model! We found that the sleeves were too long, didn’t feel good. So we went with a cycling-style sleeve, which felt much better.

 

Graham Overseeing Design

Graham Ross and the Kusaga Athletic design team. (Photo credit: Kusaga Athletic)

 

GSB: As a sometimes road cyclist, I get that…Talk a bit about the performance…

GR: Sure…They’re super lightweight and they wick moisture off the body.

GSB: …A la Underarmour…

GR: Exactly. In fact; we kind of look at ourselves as a sort of a sustainable Underarmour. Or better still, as a fusion of Underarmour and Patagonia. Our Greenest Tee, is made out of all biodegradable, compostable ingredients called ECOLITE® which is super for everyday wear or getting active like yoga.

 

 

Greenest Tee on the Planet

Kusaga Athletic’s “Greenest Tees on the Planet” (Photo credit: Kusaga Athletic)

 

 

Kusaga Red Yoga Top
Kusaga Athletic’s “Greenest Yoga Top” (Photo credit: Kusaga Athletic)

 

GSB: What makes it the Greenest Tee?

GR: Remarkably, an average cotton t-shirt uses about 3000 liters of water during the cotton plants’ growth and the garment’s manufacture. If you own 10 cotton shirts, that would be the equivalent of a small swimming pool worth of water. Our Greenest Tee needs less than 1% of that amount of water due to sustainable crops grown with rainwater. Now, for performance sports like running, for the gym and also team sports, we created a degradable polyester, ECODRY®.

GSB: Degradable polyester? That sounds like an oxymoron of sorts. How does that work?

GR: The fabric has been degraded in controlled compost conditions and that process is in continual development. Our plan is to offer our customers a “send back” scheme at the garment’s end of life, redirecting the waste from landfill.

GSB: Wouldn’t shipping those shirts at end-of-life involve incremental carbon emissions that would negate the benefits of the avoided landfill emissions? Have you figured that into the equation?

GR: We already offset our transportation greenhouse gas emissions through investments in climate protection projects across the world, we plan to include this scheme into that portfolio.

GSB: Glad to hear it. So you had the fabrics, you had the t-shirts. Aside from the initial orders and the t-shirts for corporate events, how did you get them to market?

GR: We started by going to long distance events with sustainability in their DNA. The Evergreen Endurance Ironman Triathlon in Chamonix, France was our first as it was trying to be a carbon neutral sports event. The reaction was positive. More races followed, especially in Australia, we got involved with events like the Run Nation Film Festival, a 20 venue festival across the country that features human interest, running-themed films. More positive reaction ensued.

GSB: So you’ve mostly proved the concept of green performance athletic apparel, it seems. How do you scale Kusaga Athletic?

GR: It goes back to reimagining the apparel industry, including athletic apparel. We kind of view things as Red Ocean vs. Blue Ocean.

GSB: What does that mean?

GR: Well, if we go against the Nike’s and the adidas’ of the world—the big guys—we’ll get killed and, metaphorically speaking, the ocean will be filled with our blood. If, on the other hand, Kusaga Athletic becomes the leading sustainable textile company—and a B-Corp at that—to scale, we’ll have the blue ocean largely to ourselves.

GSB: Maybe you should call it the green ocean…So you’re trying to create a new, large-scale category: Sustainable Textiles, with a focus on athletic apparel.

GR: That’s it. But we can see many other uses for our sustainable fabrics; from bedding to construction screening. To help us scale we’re seeking partnerships in R & D and social media.

GSB: What about athlete endorsers?

GR: Yes, we’re on that now. Luke Tyburski — he’s a bit of a nutbag! — is on our team. He’s a former soccer player who turned into this Endurance Adventurer…

GSB: What is an Endurance Adventurer?

GR: Oh, he runs in marathons and extreme long distance races like the Marathon des Sables across the Sahara, the Everest Ultra Marathon, the Morocco to Monaco race…

GSB: I had no idea there were such things, nor that any humans could complete these races.

GR: Oh there are and they do…Also Phil Dernee is an endorser. He just finished a Six Day Ultra Marathon on the Big Island (Hawai’i)…

GSB: Piece of cake!

GR: Not quite…Then we have Philippa Candrick. Her story is incredible. She was never a runner and then had a brain tumor. Lost much of her memory. She almost died on the operating table as they removed it. Finally as she was recovering she decided to start running. Her memory started to come back. And she kept on running—to the point to where she ran the Great Wall Marathon with me last year.

 

Graham and Phillipa_GWM 2016

Philippa Candrick (l) and Graham Ross running the 2016 Great Wall Marathon (Photo credit: Kusaga Athletic)

 

GSB: Incredible indeed! It sounds like Kusaga is poised for the next step in its product life cycle. Does retail play into that? And when will Kusaga establish a beachhead in the U.S.A.?

GR: We are looking to grow sustainably but, with that said, retail partnerships are next. As for the States, I’d say you will be seeing us in the not-too-distant future.

 


 

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