Ten years ago, the Green-Sports world was a young, small, and quite unknown movement. It was led by a growing group of venue operators and team owners seeking and earning LEED certification, a bevy of hungry eco-preneurs leading startups that were working to make those venues even greener, and a cadre of Green-Sports strivers, from facilities specialists to energy efficiency experts, from sustainability consultants to academics.
Yes, the movement was slowed, it says here, by a lack of ambition especially when it came to speaking about climate change. Still, there was a palpable sense among those who were a part of it back then that they were on the vanguard of something special: using the incredible social power of sports to make a positive impact on climate change.
I posted my first GreenSportsBlog story in late May, 2013. This rookie GreenSportsBlogger wasn’t at all sure if a blog about the intersection of Green & Sports would last a month, much less a year.
Ten years? Unfathomable.
But here we are, a decade — and 904 posts! — later. How has the Green-Sports world progressed — or not — since then?
To start to answer that question, and to celebrate our birthday, we are sharing highlights from our most important, interesting stories from each of our first 10 years, and to update what the protagonists have been doing Green-Sports-wise since then. Today, we feature posts from 2013-2017. And in Wednesday’s Part II, we’ll go down memory lane from 2018 to this year. Enjoy!!!
And thank you so much to our readers and to the many, many Green-Sports leaders, pioneers and athletes I’ve interviewed over the last decade. You’ve made and continue to make a big difference in sparking the #ClimateComeback.
Post #1 on May 22 — This sentence from that initial post is also relevant 10 years later:
An answer to the question “can we solve climate change in time” may depend, in large part, on whether humanity can muster the consistent passion of sports fans.
June 24: An Open Letter to LeBron James: Be ‘The King’ of the Climate Fight — GSB realized then that we need athletes to take on the climate fight. LeBron had just won his 2nd straight NBA Championship, leading the Miami Heat to the title. Before he headed off to get married, we sent him this note:
I’m going to request a small bit of your time before you go into full wedding-planning mode (mazel tov, btw!). What I’m asking won’t tax you much physically, if at all. All I’m looking for is a very public statement from you that, at its heart, says ‘climate change is real, it’s human-caused, and we have to take meaningful action to start to reverse it. It’s the defining issue of this and the next generations.’
We haven’t heard back — yet.
October 21: GSB’s first interview with a world class athlete, with American road cyclist Mara Abbott. She challenged the premise of my question when I asked why there weren’t many athletes who are concerned with climate change: I don’t agree. YES, we’re focused on our jobs, our sport. But aren’t people in other jobs laser-focused? We’re no busier than anyone else. My thing is that there aren’t many eco-evangelists in ANY line of work and that the percentage of eco-athletes to all athletes probably mirrors that of eco-evangelists to the population at large.
Mara made the US Olympic team and finished 4th in the road cycling event at Rio 2016. She now works for Ceres, which ‘works to transform the economy to build a just and sustainable future.’
Mara Abbott on a climb (Photo credit: CIS)
October 31: Our first story on greenwashing, this about Russia’s attempt to tout how green the soon-to-launch Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics would be. What a SHOCK!
The Russian Olympic Committee made sustainability a key selling point in their bid. Their pledges have been broken, notes the Associated Press. In a visit last week to Akhshtyr, just north of Sochi, the AP found “that state-owned Russian Railways is dumping tons of construction waste into a landfill described by authorities (the Russian version of the US Environmental Protection Agency) as illegal.”
The most alarming aspect of the AP’s story is that Russian Railways was fined only $3,000 for the violation and the dump wasn’t closed. A $3,000 fine on a project that cost billions!! And think about this – Russia’s $51 billion budget for the Olympics contains no provisions for treating construction waste.
What a shock!
January 9: We asked the question, ‘Should sports divorce itself from fossil fuels?’ We still haven’t gotten a solid YES answer almost ten years later.
- College football teams, representing Big 12 and PAC 12 universities with sustainability departments and sustainability mission statements, should be embarrassed to play in the Valero Energy Alamo Bowl. It’s still the Valero Alamo Bowl; teams still should be embarrassed.
- The PGA Tour, which touts (legitimately) the sustainability and environmental milestones set at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, should not also sanction the Shell Houston Open. Shell is no longer the title sponsor; the Houston Open is just the Houston Open. On the other hand, the LPGA hosts the Chevron Open in Woodlands, Texas. That’s going in the wrong direction!
- The US Olympic/Paralympic Committee, supported in part by tax dollars, should not accept sponsorship money from a greenwashing, post oil-spill BP. BP is no longer a USOPC sponsor.
GSB excitedly penned a BREAKING NEWS post about Levi’s Stadium, the then brand new home of the San Francisco 49ers in Santa Clara getting the LEED Gold star. Now, LEED Gold is greeted with nary a raised eyebrow, which is a sign of progress. But back then it was a big deal.
How green is Levi’s Stadium? Let me count the ways:
- The stadium, which was designed by architects HNTB of Kansas City, MO, will recycle 86 percent of its water. Since California is, of course, in the midst of a now 3-year long (and counting) drought, this aspect of Levi’s Stadium greenness may be the most important of all.
- A 375 kW solar installation, developed by 49ers sponsor NRG, and using SunPower high efficiency panels, will, per Rogan, generate enough electricity in a year to power all of the Niners’ games in a season. The installations are in high visibility spots: On top of three NRG Energy Foot Bridges which take fans from the tailgating areas to the stadium, and on the NRG Terrace atop the stadium.
- A green roof will help insulate the stadium and will grow produce that will be used in the food service.
- Mass transit adjacent to Levi’s makes it accessible to fans from San Francisco, San Jose and other points in the Bay Area.
- 100 percent of the wood used in the Citrix Owners Suites is reclaimed from a local airplane hangar.
- The recycling and composting operation is the most sophisticated I’ve seen at any stadium or arena.
- Stadium concessionaires will offer a wide array of locally-sourced, farm-to-table items.
- The builders used recycled and reclaimed building materials wherever possible.
Nowadays, sustainability scorecards are much more sophisticated nowadays than simply a LEED certification. There are many other metrics, approaches, and measurement platforms, including GOAL from Oak View Group, ARC, and more.
November 4: Forest Green Rovers, the Greenest Team In Sports
The team that has set the standard for Green-Sports teams made its inaugural GSB appearance.
[Forest Green Rovers’] most revolutionary move was to go Meat Free at the club training table and then at the concessions stands at The New Lawn, their home ground. You read that right: No meat at the stadium. Veggie burgers only. That must’ve been a DISASTER. Well, in an interview with The Independent this July, [team chairman Dale] Vince conceded that, at first, there was “a fan revolt.”
But then things turned.
Now Vince says “I didn’t give in. [And] now no fan says the veggie burger is worse than a meat burger. They even come up to me and thank me, and say I’ve changed their lives.” In fact, says Vince, some fans go The New Lawn just for the veggie fare. Is this something that could be replicated at the higher echelons of the FA? Conventional wisdom would say an emphatic “no”. But I’m sure the CW would’ve said the same thing at FGR. It will be interesting to see what happens if/when a bigger club goes this route.
Sadly, yet not surprisingly, no ‘big club’ has followed FGR down the vegan-only path. And sadly, Forest Green was just relegated after one season in League One, the third tier of English football, so their profile will be a bit lower in ’23-’24, as they play in League Two.
Dale Vince, OBE, Chairman, Forest Green Rovers (Photo credit: Forest Green Rovers)
January 15, 2015: The University of Colorado ‘Makes Green from Going Green’
Like Forest Green Rovers, the CU athletics department, in partnership with the CU Environment Center, led by Dave Newport, were ahead of their time with its Ralphie’s Green Stampede ‘green sponsorship’ offering.
Key to making the Zero-Waste initiative exciting and meaningful for community and sponsors alike was its branding: Ralphie’s Green Stampede, launched in 2008 and named after the school’s buffalo mascot, became the face of the university’s efforts to reduce the environmental impact of its home games.
Reaction to Ralphie’s Green Stampede (and to its sponsors) was strongly positive from the get-go and more sponsors followed, including Boulder-based Eco-Products (compostable cups, plates, and other eating utensils) and Levy Restaurants (starting in 2014, the new concessionaire and caterer of CU Athletics venues, including Folsom Field and the Coors Events Center, home of CU hoops).
Sadly, Ralphie’s Green Stampede is still unique among college athletics departments. It says here that there are missed Green-Sports opportunities for athletics departments all over the country. Will smart ADs take those opportunities? Watch this space.
Posselt, one of the more fascinating characters GSB has interviewed over our first ten years, took on insanely challenging kayak trips from Brisbane to Adelaide, from New Orleans to New York City, and from London to Paris. His goal was to generate media attention on the need for the world take real action on climate.
Steve Posselt, a self described “regular bloke” from Brisbane was ticked off about the Australian government’s apparent desire to exploit all of the country’s coal resources, disastrous climate change implications be damned. He took a novel and physically demanding approach to protest: A (very) long distance solo kayak trip. Which begat another (very) long distance kayak trip. And then another.
Posselt has continued his climate activism with Kayak4Earth and his 2020 book, ‘Tough Is Not Enough’
Steve Posselt (Photo credit: Steve Posselt)
December 3: Four Amazing Eco-Athlete All Stars
We’ve seen the clear need for athletes to play a lead role, if not the lead role in driving the #ClimateComeback since well before the launch of GSB. This column featured a stellar quartet of athletes who were doing just that: American Snowboarder and eco-preneur Gretchen Bleiler, Stanley Cup winning defenseman and climate change fighter Andrew Ference, former Arsenal and French national team star turned green business pioneer Mathieu Flamini, and long distance swimmer and ocean advocate Lewis Pugh.
Pugh keeps swimming long distances in cold water to draw attention to the climate crisis. The photo at top is of Pugh on his 12-day swim in 2021 around Greenland’s Ilulissat Icefjord. His message was simple and powerful: ‘No ice, no life’ (Photo credit: Kevin Trautman). Bleiler and Flamini continue with their green businesses. Ference became the NHL’s first director of social impact, growth, and fan development in 2018.
Super Bowl 50, the Bay Area Super Bowl, was unique in two ways — 1) the NFL dispensed with the roman numeral designation for this one, and 2) it was the greenest Super Bowl by far to that point.
There are water refilling stations, courtesy of FloWater–bottled water isn’t sold in SBC. Recycling and composting bins are prominently displayed and fans seem to know into which bin to throw their waste. The signs that say “RECYLE” or “COMPOST”? They’re repurposed from the 2013 America’s Cup, which was contested off of San Francisco. Generators powering SBC with cleanly-sourced electricity are seen throughout. And orange-bedecked Bay Area Super Bowl 50 Host Committee volunteers cheerily invite visitors who’ve taken green actions (i.e. riding their bike to SBC) to, through the “Play Your Part” initiative, direct charitable contributions to one of 4 local environmental charities, courtesy of 50 Fund, the Host Committee’s charitable arm.
Hopes that the environment would continue to play a big part at Super Bowls LI and beyond have not been realized. Super Bowl 50 is still the Green high watermark. Levi’s Stadium and the Niners have been announced as hosts of Super Bowl LX in 2026. You can be that this will be the only Super Bowl that comes close out-greening the 2016 edition.
Levi’s Stadium, home of the San Francisco 49ers and host of Super Bowl 50 (Photo credit: San Francisco 49ers)
The last year of the Obama administration featured a session at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. It hosted 70+ leaders of the sports-greening movement for a Roundtable discussion entitled “Climate and Sports.”
US Energy Secretary Dr. Ernest Moniz opened the session. A nuclear physicist and MIT physics and engineering systems professor before leading heading the Department of Energy, Moniz’ profile rose above the typical Energy Secretary in 2015 when he became a key negotiator of the historic nuclear agreement with Iran. So he knows something about serious global threats.
And, since, in Dr. Moniz’ opinion, climate change is humanity’s greatest environmental threat; it was incumbent upon the Obama administration to do something about it.
“The Roundtable was divided into three areas in which sports could aid in the climate change fight: mitigation—slowing down climate change, resilience—adapting to climate change that’s already ‘baked in,’ and education,” recounted Green Sports Alliance vice-chair Mary Harvey, “A different staffer led each section, then attendees presented case studies. The ‘feel’ of the meeting was very inclusive—they really wanted our thoughts.”
President Obama took the baton from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy by giving voice to the importance of the intersection of Green & Sports at the observance of the first Green-Sports Day, which was created and driven by the Green Sports Alliance and some of its founding members.
President Obama thanked the Penguins for being “leaders in the Green Sports Alliance, [making] their facilities more energy and water efficient, lowering their carbon footprint when they travel.” He also lauded National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman and the the league for its innovative role in environmentally sustainable sports because,”we wanna continue to have ice so that we can play hockey.”
2016 was a great year for Green-Sports thanks to the aforementioned Greenest Super Bowl Ever and the Obama Administration’s high profile support. With the ascension to the Presidency of Donald Trump in January 2017, the White House door was shut to the movement for four long years. President Biden has not yet re-opened the door. As for Green Sports Day, it lay dormant during the Trump Administration in the United States. The GSA revived it in 2021 and 2022. At the same time, a group of athletes and academics north of the border launched Green Sports Day Canada.
President Obama, with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman (l) at the White House ceremony in October 2016 celebrating the Pittsburgh Penguins Stanley Cup win that spring. It was at that same ceremony that President Obama issued a proclamation announcing the inaugural Green Sports Day (Photo credit: National Hockey League)
Alexandra Rickham’s story is one of the most compelling GreenSportsBlog has had the good fortune to tell.
I was born in Jamaica, lived there until I was 12, went to boarding school in the U.K, came back to Jamaica for my summer holidays after a year and then had a diving accident that left me a quadriplegic.
[In the sailboat], the seat I sit in is fixed and I am strapped in. There is a push-pull system that allows me to steer even with my limited muscle control. My biceps are functional but my triceps are pretty much useless.
[After winning bronze at London 2012 and Rio 2016, Rickham moved on to her next chapter]
I’m working for PCSG within their sustainability consultancy arm, doing some reporting for London 2017 Para-World Athletics and IAAF World Championships.
I’m also looking at the big picture of the sporting environment, collating information and putting together a comprehensive database about what teams, leagues, venues and other governing bodies are putting in place, sustainability-wise. And from there, we will hopefully be able to use the database to clearly demonstrate the value of sustainability in sport and really drive its further adoption.
Rickham is now combining her passions for sailing and the environment as sustainability director for World Sailing, the sport’s governing body.
Prior to 2017, NCAA student-athletes had not been active on climate to any meaningful degree. That started to change, thanks to a group of committed Oregon State Beavers.
Samantha (“Sam”) Lewis, a cross-country/track runner, and Jesikah Cavanaugh, a swimmer/ decided they, along with three other student-athletes wanted to accelerate the greening of OSU sports. [That resulted in] the birth of the Beaver Athlete Sustainability Team (BAST).
Per Jesikah, BAST’s launch took place in the fall of 2016 at Reser Stadium, the home of Oregon State football. Sam offered: “Tons of ‘stuff’ is given away for free at football games as promotional items. Things like pom-poms. Most people use them once; they get thrown out and go right to the landfill. We worked with the marketing team at the athletic department — we brought them in early on and they’ve been super supportive — to run a tabling effort at the Cal (Berkeley) game at which fans would return their pom-poms.
Cavanaugh, Lewis and BAST clearly started something! NCAA student-athletes have become a driving force in the #ClimateComeback. They are by far the fastest growing cohort among EcoAthletes Champions, with 36 of the organization’s current roster of athletes being student-athletes from the Classes of 2022 and after. And this is just the beginning.
Oregon State’s Jesikah Cavanaugh (top) and Sam Lewis helped found BAST (Photo credits: Oregon State Athletics)
December 8: The POWer of Protect Our Winters
Snow sports athletes were the first to sound the alarm on the climate crisis. This makes sense, when one considers climate change is responsible for shortened outdoor pond hockey seasons, canceled ski races, and more. Protect Our Winters, or POW, is an amazing organization that brings together elite winter sports athletes to advocate for substantive action on climate, especially as it relates to winter sports.
[Per Barbara Weber, brand manager at POW] What is really great is that POW athletes do their homework on climate and know their stuff. In fact, our athletes who go to Washington [to lobby Members of Congress on pro-climate legislation] often report that Senators and House members are slack-jawed at their knowledge and expertise.
POW has made a much deeper push into politics since 2017, helping their athlete ambassadors to advocate for pro-climate candidates in elections at the federal level and in snow states.