The GSB Interview: Zane Schweitzer, World Champion Surfer and Eco-Athlete

Surfer Zane Kekoa Schweitzer is at the top of his game: Contending for world championships across multiple surfing disciplines, about to compete for a spot on the first-ever U.S. Olympic surfing team, and an ascendant eco-athlete. GreenSportsBlog spoke with the young Hawaiian in December as he was about to compete in the last event of the 2018 APP paddle surfing tour at Las Palmas in the Grand Canary Islands about his career, his work on behalf of clean oceans and more.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Zane, thanks so much for taking time to talk to us in the middle of your competition!

Zane Schweitzer: Thank you, Lew!

GSB: How did you get into surfing?

Zane: Growing up in Maui, I could swim before I could walk. My dad is an 18-time world windsurfing champion and we all, including my mom and sister, basically lived on and in the water. Swimming, windsurfing, surfing, paddling…you name it.

 

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Zane Schweitzer (Photo credit: Matt Schweitzer)

 

GSB: Wow! It sounds like competitive surfing is in your DNA. And you are gaining on your dad as you now have 15 world championship event wins and you’re still only 25. When did you start competing?

Zane: Lew, you’re not going to believe this but I was three years old when I won my first surfing competition. And I was up against kids as old as six. I won a big surfboard!

GSB: I cannot imagine that at any age. When did you first think you could be a world champion?

Zane: Good question. I guess I was 13 when I started to think I could be a world champ. I got more serious about surfing — including wind surfing, got a sponsor and a coach. Then I went out on tour along with my friend and surfing partner Connor Baxter. I was in junior high, traveling Japan and South Korea in Asia along with Spain, Germany and Italy in Europe to windsurf. It was awesome!

GSB: Sounds like it. How did you handle high school while doing all that traveling on tour?

Zane: I went to high school in Maui for the first two years but then it got too crazy so I was homeschooled my junior and senior years, which worked out fine as it allowed me to really focus on my craft and building my own brand.

GSB: Which has worked out well for you. I understand you are a decathlete of sorts in surfing in that you compete and win in a wide variety of surfing disciplines.

Zane: Yeah, most people are unaware that there are multi-discipline ocean sport competitions, the most prestigious of them being the Ultimate Waterman championship, which is eight events. I’ve won it twice and they are the titles I’m most proud of.

GSB: Congratulations! Sounds like the surfing equivalent of the decathlon.

Zane: You’ve got that right. And it’s actually more than just surfing. We compete in long distance canoe and stand up paddle (SUP) races, underwater strength and endurance and more!

 

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Zane Schweitzer competes in the Stand Up Paddle competition (Photo credit: Matt Schweitzer)

 

GSB: What is underwater strength and endurance?

Zane: The underwater strength and endurance discipline — a combination of swimming, breath holding and running with 50kgs underwater — is nuts!! The other events are stand up paddle surfing, stand up paddle endurance racing, prone paddle board technical race, OC1 or one man outrigger canoeing, shortboard surfing, longboard surfing and big wave riding.

GSB: Dang! That sounds impossible. How did your 2018 season go?

Zane: Earlier this year I won the indoor wave pool event at the worlds largest boat show in Germany, that was fun! Was crowned champion of the Santa Cruz Paddlefest and the Ventura Paddle Surf Championships both in the discipline of SUP Surfing. During Race season I set a new record time winning the Maui to Moloka’i 27 mile Hydrofoil race and placed fourth at the 2018 Pan Am Games in Lima, Peru in the stand up paddle race. During the Pan-Am SUP Surf discipline I had a technicality that did me in losing my qualifying position for 2019 Pan Am Games. I was pretty bummed about that! But it was a strong year overall and I’m grateful to finish the APP World Tour in second overall between Paddle Race and Surf combined results and as well as third on the APP World Tour in Stand Up Surf. It sets me up well for 2019 as I look to put myself in prime position to make the U.S. Olympic team when shortboard surfing makes its debut at Tokyo 2020.

GSB: That’s right — surfing becomes an Olympic sport.

Zane: It is so exciting! It’ll be shortboard surfing in Tokyo and then longboard and stand up paddle may be added for Paris 2024.

GSB: All the best! What inspired you to be an environmentalist?

Zane: Ah yes…My lifelong respect for the environment was passed down to me by my family. Growing up in Hawai’i in a culture in which environmentalism is almost a given also has a lot to with it. In Hawai’i we have a connection with nature from the mountains to the sea. Our “kuleana” or privileged responsibility, to care for the land and waters could be derived from the old way of living that was dependent on the health of the complete environment. My dad passed down the pride and respect for “mauka to makai” or “mountains to oceans” mentality to me that embraced this connection to land, water and nature. He would take me dirt biking up in the mountains or fishing in the middle of the ocean far from land and we’d eat and drink off of the land, providing for our family and connecting with nature. It is my ethos. And then, as I started to make a profession from ocean sports, I realized my competitors and I have a huge opportunity, because of the influence sports has, to share these unique experiences and appreciation for the ocean.

For me, the ocean is so much more than a big, unknown world. It is my classroom, playground, church and place of refuge that I deeply honor and respect.

GSB: Very well said, Zane. When did you start speaking out on the environment?

Zane: It really started in 2015. My surfboard sponsor, Starboard, had not been very eco-minded before then, but then they made an amazing flip, a true 180. They partnered with Sustainable Surf and Parley for the Oceans, nonprofits committed to inspiring innovation and behavior changes to help save ocean ecosystems, from our personal day-to-day choices to macro corporate production decisions. I was honored to work with them all and learn how I could adopt eco innovation personally and professionally. In 2016, Starboard invited me to the “Parley Ocean School” in the Maldives.

GSB: …The small island nation off the southern coast of India that is at serious risk now, in real time, from the effects of climate change.

Zane: Youʻre right. This became a pivotal point in my evolution as an eco-warrior and environmental ambassador! For eight days, our group of 16 was taught lessons from people like ocean health experts Silvia Earle and Paul Watson, along with leaders from a variety of arenas. I had a chance to host an engagement, sharing with the group, 1) my connection to the environment through sports and, 2) how I run nonprofit events for kids worldwide to inspire future generations to embrace a healthy, active, and environmentally respectful lifestyle.

We scuba dove together with local climate change experts and saw the devastation to coral reefs and Maldivian islands first hand. It was a pivotal moment in my life.

GSB: Was Parley Ocean School solely a gathering of elite water sports athletes?

Zane: No, it was an eclectic group of influencers that included actors like Chris Hemsworth and Diego Luna as well as Victoriaʻs Secret models, recognized environmental photographer/videographers, marine biologists and more! Ocean school was about sharing experiences, lessons as well as telling stories. The goal was to shift our minds and actions so we would make better environmental choices — and share that approach with as many people as possible.

 

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Plastic ocean waste washed up on the shore of the Maldive Islands during Parley Ocean School in 2016 (Photo credit: Parley for the Oceans)

 

GSB: How did you go about doing that?

Zane: I decided then and there to refocus my purpose towards environmental action and to inspire my community to take responsibility for the health of our environment with our own daily choices.

I committed to making “Blue Life Choices” such as:

  1. Adopting a plant-based, vegan diet,
  2. Only working with brands as sponsors whose values and actions on the environment mirror my own,
  3. Packing my own water bottle and lunchbox to avoid daily single use plastic consumption,
  4. Investing only in likeminded companies as far the environment is concerned,
  5. Hosting beach cleanups on my travels and even during competitions

I also pledged to show off my “Pocket of Plastic Challenge,” a fun campaign I started in 2015 that asks surfers and beachgoers to put their pockets to use by leaving the water and beach with a few pieces of plastic they may have found in the water or sand and dispose of them appropriately.

GSB: Brilliant!

Zane: Then I began advocating against single-use plastics. Wanting to give as many people as possible a taste of the Ocean School, I started partnering with nonprofits like Sustainable Surf, 5 Gyres, Eat Less Plastic, Surfrider Foundation in addition to Parley for the Oceans to spread the word. As mentioned earlier, I only work with sponsors that are the greenest in their product categories. Starboard is leading the charge for eco-innovation in its class. Did you know they plant mangrove trees for every product sold to offset their carbon footprint?

GSB: I had no idea. That’s fantastic!

Zane: I know! I also work with Indosole, a B-Corp that makes shoes out of old car tires…

GSB: …A B-Corp is a for-profit business that is managed to balance profit and purpose, not solely the former.

Zane: B-Corps are phenomenal but having them sponsor me was not enough. I chose to adapt my lifestyle and also my business to continue innovating and inspiring, so in 2017 I started hosting more events — such as Surf, SUP and Hydrofoil clinics — and retreats that included beach cleanups and environmental education. I also published a book, “Beneath The Surface,” based on 15 years of journaling that allowed me to further share with people how to innovate and inspire and live a Deep Blue Life.

 

beneathsurface

 

GSB: What do you mean by “living a Deep Blue Life”?

Zane: It’s the idea that, since pretty much all waste ends up in oceans or other bodies of water, we need to make a collective mindset shift towards making ocean health a priority in our everyday lives. I’ll take it from the words of Sustainable Surf: “We believe that the key to solving most environmental problems, including climate change, is for individuals and organizations to begin making sustainable choices in their everyday lives that are engaging, cost effective, fulfilling – and yes, even fun.”

That’s living a Deep Blue Life. I can help because of my platform. If I see a dead animal on the beach with plastic inside it, I embrace the grief I feel, because there’s nothing more that makes me want my community to stop using plastic bags and straws than when I see these daily conveniences leading to the death of life. After praying for the life lost to single use plastic, I may snap a photo and post it on social media because I want my community to embrace that grief as well, and make “Blue Life Choices” themselves. And, since blue is a key component in the color green, living a Deep Blue Life also encompasses going green — from renewables to EVs to energy efficiency. So I’ve created a tribe of sorts, a following, via the hashtags #DeepBlueLife #BlueLifeChoices and #MyBlueLife.

I talk to high school and middle school kids about the Deep Blue Life — they get it immediately — as well as to corporate audiences through my partners such as Parley for the Oceans.

 

“Zane’s Deep Blue Day,” a 7-minute video, details Zane Schweitzer’s commitment to the environment

 

GSB: I bet the audiences love your messaging. Finally, how much do you engage your audiences on climate change? It is of course intimately connected to ocean health, from sea level rise to ocean acidification to death of coral reefs and much more.

Zane: I try to connect my audience with our changing environment through my personal experiences. I have not yet focused on climate change per se. However I am only 25 years old, have witnessed entire beaches near home vanish, species go extinct, reefs bleached to the point of no return, record rain falls causing deadly flash floods, and islands once lived on sinking into the ocean such as in the Maldives. The phrase, “climate change” may not be a highlighted topic in my engagements, but the message is clear that the actions of humans have caused these accelerated changes and its up to us whether we decide to contribute to the solution or the problem. I’m definitely looking to contribute to the solutions. That’s why I’m happy to endorse a carbon-pricing bill, the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, which was introduced with bipartisan support in both houses of Congress in the fall.

GSB: That’s great news, Zane! You’ve joined a growing group of athletes from a variety of sports who are backing EICDA. And I’m confident the lion’s share of your audience of GenZ-ers and Millennials will be happy to hear about your endorsement.

Zane: My hope is that sharing my endorsement as well as my experiences of seeing environmental damage firsthand will resonate with my fans, leading them to take actions that will put them on the positive side of climate change.

 

zane jungle

Zane Schweitzer, in the jungle of Hawai’i (Photo credit: Matt Schweitzer)

 

 


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The GSB Interview with Colin Tetreault: Part II — Making Arizona State a Green-Sports Leader

Colin Tetreault of Arizona State is both a Green-Sports visionary and top-level practitioner. This was made clear when he moderated the Thought Leader panel at the Green Sports Alliance Summit in June. Next up, thought leadership-wise, for Tetreault is a home game of sorts: the Sports & Sustainability Symposium at ASU this winter. GSB spoke with Tetreault in a two-part interview.

In Part I, Tetreault shared how his love for nature and Arizona State University led him to be a sustainability leader in Phoenix city government. Today’s Part II delves into Tetreault’s journey back to ASU, where is he is helping to turn the school into a Green-Sports leader.

 

We pick up the conversation as Colin Tetreault sums up his experience as Phoenix’ first sustainability director and then returned to Arizona State.

 

GSB: Kudos to you and your colleagues in Phoenix. You really made a difference! What did you do after the City began to embrace sustainability as a driver?

Colin: My job was to be a catalyst. By nature, catalysts drive change and then disappear. We hired a Chief Sustainability Officer and moved the full-time work to a great team in the City Management. That, in and of itself, was a statement on how the City shifted from where it had been two-years prior.

I went back to ASU, and that’s when the sustainability and sports link really began to accelerate. We began teaching a Sport & Sustainability class. Dawn Rogers, who was President and CEO of the 2017 Men’s Final Four in Phoenix, came to us and asked us “What should a mega-event like the Final Four do from a sustainability perspective?” Well, we went into overdrive, putting together a Sport and Sustainability Dream Team of state leaders with the goal of leaving a strong sustainability legacy for the city through the power of sport. Our focus was on Zero-Waste, renewable energy credits (RECS) and being water positive. On the latter, we worked with Bonneville Environmental, Northern Arizona Forest Fund, and Salt River Project on an innovative water restoration program.

 

Colin Tetreault 2

Colin Tetreault, Arizona State University (Photo credit: Colin Tetreault)

 

GSB: Were your efforts successful?

Colin: We did good work, especially on water. Even the downtown events achieved a zero waste level. Our energy was entirely offset with sustainable energy production. And we worked in the arena of climate justice…

GSB: Whoa…Whoa. Climate justice and sports rarely comes up. How did you guys do that?

Colin: Here’s how. The games were played in suburban Glendale, northwest of the city. But most of the fan-fest type events were held in downtown Phoenix. Due south of downtown happens to be some the most disadvantaged areas in Arizona. We asked ourselves: Will people from those areas be able to enjoy the Final Four? There were a ton of free events in downtown Phoenix, including the Fan Fest and concerts and so folks were able to enjoy those. And we intentionally engaged low-income and high-minority school districts. The most important question was: How can we empower disadvantaged people in some way because the Final Four was here? Our idea there was to take the total kilowatt hours (kWh) used at the Final Four, multiply that times ten and do that amount of energy efficiency upgrades at Section 8 (low income) housing near Phoenix and Glendale. The plan was to have it funded by the federal Department of Energy (DOE), Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and other sponsors The efficiency investment would allow residents to have more money to for education, healthy food, and would positively impact their credit rankings.

GSB: That is BRILLIANT! Did it come to fruition?

Colin: Unfortunately it did not.

GSB: Why not?

Colin: Interest and funding ability wasn’t the hurdle; time was. We introduced the idea in December, 2016 and thus it was too late to do it right by the time of the Final Four in April, 2017. Hopefully, this will be done at another mega-event in the future. But, aside from that, I’d say our sustainability efforts for the Final Four were largely successful. We earned platinum certification, the highest level possible for a sustainable event and a first for any mega-event, from the Council for Responsible Sport

 

Colin Final Four Fan Fest

Fan participating at the sustainability-themed fan-fest at the 2017 NCAA Men’s Final Four in Glendale, AZ (Photo credit: Colin Tetreault)

 

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Poster promoting water restoration projects at the 2017 NCAA Men’s Final Four fan-fest (Photo credit: Colin Tetreault)

 

GSB: Terrific. Council certification is impressive…What was next at ASU, Green-Sports-wise, after the Final Four?

Colin: Major League Baseball came to ASU at the beginning of 2017, looking for a strategic approach to fan engagement and sustainability with clubs. Working together, we created a comprehensive approach for the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies spring training facility, Salt River Fields. We executed a program that included signage throughout the ballpark, social media engagement, a message that ran on the scoreboard from Shea Hillenbrand, standup interviews, a press release from Commissioner Rob Manfred and more.

On another front, we provided a graduate-level intern to Catharine Kummer and her NASCAR Green team. The “Change Agent,” Meghan Tierney, conducted an analysis for Richmond (VA) Raceway that went beyond recycling and tree planting to figure out how the venue could drive incremental revenue by protecting the environment and engaging the community. They plan to present this to track leadership over the next few months.

 

Colin Salt River Fields

Salt River Fields, spring training home of the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Colorado Rockies (Photo credit: Colin Tetreault)

 

We are also interested in the sociocultural impacts and benefits of sport. I mentored another one of our graduate students – McCady Findley – in creating an advocacy activation platform for athletes and leagues. He called it the Chagemaker Platform.

GSB: Advocacy platform? What, is this some sort of social media push?

Colin: Far more than that, it’s an education and engagement model that finds ways to encourage – not discourage – our young athletes to become leading experts in social and environmental areas off the field.

GSB: Oh man, that is HUGE!

Colin: In this age of athlete activism, leagues have two choices: 1) Empower and direct your athletes to act like champions on AND off the field. This will create lasting change that can build greater fan affinity, while concurrently reducing brand risk and exposure issues. Or; 2) pretend that the stone age ended due to lack of stones and ignore to responsibility of sport to be involved in our collective human evolution and suffer the brand firestorms. Need I point to the innumerable examples of late?

GSB: Let’s go with door number one…

Colin: McCady built a platform to educate, empower, and direct advocacy for impact and outcomes…before finishing grad school. My Change Agents rock!

GSB: No doubt! Finally, talk about “Sustainability and Sport,” the event ASU is hosting in January with the Green Sports Alliance…

Colin: We’re taking a broader view of sustainability than what you normally see at Green-Sports gatherings, including taking on issues of social justice and human equity. We’re scheduled to hear from the head of the Arizona Girl Scouts and athletic leaders on social justice. The former Mayor, Greg Stanton, will also be there sharing the power of sports in building communities. Topics like sports and the circular economy as well as regenerative natural capital will be on the docket.

GSB: What is regenerative natural capital?

Colin: It gets into how being “less bad” on the environment is not good enough if we’re going to avoid the worst effects of climate change. We need to be “more good” incorporating the value of nature into our decision and policies.

When we view our natural resources as stocks of assets (water, clean air, material flows) we recognize that we need to not just mitigate their depletion or degradation. Rather, we need to think strategically and in a systems perspective about how to reinvest and grow returns on that capital. While some may think of this as new thinking, even Teddy Roosevelt understood this over 100 years ago by saying, “The nation behaves well if it treats its natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased, not impaired in value.”

GSB: And how can sports engage on regenerative natural capital?

Colin: First, it starts with understanding an organizations impacts and dependencies on the natural systems and society around it. From there, one can better understand the associated costs/benefits and risks/opportunities.

From there, leagues, teams, and brands to make better development, purchasing, operational, and disposition choices that benefit – demonstrably – ecosystems and societies. A framework like that reduces risk and exposure, opens up new areas for innovative purchasing decisions, and advances the organization’s brand in the public eye. I think that the biggest opportunity is the exposure and reach sport can provide in illustrating the importance and value of nature in our business decisions.

GSB: Sounds like the event will be like a fusion of a Green Sports Alliance Summit and NPR! Speaking of the GSA Summit, I thought your Thought Leader panel was also NPRish — thought-provoking, in depth. So put your Thought Leader cap on…How do we amp up what I call Green-Sports 2.0 — engaging fans, especially those who don’t go to games — a much, much, much bigger number than attendees — on environmental and climate change issues?

Colin: You’re 100 percent right. And it’s funny you mention NPR — we have Tracy Wahl, formerly an executive editor there, at ASU’s Cronkite School of Journalism, leading an amazing partnership on sustainability reporting in the Western US. But I digress. The way I look at it, sports is about 15 years behind business in terms of harnessing sustainable strategies and communicating those practices to a wide stakeholder base. That’s not derogatory. Traditional enterprise faced the same issues. Sports is catching up…quickly. I’d also offer that sports has an even greater opportunity to leapfrog traditional enterprise in its impact. People connect on a very personal basis with sports. It’s that reach and narrative – that sports excels in – that will undoubtedly create the wave of change we need.

I like your Green-Sports 1.0 and 2.0 constructs. What I want to know is: What will Green-Sports 3.0 look like? Sport needs to be thinking 30 years out the way businesses does on issues of sustainability, climate change and more. How can sports be bold yet pragmatic? We see that FIFA, UEFA and the IOC are taking laudable steps on sustainability and climate…

 

Tracy Wahl

Tracy Wahl, executive editor of the Regional Journalism Collaboration for Sustainability, at Arizona State’s Cronkite School of Journalism (Photo credit: Arizona State University)

 

GSB:…Like the climate change vignette at the 2016 Rio Olympics Opening Ceremonies…But that’s a one off to this point.

Colin: True, but those groups are headed in the right direction on communicating on environment and climate to fans. They and domestic leagues have opportunities to do more while concurrently creating institutional value, especially since they can appeal to younger people…To get and keep them as fans in the way their elders were, sports organizations need to show young folks that they’re innovating — on the field and off. Sustainability can and must be a key off-field tenet going forward. I’m earnestly proud of our leagues and teams and the work they have trail blazed. It’s not easy, but it’s impactful. It’s that impact that I’m committed to supporting and furthering.

 


 

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GSB Eco-Scorecard #6: Catching Up with Green-Sports Leaders On The Field

Since 2013, GreenSportsBlog has told the stories of the great environmental work being done by teams, managers of venues and athletes. But as far as the sports side of the Green-Sports equation was concerned, we really didn’t go there.

Until last September, that is.

It was then that we launched GSB Eco-Scoreboard: Catching Up with Green-Sports Leaders on the Field, an occasional series highlighting recent on-field/court results of the greenest teams and athletes. Why? Because if they do well, their green messages will gain a wider audience.

And if they struggle? Well, those of us engaged in the climate change fight know what struggle is all about. We can relate.

With that in mind, please enjoy our sixth Eco-Scoreboard.

 

 

ECO-LINEBACKER CONNOR BARWIN SIGNS WITH NEW YORK GIANTS; LOOKS TO MAKE 53 MAN ROSTER

Connor Barwin, the 31 year-old linebacker, recently joined his fourth NFL team when he signed a two-year contract with the New York Giants.

Barwin, who previously played with the Houston Texans, Philadelphia Eagles and Los Angeles Rams, brings much needed pass rushing prowess to Big Blue’s defense (he’s notched 55.5 sacks over his first nine NFL seasons). And he also brings a passion for the environment that has been sorely lacking from the New York-New Jersey sports scene.

The former second round draft pick out of the University of Cincinnati has been very engaged on the environment — climate change in particular — throughout his career. While in Philadelphia, Barwin rode his bike to work, drove an electric car, and spoke out about climate in the community. And, as part of an endorsement deal with NRG, the Eagles energy sponsor and developer of the 11,000 panel solar system at Lincoln Financial Field, the linebacker helped install solar panels on residential roofs in the Philadelphia area and on missions to Haiti.

 

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New York Giants LB Connor Barwin (r), then with the Philadelphia Eagles, helped install solar panels atop the roof of this couple’s home in Cherry Hill, NJ in 2015. (Photo credit: NRG)

 

In a 2014 interview with Jared Shelly of Philadelphia Business JournalBarwin credits his dad with being the inspiration for his environmentalism: “My dad was a city manager who spent two decades pushing public transit in Detroit, the car capital of the world. He had a huge amount of civic pride which carried over to me as a child…It just seemed very instinctual and natural to take care of where you lived.”

With the Giants set to match up against the Jets tonight in their annual preseason battle for New York area bragging rights and the Snoopy Trophy (arguably the most meaningless trophy in sports — the game doesn’t count!), I will be focusing on two players.

As a diehard New York Jets fan, most of my attention and interest will be focused on rookie quarterback Sam Darnold and whether he can take the next step towards earning the starting job for opening night against the Detroit Lions.

And I will also be pulling for Connor Barwin to have a solid performance. He needs to play well since he’s not a lock to be on the Giants opening day roster, although most projections have him making the team.  Assuming he does, Barwin will be able to bring his brand of eco-athlete leadership to the Big Apple.

 

VESTAS 11TH HOUR RACING RALLIES TO FINISH 5TH IN ROUND-THE-WORLD VOLVO OCEAN RACE DESPITE NOT STARTING TWO LEGS AFTER TRAGIC CRASH IN HONG KONG

Vestas 11th Hour Racing, the sailing team with the world class sustainability ethos, got off to a fast start in the ’round-the-world, 2017-18 Volvo Ocean Race last fall. Led by a pair of Americans, skipper Charlie Enright and team director Mark Towill, the squad was in a tie for second place in the seven boat field after the race’s first three legs (Alicante, Spain to Lisbon; Lisbon to Cape Town; Cape Town to Melbourne, Australia).

 

Mark Towill Atila Madrona

Mark Towill, team director of Vestas 11th Hour Racing (Photo credit: Vestas 11th Hour Racing)

 

 

Vestas 11th Hour Racing crew portrait. Charlie Enright

Vestas 11th Hour Racing skipper Charlie Enright (Photo credit: Vestas 11th Hour Racing)

 

And the team was near the lead towards the end of the Melbourne to Hong Kong leg when disaster struck about 30 miles out from the Hong Kong Harbor finish.

In the wee hours of the morning on January 20, Vestas 11th Hour Racing collided with an unlit fishing vessel. Despite a badly damaged bow, Towill# and the Vestas 11th Hour Racing crew carried out a search and rescue effort. Nine Chinese fishermen were rescued but one fisherman tragically passed away.

There are no words to describe how the loss of the fisherman’s life affected Towill, Enright, and every other member of the Vestas 11th Hour Racing squad.

But despite heavy hearts and the massive repairs resulting from the severe damage to the boat, the team decided to try to rejoin the race. They did so despite missing legs 5 and 6 (Hong Kong to Guangzhou, China, and then to Auckland, New Zealand), which meant there was no chance of winning.

Still, Vestas 11th Hour Racing rebuilt boat was at the start line for the Auckland to Itajai, Brazil leg. They were in second place coming around Cape Horn at the southern tip of South America, and then the mast fell over.

That had to be the end, right?

Wrong.

The team persevered, fashioning a new mast out of a light post.

Somehow Vestas 11th Hour Racing earned a strong third place showing in the Itajai to Newport, RI leg. They backed that up with another third place finish in the transatlantic Newport to Cardiff, Wales leg. The squad eventually ran out of steam, finishing sixth in the Cardiff to Gothenburg, Sweden race and last in the final leg, Gotenburg to The Hague, Netherlands.

Overall, Towill, Enright and Company persevered to earn a tortuous, costly but impressive fifth place finish.

 

A video review of Vestas 11th Hour’s challenging circumnavigation of the globe in the Volvo Ocean Race, focusing on sustainability and perseverance (9 min 44 sec)

 

Also impressive was this: At each Volvo Ocean Race stopover, the team met with a local non-profit to learn about their environmental work. Sustainability partner 11th Hour Racing awarded a $10,000 grant to each organization as part of their mission to leave a sustainability legacy beyond the race.

Will Enright and Towill make another run at the ’round the world race in 2021-22 and will they partner with 11th Hour Racing? That is all to be determined. The only thing we know for sure is that 2021-22 race will have new owners, with Atlant Ocean Racing Spain replacing Volvo (although Volvo cars will still be a sponsor).

# Towill substituted for Enright as skipper for Leg 4 because the latter had to sit out due to a family crisis.

 


 

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Youth Sailing World Championships Bring Sustainability to Corpus Christi, Texas

Corpus Christi, Texas became an unlikely center of the Green-Sports universe last month. That’s when the Youth Sailing World Championships brought a strong, new sustainability platform to the city on the Gulf of Mexico. It is fitting that leading the sustainability charge in South Texas was a relative newbie to Green-Sports, Elizabeth Kratzig.

GreenSportsBlog, always on the lookout for the next new thing, takes a look.

 

Elizabeth Kratzig has been sailing — and racing — almost all her life.

“I grew up on the water,” said Kratzig. “In fact, in 1991 I competed in the Youth Sailing World Championships (YSWC) in Scotland. Later, I competed for the US Sailing team and medaled in world championships in multiple classes. Then I coached 19 and unders for US Sailing.”

Sustainability? That’s a taste Kratzig acquired much more recently, as she was looking for ways to help her hometown, Corpus Christi, and the Corpus Christi Yacht Club in their bid to host the 2018 Youth Sailing World Championships.

“As a member of the Corpus Christi Yacht Club, host of the Youth Worlds, and an avid sailor, I knew that I wanted to be involved with the organizing committee of the YSWC.” Kratzig related. “I asked myself, ‘How can I assist the regatta?’ What can we — the South Texas sailing community— do differently?’ I began to think about how we could better care for our playing field — the water — as well as the land and air around it. I began to think about how we could make this a green event.”

She didn’t only think about greening the event, she dove in.

So, once Corpus Christi won the bid to host the 2018 Youth Sailing World Championships, Kratzig began volunteering with the Host Committee’s Green Team Committee (GTC), ultimately becoming its co-chair alongside Dr. David McKee. They brought in key people to the Green Team including leaders in local and state conservation groups, leaders from Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and key personnel from city government.

 

Elizabeth Kratzig CorpusChristi_JED_00130

Green Team Co-Chair, Elizabeth Kratzig, addresses competitors about how they can support the sustainability program at the Youth Sailing World Championships (Photo credit: Jen Edney/World Sailing)

 

And Kratzig, like the sailor she is, kept grinding towards greening the event: “We met with Sailors For The Sea, the Newport, RI nonprofit that certifies sustainable regattas, to learn about best practices. Finally, last September, we decided to go for platinum, their highest certification.”

 

LEAVING A SUSTAINABILITY LEGACY FOR SOUTH TEXAS

The Green Team worked with a variety of South Texas organizations, from the Corpus Christi Arts Center to Surfider (volunteers from the local chapter took part in beach cleanup before the event). And Kratzig, who ultimately became the Green Team’s Co-Chair, and team asked Todd McGuire, Program Director of 11th Hour Racing – an organization that establishes strategic partnerships within sailing and maritime communities to promote collaborative, systemic change benefitting the health of the ocean – for funding to help offset costs involved with going green at the platinum level.

Thing was, platinum certification from Sailors for the Sea was not going to be enough for 11th Hour Racing.

According to Kratzig, 11th Hour Racing’s vision goes beyond supporting a one-time regatta: “McGuire said ‘We need you to leave a lasting sustainability legacy, a lasting environmental movement, if we’re going to invest.’ So we went back to the drawing board to develop environmental programs that would live long after the Youth Worlds left Corpus Christi.”

 

Youth Worlds Todd McGuire

Todd McGuire, Program Director of 11th Hour Racing (Photo credit: Jen Edney/US Sailing)

 

When Kratzig and company went back to 11th Hour Racing this February, they did so offering a laundry list of legacy-building sustainability initiatives:

  • Sustainability would be embedded in all aspects of the 2018 Youth World Sailing Championship.
  • The Green Team Committee teamed up with the Texas Sailing Association to use the TSA platform and Youth Circuit to educate sailors about ways to protect their local waters. The TSA pledged to work with Sailors for the Sea and bring Clean Regatta practices to all Texas Youth Circuit Regattas.
  • The Green Team created a sustainability event plan for Corpus Christi. It provides guidelines and resources for other organizations in the area to run sustainable events.
  • The Youth Worlds’ website would feature green content. “This is important,” offered Kratzig. “Only a small amount of spectators follow the race live in Corpus Christi. Most of them watch online so we need to be there with sustainability messaging.”
  • Art exhibits in the city would contain environmental messaging during the month of the regatta, including a chandelier made of over 1200 plastic bottles that would be hung in the Corpus Christi airport.
  • The 2018 Youth World Sailing Championships would measure a variety of sustainability metrics, from electricity usage to waste to water usage diversity. Among other things, this would serve as a benchmark for future Youth Worlds, starting with the 2019 edition in Gdynia, Poland.
  • The Host Committee and its team of volunteers would do everything possible to dot every green “i” at the event. Per Kratzig, “We even greened up our fences, replacing zip ties with more sustainable reusable bungees.”
  • A sustainability report would be written after the event based on Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) standards.
  • Environmental education would be offered to all 381 sailors from over 60 countries at the 2018 Youth Worlds. Since 80 percent of all Olympic sailing medalists have competed in the Youth Worlds, there’s a good chance that some of the participants will, in a few years time, have a big platform from which to share the sustainable sailing lessons they learned in Corpus Christi.

The Green Team’s legacy pitch was a success, as 11th Hour Racing soon became the event’s Official Sustainability Partner.

And, per the Green Team, the event was a success from a variety of sustainability metrics:

  • They were thisclose to being a Zero-Waste event as they diverted 89.8 percent of waste via recycling and composting — the threshold for Zero-Waste is 90 percent!
  • Almost 45,000 16 oz. water bottles were saved by enforcing the use of reusable bottles
  • A solar powered compost machine was used
  • Plastic Straws were banned from many areas around the regatta and all competitors were given stainless steel straws donated by Sailors for the Sea.

 

 

Youth Worlds Solar

A solar-powered compost machine helped reduce waste by composting food scraps (Photo credit: James Tomlinson/ World Sailing)

 

Kudos to the Green Team for fielding pre- and post-event sustainability surveys. This needs to be the rule, not the exception, for all sports events.

 

2018: WORLD SAILING’S GREENEST YEAR EVER

World Sailing, the governing body that serves 70 million sailors and the sport’s 250 million followers, sees the greening of the Youth Worlds as just the latest example of what has become a very strong 2018, sustainability-wise, rebounding from a controversy-laden 2016 surrounding the decision to host of Olympic sailing at Rio’s severely polluted Guanabara Bay.

According to Dan Reading World Sailing’s Sustainability Programme Manager, “Young people really get sustainability. Mom and dad? It’s much harder to change their minds. That’s why we made the environment such a focus at this year’s Youth Worlds. And that’s just a part of our much more ambitious and strategic approach to sustainability over the last year or so. After all, sailors work and play on the water, they understand the power of nature. Most importantly, sailors see what’s happening to the oceans in terms of plastic and other waste up close. They’re sustainability specialists.”

In the last year alone, World Sailing (which, in addition to the Youth Worlds, sanctions the America’s Cup, and Volvo Ocean Race) launched a raft of sustainability initiatives — from boat construction to the significant reduction in the use of single use plastics, from environmentally friendly packaging to diversity.

Climate change has also become more of a focus. “Sailing teams from Pacific island nations like Fiji and Vanuatu see effects of climate change every day,” said Reading. “So we’re measuring our carbon footprint, including the emissions of our supply chain.”

The Green Team decided to measure how their sustainability efforts are playing with participants, team leaders, coaches, and volunteers. “The Green Team approached Brian McCullough, an expert in Green-Sports at the University of Seattle, to assist in developing a longitudinal survey [i.e. before and after] that looks at how attitudes about the environment and environmental behaviors are changing among sailors and fans,” reported Kratzig. “It’s early yet, but survey response rates have been good.”

The upshot? The post-race survey showed a dramatic and positive change in sustainability habits and attitudes. Of those responding to the survey:

  • The event’s sustainability theme resulted in more than 80 percent to stop buying single-use plastic completely and more than 40 percent to recycle.
  • 87.6 percent thought the sustainability focus enhanced the event
  • 95.6 percent would like to see sustainability and ocean conservation at all sailing events.

 

The organization promotes its sustainability initiatives to the sailing media, along with local media where it hosts regattas.

That was the case in South Texas with the 2018 Youth Sailing World Championships. “Our sustainability story got good local coverage,” Kratzig reported. “The Corpus Christi ABC and NBC affiliates covered us as did print and online media.”

Given GSB’s belief that getting media of all stripes to #CoverGreenSports is the most important thing the Green-Sports movement can do right now, a heartfelt thank you goes to Elizabeth Kratzig, her Green Team and World Sailing.

 

 


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SunTrust Park, LEED Silver Home of the Atlanta Braves: Can a Stadium in the Suburbs Be Green?

SunTrust Park, now in its second season as home of the National League East-contending Atlanta Braves, earned LEED Silver certification, thanks to a number of innovative Green-Sports features. But situating the ballpark in suburban Cobb County, far from the MARTA rapid transit system, begs the question: How green is SunTrust Park? GreenSportsBlog toured the ballpark — as well as The Battery Atlanta, the adjacent mixed-use development — as part of the recent Green Sports Alliance Summit to find out.

 

EARNING LEED SILVER CERTIFICATION AT BREAKNECK SPEED

Building a $672 million stadium, from design to Opening Day, in 30 months is challenging.

Building a stadium so it qualifies for LEED certification in 30 months is, well, beyond challenging.

That was the task Rex Hamre, sustainability manager for real estate services firm JLL, and team was given by the Atlanta Braves at the start of the SunTrust Park design and construction process in 2013.

“Everything we did had to be done fast,” explained Hamre during a tour of the ballpark and the adjacent residential and commercial development, The Battery Atlanta. “For example, the process was so fast that we weren’t able to have a prototype for LED lights. There was some risk involved because we didn’t know if the quality of the lights would be good enough from a baseball point of view — those were early days for LEDs. We had to convince management the LEDs would work. We were able to do so and the lights worked great: they’re 50 percent more efficient than the old metal halides and were easier to install.”

 

Rex Hamre

Rex Hamre of JLL (Photo credit: Engineers for a Sustainable World)

 

Efficiency is not the only benefit the LEDs bring to SunTrust Park. “The LEDs provide us with ‘Instant Restrike’. Metal halide bulbs get very hot. When they overheat, they can turn off and can stop a game. They take between 15 to 30 minutes to re-boot or ‘restrike’. When LEDs turn off, they restrike immediately.”

 

SUNTRUST PARK: COOLLY EFFICIENT, IN A BIG (ASS) WAY

Efficiently cooling a big venue like a baseball stadium — especially in the steamy Atlanta summer — is a big challenge. For SunTrust Park to improve on cooling efficiency vs. its smaller predecessor, Turner Field, made the test even tougher.

“We have 200,000 square feet more to air condition at SunTrust Park than at Turner Field,” Hamre acknowledged. “Despite that significant difference, we are more efficient at SunTrust Park due to an incredibly efficient central AC system. Also we paid very close attention to design of the building envelope*, which also helped a lot.”

 

SunTrust Park Ballparks of Baseball

SunTrust Park, LEED Silver certified home of the Atlanta Braves (Photo credit: Ballparks of Baseball)

 

Braves management decided to invest more upfront for HVAC and chillers, with the confidence that the investment would pay off within 5-10 years.

“We looked at a variety of chillers,” Hamre said. “The chiller we chose was best from a carbon emissions perspective.”

And then, of course, there are the Big Ass Fans.

I know what you’re thinking.

“What happened to the propriety that is the hallmark of GreenSportsBlog?”

Not to worry.

Big Ass is a brand name for really, really big fans. We’re talking 22 feet by 16 feet fans.^ I saw them interspersed throughout SunTrust Park. Let’s just say they are aptly named.

And they are very energy efficient.

 

Big Ass Fans 2

One of the energy efficient Big Ass Fans at SunTrust Park (Photo credit: Atlanta Braves)

 

Also big is the 40,000 gallon water resiliency tank that is helping SunTrust Park, along with its neighboring mixed-use development, The Battery Atlanta, recycle 50 percent of its H₂O.

 

THE BATTERY ATLANTA: GOING GREEN ALONGSIDE SUNTRUST PARK

Sustainability is embedded in the DNA of The Battery Atlanta, which opened at the same time as SunTrust Park. The Battery Atlanta:

  • Boasts three residential buildings with 531 apartments (aiming for LEED certification), office buildings and a retail strip, filled with sports bars, cafes, apparel shops, a 4,000 person entertainment theater, a four-star hotel, and more
  • Is the home of Comcast’s new LEED certified southeast regional headquarters
  • Has 63 electric vehicle (EV) chargers, including several Level 3 fast-chargers (80 percent charge in 30 minutes)

 

The Battery Atlanta ajc

Aerial view of The Battery Atlanta mixed-use development in the foreground with SunTrust Park in the rear (Photo credit: ajc.com)

 

Neither solar power nor energy storage are part of the SunTrust Park/The Battery Atlanta as of now. But, as the economics for both continue to improve, there appears to be the available physical space required.

 

NOW, ABOUT BUILDING A BALLPARK IN THE SUBURBS…

The 1992 opening of Camden Yards, home of the Baltimore Orioles kickstarted the positive trend of locating new baseball stadia in or near urban centers, close to mass transit.

A notable exception are the Atlanta Braves.

Ownership’s (Liberty Media Group) decision to build SunTrust Park in the northern suburbs of Cobb County, far from the MARTA light rail system, was controversial. Critics, including GreenSportsBlog, argued that leaving centrally located and a relatively young Turner Field (20 years-old when the Braves left after the 2016 season) for an area with limited mass transit was the wrong choice from a carbon footprint perspective. Consider that fan travel is the biggest component of greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) at a sports event. Unless someone rides a bike, walks or takes a local Cobb County bus, odds are, fans going to SunTrust Park are going to drive — or take an Uber or Lyft.

It should be noted that Turner Field, now the home of Georgia State University football, is not as centrally located as I thought: it is about one mile south of downtown. Thus it is not that close to MARTA — it takes an estimated 20-25 minutes to walk from the closest station.

 

Turner Field Georgia State

Turner Field, formerly the home of the Atlanta Braves, in its new football configuration for Georgia State University (Photo credit: Curbed.com)

 

Turner Field will be much closer to mass transit as early as 2024 thanks to a new, $48.6 million MARTA Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line, funded in part by a $12.6 million federal government grant. Construction is scheduled to commence in 2021 on the BRT# line that will connect Turner Field to Atlanta’s downtown and midtown areas.

Ironically, according to a March 7, 2018 story in Atlanta Journal Constitution (AJC) by David Wickert and J. Scott Trubey on the federal grant, “The Atlanta Braves wanted a direct connection to MARTA when they were in talks with the city to remain at the former Turner Field, before the ballclub left for the new SunTrust Park in Cobb County.”

Would the BRT line have been enough to have kept the Braves at Turner Field? We will never know.

We do know that the Braves report that, when they were looking for locations for the new ballpark, they created a “heat map” showing the location of each ticket sold. The map shows SunTrust Park to be 12 miles closer to the majority of those addresses than Turner Field. If that is true, then it is possible that the move to the suburbs is saving on vehicle miles driven because the new ballpark is closer to the team’s fan base.

Long term, as the population increases in fast-growing Cobb County, the push for new mass transit that would feed into SunTrust Park and The Battery Atlanta, including BRT and HighRoad Rapid Transit (monorail), is expected to grow. But the politics of getting big mass transit infrastructure projects funded is a fraught process, to say the least. So it’s anybody’s guess as to when mass transit will come to SunTrust Park.

Of course, Liberty Media Group could have made mass transit access a moot point if it had chosen a site close to an existing MARTA station for its new stadium. I’m not expert enough on Atlanta mass transit, real estate and demographics to know if that was a real option. But, as the saying goes, where there’s a (green) will there’s a (greener) way.

 

* Building envelope = the physical separator between the conditioned and unconditioned environment of a building
^ There are also 14 feet x 8 feet Big Ass Fans at SunTrust Park
# BRT lines run with limited stops and operate in a mix of exclusive lanes and shared roadways.

 


 

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GSB News and Notes: Green WetSuits, World Sailing to Fund Marine Environment Protection, New Gang Green QB Needs Some Lessons on Going Green

The water sports world has been at the forefront of the Sports-Greening movement, drawing attention to the problems of plastic ocean waste, sea level rise, species loss and more. Today’s GSB News & Notes column is water sports-logged as we share stories about a new, environmentally-friendly wetsuit from Patagonia and a commitment from World Sailing to protect the marine environment. Then, we go back on land to give a Green-Sports lesson to New York Jets (aka Gang Green) rookie QB/savior Sam Darnold.

 

GREEN WETSUITS FROM, NOT SURPRISINGLY, PATAGONIA

Increasing numbers of divers, surfers, triathletes, and more have driven demand for wetsuits to an all-time high.

Most wetsuits available in the market today are made from closed-cell, foam neoprene, a type of synthetic rubber with nitrogen gas bubbles that serve the dual purpose of keeping the body dry and insulating it.”

According to Anjana Athanikar, writing in the July 3 issue of Sustainability Activefoam neoprene is very harmful to the environment: “The material is made from oil and consumes significant energy in the [production] process. The worst part is the material is non-biodegradable.”

Not surprisingly, it is Patagonia who is looking to disrupt the wetsuit market by marketing an eco-friendly product. Its’ Yulex® fabric features 85 percent natural rubber material, replacing a petroleum-based material with a plant-based one. High-stretch exterior and interior linings are made from 55 percent recycled polyester fabric. . The result? Significantly reduced CO₂ emissions from the manufacturing process. And, writes Athanikar, the product wins on performance, as it is “softer and more elastic.”

 

Green Wetsuits

Green wetsuits from a Patagonia-Yulex partnership (Photo credit: Picture Organic)

 

Right now, the eco-friendly wetsuit sub-category makes up a tiny fraction of the overall wetsuit market. I suspect that Patagonia’s iconic brand power, combined with the eco-mindedness of a number of elite surfers and triathletes, will start the growth phase for green wetsuits. Once that happens, increased competition and even more growth will follow.

 

WORLD SAILING LAUNCHES NEW FUND TO PROTECT MARINE ENVIRONMENT

World Sailing, the sport’s governing body, announced it is launching a new fund to support sustainable development in the oceans.

Per a story in Climate Action Programme on July 2, the fund will focus on “three areas of concern: “marine health, youth development, and improving access to the sport.”

The marine health fund looks to build upon some of the great environmental work in the sailing world contributed by the likes Vestas 11th Hour Racing, fifth place finisher in the recently concluded, ’round-the-world 2018 Volvo Ocean Race. It will seek, as mentioned in the Climate Action Programme, to “create more sustainable products within sailing and accelerate the use low-carbon technologies and behaviors. It will also actively improve the health of the ocean environment.”

The trust will be chaired by leading British sailor Dee Caffari, who captained the Turn the Tide on Plastic team to a sixth place result in the Volvo Ocean Race.

“In the past, other sailing charities have been very local and regionalized,” said Gaffari. “The World Sailing Trust has a global reach so we can cover all aspects, all areas and all regions.  For the first time, World Sailing can use its reach and connections to make things happen across youth, sustainability and participation sectors and have a bigger impact.”

 

Dee Caffari Sky Sports

Dee Caffari, captain of Volvo Ocean Race team Turn on the Plastic and chairwoman of the newly-minted World Sailing fund to protect the marine environment (Photo credit: Sky Sports)

 

World Sailing represents an estimated 70 million sailors in 145 countries and so is ideally positioned to promote and document sustainable practices in the most remote places. Sailors like Charlie Enright and Mark Towill, skipper and team director of Vestas 11th Hour Racing, have witnessed first-hand the devastating impacts of marine pollution and an increasingly volatile climate.

  • On ocean waste, Enright related his 2014-2015 Volvo Ocean Race experience in a January interview with GreenSportsBlog, recalling that, “The amount of marine debris we encountered was truly astonishing. We expected to see plenty of ‘leakage’ — all sorts of materials from container ships that would fall into the ocean — and we did. But the old refrigerators, air conditioners and tires we saw floating around in the middle of the ocean — they didn’t fall off of ships. The waste was so thick, it looked like you could walk in some parts of the waters between Malaysia and Indonesia, thanks to the lax dumping regulations.”
  • Enright and company also experienced the effects of climate change up close: “Because of climate change, icebergs are floating further south from the Arctic regions and further north from the Antarctic.”

 

Vestas 11th Hour Racing crew portrait. Charlie Enright

Charlie Enright, skipper of Vestas 11th Hour Racing (Photo Credit: Ainhoa Sanchez/Volvo Ocean Race)

 

While the establishment of the fund is a big plus, World Sailing, it says here, has a mixed reputation on environmental issues. It was the first sporting federation to win an international sustainability standard. On the other hand, Pete Sowrey, the organization’s CEOin the run-up to the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, claimed he was fired for recommending that the sailing events be moved from the photogenic-but-polluted Guanabara Bay.

Andy Hunt, Sowrey’s successor as CEO, is working to set World Sailing’s sustainability ship on a steady course with the new fund. “We have a duty to enhance and protect the sport’s future,” Hunt asserted. “Harnessing the energy of the sailing community and our global network, we can generate wide-spread change across the sport quickly and effectively.”

 

JETS ROOKIE QB SAM DARNOLD YET TO SEE THE ENVIRONMENTAL BENEFITS OF MASS TRANSIT

Early July is “human interest story” time for the American football media. Training camps don’t open for another two weeks, so there’s no actual football to write about, but fan interest in the NFL is 24-7-365. So this is “fluff time”

Thursday’s piece in the New York Daily News by Nicholas Parco is typical of this genre.

Parco reported that New York Jets rookie quarterback/potential savior Sam Darnold revealed that, since moving from Southern California (he grew up there, went to USC), he’s become a Mets rather than Yankees fan (nobody’s perfect^).

 

Sam Darnold

Jets rookie QB Sam Darnold, during spring mini camp (Photo credit: Julio Cortez/AP)

 

The hard-hitting interview also revealed that, among other New York City things, Darnold prefers taxis over subways.

In the big picture, this answer, is of course not a big deal. Darnold doesn’t live in the city — the Jets train in Florham Park and play their home games in E. Rutherford, both in New Jersey — so he’s new to the experience.

But when will the default response from a high profile Big Apple athlete during the climate change era (aka NOW!) be in favor of subways, with the quote being something like this “subways, no doubt, because mass transit is always a much greener way to get around than a taxi.”

Hopefully soon.

 

^ Hopefully Darnold will be close to perfect on the football field

 

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The GSB Interview: Mark Price of Firewire; Leading the Way on Sustainable Surfboards

Surfers are among the most eco-minded of athletes, with several pro surfers doubling as eco-activists. This makes sense, since surfers see and experience the effects ocean pollution and sea level rise up close. But, what about the sustainability of their sport, specifically the surfboards? It turns out that surfboard manufacturers have not been proactive in terms of making their products environmentally friendly.

That is until Firewire decided to take the lead in providing their eco-athletes with eco-surfboards. To learn more, GSB spoke with Mark Price, a former pro surfer who is CEO of Firewire and the driving force behind their commitment to sustainability.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Mark, I think our readers are going to love the Firewire story and your story. So let’s get going. How did you get to be the CEO of Firewire?

Mark Price: Thanks Lew, great to chat! Growing up in Durban, South Africa, I’ve been a surfer all my life. I turned pro during high school and kept at it while at university. At that time, two-year compulsory military service was required, either before or after university. I had decided many years prior that the apartheid South African government was not a cause worth fighting for, so I left for the USA in 1979 at the age of 19, heading to Laguna Beach, California while I competed for two years on the world pro surfing circuit. Meanwhile, some friends there had started a surfing apparel brand called Gotcha I retired from pro surfing in 1981 and started working for them…

 

Mark Price Firewire

Mark Price, CEO of Firewire (Photo credit: Firewire)

 

GSB: What did you do there?

MP: I started in customer service and quickly moved up…And so did Gotcha, growing from $1.5 million in sales in 1981 to $100 million in 1989.

GSB: Impressive!…

MP: It was! Thing is, despite our success — which was helped by the boom of “surfing culture” — I was burned out. So I got off the hamster wheel. After taking a surfing trip to France in 1989, I came back and resigned. Then I moved to Hawai’i before returning to Gotcha two years later.

GSB: That’s a lot of moving…

MP: You’re right. And, while living the pure surfing lifestyle appealed to me in theory, actually living that life was…kinda boring. I was in my late 20s at the time and I wanted to get back to business. So I went back to Gotcha one more time, trying to be less “work-aholic-y”. But soon thereafter the 1991-92 recession hit and we suffered because of it. Our appeal to the broader, mass market was no longer effective as the surfing culture boom was waning. So I got laid off in ’92.

GSB: What did you do then?

MP: I founded Tavarua Clothing, an apparel company that leveraged the image of the island of the same name in Fiji. That ended up not working out, so I subsequently landed a marketing director position at Rip Curl USA and then I was recruited to be head of global marketing at Reef Sandals.

GSB: So how did you end up at Firewire?

MP: I was at Reef Sandals for about four years when friends who had started Firewire in Burleigh, Australia — about an hour south of Brisbane on the Gold Coast — reached out. I was intrigued because they had a new surfboard technology and I was more interested in surfboards than sandals and apparel. Also the key players at Firewire had a strong entrepreneurial bent. And as mentioned, they were bringing a disruptive surfboard technology to market that was stronger, had increased flex and was much greener than traditional surfboards.

GSB: Talk to us about the Firewire technology…

MP: Great! Now this will get in the weeds a bit but it is important. Firstly, traditional surfboards have a foam core with a wood strip down the middle. Firewire boards are built with the wood around the perimeter, and the lightweight foam core is sandwiched between two thin high-density deck skins. In fact, the technique is called “Sandwich Construction”. The interior foam is very light — while the deck skins have a high compression strength and are used in the aerospace industry — both foams have less toxic chemical properties versus traditional surfboard foam.

GSB: What does the Firewire technology do for the board as a whole?

MP: Taking the wood out of the center and putting it on the perimeter, as well as using the lighter foam, reduces weight and increases the board’s overall flexibility, making it more responsive though turns.

 

Slater_SciFi_LFT__deck1

The Slater designs SCI – FI, built by Firewire (Photo credit: Firewire)

 

GSB: That sounds like a major advance.

MP: It was — and it was an existential threat to traditional surfboard makers…

GSB: How did they react?

MP: As you might think — many of whom launched disinformation campaigns…

GSB: You mean they used “Fake News” and “Alternative Facts”?

MP: You could say that, but the product ultimately proved itself, surfers started to switch, and the business grew organically…

GSB: Did world class surfers start to endorse Firewire?

MP: Yes! Taj Burrow, who was one of the best in the world in the mid 2000s, switched to Firewire in 2006 and his winning percentage went up 40 percent!

 

Taj Burrow

Taj Burrow celebrating a victory with his Firewire surfboard (Photo credit: Costa Rica Surfing)

 

GSB: WOW! So I see how Firewire disrupted surfing technology from a performance point of view, but what about from the environmental aspect?

MP: Great question, Lew. So, first we have to get into a little chemistry. Before Firewire, traditional surfboards were built with polyurethane foam and laminate with polyester resins, both of which are far more toxic than our materials. Our boards are built with expanded polystyrene foam (EPS) and Epoxy bio-resins. Back in 2005, the University of Queensland in Brisbane conducted a study on the Firewire construction and found it emitted 50 times fewer volatile organic compounds (VOCs) than traditional surfboards. That year, we won an environmental award in Europe. Our approach is, #1, our surfing equipment has to meet or exceed existing performance expectations and #2, it must be competitively priced. We met those criteria; sustainability was the green cherry on top.

GSB: Sounds like Firewire is trying to follow in the footsteps of Patagonia!

MP: Oh, we are honored to be mentioned alongside them. One thing Patagonia does is constantly improve on their environmental performance and we strive to do the same. With that in mind, in July 2014 we switched from our regular epoxy resin to a bio-epoxy resin, which means that 100 percent of our production was then Ecoboard certified. No other global surfboard brand has met that standard yet.

GSB: Who manages Ecoboard certification? And how did surfers react to the Ecoboard certification?

MP: Sustainable Surf does a great job of managing the Ecoboard certification. As to the impact of the bio-epoxy resin and Ecoboard certification on surfers, you have to first understand surfing culture. Surfers are super-loyal to their brand of surfboard, so getting folks to switch is challenging. But, over time, we’ve seen more and more surfers ask for boards with Ecoboard certification from their respective brands. Which is great for Firewire as we hope to help tip the market towards less toxic surfboards. In 2014, maybe three percent of surfboards sold around the world were Ecoboard certified. Now, I’d estimate that eco-certified boards represent between 10-20 percent of all boards. We’ve also worked hard on our waste streams and that is about to pay off. By 2020, or maybe even sooner, we expect to be Zero-Landfill at our factory.

GSB: That’s incredible! How are you guys making that happen?

MP: Well, in 2016 we started to upcycle all of our foam dust using a densification process to create durable garden pavers which we donate to schools in Thailand. We’ve also installed them on the grounds of surfing great Kelly Slater’s artificial wave in Lemoore, California. The foam dust had previously gone to landfills. On a related front, in 2016 we engaged with a New Zealand company that developed a process that traps the cool, condensed air conditioner waste water and recycles it back through the unit, reducing our air conditioner power consumption by 40 percent.

GSB: I love it! So does Firewire measure its carbon and water footprints?

MP: Not yet but we are planning to do a Life Cycle Assessment/carbon footprint analysis in the next year or two. In the meantime, we know we are trending in the right direction because our energy bill keeps getting lower per surfboard built, our raw materials are ever greener, and our waste streams are way down. In early 2019, we will start using Re-Rez…

GSB: What’s that?

MP: It’s a really cool product from an innovative Northern California company, Connora Technologies. They take a reformulated epoxy bio-resin, put it in warm vinegar, which un-cures it and allows it to be reused. Aside from the environment benefits, we expect to save over $30,000 in the first year by reusing various consumables at our factory. And then there’s the traction…

GSB: What do you mean by traction? Can you tell I’ve never surfed?

MP: For the uninitiated, there is a traction pad on the rear deck of the board to steady the back foot. Traditionally, the traction pad is made of ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA), another compound that has a toxic, high VOC output. So we switched to an algae-based, foam traction pad in collaboration with BLOOM Foam that has become the #1 seller in many our key surf retailers.

GSB: You guys are going the extra, green mile for sure!

MP: Thanks Lew. That is now baked into Firewire’s DNA. We expect to become the first Fair Trade Certified surfboard factory in early 2019. And we’ve already reduced our waste per board manufactured by 20 times, from 0.4 cubic meters to 0.02.

GSB: This is an incredible story, Mark. We’re glad to share it with the GreenSportsBlog audience but how do you get exposure to, and build awareness with the broader surfing community?

MP: In 2015, surfing legend and 11-time World Champion Kelly Slater became a major shareholder of Firewire. He is an eco-athlete of the first order and brought a tremendous following to us. On the marketing front, we mainly use web-based marketing and social media to reach our target audiences. No TV advertising for us — it doesn’t make sense from an audience perspective. And our efforts are working. Among premium priced surfboards sold through retail surf shops, we are between the #1 and #3 selling board in the market depending on the particular store and/or region.

 

Kelly Slater Esquire

Surfing legend and major Firewire shareholder Kelly Slater (Photo credit: Esquire)

 

GSB: With Slater on board, pun intended, and with the eco-innovations you’ve instituted, I have a feeling Firewire will be able to consistently maintain that #1 position.

 


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