The GSB Interview: Mark Davis; from NBA Hardwood to DC Solar-Preneur

Mark Davis is a member of two very exclusive clubs. He is one of about 3,200 people who have played in the NBA, and, with WDC Solar, he is one of an even smaller number of people who have started inner city solar companies. His dual goals? Put a dent in climate change and reduce urban unemployment.

GreenSportsBlog sat down with Mr. Davis to talk about his journey from being a rural Georgia farm boy to the NBA to installing solar panels on rooftops in the nation’s capital.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Mark, GreenSportsBlog is always on the lookout for eco-athletes so we are glad to have found you! How did you go from the NBA to building a solar company in Washington, D.C.?

Mark Davis: There were two main factors that may, on the surface, sound unrelated. First, my upbringing on a farm in Georgia in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and second, Barack Obama’s run for the White House in 2008. Let me explain. Growing up on that farm made me acutely aware of the environment, how it works, and how important it is to do what I can to protect it. Now, fast forward to 2008. I had been retired from pro basketball for about 10 years by then. I had been working in real estate and software businesses, but was looking for something else. I was very excited about Senator Obama’s presidential campaign and was particularly inspired by his advocacy of renewables as part of his overall clean energy plan.

GSB: What did that inspiration lead to?

Mark: I started to ask about and study the clean energy markets. Talked to a friend from Nepal who was involved with the hydropower business over there. I traveled to Northern California to see the solar market up close and took a course about the solar business. I created a business plan and, even more importantly, found the right business climate in which to launch a solar company to give myself the best chance of success.

 

Mark Davis Sierra Magazine Jonathan Timmes

Mark Davis, founder of WDC Solar (Photo credit: Jonathan Timmes, Sierra Magazine)

 

GSB: What do you mean by “right business climate”?

Mark: There were some aspects of a good business climate for solar when President Obama took office in 2009. For example, the federal stimulus program included funding for solar. But that wasn’t enough. And, at that time, incentives were not in place at the local, Washington D.C. level for solar and other renewables…

GSB: …and the prices for solar panels were much higher then than they are now.

Mark: …Yes, by a wide margin. We weren’t anywhere close to grid parity at that time. So what did we local D.C. installers do? The birth of a new industry doesn’t just happen. We did our homework and found that rebates and other incentives would be needed to allow solar to compete on a price basis with fossil fuel generated power provided by the utility. We lobbied local D.C. politicians and civic groups to promote legislation that put incentives in place that eliminated the boom-bust cycles that were the hallmark of the solar industry back then. Eventually, the city council and mayor joined our side.

GSB: Sounds like a lot of work!

Mark: It took a ton of homework and legwork, but it had to be done.

GSB: What happened next?

Mark: Once the legislation was in place and we were confident there would be a market for solar in D.C., we launched WDC Solar. But our approach to sustainability was not purely environmental. We also established the company to provide sustainable employment for young men and women who desperately needed it.

 

GSB: How did you do that?

Mark: We launched a training program that would teach young folks to be solar practitioners, which provided a pathway to employment at no cost to them.

 

Solar Trainees WDC Solar

WDC Solar installation trainees learning their trade (Photo credit: WDC Solar)

 

GSB: Incredible! How did you fund this? Through angel investors and/or venture capital?

Mark: We bootstrapped it.

GSB: Meaning that you invested your own money for those unfamiliar to the startup scene…

Mark: That’s right. That’s how we were able to get the solar training program up and running.

GSB: Impressive. And then how did you get solar panels installed on people’s homes?

Mark: Well, at first, back in 2012-13, we worked with the DC Sustainable Energy Utility to transfer the solar rebates, tax credits and solar renewable energy credits (SRECs) to private equity investors, so solar panels could be installed on the roofs at no cost to low-income homeowners. The low-income families owned the energy produced by the panels. They had to pay for any electricity they used over and above what the panels produced which became a major incentive for the homeowners to become more energy efficient.

GSB: How did that work?

Mark: Very well in most cases. I’ll never forget it when one of my customers told me he had a monthly electric bill of 56 cents!

GSB: 56 cents???

Mark: He couldn’t believe it. couldn’t believe it! I’ll tell you, our customers have been just so thankful; it’s been a blessing to be able to help people. Another great outgrowth of our business was that many of our early trainees used that experience to get better jobs, thanks to a program with the District’s Department of Employment Services.

GSB: Talk about a blessing…So is WDC Solar only involved with residential customers?

Mark: We started with small-scale residential jobs; I’m talking 3-4 kW. Then, we got involved with bigger jobs when the District put out a request for proposal (RFP) to put solar on public school roofs. The RFP was for installations totaling 12 megawatts. We were fortunate to work on a portion of that portfolio. We also were involved with some commercial and utility-scale jobs, thanks to a partnership with Standard Solar. Our “sweet spot”, however, still remains low-income residential at this point.

GSB: Have you expanded beyond Washington, DC?

Mark: It’s been slow because in places like Maryland, the SREC prices aren’t so great. But with the price of solar panels coming down, the SRECS are becoming less important and that makes it is easier for us to go to other jurisdictions. Heck, when you and I first spoke, I was on the roof at Chevy Chase Baptist Church, just across the street from Maryland, helping to install a 100 kW system. Currently, we’re looking at opportunities in Atlanta and Chicago, but both are a bit complicated right now. One thing is certain: We only go into a market where we can create jobs for the local community.

GSB: I love the “solar plus jobs” business model. It just makes so much sense! Has WDC Solar worked on any sports venues?

Mark: We partnered with New Columbia Solar to provide installers to the Audi Field project, the brand new home of D.C. United in Major League Soccer (MLS).

 

Audi Field Solar

Artist’s rendering of the solar installation on the roof of Audi Field, the recently-opened home of DC United (Credit: New Columbia Solar)

 

GSB: I’ve heard great things about Audi Field; I need to get there soon. Sticking with sports GSB is constantly on the lookout for eco-athletes like yourself who could have a great effect on fans. Why haven’t we seen more eco-athletes and what can we do to change that?

Mark: That’s a complicated question. I think a big part of it is that it is so difficult, from a communications perspective, for many folks to connect extreme weather to the global, long-term climate change problem. The perception among many is that climate change is coming on slowly, that it is not a problem for today and that solutions are a century or more away. On the other hand, so the argument goes, there are clear and present dangers right now like police brutality against people of color and the opioid crisis that need more attention.

GSB: I couldn’t have said it better myself. So if that’s the case, how do we fight back?

Mark: Athletes and ex-athletes who work with people of color — WE have to be the agents of change! We need athletes to help us emphasize the massive economic benefits that will come to those who help solve the many climate-related crises. I see it starting to occur here — installing solar on your roof is definitely a statement of self-empowerment.

GSB: So which athletes can we get? How about LeBron James?? Nothing like aiming high, I always say!

Mark: LeBron James will be tough right out of the box. I think we should go for some great elder statesmen of sports who are also involved in renewables. In particular, I’m thinking of Bernard King, member of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, who has worked on climate change issues and in the solar business. Also Dusty Baker, the Washington Nationals’ manager has a solar company. Another idea I have is to create a celebrity golf tournament dedicated to raising money to combat the climate crisis. Basketball players and other pro athletes love golf and this way we can highlight and communicate the urgency of solving the climate crisis in a collegial atmosphere. What do you think?

GSB: LOVE IT! Forget LeBron; let’s get serious and line up NBA superstar and scratch golfer and Brita water filter endorser Steph Curry in the mix! We must make this happen.

Mark: Hey, we’re in the “let’s make the impossible happen business”. I’m in!

 

Obama-Davis 2

Mark Davis with President Obama at the 2016 State of the Union address (Photo credit: The White House)

 


 

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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)

 

Colin Final Four Fan Fest 2

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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Sports and Climate Change Summit: Yankees, Mets, MLS, NASCAR and USTA Saving Lives in Africa Via Innovative Carbon Offsets Program

Five high-profile North American sports teams and leagues are helping to save lives in Africa while reducing carbon emissions at the same time.

That powerful message was delivered during an All-Star panel discussion at Friday’s first Sports and Climate Change Summit in New York City, hosted by Sport and Sustainability International (SandSI) and the Global Crisis Information Network (GCINET). Guided by SandSI co-founder Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, senior officials from the New York Yankees, the New York Mets, Major League Soccer, NASCAR, and the US Tennis Association, shared how and why they are making life-saving investments in Africa.

 

The panel that kicked off Friday’s first Sports and Climate Change Summit at New York’s Scandinavia House had a title that many in the audience could not have imagined even two years ago: “North American Sport Invests in Climate Mitigation and Promoting the Sustainable Development Goals in Africa”.

Yet, per moderator Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, co-founder of SandSI, those investments — by the Yankees, Mets, Major League Soccer (MLS), NASCAR, and the USTA — are indeed being made. And they are not only helping to take on climate change, air pollution and several other of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals^, they are saving lives. Thousands of lives. In some of the most needy regions on Earth.

 

Allen Hershkowitz J. Henry Fair

Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, co-founder of SandSI (photo credit: J. Henry Fair)

 

You may be asking yourself these three questions right about now:

  1. What problems are these North American sports teams and leagues trying to help solve with these investments in Africa?
  2. What types of investments are they making to solve those problems and save lives?
  3. Why are they making these investments?

 

COOKING WITH INEFFICIENT STOVES IN SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA ADDS TO AIR POLLUTION, DEFORESTATION AND CARBON EMISSIONS

In his presentation preceding the panel discussion, Hershkowitz cited chilling statistic after chilling statistic that laid bare the severity of health problems, borne largely by women and children in Sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere, caused by cooking with inefficient, dirty, primitive stoves:

“The number one cause of death in the world is air pollution.”

“Close to half the deaths from pneumonia of children under age five are caused by household air pollution.”

“Three billion people cook over open flames or with simple stoves powered by unhealthy coal, wood or other forms of biomass.”

“According to the World Health Organization, three to four million people, mostly women and girls die prematurely because of inefficient, dirty stoves.”

Add to these grim metrics the fact that significant deforestation results from scavenging for the wood that is used in the inefficient, old stoves, and you have a recipe for a public health and environmental disaster.

 

NORTH AMERICAN TEAMS AND LEAGUES QUICKLY RAMP UP TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA BY FUNDING CLEAN, EFFICIENT COOKSTOVES AND AVOIDED DEFORESTATION

How did Major League Soccer, NASCAR, the Mets and Yanks and the USTA decide to get involved in helping to reduce the Sub-Saharan African air pollution problem?

Hershkowitz showed each of them that, by funding efficient cookstoves that emit 30 to 50 percent fewer emissions, they would be creating healthier cooking environments for women and children, extending and saving lives in the process. And, since the cookstoves require far less fuelwood, the teams and leagues are also playing an important role in avoided deforestation.

The clean cookstove initiative is supported by the United Nations. Consequently, these cookstove purchases — which reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, other air pollutants and deforestation — qualify as third party, independently certified carbon offset programs, burnishing the teams’ and leagues’ sustainability credentials.

Hershkowitz began connecting the teams and leagues with private sector firms like The South Pole Group, Eco-Act and Allcot. They do the important grunt work of designing, developing and implementing environmental and climate change mitigation projects on the ground.

 

Cookstoves

Clean burning cookstoves (Photo credit: South Pole Group)

 

Although the initiative is in its early days — cookstove purchases only began late last year — the results are impressive. Collectively, the benefits of the offsets purchased by the Yankees, Mets, MLS, NASCAR and the USTA include:

  • Distribution of 7,250 cookstoves for use in cabins and huts
  • Positive impacts on the lives of 13,000+ women and girls
  • Avoidance of 39.4 metric tonnes of carbon emissions
  • Keeping 22.4 metric tonnes of wood from being cut down
  • The manufacture and maintenance of cookstoves being handled by locals, bringing much-needed economic activity to the region

 

TEAMS, LEAGUES SEE COOKSTOVES, AVOIDED DEFORESTATION AS “NO-BRAINERS”

When asked why the Yankees are investing in Africa, Doug Behar, the team’s senior VP of operations, said it was a logical next step in the team’s long-standing commitment to sustainability: “We’ve evolved on sustainability over time, seeing that it made sense from a business perspective to measure and reduce our energy usage, and that it made sense to recycle and compost. So we were ready when the cookstove investment opportunity was brought to us. Really, it was a no-brainer as the impact on human life was too big to ignore.”

 

Doug Behar Profile

Doug Behar of the Yankees (Photo credit: New York Yankees)

 

NASCAR focused their investments on avoided mangrove deforestation projects on the shores of Lake Kariba in Northern Zimbabwe. Catherine Kummer, senior director of NASCAR Green, echoed Behar’s “no-brainer” sentiments. “When something makes sense to management and fans alike, you know you’ve got something,” shared Kummer. “Management got it right away. And the avoided deforestation aspects of our investments matches our fan base’s commitment to the outdoors.”

The Mets’ senior director of ballpark operations, Mike Dohnert, shared a different motivation when Hershkowitz brought the African investment opportunity his way. “I know it sounds cliche, but it was incredibly powerful to be able to explain to my six year-old son how important it is do the right thing,” Dohnert recalled. “I am very lucky that Mets management allows me the freedom to pursue these types of initiatives.”

Switching to tennis, why would its governing body in the United States make investments in Africa? “That’s an easy one — the US Open is an event that draws 800,000 fans from all over the world and tennis is truly a global sport,” offered Lauren Tracy, the USTA’s director of strategic initiatives. The organization funded the sending of 300+ cookstoves to women in Malawi. That purchase helped offset the carbon embedded in the millions of player travel miles to the recently completed US Open.

Major League Soccer, which joined with SandSI and The South Pole Group to advance a big sustainability push at this summer’s All-Star Game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the LEED Platinum home of Atlanta United, also found the global nature of the cookstove program compelling. “Since the All-Star Game pitted MLS’ best vs. Juventus, the perennial champion of Italy’s Serie A and one of the most popular teams in the world, we decided to go ‘glocal’ with our sustainability initiatives,” said JoAnn Neale, the league’s chief administrative and social responsibility officer. “Locally, we undertook a tree planting program in Atlanta. And our investments in 1,450 cookstoves in Kenya represented the global side of the equation.”

 

M-B Stadium 2a

Mercedes-Benz Stadium, LEED Platinum home of Atlanta United (Photo credit: Lewis Blaustein)

 

 

GSB’s Takes:

  • If five teams and leagues can get the kinds of life-saving and carbon emissions-reduction results detailed above in less than a year, imagine if all of the major pro and college sports leagues in North America rallied around cookstoves, avoided deforestation and other climate change and environmental programs in Sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere in the developing world. This is a huge opportunity for SandSI and the entire Green-Sports movement. Perhaps a team or two could pry their PhD analytics gurus away from their advanced metrics spreadsheets for a minute to calculate the macro public health and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions benefits of a massive Pan-North American sports cookstove/avoided deforestation/clean water initiative.
  • There was a kind of Bizarro World, up-is-down aspect to the Summit when it came to fan engagement on climate change and the environment:
    • NASCAR — whose brand image to this observer is decidedly “Red State”/skeptical on climate change — is in fact aggressively connecting with fans on environmental and climate change issues. Why? Because NASCAR fans have indicated that they care about the environment, to hell with the GSB’s stereotypes. “Ten years ago, 50 percent of our fans said they cared about the environment,” Catherine Kummer reported. “Fast forward to our April 2018 survey, and 87 percent of NASCAR fans now believe Earth is going through a period of climate change and 77 percent feel they have a personal responsibility to do something about it. So now we run environmentally-themed TV spots on NASCAR broadcasts.” I do have questions about how to square these results with polling before the 2016 Presidential election that showed NASCAR fans preferred Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton. But that’s a subject for another day. For today, the fact that NASCAR runs green TV spots is a very cool thing.

 

 

The 30 second NASCAR Green TV spot

 

  • On the other hand, while the Mets and Yankees have done exemplary greening work at Citi Field and Yankee Stadium, including eliminating trash bins and replacing them with recycling and compost bins, they have chosen to communicate their sustainability bona fides to fans in a much quieter fashion* than NASCAR. The clubs have not yet aired green-themed public service announcements on TV or radio. I mean, they play in climate change-is-real, humans-are-the-cause, “Blue State” New York. One would think their fan bases would react positively to such TV ads. What gives? Mike Dohnert acknowledged that, for Mets management, climate change “politics is an issue. They’re still trying to figure this out.” The Mets and Yanks might want to talk to NASCAR.
  • Kudos to SandSI and GCINET for hosting the first Sports and Climate Change Summit! This needs to be an annual event. 

 

 

 

^ The 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are: 1. No Poverty, 2. Zero Hunger, 3. Good Health and Well-Being, 4. Quality Education, 5. Gender Equity, 6. Clean Water and Sanitation, 7. Affordable and Clean Energy, 8. Decent Work and Economic Growth, 9. Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure, 10. Reduced Inequalities, 11. Sustainable Cities and Communities, 12. Responsible Consumption and Production, 13. Climate Action, 14. Life Below Water, 15. Life on Land, 16. Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions, 17. Partnerships for the Goals
* The Mets and Yankees communicate their greening initiatives to fans by posting sustainability information on their websites, leading sustainability-themed tours of the ballparks for high school students and more.
 

 

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GSB News and Notes: NY Times Links Federer Upset Loss to Climate Change; Lakers Go Solar at their Training Facility; Denver Broncos Give Out 100% Recycled Rally Towels

September is, without question, the most wonderful time of the sports year in the US:

  • The final tennis grand slam tournament, the US Open, concludes;

  • Baseball’s long season comes down the home stretch;

  • The college football and NFL seasons kick off;

  • Basketball and hockey teams hit training camp;

  • The Ryder Cup takes over the golf world

GreenSportsBlog’s TGIF News & Notes reflects that full calendar, with tennis, basketball, and football on the docket.  

 

NEW YORK TIMES MAKES LINK BETWEEN FEDERER UPSET LOSS AT US OPEN AND EXTREME NIGHTTIME HEAT AND HUMIDITY

Until Serena Williams’ dispute with the chair umpire in her straight set defeat to Naomi Osaka at the US Open final became an international hot topic, excessive heat was the dominant storyline during the recently completed tournament in Queens.

  • The ATP, the governing body of the men’s pro tennis tour, took the unprecedented step of instituting a new rule, after the tournament began, that allowed players to go to the locker room for a 10 minute cooling break after the third set (women’s players already were permitted such a break after the second set).
  • With on-court temperatures reaching as high as 130 degrees Fahrenheit (54.4 degrees Celsius), it was common to see players draping large ice wraps over their shoulders during one minute changeover breaks. 
  • Eventual men’s champion Novak Djokovic was almost felled in two early round matches by two implacable foes: the oppressive afternoon heat and humidity.
  • Night matches were affected: Unheralded John Millman shocked Roger Federer in the Round of 16 on a particularly hot, sticky, stuffy evening. 

 

Novak US Open

Novak Djokovic suffering from the heat and humidity during a changeover in his first round match at the 2018 US Open (Photo credit: Getty Images)

 

While ESPN covered the heat/humidity story during the tournament’s fortnight — there was no way the cable-caster could avoid it. After all, players were wilting and fans stayed away from the sunny side of Billie Jean King National Tennis Center venues in droves. But ESPN did not get delve into any potential links between the extreme weather at the Open and climate change. 

And, while Federer cited heat and stuffiness as the main reason for his upset loss — “It was hot. It was just one of those nights where I guess I felt I couldn’t get air; there was no circulation at all.” — he didn’t “go there” on climate change. 

 

Federer

Roger Federer struggled on an extremely hot and humid night in the round of 16 at the US Open, losing to John Millman (Photo credit: Mohammed Elshamy/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

 

Thankfully, reporter Kendra Pierre-Louis of The New York Times’ fantastic “Climate Fwd” newsletter, did make the climate connection for millions of readers on September 4 in Roger Federer Is Tough to Beat. Global Warming Might Have Pulled an Upset.” Her particular focus was the relatively unsung trend of increasingly hot nights.

Per Pierre-Louis, “To some, the comments by Federer…may sound like sour grapes. But they also underscore a growing problem: increasing nighttime temperatures…[Global] warming is not happening evenly. Summer nights have warmed at nearly twice the rate of summer days. Average overnight low temperatures in the United States have increased 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit per century since 1895, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)…While daytime temperatures above 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius) have been a persistent problem at this U.S. Open, conditions [during the Federer-Millman night match] were not much cooler. Temperatures hovered in the mid-80s, with the humidity for much of the match above 70 percent. The heat index, which combines heat and humidity to indicate a ‘feels like’ temperature, was in the 90s.”

The effects on the human body of exercising in high temperatures with high humidity can be calamitous, reported Pierre-Louis. That’s because sweating, “a key cooling mechanism,” gets stymied. When the air is excessively humid, sweat drips instead of evaporating. And that eliminates the cooling effect on the body. 

GSB’s Take: As a lifelong resident of the New York City metro area, let me tell you, a nighttime heat index in the 90s, a rarity back in the 1970s-80s, is becoming all too common in July and August. While heat and humidity played a major role in Federer’s exit from the US Open, such extreme weather is much more perilous for non-athletes. And until humanity, non-athletes and athletes alike, gets its act together on a massive decarbonizing effort to break climate change’s serve, extreme heat and humidity that makes exercise — among many other activities — risky will become the norm. I wonder if, as the effects of climate change get more severe, tournaments like the US Open and Australian Open, which are played in the heat and the humidity of the summer, will move towards more temperate times on the calendar.

 

LAKERS WELCOME LEBRON JAMES TO TRAINING CAMP WITH NEW SOLAR INSTALLATION 

When LeBron James joins the Los Angeles Lakers for his first training camp in Los Angeles later this month, he’ll be doing so at a training facility with a new rooftop solar array. 

According to a story by Kyle Field in the September 2 issue of CleanTechnica, Vaha Energy installed a 171 kW system comprised of 456 LG Solar panels on the roof of the team’s new LEED Platinum, 120,000 square foot UCLA Health Training Center in El Segundo.

 

The solar array at the LA Lakers new UCLA Health Training Center (Photo credit: CleanTechnica)

 

“The system is expected to save about $38,000 per year, on a rate of 16 cents per kWh,” wrote Field. Vaha Energy projects that the team should be able to pay off the system in a relatively quick four years.

Joseph McCormack, the Lakers Chief Financial Officer and Senior Vice President of Finance, told Field, “One of our goals as an organization is to be at the forefront of energy efficiency, and these panels further our commitment to sustainability.”

The Lakers plan to communicate their greening efforts at UCLA Health Training Center to fans — the cozy venue seats 900 — during team practices and at home games of the NBA G League’s South Bay Lakers.

 

GSB’s Take: The move by the Lakers to solar-ize their new UCLA Health Training Center is, of course, welcome news. As costs of solar continue to go down, we can expect more such on-site solar installations at sports venues. It says here that the Lakers would’ve done even better to install solar panels atop car ports in the parking lot, in addition to their rooftop array. That way, fans could not miss the Lakers solar play — the panels on the roof are not easily visible to passersby. Oh yeah, it would be cooler than cool if LeBron agreed to be featured in video messaging about the Lakers’ solar installation.

 

 

DENVER BRONCOS GIVE ORANGE RALLY TOWELS MADE FROM 100 PERCENT RECYCLED MATERIALS TO FANS AT HOME OPENER

A crowd of 76,000+ at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver saw the home team open their 2018 NFL season Sunday with a come-from-behind 27-24 home win over the Seattle Seahawks. Fans 21-and-older were able to urge the Broncos on by waving orange rally towels, presented by Bud Light, made from 100 percent recycled materials from earlier Broncos games. 

 

Rally Towel Broncos

The rally towel, made from 100 percent recycled materials, that was given out to Denver Broncos fans at Sunday’s home opener (Photo credit: Denver Broncos)

 

Believed to be the NFL’s first promotional giveaway made from fully recycled materials, the towels are made from plastic Coke bottles from Broncos Stadium. The 100% recycled icon is located on the lower left of the towel, clearly visible to fans.

Here’s how the Broncos Stadium bottles turn into Broncos Stadium rally towels:

  • Coke bottles get hauled from the stadium to Waste Management’s Denver Recycling Center.
  • The bottles are then delivered to a Materials Recovery Facility and sold to a plastic processing plant.
  • The processing plant breaks the bottles down into flakes or pellets and sells them to yarn manufacturers, who in turn sell the yarn to fabric weavers and knitters around the world.
  • Fabric makers sell the fabric to cut, sew and decorating plants — in this case, G&G Outfitters, a Maryland-based NFL licensee — where the towels are produced, decorated and shipped back to Denver for the game.

“The Denver Broncos and Coca-Cola are teaming up to show fans the value of recycling,” said Antoinette Williams, account executive at Coca-Cola, USA. “Recycling is the first step, but Coca-Cola and the Broncos want to create a ‘Life-Cycle’ story and make sure once the bottles are recycled they continue on a sustainable path.”

“We have never executed a promotion to this nature for any NFL team where the giveaway was made 100 percent out of certified recycled bottles collected from their own waste,” added Danny Papilion of G&G Outfitters. “To our knowledge, the Broncos are the first NFL team to do so.”

GSB’s Take: I love this promotion — a towel that is clearly marked as 100 percent recyclable given out to many thousands of fans. But how cool would it be if the Broncos encouraged fans to bring their towels every time they come to a game? Show your towel at four games and you get a free Bud Light. Or some other idea. No matter the promotion, the team would be emphasizing the important sustainability principle of reuse as well as recycling. 

 


 

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GSB News and Notes: U of Miami Football to Debut Eco-Conscious Uniforms; University of Louisiana-Lafayette Football Goes Zero-Waste; LA Galaxy and StubHub Center Go Strawless;

As our US-based GreenSportsBlog readers head out for the Labor Day weekend, we’re offering up a GSB News & Notes for your end-of-summer reading pleasure. The University of Miami (FL) Hurricanes will open their 2018 football season against LSU in Arlington, TX wearing eco-conscious uniforms from Adidas and Parley for the Oceans. But should the Hurricanes also be taking on climate change, given Miami’s vulnerability to it? About 60 miles southwest of Baton Rouge, the UL-Lafayette is embarking on a journey to host Louisiana’s first Zero-Waste football games. And, MLS’ LA Galaxy and the Stub Hub Center add to the growing number of teams and venues eliminating plastic straws.

 

UNIVERSITY OF MIAMI HURRICANES DON ECO-FRIENDLY UNIFORMS; WHEN WILL THEY TAKE ON CLIMATE CHANGE?

When the University of Miami Hurricanes take the field Sunday night in their nationally televised season opener against LSU at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX, they will do so wearing new, alternate uniforms made from repurposed and upcycled materials, including plastic ocean waste. The uniforms are the result of a partnership between Miami, Adidas and Parley For The Oceans.

 

Miami Parley E-L

The University of Miami Hurricanes will take the field Sunday at LSU in eco-friendly alternate uniforms, thanks to a partnership with Adidas and Parley for the Oceans (Photo credit: Environmental Leader)

 

While the Hurricanes are the first American football team to partner with Parley for the Oceans and Adidas, they are following in the footsteps of European club soccer giants Bayern Munich and Real Madrid in wearing the eco-friendly alternate uniforms.

 

Real Madrid Parley

The Real Madrid, Parley for the Oceans-Adidas jersey (Photo credit: Adidas)

 

More than 70 percent of the special-edition uniform is fashioned from regenerated Econyl yarn (made by Aquafil of Trento, Italy), a raw material transformed from fishing nets and other nylon waste intercepted in marine environments, and from Parley Ocean Plastic, which also comes from waste that was intercepted from beaches and coastal communities. The result is a “durable, yet breathable fabric that is optimal for Adidas performance apparel,” according to a statement from the Hurricanes. Players will also wear cleats and gloves featuring recycled materials. The statement claims the cleats are the first-ever styles of eco-conscious footwear to be debuted on-field for NCAA football competition.

“Our players and staff are excited to wear the new adidas Parley jerseys and gear for our season opener,” Hurricanes coach Mark Richt said in a statement. “We’re also excited that Adidas and Parley are teaming up with UM to help promote sustainability around the world.”

 

 

I am happy to see the University of Miami take the Adidas-Parley plunge and to engage on the plastic ocean waste issue. Sports teams engaging on the environment is still too rare so this is a positive.

But (you knew there was going to be a but, right?), from where I sit, climate change is by far the biggest environmental challenge humanity faces — in fact, I’d argue it is the biggest challenge humanity faces, period. Bigger even than the plastic ocean waste issue.

And the Hurricanes are arguably the most logical big time college football program to take on climate change. After all, Miami is one of the world’s most vulnerable cities to the effects of climate change, including sea level rise. So I think UM missed the boat by not tying the Adidas-Parley uniforms to climate change as well as plastic ocean waste.

Maybe next year? What do you think?

 

 

UL-LAFAYETTE’S CAJUN FIELD LOOKS TO BECOME FIRST ZERO-WASTE STADIUM IN LOUISIANA

Take I-10 west 56 miles from the LSU campus in Baton Rouge and you arrive at the , University of Louisiana-Lafayette. The Cajuns of the mid-level Sun Belt Conference play in the sizable shadow of perennial national power LSU of the powerful Southeastern Conference (SEC).

But UL-Lafayette is second to none in the Bayou State when it comes to Green-Sports. They are making a concerted effort to host Zero-Waste football games at 36,900 seat Cajun Field, starting with Saturday night’s opening game vs. Grambling.

 

Cajun Field

Cajun Field, home of the greening UL-Lafayette Cajuns (Photo credit: UL-Lafayette)

 

“This year we’re making the really big leap forward in removing all trash cans from inside Cajun Field and we’re only going to have recycling and compost cans,” Gretchen Vanicor, the director of UL-Lafayette’s Office of Sustainability, told Lafayette’s News15.

The university introduced recycling cans in and around the stadium in 2014. And replacing trash cans with compost cans is part of the school’s plan to get towards Zero-Waste (which means diverting at least 90 percent of waste from landfill), while also saving money.

“The great parts about doing sustainable operations is usually it’s not just better for the environment, it’s better for our economics too,” shared Vanicor, “Diverting food waste from landfill by composting means we pay far less in tipping fees. When we can find those projects that are sustainable economically but also environmentally, then we always go after them.”

The Cajuns are quite serious when it comes to going after Zero-Waste:

  • Food will be served on biodegradable plates or in reusable containers.
  • Wooden spoons, forks and knives will replace plastic utensils.
  • Drinks will be served from either aluminum cans or recyclable plastic cups, and fans will be able to request compostable straws.
  • Styrofoam cups will be nowhere in sight
  • And, as UL-Lafayette sustainability coordinator Monica Rowand told Josh Meny of KATC-TV3, “we’re switching this year to eco-craft, compostable paper [to line pizza boxes]”

 

 

According to Vanicor, Zero-Waste at football games is only a first step at UL-Lafayette: “We really want to be leaders both in our region and in our state for sustainability and our goal eventually is to get to the point where we’re a zero waste university.”

It seems to me as though LSU can learn from UL-Lafayette, at least in terms of Zero-Waste if not on the football field. Hey, they should play each other but that’s a story for a different column.

 

STUBHUB CENTER AND LA GALAXY ELIMINATE PLASTIC STRAWS

StubHub Center, the Carson, California home of Major League Soccer’s LA Galaxy and, until 2020, the LA Chargers of the NFL, is now offering paper straws upon request to minimize pollution from plastic straws.

Fans will be provided paper straws upon request, with a limited number of plastic straws still available to serve those with special needs. An estimated 250,000 plastic straws will be kept out of landfills annually due to this new approach at StubHub Center

The initiative, in conjunction with food and beverage provider Levy, as part of the Galaxy’s Protect the Pitch sustainability program, launched last Friday when the team played crosstown rival LAFC to a 1-1 draw. By doing so, StubHub Center became the first soccer-specific stadium in MLS to serve drinks during games without a plastic straw.

 

El Trafico Corner of the Galaxy

LA Galaxy (white) and LAFC battle in their “El Trafico” rivalry game on August 24. That was the first game at StubHub Center to feature paper straws (Photo credit: Corner of the Galaxy)

 

The policy will also be in effect for all Los Angeles Chargers NFL games at StubHub Center.

“We are proud to continue to increase our sustainability efforts throughout StubHub Center in all of our gameday operations,” said StubHub Center General Manager Katie Pandolfo in a statement. “Protecting our environment is paramount and reducing single-use plastic straws can greatly decrease plastic pollution in our oceans.”

 


 

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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.

 

barwin
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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The GSB Interview: Julia Pallé, Formula E Senior Sustainability Consultant and SandSI President

Julia Pallé is a very busy woman.

She is shepherding the growth and direction of the sustainability efforts of Formula E, the fully-electric racing series which is about to start its fifth season. And, as if that is not enough, Ms. Pallé is also President of the fledgling Sport and Sustainability International (SandSI).

GreenSportsBlog spoke to Ms. Pallé about what we can expect from Formula E and SandSI.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Bonjour, Julia. It’s great to chat with you. Senior Sustainability Consultant of Formula E and President of SandSISacre bleu! You sure have a lot going on. Since Formula E preceded SandSI for you, let’s start there. Were you always into cars and motorsports?

Julia Pallé: Well, I grew up in Clermont-Ferrand in France, the town where Michelin is headquartered. I was not so much into motorsports growing up but I loved many other sports. I tried them all: Running, kite surfing, wakeboarding, skiing, dancing…oh, and rugby also. I loved the outdoors and knew I always wanted to be close to nature. From the beginning, my desire was to work in sustainability and make a difference so I studied sustainability management and change management and earned a business degree at the Université of Grenoble.

 

Julia_Palle_2016_HIGH RES

Julia Pallé, Senior Sustainability Consultant for Formula E and President of SandSI (Photo credit: Formula E)

 

GSB: I wish they had those disciplines when I was in school back in the Dark Ages! So how did you put it into practice?

JP: I went to work for Michelin in 2012…

GSB: In your hometown?

JP: Exactly! I worked in the motor sport division…

GSB: Ahhh…that’s where you got your start…

JP: Yes…Implementing sustainability programs.

GSB: How did that go?

JP: It went well. The group had a sustainability plan but the motor sports division wasn’t specific enough. With the support of management, I helped tighten things up. We did a Life Cycle Assessment on our rally racing tires…from materials sourcing to construction to the event to end of life. Thanks to that analysis, management made some significant changes: In terms of materials, we switched to natural rubber, which greatly reduced our environmental impact. And this kind of transition can have tremendous impact on passenger cars.

GSB: Very impressive, Julia. So how did you end up moving to Formula E?

JP: When Formula E began a few years ago, they started to come up with sustainability standards for their tires. Michelin felt it needed to be the standard and so we developed a hybrid tire specifically for Formula E. I wrote part of the the standard so Formula E and I began to know each other and eventually they recruited me to manage their sustainability department.

GSB: That must’ve been quite a change…

JP: Oh yeah. Formula E is based in London so I moved there. And I started traveling around the world for the races. It is a lot of travel but it’s great and important work.

GSB: An all-EV open wheel racing circuit? It is very important work, indeed. Formula E has grown quite a bit in just four seasons…

JP: For sure. For me it has been a great opportunity. I was among the first wave of employees, when we were pretty much a blank slate. Now there are more than 120 employees from 20 different nationalities in our London office. We are now a Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile or FIA certified international championship…

GSB: A la Formula 1?

JP: Yes. We have races now in Africa, Asia, Europe, as well as North and South America. Australia is next.

GSB: That just leaves Antarctica…

JP: Well, we actually brought a Formula E car down to Antarctica to shoot a video. Icebergs were breaking at the time so we had to drive on the icecap. It was incredible. The car was able to drive on an icecap. We also shot a video of a Formula E car racing a cheetah in Africa.

GSB: That is so cool! Who won?

JP: The car, but it was very tight!

 

Formula E vs Cheetah

Formula E car and a cheetah racing in Africa (Photo credit: Motor Trader)

 

GSB: So I would imagine that sustainability would have to be a core part of an EV racing championships DNA. Am I right?

JP: Certainly. From the beginning, Formula E worked to manage our events in a sustainable fashion, to ISO standards. We engage deep into our supply chain to make sure we use sustainable products and services. We recently achieved ISO 20121 certification for the entire championship. Every season, we conduct a Life Cycle Assessment to become more efficient in all aspects of our operations.

GSB: As part of that assessment, does Formula E measure its carbon footprint year to year? If so, how are you doing?

JP: So far it’s been difficult to compare our carbon footprint over time in a meaningful way. That’s because we keep adding races and changing the schedule so we haven’t been able to measure in an apples-to-apples comparison way yet. But we are working on better metrics for sure. For now, we can say we know we are doing the right things, sustainability-wise and the results we do have are positive.

GSB: What is Formula E doing to connect with the communities it visits regarding its sustainability initiatives?

JP: Our goal is to leave a positive legacy in all of our cities. Our Fan Zones and Allianz E-Village allow fans to really interact with the EVs and the drivers…

 

Sustainability comms 4

Signage along the race wall promoting EVs and the Allianz E-Village at July’s Formula E race in Red Hook, Brooklyn (Photo credit: Formula E)

 

GSB: That may be the most powerful green thing you can do: Give fans an up close experience with EVs…

JP: Yes…We have a gaming zone to attract younger fans and a driving zone where fans can get behind the wheel of an EV race car. And we make tickets to the races affordable to appeal to the widest audience possible. Since you are in New York City, you should know that we are working with the New York Earth Day Initiative to promote renewable energy and recycling. And the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) will have a booth. Our drivers are our best ambassadors, spreading the benefits of EVs whenever they can.

 

Booth 1

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) booth at the Formula E event in Red Hook, Brooklyn in July (Photo credit: Formula E)

 

GSB: Plus Formula E races are on city streets…

JP: Yes! We are of the mind that our races themselves will change consumer behaviors. As you say, we are racing EVs on city streets mainly in urban centers. Fans see that and say to themselves “that could be me driving an EV!”

 

Formula E Bklyn

Formula E cars racing through Red Hook, Brooklyn (Photo credit: Formula E)

 

GSB: That’s the best advertising you can have for EVs…How many people attended Formula E races during the season?

JP: Over 360,000 fans have come to Formula E races in season four – which shows the appetite and curiosity of electric cars and electric racing is fast-growing!

GSB: Impressive! And what about reaching audiences beyond the races themselves — Where can fans watch Formula E races on TV and/or online?

JP: We are on cable now. FS1 airs us in the US and you can stream us via their website or app. Similar deals are in place in Europe.

GSB: How have the ratings been in the US and Europe?

JP: We don’t have exact figures for season four just yet, but we are expecting a projected cumulative TV audience of over 300 million.

GSB: What’s next for Formula E? Are you all looking at a stock car series like NASCAR? I have to believe that fans watching EVs race that they could actually buy would even be more powerful.

JP: We wholeheartedly agree! And the timing of your question is spot on. In addition to Formula E’s season 5 [click here to watch a preview video], next season we will also launch our Formula-E Support Series in which drivers will race modified Jaguar I-Pace EV SUVs. It is our intention to showcase EVs that fans can buy right now.

GSB: How do you think the Support Series will do vs. the new Electric GT Series, which will race stock car Teslas? It is scheduled to launch this November in Spain.

JP: It will definitely be interesting to watch its progress but the Jaguar I-PACE eTROPHY is quite different as it showcases technology first tested in Formula E in a modified road car – which is the perfect example of what Formula E is aiming to do within motorsport.

GSB: All in all, the world of EV racing, open wheel-wise and stock car-wise is growing rapidly. You sure are in the place to be right now. And that doesn’t even take into account your work with Sport and Sustainability International or SandSI. How did you get involved and what you are doing there?

JP: The founders of SandSI got in touch with me and invited me to attend the “birth meeting” in Lausanne, Switzerland in November, 2016 and to be a board member. Formula E was happy that I would have a seat at the table in this new organization which was very important. As with most every startup, the structure of SandSI was continuously evolving. I was asked to be a Vice President in September 2017 and then, just three months later I was asked to be President! And this May, at our 2nd Congress, the members elected me to a 4-year term as President. Plus every year, the members can vote to change the structure, change the President, which means I am very accountable. All of this is much better than simply being appointed.

GSB: Absolutely! And it’s great to be speaking to Madame la Presidente! So what is happening with SandSI and what are your goals for your term?

JP: Our focus is global, to ensure that the most sustainable practices are disseminated to sports organizations all over the world and to put sustainability and sports on the agenda of major global organizations like the UN. Our three main priorities are 1. Alignment and strategy surrounding UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), 2. ISO 20121 implementation 3. Monitoring, measuring and reporting. Thus we are working closely with organizations like UNEP and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to ensure sports is well represented in their work.

GSB: Do these organizations get the power of sports…

JP: Many people do; it is our job to make sure the voice of sports is heard loud and clear throughout those organizations.

GSB: There are of course Green-Sports organizations and trade groups throughout the world — the Green Sports Alliance (GSA), mostly in North America and now Japan, BASIS in the UK, Sport Environment Alliance (SEA) in Australia. How will you differentiate SandSI from those groups? And how will you work with them? Is there a need for all of these groups or will there be consolidation?

JP: We see ourselves as a global umbrella organization and we need to have regional peers. SandSI is here to offer practical support to all sporting organization looking to advance sustainability internationally through their sport. Thus we are in dialogue with them. In fact SEA is a founding member of SandSI. We are in touch with the GSA and BASIS to see how we can add value together.

GSB: Good luck sorting all of that out and all the best with the launch of the Formula E Support Series.

 


 

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