Leilani Münter, “Vegan, Hippy Chick with a Race Car,” Reacts to Winning Best Green-Sports Story of 2018

Leilani Münter drove her Vegan Strong car to eighth and ninth place place, respectively, in ARCA (NASCAR developmental series) races at Daytona and Michigan International Speedways earlier this year. 

But those results were mere (vegan) appetizers to her big win in December when Münter became GreenSportsBlog’s BEST GREEN-SPORTS STORY OF 2018. 

The “Vegan, Hippy Chick with a Race Car” spoke to us about what winning the award means to her and more.

 

Leilani Münter has long been on our radar BEST GREEN-SPORTS STORY OF 2018.

She’s had the “Green” part down pat. After all, Münter adorns her race car with vegan sponsors. She samples vegan food to ARCA series race fans. Her personal car is a Tesla that she powers with electricity generated by solar panels on her roof. And much more.

 

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Leilani Münter (Photo credit: Leilani Münter)

 

But it was the “Sports” part that always held Münter back from winning GSB’s Best Green-Sports Story award. Her main problem was that she had a very difficult time getting the vegan sponsors to fund more than a one-race season.

Until 2018, that is.

She signed A Well-Fed World and TryVeg.com to sponsor her ARCA car for an eight race campaign, by far her busiest season in that series. Thus the decision to give the award to Münter became relatively easy this yearespecially with her record of two top ten finishes, and the 30,000 vegan Impossible Burgers that were served in her name to 30,000 racing fans at five Fan Zones.

 

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Leilani Münter (r) with NASCAR’s Danica Patrick at Daytona International Speedway this February (Photo credit: Leilani Münter)

 

In accepting the award, Münter shared that it’s been a long road for her.

“I am completely honored to be recognized by GreenSportsBlog,” Münter said. “It was also an honor to be able to drive the Vegan Strong car, thanks to my partnerships with A Well-Fed World and TryVeg.com. I pitched vegan sponsors for six years and am grateful they finally saw the value of reaching out to a non-traditional audience for them — auto racing fans — and getting them to try tasty vegan food in a fun atmosphere.”

Although the reaction was universally positive, even Münter was surprised about at least one racing fan who became a vegan food fan.

“So this was at the Media Day during Daytona 500 week,” Münter recalled. “Not surprisingly, the ARCA racers were ignored in favor of the NASCAR Monster Energy series (the top level of NASAR) drivers. Luckily, an AP reporter saw a tweet on Twitter saying that vegan burgers are being sampled out in the Fan Zone. So he went over there with a camera guy. When he gets there, he sees a guy in a Make America Great Again (MAGA) cap and an anti-PETA* t-shirt. And the guy LOVED the Impossible Burger!”

Don’t believe me? Check out this 50 second video:

 

 

GSB’s Take: Perhaps Münter is thinking too small with this whole “Vegan, Hippy Chick with a Race Car” thing. It says here that she might want to explore the idea of taking her Tesla, tasty vegan food, and pro-PETA messaging to Iowa and New Hampshire in advance of the 2020 Presidential primary season. Because maybe the best way to reach folks who are opposed to reducing their meat consumption (and thus reducing greenhouse gas emissions) and/or deny climate change is through their stomachs.

Run, Leilani, Run! Heck, everyone else seems to be running.

 

* PETA = People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. So an anti-PETA t-shirt means the wearer is for unethical treatment of animals? As my Grandma Lena used to say, “It takes all kinds!”

 


 

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The GSB Interview: Brent Suter, Milwaukee Brewers Pitcher and Climate Change Fighter

Milwaukee Brewers’ pitcher Brent Suter is not your typical major league pitcher.

He played his college ball at Harvard. His fastball, when he really airs it out, barely reaches 90 miles per hour in an era when 97-100 mph heaters are commonplace.

But what really sets the 29-year-old lefty apart from his peers is his interest in climate change and his willingness to speak up about it.

GreenSportsBlog, always on the lookout for eco-athletes, was pleased to read Suter’s OpEd on the urgency of climate action that appeared in a recent issue of Fast Company magazine. And we were even more pleased to be able to talk with Suter about his baseball career and his relatively newfound role as a climate change fighter.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Brent, thank you so much for talking with us today. I will get to your interest in the climate change fight in a bit. First, tell our readers how you got your start in baseball.

Brent Suter: My pleasure, Lew. We moved around a lot when I was a kid. Born in Chicago, moved to California when I was two, then to Atlanta when I was four and finally to Cincinnati when I was seven.

GSB: Were you a Cincinnati Reds fan growing up?

Brent: Oh yeah! When Ken Griffey, Jr. came to the Reds, that was THE BEST!

GSB: Was baseball your first love?

Brent: No doubt about it. I did play football and basketball as well — I was a role player in the latter. But baseball was always number one. I was primarily a pitcher but also played first base and centerfield.

 

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Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Brent Suter looks to apply the tag to a Kansas City Royals runner (Photo credit: Benny Sieu, USA Today Sports)

 

GSB: When you were in high school did you think to yourself, “Hey, I’m really good at this; I’m going to be a big leaguer,” or was it more like “Hopefully baseball can help get me into college”?

Brent: It was definitely more the latter. I wasn’t thinking big leagues when I was a kid or in high school. I did believe in myself, worked hard and enjoyed it. But my goal was to get into college.

GSB: Were you heavily recruited coming out of high school?

Brent: Not so much. Actually I had to sort of sell myself. I do remember going to a college showcase the fall of my senior year at which high school players try out for a bunch of recruiters. I threw harder than I ever did before. I had a video made and sent the tape, along with an email to the Harvard baseball coach. He loved it and sent an assistant down to Florida to see me pitch at another showcase. It went great.

GSB: Were you always looking to go the Ivy League route?

Brent: Not really. I always wanted to go to a good school and play baseball there. Harvard was the only Ivy League school I was in serious contact with and it turned out to be a perfect fit!

GSB: What did you study at Harvard?

Brent: Environmental science and public policy…

GSB: …What a great combination!

Brent: Absolutely! I love math and science. Got to learn about renewables, the policy implications of decarbonization and much more.

GSB: What got you into the environment, renewables and climate change?

Brent: I always had affinity and an appreciation for nature and the outdoors. But the big thing for me on climate change was seeing Al Gore’s documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” while I was in high school. Say what you will about Al Gore from the political point of view, his film was able to communicate the serious reality of climate change in a way that inspired many, including me. Before seeing that film, I really had no idea about climate change.

GSB: It inspired me too! In fact, I was trained by Vice President Gore and his Climate Reality Project in 2012 to give the slide show presentation that was at the heart of the movie to community groups in my area. Back to your time at Harvard, how hard was it to balance your academic load and baseball?

Brent: It was challenging at times. You have to be so efficient with your time. That said, Harvard has tremendous resources and I met such an interesting, high quality group of people. It was a whirlwind but an incredible one at that. I loved Harvard and the connections I made there will last a lifetime.

 

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Brent Suter on the mound for Harvard (Photo credit: The Harvard Crimson)

 

GSB: Did you have a sense from early on at Harvard that you were on track for the big leagues?

Brent: Not at all. It wasn’t until after my junior year that I started to think pro ball might be a possibility. I was lousy as a junior but I had a strong Cape Cod Summer League season after that. And I backed that up with a decent senior year. Still I wasn’t on scouts’ radars so I went to a showcase for New England regional scouts in Amherst…

GSB: …I didn’t know these showcases existed.

Brent: Oh they’re a big thing all over the country. Anyway, the day of my showcase, it was really cold out and only two scouts showed up. And I was very sick. But somehow, I threw the best I ever had!

GSB: Kind of like Michael Jordan scoring 38 points in Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals when he was sick with the flu?

Brent: I wouldn’t go that far but I guess I got the attention of at least one of the two scouts because the Brewers picked me in the 31st round of the 2012 draft.

GSB: Amazing! Where did you go then?

Brent: To the Brewers’ team in the Arizona Rookie League, made up mostly of high school prospects. I thought to myself, “Sheesh, I’m one of the oldest guys here!” And then things started to fall into place for me in some unusual ways.

GSB: Please explain…

Brent: Two days after I showed up in Arizona, a pitcher on the Brewers’ club on the next level up punched a wall in frustration and injured himself. So I got sent up to the Helena (MT) Brewers in the High Level Rookie League. I struggled at first but then turned it around. The next month, the Brewers’ team in Single A ball — the next level up — needed a pitcher for their stretch run. I got the call and was able to close out the championship game. That led to an invitation to the Fall Instructional League — that was a big deal. It seemed like I was always the right guy in the right situation. And that continued until I made it up to the big club.

GSB: Aside from being in the right place at the right time, how did you make it and stick in the big leagues with a pedestrian fastball?

Brent: Great question. One of my first days in rookie ball I realized I had a natural cut on the professional baseball which has lower seams than college baseballs.

GSB: I had no idea that was the case…

Brent: …Now I use that cut to elevate the ball over swings and thus miss the barrel of hitters’ bats as much as possible.

GSB: …Even if the speed isn’t blowing them away.

Brent: That’s right.

GSB: And that cutter put you in the Brewers’ starting rotation…

Brent: Eventually I became the club’s fourth or fifth starter. My approach is to attack the strike zone and give the team a chance to win the game every time I take the ball. I felt like I was starting to find my stride this year when injury struck. I suffered a torn ulnar collateral ligament in my pitching arm in July.

 

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Brent Suter (2nd from right) with Milwaukee Brewers teammates (from left) Junior Guerra, Manny Piña, and Freddy Peralta (Photo credit: Milwaukee Brewers)

 

GSB: Which led to Tommy John surgery — in which a healthy tendon extracted from an arm is used to replace an arm’s torn ligament — which means a year-long rehab. How’s that going?

Brent: Rehab is going great and my arm feels strong. I’m working out five to six days a week and rehab three times a week. My goal is to make it back by August or September of next year…

GSB: …Which would put you smack dab in the middle of the stretch run to the playoffs. And, from afar, it seems like the Brewers are a great team to want to come back to.

Brent: Oh yeah! We really are a team that plays for each other; it’s a great group of guys. And this season we were were so close to getting to the World Series, losing to the Dodgers in seven games in the National League Championship Series (NLCS). So we have some unfinished business for sure!

GSB: Good luck with that! Now we know you’re interested in the environment and climate change. How did that turn into you writing an OpEd in Fast Company?

Brent: Since I’ve been in pro ball, I’ve wanted to play with a higher purpose in mind. Given my interest in climate and the environment since seeing “An Inconvenient Truth” in high school, and given the recent onslaught of extreme weather, it seemed natural for me to move in that direction. About a year ago I got involved with the Urban Ecology Center, a great nonprofit in Milwaukee. They work to return abandoned waste lands back to their natural, pristine states. Then they bring kids who don’t have access to nature out to the newly restored lands. Urban Ecology Center does an awesome and important job. I also connected with ECO, the environmental collaboration office of the City of Milwaukee.

GSB: What do they do and what is your role with them?

Brent: They are a small city government agency that is working to make Milwaukee a green hub, environmentally and economically. Their initiatives include Milwaukee Shines, which provides financing solutions for residential and business customers to reduce the up front cost of solar, and Milwaukee Energy Efficient (Me²). We’re just starting our relationship. I’ve filmed a short video with them and we have had some brainstorming sessions about everything we can do next season. I also wrote the article that ran in Fast Company for ECO. ECO had a relationship with the magazine and the next thing I knew, the article went live.

 

Brent Suter teamed up with the City of Milwaukee’s ECO initiative for this 50 second video

 

GSB: Did your Brewers’ teammates know about your interest in climate before the Fast Company piece? And if so what do they think?

Brent: Oh they all know about it! I mean, some people give me the “side eye” look and some good-natured ribbing when I would bring in reusable water bottles and tupperware. The truth is they really respect my passion for the environment and climate change. A couple of guys have really bought into it. Ryan Braun is one…

GSB: …The former National League MVP.

Brent: Exactly. And our manager Craig Counsell has been involved with Urban Ecology Center!

GSB: Craig Counsell seems like a guy who really gets it in a number of ways. Now are there any guys in the Brewers’ locker room who are deniers or skeptics on climate change? And how do those conversations go, if you even have them?

Brent: Oh there are a few. I’ve gotten into debates on climate with some of the guys. I find them both entertaining and frustrating. On the latter, I just find it is hard to change any minds. It doesn’t get ugly but we just don’t move the needle with deniers. But I think, in the big picture, the pendulum is starting to swing in the direction of sanity and science. And I want to play a part in continuing to move the conversation in the right direction on climate.

GSB: That’s great as the Green-Sports world is desperate for eco-athletes. Of course I hope your career lasts for a long, long time. But as far as your post-baseball career is concerned, does the environment and/or climate change figure into your thinking?

Brent: No doubt about it — 100 percent! I’m interested in environmental consulting, the renewable energy business. It’s early days in terms of my networking; I’ve talked with an environmentally-focused hospital cleaning company. There will be more to come.

GSB: Fantastic! I wish you the best with that, along with your rehab, and getting to the World Series — where hopefully the Brewers will play the Yankees! And, please, keep spreading the Green-Sports word.

Brent: You don’t have to worry about that!

 


 

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Eco-Athlete’s Journey: Stacey Cook, Olympic Skier, Climate Activist

One of GreenSportsBlog’s major initiatives this year is to feature “eco-athletes” whenever we can. They are a small but growing breed and they need the oxygen to share their views and passions when it comes to the climate change fight and other environmental issues.

Winter sports athletes make up a big percentage of the eco-athlete”population. That is no surprise since their playing fields — snowy mountains or valleys — are at high risk due to the effects of climate change. It is great to see alpine and nordic skiers, snowboarders, and more, go outside of their comfort zones by lobbying for climate action in Washington and in state capitols. One such athlete is the recently retired U.S. Olympic downhiller, Stacey Cook.

GreenSportsBlog chatted with Stacey about her journey from tagging along on ski outings with her big brother to developing her own talents on the slopes to discovering her voice beyond skiing through climate change.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Stacey, I am so heartened to see so many elite winter sports athletes getting involved with the climate change issue. And that’s why I am happy to talk with you, an Olympic alpine skier who went way beyond her comfort zone to get involved with climate activism. My guess is you’ve been skiing your whole life. Is that right?

Stacey Cook: Right you are, Lew. I grew up in the Lake Tahoe area of California in a tiny town called Truckee. Snow was a constant so I got into winter sports, skiing in particular, from the time I was four years old. Dad taught my older brother and me — that was the only thing to do in winter — and I had a raw passion for it almost from the get go. And I grew up with great skiers — Julia Mancuso, an Olympic gold medalist in giant slalom, is a lifelong friend.

GSB: Did you go for the alpine events from the beginning — downhill, giant slalom, and slalom — or did you try cross country?

Stacey: Alpine all the way! I loved it. It was total freedom. I was on a team with my older brother and his friends — I was on the slopes from 9-to-5, basically.

 

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Stacey Cook (Photo credit: US Ski Team)

 

GSB: Did you know you were good? Were you kicking your brother’s backside?

Stacey: No clue. I did some recreational racing when I was a kid, nothing serious. But I really owe a lot of my success to my older brother Gary — a very strong skier who ended up focusing on football, playing at UNLV plus one season with the Oakland Raiders — I spent so much time chasing him around that I had to get good just to keep up. Someone told my dad he should enter me into a race when I was ten. He did and, you know what? I won!

GSB: WOW!! Did that get you into the competitive youth skiing circuit?

Stacey: Not really. Tell you the truth, I was oblivious to all that. Really, I was passionate but I wasn’t on a travel ski team at all. But what happened was that, in my teens, people I used to beat started to beat me. They were on a team and took it more seriously than I did. And you know what? It pissed me off! So I committed, when I was 16, to make myself a real skier.

GSB: How did you do that?

Stacey: Well, I had a great coach who gave me confidence. So I made a presentation to my parents. I wanted to move to Mammoth Mountain three hours away. I went into the costs, the benefits…

GSB: …How old were you?

Stacey: I was going into my senior year in high school. I had enough credits to graduate after the fall. So after my fall soccer season, I moved to Mammoth on my own and lived with a host family along with other athletes from Washington. Mammoth Resort was founded by Dave McCoy (now 103 years old), who helped back me. It made things much cheaper for my family. So I could follow my passion and become a strong racer. I stayed there and two years later, I made the national team. And from there I went from being unranked to the 2006 Olympics in Torino.

GSB: What event?

Stacey: I was all about the speed events — downhill and Super G.

 

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Stacey Cook in action at the 2015 Alpine World Championships in Vail, Colorado (Photo credit: Nathan Bilow, Getty Images)

 

GSB: Wow! A daredevil. High risk, high reward?

Stacey: You know what? I was abnormally healthy over my career — no surgeries — but unfortunately, my crashes came at the Olympics. I crashed in Vancouver in 2010, crashed in practice in Sochi in 2014 and then, in Pyeongchang this year, I got something called “compartment syndrome” in my legs two days before the Games.

GSB: Never heard of it. Sounds serious.

Stacey: It can be very serious. It cuts blood flow to the nerves and muscles. I did 12 hours of rehab a day to try to compete but I couldn’t even do a training run. I was in tears but I was able to make it to the Opening Ceremonies. Which was huge because that was my last Olympics.

GSB: So what to do next? And where does the environment and climate change come in to the mix?

Stacey: Well, I’ve been outside in nature basically my whole life. And my dad was a water fowl hunter, the California Waterfowl Association has a great wetlands and species preservation program. That was my introduction of sorts into environmentalism. But it was traveling all over the world over the many years of my career that really drew my attention to climate change. I saw firsthand how ski communities were being impacted by snow shortages and how that problem was increasing over time.

GSB: That is something I’ve heard from talking to a number of your friends-competitors. So what spurred you to action?

Stacey: I really have to thank Clif Bar, which sponsored me. They were the impetus. Clif makes it easy for athletes to join the climate conversation. I mean, we live in our own bubbles and to take on a complicated issue like climate change is not easy at all. That’s why their resources allowed me to expand my horizons. Plus they have many other athletes in similar situations.

GSB: When did your relationship with Clif, the company with a quintuple bottom line ethos, start?

Stacey: I met folks from the company back in 2008 and loved what they were all about. But Nature Valley was still the US Ski Team sponsor in that category at the time. But when Nature Valley dropped out and Clif replaced them, the door opened and I walked through.

GSB: They are an incredible company.

Stacey: They really are. I spent a lot of time at their headquarters, talking with sports marketing and other folks. They actually listen to your concerns.

GSB: What a concept!

Stacey: Right?? Clif really educated me on climate change. So I was ready this spring when I went to Washington with Protect Our Winters (POW) for the first time to lobby Members of Congress on climate change from a snow sports perspective.

GSB: How did that go?

Stacey: I hate to say it but I was scared. I’m from a tiny town and I’d never done anything like this. I mean, talking to congressmen and women? Senators? Are you kidding?

GSB: I can understand that to a point. I mean you’ve been in the Olympic downhill. THAT’S scary…

Stacey: To you, maybe. But I’ve been skiing my whole life. No, talking to congress members about climate change was much scarier.

GSB: So how did you do?

Stacey: I was a little shaky at first but became energetic by the end. What turned it around was simply telling stories — stories about the changes we’ve seen to the environment. This turned out to be easy. I mean I’ve seen glaciers recede past chair lifts in some areas. And that change happened within the time span of my career. In the end, winter sports athletes are canaries in the coal mine when it comes to climate change. We see its effects first.

 

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Stacey Cook (center), alongside four other U.S. Winter Olympians for their lobbying day on Capitol Hill this spring. From left, it’s Maddie Phaneuf (biathlon), David Wise (halfpipe), Stacey Cook, Arielle Gold (snowboard) and Jessie Diggins (cross-country skiing). Protect Our Winters and CLIF helped organize and fund their trip (Photo credit: Citizens’ Climate Lobby)

 

GSB: With whom did you meet?

Stacey: Senators and House members from states with big winter sports industries. We met Dean Heller, Republican senator from Nevada…

GSB:  …He will soon be an ex-senator as he lost his race to Democrat Jacky Rosen…

Stacey: True. We also met with House members from Colorado, Minnesota and New York. We impressed upon them the economic costs of climate change on their economies. We weren’t making any hard asks but I believe we get them and their staffs more engaged on climate than.

GSB: That’s a great start and then I heard you followed it up by lobbying for the bill in the California state legislature in Sacramento that the state be powered 100 percent by renewable energy by 2045.

Stacey: It really was incredible. Ceres, the nonprofit that is helping to transform the economy to build a sustainable future, led the lobbying effort. Clif, Target and Kleiner Perkins

GSB: …The venture capital firm?

Stacey: Yes…They were all involved. I got to learn what big companies are doing around climate change, which was fascinating and impressive. Thing is, Ceres had never used an athlete to help lobby.

GSB: So you were the first? That is SO GREAT!

Stacey: I know! We created a bit of a stir. Having an athlete as part of the team perhaps allowed us to catch the ear of more Assembly members than would have otherwise been the case. And the bill passed the Assembly in late August.

GSB: The California State Senate had already passed its version of the bill back in May 2017 so the Assembly’s passage meant that outgoing Governor Jerry Brown had something to sign. And he did! Congratulations for your role in all this.

 

California SB100

 

Stacey: Thank you, Lew! I can’t wait to see the great things this new law does for the climate, environment and business in my home state.

GSB: What’s up next for you? Running for office?

Stacey: No way! My plans are in flux a bit. For now, I’m continuing to work with Clif, in particular working with other Clif athletes on the environment, helping them get their voices out there. And I will do more with POW. I do know that, whatever my work turns out to be, the environment will be part of it.

 


 

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GSB News and Notes: Climate Change Threatens World Beer Supply, NBA’s Malcolm Brogdon Launches Hoops2O to Bring H2O to East Africa, Japanese Repurpose Broken Bats into Chopsticks

The sports world has not engaged strongly enough on climate change yet, at least as not as far as I’m concerned. Maybe that will change now that a new report shows climate change will negatively impact the world barley crop, thus threatening…BEER! The Milwaukee Bucks’ Malcolm Brogdon and four other NBA players just launched Hoops2O to help bring fresh water to East Africa by funding the digging of wells. And Japan, a country which has long embraced recycling, turns its broken baseball bats into chopsticks. All in a “Spanning the Globe” GSB News & Notes.

 

DROUGHT AND HEAT COULD IMPERIL WORLD’S BEER SUPPLY; WILL SPORTS INDUSTRY GET MORE ENGAGED ON CLIMATE CHANGE?

Beer and sports go together like Minneapolis and St. Paul.

So maybe, just maybe, a potential beer shortage might spur the sports industry to take faster, more meaningful action on climate change.

A new report in Nature, by an international team of scientists, considered how climate change might affect the barley crop over the next 80 years. Barley is the most widely used grain in beer making^.

 

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Barley, the most widely used grain in beer making, will be under threat from climate change (Photo credit: Beer Smith)

 

Researchers in China, Britain and the United States say that by the end of the century, drought and heat could hurt barley crops enough to cause significant beer shortages.

Given the potentially catastrophic effects of climate change, a beer shortage might seem trivial.

That’s why, according to one of the report’s authors, Dabo Guan, of Tsinghua University in Beijing and the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England, the report was directed at readers in the developed world — to suggest that climate change will hit everyone, not just the poor.

 

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Dabo Guan (Photo credit: University of East Anglia)

 

“We will suffer less,” Guan told James Gorman of The New York Times. “but we will still suffer. [Climate change] may not affect our bread but it will affect our beer.”

Guan and his team merged mathematical models of the impact of climate change on barley crops with models of international trade.

The results revealed that, China and the United States, which drink the most beer of all countries, would experience the most drastic effects. “Under the worst scenario,” Guan told Gorman, “China would lose 10 percent of its beer supply and the United States 15 to 20 percent.”

In models that include high numbers of severe droughts, the price of a bottle of beer in Ireland might double. In the Czech Republic, it could be six or seven times as expensive.

Anheuser-Busch InBev, the world’s largest brewing company, has taken notice. Jess Newman, the company’s director of agronomy in the United States, told Gorman for his Times piece, “We take climate uncertainty very seriously.”

 

GSB’s Take: I’ve been trying to find the “magic bullet” that would get sports teams, leagues and mega-events to engage fans on climate change in a meaningful way. Could a potential beer shortage do the trick? If that shortage would come down the pike in the next three to five years, maybe. But, since this report’s time frame is 80 years, I doubt the sports industry will take much notice.

 

NBA’S MALCOLM BROGDON’S HOOPS₂O JOINS NFL’S CHRIS LONG’S WATERBOYS IN BRINGING WELLS AND FRESH WATER TO EAST AFRICA

Milwaukee Bucks point guard Malcolm Brogdon and four other NBA players announced the launch of Hoops₂Ojoining the fight for access to clean water in East Africa. Rounding out the Hoops₂O “Starting 5” are Justin Anderson (Atlanta Hawks), Joe Harris, (Brooklyn Nets), Garrett Temple (Memphis Grizzlies), and Anthony Tolliver (Minnesota Timberwolves).

 

Brogdon Bucks

Malcolm Brogdon, Milwaukee Bucks point guard (Photo credit: Stacy Revere, Getty Images)

 

Traveling to Ghana and Malawi as a child and seeing the effects of extreme poverty in those countries gave the former University of Virginia star the drive to use his platform as an NBA player to make a difference in Africa.  “I saw from a very young age the value of clean water in communities in Africa,” said Brogdon. “I made a promise to myself that once I reached a time and place in my career where I could do more, I would.

Hoops₂O looks to build upon the successful Waterboys program midwifed and led by Chris Long, a fellow UVa alum, and a two-time Super Bowl Champion defensive end, now with the Philadelphia Eagles. Waterboys, with support from more than 20 current and retired NFL players, funds the digging of wells in the area and teaches the locals how to do the digging and maintaining. To date, Waterboys has raised more $2.6 million to fund 49 wells that will provide water to over 193,000 people.

Brogdon took notice: “When I learned about Chris’ Waterboys initiative and saw their accomplishments by working as a team of players to inspire action, I knew I wanted to expand his vision into the NBA and address our ultimate shared goal to save more lives faster and transform communities.”

 

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Malcolm Brogdon, founder of Hoops₂o at a Waterboys well site in East Africa (Photo credit: Clay Cook Photography)

 

To get Hoops₂O off the ground, the Starting 5 are asking fans to get involved by participating in the “Ballin’ for Buckets” campaign. Fans are encouraged to pledge a dollar amount per stat line (i.e. points Brogdon will score, the number of 3-pointers Tolliver will hit) for one of the Starting 5 players for the month of November.

Brogdon and each of his Starting 5 teammates also made financial pledges to support Ballin’ for Buckets. Player stat tracking will begin on November 1, but fans can make a pledge now. To learn more and make a pledge, fans are encouraged to visit www.hoops2o.org.

The Starting 5’s goal is to raise $45,000 — the cost of building one solar paneled, sustainable, deep borehole well — by the end of November. Brogdon and friends hope to raise $225,000 to fund five wells by the end of the NBA season next spring.

“I’m honored that our work is expanding into the NBA,” added Waterboys Founder Chris Long. “I couldn’t be more excited about what this will mean for our neighbors who lack access to a fundamental resource. I’m confident that working together as a united front, the NFL’s Waterboys and the NBA’s Starting 5 will bring us one step closer to providing water to one million people.”

 

Chris Long

Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Chris Long, co-founder of Waterboys (Photo credit: WPVI-TV Philadelphia)

 

GSB’s Take: Kudos to Brogdon and his mates for getting involved in the water crisis in East Africa. Basketball and the NBA are very popular across Africa so it’s a natural connection. Could NBA partner Coca-Cola should provide financial and other support that could help scale Hoops₂O. Why not?

 

JAPAN BASEBALL: BROKEN BASEBALL BATS MORPH INTO CHOPSTICKS

When batters from the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks and the Hiroshima Toyo Carp come to the plate in the Japan Series, which started on Saturday, they will be carrying bats made overseas from white ash and maple, like their major league counterparts. But up until about 15 years ago, most Japanese professionals, including future big leaguers stars Hideki Matsui and Ichiro Suzuki used bats made from wood from the aodamo, a species of ash tree native to Japan.

Since bat makers did not replant the trees as they were cut, aodamo is no longer economically feasible to log on the northern island of Hokkaido, the capital of Japanese bat production. It can take 50 to 70 years for an aodamo tree to grow to a height and thickness needed to make bats. The hope is that if a comprehensive reforestation project is successful, aodamo will again become feasible for baseball towards the latter part of the century.

To make that a reality, conservationists and aodamo bat enthusiasts need to drum up interest in restoring the tree population now.

That is where turning broken bats into chopsticks comes in.

The germ for this idea was born in 2000. According to Jeré Longman of The New York Times, “An article in The Nikkei financial newspaper and other Japanese publications first sounded alarms about the decreased availability of aodamo wood. The Nikkei article was read by officials at the Hyozaemon chopsticks company [and its] chief executive [and former high school baseball player], Hyogoo Uratani.”

At that time, broken bats were mostly given away or burned in barrels to keep players warm during spring training. Uratani and his friend Takeo Minatoya, who had been a general manager in the Japanese Central League, conjured the bats-into-chopsticks program to publicize the aodamo wood problem.

Only the barrel of the bat is thick enough to make chopsticks.^ The barrel is sawed from the handle, sliced vertically into thin blocks then sanded by craftsmen into the shape of chopsticks. Hyozaemon officials told Longman, “the barrel of one bat can yield five or six pairs of chopsticks.”

 

Chopsticks

Broken baseball bats used to be burned in Japan. Now they become chopsticks. (Photo credit; Shiho Fukada/The New York Times)

 

Today, all 12 teams in Japan’s Central and Pacific Leagues take part in the bats-to-chopsticks initiative. The company  collects an average of 10,000 broken bats each season.

Per Longman, “Hyozaemon pays a licensing fee to put team logos on its chopsticks. In turn, Nippon Professional Baseball, Japan’s equivalent of Major League Baseball, makes an annual contribution of 3.5 million yen, or about $31,000, to the nonprofit Aodamo Preservation Society. The money is used to plant aodamo seedlings on Hokkaido.”

More than aodamo 10,000 trees have been planted so far with many more to come.

 

Chopsticks 2

Chopsticks from broken bats display logos from Japan’s Central and Pacific League teams (Photo credit: Shiho Fukada/The New York Times)
^ In addition to the barrel being used for chopsticks, the tapered portion toward the handle can be repurposed into shoehorns and handles for forks and spoons. The cap of the bat can be made into a drinking cup.

 


 

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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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