Vestas 11th Hour Racing Going For Unheard of Triple: Win the Volvo Ocean Race; Go Zero-Waste In the Process; Elevate Public Interest in Ocean Health, Climate Change

THIS STORY IS AN UPDATE OF A PIECE THAT FIRST APPEARED IN SUSTAINABLE BRANDS ON JANUARY 2, 2018

Vestas 11th Hour Racing’s team director Mark Towill and skipper Charlie Enright take on challenges the way most people layer cold cuts; one on top of the other. The duo and their team are 1) one of seven squads trying to win the Around the World Volvo Ocean Race, a nine-month sailing slog, over 45,000 nautical miles, in all sorts of weather; 2) doing so while being the most sustainable team in the race; and 3) working to increase public awareness, concern and action on behalf of ocean health.

No problem, right?

Perhaps the main reason they have a chance to succeed on all three counts is the unique collaboration between sport (Towill and Enright), business (Vestas, the largest wind turbine maker in the world) and philanthropy (11th Hour Racing, an organization that promotes ocean health via the sponsorship of elite sailing teams).

 

A LIFELONG INTEREST IN OCEAN HEALTH; A DESIRE TO COMPETE IN THE PINNACLE OF OPEN OCEAN SAILING RACING

For Mark Towill, concern about ocean health goes back to childhood. “I saw significant amounts of marine debris up close, growing up on the water in Hawai’i,” said the team director of Vestas 11th Hour Racing, one of seven sailing squads competing to win the Volvo Ocean Race.

Towill attended Honolulu’s Punahou High School, alma mater of Barack Obama. In his senior year, he met environmentally minded Rhode Island native Charlie Enright during filming of the documentary “Morning Light,” produced by Roy Disney, in which young sailors competed in the TransPac Race from Los Angeles to Honolulu.

 

Vestas 11th Hour Racing crew portrait. Mark Towill

 

Vestas 11th Hour Racing crew portrait. Charlie Enright

Vestas 11th Hour Racing team director Mark Towill (top) and skipper Charlie Enright (Credit for both photos: Ainhoa Sanchez/Volvo Ocean Race)

 

The duo sailed for Brown’s nationally ranked team in the mid-2000s; it was at the Providence, RI university that Towill and Enright hatched their dream of leading a team in the Volvo Ocean Race, the pinnacle of open ocean racing. Making that dream a reality costs serious money — upwards of $20 million — but only a few years after Enright graduated in 2008, the business majors (Towill also majored in environmental science) set out to raise the money to fund a boat for the 2014-15 race.

Surprisingly to many in the sailing world, a three-year effort to find a major sponsor bore fruit when Alvimedica, a new Turkish medical equipment manufacturer, signed on.

 

SEEING OCEAN WASTE AND EFFECTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE DURING 2014-15 VOLVO OCEAN RACE

Towill’s and Enright’s first trip around the world was peppered by a substantial amount of ocean waste.

“The amount of marine debris we encountered was truly astonishing,” marveled Charlie Enright. “We expected to see plenty of ‘leakage’ — all sorts of materials from container ships that would fall into the ocean — and we did. But the old refrigerators, air conditioners and tires we saw floating around in the middle of the ocean — they didn’t fall off of ships. The waste was so thick, it looked like you could walk in some parts of the waters between Malaysia and Indonesia, thanks to the lax dumping regulations.”

As one might expect, the ocean waste occasionally slowed Team Alvimedica’s progress. “It hindered our performance, big time. Sometimes, when the boat would slow down, we would send someone overboard to go underwater and take the stuff off,” offered Enright. “Of course, it wasn’t only our boat that had to deal with this problem; it affected everyone in the race.”

They also observed the effects of climate change up close. “One way we saw this was through ‘ice gates,’ which are established for safety reasons by race organizers to represent the northernmost and southernmost latitudes beyond which the boats cannot safely sail,” explained Enright. “Because of climate change, icebergs are floating further south from the Arctic regions and further north from the Antarctic. That meant that, for example, the Cape Town to Melbourne leg’s Antarctic ice gates were pushed further north for the 2014-15 Volvo Ocean Race than they would have been in prior years.”

Even before Team Alvimedica’s fifth place finish in their maiden 2014-15 voyage, Towill and Enright began planning for the race’s 2017-18 edition.

The pair had worked with a sustainability consultant to determine the environmental impact of their 2014-15 journey, establishing a baseline for the next go-round. More importantly, it says here, they made a commitment that improving ocean health as well as fighting climate change would be core values for both the team as well as prospective sponsors. Their goals were, of course, modest: Just win the 2017-18 Volvo Ocean Race and be, as Towill put it, “the [event’s] most sustainable team.”

 

Leg Zero, Prologue start round the corner on-board Vestas 11th Hour, light breeze downwind. Photo by Martin Keruzore/Volvo Ocean Race. 08 October, 2017

Vestas 11th Hour Racing aims to win the 2017-2018 Volvo Ocean Race, be the event’s most sustainable team, and, in the process, increase public awareness, concern and action on behalf of ocean health (Photo credit: Martin Keruzore/Volvo Ocean Race)

 

With that dual mission firmly in place, it is highly doubtful that the team director and skipper could have found a better title partner pairing than Vestas and 11th Hour Racing.

 

VESTAS: PARTNERSHIP WITH TOWILL/ENRIGHT, 11TH HOUR RACING AND VOLVO OCEAN RACE IS A PERFECT FIT

To Magnus Bach, senior director of global marketing at Aarhus, Denmark-based Vestas, the world’s largest wind turbine manufacturer, co-sponsoring Towill and Enright’s team with 11th Hour Racing, a program of The Schmidt Family Foundation focused on ocean health, was a perfect storm of sorts: “We see ourselves as the ‘above the water surface’ sustainability partner with our focus on wind energy and climate solutions. Meanwhile, 11th Hour Racing brings its ‘below the surface’ expertise on ocean waste and ocean health.”

 

Magnus Bach

Magnus Bach, senior director of global marketing at Vestas (Photo credit: Magnus Bach)

 

Bach says the relationship between Vestas, Towill/Enright and 11th Hour Racing came about thanks to the matchmaking skills of Volvo Ocean Race executives: “Having sponsored a team in the 2014-15 cycle, we knew the ropes a bit. Our goal in 2017-18 was to partner with a team that would make a serious, long-term commitment to sustainability and to the climate change fight; we were not interested in a one-off. Knowing this, our friends at the Volvo Ocean Race introduced us to Mark and Charlie in December 2016. From there, the relationship between us, the guys and 11th Hour Racing crystallized quickly and we announced our joint partnership in March.”

The strategic and technical fit between Vestas and sailing could not be tighter and is a prime reason the company also serves as the Data Analytics Partner of the race itself.  Bach noted Vestas “is in the business of harvesting wind and so, of course, is sailing. And think about this: the aerodynamics of a hull is somewhat similar to that of a wind blade; in fact many of its engineers have worked in both sailing and the wind business. Vestas also has the biggest climate library in the world — the amount of data in the wind business is staggering — which the sailors use to help with navigation.”

Sponsoring the team and the race provides Vestas with unmatched business building opportunities. “We are a business-to-business company — we sell wind turbines and service solutions mostly to utility companies around the world — so doing a big, consumer-facing sponsorship with, for instance, a soccer team like Manchester United or Liverpool does not make sense for us,” asserted Bach. “The global nature of the race and the intimate nature of its stops provides us with powerful opportunities to entertain some of our existing partners along with new prospects, wherever they may be located. This makes the Volvo Ocean Race a stronger option for us than, say, the America’s Cup, which takes place in far fewer locales.”

 

11TH HOUR RACING: SAILING SPONSOR WITH A POSITIVE ENVIRONMENTAL PURPOSE 

When you think of a typical corporate sponsor of a sports team or event, what kind of company comes to mind? A car company? A beer brand, perhaps? No matter what category you chose, you know that companies spend substantial sums to put their products or services in front of their target audiences so they can sell more of those products or services.

Newport, RI-based 11th Hour Racing is not a corporation, and it is not selling a product or service.

Rather, the organization pays for the privilege of selling behavior change — positive environmental actions, primarily surrounding ocean health — to dual audiences: 1. World class sailing teams and, sometimes, the races in which they compete, and 2. The millions of sailing fans worldwide who follow the teams, and races.

How does 11th Hour Racing help close its “sale”? By acting as sustainability consultant — helping to develop sustainability plans — as well as a marketing and communications agency of sorts for the teams it sponsors in the world’s most widely followed sailing races.

They played this role for Land Rover BAR, the British entry in the 35th America’s Cup held in 2017. And, with a history of support for Towill and Enright, it’s not surprising they are doing the same as part of the Vestas 11th Hour Racing team. And, if that’s not enough, 11th Hour Racing is also providing sustainability consulting services to the 2017-18 Volvo Ocean Race as Founding Principal Sustainability Partner and Race Partner.

 

VESTAS 11TH HOUR RACING TEAM: A WORLD CLASS COLLABORATION

11th Hour Racing’s collaboration with Towill, Enright along with Vestas for the 2017-18 edition of the Volvo Ocean Race resulted in a comprehensive and groundbreaking sustainability, communications, legacy and reporting plan that put the team on a path to make good on its “most sustainable team in the race” pledge — and more. Sustainability and communications initiatives include:

Sustainability 

  • Calculating Vestas 11th Hour Racing’s carbon footprint by tracking all travel, accommodations, electricity usage, water consumption and waste. That footprint will be offset at race’s end.
  • Outfitting each team member with a “sustainability kit” containing refillable water bottle, coffee mug, bamboo toothbrushes, and much more. It also includes a personal water filter to ensure clean, safe drinking water.
  • Creating a positive plastic footprint by removing more trash from beach cleanups than they create during the race
  • Using a desalinator for on-board water needs, saving an estimated 13,500 one-liter water bottles
  • Achieving a 75 percent waste diversion rate
  • Wearing Karün sunglasses made from 100 percent recycled fishing nets and using Aethic sunblock, produced with a unique formula that does not harm coral reefs
  • Sourcing local, sustainable foods from the countries they visit
  • Following a Meatless Monday diet

 

Communications

  • Designing and operating Vestas 11th Hour Racing’s Exploration Zones at 10 of the 12 race stops. The Exploration Zone is a dedicated, immersive educational space where the public learns about renewable energy and ocean health through the prism of sailing’s most crucial elements; wind and water. From virtual reality goggles to interactive displays, the space drew thousands of people each day at the race’s first three stops (Alicante, Spain; Lisbon, Portugal, and Cape Town, South Africa). Visitors can also charge their phone using a grinder similar to the ones on board the race boat, and make their own public pledge for a sustainable future.
  • Raising awareness of the team’s vision of a cleaner, healthier environment at race stops and during the race via the Vestas 11th Hour Racing website, Social Media channels and the #LeadingSustainability hashtag

 

Video detailing the Vestas 11th Hour Racing “Exploration Zone” (1 min 6 sec)

 

Legacy

  • At each Volvo Ocean Race stopover, Vestas 11th Hour Racing will be meeting with a local non-profit to learn more about their environmental work.
  • 11th Hour Racing will be giving a $10,000 grant to each of these non-profits as part of the team’s mission to leave a lasting legacy beyond the race.

Grant recipients so far have been: Asociación De Naturalistas Del Sureste in Alicante, Spain; Circular Economy Portugal in Lisbon, Portugal; Environmental Monitoring Group in Cape Town, South Africa, and Take 3 (as in “take three pieces of rubbish with you when you leave the beach”) in Melbourne, Australia.

 

Reporting

  • 11th Hour Racing is using the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) template to monitor the team’s progress (or lack thereof) towards reaching its sustainability goals after each legs. A final sustainability report will be issued after the race ends.

 

YOU PLAY TO WIN THE RACE!

To paraphrase the famous 2002 rant of Herm Edwards, the preacher-like former head coach of the New York Jets (a woebegone American football team, for those unfamiliar with U.S. sports), ESPN commentator, and soon-to-be head man at Arizona State University, “You play to win the Volvo Ocean Race!!”

 

Former NY Jets head coach Herm Edwards’ now infamous 2002 “You Play to Win the Game” rant (37 seconds)…

 

Prologue on-board Vestas 11th Hour. Upwind heading to gibraltar. Photo by Martin Keruzore/Volvo Ocean Race. 10 October, 2017

…and the Vestas 11th Hour Racing team, “playing to win the race…while being its most sustainable team!” (Photo credit:

 

Winning would be a great boost for the awareness and impact of the Vestas 11th Hour Racing’s sustainability leadership.

Towill and Enright are, of course, all in on winning both the Volvo Ocean and sustainability races.

“Winning the race is of paramount importance and a massive challenge. Know that our team is up for it,” said Mark Towill. “Ocean health and climate change are also of paramount importance. That’s why we set out to be the most sustainable team in the Volvo Ocean Race. Thanks to Vestas and 11th Hour Racing, we’re on the way to achieving the environmental goals. As for the race, that’s on us!”

After winning the first leg from Alicante, Spain to Lisbon, Vestas 11th Hour Racing earned third place honors in both the second (Lisbon-Cape Town) and third (Cape Town-Melbourne) chapters. Thus the team left Melbourne tied for second place when the fourth leg set off on January 2 for Hong Kong, with expected arrival on January 19.

After Hong Kong, the race proceeds to Guangzhou (China) then back to Hong Kong. After that, it’s on to Auckland (New Zealand), Itajaí (Brazil), Newport (Rhode Island, USA), Cardiff (Wales), Gothenberg (Sweden), before finishing in The Hague (Netherlands) at the end of June.

 

 

 

To learn more about Vestas 11th Hour Racing: https://vestas11thhourracing.com/
To learn more about the Volvo Ocean Race: https://www.volvooceanrace.com/en/home.html

 


 

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The GSB Interview: Ex-MLBer Chris Dickerson Leads Players for the Planet

Chris Dickerson played major league baseball for five teams in a seven-year career. As impressive as that is — heck, only 18,856 people have played in “The Bigs” since the National League was founded in 1876 — GreenSportsBlog is more interested in Dickerson’s role as a leading Eco-Athlete and his efforts to recruit others to join the climate change fight through Players for the Planet.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Chris, I was so glad find out about you — as an Eco-Athlete and founder of Players for the Planet! When did you become interested in the environment and climate change?

Chris Dickerson: I was the athlete of the family — I played everything; baseball, football, basketball. I noticed some kids my age couldn’t play sports because of asthma. Everyone I grew up with up in Southern California was aware of elements of significant environmental misfortune in the area, from air pollution due to the area’s heavy reliance on cars to water quality to plastic waste on the beaches. And my dad is an avid recycler. I remember he built color-coded bins made of PVC pipe and showed us which bins to toss which materials into. This was before the state required recycling so my dad was an early adapter! So I noticed the environmental irresponsibility of Southern California from a young age but it wasn’t until after college that I really got into it.

 

Chris Dickerson Yankees

Chris Dickerson, in the dugout after hitting a home run for the New York Yankees in 2012… (Photo credit: Getty Images/Hannah Foslien)

 

Chris Dickerson

…And here’s Dickerson in his role as co-founder of Players for the Planet (Photo credit: Players for the Planet)

 

GSB: What prompted the change?

CD: In 2007, I was just starting out in pro ball after my college career at USC and Nevada Reno. Seeing Al Gore’s documentary film, “An Inconvenient Truth,” really was a wake up call and prompted my passion for environmental stewardship. So I started to research climate change. I devoured the 2008 Time Magazine “Green Issue,” read New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman’s pieces on climate change…

GSB: …Really?! Friedman’s writings on climate, from scientific and geopolitical points of view, that inspired me to work on climate change!!

CD: Amazing! His book on climate change, “Hot, Flat & Crowded” was an important influence for me. All of this became building blocks for Players for the Planet.

GSB: How did Players for the Planet come to be?

CD: Back around 2007-2008, I saw two ads that really had an impact on me. One was for Brita — it showed that a plastic water bottle takes 1,000 years to decompose in a landfill. The other was for a refillable water bottle from Sigg, a Swiss company. In 2008, I had been called up to the Cincinnati Reds. We, like every other sports team, used an incredible number of plastic water bottles. So I had Sigg send 50 bottles to the clubhouse…

 

Players for the Planet

 

GSB: How did your teammates react?

CD: I’d say the initial reaction was that it all was a bit silly — they certainly didn’t dive right in. But, after awhile, the guys saw that using the Sigg bottles was more convenient than getting a new plastic bottle several times a day. Convenience became my main selling point, rather than the environment. And so they eventually switched and we were able to cut down on our plastic water bottle waste by 50 percent. An article was written on the Sigg bottles, the Reds and me that caught a lot of people’s attention. ESPN and MLB.com got in on it and then the fans in Cincinnati caught on — there were banners of me and the recycling symbol. Once I saw that kind of response, I felt I needed to step up to the plate and use the platform I had to something positive, something big on the environment and climate.

GSB: What did you do next?

CD: I reached to other baseball players I knew, along with athletes from other sports. Jack Cassel, who was pitching for the Houston Astros at the time, was from Southern California. He really “got it”…

GSB: …Is Jack related to Matt Cassel, the former Patriots backup quarterback who now serves the same role for the Tennessee Titans?

CD: They’re brothers. I knew Matt from USC and he joined us as well, as did a third Cassel brother — Justin. I also engaged two of the biggest stars in baseball stars of this era: Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers and Chase Utley of the Philadelphia Phillies. So that was the beginning of Players for the Planet.

GSB: What did you have those guys do? And what were some of Players for the Planet’s early activities?

CD: Those athletes and more shared my vision, lent their names and offered quotes and other types of support. Our first event was at the 2009 Super Bowl in Tampa…

GSB: Super Bowl XLIII? The one in which the Steelers beat the Cardinals on the Roethlisberger-to-Santonio Holmes last minute TD pass?

CD: That’s the one! So we gave out gift bags made of recycled plastic bottles at the Super Bowl party hosted by Michael Strahan.

GSB: Very high profile…

CD: That was our goal. Back in Cincinnati in 2009, we formed an alliance with the Reds to kick off an E-Waste recycling event. Fans from around the city were invited to drop off their electronic devices that were collecting dust in their garages and attics. The E-Waste would then be handled and recycled in safe fashion. Some of my teammates and would come out to the participating Kroger supermarkets in the area. These became very popular. We would load up DVRs, TVs, stereos, computers, tablets, and cell phones.

 

Chris Dickerson e-waste

Chris Dickerson helps out at a Players for the Planet e-waste recycling drive during his days with the Cincinnati Reds (Photo credit: Chris Dickerson)

 

GSB: How much stuff did you collect and e-recycle?

CD: About 235,000 lbs. worth! It was one of the largest E-waste drives ever done in the area. This continued for seven seasons, even after I left the Reds in 2010 when I was traded to the Brewers. Jay Bruce and Ryan Hannigan took the baton and did great jobs.

GSB: Were you able to build Players for the Planet in Milwaukee?

CD: It wasn’t easy to focus on it because I was only in Milwaukee for part of the 2010 season. Then I went to the Yankees in 2011 and the Baltimore Orioles in 2013. So I was moving around a lot, trying to advance my career on the field, which made it somewhat challenging to build Players for the Planet at that time. That being said, there were some successes. In 2012, we worked with the MLB Players Association to have a Green Carpet at the All-Star Game in Kansas City to highlight the work we and the clubs were doing on recycling. The Royals used that game to feature biodegradable silverware. We also collected empty plastic bottles and cans at the 2013 All-Star Game at Citi Field in New York. On another front, a bunch of the Southern California guys in Players for the Planet organized a beach cleanup in Marina del Rey. They got on paddleboards and picked up all sorts of crap, from tires to traffic cones.

GSB: We’ve covered the ocean waste issue quite a bit in GreenSportsBlog — it’s serious and it’s pathetic. How have you kept Players for the Planet going since you last played in the big leagues in 2014?

CD: It’s been a challenge to keep it going, to build on it, and to find new “keepers of the flame,” that’s for sure. Guys I came in with and who joined me in this effort are retired or will retire soon. So we’ve had to pivot in some ways. We’ve teamed up with OneVillage, a nonprofit that promotes sustainable global development through individual community empowerment in underdeveloped countries. And I’m in the process of building a corporate responsibility sports agency with my business partner, Brian Ingram a former minor league baseball player out of Oregon State. One of our main goals, not surprisingly, is to find athletes concerned with climate. OneVillage is working with us to help find corporations to support this initiative. On another front, we’re working with Nelson Cruz of the Seattle Mariners to get Watly solar powered water de-salinization and filtration systems to the Dominican Republic and other places in the developing world…

GSB: WOW! The Watly sounds incredible and like it can be a real game changer!

CD: It really can be. Access to clean, drinkable water is a real crisis, of course. Watly’s also can provide WiFi and electric power.

GSB: I had no idea.

CD: Amazing, right? Brian went to Italy to see the first demonstration of the Watly and said it was “incredible!” On the same trip, Brian also went to Belgium, where he investigated a potentially groundbreaking urban farming project in which the produce would be dropped by drone into places like Syria and East Africa. We see an application for this approach in the urban food deserts of the U.S. as we don’t have the luxury of growing outwards — we have to look at growing vertically. Also in the U.S., we also are looking to build a fully sustainable little league baseball field.

GSB: What would that look like?

CD: Among other things it will be powered 100 percent by solar, only refillable bottles will be used, and the turf will be organic.

GSB: That is an ambitious agenda, to be sure. Back to your playing days, when you would talk about climate change in the locker room, how did your teammates react? Were there deniers among them?

CD: Oh yeah, definitely. It was a problem — I’d say climate change denial was at a significant level. I found that they really weren’t open to learning. Some guys accepted that there were environmental problems but didn’t connect them to climate change. Truthfully, most just didn’t care one way or the other…

GSB: …That tracks with the U.S. public’s attitude on climate — one of general indifference — although I was heartened by a December poll that showed environment/climate change now ranks as the 4th most important issue; let’s see if that sticks…

CD: …I hope so. But back in the early 2010s, it was hard to turn the naysayers among my teammates into believers about climate change when they would see that teams talk about how green they are but don’t engage the fans in meaningful ways…

GSB: …With notable exceptions in places like Seattle — with the Mariners, Seahawks and Sounders engaging fans in environmental actions — as well as the University of Colorado in Boulder.

CD: Of course; those are great exceptions — we need those kind of programs to quickly become the rule. Also my clubhouse managers would see that haulers taking the recycling from the clubhouse weren’t doing the job properly, primarily just taking the recycling and throwing it in with the regular trash.

GSB: That needs to be brought to light. Now even though you’ve been out of the bigs for a few years now, are you hearing from your friends who are still playing that attitudes are starting to change?

CD: I would love to say yes but the best I can say is that attitudes are probably still the same.

 

 


 

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The Best and Worst of Green-Sports, 2017

The Green-Sports world saw some important firsts in 2017: The first UN Dialogue on Sport and Climate Action in Germany, the first Pac-12 Sustainability Conference in Sacramento, and the first LEED Platinum professional sports stadium in the US are but three examples.

Beyond the firsts, eco-athletes, from sailors to snowboarders, used their sizable platforms to promote ocean health and the climate change fight. Some even lobbied members of Congress. 

But in this Age of Trump and with the ascendancy of climate change deniers and do-nothings in the upper reaches of the US Government, the Green-Sports world needed to go much bigger, move much faster.

Against that backdrop, we bring you the BEST AND WORST OF GREEN-SPORTS, 2017.


 

BEST GREEN SPORTS STORY OF 2017

Protect Our Winters (POW) and Winter Sports Athletes

 

POW Athletes at Capitol Credit Forest Woodward

Photo credit: Protect Our Winters

 

The photo above is the perfect visualization as to why Protect Our Winters (POW), the organization of elite winter sports athletes who advocate for substantive action on climate change, is the winner of GSB’s BEST GREEN-SPORTS STORY OF 2017.

You see, the 21 folks captured in front of the US Capitol made up most of the 25-person delegation of active and retired skiers, snowboarders and more, who, along with staffers, descended on Washington this fall to lobby 22 members of Congress and their staffs. Topics included carbon pricing, solar energy and electrifying transportation.

That winter sports athletes are more concerned about climate change than any other group of athletes I can think of makes sense since they can see the negative effects of warming temperatures on their playing fields (i.e. ski slopes, snowboard courses, frozen ponds) in real time.

That they have built POW into the only climate change action advocacy group led by athletes, Olympians and world champions among them, is the amazing thing.

In recent months, GreenSportsBlog interviewed retired Olympic silver medal winning snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler and Olympic cross country skier Andy Newell, about their involvement with POW.

Bleiler takes part in “Hot Planet, Cool Athletes” school assembly programs, which helps  make “climate change engaging, more relatable, and more personal for students.” She spoke at COP21, the global climate conference in Paris in November 2015 that led to the Paris Climate Agreement. Newell helped lead POW’s participation in the People’s Climate March in New York City in April and has written OpEds, including one that ran in USA Today in 2014.

Both were part of the POW 2017 DC fall lobby team; their firsthand experiences — and those of their colleagues — with the effects of climate change are powerful aspects of their presentations to Congress.

Here’s Bleiler: “[I share] my own experiences as a professional snowboarder who’s traveled around the world chasing snow! Reduced snow pack, warmer temperatures and shorter winters all mean a hit to the sports we love, but these changes also impact the economies of all the mountain town communities where I compete and train. This has all been happening in my lifetime…”

Given that the vast majority of the Republican-led Congress, the head of the EPA, as well as the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, are virulently opposed to fighting climate change, POW’s 2017 legislative efforts did not bear immediate fruit.

But, in the climate change fight, POW is all in for a marathon.

It is a race cross country skier Andy Newell has no doubt POW and, well, we — as in the American people — will win: “If we citizens have a big enough cultural and economic shift toward sustainable energy, the President and everyone else in DC has no choice but to follow. We have more power than we think. Senators, House members and the President will continue to hear from the winter sports community.”

Certain House members and Senators will hear from POW in 2018. The group’s main goal for the next year is to, in the words of Lindsay Bourgoine, manager of advocacy and campaigns, “get down and dirty in the midterm elections in November…We have identified ten ‘battleground elections’ where we feel it is really important to elect a climate friendly leader, whether Democrat or Republican.”

Honorable Mention: Land Rover BAR, Great Britain’s Entry in 2017 America’s Cup; Most Sustainable Olympics Bids Ever Earn Paris and LA the 2024 and 2028 Summer Games.

 

GREENEST SPORTS LEAGUE OR EVENT OF 2017

US Open Tennis/US Tennis Association

Formerly titled the Greenest Sports League award, this year the category expanded to include mega-sports events like the Olympics, FIFA World Cup, the Masters, and the US Open. The latter is GSB’s choice for the GREENEST SPORTS LEAGUE OR EVENT OF 2017. 

The Open —which draws over 700,000 fans over two weeks in late August/early September at the USTA’s Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Queens, NY — earned the award not only for its stellar sustainability performance at this year’s tournament but for its decade of green-sports leadership. 

King was there at the beginning of the US Open’s/USTA’s greening efforts in 2008. And she wanted to go BIG.

“Billie…wanted to make the US Open the most environmentally responsible tennis event in the world,” shared Dr. Allen Hershkowitz^, then a scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the nonprofit that would manage the sustainability project. “I told Billie that doing so would take years. ‘Great,’ she said. ‘I’m in. Let’s do it.'”

 

 

Billie Jean and Allen

Billie Jean King and Allen Hershkowitz during the 2008 shooting of the USTA’s “Our Courts May Be Blue But We’re Thinking Green” public service announcements (Photo credit: NRDC)

 

Ten years on, the fruits of King’s and Hershkowitz’ vision can be seen in virtually every nook and cranny of the National Tennis Center. The event:

  • Is zero-waste, meaning 90 percent or more of food waste is diverted from the landfill, thanks to a sophisticated composting and recycling operation
  • Powers itself solely by renewable energy
  • Uses the tournament’s daily draw sheet (schedule of play) to share “eco-tips” with fans
  • Promotes mass transit use and the fans have responded: More than 55 percent arrived by subway, Long Island Railroad or bus, making the US Open the most transit-friendly professional sporting event in the country
  • Collects and recycles over 17,000 tennis ball cans
  • Boasts two LEED certified structures; the two year-old, 8,000 seat Grandstand Court and the upgraded transportation center.

 

Grandstand Court Brian Friedman USTA

The LEED certified Grandstand Court rocked during the dramatic comeback win by Juan Martin del Potro over Dominic Thiem on Labor Day (Photo credit: Brian Friedman/USTA)

 

2018 will bring a big sustainability advance as the new, 10,000 seat Louis Armstrong Stadium will open as the world’s first naturally ventilated stadium with a retractable roof.

Honorable Mention: National Hockey League, Pac-12 Conference, Waste Management Phoenix Open (golf)

 

GREENEST NEW STADIUM OR ARENA OF 2017

Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United F.C.

When Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the new home of the Atlanta Falcons of the NFL and MLS’ Atlanta United F.C., announced in November that it had earned LEED Platinum certification, it became the first pro stadium in the U.S. to achieve such a designation. Just one month later, it won GreenSportsBlog’s GREENEST NEW STADIUM OR ARENA OF 2017.

“We set out to build a venue that would not only exceed expectations, but also push the limits of what was possible in terms of stadium design, fan experience and sustainability,” noted Arthur Blank, owner and chairman of the two teams, at the LEED Platinum announcement. “[Our] goal was to achieve the highest LEED rating because it was the right thing to do for our city and the environment.”

 

 

Mercedes Benz

Mercedes-Benz Stadium (Photo credit: AMB Sports and Entertainment)

 

Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which hosts the College Football Playoff National Championship Game on January 9, and Super Bowl LIII in February 2019, compiled 88 LEED points — blowing by the 80 point threshold needed for Platinum status — in a myriad of ways, including by:

  • Using 47 percent less water than baseline standards due to water-efficient fixtures and conservation infrastructure
  • Storing water in a 1.1 million gallon, underground water vault, providing the area with crucial flood management, as well as an additional 680,000 gallons of water for use in irrigation and the stadium’s cooling tower
  • Installing 4,000 solar panels to power the equivalent of nearly ten Falcons games or 13 Atlanta United matches with clean, renewable energy.
  • Featuring LED lighting that will reduce energy usage by as much as 60 percent
  • Encouraging fans to take MARTA light rail to three nearby stations, resulting in 25-30 percent of fans ditching their cars to go to and from Falcons and United games.

Honorable Mention: Little Caesar’s Arena, Detroit (home of NBA’s Pistons and NHL’s Red Wings), currently seeking LEED certification

 

BEST TEAM ON/GREENEST TEAM OFF FIELD/COURT OF 2017

Golden State Warriors, NBA Champions

The Golden State Warriors cemented their status as the gold standard of the NBA’s current era when they defeated LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, four games to one, to win their second title in the last three seasons. A sustainability leader off the court, the Warriors also earned the BEST TEAM ON/GREENEST TEAM OFF FIELD  award for 2017.

On the court, head coach Steve Kerr seamlessly managed the addition of Kevin Durant to their championship core of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Andre Iguodala. This made the Dubs even more fun to watch and much harder to play against. As a result, Golden State methodically avenged its shocking 2016 Finals loss to the Cavs.

 

KD Steph

Kevin Durant (l) and Steph Curry of the 2017 NBA Champion Golden State Warriors — and winner of GSB’s BEST TEAM ON/GREENEST TEAM OFF FIELD/COURT award (Photo credit: USA Today)

 

This fall, the Warriors started the 2017-18 campaign slowly —for them — they’re “only” 23-6 at this writing. Curry and Green are injured for now. And the Houston Rockets look ready to mount a serious challenge in the West. Despite all that, Golden State is still the team to beat.

Off the court, the Warriors reflect the strong environmental ethos of the Bay Area, earning strong sustainability grades for:

  • Powering their practice facility with solar panels
  • Reducing energy use at Oracle Arena through a smart energy management system
  • Introducing a rainwater recapture system that uses the harvested H₂O to feed the plants and vegetation surrounding the arena.
  • Partnering with a local vendor who turns oils from concessions into bio-diesel,
  • Implementing ORBIO Sc-5000 which utilizes water, salt and electricity to create an eco-friendly cleaning solution
  • Reducing the carbon footprint of, and the waste produced by the food service. In partnership with Levy Restaurants, the club uses compostable cutlery and flatware and composts food waste.

It wasn’t only GreenSportsBlog who noticed the Warriors sustainability efforts: Oracle Arena earned LEED certification from the US Green Building Council in September.

“Ensuring that we have a positive impact on the Oakland/Alameda County community and our environment is extremely important to us” said Krystle von Puschendorf, Sustainability Programs Manager for Oracle Arena, “We are proud to have achieved LEED certification and are dedicated to running an environmentally friendly operation here in Oakland.”

If the Warriors stay at the top of their game on the court, the club will likely be in the running for the 2019 award because it will have moved into the new Chase Center in San Francisco — an arena expected to seek LEED Gold certification.

Given the Warriors incredibly high standards, I am surprised — and a bit disappointed — they’re not going for LEED Platinum. But there’s still time for Golden State to up its green game even further.

 

Chase Arena

Artist’s rendering of Chase Center, future home of the Warriors. Scheduled to open in 2019, the arena seeks LEED Gold certification (Credit: Stok)

 

Honorable Mention: New England Patriots, NFL — the Pats might have won the award but they were hurt by the strong support for climate disaster Donald Trump by owner Robert Kraft; Seattle Sounders, MLS

 

GREEN-SPORTS MISSED OPPORTUNITY OF 2017

Super Bowl LI in Houston

Super Bowl 50, the Greenest Super Bowl of All Time, was played in the Bay Area, one of the most environmentally engaged areas in the country. Super Bowl LI took place in Houston, not exactly a green hotbed. Many would say it is not realistic to expect a Super Bowl taking place in the Oil Capital of the US to be as green as one contested in Northern California.

I agree.

But while it’s one thing to fall short of the Super Bowl 50 standard, it’s quite another thing for the Houston Super Bowl Host Committee to do nothing from a sustainability point of view.

Or, to be fair, almost nothing: The Houston Host Committee did work with NFL Environmental, the Houston Texans, Verizon and local partners to help plant trees, but that seems to be it.

 

Trees for Houston

Trees For Houston and Marathon Oil helped plant 50 new trees at Crespo Elementary in advance of Super Bowl LI (Photo credit: Trees For Houston)

Tree planting is well and good but the Houston Super Bowl LI Host Committee missed a Texas-sized opportunity regarding sustainability.

This is the case especially when one considers that there is a sustainable business infrastructure and a green subculture taking root in the US’ fourth biggest city and in the Lone Star State more broadly:

Honorable mention: Minnesota Vikings and MSFA deciding not to upgrade the glass exterior of US Bank Stadium to reduce its bird kill problem.

 


 

We close with some end-of-year thank-you and a remembrance:

To our guests/interviewees: Your time, commitment and insights are much appreciated. You are helping to green the sports world in important ways. I always come away from GreenSportsBlog interviews feeling inspired.

To our readers: Thank you for making 2017 a year of significant growth: Our subscriber base grew by a third. On Twitter, our retweets and mentions nearly doubled. If you haven’t done so already, please subscribe (it’s FREE!) and comment on the blog. Follow us on Twitter (@GreenSportsBlog) and friend us on Facebook (http://faceboook.com/greensportsblog).

A remembrance: Earlier this month, Ryan Yanoshak, formerly managing director of marketing communications with the Pocono International Raceway, passed away at 42 following a battle with cancer. Ryan played an important role in telling Pocono’s forward-leaning sustainability story. He will be missed.

Looking ahead, I expect the green-sports world will continue to grow in 2018, especially on the green building/venue side. But will meaningful fan engagement programs ramp up? Will we find new eco-athletes who can become the Colin Kaepernicks of green-sports? Will POW’s lobbying efforts help bring more climate change-fighters to Congress? No matter the results, you can be certain that GreenSportsBlog will remain your source for news, features and commentary on the increasingly busy intersection of Green + Sports.

Here’s to a healthy, happy Holiday Season to you and yours!

 

^ Dr. Hershkowitz later served as President of the Green Sports Alliance and is currently founding director of Sport and Sustainability International (SandSI)

 


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Clif Bar: Pushing Green-Sports Boundaries for 25 Years By “Thinking Like a Tree”

If there were a Green-Sports Corporate Hall of Fame, Clif Bar would be a charter member. The Emeryville (near Berkeley), CA-based company has produced tasty, nutritious, organic energy bars for cyclists, climbers, skiers, snowboarders, mountain bikers, surfers triathletes, runners and other outdoor/adventure athletes since 1992. And to say that sustainability is core to its DNA is a massive understatement.

GreenSportsBlog took a deep dive into Clif Bar, its history as a sustainable business and green-sports leader, along with its plans to take both to the next level.

 

“We aspire to be a company that thinks like a tree,” enthused Elysa Hammond, Clif Bar’s vice president of environmental stewardship, at an engaging talk in New York City this fall.

Huh?

What does “think like a tree” mean?

“Trees run on renewable energy, recycle all waste, and sustain and improve the places where they grow,” explained Hammond, “‘Thinking like a tree’ is how we go about making good on the most critical part of our environmental mission, which is to help build the climate movement.”

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never heard of a food company with an environmental mission of “building the climate [change fighting] movement.” But am I ever glad there is one, and that it’s Clif Bar.

 

Elysa Hammond

Elysa Hammond, Clif Bar’s vice president of environmental stewardship (Photo credit: Clif Bar)

 

And once I learned about Clif’s history, its “do well by doing good” ethos, its “Five Aspirations” (we’ll get to that a bit later) — and its deep connection to sports —the company’s environmental mission made perfect sense.

Now, you may ask, “What does its deep connection to sports have to do with Clif’s ‘build the climate movement’ mission?”

It goes back to Clif’s beginnings about 25 years ago.

You see, according to Hammond, Clif was “born on a bike.”

OK, now I get “think like a tree” but “born on bike”?

Turns out, Gary Erickson, the company’s founder, was on a 170 mile bike ride — referred to in Clif Bar lore as “The Epiphany Ride” — eating primitive, unappealing energy bars. He said to himself, “I can make a better tasting, more nutritious bar.”

 

Gary Erikson

Clif Bar founder Gary Erickson (Photo credit: Clif Bar)

Erickson and his team have certainly raised the bar on tasty (as well as nutritious and organic) energy bars and other foods — while also leading the sustainable business and climate movements, with winter, adventure and outdoor athletes playing integral roles.

 

Clif Bar: Sustainable Business Leader

We will get to the Clif—athletes connections in a moment. But first, please indulge me while I give you a CliffsNotes version of the company’s unusual history. [Ed. Note: OK, you knew that pun was coming sooner or later. I thought “let’s get it out of the way early.” It won’t happen again.]

  • The company’s name, Clif, also happens to be the first name of Erickson’s dad
  • Clif Bar took off soon after its founding and, by 2000, “Big Food” suitors looked to buy it. In fact, Quaker was prepared to snap Clif up for $120 million. Erickson was poised to sign the papers — his business partner wanted to sell; a less sure Erickson was going to go along with it…Until…Minutes before he was going to sign, Erickson said to the lawyers in attendance “I need to take a walk.” Upon returning, he said “no deal.” He wanted to remain independent, to run the company sustainably. A bank was found to loan Erickson money to buy out the partner and he was able to retain control of the company.
  • Staying independent spurred Erickson to incorporate a “Five Bottom Line” approach to sustainably managing the business, which ultimately became the “Five Aspirations,” which Clif incorporated into its bylaws in 2010:
    1. Sustaining the Business: Building a resilient company, investing for the long-term.
    2. Sustaining the Brands: Creating brands with integrity, quality and authenticity.
    3. Sustaining its People: Working side-by-side, encouraging each other, Clif is its people
    4. Sustaining Communities: Promoting healthy, sustainable communities, locally and globally
    5. Sustaining the Planet: Conserving and restoring natural resources while growing a business that operates in harmony with the laws of nature. To make good on this aspiration, Clif works diligently on four sustainability “progress areas”
      • Sustainable Food and Agriculture
      • Climate Action
      • Zero-waste
      • Conserve and restore natural resources

Beginning in 2002, major, long-term, sustainability-infused business decisions became hallmarks: Clif Bars would be made with organic and sustainable ingredients, baked in facilities that run on renewable energy, recycle all waste, come wrapped in eco-friendly packaging, and shipped in ways that don’t pollute.

 

Clif Bar

 

No sweat, right?

Those decisions have led to stunning results, as the company:

  • Earned organic certification for the Clif energy bar in 2003, the first of many of its foods to be so designated
  • Now generates 80 percent of the electricity used at its headquarters from an on-site solar array
  • Achieved an 88 percent diversion rate of waste from landfill
  • Is aggressively greening its supply chain. “We have a ’50/50 by 2020′ goal with our supply chain,” explained Hammond. “That means we are working with 50 supply chain facilities to source 50 percent or more the electricity used for Clif products from clean power by 2020.”
  • Is transitioning away from trucks and towards rail, which will result in a 70 percent reduction in transportation-related carbon emissions.
  • Reimburses employees up to $6,500 when they purchase a car that meets Clif standards including being electric or a hybrid that gets 45 miles per gallon or more

 

Adventure Sports Exemplify Clif Bar’s Ethos and Key to Early Growth

For Hammond, the Clif Bar-Sports story goes all the way back to that famous Epiphany Ride. “Climbing and cycling were foundational sports from the very beginning. Athletes were our first customers and have been evangelizing for Clif and a sustainable planet since the beginning. In fact, many of the athletes we sponsor are passionate environmentalists. Now, to get the full Clif Bar-Sports story, you should talk to Bryan Cole.”

Who is Bryan Cole? The 15-year Clif Bar veteran’s very long job title — senior manager of adventure sports marketing and environmental partnerships — is matched by the long list of adventure sports in which he takes part — Backcountry skier, mountain biker, surfer, and climber.

When Cole described his perfect work world being one “in which I can merge as many of Clif Bar’s Five Aspirations as possible into actual projects, with athletes who care about the planet,” I naturally asked for examples.

“On the micro-level, we took three pro athletes we sponsor — a snowboarder, a surfer, and a prone paddler — to Nicaragua ” shared Cole. “During the days, we worked on the ‘Sustaining our Communities’ aspiration with Surf For Life by helping to build a music room at a school. This allowed a marching band to form and have a place to practice.”

Looking through a wider lens, Cole also cited the company’s sponsorship of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team as being rooted in shared values and quality: “The relationship came to be because the team liked our products’ nutritional profile and taste and we are proud to support these athletes and a team whose values align with ours.”

 

Clif Bar Sponsored Athletes Go the Extra Green Mile

The environmental actions taken by many Clif athletes, from helping advocate in the fight against climate change to conservation advocacy, and more, are nothing short of incredible.

Snowboarder Jeremy Jones is the founder of Protect Our Winters (POW), originally a group of winter sports athletes who are at the forefront of rallying the outdoor sports community to build a movement against climate change. POW is in the early stages of expanding its athlete ambassador roster to include non-winter adventure sports.

 

Jeremy Jones - Jeff Curley - Clif

Jeremy Jones, founder of Protect Our Winters (Photo credit: Jeff Curley)

 

 

Greg Long, is a big wave surfer and an ambassador for the Surfrider Foundation and Parley for the Oceans, two innovative nonprofits dedicated to finding comprehensive solutions that will result in the protection of the world’s oceans, waves and beaches.

 

Greg Long, 2015

Greg Long (Photo credit: Clif Bar)

 

 

I saw big mountain skier Caroline Gleich speak powerfully about the urgency and importance of protecting America’s public lands from development at the 2015 Green Sports Alliance Summit in Chicago. Clif and Caroline are perfect partners.

 

DCIM100GOPROG0030053.JPG

Caroline Gleich (Photo credit: Caroline Gleich)

 

 

Forrest Shearer is a true Green-Sports renaissance man: Big mountain snowboarder. Surfer. POW member. Advocate for wilderness protection.

 

Forrest Shearer via Barbara Weber

Forrest Shearer (Photo credit: Protect Our Winters)

 

 

Mountain biker Casey Brown, from the woods of western Canada, needed funding to pursue her sport. “Casey turned down opportunities from energy drink companies as they and their products did not align with her values,” related Cole. “As part of our contract with Casey, we decided to create and have her wear a Clif branded helmet. This was one of our first moves into full helmet branding and we believed that her authenticity would connect with younger fans. So we made Casey a Clif Bar branded helmet and are glad we did.”

 

Casey Brown in Pemberton, British Columbia, August 2016.

Casey Brown (Photo credit: Sterling Lorence)

 

If Clif Bar Really Wants to Build the Climate Movement, Shouldn’t It Connect with MLB, NBA, etc.?

Clif Bar’s partnerships with the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team, the athletes listed above, as well as with organizations like the Surfrider Foundation and more, make perfect sense from the brand’s outdoor, adventure, somewhat outsider image.

And that approach has certainly worked — while Clif is privately held and thus isn’t required to release sales figures, the company has been on a steady growth path, recently opening a state-of-the-art “green” bakery in Idaho and acquiring a bakery in Indiana. And its brand image is pristine and authentic.

But, if the company’s mission is to build a climate movement that touches and inspires as many people as possible, shouldn’t Clif become involved with the sports with the biggest followings? In North America, that, of course, means baseball, basketball, football, and more. Especially since athletes in those sports are increasingly embracing healthy eating as well as lifestyles. Or, would doing so put the company at risk of being seen as too mainstream, a sellout of sorts, by its fans as well as by the athletes they sponsor?

“Adventure sports is our heritage and we are therefore cautious regarding the bigger sports. We want to ‘keep it real’ for our athletes and consumers,” acknowledged Cole. “On the other hand, we do recognize that our products and our mission would appeal to athletes of all stripes and to their fans. So we will carefully explore working with more mainstream team and individual sports as time goes on.”

My 2¢? The big sports need the cache, authenticity, outsider-ness and energy that Clif Bar would bring them as much if not more so than Clif needs them. Thus, to my mind, Clif can thread the needle — keeping it real and going big league at the same time. I bet fitness and nutrition devotees like LeBron James, Serena Williams and/or Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin, to name a very few, would be good fits for Clif — and vice versa.

 


 

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Winter Sports Drives Green-Sports, Part 3: Gretchen Bleiler, Olympic Snowboarder and Climate Change-Fighting Advocate

The Winter Sports world plays an outsized role in the Green-Sports movement. This makes sense, when one considers climate change is at least partly responsible for shortened outdoor pond hockey seasons, canceled ski races, and more. GreenSportsBlog is taking an in-depth look at the intersection of Green & Winter Sports with an occasional series, “Winter Sports Drives Green-Sports.”

In Parts 1 and 2, we interviewed the First Couple of Green-Sports, cross-country skiers and climate change fighters, Erika Flowers-Newell and Andy Newell.

Today, in Part 3, we talk with Green-Sports ROCK STAR, Gretchen Bleiler. She won a silver medal as a snowboarder for the USA at the Torino Olympics in 2006. Her climate change-fighting chops are also Olympian: Gretchen lobbies members of Congress, many of them Republicans, for action on climate and the environment as a member of Protect Our Winters (POW), an incredible group of outdoor sports professional athletes and climate change fighters. And if that’s not enough, she and her husband are Green-Sports entrepreneurs, with their reusable water bottle company, ALEX. I hope you enjoy reading our wide-ranging interview as much as I enjoyed conducting it.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Gretchen, there are so many things to talk about, so let’s begin at the beginning. I’m guessing you grew up in the mountains somewhere…

Gretchen Bleiler: I actually grew up in a town called Oakwood, just outside of Dayton, OH. A year after my mom and dad got divorced, my mom decided to move us out to Aspen, CO when I was 10. My grandparents had owned a place there since the 60s. And it was there that my awareness and respect for our environment really took root. During the first week of 6th grade, I knew my life was forever changed when I was catapulted into an Outdoor Education trip, part of our school curriculum, where we climbed a 14,000 foot mountain. And I had never been camping or hiking before!

GSB: …14,000 feet? No sweat! I grew up in Fairfield, CT and our field trips were to places like the United Nations and the Mark Twain Museum in Hartford. Cool in their own right but I wish we had outdoor education trips…

Gretchen: They were great. We hung out in nature for a week, far away from civilization, and learned how to survive on our own during 24-hour solos. During the winter, we learned how to build igloos in order to survive and stay warm in case we ever got lost in the mountains.

GSB: I’ve been to the area and it is spectacular. Is that where your interest in sports took off?

Gretchen: Oh that happened while I was in Ohio. I know it sounds crazy but, when I was seven years old I said to myself “I’m going to grow up to be an Olympian!” Actually what’s even crazier is that the sport I ended up competing in, snowboarding, wasn’t even close to being an Olympic sport at that time.

GSB: I knew when I was seven that I would never make the New York Yankees and I was right, too! Dang, we were two very self-aware kids! So what sports did you play in Ohio?

Gretchen: I did everything…swimming, diving, rode horses. I played soccer, tennis, and golf…You name it.

GSB: And when you got to Aspen you started with snow sports?

Gretchen: Yes! I had skied a bit before we moved to Colorado. But when we moved to Aspen, another incredible part of my education was that during the winters, we would have a half-day off one day per week to go skiing on the mountain.

GSB: OK, I’m officially jealous now…

Gretchen: One of those Wednesdays, I took a snowboard lesson with a bunch of friends and I was hooked. That was 1992.

GSB: …Even though it wasn’t an Olympic sport?

Gretchen: Even though it wasn’t an Olympic sport. Not only that, but it wasn’t even allowed on most mountain resorts. But that was actually what I loved about it. It was an anti-establishment movement meant to mix things up and bring fresh blood into the ski industry. It was about breaking the rules. It was free and creative and outside of the box. It wasn’t just about how fast could you get down the mountain, but equally important was your style; how creatively you could approach terrain, and the tricks you were doing. Snowboarding didn’t start as a competitive sport, but rather a new lifestyle.

 

Gretchen Bleiler headshot Monte Isom

Gretchen Bleiler (Photo credit: Monte Isom)

 

GSB: Sounds like a new culture, which must’ve been amazing to be part of at the start. Now, you told me off line you have three brothers…

Gretchen: …Also a half-sister…

GSB: …And a half-sister. Did you snowboard against your brothers and half-sister and could you beat them?

Gretchen: I always looked up to my brothers. They were always in on the cool new stuff. So I just watched what they were doing and would follow along. I would learn about the tricks they were doing and then go out and try to do them myself.

GSB: I imagine you pushed each other. When did you get into competitive snowboarding?

Gretchen: When I was 15, a kid from the Aspen Valley Snowboard team suggested I join them. That winter, I joined the team and found myself doing well in competitions. Snowboarding was controversially inducted into the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. While a lot of core snowboarders boycotted the Olympics, this was my dream come true. Now my goal was clear: Become an Olympic snowboarder.

GSB: Did you make the team?

Gretchen: I had only been snowboarding for 6 years in 1998. But I really went for it for the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics. I ended up tying with my best friend, Tricia Byrnes, for the last spot. By the way, she’s a real environmentalist — she’s never owned a car. Anyway, it came down to a triple tiebreaker and Tricia got the spot. I was happy for her, but I was devastated. After that experience, I vowed to myself that enjoying the ride had to be non-negotiable while I worked everyday towards my goal of becoming an Olympian. I realized I wanted to make the Olympic team so badly that I had lost the fun in my snowboarding, and vowed never to lose sight of that again.

GSB: Say more…

Gretchen: In order to achieve something, you have to become it. I became very aware of my choke points — self-doubt under pressure, worrying about results. “Lighten up,” I told myself. In January of 2003, I threw down a gold medal winning run at the X Games while having fun. I enjoyed the day with my friends and family. And I banked that feeling. I went on to win every contest I entered that year, and ultimately that feeling is what helped me make it to the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy and win a silver medal in the half-pipe.

 

Highlights of the women’s half-pipe competition at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, IT. Gretchen Bleiler’s silver medal-winning run starts at 1:24 of this 3:12 clip.

 

 

Gretchen Bleiler Danny Kass Bob Martin

Danny Kass joins Gretchen Bleiler in celebrating their silver medals in men’s and women’s half-pipe at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, IT (Photo credit: Bob Martin)

 

GSB: You became it, you achieved it…

Gretchen: …Thanks. It was a dream come true, and a fairy tale all in one. Yet, one of the greatest things I took away from those Olympics is actually something most wouldn’t expect. There was a US speed skater named Joey Cheek

GSB: Oh, sure, I remember him! Talented, charismatic…

Gretchen: …Not only did he win a bunch of medals, but he turned around and donated all of his prize money to an organization he worked with called Right To Play. Their mission is to use sport to educate and empower young people to overcome the effects of poverty, conflict, and disease in disadvantaged communities.

GSB: Incredible, really…

Gretchen: I know! He used his Olympic experience to stand on the podium, promote his mission, and then light up Right To Play by raising a lot of media attention and therefore a lot of funds towards the organization. It made a huge impression on me. Also, after the Olympics were over, the U.S. Team was invited to the White House to meet President Bush (43). We also had a luncheon with a House member and I’ll never forget what he told us: “Congratulations! You are Olympians. You will always be Olympians. But this is not an end, it’s just the beginning. The question is: What are you going to do with it?” Cheek and the White House meeting opened up my field of vision and I decided to use my platform to talk about climate change.

GSB: How did you go about doing that?

Gretchen: Well, it wasn’t from the scientific point of view; I let the scientists take care of that aspect of it. Rather, I share my own experiences as a professional snowboarder who’s traveled around the world chasing snow! Reduced snow pack, warmer temperatures and shorter winters all mean a hit to the sports we love, but these changes also impact the economies of all the mountain town communities where I compete and train. This has all been happening in my lifetime….

GSB: Which isn’t all that long…

Gretchen: …Hearing from locals in Switzerland about their receding glaciers, rain in January in the Alps and more. The reactions were and have been unanimous: Climate change is real, we are the cause, we have to do something — and we can. So I began to work with different climate change and environmental groups. Then, in 2009, I joined Protect Our Winters (POW) and that helped focus my efforts and hone in on my platform and find my voice.

GSB: What about POW allowed you to do that?

Gretchen: POW is terrific: We’re mobilizing the outdoor sports community against climate change. As individuals we all have unique stories, but, together, we are winter’s voice and are the voice for all the other industries that are affected when winters are impacted by climate change. I’ve found my niche in POW — it has given me opportunities to step outside of my comfort zone and stand up for something that, in my opinion, is the biggest issue facing humanity.

GSB: Tell us about some of those opportunities…

Gretchen: Throughout the years I’ve been a part of POW’s “Hot Planet, Cool Athletes” school assembly programs. It makes the topic of climate change engaging, more relatable, and more personal for students. And it also makes the solutions more real, more achievable. Then, I got into lobbying on Capitol Hill and speaking at big international events like COP21, the global climate conference in Paris in 2015 that led to the Paris Climate Agreement

 

Gretchen Bleiler Forest Woodward

“Ms. Bleiler Goes to Washington”: Gretchen Bleiler on her 2017 lobbying trip to Capitol Hill with Protect Our Winters (Photo credit: Forest Woodward)

 

GSB: Which President Trump plans to pull the US out of. UGH! How did you feel when you were making these presentations?

Gretchen: I was sooooo insecure when I first started — didn’t go to college as I went into professional snowboarding straight from high school. Like I said, I had to battle and push myself out of my comfort zone. Even when my mind told me “I don’t want to do this!” I pushed myself to do it anyway. When we first started going to meet members of Congress in 2010, the reaction was “who are these winter sports athletes?” Now, everyone knows us and they know we come back every year and are holding them accountable for their words. They know that collectively we have a huge social media presence so our audience will find out what their representatives are doing to help on climate — or not. On our last trip to the Capitol a few months ago, after Hurricane Irma, I spoke in front of the House of Representatives’ new, bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus (CSC). This is a group that more people need to know about: For a Democrat to join, he or she has to bring in a Republican…

GSB: YES! I know about the CSC! I volunteer with Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL), a national group of citizen lobbyists advocating for a revenue neutral price on carbon through a “carbon fee and dividend” legislative proposal. An amazingly persistent CCL-er from Philadelphia, Jay Butera, would go down to Washington weekly, on his own dime, with an endless supply of positivity, to push the Climate Solutions Caucus. Started by Florida representatives Ted Deutch (D-FL22) and Carlos Curbelo (R-FL26), the group has grown from a handful of members to about 60 in about two years. Republicans are continuing to join, even in the wake of the Trump election and the hijacking of the EPA by his administration and the fossil fuel industry.

 

Gretchen Bleiler Capitol Hill Forrest Woodward

Gretchen Bleiler, flanked by professional fly fisherman Hilary Hutcheson (l) and Auden Schendler, Chairman of the Board of POW, testifying in front of the House of Representatives’ bi-partisan Climate Solutions Caucus (CSC) in 2017. At the head of the table sit CSC members Ryan Costello (R-PA, in purple tie) and Ted Deutch (D-FL, glasses). (Photo credit: Forest Woodward)

 

Gretchen: I love Citizens’ Climate Lobby and the CSC! To testify about the impacts of climate change on the outdoor sports and recreational industry, directly after Irma, was ironic in its timing. On one hand, Reps. Deutch and Curbelo from Florida, who started the caucus, were obviously dealing with matters of life and death after the destruction of the hurricane. On the other, what better time to talk about climate change because it was directly in our faces, with flooding in the south as well as wildfires in the west? We were able to inspire the committee with our stories and show them how important it was to us to see Democrats and Republicans working together around climate change. Beyond the caucus, we had a lot of meetings, mostly with Republicans who are on the fence about voting pro environment. These conversations are sometimes difficult because we don’t often share the same point of view, but that’s the point — we don’t have to agree to have a conversation. Actually, in order to solve this problem, we need to listen to people with different opinions, but we have to somehow agree on the facts of the reality of climate change. There is just no time for denial at this point; we need solutions. But what’s great about our group is that most everyone has a story about why they love the great outdoors, so we’re able to bring it back to that common ground, plus back it up with economic facts, like the snow sports industry is a $72 billion dollar industry.

GSB: That is significant…

Gretchen: …And it supports 695,000 jobs, which is more than all of the extractive industries — oil, gas and coal — combined.

GSB: Even more significant…Do you do anything else for POW?

Gretchen: Beyond our Capitol Hill trips, and the Hot Planet, Cool Athletes presentations, I write op-eds and make calls to Colorado electeds.

GSB: What is that like for you?

Gretchen: I’m getting more and more comfortable. POW is currently running a campaign to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) from a senate proposal to allow drilling on pristine lands that might net some limited short-term economic gains, but at a severe environmental cost. Drilling our public lands for fossil fuels that will only emit more greenhouse gases is no way to balance a budget. I called Colorado’s Republican US Senator, Cory Gardner on this issue…

GSB: Did you talk to the Senator or his staff?

Gretchen: I talked to a staff member, they listened and we’ll just keep on calling. Also, while we were on the Hill, a POW group met with Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) who is leading the effort to open up ANWR. Many members of POW’s Riders Alliance spend a lot of time skiing and snowboarding in Alaska, for obvious reasons. Unfortunately, for now at least, she continues to make choices that show she’s not looking at the big picture of protecting our public lands and climate.

GSB: Well, she’s facing significant resistance in Alaska and elsewhere. This just means POW’s calls and meetings with Members of Congress are more important than ever. So what can we look for from you and POW in 2018?

Gretchen: For 2018, we are laser-focused on electing a climate-friendly Congress in 2018, House and Senate. And we’re also working on the state level, from Governors races to state legislatures.

GSB: You know what, Gretchen? YOU should run!

Gretchen: Oh, I don’t think that’s for me. But activism and pushing our electeds on climate? Count me IN!

GSB: Well, I think you’d be great. But, what you’re doing with POW is so important. In fact, dear readers, I can’t stress how important and extraordinary Gretchen’s and the rest of POW’s efforts are. These athletes, Olympians and World Champions, are finding the time to lobby members of Congress, and campaign for climate-friendly candidates in the 2018 election. Now, before I let you go, tell us about your green business, Alex Bottle.

Gretchen: We started ALEX to be a sustainable lifestyle company. ALEX stands for Always Live EXtraordinarily; all of our products are a constant reminder for us to strive for that. “Extraordinary is such a big word and we want to make it approachable by reminding people that it’s our small everyday choices and actions that add up to an extraordinary life. By focusing on the steps in the journey and not the just the end result, we can achieve our own extraordinary, AND love the process.

As for products, our first focus was in the reusable bottle space because we were sick of seeing people around us use disposable plastic bottles. We realized that to get people to make the shift from disposable to reusable, we needed to make it simple. Since the reusable bottle offerings at the time lacked any style, and they were impossible to clean, they turned people off. That’s when my husband, Chris, had the idea to make a reusable bottle that opened in the middle for cleaning. What’s interesting is when we opened the bottle in the middle, it allowed for a bunch of other cool features we didn’t expect, like being able to compact it to half its size, use it as two cups, or completely customize the color combinations. It became so much more then just a bottle. We’ve since released two new products: An insulated commuter cup and a pint cup, both with sneaky bottle openers on the bottom.

We wanted to have a small and thoughtful line up that covers every drink situation. Our bottle is great for smoothies, cocktails, and fruit infused water, while our commuter cup is great for keeping coffee and tea hot, and then you have the stackable pint cup for festivals and parties. We designed it so that you could have three reusable products and be set for any situation.

 

ALEX FAMILY -01-01

The ALEX Bottle product line (Photo credit: ALEX Bottle)

 

 

Gretchen ALEX Kate Holstein

Gretchen Bleiler, in her natural habitat, with snowboard and ALEX Bottle in hand (Photo credit: Kate Holstein)

 

GSB: Congratulations to you and Chris. What’s it like to be manufacturing a consumer product?

Gretchen: In some respects, it’s been like climbing Everest. Thankfully, Chris runs the business and manufacturing end, and I’m an ambassador for the mission of the brand, which is encouraging people to live their extraordinary. We wanted to manufacture Alex in the US but the costs are just prohibitive. So we started in Indonesia but had problems there. In fact, we’re on our fourth manufacturer since 2009. Now Alex is produced in China. But, despite the fits and starts, we’ve found our niche and we’re proud to be able to manufacture and sell a product that lives up to our high standards.

GSB: Where can one buy an Alex Bottle?

Gretchen: The best place to get one is on our website, www.alexbottle.com. That’s where you’ll find all of the color options. Since a lot of people love Amazon, we offer our insulated commuter cup and our Stainless Steel pint cup through Amazon Prime.

GSB: How are you planning to scale the business and perhaps add the brick and mortar channel? Are you looking for venture and/or angel funding?

Gretchen: We’re not looking at venture funding, at least as of now. Our plan is to grow the business organically, via the winter, adventure and outdoor sports communities. We really focus on customer service and celebrating the people who support and buy from us. We’ve definitely found that our ALEX family of customers are the best spokespeople for what we’re doing, so focusing on making sure their experience is extraordinary is our biggest opportunity for growing the business.

GSB: All the best to you and Chris…and I still think you should rethink the “run for office” thing.

 

Gretchen and Chris

Gretchen Bleiler, husband Chris Hotell and Kota in their ALEX Bottle studio (Photo credit: Gretchen Bleiler)

 


 

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Winter Sports Drives Green-Sports, Part 1: Erika Flowers Newell, US Olympic Cross-Country Skiing Hopeful and Advocate for the Environment

The Winter sports world, from the NHL to climate change-fighting Olympic skiers and snowboarders, plays an outsized role in the Green-Sports movement. This makes sense, when one considers that climate change is at least partly responsible for shortened outdoor pond hockey seasons, canceled ski races, and more. Over the next few months, GreenSportsBlog will take an in-depth look at the intersection of Green & Winter Sports, in a new, occasional series, “Winter Sports Drives Green-Sports.”

We begin the series with the first of two stories about a pair of world class cross country skiers from the United States preparing for the start of their respective qualifying campaigns for the 2018 US Olympic teams, Erika Flowers Newell and Andy Newell. Both are environmental activists and also are married to each other! 

Today, the focus is on Erika, her skiing career, environmental advocacy along with her work for one of the legends of cause-related marketing. Next week, we shift over to Andy and his climate change-fighting efforts with Protect Our Winters (POW).

GreenSportsBlog: Erika, thank you for taking the time out from your pre-Olympic qualification training to talk with us about your skiing career, your role as an eco-athlete, and more. So let’s get right to it. When did you get into cross country skiing? And were you always an environmentalist?

Erika Flowers Newell: Skiing definitely came first. I was born in Missoula, Montana. I was always into sports — soccer and running — as well as theatre. When I was 10, we moved over to Bozeman. It was the middle of 4th grade. I knew no one but saw that a bunch of kids were into skiing. So I connected with a bunch of girls who were into cross country — they remain among my best friends today.

 

Erika Flowers Reese Brown

Erika Flowers-Newell (Photo credit: Reese Brown)

 

GSB: So you got into from a social point of view?

EFN: Yes. And I was a terrible skier at first…

 

Erika Flowers youth

A young, self-proclaimed “terrible skier,” Erika Flowers (Photo credit: Erika Flowers’ mom and dad)

 

EFN: …Really, I wanted to play soccer. But, truthfully, I wasn’t that good at soccer either…The only reason I made the team my freshman year was because I could run really fast. And, as time went on, I saw that I wasn’t such a terrible skier after all and I — and this a real surprise to me — really liked it. I loved to train, loved the running part of the training, plus the actual skiing. So, as a high schooler I made my first international trip, to the Scandinavia Cup and had some decent results. While still in high school, I ranked as high as #6 among all junior skiers in the US.

GSB: That’s incredible!

EFN: Believe me, I was shocked. I went from thinking I wasn’t much good at cross country skiing to believing I could compete at a very high level, get to travel all over the world. I thought this was pretty cool. But then my mom passed away while I was  in my junior year.

GSB: Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.

EFN: Thanks. It was very tough. In fact, I was at a race at the time. But I tried to borrow some of her grit and toughness after she passed, and that helped me win my first international race in the spring of my junior year in high school.

GSB: You are certainly talented and tough. So was college next on the horizon?

EFN: Yes…I looked seriously at three schools: Utah, Princeton and Dartmouth. Utah has a strong ski program but going to college out East intrigued me. So I visited Princeton — I liked the idea of going to the Woodrow Wilson School of International Affairs but…

GSB: …there’s not much skiing in and around Princeton, NJ!

EFN: Exactly. And so after we visited Princeton, we headed up to Dartmouth. It was right on the Connecticut River, the skiing trails are pristine, the campus is beautiful and the women’s nordic team was very good — at the time, five women on the Dartmouth nordic squad also were on the US Ski Team.

GSB: So that made the decision easy…

EFN: No doubt about it. I loved Dartmouth; I bleed Dartmouth Green for sure. Was surrounded by smart, interesting people. It was challenging academically. I studied government, health policy and more. And the skiing was even more challenging. As a freshman, I was just trying to get to compete in “Carnival”…

GSB: What’s that?

EFN: They are a big part of college skiing’s regular season — combined alpine and nordic events.

GSB: The alpine events are the downhill and the various slaloms (slalom, giant slalom, and Super-G). Nordic is the umbrella term for cross country, biathlon and ski jumping.

EFN: You got it! There are six weekends of carnivals in each of three regions; East, Midwest and West. You need to be in the top six at Dartmouth to make the carnival roster and top three to be assured of competing. And, as I was able to make it to carnival as a freshman, my next goal was to make it to the NCAAs — I said to myself “If I can go to the NCAA’s once before I graduate, that will be good.”

GSB: And what does one have to do to make it to the NCAA’s?

EFN: You had to be in the top 15 in your region across the various cross country disciplines — skate style and classic, sprints and longer races, and relays. To make it even harder, only three skiers from any one school can make it and Dartmouth, along with the University of Vermont, are perennial eastern powerhouses…

GSB: So you could be in the top 15 in your region but if you were, say, the fifth best on Dartmouth, you’d be out of luck, NCAA-wise?

EFN: That’s right. But that tougher climb made me a better skier. So junior year I got to go to the NCAAs in Stowe, VT…

GSB: Home mountain advantage!

EFN: …and finished fourth. Before senior year, I spent time in Guatemala working in a health clinic — I was planning to apply to medical school — but I constantly was daydreaming about skiing…

GSB: Clearly you weren’t ready to give it up!

EFN: That’s what I learned about myself. So senior year, I went to the NCAAs one last time, finished sixth. I was content with that and was happier that the team did really well — that was the best part of it.  

 

Erika Flowers Dartmouth

Erika, while skiing for Dartmouth (Photo credit: Erika Flowers Newell)

 

GSB: So what about medical school?

EFN: Well, before that decision was made, I started to volunteer with Fast and Female, a nonprofit founded by Chandra Crawford, a Canadian nordic Olympic gold medal winner in Torino 2006. Kikkan Randall, the best US women’s cross country skier ever runs the US group. The organization hosts events in the US and Canada for girls, 8-18. It’s a combination of physical events, socializing, motivational talks, and more. I loved working with them and being an athlete role model of sorts, so that made the medical school choice even harder. So I decided to go for skiing full time, see where it would take me. This was my time.

 

Erika Flowers Fast Female

Erika Flowers Newell, inspiring young athletes through “Fast and Female” (Photo credit: Tom Kelley)

 

GSB: So how does that work, exactly? Who funds you?

EFN: Great questions. Thankfully, I came along at a time where, in addition to the US Ski Team, there were professional development programs for elite skiers in the US. One is in Stratton, VT. I went up there along with two other skiers in 2012 with two goals in mind:

  1. Race internationally every weekend in the World Cup events — the regular season of cross country — and,
  2. Make the US Ski Team

The latter is a big deal because that gives you more of a salary, coaching, and support staff.

GSB: How many make the US nordic Ski Team?

EFN: Five men and 10 women — there are more women because our team is stronger relative to the men.

GSB: So if you’re on one of those elite teams but not the US Ski Team, how do you support yourself?

EFN: They do give support — they pay for a coach which is huge. But I have to secure my own corporate sponsorship outreach and sales, which takes about 25 percent of my time. This pays for my living expenses and travel.

GSB: I had no idea you had to be a sponsorship sales pro in order to have a ski career. A good skill to have, though. So I imagine it’s a lot easier if you make the US Ski Team. How does that happen?

EFN: Of course that isn’t easy, especially if you’re an older skier and I’m now 28. I’ve been at it awhile: I tried out for the Olympic team for Sochi 2014 but didn’t make it. But I did qualify for the 2016-17 World Cup, which was fantastic. So now I’m going for the 2018 Pyeonchang Winter Olympics, with the first qualifying races the first weekend in December in Montana…

GSB: Another Home Mountain Advantage! So what do you have to do to make the Olympic team?

EFN: There are likely going to be between 10-13 slots on the women’s nordic team. My goal is to finish first or second among the non-US Ski Team qualifiers. That would pretty much guarantee me a spot on the team. So I am pushing on all cylinders.

GSB: I have no doubt about that! So, now that our readers are cross country skiing experts, we turn to the green part of your story…Where does that fit in?

EFN: Well, first of all, as a full-time skier, it’s been a challenge to keep my mind as active as it was in college. But I know I have to develop myself professionally for my post-skiing life and sustainability is at the top of my list. So it was a happy coincidence that a friend of mine from Bozeman, Elizabeth Davis, was starting a new purpose-driven agency with Carol Cone…

GSB: …A corporate social responsibility pioneer!

EFN: YES! So they started Carol Cone On Purpose

GSB: Love that name!

EFN: And I saw on Elizabeth’s Facebook feed that were looking for interns. I applied and got it. Let me tell you, it was a real eye-opener for me about the intersection of business and purpose, the idea of doing good and doing well. And I brought the sports angle. So they allowed to help expand Fast and Female and I also worked with the Women’s Sports Foundation. After awhile, they hired me as a part-time Purpose Associate. They’ve been great about me working remotely and to get the work done around my skiing schedule. I handle research, social media and writing. On the research side, I’m diving into what companies are doing, well, on purpose.

GSB: What has that research shown you, if anything, about companies, sports and sustainability?

EFN: Oh, there’s definitely a growing interest on the part of companies about the Green-Sports intersection. From hockey arenas to ski areas and the companies that sponsor those venues and those sports, they clearly get it. And then, as a skier, I see the effects of climate change up close. There’s no way to avoid it. In the 10 years since high school, a lot of places at which I used to ski are just not viable. I mean, that’s 10 years, which is really nothing from a climate perspective.

GSB: Can you give an example?

EFN: Easily. Glacier Ramsau in Austria for years was a summer training ground for nordic athletes. Early on, we could ski there. The last two years? Un-skiable. The glaciers are melting before our eyes.

 

Erika Flowers races canceled MW 2017 Julia Kern

Cross country skiing races were canceled during the 2016-17 season because of lack of snow in the US midwest (Photo credit: Julia Kern)

 

Erika Flowers no snowman

In fact, there wasn’t enough snow for Erika (r) and her teammates to make a snowman (Photo credit: Erika Flowers Newell)

 

GSB: So where do you do summer training?

EFN: For training in snow, we go New Zealand. Of course then we get fan criticism, not completely unjustified, that here we are, talking about climate change and yet we spend massive amounts of CO₂ to train in the Southern Hemisphere. Also the climate problem is coming close to home. We used to do early season training in Bozeman but not now. The snow just isn’t there.

 

Erika Flowers Summer Training Matt Whitcomb

Erika Flowers Newell (2nd place, in blue top) trains with Kikkan Randall (1st place) and others in Soldier Hollow, Utah last fall (Photo credit: Matt Whitcomb)

 

GSB: Are the effects of climate change the same for nordic and alpine?

EFN: It’s actually more acute for nordic. Alpine events typically are at higher altitudes where it’s often colder. And there’s more snow making for alpine because those events are seen as being more glamorous.

GSB: So with your work at Carol Cone On Purpose and your front row seat for climate change as a cross country skier, you are really positioned well to be an eco-athlete advocate. With that said, are you involved with Protect Our Winters (POW), the great group of winter sports, well, eco-athlete-advocates?

EFN: I’m not yet in POW, but my husband, Andy Newell, a member of the last three US Olympic men’s nordic teams, is very involved. I’ve had too much on my plate just yet with Carol Cone On Purpose and skiing to join. But with Andy taking a lead role, I can see that being part of my future. No matter what, I’ll be an eco-advocate. Athletes have a powerful platform to share our stories and influence a lot of people in positive ways. Climate change really needs to be a platform for almost every winter sports athlete. We need to continue to push for meaningful carbon reduction policies. Why? Because we see the effects of climate change EVERY. DAY. We cannot wait to take action. And as much as I want to make the Olympic team and even win a medal, making a positive impact on climate is even more important.

GSB: When you and Andy met, was environmentalism an important part of your connection? Does he up your green game or vice versa?

EFN: Andy and I both value and appreciate the opportunities we’ve had growing up to spend time in the outdoors. We both recognize that the viability and longevity of our sport depends on a healthy global climate as well as the local communities that support land stewardship and the preservation of parks and open spaces. While sustainability and environmentalism where not the things that brought us together at first, I do think our similar value systems allowed us to bond and develop an appreciation for each other and the way we interact with the natural world. I was also very impressed with Andy’s work with POW, and continue to be inspired by his dedication to the organization as he travels to meet with politicians and speak at universities to build support for the cause. He definitely “ups” my green game! I’m much more informed on the state of climate change and the politics involved with climate change and sustainability because of Andy. I think I have a better pulse on the business side of climate change and sustainability while Andy knows more of the politics but we are both working towards a greener future and I think will continue to be involved in climate action for a long time.

 

Andy Newell & Erika

Andy & Erika (Photo credit: Andy Newell)

 

GSB: Well, you and Andy make up an important eco-athlete combination. Good luck in your environmental athletes and, of course, with qualifying for Pyeongchang.

 

NEXT WEEK: Andy Newell on his work with Protect Our Winters…and more.

 

 


 

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Sustainability Front and Center for the Vestas 11th Hour Racing Team at Start of Volvo Ocean Race In Spain

The Volvo Ocean Race is a nine-month, round-the-world sailing test. Seven boats and crews shoved off from Alicante, Spain on October 22 to start the 2017-18 version. The Vestas 11th Hour Racing Team is going to significant lengths to be the most sustainable team ever to compete in the event. That commitment was on display for fans at the Exploration Zones in the squad’s base in the race village during the run up to the start.

 

The first ocean leg of the round-the-world Volvo Ocean Race, from Alicante, Spain, to Lisbon, Portugal, started on October 22. The 1,450 nautical mile (nm) course is taking the seven competing teams through the Strait of Gibraltar and around the small island of Porto Santo, close to Madeira, before heading directly to the Portuguese capital.

Before the teams set off from Alicante, many thousands of sailing fans visited the race village. And no one should be surprised that sustainability was the focal point of the ground floor Exploration Zone at the home base of the Vestas 11th Hour Racing team.

 

 

VESTAS, 11TH HOUR RACING AND THE TEAM: A NATURAL, SUSTAINABLE FIT

After all, Aarhus, Denmark-based Vestas is the only global energy company dedicated exclusively to wind energy. And 11th Hour Racing of Newport, RI is an organization that promotes healthy oceans, in part by making world class sailing racing more sustainable.

One way they do this is through the sponsorship — and greening — of sailing teams in the America’s Cup and the Volvo Ocean Race, the world’s most well known sailing contests. 11th Hour Racing was the exclusive Sustainability Partner of Land Rover BAR, Great Britain’s entry in the 35th America’s Cup in Bermuda in June.

Now they’ve teamed up with Vestas to sponsor a team that aims not only to win, but also to be the most sustainable team ever to have competed in the Volvo Ocean Race#. 

Environmental sustainability, ocean health and climate change are also core tenets for team director Mark Towill and skipper Charlie Enright, making their partnership with Vestas and 11th Hour Racing a seamless fit. In fact, Mark and Charlie worked with a sustainability consultant to determine the environmental impact of their previous participation in the 2014-2015 Volvo Ocean Race with Team Alvimedica. 

 

Charlie Enright D3O

Charlie Enright, skipper of Vestas 11th Hour Racing (Photo credit: D3O)

 

Mark Towill P. Bucktrout, BAS

Mark Towill, team director of Vestas 11th Hour Racing, holding a piece 1,000 year-old ice (Photo credit: P. Bucktrout, BAS)

Those data formed the baseline of what became a robust sustainability plan for the 2017-2018 edition. It covers all aspects of the team’s operations on their 45,000 nautical-miles around-the-world journey. Some of these include: 

  • Calculating its carbon footprint by tracking all travel, accommodations, electricity usage, water consumption and waste. That footprint will be offset at the race’s conclusion
  • Outfitting each team member with a “sustainability kit” that contains refillable water bottle, coffee mug, and bamboo toothbrushes, along with sustainable soap, shampoo, toothpaste and laundry detergent. It also includes a personal water filter to ensure clean, safe drinking water.
  • Eliminating the use of single-use plastics and straws
  • Creating a positive plastic footprint by removing more trash from beach cleanups than they use
  • Using a desalinator for on board water needs, saving an estimated 13,500 one-liter water bottles throughout the race
  • Achieving a 75 percent waste diversion rate
  • Wearing Karün sunglasses made from 100 percent recycled fishing nets and using Aethic sunblock, produced with a unique formula that does not harm coral reefs 
  • Sourcing local, sustainable foods from the countries they visit, including sustainable seafood
  • Pledging to go Meat Free on Mondays both onshore and off
  • Raising awareness of the team’s vision of a cleaner, healthier environment at the race stops and during the race via the Vestas 11th Hour Racing website and the #LeadingSustainability hashtag

 

Vestas 11th Hour Racing screenshot

Screenshot of Vestas 11th Hour Racing’s website’s home page on October 27, featuring a sustainability-themed trivia question

 

SAILING FANS EXPERIENCE THE VESTAS 11TH HOUR RACING SUSTAINABILITY ETHOS AT THE EXPLORATION ZONE

Vestas 11th Hour Racing’s Exploration Zone is an dedicated, immersive educational space where the public could learn about renewable energy and ocean health through the prism of sailing’s most crucial elements; wind and water. From virtual reality goggles to interactive displays, the space was a must-see attraction among Alicante race village visitors, with over 1,000 people experiencing the Exploration Zone each day. 

 

Vestas Expoloration Zone

Vestas 11th Hour Racing’s Exploration Zone at their base in Alicante, Spain; where the Volvo Ocean Race started (Photo credit: Atila Madrona/Vestas 11th Hour Racing)

 

Vestas Exploration Zone 2

Sailing fans outside the entrance to the Vestas 11th Hour Racing Exploration Zone in Alicante, Spain (Photo credit: Atila Madrona/Vestas 11th Hour Racing)

 

The team also brought its sustainability message outside the Race Village, as Vestas 11th Hour Racing sailors and local students met with a local environmental organization, Asociación De Naturalistas Del Sureste (ANSE). They toured ANSE’s wooden sailing vessel, Else, equipped to monitor and protect endangered species, study pollution effects on plants and animals, and implement coastal restoration projects. Hannah Diamond was among the team’s sailors who learned about ANSE’s endeavors: “I was most surprised that here in the Mediterranean there are sperm whales that are bigger than our Volvo Ocean 65 [foot boat].”

 

Vestas ANSE Boat

Members of the Vestas 11th Hour Racing staff on the ANSE boat (Photo credit Atila Madrona/Vestas 11th Hour Racing)

 

Ocean health and the issue of plastic ocean pollution were the themes of the Ocean Summit that took place in Alicante during race week. Mark Towill gave the keynote address to a full house of NGOs, government and the private sector. The Hawaii native reflected on his time at sea and also about how the Volvo Ocean Race can be a massive megaphone for the team’s sustainability messaging: “[We have] a real opportunity to use this race as a platform and we need to make the most of it.”

 

VESTAS 11TH HOUR RACING EXPLORATION ZONES AT ALL BUT TWO RACE STOPS

Sailing fans around the world will be able to visit the Vestas 11th Hour Racing Exploration Zones at all but two of the race stops before the finish in The Hague, Netherlands at the end of June. Here is a list of the stops, race village opening days and the start dates of the next race legs. 

  • Lisbon, Portugal: October 31 –  November 5
  • Cape Town, South Africa: November 24 – December 10
  • Melbourne, Australia: December 27 – January 8, 2018 (NO EXPLORATION ZONE)
  • Hong Kong: January 17 – February 1
  • Guangzhou, China: January 31 – February 5 (NO EXPLORATION ZONE)
  • Hong Kong: January 17 – February 7
  • Auckland, New Zealand: February 24 – March 18
  • Itajaí, Brazil: April 5 – April 22
  • Newport, Rhode Island: May 8 – May 20
  • Cardiff, Wales: May 27 – June 10
  • Gothenburg, Sweden: June 14 – June 21
  • The Hague, Netherlands: June 24 – June 30

 

Mark Towill and Charlie Enright tell the Vestas 11th Hour Racing story in this 2 minute 23 second video

 

# 11th Hour Racing is also providing sustainability consulting services to the Volvo Ocean Race as its Founding Principal Partner in Sustainability

 

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