The GSB Interview: Previewing the 2019 Green Sports Alliance Summit with Executive Director Roger McClendon

Philadelphia is known for its birthplaces.

Independence Hall, site of the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, is the Birthplace of America.

About three and a half miles south sits Lincoln Financial Field. In 2003 the home of the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles arguably became the Birthplace of Green-Sports. It was then that the club, under the leadership of principal owner Jeff Lurie and, in particular, minority owner Christina Weiss Lurie, launched its groundbreaking Go Green initiative.

Fast-forward 15 years and, on June 19-20, “The Linc” will play host to the ninth annual Green Sports Alliance Summit, the first under the direction of new Executive Director Roger McClendon.

With the Summit’s PLAYING FOR THE NEXT GENERATION theme as backdrop, GreenSportsBlog chatted with McClendon about his first four months on the job as well as the new programs and initiatives he and his team have in the incubator for summiteers in Philly. 

GreenSportsBlog: Roger, it’s been four months since you started as Executive Director at the Alliance and we are less than a month out from your first Summit as leader of the organization. We’ll get to that in a minute. But first, could you reflect on your tenure so far?

Roger McClendon: Lew, it’s been an exciting, productive and busy 120 days or so. We took this time to do a lot of listening. Met with our league partners in New York, spoke with teams and venues across North America, finding out what they need and think are the best ways forward. Looped in our corporate partners, board members and other stakeholders to find out if we’re delivering All-Star level value to our nearly 600 members from the pro and collegiate sports worlds.

I was impressed by the energy and ideas generated at the Alliance’s Sports & Sustainability Conference at Arizona State University in January. We most recently partnered with the Portland Trail Blazers organization and completed a successful symposium in April. Internationally, we connected with the UNFCCC, signing on to their exciting new Sports for Climate Action Framework. We’re in the infancy of an engagement with Sport and Sustainability International (SandSI) through our connection with ex-Alliance President Allen Hershkowitz, so that’s exciting too.

 

roger mcclendon suzanne

Roger McClendon (Photo credit: Suzanne McClendon)

 

GSB: That is a whirlwind four months! What have you learned?

Roger: So many things, Lew. #1. Many sports teams and vendors now believe and manage towards a triple bottom line model — people, planet, profit. #2. Teams and venues and leagues seem ready to change. #3. When sports organizations look at environmental impact, it cannot only be from a greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction standpoint. In some cases, cost reduction will take the lead role, based on an owner’s priorities, the fan base. Sometimes, a team will emphasize environmental benefit. It’s really a case-by-case basis thing.

GSB: That makes sense, even if I personally would like to see GHG reductions always be the Green-Sports hero. Widening out the lens a bit, that you’re having these fan engagement questions — what we call Green-Sports 2.0 as compared to Green-Sports 1.0, the greening of the games — represents important progress. What say you?

Roger: As we move forward with fan engagement on the environment, on climate, we have to accept that some sports fans just…don’t…care about it. Sometimes, they simply want to go to the game. What I’ve learned is that we need to listen to fans to get relevant fan/consumer insights. That feedback will show us how to communicate with fans more powerfully on environmental issues so more of them care more about it. It’s not easy and there’s not one answer. The Portland Trail Blazers and LA Kings have done some great work in getting fan feedback and enacting green-themed programs and events.

GSB: If memory serves, the last time the Alliance funded projectable, quantitative fan research was five years ago. It provided valuable insights. Will the Alliance fund new fan research in 2019 or 2020? If not, why not?

Roger: Yes, in the next year or two we plan to go deeper into the research, particularly around stadium owners/operators and what they can do to directly impact their consumers, the fans. We are likely to work with partner organizations and members to gather additional quantitative and qualitative data in years to come. Part of the challenge surrounding fan engagement is the actual measurement component. Some organizations like the Portland Trail Blazers have been tracking it via the Eco Challenge platform and others have been working to develop surveys for fans and season ticket holders about what they see value in and what’s important to them as fans. We hope to push the envelope to create different ways to track what fans are doing at home and in their communities and to determine if there is any correlation to a sports team influence, program, or initiative on the fan’s behavior. Exciting stuff, albeit challenging!

GSB: I look forward to seeing the next round of fan-based research, hopefully in 2020. Last time we talked, you said you were interested in moving to Green-Sports 3.0! What does that mean?

Roger: [LAUGHS] Hey Lew, we’re pushing the Green-Sports envelope here at the Alliance! So Green-Sports 3.0 focuses on WHAT’S NEXT; specifically how sports can help publicize and achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Not all team and league executives know the 17 SDGs exist; even fewer fans are aware. PLAYING FOR THE NEXT GENERATION, the theme for the Summit in Philadelphia, is a nod to Green-Sports 3.0 — how the movement can push the SDGs forward — while also providing us with an opportunity to celebrate the present, and the past, the folks who’ve made a difference over the past 10, 15 years.

As far as the past is concerned, it’s fitting that the Summit is being held at Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Philadelphia Eagles. The team, from owners Jeff and Christina Weiss Lurie on down, have been Green-Sports pioneers since they launched Go Green in 2003 So the Eagles will have a prominent role. In terms of the present, we will of course celebrate our annual award winners, including awarding the USTA, Billie Jean King and Lauren Tracy [the USTA’s director of strategic initiatives] with the 2019 Environmental Leadership Award — the Alliance’s highest honor.

Regarding the future and WHAT’S NEXT, young people will have a big role, in particular students from the many Philadelphia-area colleges and universities and beyond. They will get to see up close how folks in their 20s and 30s are making their marks as practitioners in various corners of the Green-Sports ecosystem. And, we are looking forward to our annual, forward-leaning Women, Sports & the Environment Symposium. This year’s WSE includes Melanie LeGrande with MLB, Jan Greenberg with MLS, Heather Vaughan with Pac-12 Conference, and the aforementioned Lauren Tracy with USTA.

But if we stopped there, that would mean we were running a “same old, same old” type of Summit. And we can’t afford to do that.

So we’re breaking the mold with many of our plenary sessions and panels, taking on topics that we’ve more or less glossed over in past years: Climate action, global income inequality, gender issues, and more.

 

Lincoln Financial Field

Solar panels cover the east wall of Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Philadelphia Eagles and site of the 2019 Green Sports Alliance Summit (Photo credit: Mark Stehle/Invision for NRG/AP Images)

 

GSB: Bravo, Roger! There’s no time to waste. As you know, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said humanity has 12 years — the length of Anaheim Angels star Mike Trout’s contract extension — to decarbonize by 45 percent in order to avoid the most calamitous consequences of climate change. In the interest of full disclosure, I am excited to be moderating a panel discussion called “Sports, Carbon and Climate.” These are the types of discussions that are necessary at Alliance Summits. What other panels and plenary sessions would you like to highlight?

Roger: We’re excited to offer our first ever environmental justice-focused main stage panel “Beyond the Ballpark: The Role of Sports in Environmental Justice Reform” featuring Alliance Board member Kunal Merchant with Lotus Advisory and Mustafa Santiago Ali, Co-Host, Hip Hop Caucus’ “Think 100% – The Coolest Show on Climate Change” and former Senior Vice President of Climate, Environmental Justice & Community Revitalization, Hip Hop Caucus.

Attendees will hear from Federico Addiechi, Head of Sustainability & Diversity at FIFA; Mike Zimmer, President of the Miami Super Bowl LIV Host Committee; and Bill Reed, Principal, Integrative Design and Regenesis. The Thought Leadership Forum is back with an impactful lineup of speakers including Elysa Hammond, VP of Environmental Stewardship at Clif Bar & Company and Jami Leveen, Director of Communications & Strategic Partnerships at Aramark.

Twelve breakout sessions will feature various topics, from the role of sport in resilience and climate preparedness, to speaking science and making climate change and sustainability relevant to fans. Check out the full program lineup on our website here.

 

Mustafa Ali Santiago

Mustafa Santiago Ali (Photo credit: Larry French/Getty Images North America)

 

 

Elysa Hammond

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

 

GSB: That’s an impressive, “break the mold” lineup. We interviewed Elysa Hammond of Clif Bar about 18 months ago — she’s terrific. See you in Philadelphia!

 

If you would like to register to attend the Green Sports Alliance Summit in Philadelphia, June 19-20, please click here.

 

 


 

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GreenSportsBlogger to Moderate “Sports, Carbon and Climate” Panel at Green Sports Alliance Summit June 19

The 2018 UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report was crystal clear: Humanity has 12 years to decarbonize by 45 percent if we are to have a reasonable chance to avoid the most calamitous effects of climate change. To put that in sports terms, we only have the length of Mike Trout’s recent mega-contract extension with the Anaheim Angels, to make these changes. 

Thus it is fitting that climate change will have a much bigger role at the 2019 Green Sports Alliance Summit than any of the organization’s previous annual gatherings. The schedule features three sessions with climate in the title and I am proud to be moderating one of them, “Sports, Carbon and Climate.” Here’s a brief preview.

 

“Sports, Carbon and Climate” will delve into the best ways for the sports world to go about reducing carbon emissions and thus climate change, while navigating the scientific, political and cultural challenges inherent in sports taking on these fights . Specifically, the panel will discuss how:

  • Carbon pricing could potentially benefit the sports industry;
  • Going carbon neutral can help teams and events engage fans to take climate action;
  • The UN’s new Sports for Climate Action initiative turn into a powerful fan engagement tool;
  • Carbon offset projects, funded by sports teams and leagues, can make a positive impact, as well as their limitations

Our All-Star panel lineup includes:

  • David Antonioli, CEO, Verra: The nonprofit develops and manages standards and frameworks to vet environmental and sustainable development efforts, build their capacity and enable funding for sustaining and scaling up their benefits. Its Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) Program is the world’s most widely used voluntary greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) reductions program.
  • Steve Hams, Director of Engagement, Business Climate Leaders (BCL): BCL is an initiative of Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL), a nonpartisan grassroots advocacy group with nearly 120,000 members in over 450 U.S. chapters. It helps American businesses understand and take action in shaping federal climate policy, with a focus on carbon pricing. Specifically, BCL encourages leaders from businesses of all sizes to endorse the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act: the first bicameral, bipartisan carbon pricing bill ever introduced in Congress.
  • Aileen McManamon, Founder and Managing Partner of 5T Sports: McManamon has been working to promote the United Nations Sports for Climate Action initiative which she co-authored. She works with sports teams and leagues on triple bottom line business operations throughout North America and Europe.
  • Kevin Wilhelm, CEO Sustainable Business Consulting: Wilhelm played a key role in the Seattle Sounders (MLS) becoming North America’s first professional sports team to achieve carbon neutrality. He is the author of four books on the environment, including the acclaimed “Making Sustainability Stick.”

 

GSA Summit

 

The ninth annual Green Sports Alliance Summit takes place at Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Philadelphia Eagles¹, June 19-20. Click here if you would like to attend.

 

¹ The aforementioned Mike Trout is from the Philadelphia area and is a die hard Eagles fan.

 


 

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Dominic Thiem, World’s 4th Ranked Tennis Player Makes His Mark as Eco-Athlete

Dominic Thiem has steadily moved towards the top of the men’s tennis rankings, currently residing at number four, just below the legendary trio of Djokovic, Nadal and Federer. Many tennis observers think that 2019 will be the year Austrian breaks through and wins his first Grand Slam tournament.

If so, casual tennis fans will learn what real aficionados already know — that Thiem is an eco-athlete.

 

DOMINIC THIEM WRITES A UNIQUE GREEN-SPORTS STORY — ON CAMERA LENSES

If you are not a serious tennis fan you might not be familiar with Dominic Thiem (pronounced TEAM).

You should be, for both on- and off-court reasons.

Thiem is currently the fourth ranked player in the men’s game, trailing only #1 Novak Djokovic, #2 Rafa Nadal, and #3 Roger Federer. And since the three legends above him are between six and twelve years his senior, Thiem is in a very promising spot.

The first part of 2019 has been very good for the 25-year-old Austrian. He won the prestigious BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells, California, beating Federer in the final. And last week, he reached the semifinals of the Mutua Madrid Open, defeating Federer in a terrific quarterfinal before falling to eventual champion Djokovic. Thiem has the all-surface game that make him a threat at the three remaining 2019 grand slam championships, starting in two weeks with the French Open at Paris’ Roland Garros.

Off the court, Thiem has become one of men’s tennis’ foremost eco-athletes, along with world #8 Kevin Anderson. Both have honed in on the plastic ocean waste issue.

Thiem supports the work of 4Ocean, a nonprofit founded by two surfers that removes plastics from the oceans and other waterways. It sustains itself by selling bracelets made from that waste. 4Ocean reports that, in just two years, they and their teams of fishermen and others, have removed over four million pounds of trash from the oceans and coastlines.

 

Dominic Thiem

Dominic Thiem, the world’s eighth ranked men’s tennis player, sports four bracelets made from ocean waste by 4Oceans (Photo credit: Polygram)

 

In addition to donning the 4Ocean bracelets, Thiem has used a yellow marker to great effect in publicizing his passion for cleaning up the oceans.

 

Dominic Thiem Play Ocean

 

Signing a television camera lens has been a thing for winners of tennis matches for the better part of two decades. The networks almost always give air time to these signatures. Thiem has taken to signing camera lenses around the world with a “Play For the Ocean” message. The image above (Photo credit: Amazon Prime) was taken immediately after he won the championship at Indian Wells.

While we don’t have TV ratings data for either tournament, it’s safe to say that the Play For The Ocean message has reached millions. That number stands to increase dramatically should Thiem make a deep run in Paris.

 

GSB’s Take: Dominic Thiem’s practice of signing “Play For The Ocean” on a TV camera after winning a match — while seeming like a small, cute thing — is actually a big deal.

Tennis is one of the world’s five most popular spectator sports so having a Top Five player make a clear, positive statement on behalf of environmental action can seep into fan consciousness. By signing “Play For The Ocean” every time he wins a match, Thiem is building frequency for his message. This is crucial for building awareness “Play For The Ocean” among tennis fans, which will ultimately help the message break through.

Hopefully, we’re not that far away from Thiem or another top player writing something like “Price Carbon” or “Act On Climate” on a camera lens after every win.

 


 

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NBA Signs On To UN’s Sports for Climate Action Framework; Who’s Got Next?

The UNFCCC’s Sports For Climate Action Framework has gotten some serious traction from the US sports world recently. Last month, the New York Yankees became the first pro sports team to sign on to the framework. And yesterday, the NBA became the first pro league to make the commitment.

 

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) announced yesterday that the NBA had become the first pro sports league in the US to sign on to its Sports for Climate Action initiative.

 

NBA UNFCCC

The UNFCCC’s tweet announcing that the NBA signed on to the Sports for Climate Action Framework

Launched in December, the Framework’s aim is to bring the sports industry’s greenhouse emissions in line with the 2015 Paris Climate Change Agreement and inspire others to take ambitious climate action.

The Framework welcomes the NBA to its impressive list of A-List early adapters, including FIFA, the IOC, Fédération Française de Tennis, FFT, and the New York Yankees. Signatories commit to support Sport for Climate Action’s five core principles:

 

  1. Undertake systematic efforts to promote greater environmental responsibility
  2. Reduce overall climate impact
  3. Educate for climate action
  4. Promote sustainable and responsible consumption
  5. Advocate for climate action through communication

With its massive global fan base and its particular popularity among millennials and Gen-Z’ers, the NBA is a terrific get for the Framework. According to the league:

  • The NBA has 150 million followers on social media
  • One billion people around the world have access to the NBA Finals
  • It is the most popular sports league in China, where over 300 million people play basketball
  • The NBA, in collaboration with FIBA, basketball’s international governing body, will launch the Basketball Africa League (BAL) in 12 countries¹ in January

Signing on to the Sports for Climate Action Framework is certainly the biggest green step taken by the league to date. Its sustainability foundation has largely been built by forward-leaning teams and a smattering of eco-athletes:

  • The Sacramento Kings’ Golden 1 Center became the world’s first arena to earn LEED Platinum certification.

 

Golden 1 Center

Golden 1 Center, LEED Platinum home of the Sacramento Kings (Photo credit: Sacramento Kings)

 

  • Portland’s Trail Blazers have hosted five “Green Games” per season at the Moda Center since 2015. The club invites its fans to take an active part in its efforts to be more environmentally conscious and to help reach a set of green goals (around energy, waste, food, water, and transportation) at the arena by 2025.
  • Malcolm Brogdon, of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals-bound Milwaukee Bucks, along with four other NBA players, launched Hoops₂O to teach East Africans to dig wells for fresh water.

 

GSB’s Take: Kudos to the NBA for joining the Sports for Climate Action Framework. Given the NBA’s brand image — cool, progressive, cutting edge — GSB will explore in the coming months if this commitment will be the beginning of a full-throated approach to the climate change fight from commissioner Adam Silver, its teams, sponsors and more of its players. I may sound like a broken record but, per the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), humanity has 12 years to cut our carbon emissions by 45 percent in order to avoid the most calamitous effects of climate change.

 

 

Adam Silver, commissioner of the NBA (Photo credit: NBA)

 

Beyond basketball, in the parlance of playground hoops, the question becomes “Who’s Got Next?” — as in which leagues and events will join the NBA in signing on to the Sports For Climate Action Framework. I am surprised the NHL, the only league to issue a sustainability report — it has done so twice — has not joined the Framework. Hopefully that will change soon. The US Tennis Association, which has a very strong greening track record, seems like a logical signee sometime before the US Open starts in August.

You may ask, “What about the NFL, MLB, and MLS?”

Great question. Whaddya say, commissioners Roger Goodell (NFL), Rob Manfred (MLB), and Don Garber (MLS)? 

 

¹ Teams from Angola, Egypt, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia expected to be represented in BAL

 


 

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Severe Flooding Forces Davenport, Iowa Minor League Baseball Club on the Road for Weeks

The historic and deadly flooding that has crippled the Midwest through the winter and into the spring, and caused billions of dollars in damage to farms and infrastructure, has forced Davenport, Iowa’s minor league baseball team to the road for most of the six week old season.

 

In “Field of Dreams,” the iconic 1989 film homage to fathers, sons and small-town baseball, the long-deceased Shoeless Joe Jackson, played by Ray Liotta, reappears in uniform on a field that’s bordered by acres of corn. Protagonist Ray Kinsella, played by Kevin Costner, an anonymous, baseball-loving farmer, had built the field in his backyard to somehow attract his deceased dad, a one-time minor leaguer, from the great beyond.

Thanks to time travel and poetic license, Shoeless Joe, two teams worth of early 20th century baseball greats, and Ray’s dad all emerged from the corn fields as young men to play a game. Kinsella and his younger-than-himself dad famously played catch and then the young-but-deceased ballplayers returned to from whence they came, walking back into the corn.

Shoeless Joe was the last to go.

Before disappearing into the corn, he famously asked Ray, “Is this heaven?”

Ray’s reply? “No, it’s Iowa”

 

 

 

QUAD CITIES RIVER BANDITS IN FIRST PLACE, DESPITE AN UN-HEAVENLY, FLOOD RAVAGED EARLY SEASON

Residents of Davenport and other sections of Eastern Iowa that abut the Mississippi River might use a descriptor other than heavenly to describe the prolonged, massive flooding that has persisted since winter.

The river’s rising waters, which are forecast to affect millions across as many as 25 states through the summer, have made it impossible for the Quad City River Bandits, Davenport’s Class A minor league baseball club affiliated with the Houston Astros, to play at home for most of the season’s first six weeks.

That the team is somehow in first place in the Midwest League’s Western Division after 30 games played mostly on the road is astounding. They’ve been Road Warriors because they can’t access their stadium as it is surrounded by water.

Modern Woodmen Park, the River Bandit’s home field, is saved from floodwaters by a levee system. It can be reached during some floods, thanks to a 21 foot high catwalk. But that was not enough to deal with the record-high water that hit 22.64 feet on May 2nd, the day after a flood wall unexpectedly broke, according to the National Weather Service.

 

River Bandits Stadium

Modern Woodmen Park and downtown Davenport is seen from the air as flood waters flowed into the city on Wednesday, May 1. A flood wall broke the day before, sending water to near record levels with little to no warning (Photo credit: Brian Powers/The Des Moines Register)

 

Per a May 4 story by Phil McCausland on nbcnews.com, that means “the players are unable to practice regularly, stadium employees have had to find other jobs and the team has known little else than the road for most of the season.”

“They have had three practices at our field,” general manager Jacqueline Holm told McCausland. “They’ve barely been on the field. It’s been difficult for them to do anything. We’ve basically had to use the team bus as a clubhouse and storage unit.”

Davenport, with a population of 103,000, has in fared better than most other towns along the Mississippi’s most flood-prone sections, thanks to a unique flood protection system.

McCausland noted that many towns along the Mississippi River have built flood walls to protect against rising waters, but Davenport has gone in a different direction for decades. Instead, it has worked to build flood-resistant buildings and created a riverwalk area around the ballpark that can accommodate the additional water. A temporary berm system can also be built when necessary.

“We have embraced the Mississippi River,” Frank Klipsch, Davenport’s mayor since 2016, said. “It has become more and more popular to take on this kind of resiliency plan because if we put up a wall, it makes it worse for communities further downriver.”

 

Image: Davenport Iowa Flooding
Ryan Lincoln maneuvers his boat through flood waters on May 2, 2019 in Davenport, Iowa (Photo credit: 
Kevin E. Schmid/Quad-City Times via Zuma Press)

 

Some unlucky business owners saw multiple feet of water flow into their restaurants and storefronts last week when a temporary levee, which had already stood for 40 days this year, suddenly broke.

This kind of flooding is not something most of the River Bandits players, most in their late teens to early 20s, could have imagined. It makes their already difficult road to reaching the major leagues even tougher.

Manager Ray Hernandez praised his young players’ resiliency and ability to maintain focus despite the challenges. But the first-year skipper admitted he didn’t have all the answers.

“Even if it was my 15th season managing, I don’t know if I would know how to handle this,” Hernandez told McCausland. “I mean, who would I even call to ask and get advice?”

 

MINOR LEAGUE SPORTS PARTICULARLY VULNERABLE TO EXTREME WEATHER

It stands to reason that minor league teams, no matter the sport, are much more susceptible to the harsh effects of extreme weather and climate change than their wealthier major league counterparts.

A number of lower division English football/soccer clubs have been buffeted by flooding in recent years. In some cases, the impacts have bordered on the existential.

Andrew Gate, writing in the April 30 issue of Ecologistcited these examples:

  • Sixth tier Gloucester City AFC have yet to have a permanent stadium after floods destroyed their former home Meadow Park in 2007. A plan was approved on May 3 to build a new venue on the same site.
  • Flooding nearly meant the end of 127-year old Tadcaster Albion, currently playing in the eighth tier, not once, but twice. Water completely submerged the club’s Ings Lane Stadium in 2015 and again this March. The club’s press officer Jay Taylor noted that the club faces an uncertain future if such flooding happens again.

 

Ings Lane

Flooding submerged Tadcaster Albion’s Ings Lane Stadium in March (Photo credit: Tadcaster Albion)

 

  • Ramsbottom United, also in the eighth tier, has had to battle back from flooding twice, in 2012 and 2015 their home was completely submerged. Club Secretary Tony Cunningham told Gate that, “In 2015, the dressing rooms, the teabar and even the elevated Sponsors Lounge were submerged. It took us well over £40,000 ($US52,010 today) to get the club back up and running.”

 

For a club in the lower reaches of English football, an unexpected £40,000 hit can be crushing. Ramsbottom United, thanks to prudent management, has been able to withstand the flood-related costs until now.

But there are no guarantees going forward.

 


 

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The GSB Interview: Chris Mazdzer, US Olympic Medal-winning Luger & Eco-Athlete

Chris Mazdzer is a true pioneer.

He became the first American male to win an Olympic medal in Single’s luge when he took home silver at the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Games. And he is leading a burgeoning movement among world class lugers to engage fans on the climate change fight.

GreenSportsBlog spoke with Mazdzer about his work on the luge track and as an environmental activist.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Chris, before we get into your very important work with your fellow lugers on the environment and on climate, I’d like to know how you got into the sport in the first place.

Chris Mazdzer: Thanks, Lew. So I grew up in Peru, New York near Lake Placid…

GSB: …Site of the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics and the “Miracle on Ice” — “Do you believe in miracles?? YES!!!!” — and one of the few places in the U.S. with a bobsled/luge run.

Chris: That would be the place. I was exposed to luge at eight years old and it was natural for me. I loved sledding — would go sledding through apple orchards for hours. Luge was like ultimate sledding for me. Anyway, I showed some talent for it at a young age. I was on a development team when I was 12; at 13, I showed enough promise that I was picked for a junior team that went to Europe for a competition.

GSB: Sliding down a sheet of ice on your back, with no protection. Yikes! I guess when you’re young, you’re more likely to be fearless, right? How come you picked luge over bobsled?

Chris: First of all there were many more kids bobsledding so there was a long line and not as many runs. Plus you’re only driving 50 percent of the time — that’s really where the action is. And luge was just SO MUCH FUN! It’s as simple as this: two runs with bobsled or ten with luge. Anyways, when I was 17, I was having a breakout season and tried out for the Olympic team for the 2006 Torino Games. I missed the last spot by 0.161 seconds total over three runs; lost out to my roommate.

GSB: You must’ve been devastated…

Chris: …Disappointed but not at all devastated. It gave me motivation and the confidence to really believe, “Hey, I can do this!” So I made the team in 2010, finishing 13th in Vancouver. Same thing happened in 2014 in Sochi. Finally, I broke through last year in Pyeongchang, winning silver

GSB …In the process, becoming the first American male luger to win a medal of any kind in singles. Congratulations! Do you compete in doubles?

 

Chris Mazdzer

Chris Mazdzer (Photo credit: USA Luge)

 

Chris: Thank you, Lew. I did doubles in juniors but ended up specializing in singles, until now that is. My goal is to give the Olympics one more shot in Beijing in 2022, both in singles and for the first time in doubles.

GSB: How about medaling in both? Not to put any pressure on you or anything like that! OK, now pivoting to the environment. How did you get involved?

Chris: I’m 30 years-old. Growing up in the Adirondacks and being involved in winter sports, I’ve seen changes to our winters just in the time that I’ve been active. From bigger thaws to more rain during winter when it would normally snow. But it’s not just in winter. I travel a lot — I was in Indonesia and saw massive amounts of plastic on the beaches, in the oceans. I live in Salt Lake City these days, and the air quality is really, really bad. I don’t need the science to tell me — it’s clear, the climate is changing, the environment is worsening and it is humans that are helping to cause these adverse effects. And studying the science only confirms this. Without a doubt.

GSB: So what did you do, what are you doing to have an impact?

Chris: Well, I started out looking to offset the carbon emissions for which I’m responsible from all my flights. But, because I fly over 150,000 miles per year, that becomes quite costly. So I try to offset at least half for now. But then I became an athlete member on the International Luge Federation (FIL), sitting on a lot of committees. And I realized this is where I could have an impact! We’re starting small, working to have reusable cups at major competitions. But then I saw a video featuring several skiers at the World Championships in Finland, talking about why they love winter and why it’s important to take action on climate to protect it. I thought to myself, ‘We could do something similar.’ People don’t believe politicians; they don’t believe scientists. Who do they trust? Their peers and athletes! Scary but true: They trust athletes more than scientists. Thing is, athletes generally don’t engage on climate. And so I aimed to change that, at least with lugers.

GSB: You’ve put yourself on the hot seat, Chris: Qualify for the Olympics and getting athletes — in this case — lugers to care about and talk about climate. How are you doing the latter?

Chris: Well, I started in January by putting together a seminar for lugers competing at the 2019 World Championships in Winterberg, Germany. I was able to secure funding from one of my personal sponsors and brought in an expert and amazing speaker, Michael Pedersen of M Inc., a leader in sport governance. Tragically and unbelievably, Michael passed away suddenly a few weeks after our event due to a heart attack. He was 43.

GSB: I heard about that. What a tragic, unfathomable loss.

Chris: It’s still hard to believe. And his presentation to our group was incredible. He shared that athletes are in a unique position, with a powerful megaphone. He showed videos of people who’ve stood up and spoken up on a variety of issues, including climate, including Greta Thunberg, the 16 year-old Swedish girl who recently was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for starting what has virally become a global student “climate strike” movement.. He did not focus on the science — the athletes are already on board there — but rather the need to use our platform to talk about the environment, whether it be climate, plastic ocean waste, pollution, etc.

 

Michael Pedersen

The late Michael Pedersen (Photo credit: M Inc.)

 

GSB: How did the lugers react and how many showed up?

Chris: Michael did such a great job — they really bought in. We had 15 lugers there. It was not as many as we would’ve liked but it was World Championship Week, the guys had to train, had media requirements so it was tough to get a bigger group. And it was a first time, so we learned a lot and am confident we’ll do better going forward.

GSB: How did you do on the track in Winterberg?

Chris: I only competed in doubles and doubles sprint this year due to a neck injury I sustained earlier in the week.  My partner Jayson Terdiman and I finished fifth in the Doubles sprint and eleventh in Doubles. Being it was our first year together I felt that we did we really well.

GSB: Good to hear. What else are you working on, sustainability-wise?

Chris: I’m working on the single use plastic issue among athletes and also with the IOC to see how they can help athletes reduce their carbon footprints. It’s a bigger issue than you might think — we get killed by some critics. Because of going from event to event all over the world, my carbon footprint is 10 to 15 times that of the average American. I think that finding creative ways to partner with the IOC, FIL and sponsors to help fund the offsetting of athlete travel-related emissions will allow athletes to stand on firmer ground when discussing this important topic.

 

Luge - Winter Olympics Day 1

Chris Mazdzer navigates Turn 14 at the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics (Photo credit: USA Luge)

 


 

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The GSB Interview: JoAnn Neale, Helping Major League Soccer Reach its Greener Goals

Welcome to Day III of GreenSportsBlog’s Earth Week extravaganza!

Click here for Monday’s brainstorm among Green-Sports luminaries to find big, “Moon Shot” ways for sports to impact the climate change fight. And click here for Tuesday’s story about the New York Yankees’ strong climate change statement.

Today we turn to Major League Soccer, which just completed its “Greener Goals Week of Service.” 

MLS’ efforts surrounding sustainability earned it the title of No. 1 most responsible football league in the world according to ResponsiBALL, an annual report ranking the most prominent soccer leagues based on actions related to community and environment.

GSB believes MLS is perfectly positioned to lead on Green-Sports. Its fan base is the youngest of the five North American major professional men’s sports leagues. Young people “get green” at far higher percentages than their older counterparts.

We spoke with JoAnn Neale, MLS President and Chief Administrative Officer, about the league’s sustainability efforts, including what’s new this season. Before that, we delved into how Neale came to her unique role as one of the most senior female executives across all major professional sports leagues.

 

GreenSportsBlog: JoAnn, I have so many things to get to — the history of Major League Soccer and its Greener Goals program, how the league can leverage green more powerfully than it has to this point, where climate change fits into the league’s green messaging. But first, how did you come to run MLS’ greening initiatives?

JoAnn Neale: I grew up on Long Island and started playing soccer when I was five years old. Playing soccer and being an athlete was a big part of my identity. I also always had a dream of being a lawyer and an intention of going into litigation.

GSB: …Saying “I object!” and “May I approach the bench?” always sounded exciting to me! Was it?

JoAnn: While at NYU Law School, I had an internship in a firm’s litigation division and realized it wasn’t for me. The idea of going to court was exciting, but the reality was most cases take years before they get to court and a heavy focus is on research.

 

JoAnn Neale1 - Primary

JoAnn Neale (Photo credit: Major League Soccer)

 

GSB: So what did you do?

JoAnn: After law school, I was fortunate to land a job at Latham & Watkins. I did transactional work and realized my love for negotiating and working with clients in a collaborative way. The concept of getting alignment from both parties and overcoming obstacles to have the same end goal was always intriguing. It was really fulfilling work.

GSB: How and when did soccer come into the picture?

JoAnn: While studying for the bar exam in law school during the summer of 1994, my friends and I would take breaks and watch the World Cup games that took place in the USA that year. It was then that the formation of Major League Soccer was announced. I recall thinking it would be interesting to be part of the creation of the league. Ultimately, two lawyers at Latham & Watkins were involved with the founding of MLS. Fast forward a couple years and a friend of mine had gone to work at the league. Two months later, she said there was an opening in the law department and I joined in 1998.

GSB: What did your friends and family say? Going from a big firm to a new soccer league?

JoAnn: People said, “You’re crazy!” and ‘Why would you want to do THAT?!’ But it felt right and it was.

GSB: It must’ve been very exciting being at what was essentially a startup. What was your role in those early days?

JoAnn: The first four-to-six years I primarily did legal work. After that, I expanded into other areas like Human Resources and projects like spearheading a team responsible for all the logistics of moving MLS to our current headquarters in Manhattan.

In 2006, the executive team discussed the need for creating a social responsibility platform. We believed it was important to give back to the communities in which we live and play our games, as well as to our fans. I raised my hand and said I would like to lead the charge in developing the platform. MLS WORKS launched in 2007.

GSB: Congratulations! What is MLS WORKS’ mission?

JoAnn: MLS is dedicated to using soccer as a vehicle for positive social change. Through MLS WORKS, MLS and its clubs seek to enrich the lives of those in need across the United States and Canada.

From executing national programs and legacy projects, to charitable giving campaigns, MLS creates sustainable communities and promotes inclusion at all levels of the game. MLS WORKS has a strategic four-pillar approach to corporate social responsibility.

  • Soccer For All – This signifies that everyone is welcome to MLS, regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, gender, gender identity, disability, sexual orientation or socioeconomic status.
  • Youth Enrichment – This includes our work with the U.S. Soccer Foundation to build soccer pitches in inner cities.
  • Kick Childhood Cancer – The league “goes gold” throughout the month as part of the Kick Childhood Cancer campaign to raise awareness and funds for Children’s Oncology Group.
  • Greener Goals – The initiative kicks off this week with the Fourth Annual Greener Goals Week of Service leading into Earth Day weekend.

 

GSB: Not surprisingly, I’d like to hear more about Greener Goals. What kinds of programs are under that heading?

JoAnn: MLS has committed to measure, reduce and offset the league’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and promote healthy, sustainable communities throughout the United States and Canada, and areas in need throughout the rest of the world. Our clubs activate in different ways. Some have been heavily focusing on reducing food waste, others on raising awareness around plastic pollution, others on recycling, etc.

GSB: Can you share some examples?

JoAnn: Of course! On food waste, Sporting Kansas City provides fans with easy-to-implement tips on reducing food waste. Orlando City SC is partnering with the city of Orlando to deliver food waste to an energy/fertilizer plant at Walt Disney World. Seattle Sounders FC use compost from CenturyLink Field to grow vegetables at a nearby farm. On plastic waste, FC Cincinnati

GSB: …The league’s newest expansion team…

JoAnn: That’s right. The club worked with Newport Aquarium to drive awareness, attention and action around Earth Day. Fans bring single-use plastic bags to the team’s matches and the Newport Aquarium where collections will be taken on-site. On Earth Day, a special event was hosted to demonstrate the impact the bag collection will have on local Cincinnati-area waterways and its wildlife, and at a larger scale in oceans. Students at local schools and after-school programs will help repurpose the bags into useful items, including sleeping mats for the area’s homeless community.

 

IMG_1887a

FC Cincinnati’s Emmanuel Ledesma (l) and Greg Garza show off their new reusable bags created using recycled plastic bags at the Newport Aquarium (Photo credit: FC Cincinnati)

 

On energy, Real Salt Lake has a 2020-kilowatt (kWh) solar panel system at Rio Tinto Stadium which offsets approximately 73 percent of the organization’s total annual stadium power needs.

GSB: I knew about their solar installation but I didn’t know it offset such a high percentage. That’s great news. The Seattle Sounders recently committed to go carbon neutral. What does that mean exactly?

JoAnn: You’re right. The Sounders are the first professional soccer team in North America to go carbon neutral. The club worked with Seattle-based Sustainable Business Consulting to calculate its greenhouse gas emissions and develop plans to reduce its impacts where possible. For sources unable to be eliminated – such as team travel for matches, scouting and other business – Sounders FC is offsetting the club’s emissions through the Evergreen Carbon Capture (ECC) program of Forterra, a nonprofit that works for regional sustainability. Using the club’s contribution to ECC, Forterra and its partner DIRT Corps are joining with the team and its fans to plant hundreds of trees in a part of the region that needs added tree cover.

GSB: That’s impressive, JoAnn. I know the league is also involved in carbon offsetting as part of Greener Goals. What emissions is MLS offsetting and what kind of offsets did the league purchase?

JoAnn: Well, first I want to thank Allen Hershkowitz

GSB: …Environmental Science Advisor for the New York Yankees…

JoAnn: …and also Doug Behar, VP of Operations with the Yankees. They shared the offset program the Yanks embarked upon and we said, “MLS has to be involved!” So we started by offsetting emissions, including executive travel, surrounding the MLS All-Star Game. It was fitting that the 2018 All-Star Game was played at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, a venue that is LEED Platinum. In 2018 MLS compensated 5,400 tons of CO2 equivalent associated with hotel accommodations, ground transportation, staff, player, executive and MLS guest travel, and stadium operations as part of MLS All-Star Week and MLS Cup in Atlanta, in addition to player travel during the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs

To date, MLS’ investment has created tangible, constructive impacts for local communities that were generated by the distribution of 4,407 improved cook stoves in rural communities in Kenya. As of October 2018, the use of these cook stoves are estimated to have positively impacted the lives and wellbeing of 15,000 women and children.

 

GreenDayMariettaSixthGradeAcademy_0031a

Mercedes Benz Stadium, the first LEED Platinum football stadium in the USA, hosted 60 Marietta Middle School students for the stadium’s first sustainability tour in which the students learned about the venue’s greenness. In conjunction with the tour, Atlanta United’s players helped educate students about sustainable food choices, healthy eating and the environmental impact of locally sourced foods, followed by a taste test competition. Here Atlanta United goalkeeper Alec Kann serves up some of the tasty dish he cooked up (Photo credit: Atlanta United)

 

GSB: That’s important work. How did you communicate the Greener Goals expansion to MLS fans? Did you air PSAs in stadium and/or on TV broadcasts?

JoAnn: Social media was big for us — Facebook and Twitter in particular. Our Greener Goals messaging focuses on what MLS and our clubs are doing in or near the stadiums and in the communities that our teams play. Our Greener Goals PSAs focus on what we’re doing in or near the stadiums from an environmental perspective.

GSB: Really? I think the carbon-offsets-cookstoves project would make for a great PSA. Beyond the offsets, how else has MLS expanded Greener Goals?

JoAnn: All 24 MLS clubs wore special adidas-Parley eco-friendly kits over Earth Day weekend. These innovative uniforms are made with Climalite technology and built of technical yarns created with Parley Ocean Plastic™, made from up-cycled marine plastic waste, as a part of the global adidas x Parley initiative. The collaboration with adidas to support Parley for the Oceans also serves to encourage fans to decrease their use of single-use plastics and reinforcing the importance of changing human attitude and behavior towards plastic pollution.

 

Parley Timbers

The Portland Timbers version of the adidas Parley for the Oceans eco-friendly jerseys worn by all MLS players over Earth Day weekend (Photo credit: MLS)

 

GSB: Love that program — but why only use the Parley uniforms during Earth Week? Couldn’t all teams use Parley unis all the time?

JoAnn: Great question, Lew. We’re exploring that option.

GSB: Good to hear. I have one last question: Does MLS include climate change in its Greener Goals messaging?

JoAnn: Not yet. MLS does not want to get into a political debate on climate change. Rather, we want to focus our efforts on improving lives by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, increasing recycling, and more.

GSB: I think MLS is missing an opportunity by not directly talking about climate change with its fans. As discussed earlier, the demographic groups that make up the MLS fan base — Millennials, Gen-Zers, Hispanics — are also demanding real action on climate. My bet is that MLS fans would reward the league for linking its Greener Goals program to the climate change fight.

 


 

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Yankees Sign On To UN Sports for Climate Action Framework; Strongest Public Commitment to Climate Change Fight Among North American Pro Sports Teams

The Yankees’ announced today they have added their name to the UN Sports for Climate Action Framework, making them the first North American professional sports team to do so. The groundbreaking move by the Bronx Bombers drew praise from the UN Secretary-General António Guterres. 

 

The New York Yankees are off to a middling start on the field in 2019, with a 2-3 record after last night’s 3-1 loss to Detroit¹ but, from a Green-Sports perspective, the team is leading the field.

The 27-time World Champions today became the first major North American sports team to sign on to the UN Sports for Climate Action Framework. Launched by UN Climate Change in December, the Framework’s aim is to bring the sports industry’s greenhouse emissions in line with the Paris Climate Change Agreement and inspire others to take ambitious climate action.

 

Yankee Stadium II

Yankee Stadium (Photo credit: New York Yankees)

 

Before I go on to the rest of the story, just pause and let the following sink in:

The New York Yankees, the most storied and successful franchise in North American sports history, just made a clear, definitive, public commitment in support of the climate change fight.

Allen Hershkowitz, the Yankees’ newly-minted Environmental Science Advisor and Chairman of Sport and Sustainability International (SandSI), framed the organization’s climate promises this way: “This announcement by the Yankees, due to their powerful, iconic brand, has the chance to change cultural assumptions about sports and climate action. The organization, from the top down, recognizes they, the sports world more broadly, and all of humanity, are facing a global climate crisis. The hope is that, if the Yankees can do this, other teams across all sports — many of which have taken similar actions — will feel emboldened to make their own commitments to the Framework.”

And those pledges have real teeth.

In addition to the GHG reduction and offsetting guarantees, the Yankees and the other signatories to the Framework, have promised to support the following principles:

  • Undertake systematic efforts to promote greater environmental responsibility
  • Reduce overall climate impact
  • Educate for climate action
  • Promote sustainable and responsible consumption
  • Advocate for climate action through communication

 

YANKEES JOIN GLOBAL ALL-STAR TEAM OF SPORTS ORGANIZATIONS JOINING THE FRAMEWORK

The Yankees have been at the cutting edge of Green-Sports since moving into the current iteration of Yankee Stadium in 2009. From attaining Zero-Waste status (i.e. diverting 90 percent or more of waste from landfill via recycling, composting and other methods) to funding the distribution of clean burning cookstoves to women in East Africa that will help public health while reducing carbon emissions, and much more, the Yankees have already started down the path to reaching their Framework commitments.

The organization joins numerous prominent international high profile sports organizations committed to the Framework, including the International Olympic Committee, FIFA, the French Tennis Federation-Roland Garros, Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics, Paris 2024 Summer Olympics, 2021 Rugby League World Cup, Formula E, and others.

“The New York Yankees are proud to support the United Nations Sports for Climate Action Framework,” said Yankees’ Principal Owner and Managing General Partner Hal Steinbrenner in a press release. “For many years, the Yankees have been implementing the type of climate action now enshrined in the Sports for Climate Action principles, and with this pledge the Yankees commit to continue to work collaboratively with our  sponsors, fans and other relevant stakeholders to implement the UN’s climate action agenda in sports.”

 

UN SECRETARY-GENERAL SOUNDS LIKE A YANKEES FAN — AT LEAST FROM A GREEN-SPORTS PERSPECTIVE

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres recognized the importance of having a team as prominent and influential as the Yankees endorse the Sports for Climate Action Framework.

 

Antonio Guterres

UN Secretary-General António Guterres (Photo credit: Forbes)

“I welcome the announcement by the New York Yankees to join Sports for Climate Action,” Mr. Guterres said. “With their rich winning tradition, the Yankees bring a new level of leadership to global efforts to tackle climate change. When it comes to safeguarding our future, it’s time to play ball.”

 

GSB’s Take: I am particularly proud to be a lifelong Yankees fan today. Kudos to team management, from Hal Steinbrenner on down, for moving to become the first North American professional sports franchise to sign on to the UN Sports for Climate Action Framework. Because of the competitive nature of pro sports, I expect other MLB teams to follow suit and for teams in other sports to do so as well. I will be interested to see how the Yankees communicate this commitment to their fans, both at the ballpark and those who follow the team on TV, online and elsewhere.

 

¹ It’s early!

 


 

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GSB News and Notes: Brewers’ Pitcher Brent Suter Launches Strikeout Waste; Winnipeg Jets Go Green

In today’s TGIF GSB News & Notes:

  • Eco-athlete and Milwaukee Brewers’ pitcher Brent Suter launches Strikeout Waste to encourage major league ballplayers and their fans to switch to resusable water bottles

  • The NHL’s Winnipeg Jets hosted their second annual Go Green Night, with a climate change nonprofit showing fans — via tabling on the arena’s concourses — how they can engage on the issue.

 

BRENT SUTER LOOKS TO STRIKEOUT WASTE BY RIDDING BREWERS OF ONE-TIME USE PLASTIC WATER BOTTLES

Twenty-nine year-old Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Brent Suter has more free time than usual this spring training as he is rehabbing from Tommy John arm surgery. And the eco-athlete is taking advantage of it, last month launching Strikeout Waste — an initiative designed to drastically reduce usage of plastic, one-time-use water bottles by Brewers players and staff — with his cousin Lauren Burke.

 

Suter Instagram

Brent Suter announced the launch of #StrikeOutWaste on Instagram in February

 

The Harvard grad is two thirds of the way through the year-long rehab process. If there are no major setbacks — Suter says he feels great and should be throwing off a pitcher’s mound soon — Brewers’ fans can expect to see the lefty back on a major league mound sometime in July, as the pennant race starts to heat up. 

In the meantime, Suter and Burke are working to move Strikeout Waste from the drawing board to the dugout. The goal is to show fans that, if their favorite players and teams can reduce plastic waste, so can they.

“Think about a baseball TV broadcast immediately after the game’s final out,” offered Suter. “There’s always a shot of the players heading from the dugout to the clubhouse, with empty plastic water bottles strewn all over the place. This is not a good look, to say the least. So we aim to change the look along with player and fan behavior with Strikeout Waste.”

The idea for Strikeout Waste began to percolate between the cousins two and a half years ago but Suter’s main focus was on making the Brewers and, once he did, sticking with the big club. With more free time since his injury and subsequent surgery last summer, Suter started to take eco-action.

“We thought going with reusable water bottles would work on several levels,” Suter recalled. “It’s something everybody can do to save a lot of plastic waste. Fans can easily relate to it. And it shouldn’t be that hard to change players’ and fans’ behaviors, ideally taking most people just a few days to get used to using a reusable water bottle and have it become like an appendage.” 

Suter and Burke engaged Chicago-based LW Branding to help them flesh out the concept during the offseason. Then, at the start of spring training, they created a partnership with Suter’s favorite water bottle brand and had reusable bottles shipped to the spring facility. 

“We ended up choosing a bottle from Zulu Athletic,” reported Suter. “It’s made out of high-quality glass that is also hard to break, with a pop-off lid perfect for frequent use in the dugout, clubhouse and everywhere else.”

The duo is starting small — Suter distributed about 100 total bottles from several test vendors during the early part of spring training to eager Brewers players and staff and he expects his first order of 100 Zulu Athletic bottles to arrive in the next week so the rest of the organization has them — but they have big plans.

 

Suter Murph H2O Bottles

Milwaukee Brewers bench coach Pat Murphy holds a water bottle, surrounded by Brent Suter (2nd from left) and other members of the ball club (Photo credit: Brent Suter, Milwaukee Brewers)

 

“Since I will still be rehabbing here in Arizona once spring training ends next week, I am going to try spreading the campaign to the Arizona Diamondbacks through shortstop Nick Ahmed, who is already into it!” Suter said. “Cincinnati Reds second baseman Scooter Gennett is another guy who I am confident will advocate for it.”

Suter’s and Burke’s plans go beyond baseball — they can envision a Slam Dunk Waste for the NBA, a Sack Waste for the NFL. You get the idea.

Brent Suter gets the last word: “We need to show fans that their favorite athletes care about about plastic waste, climate change and the environment more broadly. Some portion of those fans will take positive environmental action. Of that I have no doubt.”

 

WINNIPEG JETS INVITE CLIMATE CHANGE-FIGHTING NONPROFIT TO CONNECT WITH FANS AT GO GREEN NIGHT

“Green Games” are rapidly becoming commonplace among a wide swath of North American pro and college teams, a sure sign that Green-Sports 2.0 — i.e. fan engagement — is here.

So I wasn’t all that excited when the news that the Winnipeg Jets hosted their second annual Go Green Night at Bell MTS Place last Thursday came across my transom. Don’t get me wrong: I’m glad the Jets are having Go Green Night — it’s just that it didn’t seem that newsy anymore.

 

MTS Place

MTS Place, home of the Winnipeg Jets, hosted its second Go Green Night last week (Photo credit: Winnipeg Jets)

 

I was wrong.

That is because the Jets invited Climate Change Connection (CCC), a program of the Manitoba Eco Network, to interact with fans in the arena’s concourses during the Green Game. CCC’s mission is to make Manitobans aware of the facts surrounding climate change and to inspire them to take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to build climate resilient communities. The organization promoted ways for Jets fans to act on climate, and provided easy-to-digest information on how to go about it. 

 

Winnipeg Jets Go Green Game

 

Of course, you may ask, “Lew, the Jets Green Game partnership with CCC doesn’t sound unique. Why are you so excited about it?”

I am excited because True North Sports & Entertainment, the owner of the Jets and MTS Place felt comfortable having an organization called Climate Change Connection interact with its fans in a very public way.

Since the Green-Sports movement’s beginnings around 15 years ago, teams and leagues have done a terrific job greening the games, from improving energy efficiency to on-site renewables, to much, much more. But they didn’t communicate about their greening initiatives much to their fans during this Green-Sports 1.0 era. Climate change? It was mentioned rarely.

We are in the early days of the movement’s fan engagement-focused 2.0 iteration. This era is unfolding in the same time period as the release of a devastating report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It asserted that humanity has 12-15 years to decarbonize significantly if it is to avoid the most calamitous effects of climate change. With that as backdrop, it says here that the sports world can no longer afford to play it coy when it comes to talking about climate change.

This does not mean fans should be bludgeoned by climate change. After all, they’re at the arena or stadium to enjoy a game.

But there’s a great deal of space between bludgeoning and saying nothing.

Climate change-themed public service announcements on the scoreboard here and there wouldn’t hurt.

Nor would having a group called Climate Change Connection interact with hockey fans at an arena concourse.

 


 

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Tommy Caldwell and Other Elite Rock Climbers Team Up to Fight Climate with POW Climb

A group of the top U.S. rock climbers who are also concerned about climate change have worked with Protect Our Winters to launch POW Climb, a new division that will focus on engaging the climbing community to join the climate fight.

GreenSportsBlog spoke with elite professional climber Tommy Caldwell to find out how he came to support POW and POW Climb as well as what he hopes will result from his efforts.

 

“It’s time to give the climbing community a platform to speak up about climate change.”

So said Tommy Caldwell regarding Monday’s launch of POW Climb, a new division of the Protect Our Winters’ (POW) Alliance.

Protect Our Winters turns passionate outdoor and winter sports enthusiasts of all levels into effective climate advocates. The Alliance is POW’s community of elite athletes (skiers, snowboarders and more), thought leaders and forward-thinking business leaders working to affect systemic political solutions to climate change.

One of the top professional climbers in the U.S., Caldwell joins fellow climbers and Alliance members Conrad Anker, Adrian Ballinger, Emily Harrington, Angela Hawse, Beth Rodden, Matt Segal, and Graham Zimmerman as charter members of POW Climb.

 

LIFELONG CLIMBER AND ENVIRONMENTALIST SEES THE EFFECTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE 

That Northern Colorado native Tommy Caldwell is a world class climber and an up-and-coming climate change fighting eco-athlete would surprise absolutely no one once they learned the outlines of his story.

“I grew up climbing in Rocky Mountain National Park,” Caldwell recounted. “My dad, who taught during the school year, was a mountain guide there. We climbed every weekend. I was climbing in Yosemite when I was three years old. In my teens, I climbed in the Alps and Bolivia. Of course this meant I was in nature all the time and developed a deep passion and appreciation for it.”

 

Tommy Caldwell

Tommy Caldwell of POW Climb ascends the Dawn Wall of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park (Photo credit: Brett Lowell/Red Bull Media House)

 

Rock climbing globally for more than three decades means Caldwell has experienced the impacts of climate change up close.

“I’ve been climbing in the Argentine part of Patagonia since my early twenties,” Caldwell recalled. “You can’t miss or doubt climate change when you go there over a period time. There’s one incredible mountain, Aguja Poincenot, its east face is accessible only by traversing a glacier. Or, should I say was accessible. Fellow climber Topher Donahue told me the glacier was passable in the 80s and up through part of the 90s. By the time I first visited there in 2003, the glaciers had receded and broken up to the point where crevasses blocked the passage. The beautiful approach from the east is now virtually inaccessible.”

 

Aguja Poincenot

The lower east face of Aguja Poincenot in the Argentine section of Patagonia is now virtually inaccessible to climbers. (Photo credit: Elvis Acevedo)

 

Sadly, reported Caldwell, the weight of climate change’s impacts is heavier on mountains that are still being climbed: “Now, in some parts of Patagonia, virtually when there’s a good weather window for climbing, someone dies. That’s because the mountains are thawing for the first time since climbers started visiting the area. Rocks loosen and ultimately fall. Death from sporadic rock fall is becoming common. I question weather I should climb in those mountains anymore — hey, I have kids now.”

 

ON BECOMING A CLIMATE CHANGE FIGHTER AND PART OF POW CLIMB

Patagonia played a key role in Caldwell joining the climate change fight.

Patagonia the outdoor apparel company, that is.

“I got into climate activism when I became an Ambassador for Patagonia, a sponsor of mine,” said Caldwell. “Then, as a board member of the Access Fund, the advocacy organization for climbing, I got into lobbying in DC on climate change as well as other issues that are clearly important to climbers. In fact, my Access Fund colleagues and I lobbied, through our ‘Climb The Hill’ initiative, on behalf of the bipartisan Land and Water Conservation Fund Act which became law as part of a bigger bill that was signed by the President on Tuesday.”

Caldwell, who was featured in the must-see “Free Solo,” which won the Academy Award last month for Best Documentary, sees POW Climb as the next step in his climb up the climate change activism mountain, with the next challenge being carbon pricing.

“POW reached out to me a few months ago. I then went to an Alliance athlete training, heard from the scientists, saw their legislative and electoral strategies and I was all in. I’m excited to push on carbon pricing and to help elect candidates who will support it and other climate change fighting actions. Now is the time.”

 


 

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