Allen Hershkowitz Urges US Pro Sports Leagues to Measure, Reduce Carbon Footprint

When Dr. Allen Hershkowitz talks, people across the sports world, green and otherwise, listen. Having created the greening programs at MLB, NBA, NHL, the USTA, and co-founded and served as President of the Green Sports Alliance, it is no exaggeration to say that Hershkowitz is the most consequential environmentalist in the history of North American sports. Hershkowitz is now globalizing his scope of influence as he helps develop Sustainability and Sports International (SandSI). So his recent column that ran Monday, March 20th in Sports Business Journal (SBJ), urging stronger sustainability leadership from the North American professional sports world, and urging the leadership of pro-sports leagues to begin accounting for their carbon footprint, well, to quote Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire, “attention must be paid.” GreenSportsBlog spoke with Hershkowitz about the story, its timing and where we go from here.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Allen, congratulations on your important column for Sports Business Journal (to read it, click HERE). Since you have helped create the Green-Sports movement from the beginning, both at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and at the Green Sports Alliance, and given your leadership role in helping to create the greening programs at MLB, NHL, NASCAR, NBA and the USTA, going public to urge the major sports leagues in North America to measure their carbon footprints in your SBJ column is big. Of course, the NHL has measured its carbon footprint since 2014, so I take it your statement is meant for everyone else. What made you go public now?

Allen Hershkowitz: Well, Lew, I don’t want to be melodramatic, but as a scientist who has devoted his career to studying resource consumption, pollution and sustainability for more than 35 years, I have no choice but to conclude that our planet is facing greater environmental threats than at any time in modern history…

Allen Hershkowitz J. Henry Fair

Allen Hershkowitz (Photo credit: J. Henry Fair)

 

GSB: …But certainly the climate crisis and other environmental calamities aren’t new. So why now? Is this a reaction to the Trump Administration’s rabidly anti-environment, anti-climate initiatives and proposals?

AH:  No, not really. I would’ve written this now even had Hillary Clinton won the 2016 election. The main reason for the timing is that the most recent available information, from global surface temperature—the highest in recorded history—to ocean temperature to ocean acidification to polar ice loss to species loss, clearly shows that the climate crisis and its effects are worsening at an accelerating pace. Projections are such that, if present trends continue, more than one billion people will become climate refugees by 2050…

GSB: …And there are perhaps millions of climate refugees right now. There is peer-reviewed data that ascribes some portion of the severe Syrian drought to climate change. That drought forced many rural Syrians, who could no longer work in agriculture, into the cities, and thus helped ignite the civil war and subsequent refugee tragedy.

AH: Weather extremes are certainly threatening water availability, and food production and that leads to mass dislocations and conflict, as in Syria. And this crisis goes far beyond humans. Species continue to disappear at unprecedented rates, including many that are sports team mascots. Our grandchildren may never get a chance to see tigers or polar bears, except in photographs and documentaries. These problems are happening, and, as I said before, now we know they’re happening at a faster, downright scarier pace than we thought. The climate change-caused death of the Great Barrier Reef off of Australia was expected to happen 30 years from now. It’s happening now. This is what prompted my column now, regardless of who is in the White House.

“Drought, Water, War and Climate Change,” a 5 minute 42 second video from the Yale Climate Connections group, connects the Syrian refugee crisis to climate change.

 

GSB: I get that. But I gotta believe that the utter disregard President Trump, EPA Administrator Pruitt and their team are showing to climate change and the environment more broadly added a bit of urgency. Heck, the second paragraph of your piece goes right after the President’s plans for the EPA:

“If President Trump’s proposed budget is enacted, EPA funding will be reduced by 20% (amended to 31%), to about $6 billion, distinguishing the United States in 2017 as the only industrialized nation on Earth with a national policy committed to reducing the financial and scientific resources needed to address worsening climate change.”

 

AH: Look, I know that what is happening and what is likely to happen in Washington DC in the months to come threatens to undermine so much of the progress we have made collectively on climate and the broader sustainability agenda over the last few decades. It is profoundly disheartening. And I don’t say this as a partisan. I say this as a scientist and as someone who is grounded in reality. And the reality is this: Scott Pruitt, the new administrator of the EPA, has publicly rejected the broad scientific consensus on the human causality of climate change. When he was Attorney General in Oklahoma, Pruitt sued the very agency he is now charged with running on more than a dozen occasions.  His appointment could well undermine the agency’s core air and water protection programs‎, which have enjoyed bipartisan support over the years.

GSB: So how have the commissioners and other high level executives at the leagues—folks with whom you’ve worked for years, whose trust you’ve earned, reacted to your article and to your concerns about the direction of the Administration?

AH: I have always spoken respectfully and factually to my good friends at the leagues. As I didn’t want there to be any surprises, I showed my league contacts an early draft of the SBJ piece.

GSB: What did they think?

AH: Overall, they were positive, and although there were some suggestions to “tone it down,” the basic thrust of the final product was the same as the first draft. Let me put it to you this way: None of my friends at the leagues told me not to publish this.

GSB: That’s good to hear. And what about your thoughts on the Administration? I know you’ve strived hard to stay out of partisan politics and I am sure the leagues appreciate that. But how do you stay neutral on the politics with them?

AH: The leaders of these leagues understand there is just no denying that the current White House and EPA statements on climate change and related subjects have ‎caused consternation in many quarters of the nation, in the scientific community and in capitals around the world. They also understand that this President has started the process of rolling back important fuel efficiency standards and repealing or significantly weakening the Endangered Species Act, which has over the years been a force for rescuing dozens of critters from extinction, including many of the animals that serve as sports team mascots. I am certain the sustainability leaders at all the leagues understand he is misleading the American public on this issue, divisibly and dangerously so.

GSB: That’s good to hear. So how are the leagues reacting to your appeal for carbon footprint accounting?

AH: It’s a process. One reason the leagues, aside from the NHL and Gary Bettman, haven’t been as aggressive on carbon accounting as I would’ve hoped is that the environmental priorities in the US, from a governmental perspective, are relatively weak as compared to, say, Europe. And this was the case before Trump, and even despite the positive strides made by his predecessor.

GSB: That’s interesting…I know that there is a much broader acceptance of climate change in Europe than there is here, and that European governments, in most cases, have stronger, clearer rules on environmental issues than does the US. But do those rules affect sports in Europe?

AH: Absolutely. In many European countries, government agencies regulate sports more aggressively than in the US or Canada. Carbon accounting is an accepted practice there. Thus, the European sports world is already working in an environment, pun intended, where the rules, the norms are clearly more eco-friendly than here in the US. The French Ministry of Sport has been very keen on pushing its Federations (i.e. basketball, swimming, tennis, etc.) to measure their carbon footprint. In fact, 22 sports federations France came together to work towards science-based carbon reduction targets. And some of the major French sports events, starting back in 2007 with the Rugby World Cup and, more recently, the French Open at Roland-Garros and the UEFA EURO 2016, measure their carbon footprint and work towards reductions. France has implemented a platform, Auto Diagnostic Environnemental pour les Responsables d’Evénements,” or ADERE, that allows each organizer to measure roughly their environmental impact and self-discipline themselves to improve from year to year.

GSB: We need to be modeling what the French are doing…

AH: Exactly. And that’s what I am telling the leagues. And, as has been the case for the last decade or more, they listen. Step 1 for the leagues was to acknowledge the reality of human-caused climate change. The NHL, MLB, the NBA all submitted comments to Congress on this issue a number of years ago.

potus

Gary Bettman (l), commissioner of the NHL, the first league to issue a sustainability report. Commissioner Bettman and other sports commissioners have publicly acknowledged climate change.  (Photo credit: TMZ)

 

GSB: What about Roger Goodell and the NFL? They’ve been very quiet on this issue.

AH: They have, but Goodell did state publicly at a Beyond Sport United conference at Yankee Stadium a couple years ago that climate change is real. And Brian France at NASCAR has also publicly acknowledged the importance of this issue. Step 2 was to get sports to measure its energy use. This happened gradually across most North American sports leagues starting in around 2010, taking about 5-6 years. Now is the time for Step 3: to speak about climate change and to measure carbon…

GSB: Because what gets measured gets managed. And what gets managed matters.

AH: Yes! And the leagues are actually in a strong position to speak up and take action. The Scott Pruitts of the world, the James Inhofes of the world…

GSB: …Inhofe being the climate change denying senator from Oklahoma who famously brought a snowball into the senate chamber to demonstrate that climate change isn’t happening. Nice.

Inhofe

US Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) gets ready to throw a snowball fastball in the senate chamber in February, 2015. He brought a snowball into the senate to somehow cast doubt on the reality of climate change. No words. (Photo credit: Huffington Post)

 

AH: Those people can attack science but they can’t attack Major League Baseball, they can’t attack the NHL, they can’t attack NASCAR, whose Chairman of the Board Brian France, has publicly acknowledged the importance of addressing climate change. So now is the time, as I say in the article, for the leagues to calculate carbon emissions, develop a multiyear action plan to reduce carbon emissions, set meaningful, “science-based carbon reduction targets” (at least a 20 percent reduction in the next five to eight years) and aim for net zero carbon emissions from league and team operations, travel, and procurement within the next 20 years, and finally, communicate and inspire fans to do the same.

GSB: Amen! This is exactly what I’ve been urging all along, why I write GreenSportsBlog: To get the powers that be in sports to use their incredible megaphone to drive action on climate among all stakeholders. And that sports, with its ethos of overcoming obstacles, is uniquely well-positioned to do this.

AH: I agree, Lew. And, taking a look back over the last decade or so, the American professional sports world has come a long way. The leagues and many teams have cut energy usage substantially, made their supply chains more sustainable by purchasing recycled products, and they have taken important steps to educate millions of fans. I can’t tell you how proud I am of what we have undertaken together and what the leagues have accomplished in recent years to begin shifting the entire sports culture in a more sustainable, sensible direction. And showing courage by speaking out on what might be a controversial topic today is something sports has done for the last 75+ years. From Jackie Robinson and baseball’s color barrier, to Billie Jean King and equal rights and homophobia, sports has often led culture and politics in the US. It can do so on climate by taking the next step: Measuring carbon and speaking out for positive climate action.


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GSB News and Notes: Arsenal Signs Solar Power Deal; Swiss Ski Industry Imperiled by Climate Change

GreenSportsBlog offers up a European News & Notes: Arsenal, historically, one of England’s winningest soccer clubs, signed a deal to power their London stadium with solar power, and almost immediately began encouraging its fans to sign up for clean energy. Swiss ski resorts could see a 70 percent drop in snow cover as a result of climate change. 

 

ARSENAL PARTNERS WITH OCTOPUS ENERGY TO POWER STADIUM WITH SOLAR; ENCOURAGE FANS TO DO SO AT HOME

Earlier this season, perennial Premier League contender (this season? Not so much) Arsenal announced that Octopus Energy had signed on as their official energy partner. London-based Octopus, with over 220 solar farms, is the UK’s largest investor in solar. In fact, it is responsible for 40 percent of Britain’s large scale solar power. 

The partnership will help the club reach their sustainability targets, including helping to power the Emirates Stadium in North London using its solar resources. This is great, and typical of clean energy sponsorships at stadiums and arenas. 

But the Octopus-Arsenal deal goes beyond the typical to embrace classic (green) sports, loyalty marketing tactics. Arsenal fans who sign up with Octopus have the chance to win cool prizes, including behind the scenes VIP stadium tours, signed Arsenal shirts and autographed Arsenal footballs. And they are being offered the same clean energy rates for their homes as the club pays to power The Emirates. This represents a significant discount vs. the open or standard consumer price.

Given the incredible, hyper-local loyalty Premier League fans have for their clubs (the closest thing to it in US sports is the religious zeal of SEC college football fans), rewarding fans with Arsenal swag for making a choice for clean energy is a powerful (pun intended) way to go.

A great example of this is Kester (last name withheld for privacy reasons), winner of the Month for February of Octopus Energy’s Arsenal fan drawing. Per an interview on the Octopus website, Arsenal is clearly in his blood: “I’ve been supporting Arsenal my whole life. Ever since I was 4 years old, when I went down to Highbury^ for my first game. I’ve been hooked ever since. My family has supported Arsenal for decades”

Arsenal Octopus Feb Winner

Kester switched to Octopus Energy’s clean energy supply and, in the process, won this Arsenal jersey. (Photo credit: Octopus Energy)

 

The connection to his favorite football club made the difference for Kester when he went shopping for an energy provider: “I wanted to move energy providers, and I was on a comparison site looking for a green energy plan when I stumbled upon Octopus Energy. After a bit of research, I noticed on the Arsenal website that you guys had signed a deal to give fans their own energy plan, so I signed up. The Arsenal partnership was great as it meant I could support the club, and also be entered into the monthly prize draws.”

Octopus Energy will also have signage and other branding at all Premier League and FA Cup matches played at The Emirates as well as hospitality on some match days. In addition, they will be able to access Arsenal’s digital channels and run promotions featuring the club’s stars.

Arsenal Players

Arsenal players promote the club’s partnership with Octopus Energy, the UK’s largest investor in solar power. (Photo credit: Arsenal F.C.)

 

As a New York City-based fan of North London rival Tottenham Hotspur, it burns me up that Arsenal have beaten Spurs to the Green-Sports/clean energy punch. But, let’s cut Spurs a little slack here: They’re in their final campaign at the venerable White Hart Lane, will be a tenant next season at Wembley Stadium, the home of the English National Team, before moving into their new home in August 2018. At that time, hopefully Spurs fans will be able to win cool prizes by signing up with a clean energy provider.

In the meantime, let’s hope Spurs can finish ahead of Arsenal for the first time since 1996—as of this writing they’re six points ahead.

 

CLIMATE CHANGE IMPERILS SWISS SKI RESORTS’ BUSINESS

Will humanity be able to keep average global surface temperature rise to at or below 2° C above pre-industrial levels by the end of this century? That is, of course, the “will life on earth resemble what we’ve known it to be” question. 

In the grand scheme of things, the survival of the Swiss ski industry is far down the priority list as compared to, say, life itself. That said, the Alps, with Switzerland at its core, is the world’s biggest ski destination, accounting for 44 percent of world ski visitors. So it is significant when Robert McSweeney, writing in the February 16 edition of Carbon Briefreports on a new study that says the Swiss ski season will increasingly be curtailed by a lack of snow.

The research, published in The Cryosphere, suggests that the pristine Swiss slopes could see an average 70 percent reduction in the depth of snow cover by the end of the century if the 2° C threshold is breached. For ski resorts at lower elevations, this might mean no snow at all. On the other hand, declines in snow depth could be limited to 30 percent if global temperature rise does not break the 2° C barrier. Some consolation.

henri-oreiller

Henri Oreiller of France, en route to winning the Gold Medal in the downhill at the 1948 Winter Olympics in St. Moritz, Switzerland. Hosting an Olympics in St. Moritz, located in the central portion of the country, towards the end of the 21st century might be impossible, given the effects of climate change, according to new research. (Photo credit: Bettmann/Corbis)

Using data collected from 82 weather stations and considering three different climate change scenarios, the researchers simulated snow cover in Central and Eastern Switzerland ski country through the 21st century.

In the first scenario, worldwide CO2 emissions are halved by the middle of the century and global temperature rise is likely to stay below 2° C. The other two scenarios assume no specific international effort to cut emissions, with global temperatures rising 2.2-4.9C or 2.5-5.9C compared to pre-industrial levels.

In the near-term (between now and 2035), the projected decline in the thickness of snow is similar for all three scenarios – at around 20-30 percent compared to recent years. However, as the projections extend into the middle and end of the century, the differences between the scenarios become stark. By 2070-99, for example, the projected snow changes in the two Swiss ski regions are around 30 percent for the low CO2 scenario, but nearer to 70 percent for the “business as usual” approaches. 

The driving force behind the deterioration of snow cover is increasing temperature, not drought. Even increases in precipitation won’t compensate for the impact of the warming, say the researchers, as that precipitation will increasingly fall as rain rather than snow, especially on the resorts in the lower altitudes. As the study says, “the most affected elevation zone for climate change is located below 1,200m (~4,000 ft), where the simulations show almost no snow towards the end of the century.” Around a quarter of Alpine ski resorts are located entirely below this altitude.

For resorts where there is still enough snow for skiing, the projections suggest the average season will be much shorter, dropping from a current 6.5 months at elevations of 1,500m and up, to just two months (mid-December to mid-February) by 2100.

All of this can be expected to lead to a devastating effect on the Swiss Alps’ economy. For some Alpine villages, as much as 90% of their economy depends on winter tourism.

So the ski industry will increasingly rely on artificial snow. In fact, it is already doing so— 36 percent of slopes in Switzerland and 66 percent in Austria. Problem is, it is a water and energy intensive —and expensive—process. That has to change if the ski industry in the Alps is to have a long term chance. As the report’s lead author Dr Christoph Marty, a research scientist at the WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research in Switzerland, told McSweeney, “The efficient production of technical snow will get even more important than today.”

davos

Davos, Switzerland ski slopes being pelted with artificial snow in 2014 (Photo credit: Getty Images)

 


^ Highbury was Arsenal’s home stadium from 1913-2006. The club moved into the Emirates Stadium for the 2006-2007 Premier League campaign.
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