GSB News and Notes: Green WetSuits, World Sailing to Fund Marine Environment Protection, New Gang Green QB Needs Some Lessons on Going Green

The water sports world has been at the forefront of the Sports-Greening movement, drawing attention to the problems of plastic ocean waste, sea level rise, species loss and more. Today’s GSB News & Notes column is water sports-logged as we share stories about a new, environmentally-friendly wetsuit from Patagonia and a commitment from World Sailing to protect the marine environment. Then, we go back on land to give a Green-Sports lesson to New York Jets (aka Gang Green) rookie QB/savior Sam Darnold.

 

GREEN WETSUITS FROM, NOT SURPRISINGLY, PATAGONIA

Increasing numbers of divers, surfers, triathletes, and more have driven demand for wetsuits to an all-time high.

Most wetsuits available in the market today are made from closed-cell, foam neoprene, a type of synthetic rubber with nitrogen gas bubbles that serve the dual purpose of keeping the body dry and insulating it.”

According to Anjana Athanikar, writing in the July 3 issue of Sustainability Activefoam neoprene is very harmful to the environment: “The material is made from oil and consumes significant energy in the [production] process. The worst part is the material is non-biodegradable.”

Not surprisingly, it is Patagonia who is looking to disrupt the wetsuit market by marketing an eco-friendly product. Its’ Yulex® fabric features 85 percent natural rubber material, replacing a petroleum-based material with a plant-based one. High-stretch exterior and interior linings are made from 55 percent recycled polyester fabric. . The result? Significantly reduced CO₂ emissions from the manufacturing process. And, writes Athanikar, the product wins on performance, as it is “softer and more elastic.”

 

Green Wetsuits

Green wetsuits from a Patagonia-Yulex partnership (Photo credit: Picture Organic)

 

Right now, the eco-friendly wetsuit sub-category makes up a tiny fraction of the overall wetsuit market. I suspect that Patagonia’s iconic brand power, combined with the eco-mindedness of a number of elite surfers and triathletes, will start the growth phase for green wetsuits. Once that happens, increased competition and even more growth will follow.

 

WORLD SAILING LAUNCHES NEW FUND TO PROTECT MARINE ENVIRONMENT

World Sailing, the sport’s governing body, announced it is launching a new fund to support sustainable development in the oceans.

Per a story in Climate Action Programme on July 2, the fund will focus on “three areas of concern: “marine health, youth development, and improving access to the sport.”

The marine health fund looks to build upon some of the great environmental work in the sailing world contributed by the likes Vestas 11th Hour Racing, fifth place finisher in the recently concluded, ’round-the-world 2018 Volvo Ocean Race. It will seek, as mentioned in the Climate Action Programme, to “create more sustainable products within sailing and accelerate the use low-carbon technologies and behaviors. It will also actively improve the health of the ocean environment.”

The trust will be chaired by leading British sailor Dee Caffari, who captained the Turn the Tide on Plastic team to a sixth place result in the Volvo Ocean Race.

“In the past, other sailing charities have been very local and regionalized,” said Gaffari. “The World Sailing Trust has a global reach so we can cover all aspects, all areas and all regions.  For the first time, World Sailing can use its reach and connections to make things happen across youth, sustainability and participation sectors and have a bigger impact.”

 

Dee Caffari Sky Sports

Dee Caffari, captain of Volvo Ocean Race team Turn on the Plastic and chairwoman of the newly-minted World Sailing fund to protect the marine environment (Photo credit: Sky Sports)

 

World Sailing represents an estimated 70 million sailors in 145 countries and so is ideally positioned to promote and document sustainable practices in the most remote places. Sailors like Charlie Enright and Mark Towill, skipper and team director of Vestas 11th Hour Racing, have witnessed first-hand the devastating impacts of marine pollution and an increasingly volatile climate.

  • On ocean waste, Enright related his 2014-2015 Volvo Ocean Race experience in a January interview with GreenSportsBlog, recalling that, “The amount of marine debris we encountered was truly astonishing. 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.”
  • Enright and company also experienced the effects of climate change up close: “Because of climate change, icebergs are floating further south from the Arctic regions and further north from the Antarctic.”

 

Vestas 11th Hour Racing crew portrait. Charlie Enright

Charlie Enright, skipper of Vestas 11th Hour Racing (Photo Credit: Ainhoa Sanchez/Volvo Ocean Race)

 

While the establishment of the fund is a big plus, World Sailing, it says here, has a mixed reputation on environmental issues. It was the first sporting federation to win an international sustainability standard. On the other hand, Pete Sowrey, the organization’s CEOin the run-up to the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, claimed he was fired for recommending that the sailing events be moved from the photogenic-but-polluted Guanabara Bay.

Andy Hunt, Sowrey’s successor as CEO, is working to set World Sailing’s sustainability ship on a steady course with the new fund. “We have a duty to enhance and protect the sport’s future,” Hunt asserted. “Harnessing the energy of the sailing community and our global network, we can generate wide-spread change across the sport quickly and effectively.”

 

JETS ROOKIE QB SAM DARNOLD YET TO SEE THE ENVIRONMENTAL BENEFITS OF MASS TRANSIT

Early July is “human interest story” time for the American football media. Training camps don’t open for another two weeks, so there’s no actual football to write about, but fan interest in the NFL is 24-7-365. So this is “fluff time”

Thursday’s piece in the New York Daily News by Nicholas Parco is typical of this genre.

Parco reported that New York Jets rookie quarterback/potential savior Sam Darnold revealed that, since moving from Southern California (he grew up there, went to USC), he’s become a Mets rather than Yankees fan (nobody’s perfect^).

 

Sam Darnold

Jets rookie QB Sam Darnold, during spring mini camp (Photo credit: Julio Cortez/AP)

 

The hard-hitting interview also revealed that, among other New York City things, Darnold prefers taxis over subways.

In the big picture, this answer, is of course not a big deal. Darnold doesn’t live in the city — the Jets train in Florham Park and play their home games in E. Rutherford, both in New Jersey — so he’s new to the experience.

But when will the default response from a high profile Big Apple athlete during the climate change era (aka NOW!) be in favor of subways, with the quote being something like this “subways, no doubt, because mass transit is always a much greener way to get around than a taxi.”

Hopefully soon.

 

^ Hopefully Darnold will be close to perfect on the football field

 

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The GSB Interview: Mark Price of Firewire; Leading the Way on Sustainable Surfboards

Surfers are among the most eco-minded of athletes, with several pro surfers doubling as eco-activists. This makes sense, since surfers see and experience the effects ocean pollution and sea level rise up close. But, what about the sustainability of their sport, specifically the surfboards? It turns out that surfboard manufacturers have not been proactive in terms of making their products environmentally friendly.

That is until Firewire decided to take the lead in providing their eco-athletes with eco-surfboards. To learn more, GSB spoke with Mark Price, a former pro surfer who is CEO of Firewire and the driving force behind their commitment to sustainability.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Mark, I think our readers are going to love the Firewire story and your story. So let’s get going. How did you get to be the CEO of Firewire?

Mark Price: Thanks Lew, great to chat! Growing up in Durban, South Africa, I’ve been a surfer all my life. I turned pro during high school and kept at it while at university. At that time, two-year compulsory military service was required, either before or after university. I had decided many years prior that the apartheid South African government was not a cause worth fighting for, so I left for the USA in 1979 at the age of 19, heading to Laguna Beach, California while I competed for two years on the world pro surfing circuit. Meanwhile, some friends there had started a surfing apparel brand called Gotcha I retired from pro surfing in 1981 and started working for them…

 

Mark Price Firewire

Mark Price, CEO of Firewire (Photo credit: Firewire)

 

GSB: What did you do there?

MP: I started in customer service and quickly moved up…And so did Gotcha, growing from $1.5 million in sales in 1981 to $100 million in 1989.

GSB: Impressive!…

MP: It was! Thing is, despite our success — which was helped by the boom of “surfing culture” — I was burned out. So I got off the hamster wheel. After taking a surfing trip to France in 1989, I came back and resigned. Then I moved to Hawai’i before returning to Gotcha two years later.

GSB: That’s a lot of moving…

MP: You’re right. And, while living the pure surfing lifestyle appealed to me in theory, actually living that life was…kinda boring. I was in my late 20s at the time and I wanted to get back to business. So I went back to Gotcha one more time, trying to be less “work-aholic-y”. But soon thereafter the 1991-92 recession hit and we suffered because of it. Our appeal to the broader, mass market was no longer effective as the surfing culture boom was waning. So I got laid off in ’92.

GSB: What did you do then?

MP: I founded Tavarua Clothing, an apparel company that leveraged the image of the island of the same name in Fiji. That ended up not working out, so I subsequently landed a marketing director position at Rip Curl USA and then I was recruited to be head of global marketing at Reef Sandals.

GSB: So how did you end up at Firewire?

MP: I was at Reef Sandals for about four years when friends who had started Firewire in Burleigh, Australia — about an hour south of Brisbane on the Gold Coast — reached out. I was intrigued because they had a new surfboard technology and I was more interested in surfboards than sandals and apparel. Also the key players at Firewire had a strong entrepreneurial bent. And as mentioned, they were bringing a disruptive surfboard technology to market that was stronger, had increased flex and was much greener than traditional surfboards.

GSB: Talk to us about the Firewire technology…

MP: Great! Now this will get in the weeds a bit but it is important. Firstly, traditional surfboards have a foam core with a wood strip down the middle. Firewire boards are built with the wood around the perimeter, and the lightweight foam core is sandwiched between two thin high-density deck skins. In fact, the technique is called “Sandwich Construction”. The interior foam is very light — while the deck skins have a high compression strength and are used in the aerospace industry — both foams have less toxic chemical properties versus traditional surfboard foam.

GSB: What does the Firewire technology do for the board as a whole?

MP: Taking the wood out of the center and putting it on the perimeter, as well as using the lighter foam, reduces weight and increases the board’s overall flexibility, making it more responsive though turns.

 

Slater_SciFi_LFT__deck1

The Slater designs SCI – FI, built by Firewire (Photo credit: Firewire)

 

GSB: That sounds like a major advance.

MP: It was — and it was an existential threat to traditional surfboard makers…

GSB: How did they react?

MP: As you might think — many of whom launched disinformation campaigns…

GSB: You mean they used “Fake News” and “Alternative Facts”?

MP: You could say that, but the product ultimately proved itself, surfers started to switch, and the business grew organically…

GSB: Did world class surfers start to endorse Firewire?

MP: Yes! Taj Burrow, who was one of the best in the world in the mid 2000s, switched to Firewire in 2006 and his winning percentage went up 40 percent!

 

Taj Burrow

Taj Burrow celebrating a victory with his Firewire surfboard (Photo credit: Costa Rica Surfing)

 

GSB: WOW! So I see how Firewire disrupted surfing technology from a performance point of view, but what about from the environmental aspect?

MP: Great question, Lew. So, first we have to get into a little chemistry. Before Firewire, traditional surfboards were built with polyurethane foam and laminate with polyester resins, both of which are far more toxic than our materials. Our boards are built with expanded polystyrene foam (EPS) and Epoxy bio-resins. Back in 2005, the University of Queensland in Brisbane conducted a study on the Firewire construction and found it emitted 50 times fewer volatile organic compounds (VOCs) than traditional surfboards. That year, we won an environmental award in Europe. Our approach is, #1, our surfing equipment has to meet or exceed existing performance expectations and #2, it must be competitively priced. We met those criteria; sustainability was the green cherry on top.

GSB: Sounds like Firewire is trying to follow in the footsteps of Patagonia!

MP: Oh, we are honored to be mentioned alongside them. One thing Patagonia does is constantly improve on their environmental performance and we strive to do the same. With that in mind, in July 2014 we switched from our regular epoxy resin to a bio-epoxy resin, which means that 100 percent of our production was then Ecoboard certified. No other global surfboard brand has met that standard yet.

GSB: Who manages Ecoboard certification? And how did surfers react to the Ecoboard certification?

MP: Sustainable Surf does a great job of managing the Ecoboard certification. As to the impact of the bio-epoxy resin and Ecoboard certification on surfers, you have to first understand surfing culture. Surfers are super-loyal to their brand of surfboard, so getting folks to switch is challenging. But, over time, we’ve seen more and more surfers ask for boards with Ecoboard certification from their respective brands. Which is great for Firewire as we hope to help tip the market towards less toxic surfboards. In 2014, maybe three percent of surfboards sold around the world were Ecoboard certified. Now, I’d estimate that eco-certified boards represent between 10-20 percent of all boards. We’ve also worked hard on our waste streams and that is about to pay off. By 2020, or maybe even sooner, we expect to be Zero-Landfill at our factory.

GSB: That’s incredible! How are you guys making that happen?

MP: Well, in 2016 we started to upcycle all of our foam dust using a densification process to create durable garden pavers which we donate to schools in Thailand. We’ve also installed them on the grounds of surfing great Kelly Slater’s artificial wave in Lemoore, California. The foam dust had previously gone to landfills. On a related front, in 2016 we engaged with a New Zealand company that developed a process that traps the cool, condensed air conditioner waste water and recycles it back through the unit, reducing our air conditioner power consumption by 40 percent.

GSB: I love it! So does Firewire measure its carbon and water footprints?

MP: Not yet but we are planning to do a Life Cycle Assessment/carbon footprint analysis in the next year or two. In the meantime, we know we are trending in the right direction because our energy bill keeps getting lower per surfboard built, our raw materials are ever greener, and our waste streams are way down. In early 2019, we will start using Re-Rez…

GSB: What’s that?

MP: It’s a really cool product from an innovative Northern California company, Connora Technologies. They take a reformulated epoxy bio-resin, put it in warm vinegar, which un-cures it and allows it to be reused. Aside from the environment benefits, we expect to save over $30,000 in the first year by reusing various consumables at our factory. And then there’s the traction…

GSB: What do you mean by traction? Can you tell I’ve never surfed?

MP: For the uninitiated, there is a traction pad on the rear deck of the board to steady the back foot. Traditionally, the traction pad is made of ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA), another compound that has a toxic, high VOC output. So we switched to an algae-based, foam traction pad in collaboration with BLOOM Foam that has become the #1 seller in many our key surf retailers.

GSB: You guys are going the extra, green mile for sure!

MP: Thanks Lew. That is now baked into Firewire’s DNA. We expect to become the first Fair Trade Certified surfboard factory in early 2019. And we’ve already reduced our waste per board manufactured by 20 times, from 0.4 cubic meters to 0.02.

GSB: This is an incredible story, Mark. We’re glad to share it with the GreenSportsBlog audience but how do you get exposure to, and build awareness with the broader surfing community?

MP: In 2015, surfing legend and 11-time World Champion Kelly Slater became a major shareholder of Firewire. He is an eco-athlete of the first order and brought a tremendous following to us. On the marketing front, we mainly use web-based marketing and social media to reach our target audiences. No TV advertising for us — it doesn’t make sense from an audience perspective. And our efforts are working. Among premium priced surfboards sold through retail surf shops, we are between the #1 and #3 selling board in the market depending on the particular store and/or region.

 

Kelly Slater Esquire

Surfing legend and major Firewire shareholder Kelly Slater (Photo credit: Esquire)

 

GSB: With Slater on board, pun intended, and with the eco-innovations you’ve instituted, I have a feeling Firewire will be able to consistently maintain that #1 position.

 


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SoCal’s Joan MacQueen Middle School Goes for the Junior Solar Sprint National Championship

A team of eighth graders from the Joan MacQueen Middle School in Alpine, CA — about 30 miles east of San Diego — are getting ready to defend the school’s Junior Solar Sprint National Championship at the finals in Atlanta on June 24-25. Teams from all over the United States race model cars that are powered by solar panels mounted on the roofs. GreenSportsBlog talked to Chris Loarie, a parent volunteer leading the Chicken Pot PieRats squad, and Chase Kingston, one of the Pie Rats’ key cogs, to gain a better understanding of what Solar Sprint racing is all about.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Chris and Chase, thank you for taking time out from your preparations for the Junior Solar Sprint National Championships to talk to us. Chris, how long has this been a “thing”?

Chris Loarie: Well, it’s run by an organization called the Technology Student Association, and it’s been around for about 20 years.

GSB: I had no idea!

Chris: Most people don’t…

GSB: When did Joan MacQueen Middle School get involved?

Chris: The school got started with it about eight years ago — a science teacher offered an elective to interested students back then. We think it’s a great way for students to combine science, technology, engineering and renewable energy, testing creativity along the way. And about three years ago, it became a part of the curriculum in a newly created engineering elective…

GSB: …Middle schools have engineering courses? I guess that question shows it’s been a very long time since I was in middle school! And you can take a class in building and racing solar-powered model cars?

Chris: Thirty-one students are taking the JMMS Engineering course this year.

GSB: I would imagine it’s popular — It sounds like a lot of fun and you Joan Macqueen won the nationals last year in Orlando! And, it must be said, your son Hayden and Ramses Lara took home the gold so congratulations are in order.

Chris: Thank you!

 

Hayden Loarie Ramses Lara IBEW

Hayden Loarie (l) and Ramses Lara, after winning the 2017 Junior Solar National Sprint Championship in Orlando (Photo credit: Sullivan Solar Power)

 

GSB: What is your role?

Chris: I’m a parent volunteer with 35 years of experience in manufacturing. I want the kids in our community to see the types of tools and software that is used in industry and how math is used to solve real problems in design.

GSB: The kids are lucky to have you! And soon you will be on your way to Atlanta to try to do what many say is the toughest thing in sports: Repeat as champions. Are you ready? How did Joan Macqueen MS qualify for the nationals?

Chris: We took part in a regional qualifying tournament, sponsored by Sullivan Solar Power

GSB: …The company that installed the largest solar array in Major League Baseball on the roof at Petco Park, the home of the San Diego Padres?

 

Joan Macqueen Team

Members of the Joan MacQueen Middle School teams at the 2018 Junior Solar Sprint San Diego-area regional championship (Photo credit: Sullivan Solar Power)

 

Chris: The very same. Our three-person teams came in first, second and third and the winning team, the Chicken Pot PieRats, get to go to Atlanta to defend our title.

GSB: Chicken Pot PieRats? Where does that name come from?

Chris: We asked the teams to come up with a theme for their car and a team name that was representative of the theme. Being 8th graders, they came up with a play on words and decided on a pirates theme of sewer rats. I think it really helped them make their car color decisions and made the making of the car display a really fun process. Their display is worth almost 1/3 of points in the competition, so having fun with it leads to better quality work. Everyone laughs when they hear the name, so we know it was a great choice.

GSB: Love it! How long are the races and how many cars are in each heat?

Chris: The national event will start with a day of time qualifications. All the cars are run on a single track with a digital timer. The top 16 times advance to the finals the following day. The finals are two lane, head to head racing in a double elimination tournament. The winner of the races receives the highest point value, but the National Champion is the team that earns the most points in three judged areas: racing, design/documentation, and car display.

GSB: How many teams will try to dethrone the PieRats?

Chris: Last year, at the Nationals in Orlando, there were 90 teams so I believe it will be a similarly sized field in Atlanta.

GSB: That’s a lot of people chasing the PieRats, that’s for sure…And that’s a great point to segue from the chasers to talking to eighth grader Chase Kingston, one of three members of the PieRats team — along with Ronan Eddie and Josh Handley who will try to bring the Junior Solar Sprint national championship trophy back to Joan MacQueen Middle School! Chase, what are the keys to designing, engineering and building a solar powered model car that can compete for — and potentially win — a national championship?

 

Ronan and Chase Kingston

Ronan Eddie (l) and Chase Kingston on the winners’ stand after emerging victorious at the San Diego area regional qualifying tournament for the Junior Solar Sprint National Championships, sponsored by Sullivan Solar. Ronan, Chase and teammate Josh Handley head to the nationals in Atlanta on Friday for the races that take place Sunday and Monday (Photo credit: Sullivan Solar Power)

 

Chase Kingston: It takes a lot of things but I’d say the main factors are building the lightest car possible, with the best tires and the best gear ratios.

GSB: Of course…lightest, best tires and gear ratios…That’s easy to say but I imagine it’s hard to execute…

Chase: It isn’t easy but, thanks to our engineering teachers, we’ve been able to improve on all three.

 

PieRats_Final2

Engineering drawings of the Chicken Pot PieRats entry that will race in this weekends Junior Solar Sprint National Championships in Atlanta (Credit: Chicken Pot PieRats)

 

GSB: What about the solar panels themselves?

Chris Loarie: The solar panels, as well as the motors, are the same for all of the cars.

GSB: Got it — that puts a premium on design and engineering. Chase, how did you get into this?

Chase Kingston: Last semester, I was taking a coding class, didn’t like it much. One of my teachers, Miss Tomkins, suggested I try the Engineering class. So I did and she was right. It’s amazing!

GSB: I wish we had something like this when I was in school. How has this course and experience changed you?

Chase: I’m interested in engineering as a career but, thanks to the class and being part of the PieRats, solar engineering is now something I would like to explore.

GSB: That is great to hear. But before that, it’s time to head to Atlanta to try to bring the national championship back to Joan Macqueen Middle School. Good luck!

GreenSportsBlog will check in with Chris and Chase after the Junior Solar Sprint Nationals to see how they made out.

 

 


 

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GSB Eco-Scorecard #5: Catching Up with Green-Sports Leaders on the Field

Since 2013, GreenSportsBlog has told the stories of the great environmental work being done by teams, managers of venues and athletes. But as far as the sports side of the Green-Sports equation was concerned, we really didn’t go there.

Until last September, that is.

It was then that we launched GSB Eco-Scoreboard: Catching Up with Green-Sports Leaders on the Field, an occasional series highlighting recent on-field/court results of the greenest teams and athletes. Why? Because if they do well, their green messages will gain a wider audience.

And if they struggle? Well, those of us engaged in the climate change fight know what struggle is all about. We can relate.

With that in mind, please enjoy our fifth Eco-Scoreboard. 

 

 

JOSH ROSEN, CLIMATE CHANGE-MINDED ROOKIE QB, STARTS HIS NFL JOURNEY IN ARIZONA

“Josh Rosen Impresses Cardinals Brass, Teammates at OTAs”

Some version of this headline blared across media reports about the Arizona Cardinals’ rookie quarterback at his first spring practices, or “Organized Team Activities”.

 

Josh Rosen OTAsa

Rookie QB Josh Rosen at Offseason Team Activities (OTAs) for the Arizona Cardinals (Photo credit: Cards Wire/USA Today)

 

Why does GreenSportsBlog care about Rosen, selected out of UCLA with the 10th pick in the first round of April’s NFL Draft?

Because climate change is a big concern of his, that’s why!

From an in-depth, pre-draft interview on espn.com with Sam Alipour, Rosen declared, “One cause I’ll champion is the environment. It touches everything. I mean, the war in Syria started because of the drought and famine that destabilized the country and led the population to revolt against the government. I know global warming is a partisan issue for some stupid reason, but it touches everything.”

So even though my New York Jets, with the third pick in the draft passed on Rosen to take cross-town rival QB Sam Darnold from USC, you can be sure GSB will be following the Cardinals’ new signal caller.

All of the Rosen reviews I read had the same tone as Sean Wagner-McGough’s, writing for CBSSports.com on May 18:

“The positive reviews came pouring in immediately after [Rosen took the field]. It turns out, Rosen looks very much like a quarterback who never should’ve dropped to No. 10 in last month’s draft.”

“He stepped in the huddle and had a lot of pizzazz,” left tackle D.J. Humphries said. “He didn’t seem like he was choked up at all. Voice didn’t crack none. He wasn’t talking low. He was excited. He was asserting himself into the huddle, and I was pretty excited to see that.”

“Josh looked great today,” coach Steve Wilks said. “Some of his timing and his throws with the quarterback and tight ends I thought were right on point.”

The conventional wisdom is that, while Rosen is deemed to be the most NFL-ready of the five QBs drafted in the first round*, the Cardinals will start veteran QB Sam Bradford, at least to begin the season.

But that conventional wisdom may not be so wise.

Per Jess Root of the Cards Wire blog, Coach Wilks “is open to the idea of Rosen winning the job.”

My take is that Bradford will likely be the opening day starter vs. Washington. But with a long injury history and a precocious, climate change aware QB chomping at the bit, I think the odds are good that Rosen will take the reins at some point this season — and sooner rather than later.

 

 

 

 

SUTTON UNITED AND DARTFORD F.C. FALL SHORT OF PROMOTION

GreenSportsBlog has given a lot of oxygen to England’s Forest Green Rovers, the “Greenest Team in Sports.” Promoted from the fifth to the fourth tier (League Two) of English football after last season — their highest level ever — FGR was able (barely) to avoid relegation and will look to make a move upward next season.

Two other mid-tier English clubs with green in their DNA made runs at promotion this season but both fell short (barely).

Sutton United looked to join Forest Green Rovers in League Two via promotion. They hosted a promotion playoff match vs. Boreham Wood on May 6 at Gander Green Lane, the first football stadium to achieve The Planet Mark™ sustainability certification##. Reducing its carbon footprint by 13.6 percent in 2016 and diverting 88 percent of its waste from landfill helped the club earn the designation.

Unfortunately from the Sutton United perspective, their promotion dream died that day as they fell behind 2-0, got a goal back before conceding again in the 88th minute. A stoppage time goal for the home side was not enough as Boreham Wood prevailed 3-2.

On the same afternoon, Dartford F.C. looked to join the league Sutton United hoped to escape by moving up from the sixth to the fifth tier. To do so, they would have to knock off Braintree Town F.C. in a playoff semifinal.

Like Sutton, Dartford hosted the playoff contest. The 4,100-seat Princes Park, which opened in 2006, is top tier, sustainability-wise: It was the UK’s first sustainable, purpose-built, small-sized stadium, featuring on-site solar panels, energy efficient lighting, a state-of-the-art green roof, and an advanced reclaimed rainwater system.

 

 

Princes Park Green Roof

Princes Park, with its distinctive and state of the art green roof, serves as the home of Dartford F.C. in Kent England (Photo credit: Sustainability in Sport)

 

Like Sutton United, Dartford was unable to close the deal, falling to Braintree Town 1-0 as they let in a second half goal.

So the status will remain quo in the 2018-19 season, league-wise, for Sutton United and Dartford F.C. Both teams have made player moves early in the offseason to prep to make promotion runs when the new campaign starts this summer.

 

ECO-OUTFIELDER STEPHEN PISCOTTY MAKES IMMEDIATE IMPACT UPON RETURN TO BASEBALL POST BEREAVEMENT

GreenSportsBlog first wrote about Stephen Piscotty in January 2017 after learning that the then-Cardinals outfielder had majored in Atmosphere and Energy Engineering at Stanford and is an investor in renewable energy.

Piscotty was coming off of a stellar rookie campaign in 2016 but 2017 proved to be challenging on and off the field.

On the field, Piscotty dealt with two stints on the disabled list with hamstring and groin injuries along with a sophomore slump at the plate. The double whammy led to a brief demotion to the minor leagues.

The off field news was much, much worse as Piscotty’s mother, Gretchen, was diagnosed with ALS^ or Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

Over the winter, Piscotty was traded by the Cardinals to the Oakland A’s, only an hour’s drive from his parents’ home. Both the Cardinals and the A’s acknowledged that Gretchen’s illness was a factor in the trade. Amazing, no?

After winning the A’s starting right fielder job in spring training, the Stanford man got off to a slow start as his mom’s condition worsened. Sadly, Gretchen Piscotty passed away on May 6 at 55, about a year after her diagnosis. Her son took bereavement time before rejoining the A’s as they headed to Boston to play the Red Sox on May 16.

 

Piscotty

Oakland A’s outfielder Stephen Piscotty and his mom Gretchen (Photo credit: People)

 

And, in a kind of “Field of Dreams” moment, Piscotty, in his first at-bat in his first game back, the A’s outfielder slugged a home run over Fenway Park’s famed left field wall, the Green Monster.

 

 

 

 

“It was pure joy,” Piscotty said of his blast in the A’s 5-3 victory over the Red Sox, per sfgate.com. “It’s been an emotional week. I’ve been a little cried out, so I didn’t tear up or anything. It felt real good knowing family was watching and my mom was watching.”

 

 

 * Three QBs were picked ahead of Rosen: Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, the #1 overall pick by the Cleveland Browns, Darnold to the Jets at 3, and Josh Allen, from Wyoming, went to Buffalo at 7. The Baltimore Ravens, with the 32nd and last pick of the first round, chose Louisville’s Lamar Jackson.
^ ALS = Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis

 


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GreenSportsBlog’s Five-Year Anniversary…A Reflection

When I started GreenSportsBlog back on May 22, 2013, I had no idea what to expect.

I had never blogged before, wasn’t sure if there would be an audience for content about the intersection of Green & Sports, and didn’t know if the movers and shakers of the Green-Sports world would talk to me.

Five years and 512 posts later, I can say happily say there is consistent and growing interest — our 7,000+ monthly readers attest to that. And I have been blessed to be able to interview Green-Sports activists, corporate leaders, eco-athletes, and more. To all, I say a heartfelt thank you — and keep reading and commenting!

To commemorate GSB’s fifth anniversary, I thought you might find it interesting to read about how I came to write about Green-Sports and to see which posts have been the most well-read.

 

HOW I BECAME A GREEN-SPORTS BLOGGER

A lifelong, passionate New York-area sports fan — for those who haven’t read this blog much, the Jets, Knicks, Rutgers, and Yankees are my local favorites, along with North London’s Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League. While at Rutgers, I announced football and basketball while a student at Rutgers on WRSU-FM

 

WRSU Knightline

Yours truly, 2nd from right and mustachioed in an old school Jets jersey, making what must surely have been an astute point on Knightline, the post-game sports talk show on WRSU-FM, the Rutgers student radio station back…a few years (Photo credit: WRSU-FM)

 

I tried to make a go of sportscasting as a professional, but it is a very tough way to make a living. After earning my MBA from NYU’s Stern School of Business, I pivoted to the sports business, where I was fortunate to spend 15 years, starting in the early 1990s through the mid 2000s, working in advertising sales and marketing. Getting paid to go to the World Series, NBA Finals, World Cup and more? How cool was that?!?!

The environment interested me — it was a factor in my voting decisions; I supported the Sierra Club and like organizations. But did my greenness match my sports fandom? Only when it came to the Jets, who wear green. Otherwise, not even close.

Until 9/11.

Working for Sports Illustrated Kids in midtown Manhattan at the time, I was very fortunate personally to not know anyone in the Twin Towers. Still, I felt like I had to do something. This was the Pearl Harbor of my generation and this was my home city.

But what to do?

It wasn’t until about four months after that horrible day that I found my answer.

In “Green Is the New Red, White & Blue,” Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman posited that we in the U.S. were fueling the wars on terrorism that we were fighting (we were already in Afghanistan at the time; the invasion of Iraq was a year or so away) by our insanely profligate energy use. His logic went something like this:

  1. The U.S. represented four percent of the world’s population but 25 percent of its energy usage.
  2. Since 9/11 happened before the fracking-led domestic oil and gas production boom, we had to source a good chunk of our energy from places like Saudi Arabia.
  3. The Saudi royal family siphoned some of that U.S oil revenue to its Wahhabi extremists to ensure they would remain in power.
  4. And those Wahhabists funded the training of 15 of the 19 9/11 attackers.

It was like the compact fluorescent lightbulb went on above my head! Green was going to play a big part in the solutions to geopolitical problems and I would play a small role. So I “greened up” my personal life, buying a hybrid car (becoming a very early adapter; I knew more about how a hybrid worked than the salesman), changing out all my lightbulbs to compact fluorescents, and becoming an almost-vegetarian.

But that wasn’t enough.

I needed to somehow green my work life. This became even more of an imperative the more I learned about climate change.

But how to get a green job? In 2002-2003, most were technical in nature. And, let’s put it this way: You do NOT want me installing solar panels on your roof.

So I thought, “what am I good at?” Sales, marketing and story telling. The trick was how to translate that from the mature sports industry to the nascent world of green business.

I began to network like crazy, joining a gaggle of sustainable business groups in New York. But when I couldn’t find what I call green “job-jobs” for someone with a sales/marketing/communications background, I decided, in September 2005, to take a risk, leaving SI Kids and recreating myself as a sustainability-focused, business development, marketing and communications consultant.

Since then I have helped a wide array of organizations — from Fortune 500 companies to startups to nonprofits — tell their sustainability stories more powerfully, generate new revenue by selling sponsorships to green events, and garner positive media coverage for their sustainability-related accomplishments. Some of my clients whose names you’d recognize include BT (aka British Telecom), Empire State Building, Whole Foods Market and the Wildlife Conservation Society

Then, about three years into my life as a sustainability consultant, in 2008-2009, I began to wonder if there was an intersection of Green and Sports, with the idea being that I would love to marry my two passions.

So I poked around and found out there was a fellow named Dr. Allen Hershkowitz who, working with NRDC, helped the Philadelphia Eagles and minority owner Christina Weiss Lurie make sure the toilet paper at Lincoln Financial Field wasn’t being sourced from eagle habitats. 

What an introduction to Green-Sports!

A year or so I discovered that a small group of pro sports teams from Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver had banded together to form the Green Sports Alliance. Their goal was to share better practices on energy efficiency, waste, and more. This sounded like an organization and a movement — Green-Sports — that was poised to grow. 

And I needed to be a part of it! But again, my question was “how?”

In 2011-12, I did more digging — and noticed that the Alliance was growing well beyond its Pacific Northwest roots, and that the organizers of the London 2012 Olympics made sustainability a key strand of their DNA. 

I figured media organization must be covering this burgeoning Green-Sports field. 

No one was.

So I decided would become that media organization.

And that led to GreenSportsBlog’s birth five years ago, almost to the day.

 

Lew GSA 2

Yours truly, making what what must surely have been an astute point at the 2016 Green Sports Alliance Summit in Houston (Photo credit: Lewis Blaustein)

 

FIVE KEY LESSONS

I’ve learned a ton these last five years — so much so, I could write an entire post just on that topic. But, for purposes of this story, I’ll boil it down to five key lessons that have been imparted to me by you, the readers, based on your comments and which GSB posts have drawn the most traffic:

  1. Allow the People Building the Green-Sports World to Share Their Stories Directly with Readers: Based on reader comments, The GSB Interview is the most popular segment on the blog. Sharing the unfiltered insights, struggles and successes of a wide array of women and men who are responsible for greening the sports world is an honor and a pleasure.
  2. Go Beyond Major League Sports and Mega-Events: Of course, we cover the greening of major pro sports leagues in North America and Europe, as well as of mega events like the Olympics and the FIFA World Cup. But stories like Forest Green Rovers, the fourth tier English soccer club that is the Greenest Team in Sports, and the St. Paul Saints, the minor league baseball team in Minnesota which won the Greenest New Stadium of the Year in 2015, have drawn some of the site’s best traffic numbers.
  3. Write with the Voice of the Sports Fan: From reader comments back in GSB’s early days, it seems that most expected the blog to be written by someone with a cleantech, facilities management and/or “green journalism” background. Many sounded pleased that I brought a different point-of-view, that of a passionate sustainability communicator who is also a big sports fan. Understanding and loving sports — and the people who follow it — was and is important. Especially when one considers, as Allen Hershkowitz is wont to say, that 13 percent of Americans follow science, but 65-70 percent follow sports. And as Nelson Mandela offered, “Sports can change the world!”
  4. Bringing a Sense of Humor to the Table is a Good Thing: Our forays into the satirical have been well received by readers and commenters. The July 2014 story in which I imagined that LeBron James decided to leave Miami to return to Cleveland — not because he wanted to go home, but because he was afraid of climate change’s effects in South Florida — remains the blog’s most read post. In fact, every post in which I’ve included the words “LeBron” and “James” has scored well. That bodes well for this one :). Hey, the climate change fight can be a very hard slog at times, so adding a dollop of humor here and there can’t hurt.

The fifth key lesson is that Green-Sports Needs To Play the “Climate Change Fight” Game…and It Needs to Play to WIN!: Herm Edwards, now the head football coach at Arizona State University, was coaching my New York Jets back in 2002, when he famously ranted that “The great thing about sports is, you play to win the game! Hello?! You play to win the game!!!”

 

Herm Edwards’ 2002 “You play to win the game” rant

 

To me, it’s clear that Green-Sports needs to be playing the “climate change fight” game. But are we? And are we playing to win? Despite some moves in the right direction, it’s clear to me that the Green-Sports world is not there yet.

Hey, I get it: Climate change is political and sports is where people often go to get away from politics. But acknowledging those realities shouldn’t mean we abandon the fight. 

And then there are two other important realities at play here:

  1. Climate change is the most existential threat the world faces
  2. It will take consistent and unyielding passion to generate the political will to turn humanity away from the carbon train wreck we’re hurtling towards.

It says here that tapping into the passion of sports fans and the massive size of the fan base is essential to the climate change fight. I have been heartened by the many GreenSportsBlog readers who have encouraged me to continue to push the Green-Sports world and sports media (#CoverGreenSports) to engage more forthrightly on climate change. I certainly will.

 

MOST READ GREENSPORTSBLOG POSTS

Here is a list of our 10 most read posts over our first five years. Enjoy and please keep reading and sharing GreenSportsBlog!

  1. The REAL Reason LeBron Chose to Leave Miami for Cleveland: Climate Change (July 2014)
  2. The GSB Interview: Mark Teixeira of the NY Yankees; Helping to Rebuild and Green NW Atlanta (February 2016)
  3. Mercedes-Benz Stadium: Super Cool, Super Green Future Home of the Falcons and Atlanta FC (November 2015)
  4. Birds Flying Into Minneapolis’ Glass-Walled US Bank Stadium Not a Good Look with Super Bowl LII Only Two Months Away (December 2017)
  5. Integral Hockey: Rebuilding Broken Hockey Sticks–and Keeping Them Out of the Landfill (October 2015)
  6. How Green is Augusta National Golf Club, Home of The Masters (April 2016)
  7. The GSB Interview: Leilani Münter, Looking to Turn on the Speed and Turn Auto Racing Fans on to a Vegan Diet at Daytona (January 2018)
  8. Forest Green Rovers, Greenest Team in Sports, Earns Promotion Up England’s Football/Soccer Ladder (May 2017)
  9. PyeongChang 2018: How Green will the Winter Olympics Be? A Conversation with Sustainability Manager Hyeona Kim (August 2017)
  10. Green Sports Alliance Calls on Sports Fans To Take “Live Green or Die™” Challenge in Response to Trump Pulling U.S Out of Paris Climate Agreement (June 2017)

 

 


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The GSB Interview: Andrew Ference Goes from the Ice to the NHL Front Office; Sustainability and League’s Long Term Health His Remit

Pro athletes are unique among human beings in that they face retirement while they’re in their 20s, 30s or, at the latest, their 40s. After the shouting stops, what do they do? Many become coaches. Some go into team management. Others go into business. 

But only one that I know of becomes a Director of Social Impact, Growth and Fan Development.

That would be Andrew Ference.

During his 16 seasons as an NHL defenseman, Ference won a Stanley Cup with the Boston Bruins in 2011 and served as captain of the Edmonton Oilers. He also became known for his involvement with environmental and climate change-fighting causes — something that was unique at the time. 

Retiring after the 2015-16 season, Ference earned a certificate in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) at Harvard and became an investor in sustainability-related startups before joining the NHL league office last month. GreenSportsBlog caught up with Ference to find out what his new role — and his cool and super-long job title — entails.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Andrew, it’s great to catch up. Director of Social Impact, Growth and Fan Development…When did you start and what does that job title actually mean?

Andrew Ference: I hit the ground running on NHL Green Month when I started on March 1, working with the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) team — Omar Mitchell, Alicia Chin and Paul LaCaruba. It was a smooth transition as I knew and had worked with them during my playing days. That gave me more experience and familiarity with the league office than the average player. The job came up as an extension of my environmental work as a player, as well as my experience on the league’s Joint Marketing Committee and as a representative to the Players’ Association (NHLPA). My role is varied and exciting in that we’re the people who get to look at the long term future of the game of hockey.

 

Andrew Ference

Andrew Ference, upon winning the 2016 Green Sports Alliance Environmental Leadership Award (Photo credit: Green Sports Alliance)

 

GSB: What does “looking at the future of the game of hockey” mean, exactly?

AF: A lot of things. In most jobs, in sports, business, whatever…you’re forced to manage with a short term perspective — the next two weeks, the next quarter. The NHL Corporate Social Responsibility team thinks and acts differently, putting more responsibility in the CSR department. I’ve been tasked with, among other things, looking at what hockey will look like 20, 30, 40 years out. What will the U.S. and Canada look like demographically? Especially with low birth rates meaning that immigration will need to continue to drive population growth. How can we get those new, mid 21st century Americans, especially those in places without a strong ice rink infrastructure, to care about hockey? We’re looking at things like street hockey, ball hockey, and floorball. We’re looking at inner cities in places we haven’t been before. We need to expand hockey as a thing to do.

GSB: What an interesting job! And what is floorball?

AF: It’s a hockey-like game that’s popular in places like Finland and Sweden. It’s embraced more by schools as it’s less dangerous. And we want to work to make it, like the other games I mentioned, a gateway to playing and caring about hockey.

 

Floorball

Floorball is one of several sports Andrew Ference is examining as potential gateways to ice hockey (Photo credit: Floorball.org)

 

GSB: Getting millennials and Gen-Z-ers to care at levels anywhere close to their elders is the holy grail for all sports. So looking at those generations and beyond is not only smart, it is essential, it seems to me. I can’t wait to hear more once you’ve had more time to dig into this part of your job. Let’s pivot from the long-term future to the present. What are you working on, sustainability-wise?

AF: Well, to be clear I had nothing to do with writing of the new sustainability report. That was all Omar and Alicia.

GSB: I know…it was a Herculean effort on their part!

AF: Yes, and Sustainability Report 2.0 did a great job I think, especially on the qualitative side. Going forward, a lot of what we will be working on on the environmental side will be on the quantitative, measurement side to answer the question: What is a sustainable rink? We will be data driven, both with NHL rinks and community rinks. We will take deep dives into water and energy usage, to see where we are and how to improve.

 

Report at a Glance

Screen shot of the 2018 NHL Sustainability Report

 

GSB: Are these data points, water, energy usage and the rest, easy to obtain?

AF: It’s not as easy as you might think, Lew. Twelve NHL arenas are shared with at least one NBA team or a Power 5 men’s college basketball team. What energy and water usage is a hockey team responsible for in those cases? You would think community rinks would be simpler — and many are. But many community rinks in Canada and some in the U.S. are part of a larger fitness center that includes a swimming pool, a gym, and more. In those cases, the same question applies as with the shared NHL-NBA arenas: What is the ice rink’s energy and water responsibility? So we will drill down deep and use the best quantitative tools we have to get the accurate answers we need.

GSB: I look forward to seeing those answers in Sustainability Report 3.0, if not before. One thing that drew my eye in the current Sustainability Report, version 2.0, was the way climate change was called out. How will climate be dealt with by the league in 2019 and beyond?

AF: I don’t see us thumping our chest about climate change. But we will look for and find more ways for our fans to compost at games, have greater access to mass transit and bike valets.

GSB: The NHL certainly has done a solid job at engaging fans who attend games on the environment about energy efficiency, water restoration and more. My question is more geared to fans who consume NHL hockey on TV, via mobile and who rarely or never go to a game. I know Green Week, or this year, Green Month, gets mentioned here and there but that is rare, it seems to me. How will you communicate NHL Green and the climate change fight — while not thumping your chests — to that large cohort of fans?

AF: Storytelling will play a key role in communicating NHL Green, including those related to climate, to our fans who don’t go to games. The good thing is that we have great stories to tell, from what the teams have done and are doing on the environment, to our players’ efforts. And these stories will be driven locally more than on a league-wide basis. Which makes sense to me — you’ve got to care about where you live, after all. That’s what the core of environmentalism is, right?

GSB: Indeed. You mentioned the players. As someone who was in the league not long ago, I imagine a part of your remit is dealing with the current crop.

AF: Yes, part of my job is as a liaison to current players from a community relations point of view. We are letting them know that they don’t have to fit a mold…

GSB: What do you mean by that?

AF: Well, for some players, visiting kids at a children’s hospital is the right thing. Others will feel more comfortable doing other things. We aim to empower our players to engage the way they like by finding out what they’re interested in, what motivates them and then to provide them with the opportunities to engage…

GSB: …Including engaging with environmental issues…

AF: Of course! I want to help the guys find what their things are, in terms of community relations. For me, it was the green thing. The idea is to go beyond what the team and league expect. And the great thing is that hockey guys are, for the most part, very humble, very relatable.

GSB: So with that being the case, and harkening back to your long term mission of growing the game 20 to 40 years out, what can you and the league do to help young people choose to play hockey and also to become fans? In Canada, the NHL is still the biggest thing so maybe it’s easier there. But in the U.S., you’ve got basketball, football. Soccer is growing. Baseball is still a factor, of course. And then there are individual sports as well. Lots of competition.

AF: Great question. I’m a believer that people choose one pursuit over another based on emotion. What feels good. Something you can do with your friends. Maybe a terrific coach inspires you. We’re working with Hockey Canada and USA Hockey to emphasize fun, friendships, and teamwork with young players. That’s the way you create memories, that’s the way you create hockey players and lifelong fans.

GSB: I for one hope you succeed because once you get them in, then the younger generations will be exposed to the generosity of the players, the league’s community relations initiatives which, of course, include its myriad of green programs.

 


 

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Say It Ain’t So! Ben Ainslie Racing Signs Title Sponsor Deal with Fracking and Chemical Company Ineos; 11th Hour Racing No Longer a Partner

Sir Ben Ainslie is the most decorated sailor in Olympics history. As skipper of Land Rover BAR, the British entry in the 2017 America’s Cup in Bermuda, he won deserved plaudits from the green and sports worlds, for making environmental sustainability, in particular ocean health, a core value of his team.

One thing Land Rover BAR did not win was the 2017 America’s Cup, despite spending in the neighborhood of £100 million ($USD135 million) over the four-year cycle. By some estimates, it will cost as much as 30 percent more to mount a legitimate campaign for the 2021 Cup, to be contested in New Zealand.

So when British fracking and chemical company, Ineos, and its founder Jim Ratcliffe, offered Ainslie £110 million ($153 million) to fund the lion’s share of his 2021 America’s Cup quest, Sir Ben had a choice: Take the money and risk being labeled a greenwasher, or keep his good name and his well-earned global reputation as an eco-athlete among fans, his competitors, sponsors and more.

He chose the money. 

 

Since 2015, GreenSportsBlog has posted no less than 10 stories featuring Sir Ben Ainslie and his Land Rover BAR sailing team’s significant and substantive sustainability programs, including an interview with Sir Ben. I publicly lauded his and his team’s sustainability bona fides any chance I got.

That is why, as recently as two weeks ago, I could not have imagined writing this sentence:

Sir Ben Ainslie is a greenwasher.

Sir Ben earned that moniker with the April 26th announcement that his team had signed Ineos, one of the UK’s leading fracking firms, as title sponsor for its 2021 America’s Cup campaign. This was big news beyond merely the Green-Sports niche: The Guardian and CNN, among others, covered it.

 

Ainslie Ratcliffe

Jim Ratcliffe (l), CEO of Ineos, with Sir Ben Ainslie (Photo credit: Toby Melville/Reuters)

 

To get a sense of how stunning Ainslie’s 180 degree flip from eco-athlete to greenwasher is, one has to turn back the clock only two years or so.

 

AINSLIE WALKED SUSTAINABILITY WALK AND TALKED SUSTAINABILITY TALK IN 2017 AMERICA’S CUP CAMPAIGN

It is no exaggeration to say that sustainability was the most core of core values — along with trust and integrity — for the Land Rover Ben Ainslie Racing (BAR) team during its four year campaign to win the 2017 America’s Cup. The team:

  • Built a state-of-the-art home base in Portsmouth to BREEAM Excellent (the British equivalent of LEED Gold) standards
  • Used Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) to measure and improve the efficiency of its use of resources, including from a carbon point of view, in the building of its race and support boats. This was a first in sailing
  • Promoted its clean oceans ethos to fans around the world during the America’s Cup World Series prep races and at the America’s Cup finals in Bermuda through engaging, interactive educational programs
  • Shared its sustainability stories with millions of fans around the world through a myriad of mainstream, sailing and green media
  • Funded the installation of solar panels at Bermuda’s National Museum

And much, much more.

Land Rover BAR would not have been able to pull the above without its groundbreaking and close partnership with 11th Hour Racing.

The Newport, RI-based organization partners with elite sailing teams committed to sustainable practices, providing them with financial, technical and other support. America’s Cup hopeful Land Rover BAR was certainly the organization’s highest profile elite sailing team partner. In addition to an annual investment estimated to be in the seven figures, 11th Hour Racing provided Sir Ben and his team with a wide range of sustainability-related services.

As Jeremy Pochman, 11th Hour Racing’s President, said in an April, 2016 GreenSportsBlog post, “We work with [Land Rover BAR] to meet the ambitious standards we set together: challenge and change practices in technology, procurement, energy production and use, efficiency, economy, community and legacy.”

 

Jeremy Pochman

Jeremy Pochman, President, 11th Hour Racing (Photo credit: Yachts And Yachting)

 

In the same story, Sir Ben showed he was fully on board: “It was clear to me when we launched the team that we could make a real difference – to operate sustainably, protect the marine environment and positively impact the people and local businesses we needed to build a winning team. With the help of 11th Hour Racing, we’ve set up Land Rover BAR to be one of the most sustainable sports teams on the planet.”

And, after attending “Inspiring Sustainability Through Partnership,” a two-day, late 2016 program at the University of Cambridge sponsored by 11th Hour Racing, Sir Ben went even deeper, talking about the need for humanity to aggressively take on climate change.

“In the last 30 years, climate change has accelerated and we have lost the equivalent of a third of the size of Europe in Arctic sea ice. The impact of this change is an infrastructure breakdown in some parts of the world, with increased conflict and migration as people are displaced in their efforts to survive; and agriculture and food supply are lost through extreme weather events, such as huge droughts or severe flooding.”

“We have already seen a one degree global temperature rise since pre-industrial levels. I’ve got a 3-month old daughter and if we continue to do nothing then in her lifetime she will see a further three degree global increase. It will lead to a sea level rise of almost a meter and potential loss of over 24 per cent of the mammals and half of the plant species currently on the planet. In that scenario we can anticipate massive disruption to society as individuals and nations struggle for the resources – water, food, energy – required to survive.”

When one takes into account the depth of this quote and Ainslie’s massive global popularity (sailing is a very big deal in many countries, not so much in the U.S.), it’s not a stretch to say that Sir Ben was the most influential eco-athlete in the world.

 

SAY IT AIN’T SO! SIR BEN SELLS OUT FOR INEOS’ FRACKING MONEY

What a difference a year makes.

Last year at this time, Land Rover BAR and 11th Hour Racing were working together to bring sustainability to racing fans in Bermuda, site of the 2017 America’s Cup finals.

But just a couple of weeks ago, Sir Ben announced he had ditched incumbent title sponsor Land Rover — which supported the team’s sustainability ethos in a number of ways — for fracking^ giant Ineos.

As reported by Matthew Campelli in Sport Sustainability Journal on April 30, Ainslie’s partnership with 11th Hour Racing also is no more. While representatives of the organization declined to comment for this story, it seems impossible to imagine that 11th Hour Racing would have worked with Ineos Team GB. Pochman, co-founder Wendy Schmidt and the rest of the 11th Hour Racing team must feel gutted.

 

Ben Wendy Harry Kenney-Herbert-Land Rover BAR

During happier times, Sir Ben Ainslie with Wendy Schmidt, co-founder of 11th Hour Racing (Photo credit: Harry Kenney-Herbert/Land Rover BAR)

 

What the frack happened?

The prospect of skippering Britain’s first-ever America’s Cup win clearly trumped Sir Ben’s (I guess not so deep) commitment to sustainability.

And, with costs to mount a 2021 America’s Cup campaign expected to run as much as 30 percent higher as compared to 2017, money was an understandable concern for Ainslie.

Until Ineos’ Jim Ratcliffe, recently announced as Britain’s richest man, stepped up with his £110 million offer, that is.

Ainslie was quoted thusly by Martha Kelner in the April 26 issue of The Guardian: “The investment of Ineos leaves us with our best ever chance of bringing the America’s Cup home.” Allow me to translate that bland, press release-type language into what Sir Ben might have been thinking: Hmmm, with Ineos providing virtually all of my funding needs, I can focus on sailing pretty much 24-7. Land Rover and 11th Hour Racing won’t be able to cover our expenses by themselves so if I stayed with them, I would have had to spend valuable time selling more sponsors. And, if we end up needing additional funding, Mr. Ratcliffe can probably ring up his friends Charles and David Koch to sign on Koch Industries. OK let’s do this!

In the same story, somehow, the depth of climate change knowledge Sir Ben expressed in late 2016 eluded him in 2018: “Fracking is not a subject I’m an expert on, but I know, having worked with Ineos for this partnership, that they take their responsibilities with the environment extremely seriously.” Translation: Climate change? Sustainability? I want to talk about sailing! Of course if — strike that — when we bring the America’s Cup home to Britain, all of this will be forgotten by my fans, the media, everyone.

 

WILL FANS CARE?

Aside from some excited comments about the new partnership from sailing and technological perspectives, early reaction on Ineos Team GB’s Facebook account was largely negative. Many commenters were disgusted with Sir Ben’s turn towards Ineos and fracking and away from sustainability. Here’s a sampler:

$217 million buys your conscience and your morals? WOW! The seas are murderously loaded with plastics and your sponsor is a plastics manufacturer who intends to turn the UK into a toxic teabag for fracked gas. You are clearly seeing the dollars but ignoring the two most important issues of life, environment and health.

Please think about it. Ineos will pollute the ground. It’s not a safe bet for sponsorship.

Ineos is a fracking company which brings significant challenges for ongoing public support for the team.

But the sad truth is winning does cure pretty much everything, at least from a PR perspective. Many fans across all sports, from all corners of the world, excuse awful behavior from the favorite players, from domestic violence to tax fraud to PED# use, as long as they win. Sir Ben didn’t cheat. He didn’t beat anyone.

All Ainslie did was play the fans, sponsors and media — yours truly included — who bought into his “commitment to sustainability” spiel for fools.

All he did was make a mockery of his core values.

And all he did was show his now two year-old daughter that he values an America’s Cup on the mantel more than clean oceans and a hospitable climate.

Say in ain’t so, Ben.

 

^ Fracking (also known by its more technical name, hydraulic fracturing) is a process by which large amounts of water and sand, combined with often hazardous chemicals, are injected, at high rates of pressure, into rock formations to fracture surrounding material for the purpose of extracting oil and gas. Its negative environmental and health impacts are legion, many of which would’ve concerned pre-Ineos Sir Ben. These include contamination of groundwater, large volume water use in water-challenged regions, methane pollution which exacerbates climate change, exposure to toxic chemicals, and fracking-induced earthquakes.

 

 


 

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