The GSB Interview: Graham Ross, CEO and Co-Founder, Kusaga Athletic

Graham Ross, the CEO and Co-Founder of Australia-based Kusaga Athletic, wants to disrupt the way apparel is produced around the world. His quest has taken him across the globe, from Brisbane to Sydney to Singapore, to running a marathon on the Great Wall of China, to London, and more. We talked with Ross about how Kusaga came to be, the “World’s Greenest T-shirt,” and much more.

 

GreenSportsBlog: First of all, before we get into your background and how Kusaga Athletic came into existence, I have to ask you, what does Kusaga mean?

Graham Ross: Well, Lew, my business partner and I were looking for a word that meant recycle but not in English. So Kusaga means “recycle” in Swahili. We thought it sounded good and that Swahili is spoken in a part of Africa where running is religion. So there you have it.

GSB: Love it! OK, now how did you come to launch Kusaga? Have you been in the apparel business?

GR: Not originally. I’m from Maryborough, a small, inland country town, about three hours’ drive north from Brisbane in Queensland in the Northeast of Australia.

GSB: Sounds pretty remote.

GR: But I always wanted to be in television production so I needed to get myself towards a city. I got my start at two stations, one in my hometown and then a larger station on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland. In both cases, I was the guy who did everything: from news to on-air, to commercial production and directing for sports like soccer…Also music festivals.

GSB: What a great start to a career in TV production! This was after college, I presume. Where did you go?

GR: Oh, I didn’t go to university at all. I had these jobs from ages 17 to 24 so I guess you can say I went to the “University of TV.”

GSB: Sounds like you got an advanced degree!

GR: Indeed! So the next step for me was to go to a station in Brisbane, the third largest city in Australia and on to the politics beat. But I wanted to get to the biggest market, Sydney. Turns out, only 18 months into my tenure in Brisbane, an editor was needed for a primetime show in Sydney. I flew down there for a trial run one morning, got offered a job at lunch and moved there two weeks later. I worked on a ton of programs…primetime, lifestyle and sports shows, you name it. Now, this was in 1995, when the TV production world was changing from videotape to digital. At that time, no one really knew what the opportunities of the new digital editing equipment would be, so I got training and quickly became schooled in it, in particular on a system called AVID, which worked like a tricked out Mac w/ specialized software. In the early days, it was somewhat complex and buggy and not many people were expert in it. Yet it was in demand. So I saw an opportunity to start an AVID-based business. I was newly married at the time yet spent $AUS160,000 — more than my house was worth — on an AVID system. It took awhile before I got my first piece of business, editing a corporate video for a nail salon of all things. From there we built up to handle post-production for many prime time shows in Australia.

GSB: Sounds like that $160,000 was a great investment…

GR: Oh yeah. And we grew rapidly, especially as cable TV started to explode in Australia. But, after a time, I got sick of making programs for networks without having any ownership so I formed a company with two former clients. We started in one room, grew to having a staff of 50. We produced our own shows and documentaries that aired on National Geographic Channel, Animal Planet and many others.

GSB: So you’d hit the big time…

GR: Yeah, it was great but it nearly killed me. It was very stressful, I was working seven days a week, dealing with lawyers more than producing, my weight was up to 90 kilograms (almost 200 lbs.)

GSB: So what did you do?

GR: Closed the business and moved to Singapore and followed my wife Jane and her job there with MSN for Asia-Pacific. This was 2008. Jane is a former journalist and she ran content for them. So I became a house dad for my kids, then 14 and 9. And I built up a new network of friends, including those in the triathlon world. I started doing them and really got into it. At a dinner party I met Matthew Ashcroft, who would become my business partner. He said he was going to run the Great Wall Marathon

GSB: There’s a marathon run on the Great Wall of China?

GR: A good chunk of it is run on the wall itself, yes. Anyway he asked, I said no, he called back, I said I’d do a half marathon. He called back and wouldn’t take no for an answer. So, we bonded as we were training for the race. Talked about business—Matthew was in TV but is 10 years younger than I so has a slightly different perspective. He wanted to be in a business with purpose. We started to explore what that looked like. Meanwhile, I did a bunch more triathlons, including an Ironman, and running races. After a time, I looked in my closet and saw that I had a million “finishers’ shirts” (t-shirts included in goodie bags by race organizers) that I never wore. The sponsors got nothing out of ’em because I’m sure I wasn’t unique in stuffing them in a closet. I also had no idea what fabrics were in those shirts. So I started to do research. Found out they were, not surprisingly, made of polyester, nylon, spandex and cotton. Was shocked when I learned about the horrific environmental impacts of polyester and cotton on water quality and greenhouse gas emissions. I was convinced we needed to do it better. I did some more research and found there were a bunch of fibers in labs that were not toxic, but were not commercially available at the time.

 

Graham & Matt GWM_Great Wall

Graham Ross (l) and Matthew Ashcroft, co-founders of Kusaga Athletic, finishing the Great Wall Marathon (Photo credit: Kusaga Athletic)

 

GSB: So you and Matthew, a couple of TV guys, researched your way into the athletic apparel business? Did you have any knowledge, beyond internet research, of fabrics, of materials?

GR: Not really. But we said to ourselves that we need to fundamentally reimagine the textile industry. You see, textiles hadn’t evolved. It was a lethargic business with a tremendous amount of waste. And we were stupid enough, I guess, to think we could make fabrics that were better for the environment and offered superior performance. So we put up our own money to start up Kusaga Athletic.

GSB: What did you do first?

GR: Serious R & D. Went to a factory in Korea; told them we have a bunch of natural fibers—bamboo, eucalypt and cellulose (waste wood) —and would like you to make them into yarn and then fabric. These fabrics would be compostable and biodegradable.

GSB: What did you want the fabrics to ultimately become?

GR: We started out with shirts for running, yoga, sportswear, gym and the outdoors, targeting the environmentally-focused, active person. Went to market late in 2015. Our first efforts were t-shirts for corporate events. Earth Hour became an early customer. We did a Kickstarter campaign in 2016 that raised $16,000, garnered 200 pledges and orders for hundreds of shirts. But there were significant challenges…We’d moved our manufacturing to Malaysia but the factory shut down. So we wrote our supporters a letter, telling them what happened. They wrote back saying, in effect, ‘we want our t-shirts but believe in your mission, so keep the money, and do what you have to do. We believe in you.’ That gave us the spring in our step that we needed. We looked to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and found the child of Vietnamese immigrants to the USA who had come back to be a seamstress. We showed her our fabrics; she had to learn how to work with them and did so in record time. That allowed us to get our shirts out to the pledgers who were really happy. So we had achieved one of our dreams to make a environmentally friendly t-shirt that performed at a super high level. But we still needed to upgrade our design and feel for our sportswear shirts.

GSB: How did you do that?

GR: We found a designer, Anna, originally from Bulgaria, now based in Sydney. Had run factories before, very direct. She played around with a bunch of designs. I was the model! We found that the sleeves were too long, didn’t feel good. So we went with a cycling-style sleeve, which felt much better.

 

Graham Overseeing Design

Graham Ross and the Kusaga Athletic design team. (Photo credit: Kusaga Athletic)

 

GSB: As a sometimes road cyclist, I get that…Talk a bit about the performance…

GR: Sure…They’re super lightweight and they wick moisture off the body.

GSB: …A la Underarmour…

GR: Exactly. In fact; we kind of look at ourselves as a sort of a sustainable Underarmour. Or better still, as a fusion of Underarmour and Patagonia. Our Greenest Tee, is made out of all biodegradable, compostable ingredients called ECOLITE® which is super for everyday wear or getting active like yoga.

 

 

Greenest Tee on the Planet

Kusaga Athletic’s “Greenest Tees on the Planet” (Photo credit: Kusaga Athletic)

 

 

Kusaga Red Yoga Top
Kusaga Athletic’s “Greenest Yoga Top” (Photo credit: Kusaga Athletic)

 

GSB: What makes it the Greenest Tee?

GR: Remarkably, an average cotton t-shirt uses about 3000 liters of water during the cotton plants’ growth and the garment’s manufacture. If you own 10 cotton shirts, that would be the equivalent of a small swimming pool worth of water. Our Greenest Tee needs less than 1% of that amount of water due to sustainable crops grown with rainwater. Now, for performance sports like running, for the gym and also team sports, we created a degradable polyester, ECODRY®.

GSB: Degradable polyester? That sounds like an oxymoron of sorts. How does that work?

GR: The fabric has been degraded in controlled compost conditions and that process is in continual development. Our plan is to offer our customers a “send back” scheme at the garment’s end of life, redirecting the waste from landfill.

GSB: Wouldn’t shipping those shirts at end-of-life involve incremental carbon emissions that would negate the benefits of the avoided landfill emissions? Have you figured that into the equation?

GR: We already offset our transportation greenhouse gas emissions through investments in climate protection projects across the world, we plan to include this scheme into that portfolio.

GSB: Glad to hear it. So you had the fabrics, you had the t-shirts. Aside from the initial orders and the t-shirts for corporate events, how did you get them to market?

GR: We started by going to long distance events with sustainability in their DNA. The Evergreen Endurance Ironman Triathlon in Chamonix, France was our first as it was trying to be a carbon neutral sports event. The reaction was positive. More races followed, especially in Australia, we got involved with events like the Run Nation Film Festival, a 20 venue festival across the country that features human interest, running-themed films. More positive reaction ensued.

GSB: So you’ve mostly proved the concept of green performance athletic apparel, it seems. How do you scale Kusaga Athletic?

GR: It goes back to reimagining the apparel industry, including athletic apparel. We kind of view things as Red Ocean vs. Blue Ocean.

GSB: What does that mean?

GR: Well, if we go against the Nike’s and the adidas’ of the world—the big guys—we’ll get killed and, metaphorically speaking, the ocean will be filled with our blood. If, on the other hand, Kusaga Athletic becomes the leading sustainable textile company—and a B-Corp at that—to scale, we’ll have the blue ocean largely to ourselves.

GSB: Maybe you should call it the green ocean…So you’re trying to create a new, large-scale category: Sustainable Textiles, with a focus on athletic apparel.

GR: That’s it. But we can see many other uses for our sustainable fabrics; from bedding to construction screening. To help us scale we’re seeking partnerships in R & D and social media.

GSB: What about athlete endorsers?

GR: Yes, we’re on that now. Luke Tyburski — he’s a bit of a nutbag! — is on our team. He’s a former soccer player who turned into this Endurance Adventurer…

GSB: What is an Endurance Adventurer?

GR: Oh, he runs in marathons and extreme long distance races like the Marathon des Sables across the Sahara, the Everest Ultra Marathon, the Morocco to Monaco race…

GSB: I had no idea there were such things, nor that any humans could complete these races.

GR: Oh there are and they do…Also Phil Dernee is an endorser. He just finished a Six Day Ultra Marathon on the Big Island (Hawai’i)…

GSB: Piece of cake!

GR: Not quite…Then we have Philippa Candrick. Her story is incredible. She was never a runner and then had a brain tumor. Lost much of her memory. She almost died on the operating table as they removed it. Finally as she was recovering she decided to start running. Her memory started to come back. And she kept on running—to the point to where she ran the Great Wall Marathon with me last year.

 

Graham and Phillipa_GWM 2016

Philippa Candrick (l) and Graham Ross running the 2016 Great Wall Marathon (Photo credit: Kusaga Athletic)

 

GSB: Incredible indeed! It sounds like Kusaga is poised for the next step in its product life cycle. Does retail play into that? And when will Kusaga establish a beachhead in the U.S.A.?

GR: We are looking to grow sustainably but, with that said, retail partnerships are next. As for the States, I’d say you will be seeing us in the not-too-distant future.

 


 

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GSB News and Notes: Formula-E Is a Hit In Brooklyn; D.C.’s New Audi Field Goes Green via Green Bonds; Study Shows Winter Sports Fans Support Athlete Engagement on Climate Change

Here is a GSB News & Notes column for your mid-summer reading pleasure: Formula-E, the all-electric vehicle racing circuit, came to New York City (Red Hook, Brooklyn, to be exact) for the first time ever with two races over the weekend. Audi Field, the future home of Major League Soccer’s D.C. United, will open with both a solar array and stormwater storage that was funded in part by an innovative, DC-based green bond program. And a small research study conducted at the 2017 Nordic World Ski Championships in Lahti, Finland this February demonstrated that fans are very receptive to climate change statements from professional skiers.

 

FORMULA-E A HIT IN BROOKLYN

The Red Hook neighborhood in Brooklyn is not normally associated with great New York City sporting events. There are no stadiums nor arenas nearby. Subways are nowhere to be found.

But this weekend, the quiet if increasingly hip waterfront section of town was quiet no more as its streets played host to the first-ever automobile road race in New York City history—and it happened to be one that featured only electric vehicles (EVs).

England’s Sam Bird won both rounds of the Qualcomm New York City ePrix, the ninth and 10th rounds of Formula-E’s 2016-17 season on Saturday and Sunday. Bird drives for DS Virgin Racing, owned by sustainable business innovator Sir Richard Branson. Formula-E, now nearing the end of its third campaign, is the world’s first and only all-EV racing series.

 

Formula E Bird 2nd Steven Tee:LAT Images:FIA Formula E via Getty Images

Sam Bird, driving in the red car on the left, starts off in second place in the Qualcomm New York City ePrix on Saturday in Red Hook, Brooklyn. (Photo credit: Steven Tee/LAT Images/FIA Formula E via Getty Images)

 

Formula-E Branson Bird Stephane Sarrazin

But while Bird (c) started in second, he finished in first in both the Saturday and Sunday legs, earning a Champagne Shower from Sir Richard Branson (l) and DS Virgin Racing teammate Stéphane Sarrazin. (Photo credit: Kevin Hagen, Getty Images)

 

While exact attendance figures have not been released, the Associated Press reported that “thousands attended thraces, packing two metal grandstands overlooking the track…Organizers ran shuttle buses from Barclays Center to the race site about three miles away. There were also ride-share stations, a bicycle valet and water taxis and ferries from Manhattan.”

And, according to a CNN.com story by Matthew Knight, Brooklyn and Formula-E share an understandable affinity for renewable energy: “Formula-E [didn’t provide] too much of a drain on local electrical supplies during its visit — all the race cars [were] charged using carbon-neutral glycerine generators provided by British firm Aquafuel.”

New York City’s entrance into EV road racing adds another top tier metropolis to Formula-E’s already impressive roster, which includes Buenos Aires, Hong Kong, Paris and Montreal, host of the season finale at the end of this month.

 

AUDI FIELD TO SPORT SOLAR, STORMWATER STORAGE, FINANCED BY GREEN BOND

Audi Field, the new home of Major League Soccer’s (MLS’) D.C. United that’s set to open next year, will be on the forefront of green stadium design and performance:

  • An 884 kW solar array, installed by local vendor New Columbia Solar, will be situated on the stadium’s canopy and in other areas of the site.
  • There will storage for more than 55,000 cubic feet of stormwater on site through green roofs, bio-retention areas, and infiltration basins.
  • Energy and water efficient technologies will be employed throughout the stadium.

 

Audi Field

Artist’s rendering of Audi Field, the new home of D.C. United (Credit: D.C United)

 

According to a story by Jennifer Hermes in the July 10 issue of Environmental Leaderthe measures described above “are being funded through the [capital district’s Department of Energy and Environment’s] D.C. PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy) program’s green financing solution, which operates through a public-private partnership, allowing local lenders to fund environmentally beneficial projects at no cost to taxpayers.” The $25 million deal, done through a relationship with locally-based EagleBank, is the nation’s largest single PACE note issued to date, according to D.C. United.

Per Hermes, PACE’s funding will also include resources for “high-efficiency heating and cooling systems, LED field lighting, additional building insulation, and low-flow water fixtures.” D.C. PACE asserts these measures will result in a 25% reduction in energy use and will reduce emissions by 820 metric tons of CO2 annually, saving the club an estimated $125,000 annually on utility bills.

Writing in the July 6 issue of CurbedPatrick Sisson noted that, in addition to PACE’s clean energy deal, the project also includes a $95 million loan from Goldman Sachs.

While public financing of stadiums and arenas has, in the main, not proven to be a good deal for taxpayers, perhaps Audi Field’s green bonds approach will provide an innovative exception—as well as become a model for other stadiums and cities. Writes Sisson: “Funding these types of designs or retrofits saves owners money, may prolong the useful life of an existing stadium, helps cities cut emissions, and sets an example for other projects in the community (In less than two years, the D.C. PACE program has provided $30 million in private capital for projects including small businesses, affordable multifamily housing, and a charter school).”

While D.C. United’s colors are red and black, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has bought in to the club’s greenness, saying in a statement that the stadium will boost local economic development and create good green jobs for District workers, “all without costing DC government a cent.”

 

RESEARCH SHOWS SKI FANS REACT POSITIVELY TO CLIMATE CHANGE STATEMENTS FROM ATHLETES

The sample size was very small, so the conclusions drawn can only be directional rather than definitive.

But.

Research conducted in February by M Inc., in collaboration with Protect Our Winters Finland, at the 2017 FIS Nordic World Ski Championships in Lahti, Finland demonstrated that sports fans—at least a small sample of Nordic skiing fans in Europe— welcome climate change messaging from athletes.

A group of athletes who took part in the Championships gave video statements to their fans as to 1) why it is important to care about climate change and, 2) how we all can help in the climate change fight by changing a few specific behaviors. 44 spectators, chosen at random, were asked to view this 45-second edited video athlete statement and fill in a short questionnaire to measure what they thought of it.

 

 

The study’s conclusion?

Fans at the Championships were very receptive to climate change statements from pro skiers – across age, gender, nationality and whether they ski themselves or not. Fans also said that they felt much more motivated to change some of their behavior in support of the climate change fight (8.12 average on a scale of 1-10).

When asked, in an open-ended question, what they liked the most about the video statement, 51 per cent of the fans mentioned that professional athletes were giving the statement. Some of these fans also emphasized that professional athletes were showing their passion about the issue, that they formed an international mix and that it was a positive message.

GreenSportsBlog’s conclusion?

The Green-Sports world needs to fund and conduct more research, among a wide cross section of sports fans, on fan attitudes, in North America, Europe and beyond, towards environmental issues, including climate change. The studies must consist of fans who go to sports events and, this is important, the much larger group of fans who consume sports on TV, online, radio and newspapers. In fact, these studies need to be conducted every 1-2 years to see how fans’ awareness of, and attitudes towards green-sports are changing over time.

The only major, quantifiable study that I know of was conducted on North American sports fans (defined as people who attend at least two sports events per year) by Turnkey Sports & Entertainment in 2014 and funded by the Green Sports Alliance. In research terms, that’s ancient history. And, while the M Inc. study is helpful, the small sample size means that the takeaways have to taken with a grain of salt.

 


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The GSB Interview: Alexandra Rickham, Paralympic Sailor and Eco-Warrior

British Paralympic medal-winning sailor and Green-Sports eco-warrior Alexandra Rickham’s story is one of the most compelling GreenSportsBlog has had the good fortune to tell. So our introduction today is extremely short. Enjoy!

 

GreenSportsBlog: Paralympic sailor and now Green-Sports leader. I can’t wait to hear this story. How did it all begin? 

Alexandra Rickham: Not a Green-Sports leader yet but I hope to get there. Well, I was born in Jamaica to a British dad and a Jamaican mum. I was very active and was inspired to love sports watching the 1988 Seoul Olympics—I rode horses, swam, played tennis. Lived in Jamaica until I was 12, went to boarding school in the U.K, came back to Jamaica for my summer holidays after a year and then had a diving accident that left me a quadriplegic.

GSB: Oh my God! Was this from the neck down?

AR: Actually it’s from the chest down…

GSB: So what did you do?

 

Team GBR Sailors June 2013

Alexandra Rickham, British Paralympic sailor and eco-athlete. (Photo credit: Paul Wyeth)

 

AR: Well, I rehabbed in a lot of places including Miami at Jackson Memorial…

GSB: Is that related to The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis and former American football player Marc Buoniconti?

AR: Exactly. And, while my main focus turned to education more than sport, I wasn’t going to give up sport altogether. First thing, sport-wise, post injury was try sailing through Shake A Leg, a Biscayne, FL nonprofit that gets people with disabilities to try sailing.

GSB: Had you sailed before the accident?

AR: Yes but only a couple of times. Sailing, despite Jamaica being an island nation, was not a big sport there.

GSB: How is that possible? Jamaica has bobsledders but not sailors?

AR: You would think, wouldn’t you? But it’s true, we have a small competitive sailing scene. I also tried skiing through a great group called Backup Trust.

 

SKI

Alexandra Rickham tries her hand at para-skiing, thanks to the assistance of the Backup Trust. (Photo credit: Alexandra Rickham)

 

GSB: OK, forgive me, but how do you sail and ski when you are paralyzed from the chest down? 

AR: Well, in sailing, the boats are designed for this purpose. The seat I sit in is fixed and I am strapped in. There is a push-pull system that allows me to steer even with my limited muscle control. My biceps are functional but my triceps are pretty much useless. As for para-skiing, it’s big in the nordic countries with the use of ski carts and a push pull system. 

GSB: This seems incredibly…risky. I would think you would’ve been extra careful.

AR: Oh that definitely wasn’t me! But, as I said, education came first so sailing was put on the back burner. I went to the University of Bath to study Natural Sciences with an initial focus on biology but then I switched to environmental studies. After graduation I looked for a job for about a year in the environmental field but had no luck. It was the first time my disability really came into play.

GSB: How so?

AR: Some of the interview questions were quite unsuitable. Anyway I then went back to get a Master’s degree in environmental technology at the Imperial College in London…

GSB: What is environmental technology, anyway?

AR: Well, it’s not as “tech-y” as one might think. The focus was really on global environmental policy, which actually was quite interesting. My Master’s dissertation was Carbon Neutrality on the Isle of Man as an Example of an Island State. While there, one of the British sailing developmental squad members approached me. He was looking for someone to helm for him and challenge for a spot at the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games. Lets just say there was more sailing than dissertation writing.

GSB: How did he find you?

AR: The Backup Trust folks knew I had an interest in sailing and got them in touch. Plus, and this is unique to Paralympic Games, but they needed a woman with my level of disability. The boat was designed for that.

GSB: What are the levels of disability and where did you fit in?

AR: Great questions. I am considered a 1.0, the highest level of disability as laid out by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC). My partner was a 2.0— a paraplegic. I trained with the guy and due to funding the partnership fell apart but I knew I wanted to pursue sailing at the Paralympics. My parents sort of rolled their eyes. But I didn’t know if the opportunity would become real. So in the summer of 2007 I got a job as an environmental technology assistant at BP.

GSB: That was an interesting time. If memory serves that’s when BP was branding itself as Beyond Petroleum. Were you concerned about being part of a greenwash?

AR: Not really. I mean I understand the question. But I looked at it differently. My role as an environmental technology assistant gave me a great opportunity to learn about all the aspects of the environment and business from a company in a dirty business that, at the time, knew that it would have to diversify its energy mix in some way. Of course I wasn’t naive but I loved the job, the people I worked with and learnt loads. So sailing was on the back burner again.

GSB: Somehow, I have a feeling sailing was about to move to the front burner again…

AR: You are good! I got a call from the Royal Yachting Association; they said, “we have someone for you to sail with.” I told ’em, “I’ve got a good job…” but they sold hard—said they had an up and coming partner, Niki Birrell, a 7.0 with cerebral palsy. We would be funded, which was a huge issue. So I went to my boss at BP—a sailor herself…

GSB: What are the odds of THAT?!

AR: Exactly! Anyway so I asked for leave, she said yes, and I said “LET’S DO THIS!”

GSB: When was this?

AR: October, 2007. Niki and I were sailing a month later as the boat was packed up and we went to Miami.

GSB: How did you guys get along?

AR: We were an interesting pairing. We are very different people plus he’s five years younger than I am. So I needed to look after him a bit. He hadn’t traveled but was a sailing veteran. I had been all over the place but was a sailing rookie. In our first regatta, we beat the incumbent British boat that was the favorite for the GB Beijing spot. It was a surprise, really, as I think we were viewed as potential for London 2012, not Beijing. We were younger than the incumbent. So that allowed me to leave BP and train full time.

GSB: How did you get paid?

AR: We were paid a grant by the U.K. High Performance Programme. And we trained like crazy in a nine-month sprint to Beijing. Which was insanely short; most teams are together for several years. But we went to Qingdao in May, 2008 where Paralympic Sailing would take place and won the Test Event. Incredible!

GSB: Incredible indeed! You were ready for the Paralympics…

AR: Yes, but it gave us a bit too much confidence and, at the Paralympic Games, the weather didn’t favor us and we ended up coming in fifth place.

GSB: Still, to even make it to Beijing in such a short period of time…

AR: I guess, but Niki and I were disappointed. We took a few months off and then decided to go for it in London 2012. Only thing was, since we didn’t medal in Beijing, we got less money for training. Still, on a shoestring budget, we went off to Miami in January 2009 to start prepping for London. Raised some more money. Raced in Newport and Marblehead and elsewhere in New England. Kept getting beaten by a U.S. team but we got better. Went to the World Championships in Greece in October, 2009 and won it!

GSB: Congratulations!

AR: Thanks! In fact, that was the first of five straight World Championship wins for us. In 2011, the Worlds were held at Weymouth, England, in advance of London 2012. We won at Weymouth…

GSB: But I bet there was no overconfidence…

AR: Exactly right. By this time, the Aussies were our main competition and it was tight. They’d win one, we’d win one, that kind of thing. But when it came time for London 2012, even though we had the right mental attitude, we made some mistakes in boat preparation and in tactics and we ended up with a Bronze. We were happy to medal, especially at a home country Olympics but still, we had another sour taste in our mouths.

 

2012 Paralympic Games

Alexandra Rickham and teammate Niki Birrell with their bronze medals at the 2012 London Paralympic Games. (Photo credit: OnEdition)

 

GSB: So…did you try to go for Rio 2016? 

AR: Yes. But by this time the partnership was struggling. Issues wouldn’t go away and I think we patched things as we went along but were never a complete unit. Still, we stuck it out, won our last World Championship in 2013, got silvers after that.

GSB: So what happened in Brazil?? 

AR: Well, we went into that Paralympics as one of the favorites again…The pressure was intense because sailing was taken off the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games docket. We knew this was our last shot at Paralympic gold, this my last Games and, after Rio, it was back to the real world. Again, things went wrong. We came away with our second straight bronze, behind the Aussies (gold) and the Canadians (silver). Really, losing to the Aussies wasn’t the thing that bugged me but the Canadians? We hadn’t lost an event to them for years. Not good, but they sailed better and that’s sports.

GSB: Still, medals in two Paralympics. Not too shabby in my book. Now, speaking of Rio, much was said and written, including in GreenSportsBlog, about the horrible environmental conditions of the sailing, rowing and outdoor swim venues. What was your experience?

AR: Another difference between me and my partner Niki is that he’s not environmentally conscious. So it was quite something to me that he was very sad about the state of the water in Rio, both for the competitors and, more so, for the residents. He had never seen anything like it and neither had I.

GSB: What did you see? 

AR: Lots and lots of rubbish. This was a problem because it would get caught on the keels and I couldn’t clear it, and then we’d be stuck. There were dead fish as well. We were very careful about hygiene, doing whatever we could to keep the water off of us. Luckily for us, we didn’t get ill while there. But, the state of play of the water did improve from when we first went down to Rio to train in 2014 until 2016.

GSB: Did you think the sailing competition should’ve been moved from the polluted Guanabara Bay to a cleaner venue some miles away from Rio? There was a great deal of controversy about this, with the Rio organizers and TV networks pushing to keep the sailing at the Guanabara because of the spectacular vistas while some athletes, activists, doctors and sailing officials wanted to move the event to cleaner waters. Where did you stand? 

AR: Ahhh, that’s a difficult question. I mean all of us in sailing want more visibility for our sport. Seeing the Union Jack on the spinnaker with Sugarloaf in the background was just amazing. The underreported part of this story was that the Guanabara is perhaps the most difficult venue for sailors, the ultimate test. So we wanted to sail there for sure. But, from solely an environmental perspective, the question is easy: Move the sailing to a clean venue. In the end of the day, it was probably a good thing that they kept sailing at the Guanabara because it highlighted the problems—the rubbish, the water quality, and the conditions for the people of Rio. The rubbish definitely improved some; hopefully the water quality did, too.

 

Rio 2016 Paralympic Sailing Competition

Alexandra Rickham and Niki Birrell sail for Great Britain in the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games in the Guanabara Bay, with Sugarloaf in the background. “The Guanabara” was a source of controversy in the run-up to the Olympics and Paralympics, owing to its significant pollution levels. (Photo credit: Richard Langdon)

 

GSB: It is crucial for the sailing world and other sports governing bodies to keep attention focused on Rio’s environmental progress—or lack thereof. So, after Rio, you said you had to get back to the real world. What does that look like for you?

AR: I’m working for PCSG within their sustainability consultancy arm, headed by Susie Tomson, formerly sustainability director for Land Rover BAR, Britain’s entry in the 2017 America’s Cup…

GSB: Susie Tomson? GreenSportsBlog interviewed her! She’s terrific! What are you doing with PCSG?

AR: I’m there to work with Susie on sustainability in sport. We are doing some reporting for London 2017 Para-World Athletics and IAAF World Championships. I’m also looking at the big picture of the sporting environment, collating information and putting together a comprehensive database about what teams, leagues, venues and other governing bodies are putting in place, sustainability-wise. And from there, we will hopefully be able to use the database to clearly demonstrate the value of sustainability in sport and really drive its further adoption.

GSB: This sounds like the perfect transition for you—from Paralympic athlete to the real “Green-Sports” world. Please keep us informed as to your progress. And thank you for sharing your amazing story with us. All the best!

 

 

 

 


 

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The GSB Interview: Justin Zeulner, Previewing the 2017 Green Sports Alliance Summit

THIS IS PART TWO OF A TWO-STORY SERIES ON THE GREEN SPORTS ALLIANCE.

Part One, posted Thursday, centered on the Alliance’s statement about President Trump’s decision to pull the U.S out of the Paris Climate Agreement (#Prexit) and its new “Live Green or Die” initiative.

Today’s Part Two is devoted to the seventh annual Green Sports Alliance Summit, taking place in Sacramento, CA at Golden 1 Center, the new LEED Platinum home of the NBA’s Kings, June 27-29. The Summit’s theme is PLAY GREENER™. What does that mean, exactly? To find out the answers to this and other Summit-related questions, GreenSportsBlog spoke with Alliance Executive Director Justin Zeulner. NOTE: The interview took place before Prexit. 

 

GreenSportsBlog: Justin, I know things must be crazy with the 2017 Green Sports Alliance (Alliance) Summit in Sacramento close at hand so thanks for taking the time to talk. Tell us, what does the Alliance mean by the PLAY GREENER theme for the Summit?

Justin Zeulner: My pleasure, Lew. To us, PLAY GREENER, which is not only the tagline for the Summit, but also for the Alliance more broadly, means anyone and everyone in the sports industry can get involved in the sports greening movement. We’re focusing this year’s Summit on how fans, athletes, and communities are getting engaged around sustainability. At the Summit, attendees will hear stories about how teams, leagues, venues, and athletes are doing this through our plenary and panel discussion. Many of our breakout sessions will even provide road maps for how they’re doing this inspiring work. To give you a sense of what I mean by that, let’s go back a few years. You know well, and have written about how the sports greening movement’s early days were mainly inward focused, concentrating on the greening of the games at the stadium, at the arena—from LED lights, to LEED certified stadiums, to recycling. Well that work has become the norm now; the green sports standards are pretty much set. The Summit is going to highlight how the next, impactful opportunity for green sports and the Alliance is to be outwardly focused. How teams are connecting with fans, at the stadium but also, crucially, at home, to get them making mindful, greener decisions; how teams and leagues are working with environmental non-profits and community groups; how corporate sponsors are getting behind green sports initiatives; and more.

 

Zeulner headshot_PBJ

Justin Zeulner, Executive Director, Green Sports Alliance (Photo credit: Green Sports Alliance)

 

GSB: Well, you’re certainly talking GreenSportsBlog’s language, Justin. So many more fans consume sports on TV, online, and through other media than actually attend games. So you, we, have to get them involved in green sports.

JZ: And that we’ll be in Sacramento for PLAY GREENER is no accident. As we are being hosted by one of the leaders of the sports greening movement, the Sacramento Kings, at the LEED Platinum Golden 1 Center. The arena, a result of an innovative private-public partnership, demonstrates that Greater Sacramento is dedicated to being green through eco-smart buildings that is leading to a healthier community, not in some distant future but now, and in the near-term future. PLAY GREENER connotes a sense of urgency, that the time to act on environmental issues, on climate change, is now. We can’t leave it solely to our kids.

GSB: Amen! Do you think fans, whether at the ballpark or at home or on their mobile device, are ready to PLAY GREENER? By that I mean are they open to receiving environmental, climate change messaging through sports?

JZ: Yes! In fact, research shows fans are open to green messaging through sports. Because when people are in the sports environment, no matter where they’re consuming sports, they’re no longer Democrats or Republicans. Rather, they are Yankees fans or Cubs fans or you name it. And the word fan is absolutely key here. The passion of the fan differentiates sports from other forms of entertainment. If you reach them with a positive environmental message while people are in their fan mode, you can get to them.

 

Golden 1 Center

Golden 1 Center, home of the NBA Sacramento Kings and the site of the 2017 Green Sports Alliance Summit (Photo credit: Sacramento Kings)

 

GSB: Sounds like you’re talking about green sports, Version 2.0.

JZ: I think Version 5.0 is probably more accurate…

GSB: You know what? I agree…As there have been several inflection points for the sports greening movement over the past few years…

JZ: When you take a step back, you can see that the sports greening movement is in the midst of a typical evolution in its “product life cycle.” At first, we had to build the foundation…the greening of the games at the venues. This allowed teams, venues and leagues to walk the walk. And the Alliance went from its foundation of 6 member teams to nearly 500, in 15 leagues and now in 14 countries–all in six years time. So the foundation is rock solid. Now we’re building the house, influencing society at large on climate change through sports. As I said before, the time is ripe for society to look inside our house to see what we’re doing. And what they’ll see when they look in are fan and community engagement programs, they’ll see more athletes getting involved. And—this is really important—all stakeholders in green sports will surely notice that the Alliance is moving from a model that focused mainly on the Summit as “the main thing”, with webinars mixed in, to a model that includes year-round, PLAY GREENER campaigns. Campaigns that include the Summit and webinars, but also the second annual Green Sports Day, October 6, as well as publications—like our Champions of Game Day Food Report and upcoming reports around paper and water.

GSB: How will PLAY GREENER play out in Sacramento?

JZ: We’re starting off with golf, which as you know, is innovating at a rapid pace in terms of the environment, from the PGA of America to the USGA to the R&A in the UK and beyond. A pre-Summit golf tournament, in concert with the Sacramento Kings Foundation, will kick things off at Granite Bay, a greening course…The Alliance is assisting there. Foursomes will see what is happening from a sustainability perspective as they play the course. And then there will be green golf content at the Summit. Another key area at the Summit will be food. The Kings will, at the Summit, share their approach to using local food at the arena, along with their concessionaire, Aramark.

 

Chip In Golf Invitational

 

GSB: Both are leaders in at the intersection of sports and sustainable food.

JZ: Absolutely. Another area we will be exploring at the Summit is measurement, where are we on measuring the sustainable efforts of our teams and how we can do better. This is a must for the Alliance and for the sports industry more broadly. We’ll be talking about how teams and venues are measuring water usage, energy and food waste. Also, the community impact of the teams’ and venues’ sustainability programs will be examined. What’s been really gratifying is that teams and leagues have really been pushing measurement of environmental impacts, which has attracted the interest of the EPA and of the DOE.

GSB: Makes sense. As the expression goes, what gets measured gets managed and what gets managed matters. Plus measurement—after all, what are batting average, third down conversion rate, player efficiency ratings, but measurement tools—is endemic to sports. I understand that the Pac-12 is having a “summit within the Summit” of sorts…What will that be about?

JZ: I’m glad you brought that up. In the big picture, we see the college sports in the US as a great area for growth of the sports greening movement. That’s certainly been the case the last few years. In fact, Ray Anderson, Athletic Director at Arizona State University and an Alliance board member, introduced us to leaders at the other Power 5 conferences (ACC, Big 12, Big Ten and SEC) and the NCAA. And he was a prime mover behind the first Pac-12 Green Sports Conference, which will take place in Sacramento the day before the Alliance Summit kicks off. It will take a deep dive into the many and varied green sports efforts undertaken by the conference and its member schools.^ We expect attendees from the other Power 5 conferences, non-Power 5 conferences, as well as Division II and III, to benefit from the sessions. In addition to the Pac-12, we’re also going to have a Green Sports Youth Summit, a joint effort of the Alliance, Climate Sports Student Summits, and the Kings Foundation. Hosted by radio personality Diana Dehm, we will have speakers from Disney, the How Low Can You Go Challenge, and more…

GSB: The in-school carbon reduction challenge that was started in Florida by Linda Gancitano?

JZ: Exactly. And we will also have, as in past years, our Women, Sports & the Environment Symposium. Our opening night speakers will include the Mayor of Sacramento, Kings owner and green sports visionary Vivek Ranadivé. And Basketball Hall of Famer Bill Walton will be interviewed by Abe Madkour, Executive Editor of Sports Business Journal.

GSB: Bill Walton? That is PERFECT. All-time great player. Announcer. Outsized personality. Grateful Dead Head. Environmentalist.

 

Walton

Bill Walton: Two time NCAA championship winner (UCLA), two time NBA champion (Portland, Boston), member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, NBA and college basketball announcer, Grateful Dead Head. And Keynote Speaker at the 2017 Green Sports Alliance Summit. (Photo credit: Awful Announcing)

 

JZ: I knew him when I worked with the Trail Blazers in Portland—he’s a real climate change advocate who knows what he’s talking about. Jeremy Jones from Protect Our Winters (POW) is also on the docket, as is sustainable surfing, and much more.

GSB: What Jeremy Jones and POW are doing is fantastic, especially their lobbying for climate action in Congress. Speaking of politics—nice segue, right?—have you noticed any slowing of interest on greening issues among team owners since the change of administrations in Washington in January. My educated guess is many team owners likely supported Donald Trump, not exactly a climate change fighting champion.

JZ: We have not seen any slow down of greening from any team owners, any league, or from sponsors. In fact, we’ve seen the opposite—more engagement by teams on sustainability since the election.

GSB: That’s great to hear. Sounds like it will be an active, fun and substantive summit. I can’t end our talk without bringing up the media—or, to be accurate, the lack of media attention green sports has gotten. How does the Alliance hope to combat that, at the Summit and beyond?

JZ: Well, we know we need to get the great green sports stories to media outlets. And they should cover them for two reasons: 1. Their audiences will like them, and 2. They’re powerful stories. I am confident increased media coverage will happen, naturally and organically.

GSB: Is that something the Alliance will be measuring over the coming months and years?

JZ: We already measure it, in the context of our members and the Alliance. We’ve seen a 60% increase in media references to our organization over last year. Let’s not forget the social conversations either—in 2016 we found #greensports saw an over 350% increase in use across Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram! We only anticipate the coverage to increase and the conversations to amplify!

GSB: Those are strong results and I hope you’re right. But “I’m from Mizz-ou-rah” on this: I feel network and local sports broadcasters need to do much more to publicize green sports. One more thing: If people want to PLAY GREENER and attend the 2017 Green Sports Alliance Summit, how do they go about it?

JZ: Easy. Just go to http://summit.greensportsalliance.org/register/ and you can sign up in a few minutes.

 

 

^ Pac-12 school roster: Arizona, Arizona State, Cal-Berkeley, Colorado, Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, UCLA, USC, Utah, Washington and Washington State

 

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

FIRST OF A TWO-PART, GREEN SPORTS ALLIANCE-FOCUSED STORY: The Green Sports Alliance (Alliance) offered an action-oriented statement as a response to the decision by President Trump to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Agreement. Partnering with basketball Hall-of-Famer Bill Walton, the GSA is using this “Post-Paris Exit” (#Prexit) moment to launch a new initiative, the “Live Green or Die™” challenge and to welcome individuals to join its ranks.

 

 

President Donald J. Trump’s announcement that he plans to pull the U.S out of the Paris Climate Agreement has, according to Justin Zeulner, executive director for the Green Sports Alliance, strengthened the Alliance’s resolve to do what it can to accelerate the pace of the greening of sports.

“In the current climate, we’ve gone from a state of concern to a state of emergency. Climate change threatens the sports industry’s very existence. It has never been more urgent for the industry to take action – and it’s doing just that,” said Zeulner. “Across the board, from owners to athletes, sports organizations are focusing their attention and resources on greening their sports. That singular focus is essential to winning in sports – and in the battle against climate change. The stakes are too high to risk inaction. Losing is not an option.”

The Alliance invited eco-athletes, team owners, and stadium designers to share their feelings on #Prexit and the way forward in the statement.

 

Bill Walton and the Alliance Partner to Involve Fans Now with LIVE GREEN OR DIE

The Alliance sees increasing fan involvement in the Green-Sports movement as an immediate and important next step. With that in mind, they are opening Alliance membership, heretofore the preserve of teams, venues, leagues and business, to individual fans. And they’re partnering with basketball Hall-of-Famer Bill Walton to do it.

 

Walton 2

Basketball Hall of Famer Bill Walton (Photo credit: USA Today)

 

Walton and the Alliance are urging fans to take the LIVE GREEN OR DIE™ challenge. Click here to take a pledge, commit to greater sustainability, and join the Alliance in leading the sports greening movement.

“We have the moral obligation, duty, and responsibility to do everything we can to remedy what’s happening – environmental cancers, poisoned water, and unbreathable air – all due to climate change, which is a self-inflicted tragedy,” intoned Walton as he pressed fans to take the challenge. “Get on the Green Sports Alliance express. This is not something that will happen by itself. Our success, our future, our lives depend on each of us taking positive and concentrated steps forward based on knowledge, science, and technology.”

 

Other eco-athletes are speaking out on Trump, Paris and Moving Forward

It’s not only Bill Walton.

The Alliance’s statement included the takes of several leading eco-athletes, some of whom may be familiar to GreenSportsBlog readers.

 

Andrew Ference

“It is incredibly disappointing to see the global efforts to combat climate change being politicized in the United States,” said former National Hockey League player Andrew Ference. “People and businesses from across the country don’t see this as a left or right issue, rather an issue which means going forward or backward. The world is stronger when America moves forward.”

Ference created the NHL Players Association Carbon Neutral Challenge in 2007, the first major environmental initiative in professional hockey. He encouraged more than 500 players to go carbon neutral, establishing him as a leader in the green sports movement. Ference holds a certificate in Corporate Sustainability and Innovation from Harvard Extension School, and is the most recent recipient of the Green Sports Alliance’s Environmental Leadership Award.

 

Ference

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

 

Mary V. Harvey

Olympic Gold medalist (soccer, Atlanta ’96) Mary V. Harvey called Prexit “extremely disappointing” but sees it as “a rallying cry for all of us to step up our game. And we will. Climate change is real, and we all have a responsibility to advocate for protecting our environment.”

During the FIFA reform process, Harvey helped organize a global campaign calling for gender equity as a core tenet. Over 12 weeks, #WomeninFIFA reached more than 10 million people. Recently Harvey became the first woman to receive the Werner Fricker Builder Award from US Soccer for her long-term advocacy of the sport.

 

 

Harvey

Mary V. Harvey, the first woman to receive the Werner Fricker Builder Award from US Soccer for her long-term advocacy of the sport (Photo credit: Mary V. Harvey)

 

Will Witherspoon

According to a recent survey by the Yale Program on Climate Communication, not only do 86 percent of Democrats want to remain in the Paris Climate Agreement, but so do 51 percent of Republicans. Will Witherspoon, who spent 12 years as a linebacker for the St. Louis Rams, Philadelphia Eagles, and Tennessee Titans, reflected this reality when he said, “The voices of the few should not outweigh the voices of the many. The work we do together is critical – now more than ever.” Witherspoon manages his Shire Gate Farm, a 500-acre, grass-fed cattle farm in Missouri, renowned for its use of sustainable farming techniques and certified by Animal Welfare Approved.

 

Witherspoon Jeremy M. Lange

Will Witherspoon at Shire Gate Farm in Missouri (Photo credit: Jeremy M. Lange)

 

Sacramento Kings Owner Speaks Out

Sacramento Kings owner and chairman Vivek Ranadivé sees sports as an important, positive counter-force to #Prexit.

“It is tremendously disheartening to see the recent step back from climate change leadership,” said Ranadivé. “However, through sport as a platform for good, we’re witnessing tremendous strides and new records in how businesses operate, how fans mitigate their impact on the planet, and how together, communities are working to preserve our environment for generations to come.”

 

Builders of sports venues are sticking with Paris

HOK, is, arguably, the world’s leading stadium and arena design, architecture, engineering, and planning firm. They are behind several of the most sustainable sports structures in North America, including Met Life Stadium, home of the Jets and Giants, Rogers Place in Edmonton (Oilers), and Nationals Park in Washington.

“We are encouraged by the number of current sports projects that are pursuing ambitious sustainable design goals,” said Chris DeVolder, HOK’s senior vice president and managing principal. “We stand by our commitment to AIA^ 2030, which targets carbon neutrality for all new buildings, developments, and major renovations by 2030, [as well as] the companies, organizations, and US cities, counties, and states that continue to honor the Paris Agreement. As a global firm, we can do no less.”

TOMORROW, PART TWO: A PREVIEW OF THE SEVENTH GREEN SPORTS ALLIANCE SUMMIT

 

^ AIA = American Institute of Architects

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The GSB Interview: Nicole Woodie, Manager, Chris Long Foundation’s “Waterboys”

Back in January, GreenSportsBlog ran a short feature in a News & Notes column about Waterboys.org, a nonprofit that funds the digging of wells in water-deprived areas of Tanzania in East Africa. Founded by Chris Long, the defensive end who was, at the time of our story, about to win a Super Bowl for the New England Patriots and has since moved down I-95 to sign with the Philadelphia Eagles, Waterboys is halfway to its goal of spearheading the digging of 32 wells. We received far more comments than usual on this post, with readers wanting to learn more. So today, we bring you our interview with Nicole Woodie, President of Fruition Giving, a philanthropy-consulting firm. Ms. Woodie manages Waterboys on behalf of the Chris Long Foundation.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Nicole, I have to tell you…GreenSportsBlog readers responded to our January story on Chris Long and Waterboys at an unusually high rate. They wanted to know more so I am glad to dig in to it with you. How did you get to work on Waterboys?

Nicole Woodie: Well, Lew, I got there by sort of a circuitous route. I started out as a political fundraiser in Missouri…

GSB: How did you get into that, especially at a young age? Sounds like an interesting story in itself…

 

Nicole Woodie 1

Nicole Woodie, President of Fruition Giving (Photo credit: Nicole Woodie)

 

NW: It started when my aunt decided to run for statewide office as Attorney General. She needed help in fundraising, I thought I’d be good at it and I thought she’d be a great AG so I gave it a shot. I started to have some success raising money and eventually became the campaign’s finance director. We ended up losing but I was able to get more work. Most notably, I worked as Finance Director for Robin Carnahan in her campaign for Secretary of State, which she won, and then as her deputy Finance Director for her unsuccessful US Senate bid.

GSB: You must have learned a ton…

NW: No doubt about it. But, while I was successful as a political fundraiser, what I really wanted to work in was sports—I love sports—and particularly sports philanthropy. So I pivoted to the world of community outreach. I got an internship with the St. Louis Rams and waited tables to earn some cash. And then, in 2011, the Rams hired me to work full time in community outreach, with a focus on getting players involved with causes and nonprofits that fit their individual interests.

GSB: That is a terrific story, Nicole! And now I see how you connected with Chris, as the club selected him out of the University of Virginia with the second overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft.

NW: That’s right. I started working with him on his community programs in St. Louis. What you have to know about Chris is this: When he gets passionate about a cause, he goes after it 100 percent.

GSB: So how did it play out that Chris ended up starting Waterboys and what is your role in the organization?

NW: OK, first let’s go back to 2013. That’s when Chris and his teammate James Hall climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. When they came down the mountain and toured the villages, Chris saw poverty like he’d never seen before. He was struck both by the tragic conditions in which the people lived and by their resiliency and the beauty of the area. He resolved that he didn’t want to just be a tourist and had to do something. 

GSB: What was that something?

NW: He wasn’t sure. But then came a chance encounter at a hotel bar while Chris was having a beer.

GSB: This sounds like we’re getting into film noir territory. Did it involve a blonde in a trench coat?

NW: Hardly. He hears a recognizable voice from behind him belt out “Chris Long!” It turns out the voice belongs to Fox’ lead NFL broadcaster and St. Louis Cardinals announcer Joe Buck. He was there with Doug Pitt, Brad’s brother…

GSB: …You cannot make this up!!!

NW: You’re right, Lew. Doug Pitt was a goodwill ambassador to Tanzania at the time and was there with Buck on a water project. They asked Chris to join them but he couldn’t. But, when he returned to St. Louis he set about educating himself on the water crisis, talked to Doug Pitt some more and then he started the Chris Long Foundation in 2015, with Waterboys launching in August of that year.

GSB: And where did you come in?

NW: At around that time I had decided to leave the Rams and go out on my own to broaden my impact in sports philanthropy. Chris brought me on to run and manage the foundation and, ultimately, Waterboys.

GSB: What does that mean?

NW: I handle administration, events, fundraising, PR and the back end…

GSB: Basically, you do it all. Impressive. Back to the “Birth of Waterboys” story…

NW: Yes…So, back in 2015, if you recall that was around the time of the Ice Bucket Challenge which raised millions of dollars for ALS research. Chris was amazed at the power of social media and collective action could do. And then he thought ‘We need to do this with water.’ Then he put pen to paper and Waterboys was born. Chris realized several crucial facts: 1. Water is a life-death issue. 2. Solutions exist to the water crisis. 3. Solving that crisis will allow water to transform communities by leading to economic growth, increased education and gender equality. He asked himself how he could involve the league and its players, thinking, ‘If I can get guys in each NFL market to get involved, we’ll get more people to care.’ So the idea to fund the digging of 32 wells, one for each team, was born. We recruited one player from each team. By August 2015, we had gotten 22 Waterboys from 21 NFL teams. Each player donated or assisted in raising funds and asked his fans to do the same.

GSB: That’s incredible. How involved was Chris personally?

NW: He was working on this every week, even in-season.

GSB: So with all of this activity, how many wells have actually been built?

NW: At this point we’ve completed the digging of 16 wells with funding in place for five more. This means 66,000 people now have clean drinking water. When the five that are funded are completed, the number of people served will be in the 70,000-80,000 range.

 

Waterboys 1

Chris Long (2nd from right) was in East Africa in 2015 for the digging of Waterboys’ first well. (Photo credit: Waterboys)

 

 

Waterboys 2

The fruits of Waterboys’ labors, fresh drinking water. (Photo credit: Waterboys)

 

GSB: When do you project that all 32 wells will be funded?

NW: We’re looking at 2018…

GSB: That is a rapid pace…

NW: That’s the only way Chris knows how to work.

GSB: Now, how does Waterboys go about getting the wells dug?

NW: The Chris Long Foundation funds the wells and the digging of them. WorldServe International, on whose board Doug Pitt sits…

GSB: …Brad’s brother!

NW: …the very same. Anyway World Serve International does the work in country. All of the wells are built using Tanzanian crews. Each one serves up to 7,500 people. Solar panels generate the power to operate the wells. The community pays a tiny fee to use the wells, which pays for the upkeep. And everyone in the community where the wells exist gets access to them, which keeps corruption out.

GSB: This is such an amazing program! What are your plans to scale this to other countries in sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere? Will you broaden Waterboys to sports other than football?

NW: Our goal is to get water to 1 million people so we are looking at bringing athletes from other sports into the mix. The plan for now is to stay in East Africa, as the need there is massive and acute.

GSB: Got it. OK, I gotta ask one last question. I saw recently that ex-Steelers quarterback; NFL legend and Fox NFL Today host Terry Bradshaw made a big donation to Waterboys. Tell us how that happened…

NW: Terry of course works with Howie Long, Chris’ dad, on NFL Today. He calls Chris his godson. Terry had heard about Waterboys, did a feature on it on the Super Bowl pregame show. So he and his wife committed to fund the balance of well number 17 and gave an additional $45,000 to fund their own well. And Terry pushed a video about Waterboys through churches in Pittsburgh, resulting in funding of yet another well.

GSB: Great job by Terry Bradshaw. OK, I lied. I have one more question. Climate change is likely exacerbating the water crisis in sub-Saharan Africa, including in Tanzania. Where does climate change fit in Chris’ calculus with Waterboys?

NW: Chris sees that climate change clearly goes hand in hand with water issues and is likely making it much worse. Waterboys’ main focus is getting to water to people who need it but climate change is something that will be part of the conversation as we plan for the future.

 


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The GSB Interview: Damian Foxall, Bringing Canadians Closer to Nature Through Sports

The Canadian Wildlife Federation is Canada’s largest conservation non-profit, with a mandate to get folks from New Foundland to British Columbia, especially kids, to experience nature up close. According to Recreation Education Manager and world class sailor Damian Foxall, outdoor sports, especially sailing and paddle boating, play key roles in the Federation’s efforts. We chatted with Foxall about his life on the water and how it influenced his work linking sports to conservation.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Damian, first of all, how did you get into sailing racing and, in particular, around-the-world races?

Damian Foxall: I’m sure you can tell from my accent that I’m from Ireland. Grew up in County Kerry and have been on the water, primarily sailing since birth. I also developed an appreciation for nature and the outdoors from that time as Kerry is amazingly beautiful and wild.

GSB: I’ve been there; I know!

DF: Yes, I grew up near Ring of Kerry National Park, near Skelligs Rock. Just spectacular. And it’s a great area for sailing, wind surfing, fishing. I did all of those but sailing was my thing. So I left high school when I was 16, 17 years of age to sail.

GSB: Oh, your parents must’ve loved THAT!

DF: They weren’t too impressed, let’s just say. I thought about studying Marine Biology but the adrenaline rush of sailing took over. Delivered a boat to the Caribbean and never looked back. Spent from about 1987-1995 in the Caribbean sailing and becoming a dive master. Then I left the Caribbean to race in the TransAtlantic circuit, became the first non-Frenchman to win the rookie section in the French sailing circuit. And then I started sailing the around-the-world.

GSB: I cannot fathom that…

DF: Most folks can’t but it is an incredible experience. I was fortunate to win the Volvo Ocean Race as part of an American team in 2008. Also that year, took 90 days to win a 2-handed (two person crew) around-the-world race from Barcelona. Also in 2008, with the late, great Steve Fossett

GSB: The fellow who went around the world in a hot air balloon?

DF: Exactly. We set a record that still stands for the fastest non-stop around-the-world trip—54 days. Also I competed in the Quebec to St. Malo race, the only Canadian professional transatlantic race.

damian-foxall-volvo-ocean-race

Damian Foxall (Photo credit: Volvo Ocean Race)

 

GSB: That’s not a bad year, I’d say. So how did you get to Canada and the Canadian Wildlife Federation?

DF: Well I met my ex-wife in Quebec City so that’s how Canada happened. It turned out that the Canadian Wildlife Federation was involved with the Quebec to St. Malo race and its organizer, Sail Canada, through CWF’s Recreation for Conservation program. Sail Canada’s director at the time, Paddy Boyle, said “You know, you could be a good fit at CWF as they are looking to build up interest in water sports and concern for water stewardship amongst Canadians.” And so not long after that, I was working with CWF.

GSB: How do you bring sports and nature together?

DF: Wild About Sports is our program that links the two. It’s an integral part of our wildlife education efforts. We create workshops that include conservation and nature education as well as what it means to be outdoors and provide them to sailing, paddling and other water sports teachers. Conversely, we bring primary and secondary school kids out into nature and provide core curriculum out there.

wild-about-sports

Wild About Sports connects Canadian kids to water. (Image credit: Canadian Wildlife Foundation)

 

GSB: How does that work?

DF: I like to say “we take math outdoors.” And kids will always learn better when they’re outdoors; the data are staggering. It’s crucial that we get them out there. Inner city, suburban. Also, it’s very important to get kids with ADHD and autism outdoors. But back to the methodology. Let’s take sailing, for example. We use the prism of sailing to teach history, math, geography and more. Wild About Sports is just one of many CWF programs—including Wild Migrations, Leadership and others. In addition to Sail Canada, we’ve partnered with great organizations like Paddle Canada and Sailors for the Sea, which promotes clean regattas.

GSB: Has CWF developed programs for land-based sports?

DF: Yes. CWF created a “nature connections” program that connects cycling and soccer to nature. And we reached out to Cross Country Ski Canada as well and hope to get something going with them soon.

GSB: How about the National Hockey League, given hockey’s status as the #1…and #2…and #3 sports in Canada and the league’s strong commitment to sustainability?

DF: We need to build a partnership with the NHL—it’s very high on our “to do” list. Also high on our list are our efforts to protect marine mammals like the Blue Whale, Baluga Whale and the Humpbacked Whale from accidents during sailing races.

GSB: That sounds brilliant, important and probably not much is known about your programs outside of the sailing world. What does the marine mammal protection program look like?

DF: CWF assists organizers of sailing races to make sure the race course avoids population centers and provide very detailed maps for this purpose. We also instituted a reporting mechanism by which the racers can report collisions with large marine mammals as, despite the very best of plans, these kind of incidents do happen. So a database has been created with the International Whaling Commission. It’s really our, the sailing community’s, duty to accurately report these incidents.

 

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