Winter Sports Drives Green-Sports, Part 4: The POWer of Protect Our Winters

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

In the first three installments, we highlighted winter sports athletes who are also environmental activists: Cross country skiers Erika Flowers-Newell (Part 1) and Andy Newell (Part 2) (yes, they’re married to each other) as well as Olympic silver medal winning snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler (Part 3).

Today, we take a different path with “The POWer of Protect Our Winters.” In it, we look at Protect Our Winters, or POW, an amazing organization of elite winter sports athletes, including Andy Newell and Gretchen Bleiler, which advocates for substantive action on climate, especially as it relates to mountain and snow sports. 

 

 

Protect Our Winters (POW) is, without doubt, one of the most impactful organizations in the Green-Sports world.

It may also be the most important athlete activist group in the world.

The only climate change action advocacy group led by athletes, POW’s Riders Alliance is made up over 100 current and retired professional skiers, snowboarders and more. They give talks on climate change to student groups and take part in climate marches. Most impressively, it says here, POW lobbies members of Congress and other elected officials on climate change-related legislation.

Are there other like groups of activist athletes in other sports? I don’t know of any.

We got a sense of the POW from the athlete point of view in recent interviews with cross country skier Andy Newell and snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler. Today, we are pleased to give you a different perspective — that of the POW staff — as we talk with Lindsay Bourgoine, manager of advocacy and campaigns, and senior brand manager Barbara Weber.

 


 

GreenSportsBlog: How did both of you end up at POW?

Lindsay Bourgoine: Well, I come from Maine and grew up outdoors, climbing mountains and skiing — I love downhill and back country. I got into policy end of things and worked in that arena for the Appalachian Mountain Club and the Outdoor Industry Association. I’ve always strived to find opportunities as the intersection of environmental advocacy and the outdoor industry. We have such an incredible opportunity to leverage our impact to better the planet. Once I found out about POW, I fell in love with it. I mean, the impact of our athletes is so authentic and effective.

 

Lindsay Bourgoine POW

Lindsay Bourgoine, Protect Our Winters’ manager of advocacy and campaigns for (Photo credit: Protect Our Winters)

 

Barbara Weber: I’m from Northern Michigan and started skiing when I was three; we got a ton of lake effect snow. At 12, I went to the “dark side,” aka snowboarding. Eventually, I went to Michigan State…

GSB: Sparty!

Barbara: Go Sparty! In school I studied advertising. I’m fascinated with what motivates people psychologically. But when I moved to Chicago to pursue a “Big Girl Ad Agency” job, I knew after my first interview that it wasn’t the world I wanted to be in. I found myself working in the local Patagonia shop while I “figured things out” and they really laid the foundation for the path I’d find myself on for the next 10 years.

 

Barbara Weber POW

Barbara Weber, POW’s senior brand manager (Photo credit: Protect Our Winters)

 

GSB: What a fantastic turn of events! Patagonia is beyond great.

Barbara: Indeed. I worked for a local Patagonia store in Vail before moving on to a marketing position with Ski.com, essentially selling ski vacations. It was while I was working at that Patagonia store when I first found out about POW. I think that was around 2009-2010.

GSB: You were busy!

Barbara: For sure. While at ski.com, I was also serving a two-year term on a non-profit board in Aspen (where I had relocated) called Spring Board. POW had stuck with me and I had been trying to find an intersection between my personal desire to give back and make an impact for the benefit of our environment, and with my professional career. For three years at Ski.com I pushed to get them involved with POW. After all, there won’t be many ski vacations in the future if we don’t tackle this issue.

GSB: So true…

Barbara: I left ski.com in 2013 and after a bit of travel, a series of fateful events led me to landing my current role with POW when they were based in Los Angeles. I’ve been with POW since June 2014.

GSB: An odd place for something called Protect Our Winters but, OK…So you were at POW in LA…What was it like?

Barbara: It was a lot of work — but the best kind. I found a fire in me that had been waiting to be lit. It felt as if my background and personality were the perfect fit for the position and vice versa. I was fired up. And I’m still fired up. And the funny thing about avoiding the career of advertising per se; is that in a way, it’s exactly what I’m doing. But instead of selling a material item, I’m selling an idea. I’m selling activism.

Part of my job involves working with our incredible group of professional athletes. Getting to know them over the years has been something I’ll always be grateful for. This group is so passionate, so thoughtful, insightful, and genuine. I think from the outside it can be easy to look and them and find ways to be critical, but they really work hard to become knowledgeable about climate change, both from the science and political sides, and leverage their influence as pros to inspire other people to get involved in this fight.

GSB: I sure was inspired talking with Andy Newell and Gretchen Bleiler. These are world class athletes, Olympians…and they’re knowledgeably lobbying members of Congress on climate change? How do they have the time? Where do they get the inspiration?

Barbara: I can’t speak for each Riders Alliance member but, in general, it seems as though winter sports athletes — POW athletes — spend so much time outside, in nature…it’s natural they would appreciate it. I mean, they have an intimate interaction with the outdoors.

GSB: That makes sense, but what motivates them to speak up about climate change? Don’t they worry that being “political” could put their sponsorship relationships at risk?

Barbara: Well, snowboarders, skiers and the rest are already outside the traditional athlete world to a certain extent. There’s a natural rebelliousness to this community, particularly the snowboarders. They’ve found a way to make a living most of us could only dream of, and are often rewarded for thinking unconventionally and for taking risks. So many of them are OK with going outside their comfort zones. What is really great is that POW athletes do their homework on climate and know their stuff. In fact, our athletes who go to Washington often report that members of Congress are slack-jawed at their knowledge and expertise.

GSB: As someone who has presented to Congress on climate issues with Citizens’ Climate Lobby, I can tell you that house members and senators are hard to impress. That holds true with their staffers. So getting a slack-jawed reaction is a big deal. Also a big deal is POW’s Riders Alliance Summit…

Barbara: Absolutely. It’s our biggest event of the year that we do with the athletes. We use it as our opportunity to bring them up to speed on the latest climate science, how to effectively communicate climate facts and information, provide them with social media and public speaking training, and other meaningful ways to engage in advocacy. To me, though, I think one of the biggest takeaways is the sense of community and camaraderie the summit evokes. It’s good for these athletes to see each other in person, commiserate on their experiences, become friends and supporters of each other.

 

POW Riders Alliance Credit Krystle Wright

POW athletes enjoying the 2017 Riders Alliance (Photo credit: Protect Our Winters)

 

GSB: The camaraderie is so great to hear about, especially given that some of these athletes compete against each other. Now, speaking of lobbying, talk to us about POW’s lobby days on Capitol Hill and elsewhere…

Lindsay: Well, there were 13 POW athletes at our most recent lobbying effort on the Hill a few months back. This was our biggest contingent to date; with partners and staff, we had 25 total. One of our goals this time was to work on forming relationships with Republican lawmakers, which we did by focusing on our passion for, and love of the outdoors. Sometimes, this bill and that endorsement and that policy get in the way. We need to remember we’re all people, and for the most part, we can all connect over our mutual love of the outdoors. Climate change threatens that. So, we went into offices, talked about who we are and what we do, reflected on the changes we see in the field, and then asked how they could help us address the issue. If they asked for more specifics, or if they were more amenable to our cause, we talked about our priority issues: carbon pricing, solar energy, and electrifying transportation.

GSB: …That’s great about meeting with Republicans; otherwise, POW would simply be preaching to the converted…How many members of Congress did you get to meet with this time around?

Lindsay: We met with 22 members, half of whom are part of the bipartisan House Climate Solutions Caucus, which includes an equal number of Republicans and Democrats. Snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler, pro fly fisherman Hilary Hutcheson, as well as our board chair and VP of Aspen Skiing Company, Auden Schendler spoke on behalf of POW. Gretchen talked about how impactful the cancellation of competitions can be, especially on rural mountain towns at the beginning of the season — for example, if Birds of Prey at Beaver Creek (CO) is cancelled, that’s $4-6 million gone from the local economy, just in a weekend. Hilary recounted how her insurance adjuster told her if she kept working as a fly fishing guide outside of Glacier National Park in Montana with the poor air quality from nearby forest fires, he would cancel her policy. She literally couldn’t guide — and earn an income — because the air quality from fire smoke was so dangerous. Climate is impacting her way of life. And Auden spoke about how ski resorts lose money in low snowfall years and the snowball effect on the economy. It was very powerful to speak to this bipartisan group– very uplifting to see lawmakers on both sides of the aisle really listen and come together to educate themselves on these issues and impacts. This hearing was definitely the highlight of the trip.

 

Alex Deibold, Gretchen Bleiler, Kaitlyn Farrington on POW_s September 2017 Lobby Trip to Washington DC Forest Woodward Athletes

POW takes Washington by storm: From left to right, Alex Deibold, Kaitlyn Farrington and Gretchen Bleiler on the steps of the Capitol (Photo credit: Forest Woodward)

 

Hilary Hutcheson TDN

Hilary Hutcheson, pro fly fisherman (Photo credit: TDN)

 

Auden Schendler ClimateCon 2018

Auden Schendler, Aspen Skiing Company (Photo credit: ClimateCon2018)

 

GSB: I hope the GOPers with whom you spoke vote in a POW-like manner sooner rather than later. Now, one thing I’ve noticed as a Citizens’ Climate Lobby volunteer is that the number of volunteers skyrocketed after Trump’s election. Have you seen something similar at POW? Also has Trump’s election had any effects on the issues POW takes on, the tone and aggressiveness with which it does so, etc.

Lindsay: People can no longer afford to be apathetic as our climate is under attack day after day. Now, more than ever, our community is asking us “how can we help” over and over. Our community is stepping up to the challenge. In a way, this is a silver lining of Trump’s election. Now, does it make it harder when there is an unfriendly administration? Yes. That just means we have to work harder to fight the fights that need to be fought and to get creative to see if there are any places we can potentially work with Republicans. I would say one way the results of Trump’s election is that we are looking opportunistically at actions in state legislatures. There is a ton of progress being made there, especially on carbon pricing in winter sports states like Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington.

GSB: Are there Trump-supporting POW athletes? If so, how is that working out?

Lindsay: I can’t speak to that specifically, but we do have Republican athletes. We have always worked to be bipartisan and if anything, put even more of an effort into that this year in our DC lobbying. We know climate is deeply politicized, but we don’t believe it should be. The Republican party is the only conservative party in the world that denies climate change. We just need to get to a place where it is safe for Republicans to talk about climate. You’d be surprised; many of them understand and agree, they just care about being re-elected, too. It’s tough. Our goal is to elect climate friendly officials, regardless of what party.

GSB: That’s all very important…so good luck. Turning to next year, with the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang only two months away, how might that mega-event affect POW?

Barbara: Well, 2018 being an Olympic year helps POW. It amplifies the visibility of our athletes who end up being part of their Olympic teams. That helps us in the long run when it comes to the platforms they use to speak out against climate change. Additionally, we’ve found politicians tend to geek out when one of our athletes brings an Olympic medal or two to our lobby day meetings. Mainly, though, the Olympics will probably just decrease our productivity those two weeks it takes place, as we’ll be anxiously watching the competitions and supporting our athletes when we should be working! We’ll for sure be having a viewing party or two in the office.

GSB: Sounds like a lot of fun — y’all deserve it! I hope to see NBC Sports feature a POW athlete or two at the Olympics. What are POW’s main goals in 2018?

Lindsay: Our main goal in 2018 is to get down and dirty in the midterm elections in November. POW is working on establishing a 501(c)4, which will allow us to get more engaged in elections as an organization. We have identified ten ‘battleground elections’ where we feel it is really important to elect a climate friendly leader, whether Democrat or Republican — I want to be clear that we are not working to help the Democrats take the House. We will execute all of our programs in those ten areas — whether going into schools for Hot Planet Cool Athletes assemblies to get kids talking about the importance of climate change, or hosting educational events. Our objective is to make people more aware of their role in elections, help them understand the importance of electing climate friendly leaders, and push the conversation in each election to cover climate change.

GSB: We will stay tuned throughout 2018 to see how POW makes out in those 10 races. One last question: What are POW’s expansion plans, if any? Are you looking to move beyond winter sports?

Barbara: We want to engage the broader outdoor industry in POW’s work. This is already happening — we’re signing trail runners, climbers, anglers, guides, and mountain bikers. We’re working to bridge the gap with hunters and find ways to collaborate. The reality is climate change impacts all of us, whether it’s too hot to mountain bike or there’s not enough water in rivers to paddle or to support viable fish habitat.

 

Want to see the true POWer of POW? Watch this 1 minute 5 second video.

 


 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GSB: OK, I’m officially jealous now…

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

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

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

 

Gretchen Bleiler headshot Monte Isom

Gretchen Bleiler (Photo credit: Monte Isom)

 

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

Gretchen: …Also a half-sister…

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

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

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

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

GSB: Did you make the team?

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

GSB: Say more…

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

 

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

 

 

Gretchen Bleiler Danny Kass Bob Martin

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

 

GSB: You became it, you achieved it…

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

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

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

GSB: Incredible, really…

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

GSB: How did you go about doing that?

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

GSB: Which isn’t all that long…

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

GSB: What about POW allowed you to do that?

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

GSB: Tell us about some of those opportunities…

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

 

Gretchen Bleiler Forest Woodward

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

 

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

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

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

 

Gretchen Bleiler Capitol Hill Forrest Woodward

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

 

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

GSB: That is significant…

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

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

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

GSB: What is that like for you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

ALEX FAMILY -01-01

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

 

 

Gretchen ALEX Kate Holstein

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

 

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

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

GSB: Where can one buy an Alex Bottle?

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

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

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

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

 

Gretchen and Chris

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

 


 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Erika Flowers Reese Brown

Erika Flowers-Newell (Photo credit: Reese Brown)

 

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

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

 

Erika Flowers youth

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

 

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

GSB: That’s incredible!

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

GSB: Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.

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

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

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

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

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

GSB: So that made the decision easy…

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

GSB: What’s that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GSB: Home mountain advantage!

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

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

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

 

Erika Flowers Dartmouth

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

 

GSB: So what about medical school?

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

 

Erika Flowers Fast Female

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

 

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

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

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

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

GSB: How many make the US nordic Ski Team?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GSB: …A corporate social responsibility pioneer!

EFN: YES! So they started Carol Cone On Purpose

GSB: Love that name!

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

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

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

GSB: Can you give an example?

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

 

Erika Flowers races canceled MW 2017 Julia Kern

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

 

Erika Flowers no snowman

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

 

GSB: So where do you do summer training?

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

 

Erika Flowers Summer Training Matt Whitcomb

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Andy Newell & Erika

Andy & Erika (Photo credit: Andy Newell)

 

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

 

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

 

 


 

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

Since May 2013, GreenSportsBlog has featured the teams, athletes and events that are helping to lead the sports-greening movement. We haven’t focused on how they’re doing on the field. Until last month, that is. That’s when we launched GSB Eco-Scoreboard: Catching Up with Green-Sports Leaders on the Field, an occasional series highlighting the 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. Also, it’s fun. And if there’s one thing the climate change/environmental world can use more of — including the Green-Sports niche — is fun. 

 

Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle Seahawks 

The star quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks joined the ranks of eco-athletes when he helped promote “Strawless in Seattle September,” the Lonely Whale Foundation’s (LWF) campaign to get fans to keep plastic out of the oceans by dramatically reducing their plastic straw usage.

Wilson was challenged by actor and LWF co-founder Adrian Grenier on Instagram to #stopsucking — i.e. stop using straws — at least in September. He accepted and then challenged the “12s” — aka rabid Seahawks fans — to do the same: “I accept [Grenier’s] challenge to #stopsucking. Now I’m challenging you 12s! It’s going to take teamwork to save our ocean from plastic pollution.”

The 12s responded, as did many other Seattleites. According to Lonely Whale, in September alone, 2.3 million single-use plastic straws were removed from the city. In fact, the Seahawks, baseball’s Mariners and Major League Soccer’s Sounders all refrained from giving out straws to fans last month.

Yet, Wilson’s impressive success as a #stopsucking pitch man was outdone by his otherworldly performance on the field during Sunday’s thrilling, 41-38 instant classic win over the Houston Texans and their stellar rookie QB DeShaun Watson. While his stat line is phenomenal — a career-high 452 yards passing including 4 touchdowns (TDs) — it was the way Wilson led the Seahawks back, time and again, after Watson would put Houston ahead. He saved his best for last, driving Seattle 80 yards in just three plays with 1:39 left and no timeouts remaining.

 

Wilson Bleacher Report

Seahawks QB Russell Wilson prepares to pass during Sunday’s epic 41-38 win over the Houston Texans in Seattle (Photo credit: Bleacher Report)

 

The Seahawks, now 5-2 and in a first place tie with the LA Rams in the NFC West, host the Washington Redskins on Sunday.

 

Vestas 11th Hour Racing Wins First Ocean Leg of Volvo Ocean Race

Is GreenSportsBlog a good luck charm, or what?

We shared Vestas 11th Hour Racing’s groundbreaking sustainable sailing story just this past Friday and then what happens?

Saturday, the team, led by Charlie Enright and Mark Towill, won the first leg of the round-the-world Volvo Ocean Race, which traveled from Alicante, Spain to Lisbon, in wire-to-wire fashion, by several hours. They stayed ahead of the other seven boats through the Strait of Gibraltar, around the island of Porto Santo, and north to Lisbon.

“Can’t argue with the results,” said skipper Charlie Enright upon finishing in Lisbon. “We prioritized getting the right people and this provides us with a lot of confidence. I can’t say enough about the squad on the boat and the ones on the shore.”

 

Leg 01, Alicante to Lisbon, day xx,  on board Vestas 11th Hour Racing. Photo by James Blake/Volvo Ocean Race. 27 October, 2017

The Vestas 11th Hour Racing team, racing through the Strait of Gibraltar to its way to a  first place finish in Lisbon in the initial leg of the Volvo Ocean Race (Photo credit: Ainhoa Sanchez/Volvo Ocean Race)

 

Vestas 11th Hour Racing lived its sustainability ethos on the water just as it does on land. On the first day at sea, the crew partook in Meatless Monday, an international campaign to reduce the impact the meat industry has on the environment. “We are enjoying Mediterranean veggie pasta,” said team director and co-founder Mark Towill. “It is one simple way of lowering our carbon footprint and is part of our commitment to sustainability.”

The team will remain in Lisbon for one week, sharing their commitment to sustainability   with local fans at their interactive Exploration Zone, all the while preparing for the 7,000-mile leg to Cape Town, South Africa, which starts November 6th.

 

Forest Green Rovers

Forest Green Rovers FC (FGR) was finding life in League Two (aka the fourth tier) of English football to be challenging after being promoted from the fifth tier for the first time in their 125+ year history in May.  The Greenest Team in Sports — it has earned that distinction in a myriad of ways, from solar panels on its stadium roof to solar powered “Mo-Bots” used to mow the organic pitch to all vegan-only concession stands — found itself in the dreaded “relegation zone” after an embarrassing 4-0 home drubbing by Newport County AFC on October 14th. The relegation zone means FGR was in one of the bottom two places in the 24-team league standings and, if it ended up there at season’s end in May, it would be relegated back down to the fifth tier.

Good thing for Forest Green Rovers is that, at that point, it had only played 13 of its 46 regular season matches. So there was plenty of time for a turnaround.

That turnaround started in strong fashion on the 17th when FGR won a taut 1-0 struggle on the road at 6th place Coventry City. Even more impressive was the comeback win at Stevenage FC on the 21st. Down 1-0 at halftime, FGR netted two goals within 12 minutes to secure the 2-1 win. The Green Devils extended their run of strong play with a third straight win on Saturday, this one a tidy 2-0 home decision over current relegation zone resident Morecambe FC.

 

FGR Morecambe

Keanu Marsh-Brown (upper right in green and black) scores for Forest Green Rovers in their 2-0 home win over Morecambe FC (Photo credit: Forest Green Rovers FC)

 

The three game winning streak moved Forest Green Rovers from 23rd to 20th place. While hardly safe — there are 30 matches left and FGR is only one point above 23rd — 17th place is only two points away. Next up is an away test at Crawley Town FC on Saturday.

 

Oregon State Beavers 

Oregon State University became a green-sports leader last year with the launch of BAST — the Beaver Athlete Sustainability Team — the first student-athlete run sustainability organization at a Division I school. The now-graduated Samantha Lewis (cross-country) and Jesikah Cavanaugh (swimming) helped steer the group through its infancy and led the establishment of its 3-pronged mission:

  1. Encourage and implement sustainable ideas within the athletic department
  2. Educate our fellow student-athletes about sustainability and environmental issues
  3. Work to engage with the rest of campus and the broader Corvallis community

BAST’s Year One programs included pom-pom and light stick return stations at OSU football games, recycling education tabling at men’s and women’s basketball games, and clear recycling bins — which resulted in increased recycling rates — at baseball games.

According to Cavanaugh, the BAST leadership baton, now in the possession of Marie Guelich (women’s basketball), Sam McKinnon (women’s cross country and track) and Mimi Grosselius (women’s rowing), is “in good hands.”

So how are the Beavers doing on the field/court?

If you’re looking for an on-field/court success story in Corvallis this fall, look no further than the women’s volleyball team. Its 16-8 record includes wins over 14th ranked Washington and 12th ranked Utah. The cross-country team had some early season success, with a second place finish at the Sundogger Invitational in Seattle.

 

OSU volleyball

The Oregon State University women’s volleyball team celebrates their upset over 12th ranked Utah (Photo credit: Mark Hoffman)

 

On the men’s side, the football team is suffering through a 1-7 season and are languishing at the bottom of the Pac-12 North. Things are only slightly better for the men’s soccer team, which sits at 6-11 overall and 3-6 in the Pac-12. The men’s team enjoying the best season thus far this fall is rowing, which earned a strong third place finish at the famed Head of the Charles regatta in Boston.

 


 

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The GSB Interview: Luke Tyburski, Swimming, Cycling and Running for the Planet

It is not going out on a limb to say that Luke Tyburski is made from different stuff than I am. Sure, I play tennis 3-4 times per week, have ridden my bike as much as 100 miles in a day (Once!) (Nine years ago!). Luke runs…across the Sahara Desert. He’s completed an extreme triathlon from Morocco, swimming across the Sea of Gibraltar, cycling through Spain and running through the South of France to Monaco. But we do have one important thing in common. And that is to use the platform of sports to fight for positive environmental action. I spoke recently to Luke about how he came to extremely extreme sports and how he has any time and energy left for the environment.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Luke, I have a feeling yours will be an incredible story, so let’s get right to it. Your journey to extreme triathlons — and beyond — started in Australia, right?

Luke Tyburski: Yeah, Lew. I grew up in a small town, Bathurst, about three hours northwest of Sydney. And my goal was, from a young age, to become a pro soccer player. And, you know what? I got to live the dream. I was a central defender for the Wollongong Wolves in 1999-2000 in the top league in Australia at the time, the NSL. They’re now a second tier league, below the A-League. Then I played for three years in the State League, at the level below the NSL. Thought I’d gone as far as I could in Australia so I went to the US and played college soccer at a small NAIA school, Brescia University in Owensboro, KY and then transferred to another small NAIA school, Southern Nazarene University in Bethany, OK…It was a good stop, soccer-wise, and I got my degree in Exercise Science along the way.

 

Luke Tyburski Fizeek Media

Luke Tyburski (Photo credit: Fizeek Media)

 

GSB: So was that it for you and pro soccer?

LT: Hardly. I still had the bug. Went to England and tried out for a bunch of teams over four months, but without any luck! I just couldn’t stick. Came back to the US and played for the New Orleans Shell Shockers (now the New Orleans Jesters) as for the San Francisco Seals in lower rung leagues. Then I went back to Europe, this time to Liege, Belgium and played one year on a lower league team there. Then I went back to the UK to try again…

GSB: …Holy cow, you really wanted it. I really had no idea about the itinerant world of the lower levels of professional soccer. How old were you at this point?

 

Tyburski Soccer Bakersfield Brigate Soccer Club

Luke Tyburski, while with the San Francisco Seals (Photo credit: Bakersfield Brigade Soccer Club)

 

LT: This was 2008 and I was 25. Like I said, I’d lived my dream. My parents had instilled in me an incredible work ethic — they never pushed me into pro soccer but they let me know that, if I was going to go for it, I’d have to give it 100 percent. That’s what kept me going. From 2008 to 2011 it became much harder. I had a number of injuries and three surgeries over a period of 11 months. I started to break down physically. And that led to mental problems. I sank into a deep depression; had self-harming, suicidal thoughts.

GSB: Oh my God; that’s awful! Did you try to come back again after the surgeries?

LT: Yes. Finally it was a calf injury, minor as they come, that led me to retire. I had just had it.

GSB: Did the depression come back?

LT: You know what? The depression was still there, I’m not gonna lie to you. But I didn’t hit the depths I felt previously. There was a huge wave of relief and satisfaction after I retired. I was content with my soccer career.

GSB: So what did you do next?

LT: Well, that was a problem. I really had no clue. And then a friend — a marathoner — told me about running through the Sahara for a week.

GSB: You mean the Sahara as in the desert? THAT Sahara?

LT: That would be the one, Lew.

GSB: Were you a long-distance runner at all?

LT: Nope; I’d never run more than six miles at any one time. But, just for the hell of it, I Googled it — the Marathon des Sables — a 150 mile race through the Sahara over seven days…

GSB: No problem-o!

LT: Crazy, right?! Thing is, I needed an escape from reality, from what to do next. The race was in six months so I threw myself into it — research, training, etc. The more I looked into it, the more I thought, “not only can I do this race but this could become my thing!” I could become an adventurer.”

GSB: So what happened in the race?

LT: I finished!! It. Was. BRUTAL…I became dehydrated, had a bad stomach virus, lost skin on my toes. But I made it and started doing other extreme events.

 

Luke Tyburski Marathon des Sables Jamie Fricker

Luke Tyburski at the finish of Marathon des Sables in the Sahara (Photo credit: Jamie Fricker)

 

GSB: Such as?

LT: I went to Nepal and took part in the Everest Ultra Marathon

GSB: What is THAT? A race up Everest?

LT: No, it’s a 40 mile race down from Everest Base Camp which is at 17,000 feet elevation. To train for that one, I spent three weeks living and training with elite ultra-marathoners in Nepal. I was ready but three days before, I contracted a stomach parasite…

GSB…So you dropped out?

LT: Oh no — I ran it. The bug did slow me down. It took me more than twice as long as I thought it would. But these events made me an adventurer (in my mind, at least)…And I started to make a living from it: I coached, evangelized through speaking engagements, wrote magazine articles, and more — all about how you can push yourself to amazing heights. I hustled and my business started to grow. But, to really break through, to differentiate myself from other adventurers, I needed to do something BIG…

GSB: You mean running across the Sahara and running down Everest wasn’t BIG enough?

LT: Nope…other adventurers were doing it. So I came up with a route for a triathlon unlike any other. From Northern Morocco to Monaco, 2,000 kilometers (or about 1,242 miles) in 12 days…

GSB: Piece of cake, right?…

LT: And so, in 2015, I swam across the 15 mile Strait of Gibraltar from Morocco to Spain. Then I cycled through Spain to the French border, about 850 miles. And then I ran the remaining 375 miles to Monaco. I did have some health issues along the way…

 

Luke Tyburski Map

 

GSB: How could you not?…

LT:  …I had extreme adrenal fatigue, a quadriceps tear. But I finished. Took the rest of 2015 and the first half of 2016 off to recover due to my extreme adrenal fatigue. But, last month, I did my first event since, a 100 mile ultra-marathon in the UK, which is where I live. I experimented with my training, and if I’m honest, it didn’t go as I hope. You can read why here.

 

Luke Tyburski Running Fizeek Media

Luke Tyburski, running through the South of France in 2015 on his 2,000 km triathlon from Morocco through Spain and France (Photo credit: Fizeek Media)

 

GSB: This is all incredible…and unimaginable. And I can see how your story would motivate athletes and would-be athletes. But where does the passion for the environment come in?

LT: It started for me in 2012 when I was in Nepal for the Everest Ultra Marathon. I was living with people who had no running water, no electricity at all. They lived primitively. Here I am, this westernized guy, thinking I was worldly and open and all the rest, but, in the end, I was humbled. They had no equipment, nothing to make life easier. After the three weeks, it sounds cliché but I felt like a changed man. I went back home to London and thought “I don’t need all these  things…all of the shoes and shorts and other stuff.”

GSB: So what did you do?

LT: A massive clean-out. Gave stuff to friends and charity. Cut back on wants and lived at the “need” level, especially when it came to clothing. I would wear stuff until it would wear out. So I was definitely on the trail to environmentalism. But it wasn’t until I met Graham Ross

GSB: …Of Kusaga Athletic, the Australian company that makes the world’s greenest t-shirt out of bamboo, eucalyptus, etc.? We interviewed Graham for GSB awhile back. Kusaga is a great story, and Graham is an even greater fellow.

LT: Agree. Met him in 2013 at a Friday night swimming squad outing in London. Graham told me about Kusaga Athletic and how sustainable textiles would make a difference on climate change. So that was an immediate click between us. So we would go on five to seven hour bike rides that would become brainstorming sessions and an education for me on sustainable apparel. This led me to live even more sustainably and to educate folks on the textile industry and how it needs to become greener. In fact, I weave…

GSB: …Pun intended…

LT: …Sustainability into at least 50 percent of my talks — about how it takes 3,000 liters of water to make just one cotton t-shirt and how it only takes 22 liters of water to make Kusaga Athletic’s greenest t-shirt.

GSB: Does Kusaga sponsor you?

LT: No. I am an unpaid ambassador, I wear their kits and I tell their story. Now, I don’t talk much about the science of climate change because I’m not well-versed enough yet. I need to be able to talk about it in a substantive manner and I will down the road as I learn more about it. For now I stay in my lane and talk sustainability from apparel and water standpoints. And I’m engaging other athletes on this and on Kusaga. It’s catching on.

GSB: Amen to that, Luke! So what’s in store for 2018?

LT: Well I have a book coming out about my story from a journeyman soccer player, to ultra endurance athlete and everything in between. My ups, and very deep downs will all be shared. Physically, I’m looking to complete a self-developed challenge that will create two Guinness World Records, but it’s top secret at the moment…

GSB: Good luck! Please let us know when the secret can be revealed.

LT: Will do. And I will keep reminding folks to take care of themselves, conserve water and care for the planet.


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Oregon State Student Athletes Represent Best of Green-Sports with BAST Program

Cadres of green-minded students and the growing popularity of sustainability as an academic discipline are just two reasons why there is a growing intersection of Green & Sports on campuses across the country. But while athletics and sustainability departments have driven the green-sports bus, student-athletes have taken a back seat to this point. At least, that is, until Oregon State University’s Samantha (“Sam”) Lewis, a cross-country/track runner, and Jesikah Cavanaugh, a swimmer, decided they, along with three other student-athletes wanted to accelerate the greening of OSU sports. GreenSportsBlog talked recently with Sam and Jesikah to get their takes on how they came to take on leading roles in the birth of the Beaver Athlete Sustainability Team (BAST), what it has accomplished so far and where they think it will go from here.

 

If you wanted to draw up two characters to be green-sports student athlete pioneers, you would have conjured Sam Lewis and Jesikah Cavanaugh. They helped create the Beaver Athlete Sustainability Team or BAST at Oregon State University in Corvallis.

Both are life-long environmentalists.

Sam, a runner who grew up in Boulder, CO, told GreenSportsBlog that “sustainability was embedded in my life from an early age. We composted, recycled, rode bikes and snowshoed.” Oregon State was a natural choice due to her “love of the outdoors and of running in the rain.” I get her first love but running in the rain? Not so much.

 

Sam Lewis

Sam Lewis, Oregon State Class of ’17, founding member of BAST, and member of the cross-country/track team  (Photo credit: Oregon State University Athletics)

 

Jesikah’s lifelong appreciation of the environment was nurtured in Anchorage, AK, where, she reports, “everything is clean.” A swimmer by the age of four, Jess says she was inspired by her older, faster sister Meghan. Recruited by Division III schools in Colorado and Pittsburgh, PA, Jesikah applied to OSU almost as an afterthought: “My dad went to Oregon State and I didn’t want to go there. But I was interested in environmental engineering and I liked that their program was tied to chemical engineering rather than civil, as was the case at most schools. I ultimately want to work on water remediation—cleaning and restoration—so that link with chemical engineering was a key reason I ended up in Corvallis.”

 

Jesikah Cavanaugh OSU BAST

Jesikah Cavanaugh, Oregon State Class of ’17, founding member of BAST, and member of the swim team  (Photo credit: Oregon State Athletics)

 

Both overcame serious obstacles in their sports.

Sam, who ran the 6K in cross-country, “suffered lots of injuries,” including a stress fracture in her back during her sophomore year. “It was so frustrating. I was recruited to be a Division I runner at a Pac-12 school and I couldn’t even walk my dog,” shared Sam, “It took a couple of years to be able to compete again, but the work it took to come back was so worth it—it was the best feeling ever.” And the women’s cross-country and track team has faced its own challenges. “The sport was dropped at Oregon State in 1988, rebooted in 2004, so we have been playing catch up against some of the best teams in the country,” explained Sam. But, reflecting her grit, the cross-country squad was able to finish a respectable 12th in the powerful, 35-team West region last year, an improvement of seven places from 2015.

Jes was not offered a swimming scholarship. No problem. She walked on to the Oregon State swim team as a freshman, swimming the 100- and 200-meter butterfly. Her consistent performances (“I never missed a meet!”) earned her a scholarship by her junior year.

With passion for the environment and grit, all that was needed for Sam and Jes to enter the green-sports fray was a cause.

 

The cause turned out to be recycling bins.

You see, Sam was the women’s cross country/track team’s representative on something called the OSU Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), which exists to make the student-athlete experience the best in can possibly be. Per Sam, “It’s not like there was talk of sustainability or climate change at SAAC. I simply asked about getting recycling bins in our locker room. Runners drink tons of chocolate milk so there were empty bottles all over the place and no bins in which to put them. I couldn’t believe that so I had to say something. THAT got discussion going — folks from other sports spoke up about recycling and other environmental issues.”

Associate Athletic Director Kimya Massey saw there was a group of sustainability-minded student-athletes in SAAC, introduced Sam to Jesikah, and suggested they form a green-themed subgroup. He believed a student run group would be unique, gain immediate credibility and could garner broad student and fan interest.

And so in the spring of 2016, the Beaver Athlete Sustainability Team or BAST was born with Sam, Jesikah and 6-8 other student-athletes forming the rest of the initial team. Jesikah said the initial support provided by the Athletic Department was crucial: “They were great from the beginning, allowing us the freedom to create our own initiatives and the opportunity to create change.”

Also per Jesikah, the spring 2016 semester saw the nascent BAST group act in a deliberate, strategic and determined fashion, to “define our three organizing pillars.”

 

Those pillars are as powerful as they are simple.

  1. Encourage and implement sustainable ideas within the athletic department
  2. Educate our fellow student-athletes about sustainability and environmental issues
  3. Work to engage with the rest of campus and the broader Corvallis community

With the pillars in place, Sam, Jesikah and the team knew they had to pivot from planning into action and events.

They staffed an Earth Day booth to let the campus know BAST existed and to learn the community’s view of athletics’ waste and its impacts on the environment. But the group’s big launch took place last fall at Reser Stadium, the home of Oregon State football.

“Tons of ‘stuff’ is given away for free at football games as promotional items,” offered Sam. “Things like pom-poms. Most people use them once; they get thrown out and go right to the landfill. We worked with the marketing team at the athletic department — we brought them in early on and they’ve been super supportive — to run a tabling effort at the Cal (Berkeley) game at which fans would return their pom-poms. Of the 750 pom-poms that were given out, about 500 were collected by BAST members. They were used again at one of Jes’ swim meets this spring.” At the Arizona game, BAST was able to collect about half of the LED light sticks that were given out. Fan engagement was the main goal at one OSU men’s basketball game and one women’s contest as BAST members manned a recycling-education table on the main concourse of Gill Coliseum.

 

OSU Pom Poms

Sam Lewis (l), Jesikah Cavanaugh (front) and the BAST team managed the “Return Pom Pom” effort at select Oregon State home football games in 2016. (Photo credit: OSU Campus Recycling)

 

But it may have been OSU baseball where BAST made its biggest first year impact. Per Sam, “The athletic department provided several clear recycling bins to Goss Stadium and BAST staffed the games to maximize the number of fans who recycled. The clear bins made it easy for fans to see what and how much was going in. This helped increase the amount recycled at the ‘clear bin’ games by a significant amount.”

 

OSU Baseball Recycling

Jesikah Cavanaugh (r), along with teammate Alice Ochs and assistant swim coach Michael Wong collect the clear recycling receptacles from an Oregon State home baseball game (Photo credit: Oregon State Athletics)

 

BAST was honored for its efforts when the Green Sports Alliance recognized the group as its Innovator of the Year at its June summit in Sacramento.

Sam and Jesikah were a bit lonely at the summit, as well as at the first Pac-12 Sustainability Conference, as they were the only student-athletes to attend. “Athletic directors, facilities managers and sustainability departments are all very into it,” noted Sam. “We showed that student-athletes can drive action and interest in sustainability. Hopefully, more groups like BAST will take off at other schools.”

 

Sam Bill Walton jesikah

Sam Lewis (l), Bill Walton, member of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, and Jesikah Cavanaugh at the first Pac-12 Sustainability Conference in June. (Photo credit: Sam Lewis)

 

BAST will have to grow without Sam’s and Jesikah’s day-to-day leadership as both graduated in May; Sam with an Exercise and Sports Science (aka Kinesiology) degree and Jesikah as an Environmental Engineering major. But both plan to keep tabs on BAST and also to figure out how to further amplify the voice student-athletes have at the intersection of Green & Sports.

Sam landed at the University of Idaho to work as a graduate assistant with the track team there — she hopes to help student-athletes at the Moscow, ID school start their own version of BAST. Jesikah, who will be in Portland for at least the next six months, working at an internship with Clean Water Services, is bullish on BAST’s future: “The group is in great hands with Marie Guelich (women’s basketball), Sam McKinnon (women’s cross country and track) and Mimi Grosselius women’s rowing) taking the reins.”

The new leadership team is expected to make climate change a bigger focus of BAST’s agenda by, per Jesikah, “measuring and reducing the carbon footprint of OSU athletics, showing a BAST video on the scoreboard at Reser Stadium, and, on a micro-level, bringing composting to the athletic training tables


 

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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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