The GSB Interview: Julia Pallé, Formula E Senior Sustainability Consultant and SandSI President

Julia Pallé is a very busy woman.

She is shepherding the growth and direction of the sustainability efforts of Formula E, the fully-electric racing series which is about to start its fifth season. And, as if that is not enough, Ms. Pallé is also President of the fledgling Sport and Sustainability International (SandSI).

GreenSportsBlog spoke to Ms. Pallé about what we can expect from Formula E and SandSI.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Bonjour, Julia. It’s great to chat with you. Senior Sustainability Consultant of Formula E and President of SandSISacre bleu! You sure have a lot going on. Since Formula E preceded SandSI for you, let’s start there. Were you always into cars and motorsports?

Julia Pallé: Well, I grew up in Clermont-Ferrand in France, the town where Michelin is headquartered. I was not so much into motorsports growing up but I loved many other sports. I tried them all: Running, kite surfing, wakeboarding, skiing, dancing…oh, and rugby also. I loved the outdoors and knew I always wanted to be close to nature. From the beginning, my desire was to work in sustainability and make a difference so I studied sustainability management and change management and earned a business degree at the Université of Grenoble.

 

Julia_Palle_2016_HIGH RES

Julia Pallé, Senior Sustainability Consultant for Formula E and President of SandSI (Photo credit: Formula E)

 

GSB: I wish they had those disciplines when I was in school back in the Dark Ages! So how did you put it into practice?

JP: I went to work for Michelin in 2012…

GSB: In your hometown?

JP: Exactly! I worked in the motor sport division…

GSB: Ahhh…that’s where you got your start…

JP: Yes…Implementing sustainability programs.

GSB: How did that go?

JP: It went well. The group had a sustainability plan but the motor sports division wasn’t specific enough. With the support of management, I helped tighten things up. We did a Life Cycle Assessment on our rally racing tires…from materials sourcing to construction to the event to end of life. Thanks to that analysis, management made some significant changes: In terms of materials, we switched to natural rubber, which greatly reduced our environmental impact. And this kind of transition can have tremendous impact on passenger cars.

GSB: Very impressive, Julia. So how did you end up moving to Formula E?

JP: When Formula E began a few years ago, they started to come up with sustainability standards for their tires. Michelin felt it needed to be the standard and so we developed a hybrid tire specifically for Formula E. I wrote part of the the standard so Formula E and I began to know each other and eventually they recruited me to manage their sustainability department.

GSB: That must’ve been quite a change…

JP: Oh yeah. Formula E is based in London so I moved there. And I started traveling around the world for the races. It is a lot of travel but it’s great and important work.

GSB: An all-EV open wheel racing circuit? It is very important work, indeed. Formula E has grown quite a bit in just four seasons…

JP: For sure. For me it has been a great opportunity. I was among the first wave of employees, when we were pretty much a blank slate. Now there are more than 120 employees from 20 different nationalities in our London office. We are now a Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile or FIA certified international championship…

GSB: A la Formula 1?

JP: Yes. We have races now in Africa, Asia, Europe, as well as North and South America. Australia is next.

GSB: That just leaves Antarctica…

JP: Well, we actually brought a Formula E car down to Antarctica to shoot a video. Icebergs were breaking at the time so we had to drive on the icecap. It was incredible. The car was able to drive on an icecap. We also shot a video of a Formula E car racing a cheetah in Africa.

GSB: That is so cool! Who won?

JP: The car, but it was very tight!

 

Formula E vs Cheetah

Formula E car and a cheetah racing in Africa (Photo credit: Motor Trader)

 

GSB: So I would imagine that sustainability would have to be a core part of an EV racing championships DNA. Am I right?

JP: Certainly. From the beginning, Formula E worked to manage our events in a sustainable fashion, to ISO standards. We engage deep into our supply chain to make sure we use sustainable products and services. We recently achieved ISO 20121 certification for the entire championship. Every season, we conduct a Life Cycle Assessment to become more efficient in all aspects of our operations.

GSB: As part of that assessment, does Formula E measure its carbon footprint year to year? If so, how are you doing?

JP: So far it’s been difficult to compare our carbon footprint over time in a meaningful way. That’s because we keep adding races and changing the schedule so we haven’t been able to measure in an apples-to-apples comparison way yet. But we are working on better metrics for sure. For now, we can say we know we are doing the right things, sustainability-wise and the results we do have are positive.

GSB: What is Formula E doing to connect with the communities it visits regarding its sustainability initiatives?

JP: Our goal is to leave a positive legacy in all of our cities. Our Fan Zones and Allianz E-Village allow fans to really interact with the EVs and the drivers…

 

Sustainability comms 4

Signage along the race wall promoting EVs and the Allianz E-Village at July’s Formula E race in Red Hook, Brooklyn (Photo credit: Formula E)

 

GSB: That may be the most powerful green thing you can do: Give fans an up close experience with EVs…

JP: Yes…We have a gaming zone to attract younger fans and a driving zone where fans can get behind the wheel of an EV race car. And we make tickets to the races affordable to appeal to the widest audience possible. Since you are in New York City, you should know that we are working with the New York Earth Day Initiative to promote renewable energy and recycling. And the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) will have a booth. Our drivers are our best ambassadors, spreading the benefits of EVs whenever they can.

 

Booth 1

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) booth at the Formula E event in Red Hook, Brooklyn in July (Photo credit: Formula E)

 

GSB: Plus Formula E races are on city streets…

JP: Yes! We are of the mind that our races themselves will change consumer behaviors. As you say, we are racing EVs on city streets mainly in urban centers. Fans see that and say to themselves “that could be me driving an EV!”

 

Formula E Bklyn

Formula E cars racing through Red Hook, Brooklyn (Photo credit: Formula E)

 

GSB: That’s the best advertising you can have for EVs…How many people attended Formula E races during the season?

JP: Over 360,000 fans have come to Formula E races in season four – which shows the appetite and curiosity of electric cars and electric racing is fast-growing!

GSB: Impressive! And what about reaching audiences beyond the races themselves — Where can fans watch Formula E races on TV and/or online?

JP: We are on cable now. FS1 airs us in the US and you can stream us via their website or app. Similar deals are in place in Europe.

GSB: How have the ratings been in the US and Europe?

JP: We don’t have exact figures for season four just yet, but we are expecting a projected cumulative TV audience of over 300 million.

GSB: What’s next for Formula E? Are you all looking at a stock car series like NASCAR? I have to believe that fans watching EVs race that they could actually buy would even be more powerful.

JP: We wholeheartedly agree! And the timing of your question is spot on. In addition to Formula E’s season 5 [click here to watch a preview video], next season we will also launch our Formula-E Support Series in which drivers will race modified Jaguar I-Pace EV SUVs. It is our intention to showcase EVs that fans can buy right now.

GSB: How do you think the Support Series will do vs. the new Electric GT Series, which will race stock car Teslas? It is scheduled to launch this November in Spain.

JP: It will definitely be interesting to watch its progress but the Jaguar I-PACE eTROPHY is quite different as it showcases technology first tested in Formula E in a modified road car – which is the perfect example of what Formula E is aiming to do within motorsport.

GSB: All in all, the world of EV racing, open wheel-wise and stock car-wise is growing rapidly. You sure are in the place to be right now. And that doesn’t even take into account your work with Sport and Sustainability International or SandSI. How did you get involved and what you are doing there?

JP: The founders of SandSI got in touch with me and invited me to attend the “birth meeting” in Lausanne, Switzerland in November, 2016 and to be a board member. Formula E was happy that I would have a seat at the table in this new organization which was very important. As with most every startup, the structure of SandSI was continuously evolving. I was asked to be a Vice President in September 2017 and then, just three months later I was asked to be President! And this May, at our 2nd Congress, the members elected me to a 4-year term as President. Plus every year, the members can vote to change the structure, change the President, which means I am very accountable. All of this is much better than simply being appointed.

GSB: Absolutely! And it’s great to be speaking to Madame la Presidente! So what is happening with SandSI and what are your goals for your term?

JP: Our focus is global, to ensure that the most sustainable practices are disseminated to sports organizations all over the world and to put sustainability and sports on the agenda of major global organizations like the UN. Our three main priorities are 1. Alignment and strategy surrounding UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), 2. ISO 20121 implementation 3. Monitoring, measuring and reporting. Thus we are working closely with organizations like UNEP and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to ensure sports is well represented in their work.

GSB: Do these organizations get the power of sports…

JP: Many people do; it is our job to make sure the voice of sports is heard loud and clear throughout those organizations.

GSB: There are of course Green-Sports organizations and trade groups throughout the world — the Green Sports Alliance (GSA), mostly in North America and now Japan, BASIS in the UK, Sport Environment Alliance (SEA) in Australia. How will you differentiate SandSI from those groups? And how will you work with them? Is there a need for all of these groups or will there be consolidation?

JP: We see ourselves as a global umbrella organization and we need to have regional peers. SandSI is here to offer practical support to all sporting organization looking to advance sustainability internationally through their sport. Thus we are in dialogue with them. In fact SEA is a founding member of SandSI. We are in touch with the GSA and BASIS to see how we can add value together.

GSB: Good luck sorting all of that out and all the best with the launch of the Formula E Support Series.

 


 

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The GSB Interview: Reduction In Motion’s Kelsey Hallowell, Helping to Efficiently Reduce Waste at Camden Yards and M&T Bank Stadium

Kelsey Hallowell is a Professional Trash Talker.

She plies that unusual trade for Reduction In Motion, a forward-leaning waste reduction consultancy in Baltimore. One of Kelsey’s clients is the Maryland Stadium Authority which, among other things, owns Camden Yards (home of baseball’s Orioles) and M&T Bank Stadium (home of the NFL’s Ravens).

GreenSportsBlog talked to Kelsey, whose official title is Communications and Outreach Coordinator, about the unique aspects of working with sports venues.

And talking trash.

GreenSportsBlog: Kelsey, I love your job title! How does one get to be a professional trash talker?

Kelsey Hallowell: Well Lew, for me it started out as a little girl in Duxbury, Massachusetts. I was always outside playing – the joke with my family is as a toddler, my parents would set me beside them as they gardened, and I would eat handfuls of dirt.

GSB: Uh…Another way of saying you have “an appreciation for the environment”

KH: YES! Then I ended up attending Washington College, a small liberal arts school in Chestertown on the Eastern Shore of Maryland…

GSB: Sounds like an outdoorsy place…

KH: …It is. In fact, I got to be a part of the first cohort of something called the Chesapeake Semester. It was amazing. Rather than being stuck in a classroom, we went out into the environment, into the field to learn. Talked to and worked with farmers, scientists, and historians for environmental causes throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

 

Kelsey Headshot Color

Kelsey Hallowell, trash talker at Reduction In Motion (Photo credit: Reduction In Motion)

 

GSB: What a great program! I can see how you would end up in the trash talking, waste reduction business.

KH: Actually I started in the recycling and waste world while at Washington College. I worked with the Center for Environment & Society (CES), which is linked with the college and Chestertown. CES focuses on social and environmental issues.

GSB: What was your role?

KH: I worked on a variety of projects. Not too surprisingly, I was one of a handful of students who helped with recycling on campus. We got into the nitty gritty of it, which was a great experience.

GSB: What do you mean by nitty gritty?

KH: We collected the recycling by hand, separating glass by color, while also separating plastics, metals, paper and cardboard. We also helped to reinvigorate composting on campus and started a campus garden.

GSB: Not glamorous but it sounds like a great training ground…What did you do once you graduated?

KH: While I was still at Washington College, I went to a presentation by an alum who worked at Reduction In Motion. I thought, “what they do is really cool.” One thing led to another and, in 2012, I became a trash talker at Reduction In Motion.

GSB: So what does Reduction In Motion do?

KH: The company was started in 2002 by Bill Griffith. He worked for a long time in the hazardous and medical waste industry. He saw how much waste went into the red bags designated for regulated medical waste and how much of that didn’t really belong there. Bill also realized that hospitals — and many other types of businesses and venues — really had very little idea about their waste: how much they generate, where it goes, how much it costs…

GSB: How could hospitals not know how much their waste hauling cost?

KH: That’s what Bill asked! So he launched the company to help hospitals and other healthcare facilities understand their waste streams better, more efficiently deal with it, and save money by doing so. I started as a Greening Facilitator for hospitals in Baltimore City.

 

Bill Griffith at Audit

Bill Griffith, founder of Reduction In Motion, taking part in a waste audit (Photo credit: Reduction In Motion)

 

GSB: What is a Greening Facilitator?

KH: I basically helped the ‘waste generators’ – clinicians, administrative staff, food service and waste handlers (housekeeping and facilities) – make sure the different types of waste went into the correct waste or recycling stream.

GSB: How did the doctors and hospital staff react?

KH: Some were really into it, some not so much. A few hospitals really got it. One had an already-established Green Team by the time we arrived. We worked with them to use compost to help fertilize a garden they had established.

GSB: That sounds like a real success.

KH: It was. We’ve found that one of the keys to success for our clients is to stick to the basics: What and how much waste are you generating? With recycling, what kind of bins do you have? Is signage clearly communicating what goes into which bin? Are you following where the waste and recycling goes after it leaves your premises?

GSB: Simple, yet important.

KH: That’s really it. Set it up and help maintain the program.

GSB: You then moved up from Greening Facilitator to your current trash talking position: Communications and Outreach Coordinator. What does that entail?

KH: Well, we’re a small operation with less than 10 employees, so the job has a bit of everything in it. I help support our clients, from Virginia to New Jersey, with educational materials and the aforementioned signage. Management of our website and social media, developing presentations, and supporting sales are also parts of my day to day.

GSB: Sounds busy and also varied. Now, what is the Reduction In Motion business model?

KH: Good question. We call ourselves “waste-based sustainability consultants” and we mostly work on a monthly fee basis. Recently, a project-specific model has become popular. We show cost savings to our clients by increasing the amount of waste that goes to recycling and composting and cutting the amount that goes to trash, because sending waste to landfills is more expensive. Our metrics for success are diversion rates and money saved. But things have gotten much more challenging recently.

GSB: Why is that?

KH: Recycling just became infinitely more difficult because China — where the US and many other countries sent most of its recycled material — enacted a new law, banning the import of American recycling because there was too much contamination.

GSB: I heard something about that. How much contamination is too much?

KH: It needs to be less than 0.5 percent but the US was sending recycling to China with contamination rates north of 15 percent. That’s one big reason why we emphasize examining waste streams at the client site to make sure they’re not contaminated.

GSB: So where’s the recycling going to go if not China? Can we keep it here?

KH: Great question. The domestic recycling infrastructure needed to support the recovery of the materials we were previously sending to China needs to be greatly expanded if we are going to keep it all here. To truly fix the issues the recycling industry is facing today, manufacturers need to get involved. How2Recycle.info is a great website that explains not only the confusion consumers are facing when trying to recycle but it also addresses how to solve the problem. We need standardized, clear, concise messaging included on the products we buy every day. All packages should be labeled so the consumer can quickly and easily determine how to dispose of everything the package contains the right way. Think of a box of cereal. There is the outer box and the inner bag containing the cereal. Most consumers are well aware that the outer box can be recycled but get confused when it comes to the inner bag. They think, “it’s plastic so it can go into the recycle bin too,” but that’s just not the case. This could be solved if a label was printed on the outside of the box in an easily viewable spot, clearly explaining that the box is recyclable but the plastic bag is not. Standardization of information labels on packaging materials will do a great deal to cut down on contamination rates found in today’s recycling stream. Once the disposal of packaging materials has been standardized, the materials recovery facilities (MRFs) can get to work on how best to recover the materials here in the US, increasing jobs and eliminating the need to export recycled material out of the country.

GSB: We should do a separate interview about what needs to happen to build domestic recycling infrastructure. But for now, let’s talk about how Reduction In Motion got into working with sports venues…

KH: Sports venues are different than hospitals. Hospitals run and generate waste 24-7. Sports fans are at a venue for a few hours and not every day. But when they do go to a game, they generate huge amounts of waste in a relatively short time. Our first sports clients were two two minor league baseball teams in Maryland, Aberdeen IronBirds, who play at Ripken Stadium and the Frederick Keys, whose home base is Harry Grove Stadium. We received a grant from the state to conduct waste audits for them. From there, we moved up to the big leagues as we started to work with the Maryland Stadium Authority. It operates Camden Yards, the home of the Orioles, and M&T Bank Stadium, home of the Ravens.

 

RIM Minor League Baseball

Reduction In Motion team members and volunteers sort trash and recycling generated at a Frederick Keys game at Harry Grove Stadium as part of a grant-funded project by Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) in 2015 (Photo credit: Reduction In Motion)

 

GSB: What do you do for them?

KH: We conducted waste audits as part of both stadiums’ LEED certification efforts, including identifying all the waste that’s generated, from plastic to metal to glass to compostables and more. That led to us working with the Stadium Authority to help the venues understand and improve their diversion rates. We developed fan and staff education content about which types of waste goes into what bin.

GSB: I know there are studies saying that fans care about the environment but do they really care about putting the right type of waste into the right bin?

KH: Some do but some don’t. That’s why it’s so important to establish and roll out a plan, then continue to engage with the key stakeholders, like leadership, operations teams and the fans. By focusing on bin selection, placement, color-codes, and messaging, we try to make it as easy as possible for fans to do the right thing. This approach allowed us to help the University of Richmond with their 2017 ‘Rethink Waste’ basketball game: Recycling contamination was reduced by 54 percent from their baseline and compost was collected at a 93 percent compliance rate! For more details on how we did it, you can read the full story here.

GSB: …So that’s where talking trash comes in!

KH: …You got it! The truth is it’s easier to do the right thing if we make it easy.

GSB: So true. How are Camden Yards and M&T Bank Stadium doing, diversion rate-wise?

KH: Both have improved over the past several years. Camden Yards’ diversion rate increased from 10 percent in 2012 to 30 percent in 2017. M&T Bank Stadium is doing great; in 2017 they were up to a 58 percent diversion rate, an increase of 40 percent since 2011! Similarly, we’ve had good success in the college sports world. We helped the University of Richmond achieve an 87 percent landfill diversion rate at the aforementioned ‘Rethink Waste’ basketball game.

 

UR (2) RIM

Reduction In Motion and University of Richmond’s student volunteers conducting waste audits during a 2017 Spiders men’s basketball game (Photo credit: Reduction In Motion)

 

GSB: WOW! Congratulations. You make this sound easy but I know it isn’t. What factors might hold down a sports venue’s diversion rate?

KH: Buy-in and consistency. Ensuring you have an understanding of the operations while getting leadership’s understanding and approval can be a tricky balance, and that’s where we come in. Recycling seems easy, but achieving a high, uncontaminated diversion rate will take time and energy. And it takes even more time and energy to maintain and further improve your diversion rates. Things are always changing, whether it be the workforce, those in leadership roles, and, as seen in the China case, the rules of recycling.

GSB: Stadium workers have tough jobs so the communications have to be powerful and the incentives need to be real for them to consistently do the right thing regarding waste. Is sports a growing sector for Reduction In Motion?

KH: It is. More and more, pro and college teams and venues are embracing sustainability — we saw that phenomenon in person at the Green Sports Alliance Summit in Atlanta last month. We also see that fan engagement on recycling and other environmental initiatives is on the rise.

GSB: Hallelujah!!

KH: Definitely! In fact we are providing guidance and ideas to the Maryland Stadium Authority on fan engagement.

GSB: That’s great to hear, Kelsey. Congratulations on your and Reduction In Motion’s success to date. I look forward to hearing about how you and the company will go beyond Maryland’s borders to talk trash and thus help green more sports venues.

 


 

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Informal GSB Poll: Atlanta United F.C. Fans Bullish About Mercedes-Benz Stadium’s Greenness

Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the world’s first LEED certified pro stadium, is playing host to 800 or so people at the eighth Green Sports Alliance Summit, from today through Wednesday. On Sunday, 42,500 mostly fans packed the place for the MLS match between Atlanta United and the Portland Timbers. GreenSportsBlog conducted a small, informal, admittedly unscientific poll among fans before the game to gauge awareness and attitudes about the stadium’s greenness.

 

The most stunning design feature to me of Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium design and architecture — and there are many from which to choose^ — is the 360-degree, “halo” scoreboard suspended from the roof.

 

MB Stadium 3

 

Clearly viewable from every seat in the house, the scoreboard constantly draws ones eyes skyward.

And during the hour before Sunday’s MLS match between Atlanta United and Portland Timbers, my eyes saw messaging like this:

 

M-B Stadium

 

The first-of-its-kind scoreboard also encouraged fans to recycle while occasional public address announcements highlighted a variety of the stadium’s green features that resulted in it becoming the first professional stadium to receive LEED Platinum status. Of course, most of the messaging on the scoreboard and on its loudspeakers had to do with the game, the home team and the terrific experience (a mix of the best of the European soccer stadium experience with an authentic Atlanta feel) — which is as it should be.

And it is working.

Atlanta United, in only its second season, has become one of the cornerstone franchises in MLS:

  • The team made the playoffs in its first season and are in first place in MLS’ Eastern Conference
  • Thousands of energetic fans, in multiple supporters’ sections, stand, chant and sing throughout the entire 90 minutes.
  • Every game is a sellout. Either in the stadium’s standard 42,500 seat configuration — like Sunday’s game (the upper deck is closed and draped) — or its full 72,000 seat mode, reserved for the biggest/rivalry matches

All of the above serves as subtext to a question to which I was trying to get some answers: Has Mercedes-Benz Stadium’s consistent yet modest way of communicating its sustainability broken through with its largely youngish fan base? GreenSportsBlog conducted a small, informal survey by talking to a few of them before Sunday’s pulsating 1-1 draw between Atlanta United and Portland Timbers to begin to find out.

 


 

Evan and Paige Himebaugh from Kennesaw, about 45 minutes away, chatted with me about soccer and sustainability at Stats Brew Pub, a couple blocks from Mercedes-Benz Stadium. They are brother-and-sister season ticket holders who are helping to make Atlanta United a “thing” in the city’s sporting culture. But neither knew that Mercedes-Benz Stadium’s had achieved LEED Platinum certification. “I had no idea!,” exclaimed Paige, a local soccer coach. “But it is great for Atlanta to be leading on green building.”

 

Evan and Paige

Evan and Paige Himebaugh were excited to learn about Mercedes-Benz Stadium’s LEED Platinum status (Photo credit: Lewis Blaustein)

 

Husband and wife season ticket holders Todd and Terry Barcroft of Atlanta talked and walked with me on their way to the concession stand. Both were well aware of the stadium’s green leadership. “Mercedes-Benz Stadium’s LEED status is really a point of civic pride,” asserted Terry. “And, with ‘Atlanta’s Better Building Challenge‘, people can see that the city is a green building hub.” Todd suggested that stadium management “should incorporate more signage in the concourses” to increase awareness of its sustainable bona fides.

 

Todd and terry

Todd and Terry Barcroft (Photo credit: Lewis Blaustein)

 

Andre Katompa was rushing to his seat and doing his best to avoid seeing the screens in the concourse showing the Colombia-Poland FIFA World Cup match (“I’m DVRing it!”) when he stopped to talk with me. “I found out about the stadium’s LEED certification on TV — there was a story about it on the sports news, which I watch religiously,” enthused the native of the Democratic Republic of Congo. “It is a great thing that the stadium is helping to fight climate change by reducing energy consumption. And that is great for Atlanta.”

 

Andre Katompa

Andre Katompa (Photo credit: Lewis Blaustein)

 

Up in the press box, I sat next to Atlanta area native Max Marcovitch, who was covering the match for The Oregonian. Max’s mom was his entry point into the Mercedes-Benz Stadium LEED Platinum story. “She knew someone involved with the construction of the building,” shared Marcovitch. “Every time the stadium would come up, mom would remind me, ‘it’s going to be LEED Platinum’ so I was very well aware of its greenness. I don’t think my friends [who are on the younger end of the millennial cohort] would be aware of it, but if they found out, they would think it is very cool.”

 

MY TAKE

I give the folks at Mercedes-Benz Stadium a strong A- grade for the way they communicate the venue’s sustainability story. The scoreboard and public address messaging is just right; frequent enough without being over the top. I loved one subtle touch on the scoreboard: A still photo of the Atlanta skyline, shot from the stadium, with some of its 4,000 solar panels in the foreground.

If the stadium had more sustainability-focused signage in the concourses, I would have given them a solid A. Want to earn an A+? How about an interactive exhibit for fans that tells Mercedes-Bens Stadium’s LEED Platinum story, similar to the museum-style installation# at New York City’s Empire State Building that shares the impact of its energy efficiency retrofit with the 3 million people who visit the building every year?

Finally, if you are a sports fan —green or otherwise — and/or an architecture buff, schedule a trip to Atlanta to take in a game at Mercedes-Benz. I’m sure a Falcons game would be fantastic, but I’d opt for an Atlanta United match. It is an incredible experience.

 

M-B Stadium 2a

 

^ The stunning view of the city skyline from the east end of the stadium and the camera lens-like “oculus” roof are two other “that is so cool!” features of Mercedes-Benz Stadium
# Editor’s Note: Lew Blaustein worked as a marketing and communications consultant on the Empire State Building’s sustainability exhibit in 2009 and 2010

 


 

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GreenSportsBlog’s Five-Year Anniversary…A Reflection

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

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

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

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

 

HOW I BECAME A GREEN-SPORTS BLOGGER

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

 

WRSU Knightline

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

 

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

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

Until 9/11.

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

But what to do?

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

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

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

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

But that wasn’t enough.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What an introduction to Green-Sports!

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

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

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

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

No one was.

So I decided would become that media organization.

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

 

Lew GSA 2

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

 

FIVE KEY LESSONS

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

MOST READ GREENSPORTSBLOG POSTS

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

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

 

 


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

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

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

That would be Andrew Ference.

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

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

 

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

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

 

Andrew Ference

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Floorball

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Report at a Glance

Screen shot of the 2018 NHL Sustainability Report

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GSB: What do you mean by that?

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

GSB: …Including engaging with environmental issues…

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

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

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

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

 


 

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RinkWatch: Citizens Track Climate Change By Measuring Ice in Backyard Rinks

Ice plays a crucial role in the measurement of climate change. From the decline of Arctic sea ice to using ancient ice cores to help determine CO₂ content in the atmosphere from many millennia ago, a good chunk of the climate change story is told through frozen water.

Did you know that the climate change “ice-story” is being tracked, in part, by regular folks with ice rinks in their backyards? They are doing double duty as hockey parents and as climate researchers in Canada and the northern U.S. via an innovative program, supported by the NHL, called RinkWatch.

GreenSportsBlog spoke with Dr. Robert McLeman, an Associate Professor of Geography and Environmental Studies at Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario, and one of the founders of RinkWatch, about how citizens, spurred on by their love of hockey, are helping to add to the body of scientific knowledge about climate change.

 

“I’m a middle aged parent and an environmental scientist focused on the impact of climate change on humans, communities, and other species.”

Dr. Robert McLeman’s self-description shows why he is exceptionally well-suited to have co-founded and help lead RinkWatch, a program that encourages people with backyard ice rinks in Canada and the northern U.S. to become citizen climate scientists by recording data about their ice.

It also doesn’t hurt that Dr. McLeman is a Canadian — and an Ontarian — through and through. “Growing up in Cambridge, Ontario and a fan of the two teams in the province — the Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators — spent many a winter day playing shinny (i.e. outdoor) hockey on frozen ponds.” He did his undergraduate work at the University of Western Ontario, got his PhD in Ontario at the University of Guelph, and works today as an Associate Professor of Geography and Environmental Studies at Wilfrid Laurier University in, you guessed it, Ontario.

 

mcleman winter1

Dr. Robert McLeman, one of the co-founders of RinkWatch and Associate Professor of Geography and Environmental Studies at Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario (Photo credit: Robert McLeman)

 

Awareness of the conditions surrounding climate refugees, has been and continues to be a major focus of Dr. McLeman’s research: “I am very interested in making the issue of climate refugees, and climate change broadly speaking, more accessible for the general public.

 

CANADIANS LOVE TO TALK ABOUT TWO THINGS: HOCKEY AND THE WEATHER

But accessibility wasn’t the only thing Dr. McLeman and Wilfrid Laurier University colleague Dr. Colin Robertson had in mind in 2013 when they began to talk about collaborating. “We really wanted to answer the question, ‘How do we make individuals and families more interested in the environment, interested in climate change, to the point where they take positive action?’,” recalled Dr. McLeman. “We kept coming back to two things Canadians love to talk about: hockey and the weather.”

 

Colin Robertson Geographers w-out borders

Dr. Colin Robertson, co-founder of RinkWatch (Photo credit: Geographers Without Borders)

 

That realization led McLeman and Robertson to the high tech world of makeshift, backyard hockey rinks. “It started with a simple thought,” shared Dr. McLeman. “Maybe we could create a project in which we would ask regular folks who happen to have backyard ice rinks to track weather-related conditions.”

The January 2013 launch of what would become RinkWatch was a no-budget operation.

“We had zero funding to start,” recalled Dr. McLeman. “So we built a simple website than can compile data like location of the rink, quality of ice, first date ice is playable, etc. We also had a form that showed people how to build a rink. The university put out a press release and the Montreal Gazettethe main English language paper there, picked it up. That really was the catalyst as the story made its way through radio and print media throughout Canada, and really took on a life of its own!”

By the end of their first month, a couple hundred RinkWatchers had signed up. Five years on, 1,500 rinks have participated in RinkWatch. The lions’ share are in Canada, with 20 percent coming from the U.S., along with a handful in China, Estonia and elsewhere.

[Editor’s Note: This is a great example of how, when the media decides to #CoverGreenSports, things can change in a positive fashion.]

 

THE NHL BUYS IN TO RINKWATCH

RinkWatch soon caught the eye of the NHL, the most proactive professional sports league sustainability-wise in North America, if not the world.

“The NHL started checking in with us, through Omar Mitchell and NHL Green,” said Dr. McLeman. “He had seen articles about RinkWatch in places like National GeographicThe league saw that what we were doing reflected the sustainability vision and commitment of Commissioner Gary Bettman, which is to say that hockey improves lives and communities and we want to do what we can to ensure it is around for the next 100 years.”

Next thing Drs. McLeman and Robertson knew, the NHL started tweeting about RinkWatch, asked them to contribute to the NHL Green website and invited them to speak, as part of the league’s centennial celebration, at a December 2016 event on the long term future of the sport at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. “We became a bit of hit,” offered Dr. McLeman, a bit sheepishly.

 

McLeman Hockey HOF

Dr. McLeman, speaking at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto (Photo credit: Getty Images)

 

A formal relationship with the NHL began in 2017, with the league providing funding to help improve the look and functionality of the web site, allow for a broader range data to be included in the future, and to help in the building and dissemination of learning modules for teachers to use with their students. According to Dr. McLeman, the NHL and the academics share two overlapping goals: “1. Get more kids to get more parents to build outdoor rinks, and 2. Get those kids interested in studying environmental science.”

 

RINKWATCH LEADS TO PEER REVIEWED ACADEMIC STUDIES

Drs. McLeman and Robertson are also using RinkWatch data to advance the body of peer reviewed, climate change research.

“We have been able to publish our results in two scholarly journals,” reported Dr. McLeman. “In The Canadian Geographer, we reported results of a study in which we took RinkWatch observations from a number of Canadian cities, identified the key temperatures need to have a skate-able ice surface (the low 20s Fahrenheit) and put these into a climate model to forecast future skating conditions out to the end of the century.” The study showed that if carbon emissions continue on their current course, the outdoor skating season will be significantly shorter. Calgary’s season will be curtailed by about 20 percent. Outdoor skating in Toronto and Montreal is expected to be 30 to 40 percent shorter.

 

Lake Louise hockey

According to a study by McLeman and Robertson, published in The Canadian Geographer, the future of outdoor ice hockey on Lake Louise in Alberta and elsewhere in Canada is at risk due to the effects of climate change (Photo credit: Edmonton Journal)

 

In another study, this one for the journal Leisure/Loisir, the duo reported on findings from a survey they conducted of RinkWatch participants to find out what motivates people to build rinks. According to Dr. McLeman, “an overarching response is that people see backyard rinks as community assets, shared with neighbors and friends, with the goal of getting kids outside, exercising and having fun in the middle of winter.”

That their work has been peer reviewed is a very big deal. “The importance of crossing the peer reviewed threshold cannot be overstated,” concurs Dr. McLeman. “Other environmental scientists like the idea that we’re legitimately, with accepted rigor, connecting sports to climate and ordinary citizens with science. They realize that the urgency and importance of climate change is very difficult to communicate and they see that our work makes it more relatable.”

As for what’s next, the Wilfrid Laurier University colleagues will look to reconstruct the temperature and ice conditions in Canada going back to 1950 so they will have a 150-year (1950-2100) data record. There is a practical aspect to this,” said Dr. McLeman: “Our data can help municipalities determine whether to invest in outdoor rinks or put their resources into indoor facilities.”

While that 150-year horizon is actually a nano-second in a field like climate science, Dr. McLeman finds it easy to see the real-time importance of his and Dr. Robertson’s work with RinkWatch.

“My daughter Anna is now 13. When she was 8, we built an outdoor rink with our community association on top of a tennis court — man, it was hard to spray water with a hose in my hand — it was COLD! In those five years, we’ve had one and a half good winters for skating, the rest were awful. I know this is one awfully small sample size, but it is this type of experience that, we hope, will lead to more and more collective positive environmental action.”

 

McLeman ANNA on Backyard Rink

Young RinkWatcher Anna McLeman takes to the ice in the outdoor rink she, her dad Robert and their community built (Photo credit: Robert McLeman)

 


 

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If the Most Important Green Aspects of Super Bowl LII are Two Beer TV Ads, Is That a Good Thing?

Super Bowl LII will be played in Minnesota, one of the most environmentally-conscious states in the country. Host city Minneapolis is mass-transit friendly and filled with LEED certified stadia and arenas. The Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots will do battle in LEED Gold US Bank Stadium. The game will be zero-waste and 100 percent of the energy used to power the contest will be offset. Yet, it says here that the most important green aspect of the 2018 Super Bowl may well be two beer ads — unless the NFL steps up to tell the Big Game’s green story to the audience 100+ million people.

 

Question: What does this triumvirate — Clydesdale horses, the Bud Bowl, and recent catastrophic extreme weather events — have in common?

Answer: They are each themes of Budweiser Super Bowl ads, past and immediate future. If there was a Super Bowl Advertising Hall of Fame, the brand’s ads featuring the iconic, white maned horses and the fun, computer-generated football games played by teams of beer bottles (Bud vs. Bud Light!) would both certainly be first ballot inductees.

But corporate parent AB InBev’s stablemates Budweiser and Stella Artois are going in a different direction for Sunday’s broadcast on NBC.

In “Budweiser’s Super Bowl Beer Ad Isn’t about Beer,” which ran in the January 26 issue of Environmental Leader, Jennifer Hermes reported that the brand’s 60 second Super Bowl spot is actually about…water: “[US corporate parent] Anheuser-Busch currently produces canned drinking water at its Cartersville, GA, brewery, and ships them to communities in need. This year, the company shipped nearly three million cans of emergency drinking water to areas hit by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, and by the California wildfires. In total, the company says it has provided over 79 million cans of drinking water to communities in need. The Super Bowl ad tells the story of its employees in the Cartersville plant who produce the emergency drinking water. [It] features the general manager of the brewery, along with more than 20 of his local colleagues.”

 

Budweiser’s “Stand By You” water-themed Super Bowl ad (60 seconds)

 

Stella Artois’ 30 second ad, produced in partnership with water.org, features actor Patriots fan Matt Damon, who calls on beer lovers to step up to help solve the water crisis by buying a Stella beer chalice. Damon asserts that if just one percent of Super Bowl viewers purchase the glass, Stella will provide “clean water to one million people. For five years.”

 

Matt Damon stars in Stella Artois’ 30 second, water conservation-themed, Super Bowl ad

 

Why did Budweiser and Stella take this turn?

 

IT COMES DOWN TO WATER — AND EYEBALLS

Quality water is, of course, crucial to the beer brewing process. AB InBev and its U.S. subsidiary Anheuser-Busch has implemented a robust water stewardship and environmental protection program across its sprawling brewery roster.

The initiative has engaged employees, farmers, suppliers and strategic partners to devise and implement a wide range of water conservation and management measures. Anheuser-Busch says this approach helped it reduce water use across all of its U.S. breweries by nearly 50 percent over the last 10 years.

That is a BIG achievement which warrants the BIG ad spend — NBC Sports is charging $5 million dollars for a 30 second spot — on the BIG game to reach the BIGGEST television audience of the year — 111 million people watched the 2017 Super Bowl.

Reaching such a vast audience with environmentally-themed messaging is why I believe Bud and Stella Artois have co-authored the most important green story surrounding Super Bowl LII.

Oh, you might say, “I think the fact that the the NFL, the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee, and US Bank Stadium are teaming up to offset 100 percent of the game’s carbon footprint via the purchase of renewable energy credits is more consequential than a couple of ads.” Or, you might opine that “Rush2Recycle, the program sponsored by PepsiCo, and promoted by ex-NFL great Hines Ward, that will help Sunday’s game be the first zero-waste^ Super Bowl, has to be considered the most important green story.”

 

us bank stadium

Exterior of US Bank Stadium, site of Super Bowl LII (Photo credit: SI.com)

 

While those efforts are, of course, laudable, I still go with Bud and Stella.

Because the  audience of 100 million+ people who might see the Bud and/or Stella Artois water-themed ads on NBC will likely be between 50 to 100 times greater than the number of people who learn about the zero-waste and/or the offset aspects of Super Bowl LII. That audience includes the 66,000+ fans inside US Bank Stadium, along with readers of national media outlets like Fast Company magazine, which are giving the zero-waste Super Bowl story welcome coverage.

Now, the NFL can easily wrest the “most important green story of Super Bowl LII” title away from Bud and Stella. All it needs to do is to create a public service announcement touting the green aspects of Super Bowl LII — hey, as of this writing, there are three days left; plenty of time for great content to be produced — and air it on NBC during the game.

What a BIG deal that would be! But will the NFL step up?

The stakes, said Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, founder and former president of the Green Sports Alliance and a founding director of Sport and Sustainability International (SandSI), are much higher than even the Super Bowl itself.

“As one of the most visible sporting events in the world, the Super Bowl has a unique opportunity to promote environmental literacy and reduce cultural polarization related to climate change,” said Dr. Allen Hershkowitz. “US Bank Stadium’s commitment to 100 percent renewable energy credits, ambitious zero-waste goals, and the [Minneapolis] region’s intelligent mass transit infrastructure, positions this event to be among the most carbon intelligent Super Bowls ever. The question before us is this: Will the NFL meaningfully promote this aspect of the Super Bowl story? Given the bewildering retreat from essential, science-based climate policy being enacted by the worst environmental administration in our nation’s history, a counter message by the NFL promoting progress on climate could not be more important. It has a responsibility to the world to do so.”

 

ENVIRONMENTAL MESSAGING: A WINNER FOR THE NFL

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, Commissioner of the NFL, talks a good environmental game: “The NFL is a responsible steward of the environment in all areas of our business. Through [these zero-waste and offset projects], the League and its partners hope to set a new standard of environmental sustainability at the Super Bowl.”

But Goodell’s green talk mainly takes place in dry, easily ignorable press releases, not on Super Bowl broadcasts.

The Commish and league should go beyond press releases and talk the green talk to the widest possible audience — i.e. during the Super Bowl. Because doing so would likely be good for business.

Say what?

Hasn’t has been a tough season for the NFL: from anthem protests to “Fire the Sons of B**ches!;” from CTE to declining TV ratings#? Won’t many older fans get ticked off? Isn’t it better for a league whose ownership and fan base is seen as right-of-center to keep quiet about the environment and climate?

No, it is not.

And, again, I say this from a business building, not from the “it’s the right thing to do” point-of-view.

It is a 2016 conversation with an NFL marketing executive who preferred to remain anonymous that sticks with me. He said the one thing that kept him and his colleagues up at night the most was how to attract Millennial and Generation Z fans and keep them.

One thing that resonates with younger cohorts is the environment and climate: across the political spectrum, the 35-and-under set accepts the reality and seriousness of climate change at rates far greater than their older counterparts.

Will embracing climate and the environment be the main catalyst to turning the tide the NFL’s young fan problems? Of course not. This is a complex, multi-factorial problem and going BIG on the environment is, admittedly, not close to the most important potential solution.

But, it says here that an intelligent, clever environmentally-themed PSA will be well-received among Millennials and Gen Zers. Which would help.

Budweiser and Stella Artois, hardly fringe, left wing brands, believe leading with the environment is the right way to go. Will the NFL join them by airing a green PSA on Sunday? I wouldn’t bet* on it.

In the meantime, buy a Stella chalice and (responsibly) enjoy a Stella or a Bud in it on Super Sunday.

 

 

^ A sports event can claim “Zero-Waste” status by diverting 90 percent or more of its game day waste from landfill, most often by a combination of recycling and composting.
* I also am not betting on the game itself. My prediction? Patriots 24, Eagles 17. I hope I am wrong.
# NFL TV ratings have declined over the past three years but it still generates, by far, the biggest television audience — and not only in terms of sports programming.

 


 

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