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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Vestas 11th Hour Racing Going For Unheard of Triple: Win the Volvo Ocean Race; Go Zero-Waste In the Process; Elevate Public Interest in Ocean Health, Climate Change

THIS STORY IS AN UPDATE OF A PIECE THAT FIRST APPEARED IN SUSTAINABLE BRANDS ON JANUARY 2, 2018

Vestas 11th Hour Racing’s team director Mark Towill and skipper Charlie Enright take on challenges the way most people layer cold cuts; one on top of the other. The duo and their team are 1) one of seven squads trying to win the Around the World Volvo Ocean Race, a nine-month sailing slog, over 45,000 nautical miles, in all sorts of weather; 2) doing so while being the most sustainable team in the race; and 3) working to increase public awareness, concern and action on behalf of ocean health.

No problem, right?

Perhaps the main reason they have a chance to succeed on all three counts is the unique collaboration between sport (Towill and Enright), business (Vestas, the largest wind turbine maker in the world) and philanthropy (11th Hour Racing, an organization that promotes ocean health via the sponsorship of elite sailing teams).

 

A LIFELONG INTEREST IN OCEAN HEALTH; A DESIRE TO COMPETE IN THE PINNACLE OF OPEN OCEAN SAILING RACING

For Mark Towill, concern about ocean health goes back to childhood. “I saw significant amounts of marine debris up close, growing up on the water in Hawai’i,” said the team director of Vestas 11th Hour Racing, one of seven sailing squads competing to win the Volvo Ocean Race.

Towill attended Honolulu’s Punahou High School, alma mater of Barack Obama. In his senior year, he met environmentally minded Rhode Island native Charlie Enright during filming of the documentary “Morning Light,” produced by Roy Disney, in which young sailors competed in the TransPac Race from Los Angeles to Honolulu.

 

Vestas 11th Hour Racing crew portrait. Mark Towill

 

Vestas 11th Hour Racing crew portrait. Charlie Enright

Vestas 11th Hour Racing team director Mark Towill (top) and skipper Charlie Enright (Credit for both photos: Ainhoa Sanchez/Volvo Ocean Race)

 

The duo sailed for Brown’s nationally ranked team in the mid-2000s; it was at the Providence, RI university that Towill and Enright hatched their dream of leading a team in the Volvo Ocean Race, the pinnacle of open ocean racing. Making that dream a reality costs serious money — upwards of $20 million — but only a few years after Enright graduated in 2008, the business majors (Towill also majored in environmental science) set out to raise the money to fund a boat for the 2014-15 race.

Surprisingly to many in the sailing world, a three-year effort to find a major sponsor bore fruit when Alvimedica, a new Turkish medical equipment manufacturer, signed on.

 

SEEING OCEAN WASTE AND EFFECTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE DURING 2014-15 VOLVO OCEAN RACE

Towill’s and Enright’s first trip around the world was peppered by a substantial amount of ocean waste.

“The amount of marine debris we encountered was truly astonishing,” marveled Charlie Enright. “We expected to see plenty of ‘leakage’ — all sorts of materials from container ships that would fall into the ocean — and we did. But the old refrigerators, air conditioners and tires we saw floating around in the middle of the ocean — they didn’t fall off of ships. The waste was so thick, it looked like you could walk in some parts of the waters between Malaysia and Indonesia, thanks to the lax dumping regulations.”

As one might expect, the ocean waste occasionally slowed Team Alvimedica’s progress. “It hindered our performance, big time. Sometimes, when the boat would slow down, we would send someone overboard to go underwater and take the stuff off,” offered Enright. “Of course, it wasn’t only our boat that had to deal with this problem; it affected everyone in the race.”

They also observed the effects of climate change up close. “One way we saw this was through ‘ice gates,’ which are established for safety reasons by race organizers to represent the northernmost and southernmost latitudes beyond which the boats cannot safely sail,” explained Enright. “Because of climate change, icebergs are floating further south from the Arctic regions and further north from the Antarctic. That meant that, for example, the Cape Town to Melbourne leg’s Antarctic ice gates were pushed further north for the 2014-15 Volvo Ocean Race than they would have been in prior years.”

Even before Team Alvimedica’s fifth place finish in their maiden 2014-15 voyage, Towill and Enright began planning for the race’s 2017-18 edition.

The pair had worked with a sustainability consultant to determine the environmental impact of their 2014-15 journey, establishing a baseline for the next go-round. More importantly, it says here, they made a commitment that improving ocean health as well as fighting climate change would be core values for both the team as well as prospective sponsors. Their goals were, of course, modest: Just win the 2017-18 Volvo Ocean Race and be, as Towill put it, “the [event’s] most sustainable team.”

 

Leg Zero, Prologue start round the corner on-board Vestas 11th Hour, light breeze downwind. Photo by Martin Keruzore/Volvo Ocean Race. 08 October, 2017

Vestas 11th Hour Racing aims to win the 2017-2018 Volvo Ocean Race, be the event’s most sustainable team, and, in the process, increase public awareness, concern and action on behalf of ocean health (Photo credit: Martin Keruzore/Volvo Ocean Race)

 

With that dual mission firmly in place, it is highly doubtful that the team director and skipper could have found a better title partner pairing than Vestas and 11th Hour Racing.

 

VESTAS: PARTNERSHIP WITH TOWILL/ENRIGHT, 11TH HOUR RACING AND VOLVO OCEAN RACE IS A PERFECT FIT

To Magnus Bach, senior director of global marketing at Aarhus, Denmark-based Vestas, the world’s largest wind turbine manufacturer, co-sponsoring Towill and Enright’s team with 11th Hour Racing, a program of The Schmidt Family Foundation focused on ocean health, was a perfect storm of sorts: “We see ourselves as the ‘above the water surface’ sustainability partner with our focus on wind energy and climate solutions. Meanwhile, 11th Hour Racing brings its ‘below the surface’ expertise on ocean waste and ocean health.”

 

Magnus Bach

Magnus Bach, senior director of global marketing at Vestas (Photo credit: Magnus Bach)

 

Bach says the relationship between Vestas, Towill/Enright and 11th Hour Racing came about thanks to the matchmaking skills of Volvo Ocean Race executives: “Having sponsored a team in the 2014-15 cycle, we knew the ropes a bit. Our goal in 2017-18 was to partner with a team that would make a serious, long-term commitment to sustainability and to the climate change fight; we were not interested in a one-off. Knowing this, our friends at the Volvo Ocean Race introduced us to Mark and Charlie in December 2016. From there, the relationship between us, the guys and 11th Hour Racing crystallized quickly and we announced our joint partnership in March.”

The strategic and technical fit between Vestas and sailing could not be tighter and is a prime reason the company also serves as the Data Analytics Partner of the race itself.  Bach noted Vestas “is in the business of harvesting wind and so, of course, is sailing. And think about this: the aerodynamics of a hull is somewhat similar to that of a wind blade; in fact many of its engineers have worked in both sailing and the wind business. Vestas also has the biggest climate library in the world — the amount of data in the wind business is staggering — which the sailors use to help with navigation.”

Sponsoring the team and the race provides Vestas with unmatched business building opportunities. “We are a business-to-business company — we sell wind turbines and service solutions mostly to utility companies around the world — so doing a big, consumer-facing sponsorship with, for instance, a soccer team like Manchester United or Liverpool does not make sense for us,” asserted Bach. “The global nature of the race and the intimate nature of its stops provides us with powerful opportunities to entertain some of our existing partners along with new prospects, wherever they may be located. This makes the Volvo Ocean Race a stronger option for us than, say, the America’s Cup, which takes place in far fewer locales.”

 

11TH HOUR RACING: SAILING SPONSOR WITH A POSITIVE ENVIRONMENTAL PURPOSE 

When you think of a typical corporate sponsor of a sports team or event, what kind of company comes to mind? A car company? A beer brand, perhaps? No matter what category you chose, you know that companies spend substantial sums to put their products or services in front of their target audiences so they can sell more of those products or services.

Newport, RI-based 11th Hour Racing is not a corporation, and it is not selling a product or service.

Rather, the organization pays for the privilege of selling behavior change — positive environmental actions, primarily surrounding ocean health — to dual audiences: 1. World class sailing teams and, sometimes, the races in which they compete, and 2. The millions of sailing fans worldwide who follow the teams, and races.

How does 11th Hour Racing help close its “sale”? By acting as sustainability consultant — helping to develop sustainability plans — as well as a marketing and communications agency of sorts for the teams it sponsors in the world’s most widely followed sailing races.

They played this role for Land Rover BAR, the British entry in the 35th America’s Cup held in 2017. And, with a history of support for Towill and Enright, it’s not surprising they are doing the same as part of the Vestas 11th Hour Racing team. And, if that’s not enough, 11th Hour Racing is also providing sustainability consulting services to the 2017-18 Volvo Ocean Race as Founding Principal Sustainability Partner and Race Partner.

 

VESTAS 11TH HOUR RACING TEAM: A WORLD CLASS COLLABORATION

11th Hour Racing’s collaboration with Towill, Enright along with Vestas for the 2017-18 edition of the Volvo Ocean Race resulted in a comprehensive and groundbreaking sustainability, communications, legacy and reporting plan that put the team on a path to make good on its “most sustainable team in the race” pledge — and more. Sustainability and communications initiatives include:

Sustainability 

  • Calculating Vestas 11th Hour Racing’s carbon footprint by tracking all travel, accommodations, electricity usage, water consumption and waste. That footprint will be offset at race’s end.
  • Outfitting each team member with a “sustainability kit” containing refillable water bottle, coffee mug, bamboo toothbrushes, and much more. It also includes a personal water filter to ensure clean, safe drinking water.
  • Creating a positive plastic footprint by removing more trash from beach cleanups than they create during the race
  • Using a desalinator for on-board water needs, saving an estimated 13,500 one-liter water bottles
  • Achieving a 75 percent waste diversion rate
  • Wearing Karün sunglasses made from 100 percent recycled fishing nets and using Aethic sunblock, produced with a unique formula that does not harm coral reefs
  • Sourcing local, sustainable foods from the countries they visit
  • Following a Meatless Monday diet

 

Communications

  • Designing and operating Vestas 11th Hour Racing’s Exploration Zones at 10 of the 12 race stops. The Exploration Zone is a dedicated, immersive educational space where the public learns about renewable energy and ocean health through the prism of sailing’s most crucial elements; wind and water. From virtual reality goggles to interactive displays, the space drew thousands of people each day at the race’s first three stops (Alicante, Spain; Lisbon, Portugal, and Cape Town, South Africa). Visitors can also charge their phone using a grinder similar to the ones on board the race boat, and make their own public pledge for a sustainable future.
  • Raising awareness of the team’s vision of a cleaner, healthier environment at race stops and during the race via the Vestas 11th Hour Racing website, Social Media channels and the #LeadingSustainability hashtag

 

Video detailing the Vestas 11th Hour Racing “Exploration Zone” (1 min 6 sec)

 

Legacy

  • At each Volvo Ocean Race stopover, Vestas 11th Hour Racing will be meeting with a local non-profit to learn more about their environmental work.
  • 11th Hour Racing will be giving a $10,000 grant to each of these non-profits as part of the team’s mission to leave a lasting legacy beyond the race.

Grant recipients so far have been: Asociación De Naturalistas Del Sureste in Alicante, Spain; Circular Economy Portugal in Lisbon, Portugal; Environmental Monitoring Group in Cape Town, South Africa, and Take 3 (as in “take three pieces of rubbish with you when you leave the beach”) in Melbourne, Australia.

 

Reporting

  • 11th Hour Racing is using the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) template to monitor the team’s progress (or lack thereof) towards reaching its sustainability goals after each legs. A final sustainability report will be issued after the race ends.

 

YOU PLAY TO WIN THE RACE!

To paraphrase the famous 2002 rant of Herm Edwards, the preacher-like former head coach of the New York Jets (a woebegone American football team, for those unfamiliar with U.S. sports), ESPN commentator, and soon-to-be head man at Arizona State University, “You play to win the Volvo Ocean Race!!”

 

Former NY Jets head coach Herm Edwards’ now infamous 2002 “You Play to Win the Game” rant (37 seconds)…

 

Prologue on-board Vestas 11th Hour. Upwind heading to gibraltar. Photo by Martin Keruzore/Volvo Ocean Race. 10 October, 2017

…and the Vestas 11th Hour Racing team, “playing to win the race…while being its most sustainable team!” (Photo credit:

 

Winning would be a great boost for the awareness and impact of the Vestas 11th Hour Racing’s sustainability leadership.

Towill and Enright are, of course, all in on winning both the Volvo Ocean and sustainability races.

“Winning the race is of paramount importance and a massive challenge. Know that our team is up for it,” said Mark Towill. “Ocean health and climate change are also of paramount importance. That’s why we set out to be the most sustainable team in the Volvo Ocean Race. Thanks to Vestas and 11th Hour Racing, we’re on the way to achieving the environmental goals. As for the race, that’s on us!”

After winning the first leg from Alicante, Spain to Lisbon, Vestas 11th Hour Racing earned third place honors in both the second (Lisbon-Cape Town) and third (Cape Town-Melbourne) chapters. Thus the team left Melbourne tied for second place when the fourth leg set off on January 2 for Hong Kong, with expected arrival on January 19.

After Hong Kong, the race proceeds to Guangzhou (China) then back to Hong Kong. After that, it’s on to Auckland (New Zealand), Itajaí (Brazil), Newport (Rhode Island, USA), Cardiff (Wales), Gothenberg (Sweden), before finishing in The Hague (Netherlands) at the end of June.

 

 

 

To learn more about Vestas 11th Hour Racing: https://vestas11thhourracing.com/
To learn more about the Volvo Ocean Race: https://www.volvooceanrace.com/en/home.html

 


 

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What 2 Watch 4 in Green-Sports in 2018

Happy New Year to you, GreenSportsBlog readers! I hope you had a great holiday season. Thank you for your comments, suggestions and consistent support throughout 2017; keep it coming in 2018.

Speaking of 2018, the way GSB sees it, the Green-Sports world will continue its necessary transition from Version 1.0, which focused mainly on the greening of games at the stadia and arenas, to Version 2.0, which emphasizes athlete and fan engagement, both at the game, and even more importantly, beyond the stadium/arena — after all, that’s where the bulk of the sports fans can be found. With that in mind, let’s take a look at What 2 Watch 4 in Green-Sports for 2018. 

 

January 9: College Football Playoff National Championship Game, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, GA

Monday’s College Football Playoff (CFP) championship game between Georgia and Alabama, will take place in Atlanta’s brand new LEED Platinum showplace, Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Looked at through a Green-Sports 1.0 lens, the stadium is already a champion, from its state-of-the-art water efficiency efficiency systems to its 4,000 solar panels to its LED lighting throughout the building.

 

Mercedes Benz

Aerial view of Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta (Photo credit: AMB Sports and Entertainment)

 

But how will the championship game fare from a Green-Sports 2.0 perspective?

CFP’s Playoff Green initiative ran a semester-long tree planting campaign in the Atlanta area — public service announcements are scheduled to promote it to the 71,000 fans in attendance.

But will ESPN, with its multiple channels (I put the over/under at five) airing the game, share the story of the greenness of the stadium and of Playoff Green, with the 25 or so million people watching?

I bet the answer is no; I hope I will be proven wrong.

 

 

February 4: Super Bowl LII; US Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, MN

It is safe to say Super Bowl LII will be a more sustainable event than its predecessor in Houston last February. After all the bar is set extremely low: the Houston Super Bowl LI Host Committee did next to nothing of note, green-wise.

What is noteworthy are the solid, green actions taken by the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee. These include:

  • Granting a portion of its $4 million Legacy Fund to environmental charities. One grantee is the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe Native American tribe — the funds helped build a community garden, supplying healthy food in an area where access is lacking.
  • The collection of over 42,000 pounds of TVs, computers and cell phones at the Minnesota Zoo as part of an October E-Waste drive, in partnership with NFL sponsor Verizon.
  • Working with Verizon and Minneapolis-based Andersen Corporation to fund 14 habitat restoration and urban forestry projects across the state, resulting in the planting of thousands of trees and native species.

 

MN UrbanForestryPosterHorizontal

The Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee, in partnership with the NFL, Verizon and Andersen Windows have planted more than 700 trees as part of their Urban Forestry Initiative for Super Bowl LII (Infographic Credit: Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee)

 

There is one environmental concern surrounding US Bank Stadium and thus, by extension, Super Bowl LII, that, to be fair to the Host Committee, predated its existence: The problem of birds killing themselves by crashing into the largely glass exterior of the stadium that opened in 2016. The Vikings and the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority were made aware of this issue during the stadium’s design phase and chose to do nothing about it.

Neither Audubon Minnesota nor Audubon Chapter of Minneapolis plan to organize protests tied to Super Bowl LII. And without protests, the likelihood that the media covers the “old news” bird kill issue is slim.

And, it says here, that NBC Sports will not devote air time to the Super Bowl LII “solid but not groundbreaking” sustainability story.

Hey, I never said this Green-Sports 2.0 thing would be easy. Maybe the Winter Olympics will provide a better platform?

 

 

February 9-25: XXIII Winter Olympics, Pyeongchang, South Korea

The myriad of issues surrounding North Korea’s nuclear weapons program will no doubt garner the lion’s share of NBC Sports’ non-sports coverage during the Winter Olympics. And that is at should be.

Will there be enough non-sports oxygen for the environment and climate change?

Even though the organizers will not feature a climate change-themed vignette in the Opening Ceremonies, as did Rio 2016,  I say there is at least a 50-50 chance that the Peacock Network features the environment and climate in its countless sidebar stories — and that Green-Sports 2.0 will be be a winner at PyeongChang 2018.

After all, there are great sustainability tales to tell:

  • PyeongChang 2018 will generate more clean electricity than total electricity consumed during the Games. You read that right: PyeongChang 2018, together with  host provincial government Gangwon, funded wind farms that will produce 45 percent more electricity than will be needed to power the Games.
  • Six of the newly constructed competition venues feature either solar or geothermal power.
  • Several of the venues will be G-SEED certified, the Korean green building equivalent of LEED.

 

POCOG Wind farm 1

Wind turbines in Gangwon Province, part of the developments funded by PyeongChang Organizing Committee for the 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games (POCOG) that will, in total, generate 45 percent more energy than the Games will use. (Photo credit: POCOG)

 

Most importantly, it is likely that Protect Our Winters (POW), an organization made up of current and retired elite winter sports athletes which advocates for legislative action on climate change, will have several articulate, charismatic members on the U.S. team.

Will NBC Sports interview POW athletes about their activism as well as their athleticism?

I say YES!

 

Spring: NHL Issues Its Second Sustainability Report

In 2014, the National Hockey League became the first professional sports league in North America to issue a sustainability report. Among other things, the league disclosed its direct carbon footprint and that of its sizable supply chain.

That the league will be issuing its second such report this spring before any of its counterparts (MLB, MLS, NBA, NFL) produce their first demonstrates 1) the NHL’s consistent, substantive Green-Sports leadership, and 2) the need for the other leagues to step up their green games.

Regarding the upcoming report, I look forward to see 1) how the league has progressed on emissions reductions since 2014, and 2) if emissions from fan travel to and from games will be added.

 

April 29: Opening, Banc of California Stadium, Los Angeles

This is a classic Green-Sports 1.0 story about a new, LEED certified stadium — and 1.0 stories are still good things.

Banc of California Stadium, the 22,000 seat home of Major League Soccer expansion team LAFC will open this spring with LEED Silver level certification. Sustainability features include:

  • Easy metro accessibility via the Expo Line at nearby Expo Park/USC station
  • EV charging stations for 5 percent of vehicles, and that number will increase
  • 140,000 sq. ft. of additional public open space
  • 440 bicycle parking spaces and a bike path that feeds into Los Angeles’ My Figueroa path system

 

 

Banc of California

Artist rendering of Banc of California Stadium (Credit: LAFC)

 

Banc of California Stadium will serve as an appetizer on the LA new stadium scene. The main course? The projected 2020 opening of LA Stadium at Hollywood Park, the new home of the NFL’s Chargers and Rams. Early reports say LEED certification is being considered.

 

June 14-July 15: FIFA Men’s World Cup, 11 cities in Russia

GSB has low exceptions, Green-Sports-wise, for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia, the world’s most followed sporting event..

FIFA did issue “A More Sustainable World Cup,” a 15-page, Russia 2018 progress report which asserted that:

  • At least six of the 12 stadiums hosting World Cup matches will be BREEAM certified: Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, site of the final match; Mordovia Arena in Saransk, Nizhny Novgorod Stadium, Samara Stadium, Spartak Stadium, and Volgograd Arena.

 

Samara Stadium Guardian

Workers play soccer adjacent to the under-construction and BREEAM-certified Samara Stadium (Photo credit: The Guardian)

 

Volvograd Arena Guardian

The BREEAM-certified Volgograd Arena (Photo credit: The Guardian)

 

  • The South Pole Group, a carbon management consulting firm, is working with FIFA to estimate the carbon footprint of Russia 2018.
  • FIFA plans to offset all of the greenhouse gas emissions related to the event.

This is fine from a 1.0 POV, but there is much more to the story.

Remember, the organizers of Sochi, Russia’s 2014 Winter Olympics promised the “cleanest Olympics ever.”

The reality was far different.

According to a piece in the February 21, 2014 issue of Earth Island Journal by Zoe Loftus-Farren:

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin has a stunning disregard for environmental laws: “Environmental laws can be pesky, and Putin’s government amended several laws to make way for Olympic glory: In 2006, the Russia government amended a ban on holding large sporting events in National Parks, in 2007 it eliminated compulsory environmental assessment for construction projects, and in 2009 the legislature [weakened] the Forest Code.” 
  • On Sochi 2014-related environmental wrongs: “Large illegal waste dumps have cropped up around the region, including within Sochi National Park. More than 3,000 hectares of forest have been logged, including regions with rare plant species. Large swaths of previously protected wetlands now lay underneath the Olympic Village.”

Aside from the BREEAM-certified stadia, it is fair to assume that, from an environmental perspective, the Sochi 2014 past is prologue for Russia 2018.

It would be great if Fox Sports undertakes some award-winning investigative journalism into the Russia 2018 environmental story during its coverage of the tournament.

I’m not holding my breath.

 

 

June 26-27: Green Sports Alliance Summit; Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, GA

Atlanta’s LEED Gold Mercedes-Benz Stadium will occupy the Green-Sports center stage for the second time in 2018, this time as host of the eighth Green Sports Alliance (GSA) Summit.

According to the GSA’s website, Summit 2018 will feature “more networking opportunities and [will] focus on hands-on workshops for attendees to work through challenges, share lessons learned, and gather valuable take-aways to implement in their communities.”

Speakers and panels have yet to be announced so stay tuned.

 

 

August 27-September 9: US Open Tennis, Bille Jean King National Tennis Center, Queens, NY

After a decade of Green-Sports leadership paid off with the US Open winning GSB’s “Greenest Sports League/Event” award for 2017, what can the USTA do for an encore?

From a Green-Sports 1.0 perspective, the answer is clear: The opening of Louis Armstrong Stadium 2.0.

The 10,000 seat stadium will likely achieve LEED certification by the start of the tournament. Here are three reasons why:

  • 95 percent of the waste from the demolition of the original Armstrong Stadium was recycled
  • Landscaping around the new stadium has been designed to use 55 percent less water
  • The new Armstrong Stadium will be the first naturally ventilated stadium with a retractable roof in the world.

Methinks this last point is so cool that it will warrant attention from ESPN during its tournament coverage, which would mean a nice Green-Sports 2.0 win.

 

One minute, time lapse photography video of the demolition of the old Louis Armstrong Stadium and the building of the new one. The latter will be the first naturally ventilated stadium with a retractable roof.

 

November 6: Midterm Elections, United States

What do the midterm elections in the United States, in which the control of the House of Representatives and perhaps the Senate are up for grabs, have to do with Green-Sports?

Well, the aforementioned Protect Our Winters (POW) won GSB’s 2017 “Best Green-Sports Story of the Year” award in large part due to its lobbying efforts on Capitol Hill and its willingness to get involved in electoral politics.

When asked about POW’s goals for 2018, manager of advocacy and campaigns Lindsay Bourgoine said: “Our main goal in 2018 is to get down and dirty in the midterm elections in November…We have identified ten ‘battleground elections’ where we feel it is really important to elect a climate friendly leader, whether Democrat or Republican.”

 

Lindsay Bourgoine POW

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

 

Bourgoine also said that POW is not “working to help the Democrats take the House.” While I understand completely POW’s desire to help the climate-friendly Democrats and Republicans, I will be doing my small part as a volunteer to help flip the House.

In the meantime, I look forward to sharing powerful Green-Sports stories — of both the Version 1.0 and 2.0 varieties — wherever I find them!

 


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Golden State Warriors React to Winning GSB’s “Best Team On/Greenest Team Off Court” Award for 2017

The reigning NBA Champion Golden State Warriors otherworldly performances on the court are well known around the world. While the Bay Area club’s sustainability record — along with that of its LEED certified home, Oracle Arena — is much less well-known, it is also top shelf. That combination earned the Warriors its first “Best Team On/Greenest Team Off Court” designation from GreenSportsBlog. The club commented on winning the award.

 

The Warriors’ sustainability record is a reflection of the Bay Area’s strong environmental ethos. The club, working with Oracle Arena management and concessionaire Levy Restaurants:

  • Powers its practice facility with solar panels
  • Reduces energy usage at Oracle Arena through a smart energy management system
  • Introduced a rainwater recapture system that uses the harvested H₂O to feed the plants and vegetation surrounding the arena.
  • Partners with a local vendor who turns oils from concessions into bio-diesel,
  • Implemented a system which utilizes water, salt and electricity to create an eco-friendly cleaning solution
  • Reduced the carbon footprint of, and the waste produced by the food service. In partnership with Levy Restaurants, the club uses compostable cutlery and flatware and composts food waste.

For the above and more, Oracle Arena earned LEED certification from the US Green Building Council in September.

And, because the team won its second NBA title in the last three years and is a favorite to do so again next spring, Golden State earned its first “Best Team On/Greenest Team Off Court” award from GreenSportsBlog.

“We share this award with our Oracle Arena partners Levy [Restaurants] and AEG, who are also committed to making the Bay Area a more sustainable community,” said Warriors President and Chief Operating Officer Rick Welts. “It is important to the entire Warriors organization to continue to do our part in making the Bay Area one of the most eco-friendly places to live.”

 

 

Rick Welts Warriors

Golden State Warriors President and Chief Operating Officer Rick Welts (Photo credit: Golden State Warriors)

 

The Dubs will up their sustainability game when the club moves to the new Chase Center — expected to seek LEED Gold certification — in San Francisco in 2019. So,  it will be on the shoulders of Kevin Durant, Steph Curry & Co. to keep up their end of the bargain if Golden State is to dominate the “Best Team On/Greenest Team Off Court” award going forward.

 


 

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The GSB Interview: Diana Dehm, Sustainability Radio Anchor + President, Climate and Sports Youth Summits

Like many of us, Diana Dehm understands that humanity needs to take significant actions to take on climate change to avert its most severe effects. Unlike most of us, she’s devoted her work life towards that end. The LA-based Green-preneur hosts the Sustainability News and Entertainment Radio Show and is president of Climate and Sports Youth Summits, a series of events that uses sports to engage students from primary grades through high school in climate change education. GreenSportsBlog talked with Ms. Dehm to understand, 1) the motivation behind her climate change-fighting spirit, and 2) what Climate and Sports Youth Summits are all about.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Diana, there is so much to cover so let’s get right to it. When did you get into the environment, into climate change? And when did you decide to work in this space?

Diana Dehm: Thanks Lew for all you do. You are right there is SO MUCH to discuss! Growing up in California until I was 15, I always had a passion for clean oceans. I’m a diver, sailor and a SUP Surfer or Paddleboarder. Moved to the Boston area at 15, went to Lesley University there, ultimately came back to Southern California. Started out as an environmental health and safety consultant; working for clients like AT&T, NBC, NCR and many more. Companies like those had started to get that sustainability was good for business. Eventually I moved up and became a VP for two large environmental consulting firms.

 

 

diana dehm

Diana Dehm (Photo credit: Diana Dehm)

 

 

GSB: What did you do for those firms and their Fortune 500 clients?

DD: We provided strategic counsel, environmental, health and safety (EHS) audits, and helped them integrate sustainability and environmental better practices into their businesses. We pushed them beyond mere compliance, demonstrating that doing so would drive social and tangible value for their companies and, in the process, reduce CO? emissions. We worked with companies on their supply chains, helping them to replace high polluting suppliers with companies that worked towards making “zero impact” by emphasizing biodegradability, recycling and more. Then, we would seed these stories into the media.

GSB: That sounds great — can you give us an example?

DD: Sure! GE needed environmental and health training at their NBC studios in the Los Angeles area — this was before they sold NBC to Comcast — and so I led that effort with an awesome team. GE and NBC were great leading the way towards educating their many employees.

GSB: Impressive! Sounds like you were on a great track in the corporate sustainability consulting world. What made you change course and where did that change take you?

DD: 2007-2008 was the game changer. My dad became ill with pancreatic cancer and I contracted a MRSA bacterial infection; was in and out of the hospital for a month.

GSB: Oh no!

DD: That was quite the wake up call! It strengthened my need to do big things for humanity and the planet…and FAST. So I quit my job as a VP/partner and, with the encouragement of several clients, went off on my own.

GSB: What did you do?

DD: I started working on technology innovation and how it connects to sustainability and more…Big Data, City integration, Predictive Technology, Virtual Reality, and Sense Technology…LOVED IT. In 2009, I started Sustainable Business Partnerships. It brought technical innovation and top-flight business thinking to the triple bottom line/CSR world. Some examples: I worked with Hewlett Packard Labs in Palo Alto, and I helped support tech innovation for a city in Southern California for which Hewlett Packard managed IT.

GSB: As a career-shifter and pivot-er, I have to say, you are a role model! But how did this lead to a radio show?

DD: OK…love this story. In 2010 I was visiting family on the east coast…went to dinner with an old friend. After hearing me describe my sustainability work, a friend of that friend said “you should do a radio show about all of this!” “How in the world would I do THAT,” I replied. His calm response? “I manage WSMN-AM 1590, a radio station in Nashua, NH! You can start there!”

GSB: Had you been on the air before?

DD: NEVER! I had NO IDEA WHAT I WAS DOING! Really, no clue. And here I was hosting a one hour show every Tuesday. I really just wanted to create a platform to share the solutions on the planet happening right now. Remember the economy in 2010 wasn’t so great. Thought we needed some inspiration from amazing guests from around the world!

GSB: One hour can be a loooonnng time in radio!

DD: You ain’t kidding, Lew. So like Nike says, I “just did it.” I found myself on the air the following Tuesday as the host for Sustainability News & Entertainment. Flew to New Hampshire to do the shows. It was so much fun interviewing and learning about some of the most sustainable innovations on the planet and how we can connect the dots globally to take action. Interviewed a broad range of folks — sustainability directors, sports executives, green-minded kids, scientists, politicians, musicians, artists, celebrities, the military –my early guests were especially brave. I stay connected to many of them to this day.

GSB: Terrific! Flying east to do the shows? That sounds, well, unsustainable.

DD: You’re right. So in 2010 we built a “Studio in a Box,” a flexible studio, for me..I can travel the world with my studio in a box. It was awesome at COP21 in Paris.

GSB: Amazing. How are you funded?

DD: I’ve self-funded the show because I do like the feeling of being able to work without corporate influence. I do plan to seek outside funding but would only do so if I maintain editorial control. I am convinced sustainability-minded sponsors would benefit greatly by reaching our green-minded global audience that reaches 3 to 5 million.

GSB: HOLY COW! How did you build that kind of audience?

DD: The market was ready and open: when the show started in 2010, there were few green-themed radio shows. The show’s real-world, solutions-based and positive ethos was unique…that’s why our tag line is an open sourced focus on solutions happening on the planet right now.

GSB: Not pie-in-the-sky, though, right?

DD: Nope. Always fact based. But that solutions-based approach really works. The audience grew organically as other stations, including NPR affiliates, started to pick it up. In 2013-14, we pitched the show to major radio stations. Their response? “Too new, different, controversial.”

GSB: Really? I think controversy is what radio station owners want?

DD: You would think. But the economics of the traditional, terrestrial radio business was changing — so I went to the digital world, streaming live shows, podcasting and using social media to reach a global audience of next generation entrepreneurs and innovators. That was clearly for the best as now we are blessed with having that low seven-figure audience.

GSB: Not to be redundant, but Holy COW!

DD: Thank you! It really is amazing. Anyone can listen live anytime, anywhere. I was surprised to learn that the biggest audience segment is in China — interesting to correlate that with how fast China is growing their renewable energy market. Russia and Brazil also contribute significantly; the US is third in audience size.

GSB: What do your listeners learn about?

DD: How people are making a living driving positive human impact while reducing environmental impact. From climate reduction, to zero waste, to water harvesting, to renewable energy – from the race car world to celebrities to musicians to CEO’s.
Now, like I said before, I haven’t made money doing the show so I continue to make my living through sustainability consulting, working with non-profits, corporations and schools.

GSB: Ahhh…schools! So now I see most of the Diana Dehm picture: the radio show, your interest in education. Where does your interest in Green-Sports come in? Did you ever cover Green-Sports on your show?

DD: YES! First of all, I saw the sports-environment-planet connection about 20 years ago but didn’t know what to do with that. But then I went to the first Green Sports Alliance Summit and was hooked. — I’m a sports fan and an athlete so I know the power of sports. I saw the potential connections between sports, solutions-based thinking and innovation. So that’s a part of my consulting work. And, we have done lots of sports-themed radio shows. I love them. I can’t recall the year right now — when we had 10 people — from teams, stadium managers, all talking about what they were doing to green the sports world, and how they were influencing sustainability more broadly. It was GREAT! We’ve done several Super Bowl-focused shows, talked with NFL Green’s Jack Groh and the Green Sports Alliance’s board chairman Scott Jenkins about Zero-Waste Super Bowls. We’ve had Justin Zeulner, Executive Director of the Green Sports Alliance, on our air….

GSB: The trade group for the Green-Sports world…

DD: Exactly. Now, on schools, I love kids, and we’ve had them on our show a lot..They get sustainability and climate change. Back in 2010 while interviewing MIT’s Drew Jones from Climate Interactive, he was telling me about when he was in school at Dartmouth, he and a bunch of his college buddies decided to learn what their trash impact was and decided to carry their trash around with them for a week…well, I thought that idea that needed to be recycled…

GSB: Pun intended…

DD: …So I came up with the Trash On Your Back Challenge, made it up. Drew and I pulled some heavyweights to the table to try it — Rear Navy Admiral Len Hering, the aforementioned Atlanta Falcons GM and GSA Co-Founder Scott Jenkins, Former Senior Policy Counsel at the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, US EPA Matt Bogoshian, Former President/CEO, along with many others. We walked around with our trash on our back for 5 days and learned the hard way that the average person in the US generates 4.4 pounds of trash per day. Carrying that weight around on your back provides an incentive to reduce it…right? It was smelly too, so we end up innovating ways to avoid waste and smell.
The Challenge still goes on today. Thousands of people around the world have taken it, diverting tons of waste from what I call our earthfills – our earth and our oceans.

 

 

Diana Dehm Trash on Back

Diana Dehm, flanked by Scott Jenkins (l) and Matt Bogoshian, is ready to embark on the Trash on Your Back Challenge. (Photo credit: Diana Dehm)

 

GSB: I can only imagine How low did you go?

DD: Together we were able to knock down the 4.4 pounds of trash per day, down to 0.8 pounds on average. It’s all based on simple choices.

GSB: That’s an incredible reduction! So how did you get from Trash on Your Back to Climate and Sports Youth Summits?

DD: After attending several Green Sports Alliance Summits, I realized there was only one thing they were missing: kids. Kids love sports, of course. After working on student summits for many years, I shared my idea of having a kids module at the Green Sports Alliance Summit with their executive team. They loved the idea and saw great potential impact.

GSB: Who was on your team and what did you end up creating?

DD: I brought in a great team: One of most brilliant, sustainability-minded principals I knew – the former coach, and Co-Founder and CEO of the Green Schools National Network, Jim McGrath and asked him if he would like to start a non-profit focused on harnessing the power of sports to motivate K-12 students and college students to take action on climate change. Thankfully, he said yes and we proceeded to bring two other education superstars from Florida: former Olympic soccer player, teacher, and founder of the How Low Can You Go Net Zero Energy Challenge, Linda Gancitano. And Broward County’s Sustainability Teacher of the Year; Elaine Fiore.

GSB:…Don’t know Jim but I do know Linda and Elaine, interviewed them in fact. LOVE “How Low Can You Go” — sports teams working with schools on a challenge to reduce the schools’ carbon emissions…I can’t imagine two better people for your team.

DD: Indeed, they are the best!

GSB: So what did you all come up with?

DD: We partnered with the NBA’s Miami Heat for our first Climate and Sports Youth Summit, which took place at American Airlines Arena. Students, athletes and celebrities came together for a fast-paced, educational, fun day. Started at 9 AM with the tip off: “Game On For the Planet.” Brought a basketball and started passing it around quickly. Anyone who caught it had to shout out something they would do to protect the planet, reduce carbon emissions, etc. Then we took tours of the American Airlines Arena and were shown the recycling systems, the LED lighting and the other sustainability aspects of the building’s operations. We had students presenting to students, engaging them with games like “Climate Eliminators” and “Recycle Relays” and we took the “Trash On Your Back” zero waste Challenge – and the students left with their own climate action plan along with knowing we are there to support them.

GSB: They must’ve loved it!

DD: For sure. And we taught them, through the “How Low Can You Go Challenge,” how they could help their schools reach Zero Energy. We also asked them for their own ideas. One great one was “Plastic Mermaids” — a symbol of the need to get plastics out of the oceans. The kids brought them to the mayor of Broward County, FL. The Mayor liked it and showed it to the state senate in Tallahassee.

GSB: And then you brought Climate and Sports Youth Summit to the Green Sports Alliance Summit (GSA) in Sacramento in June. What was that like?

DD: Oh it was a big success…It was a two-day program at Golden 1 Center, the LEED Platinum home of the Sacramento Kings, vs. one day in Miami. We had 60 students, mostly from the local area. Day 1 was similar to Miami. On Day 2, the students monitored waste, recycling and composting stations in the arena. There was a scavenger hunt where the students were challenged to go to the various sustainable product and service exhibitors at the GSA Summit and learn about their sustainable innovations and thinking. And then the kids got to do some “trash talking” while manning the trash and recycling receptacles, helping adults learn how to recycle and compost. Afterwards they headed down to the court where they got to feel like an NBA player.

 

CSSS Montage

Kids make their presence felt at the 2017 Climate and Sports Youth Summit in Sacramento (Photo credit: Diana Dehm)

 

GSB: They must’ve eaten that up…

DD: They LOVED IT! former King Doug Christie shared his inspirational story with them, and left the students knowing that they can take action on anything they put their minds to. Calum Worthy of Disney Channel fame presented and was INCREDIBLE! He stayed with the kids for 2-3 hours and communicated, in compelling fashion, that solving climate change is a huge career opportunity for them. Also, the Oregon State student-athletes you wrote about awhile back…

GSB: Sam Lewis and Jesikah Cavanaugh from the Beaver Athlete Sustainability Team (BAST)?

DD: Yes! They shared how, by creating the first student-athlete-run sustainability organization, they are helping Oregon State fans get involved in the greening of their games.

GSB: Did you have corporate sponsors in Sacramento?

DD: Whole Foods Market supported us, giving out healthy food to the kids. And the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) provided funding and built awareness for the program.

GSB: That’s great…So when’s your next Summit?

DD: We’re heading to Boulder, CO, the University of Colorado in December. Hosted by Dave Newport, their Director of Environment. Can’t wait! And 2018 will be bigger and better. Our goal is to obtain funding so we can host 20 summits per year and then grow from there. So sponsors, please join us and support our kid’s futures. I like saying “Love them, educate them, support them, and get out of the way!” – Kids get it and, once given the tools, will take action on climate!

 


 

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