“Twin Cities Rule US Green-Sports”: Part II: David Fhima Brings Tasty, Green, Clean Food to Target Center Fans

“Which metro area is the Green-Sportsy-est in the US?”

While the San Francisco Bay Area or Seattle might come to mind first, it says here that Minneapolis and St. Paul win the title. In fact, the Twin Cities’ Green-Sportsy-ness runs so deep that we can’t cover it all in one post.

In Part I of our four-part GSB special series, Twin Cities Rule US Green-Sports, we looked at US Bank Stadium (Minnesota Vikings), the University of Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium and CHS Field (Independent baseball’s St. Paul Saints) from a green perspective.

Today, in Part II we shift our focus to food. YES!!!

David Fhima is the groundbreaking owner/chef behind the tasty, clean, healthy French-Mediterranean menus at one of Minneapolis’ finest restaurants, Fhima’s Minneapolis. And since 2016, he has brought that same culinary excellence to Target Center as “nutritional curator” for the NBA’s Timberwolves and WNBA’s Lynx. 

GSB spoke with Fhima about his culinary philosophy, his journey to Minneapolis, and his approach to his work with the Lynx and Wolves.

 

GreenSportsBlog: David, this story promises to be as good as a meal at one of the restaurants inside Target Center, so let’s dig in. How did you end up as the Timberwolves chef?

David Fhima: Well I was born in Casablanca, one of 17 children, but grew up and went to schools all over the world; from Paris to London to Geneva to Strasbourg. This influenced me greatly. I was always fascinated by food and was cooking from a very young age in my mother’s kitchen and before I knew it, it became my life’s work.

I came to the US in 1982, found my way to Los Angeles where I worked at some of the top restaurants prior to moving to Minneapolis following a former relationship. Seeing the need for a food scene in the Twin Cities, I opened my first restaurant here in 1993, Minneapolis Cafe.

Over the years, Timberwolves players and management would come to my restaurants. They enjoyed the food and the ambiance, and we became friends. Several years ago, Timberwolves management approached me, namely Ryan Tanke and Ethan Casson, about upgrading the Twolves and Lynx food and beverage experience at Target Center as major renovations to the arena were planned.

Previously, I had traveled with the team on a few road trips experiencing other venues. I found myself questioning why arena food was average, at best, when it didn’t have to be. I knew I could do it better, do it right. I was convinced that this would be an awesome undertaking when I realized that Ethan’s and Ryan’s standards were very aligned with mine. They were not about smoke and mirrors, but instead about quality, great ingredients and more importantly giving me the autonomy to create. Much of the credit is due to them and the organization as a whole. The Wolves and Lynx are world class organizations constantly searching how to be the best in every aspect.

 

David Fhima David Sherman Photog

David Fhima (Photo credit: David Sherman)

 

GSB: What do you mean when you talk about ‘doing it right’? What is your culinary philosophy?

David: My simple philosophy is this: Respect the ingredients.

It won’t be good if it’s full of additives and if the sources are suspect. Food needs to be clean. If you can buy local, great. Green and organic is great, but clean, to me, is a culmination of local first, organic second, sustainable third.

  • Local:  When I can look the purveyor in the eye and know that his product is grown nearby and is made without additives, preservatives, pesticides, etc.
  • Organic: While the industry isn’t as regulated as you might think, I believe that a tomato, organically grown has more flavor, more nutrients and is accepted into your system more readily than non-organic product.
  • Sustainable:  We have a responsibility to care for the environment in which our food is grown, I believe in eating seasonally which is mostly compatible with sustainability. When the seas are balanced, not over fished, the seafood is better. When the soil is let to rest seasonally, the food it produces has more nutrients.  There is a symbiotic rhythm to purchasing and eating food and I believe your body thrives within those seasons as well. A strawberry just doesn’t taste as good in January.

This is basic stuff, and, as I like to say, the art of doing simple, well, is a lost art.

With that as our philosophy, the trick was to change an entire arena and we couldn’t switch overnight. We’re not feeding 100 or 200 people, we’re feeding 19,000. We did, however, progress quicker than anticipated, becoming more local and sustainable, while always setting our goals higher. Among our successes are that all concession stands emphasize clean ingredients, Fhima’s concession stand is all organic, the rest are getting there. Target Center is one of the only sports arenas in North America that can say this.

 

David Fhima's Concessions_David Sherman

Fhima’s concession stand at Target Center (Photo credit: David Sherman)

 

Levy Restaurants, the concessionaire representing Target Center, does most of the purchasing for the concessions stands and they are doing it in partnership with us, with our clean philosophy in mind. We have a weekly meeting where we discuss many things including product quality and guest experience.

How many microwaves do you think we have at Target Center?

GSB: I have no idea…

David: None.

GSB: I should’ve guessed! Talk about what makes the Target Center restaurants and concession stands so sustainable, so healthy?

David: With no microwaves, everything is prepared day of. In the restaurants, we only cook with rice bran oil — it has no trans fats and there’s no waste with it. We partner with local farmers for our produce and our meats. All of our fish is sustainably caught and raised. We’re working to eliminate plastic straws throughout the arena. At the concession stands, how about making hot dogs without nitrates? Done. Healthier ketchup? Done. Next year, we’ll be pushing the envelope even further, working with local farmers who grow produce like lettuce and tomatoes hydroponically — in a water-based, nutrient-rich, soil-less environment. This can be done indoors, when it’s -30° Fahrenheit outside. Which, if you haven’t heard, happens here from time to time.

GSB: I’ve heard. Did the move to healthy and local cost significantly more? If so, have those cost increases been passed on to fans? What has been the reaction?

David: Through this “go local, organic, clean” process we have not needed to raise pricing, we have stayed competitive, if not less expensive, than other large stadiums in the area.

GSB: That’s a big deal! I’ve heard many chefs emphasize healthy and organic food. I haven’t heard them use the word “clean” before when talking about food. But it’s a big thing with you…

David: Look, the pollution of our food over the last 100 or so years is a big problem. It is baked in now, meaning our soil is polluted. Even if you don’t use pesticides or herbicides, the runoff is a real problem. As you might imagine, evaporation and precipitation is hard to control.

And you know what? Peoples’ palates have been hurt by this!

Pollution and now climate change affects everything when it comes to food and taste. That’s why the goal of 100 percent clean is very arduous. Although we’re not there yet,  we’re not afraid of the clean food challenge. And when your palate gets used to eating clean, it’s like a great relationship. Once you have the right one, you don’t look anywhere else. It’s been a battle but we have some of the cleanest, healthiest, best food in town. We pride ourselves on being the best place to eat, period. Not just the best sports venue.

GSB: What are some of the items you’re most proud of at the concession stands and in the restaurants in the premium seating areas?

David: Well, that’s like choosing a favorite child, which I cannot and won’t do. I am proud of most things in each area of our arena. I love that our sub-contractors are happy, making money and feel pride being at the Target Center. I am proud of the way everyone has bought into our vision of being the best in every level.  I am proud at the methodical change that we have made from top to bottom and the commitment the Wolves have to getting better each year and not resting on our laurels. Our premium restaurants were packed last season. Fans who used to eat out before the game changed their habits by eating at our Target Center restaurants. Most people used to have dinner somewhere before going to the game because the quality wasn’t there. We’ve changed that model. Our premium restaurants were packed last season.

GSB: How have Timberwolves and Lynx management reacted to your approach?

David: From top to bottom the whole organization, from the top executives — Ethan Casson, Ryan Tanke, Ted Johnson, Jake Vernon — to the sales advisers, it has been amazing — they love it! We cook for both the Wolves and the Lynx and they love it too. No one has said NO to us. We work very well with Levy, which manages the restaurants and concession stands. Also, I don’t know if this is significant, but the Timberwolves had a very good home record eating our clean, healthy food. On the road? Not so good. Speaking of on the road, other sports venues have expressed interest in our way of doing things. The organization as a whole has been 110 percent on board and committed to our culinary vision.

 

David Fhima_KAT_David Sherman

Karl-Anthony Towns of the Timberwolves samples some of David Fhima’s clean, healthy, organic food offerings (Photo credit: David Sherman)

 

GSB: That’s a new link between home cooking and home court advantage! The analytics folks need to look into that. More and more athletes are eating vegetarian or vegan diets. Where are you guys on plant-based options?

David: Every concession stand, every restaurant at Target Center, anywhere you get food in the building, has vegan and/or vegetarian options. At some of the stands you’ll find our house-made veggie burgers; they’re as good or better than what’s on the market. More and more, our players, especially the Lynx, have been asking for plant-based options. We have an amazing relationship with the players, trainers and coaches. Communication is key and we are in contact every day. Each group appreciates our contribution. A key part of the effort to win, we strive to do our part in creating meals for optimal performance. We aren’t just putting food on tables; we do our due diligence in sports nutrition research and work with players individually when asked.

GSB: That’s great to hear. So take out your crystal ball. Where would you like to see the Target Center food offerings three, four years down the road?

David: in my view, Target Center is already a world leader in providing clean, healthy, food that maintains is savory component! We want to be 100 percent clean, we don’t believe that is too lofty of a goal. I challenge you to find an arena currently that is as comprehensive and thoughtful from the guest to the staff to the athletes. Three, four years down the road, arenas will be following suit and asking for guidance. We are ahead of the game, providing an improved all around culinary experience. We will be known in the industry for being the thought and clean cuisine leader.

GSB: Forget three years down the road, I want to eat at Target Center this season…

David: We would love to have you.

 

Next in Part III, we find out how Target Field, (home of the AL Central-leading Twins), Xcel Energy Center (NHL’s Minnesota Wild) and the brand new Allianz Field (MLS’ Minnesota United FC) are helping the Twin Cities lead the way in Green-Sports

 


Please comment below!
Email us: lew@greensportsblog.com
Friend us on Facebook: http://facebook.com/greensportsblog
Tweet us @GreenSportsBlog
#CoverGreenSports

 

Twin Cities Rule US Green-Sports: Vikings, U of Minnesota, St. Paul Saints LEED the Way

“Which metro area is the Green-Sportsy-est in the US?”

While coastal areas like San Francisco-Oakland-Santa Clara and Seattle might come to mind first, it says here that Minneapolis and St. Paul, smack dab in the heartland of the country, wins the title.

In fact, the Twin Cities’ Green-Sportsy-ness runs so deep that we can’t cover it all in one post.

We started things off last week with our look at the sustainability efforts surrounding the recent NCAA Men’s Final Four at US Bank Stadium, home of the Minnesota Vikings.

Today, in the first of our four-part Twin Cities Rule US Green-Sports series, we examine the greenness of three of the area’s many sports venues. 

The tour starts at US Bank Stadium. Then we get on the light rail’s Green Line and head east across the Mississippi River to the University of Minnesota to check out TCF Bank Stadium, home base for Gophers football. Finally, we hop back on the eastbound Green Line ride, ending up in St. Paul and CHS Field, home of the Saints, an innovative independent baseball club.

 

PEAKS AND VALLEYS GETTING TO ZERO WASTE AT US BANK STADIUM

Bradley Vogel, sustainability coordinator at US Bank Stadium, has seen a lot since he arrived in November 2016 after wrapping up his Masters Degree in Sustainability Management at the University of Minnesota.

His rookie year coincided with the Minnesota Vikings’ first season at the viking ship-shaped building. Then he and his operations team had a mega-event doubleheader for which to prepare: Super Bowl LII in February 2018 and April’s NCAA Men’s Final Four.

 

Bradley Vogel headshot

Bradley Vogel (Photo credit: MSFA)

 

Pressure came with the Super Bowl-Final Four back-to-back for Vogel and his team. 

Management wanted US Bank Stadium to achieve LEED Gold for Building Design and Construction — it ultimately earned that certification last year — but the waste diversion rate was too low at the outset.

“Our diversion rate was only 15 percent in Year One, July 2016 to June, 2017,” Vogel recalled. “But our director of operations Curtis Schmillen had a huge plan to turn that around. So in Year Two, we added compost in our back-of-house (kitchens) operations and throughout the rest of the stadium. It helped that Hennepin County and the city of Minneapolis are committed to composting.” 

ESPN’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) team played a big role with composting as well. “They are composting experts,” reported Vogel. “ESPN’s X Games became an annual event at US Bank Stadium starting in July 2017, and so they helped us get past some of the pitfalls that come with trying to compost at a big event.”

With the help of funding for composting from Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA), which owns the building, and the state, US Bank Stadium upped its diversion rate to 46 percent in 2017.

But, with Super Bowl LII upcoming in February 2018, MSFA management was not satisfied. 

“Management and NFL Environmental asked ‘what can do to make US Bank as green as possible by Super Bowl LII?,” Vogel said. “The answer: Get us to zero waste — at least 90 percent diversion. And despite an up-and-down 2017, we knew we had the ability to get to 90 percent diversion, especially since, per Minneapolis law and MSFA policy, everything had to be compostable or recyclable, including things like ‘to go tubs’ and cutlery.”

When it came time for the Super Bowl, concessionaire Aramark upped its game on compostables. Pepsi had “bin guards” to make sure fans placed their waste in the correct bins. When all was said and done, the post-game sort revealed that the US Bank Stadium team, like the Philadelphia Eagles, were winners, as the diversion rate came in at 91 percent.

 

Jack Groh NFL Environmental Bradley Vogel

Jack Groh of NFL Environmental gives instructions to Pepsi bin guards prior to Super Bowl LII (Photo credit: Bradley Vogel)

 

US Bank Sort board Bradley Vogel

Waste Sort Board educates US Bank Stadium staff on the proper ways waste should be disposed (Photo credit: Bradley Vogel)

 

But achieving zero waste for a Super Bowl, with sponsors and the NFL pitching in is one thing. Doing it for a full, 10-game Minnesota Vikings campaign, without that outside assistance, is quite another. The US Bank Stadium sustainability team notched a solid 72 percent rate for the 2018 season but they fell short of Super Bowl LII’s 91 percent diversion level.

Vogel believes the lessons learned at the Super Bowl and the Men’s Final Four (a lower-than-expected 64 percent diversion rate, due in part to back-of-house issues that were specific to that event), will help his team get US Bank Stadium and the Vikings over that season-long zero waste hump this fall.

“We’ve maximized our compost rate back-of-house,” Vogel noted. “Now we’re working on getting our fan-facing, front-of-house composting to similar levels. That’s how we’ll get to zero-waste on a season-long basis. In the meantime, our overall sustainable approach earned US Bank Stadium LEED Platinum for Operations and Maintenance (O&M) status, making us the first stadium to attain that level. Official certification will come in June or July.”

 

UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA: LOOKING TO SWITCH TO RECYCLABLE PROMOTIONAL ITEMS AT GOPHERS FOOTBALL GAMES TO INCREASE DIVERSION RATE

Getting to zero waste for a full season is also goal for University of Minnesota football. The Gophers play their games at TCF Bank Stadium, their 50,000 seat, LEED silver home adjacent to the light rail’s green line.

“We’ve averaged 82 percent diversion over the past four or five years at TCF Bank Stadium, and that includes 2014-15 when the Vikings played here and 2017-18 when we hosted Minnesota United¹,” said Jeff Seifriz, assistant athletics director- facility operations. “Getting to 90 percent has proven to be tricky but we made strides last season by working with the university’s sustainability office and third party vendors like Aramark and the University of Minnesota Waste Recovery Services to do detailed audits of our post-game sorts.”

 

Jeff Seifriz

Jeff Seifriz (Photo credit: University of Minnesota)

 

One thing that has kept the Gophers’ sustainability team from getting to zero waste has been promotional items: “The problem is that vessels like souvenir cups and serving boats have complex graphics that make them difficult to be accepted by recyclers. We’re looking at going to a simpler ‘single print’ approach that hopefully will get these items into the recycling stream and get us to 90 percent diversion.” It says here that venues and teams can reduce the environmental cost of promotional items by having fewer promotional days, at least those that involve giving out stuff.

Seifriz wishes that zero waste had been a thing when TCF Bank Stadium was in the planning stages back in 2006 (it opened in 2009): “Had zero waste been our radar back then, we would’ve made space for composting on site and for compactors.”

 

TCF Bank Stadium Exterior

TCF Bank Stadium, home of University of Minnesota Gophers football (Photo credit: University of Minnesota)

 

Since then, Seifriz and his team have gone to school on some of the best in Collegiate Green-Sports, studying the successes of the University of Colorado-Boulder, University of Washington and Big Ten rival Ohio State. The 20+ year University of Minnesota facilities veteran also shares best practices with his Green-Sports-minded counterparts from the St. Paul Saints, as well as the Minnesota Twins, Vikings, and Wild at the occasional brainstorm session (aka Happy Hours): “It’s a terrific group of committed practitioners who want to make a difference on the environment.”

 

ST. PAUL SAINTS: INCUBATING GREEN-SPORTS INNOVATION AT CHS FIELD

Independent League Baseball leagues and teams — they are not affiliated with and/or owned by major league league franchises as opposed to minor league clubs — are proving to be the sport’s petri dishes.

This season, the independent Atlantic League is experimenting with some outside-the-box rule changes, like moving the pitcher’s mound two feet farther away from home plate with the goal of reducing strikeouts and increasing the percentage of pitches that are hit in play.

The St. Paul Saints, who play in the North Division of the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball, have been a proving ground for green innovation since planning began about eight years ago for what would become CHS Field.

Tom Whaley, aside from a four year hiatus, has been with the Saints since 1993. He is now an owner of the club and serves executive vice-president.

Whaley said that the Twin Cities’ sustainable heritage was one of the main reasons that green figured so prominently in the new ballpark.

“Green became a top priority for us when we started planning for the new ballpark in the early 2010s for four key reasons,” recalled Whaley. “#1. A clean, healthy, environment is very important to most people in our area, #2. Industry was heading in a green direction, #3. The City of St. Paul has a cabinet-level sustainability position, and #4. We are in an eternal quest to connect with young fans and green is something to which they respond.”

 

TomWhaleyHeadshot

Tom Whaley (Photo credit: St. Paul Saints)

 

Sustainable elements at the 7,200-seat CHS Field that were state-of-the-green-ballpark-art when it opened in 2015 — especially in the world of independent baseball — included:

  • On-site 100 kWh solar array that supplies 17 percent of the ballpark’s electricity, thanks to a grant from Xcel Energy
  • A graywater re-use system, with water supplied from the roof of a large adjacent transit facility, used to water the field and flush toilets
  • A vigorous waste diversion effort, funded in part by a grant from the state of Minnesota.

As the ballpark opened, the team wrapped a green sponsorship around the initiative called “The Greenest Ballpark in America”, with Ecolab, a global sustainable cleaning solutions company based in St. Paul, coming on as title sponsor. The sponsorship is critical to helping the Saints communicate the ballpark’s environmentally friendly features and benefits to its fans.

“Our goal is to bring green closer to home for our fans, to get them to think ‘CHS Field has solar; I should look into solar at my house’,” added Whaley. “We have two touch screen kiosks on the concourse to educate fans, a mobile platform (sustainability.chsfield.com), do in-game public address and video board announcements, plus on-field contests, all to engage our fans around the ideas and technologies. In 2018, we began an internship program dedicated to sustainability, and we deploy a volunteer Green Team of about 15-20 fans that spread our green message at about one third of our home games.”

 

StPaulSaints solar

100 kWh solar array located in beyond the left field wall supplies approximately 17 percent of the electricity needs at CHS Field (Photo credit: St. Paul Saints)

 

StPaulSaints Ecolab Kiosk

Ecolab partners with the Saints on kiosks that take real-time data from CHS Field’s Building Automation System to show fans the amount of power generated and saved (Photo credit: St. Paul Saints)

 

The Saints’ sustainability efforts earned CHS Field GreenSportsBlog’s Greenest New Ballpark award for 2015.

How have the fans reacted to the Saints’ greening? “It’s been very well received,” offered Whaley. “One thing we haven’t done yet is survey the fans about it. We should and we will.”

 

Next in Twin Cities Rule US Green-Sports, Chef David Fhima brings clean, sustainable, tasty food to the Target Center, home of the NBA’s Timberwolves and the WNBA’s Lynx.

 

¹ The Vikings played at TCF Bank Stadium while US Bank Stadium was under construction. And Minnesota United played its initial MLS season at TCF Bank while Allianz Field was being built.

 


 

Please comment below!
Email us: lew@greensportsblog.com
Friend us on Facebook: http://facebook.com/greensportsblog
Tweet us: @GreenSportsBlog
#CoverGreenSports

 

“Sustainability at the 2019 Final Fours” — Part II: Men’s Final Four in Minneapolis

The 2019 NCAA Women’s and Men’s Final Fours both featured Green Teams, squads of volunteers that helped educate fans about environmentally friendly behaviors and to direct them to place their food waste in the proper receptacles. 

Aside from that, the two events were about as different as the host cities, Tampa for the women and Minneapolis for the men.

Wednesday, GreenSportsBlog shared the experiences of Madeleine “Maddy” Orr and her students from Laurentian University in Ontario, Canada as they ventured to Tampa, becoming the first Green Team at a Women’s Final Four.

Today we turn to Minneapolis and the story of how Tiffany Richardson brought her deep Green Team management experience — honed at several Major League Baseball All-Star Games — to the Men’s Final Four at US Bank Stadium.

 

Tiffany Richardson had three key things going for her as she worked to pull together and manage the green team for the 2019 Men’s Final Four in Minneapolis. Richardson:

  1. Was based in the Twin Cities, where she is owner of Elevate Sports Consulting and a former lecturer at the University of Minnesota in the Department of Kinesiology’s Sport Management area and an Educator at the Institute on the Environment (IOE). OK, she moved to Amsterdam about six months before the Final Four, but was able to handle things remotely in a smooth fashion thanks to a strong team back home.
  2. Had successfully managed Green Teams at four Major League Baseball All-Star Games, starting with the 2014 edition at Minneapolis’ Target Field.
  3. Reached out to the Minneapolis local organizing committee about a Green Team two years before the Final Four, giving her the necessary time to sell management on her vision.

Upon meeting Richardson for the first time at a Minneapolis cafe the morning of the semifinals doubleheader, one thing became crystal clear to me: Green team members would execute her vision to the best of their abilities.

 

“I WANTED TO DO IT!”

“My ears perked up as soon as I heard that Minneapolis was going to host the 2019 Men’s Final Four,” Richardson recalled. “They needed to have a sustainability effort and I knew how to make it work. And I wanted to do it! So in early 2017, I got in touch with Kate Mortenson, president of the local organizing committee. She knew my reputation in Green-Sports and asked me to be the sustainability chair. And she gave me a blank canvas on which to create the sustainability programming, which was fantastic.”

 

Tiffany Richardson

Tiffany Richardson (Photo credit: Tiffany Richardson)

 

Richardson consulted with Colin Tetreault, who managed the sustainability effort for the 2017 Men’s Final Four in Phoenix about how best to fill the canvas.

“Colin drove home the point that we needed to establish a sustainability legacy for the Minneapolis Final Four,” said Richardson. “Water was the legacy for Phoenix. We decided to go with mass transit. Our message: Fans don’t need to rent cars; use mass transit.”

A plan was developed to encourage fans coming in to Minneapolis for the tournament to take light rail from the airport to downtown. I saw this firsthand as I attended the tournament. It could not have been more convenient. Fans could easily get to US Bank Stadium via light rail, bus, commuter rail and on foot.

 

IT’S GO (GREEN) TIME

And, while Phoenix didn’t have a Green-Team in 2017 — the NCAA thought it would be too intrusive for fans — Richardson was determined to show the powers that be that this would not be the case in Minneapolis.

“We sent a ‘sizzle video’ of our Green-Team’s work at the 2017 All-Star Game at Marlins Park in Miami to JoAn Scott, the NCAA’s managing director for the Division I men’s basketball championship in the fall,” recounted Richardson. “I told her and her colleagues that the only difference between All-Star and Final Four was innings versus time outs. They LOVED the video! Fast-forward to late 2017-early 2018. We presented our full vision for the Green-Team to JoAnne and her team. They aired their concerns — ‘don’t be disruptive’ and ‘don’t chastise’. We came to a meeting of the minds and the Green-Team was a GO!”

Speaking of GO, Richardson decided to go — as in move —  to Amsterdam in late summer 2018 to pursue an MBA at the University of Amsterdam. She also lectured on Sports Ethics at The Hague University in their International Sport Management department.

Big problem, right?

You don’t know Tiffany Richardson.

“I asked the Minnesota Local Organizing Committee (MLOC) to appoint a top-notch former student, Nicole Petschow, to run things in Minneapolis while I was away, including managing the recruiting of green team members,” Richardson said. “I would be on all conference calls and then would fly in for the Final Four. It worked out really well.”

 

Nicole Petschow

Nicole Petschow (Photo credit: Nicole Petschow)

 

As the calendar turned to 2019, the pace of the Final Four sustainability effort kicked into high gear:

  • A strong recruitment effort netted 70-plus green team members. They came from the University of Minnesota, The University of St. Thomas (another local school), and the University of Louisville.
  • Background checks were conducted in January on all of the volunteers (Richardson: “Security around the Men’s Final Four is much tighter than at the Women’s, a big difference.”)
  • Volunteer training took place in February. Per Richardson, “The volunteers helped out at Minnesota Wild NHL games to get experience and assist in the Wild’s efforts because they have a robust sustainability program themselves.”
  • Richardson and team worked with the MLOC to help the Men’s Final Four earn certification as a sustainable event from the Council for Responsible Sport (level still pending.)

 

GREEN TEAMERS DELIVER SOLID RESULTS

Since this was far from Richardson’s first Green-Team rodeo, she and her leadership team were well prepared heading into the Saturday semifinals at US Bank Stadium.

Still, the massive size of the building posed some challenges.

“This was basketball being played in a football stadium,” Richardson noted. “Instead of 17,000 for hockey or 43,000 for a baseball All-Star Game we had 72,000 fans! Our plans had to be fluid. What if the crowd filed in slowly? What if it rained and everyone wanted to get in early? What if fans loitered near the entrances? We had to be ready for every eventuality and we were.”

 

US Bank Stadium Jeff Thurn

72,711 fans shoehorned into US Bank Stadium for the Men’s Final Four semifinals (Photo credit: Jeff Thurn)

 

When fans started entering the Stadium at 2:45 PM for the 5 PM first game between Auburn and Virginia, the Green-Teamers were there. Unobtrusive and pleasant, they collected plastics and aluminum cans on the concourses. I saw them trudge up and down the very long, steep aisles of the upper deck, taking empty items with a smile — great guest service.

Per Richardson, “Kudos go to students from the University of Minnesota, St. Thomas and The University of Louisville. They brought great energy, never complained and understood this was about the bigger vision — one less bottle in the landfill — and they GOT IT DONE!”

 

Men's Final Four Green Team

2019 Men’s Final Four Green Team in Minneapolis (Photo credit: Tiffany Richardson)

 

Approximately 62 percent of the 144,000 pounds of waste collected over the two nights of the Final Four was diverted, with about half of the diverted waste going to recycling and the other half to compost¹.

Why didn’t they get in the 80-90 percent diversion range?

“We had a few Back-of-House — i.e. kitchen — issues that were beyond our control,” Richardson acknowledged. “I’m confident that the next time US Bank Stadium hosts a mega-event, those problems will have been ironed out and the diversion rates would approach the 90 percent Zero-Waste threshold.”

 

WHAT COULD’VE GONE BETTER/HOW TO MAKE FUTURE FINAL FOURS GREENER

“We had a really great event: The Green Team, folks from US Bank Stadium and the local organizing committee came together beautifully,” Richardson said. “But it could’ve gone much better, with a stronger commitment to fan-facing sustainability by the NCAA and sponsors like Coke.”

According to Richardson, here’s where the NCAA and Coca-Cola, a corporate sponsor with a strong green initiative, missed the mark:

  • Coke failed to promote their World Without Waste sustainability campaign (“They leveraged their new Orange-Vanilla flavor everywhere. World Without Waste? Not so much.”)
  • There were no recycling or compost receptacles on the Fan Fest streets that were closed to traffic
  • The public transit initiative fell a bit short as Richardson’s and company’s request to provide free mass transit rides to fans bearing game tickets was rejected (volunteers and coaches did get that benefit)

How can Men’s Final Fours go greener in the future, starting with the 2020 edition in Atlanta at LEED Platinum Mercedes-Benz Stadium?

“The NCAA needs its own ‘sustainability charter’ for mega-events like the Final Fours and College Football Playoff National Championship, and that charter needs to have some real teeth,” recommended Richardson. “Corporate sponsors need to buy in. Sponsor-funded carbon offsets for every fan, Zero-Waste Games. Students will volunteer in great numbers; they don’t have to worry about that. There can’t be a greenwash; the NCAA can’t use half-measures because they don’t need to. They are the NCAA after all.”

 

 

¹ Actual amounts diverted: RECYCLED: 43,440 lbs.; COMPOST: 42,860 lbs.; DONATED FOOD: 6,427 lbs.

 


 

Please comment below!
Email us: lew@greensportsblog.com
Friend us on Facebook: http://facebook.com/greensportsblog
Tweet us @GreenSportsBlog
#CoverGreenSports

Sustainability at the 2019 NCAA Final Fours — Part I: The Women in Tampa

The 2019 NCAA Women’s and Men’s Final Fours both had sustainability initiatives. And both featured Green Teams, squads of volunteers that helped educate fans about environmentally friendly behaviors and to direct them to place their food waste in the proper receptacles. 

Aside from that, the two events were about as different as the host cities, Tampa for the women and Minneapolis for the men.

GreenSportsBlog spoke with the leaders of the Green Teams about what they and their teams experienced.

On Friday, we will visit the Twin Cities to look at the Men’s Final Four. But today, our focus is on Tampa and the first Women’s Final Four to feature a Green Team. 

 

 

“Sustainability is not really a thing in the Tampa area.”

So observed Madeleine “Maddy” Orr, faculty member in Sport Administration at Ontario’s Laurentian University, and a founder of Sportecology.org, a new platform that connects people working in Green-Sports with research that can help propel their efforts forward.

 

MaddyOrr1.2017

Madeleine “Maddy” Orr (Photo credit: Katya Moussatova)

 

Tampa’s lack of recycling infrastructure was certainly a challenge.

“It seems like recycling is not a priority in the Tampa area,” Orr noted. “Only two people in Tampa city government had responsibility for promoting and overseeing recycling. They do their best but are resource-challenged and also fight an uphill battle against what seems like public apathy about sustainability. The local recycling plant can’t accept recyclable cups. Composting? Nowhere to be found.”

The local organizing committee, which, per Orr “did a great job on social sustainability — the event was accessible, inclusive, there were free community events” — had little experience with environmental sustainability, especially for a big event like the Women’s Final Four.

And Orr only had 90 days to organize the Green Team and to support the rudimentary environmental sustainability that was led by Coca-Cola, an NCAA corporate partner.

Hey, no one said organizing the first-ever Green Team for a Women’s Final Four would be easy.

But Maddy Orr doesn’t flinch when she believes in an idea and Tampa, there was only one way to go, green-wise, and that was up. So she went to her boss, Tony Church, in early January with a proposal to take a (green) team of Laurentian students down to Tampa.

“Before getting approval, I secured a block of hotel rooms on my personal credit card — with free cancelation of course,” Orr recalled with a laugh. “Professor Church said the department couldn’t help unless we got a critical mass of students to go. Now bear in mind that Canadians really don’t get college basketball, women’s basketball in particular. I talked with 80 students across two classes, with a goal of getting 30 to sign up. Even 20 would’ve been okay. We had 50 volunteers. I had to give a women’s basketball quiz to cull the group down to 30 second-year undergrads.”

 

GREEN TEAM SCORES WITH RECYCLING MESSAGE AT FAN FEST

Aside from the very welcome early spring Florida weather, the first thing the all-Canadian Green Team noticed when they arrived in Tampa was the lack of recycling bins…anywhere.

 

Maddy Tampa2019

Maddy Orr (kneeling at far right, front) and some of her Laurentian University Green Teamers in Tampa during the 2019 Women’s Final Four (Photo credit: Mykelti Stephens)

 

“The students were shocked and needed a pep talk,” Orr said. “Recycling bins are ubiquitous in Canada. So when we arrived on the Thursday before the Friday night semifinals, we put on shorts and went to Curtis Hixon Park on the waterfront, one of the central locations for fans to congregate. Coke had put out recycling bins. We branded them for the Final Four and arrayed them through the park.”

Despite Tampa being a recycling laggard, the Green Team had a good day at Friday’s “Tourney Town” Fan Fest inside the city’s convention center.

“First of all the place was crowded, especially with local school children, so we had access to a bunch of ten year-olds, and ten year-olds get recycling and much more regarding the environment,” Orr recalled. “One Green Team member badgered the DJ to make announcements about recycling, and it worked! And the team did a great job of reminding people as they waited in long lines to do the Pizza Hut Three Point Challenge. Outside on the plaza, our team became everyone’s photographer, urging people to recycle as they snapped pictures. The key was to be upbeat and they were.”

 

GAME TIME!

As the players for the Baylor Bears and the Oregon Ducks began their early warmups for Friday’s first semifinal, the Green Team was also getting ready. Sam Carr, Amalie Arena’s director of facilities and analysis, prepared them to perform at a championship level.

“Sam gave me hope for Amalie Arena as he is very passionate about sustainability,” offered Orr. “He’s trying to make it a much bigger initiative there.”

 

Amalie Arena

Laurentian University Green Teamers engage Women’s Final Four fans about sustainability outside of Amalie Arena in Tampa (Photo credit: Maya Spence)

 

Training complete, the Green Team was deployed throughout the arena. They collected recycling all night long — some were stationed by the condiments stand, acting as “garbage goalies” by directing fans to dispose of their waste in the proper bins; others walked up and down the aisles, taking cans from fans and providing recycling education in an unobtrusive, positive fashion.

Sunday’s championship final, in which Baylor nipped Notre Dame 82-81, was basically a repeat of the semifinal from a Green Team perspective: Educate (upbeat!), collect recycling up and down aisles, garbage goalie-ing.

 

FEEDBACK: TAMPA READY TO UP GREEN-SPORTS GAME?

The Green Team was a big hit in Tampa, especially among out-of-town fans.

“Oregon and UConn fans were particularly enthusiastic about recycling and the Green Team,” reported Orr. “Unfortunately, local fans were less engaged but given the lack of recycling in the area, that was only mildly surprising. Kids, no matter where they were from, were really into it.”

And maybe, just maybe, Orr and the Green Team planted some important Green-Sports seeds that will bear fruit in Tampa, hopefully sooner rather than later.

 

Amalie Green Team

Green Team members return to the concourse after an “aisle pick” (Photo credit: Maya Spence)

 

“Sam Carr and Katie Kicklighter, from the Tampa Sports Commission, were both super positive,” Orr said. “Tampa will host the Super Bowl LV in 2021 and we talked about the possibility of working together then. And Jeff Rossi, head of the New Orleans Sports Commission — the 2020 Women’s Final Four will take place there — was very impressed and is interested in looking into having a Green Team.”

 


 

Please comment below!
Email us: lew@greensportsblog.com
Friend us on Facebook: http://facebook.com/greensportsblog
Tweet us @GreenSportsBlog
#CoverGreenSports

The GSB Interview: Previewing the 2019 Green Sports Alliance Summit with Executive Director Roger McClendon

Philadelphia is known for its birthplaces.

Independence Hall, site of the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, is the Birthplace of America.

About three and a half miles south sits Lincoln Financial Field. In 2003 the home of the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles arguably became the Birthplace of Green-Sports. It was then that the club, under the leadership of principal owner Jeff Lurie and, in particular, minority owner Christina Weiss Lurie, launched its groundbreaking Go Green initiative.

Fast-forward 15 years and, on June 19-20, “The Linc” will play host to the ninth annual Green Sports Alliance Summit, the first under the direction of new Executive Director Roger McClendon.

With the Summit’s PLAYING FOR THE NEXT GENERATION theme as backdrop, GreenSportsBlog chatted with McClendon about his first four months on the job as well as the new programs and initiatives he and his team have in the incubator for summiteers in Philly. 

GreenSportsBlog: Roger, it’s been four months since you started as Executive Director at the Alliance and we are less than a month out from your first Summit as leader of the organization. We’ll get to that in a minute. But first, could you reflect on your tenure so far?

Roger McClendon: Lew, it’s been an exciting, productive and busy 120 days or so. We took this time to do a lot of listening. Met with our league partners in New York, spoke with teams and venues across North America, finding out what they need and think are the best ways forward. Looped in our corporate partners, board members and other stakeholders to find out if we’re delivering All-Star level value to our nearly 600 members from the pro and collegiate sports worlds.

I was impressed by the energy and ideas generated at the Alliance’s Sports & Sustainability Conference at Arizona State University in January. We most recently partnered with the Portland Trail Blazers organization and completed a successful symposium in April. Internationally, we connected with the UNFCCC, signing on to their exciting new Sports for Climate Action Framework. We’re in the infancy of an engagement with Sport and Sustainability International (SandSI) through our connection with ex-Alliance President Allen Hershkowitz, so that’s exciting too.

 

roger mcclendon suzanne

Roger McClendon (Photo credit: Suzanne McClendon)

 

GSB: That is a whirlwind four months! What have you learned?

Roger: So many things, Lew. #1. Many sports teams and vendors now believe and manage towards a triple bottom line model — people, planet, profit. #2. Teams and venues and leagues seem ready to change. #3. When sports organizations look at environmental impact, it cannot only be from a greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction standpoint. In some cases, cost reduction will take the lead role, based on an owner’s priorities, the fan base. Sometimes, a team will emphasize environmental benefit. It’s really a case-by-case basis thing.

GSB: That makes sense, even if I personally would like to see GHG reductions always be the Green-Sports hero. Widening out the lens a bit, that you’re having these fan engagement questions — what we call Green-Sports 2.0 as compared to Green-Sports 1.0, the greening of the games — represents important progress. What say you?

Roger: As we move forward with fan engagement on the environment, on climate, we have to accept that some sports fans just…don’t…care about it. Sometimes, they simply want to go to the game. What I’ve learned is that we need to listen to fans to get relevant fan/consumer insights. That feedback will show us how to communicate with fans more powerfully on environmental issues so more of them care more about it. It’s not easy and there’s not one answer. The Portland Trail Blazers and LA Kings have done some great work in getting fan feedback and enacting green-themed programs and events.

GSB: If memory serves, the last time the Alliance funded projectable, quantitative fan research was five years ago. It provided valuable insights. Will the Alliance fund new fan research in 2019 or 2020? If not, why not?

Roger: Yes, in the next year or two we plan to go deeper into the research, particularly around stadium owners/operators and what they can do to directly impact their consumers, the fans. We are likely to work with partner organizations and members to gather additional quantitative and qualitative data in years to come. Part of the challenge surrounding fan engagement is the actual measurement component. Some organizations like the Portland Trail Blazers have been tracking it via the Eco Challenge platform and others have been working to develop surveys for fans and season ticket holders about what they see value in and what’s important to them as fans. We hope to push the envelope to create different ways to track what fans are doing at home and in their communities and to determine if there is any correlation to a sports team influence, program, or initiative on the fan’s behavior. Exciting stuff, albeit challenging!

GSB: I look forward to seeing the next round of fan-based research, hopefully in 2020. Last time we talked, you said you were interested in moving to Green-Sports 3.0! What does that mean?

Roger: [LAUGHS] Hey Lew, we’re pushing the Green-Sports envelope here at the Alliance! So Green-Sports 3.0 focuses on WHAT’S NEXT; specifically how sports can help publicize and achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Not all team and league executives know the 17 SDGs exist; even fewer fans are aware. PLAYING FOR THE NEXT GENERATION, the theme for the Summit in Philadelphia, is a nod to Green-Sports 3.0 — how the movement can push the SDGs forward — while also providing us with an opportunity to celebrate the present, and the past, the folks who’ve made a difference over the past 10, 15 years.

As far as the past is concerned, it’s fitting that the Summit is being held at Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Philadelphia Eagles. The team, from owners Jeff and Christina Weiss Lurie on down, have been Green-Sports pioneers since they launched Go Green in 2003 So the Eagles will have a prominent role. In terms of the present, we will of course celebrate our annual award winners, including awarding the USTA, Billie Jean King and Lauren Tracy [the USTA’s director of strategic initiatives] with the 2019 Environmental Leadership Award — the Alliance’s highest honor.

Regarding the future and WHAT’S NEXT, young people will have a big role, in particular students from the many Philadelphia-area colleges and universities and beyond. They will get to see up close how folks in their 20s and 30s are making their marks as practitioners in various corners of the Green-Sports ecosystem. And, we are looking forward to our annual, forward-leaning Women, Sports & the Environment Symposium. This year’s WSE includes Melanie LeGrande with MLB, Jan Greenberg with MLS, Heather Vaughan with Pac-12 Conference, and the aforementioned Lauren Tracy with USTA.

But if we stopped there, that would mean we were running a “same old, same old” type of Summit. And we can’t afford to do that.

So we’re breaking the mold with many of our plenary sessions and panels, taking on topics that we’ve more or less glossed over in past years: Climate action, global income inequality, gender issues, and more.

 

Lincoln Financial Field

Solar panels cover the east wall of Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Philadelphia Eagles and site of the 2019 Green Sports Alliance Summit (Photo credit: Mark Stehle/Invision for NRG/AP Images)

 

GSB: Bravo, Roger! There’s no time to waste. As you know, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said humanity has 12 years — the length of Anaheim Angels star Mike Trout’s contract extension — to decarbonize by 45 percent in order to avoid the most calamitous consequences of climate change. In the interest of full disclosure, I am excited to be moderating a panel discussion called “Sports, Carbon and Climate.” These are the types of discussions that are necessary at Alliance Summits. What other panels and plenary sessions would you like to highlight?

Roger: We’re excited to offer our first ever environmental justice-focused main stage panel “Beyond the Ballpark: The Role of Sports in Environmental Justice Reform” featuring Alliance Board member Kunal Merchant with Lotus Advisory and Mustafa Santiago Ali, Co-Host, Hip Hop Caucus’ “Think 100% – The Coolest Show on Climate Change” and former Senior Vice President of Climate, Environmental Justice & Community Revitalization, Hip Hop Caucus.

Attendees will hear from Federico Addiechi, Head of Sustainability & Diversity at FIFA; Mike Zimmer, President of the Miami Super Bowl LIV Host Committee; and Bill Reed, Principal, Integrative Design and Regenesis. The Thought Leadership Forum is back with an impactful lineup of speakers including Elysa Hammond, VP of Environmental Stewardship at Clif Bar & Company and Jami Leveen, Director of Communications & Strategic Partnerships at Aramark.

Twelve breakout sessions will feature various topics, from the role of sport in resilience and climate preparedness, to speaking science and making climate change and sustainability relevant to fans. Check out the full program lineup on our website here.

 

Mustafa Ali Santiago

Mustafa Santiago Ali (Photo credit: Larry French/Getty Images North America)

 

 

Elysa Hammond

Elysa Hammond, Clif Bar’s vice president of environmental stewardship (Photo credit: Clif Bar)

 

GSB: That’s an impressive, “break the mold” lineup. We interviewed Elysa Hammond of Clif Bar about 18 months ago — she’s terrific. See you in Philadelphia!

 

If you would like to register to attend the Green Sports Alliance Summit in Philadelphia, June 19-20, please click here.

 

 


 

Please comment below!
Email us: lew@greensportsblog.com
Friend us on Facebook: http://facebook.com/greensportsblog
Tweet us @GreenSportsBlog
#CoverGreenSports

Yankees Make Strong Statement on Climate Change on Earth Day

Earth Week 2019 continues on GreenSportsBlog!

The New York Yankees, one of the most iconic sports franchises in the world, are on a roll in 2019 from a climate action perspective.

A Green-Sports leader for more than a decade, the club took its climate change fight to a higher gear in January when they hired Dr. Allen Hershkowitz as the first Environmental Science Advisor in team sports history. And earlier this month, they became the first major North American pro sports team to sign on to the UN Sports for Climate Action Framework. 

Sunday’s Earth Day-themed pregame ceremony at home plate — which highlighted the Yankees’ climate change work directly to fans — was their biggest Green-Sports step to date. 

 

Surreal

That is the only word to describe the experience.

It was a few minutes before the 1:09 PM first pitch of the Yankees’ Easter Sunday matchup against the Kansas City Royals.

Standing a few paces behind home plate at Yankee Stadium, watching a ceremony I could not have imagined when I started GreenSportsBlog almost six years ago.

 

YANKEES TELL FANS THEY’RE FIGHTING CLIMATE CHANGE

At home plate, Yankees manager Aaron Boone had sauntered over from the dugout to join Doug Behar, the Yankees’ Senior Vice President and Director of Ballpark Operations, Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, the club’s Environmental Science Advisor; and Satya Tripathi, Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations.

The dulcet tones of public address announcer Paul Olden voice wafted through Yankee Stadium, telling the crowd that would grow to more than 40,000 that the Yankees had “become the first professional sports team in North America to sign on to the UN Sports for Climate Action Framework.” And that “the framework’s aim is to bring the sports industry’s greenhouse emissions in line with the Paris Climate Change Agreement.” The giant scoreboards beyond the bleachers augmented Olden’s story; fans clapped in a respectful tone.

 

Yankees Earth Day

Sunday’s Earth Day-themed pregame ceremony commemorated the Yankees commitment to operate by the tenets of the UN’s Sports for Climate Action platform. From left to right, it’s Doug Behar, Yankees Director of Operations; Satya Tripathi, UN Assistant Secretary General; Yankees manager Aaron Boone, and Allen Hershkowitz, Environmental Science Advisor to the Yankees (Photo credit: New York Yankees)

 

But don’t let the fans’ measured reaction fool you. This was a watershed moment for the Green-Sports movement.

According to Hershkowitz, “The Yankees on-field climate event with the UN, announcing the team’s support for the UNFCCC’s Climate Action Principles was one of the most influential and important moments not only in the history of the sports greening movement, but in the history of climate action communication.”

And that is why the ceremony seemed so surreal to me.

After all the New York Yankees spoke to their fans — clearly and without any dodgy language — about climate change!

Are you kidding me?

We’re not talking the Seattle Crunchy Granolas! These are the establishment, conservative New York Yankees! 

 

YANKEES SHOW WILLINGNESS TO HELP LEAD A CULTURAL SHIFT ON CLIMATE

At a Yankee Stadium press conference that preceded the ceremony, UN Assistant Secretary General Tripathi clearly laid out the scope of our climate problems: “The planet is unwell, and humanity has 10 to 12 years to make big changes towards decarbonization so we can turn the corner.”

After concurring with Tripathi, Hershkowitz pivoted, making the point that moving the Yankees’ towards zero carbon emissions over the next few years will not be the club’s biggest contribution to the climate change fight: “The emissions from the Yankees’ operations, which total about 14,000 tonnes of CO₂, equivalent per year, are minuscule compared to the world’s annual total of 37 billion tonnes.”

Rather, it will be the power of the Yankees’ brand to influence the culture of sports and business about the need for urgent action on climate change that moves the needle.

“The biggest thing humans must do if we’re going to take on climate change at the needed scale and speed is to change cultural assumptions how we relate to the planet, to the eco-systems that give us air to breathe and water to drink,” Hershkowitz asserted. “That requires a massive cultural shift. The Yankees brand represents an uncompromising commitment to excellence and performance — the team is universally admired for its determination to succeed. It provides a unique platform to make that cultural shift happen. The potential cultural and market impact of an organization with the stature and brand image of the Yankees leading on climate and carbon emissions is incredible.”

The Yankees hope that, once other teams in baseball and across the sports world see them leading on climate, more of them will step up to the plate on climate action.

The organization has been building its climate change-fighting platform for 20 years, largely under the radar of the general public. That pace has accelerated since the move into the current Yankee Stadium in 2009, as the organization:

  • Installed energy efficient lights that were state-of-the-art in 2009, saving 35 percent on energy usage vs. their predecessors. And then, when the technology had improved again a few years later, ownership approved another switch, this time to LEDs. The result? An additional 70 percent energy usage reduction.

 

Yankee Stadium Lights

The two square light fixtures on the far left are examples of the energy efficient LEDs installed by the Yankees (Photo credit: Lewis Blaustein)

 

  • Now diverts 85 percent of total waste from landfill via recycling and composting. Management is working diligently towards getting to 90 percent diversion and Zero-Waste status
  • Measures and reduces its carbon emissions while offsetting the unavoidable environmental impacts they can’t eliminate through the innovative distribution of efficient cookstoves in some of the world’s poorest regions, saving lives in the process.

The offset program warranted an explanation.

“The number one cause of death in the world is air pollution,” said Hershkowitz. “Consider that three billion people cook over open flames or with simple stoves powered by unhealthy coal, wood or other forms of biomass. According to the World Health Organization, four million people, mostly women and girls die prematurely every year because of inefficient, dirty stoves. The cookstoves the Yankees purchased and had distributed in Sub-Saharan Africa reduce air pollution from cooking by 35 to 50 percent. As a result of their investment in cookstoves, it is estimated the Yankees organization saved more than 7,000 lives in just the last year, primarily women and children.”

 

Cookstoves

Clean burning cookstoves (Photo credit: South Pole Group)

 

That is one “save statistic” that the great Mariano Rivera would be proud to own.

 

JUST THE BEGINNING

Sunday’s press conference was covered by local mainstream media, including WCBS Newsradio 880 and News 12 — the cable news channel for the Bronx. The Yankees’ own media outlet, the YES Network, sent a reporter. Getting the climate change fighting story out to a mass audience via media — and to the fans through the ceremony — is a crucial start to building the climate change “cultural shift platform” that Hershkowitz described above.

Where will the Yankees go from here?

Will Hershkowitz be talking climate change with John Sterling and/or Suzyn Waldman on the Yankees radio network anytime soon?

That conversation — one I’d pay to hear — is not going to happen in the near future, but Michael Margolis, the Yankees’ Director, Baseball Information and Public Communications, did say, “Sustainability has been and will continue to be a point of emphasis for the Yankees. We plan to increase climate messaging to our fans in the future.”

 

GSB’s Take 

Allen Hershkowitz is spot on: Sunday’s home plate ceremony at Yankee Stadium really was “one of the most … important moments not only in the history of the sports greening movement, but in the history of climate action communication.” It also provided a bit of much needed climate hope for those in the Green-Sports world and beyond.

That hope was tempered somewhat by a brief conversation I had with UN Assistant Secretary General Tripathi at the press conference.

I mentioned that humanity has 12 to 15 years to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half. Tripathi quickly corrected me: “Twelve years is the maximum.” 

That’s the same time span as the new mega-contract Mike Trout signed with the Anaheim Angels.

Think about that for a second.

We have the length of one baseball player’s contract to make the sizable and necessary cultural shifts and behavioral changes on climate to which Hershkowitz referred.

The Yankees know this and that’s why Sunday can only be the beginning of their public facing climate efforts. I look forward to see how the next innings of this most important game play out.

 


 

Please comment below!
Email us: lew@greensportsblog.com
Friend us on Facebook: http://facebook.com/greensportsblog
Tweet us @GreenSportsBlog

 

 

The GSB Interview: Kunal Merchant of Lotus Advisory, Bringing Green-Sports to Sacramento, Oakland and Beyond

Kunal Merchant occupies a fascinating perch in the Green-Sports world. A member of the Green Sports Alliance board, the Bay Area-based Merchant has a background in business, politics, and social enterprise. And as co-founder of Lotus Advisory with his sister Monisha, Merchant has guided the sustainability efforts on state-of-the-art green stadium and arena projects, from Sacramento’s Golden1 Center — the first LEED Platinum indoor arena in the world — to the nascent Oakland A’s ballpark project.

GreenSportsBlog spoke with Merchant about his work on Green-Sports projects, with the Alliance, and where he sees the movement heading.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Kunal, I can’t wait to dig into your story which takes place at the intersection of sports, politics, and sustainability. Nothing juicy there…

Kunal Merchant: It has been a fascinating ride to this point, Lew. I came to the sports world from the political side, working as Chief of Staff for then Sacramento Mayor and ex-NBA All Star Kevin Johnson. I served in that role during his first term, between December 2008 and June 2012, which was a dramatic time. The Mayor took office right as the national economy was entering the Great Recession. Sacramento was particularly hard hit by double-digit unemployment and a foreclosure crisis. Morale was low, and right when the town thought it couldn’t get any worse, we found out that our beloved Sacramento Kings – the one and only pro sports team in town – wanted to leave town.

The team had been struggling both on and off the court for years, including several failed attempts to build a new arena to replace what had by then become the oldest and smallest arena in the NBA. The Kings’ ownership felt that their best shot was to start over in a new city, with Seattle being the most likely destination. It was a punch to the gut for Sacramento, and in the Mayor’s office, we knew that how Sacramento responded to this challenge would have implications far beyond sports for the city’s economic and civic identity.

GSB: So how did you go about dealing with the significant headwinds?

Kunal: That’s a topic for a much longer conversation! But, oversimplified, there were three key checkboxes on our “to-do list” to save the team: (1) prove that Sacramento was a viable NBA market; (2) recruit a new ownership group willing to buy the team and keep it in Sacramento; and (3) develop a plan to build and finance a new arena. The arena was arguably the most critical – and difficult item – particularly since, for a market the size of Sacramento, some form of public investment was going to be needed.

Taxpayers were understandably skeptical about putting public money towards a basketball arena. But after studying similar situations around the country, we in the Mayor’s Office concluded that, under the right terms and structure, we could deliver a public-private partnership for a new arena that would be a win for the Kings and for Sacramento. To get there, we needed to generate transformative economic and community benefits, something that was only possible if we used the arena to anchor the broader revitalization of our blighted and long-underperforming downtown core.

In that respect, Sacramento really reminded me of the Denver of my childhood in the 1980s. At that time, Denver was perceived as a classic “flyover city” by people on the coasts. But over several years, the community and city leaders pushed through smart and strategic investments that led to a positive change in the city’s economic and cultural trajectory. Things really took off in the 1990s, in part due to the energy generated by Coors Field, the downtown ballpark built to be the home of our new Major League Baseball team, the Colorado Rockies.

 

Kumal Merchant Headshot

Kunal Merchant, co-founder of Lotus Advisory (Photo credit: Lotus Advisory)

 

GSB: I remember visiting Denver during the late 1990s and saw how Coors Field had seemingly changed a whole neighborhood. Was the ballpark built by the team, the city or some combination? The reason I ask is that there are many studies showing that public investments in sports venues are not efficient uses of the public’s money. Where do you come down on that question?

Kunal: Great question. Like a stodgy and aging arena, I think the rhetoric around public financing for sports venues is in serious need of an upgrade. There’s way too much dogma on a topic filled with nuance.

In the case of Coors Field, the project was a public-private partnership, where taxpayers made a significant investment. As a local resident who saw that area before and after Coors Field, I would argue that the taxpayers’ investment paid off handsomely in catalyzing a true economic and cultural renaissance that continues to this day.

But the success of Coors Field doesn’t vindicate all forms of public financing. The reality is that every situation is different, and plenty of sports facilities – too many I would argue – receive public funding in amounts and terms that are truly terrible deals for the public. When we were developing the Kings arena deal, we studied up on the good, bad and ugly of prior public subsidy deals. And we were determined that any arena deal we cut with the Kings would protect taxpayers and generate strong economic and community benefits.

That process in Sacramento began by fighting to locate the new arena downtown, and resist temptations by some in town to “play small” and simply refurbish or rebuild at the old arena’s suburban location.

GSB: The old Arco Arena is north of the city, kind of by itself off of I-5.

Kunal: Yes. At the time it was built in the mid-1980s, that building size and location made sense. But by the 2010s, we had different civic imperatives around sustainability and urban planning. Beyond the economic appeal of a downtown location – analysts forecasted $150 million in new annual economic activity each year – we wanted the arena project to reflect the values of a community that cared deeply about the environment. So we set – and ultimately met – incredibly ambitious goals for green design, air quality, water efficiency, energy efficiency, transit, food, waste diversion, and so on.

GSB: What was your role in the project?

Kunal: My role evolved over the course of the project. At the start, I was the Mayor’s Chief of Staff, representing the Mayor and City in almost every facet of our work with the NBA, Kings, City and community to save the team and develop the arena plan. When the NBA voted to keep the team in Sacramento in May 2013, and approve the sale of the Kings to a new ownership group, I moved over to the team side as an executive focused on making sure we followed through on our promises to the community on the arena.

That meant finalizing the public process to approve the deal, negotiating key labor and community benefit agreements, and continuing to engage the community in this truly once-in-a-generation project. It also meant championing what became the most ambitious sustainability agenda of an NBA arena to that date, anchored around achieving status as the first-ever LEED Platinum indoor sports arena.

GSB: That’s quite a transition. How did working for a sports team differ from working in municipal government?

Kunal: Well, it’s safe to say that spending a Tuesday night at an NBA game is a bit more fun than at a City Council meeting! And I used to joke with friends – only half-kidding – that I could get more done chatting with various folks at a Kings game than I could ever do in one month at City Hall. There were obvious advantages to working in a private sector context in terms of speed, agility, and efficiency. But this deal was a true public-private partnership where both bodies were integral. What’s most powerful to me is that my spirit and purpose on this project never changed regardless of what my business card said; from beginning to end, this endeavor was always about doing something really big and historic and transformative for the people of Sacramento. And both the City and Kings wholly embraced that mindset.

GSB: What did you do after the arena took shape?

Kunal: As Opening Day for the Golden 1 Center got closer, I started getting calls from other folks in sports who were impressed by what we’d done in Sacramento and wanted to see if I could help out elsewhere. To his credit, then-Team President Chris Granger was extremely supportive, and I was able to transition from being a full-time employee to a consultant able to take on other work. As part of that transition, I launched Lotus Advisory with my sister Monisha as a strategy and management consulting firm focused on driving positive change at the intersection of business, government and community. Because of my background, I ended up specializing quickly on sports-related projects, while my MIT-educated sister took on high tech clients like Airbnb. In the years since, we’ve been lucky to work with an amazing range of clients in a variety of industries and sectors.

 

Kumal Merchant at Golden 1 Center

Kunal Merchant touring construction of the Golden 1 Center and the Downtown Commons in 2015 during his time as a Sacramento Kings executive. The $1.5 billion dollar project includes a LEED Platinum NBA arena, hotel, and retail and entertainment district that has been the primary catalyst behind the new economic and cultural renaissance unfolding in Sacramento’s long-struggling downtown core (Photo credit: Lotus Advisory)

 

GSB: What are some the sports projects on which Lotus Advisory has worked?

In recent years, we’ve done a lot of work in soccer and baseball. I was the Chief Strategist for Nashville’s successful 2017 bid to join Major League Soccer, where we went from being on no one’s radar as a viable soccer city to finishing first in a twelve city race for the next expansion slot. A huge part of our success was powered by the people of Nashville – whose pride in their city is as strong as I’ve ever seen anywhere.

Similarly, I helped lead and advise Sacramento’s bid to join MLS for several years, particularly in shepherding their downtown stadium development plan through the planning, predevelopment and approval processes. The heart and soul of that bid are the supporters of Sacramento Republic, the United Soccer League (USL) Championship¹ club that took the city by storm when it launched in 2014 and has woven itself deeply into the cultural fabric of Sacramento with remarkable speed.

Currently, I’m working closely with the Oakland Athletics on their plans to revitalize the Oakland waterfront with a new privately-financed ballpark district near the Jack London Square area. It’s a really gorgeous project with a strong spirit of sustainability and environmental justice.

GSB: Very cool! What’s the status of Sacramento’s MLS bid? I know they’re looking to get to 28 teams by 2021 or 2022. Cincinnati United began play this month as the league’s 24th club, with Miami and Nashville set to join next year and Austin in ’21. So that means there’s one more slot left in the near term.

Kunal: Sacramento is one of two cities considered to be favorites for the 28th slot. I know that I’m biased, but I don’t think the competition is remotely close. Sacramento’s MLS bid stands alone as arguably the most resilient, mature, and comprehensive MLS bid in league history. Since embarking on the MLS journey in 2014, Republic FC has checked all the boxes time and again: a die-hard fan base, committed corporate support, a fully-approved and transformational downtown stadium plan; and a credible and committed ownership led by a formidable combination of Pittsburgh Penguins owner Ron Burkle and several local business leaders. MLS will be lucky to have Sacramento join its ranks and I’m cautiously optimistic that it will happen soon.

GSB: Good luck! When will the new stadium be ready and what are some of its green features? 

Kunal: Obviously the MLS stadium is contingent on entry into the league, but the stadium could likely be ready by either the 2021 or 2022 MLS season. As impactful as the Golden 1 Center is for Sacramento, the MLS stadium for Republic FC will be a game-changer in its own right.

The stadium will be built few blocks away from the Kings arena at a huge 240 acre site called the Sacramento Railyards that, when fully built out, will double the size of downtown Sacramento. The MLS stadium represents one of the first and largest major private investments in the Railyards in several decades, and will catalyze a historic wave of economic and community development. In terms of green features, the stadium will be another model of transit-oriented development, located a block from light rail, and a short distance by foot, bike, scooter, or rideshare from the rest of downtown. Republic FC has a terrific culture around local food and beer, so I’d expect some innovative sourcing strategies there as well.

 

Sacramento Republic MLS Stadium

Artist rendering of proposed Major League Soccer stadium in downtown Sacramento. The project will anchor an estimated $5B economic revitalization effort at Sacramento’s historic Railyards district (Credit: Sacramento Republic FC)

 

GSB: Turning to another long-running new stadium project, let’s talk about the Oakland A’s.

Kunal: The A’s have a truly visionary plan to revitalize the waterfront near Jack London Square through a new Major League Baseball ballpark. The project will be LEED Gold Certified and reflect a “ballpark within a park” theme, with an intimate 34,000 seat stadium nestled carefully into its urban surroundings. The ballpark is privately-financed and will anchor a new, vibrant waterfront district that will feature a mix of housing, including affordable housing, offices, restaurants, retail, small business space, parks and public gathering spaces. And the team is also showing tremendous leadership by leveraging the ballpark project to address longstanding environmental justice reform issues around air, soil and water quality faced by West Oakland residents for years.

 

Oakland Ballpark

Preliminary artist rendering for the proposed Oakland A’s ballpark near Jack London Square in Oakland. The project will be LEED Gold and reflect the A’s strong commitment to sustainable development and environmental justice (Credit: Oaklandballpark.com)

 

GSB: Add the A’s new ballpark to my sports bucket list. OK, before we go, let’s talk a bit about your work as a board member of the Green Sports Alliance. How did that come about?

Kunal: I’ve known and been a fan of the Green Sports Alliance since its earliest days, when Alliance leaders reached out to invite Mayor Johnson to the inaugural summit in Portland. The Alliance was hugely helpful in guiding my thinking on the Golden 1 Center, and I worked with the Alliance to help bring the Summit to Sacramento during the Golden1 Center’s inaugural season in 2017. I’ve continued to work closely with the Alliance since then, and at some point it just made sense to take on a more formal role. So, I joined the board last fall with a pretty important first project: co-leading the search for a new Executive Director. It was a fascinating process that yielded a terrific hire: Roger McClendon.

GSB: McClendon comes to the Alliance’s executive director role at a key inflection point in the Green-Sports movement. I like to say Green-Sports 1.0 — the greening of the games — is now almost if not quite a given. It was a necessary and obvious first step. But Green-Sports 2.0 — engaging fans, players and more to take positive environmental action, specifically on climate change — which is where I think is starting now, is a more complicated, heavier lift. What do you think?

Kunal: I totally agree. There are fundamental questions facing the green sports movement and the broader environmentalist community at the moment. The science around climate change grows more dire by the day, with the recent IPCC report advising that humanity has really just a handful of years left to aggressively decarbonize or face catastrophic consequences. So the cost of inaction is escalating. With that as backdrop, the Alliance is asking ourselves: what are we going to do? Our ethos has been to meet people where they are. Which means that if a league, an event, a team is aggressive on climate, we’ll support them. If they’re going slowly…

GSB: …Or not even talking climate at all?

Kunal: …we’re not going to push them too far beyond their comfort zone.

GSB: But doesn’t that imply that it’s ok for sports not to go fast enough? That seems risky at best.

Kunal: Well, it’s tricky. But here is a reason to be optimistic: things are impossible until they’re not. Looking at history, there are many social movements that looked bleak for years, or even decades, right until a period of rapid change that completely upended the status quo. I’m heartened by the younger generations — Millennials and Gen Zers — who will increasingly hold all institutions, including sports teams, accountable for the issue of climate change. The Alliance needs to be ready, and I think we’re taking important steps in that direction. If there’s one thing that I’ve come to appreciate deeply in my career, it’s that, with vision and leadership, sports can be an extraordinary platform for positive change. And on issues of climate, we can’t afford for sports teams, leagues, or fans to sit on the sidelines anymore.

GSB: With some well-timed and positive pushing from organizations like the Alliance, I’ll say. To be continued, Kunal!

 

¹ The USL Championship is the second-tier of North American professional soccer, one level below MLS.

 


 

Please comment below!
Email us: lew@greensportsblog.com
Friend us on Facebook: http://facebook.com/greensportsblog
Tweet us @GreenSportsBlog
#CoverGreenSports

Roger McClendon Announced as New Green Sports Alliance Executive Director

On Friday, GreenSportsBlog broke the news that the Green Sports Alliance had hired Roger McClendon as its new Executive Director. He comes to the Alliance from Yum! Brands (KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and more), where he most recently served as its Chief Sustainability Officer.

Yesterday, the Alliance officially announced the McClendon hire, plus the addition of six new members to the Board. Here are some highlights from the announcement.

 

In a press release distributed Tuesday, McClendon commented on his new role as Executive Director:

“I am honored for the opportunity to lead the Green Sports Alliance. I look forward to taking the Alliance to the next level and ensuring sports plays a key role in the global sustainability movement, focused on measurable impact,” McClendon said. “Along with our Board, members and staff, we are poised to develop the Alliance’s vision, while leveraging global innovation and strategic partnerships, to improve the social and environmental well-being of future generations.”

 

roger mcclendon gsa

Roger McClendon, new Executive Director of the Green Sports Alliance (Photo credit: Green Sports Alliance)

 

McClendon told Ian Thomas, writing in Tuesday’s Sports Business Journal, that one of his first actions as Executive Director will be to embark on a listening tour with Alliance members and partners. His early goals include:

  • Having the Alliance move beyond working only on “environmental issues, moving to that next level of impact.” McClendon cited the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that not only includes environmental objectives like clean water and sanitation, but also social and economic issues such as eliminating poverty, ensuring quality education and achieving gender equality.
  • Working with teams to engage fans to take positive environmental actions
  • Building on the Alliance’s work of the “greening” the games and the venues in which they are played, but also helping to engage sports fans to take positive environmental actions as well.

“We are very excited to have Roger take on this leadership role,” Scott Jenkins, GSA Board Chair and General Manager of Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium said in a statement. “His results-driven track record in sustainability and sports (he was a four-year starter for the University of Cincinnati basketball team) presents a unique opportunity for the Alliance to further innovate, influence and inspire the communities we serve.”

 

Scott Jenkins

Scott Jenkins, Board Chair of the Green Sports Alliance and GM of Mercedes-Benz Stadium, host of next month’s Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta (Photo credit: Mercedes-Benz Stadium)

 

McClendon will make his first appearance as Executive Director on Thursday at Green Sports Alliance’s Sports & Sustainability Symposium at Arizona State.

Turning to the Alliance’s Board, the six new members are:

 

Dune Ives_Executive director of Lonely Whale Foundation

Dune Ives, executive director of Lonely Whale Foundation (Photo credit: Lonely Whale Foundation)

 

  • Kunal Merchant, Managing Director, Lotus Advisory, a strategic consultancy with a strong sports practice. Prior to Lotus, Merchant was the Mayor’s Chief of Staff for the City of Sacramento, where he played a central role in the development of the acclaimed Golden 1 Center, home of the NBA’s Kings and the world’s first LEED Platinum-certified indoor sports venue.
  • Jill Savery, Founder and CEO, Bristlecone Strategies, a sustainability advisory and consulting firm. Savery won gold at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics in synchronized swimming.

 

Jill Savery_Head Shot

Jill Savery (Photo credit: Jill Savery)

 

  • Cyrus Wadia, former Vice President, Sustainable Business and Innovation, Nike, where he led the company’s sustainability strategy.
  • Jamie Zaininovich, Deputy Commissioner and Chief Operating Officer, Pac-12 Conference, the first collegiate sports league to become a GSA member

 

GSB’s Takes:

  1. The Alliance sees McClendon as both a visionary and a top-flight manager. He has best-in-class sustainable business and sports chops — pioneering and successful CSO at a high-profile Fortune 500 company and a serious Division I college basketball player. Will McClendon be able to marshal his experience and skills to successfully lead the GSA through the challenging and exciting transition from Green-Sports 1.0 (greening the games) to Green-Sports 2.0 (engaging masses of fans on the environment) and beyond? Time will of course tell the tale but GSB can see why hopes are high in Portland. 
  2. Using the power of sports to help link the attainment of UN environmental SDGs to non-environmental SDGs like eliminating poverty and gender equality is an important endeavor — in the end, they’re all related. A cautionary note: Make sure the environment does not get lost in the process.
  3. While not wanting to put too much stock in a press release, two words — “climate” and “change” — were conspicuous by their absence. GSB looks forward to talking with McClendon soon about his plans to take on climate change and much more.
  4. The additions to the Board are a Green-Sports All-Star squad. Dune Ives was present at the birth of the GSA. Jill Savery, like Roger McClendon, is someone who is both a successful sustainability practitioner and an ex-athlete. Elaine Aye brings a veteran strategic sustainability consultant’s perspective. Jamie Zaininovich’s experience with PAC-12 network contracts provides much-needed media business savvy to the GSA. I don’t know Messrs. Merchant and Wadia, but having folks with municipal government and Nike sustainability experience on the Board can only be a good thing.

 


 

Please comment below!
Email us: lew@greensportsblog.com
Friend us on Facebook: http://facebook.com/greensportsblog
Tweet us @GreenSportsBlog
#CoverGreenSports

 

 

The GSB Interview: Catherine Kummer, Driving Force Behind NASCAR Green

That NASCAR has had a green initiative for ten years surprises some, heartens many and engenders skepticism about green washing from others. GreenSportsBlog has wanted to get the real story on NASCAR Green for several years and so we were pleased to be able to talk with Catherine Kummer, one of its many driving forces.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Catherine, one of the most common questions I get when I tell people I write about the intersection of Green & Sports is “what is NASCAR Green all about? Is it legit?” So I want to get into that with you. First, though, I want to find out how you got to NASCAR Green. Are you a lifelong auto racing fan? An environmentalist from way back?

Catherine Kummer: I love that it’s one of the first questions you get, means folks are paying attention and catching wind of our work. I was not a motorsports fan growing up in Raeford, NC, a small farming community in the southeastern part of the state, near Fayetteville and Fort Bragg. I was fortunate to grow up spending time on the North Carolina coast and unfortunately saw the erosion of the coastline firsthand. In fact, the area just a bit further inland was devastated by Hurricane Matthew and, more recently, Hurricane Florence in September. I was also incredibly fortunate to have amazing parents and siblings. My family has a grocery store, Home Food Market, that has been in our family for over 100 years — I grew up there and my brother runs it now.

GSB: This sounds like a Mayberry type of childhood…

Catherine: It was…and, in addition to amazing vegetables, the store gave me a deeply rooted appreciation for growing local, shopping local and buying local from an early age. Respect for the outdoors and keeping the environment better than we found it is in my DNA. I’ll give you an example. When I was in middle school, I wrote letters about the environment to then-President George H.W. Bush. The White House would send back a signed (aka stamped) photo of the President. I was also reminded by my Dad a few weeks ago that I started an early recycling initiative at my middle school….I wore my reduce, reuse and recycle shirt all the time!

 

Catherine Kummer Recycling at West Hoke Middle School cafe 1993

Catherine (“Katie”) Kummer, then McNeill, in the white shirt on the right, was a young recycling pioneer at her middle school in 1993 (Photo credit: Catherine Kummer)

 

Catherine Kummer with son opening an employee tree planting event in Charlotte, NC.

A more recent photo of Catherine, with her son opening a NASCAR employee tree planting event in Charlotte, N.C. (Photo credit: NASCAR)

 

GSB: So maybe it was destiny that you’d end up working in sustainability. But how did you end up at NASCAR and NASCAR Green specifically?

Catherine: Well I went to UNC Chapel Hill for undergrad…

GSB: You were a “Tar Heel born…”

Catherine: …”And a Tar Heel bred.” That’s right! I was a journalism major and wrote for The Daily Tar HeelI saw a job posting in 2004 at NASCAR in their publishing division. Graduated UNC in May, started at NASCAR in June. I also bleed a bit of gold and black however as I am currently finishing a Masters in Sustainability at Wake Forest University and have been fortunate to also join courses taught by Leith Sharp at Harvard in Sustainability Leadership.

GSB: Were you a NASCAR fan?

Catherine: Not originally. My first project was editing “NASCAR For Dummies” which gave me a deep dive into all things NASCAR, real quick. It was a really amazing job. I grew to respect the sport, what the drivers and team members go through, from the physical challenges to the stress. I love the competitiveness of it and the idea that NASCAR is a tight-knit family, its own ecosystem.

GSB: Talk about how NASCAR Green came about…

Catherine: NASCAR Green launched in 2008. But the idea came a year or two prior, when NASCAR leaders met with Former Vice President Al Gore…

GSB: …During the time of “An Inconvenient Truth”? I can absolutely see the former Vice President talking to an organization, NASCAR, who might seem an unlikely partner in greening. But he is a guy who sees possibilities and so, it sounds, did NASCAR.

Catherine:.. NASCAR had always wanted to influence, educate, and inspire our fans on fuel efficiency, reforestation, sustainability, etc. So after meeting with former Vice President Gore, our key stakeholders brought in Dr. Mike Lynch to be our VP of Green Innovation. Thanks to his leadership, NASCAR Green was built, and I got connected with him soon after.

 

CEO Brian France (L) and former U.S. Vice President Al Gore at the NASCAR Green Summit on 2013Chicago Brian Kersey NASCAR Getty

NASCAR CEO Brian France (L) and former U.S. Vice President Al Gore (R) listen to retired Army General Wesley Clark at the 2013 NASCAR Green Summit in Chicago (Photo credit: Brian Kersey NASCAR/Getty Images)

 

GSB: What was NASCAR Green like at the beginning and what part did you play?

Catherine: Leadership supported us from the beginning, allowing us to pilot new things, even mess up occasionally. The vibe from the top down was “some things will work, some won’t, but we need to always look ten moves ahead and keep the big picture in mind.” Our sport, like all of society has an environmental impact therefore we started and continue to keep our focus on three key areas of environmental impact: waste, emissions and energy.

One of the first things we got involved with is automotive fluid recycling. Safety-Kleen, owned by Clean Harbors, which safely recycles and transports oils, is in every NASCAR garage as well as many team shops. They re-refine the waste oil and put it back to work in various team cars as well as asphalt re-paving initiatives at track. Circular economy from the beginning. We also kicked off an aluminum and PET waste diversion program with tracks which was environmentally and financially beneficial. The tracks do a great job of ensuring they are disposing of waste responsibly inclusive of food and other potential landfill items. Many of the teams in our sport also recycle their race cars. Our leaders and others liked that we were able to drive value to the business and inspiration to the industry, employees and fans.

 

Recycling efforts at NASCAR races

Recycling bins alongside NASCAR tracks are a common sight (Photo credit: NASCAR)

 

GSB: That is really impressive. But I have to ask — how did NASCAR fans react to this green programming? Have you ever gotten negative push-back from them? Implied in the last question — and with my New York City bias likely baked in — is that green programming that might be well received in Boulder or Berkeley might not get such a good reception in places like Talladega, Alabama or Bristol, Tennessee.

Catherine: I have never gotten negative pushback from fans. Not once, other than one fan being upset that they did not have a blue recycling bag for their campground location. I think one reason our fans support NASCAR Green is many are outdoorsmen and women so they understand that protecting our environment is very important. And a number of our corporate sponsors get that our fans, well, get it. They embraced a number of green initiatives. For example working with Goodyear and Champion Tire, we recycle all of our tires through an innovative sponsorship with Liberty Tire Recycling. The tires are recycled and turned into mulch for landscaping and playgrounds as well as used in rubberized asphalt projects…many of the roads on the West Coast are being made with recycled tires as I’m sure you know already!

GSB: What about composting?

Catherine: We’ve tried it at several tracks. Available composting infrastructure is challenging, but we are excited to watch it advance as our tracks are supportive of green initiatives. Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania is one to keep an eye on for sure. They have been an environmental leader for quite some time.

GSB: I know! Their solar array in an old parking area powers the entire facility! Amazing!

 

Solar Farm_8

Solar panels cover an abandoned former parking lot at Pocono Raceway (Photo credit: Pocono Raceway)

 

Catherine: They also have, according to their sustainability report, one of the highest diversion rates and one of their family businesses, Pocono Organics, just broke ground on a new project this summer working with the Rodale Institute, a leader in Regenerative Organics…

GSB: Say more…

Catherine: The result of the partnership is a 55 acre regenerative organics farm across the street from the track that will provide produce for events, “Farm to Track.”

GSB: How cool is THAT?! What are other tracks doing, green-wise?

Catherine: You’ve got to check out www.NASCAR.com/Green for the whole scoop as I’m not sure GSB has enough space for me to properly note all of the work! However to name a few, Indianapolis Motor Speedway now has a nine megawatt solar array across the street on their land. Green Sports Alliance-member Sonoma Raceway in California has solar on-site as well along with Daytona International Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway. These are just solar applications; readers can check the site for more detail on how tracks support the three areas of environmental focus I mentioned earlier; waste, emissions and energy.

GSB: What are the tracks and NASCAR Green doing to minimize carbon emissions?

Catherine: Blended fuels. Sunoco Green E15 specifically which is a 15 percent ethanol blended biofuel used in our top three national series. We’ve now run well over 10 million miles on it. This has helped in reducing emissions by 20 percent per the EPA Renewable Fuel Standard. We’ve also invested in offsetting our carbon emissions, through verified carbon offsets programs globally and our long-standing reforestation efforts with the Arbor Day Foundation and others. Our NASCAR Green Community Tree Recovery Effort is the first of its kind in sports and was launched just this year where with partners such as K&N Engineering and Ford we’ve been able to go into race markets affected by climate-related natural disasters and support those race fans with trees, LED lighting kits and more.

 

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver Matt DiBenidetto supporting our #RaceforTrees Campaign

Monster Energy Cup Series driver Matt DiBenidetto supporting NASCAR’s #RaceforTrees campaign (Photo credit: NASCAR)

 

GSB: Really impressive, Catherine. NASCAR Green has done terrific — and many would say surprising — work on what I call “Green-Sports 1.0,” the greening of the games or, in your case, races. Now let’s turn to “Green-Sports 2.0,” the much more important, in my view, effort to engage fans, especially those who don’t attend races, on the environment, especially on climate change. I understand NASCAR Green has surveyed NASCAR fans on the environment and climate change. What do those results show?

Catherine: We survey fans and non-fans regularly. As of April 2018, we know that more than four out of five NASCAR fans (88 percent) believe the Earth is going through a period of climate change, and three-quarters of them feel a personal responsibility to combat it.

These survey results have given us confidence that our environmental programs and activations with partners, including nationally broadcast television commercials, reach a largely receptive audience.

 

 

GSB: Great commercial, but I notice it doesn’t mention climate change. Why is that? And will future commercials mention it?

Catherine: More than half of our fans believe climate change is real, our work including these television commercials contribute to that belief based on the increases we’ve seen year over year. Their actions as a result are most important. Will they contribute to our digital tree planting tool? Will they better understand their carbon footprint? Will they push our social and digital content….to date, they have and that’s what makes sport and sustainability impactful.

GSB: That’s great! More sports leagues should survey their fans on climate. What are some of your drivers doing NASCAR Green-wise?

Catherine: A lot of our drivers support NASCAR Green and sustainability initiatives. Ryan Newman for example, one of our top Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers and his wife Krissie, have a non-profit called the Rescue Ranch, whose mission is to promote through education, respect for all animals, as well as, agricultural, environmental and wildlife conservation.

GSB: Great to hear. We look forward to hearing more about NASCAR Green innovation in 2019.

 

 


 

Please comment below!
Email us: lew@greensportsblog.com
Friend us on Facebook: http://facebook.com/greensportsblog
Tweet us @GreenSportsBlog
#CoverGreenSports

A Greener Formula E Begins Its Fifth Season in Saudi Arabia

The ABB FIA Formula E Championship begins its fifth season December 15 in Ad Diriyah, Saudi Arabia. GreenSportsBlog digs into the key sustainability advances the open wheel, all-electric vehicle (EV) series made during the off-season, as well as the challenges of doing business in Saudi Arabia in the current political climate. 

 

Did you know that, for each of its first four seasons, Formula E drivers had to swap cars during the race? That’s because the range per charge on the cars was not sufficient to finish a 50-minute race.

That changes with the start of season five this weekend — as a new era of electric racing begins with Formula E’s breakthrough Gen2 cars.

“Technological improvements on EV battery range will allow each driver to drive only one car per race,” said Julia Pallé, Formula E’s senior sustainability consultant. “Less ‘range anxiety’ is a big thing for Formula E drivers and EV drivers out on the open road.”

 

Julia_Palle_2016_HIGH RES

Julia Pallé, Senior Sustainability Consultant for Formula E (Photo credit: Formula E)

 

From reductions in team expenses and carbon emissions to smoother flowing races, the benefits of one car-per-race are clear for Formula E.

“Our drivers tested the new cars in October in Valencia, Spain,” shared Pallé. “They were super excited. Only one car was needed, and the new cars — with Spark chassis — a battery with double the storage capacity and also were faster. And they also draw comparisons to the Batmobile!”

 

FormulaE_Gen2

The new Formula E Gen2 car. Its longer range battery will allow racers to drive only one car per race (Photo credit: Formula E/LAT)

 

Also new to Formula E’s fifth season will be the Jaguar I-PACE eTROPHY, which will be a kind of a sidebar series on Formula E tracks. In addition to the open wheel EV races, each Formula E weekend will now feature a race with production car EVs that anyone can drive on the open road. Think adding a stock car race to an IndyCar race on the same weekend and you’ve got the gist. “We’re confident fans will like the Jaguar I-PACE eTROPHY series,” shared Pallé. “The racers will be driving EVs that the fans can imagine driving themselves.”

 

Jaguar iPace

Jaguar iPACE cars will compete for Formula E’s eTROPHY (Photo credit: Top Car Rating)

 

Fomula E’s fifth season begins in the unlikely locale Ad Diriyah, near the Saudi capital of Riyadh. Going to Saudi Arabia holds both opportunities and risks for Formula E.

 

OPPORTUNITIES: ON THE ENVIRONMENT AND WOMEN’S RIGHTS

Pallé sees the planting of the Formula E flag in Ad Diriyah as an important step towards building an EV infrastructure in an area that is looking to diversify and modernize its economy: “Formula E wants to help open and build the EV market in the Middle East and Africa. The effects of climate change are already being felt at disastrous levels in those regions and so accelerating the transition to EVs is crucial. That’s one big reason we’re opening the season in Riyadh and it’s also why we will be racing in Marrakech, Morocco for the third year in a row this season.”

On another front — gender equality — many elements of Saudi society have been closed off to women. Things that women in most of the rest of the world take for granted — like driving, for example — have been off limits until only recently.

The Saudi government, now under the rule of the young and controversial Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS), showed recently that it wants to move from the 19th to the 20th century by extending the right to drive to women. Formula E is looking to accelerate and normalize this new way of living on the Arabian Peninsula. “Many of our teams will have a female driver on our last day of driving in Ad Diriyah,” Pallé shared. “We have a ten-year contract with Riyadh and expect the role of women to increase in our races there going forward.”

 

FormulaE Ad Diriyah

Formula E comes to Saudi Arabia in advance of its races in Ad Diriyah this weekend. From left, Alejandro Agag – Founder & CEO of Formula E, Susie Wolff – Team Principal of VENTURI Formula E Team, Felipe Massa – VENTURI Formula E Team driver, His Excellency Eng. Saleh bin Naser Al-Jasser, Director General of Saudi Arabian Airlines and Andre Lotterer – DS TECHEETAH driver (Photo credit: Formula E/LAT)

 

RISKS: KHASHOGGI AND YEMEN

Despite women being allowed behind the wheel and other advances, doing business with and in Saudi Arabia in 2018-19 is a challenge for any brand, Formula E included.

The brutal murder of Washington Post columnist, U.S. resident and MBS critic Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi embassy in Istanbul, Turkey in early October certainly has made things more difficult.

And that is on top of the Saudi regime’s three-plus year bombing campaign — supported by the USA, France, Great Britain and eight other Sunni muslim states — in support of the government of neighboring Yemen in its civil war against Houthi rebels, backed at least in part by Iran. Yemen is now the world’s most calamitous humanitarian crisis. According to the United Nations, from March 2015 to December 2017, over 13,000 people have been killed with estimates of an additional 50,000 dead as a result of civil war-related famine.

On the one hand, Formula E, by its presence in Saudi Arabia, can be accused of supporting the Kingdom’s actions. On the other, if they decided not to go to Ad Diriyah, that could slow down the gender equality reform portion of the complex Saudi story. Formula E, at least for now, believes that engaging with the Saudi government and, even more so, the Saudi people, is the way to go.

“We are focused on what we can influence — the opening up of Saudi Arabia from sustainability, EV, and mass participation points of view,” responded Pallé.

 

Woman driver Saudi

A Saudi woman is all smiles after a driving lesson in Jeddah in March (Photo credit: Amer Hilabi / AFP)

 

The plan is for Formula E to race in Ad Diriyah for at least ten years. They will work with race organizers on the ground to help the event earn ISO certification, the standard for sustainable events.

After leaving Saudi Arabia, Formula E’s season will feature 11 more race weekends, concluding in Brooklyn, New York on July 13-14.

 

GSB’s Take: Kudos to Formula E for an innovative off-season. Starting the new campaign with drivers only needing to use one vehicle per race due to increased battery efficiency is a big deal. So is the launch of Jaguar I-PACE eTROPHY series, featuring EV sedans that fans could imagine driving themselves.

Launching its fifth season in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia holds reputational risks for Formula E, given the violence being fomented by the Saudi government and Crown Prince MBS on both micro and macro levels. If I had a vote, I would let the powers that be in Saudi Arabia know that Formula E will not be back in 2020 if the bombing in Yemen continues.

 


 

Please comment below!
Email us: lew@greensportsblog.com
Friend us on Facebook: http://facebook.com/greensportsblog
Tweet us @GreenSportsBlog
#CoverGreenSports