“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

 


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“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.

 


 

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Green Sports Alliance Announces Environmental Innovator of the Year Awards

The Green Sports Alliance today announced ten winners of its 2019 Environmental Innovator awards. The honorees — a wide-ranging group that includes a chef in addition to the more teams, venues and nonprofits one might associate with this award — will be presented with their hardware at the Alliance’s Summit at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia on June 19.

 

Last week, the Green Sports Alliance announced that the USTA, Lauren Tracy, its director of strategic initiatives, and the legendary Billie Jean King, had won its 2019 Environmental Leader award.

Today, the Portland, Oregon-based Alliance followed that up by recognizing ten organizations with 2019 Environmental Innovator awards. In no particular order, the winners are:

The Center for Sport and Urban Policy (CSUP) at Georgia State University works to enhance public understanding of issues related to sports and environmental sustainability by bridging the gap between academic research and the sports industry. CSUP provided volunteer recruitment services for the Playoff Green program at the 2018 College Football Playoff National Championship Game, where more than 40 students, faculty, and staff served as Green Ambassadors to promote sustainable behavior during the game. 

Despite not reaching the NBA Finals, the Milwaukee Bucks had a breakout 2018-19 regular season, securing the league’s best regular season record. The club also moved into the beautiful new Fiserv Forum, which earned LEED Silver certification soon after it opened. And arena management, in conjunction with concessionaire Levy, announced a broad swath of sustainability initiatives, including plans to not offer straws at events and to utilize compostable food packaging. To date, Fiserv Forum has eliminated 370,000 straws and 50 tons of food waste that would have otherwise gone to landfills. 

 

fiserv Ty Helbach

Fiserv Forum, newly-minted LEED Silver certified home of the Milwaukee Bucks (Photo credit: Ty Helbach)

 

Staying in Milwaukee, Chef Seth VanderLaan, of Delaware North, has made sustainability a focus at Miller Park, home of MLB’s Brewers, since arriving four seasons ago. He regularly speaks at regional events discussing how to source food locally for 45.000 fans and added an on-property biodigester — during its 2018 test phase it diverted over 28,000 lbs. of waste from the landfill. Chef Seth also works with children on their “Roots for the Home Team” farm-to-stadium program and was instrumental in building the on-property gardens at the 18 year-old ballpark, where produce is harvested to serve the team and fans.

 

Seth VanderLaan

Chef Seth VanderLaan (Photo credit: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel/Michael Sears)

 

During the 2018 football season, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Zero Waste Program diverted more than 91 percent of the 293 tons of waste generated at the stadium and achieved zero waste during 14 of the 17 football game days during the season. The Coliseum, which hosts USC football and the LA Rams of the NFL, until the latter moves into its new home in 2020, uses its zero-waste program and annual Green Game as an engagement platform to educate fans about recycling, composting, and sustainability.

 

la-coliseum-usc-neil-leifer

The world-famous LA Coliseum (Photo credit: Neil Leifer)

 

Sticking with diversion, NC State University’s Zero Waste Wolfpack (ZWW) program has engaged students and fans to reduce waste at athletic events. Since its launch in 2015, the diversion rate inside Carter-Finley Stadium, home of NC State football, has improved from 18 percent to 44 percent in 2018. But ZWW goes beyond football: Last year, more than 18,000 fans at every men’s and women’s soccer match and thousands of fans attending home track and field events were able to recycle, compost, and engage with ZWW volunteers. 

Pocono Organics is a 90-acre organic farm located in Long Pond, PA that grows a number of regenerative crops including fruits, vegetables, grains, herbs, potatoes, and greens. When fully operational, the farm will draw power from the 25-acre 3MW solar farm that also powers its sister company, Pocono Raceway. Pocono Organics has developed the first-ever “Farm-to-Track” program with Pocono Raceway. The raceway diverts 75 percent of event-weekend waste and sends its compostable waste to the farm. The farm uses the compost to grow organic foods, which in turn will be served at the raceway. 

 

Pocono Organics

Representatives from Pocono Organics speak at a news conference last July for the groundbreaking of the company’s 50-acre farm in Long Pond, Pa. (Photo courtesy of Pocono Organics)

 

The San Francisco Giants’ Oracle Park (formerly AT&T Park) earned LEED Platinum Certification in 2019. The club was able to move up from LEED Gold (achieved in 2014) to Platinum in part by installing or investing in:

  • LED field lights (55 percent energy reduction)
  • A new field irrigation system (reduced water usage by more than 50 percent)
  • Renewable energy credits (offset 50 percent of their energy use) 

2019 saw the Seattle Sounders FC commit to carbon neutrality, becoming the first professional franchise of the five major leagues (MLB, MLS, NBA, NFL and NHL) to do so. The pledge, well-received by fans and the broader community alike, is not a one-off: The club has guaranteed to remain carbon neutral in perpetuity.  

The Banff Marathon takes place annually in beautiful Banff National Park in Alberta where it hosts more than 10,000 participants over a series of activities spanning three days. Since the inaugural race in 2014, in partnership with SustainDriven, event organizers have continuously worked to decrease its environmental footprint and mitigate those environmental impacts it cannot eliminate. The green highlight of the 2018 event was its incredible 100 percent waste diversion rate. You read that right: No waste was sent to landfill! A robust education program and “Sustainability Village” that engaged runners, sponsors, volunteers, staff, vendors, media, and spectators certainly helped. 

 

banff marathon

Runners helped the 2018 Banff Marathon achieve a 100 percent waste diversion rate (Photo credit: Banff Marathon)

 

Last but certainly not least, University of Texas (Austin) Athletics created a strategy for all UT athletic events to achieve zero waste by 2020. They are getting close at their crown jewel, Longhorns football: The athletics department closed in on the 90 percent diversion rate threshold needed to claim zero waste, reaching 76 percent diversion at one home game last season at the 100,000-seat Darrell K. Royal Memorial Stadium. To get there, 900-ish volunteers donated 2,700 hours of time, with their actions reaching more than 600,000 fans. Looking ahead to the 2019 season, GSB predicts that the Longhorns, ranked #6 in the Sporting News preseason poll, will make it to the College Football Playoff semifinals and the athletics department will get to zero waste a year ahead of schedule. 

 

 


 

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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.

 

 


 

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USTA Earns 2019 Environmental Leader Award From Green Sports Alliance

The Green Sports Alliance announced that the US Tennis Association is the winner of its 2019 Environmental Leader Award. It also recognized the legendary Billie Jean King for helping to launch the USTA greening movement at the National Tennis Center in Queens, NY home of the US Open that bears her name. 

The Environmental Leader Award is seen as among the most prestigious honors in the Green-Sports world and is given to an individual or organization that has demonstrated extraordinary leadership towards sustainability, environmental stewardship, and community engagement. The USTA will receive the award at the Green Sports Alliance’s annual Summit in Philadelphia on June 19. 

 

The US Tennis Association is a most deserving winner of the 2019 Environmental Leader Award.

That was the first thought that ran through my head upon hearing the news from the Green Sports Alliance since the governing body of tennis in the US has been leading the Green-Sports movement for more than a decade.

In addition to honoring Billie Jean King for her role as a true Green-Sports pioneer, the Alliance also recognizes Lauren Tracy, the USTA’s Director of Strategic Initiatives and current director of the USTA’s greening program, for her steadfast work in successfully building the program, from implementation to measurement, and beyond.

 

2019 USTA Leadership

Lauren Tracy (Photo credit: USTA)

 

In 2006, the USTA renamed its US Open venue the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. The next year, King, along with Pam Derderian and Nancy Becker, founded and launched GreenSlam, an environmental initiative for the sports industry aimed at inspiring sports venues, promoters and manufacturers to declare their commitment and actions to a greener approach.

Then in 2008, King teamed up with Allen Hershkowitz — who was then with the NRDC before being instrumental in the birth of the Green Sports Alliance — to launch the USTA’s greening initiatives her namesake venue. Its “Our courts may be blue, but we’re thinking green” campaign educated fans about environmental stewardship using the faces of legendary tennis players to encourage fans to make eco-friendly choices. 

 

Billie Jean and Allen

Billie Jean King and Allen Hershkowitz during the 2008 shooting of the USTA’s “Our Courts May Be Blue But We’re Thinking Green” public service announcements (Photo credit: NRDC)

 

“With the renaming of the National Tennis Center in 2006, we worked with the USTA to launch year- round greening efforts for the home of the US Open,” said King. “The significant action taken almost 13 years ago has served as a springboard to positively impact the environment for the US Open, and the National Tennis Center, and has set an example for other tennis and sporting events to emulate.”

“It is a great privilege for the USTA to be named a recipient of the Environmental Leadership Award and join an impressive list of past honorees,” said Gordon Smith, CEO and Executive Director of the USTA. “As owners and operators of the US Open, one of the highest-attended annual sporting events in the world, we felt it both an obligation and opportunity to bring about measurable changes, and continue to do so across the board — including at the USTA National Campus [in Orlando, Florida]. A special thank you goes to all who have helped the USTA make green the color of choice.”

The USTA’s commitment to environmental sustainability is exemplified throughout all aspects of its work. Key examples include:

  • Greenhouse gas emissions have been reduced by over 100,000 metric tons through waste diversion, recycled paper use, and renewable energy certificates since the US Open Green Initiatives were established in 2008.
  • Since 2008, over 4,500 tons of waste generated during the US Open has been diverted from landfills, saving over 4,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions.
  • In 2018, the spectacular, new Louis Armstrong Stadium earned LEED Silver status, the third venue at the Billie Jean King National Center to earn LEED certification. It is the first naturally ventilated stadium with a retractable roof in the world.
  • The USTA offsets energy used on site during the US Open, the carbon emissions generated by the estimated 3.5 million miles the players travel to compete, as well as the miles traveled by the employees to work at the US Open for several years. For those offsets in 2018, the US Open focused on climate-intelligent humanitarian initiatives by investing in improved cookstoves in Malawi.
  • Since the start of the US Open Green program in 2008, almost 700 tons of food waste has been converted to nutrient rich compost for gardens and farms and over 100 tons of food has been donated to local communities.
  • The USTA has worked with its maintenance companies to develop a green cleaning policy to ensure that at least 50 percent of all cleaning materials used on site at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center and the National Campus are Green Seal Certified or equivalent.
  • 2018 US Open waste diversion rate of 97 percent achieved, easily passing the 90 percent threshold needed to claim Zero-Waste status.

 

Louis Armstrong

The LEED Silver Louis Armstrong Stadium (Photo credit: Lewis Blaustein)

 

“The Green Sports Alliance is thrilled to present the USTA, Billie Jean King, and Lauren Tracy with this honor,” remarked Roger McClendon, Executive Director of the Green Sports Alliance. They are exemplary leaders in the sports greening movement and serve as an inspiration to the entire sports industry. We look forward to honoring them at the 2019 Green Sports Celebration at our ninth annual Green Sports Alliance Summit in Philadelphia.”

Past Environmental Leader honorees include:

  • ESPN Corporate Citizenship (2018)
  • Jack Groh, director of the NFL’s Environmental Program (2017)
  • Andrew Ference, captain and defenseman, Edmonton Oilers, Stanley Cup winner with the Boston Bruins (2016)
  • Doug Behar, New York Yankees vice president of stadium operations (2015)
  • Gary Bettman, commissioner, National Hockey League (2014)
  • Christina Weiss Lurie, owner, Philadelphia Eagles (2013)
  • Allan H. Bud Selig, commissioner emeritus, Major League Baseball (2012)

 

 

GSB’s Take: As mentioned at the top, the USTA is a great choice by the Alliance for the 2019 Environmental Leader Award. They have been ahead of the Green-Sports curve for more than a decade. Bravo!

Going forward, I believe the USTA should ramp up its fan engagement efforts at the US Open, both to those 700,000+ fans attending the tournament and to the millions more watching on ESPN in the US and on a myriad of networks around the world. And, in those fan engagement efforts, it should clearly make the connection between its greening efforts and the climate change fight.

 

 


 

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Sportecology.org: A Platform for Green-Sports Practitioners To Connect with Academic Research

The growing Green-Sports world has spawned a cadre of academics who study the movement’s myriad of topic areas. The result is a blossoming of substantive, peer-reviewed research.

The challenge for academics in this newly busy and somewhat unruly space is how to get the research — and its insights — into the hands of Green-Sports practitioners in ways that can be easily digested and acted upon.

Stepping up to try to solve this problem is Madeleine Orr, a PhD candidate in Sport Management at the University of Minnesota. She and several colleagues from Green-Sports academia are launching Sportecology.org on Earth Day — April 22 — as a platform to connect people working in Green-Sports with research that can help propel their efforts forward.

 

“Academic journal articles are very important but for the most part, nobody reads them except for other academics. The insights in those articles aren’t getting to the people who need them. That is true in the Green-Sports world. We created Sportecology.org to bridge that gap and to become the ‘CliffsNotes’ of sustainable sports.”

So said Madeleine “Maddy” Orr, PhD candidate at the University of Minnesota and faculty member in Sport Administration at Ontario’s Laurentian University, about the new venture she and a group of leading sustainable sports academics are launching on April 22 — Earth Day.

 

MaddyOrr1.2017

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

 

Orr envisions Sportecology.org as a platform that will help Green-Sports practitioners — from facilities managers to sustainability coordinators at college athletics departments to organizers of mega-sports events to journalists and more — improve the quality and accelerate the impact of their work.

“Groups like the Green Sports Alliance, Sport Environment Alliance in Australia and BASIS in Great Britain are all doing great work but it is largely anecdotal, based on case studies of one organization’s experience or successful initiative” noted Orr. “Peer reviewed research can give practitioners credibility and offer empirical, scientifically tested evidence to support their ideas and programs. But they can’t get that credibility if they don’t know the research exists.”

Academics will benefit because their audience will be bigger and broader.

“Believe me, no one in academia dreams of having their work gather dust on a shelf,” shared Orr. “I would talk to sport-sustainability colleagues at conferences run by the North American Society for Sport Management (NASSM) and we’d all ask ‘how can we work better with practitioners; how can we get them to access our work.”

The idea of what would become Sportecology.org popped into the Toronto native’s head in 2015, picking up real steam about a year ago.

“I started to build a database of sport-sustainability journal articles to help me study for my PhD exams, writing it out long-hand at first,” recalled Orr. “At some point, I started to think ‘this should be for everybody.’ So I began to build out what would become Sportecology.org, including starting a digital record of all the files on my computer.”

Each two-paragraph book review-like entry includes:

  • Article name and author
  • What question(s) is the author trying to answer
  • The context of the question(s)
  • What the author found

Orr, after compiling the first 100 of the 200 or so existing peer-reviewed Green-Sports-focused journal articles, realized she needed assistance to get the platform up and running. That help started to appear after she presented her idea for Sportecology.org at last year’s NASSM conference in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

“I teased the idea in one of my presentations and the audience seemed to love it,” Orr recalled. “Soon after, I got an email from Brian McCullough at Seattle University saying he was interested in collaborating, which was fantastic in helping to get us started. He’s now our Co-Director.”

Orr secured some initial seed money from the University of Minnesota — where she’s getting her PhD — and Laurentian University to get the website off the ground.

 

Maddy 3MinThesis 2018

Maddy Orr pictured with University of Minnesota Vice-Provost and Dean of the Graduate School, accepting the award for the UMN’s 3 Minute Thesis First Place Winner in December 2017. Maddy was subsequently a finalist in the Midwest Association of Graduate Schools’ 3 Minute Championship Round in 2018 (Photo credit: Silke Moeller)

 

Other members on what is turning out to be a Sportecology.com All-Star team from the Green-Sports-Academia intersection include Walker Ross, who starts at the University of Florida Southern College in August, Tiffany Richardson, a mentor of Orr’s from the University of Minnesota, NC State’s John Casper, Sylvia Trendafilova at UT Knoxville, Tim Kellison at Georgia State, and Jamee Pelcher, who studied under McCullough and will begin her PhD studies at the University of Tennessee this fall.

The initial interest from Green-Sports academics and the energy brought by the burgeoning Sport Ecology Group begat more funding — from “small grants from universities and companies in the green space,” said Orr. This allowed the group to bring student “Green Teams” to the recent NCAA Women’s and Men’s Final Fours and for Orr to produce a Green-Sports podcast series called Climate Champions, on which I was an interviewee. The podcast will launch in June 2019 as a limited series, and will be available on iTunes and Spotify.

 

Maddy Tampa2019

Maddy (far right, kneeling) and some of her students in Tampa where they served as the Green Team at the recent NCAA Women’s Final Four (Photo credit: Mykelti Stephens)

 

After Earth Day, the Sportecology.org team will shift their efforts into a higher gear.

Per Orr, “We will have student interns this summer who will help us get the remaining sport ecology journal articles up on the site by August. Every month, a team member will write a news summary article. And we will highlight the news and activities of the academic side of the sport sustainability arena every quarter. We’re also building a ‘story map’ of all the sport management programs at universities, and organizations that have Green Sports programming or commitments, to accelerate collaboration between the private and university sectors. The goal is to become an easy access portal for Green-Sports practitioners, as well as professors, students and anyone interested in the topic.”

 

GSB’s Take: If one wanted evidence of the maturing of the Green-Sports world, the launch of Sportecology.org is a good data point. It says here that the site will quickly become a valuable resource for practitioners of all stripes, including GreenSportsBloggers. I for one look forward to digging into Sportecology.org come Earth Day.

 


 

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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.

 


 

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The GSB Interview: Roger McClendon, New Executive Director of the Green Sports Alliance

Roger McClendon was named Executive Director of the Green Sports Alliance on January 15. The former Chief Sustainability Officer of Yum! Brands took a break from the whirlwind of his first six weeks weeks on the job to talk with GreenSportsBlog about his path to the Alliance and his early thoughts on where the organization needs to go.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Congratulations, Roger! I’m sure you’re being pulled in a million directions, so let’s get into it. When did your interest in sustainability and sustainable business begin?

Roger McClendon: Thank you, Lew, for the opportunity to talk to GreenSportsBlog readers. I’m an engineer by academic training and a graduate from the University of Cincinnati. Early in my professional career I studied and worked on automating manufacturing processes in a paper mill using control theory and algorithms to improve production efficiency. I also worked on wastewater treatment and power generation systems. Those projects focused on important questions like how do you reduce waste and improve the process as well as save money?

So it was that mindset that drew me to sustainability, technology, and innovation. Of course this work became the foundation of my environmental sustainability experience and background. And, as time went on, I became interested in the social and governance sides of the sustainability equation as well. Things like diversity, how workers are treated, human trafficking, public policy, shareholder proposals, etc. These are, I think, undervalued aspects of the sustainability world, and was something I pushed in my role as Chief Sustainability Officer at Yum! Brands.

 

roger mcclendon gsa

Roger McClendon, the new executive director of the Green Sports Alliance (Photo credit: Green Sports Alliance)

 

GSB: Speaking of the CSO job, that didn’t exist before you took it on in 2010. How did you come to create it? And how did Yum! Brands management react?

Roger: Sustainability was not really on top management’s radar screen when I brought it to them in 2009-10. But you have to understand David Novak, the founder of the company, which was a spinoff of the restaurant brands KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell from PepsiCo was a passionate values-driven leader. His management style recognized that, by putting people first, profits would follow, not the other way around. Before the Yum! Brands spinoff, I had worked my way up through the engineering ranks at KFC and, in so doing, had seen that prioritizing sustainability would grow profits and drive new business.

So after the spinoff, I saw that the new company had a Corporate Social Responsibility or CSR function but there was a big gap: Sustainability was not included. I saw this as a huge opportunity for the company. I conducted some benchmarking studies internally to see how applying a sustainability lens — efficiency, innovation, environment — could improve our best practices. Then I looked outside the company to see how corporations like GE and P&G were treating sustainability. Eventually, I made a presentation to top management about how sustainability could be a powerful business driver. They loved it! David did ask ‘Why should I make you CSO?’ I said ‘Because I’m already doing the job!’ And that was that.

 

David Novak Yum!

David Novak (Photo credit: Yum! Brands)

 

GSB: Great story! Was there any pushback from management and/or the rank-and-file at Yum! Brands about sustainability? Did some say things like ‘Why are we doing this tree hugger, Berkeley stuff?’

Roger: There was some of that cultural stuff but the broader challenge was that big change is difficult, especially in a penny-profit business like restaurant chains. I mean, we worried about each napkin that we bought. Getting 16, 17 year-old employees and franchisees to implement programs and promotions was always a heavy lift.

GSB: How did you overcome that?

Roger: Well we always looked to show all stakeholders how sustainability aligned with value creation. And we emphasized, especially with millennial and GenZ employees, that we were transforming Yum! Brands into triple bottom line company — People, Planet, Profit. And now the company is well on its way to living those values.

GSB: Aside from the very important transition on corporate values, what were some of Yum! Brands biggest sustainability wins during your tenure as CSO?

Roger: Thanks for asking. We helped drive energy efficiency initiatives that have resulted in an estimated savings of 4.3 megawatt hours (mWh) of electricity globally. Yum! Brands also created Blueline, a sustainable restaurant design, build, operational, and maintenance standard that uses key restaurant-relevant aspects of LEED, paired with proven, actionable solutions in areas such as lighting and optimized hood exhaust and ventilation systems.

These initiatives and more resulted in Yum! Brands being named to the Dow Jones Sustainability North America index in 2017 and 2018. We also earned Top 100 Best Corporate Citizens status by Corporate Responsibility Magazine, also in 2017 and 2018.

GSB: Have any of the major Yum! Brands messaged sustainability to consumers?

Roger: Consumer messaging really has been centered on the local level rather than through national ads. KFC in Australia did a local campaign around its switch to canola oil. That screams sustainability and health without actually saying it. And the folks got it.

GSB: Which is great. I understand you retired from Yum! Brands last spring but you’re way too young to be fully retired. Was Green-Sports and the Alliance on your radar at the time?

Roger: Not really. I mean, I was well aware of the sports greening movement, especially since KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell sponsor all manner of sports. And I’d been at conferences at which folks from the Alliance spoke. So I knew Green-Sports was a growing and good thing but I wasn’t looking at it as a landing spot when I retired from Yum! Brands.

Instead I worked with the Aspire Basketball Foundation in Louisville where my family lives. It teaches life skills, leadership, and personal development to high school students and those in a gap year before college, all through the prism of basketball, which I played at the University of Cincinnati and love. That’s what I was doing when I heard about the opening at the Alliance. I reached out to Scott Jenkins, the Board Chair at the GSA and we talked about the job, how I would be able to magnify the impact of Green-Sports at a high level. I thought, ‘this sounds like a great fit’ so I went for it.

 

roger mcclendon uc hoops

Roger McClendon, while a member of the  University of Cincinnati Bearcats, launches a jump shot over Virginia Tech’s Dell Curry, aka Steph Curry’s dad (Photo credit: University of Cincinnati Athletics)

 

GSB: And you got it!

Roger: I’m very thankful and realize that, as I take this position, I realize I stand on the shoulders of giants who created the Green-Sports movement like Christina Weiss Lurie, minority owner of the Philadelphia Eagles and their Go Green initiative, the late Paul Allen, owner of the Portland Trail Blazers, Seattle Seahawks and Sounders, and an early funder of the GSA, and Allen Hershkowitz, one of the true Green-Sports visionaries.

GSB: Indeed. And, as you take the helm at the Alliance, you do so as the movement is at what I see as a pivot point, from a Green-Sports 1.0 world, in which the focus is on greening the games and venues, to the Green-Sports 2.0 world, in which the emphasis shifts to engaging fans, both those who attend games and those who consume sports via media. I know it’s early days, but with that backdrop, what do you see as the top two or three items on your agenda?

Roger: That’s a great way to frame it, Lew. And you’re right, it’s early days. So my first order of business is engaging the Board, teams and venues, and the media to get a great sense of the state-of-play in Green-Sports. At the same time, I think we need to take a look at what’s next — Green-Sports 2.0 as you call it — and then what comes after that.

GSB: Green-Sports 3.0?

Roger: That’s right.

GSB: What do Green-Sports 2.0 and 3.0 look like to you right now?

Roger: First, it’s important to note that the sports world has done an admirable job on Green-Sports 1.0, greening the venues…

GSB: Thanks certainly go to the Alliance for its part in 1.0.

Roger: I wasn’t here for that work, obviously, but I’ll accept that thanks on behalf of the people who were. The greening of stadiums, arenas, and training centers needs to continue. And then we need to go forward on not only fan engagement, but also on helping our member teams, venues, leagues and more take on environmental and social issues in ways that have measurable impacts. The 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs can serve as great metrics for us.

GSB: Absolutely. Of course seven of the 17 SDGs focus on the environment¹. Going forward, will the Alliance work mainly on helping its members on those seven green SDGs? Or will it look to put as much weight on the social and governance aspects of sustainability, as it does on the environment?

Roger: The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals is one framework that I think the Alliance can leverage with our key stakeholders and determine where we should focus and prioritize. It can help us focus on what has the most material impact to our partners, members, fans, and communities as a whole.

There is a process of engagement, alignment, strategy development and execution planning that the Alliance will facilitate with our partners, members, and other key stakeholders. I anticipate that the Alliance and our partners will focus primarily on social and environmental sustainability issues and less on governance.

GSB: Finally, I want to get your take on climate change. I think it’s fair to say that the sports world at large and the Alliance to this point have, for the most part, stayed away from the topic. How do you want to take it on?

Roger: Well this gets into what problems do we want to help solve. Can we impact things like access to clean drinking water, dealing with drought, wildfires, and more? I say yes and we need to get involved in a strategic, focused way to do that sooner rather than later. But do we need to get into the politics of climate change? I think we should stay away but, at the same time, focus on doing what we can to help venues and teams to reduce their emissions.

GSB: Understood. Thing is, I think it will be much harder to stay away from climate change and the politics surrounding it with the recent introduction in Congress of the Green New Deal proposal. How might the Alliance’s alter its approach to climate change in a Green New Deal world?

Roger: We don’t have to debate climate change as the science is evident. We do have to act as a responsible citizen, business, community, city and country. We need to focus on improving sustainable operations and supply chains as well as partnering and investing in smart city infrastructure and develop social and environmental awareness and engagement movements to engage future generations.

GSB: Sounds good, Roger. I look forward to our future conversations to see the types of Green-Sports 2.0 initiatives the Alliance undertakes under your leadership, particularly on fan engagement and climate change. In the meantime, all the best.

 

¹ Seven SDGs that focus on the environment are Clean Water and Sanitation, Affordable and Clean Energy, Sustainable Cities and Communities, Responsible Consumption and Production, Climate Action, Life Below Water and Life on Land. The rest of the SDGs are: No Poverty, Zero Hunger, Good Health and Well-Being, Quality Education, Gender Equality, Decent Work and Economic Growth, Industry/Innovation/Infrastructure, Reduced Inequality, Peace and Justice, Partnerships to Achieve the Goals

 

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A-List Panel Discusses the Future of Sustainable Sports Venue Design at Gillette Stadium

The New England Patriots have been on the “Leading Edge” of pro football since 2001. After all, they are about to play in their ninth Super Bowl¹ in the 18-year Belichick-Brady era on Sunday when they take on the Los Angeles Rams in Atlanta.

Thus, it is fitting that the first Leading Edge Sustainable Stadium Design Conference was hosted by Excel Dryer and D|13 at the Pats’ Gillette Stadium last month.

The conference’s centerpiece was a discussion among a panel of Green-Sports All Stars.  They took a deep dive into the past, present and especially the future of green sports venue design and operations, with an emphasis on how to make stadiums and arenas as energy efficient and fan-friendly as possible.

 

The opportunity to earn Continuing Education Unit (CEU) credits along with the chance to throw and catch passes on the same field as Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski were likely what drew architects — as well as contractors, property managers and more — to Gillette Stadium on a foggy January night for the Leading Edge Sustainable Stadium Design Conference. 

 

excel dryer gillette scoreboard

View from the field at Gillette Stadium during the Leading Edge Sustainable Stadium Design Conference (Photo credit: Excel Dryer)

 

But it was the panel discussion, moderated by Joe Khirallah of Green Bear Group, on the Green-Sports movement’s past, present and future, that kept the audience’s rapt attention.

“At several points during the discussion, I looked out to the audience and noticed that no one was looking at their cell phones,” observed panelist Scott Jenkins, GM of Atlanta’s LEED Platinum Mercedes-Benz Stadium and Board Chair of the Green Sports Alliance. “Not one person. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before, and I’ve been on a lot of panels.”

 

PATRIOTS, GILLETTE STADIUM: GREEN-SPORTS INNOVATORS SINCE 2002

According to conference host and panelist Jim Nolan, who as COO of Kraft Sports + Entertainment (KSE) is responsible for operating Gillette Stadium as efficiently as possible, sustainability has been a core tenet since the building opened in 2002.

“I am fortunate to work for an owner — Robert Kraft — who cares about the environment,” Nolan shared. “Our number one priority is to reduce fossil fuel consumption. Second is to do as much as we can to reduce our waste stream. Every innovation we consider is examined through both financial and green lenses. We say ‘go’ on new cleantech innovations when they become economical.”

Examples of KSE’s “gos” include:

  • An on-site system that converts waste water into gray water for use in the bathrooms and elsewhere throughout Gillette Stadium and neighboring Patriot Place, the 1.3 million square foot retail, restaurant and entertainment complex
  • Energy efficient LED lighting, now illuminating the stadium and 90 percent of Patriot Place
  • On-site solar, which now powers more than half of Patriot Place

Next up for Gillette and Patriot Place is a 2.4 megawatt (mW) fuel cell, expected to be fully operational next year. “Once we’re up and running, the entire campus will be off the grid,” reported Nolan. “We will also have a food waste converter that will produce methane gas — which will then go into the fuel cell to generate additional electricity.”

 

SUSTAINABLE SPORTS VENUES ARE A MARKETABLE ASSET

To Scott Jenkins, stadium and arena owner-operators who push green innovations reap more benefits than cost reductions and efficiencies, as important as those are.

“Most sustainability investments are clear winners for stadium and arena projects,” Jenkins asserted. “They show fans and the community that the team and the owner are purpose driven, which greatly enhances brand value. And sustainability can generate incremental revenue in the form of new, ‘green-focused’ sponsors. Forward-leaning owners like the Krafts and Arthur Blank — who pushed us to build Mercedes-Benz Stadium to earn LEED Platinum certification — believe that just building to code is like being OK with being a C student. They have to be A students.”

Chris DeVolder, lead architect on the Mercedes-Benz Stadium project and Managing Principal at HOK², chimed in that Blank “constantly pushed everyone who worked on the project to not only ‘think about what’s next’, but also ‘what’s next after what’s next’. Things like turning waste into energy to heat water, offering affordable vegetarian and vegan food options, and more.”

 

PATS CONNECT FANS TO SUSTAINABILITY IN GILLETTE STADIUM RESTROOMS

Panelist Summer Minchew, Managing Partner of Washington, D.C.- and Charlotte, NC-based Ecoimpact Consulting, and a veteran of several venue projects, offered that fans are a key element to the Green-Sports equation.

“It may sound obvious, but a positive fan experience at a sports venue is absolutely key,” Minchew said. “What is not always so obvious to stadium designers, managers and owners, is that sustainability, from environmental, health and wellness points-of-view, goes hand in hand with a great fan experience.”

According to Jim Nolan, the Patriots have been a bit late to the “fan engagement” party but they are making significant strides in the right direction. Working with energy partner NRG, the team communicates its solar story to fans via signage mounted on massive pillars near the stadium’s entry gates.

Once inside Gillette, fans experience the leading edge of sustainable stadium design when they dry their hands in the restrooms via a unique, high-velocity, two-phase drying process. The XLERATOR® from Excel Dryer — one of the sponsors of the Leading Edge conference — blows large water droplets off the hands in a couple of seconds in Phase 1. Then, in Phase 2, the heat evaporates a residual moisture layer that we feel but don’t see. This makes the drying process about three times faster than conventional hand dryers, resulting in an 80 percent reduction in energy usage.

But that’s not the XLERATOR’s greenest feature.

Replacing paper towels is.

A Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) showed that the XLERATOR was the catalyst for up to a 75 percent reduction in carbon footprint when compared to 100 percent recycled paper towels. That might seem counterintuitive but, after one-time use, paper towels go straight to the landfill. So XLERATORs help reduce paper production, transportation emissions, water usage, waste and more.

“The XLERATOR is a win-win-win-win for us,” enthused Nolan. “First, it’s clearly better for the environment. Second, it saves time and manpower as our staff spends much less time cleaning paper from the floor and refilling paper towel dispensers. Third, that allows staff to respond more quickly to other fan issues. Fourth and most importantly, the fans prefer the XLERATOR to paper, so they have a better experience.”

 

excel dryer panelists

From left, Jim Nolan, COO of KSE and host of the Leading Edge Sustainable Design Conference welcomes fellow panelists Summer Minchew, Chris DeVolder, Scott Jenkins, moderator Joe Khirallah, and Bill Gagnon, Vice President of Sales and Marketing with event sponsor Excel Dryer  (Photo credit: Excel Dryer)

 

 

Guests at Gillette Stadium’s Optum Field Lounge this season got to experience another futuristic hand drying “win” with the recent installation of a next-generation sink system from Leading Edge sponsor D|13.

“The system features, from left to right, liquid soap dispenser, water faucet, and the XLERATORsync®, in one contained unit,” Nolan said. “It keeps water in the sink, which is better for the environment. Maintenance visits are reduced. It is the most sustainable, hygienic way to wash your hands. We’re excited to be the first stadium to feature the D|13 Sink System.”

 

patpatriot

Leading Edge Sustainable Design Conference attendees, including Pat Patriot, had the opportunity to try out the new D|13 Sink System (Photo credit: D|13)

Will Mercedes-Benz Stadium be the second? Too early to tell. After all, Scott Jenkins and the rest of the staff are busy getting ready to sustainably welcome the Patriots, Rams and 70,000+ fans for Super Bowl LIII on Sunday.

 

¹ The nine Super Bowls of the Belichick-Brady era: 2002 (Pats over Rams), 2004 (Pats over Panthers), 2005 (Pats over Eagles), 2008 (Giants over Pats), 2012 (Giants over Pats), 2015 (Pats over Seahawks), 2017 (Pats over Falcons), 2018 (Eagles over Pats), 2019 (Pats vs. Rams)
² HOK is a global design, architecture, engineering and planning firm

 


 

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Green-Sports Startups, Part 7: Volta Charging Brings Free EV Charging to Sports Venues

Volta Charging is pioneering free electric vehicle (EV) charging in the U.S. Their business model is to sell video advertising atop charging stations to brands that want to reach high value audiences in high foot-traffic locations. Sports venues, not surprisingly, figure prominently in the San Francisco-based startup’s growth strategy. GreenSportsBlog spoke with Ted Fagenson, Volta Charging’s senior vice president of business development, to gain a deeper understanding of the company’s plans for the sports sector.

 

For Ted Fagenson, the beauty of Volta Charging’s business model is found in its simplicity.

“We make charging simple for EV drivers and host venues,” said the telecom and EV business veteran who now serves as the startup’s VP of business development. “Drivers don’t need to carry a card with an RFID chip. They just pull up, park, plug in and go. It’s convenient and it’s free, for both drivers and hosts! That’s all there is to it.”

 

ted fagenson volta

Ted Fagenson, Volta Charging’s VP of business development (Photo credit: Volta Charging)

 

Getting to this level of simplicity required Volta to do something that’s far from, well, simple: Disrupt the still-emerging public EV charging market.

“Right now, public EV charging companies mainly operate under one of two business models, neither of which are sustainable,” shared Fagenson. “One is to sell the charging stations to parking lot owners, shopping mall managers, retail establishments, sports venues, etc. The drivers then pay the host venues. But do those folks really want to own charging stations? No! Model two is to install the charging stations for free, charge the driver for the electricity and then split the revenue with the host venue. That’s too complicated for all concerned and in the long run, unprofitable.”

It’s not only too complicated; it’s also too costly for the driver.

According to Fagenson, drivers pay between 20-39¢ per kilowatt hour (kWh) at non-Volta public charging venues. That’s about 4 to 5 times as much as the 6-10¢/kWh it costs EV drivers to charge at home overnight.

The result is not surprising: Most EV drivers avoid using public charging stations unless they’re desperate. Per Fagenson, “They charge at home. But many would like the convenience of simple, low cost, daytime charging.”

 

FREE, MEDIA-SUPPORTED PUBLIC EV CHARGING

Future-focused tech entrepreneur, car-lover, and vintage automotive restoration business owner Scott Mercer saw a significant market need — a public EV charging model that makes financial sense for drivers and venues. His idea was to make public EV charging free to drivers by selling video ad units that would run atop the chargers. Host venues get free installation, free chargers, free maintenance, free customer support. Increased dwell time — shoppers staying longer to get a better charge — also benefits malls and other retailers.

 

scott mercer ceo volta charging1

Scott Mercer, founder and CEO of Volta Charging (Photo credit: Volta Charging)

 

So Mercer, who ran a vintage automotive restoration business, sold a restored 1967 Jaguar XKE to fund the beginning of what would become Volta Charging.

The media-supported, charge-EVs-for-free business model quickly attracted the attention of mall and grocery chain executives in states where the EV market is well developed (California, Washington, Oregon, Illinois, etc.).

 

SPORTS VENUES CHARGED UP

Sports stadiums and arenas are a high priority for Volta Charging.

“Stadiums make perfect partners to drive exposure, engagement, and inspiration for fans by showing that EVs are here, and their community is ready to make this change,” Mercer said at last June’s Green Sports Alliance Summit in Atlanta. “Teams benefit from new fan engagement opportunities using the digital screens on the stations, where we dedicate one of the rotating digital sponsorships to their use. This is so much bigger than providing a few plugs for EV driving fans. It is about leveraging the power of stadiums as iconic cultural centerpieces to show the world that clean mobility is here, and it’s for everyone.”

Management at Oakland’s Oracle Arena, home of the NBA champion Golden State Warriors, agreed with Mercer and now has two Volta chargers. Even though the team is moving to San Francisco and the new Chase Center next season, the Volta chargers will remain for fans of the Oakland A’s who play at the adjacent Oakland Alameda County Coliseum. That is expected to be the case until the A’s move to their proposed new stadium in 2023 at the earliest.

Chicago’s United Center, home to the NBA’s Bulls and NHL’s Blackhawks, sports four Volta chargers next to the arena’s entrance.

“Our model works really well for sports venues,” Fagenson said. “Volta chargers are situated close to the stadium or arena entrance so that guarantees high fan foot traffic on game days.”

 

volta united center

Two Volta Charging units outside an entrance to Chicago’s United Center (Photo credit: Volta Charging)

 

VOLTA’S MEDIA—SPONSORSHIP BUSINESS MODEL

The Volta stations on site provide exposure for brands looking to reach fans attending sporting events, concerts, and more. The two sided digital hybrid stations offer 6′ tall LED backlit static ads on one side, and a digital screen on the other. The screens are formatted with a 64 second repeating ad loop, including multiple flips (or images), each of which run for eight seconds. Six of the eight ad placements are reserved for sponsors, Volta uses one for promotional purposes and the eighth is earmarked for the venue host.

Pricing for Volta’s media takes into consideration a number of factors including market, target audience (size, composition, etc.), length of run, and size of the network purchased. Since the company’s revenues are derived from media sales, those buying media on Volta Charging get the halo effect of making EV charging free. Host venues also reap the benefit of providing a value-added, green service to fans on site.

Not surprisingly, EV automakers, including Nissan and Jaguar, have become Volta sponsors. Other categories buying in include Consumer Packaged Goods, Entertainment, Finance, and Technology, among others.

 

EXPANSION IN 2019

As of now Volta Charging’s biggest markets are San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego and Chicago. Boston, Houston, Portland, Seattle, Washington, D.C. and Oahu, are also up and charging.

The venture capital-funded company is poised for significant growth in 2019. New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Dallas and Miami are on deck, with Atlanta, Denver, and Detroit making up the next batch of expansion markets.

“Sports venues are key targets in all of our markets, current and future,” Fagenson said. “There is some complexity to stadiums and arenas as the city owns the parking lot in some cases. So we need to negotiate with multiple parties. In other situations, we work directly with the host venue.”

 

GSB’S Take: Volta Charging’s business model looks like the rare sustainable business win-win-win-win. WIN #1: Free, away-from-home EV charging. WIN #2: Host venues, including stadiums and arenas, receive free EV chargers for their customers/fans, and free advertising. WIN #3: Sponsors get access to their target audiences in a new, exciting medium. WIN #4: Free EV charging means more EV miles driven. While the odds of success for any startup are long, Volta Charging’s “quadruple-win” business model gives it a leg up. Watch this space.

 

 


 

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