Green-Sports Startups, Part 6: Raea Jean Leinster and Yuck Old Paint; Helping Stadiums Find New Homes for (Yuck) Old Paint

Well-known global corporations, from Anheuser-Busch to Nike, have waded into the Green-Sports waters. While it makes sense for them to do so from PR and mission points of view, Green-Sports (for now) represents a small aspect of these companies’ businesses.

Then again, there are startups for which Green-Sports is a significant part of their raison d’être. Last year, GreenSportsBlog launched an occasional series, Green-Sports Startups that focuses on small (for now) companies and nonprofits that see the greening of sports as essential to their prospects for success.

In today’s sixth^ version of Green-Sports Startups, we bring you Yuck Old Paint (yup, that’s the name of the company), brainchild of Raea Jean Leinster, that finds second uses for stockpiles of leftover paint — including from places like Nationals Park in Washington, D.C.

Raea Jean’s story is colorful (there, I had to say it!), important and fun so ENJOY!

 

How does a Russian Studies major and a Czech minor who pursued a career path to work at the NSA, CIA and State Department and then became a concert violinist end up in the business of finding reuse opportunities for tons of cans of unused paint— from places like Nationals Park, home of the Washington Nats? And she calls her company Yuck Old Paint?

I know what you’re thinking: “This has to be FAKE NEWS!”

Nope. It’s the real, incredible story from the incredible Raea Jean Leinster.

 

FROM BRATISLAVA TO BELL LABS TO CONCERT VIOLINIST TO INTERIOR DESIGNER TO…

Leinster’s unlikely journey to becoming a Green-Sports pioneer started in an unlikely place: Bratislava, now the capital of Slovakia. But back in the late 80s-early 90s, just before the Soviet Union was about to collapse, Bratislava was part of Czechoslovakia. I’ll let Leinster pick up the story from there:

“I was in the middle of my Russian and Czech studies at George Mason University when the Soviet Union collapsed. So I dropped out of school to go to Czechoslovakia and teach English. While in Bratislava, I saw first-time-ever capitalist billboards in the former Eastern bloc for Apple, Coke and Marlboro. I asked myself, ‘how do these companies permeate a city like Bratislava when there was no real diplomatic US presence there?’ I realized that brands and business move faster than countries, so I redirected my career path to international business.”

 

Raea jean 1

Raea Jean Leinster, founder of Yuck Old Paint (Photo credit: Raea Jean Leinster)

 

Leinster returned to GMU and upon graduation went into the telecom industry just as AT&T was being deregulated: “I worked in telecom for ten years, helping MCI launch its ‘Friends and Family’ program and managed global channel communications and branding for Lucent Technologies for 80 countries before I was 30,” she recalled. “Then, in 2002-3, the telecom industry imploded and hundreds of thousands of people across the country lost their jobs, including me.”

So Leinster licked her wounds and took a gap year, spending much of it playing volleyball in the Virgin Islands. Batteries recharged, Leinster returned to Northern Virginia in 2004 and pivoted to a different career path, that of concert violinist/faux finisher/interior designer.

HOLD ON A SECOND…She became a concert violinist and a faux finisher? What the heck is that?

Turns out Leinster had been playing violin since she was a little girl, kept at it throughout her various adventures and continues to perform today with a variety of orchestras.

 

Raea w violin at GU

Raea jean Leinster (r), rehearsing with a string quartet at Georgetown University (Photo credit: Raea Jean Leinster)

 

And as a faux finisher, Leinster restored murals, became an expert in Venetian and Italian plasters, a gilding artist and created custom art in restaurants, commercial spaces and private homes.

 

Contemporary Metallic

A “contemporary metallic” faux finish from Raea Jean Leinster (Photo credit: Raea Jean Leinster)

 

And that led to…

 

…YUCK OLD PAINT

Over the next ten years, Leinster “…kept hearing a steady drumbeat of ‘Raea, can you help me get rid of these pallets of Sherwin-Williams off-white leftover paint in my building?’ or ‘Raea, I have 40 cans of paint in my garage. Can you take them?’”

Leinster’s initial answer was a flat NO — after all, what would she do with the paint? She didn’t have the space to store all the paint her clients asked her to take away, and in Virginia, the landfills are only permitted for residential use.

But in December 2012, she started to figure it out.

“A DC design client asked me to take away four paint cans at the end of a job. I have no idea why I said ‘yes’ after years of telling clients ‘no’. But I did,” recalled Leinster. “And to my surprise, a $25 Starbucks gift card accompanied the 4 gallons of paint that were left at the concierge desk.”

As Leinster drove away, she took stock of what just happened.

“My client was totally capable of taking the paint cans herself to the DC landfill,” Leinster thought to herself. “But she couldn’t be bothered with it.”

The client also didn’t care what Leinster did with the paint, but trusted her to do the right thing and handle it safely. The client gained more space in her condo and time.

“Turns out it was worth it to my client to compensate me for my trouble to pick up the paint and to do something with it,” said Leinster. “I then wondered, ‘How many other home owners are out there who would pay for a professional service to pick up leftover, unwanted, unused cans of latex paint?’”

Leinster spent 2013 beta testing the business concept and in April 2014 launched Yuck Old Paint, LLC.

Since then, the phone has not stopped ringing.

Four years later, Yuck Old Paint now counts among her clients several federal agencies, the U.S. Army. the Washington Nationals and Nationals Park.

 

“WE DON’T RECYCLE PAINT; WE HELP FIND USES FOR UNUSED PAINT”

Leinster’s business is based on the “reuse” model in lieu of recycling. “Our first step is to qualify paint for reuse,” reported Leinster. “About 75 percent of the paint we pick up in its original containers is perfectly good and useable.”

Yuck Old Paint gives the useable paint to theatre companies who use it for set design, and to local contractors looking for a specific type of paint. Much of it is distributed overseas, to developing countries for sale in hardware stores and for humanitarian construction projects.

Wait a second.

Yuck Old Paint gives the paint away? 

Yes, that’s what they do. Because they are paid by customers who need the paint to go away a flat service fee plus a per-can price  — $5 for one quart and one gallon can; $10 for a five-gallon bucket.

OK, back to what happens to the Yuck Old Paint.

“Twenty percent of the remaining liquid paint stockpile is not useable — think of it like sour milk,” continued Leinster. “That batch gets turned into solid waste material. Another five percent is solid and dry. In either case, we ensure it is no longer in liquid form, which is a hazard to local soil and water tables. Once it has been cured into a solid material, it is delivered into the solid waste stream.”

 

Yuck Old cured latex paint

Some of the “sour”, unusable paint recovered by Yuck Old Paint after it has been cured into solid material using organic ingredients (Photo credit: Raea Jean Leinster)

 

YUCK OLD PAINT PARTNERS WITH THE WASHINGTON NATIONALS

“Before the start of each season, Nats management repaints the entire park: from the press box to the offices, from the locker rooms to the concession stands,” shared Leinster. “And every June we get a call from the Nats to remove between a half a ton and one ton of paint.

 

Yuck Old Paint Nats

Unused paint outside of Nationals Park before it gets picked up by Yuck Old Paint (Photo credit: Raea Jean Leinster)

 

In addition to removing the paint from the ballpark, there are four important reasons the club is happy to have Yuck Old Paint on their green team:

  1. Adds to the team’s environmentally responsible brand — Nationals Park was the first LEED stadium in Major League Baseball.
  2. Earn up to 2 LEED points because they transfer the leftover latex paint waste to Yuck Old Paint, which employs a landfill diversion model.
  3. Win back much needed storage space. One ton of latex paint is about 225 single gallon cans. That takes up a lot of space! And Washington D.C., along with 44 states, has banned the commercial dumping of latex paints in the landfill. Before, Yuck Old Paint, the Nats’ only solution — as well as for many sports stadiums — was to stow it away.
  4. The Nats are no longer in violation of the fire code. Per Leinster,
    “Even though latex paint is not combustible, it is flammable. And although how much paint commercial buildings and stadiums are allowed to have varies from city to city with no statewide or national standard, there’s no fire marshal who will look past 1 ton of latex paint as acceptable.”

 

“MOST PEOPLE DON’T KNOW THEY HAVE A PAINT PROBLEM”

Leinster, with the Nationals Park case study in her hip pocket, came to the Green Sports Alliance Summit in Atlanta in June, looking to attract other sports venues. “This was my first GSA Summit,” said Leinster. “I soon realized that most facilities managers and team owners have no idea they have a latex paint waste problem! We received some very enthusiastic responses from other Major League Baseball and NFL clubs. We look forward to working with them to be their latex paint and hazardous waste solutions provider. Which is great news for Yuck Old Paint.”

And it is great news for the environment.

 

^ The first five startups in the series were: Nube 9, a Seattle-based company committed to making recyclable sports uniforms; Underdogs United, which sells renewable energy credits to sports teams in the developed world that are generated by vital greening projects in the developing world; Phononic, a tech company that views sports venues as key to its ambition to disrupt the refrigeration market, leading to a meaningful reduction in carbon emissions; Play Fresh, a nonprofit that uses American football as a catalyst to help build environmental awareness among at-risk kids and teens; and Hytch, a Nashville-based startup that uses a state-of-the-art ride sharing app and financial rewards to encourage ride sharing to Nashville Predators games.

 


 

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The GSB Interview: Matt Ellis, CEO of Measurabl — Helping Sports Teams Benchmark Their Environmental Impacts

Sports stadiums and arenas have been in the greening business for almost a decade, which is a great thing. But do venues and teams know how much energy they’re saving, how much waste they’re diverting from landfill, and more? You would think so but measurement of greening lagged actual greening. Until Matt Ellis and Measurabl came along. GreenSportsBlog talked with Matt, the company’s founder and CEO, to understand how he got into the sustainability measurement business, where sports fits in and…what happened to the last “e” at the end of Measurabl.

 

GreenSportsBlog: When thinking about Measurabl, this adage comes to mind: “What gets measured gets managed. And what gets managed matters.” How did you get into the sustainability measurement space and why the big move into sports?

Matt Ellis: Well, Lew, we have to go back to 2008 to get to the beginning of the story. I was working in real estate in the San Diego area — I’m a San Diego guy, went to UC San Diego undergrad and San Diego State for grad school, my family was in the real estate business. I was working for CBRE at the time…

GSB: …When the “econ-o-pocalpyse” hit…

ME: Exactly! My business was not that strong, to say the least. I had plenty of time on my hands, walking around town, looking for deals. I saw plenty of decals on buildings, decals like “LEED ” and “ENERGY STAR.” I started to ask “why?” I found out sustainability drives higher occupancy rates, higher quality tenants, and higher rents, among other positive outcomes. Not long after that, CBRE management asked me to start and run a sustainability practice group.

 

Ellis Matt 1 Headshot

Matt Ellis, founder and CEO of Measurabl (Photo credit: Measurabl)

 

GSB: Was that in the San Diego area or national? How did it go?

ME: National. Despite the economic collapse, we were getting calls consistently from our clients who were interested in how they could leverage sustainability in their real estate portfolios. By 2010-11, we had started to offer RECs, offsets, and the first carbon neutral leases. Eventually I became CBRE’s Director of Sustainability Solutions. As all this was happening, I noticed our sustainability efforts lacked one key thing: data. We needed better measurement tools so we could learn what worked and what didn’t, sustainability-wise. We needed to be able to benchmark on a number of metrics so we could measure progress over time. Every time we looked at measurement, we were told it was too hard, too costly.

GSB: Did you accept that?

ME: Not at all. In fact, I started to ask this question: “Can we provide meaningful sustainability measurement tools?” That would be a big deal. As I investigated this question, I realized that a software solution is what was was needed. We needed to gather environmental, social and governance (ESG) data, create benchmarks for buildings and then be able to sort all of this data. The goal is to know how buildings perform in terms of energy usage, carbon footprint, materials, waste, environmental certifications and more. Convinced that an environmental benchmarking and measurement software platform was indeed doable and valuable, I left CBRE and incorporated Measurabl in 2013.

GSB: How did Measurabl do out of the gate?

ME: We’ve done well the last couple of years, providing environmental benchmarking and measurement software to real estate investment trusts (REITS), asset managers like Black Rock, property managers like CBRE, and corporations like VMware, among others. They’ve found great value in it.

 

Measurabl Early Days

Matt Ellis at the whiteboard during the early days of Measurabl (Photo credit: Measurabl)

 

GSB: Congratulations! What is the Measurabl business model? What is a reasonable ROI for a client?

ME: We provide three Software as a Service aka “SaaS” plans: Basic, Pro, and Premium starting at no cost for the “Basic” plan and going to over $100/building/month for the most feature rich plan. Each provides for data management, benchmarking, and reporting and, depending on the level you sign up for, the client can achieve different ROIs which include cost savings from resource management and efficiency through to Investment Grade reporting which helps them secure lower interest rates on their loans and preferred access to capital from investors.

GSB: That sounds like a great deal for a property manager or building owner. What made you think of sports as a vertical for Measurabl?

ME: Sports makes sense for a couple of reasons for Measurabl. One is that over half of our workforce are athletes, mostly from the world of water polo, which I played at UCSD. And benchmarking sustainability metrics is kind of like how sports uses statistics: data stokes the competitive fire in athletes as well as in building or venue management. So we get sports culturally and from a data perspective. So it fits that Chase Cockerill from our business development team, an athlete himself, made a call to Jason Kobeda at Major League Baseball and Jason said “we get it, this is cool, this can help us take the game to the next level, literally” We established the relationship with MLB in April, right around Opening Day.

 

Measurabl Chase Matt

Measurabl’s CEO Matt Ellis (l) and business development executive Chase Cockerill at June’s Green Sports Alliance Summit in Atlanta (Photo credit: Measurabl)

 

GSB: WOW! That was super quick! Did all 30 teams buy in?

ME: Yes, the relationship is at the league level so all clubs and venues can access the software. So far about two thirds of the clubs are on board and the rest are ramping up. We’re providing them with data management and benchmarking on energy usage, water usage, carbon footprint, waste diversion, environmental impacts of upgrade projects, certifications and reports.

GSB: What kind of reports?

ME: For example, our software can generate a CDP report for the League. CDP is a well-known global standard for reporting carbon performance. We can also provide stadium level reports specific to each venue.

GSB: That has to be a huge time saver for the clubs.

ME: Absolutely. It is also a way to improve the accuracy of the data and therefore make more informed decisions. At the same time we talked to the Green Sports Alliance (GSA). GSA’s Erik Distler said “all of our members share a common set of needs around data management” so we then went on to form an exclusive, worldwide partnership with GSA to be their data management and benchmarking partner and platform.

GSB: That is terrific. How is the stadium or arena environment different from a high-rise office building in terms of benchmarking and measurement?

ME: The sports venue environment is generally more complex than a typical commercial building. Think of Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. There’s the retail components, the exterior parking areas, the solar panels the field, boxes… Right now, we’re able to compare a venue’s performance, year-over-year by breaking the space down to its constituent parts and comparing that performance across like-kind spaces to create benchmarks.

GSB: What about comparing stadium vs. stadium, arena vs. arena?

ME: That’s the next step, and a big part of MLB and the Alliance’s leadership, which is to create a global benchmark for sports facilities. Comparing stadiums to each other, when all of them are unique, is tough. But that’s what we love about the sports world — whether it’s MLB, the NHL, NASCAR or the Alliance — they don’t accept “it’s too tough” to compare, and neither do we. Eventually, we hope to put all venues in a given sport on the platform and to create an “apples-to-apples” comparison that is meaningful. The more data, the more facilities, the more accurate the benchmark. It’s a “team effort” so to speak! The good news is the momentum is strong and roll out well underway.

GSB: I have no doubts. Does the Measurabl platform measure fan engagement and interest?

ME: We do reporting really well. The reports can be easily understood by fans. It’s up to the clubs to decide to tell the sustainability stories but we certainly advocate that they do so on a consistent basis.

GSB: We will check back with you after this season to see how the teams are doing on the fan engagement piece. Meanwhile, I have one last question: What happened to the last “e” in Measurabl?

ME: Ha! “Measurable” was too traditional – not “startup” enough, so drop the “e” and it was a home run.

 


 

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Green-Sports Startups, Part 5: Mark Cleveland and Hytch; Rewarding Friends Who Share Rides to Sports Events

Well-known global corporations, from Anheuser-Busch to Nike, have waded into the Green-Sports waters. While it makes sense for them to do so from PR and mission points of view, Green-Sports, for now, represents a small aspect of these companies’ businesses.

Then again, there are startups for which Green-Sports is a significant part of their raison d’être. Last year, GreenSportsBlog launched an occasional series, Green Sports Startups that focuses on small (for now) companies and nonprofits that see the greening of sports as essential to their prospects for success.

We’ve featured Nube 9, a Seattle-based company committed to making recyclable sports uniforms in the U.S.A from American fabrics; Underdogs United, which sells renewable energy credits to sports teams in the developed world generated by vital greening projects in the developing world; Phononic, a tech company that views sports venues as important testing grounds for its ambition to disrupt the refrigeration market, leading to a meaningful reduction in carbon emissions, and Play Fresh, a nonprofit that uses American football as a catalyst to help build environmental awareness among at-risk kids and teens.

Today, we feature Hytch, a Nashville-based startup that uses a state-of-the-art ride sharing app and financial rewards from corporate sponsors like Nissan to encourage ride sharing to Nashville Predators games and elsewhere. Hytch’s co-founder and CEO is the irrepressible Mark Cleveland. 

 

If GreenSportsPreneur was a word in the dictionary, the definition could well look like this:

GreenSportsPreneur (n)Mark Cleveland, CEO and co-founder, Hytch.

 

MAC_headshot - credit Eric England

Mark Cleveland, co-founder and CEO of Hytch (Photo credit: Eric England)

 

Cleveland has the sports side covered: He recently completed a half ironman.

He’s got the entrepreneur part down, too: “I’ve been an entrepreneur most of my life,” Cleveland told GreenSportsBlog. “I’ve started companies, acquired them. I’ve run startups for other organizations. My businesses have been in the transportation, information systems, and business processing sectors.”

And Cleveland’s entrepreneurial career has, at times, been tinted deep green. He launched:

  • Carbon Angel, a carbon trading company. Per Cleveland, “Even though I lost money, I learned a ton about the inefficiencies of the carbon markets.”
  • SeaBridge Freight, a short sea shipping company that was named a SmartWay Partner by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
  • Swiftwick, an environmentally friendly, long-lasting (Cleveland: “it never wears out!”), Made in the USA athletic sock – including a cut-resistant hockey sock first worn by the 2014 US Olympic team in Sochi.

Yet it could be that Hytch will be Cleveland’s sustainability startup piece de resistance. 

And, if that comes to pass, sports will play a key role.

 

HYTCH: HELPING TO SOLVE NASHVILLE’S TRAFFIC MESS

Traffic congestion is a huge problem in Nashville.

The metro area is growing rapidly and existing roads just can’t handle it. A recent referendum to build a 26-mile light rail system went down in a 2-to-1 defeat.

Meanwhile, Cleveland and telecom visionary Robert Hartline have been working on a different, much less costly solution.

“Robert and I wanted to bring a solution to the table that could help reduce traffic congestion in the Nashville area,” offered Cleveland. “There are so many cars on the highways with only one person in them. So we thought, ‘if we can put two and three people in those cars, that will mean far fewer cars on the road.’ And we wanted to do it in a way that was politically palatable across the board and in a way that would democratize (with a small ‘d’) transit.”

And so Hytch was born.

 

MC at Hytch Launch Nissan

Mark Cleveland, rockin’ and rollin’ at the Hytch launch event at Nashville’s Nissan Stadium, home of the NFL’s Tennessee Titans (Photo credit: Hytch)

 

The essence of Hytch is the free app for iPhone and Android that helps members who have GPS capability track shared rides with their contacts, earning them “Trees Saved” points. Which is nice, as far as that goes.

But what makes Hytch a potential ride sharing market disruptor of the first order is its corporate sponsorship model.

Sponsor funds are passed along to Hytch drivers and riders. That’s right: Nashville Hytch members, no matter whether they are the driver or passenger, get cash for hitching up  — or, shall I say, Hytching up — on a shared car trip.

 

NISSAN SPONSORS HYTCH TO REDUCE EMPLOYEES’ TRAVEL TIME TO-FROM WORK

Nissan North America is headquartered in Franklin, TN, a 21-mile drive from downtown Nashville along I-65.

And they have a parking lot problem.

That’s where Hytch has come in.

“Nissan was looking to relieve parking lot stress,” said Cleveland. “They don’t have enough spaces for the number of employees’ cars. HR was actually looking to build an app to connect employees for ride sharing when someone told them ‘Hytch is already doing that.’ So we talked with them. Our key insight? Matching people to share rides is not the thing. Getting them excited about it is the thing!”

Nissan North America got so excited about the potential for their employees to get excited about getting paid to share rides, that they quickly became an early Hytch sponsor.

According to an article by Doug Newcomb in the February 5 issue of PC Magazine, “Nissan North America pays Hytch users 1¢ per mile anywhere in Tennessee and 5¢ per mile within the 10-county Middle Tennessee area. With other sponsors^ adding their own rewards to Nissan’s, Hytch said users can earn up to 12¢ or more per mile in some areas. If [a driver or a passenger has] a 20-mile roundtrip commute and drives 100 miles a week, this means he/she can earn $12 a week by using Hytch.”

 

 

Screenshot - Lets+Hytch App

The Hytch app, featuring early sponsor Nissan, along with other partner logos (Photo credit: Hytch)

 

Cleveland says the impact on the environment of the Nissan-Hytch partnership, along with other Nashville area Hytch sponsors not affiliated with the auto maker, was immediate and significant: “In our first six months of existence, Hytch helped to track and reward over 3 million miles of shared rides.”

 

Hytching NissanTour3

Nashville-area Hytch members registering their ride (Photo credit: Hytch)

 

PREDATORS PILOT HYTCH CARPOOL PROGRAM DURING PLAYOFFS 

Delmar Smith, a 12-year veteran of the Nashville Predators front office and the NHL club’s VP of corporate partnerships since 2013, expressed interest when Mark Cleveland approached the team in February about a partnership with Hytch.

“Traffic is the biggest issue in Nashville and parking at our games is tight,” recalled Smith. “So, when our CEO, Sean Henry and I met with Mark in March, the Nissan-Hytch relationship got our attention. With Nissan being one of our top two corporate partners, that really intrigued us and we thought about doing something during the Stanley Cup playoffs.”

The main hitch (sorry!) was timing: Nissan-Hytch discussions took place in March, only a month before the playoffs would begin. Smith was understandably concerned about rushing into a promotional program and it not going smoothly. Then he called Nissan.

More Smith: “Nissan gave me such positive feedback about Hytch and the employee program that it changed my thinking. We actually had the time to construct a ride sharing pilot program during the playoffs that would work logistically and be a benefit to our fans and the environment.”

When the Stanley Cup playoffs started in April, Hytch members who carpooled to Predators home games received 5¢ per mile, funded by Nissan. The team promoted the Hytch partnership on the Bridgestone Arena scoreboard, via social media and through street teams.

 

Hytch at Bridgestone Arena

The Hytch-Predators ride-sharing partnership was promoted on the Bridgestone Arena scoreboard during the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs (Photo credit: Hytch)

 

“Hundreds of Preds fans participated in the pilot,” reported Cleveland. “Their reactions were very positive.”

“While results were hard to measure with such a small sample of games, we felt good about the test,” added Smith.

The Predators, Hytch and Nissan intend to expand the program during the 2018-19 regular season.*

 

GREENSPORTSBLOG’S TAKE: HYTCH CAN BE A FORCE FOR GREEN IN THE SPORTS WORLD

With the company already expanding beyond its Nashville home base (it embarked on a partnership with the Vans Warped nationwide cross-country concert tour this summer), it is easy to envision a wide swath of pro and college sports teams using the Hytch platform. Hytch Green-Sports partnerships:

  • May encourage fans to attend games they’d ordinarily watch on TV
  • Can be a source of additional sponsorship revenue
  • Will enhance the team’s reputation with its fans and the broader community

It seems appropriate to let Mark Cleveland provide one last reason why Hytch makes sense for sports teams (and more), and to close to this story: “Every shared mile with Hytch is a zero-emissions mile. Together we save the planet, one shared ride at a time.”

 

 

 


 

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Green-Sports Startups, Part 4: Derek Battle and Play Fresh — Teaching Climate Change and Football

Well-known global corporations, from BASF to Miller-Coors to Nike, have waded into the Green-Sports waters. While it makes sense for them to do so from PR and mission points of view, Green-Sports, for now, represents a small aspect of these companies’ businesses.

Then again, there are startups for which Green-Sports is a significant part of their raison d’être. Last year, GreenSportsBlog launched an occasional series, Green Sports Startups that focuses on small (for now) companies and nonprofits that see the greening of sports as existential to their prospects for success. Our first three startups are Nube 9, a Seattle-based company committed to making recyclable sports uniforms in the U.S.A from American fabrics, Underdogs United, which helps sports teams already talking the green talk to walk the green walk by selling them renewable energy credits generated by vital greening projects in the developing world, and Phononic, a tech company that sees sports venues as important testing grounds for its audacious ambition to disrupt the set-in-its-ways refrigeration market, leading to a meaningful reduction in carbon emissions.

Today we talk with Derek Battle, founder of Play Fresh, a nonprofit that uses American football as a catalyst to help build environmental awareness among at-risk kids and teens. The goal is to give them the tools necessary to combat environmental risks and their adverse effects on their communities. 

 

 

GreenSportsBlog: Creating Play Fresh as a nonprofit that aims to use football as a medium to teach kids about the challenges and opportunities presented by climate change is a novel approach to be sure.  To understand how you came up with it, much less turn it from idea to reality has to be a fascinating story that, I imagine, starts with the football side of the equation. Am I right?

Derek Battle: Yes you are! I grew up playing football through high school in Charlotte, then played linebacker at the University of Delaware, Class of 2015…

GSB: …The Fighting Blue Hens!

DB: Exactly! I played as a freshman but tore my anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), rehabbed, made it back to the team, started again, but then I tore my other ACL. And so that was it, football-wise, at least at that level.

 

 

Play Fresh Group Pic

Play Fresh co-founder Derek Battle (2nd from right) and the management team. From left to right: Marketing strategist Will Prstowsky, Co-founder Keon Williams, Battle, and COO Ena Linton (Photo credit: Play Fresh)

 

GSB: A brutal yet all-too-familiar story. So where and when did your interest in climate change come about?

DB: I always had a passion for science and majored in Energy and Environmental Policy. While at Delaware I met John Byrne of the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy. He suggested I check it out, that this was where the future was heading and that there would be strong employment opportunities. So I did, found it interesting and that started me on the climate road.

GSB: So where did the connection between football and climate come from?

DB: As I was learning about climate change, I thought there could be a strong correlation between sports, environmental sustainability and the climate change fight.

GSB: AMEN!

DB: I did my senior thesis research on stadiums and energy efficiency. And I got an internship with the Philadelphia Water Department

GSB: What did that entail?

DB: It was really cool — I worked on the first sewage geothermal solution in Pennsylvania. We investigated it for big public buildings, like Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Super Bowl Champion Eagles, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art…

GSB: Of “Rocky” fame…

DB: That’s the one.

GSB: Did those buildings end up implementing the sewage geothermal solution?

DB: Unfortunately, no. But it really inspired me. So then I did research for the Environmental Center on solar, wind and sewage geothermal on NFL stadiums, focusing primarily on M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, home of the Ravens.

GSB: What did you find out?

DB: That it paid off from a financial point of view. Again, the club didn’t implement it but it further cemented the idea that I wanted to work in the green-sports niche. That said, there weren’t opportunities in that niche when I graduated so I took a job in the insurance industry, focused primarily on construction safety. The key thing for me was that the job afforded flexibility in terms of hours and working from home. Which meant I could pursue green-sports. I went to the Green Sports Alliance Summits in 2015 and 2016 in Chicago and Houston. And I took online courses through the University of Seattle’s Sports, Sustainability & Leadership program in 2016-2017. Courses included policy, marketing and fan engagement.

GSB: Did Play Fresh emerge during this time period?

DB: Yes…In around December 2016, as I was learning a ton about sustainability and sports, I thought, “I know a lot about football already. Why not host an eco-friendly football camp where we could teach inner city youth about climate change?” I talked to some of my friends who’d played in the NFL — they gave me some encouragement. And then I reconnected with a high school friend, Keon Williams, who played cornerback at Gardner-Webb University in South Carolina. And he wanted to host a camp. But he wasn’t eco-minded, at least not to that point.

GSB: Did he become green-minded?

DB: Definitely. We became partners and I took some grant writing and policy courses through University of Seattle, which furthered my knowledge base for starting up a nonprofit. By that time I had moved to Baltimore, started networking, connected with a fellow named Joe Gamble who was running an NFL-endorsed “Play 60” program and coached youth football. Joel’s program along with a great guy Jeff Thompsons, and members from the Baltimore Office of Sustainability really helped me learn the social dynamics of the city so that my project would be accepted by the youth. We applied for 501-C3 status and produced a business plan, thanks to my girlfriend, Ena Linton, who is getting her Masters in Public Health at George Washington University — she sees Play Fresh as a public health initiative.

GSB: Then what happened?

DB: Spring 2017 was devoted to organizing the event. We modeled it on Council for Responsible Sport certification standards. Unfortunately, getting certified was too expensive for us just starting out, but we were still committed to developing sustainable operations. We connected with companies who were just as committed to reducing their environmental impact such as, Eco-Promotions. They supplied us with BPA-free water bottles, plus they planted a tree to offset the production of each bottle. Staff and participant t-shirts were made from recycled material and the screen printing was done with eco-friendly dyes by a local company, Momentum Printing.

GSB: That’s impressive. So when did you have the camp and how did it go?

DB: The camp took place on July 22 in Patterson Park in Baltimore City. We had 62 kids from 12 to 16 years of age and 20 coaches, including three with NFL experience. On the football side, we did all sorts of testing — 40-yard dash, shuttle run, etc. — and worked with them on how to improve their performance since college recruiters put a lot of stock on those results. And we held a variety of 7-on-7 scrimmages. On the sustainability side, we handled it in stealthy way in some respects.

 

Play Fresh 40 yd dash

Play Fresh athletes run the 40 yard dash (Photo credit: Play Fresh)

 

Play Fresh 3D Group

Younger Play Fresh athletes engage in flag football drills (Photo credit: Play Fresh)

 

GSB: How so?

DB: We provided healthy food and snacks and the water bottles. Kids who walked, biked and bused were entered into raffle to win Beats headphones. Throughout the day, we put the onus on the kids to improve their circumstances and their local environment, whether it be through recycling, using a reusable water bottle or participating in community clean-ups. The general messaging was that Under Armour inspires you all to “Protect This House” but at Play Fresh we want to Protect This WORLD!

 

Play Fresh Fresh Change

Play Fresh attendees engage in environmental cleanup in Baltimore City (Photo credit: Play Fresh)

 

Play Fresh H2O bottles Kristin Hanczor

Sustainability Officer Kristin Hanczor provides Play Fresh athletes with reusable BPA-Free water bottles (Photo credit: Play Fresh)

 

GSB: I love that! Did your team talk to the kids about climate change?

DB: We felt that, as mentioned earlier, that a softer approach was the way to go. Climate change would not have resonated with these kids at that time. But getting them to be aware of and take care of their built environment, we hope, will allow them to be open to climate change going forward.

GSB: How much did it cost?

DB: With the sponsorship from Spornado, and some friends and family funding and not looking for a margin, we were able to drive the cost down to $20 but even that was too expensive for many kids.

GSB: That’s a sad reality…

DB: No doubt and we really can’t do it at that price again. But we are going forward this summer with two Play Fresh events. Our camps will be on June 16 in Charlotte — we’re looking for 100 kids at $30 each and then we’ll be back in Baltimore City in July — date is still TBD — again, going for 100 kids at $30 each. We’re hoping to get grants from Under Armour…

GSB: …A great local Baltimore company.

DB: Under Armour, Nike and/or adidas to help take us to the next level.

GSB: That was going to be my final question. How do you plan to scale Play Fresh?

DB: Our goals are to be like a “Nike Combine” on the football side and ramp up the eco-messaging. So, we will need to have a strong 2018 as a proof point for funders and then ramp up in 2019 with more events and markets. At the same time, we’re building out our ongoing and new Play Fresh initiatives. We have a partnership with Chip’n in which any athlete who volunteers six hours at a local event or organization will receive a complimentary pass to the Play Fresh camp. Through Chip’n’s mobile app, athletes can find local volunteer opportunities and our complimentary ticket offer. And we’ve got Play Fresh 3-D where children participate in a series of relays that test their knowledge of which everyday materials are compostable, recyclable and non-recyclable, as well as, educating them on how air pollution reduces community wellness. Additionally, with our Fresh Change initiative, we work to engage student athletes in community cleanups throughout school year. Really, what we’re looking to create is a living classroom for kids of all ages.

 

Play Fresh Chip'N

 


 

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Green-Sports Startups, Part 3: Phononic, Disrupting the Refrigerator Market via Luxury Suites

Well-known global corporations, from BASF to Nike to Tesla, have waded into the Green-Sports waters. While it makes sense for them to do so from PR and mission points of view, Green-Sports, for now, represents a small aspect of these companies’ businesses.

Then again, there are startups for which Green-Sports is a significant part of their business. Last year, GreenSportsBlog launched an occasional series, Green Sports Startups that focuses on small (for now) companies that see the greening of sports as existential to their businesses’ prospects for success. Our first such newbie was Nube9, a Seattle-based company committed to making recyclable sports uniforms in the U.S.A. from American fabrics. We followed that with a profile of Underdogs United, a startup looking to help sports teams already talking the green talk to walk the green walk by selling them renewable energy credits generated by crucial greening projects in the developing world.

Today we feature Phononic, a technology startup that sees sports arenas and stadia as a key target market in its audacious ambition to disrupt the set-in-its-ways refrigeration market, leading to a meaningful reduction of carbon emissions.

 

After talking with Tony Atti, the energetic, Pied Piper-like founder and CEO of Durham, North Carolina-based Phononic, for maybe two-three minutes, I was ready to stop the interview.

Instead, I wanted to get out there and sell his market disrupting, carbon emissions-reducing refrigerators. And I’d never sold a refrigerator before!

But before I started selling, I thought I should write the story of how Atti got into the refrigerator-disruption business — “we want to be the ‘Tesla of Refrigeration” — and how big a deal Phononic’s advance can be for the sports world and far, far beyond.

 

Phononic: Bringing Solid State Semiconductor Innovation to Refrigeration

“I grew up in Buffalo, New York — Go Bills! — and ended up getting a PhD in chemistry at the University of Southern California,” recalled Atti. “Then, quite by accident, I fell into working at a boutique venture capital fund in New York City back in the early 2000s.”

 

Tony Atti

Tony Atti, founder and CEO of Phononic (Photo credit: Tony Atti)

 

The firm’s bread and butter were startups incubated at universities, with a focus on sustainability and energy technology companies. They also took the unusual approach of placing their top executives in operational roles at some of the companies in which they had invested. So Atti went down to the Research Triangle area near Raleigh, North Carolina to work with one of the firm’s companies.

More Atti: “I did an 18-month stint in North Carolina; when that ended I pursued other opportunities, including in Silicon Valley. It was in Northern California that I met the co-founder of Phononic in 2009. At that point, it was just an idea, and a very long shot at that.”

So, what was Phononic’s long-shot, unique selling proposition?

“Phononic is an exemplar of what tech-based venture capital is all about: disruption through solid state semiconductor innovation. This kind of innovation transformed the computer, data, solar power, and lighting businesses — and much, much more,” shared Atti. “Phononic exists to demonstrate that it’s possible to bring solid state semiconductor innovation — that is to say microchips — to refrigeration and other cooling. Our goal was and is simple: To disrupt the 100+ year old domination of compressor and Freon-based refrigeration.”

At the outset, the company operated virtually, with development partners from the University of Oklahoma, Cal-Tech and the University of California-Santa Cruz working with Phononic to prove the technology worked. Atti then decided to locate the company in North Carolina, setting up shop on North Carolina State University’s Centennial Campus in Raleigh from 2010-2013. By 2014, he had moved Phononic’s offices to nearby Durham, where the company designed and manufactured semiconductor chips to meet four critical criteria — efficiency, scale, manufacturability and cost — that would determine its ultimate viability.

 

Nobody Believes In Us!

Nobody believes in us! has served as a powerful motivational fuel for some of the great upsets in sports history. It also fueled Atti and his Phononic team during the early days.

“We flew around the world with our chips and our performance data, but no one believed in us. You have to understand that the incumbents in the refrigeration markets, like fossil fuel companies, were resistant to change beyond all reason. That just made us work harder. So, we went to the step of ‘product-izing,’ which means we built a prototype refrigerator around the chip, to show the skeptics that our technology was superior in the lab and in an actual refrigerator.”

Chips are indeed superior to Freon and compressors on a host of metrics: Reduced energy usage, far less pollution, reduced noise and weight, no vibration, better use of space and more. And, by 2016, Phononic had a finished refrigerator prototyping and began mass production, manufacturing more than 3,000 small-sized refrigerators over the past 18 months.

Initial Target Markets: Life Sciences, Healthcare and Hospitals

If you haven’t figured it out by now, Atti subscribes to the “Go Big or Go Home” philosophy of life. Taking down the compressor-Freon refrigerator market is one example. Another are the big, competitive, and challenging markets he chose to tackle first: Life sciences, healthcare and hospitals.

“With life sciences and healthcare, refrigeration absolutely cannot fail,” asserted Atti. “So, we went right for it, in the high-pressure world of neo-natal units, with a ‘We Protect the Sample’ mantra. Our refrigerators had to protect the drugs 100 percent of the time. We did that. Our surveys of hospital staff to get their takes on the user experience came back strongly positive. So, we knew we had something.”

 

Next Up: Stadium and Arena Luxury Suites

Food and beverage was the next market Phononic would try to penetrate. To do so, Atti felt that managers of luxury and club suites at sports arenas and stadia would be particularly interested in the unique value his disruptive refrigerator could provide.

As Atti tells it, “There are many advantages of a Phononic vs. a compressor-based refrigerator for suite operators. Our current models are small, ‘dorm room style’ and also larger built-in refrigerators, the perfect size for suites. The Phononic microchip-based system takes up less space than a compressor — so our storage capacity is significantly greater in the same physical footprint. Our product makes little to no noise. Our temperature controls are more accurate. Phononic refrigerators need much less maintenance than do compressor-based refrigerators, as there are no moving parts in a chip-based system. And the security system, which uses electronic keyboard technology, is superior. These are all big advantages.”

Atti didn’t have to look far for a sports venue at which to test his luxury suite idea: PNC Arena just down the road from Durham in Raleigh, home to the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes, NC State men’s basketball, as well as concerts and other events.

Chris Diamond, Vice President of Food and Beverage for the arena, bought in early: “I was on board from day one. I’m from Niagara Falls; Tony’s an energetic Buffalo guy, so we Western New Yorkers got each other. More importantly, the Phononic system was a clear improvement for us on a number of key metrics vs. traditional refrigerators for our loge boxes— The Phononic refrigerator was quiet; our refrigerators were noisy. The Phononic refrigerator did not heat up; ours would get very hot. The new system needs next to no maintenance — all we need is a tech that can change a motherboard every once in a great while.”

 

Chris Diamond

Chris Diamond, vice president of Food and Beverage at PNC Arena in Raleigh, NC (Photo credit: Chris Diamond)

 

Soon after, two Phononic refrigerators were deployed in each of PNC Arena’s seven loge boxes — the undercounter/built-in units are not big enough for the arena’s more spacious suites yet. Diamond brought a key wine vendor to an event, not letting him in on the change: “The guy was blown away by the quiet of the new units — he couldn’t believe it! He told me ‘I want one for my house!'”

 

Phononic fridge PNC Arena

Phononic refrigerator in one of the loge boxes at PNC Arena (Photo credit: PNC Arena)

 

The seven loge boxes are clearly just the beginning of the Phononic-PNC Arena relationship.

“I told Tony that there’s enough work here for Phononic for five years and more if you can get me bigger refrigerators,” declared Diamond. “I need them for our 51 larger suites but that’s just the start. A big trend in stadium and arena food service is ‘Grab & Go’, small, mobile stands. This summer, I want to be the first arena to use Phononic to cool its ‘Grab & Go’ installations.”

 

Phononic’s Environmental Benefits Important for PNC Bank Arena

While Phononic refrigerators’ reduced maintenance costs and quiet operation are certainly important to Diamond and the PNC Arena team, so too are its environmental benefits.

Per Diamond, “Since we opened in 1999, the environment has been an important operational consideration — it needs to be, as we see 1.5 million visitors annually. Recycling has been big since day one, as has the minimizing of waste. So, the environmental advantages of Phononic got our attention.”

 

Tony Phononic

Tony Atti with a Phononic refrigerator (Photo credit: Phononic)

 

Phononic’s most disruptive environmental feature is the elimination of Freon, a major greenhouse gas contributor, from the refrigeration the process.

“Over the next 30 years, it is expected there will be as much CO pumped into the atmosphere from refrigeration and air conditioning as there will be from cars,” noted Atti. “There has been a necessary move to eliminate or reduce the amount of Freon from the refrigeration/cooling process while maintaining the compressor system, but potential replacement substances present other problems. Phononic is completely different and its operation actually uses CO₂ as opposed to generating or releasing it. And less maintenance visits means fewer transportation-related CO₂ emissions. The refrigeration industry needs disrupting and Phononic is positioned to do it.”

 

Loge Boxes at PNC Arena Are Just the Beginning

Phononic is talking to other arenas about their innovative refrigeration system. “Many arenas and stadiums are seeking environmentally sustainable solutions, not only from the ‘it’s the right thing to do’ perspective, but also to save money, to drive profitability,” said Atti. “We are selling a variety of ‘refrigerator as a service’ options for 2018 that will appeal to sports venues, including a small ice cream freezer that will move from suite to suite. Bigger versions of our ‘undercounter’ style refrigerator are in development — they will allow us to go beyond suites to servicing the arena or stadium bowl. Consumer models are in our medium-term plans as well.”

Sounds to me to like Atti’s goal of Phononic becoming the “Tesla of Refrigeration” is not at all farfetched.

And I’m ready to start selling!

 


 

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

diana dehm

Diana Dehm (Photo credit: Diana Dehm)

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

GSB: Oh no!

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

GSB: What did you do?

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

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

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

GSB: Had you been on the air before?

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

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

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

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

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

GSB: Amazing. How are you funded?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GSB: Not to be redundant, but Holy COW!

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

GSB: What do your listeners learn about?

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

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

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

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

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

GSB: Pun intended…

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

 

 

Diana Dehm Trash on Back

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DD: Indeed, they are the best!

GSB: So what did you all come up with?

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

GSB: They must’ve loved it!

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

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

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

 

CSSS Montage

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

 

GSB: They must’ve eaten that up…

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

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

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

GSB: Did you have corporate sponsors in Sacramento?

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

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

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

 


 

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The GSB Interview: Anastasia Zotou; Bringing Green-Sports to Greece

So you think building awareness and the impact of Green-Sports is challenging in North America? Try doing so in Greece, a country that continues to be ravaged from the after effects of the 2008 global financial collapse. Yet that’s exactly what Anastasia Zotou is doing with her consulting firm, Zoten. GSB talked to Ms. Zotou about her inspiration, the work she is doing, and what the future for Green-Sports looks like in the country that gave the world the Olympic Games.

 

GreenSportsBlog: The Green-Sports movement started in the largest, wealthiest economies—North America, Great Britain, Germany, France. No surprise there. So I jumped at the opportunity to talk to a woman who is pioneering Green-Sports in Greece. Greece is a relatively small country with a great sporting culture — it of course is the home of the ancient and modern Olympic Games. It also is, arguably, the European Union (EU) member that is suffering the most from the 2008 global financial crisis. So, I figured this would be a unique story for GSB readers. Anastasia; thank you so much for sharing your story with us.

Anastasia Zotou: Thank you, Lew. My story starts in Seattle, where I was born to parents from Greece. I first visited Greece when I was 17—it was a major culture shock. Said I would never go back.

 

Anastasia Zotou Dionisis Nikolopoulos

Anastasia Zotou (Photo credit: Dionisis Nikolopoulos)

 

GSB: Somehow I have a feeling that “never” really didn’t last that long.

AZ: You’re right. I gave Greece another chance, went back when I was 21. I had a much better experience. Came home to finish up my Business Administration studies at Central Washington University with a plan to go into banking. Then I went back to Athens after graduation with no real plan. But I felt like this was the place for me. Learned Greek. Started teaching English. Got married. I started looking into Masters programs before my son was born but wasn’t able to take the entrance exam because I was giving birth on the exact day and time as the exam. It was a little difficult to be there so I waited for next year’s test.

GSB: To get an MBA in Banking?

AZ: No. In Environmental Management and Policy. Turns out I wasn’t passionate about corporate business. Was disgusted with it, tell you the truth. I was outdoorsy and felt — hoped — that sustainable business was something that was going to take off in Greece. I found a remote Masters program on the island of Lesbos…

GSB: The island where many Syrian and other refugees from that part of the world enter Greece…

AZ: That’s right.

GSB: Wow…

AZ: Yeah…It’s a very difficult situation there, obviously. But I did the program remotely — I finished in a little more than two and a half years. Turns out I was much older than most of the Greeks in the program — I was 35 when I started. This was just not done. In fact, I had to deal with that during the application process…

GSB: Meaning “why should I give this spot to you, a 35 year old?”

AZ: Exactly. And I was a mother, which also was unusual. When I was doing research back in 2008 for my dissertation, “Environmental Management Systems,” I would take my one year old son around with me to a mall in Athens where I was conducting surveys. People there were very surprised to see me there with my son.

GSB: That stinks! I’m glad you didn’t let it stop you. What were you surveying at the mall?

AZ: I was trying to find out if the management of the mall and of the stores in the mall were interested in cooperating on environmental management systems — waste management, energy efficiency, water efficiency — that sort of thing. I was able to demonstrate that the ROI was quick. But mall management wouldn’t talk to me at first and most of the store management personnel I talked to were confused, they weren’t really clued in on what environmental management systems meant — some of the younger folks got it but that was it.

GSB: Did that discourage you? I imagine your son was ok with it.

AZ: I wasn’t deterred. I just kept showing up until the people would talk to me. But, as I was finishing the dissertation, the economic crash happened. Sustainability consulting was what I wanted to do — but with the crash and a young family, it was very hard to pursue at that time.

GSB: So what did you do?

AZ: I continued to teach English and started working out of my house on environmental projects to save on office expenses, but it was challenging to stay focused working from home and managing my teaching at the same time. For my family it was and is a struggle, but there are many, many people in Greece who are having an even harder time with the job cuts and salary reductions. I will tell you, almost ten years after the crash, the country is still in a bad, bad situation.

GSB: And that’s the environment in which you wanted to start a new company in a category that didn’t exist? Piece of cake! So how and when did you start your environmental consulting work? And where did Green-Sports come in?

AZ: My initial plan was to work with businesses in sustainability. This was challenging because it’s hard for businesses to invest in sustainability when they can’t keep their doors open nor keep up with expenses. It really was sports that kicked things into another gear. You see, at around that time, I took up running. Which was surprising because I really hated to run!

GSB: Were you an athlete of any stripe?

AZ: I had played soccer and lacrosse when I was young but nothing really once I had gotten to Greece aside from running a bit on a treadmill at home. But, one of the school parents said “why don’t you come to the track?” So I went. And I saw an older man talking to some of the runners at the track. I kept seeing him almost every time I’d go to the track. Finally, I was introduced to Panayiotis Skoulis aka “The Teacher.” Turns out, he had been a runner his whole life and is an amazing, inspirational man. Holds various age group records in Greece in the marathon. In fact, he was the first man in modern times to retrace the route of Pheidippides from Athens to Sparta to Athens (149 miles each way), without a support team in his 50s. In his early 60s, he got Parkinson’s disease and kept running races, including a 50 km race (31 miles) against his doctor’s advice. Anyway, that first day we met, he asked me what my running plan was. Running plan?!?! I had none. So I blurted out I’d like to run a marathon. I didn’t want to run a marathon but, for some reason, those words came out of my mouth! The next day, he came to the track with a training program for me. I was one of the first runners in what would become a 40-person running team that he coaches, including women who had never run before and who are now running races over 60 km in some cases. Every day. For free. He’s now 81 and can’t run anymore but he still coaches us. And I built up to run a marathon — not fast, mind you, but I completed it — the 2013 Athens Marathon.

 

Anastasia Coach

Panayiotis Skoulis, aka “The Teacher,” and Anastasia Zotou (Photo credit: Anastasia Zotou)

 

GSB: What an amazing guy your coach is! Congratulations on your transformation from “running hater” to marathoner. But how does a Green-Sports consulting startup come from this?

AZ: Well, as I was running my first marathon, I noticed how much waste there was along the route. I started playing around with the idea of reducing waste at road races and thought I am going to start a consulting firm to do just that! So about a year ago I finally made the decision to take the risk and open a consulting office in Athens.

GSB: I love that! And you called it Zoten. What does that name mean?

AZ: One of my students suggested I combine my last name, Zotou, and environment. And, voilà, Zoten became our name.

GSB: I like it! So how did you get started?

AZ: ‘The Teacher’ introduced me to athletic clubs who organize races all over Greece. I asked them if they’d be interested in a green race. Just like the store owners at the mall I spoke to for my dissertation, these folks didn’t really get it at first but once I explained the idea of recycling and waste reduction, they began to listen more intently. So we started in 2015 pitching small athletic clubs with maybe 200-500 members. Their races might draw 200 runners to a couple thousand. Our basic proposal included waste management, and environmental awareness of the event itself…

GSB: …You weren’t going into Scope 3 emissions, and getting into the emissions of their supply chains, my guess…

AZ: You’re right. Anything more than the basics would be too much.

GSB: So with all those challenges, have you found some races that would work with you?

AZ: Yes. One thing that has impacted our success has been whether the host cities would cooperate with us. One race will have a great partnership with a city; in another race, the city will neglect or forget to bring recycling bins.

GSB: Yikes!! Talk about some of those clients…

AZ: One was the municipality of Andros Island in collaboration with A.C.C. (Athletic Cultural Club) Telmessos North Makris-Marathon who organized a half marathon there. The municipality was cooperative with us and we were able to work with the local recycling company who provided us with recycling bins and weighed the waste collected after the race was finished. There were about 250 runners, 450 biodegradable cups were used at the water stations, 1600 plastic water bottles were used but we managed to collect over 35 kilos of recyclable waste after the race. This may not sound like a large amount but considering the fact that this had never been done before and we managed to divert this waste from the landfill, we considered it a success.

 

Andros Recycling

Recycling installation and signage from Zoten at the Telmessos North Makris-Marathon (Photo credit: Anastasia Zotou)

 

GSB: Hey you gotta start small. And from small things, come big things.

AZ: Absolutely! Another client was a 10k in the center of Athens organized by the Athenian Runners Club.  In this case the municipality did not bring the appropriate bins to the race as requested. It also took place in the middle of the terrible garbage strike a couple of months ago. That clearly was not ideal for an environmental effort.

GSB: You might say…

AZ: But we press on, so I am currently finishing an assignment with the club on sustainability for the 2017 Pheidippides Race. These projects were pro bono as the concept of sustainable races was new and we needed to prove the concept. As we demonstrate our ability to reduce waste, save energy and save the race organizers money, revenue will follow.

GSB: I am glad you are bullish. Plus it seems to me like you’re working from a “low base” — meaning that environmental consciousness is low in Greece, so the only direction to go is up, it seems.

AV: You’re right. Recycling in Greece is not nearly as advanced as in the US. There’s a lack of sophistication and interest from consumers, companies and governments. But it’s getting better slowly.

GSB: What about composting?

AZ: Races aren’t there yet but there is interest…Composting is part of our next step plan, which also includes better public transportation planning for sports events, more prominent signage and other forms of fan education.

GSB: Does climate change figure into the equation at all with the races, with fan education?

AZ: Not yet.

GSB: Don’t worry; we’re still working on communicating climate change — its challenges and opportunities — through sports here in the States. We’ve got a long way to go. I guess in Greece, you have to crawl before you can walk before you can run, Green-Sports-wise.

AZ: Absolutely. And I am pushing it. Not only in adding to our toolkit for our smaller races, but using our success to attract the bigger races.

GSB: What about going beyond running races to events in stadiums and arenas? I’m thinking Olympiacos F.C., the number one soccer club in the Athens area, and its 32,000+ seat Karaiskaki Stadium and/or AEK Athens, which plays at 69,000 seat Olympic Stadium, would benefit from saving money and being greener.

 

Olympiacos Stadium

Karaiskaki Stadium, home of Olympiacos F.C. in Athens (Photo credit: Olympiacos F.C.)

 

AZ: Soccer and basketball, the two biggest team sports in Greece, are certainly on our radar screen. We would like to use the approach (recycling, waste management) that has been successful with road races in stadiums and arenas. As a startup, a big key to branching out to the stadium/arena sports is connections. That’s why I made the investment to go to Paris a couple of months ago for the Sports and Sustainability International (SandSI) conference. Meeting people in the European Green-Sports world gave me a needed jolt of enthusiasm as well as providing me some contacts at higher levels to expand our business to higher profile events.

 


 

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