GSB News and Notes: New Winner of MLB’s Green Glove Award; Former UN Climate Chief Christiana Figueres To Co-Lead Formula E’s Advisory Board; Pollution Stops Play at Delhi Cricket Match

The highs and lows of Green-Sports are reflected in today’s GSB News & Notes: On the high side, MLB’s “Green Glove” award goes to the Seattle Mariners for the first time. And Formula E’s stature on the global sports stage continues to grow as it appoints former UN Climate Chief Christiana Figueres to co-lead its Global Advisory Board. As for a down note, a major cricket match in Delhi between Sri Lanka and India was repeatedly interrupted due to excessive air pollution. 

 

SEATTLE MARINERS WIN “GREEN GLOVE” AWARD, ENDING SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS’ NINE YEAR REIGN AS MLB CLUB WITH HIGHEST WASTE DIVERSION RATE

The Seattle Mariners, a founding member of the Green Sports Alliance, were recently awarded Major League Baseball’s (MLB’s) “Green Glove Award” in recognition of their sustainability efforts at Safeco Field this season, ending the nine year reign of the San Francisco Giants.

 

Safeco Field Ballparks of Baseball

Safeco Field, home of the Seattle Mariners, winners of MLB’s Green Glove Award for 2017 (Photo credit: Ballparks of Baseball)

 

According to a November 28 story on MLB.com by Greg Johns, the Mariners were recognized as the MLB club with the highest rate of waste diversion from landfill:

The M’s, who replaced concourse garbage cans with compost and recycling bins, diverted 96 percent of waste materials from the ballpark in 2017, up from 90 percent a year ago.

And the Mariners sustainability efforts go much deeper than waste diversion. The club:

  • Was the first in MLB to use energy-efficient LED lights.
  • Hired cleaning crews to separate plastics and compostable waste by hand after each game
  • Manages an urban garden which provides vegetables, herbs and radishes to concession stands and restaurants at the ballpark.
  • Work with Eco-Products to utilize compostable serviceware like soft drink, beer and coffee cups, plates, lids, and cutlery at Safeco Field
  • Participated, along with the Seahawks, Sounders and more than 100 other Seattle-based businesses, in the “Strawless in Seattle” September effort. This innovative program, developed by the Lonely Whale Foundation, worked to reduce the use of plastic straws in the fight against ocean pollution.

 

“We are thrilled to present the Seattle Mariners with the 2017 Green Glove Award,” said Paul Hanlon, senior director of ballpark operations and sustainability for Major League Baseball, in a statement. “With its 96 percent conversion rate at the top of the list, the club has done a tremendous job of promoting and instilling sustainability practices and initiatives that will positively impact our environment.”

“We have worked hard over the years to make Safeco Field one of the ‘greenest’ ballparks in pro sports,” said Mariners senior vice president of ballpark operations Trevor Gooby, in a statement. “With our hospitality partner Centerplate, and our founding sustainability partner BASF, we have been able to significantly reduce our impact on the environment.”

 

CHRISTIANA FIGUERES, FORMER UN CLIMATE CHIEF, TO LEAD FORMULA E GLOBAL ADVISORY BOARD

Sam Bird of Great Britain, driving for the DS Virgin team, won the opening race of the 2017-2018 Formula E season in Hong Kong 10 days ago.

Off the race track, the increasingly popular open wheel electric vehicle (EV) street racing circuit added serious climate change chops to its Global Advisory Board when in named former UN climate chief Christiana Figueres as co-leader. She will be joined by Alain Prost, the retired 4-time Formula One world champion from France.

 

Christiana Figueres GreenBiz

Christiana Figueres, new co-leader of Formula E (Photo credit: United Nations)

 

The Formula E Global Advisory Board plays an important role in the growth of the circuit, and more broadly, EV racing and adoption. Per a November 28 article in CleanTechnica by James Ayre, the board advises relevant parties on topics relating to “sustainability, the media, and business.”

Reuters reports that Figueres and Prost will lead a board made up of motor sports and business all-stars, including “Formula E founder Alejandro Agag, chairman of Chinese telecommunications leader SINA Charles Chao, Jaguar Land Rover’s chief marketing officer Gerd Mauser, and former McLaren Formula 1 team boss Martin Whitmarsh. Brazil’s reigning Formula E champion Lucas di Grassi and Swiss private bank Julius Baer’s head of global sponsor[ship] Marco Parroni are also on the board.”

 

I cannot think of a stronger, more important voice to help lead Formula E from post start up to maturity than Christiana Figueres.

A longtime Costa Rican diplomat, Figueres served as executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). She is most well known for her work helping to push 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, signed by nearly 200 countries, across the finish line. She has been a strong, consistent voice behind the global need to rapidly move away from the use of fossil fuels and towards the widespread adoption of EVs and other types of electric-powered mobility. This is, of course, Formula E’s raison d’être.

“In order to meet the objectives set out by the Paris agreement and prevent global temperatures spiralling out of control, we must have a need for speed and react quickly,” Figueres said in a statement. “This unique forum at Formula E will allow us to bring great minds together with the same common goal, speeding-up the transition and use of electric vehicles in everyday life.”

She will help preside over a season that will feature races in three new cities (Santiago, Chile; Sao Paulo, Brazil and Rome), a return to the streets of Brooklyn in early July and a finale in Montreal July 28-29.

 

 

SRI LANKAN CRICKETERS BECOME ILL DUE TO POLLUTION DURING MATCH IN DELHI

My mental picture of cricket, admittedly a sport about which I know next to nothing, includes a gigantic oval field with no foul territory, players dressed in all white, somewhat formal uniforms, and those same players relaxing during a break for a spot of tea.

That vision most certainly does not include, well, vomiting.

Maybe I need a new glasses prescription.

Michael Safi reported in Sunday’s issue of The Guardian, with assistance from Agence France-Presse, that a cricket Test match# in Delhi between India and Sri Lanka “was repeatedly interrupted on Sunday with claims players were ‘continuously vomiting’ due to hazardous pollution levels in the Indian capital.”

Airborne pollution levels 15 times the World Health Organization limits were recorded on the second day of the match at Feroz Shah Kotla Stadium in Delhi on Sunday. Per Safi, “as the haze worsened, many Sri Lankan players returned from lunch wearing face masks before complaining to umpires, who halted play for 20 minutes to consult with team doctors and match officials.”

Announcers said it was the first recorded instance of an international cricket match being halted due to the toxic smog that reaches hazardous levels in northern India during the winter months.

The match resumed but was interrupted twice more as Sri Lankan players Lahiru Gamage and Suranga Lakmal left the field with breathing difficulties.

“We had players coming off the field and vomiting,” Sri Lanka coach Nick Pothas told reporters. “There were oxygen cylinders in the [locker] room. It’s not normal for players to suffer in that way while playing the game…I think it’s the first time that everybody has come across [the vomiting] situation.”

 

A paramedic speaks to Sri Lanka’s Lahiru Gamage after he complained of shortness of breath.
A paramedic speaks to Sri Lanka’s Lahiru Gamage after he complained of shortness of breath (Photo credit: Altaf Qadri/AP)

 

CK Khanna, acting president of India’s cricket board, said the Sri Lankans were making much ado about nothing: “If 20,000 people in the stands did not have problems and the Indian team did not face any issue, I wonder why the Sri Lankan team made a big fuss?” The crowd agreed, showering boos upon Sri Lanka’s batsmen.

 

Sri Lanka’s captain Dinesh Chandimal fields in a mask.
 Sri Lanka’s captain Dinesh Chandimal fields in a mask (Photo credit: Altaf Qadri/AP)

 

The effects of the city’s polluted air were not limited to cricket: Schools were shut and doctors declared a public health emergency in Delhi last month as pollution levels spiked to an unimaginable 40 times the WHO safe limits, which is equivalent to smoking at least 50 cigarettes per day.

Delhi officials have been accused of not preparing for what has become an annual crisis each winter, while the Indian government has downplayed the urgency and health risks associated with the problem.

The city’s extremely poor air quality is the result of a combination of road dust, open fires, vehicle exhaust fumes, industrial emissions and the burning of crop residues in neighbouring states. Indian weather agencies also blame dust storms that originate in the Persian Gulf to the country’s west.

 

# Test cricket is the longest form of of the sport and is considered its highest level. Test matches can last as long as five days.

 


 

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Winter Sports Drives Green-Sports, Part 4: The POWer of Protect Our Winters

The Winter Sports world plays an outsized role in the Green-Sports movement. This makes sense, when one considers climate change is responsible for shortened outdoor pond hockey seasons, canceled ski races, and more. GreenSportsBlog is taking an in-depth look at the intersection of Green & Winter Sports with an occasional series, “Winter Sports Drives Green-Sports.”

In the first three installments, we highlighted winter sports athletes who are also environmental activists: Cross country skiers Erika Flowers-Newell (Part 1) and Andy Newell (Part 2) (yes, they’re married to each other) as well as Olympic silver medal winning snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler (Part 3).

Today, we take a different path with “The POWer of Protect Our Winters.” In it, we look at Protect Our Winters, or POW, an amazing organization of elite winter sports athletes, including Andy Newell and Gretchen Bleiler, which advocates for substantive action on climate, especially as it relates to mountain and snow sports. 

 

 

Protect Our Winters (POW) is, without doubt, one of the most impactful organizations in the Green-Sports world.

It may also be the most important athlete activist group in the world.

The only climate change action advocacy group led by athletes, POW’s Riders Alliance is made up over 100 current and retired professional skiers, snowboarders and more. They give talks on climate change to student groups and take part in climate marches. Most impressively, it says here, POW lobbies members of Congress and other elected officials on climate change-related legislation.

Are there other like groups of activist athletes in other sports? I don’t know of any.

We got a sense of the POW from the athlete point of view in recent interviews with cross country skier Andy Newell and snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler. Today, we are pleased to give you a different perspective — that of the POW staff — as we talk with Lindsay Bourgoine, manager of advocacy and campaigns, and senior brand manager Barbara Weber.

 


 

GreenSportsBlog: How did both of you end up at POW?

Lindsay Bourgoine: Well, I come from Maine and grew up outdoors, climbing mountains and skiing — I love downhill and back country. I got into policy end of things and worked in that arena for the Appalachian Mountain Club and the Outdoor Industry Association. I’ve always strived to find opportunities as the intersection of environmental advocacy and the outdoor industry. We have such an incredible opportunity to leverage our impact to better the planet. Once I found out about POW, I fell in love with it. I mean, the impact of our athletes is so authentic and effective.

 

Lindsay Bourgoine POW

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

 

Barbara Weber: I’m from Northern Michigan and started skiing when I was three; we got a ton of lake effect snow. At 12, I went to the “dark side,” aka snowboarding. Eventually, I went to Michigan State…

GSB: Sparty!

Barbara: Go Sparty! In school I studied advertising. I’m fascinated with what motivates people psychologically. But when I moved to Chicago to pursue a “Big Girl Ad Agency” job, I knew after my first interview that it wasn’t the world I wanted to be in. I found myself working in the local Patagonia shop while I “figured things out” and they really laid the foundation for the path I’d find myself on for the next 10 years.

 

Barbara Weber POW

Barbara Weber, POW’s senior brand manager (Photo credit: Protect Our Winters)

 

GSB: What a fantastic turn of events! Patagonia is beyond great.

Barbara: Indeed. I worked for a local Patagonia store in Vail before moving on to a marketing position with Ski.com, essentially selling ski vacations. It was while I was working at that Patagonia store when I first found out about POW. I think that was around 2009-2010.

GSB: You were busy!

Barbara: For sure. While at ski.com, I was also serving a two-year term on a non-profit board in Aspen (where I had relocated) called Spring Board. POW had stuck with me and I had been trying to find an intersection between my personal desire to give back and make an impact for the benefit of our environment, and with my professional career. For three years at Ski.com I pushed to get them involved with POW. After all, there won’t be many ski vacations in the future if we don’t tackle this issue.

GSB: So true…

Barbara: I left ski.com in 2013 and after a bit of travel, a series of fateful events led me to landing my current role with POW when they were based in Los Angeles. I’ve been with POW since June 2014.

GSB: An odd place for something called Protect Our Winters but, OK…So you were at POW in LA…What was it like?

Barbara: It was a lot of work — but the best kind. I found a fire in me that had been waiting to be lit. It felt as if my background and personality were the perfect fit for the position and vice versa. I was fired up. And I’m still fired up. And the funny thing about avoiding the career of advertising per se; is that in a way, it’s exactly what I’m doing. But instead of selling a material item, I’m selling an idea. I’m selling activism.

Part of my job involves working with our incredible group of professional athletes. Getting to know them over the years has been something I’ll always be grateful for. This group is so passionate, so thoughtful, insightful, and genuine. I think from the outside it can be easy to look and them and find ways to be critical, but they really work hard to become knowledgeable about climate change, both from the science and political sides, and leverage their influence as pros to inspire other people to get involved in this fight.

GSB: I sure was inspired talking with Andy Newell and Gretchen Bleiler. These are world class athletes, Olympians…and they’re knowledgeably lobbying members of Congress on climate change? How do they have the time? Where do they get the inspiration?

Barbara: I can’t speak for each Riders Alliance member but, in general, it seems as though winter sports athletes — POW athletes — spend so much time outside, in nature…it’s natural they would appreciate it. I mean, they have an intimate interaction with the outdoors.

GSB: That makes sense, but what motivates them to speak up about climate change? Don’t they worry that being “political” could put their sponsorship relationships at risk?

Barbara: Well, snowboarders, skiers and the rest are already outside the traditional athlete world to a certain extent. There’s a natural rebelliousness to this community, particularly the snowboarders. They’ve found a way to make a living most of us could only dream of, and are often rewarded for thinking unconventionally and for taking risks. So many of them are OK with going outside their comfort zones. What is really great is that POW athletes do their homework on climate and know their stuff. In fact, our athletes who go to Washington often report that members of Congress are slack-jawed at their knowledge and expertise.

GSB: As someone who has presented to Congress on climate issues with Citizens’ Climate Lobby, I can tell you that house members and senators are hard to impress. That holds true with their staffers. So getting a slack-jawed reaction is a big deal. Also a big deal is POW’s Riders Alliance Summit…

Barbara: Absolutely. It’s our biggest event of the year that we do with the athletes. We use it as our opportunity to bring them up to speed on the latest climate science, how to effectively communicate climate facts and information, provide them with social media and public speaking training, and other meaningful ways to engage in advocacy. To me, though, I think one of the biggest takeaways is the sense of community and camaraderie the summit evokes. It’s good for these athletes to see each other in person, commiserate on their experiences, become friends and supporters of each other.

 

POW Riders Alliance Credit Krystle Wright

POW athletes enjoying the 2017 Riders Alliance (Photo credit: Protect Our Winters)

 

GSB: The camaraderie is so great to hear about, especially given that some of these athletes compete against each other. Now, speaking of lobbying, talk to us about POW’s lobby days on Capitol Hill and elsewhere…

Lindsay: Well, there were 13 POW athletes at our most recent lobbying effort on the Hill a few months back. This was our biggest contingent to date; with partners and staff, we had 25 total. One of our goals this time was to work on forming relationships with Republican lawmakers, which we did by focusing on our passion for, and love of the outdoors. Sometimes, this bill and that endorsement and that policy get in the way. We need to remember we’re all people, and for the most part, we can all connect over our mutual love of the outdoors. Climate change threatens that. So, we went into offices, talked about who we are and what we do, reflected on the changes we see in the field, and then asked how they could help us address the issue. If they asked for more specifics, or if they were more amenable to our cause, we talked about our priority issues: carbon pricing, solar energy, and electrifying transportation.

GSB: …That’s great about meeting with Republicans; otherwise, POW would simply be preaching to the converted…How many members of Congress did you get to meet with this time around?

Lindsay: We met with 22 members, half of whom are part of the bipartisan House Climate Solutions Caucus, which includes an equal number of Republicans and Democrats. Snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler, pro fly fisherman Hilary Hutcheson, as well as our board chair and VP of Aspen Skiing Company, Auden Schendler spoke on behalf of POW. Gretchen talked about how impactful the cancellation of competitions can be, especially on rural mountain towns at the beginning of the season — for example, if Birds of Prey at Beaver Creek (CO) is cancelled, that’s $4-6 million gone from the local economy, just in a weekend. Hilary recounted how her insurance adjuster told her if she kept working as a fly fishing guide outside of Glacier National Park in Montana with the poor air quality from nearby forest fires, he would cancel her policy. She literally couldn’t guide — and earn an income — because the air quality from fire smoke was so dangerous. Climate is impacting her way of life. And Auden spoke about how ski resorts lose money in low snowfall years and the snowball effect on the economy. It was very powerful to speak to this bipartisan group– very uplifting to see lawmakers on both sides of the aisle really listen and come together to educate themselves on these issues and impacts. This hearing was definitely the highlight of the trip.

 

Alex Deibold, Gretchen Bleiler, Kaitlyn Farrington on POW_s September 2017 Lobby Trip to Washington DC Forest Woodward Athletes

POW takes Washington by storm: From left to right, Alex Deibold, Kaitlyn Farrington and Gretchen Bleiler on the steps of the Capitol (Photo credit: Forest Woodward)

 

Hilary Hutcheson TDN

Hilary Hutcheson, pro fly fisherman (Photo credit: TDN)

 

Auden Schendler ClimateCon 2018

Auden Schendler, Aspen Skiing Company (Photo credit: ClimateCon2018)

 

GSB: I hope the GOPers with whom you spoke vote in a POW-like manner sooner rather than later. Now, one thing I’ve noticed as a Citizens’ Climate Lobby volunteer is that the number of volunteers skyrocketed after Trump’s election. Have you seen something similar at POW? Also has Trump’s election had any effects on the issues POW takes on, the tone and aggressiveness with which it does so, etc.

Lindsay: People can no longer afford to be apathetic as our climate is under attack day after day. Now, more than ever, our community is asking us “how can we help” over and over. Our community is stepping up to the challenge. In a way, this is a silver lining of Trump’s election. Now, does it make it harder when there is an unfriendly administration? Yes. That just means we have to work harder to fight the fights that need to be fought and to get creative to see if there are any places we can potentially work with Republicans. I would say one way the results of Trump’s election is that we are looking opportunistically at actions in state legislatures. There is a ton of progress being made there, especially on carbon pricing in winter sports states like Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington.

GSB: Are there Trump-supporting POW athletes? If so, how is that working out?

Lindsay: I can’t speak to that specifically, but we do have Republican athletes. We have always worked to be bipartisan and if anything, put even more of an effort into that this year in our DC lobbying. We know climate is deeply politicized, but we don’t believe it should be. The Republican party is the only conservative party in the world that denies climate change. We just need to get to a place where it is safe for Republicans to talk about climate. You’d be surprised; many of them understand and agree, they just care about being re-elected, too. It’s tough. Our goal is to elect climate friendly officials, regardless of what party.

GSB: That’s all very important…so good luck. Turning to next year, with the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang only two months away, how might that mega-event affect POW?

Barbara: Well, 2018 being an Olympic year helps POW. It amplifies the visibility of our athletes who end up being part of their Olympic teams. That helps us in the long run when it comes to the platforms they use to speak out against climate change. Additionally, we’ve found politicians tend to geek out when one of our athletes brings an Olympic medal or two to our lobby day meetings. Mainly, though, the Olympics will probably just decrease our productivity those two weeks it takes place, as we’ll be anxiously watching the competitions and supporting our athletes when we should be working! We’ll for sure be having a viewing party or two in the office.

GSB: Sounds like a lot of fun — y’all deserve it! I hope to see NBC Sports feature a POW athlete or two at the Olympics. What are POW’s main goals in 2018?

Lindsay: Our main goal in 2018 is to get down and dirty in the midterm elections in November. POW is working on establishing a 501(c)4, which will allow us to get more engaged in elections as an organization. We have identified ten ‘battleground elections’ where we feel it is really important to elect a climate friendly leader, whether Democrat or Republican — I want to be clear that we are not working to help the Democrats take the House. We will execute all of our programs in those ten areas — whether going into schools for Hot Planet Cool Athletes assemblies to get kids talking about the importance of climate change, or hosting educational events. Our objective is to make people more aware of their role in elections, help them understand the importance of electing climate friendly leaders, and push the conversation in each election to cover climate change.

GSB: We will stay tuned throughout 2018 to see how POW makes out in those 10 races. One last question: What are POW’s expansion plans, if any? Are you looking to move beyond winter sports?

Barbara: We want to engage the broader outdoor industry in POW’s work. This is already happening — we’re signing trail runners, climbers, anglers, guides, and mountain bikers. We’re working to bridge the gap with hunters and find ways to collaborate. The reality is climate change impacts all of us, whether it’s too hot to mountain bike or there’s not enough water in rivers to paddle or to support viable fish habitat.

 

Want to see the true POWer of POW? Watch this 1 minute 5 second video.

 


 

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Winter Sports Drives Green-Sports, Part 3: Gretchen Bleiler, Olympic Snowboarder and Climate Change-Fighting Advocate

The Winter Sports world plays an outsized role in the Green-Sports movement. This makes sense, when one considers climate change is at least partly responsible for shortened outdoor pond hockey seasons, canceled ski races, and more. GreenSportsBlog is taking an in-depth look at the intersection of Green & Winter Sports with an occasional series, “Winter Sports Drives Green-Sports.”

In Parts 1 and 2, we interviewed the First Couple of Green-Sports, cross-country skiers and climate change fighters, Erika Flowers-Newell and Andy Newell.

Today, in Part 3, we talk with Green-Sports ROCK STAR, Gretchen Bleiler. She won a silver medal as a snowboarder for the USA at the Torino Olympics in 2006. Her climate change-fighting chops are also Olympian: Gretchen lobbies members of Congress, many of them Republicans, for action on climate and the environment as a member of Protect Our Winters (POW), an incredible group of outdoor sports professional athletes and climate change fighters. And if that’s not enough, she and her husband are Green-Sports entrepreneurs, with their reusable water bottle company, ALEX. I hope you enjoy reading our wide-ranging interview as much as I enjoyed conducting it.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Gretchen, there are so many things to talk about, so let’s begin at the beginning. I’m guessing you grew up in the mountains somewhere…

Gretchen Bleiler: I actually grew up in a town called Oakwood, just outside of Dayton, OH. A year after my mom and dad got divorced, my mom decided to move us out to Aspen, CO when I was 10. My grandparents had owned a place there since the 60s. And it was there that my awareness and respect for our environment really took root. During the first week of 6th grade, I knew my life was forever changed when I was catapulted into an Outdoor Education trip, part of our school curriculum, where we climbed a 14,000 foot mountain. And I had never been camping or hiking before!

GSB: …14,000 feet? No sweat! I grew up in Fairfield, CT and our field trips were to places like the United Nations and the Mark Twain Museum in Hartford. Cool in their own right but I wish we had outdoor education trips…

Gretchen: They were great. We hung out in nature for a week, far away from civilization, and learned how to survive on our own during 24-hour solos. During the winter, we learned how to build igloos in order to survive and stay warm in case we ever got lost in the mountains.

GSB: I’ve been to the area and it is spectacular. Is that where your interest in sports took off?

Gretchen: Oh that happened while I was in Ohio. I know it sounds crazy but, when I was seven years old I said to myself “I’m going to grow up to be an Olympian!” Actually what’s even crazier is that the sport I ended up competing in, snowboarding, wasn’t even close to being an Olympic sport at that time.

GSB: I knew when I was seven that I would never make the New York Yankees and I was right, too! Dang, we were two very self-aware kids! So what sports did you play in Ohio?

Gretchen: I did everything…swimming, diving, rode horses. I played soccer, tennis, and golf…You name it.

GSB: And when you got to Aspen you started with snow sports?

Gretchen: Yes! I had skied a bit before we moved to Colorado. But when we moved to Aspen, another incredible part of my education was that during the winters, we would have a half-day off one day per week to go skiing on the mountain.

GSB: OK, I’m officially jealous now…

Gretchen: One of those Wednesdays, I took a snowboard lesson with a bunch of friends and I was hooked. That was 1992.

GSB: …Even though it wasn’t an Olympic sport?

Gretchen: Even though it wasn’t an Olympic sport. Not only that, but it wasn’t even allowed on most mountain resorts. But that was actually what I loved about it. It was an anti-establishment movement meant to mix things up and bring fresh blood into the ski industry. It was about breaking the rules. It was free and creative and outside of the box. It wasn’t just about how fast could you get down the mountain, but equally important was your style; how creatively you could approach terrain, and the tricks you were doing. Snowboarding didn’t start as a competitive sport, but rather a new lifestyle.

 

Gretchen Bleiler headshot Monte Isom

Gretchen Bleiler (Photo credit: Monte Isom)

 

GSB: Sounds like a new culture, which must’ve been amazing to be part of at the start. Now, you told me off line you have three brothers…

Gretchen: …Also a half-sister…

GSB: …And a half-sister. Did you snowboard against your brothers and half-sister and could you beat them?

Gretchen: I always looked up to my brothers. They were always in on the cool new stuff. So I just watched what they were doing and would follow along. I would learn about the tricks they were doing and then go out and try to do them myself.

GSB: I imagine you pushed each other. When did you get into competitive snowboarding?

Gretchen: When I was 15, a kid from the Aspen Valley Snowboard team suggested I join them. That winter, I joined the team and found myself doing well in competitions. Snowboarding was controversially inducted into the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. While a lot of core snowboarders boycotted the Olympics, this was my dream come true. Now my goal was clear: Become an Olympic snowboarder.

GSB: Did you make the team?

Gretchen: I had only been snowboarding for 6 years in 1998. But I really went for it for the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics. I ended up tying with my best friend, Tricia Byrnes, for the last spot. By the way, she’s a real environmentalist — she’s never owned a car. Anyway, it came down to a triple tiebreaker and Tricia got the spot. I was happy for her, but I was devastated. After that experience, I vowed to myself that enjoying the ride had to be non-negotiable while I worked everyday towards my goal of becoming an Olympian. I realized I wanted to make the Olympic team so badly that I had lost the fun in my snowboarding, and vowed never to lose sight of that again.

GSB: Say more…

Gretchen: In order to achieve something, you have to become it. I became very aware of my choke points — self-doubt under pressure, worrying about results. “Lighten up,” I told myself. In January of 2003, I threw down a gold medal winning run at the X Games while having fun. I enjoyed the day with my friends and family. And I banked that feeling. I went on to win every contest I entered that year, and ultimately that feeling is what helped me make it to the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy and win a silver medal in the half-pipe.

 

Highlights of the women’s half-pipe competition at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, IT. Gretchen Bleiler’s silver medal-winning run starts at 1:24 of this 3:12 clip.

 

 

Gretchen Bleiler Danny Kass Bob Martin

Danny Kass joins Gretchen Bleiler in celebrating their silver medals in men’s and women’s half-pipe at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, IT (Photo credit: Bob Martin)

 

GSB: You became it, you achieved it…

Gretchen: …Thanks. It was a dream come true, and a fairy tale all in one. Yet, one of the greatest things I took away from those Olympics is actually something most wouldn’t expect. There was a US speed skater named Joey Cheek

GSB: Oh, sure, I remember him! Talented, charismatic…

Gretchen: …Not only did he win a bunch of medals, but he turned around and donated all of his prize money to an organization he worked with called Right To Play. Their mission is to use sport to educate and empower young people to overcome the effects of poverty, conflict, and disease in disadvantaged communities.

GSB: Incredible, really…

Gretchen: I know! He used his Olympic experience to stand on the podium, promote his mission, and then light up Right To Play by raising a lot of media attention and therefore a lot of funds towards the organization. It made a huge impression on me. Also, after the Olympics were over, the U.S. Team was invited to the White House to meet President Bush (43). We also had a luncheon with a House member and I’ll never forget what he told us: “Congratulations! You are Olympians. You will always be Olympians. But this is not an end, it’s just the beginning. The question is: What are you going to do with it?” Cheek and the White House meeting opened up my field of vision and I decided to use my platform to talk about climate change.

GSB: How did you go about doing that?

Gretchen: Well, it wasn’t from the scientific point of view; I let the scientists take care of that aspect of it. Rather, I share my own experiences as a professional snowboarder who’s traveled around the world chasing snow! Reduced snow pack, warmer temperatures and shorter winters all mean a hit to the sports we love, but these changes also impact the economies of all the mountain town communities where I compete and train. This has all been happening in my lifetime….

GSB: Which isn’t all that long…

Gretchen: …Hearing from locals in Switzerland about their receding glaciers, rain in January in the Alps and more. The reactions were and have been unanimous: Climate change is real, we are the cause, we have to do something — and we can. So I began to work with different climate change and environmental groups. Then, in 2009, I joined Protect Our Winters (POW) and that helped focus my efforts and hone in on my platform and find my voice.

GSB: What about POW allowed you to do that?

Gretchen: POW is terrific: We’re mobilizing the outdoor sports community against climate change. As individuals we all have unique stories, but, together, we are winter’s voice and are the voice for all the other industries that are affected when winters are impacted by climate change. I’ve found my niche in POW — it has given me opportunities to step outside of my comfort zone and stand up for something that, in my opinion, is the biggest issue facing humanity.

GSB: Tell us about some of those opportunities…

Gretchen: Throughout the years I’ve been a part of POW’s “Hot Planet, Cool Athletes” school assembly programs. It makes the topic of climate change engaging, more relatable, and more personal for students. And it also makes the solutions more real, more achievable. Then, I got into lobbying on Capitol Hill and speaking at big international events like COP21, the global climate conference in Paris in 2015 that led to the Paris Climate Agreement

 

Gretchen Bleiler Forest Woodward

“Ms. Bleiler Goes to Washington”: Gretchen Bleiler on her 2017 lobbying trip to Capitol Hill with Protect Our Winters (Photo credit: Forest Woodward)

 

GSB: Which President Trump plans to pull the US out of. UGH! How did you feel when you were making these presentations?

Gretchen: I was sooooo insecure when I first started — didn’t go to college as I went into professional snowboarding straight from high school. Like I said, I had to battle and push myself out of my comfort zone. Even when my mind told me “I don’t want to do this!” I pushed myself to do it anyway. When we first started going to meet members of Congress in 2010, the reaction was “who are these winter sports athletes?” Now, everyone knows us and they know we come back every year and are holding them accountable for their words. They know that collectively we have a huge social media presence so our audience will find out what their representatives are doing to help on climate — or not. On our last trip to the Capitol a few months ago, after Hurricane Irma, I spoke in front of the House of Representatives’ new, bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus (CSC). This is a group that more people need to know about: For a Democrat to join, he or she has to bring in a Republican…

GSB: YES! I know about the CSC! I volunteer with Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL), a national group of citizen lobbyists advocating for a revenue neutral price on carbon through a “carbon fee and dividend” legislative proposal. An amazingly persistent CCL-er from Philadelphia, Jay Butera, would go down to Washington weekly, on his own dime, with an endless supply of positivity, to push the Climate Solutions Caucus. Started by Florida representatives Ted Deutch (D-FL22) and Carlos Curbelo (R-FL26), the group has grown from a handful of members to about 60 in about two years. Republicans are continuing to join, even in the wake of the Trump election and the hijacking of the EPA by his administration and the fossil fuel industry.

 

Gretchen Bleiler Capitol Hill Forrest Woodward

Gretchen Bleiler, flanked by professional fly fisherman Hilary Hutcheson (l) and Auden Schendler, Chairman of the Board of POW, testifying in front of the House of Representatives’ bi-partisan Climate Solutions Caucus (CSC) in 2017. At the head of the table sit CSC members Ryan Costello (R-PA, in purple tie) and Ted Deutch (D-FL, glasses). (Photo credit: Forest Woodward)

 

Gretchen: I love Citizens’ Climate Lobby and the CSC! To testify about the impacts of climate change on the outdoor sports and recreational industry, directly after Irma, was ironic in its timing. On one hand, Reps. Deutch and Curbelo from Florida, who started the caucus, were obviously dealing with matters of life and death after the destruction of the hurricane. On the other, what better time to talk about climate change because it was directly in our faces, with flooding in the south as well as wildfires in the west? We were able to inspire the committee with our stories and show them how important it was to us to see Democrats and Republicans working together around climate change. Beyond the caucus, we had a lot of meetings, mostly with Republicans who are on the fence about voting pro environment. These conversations are sometimes difficult because we don’t often share the same point of view, but that’s the point — we don’t have to agree to have a conversation. Actually, in order to solve this problem, we need to listen to people with different opinions, but we have to somehow agree on the facts of the reality of climate change. There is just no time for denial at this point; we need solutions. But what’s great about our group is that most everyone has a story about why they love the great outdoors, so we’re able to bring it back to that common ground, plus back it up with economic facts, like the snow sports industry is a $72 billion dollar industry.

GSB: That is significant…

Gretchen: …And it supports 695,000 jobs, which is more than all of the extractive industries — oil, gas and coal — combined.

GSB: Even more significant…Do you do anything else for POW?

Gretchen: Beyond our Capitol Hill trips, and the Hot Planet, Cool Athletes presentations, I write op-eds and make calls to Colorado electeds.

GSB: What is that like for you?

Gretchen: I’m getting more and more comfortable. POW is currently running a campaign to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) from a senate proposal to allow drilling on pristine lands that might net some limited short-term economic gains, but at a severe environmental cost. Drilling our public lands for fossil fuels that will only emit more greenhouse gases is no way to balance a budget. I called Colorado’s Republican US Senator, Cory Gardner on this issue…

GSB: Did you talk to the Senator or his staff?

Gretchen: I talked to a staff member, they listened and we’ll just keep on calling. Also, while we were on the Hill, a POW group met with Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) who is leading the effort to open up ANWR. Many members of POW’s Riders Alliance spend a lot of time skiing and snowboarding in Alaska, for obvious reasons. Unfortunately, for now at least, she continues to make choices that show she’s not looking at the big picture of protecting our public lands and climate.

GSB: Well, she’s facing significant resistance in Alaska and elsewhere. This just means POW’s calls and meetings with Members of Congress are more important than ever. So what can we look for from you and POW in 2018?

Gretchen: For 2018, we are laser-focused on electing a climate-friendly Congress in 2018, House and Senate. And we’re also working on the state level, from Governors races to state legislatures.

GSB: You know what, Gretchen? YOU should run!

Gretchen: Oh, I don’t think that’s for me. But activism and pushing our electeds on climate? Count me IN!

GSB: Well, I think you’d be great. But, what you’re doing with POW is so important. In fact, dear readers, I can’t stress how important and extraordinary Gretchen’s and the rest of POW’s efforts are. These athletes, Olympians and World Champions, are finding the time to lobby members of Congress, and campaign for climate-friendly candidates in the 2018 election. Now, before I let you go, tell us about your green business, Alex Bottle.

Gretchen: We started ALEX to be a sustainable lifestyle company. ALEX stands for Always Live EXtraordinarily; all of our products are a constant reminder for us to strive for that. “Extraordinary is such a big word and we want to make it approachable by reminding people that it’s our small everyday choices and actions that add up to an extraordinary life. By focusing on the steps in the journey and not the just the end result, we can achieve our own extraordinary, AND love the process.

As for products, our first focus was in the reusable bottle space because we were sick of seeing people around us use disposable plastic bottles. We realized that to get people to make the shift from disposable to reusable, we needed to make it simple. Since the reusable bottle offerings at the time lacked any style, and they were impossible to clean, they turned people off. That’s when my husband, Chris, had the idea to make a reusable bottle that opened in the middle for cleaning. What’s interesting is when we opened the bottle in the middle, it allowed for a bunch of other cool features we didn’t expect, like being able to compact it to half its size, use it as two cups, or completely customize the color combinations. It became so much more then just a bottle. We’ve since released two new products: An insulated commuter cup and a pint cup, both with sneaky bottle openers on the bottom.

We wanted to have a small and thoughtful line up that covers every drink situation. Our bottle is great for smoothies, cocktails, and fruit infused water, while our commuter cup is great for keeping coffee and tea hot, and then you have the stackable pint cup for festivals and parties. We designed it so that you could have three reusable products and be set for any situation.

 

ALEX FAMILY -01-01

The ALEX Bottle product line (Photo credit: ALEX Bottle)

 

 

Gretchen ALEX Kate Holstein

Gretchen Bleiler, in her natural habitat, with snowboard and ALEX Bottle in hand (Photo credit: Kate Holstein)

 

GSB: Congratulations to you and Chris. What’s it like to be manufacturing a consumer product?

Gretchen: In some respects, it’s been like climbing Everest. Thankfully, Chris runs the business and manufacturing end, and I’m an ambassador for the mission of the brand, which is encouraging people to live their extraordinary. We wanted to manufacture Alex in the US but the costs are just prohibitive. So we started in Indonesia but had problems there. In fact, we’re on our fourth manufacturer since 2009. Now Alex is produced in China. But, despite the fits and starts, we’ve found our niche and we’re proud to be able to manufacture and sell a product that lives up to our high standards.

GSB: Where can one buy an Alex Bottle?

Gretchen: The best place to get one is on our website, www.alexbottle.com. That’s where you’ll find all of the color options. Since a lot of people love Amazon, we offer our insulated commuter cup and our Stainless Steel pint cup through Amazon Prime.

GSB: How are you planning to scale the business and perhaps add the brick and mortar channel? Are you looking for venture and/or angel funding?

Gretchen: We’re not looking at venture funding, at least as of now. Our plan is to grow the business organically, via the winter, adventure and outdoor sports communities. We really focus on customer service and celebrating the people who support and buy from us. We’ve definitely found that our ALEX family of customers are the best spokespeople for what we’re doing, so focusing on making sure their experience is extraordinary is our biggest opportunity for growing the business.

GSB: All the best to you and Chris…and I still think you should rethink the “run for office” thing.

 

Gretchen and Chris

Gretchen Bleiler, husband Chris Hotell and Kota in their ALEX Bottle studio (Photo credit: Gretchen Bleiler)

 


 

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Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium Earns LEED Platinum Certification, First for Pro Stadium

Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the brand-spanking-new home of the NFL’s Falcons and MLS’ Atlanta United has drawn praise for several firsts in stadium design since its opening this summer. The oculus-shaped roof and the scoreboard that wraps around the perimeter of the interior of the stadium roof are but two examples. A third and, to GreenSportsBlog, most important first, came to light last week when it was announced Mercedes-Benz Stadium had earned LEED Platinum certification, the first pro stadium^ to do so.

 

88.

While we are living in the “Moneyball” era of sports, dominated by complex, advanced statistics, that simple number may be the most significant metric of the year.

You see, 88 represents the most LEED points earned to date by any sports facility in the world. Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium amassed that haul to become the first pro stadium to attain LEED Platinum level certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. For those keeping score at home, 80 points is the minimum threshold for LEED Platinum.

 

Mercedes Benz

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

 

Getting to 88 points didn’t just happen. It took an anything-is-possible vision and a consistent commitment to sustainability — from both environmental and community development points of view — from Arthur Blank, Owner and Chairman of the two teams.

“We set out to build a venue that would not only exceed expectations, but also push the limits of what was possible in terms of stadium design, fan experience and sustainability,” noted Blank. “[Our] goal was to achieve the highest LEED rating because it was the right thing to do for our city and the environment and with this achievement, we have a powerful new platform to showcase to the industry and to our fans that building sustainably and responsibly is possible for a venue of any type, size and scale.”

 

Arthur Blank LEED Platinum Certification Event

Arthur Blank, owner of the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United, speaking at the LEED Platinum announcement event for Mercedes-Benz Stadium (Photo credit: AMB Sports and Entertainment)

 

Blank’s innovative vision was executed by Scott Jenkins, General Manager of Mercedes-Benz Stadium, along with a team that included leading sports architecture firm HOK. “One of the reasons we were able to get to 88 points was that we aggressively pursued innovation credits, one of the newer elements of LEED,” offered Jenkins. “Arthur pushed the team to innovate in water, lighting, energy conservation, as well as in community development and social equity programming.” Here are some examples:

  • Mercedes-Benz Stadium earned every available LEED water credit by:
    • Using 47 percent less water than baseline standards due to water-efficient fixtures and conservation infrastructure
    • Building a 1.1 million gallon, underground water vault, providing the area with much-needed flood management
    • Storing another 680,000 gallons of water for use in irrigation and the stadium’s cooling tower
    • Restoring water to the nearby Flint River#
    • Partnering with community organizations like Trees Atlanta to share captured rainwater for tree irrigation
  • The stadium’s 4,000 solar panels power the equivalent of nearly ten Falcons games or 13 Atlanta United matches with clean, renewable energy. An important feature of the installation, said Jenkins, is that “most of the panels are visible to fans, as parking lot canopies and atop an underground garage.”
  • LED lighting throughout the building will reduce energy usage by as much as 60 percent
  • Three nearby MARTA light rail stations have resulted in 25-30 percent of fans taking mass transit to attend Falcons and Atlanta United games
  • Copious alternative transportation options, including a bike valet program, EV charging stations with capacity to charge up to 48 electric cars simultaneously and new pedestrian-friendly walking paths, provide more connectivity between communities

 

Bike Valet ATLUTDvsOC 091617_0043

Fans dropping off their bikes at Mercedes-Benz Stadium’s free bike valet at September’s Atlanta United-Orlando City match (Photo credit: AMB Sports and Entertainment)

 

 

M-B EV Charging

EV charging station adjacent to Mercedes-Benz Stadium (Photo credit: AMB Sports and Entertainment)

 

  • Partnerships with local organizations are training residents in the stadium’s Westside neighborhood in nursing, construction, culinary arts, IT and automotive with the goal of placing them in living wage jobs in the industry

 

The remains of the Georgia Dome, the Falcons’ prior home which was imploded Monday, will be handled in an environmentally sound fashion: 98 percent of its materials will be reused and thus will not end up in a landfill. One might expect a parking lot to take its place. But that was not what Blank had in mind. Instead, after the Dome’s concrete fills the hole the implosion created; after the metal and steel is salvaged, the Home Depot Backyard will open on that site next August. It will boast 13 acres of new greenspace and parkland for arts and cultural events, entertainment and community building on non-event days. Tailgaters will rule the roost on game days.

Blank’s sustainable vision extends beyond the stadium and environs. “It certainly was not lost on Arthur that, while Mercedes-Benz Stadium is situated in very close proximity to Spelman College, Martin Luther King’s childhood home and other sites of significance to the civil rights movement, it is also close to two very poor communities” shared Jenkins. “That’s a big reason why he made a significant investment in the Westside, going beyond even what was necessary to earn Platinum certification to make the stadium a focal point for new employment and community development opportunities.”

 

LEED Platinum Certification Event - from right - Rich McKay, Scott Jenkins, Arthur Blank

Scott Jenkins (c), General Manager of Mercedes-Benz Stadium, flanked by Rich McKay (l), President of the Atlanta Falcons and Arthur Blank, at the LEED Platinum announcement event (Photo credit: AMB Sports and Entertainment)

 

It must be noted that, while Mercedes-Benz Stadium’s 88 is the best LEED score ever, it’s not perfect.” Hey, I am a stickler!

So how can Blank and Co. improve on things? According to Jenkins, “we’re looking at reducing plastic usage — straws, for example — as well as increasing our vegetarian, vegan and healthy food offerings.”

These are worthy goals, indeed, and are examples of how Mercedes-Benz Stadium is taking the notion of sustainable sports venues to an entirely new level.

^ Sacramento’s Golden 1 Center is the first LEED Platinum-certified arena and the University of North Texas’ Apogee Stadium is the first collegiate stadium to earn that designation
# The Flint River is not to be confused with the city of Flint, MI, which, of course, which is living through its own serious water issue.

 


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Winter Sports Drives Green-Sports, Part 2: Andy Newell, U.S. Olympic Cross Country Skier, Climate Change Advocate for Protect Our Winters (POW)

GreenSportsBlog does not often get to write about eco-athletes. And we’ve never been able to write about a married couple who are both involved in environmental activism.

Until now, that is.

Last week, in the first edition of GSB’s new occasional series, Winter Sports Drives Green-Sports, we featured the story of Erika Flowers Newell, an American cross country skier who is pushing to make her first US Olympic team in 2018. She also works for Carol Cone On Purpose, an agency that helps companies do well by doing good. And, for Erika, doing good means taking positive action on the environment.

Today, in Part 2, we talk with her husband, Andy Newell, a three-time Olympian in cross country skiing about to start his campaign to qualify for the fourth time. He’s also a leading member of Protect Our Winters (POW), the group of elite winter sports athletes who advocate for climate action.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Your wife’s story starts out in Big Sky country, Montana. Are you from that part of the world, too?

Andy Newell: Nope. I grew up in Shastbury, VT, near Bennington and started skiing as early as I could walk.

 

Andy Newell Young Red Cap

Young Andy Newell (middle, red cap), skiing with his family in Vermont (Photo credit: Andy Newell)

 

GSB: When I think of Vermont as far as skiing is concerned, I think of downhill and the other alpine events. Was it unusual for you to gravitate towards cross country?

AN: Not at all. Our area in particular is great for cross country. It’s a blue collar region and, as compared to alpine, cross country is more of a blue collar sport — alpine is much more expensive. I’ve been into it forever; I started racing when I was 5 years old.

GSB: Holy COW! So were you on an “elite” track from those early years?

AN: It turned out that way. I competed all the way through my teen years and attended Stratton Mountain High School, about 40 minutes from home. It’s a specialty school designed for skiers and snowboarders with an academy and a private ski school for kids in grades 8-12. It is tiny —there were 25 kids in my graduating class.

GSB: It sounds like the way many European countries handle top young athletes — by putting them in special sports academies — for top soccer and tennis players. Similar also to IMG Academy down in Florida. I didn’t know there was such a thing for winter sports here.

AN: I got a lot out of it. It was great preparation for my career as a pro skier, especially where time management was concerned. And the education was top quality. It was like I got a college education in a high school setting because I had to juggle academics and a full time training and racing schedule.

GSB: So I imagine you competed at a high level while at Stratton Mountain School…

AN: It was great. I got to travel in high school as part of the US Ski Team as I was named to the developmental squad when I was a senior.

GSB: Where did you ski in college?

AN: I never went to college, deciding to pursue professional skiing as a career. This is not unheard of. I jumped to the A-team in 2003 when I was 19.

GSB: Congratulations! That’s young for a cross country skier, I believe. The US was never a cross country power — I remember that Bill Koch of Vermont was the only Olympic medal winner and that was back in 1976…How did you deal with that?

AN: Well, things were starting to look up for the USA when I came of age. It’s a long process as cross country takes training, hard work, top coaching, along with strong athletes, patience and funding. In the mid 2000s, we started to have success as a team and I did as an individual, in the sprints. I was the first American male to make the medal platform at a World Cup race in 2006, taking third place in Changchun, China. I followed that up with a 5th place at the 2007 World Championships. And then, on the women’s side, Kikkan Randall made the podium in 2008, on her way to even greater success down the road at the Olympics. It was a fun, exciting time.

GSB: It sounds like you were on track to be on Olympian yourself…

AN: I went to my first Olympics in 2006 in Torino Italy. 4 years later at the Vancouver Games I was in the best shape of my life! I was a medal hopeful for sure but I crashed out of my sprint…

GSB: YIKES!

AN: Well, they say those kind of things are “character builders”…So I trained and worked…

GSB: …And built some character…

AN: Hopefully… It taught me a lot about the process of being an athlete. That there is a whole lot more to success than just winning medals, it’s about enjoying the process and also giving back. That perspective has a lot to do with why I got involved in environmentalism and later made the Olympic team in 2014 in Sochi.

 

Andy Newell Sochi

Andy Newell at the 2014 Sochi Olympics (Photo credit: Andy Newell)

 

GSB: You mean the Olympics that were held in a tropical zone?

AN: The very same. But this time, I wasn’t in my best form, I didn’t stand out. So now we’re in 2017. I’ve done well in World Cup seasons, have made it to several podiums but I haven’t put it together in Olympic years. So I’m giving it another go for Pyeongchang 2018 — just like Erika is — to see if I can do my best at the highest profile event in my sport.

GSB: And, as a member of Protect Our Winters or POW, doing well at the Olympics will raise the profile of your environmental advocacy. When did that begin?

AN: Early on — during my high school days and into my early 20s, the environment was not something I focused on. At all. Now, when I speak to school audiences for POW, I show a picture of me in my 1990 Chevy Blazer which got 10 miles per gallon. As I say, I didn’t care about the environment, so it’s important to communicate to school kids that you can learn, you can change — at any age. I wish politicians could admit to, in fact, honor the idea that they can change. It’s very important.

GSB: So when did your change to environmentalism take place?

AN: Bill McKibben, the founder and driving force of the climate change fighting nonprofit, 350.org, is a big cross country skier who lives near Middlebury, VT. My older brother was also a Middlebury skier so I heard of Bill through him as well.. I had met Bill at some of the local ski races and really admired his work and writing, and his excitement for activisim. So around 2010 was when I got started volunteering for a few 350.org projects. Between 2010 and 2014 I got more and more involved and started working with Protect Our Winters. In advance of the Sochi Olympics I communicated with Bill and he voiced his concerns over the negative environmental impacts of the Olympics and the importance of the upcoming Paris Climate talks and how we could rally support internationally.

GSB: Oh it was bad alright — we’ve written about the environmental disaster that was Sochi 2014.

AN: You got that right. It was an awful decision by the IOC to give Sochi the Winter Olympics. The development there devastated the wetlands…they clear cut national forests. So, I spoke up about this in the run up to the 2014 Olympics. And, Bill and I drafted a letter for a group of snow sports athletes called Athletes for Action and that letter was addressed to world leaders, urging them to sign the Paris Climate Agreement.

GSB: …Which was signed in December 2015, about a year and a half after Sochi. Congratulations! Of course, the current U.S. President is planning to pull us out of the agreement. Regardless, it seems to me that you’re a natural advocate.

AN: For me, becoming an activist was a smooth transition. I like to say what I think, to take a stand. I’m definitely not afraid. In fact I tried to recruit other athletes to join Athletes for Action, to get athletes from other countries who might be able to impact political decisions in their countries.

GSB: How did that go?

AN: It went OK, not great. We got some Canadian, Finnish and Swiss athletes to join. Russians? Not so much. Since then, I’ve become much more involved with POW, which really fits my lifestyle…

GSB: That’s FANTASTIC! What has that activism looked like?

AN: Well, I helped lead POW’s participation in the People’s Climate March in New York City in April; one of many marches I’ve done. I’ve written OpEds, including one that ran in USA Today in 2014. I’m also one of the more active members of POW’s Ski and Riders Alliance.

GSB: What will POW’s presence be in Pyeongchang in February?

AN: Good question. They’ll have some presence, I’m just not sure what it will look like. The way I can be most effective will be to make the Olympic team, so that’s my focus heading into the qualifying season which starts in December.

GSB: All the best, of course. What do you plan on doing after your pro skiing career is over? And will environmental activism be a part of it?

AN: Well, I’m going to continue with pro skiing for as long as I can. And, for sure, my activism with POW will continue, especially on the grassroots level…making presentations, recruiting more athletes, lobbying members of Congress and other politicians on climate. On the recruiting, I figure if I, as a non-college graduate, can do this work, can lobby on Capitol Hill, so can many other winter sports athletes.

GSB: Have you lobbied Vermont’s two US senators?

AN: Absolutely…I’ve lobbied and talked with both Bernie Sanders and Patrick Leahy, who are great. I also had a one-on-one meeting with Todd Stern, President Obama’s lead negotiator at the Paris Climate Talks. My position was that we as the winter sports community need you negotiate an agreement with real teeth. He heard me for sure.

 

Andy Newell with Bernie Sanders

Andy Newell (l), with Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT). Also pictured, Liz Stephen and Ida Sargent, both of the U.S. Nordic Ski Team (Photo credit: Andy Newell)

 

Andy Newell w: Todd Stern

Andy Newell (l), with Todd Stern, the U.S. chief negotiator at the Paris Climate Talks in 2015, and Alex Deibold, also of POW (Photo credit: Andy Newell)

 

GSB: Unfortunately, as mentioned above, our current President plans to pull the U.S. out of Paris.

AN: Well, it’s not a done deal yet. One of my favorite quotes from Leonardo DiCaprio’s movie about climate change, Before the Flood, is “we can create elected followers, not elected leaders.” Meaning if we citizens have a big enough cultural and economic shift toward sustainable energy the President and everyone else in DC has no choice but to follow. We have more power than we think. Senators, House members and the President will continue to hear from the winter sports community as to why staying in Paris is the only sane way to go.

GSB: I feel a bit better about it all now, I have to say.

 

Andy Newell & Erika

Andy and Erika (Photo credit: Andy Newell)

 


 

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GSB Eco-Scorecard: Catching Up with Green-Sports Leaders on the Field

Since May 2013, GreenSportsBlog has featured the teams, athletes and events that are helping to lead the sports-greening movement. We haven’t focused on how they’re doing on the field. Until last month, that is. That’s when we launched GSB Eco-Scoreboard: Catching Up with Green-Sports Leaders on the Field, an occasional series highlighting the recent on-field/court results of the greenest teams and athletes. Why? Because if they do well, their green messages will gain a wider audience. Also, it’s fun. And if there’s one thing the climate change/environmental world can use more of — including the Green-Sports niche — is fun. 

 

Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle Seahawks 

The star quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks joined the ranks of eco-athletes when he helped promote “Strawless in Seattle September,” the Lonely Whale Foundation’s (LWF) campaign to get fans to keep plastic out of the oceans by dramatically reducing their plastic straw usage.

Wilson was challenged by actor and LWF co-founder Adrian Grenier on Instagram to #stopsucking — i.e. stop using straws — at least in September. He accepted and then challenged the “12s” — aka rabid Seahawks fans — to do the same: “I accept [Grenier’s] challenge to #stopsucking. Now I’m challenging you 12s! It’s going to take teamwork to save our ocean from plastic pollution.”

The 12s responded, as did many other Seattleites. According to Lonely Whale, in September alone, 2.3 million single-use plastic straws were removed from the city. In fact, the Seahawks, baseball’s Mariners and Major League Soccer’s Sounders all refrained from giving out straws to fans last month.

Yet, Wilson’s impressive success as a #stopsucking pitch man was outdone by his otherworldly performance on the field during Sunday’s thrilling, 41-38 instant classic win over the Houston Texans and their stellar rookie QB DeShaun Watson. While his stat line is phenomenal — a career-high 452 yards passing including 4 touchdowns (TDs) — it was the way Wilson led the Seahawks back, time and again, after Watson would put Houston ahead. He saved his best for last, driving Seattle 80 yards in just three plays with 1:39 left and no timeouts remaining.

 

Wilson Bleacher Report

Seahawks QB Russell Wilson prepares to pass during Sunday’s epic 41-38 win over the Houston Texans in Seattle (Photo credit: Bleacher Report)

 

The Seahawks, now 5-2 and in a first place tie with the LA Rams in the NFC West, host the Washington Redskins on Sunday.

 

Vestas 11th Hour Racing Wins First Ocean Leg of Volvo Ocean Race

Is GreenSportsBlog a good luck charm, or what?

We shared Vestas 11th Hour Racing’s groundbreaking sustainable sailing story just this past Friday and then what happens?

Saturday, the team, led by Charlie Enright and Mark Towill, won the first leg of the round-the-world Volvo Ocean Race, which traveled from Alicante, Spain to Lisbon, in wire-to-wire fashion, by several hours. They stayed ahead of the other seven boats through the Strait of Gibraltar, around the island of Porto Santo, and north to Lisbon.

“Can’t argue with the results,” said skipper Charlie Enright upon finishing in Lisbon. “We prioritized getting the right people and this provides us with a lot of confidence. I can’t say enough about the squad on the boat and the ones on the shore.”

 

Leg 01, Alicante to Lisbon, day xx,  on board Vestas 11th Hour Racing. Photo by James Blake/Volvo Ocean Race. 27 October, 2017

The Vestas 11th Hour Racing team, racing through the Strait of Gibraltar to its way to a  first place finish in Lisbon in the initial leg of the Volvo Ocean Race (Photo credit: Ainhoa Sanchez/Volvo Ocean Race)

 

Vestas 11th Hour Racing lived its sustainability ethos on the water just as it does on land. On the first day at sea, the crew partook in Meatless Monday, an international campaign to reduce the impact the meat industry has on the environment. “We are enjoying Mediterranean veggie pasta,” said team director and co-founder Mark Towill. “It is one simple way of lowering our carbon footprint and is part of our commitment to sustainability.”

The team will remain in Lisbon for one week, sharing their commitment to sustainability   with local fans at their interactive Exploration Zone, all the while preparing for the 7,000-mile leg to Cape Town, South Africa, which starts November 6th.

 

Forest Green Rovers

Forest Green Rovers FC (FGR) was finding life in League Two (aka the fourth tier) of English football to be challenging after being promoted from the fifth tier for the first time in their 125+ year history in May.  The Greenest Team in Sports — it has earned that distinction in a myriad of ways, from solar panels on its stadium roof to solar powered “Mo-Bots” used to mow the organic pitch to all vegan-only concession stands — found itself in the dreaded “relegation zone” after an embarrassing 4-0 home drubbing by Newport County AFC on October 14th. The relegation zone means FGR was in one of the bottom two places in the 24-team league standings and, if it ended up there at season’s end in May, it would be relegated back down to the fifth tier.

Good thing for Forest Green Rovers is that, at that point, it had only played 13 of its 46 regular season matches. So there was plenty of time for a turnaround.

That turnaround started in strong fashion on the 17th when FGR won a taut 1-0 struggle on the road at 6th place Coventry City. Even more impressive was the comeback win at Stevenage FC on the 21st. Down 1-0 at halftime, FGR netted two goals within 12 minutes to secure the 2-1 win. The Green Devils extended their run of strong play with a third straight win on Saturday, this one a tidy 2-0 home decision over current relegation zone resident Morecambe FC.

 

FGR Morecambe

Keanu Marsh-Brown (upper right in green and black) scores for Forest Green Rovers in their 2-0 home win over Morecambe FC (Photo credit: Forest Green Rovers FC)

 

The three game winning streak moved Forest Green Rovers from 23rd to 20th place. While hardly safe — there are 30 matches left and FGR is only one point above 23rd — 17th place is only two points away. Next up is an away test at Crawley Town FC on Saturday.

 

Oregon State Beavers 

Oregon State University became a green-sports leader last year with the launch of BAST — the Beaver Athlete Sustainability Team — the first student-athlete run sustainability organization at a Division I school. The now-graduated Samantha Lewis (cross-country) and Jesikah Cavanaugh (swimming) helped steer the group through its infancy and led the establishment of its 3-pronged mission:

  1. Encourage and implement sustainable ideas within the athletic department
  2. Educate our fellow student-athletes about sustainability and environmental issues
  3. Work to engage with the rest of campus and the broader Corvallis community

BAST’s Year One programs included pom-pom and light stick return stations at OSU football games, recycling education tabling at men’s and women’s basketball games, and clear recycling bins — which resulted in increased recycling rates — at baseball games.

According to Cavanaugh, the BAST leadership baton, now in the possession of Marie Guelich (women’s basketball), Sam McKinnon (women’s cross country and track) and Mimi Grosselius (women’s rowing), is “in good hands.”

So how are the Beavers doing on the field/court?

If you’re looking for an on-field/court success story in Corvallis this fall, look no further than the women’s volleyball team. Its 16-8 record includes wins over 14th ranked Washington and 12th ranked Utah. The cross-country team had some early season success, with a second place finish at the Sundogger Invitational in Seattle.

 

OSU volleyball

The Oregon State University women’s volleyball team celebrates their upset over 12th ranked Utah (Photo credit: Mark Hoffman)

 

On the men’s side, the football team is suffering through a 1-7 season and are languishing at the bottom of the Pac-12 North. Things are only slightly better for the men’s soccer team, which sits at 6-11 overall and 3-6 in the Pac-12. The men’s team enjoying the best season thus far this fall is rowing, which earned a strong third place finish at the famed Head of the Charles regatta in Boston.

 


 

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Sustainability Front and Center for the Vestas 11th Hour Racing Team at Start of Volvo Ocean Race In Spain

The Volvo Ocean Race is a nine-month, round-the-world sailing test. Seven boats and crews shoved off from Alicante, Spain on October 22 to start the 2017-18 version. The Vestas 11th Hour Racing Team is going to significant lengths to be the most sustainable team ever to compete in the event. That commitment was on display for fans at the Exploration Zones in the squad’s base in the race village during the run up to the start.

 

The first ocean leg of the round-the-world Volvo Ocean Race, from Alicante, Spain, to Lisbon, Portugal, started on October 22. The 1,450 nautical mile (nm) course is taking the seven competing teams through the Strait of Gibraltar and around the small island of Porto Santo, close to Madeira, before heading directly to the Portuguese capital.

Before the teams set off from Alicante, many thousands of sailing fans visited the race village. And no one should be surprised that sustainability was the focal point of the ground floor Exploration Zone at the home base of the Vestas 11th Hour Racing team.

 

 

VESTAS, 11TH HOUR RACING AND THE TEAM: A NATURAL, SUSTAINABLE FIT

After all, Aarhus, Denmark-based Vestas is the only global energy company dedicated exclusively to wind energy. And 11th Hour Racing of Newport, RI is an organization that promotes healthy oceans, in part by making world class sailing racing more sustainable.

One way they do this is through the sponsorship — and greening — of sailing teams in the America’s Cup and the Volvo Ocean Race, the world’s most well known sailing contests. 11th Hour Racing was the exclusive Sustainability Partner of Land Rover BAR, Great Britain’s entry in the 35th America’s Cup in Bermuda in June.

Now they’ve teamed up with Vestas to sponsor a team that aims not only to win, but also to be the most sustainable team ever to have competed in the Volvo Ocean Race#. 

Environmental sustainability, ocean health and climate change are also core tenets for team director Mark Towill and skipper Charlie Enright, making their partnership with Vestas and 11th Hour Racing a seamless fit. In fact, Mark and Charlie worked with a sustainability consultant to determine the environmental impact of their previous participation in the 2014-2015 Volvo Ocean Race with Team Alvimedica. 

 

Charlie Enright D3O

Charlie Enright, skipper of Vestas 11th Hour Racing (Photo credit: D3O)

 

Mark Towill P. Bucktrout, BAS

Mark Towill, team director of Vestas 11th Hour Racing, holding a piece 1,000 year-old ice (Photo credit: P. Bucktrout, BAS)

Those data formed the baseline of what became a robust sustainability plan for the 2017-2018 edition. It covers all aspects of the team’s operations on their 45,000 nautical-miles around-the-world journey. Some of these include: 

  • Calculating its carbon footprint by tracking all travel, accommodations, electricity usage, water consumption and waste. That footprint will be offset at the race’s conclusion
  • Outfitting each team member with a “sustainability kit” that contains refillable water bottle, coffee mug, and bamboo toothbrushes, along with sustainable soap, shampoo, toothpaste and laundry detergent. It also includes a personal water filter to ensure clean, safe drinking water.
  • Eliminating the use of single-use plastics and straws
  • Creating a positive plastic footprint by removing more trash from beach cleanups than they use
  • Using a desalinator for on board water needs, saving an estimated 13,500 one-liter water bottles throughout the race
  • Achieving a 75 percent waste diversion rate
  • Wearing Karün sunglasses made from 100 percent recycled fishing nets and using Aethic sunblock, produced with a unique formula that does not harm coral reefs 
  • Sourcing local, sustainable foods from the countries they visit, including sustainable seafood
  • Pledging to go Meat Free on Mondays both onshore and off
  • Raising awareness of the team’s vision of a cleaner, healthier environment at the race stops and during the race via the Vestas 11th Hour Racing website and the #LeadingSustainability hashtag

 

Vestas 11th Hour Racing screenshot

Screenshot of Vestas 11th Hour Racing’s website’s home page on October 27, featuring a sustainability-themed trivia question

 

SAILING FANS EXPERIENCE THE VESTAS 11TH HOUR RACING SUSTAINABILITY ETHOS AT THE EXPLORATION ZONE

Vestas 11th Hour Racing’s Exploration Zone is an dedicated, immersive educational space where the public could learn about renewable energy and ocean health through the prism of sailing’s most crucial elements; wind and water. From virtual reality goggles to interactive displays, the space was a must-see attraction among Alicante race village visitors, with over 1,000 people experiencing the Exploration Zone each day. 

 

Vestas Expoloration Zone

Vestas 11th Hour Racing’s Exploration Zone at their base in Alicante, Spain; where the Volvo Ocean Race started (Photo credit: Atila Madrona/Vestas 11th Hour Racing)

 

Vestas Exploration Zone 2

Sailing fans outside the entrance to the Vestas 11th Hour Racing Exploration Zone in Alicante, Spain (Photo credit: Atila Madrona/Vestas 11th Hour Racing)

 

The team also brought its sustainability message outside the Race Village, as Vestas 11th Hour Racing sailors and local students met with a local environmental organization, Asociación De Naturalistas Del Sureste (ANSE). They toured ANSE’s wooden sailing vessel, Else, equipped to monitor and protect endangered species, study pollution effects on plants and animals, and implement coastal restoration projects. Hannah Diamond was among the team’s sailors who learned about ANSE’s endeavors: “I was most surprised that here in the Mediterranean there are sperm whales that are bigger than our Volvo Ocean 65 [foot boat].”

 

Vestas ANSE Boat

Members of the Vestas 11th Hour Racing staff on the ANSE boat (Photo credit Atila Madrona/Vestas 11th Hour Racing)

 

Ocean health and the issue of plastic ocean pollution were the themes of the Ocean Summit that took place in Alicante during race week. Mark Towill gave the keynote address to a full house of NGOs, government and the private sector. The Hawaii native reflected on his time at sea and also about how the Volvo Ocean Race can be a massive megaphone for the team’s sustainability messaging: “[We have] a real opportunity to use this race as a platform and we need to make the most of it.”

 

VESTAS 11TH HOUR RACING EXPLORATION ZONES AT ALL BUT TWO RACE STOPS

Sailing fans around the world will be able to visit the Vestas 11th Hour Racing Exploration Zones at all but two of the race stops before the finish in The Hague, Netherlands at the end of June. Here is a list of the stops, race village opening days and the start dates of the next race legs. 

  • Lisbon, Portugal: October 31 –  November 5
  • Cape Town, South Africa: November 24 – December 10
  • Melbourne, Australia: December 27 – January 8, 2018 (NO EXPLORATION ZONE)
  • Hong Kong: January 17 – February 1
  • Guangzhou, China: January 31 – February 5 (NO EXPLORATION ZONE)
  • Hong Kong: January 17 – February 7
  • Auckland, New Zealand: February 24 – March 18
  • Itajaí, Brazil: April 5 – April 22
  • Newport, Rhode Island: May 8 – May 20
  • Cardiff, Wales: May 27 – June 10
  • Gothenburg, Sweden: June 14 – June 21
  • The Hague, Netherlands: June 24 – June 30

 

Mark Towill and Charlie Enright tell the Vestas 11th Hour Racing story in this 2 minute 23 second video

 

# 11th Hour Racing is also providing sustainability consulting services to the Volvo Ocean Race as its Founding Principal Partner in Sustainability

 

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