Turnabout is Fair Play: Antonio Saillant of “Rock It Green Radio” Interviews GreenSportsBlogger

Back on September 28, GreenSportsBlog ran the compelling story of Antonio Saillant and his plans to produce and direct “Knights 58,” which will likely be the first sports movie to use state-of-the-art green production techniques. Antonio was kind enough to return the favor by interviewing me about the Green-Sports world on the radio show he co-hosts with Richard Solomon, “Rock It Green Radio.”

 

In our GreenSportsBlog story about Antonio Saillant and “Knights 58,” the sports movie he plans to produce and direct as a 100 percent green production, we highlighted his incredibly varied background: From energy consultant to actor to stunt man to film producer/director to sustainability advocate.

We left out radio host but make up for that here.

Antonio and Richard Solomon co-host “Rock It Green Radio,” a 1-hour show that runs on iHeart Radio, iTunes radio, and YouTube. Its mission is to have “a simple conversation about sustainability with the most brilliant people in the world.”

While I clearly don’t qualify on the “most brilliant people” scale, I was honored to talk Green-Sports with Antonio and Richard.

Click here for the link to the iHeart Radio version of the show and enjoy! Also, when you  click on the page, make sure you hit the “FOLLOW” button so you can listen to future “Rock It Green Radio” shows.

 

RockItGreen

 


 

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The GSB Interview: Luke Tyburski, Swimming, Cycling and Running for the Planet

It is not going out on a limb to say that Luke Tyburski is made from different stuff than I am. Sure, I play tennis 3-4 times per week, have ridden my bike as much as 100 miles in a day (Once!) (Nine years ago!). Luke runs…across the Sahara Desert. He’s completed an extreme triathlon from Morocco, swimming across the Sea of Gibraltar, cycling through Spain and running through the South of France to Monaco. But we do have one important thing in common. And that is to use the platform of sports to fight for positive environmental action. I spoke recently to Luke about how he came to extremely extreme sports and how he has any time and energy left for the environment.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Luke, I have a feeling yours will be an incredible story, so let’s get right to it. Your journey to extreme triathlons — and beyond — started in Australia, right?

Luke Tyburski: Yeah, Lew. I grew up in a small town, Bathurst, about three hours northwest of Sydney. And my goal was, from a young age, to become a pro soccer player. And, you know what? I got to live the dream. I was a central defender for the Wollongong Wolves in 1999-2000 in the top league in Australia at the time, the NSL. They’re now a second tier league, below the A-League. Then I played for three years in the State League, at the level below the NSL. Thought I’d gone as far as I could in Australia so I went to the US and played college soccer at a small NAIA school, Brescia University in Owensboro, KY and then transferred to another small NAIA school, Southern Nazarene University in Bethany, OK…It was a good stop, soccer-wise, and I got my degree in Exercise Science along the way.

 

Luke Tyburski Fizeek Media

Luke Tyburski (Photo credit: Fizeek Media)

 

GSB: So was that it for you and pro soccer?

LT: Hardly. I still had the bug. Went to England and tried out for a bunch of teams over four months, but without any luck! I just couldn’t stick. Came back to the US and played for the New Orleans Shell Shockers (now the New Orleans Jesters) as for the San Francisco Seals in lower rung leagues. Then I went back to Europe, this time to Liege, Belgium and played one year on a lower league team there. Then I went back to the UK to try again…

GSB: …Holy cow, you really wanted it. I really had no idea about the itinerant world of the lower levels of professional soccer. How old were you at this point?

 

Tyburski Soccer Bakersfield Brigate Soccer Club

Luke Tyburski, while with the San Francisco Seals (Photo credit: Bakersfield Brigade Soccer Club)

 

LT: This was 2008 and I was 25. Like I said, I’d lived my dream. My parents had instilled in me an incredible work ethic — they never pushed me into pro soccer but they let me know that, if I was going to go for it, I’d have to give it 100 percent. That’s what kept me going. From 2008 to 2011 it became much harder. I had a number of injuries and three surgeries over a period of 11 months. I started to break down physically. And that led to mental problems. I sank into a deep depression; had self-harming, suicidal thoughts.

GSB: Oh my God; that’s awful! Did you try to come back again after the surgeries?

LT: Yes. Finally it was a calf injury, minor as they come, that led me to retire. I had just had it.

GSB: Did the depression come back?

LT: You know what? The depression was still there, I’m not gonna lie to you. But I didn’t hit the depths I felt previously. There was a huge wave of relief and satisfaction after I retired. I was content with my soccer career.

GSB: So what did you do next?

LT: Well, that was a problem. I really had no clue. And then a friend — a marathoner — told me about running through the Sahara for a week.

GSB: You mean the Sahara as in the desert? THAT Sahara?

LT: That would be the one, Lew.

GSB: Were you a long-distance runner at all?

LT: Nope; I’d never run more than six miles at any one time. But, just for the hell of it, I Googled it — the Marathon des Sables — a 150 mile race through the Sahara over seven days…

GSB: No problem-o!

LT: Crazy, right?! Thing is, I needed an escape from reality, from what to do next. The race was in six months so I threw myself into it — research, training, etc. The more I looked into it, the more I thought, “not only can I do this race but this could become my thing!” I could become an adventurer.”

GSB: So what happened in the race?

LT: I finished!! It. Was. BRUTAL…I became dehydrated, had a bad stomach virus, lost skin on my toes. But I made it and started doing other extreme events.

 

Luke Tyburski Marathon des Sables Jamie Fricker

Luke Tyburski at the finish of Marathon des Sables in the Sahara (Photo credit: Jamie Fricker)

 

GSB: Such as?

LT: I went to Nepal and took part in the Everest Ultra Marathon

GSB: What is THAT? A race up Everest?

LT: No, it’s a 40 mile race down from Everest Base Camp which is at 17,000 feet elevation. To train for that one, I spent three weeks living and training with elite ultra-marathoners in Nepal. I was ready but three days before, I contracted a stomach parasite…

GSB…So you dropped out?

LT: Oh no — I ran it. The bug did slow me down. It took me more than twice as long as I thought it would. But these events made me an adventurer (in my mind, at least)…And I started to make a living from it: I coached, evangelized through speaking engagements, wrote magazine articles, and more — all about how you can push yourself to amazing heights. I hustled and my business started to grow. But, to really break through, to differentiate myself from other adventurers, I needed to do something BIG…

GSB: You mean running across the Sahara and running down Everest wasn’t BIG enough?

LT: Nope…other adventurers were doing it. So I came up with a route for a triathlon unlike any other. From Northern Morocco to Monaco, 2,000 kilometers (or about 1,242 miles) in 12 days…

GSB: Piece of cake, right?…

LT: And so, in 2015, I swam across the 15 mile Strait of Gibraltar from Morocco to Spain. Then I cycled through Spain to the French border, about 850 miles. And then I ran the remaining 375 miles to Monaco. I did have some health issues along the way…

 

Luke Tyburski Map

 

GSB: How could you not?…

LT:  …I had extreme adrenal fatigue, a quadriceps tear. But I finished. Took the rest of 2015 and the first half of 2016 off to recover due to my extreme adrenal fatigue. But, last month, I did my first event since, a 100 mile ultra-marathon in the UK, which is where I live. I experimented with my training, and if I’m honest, it didn’t go as I hope. You can read why here.

 

Luke Tyburski Running Fizeek Media

Luke Tyburski, running through the South of France in 2015 on his 2,000 km triathlon from Morocco through Spain and France (Photo credit: Fizeek Media)

 

GSB: This is all incredible…and unimaginable. And I can see how your story would motivate athletes and would-be athletes. But where does the passion for the environment come in?

LT: It started for me in 2012 when I was in Nepal for the Everest Ultra Marathon. I was living with people who had no running water, no electricity at all. They lived primitively. Here I am, this westernized guy, thinking I was worldly and open and all the rest, but, in the end, I was humbled. They had no equipment, nothing to make life easier. After the three weeks, it sounds cliché but I felt like a changed man. I went back home to London and thought “I don’t need all these  things…all of the shoes and shorts and other stuff.”

GSB: So what did you do?

LT: A massive clean-out. Gave stuff to friends and charity. Cut back on wants and lived at the “need” level, especially when it came to clothing. I would wear stuff until it would wear out. So I was definitely on the trail to environmentalism. But it wasn’t until I met Graham Ross

GSB: …Of Kusaga Athletic, the Australian company that makes the world’s greenest t-shirt out of bamboo, eucalyptus, etc.? We interviewed Graham for GSB awhile back. Kusaga is a great story, and Graham is an even greater fellow.

LT: Agree. Met him in 2013 at a Friday night swimming squad outing in London. Graham told me about Kusaga Athletic and how sustainable textiles would make a difference on climate change. So that was an immediate click between us. So we would go on five to seven hour bike rides that would become brainstorming sessions and an education for me on sustainable apparel. This led me to live even more sustainably and to educate folks on the textile industry and how it needs to become greener. In fact, I weave…

GSB: …Pun intended…

LT: …Sustainability into at least 50 percent of my talks — about how it takes 3,000 liters of water to make just one cotton t-shirt and how it only takes 22 liters of water to make Kusaga Athletic’s greenest t-shirt.

GSB: Does Kusaga sponsor you?

LT: No. I am an unpaid ambassador, I wear their kits and I tell their story. Now, I don’t talk much about the science of climate change because I’m not well-versed enough yet. I need to be able to talk about it in a substantive manner and I will down the road as I learn more about it. For now I stay in my lane and talk sustainability from apparel and water standpoints. And I’m engaging other athletes on this and on Kusaga. It’s catching on.

GSB: Amen to that, Luke! So what’s in store for 2018?

LT: Well I have a book coming out about my story from a journeyman soccer player, to ultra endurance athlete and everything in between. My ups, and very deep downs will all be shared. Physically, I’m looking to complete a self-developed challenge that will create two Guinness World Records, but it’s top secret at the moment…

GSB: Good luck! Please let us know when the secret can be revealed.

LT: Will do. And I will keep reminding folks to take care of themselves, conserve water and care for the planet.


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Sutton United F.C. Continues Trend of Greening UK Sports from Ground Up

The minor leagues of English soccer/football have become a petri dish of Green-Sports innovation. GreenSportsBlog has featured Forest Green Rovers, the “Greenest Team in Sports” and Dartford F.C. Today, our focus turns to Sutton United F.C., the South London club in the fifth tier of English soccer whose home stadium, Gander Green Lane, became the first to receive The Planet Mark™ sustainability certification.

 

Some of the greatest innovations in Green-Sports are happening in the soccer equivalent of baseball’s low minor leagues. While several Premier League giants, including Arsenal, Manchester City and Newcastle, have taken strong green-sports actions, it is the mid-to-lower levels of the English soccer/football pyramid where bold sustainable sports innovation is happening. 

Forest Green Rovers of the fourth tier of English Football has become the undisputed Greenest Team on the Planet and a GreenSportsBlog staple through its all-vegan menus, solar powered lawn mowing “mow-bots”, rooftop solar, and more. Last month, GSB featured Princes Park, home of sixth tier Dartford F.C., and, arguably, the greenest of all stadium green roofs in the world.

After hitting “send” on the Dartford F.C. piece, I thought “there can’t be any other small, quaint English soccer/football clubs doing state-of-the-art green-sports things, can there?”

Yes There Can.

Today, we bring you fifth tier Sutton United F.C.. Located just south of Wimbledon, the Amber and Chocolates (how about that for a nickname?) are in the midst of a noteworthy 2017. On the pitch, the club made an improbable run to the fifth round of the FA Cup, the 10 month tournament that involves the entirety of the professional/semi-professional English soccer pyramid, from the Premier League to pub leagues. When Arsenal, the Premier League Goliath, came to the 5,000 seat Gander Green Lane in February, it was the biggest game in Sutton United history. And it was played at the first football stadium to achieve The Planet Mark™ sustainability certification.

 

 

Sutton United

Gander Green Lane, home of Sutton United F.C. (Photo credit: AFTN)

 

The Planet Mark is a three year-old British certification system that recognizes businesses for their sustainability better practices, including waste reductions, detailed carbon footprint measurements and targets, as well as stakeholder engagement. Over 100 organizations have been certified, each committing to reduce their carbon emissions by at least 2.5 percent per year.

Sutton United, which began its sustainability journey in 2011, has certainly earned its Planet Mark designation. They have:

  • Reduced their carbon footprint by 13.6 percent in 2016, led by savings came from gas consumption (down 39 percent). Those reductions were mostly attributed to installing double glazed windows and by decommissioning a leaking boiler in Gander Green Lane’s club buildings
  • Recycled 88 percent of their waste
  • Invested in the Eden Project, a climate change education nonprofit and visitor destination that has officially been added to my bucket list. Nestled in a huge crater in Cornwall, UK, it features massive Biomes housing the largest rainforest in captivity
  • Stored 260 tonnes of CO₂ equivalent (CO₂E) by protecting endangered rainforest through the nonprofit Cool Earth
  • Committed to engage their employees and suppliers to drive improvements.

Dave Farebrother, chairman of the board of directors at Sutton United and an environmentalist, has been the driver of the club’s sustainability initiatives. “We like to say that our club is much more than just the ‘first team’,” enthused Farebrother. “Our community program is very active in the local area. I’ve…been into local schools to talk about sustainability.”

“I think climate change is one of the greatest challenges we face but, as [Sutton United] showed in its magnificent FA Cup run, challenges are there to be overcome,” said Steve Malkin, founder of The Planet Mark. “We are delighted to support Sutton United and, in our small way, contribute to the club’s success.”

Although the clock struck midnight on the Amber and Chocolate’s Cinderella story when Arsenal earned a hard fought 2-0 victory back in February on the way to winning the 2017 FA Cup, Sutton United did earn an estimated quarter of a million pounds from TV broadcasting rights, a significant sum for a club of that smallish size. According to The Planet Mark, “If some of that money is ploughed back into low carbon measures, the club’s position as a sustainability leader will be secured for years to come.”

 

 

Sutton Arsenal

Sutton United (yellow) and Arsenal battle in their February 2017 fifth round FA Cup match at The Planet Mark-certified Gander Green Lane (Photo credit: Caughtoffside.com)

 


 
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Purpose + Sport: Helping Brands Do Well By Doing Good, Including by Going Green

Neill Duffy has graced the pages of GreenSportsBlog several times, most notably for his work as Sustainability Director of the San Francisco Bay Area Super Bowl 50 Host Committee. Since then, he founded and serves as CEO of Purpose + Sport, a purpose-led marketing and sponsorship agency. Neill is very bullish on the future of top brands investing some of their sports sponsorship and advertising dollars on programs that have a social and/or environmental purpose. Neill and Advisory Board member Tony Ponturo, formerly the VP of media and sponsorships at Anheuser-Busch, talked to GreenSportsBlog about the move to purpose that is underway and how the business of sport is, and isn’t yet, embracing this opportunity.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Neill, what do you mean by your company’s name, Purpose + Sport?

Neill Duffy: Well, using the “+” sign was very intentional. I wanted to connote the notion of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts.

GSB: Kind of like 2 + 2 = 5 and that being the right answer.

ND: Exactly! When you add purpose to sports you get amplified results for all involved.

 

Neill Duffy

Neill Duffy, CEO, Purpose + Sport (Photo credit: Purpose + Sport)

 

GSB: And how did you and Tony connect?

Tony Ponturo: Well, in 2010, the St. Louis Sports Commission and National Sportsmanship Foundation launched the Musial Awards, to honor the athletes, male and female, who exhibit the best in sportsmanship, just like the legendary Cardinals Hall of Fame outfielder from the 1940s-60s, Stan “The Man” Musial. While not a member of the commission at the time, I consulted with them and have remained a fan of their work. Neill and my paths crossed when the National Sportsmanship Foundation asked Neill if he could help take the awards beyond St. Louis to more of a national footprint. They also introduced Neill and I to each other We talked a lot more about socially responsible business and how sports needs to move into this space more aggressively as he was in the process of building Purpose + Sport. So it seemed like a natural fit for me to take on the advisory role earlier, which I did earlier this year.

 

Panturo Tony

Tony Ponturo, Purpose + Sport Advisory Board Member (Photo Credit: Purpose + Sport)

 

GSB: Got it. What a great pairing of expertise. So give our readers the Purpose + Sport elevator pitch…

ND: Happy to. Consumers increasingly expect corporations to stand for something more than just profit…and in turn corporations are responding by embracing purpose as a management philosophy. The business of sport has however been slow to embrace this move and that’s where we come in. We’re all about inspiring the business of sport to do good and do well. We provide purposeful strategic, commercial engagement solutions to sports sponsor, properties and non-profits to help them show up more meaningfully and remain relevant to the fans.

GSB: I guess I buy that, but with a bit of an asterisk. I mean, do consumers really care that the companies from which they buy their sneakers or cars do good?

ND: Absolutely. And the number that do is going up, especially among younger consumers. For example, the 2017 Cone Report found that 78 percent want companies to address important social justice issues and that 87 percent will purchase a product because a company advocated for an issue they cared about and 76 percent will refuse to purchase a company’s products or services upon learning it supported an issue contrary to their beliefs. Corporations are starting to get this. According to the April, 2017 State of Marketing survey from Salesforce.com, about 2/3 of the most successful marketing managers today are “purpose driven.” Companies that make sustainability — in the broadest, “environmental, social and governance” sense of the word — core to their brands really do engender greater brand loyalty among their consumer bases. It’s that simple. The problem, as we see it, is that, until now, sports have lagged the broader market in embracing purpose. In fact, not a single sports team, event or federation makes any list of the most purposeful brands.

GSB: That’s a real shame. What are the reasons, do you think?

ND: Firstly, there is a lot of inertia in the sports business system to continue doing things the way they always have. Why would we want to change something that’s working. Secondly, people have been so caught up of late in chasing the next piece of shiny technology that’s going to enhance the fan experience – the app that tells fans which restroom line is the shortest – that they’ve lost sight of the equal if not greater importance of the message…I’m a great believer in the message being as important if not more important than the medium. But, like I said earlier, that’s changing. Mars, which advertises heavily on sports, recently announced that it is committing $1 billion to a climate-focused messaging campaign. I’ll be surprised if this commitment doesn’t carry through to their sponsorship activation.

GSB: I saw that—it is FANTASTIC. Tony, you were at the center of the sports marketing-sponsorship-advertising nexus for more than two decades at Anheuser-Busch — you were VP of media, sports and entertainment marketing from 1991 to 2008. You ran the Busch Media Group, with 150 people, commanded a $600 million budget, worked with leagues, and teams and the rest. So how come more leading sports sponsors haven’t done the type of thing Mars is doing?

TP: My take is that sports haven’t seen the need just yet — but like Neill is saying, that is changing. One reason they haven’t jumped in may be that most sports fans have been men and, and, this is a generalization, but most male sports fans don’t care that much about a team’s social responsibility profile. They basically care about one thing: wining the game. Women sports fans, on the other hand, are much more socially conscious.

GSB: And since women sports fans, as a cohort, are growing…

TP: …It follows that the number of teams doing good will grow, as will the number of brands sponsoring pro-social programs — no doubt about it. In 2016, I taught at a conference at NYU on “Leadership, Social Responsibility and Sports.” We conducted focus groups there and found that women routinely mentioned a team’s social responsibility profile as being important drivers as to their attitudes about the team and their sponsors. ND: And, given the current US federal government’s hostility to environmental sustainability and other pro social programs, business should step into the breach and take a leadership position on purpose — a big chunk of the public is hungering for this.

GSB:…”Greed is GOOD!” said Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko in Wall Street…

ND: Exactly…that was the ethos back then. Since about 2000, the importance of purpose has been rising in that longitudinal study…People — men and women —are saying in greater numbers that while I need to do well, society also needs to do well. It’s just that sports need to get with the program. We saw something similar in the late adoption of operational sustainability by the teams and leagues which lagged what was happening in the corporate sector by 5-10 years.

GSB: How do you think most fans, male and female, will react purpose-themed sports initiatives.

TP: Fans tend to question “purpose” initiatives at first but, I believe, over the long haul, they’ll get on board.

GSB: So where does Purpose + Sport fit in?

ND: We aim to accelerate the process, deepen the impact and build business for sports sponsors, property owners and non-profits via Purpose-driven programs. We will show them how to bring to life doing good and doing well.

GSB: Can you give some examples?

TP: The Musial Awards are a good place to start. The 2017 version takes place on November 18 with an edited special airing in December. We are helping the Commission increase the awareness and value of the Awards beyond the St. Louis area. Our job is to bring the Awards’ focused, powerful message — that sports has the power to get people to take positive action and that fans and viewers will care — to broadcasters across the country, get them to say “YES!” to airing them. Having a national audience rather than a regional one is so much more appealing to most brands.

 

Musial Award Sign

 

GSB: On the one hand, I imagine that a TV show about athletes who do great things in the community will have broad appeal. On the other, I’m guessing that Stan Musial’s name doesn’t mean much for Gen Xers, Millennials and Gen Zers…

TP: You’re right…People who are under 45 don’t really know Musial, outside of folks in St. Louis. So we’re focusing on making the awards themselves relevant to broadcasters in Atlanta, Los Angeles, New York, and beyond. Right now, there are around ten awards offered, with the big one being the Lifetime Achievement award.

ND: We’ve been able, by showing the value of and interest in “purpose,” to take the awards from St. Louis only to 39 markets. Our aspiration is to eventually find a national broadcaster to see the value in the awards and for national advertisers/sponsors to do so as well.

GSB: Congratulations on getting to 39 markets. It seems to me that, getting a national broadcaster, along with national advertisers and sponsors, to see the value of the Musial Awards tis a logical next step for Purpose + Sport. Good luck. Let’s move over to Green-Sports specifically. At the 2016 Summer Olympics opening ceremonies in Rio, there was a 5-10 minute vignette on climate change. A global audience of an estimated 1 billion people saw this. NEWS FLASH: THE WORLD DIDN’T STOP SPINNING!! But in North American sports, there hasn’t been anything remotely like that at the Super Bowl, College Football Playoff, etc. Why are sports leagues, even those that are greening aggressively like the NHL, loath to talk about it? Loath to run PSA’s on actual broadcasts of actual games?

ND: Wasn’t what Rio 2016 did great?

GSB: LOVED IT!

ND: I haven’t seen any insights around how viewers reacted to this segment but, for me, it made perfect sense. It was very relevant given the importance of the Amazon to global climate. Kudos to the IOC and Rio 2016 for supporting the decision by the creative directors for the ceremony – Fernando Meirelles, Daniela Thomas and Andrucha Waddington – to include this piece on climate in the ceremony. My sense is that the North American pro and college sports leagues take a very tactical approach to the greening of their events and view it more for its operational efficiency / cost reduction benefits than anything else. This mirrors what happened in the business sector more broadly where sustainability started off being about improving efficiencies before evolving to be viewed as a strategic imperative that could be engage customers and other stakeholders for competitive advantage. My view is that the business of sport is beginning to change their view on the role that environmental sustainability should play in their organizations — and that means telling environmental and climate stories to their audiences and fan bases not just being green behind the scenes. Another important part to his story is the role that the television producers play. Many of the producers involved today across all the major broadcasters have been doing what they do for decades. They have a tried and tested format that has worked for them and they are loathe to alter it. They seem to be prepared to remain relevant and up to date when it comes to the technology they adopt but are much less current as to the messages they convey. As fresh eyes and hearts start to infiltrate the ranks of the producers, I think things will start to change.

 

Opening Ceremonies Rio

Aerial view of the climate change vignette during the opening ceremonies of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio (Photo credit: Huffington Post)

 

GSB: Do you think teams and leagues are afraid of the politics of environment/green/climate change?

ND: When I worked with the 34th America’s Cup Event Authority in San Francisco (2013), the words “climate change” were taboo within the organization despite the fact that we had made a legally binding commitment to the City of San Francisco that we would deliver a carbon neutral event. At the time, the leadership of the Event Authority was concerned that any discussion around climate change would be polarizing. Two years on from this event, at the Super Bowl 50 Host Committee, also in the Bay Area, we spoke openly about reducing our impact on climate change. Why were we able to do so? Thanks to bold leadership that celebrated rather than ran from the fact that Bay Area is a place where the acceptance of climate change is a given. It’s interesting to note that despite the Trump Administration’s position on climate change, Americans believe now more so than at any time in history that global warming is as a result of human activity and that the effects have already begun. This should give leagues, teams, athletes and sponsors the confidence to embrace this issue and I think we will as a result start to see more of them…

GSB: A la Mars…

ND: Exactly…We will see more of them openly aligning with the issue – particularly those where there is a direct link between the climate and the sport involved…winter sports, golf, sailing. In fact, Purpose + Sport recently advised a team that are preparing an entry for the 2021 edition of the Volvo Ocean Race on their purpose strategy. We brokered a partnership between the teams and Conservation International around a purpose very closely aligned to climate change and its impact on ocean health. I think this is a sign of things to come.

GSB: I hope and actually believe that you are right.

 


 

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The GSB Interview: Antonio Saillant, Film Producer/Director, On “Knights 58,” A Sports Movie That Will Be Shot Sustainably

There are sports movies. And there are (very few) movie productions with sustainability embedded in their DNA. “Knights 58,” now in its pre-production phase, may well be the first sports movie to use state-of-the-art green production techniques. GreenSportsBlog spoke to Antonio Saillant, the movie’s prime mover, executive producer, and director, about the story behind the movie and why he’s going the sustainable production route.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Antonio, that you will produce and direct perhaps the first-ever sports-themed movie to use state-of-the-art green production practices shows the ever broadening scale of the Green-Sports world. Thank you for doing this work and for talking with us.

Antonio Saillant: My pleasure, Lew.

 

ANTONIO HEADSHOT RAUL BRUNET JR

Antonio Saillant (Photo credit: Raul Brunet, Jr.)

 

GSB: Also, from our pre-interview conversation, I knew that “Knights 58”  — which largely is your story and that of your brother, Angel — would grip our readers from the get-go. So talk about the back story of “Knights 58.”

AS: Glad to. On its face, “Knights 58” is the story of how the 1979 Northern Valley Regional High School Golden Knights football team in Old Tappan in Northern New Jersey dealt with an almost three year, 25 game losing streak, and the pressure from the townspeople and the school administration that went with it. My brother Angel Meneses, who wore number 58 for the Knights…

GSB: …Hence the “Knights 58” title…

 

Knights 58

 

AS: Exactly. Angel was a senior linebacker in 1979 and was the captain and emotional leader of the team. He also could play — and not only football. Wrestling, basketball, track — Angel could do it all.

 

Angel on Golden Knights

Angel Meneses, #58 in white, playing for the Northern Valley (NJ) Regional H.S. Golden Knights (Photo credit: Antonio Saillant)

 

GSB: What about you?

AS: I was a sophomore at the time; played wide receiver. I was so-so but Angel? He was incredible, both on the field and as a leader in the locker room. This was especially important for the ’79 Knights because we had a 23 year-old rookie head coach who was just feeling his way with a downtrodden team, a coaching staff that didn’t trust him, and an administration and townspeople that were tired of the constant losing. He was also my idol. The movie will go into the story of Angel Meneses, the young, new head coach Bill Medea, and how the team tried to keep all the noise from the outside…outside. And do so as 16-17 year old kids.

GSB: What were some of the “noise” issues surrounding the Knights?

AS: Have we got all day? There was no gathering at the end of the field after our games. There was no cheering, no celebrating. The people who remained were cynics, backslapping each other with cruel remarks that hurt the team’s morale and drained us of our ability to win. One player described it recently as “Heartbreak, mixed with a trail of tears, followed the team.” Yet with Coach Medea, the boys never gave up. And with Angel, they were guided to the light of victory.

GSB: It sounds like “Knights 58” has the makings of a classic sports film. How and when did you decide to “green-ify” the production?

AS: Well, to get to that story, we have to go back and tell a few other stories first. It’ll take awhile but will make sense in the end.

GSB: I’m not going anywhere…

AS: OK, first of all, we are of Greek extraction but our dad was born in Cuba. Like I said, I was a so-so football player but my sport was baseball — I played third base and centerfield and, with my dad’s direction, became a switch hitter…

GSB: Like Mickey Mantle who learned to switch hit at the behest of his dad Mutt!

AS: I could play but, let’s be crystal clear, I was not near the same level as The Mick. Anyway, my father sent me to live with an uncle in the Dominican Republic for my junior year. He thought I’d be coached better, get to play year round and there were a ton of scouts there from many of the big league ball clubs.

GSB: How did you like it?

AS: Hated it. The poverty at the time was beyond extreme. And, truthfully, I wanted to be home with my friends and my brother. So I came back to the US, we moved to Washington Heights and I finished up at JFK high school in the Bronx. I wanted to go to college but my dad wanted me to pursue baseball. One day, I’m on the subway, and I see this guy wearing an Aviation high school jacket. I was interested in aerospace engineering so I went up and talked to him. He was studying that subject at the State University of New York (SUNY) in Farmingdale, Long Island, and by 1983, I was, too. In the summers, I would go down to the Dominican to play baseball. I hated it but my dad said he knew a scout down there for the Mets who would, when the time was right, take a look.

GSB: What happened with Angel?

AS: He was doing great; went to Long Island University in Brooklyn to get a Masters degree in physical therapy. Then, in the summer of 1987, I got a call from him. He said “come on up to New York. I’ve got great news to tell you.” I came up with some great news for him — dad had told me that some scouts from the Mets in the D.R. were interested in me.

GSB: What was Angel’s news?

AS: He was getting engaged to his girlfriend Miriam! So the three of us went to the beach at Robert Moses State Park to celebrate in his ’86 Camaro. We were on the Grand Central Parkway and, for a reason that remains a mystery to this day, despite there being little to no traffic and nothing out of the ordinary on the road, Angel slammed on the brakes while we were going 60 miles per hour! We did a 360 and then flipped upside down several times. The fire department had to come and get us out. I broke my arm and shattered my hand. Miriam made it. But Angel wasn’t so lucky — he died then and there.

GSB: Oh wow! I’m so sorry to hear of your loss. What did you do?

AS: I was a mess. Quit baseball — I just didn’t want to play anymore — I had lost my hero! My dad was pissed — he didn’t understand. Couldn’t focus on my studies, ended up transferring to New York Institute of Technology. Thought for a time of becoming a navy pilot but I didn’t want to leave my parents and sister so I failed the officer exams on purpose. Finally graduated NYIT in 1990 and landed a job with Con Edison (the main New York City utility), first as a project engineer and then as an energy consultant…

GSB: Is Con Ed where your interest in sustainability and energy efficiency took root?

AS: That was it…I ended up staying at ConEd for 7-8 years, then moved to a lighting and energy efficiency company in New Jersey where I moved up to Director of Energy Services. Had gotten married in 1993, had a son — Michael, now 23, a corrections officer in New York — got divorced in 1996.

GSB: OK, that’s a whirlwind. But the arc of this story is becoming a bit clearer…I get the sports story with Angel and the ’79 Knights…I get the green angle. But how do you become a movie producer/director? That’s the part that doesn’t fit.

AS: I got the acting bug in about 2001, 2002.

GSB: Had you ever acted before?

AS: Nope. Here’s what happened. I was sitting at an Italian bar in New York City…

GSB: …This sounds like a movie right here…

AS: I start talking to the guy sitting next to me. Turns out he was a big musical director on Broadway, Michael Rafter. He’s done “The Sound of Music,” “Gypsy,” “King & I” and more. We became good friends. He invited me to dress rehearsals of a musical he was working on at the time, “Caroline Or Change.” I was hooked. Told Michael I’d like to get into acting. He had me fax a letter to Bob Lambert, the casting director of “All My Children.” Three days later I was reading for him. Was I green! So Lambert sent me to an acting coach, I was back reading for him three months later and soon I was working on “All My Children” doing “Under 5s” and “Backgrounds”…

GSB: What are they?

AS: “Under 5s” are parts where you have five lines or less and in “Backgrounds,” you have no lines. As I was doing these jobs, I’d always talk to the director, the sound technician, the union guys, to learn how things work on the production side. A couple years later, I became friendly with a stunt coordinator…

GSB: Don’t tell me…

AS: …and I started doing stunt work. This was in about 2005. And I was acting. And, I was still working at the lighting and energy efficiency company in New Jersey, Mira Lighting. We did Hoffman LaRoche’s headquarters, Bristol-Myers Squibb’s, Yankee Stadium. Then I moved to another company, Energy Technology, owned by Ron Kamen at the time in New York, where I became VP. Then, also in about 2005, I met Sydney Pollack at a restaurant.

GSB: DANG, hanging out at restaurants is profitable for you! Sydney Pollack? You mean the director of “Tootsie”?

AS: Among his many great films. He was intrigued by my story and invited me on the set of “The Interpreter,” which was being shot at the United Nations. It was then that I started to shift my interest from acting to producing and directing. Sydney introduced me to a ton of people in those arenas. Also, at around that time, I became friendly with Dr. Dan Schaefer, a business consultant and life coach through his company, Peak Performance Strategies. He gave me the idea of merging film production and energy efficiency. And I also met Ted Kotcheff, who directed the great football movie, “North Dallas Forty” with Nick Nolte. Also “Weekend at Bernie’s,” a number of “Law & Orders.” The list goes on. Ted invited me onto the set of “Law & Order SVU” and it changed my life yet again.

 

Antonio Ted Kotcheff

Ted Kotcheff (l) and Antonio Saillant (Photo credit: Antonio Saillant)

 

GSB: How so?

AS: Well, one day, I noticed that they recycled on set. I suggested some other green initiatives Ted could take — and he listened and turned many of those suggestions into reality. Ted really became my film mentor — I worked with him on TV shows and films as a producer. Meanwhile, I hooked up with my ex-boss, Ron Kamen, now owner of Earth Kind Energy — he became my mentor on energy matters.

GSB: Now it all fits — the inspirational high school football story, the energy efficiency story and now the film production story. Amazing, truly amazing. So where, when and how did the idea for “Knights 58” come about?

AS: Ted Kotcheff’s “North Dallas Forty” really inspired “Knights 58.” I had started thinking back to the ’79 Knights, about Angel, about our 23 year-old coach and about why we couldn’t win a game, even though we had talent. About how the assistant coaches and the town were against us — “let’s go to the games to watch the band, not football,” was a popular saying at the time. And then I remembered how Angel, the coach and the other captains were able to block out the outside noise, create a family, us-against-the-world atmosphere, and get us to finally beat our rival, Westwood High, 33-8 in the last game of the season. It turned the school and the attitude of the town around. By 1985, the Knights would win the state title with Cory Booker, now the US Senator from New Jersey, as the star. Really, the story is about how we learned more about life from one high school football game than anything that happened before or since.

GSB: Sounds like a powerful sports movie…

AS: I pitched it to Ted. He thought it was a winner and is convinced A-list actors will want in. So my team is raising money now from private investors. We expect to be shooting next year with hoped for release sometime in 2019.

GSB: I’m glad it’s coming together for you. Talk about the green aspects of the production…

AS: We’re committed to shooting “Knights 58” as a 100 percent green production. What does that mean?

  • All of the support vehicles involved with the shoot will either be hybrids or EVs. Trucks will greatly reduce their idling times
  • We will use biodiesel-fueled generators
  • The short will be Zero-Waste, diverting at least 90 percent of all waste from landfill
  • Construction chiefs and art directors will favor low-VOC (volatile organic compounds) paints
  • Set materials will be donated to organizations that will make future use of them
  • Aluminum water bottles will be given out to members of the cast and crew, and there will be refilling stations on all locations

Our goal is to show the film industry that this is doable and not a budget breaker. Right now, the big studios aren’t doing it. They say things like “we can’t do special effects in a sustainable fashion.” That’s not true in many cases, especially with computer generation imaging (CGI.) They choose to be wasteful. But the thing is, big time actors want to go this route and so do some directors. I speak about green film production on college campuses and the students are now expecting that movies be produced in this fashion.

GSB: What a story, Antonio! And, once you complete Knights 58, maybe your next film can be a documentary on the Greening of the Film Industry.

 


 

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Run On Less: Truckers Test Fuel Efficiency in Long Haul Treks Across US and Canada

In the four year-plus existence of GreenSportsBlog, we’ve reported on a wide variety of sports, from surfing to auto racing, from cricket to disk sports. Well, today we take a bit of poetic license as we take a look at long haul trucking. The first ever Run on Less (ROL) fuel-economy roadshow kicked of on September 6 and extends until September 26-28. ROL is not a race — thus, the poetic license — but it puts seasoned drivers and trucks to the test as they haul freight over three weeks from various starting points in the US and Canada to Atlanta in trucks equipped with a variety of technologies that improve fuel efficiency.

 

The North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE) and nonprofit Carbon War Room, founded by Sir Richard Branson, are the driving forces behind Run on Less (ROL), the first-of-its-kind fuel-economy roadshow that kicked off September 6. Seven seasoned drivers, working for PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay division as well as companies that are well-known in the trucking industry^, were selected to haul freight in trucks equipped with a variety of technologies that improve fuel efficiency from a variety of starting points to Atlanta.

When I first read about Run On Less, I thought to myself, “This is a cool and important story but it’s not technically a sport since the drivers aren’t racing. I understand why — minimizing crashes with trucks full of freight is a laudable idea —and it’s impossible, since they’re starting from different points across the US and Canada, to equalize for truck makes, loads, terrains, winds and more. Thus the goal isn’t to get to Atlanta first.” But I still thought it would be an interesting story for you, the readers, so I decided to call Mike Roeth, Executive Director of NACFE, to see if there was a sports hook, a sports analogy, to which I could latch on.

 

Roeth Mike NACFE

Mike Roeth, Executive Director of NACFE (Photo credit: NACFE)

 

Mike found one: NBA All Star Weekend.

“Look at ‘Run on Less’ as if it’s a skills competition like the NBA Slam Dunk or Three Point Shooting Contest of trucking,” recommended Mr. Roeth. “We designed it to showcase efficient and effective driving skills, rather than go for a championship of some kind.”

Works for me!

So here’s the gist:

The seven trucks (two Volvos, two Internationals and 3 Cascadias), all less than three years old, are outfitted with a wide array of advanced fuel efficiency technologies. As no two trucks are the same, each fleet selects its own combination of technologies to achieve its fuel-efficiency goals. According to Mr. Roeth, “The trucks have different aerodynamics technologies: Some feature low rolling resistance tires, others have automatic tire inflation. There will be a variety of state-of-the-art power trains and automated manual transmissions. Several of the trucks are equipped with 15-liter engines, and others are going smaller, with a 13-liter and an 11-liter engine among the group. Three of the trucks have solar panels to generate power while the drivers are sleeping.”

 

Truck with Solar US Xpress

Truck cab with solar panels on the roof. Three of the trucks in Run On Less have on board solar. (Photo credit: USXpress)

 

The trucks will, when it’s all said and done, have driven a combined 40,000 miles over roughly two and a half weeks. The routes and the types of driving will vary greatly: One fleet is delivering auto parts from El Paso, Texas, to Ellisville, Missouri. Another is making dedicated store deliveries in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Kentucky. Yet another is running a route from Laredo, Texas, to the Carolinas. And another is doing daily round-trips from Perry, Georgia, to Charleston, South Carolina.

Weather has played a major role in Run On Less. “Hurricanes Harvey and Irma had a significant effect,” said Roeth, at a New York City press conference on Tuesday, heralding Run On Less. “Routes had to change, fuel availability became an issue and winds at times hindered and at other times helped the drivers.”

No matter the route and the load, data is being collected on board in real time, courtesy of GPS technology partner Geotab, and is being updated 6-8 times per day on the Run On Less website.  “We track dollars, gallons and CO₂ emissions saved,” reported Mr. Roeth. “Every gallon of diesel not burned saves 22 lbs. of CO₂. Over the first 10 days of the run, the drivers averaged 10.1 miles per gallon (mpg), economy that’s 57 percent better than the national average of 6.4 mpg for trucks in this size range#. Perhaps the greatest thing is that the technologies being used are order-able right now, available to anyone.”

According to NACFE, if the 1.7 million trucks on the road in the US and Canada today achieved the same level of efficiency as the trucks in Run On Less, there would be annual cumulative savings of 98 million tons of CO₂ and $48 billion. The market opportunity for efficient technologies in trucking is massive because, per Mr. Roeth, only “about 100,000 trucks are outfitted with the advanced efficiency technologies.”

That said, the trucking industry has come a long way on environmental issue over the last three decades or so. “Going back to 1990, the EPA put environmental restrictions on NOx — a generic term for the nitrogen oxides that are most relevant for air pollution, namely nitric oxide (NO) and nitrogen dioxide (NO₂) — so trucks would run cleaner,” offered Mr. Roeth. “The industry didn’t like it because it cost more and resulted, counterintuitively, in slightly lower miles per gallon performance. Fast forward to the present. Now with efficiency being the main the goal of most EPA regulations, the industry has gotten behind them. You can understand why when fuel costs nowadays run to $40,000 per year. And when gas is $4 a gallon, those annual fuel costs can spike to upwards of $70,000.”

On climate change, Mr. Roeth asserts that the industry and their large customers “get it — for the most part. This is true especially for companies like Pepsi, Amazon and Wal-Mart, for which sustainability is a big deal. On the other hand, some in the industry prefer to stay away from climate change and stick with energy efficiency. Drivers of course like the increased fuel economy — in addition to the obvious reasons of saving money and cleaner air, one driver told me ‘I like it because it means I have to stop less frequently’.”

As for electrification of the long haul trucking fleet, Mr. Roeth sees the industry moving slowly — or maybe not: “It will take awhile to get to scale on electrification for trucks — it will happen more quickly with passenger cars. Right now, it simply is easier to add size to a gas tank to give a truck more range than it is to get similar range with batteries. But I may be proven wrong as battery technology is improving — and the costs are decreasing — exponentially. I’ll be happy if that’s the case.”

Finally, at Tuesday’s presser, it fell to Sir Richard Branson to bring home the power of Run On Less in a very personal way: “After spending the last week or so in the British Virgin Islands, which got absolutely leveled by Hurricane Irma — in the immediate aftermath it looked like an atom bomb had hit — it’s strange to be here talking about trucking…But, actually, Run On Less offers a ray of hope as it is showing the amount of carbon that can be saved by the industry [if it simply adopts already available technologies] is gigantic.”

 

Branson

Sir Richard Branson (l) at the NACFE press conference (Photo credit: Lewis Blaustein)

 

^ Albert Transport, Hirschbach, Mesilla Valley Transportation, Nussbaum Transportation, Ploger Transportation, and US Xpress are the other trucking companies taking part
# Trucks get far lower fuel economy than even SUVs, much less sedans or subcompact cars. This should not be surprising as these are extremely heavy vehicles carrying staggeringly heavy loads.

 


 

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

For the past four years, GreenSportsBlog has featured the teams, athletes and events that are taking the Green-Sports lead. What we haven’t focused on much is how said teams and players have done on the court or field. Well, that changes today as we unveil a new occasional feature, the GSB Eco-Scoreboard: Catching Up with Green-Sports Leaders on the Field, in which we highlight 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.

 

Dartford F.C.

Dartford Football Club in Kent, located 18 miles southeast of London has always resided in the lower rungs of the English football (soccer) pyramid and is currently in the sixth tier.

Yet this classic “small club” has gone big when it comes to sustainability. Its 11 year-old Princes Park was built with sustainable construction materials, boasts on-site solar panels, an advanced rainwater reclamation system and a green roof.

 

Princes Park Green Roof

Princes Park, home of Dartford F.C., and its green roof (Photo credit: Dartford F.C.)

 

On the pitch, Dartford F.C. has one major goal this season: Earn promotion to the fifth tier National League by finishing first in the National League South. After its high octane 4-2 home win on Tuesday over Eastbourne Borough, Dartford moved into a 4-way tie for first place. There’s a long way to go — Dartford just played the 11th game of its 42-game season — but the early signs are strong.

Next up for “The Darts” is a Saturday visit to 17th place Weston-super-Mare A.F.C. (I love these British team names).

 

Forest Green Rovers

Sticking with the minor leagues of English football, we turn to Forest Green Rovers.

Its owner, Dale Vince, OBE, who also owns solar and wind company Ecotricity, has set out to turn the West Midlands club into the Greenest Team in Sports. From solar panels on the roof to an organic pitch that is mowed by a solar powered mow-bot to exclusively-vegan concession stands, Vince and FGR has succeeded in setting the Green-Sports pace.

Vince realizes that the FGR Green Story will get more attention and followers the better the team does on the pitch.

On that score, the team made a significant leap when it earned promotion in May from the fifth tier National League to fourth tier League Two for the first time in its 125 year history.

Now the trick is to stay in League Two this season — to do so, FGR cannot finish in the bottom two places or it will be relegated back down from whence they came. And it won’t be easy as stepping up a league means a significant step up in competition.

FGR has had a scratchy start to the 2017-2018 season, earning but one win and one tie from their first seven contests. Thus Saturday’s match at Port Vale was key as a loss would mean FGR would be in the dreaded “relegation zone,” a place you don’t want to be, even this early in the season (eight matches have been played in the 46-game schedule).

And things looked dicey when Port Vale took the lead in the 20th minute. But, in the 66th minute, Omar Bugiel entered the game for FGR as a substitute and two minutes later, the the Lebanese National Team member leveled things with a glancing header. From then on, FGR applied constant pressure but could not net the game winner. Still, a tie on the road was a solid result and keeps FGR out of the relegation zone for now.

 

Omar Bugiel FGR

Lebanese international Omar Bugiel scored the equalizer for Forest Green Rovers in their 1-1 draw at Port Vale on Saturday (Photo credit: Forest Green Rovers)

 

Friday night, Forest Green Rovers’ fight to stay above danger continues when 10th place Swindon Town F.C. comes to The New Lawn.

 

Stephen Piscotty, St. Louis Cardinals

GreenSportsBlog has closely followed the 25 year old Redbirds outfielder after interviewing him in January. Why did we talk to Piscotty? Two reasons:

  1. Coming off of a stellar first full season in the big leagues, with 25 homers and 85 RBIs, Piscotty was primed for a breakout 2017 campaign.
  2. A 2015 Stanford graduate, with a degree in Atmosphere and Energy Engineering, Piscotty is the rare athlete to express serious knowledge of and interest in clean tech—specifically solar and smart grid.

 

Manager of Photography

Stephen Piscotty, St. Louis Cardinals outfielder (Photo credit: Taka Yanagimoto/St. Louis Cardinals)

 

Unfortunately, Piscotty has had a very rough second season:  Two stints on the disabled list with hamstring and groin injuries combined with a sophomore slump at the plate led to a demotion to Triple-A Memphis in early August.

But these struggles pale in comparison to the news Piscotty received over Memorial Day that his mother, Gretchen, had been diagnosed with ALS^ or Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

As the July 31st trade deadline approached, rumors surfaced that the Cardinals were trying to deal Piscotty to the Oakland A’s to allow him to be nearer to his mom and family in the Bay Area. That trade did not come to pass.

In fact, Piscotty was sent back up to St. Louis from Memphis after only a couple weeks. Shortly thereafter, he launched a game-winning homer against the Padres on September 6 in San Diego, with his mom in the stands. This gave a much-needed boost to the Cardinals in their long shot bid to make the playoffs — as of this writing, the Redbirds are 4.5 games out of a wild card berth with 13 games to go.

 

^ If you are interested in donating to support ALS research, please click here for a link to the ALS Association

 


 

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