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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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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“Take a Knee” Sunday and Its Implications for Green-Sports

Did Sunday’s”Take a Knee” protests by NFL players at all 14 stadiums, primarily against recent comments made by the President of the United States, along with longer-standing grievances about racism, police brutality and income and opportunity inequality, have any implications for Green-Sports? GreenSportsBlog offers its take.

 

I wasn’t going to write about “Take a Knee” Sunday.

In case you were off the media grid for most of the past week, you know that “Take A Knee” refers to the silent protests, both kneeling and arm-in-arm, made by NFL players, coaches, and even some owners during the playing of the national anthem at all 14 games Sunday (and then again at Monday night’s Cowboys-Cardinals contest in Arizona).   They were in reaction to a storm of, from my point of view, divisive, and racially charged comments, from the President of the United States, starting on Friday night. But they were born of the 2016 Take a Knee national anthem actions by then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick to protest racism, police brutality, and income and opportunity equality.

To be sure, climate change has strong, if not well-publicized connections, to social and economic justice. But I didn’t think there was a GreenSportsBlog segment here.

Then I had a conversation Monday with Diana Dehm, the dynamic host of the Sustainability News and Entertainment Radio Show and President of Climate and Sports Youth Summits. She, metaphorically speaking, shook me by the lapels and challenged me to write about Take a Knee as a “huge opportunity for Green-Sports!!!”

Here’s why she is right.

“Take a Knee Sunday” is arguably the highest profile recent example of athletes saying “Hell NO!” to the “You’re a jock, just Stick to Sports, don’t get involved in politics, that’s not your lane” — ethos that has long prevailed in the US and Canada, if not the world. It still has its adherents (cue the Wall Street Journal editorial page and Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson) but Colin Kaepernick changed things.

Whatever you think of the substance of his racism and police brutality-inspired Take a Knee protest last year, Kaepernick was the spark that jumpstarted a downward spiral for “Stick to Sports.” The ascendancy of President Trump was like dumping kerosene on it.

 

Dolphins Take a Knee QZ

Four members of the Miami Dolphins “Take a Knee” during the playing of the national anthem before the start of their game with the New York Jets on Sunday at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey (Photo credit: QZ.com)

 

Athletes, even despite the inevitable pushback from some segments of the media and public, should feel more empowered to speak out on issues of racism, income and opportunity inequality and the President’s bullying. Kaepernick already took the bullet for them. He doesn’t have an NFL job right now, but owners will not fire hundreds of Take a Knee-ers en masse (they can do so legally but it’s hard to imagine a mass firing taking place). And now that über-popular NBA megastars LeBron James and Steph Curry are openly criticizing the President’s criticisms of the Take a Knee-ers, that gives even more cover to more athletes across more sports to speak their minds on a whole host of issues.

Including climate change.

Do I think athletes are going to take to the climate change fight with the same numbers, at the same volume, they are bringing to the racism and income inequality fights? Of course not; not even close.

But do I think more athletes will mention climate change as a social justice and economic justice issue; that there will be more eco-athletes, post-“Take a Knee” Sunday? Yes*.

* Green-Sports growth among athletes won’t happen by itself.

To knock out that asterisk, we need to find more eco-athletes. And those newly-discovered and existing eco-athletes, along with other leaders of the sports-greening movement and, for that matter, GreenSportsBlog, must connect with the many athletes already active on the social and economic justice fronts. Once those connections are made, let’s educate the activist athletes about how the effects of climate change exacerbate problems from public health to unemployment to income inequality and how taking aggressive action to fight climate change (i.e. a Marshall Plan for clean energy and energy efficiency) is one of the best prescriptions to start to cure those ills.

 

LeBron James commenting Monday on President Trump’s attacks on NFL “Take a Knee”-ers (5 minutes 40 seconds)

 


 

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GSB News and Notes, UK Style: Arsenal Supporters Protest Owner Stan Kroenke’s Ownership of Hunting Channel; Oval Cricket Ground/SkyTV Tackle Plastic Ocean Waste; Forest Green Rovers League Two Debut Earns Big Media Coverage

With the 2017-18 Premier League (EPL) football/soccer season set to kickoff tomorrow/Friday, with Arsenal hosting Leicester City, and with a raft of interesting Green-Sports stories breaking out across England, now is a perfect time for a UK style GSB News & Notes. And, just like the EPL campaign, we start with Arsenal, as their supporters protest the club’s American owner Stan Kroenke and his ownership of a cable TV hunting channel. Then we move on to an initiative from London’s Oval Cricket Ground and SkyTV to build awareness of, and action on the plastic ocean waste issue. We end with GSB fave Forest Green Rovers (FGR). Their debut in the fourth tier of the English Football pyramid, League Two, after earning promotion from the fifth tier last spring, drew coverage from major media outlets the world over. Why? Because FGR is the Greenest Team in Sports.

 

 

ARSENAL SUPPORTERS PROTEST OWNERS OWNERSHIP OF CABLE TV HUNTING CHANNEL

Arsenal is one of the Premier League’s (EPL’s) most decorated clubs, with 13 league titles and a record 13 FA Cup trophies to its credit. It is also an EPL green leader: The club just extended its partnership with Octopus Energy to supply the Emirates Stadium with electricity generated solely from renewables. The stadium also puts its 100 percent of its food waste through an anaerobic digester, which then gets composted.

Gunners’ supporters seem to be supportive of the clubs greening initiatives but that hasn’t stopped them from criticizing the club’s American owner, Stan Kroenke, on another environmental issue — animal cruelty — specifically, his company’s ownership of My Outdoor TV (MOTV), a hunting-themed cable network. And they are, smartly it says here, pushing Arsenal’s main sponsors — Emirates, Puma and Vitality — to condemn Kroenke’s support for hunting.

According to Jack de Menezes of The INDEPENDENT of London, “a petition calling for [Emirates, Puma and Vitality] to call for Kroenke ‘to stand down’ has [as of August 3rd] nearly reached 50,000 signatures, as pressure continues to grow on the American billionaire following the launch of his hunting TV channel.”

Kroenke has faced searing criticism and outrage from Arsenal supporters after it was revealed on August 1 that MOTV is owned by his company, Kroenke Sports & Entertainment. Per de Menezes, the aforementioned petition calls for a “meeting between the Arsenal board, key sponsors, leading animal rights charities and most importantly, [representatives] of the international fan bases regarding this situation.” Tom Farmery of The Daily Mail reported that the dustup reached up to the highest levels of British politics as UK Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn joined the criticism of Kroenke’s MOTV app, which for £7.60 ($10.06) a month offers “the Netflix of the hunting world.”

But perhaps it was the BBC and its “Have I Got News For You” show that nailed the story with this tweet of a doctored jersey (“kit” in British English,) which Arsenal fans then picked up with a vengeance.

 

Arsenal Tweet

 

Can you see American sports fans protesting against a hunting channel? Or against fracking? While there certainly were marches against Mike Vick after he served his time for organizing dog fights, it’s hard for this reporter to imagine a movement against hunting in the US. And if that’s hard to imagine, it’s harder still to picture protests against, say, fossil fuel companies who sponsor sports events/teams. We certainly can learn some things from our British sports fan cousins.

 

LONDON’S OVAL CRICKET GROUND PARTNERS WITH SKY TV ON PLASTIC OCEAN WASTE CAMPAIGN

Sky TV, one of the UK’s two largest sports broadcasters (BT Sport being the other) is advancing Green-Sports in ways that its US counterparts ESPN, Fox Sports, NBC Sports, and CBS Sports, should emulate.

Kia Oval Stadium, the 24,000 seat South London home of the Surrey cricket club, partnered with Sky and its new Sky Sports Cricket channel to build awareness of the plastic ocean waste problem. The broadcaster, through its Ocean Rescue sustainability campaign, gave out refillable water bottles to fans who came to the stadium from July 27th-31st for the England-South Africa five day Test match. Thanks to a hat trick by star bowler Moeen Ali, the home side won by 239 runs. I have no idea what “England won by 239 runs” in cricket means…other than that England won.

 

England bowlers Moeen Ali and Stuart Broad are supporting the Sky Ocean Rescue initiative, which is encouraging consumers to reduce the use of single-use plastics

England bowlers Moeen Ali and Stuart Broad are supporting the Sky Ocean Rescue initiative, which is encouraging consumers to reduce the use of single-use plastics. (Photo credit: Sky Sports)

 

 

According to a story by Luke Nicholls in edie.net20,000 limited-edition re-usable bottles were given out at the London ground throughout the five-day Test affair, and “fans were encouraged to use 20 free water distribution points which were installed throughout the venue.” Giving out water bottles is hard to imagine at a stateside sporting event, or even at an English soccer/football match. But, perhaps the make up of the crowd at a five day Test match — where there are breaks for tea — gives the organizers confidence that the water bottles will be used in a proper, decorous fashion.

A Sky Ocean Rescue mobile studio was set up at the Oval, allowing fans to commit their own recorded pledge to become an #OceanHero. These were then shared via social media.

But it is on TV where Sky is really stepping up its Green-Sports game.

Sky News reports on the plastic ocean waste issue were played during breaks in the match and viewers were challenged to reduce use of single-use plastics in the home.

Sky Sports Cricket channel devoted parts of its Test match coverage to highlighting the impact plastic is having on the world’s oceans, using some cricket statistics that, per Nicholls’, are “shocking”: For example, “In the time it takes to bowl one over, the equivalent of four rubbish trucks’ worth of plastic will be dumped in the ocean.”

Now, I have no clue as to what “bowling one over” means or how long it takes, but I do know that if Sky Sports can broadcast environmental messaging during an important international cricket match, ESPN and Fox Sports can do the same during, say, an NBA playoff game or World Series games. Will they? Stay tuned.

To Sky CEO Jeremy Darroch, the Ocean Rescue campaign, which launched in January with a 45-minute documentary which aired across the company’s TV channels and has received almost 25,000 views on YouTube, is a no-brainer: “The dire health of our oceans is such an important issue, and one that needs to be urgently addressed. At Sky, we want to use our voice and the potential of our reach to inspire people to take action to protect our planet by bringing to life our amazing ocean for millions of people across Europe, and discussing the solutions.

England cricketer Stuart Broad, who is also supporting the initiative, noted that “by 2050, there’s a chance that there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish, which is really scary for our world, isn’t it?”

 

 

 

FOREST GREEN ROVERS EARNS DRAW IN FIRST LEAGUE TWO MATCH, ATTENTION FROM ESPN AND THE GUARDIAN FOR ITS GREENNESS

Forest Green Rovers (FGR), the Greenest Team in Sports (GTIS), played its first match ever in League Two, the fourth tier of English football, on Saturday, earning a 2-2 draw vs. Barnet in front of a raucous home crowd at The New Lawn stadium.

[NOTE: If you are a loyal GreenSportsBlog reader and are thus very familiar with the Forest Green Rovers story, feel free to skip the next three paragraphs. For GSB rookies, keep reading.]

FGR embarked on its journey to earn its GTIS designation when Dale Vince, OBE^, who also owns British renewable energy company Ecotricity, bought the club in 2010 and became team chairman. Over the next several years, he installed an organic pitch at the New Lawn, has it mowed by a solar powered Mo-Bot, and converted all of the stadium concession stands to vegan-only food.

You read that right.

The club’s fortunes on the pitch also improved since Vince took over, with FGR finally earning promotion from the National Conference, the 5th tier of English football, to the 4th tier League Two. This might not sound like much — sort of like a minor league baseball club moving up from Rookie League to Class A, if American sports had promotion and relegation — but it really is. That’s because, League Two is the bottom rung of The Football League, with the English Premier League at the top of the pyramid#.

[Welcome back, GSB veteran readers!]

Being in The Football League for the first time in its 128 year existence means more exposure for FGR. But because of the club’s green ethos, that exposure is growing exponentially, far more than for the typical League Two promo-tee.

For example, a long form piece by Ian Chadband, ran on espnfc.comwhich draws 11.48 million monthly unique visitors, two days before the Barnet match. It characterized FGR as: “a little sports club with big dreams like no other…The fairy tale, as they like to call it, of a village team on the verge of bankruptcy, who have risen to become the club from the smallest community ever to host a team in England’s professional Football League…[And] there’s the uniquely green bit, the fact that vegan-embracing, eco-friendly Forest Green have a very different ethos from perhaps any other sports organization.”

Stuart James, writing on July 31st in The Guardian, with its 30 million+ monthly uniques, dug deep into the food aspect of the FGR story. Vegan cuisine is not only on offer for the the fans; players and coaches are on all-vegan diets. Good thing for them that Em Franklin, the club’s chef, is a foodie’s — vegan or otherwise — dream: “The Q-Pie is brilliant – people love it,” Franklin told James. “It’s a shortcrust pastry base, puff pastry lid and it’s Quorn with soya béchamel white sauce, with thyme and leeks. It’s full and it’s filling because my portions are hearty! We’re doing a pasty as well this year – that’s something new. Because we’re vegan doesn’t mean it’s all lettuce and lentils.”

 

Em Franklin

Em Franklin, the chef at Forest Green, where the food is vegan. (Photo credit: Martin Godwin for The Guardian)

 

Speaking Wednesday to Brian Oliver of The Star Online of Malaysia, Ryan Harmer, FGR’s club’s commercial director summed it up this way: “In the past week we’ve had reporters here from China, been on Al Jazeera and ESPN, on German radio stations. In League Two that’s probably unheard of.”

 

^ OBE = Order of the British Empire
# From top to bottom, the Football League consists of The Premier League, the Championship, League One and League Two

 


 

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NBA and WNBA March in NYC Gay Pride Parade; GSB Imagines When Leagues March for Climate, Science

The NBA and WNBA, for the second consecutive year, sponsored a float in the Gay Pride Parade in New York City. When will the NBA and WNBA — and, for that matter, other sports leagues, have floats and/or some other sort of presence at a climate change and/or science march? GreenSportsBlog imagines such a future.

 

North American sports leagues and teams have, for the most part, shied away from taking overtly public stands on issues of the day, even ones that have broad public support.

When asked by GreenSportsBlog, not one North American professional sports league would comment on President Trump’s decision to pull the United States out of the Paris Climate Agreement. We asked executives at Major League Baseball, NBA, NFL and the NHL and all either said “no comment” or declined to respond at all. This, despite survey data from the Huffington Post/YouGov poll showing that 61 percent of Americans support staying in Paris.

So I was very happy to see that the NBA and WNBA co-sponsored a float in last Sunday’s Pride Parade in New York City for the second straight year. Commissioners Adam Silver and Lisa Borders were on board, enjoying the day, waving and throwing balled-up, NBA- and WNBA-branded towels to the crowd, estimated to be in the one million range. 

Media recognized that this was a BIG DEAL: The New York Times gave it front page-of-the-sports section treatment. Bleacher Report, the New York Daily News and numerous other outlets covered it as well.

So that got me to thinking: What if the NBA, WNBA and the other sports leagues that are aggressively greening and use science in every aspect of their operations, including to abet their sustainability efforts, had decided to lend similar support to the April 22nd March for Science and the People’s Climate March a week later?  

So that got me to conjuring a series of conversations that imagined Mr. Silver, Ms. Borders, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, ESPN’s John Brenkus and others having participated in one or both marches.

 

APRIL 30, 2017, Edmonton, Los Angeles, New York City, San Diego and Washington, D.C.

For the second consecutive Saturday, hundreds of thousands of protesters marched on Washington, D.C., New York City and other cities throughout the United States, Canada and beyond.

Yesterday, the People’s Climate March took center stage, with an estimated 300,000 Americans taking to the streets to advocate for meaningful climate action, along with clean energy jobs, and against the Trump administration’s anti-environmental and anti-climate executive actions and plans. Only a week earlier, on Earth Day, 1.3 million people marched in the U.S and beyond to defend the role of science — including climate science— in policy and society through the March for Science.

That many marchers took part in both events is no surprise as the climate change fight and many aspects of science are under attack from the Trump Administration and many of its supporters.

What may have surprised many is that the NBA and WNBA, along with Major League Baseball, ESPN, the National Hockey League, and Major League Soccer all participated in both marches. The NFL sent representatives to the March for Science but chose not to take part in The People’s Climate March, citing a conflict with Day 3 of its annual draft. They did release a vague statement that supported “the goals of the Climate March.”

Politics averse sports leagues, participating in marches? What the heck is happening?

“The NBA, its teams, players and staff are not averse to politics,” asserted NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. “That’s a myth. Because we in the NBA are U.S. citizens or foreign nationals, we encourage our players, coaches and staff to voice their opinions. And they have, on a wide range of relevant issues, including on science and climate change. And, when we believe something is important, we march!”

The marches supporting science and the climate change fight must be very important to Silver and the NBA since they took place at the beginning of the playoffs, the most highly-watched games of the season.

Thus some fans—and not only those in the anti-science, climate-skeptical corners of the political spectrum—might question why the NBA marched the last two Saturdays while playoff games were being played.

To Commissioner Silver, they need not wonder at all: “First of all, we can walk-march and chew gum—i.e. play playoff games—at the same time. That’s why we joined the People’s Climate March today. And then tomorrow I will be in Boston for Game 1 of the Celtics-Wizards series. Science is intrinsic to the entire operation of NBA basketball, from state-of-the-art training centers and arenas to advanced nutrition to advanced statistical metrics to equipment. On climate change, my predecessor, David Stern, said in 2013, that ‘climate change is just about number one on [our agenda for] the future of the planet.’ At the same time, we invited Congress to promote effective standards and incentives designed to help our nation mobilize in time and at the scale needed to address the risks of climate change…The logical place to start is with standards to reduce the carbon pollution from electric power plants, the nation’s largest source of carbon pollution. The environmental executive actions and policy plans of the current administration in Washington show they are moving in the opposite direction. So here we are.”

This isn’t the first time professional basketball has played a significant role in a political march. As WNBA commissioner Lisa Borders noted, “last June, the NBA and WNBA became the first sports leagues to have a float in a parade when we took part in New York City’s annual Pride Parade. In fact, Adam (Silver) and I walked alongside and on the float. It was fantastic. And I have to tell you, I got a similar feeling at the March for Science and The People’s Climate March. Both were great.”

 

NBA Float

WNBA legend Sue Wicks, WNBA commissioner Lisa Borders, NBA commissioner Adam Silver and former NBA player Jason Collins on NBA float at the 2016 Pride Parade in New York City (Photo credit: Outsports)

 

Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred, who took part in New York City’s March for Science with a group of staffers, interns and fans, before heading out to Citi Field for the late afternoon Nationals-Mets contest, likened investments in science to a team’s investments in its farm systems. “We cannot attack science. Just the opposite: we need to fund science consistently and aggressively; that way society can absorb the occasional failure with the fruits of science’s many successes” said Mr. Manfred, “Just like when MLB clubs aggressively and consistently invest in their farm system, the odds are the successes are going to far outweigh the failures.”

John Brenkus, host of ESPN’s popular Sport Science series, joined by thousands of fellow travelers in the Los Angeles People’s Climate March, offered that “Our show is really about the physics of sports—the exit velocity of an Aaron Judge home run, measuring the agility of Jacksonville Jaguars rookie running back Leonard Fournette, that sort of thing. Well, climate change is ultimately about physics—how the emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gasses by humans impact the climate. The physics is clear and is not in humanity’s favor right now unless we make changes towards cleaner energy.”

 

John Brenkus

John Brenkus, host of ESPN’s Sport Science. (Photo credit: Sport Techie)

 

Ex-Boston Bruin and Edmonton Oiler, and current cleantech/green agriculture venture capitalist Andrew Ference, joined a gaggle of hearty Edmontonians at the Alberta city’s cold but friendly People’s Climate March. Not surprisingly from someone who is betting on green businesses, Ference was bullish about the climate change fight in general and the power of athletes to help: “There are athletes who do get it and want to lead, whether they are on field/on ice superstars. We need to provide them with the education and tools they need to engage teammates, sponsors, and fans.”

Leave it to NBA Hall of Famer, announcer, Grateful Deadhead, and environmentalist Bill Walton, who walked in both marches in San Diego, to provide the exclamation point on the intersection between sports, science and climate change: “When I was marching through the glorious streets of San Diego the last two Saturdays, I saw the hope of mankind displayed as many thousands supported scientists and then climate change. As (legendary UCLA basketball) Coach (John) Wooden often said ‘failing to prepare is preparing to fail.’ Well these marchers showed they are preparing to fight for science, for curiosity, for learning and for the planet. They are preparing to succeed, no matter what goes on in Washington. Live Green or Die, man!”

 

Walton

Bill “Live Free or Die” Walton (Photo credit: Awful Announcing)

 

Have a great Independence Day weekend. GreenSportsBlog is taking the week off—unless there is breaking Green-Sports news. Then we will be there to cover it.

 


 

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GSB News and Notes: Soccer Sponsor Carlsberg Beer to Decarbonize by 2030; Pocono Raceway Issues Sustainability Report; College Baseball World Series Fans Turn Previously Non-Recyclable Plastics into Energy

Soccer, auto racing and baseball make up our summer solstice GSB News & Notes column. The Carlsberg Group, a leading sponsor of soccer/football clubs across Europe and elsewhere, is leading on decarbonization as well. The Danish brewing giant has committed to completely eliminate carbon emissions from its factories by 2030. Pocono Raceway becomes the first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series track to issue a sustainability report. And fans visiting TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, NE for the College Baseball World Series have a new way to not only recycle their garbage, but to turn it into energy. 

 

CARLSBERG TO MAKE ZERO CARBON BEER BY 2030

Carlsberg Group of Copenhagen, Denmark, pledged last week to eliminate carbon emissions and halve water usage at its breweries worldwide by 2030, as part of its new Together Towards ZERO (TTZ), sustainability drive. According to a story in Sustainable Brands by Maxine Perella, the world’s fifth largest beer maker also intends to switch to 100 percent renewable electricity for its breweries by 2022 as one of several intermediate goals. Zero tolerance for irresponsible drinking and accidents are non-environmental facets of TTZ.

Carlsberg has a great opportunity to communicate TTZ to consumers through its sports sponsorships, which are concentrated in soccer/football. It is the official beer sponsor of several iconic European club teams as well as national squads, including:

  • Arsenal of the English Premier League—already active in Green-Sports with its solar partner, Octopus Energy.
  • Danish Superliga powerhouse F.C. Copenhagen, arguably, the most successful club in Danish football.
  • UEFA’s European (or Euro) Championships. Euro 2016, contested in France, is generally regarded as one of the most sustainable mega-sports events ever held.
  • National teams of Bulgaria, Denmark, and Serbia.

Carlsberg has set some aggressive targets for TTZ, aligned with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) protocol. By 2022, it expects to achieve 50 percent reduction in brewery carbon emissions and to have eliminated the use of coal at its factories. It is also targeting a 15 percent reduction in Scope 3 (i.e. supply chain) emissions by the same date, working in partnership with 30 suppliers.

Carlsberg’s sustainability director, Simon Hoffmeyer Boas, speaking to Ms. Perella in Sustainable Brands, suggested that meeting the TTZ goals will, “require changes in the way we buy our products, in the way we produce our beer and the machinery we use.” On-site renewables will also play a key role in getting the company “towards zero.”

Carlsberg’s Dali brewery in China, for instance, has installed over 8,000 rooftop solar panels; the energy generated from these panels is meeting roughly 20 percent of the brewery’s electricity needs.

Turning to water, the beer maker is already working to get its H2O-to-beer ratios down. As of 2015, Mr. Boas says the company’s average ratio stood at 3.4 liters of water per liter of beer. The intention is to get down to 2.7 liters by 2022, and then to 1.7 liters by 2030. Those breweries sited in high-risk areas of water scarcity will look to reduce its water-to-beer ratio even further.

 

Carlsberg

Infographic detailing Carlsberg’s Together Towards ZERO program (Courtesy: Carlsberg)

 

As strong as Carlsberg’s decarbonization and water efficiency roadmap appears to be, it is, in the main, a B-to-B effort. If the company is undertaking these sustainability efforts, as it says on its website, in response to “increasing consumer (MY ITALICS) demand for sustainable products in a time of global challenges such as climate change, water scarcity and public health issues,” then it needs to promote TTZ to those consumers. Existing sports sponsorships—and the massive audiences that go with them—give Carlsberg a powerful platform for TTZ-themed TV/mobile ads, signage, promotions, and more. Let’s see if the company chooses to use it.

 

POCONO RACEWAY ISSUES ITS FIRST SUSTAINABILITY REPORT

June 8 is now a red-letter day in NASCAR history.

On that day, Pocono Raceway become the first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race track to release a Sustainability Report touting its sustainability and green efforts. Pocono Raceway President and CEO Brandon Igdalsky, a 2016 GreenSportsBlog interviewee, issued the report just days before the NASCAR XFINITY Series Pocono Green 250 race, won by Kyle Larson.

 

Brandon_Image (002)

Brandon Igdalsky, President and CEO of Pocono Raceway. (Photo credit: Pocono Raceway)

 

“We are very proud to make this report available to the public,” said Igdalsky in a statement. “We had a lot of help from NASCAR Green, the Green Sports Alliance and Penn State among many others and we are grateful for their assistance. This report showcases our diversion efforts as well recycling, food donation and much more as we try to do all we can at Pocono Raceway.”

The report highlights Pocono Raceway’s:

  • Status as the first major sports venue in the country to be powered entirely by solar power. Made up of 39,960 American made, ground mounted thin film photovoltaic modules, the raceway’s three megawatt solar farm covers an area of 25 acres adjacent to the track, and generates enough electricity to fully power the track during events, meeting the increased power demand from NASCAR operations during races.
  • Commitment to diverting 75 percent of all waste generated at the racetrack from landfills by 2018.
  • Partnership with NASCAR Green and Safety-Kleen to collect and process automotive fluids for reuse. In 2016, Safety-Kleen recycled and repurposed 1,040 gallons of waste oil, 199 gallons of cleaning compounds, 270 pounds of absorbent, 150 pounds of used oil filters, and more.

Click here to read the entire sustainability report in PDF form.

 

COLLEGE WORLD SERIES FANS CAN NOW TURN PREVIOUSLY NON-RECYCLABLE PLASTICS INTO ENERGY

Since 1950, Omaha, NE has hosted the College Baseball World Series (CWS). Friends who have been to the 11-day baseball fest tell me it is an exciting, fan-friendly, if under the radar, “bucket list” type of event.

And, given the College World Series’ adoption of a state-of-the-art recycling program that turns plastic waste into energy, I need to move it into the Wimbledon, Notre Dame home football game range on my own personal sports bucket list .

Omaha’s TD Ameritrade Park annually plays host to upwards of 300,000 college baseball fans during 11 mid-to-late June days and nights. Starting this past Saturday and running through June 28, CWS fans have a new way to make sure their garbage does not end up in landfill: The Hefty® EnergyBag™ program.

 

TD Ameritrade

A packed and jammed TD Ameritrade Park, the Omaha, NE home of of the College World Series. (Photo credit: College Baseball 360)

 

Throughout the ballpark, fans will see bright orange Hefty® EnergyBag™ bags from Dow Packaging & Specialty Plastics (“Dow”). If they’re not among the select Omaha households who’ve been using the orange bags since September, they likely don’t realize the bags are the entry point to a unique, four-step, waste management process that will convert previously landfill-bound plastics into energy.

STEP 1: Fans dispose of previously non-recyclable plastics – including chip bags, candy bar wrappers and peanut bags – into bins containing the aforementioned bright orange bags.

STEP 2: Stadium staff and local haulers collect the bright orange bags from regular recycling bins and carts.

STEP 3: A local First Star Recycling facility sorts the bags and sends them to Systech Environmental Corporation. 

STEP 4: Systech Environmental then converts the bags and their contents into energy used to produce cement.

The Hefty® EnergyBag™ program, which launched in Omaha homes last September, recently expanded its rollout from 6,000 to 8,500 households and to TD Ameritrade Park for the CWS. As of June 2017, the program has collected more than 12,000 bags, diverting more than six tons of plastic previously destined for landfills.

 


 

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