What 2 Watch 4 in Green-Sports in 2018

Happy New Year to you, GreenSportsBlog readers! I hope you had a great holiday season. Thank you for your comments, suggestions and consistent support throughout 2017; keep it coming in 2018.

Speaking of 2018, the way GSB sees it, the Green-Sports world will continue its necessary transition from Version 1.0, which focused mainly on the greening of games at the stadia and arenas, to Version 2.0, which emphasizes athlete and fan engagement, both at the game, and even more importantly, beyond the stadium/arena — after all, that’s where the bulk of the sports fans can be found. With that in mind, let’s take a look at What 2 Watch 4 in Green-Sports for 2018. 

 

January 9: College Football Playoff National Championship Game, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, GA

Monday’s College Football Playoff (CFP) championship game between Georgia and Alabama, will take place in Atlanta’s brand new LEED Platinum showplace, Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Looked at through a Green-Sports 1.0 lens, the stadium is already a champion, from its state-of-the-art water efficiency efficiency systems to its 4,000 solar panels to its LED lighting throughout the building.

 

Mercedes Benz

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

 

But how will the championship game fare from a Green-Sports 2.0 perspective?

CFP’s Playoff Green initiative ran a semester-long tree planting campaign in the Atlanta area — public service announcements are scheduled to promote it to the 71,000 fans in attendance.

But will ESPN, with its multiple channels (I put the over/under at five) airing the game, share the story of the greenness of the stadium and of Playoff Green, with the 25 or so million people watching?

I bet the answer is no; I hope I will be proven wrong.

 

 

February 4: Super Bowl LII; US Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, MN

It is safe to say Super Bowl LII will be a more sustainable event than its predecessor in Houston last February. After all the bar is set extremely low: the Houston Super Bowl LI Host Committee did next to nothing of note, green-wise.

What is noteworthy are the solid, green actions taken by the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee. These include:

  • Granting a portion of its $4 million Legacy Fund to environmental charities. One grantee is the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe Native American tribe — the funds helped build a community garden, supplying healthy food in an area where access is lacking.
  • The collection of over 42,000 pounds of TVs, computers and cell phones at the Minnesota Zoo as part of an October E-Waste drive, in partnership with NFL sponsor Verizon.
  • Working with Verizon and Minneapolis-based Andersen Corporation to fund 14 habitat restoration and urban forestry projects across the state, resulting in the planting of thousands of trees and native species.

 

MN UrbanForestryPosterHorizontal

The Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee, in partnership with the NFL, Verizon and Andersen Windows have planted more than 700 trees as part of their Urban Forestry Initiative for Super Bowl LII (Infographic Credit: Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee)

 

There is one environmental concern surrounding US Bank Stadium and thus, by extension, Super Bowl LII, that, to be fair to the Host Committee, predated its existence: The problem of birds killing themselves by crashing into the largely glass exterior of the stadium that opened in 2016. The Vikings and the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority were made aware of this issue during the stadium’s design phase and chose to do nothing about it.

Neither Audubon Minnesota nor Audubon Chapter of Minneapolis plan to organize protests tied to Super Bowl LII. And without protests, the likelihood that the media covers the “old news” bird kill issue is slim.

And, it says here, that NBC Sports will not devote air time to the Super Bowl LII “solid but not groundbreaking” sustainability story.

Hey, I never said this Green-Sports 2.0 thing would be easy. Maybe the Winter Olympics will provide a better platform?

 

 

February 9-25: XXIII Winter Olympics, Pyeongchang, South Korea

The myriad of issues surrounding North Korea’s nuclear weapons program will no doubt garner the lion’s share of NBC Sports’ non-sports coverage during the Winter Olympics. And that is at should be.

Will there be enough non-sports oxygen for the environment and climate change?

Even though the organizers will not feature a climate change-themed vignette in the Opening Ceremonies, as did Rio 2016,  I say there is at least a 50-50 chance that the Peacock Network features the environment and climate in its countless sidebar stories — and that Green-Sports 2.0 will be be a winner at PyeongChang 2018.

After all, there are great sustainability tales to tell:

  • PyeongChang 2018 will generate more clean electricity than total electricity consumed during the Games. You read that right: PyeongChang 2018, together with  host provincial government Gangwon, funded wind farms that will produce 45 percent more electricity than will be needed to power the Games.
  • Six of the newly constructed competition venues feature either solar or geothermal power.
  • Several of the venues will be G-SEED certified, the Korean green building equivalent of LEED.

 

POCOG Wind farm 1

Wind turbines in Gangwon Province, part of the developments funded by PyeongChang Organizing Committee for the 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games (POCOG) that will, in total, generate 45 percent more energy than the Games will use. (Photo credit: POCOG)

 

Most importantly, it is likely that Protect Our Winters (POW), an organization made up of current and retired elite winter sports athletes which advocates for legislative action on climate change, will have several articulate, charismatic members on the U.S. team.

Will NBC Sports interview POW athletes about their activism as well as their athleticism?

I say YES!

 

Spring: NHL Issues Its Second Sustainability Report

In 2014, the National Hockey League became the first professional sports league in North America to issue a sustainability report. Among other things, the league disclosed its direct carbon footprint and that of its sizable supply chain.

That the league will be issuing its second such report this spring before any of its counterparts (MLB, MLS, NBA, NFL) produce their first demonstrates 1) the NHL’s consistent, substantive Green-Sports leadership, and 2) the need for the other leagues to step up their green games.

Regarding the upcoming report, I look forward to see 1) how the league has progressed on emissions reductions since 2014, and 2) if emissions from fan travel to and from games will be added.

 

April 29: Opening, Banc of California Stadium, Los Angeles

This is a classic Green-Sports 1.0 story about a new, LEED certified stadium — and 1.0 stories are still good things.

Banc of California Stadium, the 22,000 seat home of Major League Soccer expansion team LAFC will open this spring with LEED Silver level certification. Sustainability features include:

  • Easy metro accessibility via the Expo Line at nearby Expo Park/USC station
  • EV charging stations for 5 percent of vehicles, and that number will increase
  • 140,000 sq. ft. of additional public open space
  • 440 bicycle parking spaces and a bike path that feeds into Los Angeles’ My Figueroa path system

 

 

Banc of California

Artist rendering of Banc of California Stadium (Credit: LAFC)

 

Banc of California Stadium will serve as an appetizer on the LA new stadium scene. The main course? The projected 2020 opening of LA Stadium at Hollywood Park, the new home of the NFL’s Chargers and Rams. Early reports say LEED certification is being considered.

 

June 14-July 15: FIFA Men’s World Cup, 11 cities in Russia

GSB has low exceptions, Green-Sports-wise, for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia, the world’s most followed sporting event..

FIFA did issue “A More Sustainable World Cup,” a 15-page, Russia 2018 progress report which asserted that:

  • At least six of the 12 stadiums hosting World Cup matches will be BREEAM certified: Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, site of the final match; Mordovia Arena in Saransk, Nizhny Novgorod Stadium, Samara Stadium, Spartak Stadium, and Volgograd Arena.

 

Samara Stadium Guardian

Workers play soccer adjacent to the under-construction and BREEAM-certified Samara Stadium (Photo credit: The Guardian)

 

Volvograd Arena Guardian

The BREEAM-certified Volgograd Arena (Photo credit: The Guardian)

 

  • The South Pole Group, a carbon management consulting firm, is working with FIFA to estimate the carbon footprint of Russia 2018.
  • FIFA plans to offset all of the greenhouse gas emissions related to the event.

This is fine from a 1.0 POV, but there is much more to the story.

Remember, the organizers of Sochi, Russia’s 2014 Winter Olympics promised the “cleanest Olympics ever.”

The reality was far different.

According to a piece in the February 21, 2014 issue of Earth Island Journal by Zoe Loftus-Farren:

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin has a stunning disregard for environmental laws: “Environmental laws can be pesky, and Putin’s government amended several laws to make way for Olympic glory: In 2006, the Russia government amended a ban on holding large sporting events in National Parks, in 2007 it eliminated compulsory environmental assessment for construction projects, and in 2009 the legislature [weakened] the Forest Code.” 
  • On Sochi 2014-related environmental wrongs: “Large illegal waste dumps have cropped up around the region, including within Sochi National Park. More than 3,000 hectares of forest have been logged, including regions with rare plant species. Large swaths of previously protected wetlands now lay underneath the Olympic Village.”

Aside from the BREEAM-certified stadia, it is fair to assume that, from an environmental perspective, the Sochi 2014 past is prologue for Russia 2018.

It would be great if Fox Sports undertakes some award-winning investigative journalism into the Russia 2018 environmental story during its coverage of the tournament.

I’m not holding my breath.

 

 

June 26-27: Green Sports Alliance Summit; Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, GA

Atlanta’s LEED Gold Mercedes-Benz Stadium will occupy the Green-Sports center stage for the second time in 2018, this time as host of the eighth Green Sports Alliance (GSA) Summit.

According to the GSA’s website, Summit 2018 will feature “more networking opportunities and [will] focus on hands-on workshops for attendees to work through challenges, share lessons learned, and gather valuable take-aways to implement in their communities.”

Speakers and panels have yet to be announced so stay tuned.

 

 

August 27-September 9: US Open Tennis, Bille Jean King National Tennis Center, Queens, NY

After a decade of Green-Sports leadership paid off with the US Open winning GSB’s “Greenest Sports League/Event” award for 2017, what can the USTA do for an encore?

From a Green-Sports 1.0 perspective, the answer is clear: The opening of Louis Armstrong Stadium 2.0.

The 10,000 seat stadium will likely achieve LEED certification by the start of the tournament. Here are three reasons why:

  • 95 percent of the waste from the demolition of the original Armstrong Stadium was recycled
  • Landscaping around the new stadium has been designed to use 55 percent less water
  • The new Armstrong Stadium will be the first naturally ventilated stadium with a retractable roof in the world.

Methinks this last point is so cool that it will warrant attention from ESPN during its tournament coverage, which would mean a nice Green-Sports 2.0 win.

 

One minute, time lapse photography video of the demolition of the old Louis Armstrong Stadium and the building of the new one. The latter will be the first naturally ventilated stadium with a retractable roof.

 

November 6: Midterm Elections, United States

What do the midterm elections in the United States, in which the control of the House of Representatives and perhaps the Senate are up for grabs, have to do with Green-Sports?

Well, the aforementioned Protect Our Winters (POW) won GSB’s 2017 “Best Green-Sports Story of the Year” award in large part due to its lobbying efforts on Capitol Hill and its willingness to get involved in electoral politics.

When asked about POW’s goals for 2018, manager of advocacy and campaigns Lindsay Bourgoine said: “Our main goal in 2018 is to get down and dirty in the midterm elections in November…We have identified ten ‘battleground elections’ where we feel it is really important to elect a climate friendly leader, whether Democrat or Republican.”

 

Lindsay Bourgoine POW

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

 

Bourgoine also said that POW is not “working to help the Democrats take the House.” While I understand completely POW’s desire to help the climate-friendly Democrats and Republicans, I will be doing my small part as a volunteer to help flip the House.

In the meantime, I look forward to sharing powerful Green-Sports stories — of both the Version 1.0 and 2.0 varieties — wherever I find them!

 


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Birds Flying Into Minneapolis’ Glass-Walled US Bank Stadium Not a Good Look with Super Bowl LII Only Two Months Away

Excitement is building in the Upper Midwest as Super Bowl LII at Minneapolis’ US Bank Stadium is less than two months away and the hometown Vikings stand a legitimate shot of being the first hometown team to play in the game. The sustainability-related news surrounding the game is also positive — for the most part. 

Earlier this month, GreenSportsBlog featured the many good, green works of the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee. And US Bank Stadium is up for LEED certification. 

But there is one environmental aspect of Super Bowl LII and US Bank Stadium that draws concern: The problem of birds crashing into the largely glass exterior of the stadium that opened in 2016 and killing themselves; a problem that the Vikings and the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority were made aware of during the stadium’s design phase. 

 

I have to admit, I never thought about the possibility of glass buildings being a Killing Field of sorts for birds. Yet, according to the American Bird Conservancy, up to 1 billion birds are killed in this manner in North America alone every year.

But I am not a bird expert. Nor am I an architect. Heck, I never, a la “Seinfeld’s” George Costanza, wanted to pretend to be an architect.

Nor am I a resident of Minnesota, nor am I a Minnesota Vikings fan.

That last sentence is relevant because, if I did live in the Land of 10,000 Lakes and/or chanted “Skol, Vikings!” after they scored a touchdown, I would likely have been well aware that birds fly into the massive glass exterior of US Bank Stadium. The Vikings home, which opened in 2016, will host Super Bowl LII on February 4, so this will likely be a topic of discussion as the game approaches. So I decided to talk to an expert.

 

US Bank Stadium Glass Paint

A number of birds have crashed into the largely glass exterior Minneapolis’ US Bank Stadium, host, in February 2018, of Super Bowl LII (Photo credit: Glass Paint)

 

Bruce Fowle (perhaps appropriately pronounced “FOUL”) is Founding Principal Emeritus at FXFOWLE, a leading New York City-based architecture firm. He was a founder and chairman of the New York chapter of Architects/Designers/Planners for Social Responsibility, an advocacy group for social justice and a sustainable built environment. Most importantly for this story, Fowle and the firm were engaged by New York City’s Javits Center to renovate its all-glass exterior — then the number one bird-killer in the city, according to New York City Audubon.

 

Bruce Fowle HiRes

Bruce Fowle, Founding Principal Emeritus at FXFOWLE (Photo credit: FXFOWLE)

 

According to Fowle, the “problem of glass buildings for birds really came to light about 25 or so years ago. A group of ‘birders’ (aka bird watchers) in Toronto and other cities created the Flight Light Awareness Program (FLAP) to track bird crashes. New York City Audubon started a similar initiative, Project Safe Flight. Like organizations sprang up in other cities, including Minneapolis.”

These groups began with a similar, rather grisly methodology: tracking bird deaths by going out in pre-dawn mornings, collecting carcasses before maintenance crews cleaned them up.

The problem, according to Fowle, is particularly acute during migratory periods. At night, birds are attracted to decorative lights — like those at the top of the Empire State Building — and fly towards them. During daylight hours, migrating birds see through clear glass and think they can fly into the dark spaces inside. Bushes and trees in an atrium are even more toxic: Birds will make a beeline to the greenery, often plowing into the glass at speeds up to 30 miles per hour. Reflective glass poses its own challenges for birds — confused by either seeing their own reflection, or perhaps thinking it is an adversary, or seeing sky and vegetation.

Fowle himself was unaware of the problem until his wife started working for New York City Audubon in the 1990s. In 2009, by complete coincidence, he became the lead architect when his firm was selected to renovate the exterior of the all-glass Javits Center, the largest convention facility in New York City. This gave him the opportunity to solve its bird mortality problem. After some digging, Fowle and company found a winning solution.

“Our big breakthrough came when we found a high-performing glass that was much less reflective than the original — eight percent reflection factor vs. 35 percent,” said Fowle. “By adding a ‘fritted dot pattern’ on the glass, which was needed to control solar gain and reduce energy consumption, we solved the fly-through problem. In the end we reduced bird-kill by 95 percent while making the building more transparent, more visually appealing, and more sustainable – a grand slam!”

 

Javits Exterior Upgraded Glass

 

Javits Interior Upgrade

Exterior (top) and interior views of New York City’s Javits Center after it was renovated to include high performing glass with a “fritted dot pattern” that helped reduce bird kills by 95 percent. (Photo credits: Chris Cooper)

 

The energy bit is important when one considers that glass is not a good energy saver. Per Fowle, “Glass is popular for large buildings from aesthetic, cost, and marketability perspectives, but it is not at all energy efficient.”

But I digress. Back to the birds.

With the help of New York City Audubon, FXFOWLE’s work with the Javits Center attracted the attention of Audubon Minnesota. The nonprofit, dedicated in large part to bird health, was worried about the plans for a mostly glass exterior of a new home for the Vikings. Their concerns were heightened due to the fact the facility would be built smack dab in the middle of the Mississippi River Flyway, the route for millions of migrating birds from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico and through to South America. Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the new LEED Platinum home of the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United, which also has a substantial glass exterior — although not as significant, percentage-wise, as US Bank Stadium — does not have a similar bird-kill problem. One likely reason is that it is not located on a flyway path.

Fowle recalls that he and his colleagues “recommended the glass used at Javits to the Audubon Minnesota, who then passed that on to the Vikings, the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA), and their architects. So all the key players were aware of the [bird-friendly] option during the planning phase, but apparently, because of alleged concerns about a relatively modest cost increase, they decided not to go the bird-friendly route.”

So US Bank Stadium was built with approximately 200,000 square feet of highly reflective glass, and, as predicted, birds started flying into it.

Sixty dead birds were observed during the fall 2016 migratory period, according to a February 2017 study compiled by the Audubon Chapter of Minneapolis — a separate group from the Audubon Minnesota — Minnesota Citizens for the Protection of Migratory Birds, and Friends of Roberts Bird Sanctuary. The report asserts that the number “significantly underestimates true mortality at the stadium complex, because it does not include birds removed by maintenance staff, security guards, and scavengers.” And the US Bank Stadium’s reported kill rate is approximately 30 percent greater than has been seen at any other building in the Minneapolis area during any migratory period.

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune and others publicized the story — which generated public protest. That led to a backlash —i.e. 60 dead birds aren’t that big a deal. Then, there was a strong volley to the backlash in the form of an October 2014 Star-Tribune OpEd co-authored by Jerry Bahls, then president (he retired this June) of the Audubon Chapter of Minneapolis and Lisa Venable, co-founder of Minnesota Citizens for the Protection of Migratory Birds.

 

Bird Advocates MPR

Bird advocates hold up poster-sized photos of dead birds at a February 2017 public meeting. They said that volunteers found those birds dead outside U.S. Bank Stadium in the early morning. (Photo credit: Minnesota Public Radio/Jerry Nelson)

 

Their story highlighted the strong public support in the Twin Cities and Minnesota more broadly for the use of bird-safe glass at US Bank Stadium (“The current glass choice simply does not reflect Minnesota values, as evidenced by the 95,000 people who signed their names to a bird-safe glass petition to the governor and the unanimous resolution passed by the Minneapolis City Council”) and the pivotal role migratory birds play in pollination and pest control (“One bird can eat 500 pests per day, reducing the need for toxic pesticides.”), before pivoting to the already-existing Javits solution.

Even though several cities throughout North America have adopted Bird-Safe Guidelines and some, such as San Francisco, have legislated compliance, the pleas for bird friendly glass at US Bank Stadium continued to fall on deaf ears.

This continued after the stadium opened last fall, when Audubon Minnesota’s proposal to retrofit of the glass to reduce the kill rate received a no go from the MSFA and the Vikings.

Calls and emails to Audubon Minnesota to get its take on the inaction at US Bank Stadium, and to see if there would be any organized, peaceful protests around Super Bowl LII, have drawn no response. The group is conducting another bird kill study, along with a team from the University of Oklahoma and the MSFA, with results due sometime in 2019.

Of course, Super Bowl LII will have come and gone well before the study is published.

The Audubon Chapter of Minneapolis will not protest, mainly for logistical reasons. “There will be a large ‘Exclusion Zone’ for security purposes around the perimeter of US Bank Stadium from January through the Super Bowl in early February,” said Bahls.

 

Jerry Bahls

Jerry Bahls, retired president of the Audubon Chapter of Minneapolis (Photo credit: Jerry Bahls)

 

Thus, it seems very unlikely that there will be any protests around the bird kill issue near US Bank Stadium in the weeks before Super Bowl LII. And, if that’s the case, the opportunity to gain national — and even international attention — on urban bird kills will have gone by the wayside.

While I certainly get the need for an Exclusion Zone, it says here that it is a shame that peaceful protests beyond the perimeter will not take place before Super Bowl LII. Such high profile actions would demonstrate to planners and architects of future stadium and arena projects — not to mention big, non-sports structures — that the public cares about the bird kill issue and that it should be a strong consideration during the design phase.

 

 


 

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The GSB Interview: Ben Shardlow, Sustainability Committee Chair of the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee

The Bay Super Bowl 50 Host Committee held what is widely regarded as the “Greenest Super Bowl Ever” in February, 2016. Unfortunately, sustainability took a step back earlier this year as the Houston Super Bowl Host Committee did very little, green-wise, for Super Bowl LI. Now, the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee gets its shot to move the sustainability ball forward at gleaming US Bank Stadium, the home of the Vikings currently seeking LEED certification that opened in 2016. How will the city and Host Committee fare, green-wise? We spoke with Ben Shardlow, the Chair of the Host Committee’s Sustainability Committee, to find out.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Ben, I had hoped that, when the Bay Area Super Bowl 50 Host Committee hosted the “Greenest Super Bowl Ever” in 2016, all subsequent host committees would follow their lead. Alas that was not the case in Houston this past February as that committee did little to nothing in terms of the environment. Yes, the NFL did its carbon offset programs as they do every year. But for sustainability to “pop” at a Super Bowl, it’s really up to an activist host committee to make that happen. So, with that as preamble, I’m anxious to hear what the Minnesota Super Bowl LII Host Committee has planned for the big game on February 4th sustainability-wise, as well as for the festivities leading up to it. But before that tell our readers how you got to the committee in the first place…

Ben Shardlow: Well, Lew, an urban planner and designer by trade; I’m the Director of Urban Design for the Minneapolis Downtown Council and Downtown Improvement District. Have been with those organizations since 2012. As part of that work, I do a lot of advocacy regarding downtown’s public spaces – tree canopy, Complete Streets, transit investments, things like that.

 

Ben Shardlow

Ben Shardlow, Chair of the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee Sustainability Committee and Director of Urban Design for the Minneapolis Downtown Council and Downtown Improvement District (Photo credit: Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee)

 

GSB: Urban planning and hosting a sustainable Super Bowl? That sounds like a natural fit…so how did you get to the Host Committee?

BS: The Minneapolis Downtown Council and the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee are partners, so a number of my colleagues are serving on committees to support planning work in various roles…

GSB: So you are a volunteer for the Host Committee?

BS: Yes. And as a local guy, I’m really excited to be part of it.

GSB: When did the sustainability effort get started?

BS: I got involved in April 2016, starting with an invitation from Dave Haselman, COO for the Host Committee. I was glad to hear that I wouldn’t be alone in the effort. The Host Committee’s Leadership 52 initiative has placed two vice chairs on all 26 volunteer committees, all of whom are rising leaders from Host Committee sponsors with deep subject matter experience.

GSB: Who are your vice chairs on sustainability?

BS: One is Bridget Dockter, Manager of Policy and Outreach for Xcel Energy. Bridget is an important local leader in renewable energy, playing a key role in staffing Minneapolis’ Clean Energy Partnership which looks to achieve aggressive sustainability goals through constant innovation. And, from the “you couldn’t make this up” file, the other is actually my twin sister! Eliza Clark is Director of Sustainability and Environment for Andersen Corporation, and she’s got great expertise in sustainability issues as broad as LEED, energy efficiency, supply chain issues and pollinator habitat. She’s working with other major Minnesota companies to design and build a true circular economy through the Minnesota Sustainable Growth Coalition. Really cool stuff. So it’s great for me to be able to collaborate and learn from both Eliza and Bridget.

 

Bridget Dockter

Bridget Dockter, Vice Chair of the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee Sustainability Committee and Manager of Policy and Outreach for Xcel Energy (Photo credit: Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee)

 

Eliza Clark

Eliza Clark, Vice Chair of the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee and Director of Sustainability and Environment for Andersen Corporation (Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee)

 

GSB: So, if that’s the volunteer leadership team, how have you worked with the Host Committee staff?

BS: We’re fortunate to have Alex Tittle as our liaison within the Host Committee’s leadership team. He’s VP of Business Connect and Corporate Affairs. What an amazing guy! A decathlete at The Citadel, he was charged with achieving the inclusive workforce goals for construction of US Bank Stadium. Under his leadership, that project significantly exceeded targets in terms of women and minorities.

GSB: The sustainability team certainly seems like it is of championship caliber!

BS: Thanks!

GSB: So what are the pillars of Super Bowl LII’s sustainability efforts?

BS: I see four main strategies:

  1. Super Bowl LII as a showcase for how Minneapolis, Saint Paul, and the broader region are sustainable places to host major events. When we host a big event, like the 2014 MLB All-Star Game at Target Field, sustainability assets are front and center. Our area is set up that way. Both Minneapolis and St. Paul have compact downtowns that are connected by transit. The 2014 opening of the Green Line Light Rail system was a crucial advance. It links downtown Minneapolis to the University of Minnesota to downtown St. Paul to all the area’s sports venues — US Bank Stadium (Vikings), Xcel Energy Center (Wild, NHL), Target Field (Twins, MLB), Target Center (Timberwolves, NBA, Lynx, WNBA), the yet-to-open Allianz Field (Minnesota United, MLS) and CHS Field (Independent League Baseball’s Saints). The airport is close by and connected to downtown Minneapolis by light rail. And our major venues have impressive sustainability credentials, starting with a 4.3 MW solar array at the airport, to the 113,000 square foot green roof on Target Center, to the Minneapolis Convention Center’s renewable energy program to Target Field’s LEED Silver certification for both New Construction and Existing Buildings: Operations and Maintenance, to CHS Field’s substantiated claim as the greenest ballpark in America. With all of that infrastructure in place, we have built in advantages in competing for major events that value sustainability.  All of this puts the region in play for Super Bowls as well as Final Fours and World’s Fairs. US Bank Stadium is under consideration as a venue for the expected joint US-Canada-Mexico bid to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup.
  2. The Legacy Fund. The Host Committee is giving away weekly health and wellness grants over 52 weeks, spread out around the entire state. This program isn’t under our committee’s purview, but we’ve coordinated efforts with them.

GSB: The focus on health and wellness makes sense to me, given the leadership Minnesota has shown with the Mayo Clinic and major health insurers…but where does the environment come in? I harken back to the great green work done by the Bay Area Super Bowl 50 Host Committee. Their Legacy Fund gave millions to several Bay Area environmental nonprofits…Houston, to the best of my knowledge, did nothing at all in this area, with Super Bowl LI. Will the Minnesota Host Committee do something similar to the Bay Area?

BS: I think the answer is yes, especially when you look at the Legacy Fund through the lens of the social aspects of sustainability. We have coordinated with the Minnesota Department of Health to provide grants for capital projects in communities of need. Some of the $2.5 million in grants that have been awarded already indeed have environmental aspects and benefits, with more to come as the project works toward awarding $4 million. For example, our grant to the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe will help their community build a community garden, supplying healthy food in an area where access is lacking. And human health and wellness is, of course, closely linked to environmental health. The Host Committee has also partnered with the NFL, Verizon and Andersen Corporation to fund 14 habitat restoration and urban forestry projects across the state of Minnesota, resulting in the planting of 12,724 trees and 4,000 native species.

 

MN UrbanForestryPosterHorizontal

The Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee, in partnership with the NFL, Verizon and Andersen Windows have planted more than 700 trees as part of their Urban Forestry Initiative for Super Bowl LII (Infographic Credit: Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee)

 

GSB: Got it. OK back to the pillars…#3?

BS: #3 is to be the best local partner we can be for the NFL’s sustainability efforts. A couple of examples to note here:

  • We’re assisting the NFL with expanding their material diversion and recovery program. This has entailed connecting the NFL with local community service organizations on repurposing event materials that would otherwise go into the landfill. Fortunately, our awesome committee members have great connections with local organizations that are already doing that work.
  • Similarly, we’re working with the NFL on other major sustainability events, such as the recent partnership with Verizon for their E-Waste Drive. That event was held a couple of weeks ago at the Minnesota Zoo, and the results blew past events out of the water. The community responded tremendously, donating 42,000 lbs. of electronic waste. The NFL has several well-established programs like these, and we see our role as local resources to support great outcomes.

 

MN EWaste

Minnesota set a “Super Bowl Environmental Program record” for an e-waste recycling event by collecting more than 42,000 pounds of electronic waste. (Photo credit: Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee)

 

GSB: That’s a lot of cell phones and computer monitors! And what’s the 4th pillar?

BS: Our 4th pillar is our collaborative, inclusive committee structure. I know that might sound touchy-feely but it’s substantive. We want to improve over time in the sustainability outcomes we achieve for our major events, and you can’t do that without partnerships and real relationships. Our sustainability committee has representatives from five or six Host Committee sponsors with deep green roots, local government sustainability experts and corporate practitioners. It can be challenging to work this way, but I expect it will be worth it in the end because we’ll learn things we can apply together in the future. Like I said earlier, we’re all volunteers so everyone wants to work on this…

GSB: So it sounds like you have an “Open Source,” startup kind of culture…

BS: Exactly. We’ve collectively come up with way more projects than the group has bandwidth to execute, so I fully expect a long tail of side projects generated by dialogue in our sustainability committee after Super Bowl LII.

 

US Bank Stadium MPR News

US Bank Stadium, site of Super Bowl LII on February 4, 2018 (Photo credit: MPR News)

 

GSB: I’ll be interested to see what those side projects turn out to be. How will fans, both locally and beyond, find out about the sustainability programs? This issue is a big concern of mine. I mean, despite all the great sustainability work done by the Super Bowl 50 Host Committee, a minuscule fraction of people actually were aware of it. Why? Because the Committee, the NFL and CBS, the network that broadcast that game, didn’t promote it. What will the sustainability committee and the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee more broadly due to insure this doesn’t happen again?

BS: I hear you. We certainly are aware of what the folks at Super Bowl 50 were able to accomplish, sustainability-wise and we’ve worked to learn from their example. Fans at the Minnesota Super Bowl will see some of the fruits of our efforts but just what that will turn out to look like is still being determined. Stay tuned as those decisions have to be made in the not-too-distant future. And, remember, our greening efforts are taking place in a region where sustainability and the climate change fight are already deeply embedded. For example, we live and work in a region that just had an all-night, public art shows that highlight both climate change themes and the idea of healthy urban and rural places.

GSB…Sounds like Minnesota and the Twin Cities are set up to host a sustainable Super Bowl. And we will stay tuned for sure on how that sustainability is communicated to  fans at the game and beyond.

 


 

 

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GSB News and Notes: Liverpool F.C. Under Fire for New Anti-Environmental Sponsorship Deal ; U of Michigan Football Approaches Zero-Waste; Formula E Revs Up its Promotion of Electric Vehicles

The watchword of today’s News & Notes column is BIG.

Liverpool F.C. has made a BIG mistake by partnering with Tibet Water Resources, a company that is allegedly exploiting the water supply in that region. Michigan Stadium, aka “The BIG House,” holds over 111,000 fans, making it the BIGGEST football stadium in the U.S. It recently diverted 87 percent of waste from landfill, close to the 90 percent level that will allow it to become the BIGGEST Zero-Waste stadium. Formula E, the global, electric vehicle racing circuit, partners with nonprofit The Climate Group to make EVs a much BIGGER percentage of the overall vehicle fleet. 

 

 

LIVERPOOL F.C. BUCKS GREENING-OF-ENGLISH-FOOTBALL TREND BY TAKING SPONSORSHIP CASH FROM TIBET WATER RESOURCES, ENVIRONMENTAL BAD ACTOR

Sustainable Brands, in its October 20 edition, is out with an important piece from Nithin Coca about English Premier League power Liverpool F.C.’s new sponsorship deal with Tibet Water Resources Limited, a company Coca asserts is committing “ongoing human rights and environmental atrocities in the region.”

 

Liverpool FC

Photo credit: Liverpool Echo

 

This is disappointing because English football/soccer has been a beacon of sports greening lately.

Premier League stalwarts Arsenal, Chelsea, and Manchester City have put in place some strong sustainability initiatives, from partnerships with solar companies to installing LED lighting to advanced battery storage capacity. And GreenSportsBlog has written extensively about the great, green strides being made in the lower levels (aka minor leagues) of English soccer/football. Clubs like Forest Green Rovers (aka The Greenest Sports Team in the World), Dartford F.C., and Sutton United are innovating at a rapid pace. But the reach of those smaller clubs and their green good works is, of course, limited.

Liverpool is the opposite of a small club — it is a globally recognized sports brand. Per Forbes, the team is worth $1.49 billion, making it the eighth most valuable soccer club in the world^. According to the club, as of 2014, it had an estimated 580 million fans worldwide, or roughly 8 percent of the world’s population. That’s not the world’s population of soccer fans, but total human beings. How is that possible if England’s population is but 65 million?

Look to soccer-crazed Asia, where Liverpool F.C. enjoys significant support and with that, several lucrative marketing deals with companies like Konami (video games and Malaysia Airlines. And now, Tibet Water Resources, Ltd. has been added to the list.

But, to organizations concerned with the human rights violations and environmental degradations visited upon Tibet by China (note: the Chinese government would differ with this characterization but GreenSportsBlog feels it is largely an accurate one), there is a big problem with this new sponsor.

According to Mr. Coca, “Tibet Water is a Chinese-run company that is, according to [several NGO] groups, exploiting water for financial gain and giving little benefit to local Tibetans, who, instead, are seeing their environment destroyed. Though Tibet Water is just one of dozens [of water companies] operating in the region, it is, so far, the only one to make a deal with a foreign soccer club.”

While the Liverpool deal is a first, what is not unique, according to organizations like the Tibet Society, along with FreeTibet, SumOfUs (a nonprofit that tries to “stop big corporations from behaving badly”), and others, is the exploitation of Tibetan natural resources by Chinese companies. This has been happening since Tibet — more than twice the size of Texas — was invaded by China in 1950 and annexed shortly thereafter.

Tibet’s vast glaciers hold one of the largest reserves of freshwater in the world, the source for many of Asia’s great rivers including the Ganges and Indus, which flow into South Asia; and the Mekong, the lifeblood of Cambodia, Laos and Southern Vietnam. Water development, including bottling, could reduce flows in Tibet and downstream, impacting millions.

Gloria Montgomery, Head of Advocacy at the Tibet Society, told Mr. Coca that, “This deal represents the issue at the very core of the Tibetan struggle: the detrimental effect of the Chinese occupation on Tibetans and the lack of consultation about their land and resources. For 70 years, Tibetans have endured injustice, indignity and discrimination at the hands of the Chinese authorities, as the occupation has resulted in systematic human rights violations against them.”

The Tibet Society, and the aforementioned like-minded organizations have joined in a campaign to get Liverpool F.C. to terminate the Tibet Water deal and thus stand up for environmental and human rights. Sondhya Gupta, a spokesperson for SumOfUs, told Mr. Coca that, “Liverpool really is giving its seal of approval to Tibet Water and saying its business model is normal and legitimate.”

Unfortunately, Liverpool F.C., whose principal owner John Henry also owns the Boston Red Sox (with a much-publicized garden atop the right field roof at Fenway Park), has shown no inclination to scuttle the deal. This despite having issued a strong statement in November 2016 on human rights. In fact, Mr. Coca reports that “the club has resisted opening up a dialogue with both fans and the organizations concerned about this partnership, and did not respond to Sustainable Brands’ requests for comment.” Over 40,000 people have signed a petition asking Liverpool to reconsider this deal (click here to sign), and take human rights and the environment into consideration when deciding partnerships.

Tibet Resources Petition

A portion of the petition asking Liverpool F.C. to drop its sponsorship deal with Tibet Water Resources

 

So far, there has been only silence from the management of the storied club that has captured 18 English top-flight league championships and 7 FA Cups. Somehow, methinks this story will get much bigger before it fades away.

Watch this space.

 

“THE BIG HOUSE” GETS CLOSE TO BIG ZERO-WASTE DESIGNATION

Rutgers — my alma mater! — is a big 23.5 point underdog against the Michigan Wolverines at Michigan Stadium, aka “The Big House.” To have a chance at pulling a humongous upset, the Scarlet Knights will have to be supremely focused. Which means they are unlikely to notice the efforts their hosts are expending to attain Zero-Waste status by diverting at least 90 percent of the waste generated from the game from landfill.

According to a story last month by Kaela Theut writing in The Michigan Daily — the student paper at the University of Michigan — the school’s zero-waste gameday initiative got very close to the zero-waste threshold at their September 9 home opener vs. the University of Cincinnati.

 

Michigan Stadium Evan Aaron Daily

Michigan Stadium, aka The Big House (Photo credit: Evan Aaron, The Michigan Daily)

 

Benjamin Blevins, Director of Communications for Michigan Athletics, told Ms. Theut that, “We were very happy with our efforts [at the Cincinnati game] as we hit 87 percent diversion from landfill. Zero waste is 90 percent, so for our first week attempting this, we were happy to be so close.” Blevins credited the Big House’s operational staff as well as concessions partner Sodexo USA for changing most of their products to compostable options.

Athletics started working on waste diversion in 2015 as part of a university-wide initiative to reduce overall waste going to landfill on campus by 40 percent by 2025.

2016 saw Michigan Athletics begin research into going zero-waste at The Big House in partnership with the University’s Office of Campus Sustainability and Sodexo, testing various compostable products, as well as how to best streamline gameday cleanup and waste-separation operations. With crowds exceeding 111,000, this would a heavy lift.

Heavy lift or not, the initiative is in full swing this season.

New recycling bins, adorned with signs depicting examples of compostable and recyclable products, have been placed around the stadium. Stadium-goers have been heavily encouraged to place their waste into the right area to avoid contaminating the properly sorted recyclables and compost.

At the Air Force and Michigan State home games, diversion rates again came close to the 90 percent level — so far, they’ve averaged 87.6 percent for the season. Why hasn’t the Big House been able to crack the zero-waste threshold? More Blevins: “There are still a few things that would need to change to hit 90 percent. Some of [the] products we offer don’t have compostable or recyclable options so our concessions partner Sodexo is looking into finding those solutions.”

Blevins told Ms. Theut that educating the team’s fan base on how to separate waste properly can also help Michigan get to zero-waste: “There was contamination in our [waste] streams and that comes from people putting items in the wrong bins.” he said.

Fan education efforts include a public service announcement (PSA) that runs during games in-stadium, emails to season ticket holders, social media posts, and the new signage. Event team members are also knowledgeable and help answer fan questions on game days.

It says here that the compostable product solutions will be put into place, and fan education will have taken root in time for Michigan to achieve zero-waste status during the 2018 season. In the meantime, here’s hoping Michigan again matches their impressive 87 percent diversion rate at the Rutgers game on Saturday — and that the Scarlet Knights pull off the Upset of the Year!

 

FORMULA E PARTNERS WITH THE CLIMATE GROUP TO PUSH MAINSTREAMING OF EV’S

FIA Formula E, the electric vehicle racing circuit, recently signed on to become a Global Ambassador of The Climate Group’sEV100 initiative, which helps promote and accelerate the widespread adoption of electric vehicles. The Climate Group is an international nonprofit specializing in bold and high-impact climate and energy initiatives that bring together the world’s leading businesses, states and regional governments.

 

 

Formula E Bird 2nd Steven Tee:LAT Images:FIA Formula E via Getty Images

The 2017 Formula E Qualcomm New York City ePrix in Red Hook, Brooklyn. (Photo credit: Steven Tee/LAT Images/FIA Formula E via Getty Images)

 

EV100 is the only initiative of its kind to actively encourage world-leading companies to commit to the quicker and smoother transition to EVs, helping to deliver on corporate and global sustainability goals, improving air quality and future-proofing operations.

Brands such as HP, Unilever, IKEA Group and Formula E sponsor DHL are already members of EV100, pledging to implement charging schemes in the workplace and swapping current diesel and petrol fleets to fully-electric by 2030.

The Climate Group has also joined the FIA Formula-E Championship as an Official and International Foundation Partner.

“I’m delighted Formula E has joined forces with The Climate Group and the EV100 initiative, as a partner to promote electric and sustainable mobility,” Alejandro Agag, Founder & CEO of FIA Formula E, said in a statement. “Our partnership with The Climate Group is proof that change is already happening and causing a positive shift in attitude towards cleaner transportation. Formula E shows that electric isn’t just the technology of the future – it’s the technology of today. I’m glad to see other leading companies follow suit as part of this new agreement.”

 

^ Ahead of Liverpool, #8 on the “Most Valuable Soccer Clubs of 2017” list, are: 1. Manchester United, 2. Barcelona, 3. Real Madrid, 4. Bayern Munich, 5. Manchester City, 6. Arsenal, and 7. Chelsea. Rounding out the Top 10 after Liverpool are 9. Juventus, and 10. Tottenham Hotspur.

 

 


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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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Guest Blog: Allen Hershkowitz on Ten Years of Sustainability at the US Open

Today marks the start of the US Open, the annual tennis bacchanal that draws 700,000+ fans to the National Tennis Center in New York over its two week run. Seeing compost and recycling bins throughout the 46.5 acre campus is now second nature for those fans as the US Tennis Association’s (USTA’s) greening efforts, among the most comprehensive in the sports world, are now ten years old. It’s been quite a journey to get to this point and there’s no one better to tell the fascinating history of the US Open’s sustainability program than today’s guest GreenSportsBlogger, Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, the founder and former president of the Green Sports Alliance and a founding director of Sports and Sustainability International (SandSI). 

 

By Dr. Allen Hershkowitz

Ten years ago, in the Fall of 2007, I walked into my office at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and found a note from NRDC’s President: “Allen,” it read, “I met Billie Jean King at a dinner last night. She would like to speak with you. To reach her, please call Pam at …”

 

Billie Jean King wants to speak with me? Seriously? A few calls followed and the request to speak was clarified: The year previous, on August 28, 2006, the US Tennis Association (USTA) National Tennis Center was rededicated as the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center (BJK NTC). Now that the venue bore her name, Billie wanted to assure it was a model for environmental stewardship. She wanted to make the US Open the most environmentally responsible tennis event in the world.

 

We arranged to meet at the BJK NTC shortly after the 2007 US Open. I was ushered into a conference room to await Billie’s arrival, along with Joe Crowley, the USTA’s Director for Operations, and other USTA officials.

 

Billie arrived with her partner Ilana Kloss, Commissioner of World TeamTennis and a world class tennis star in her own right. With the introductions behind us, a partnership was formed between the USTA and NRDC. As Billie requested, our goal was to create the most environmentally intelligent tennis event in the world. I told Billie that doing so would take years. “Great,” she said. “I’m in. Let’s do it.”

 

In 2007, not one recycling bin existed at the NTC. Today, recycling and composting bins abound and ninety percent of all waste is thus diverted from the landfill. More than twenty thousand pounds of uneaten meals are donated to charities, reducing hunger and greenhouse gas emissions. We pioneered recycling the 17,000 tennis ball cans used at the Open. Tennis ball cans are complex products, comprised of four different materials, (three types of plastic and an aluminum lid), making them impossible to recycle, until we figured out how to do so in 2008, while donating the 45,000 used tennis balls to community organizations.

 

Compost bins

Compost bin (foreground) and recycling bin (blue band in the rear) along the plaza at the National Tennis Center. These are two of many such bins dotting the NTC complex that demonstrate the USTA’s commitment to sustainability to the 700,000 fans projected to attend the 2017 US Open. (Photo credit: Lewis Blaustein)

 

In 2007 all of the 2.4 million napkins used at the US Open were made from trees. By 2008, all napkins had at least 90 percent post consumer recycled content, an environmental achievement that protects forest habitat and reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Similarly, the Open’s daily Draw Sheet, tickets, media guides, bathroom tissue and paper towels have at least 30 percent recycled content, while paper use in general has been reduced through electronic options.

 

In the spring of 2008, after agreeing on a logo and a tag line for the US Open’s new environmental program (“Our courts may be blue, but we’re thinking green”), we decided to produce public service announcements (PSAs) to educate fans about environmental stewardship. Billie introduced me to tennis legends Venus Williams and Bob and Mike Bryan, arguably the greatest men’s doubles team of the modern era. Together we produced the first environmental public service announcements ever broadcast at a major sporting event, and it was the first time pro-athletes were engaged for this purpose. Billie, Venus, Bob and Mike all appeared in videos encouraging fans to recycle and buy recycled paper products, use mass transit, and buy organic food. The PSAs are broadcast on the jumbotron at Ashe Stadium to this day. Discussing global warming with Venus Williams is one of the highlights of my career and I like to think that I encouraged her to become the environmentalist that she is today. We also pioneered using the Open’s daily Draw Sheet to share money saving “Eco Tips” each day, and that too is still in use at the Open. And we engaged fans directly: During the 2008 Open sixty volunteers from NRDC spanned the grounds distributing free New York City mass transit MetroCards to fans who answered an impromptu environmental question (“Name one thing you can do to help protect the environment…”).

 

Billie Jean and Allen

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

 

This week, the US Open Tennis Championships begin anew and the USTA’s greening program has lived up to Billie Jean King’s original vision: The entire event is powered by renewable energy. All energy use is measured, as is waste generation and recycling, paper use, and employee and player travel, and these impacts are converted into measurements of greenhouse gas emissions. Over the past decade the Open has avoided tens of thousands of tons of greenhouse gas emissions. Unavoidable greenhouse gas impacts are offset for the approximately 9,000 people who travel to work at the event, including the 850 players.  Mass transit is promoted and last year more than 55 percent of fans arrived by public transit, making it the most transit friendly professional sporting event in the nation. Cleaning products are Green Seal Certified, paints are zero-VOC, water is conserved, and two LEED Certified structures have been built — the newly constructed Grandstand Stadium and the transportation building — and the new Louis Armstrong Stadium, slated to open at next year’s tournament, is expected to attain LEED designation as well.

 

Grandstand

The 8,000 seat Grandstand stadium at the National Tennis Center (NTC). It opened for play in 2016 as the first LEED Certified stadium at the US Open. (Photo credit: Lewis Blaustein)

 

Since 2009 the US Open’s greening program has been expanded and led at the USTA by Lauren Kittlestad-Tracy, now recognized as one of the most influential environmental leaders in tennis, with support from MIT-trained PE Bina Indelicato, co-founder of eco evolutions and one of the top sustainability experts working in the field.

 

At the time we started the USTA’s greening program, 90 million tons of greenhouse gas pollution was being pumped into the atmosphere each day. Today, that has grown to 110 million tons daily. This past July was the hottest month on record. Given those grim metrics, the USTA’s work — building on Billie Jean King’s noble vision to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and encourage others to do the same — is even more important. All businesses should follow its lead.

 


 

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The GSB Interview: Vijay Sudan on 21st Century Fox, Fox Sports and Sustainability

Sports stadiums and arenas were the first to join the sports-greening movement. After all, that’s where the games are played and where tremendous amounts of energy is expended, including getting to-and-from the venue. Media companies, while a “second order” greenhouse gas emissions driver at sports events, still are part of the energy mix. Plus they of course communicate what is happening on the court, field or course to billions of people worldwide. How do they look at their own sustainability issues around sports? And how do they communicate sustainability-related issues to their viewers and listeners? To get into this question, GSB spoke with Vijay Sudan, VP of Social Impact at 21st Century Fox, the corporate umbrella under which Fox Sports resides.

 

GreenSportsBlog: How did you find yourself at 21st Century Fox (“21CF”), social responsibility and green-sports?

Vijay Sudan: It happened quite by accident. I’m not a huge sports fan, tell you the truth. At Johns Hopkins, I of course followed our top ranked lacrosse team but sports does not drive me as it does some of my colleagues. But, I had been working in management consulting at Bain & Company when I was given the opportunity to take a five month leave and start off in the Social Impact department at 21CF. It was meant to be temporary, but five months has turned into eight years and counting.

GSB: What was Social Impact like at 21st Century Fox when you joined?

VS: The CSR or Social Impact program is about a decade old. It has always existed as a corporate level initiative with business unit-level implementation. For the first seven and a half years of its existence—including when I arrived—CSR only involved environmental sustainability, what we called our “Global Energy Initiative.” Then, in 2013, News Corporation, the parent company, split into two, with the broadcast and cable outlets as well as film becoming 21st Century Fox, and the print entities—Wall Street Journal, Times of London, New York Post and Harper Collins, among others—remained under the News Corp name. Many of our initial sustainability investments—before the split—took place in our factories and print plants, which were on the publishing side.

 

vijay15998RETfinalScrop

Vijay Sudan, VP of Social Impact at 21st Century Fox. (Photo credit: 21st Century Fox)

 

GSB: That makes sense. You can save much more energy, water, ink, etc., in a factory than in an office environment or studio.

VS: Exactly. Once the split took place, our CSR strategy broadened to more of a “Social Impact” approach…

GSB: …Hence your job title, VP of Social Impact…

VS: That’s right. That broadening meant we now support initiatives in Creativity & the Arts, Sports & Well Being, as well as Knowledge & Exploration. These areas are all organic and closely tied to who we are as a business. Our operating units include the 20th Century Fox film studio, and the Fox broadcast and cable properties: the FOX network, FX, Fox Sports, Fox News, and National Geographic, as well as STAR, a large TV business in India. We’re a very decentralized corporation so we work with points of contact at each of our businesses who are our partners in delivering on our initiatives. My three colleagues and I manage CSR corporately and an important part of our jobs is to bring the various business units’ CSR efforts together where possible.

GSB: I am glad there are so many people on the CSR/sustainability case over there. What is the emissions profile of 21st Century Fox?

VS: Good question. Like I said earlier, since we spun off our publishing assets under News Corp, we really don’t have factories, which is where many of our prior environmental impacts were. So what are our environmental impacts now? Really, they’re relatively small. From our office buildings and other facilities, they’re less than 200,000 metric tonnes of CO2 annual Scope 1 and 2 emissions combined. That said, we are studying and working hard to improve upon our environmental performance in our film and TV production unit as well as in sports. For example, in terms of materials, we’ve looked at the temporary studio and other infrastructure that goes into large events like Super Bowl LI and the US Open golf, both in terms of sourcing the materials sustainably to disposal of the materials after the event. As for energy usage, we are looking at opportunities to increase the use of biodiesel, to move from generators to grid power where possible, and to trial other technologies like UPS systems to replace generators, or solar powered light towers.

GSB: It seems to me that it would be difficult to continually improve on energy usage on sets. How do you go about doing that?

VS: It is challenging. In a print factory, improvements made on energy are realized every day. With sets, our teams are constantly building new ones or are filming in new locations. We often have to use mostly new materials and get them to remote parts of the world. We shot The Revenant in Northern Canada, for example. And in some of these places your only option for power is usually diesel generators, unfortunately. Also, because every production is unique in size, location, and crew, solutions aren’t necessarily scalable. But we are making lots of improvements and trying out new technologies everywhere we can. And we’ve been a leader in the entertainment industry in that regard for many years. We had the first carbon neutral TV show with 24, also the first to use 100 percent Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified lumber. More recently we experimented with battery powered “generators” while filming Legion for FX in Vancouver and have trialed solar powered trailers for our talent on set.

GSB: What about the sports side of the business…Have you been able to make energy and materials usage improvements?

VS: Sports got ignored early on a bit. Compared to movie shoots, they’re relatively small-scale productions. And we’re really temporary guests at a stadium or arena. We bring two trucks to an event, plug into the stadium’s or arena’s power source and then head out when it’s over. The employees are, aside from the on-air talent, mostly freelancers. So the carbon footprint, like I said earlier, is relatively low. But, we looked deeper and realized Fox Sports, including our regional sports networks broadcast something like 10,000 events annually in the US, and even more when you consider our international businesses. Each event may have a small footprint but when you multiply that by 10,000 it becomes something meaningful and significant.

GSB: What kind of savings could you find that would, multiplied by 10,000, turn out to be significant?

VS: We asked ourselves this question: What kind of energy usage goes into a typical Fox Sports production? To answer it, we went to Miami to observe how we covered a Miami Marlins baseball game at Marlins Park, and a Miami Heat NBA game at American Airlines Arena. We sat in the back of the production trucks, surveyed the scene, and talked to a bunch of people on site, from replay editors to electricians to directors and more. Doing so confirmed that our energy usage is indeed low, especially compared to operating a stadium or arena and to fan travel. But as a result of gaining a better understanding of those operations, we’ve zeroed in on our supplier relationships, kicking off conversations about sustainability with our vendors, from the firms that own the production trucks to the catering companies that provide food. For both film & TV production and sports broadcast we’ve found that physical material and waste are where there are big opportunities for improvement. At this year’s Super Bowl we were able to divert more than 2,800 pounds of waste from the landfill including things like flooring signage from our temporary studio and fan areas, and almost 10 miles of Ethernet cable.

 

Heat production truck

Inside the production truck for a Fox Sports cable cast of a Miami Heat game. (Photo credit: Vijay Sudan)

 

GSB: That’s impressive. But, especially given the smallish carbon footprints, relatively speaking, of 21st Century Fox’s sports productions, the bigger impact would be from promoting your environmental and climate change bona fides on air, especially on your marquee events like the Super Bowl (when you have it every third year), World Series, FIFA World Cup, and US golf Open (men’s and women’s). Is Fox Sports doing that kind of thing?

VS: I agree, and we are telling some sustainability stories. For example we broadcast the championships of the US Golf Association (USGA), including the US Men’s and Women’s Opens. We’re working with them to reduce energy usage and food waste on site. The USGA asked us if we could tell those stories in an on air Public Service Announcement (PSA). Shortly thereafter we cut video spots with Greg Norman, our chief color commentator at the time, about our environmental efforts. Fox Sports is the conduit to the fans at home and we’ve been talking to many of our partners at the leagues and organizing bodies about how can work collaboratively to find ways to share their and our sustainability messages on air or online. Just this spring we teamed up with MLB, DePaul University and our colleagues who run Fox Sports University, which engages PR and marketing students at colleges across the US, to work on a project creating a campaign that engages fans and promotes Fox Sports’ and MLB’s sustainability efforts. I was blown away by the creative ideas the DePaul students came up with. Everything from seed packets designed like baseball cards for community gardens, to the “Strike Out Your Footprint” campaign that empowered fans to take action in reducing their own impacts. The “Strike Out Your Footprint” team won a “pitch-off” and was rewarded with a trip to Miami last week to see the 2017 Home Run Derby and MLB All Star Game.

 

DePaul Culpwrit

Members of the “Strike Out Your Footprint” team from DePaul University at the 2017 Major League Baseball All Star Game at Marlins Stadium in Miami. (Photo credit: Culpwrit)

 

GSB: Kudos to the winners, and what a great prize! Do organizing bodies of major sporting events tell you what you can and cannot say on-air? Because, for example, with the FIFA World Cup 2018 in Russia, I think environmental stories may well be big news, especially with the greenwashing that went on surrounding the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

VS: We always want to work collaboratively with our partners and find common ground. We haven’t had any conversations yet about the upcoming World Cup, but when we broadcast the Women’s World Cup in 2015 in Canada, I had a great series of conversations with FIFA, particularly around helping get more girls into sports and into soccer, which is an area we have invested in as well.

GSB: Finally, as a viewer, if I see a video about the good environmental work Fox Sports is doing, in the back of my mind I’m thinking, “wait a minute, this is the same company as Fox News and Fox News’ opinion shows are perhaps the most influential purveyors of virulent climate change denialism. I’m not buying this greening of Fox Sports.” I’m guessing I’m far the from the only person who has this thought. How do you and your team combat this?

VS: It’s not the first time I’ve heard something like that. To give a bit of context, each of our business units runs very independently from the others, and there’s also a firewall between our corporate entity and our creative and editorial outlets. Corporate will never dictate what stories to tell or how to tell them, whether for our creatives or our news teams. Beyond that, our various outlets often don’t agree with another on a variety of topics – and not only do we encourage and value a wide diversity of opinions, we think that’s part of what makes us unique. And so while some commentators may have skeptical attitudes on climate change, you’ll find many others both on the news side, and all across the company, that have strongly countering opinions.

GSB: The problem, the way I look at it, is that the commentators, like Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, and others, are mainly on in prime time, have higher ratings, greater social media traction and thus a more significant impact on the body politic than respected journalists on the news side like Shep Smith and Chris Wallace do, who are generally on during lower viewership periods. And the effect has been significant: A 2011 study from American, George Mason, and Yale Universities found that Fox News programs overwhelmingly rejected or ignored the scientific evidence on climate change, and promoted a false sense of balance by favoring guests who denied the planet was heating up.

VS: A Yale University study also found that one of the most effective communications to raise awareness and concern for climate change among the general public was our film, The Day After Tomorrow. Not to mention the hundreds of millions of people that saw Fox’s Avatar, a movie with strong environmental themes, making it the highest grossing film in history. So yes, we have a wide variety of programming and opinions expressed on screen across our businesses, and we also generate a lot of content that is crystal clear in its affirmation of the scientific consensus. The Simpsons, for instance, is regularly lauded for addressing environmental issues in an entertaining, lighthearted, but engaging way. I’m sure there are folks out there who have learned everything they know about climate from Lisa Simpson! And, of course, we also own National Geographic. Nat Geo has been very strong on climate change. As one example, they recently put out Before the Flood, Leonardo DiCaprio’s climate change documentary. We premiered it at the United Nations with then Secretary of State John Kerry. Nat Geo also aired the film globally in 171 countries and made it freely available for streaming online. The movie was watched by more than 70 million people worldwide.

 

The Simpsons tackle global warming with “None Like it Hot” (1:43)

 

GSB: Well, I certainly wish that the Fox News commentariat would move closer to their 21st Century Fox cousins on climate. While I am not holding my breath; what a huge benefit that would be to the climate fight. Back to Nat Geo, it also aired the second season of the amazing documentary series Years of Living Dangerously in 2016. Years examines the effects of climate change happening now, in real time. The first season aired on Showtime. Will there be a third?

VS: I hope so! I’m glad you like Years…

GSB: It’s more than like…it’s LOVE!

VS: Even better. The overall thing I’d like to leave you with is this: for the past decade 21st Century Fox has been committed to addressing its climate impacts, growing sustainably and inspiring others to take action. We’ve been vocal about the need for businesses to be transparent on their carbon footprint, we have advocated for climate legislation in the US, and we publicly supported the international climate agreement in Paris. We are serious about it operationally and in terms of letting our audiences know what we’re doing to help in the fight. Sports is a key venue for telling those stories.

GSB: I am glad to hear that. I’ll be even happier if I hear Years of Living Dangerously gets renewed for another season and if I see coverage of environmental issues on Fox’ air during the 2018 FIFA World Cup. I know that’s not your call but it can’t hurt to lobby a little bit.

VS: Noted!

 


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