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.

 

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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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PyeongChang 2018: How Green will the Winter Olympics Be? A Conversation with Sustainability Manager Hyeona Kim

PyeongChang, South Korea will be the center of the sporting world starting February 9 when the Opening Ceremonies of the 2018 Winter Olympics take place in the city that lies about 77 miles to the east of Seoul. Environmental sustainability has been a key factor in Olympic bids going back to the Vancouver in 2010 (winter) and London 2012 (winter) Games. How will PyeongChang fare, sustainability-wise? GreenSportsBlog talked with Hyeona Kim, Senior Project Manager in charge of sustainability for the PyeongChang Organizing Committee for the 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games (POCOG) to find out.

 

 

Sustainability is now a core facet of the Olympics host city bidding process. In fact, any bid submitted since the 2014 adoption of Olympic Agenda 2020 must have a robust environmental component. Since a host city has seven years between being awarded the Olympic and Paralympic Games and the opening ceremonies, the 2022 Winter Games, awarded to Beijing in 2015, will be the first to have fully adhered to the Agenda’s guidelines.

How does the sustainability scorecard look for the upcoming 2018 Winter Games in South Korea, given that the PyeongChang Organizing Committee, or POCOG, won its bid in 2011, three years before the Agenda took effect? GSB spoke with Hyeona Kim, Senior Project Manager in charge of sustainability for POCOG to answer that question.

 


 

GreenSportsBlog: Hyeona, how did you get involved in the POCOG sustainability effort?

Hyeona Kim: Ever since I joined POCOG 5 years ago, I have been interested in what real impact PyeongChang 2018 can bring to local communities and our country. Helping with the initial venue development phase, I learned of the sustainability area, and thought ‘this is why I came to PyeongChang in the first place’ and I needed to commit my work to it. I was fortunate to be involved with the sustainability team, from the development of overall sustainability strategy to its implementation today. I really value the opportunity to experience the whole process.

 

Hyeona Kim

Hyeona Kim, Senior Project Manager, POCOG. (Photo credit: PyeongChang Organizing Committee for the 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games or POCOG)

 

GSB: So you are definitely the person to talk to! Given that Olympic Agenda 2020 was not in force in 2011 when PyeongChang bid for the 2018 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games, and thus sustainability was not a “must have” in Olympic Bids, how did it fit in your bid?

HK: Though it was not “must have” for Olympic Games bidding, sustainability was a strong global trend already back then, and was part of the ultimate goal to bring the event to South Korea. Naturally, sustainability and the environment were integral to our bid from the very beginning. Our focus started from the environmental sphere of sustainability. POCOG set out the environmental vision of “O2 Plus”, an ambition to go beyond the Games carbon emissions in our carbon reduction and offset efforts.

GSB: Impressive that POCOG planned to be “Net Positive”—to be responsible for the reduction of more carbon emissions than the Games would create. Were such efforts tried before?

HK: Vancouver 2010 raised the bar by achieving “Net-zero carbon Games”. PyeongChang felt responsible for sustainable Games and we thought of going one step further.

GSB: How does POCOG go about doing that?

HK: First of all, PyeongChang 2018, together with Gangwon, the host provincial government, has funded and is funding wind farms that will produce more than the minimum amount of electricity need to power the 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Some of the wind farms were built during the bidding phase and then, after we won the bid in 2011, POCOG ramped up its funding for the remaining wind developments.

GSB: So how much wind power are we talking about?

HK: We expect to have 190 megawatts (mW) of electricity demand during the 2018 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games. As of now, 145 mW is of wind electricity is already operational, another 32 mW is secured and another 100 mW is still under construction.

GSB: That’s a lot of wind, more than enough to power the Games. Where are these wind farms located? Close to PyeongChang?

 

POCOG Wind farm 1

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

 

HK: Yes, all of the wind farms are in Gangwon Province. And our use of renewables goes beyond wind. Six of the newly constructed competition venues will feature either solar power or geothermal. Several of our venues are certified for G-SEED, the Korean green building protocol, similar to LEED. Gangneung Olympic Park, the site of four venues—figure skating/short track, speed skating ice hockey, and curling…

GSB: …I LOVE curling. And, yes, I have curled before. Have you tried it? If not, you have to give it a go!

HK: Yes, actually I tried it once, and it was more active than it looked. It was fun. Anyway, part of Gangneung Olympic Park was transformed from a landfill site to a cultural and sports park, protecting the local ecology and nature in the process.

 

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Aerial view of Gangneung Olympic Park. (Photo credit: PyeongChang Organizing Committee for the 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games or POCOG)

 

GSB: Very impressive on both the electricity generation and facilities sides of the ledger. What about mass transit and low emissions vehicles?

HK: POCOG made an aggressive move into EVs—our fleet has 300 of them—and the charging infrastructure is being built in and around PyeongChang as we speak. Our goal is to do what we can to make EVs a mainstream choice for as many Koreans as possible as quickly as possible. On the mass transit side, POCOG and the Korean government has invested heavily in high-speed rail (HSR) as that is a great carbon emissions reducer. High-speed rail from the Seoul area will transport a significant percentage of total fans to PyeongChang and we expect such mass transit will help us reduce 6,654 tonnes of C02 equivalent^ from our carbon inventory. All of the efforts described here helped us become the first Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games to be ISO 2012-1 certified…

GSB: …For those unfamiliar, ISO 2012-1 is a global standard for sustainable events. Congratulations. Now, on the flip side of POCOG’s sustainability successes, what have been its greatest challenges?

HK: Ahhh, this is a good question. When we were on our learning curve, the IOC and past Organizing Committees always screamed one common message at us “Start EARLY with sustainability planning.” And, six years after winning the bid I can see that, even though we did start early on the environmental front in 2012, it would’ve been more successful if the bigger comprehensive plan came along at the same time.

GSB: How so?

HK: Well, the comprehensive strategy would’ve balanced initiatives amongst our three sub-categories of sustainability—environmental, social and economic—and solidified specific actions and messages. Olympic Organizing Committees are always on the steep growing curve, and once it hits the operational phase, it is not easy keep the sustainability ethos alive in daily minds in office. It takes extra efforts from sustainability unit to remind and ensure delivery of sustainability initiatives.

GSB: I echo that sentiment wholeheartedly. Ensuring that sustainability, no matter what aspect, is truly part of an organization’s DNA takes constant care. But I have to say, despite the challenges; it looks like POCOG is moving the sustainable Olympics ball forward, especially in terms of Winter Games and especially when compared to an environmentally challenged Sochi 2014. Now let’s pivot to a comparison vs. the Rio 2016 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games. They had their own environmental sustainability challenges, to be sure, but one thing they got right was communicating the seriousness climate change poses to humanity to a global TV and digital audience, estimated to be up to 1 billion people. They did so with a climate change themed vignette during the opening ceremonies. Will POCOG have anything similar in store? Also will POCOG be conducting any research on attendees and/or Korean TV viewers about awareness of its environmental efforts?

HK: We were also envious of the climate change vignette from Rio 2016’s opening ceremony. No other method I think can be paralleled in terms of scale and impact of the message. It is a shame that I cannot openly discuss POCOG’s public campaign for environmental awareness at this point of time, but I can reassure you POCOG has already unfolded different programs – carbon inventory establishment and management, International Forum on Climate Change and Sustainable Olympic Winter Games – and also is keen to do more for public awareness on environment and climate change.

GSB: Those are great things, to be sure. And, congratulations to you and all of POCOG for the innovative sustainability strategies and initiatives you are championing, especially O2 Plus. But, with all of the great, net positive greening initiatives POCOG is undertaking, it’s a shame that it chose not to close the sustainability loop by communicating its greenness, its climate change fighting chops, to fans at the venues and watching on TV and elsewhere. It’s like a golfer who hits a phenomenal tee shot and a great approach shot to within a foot of the hole. All she has to do is tap in and she wins the tournament. But she chooses not to putt and walks off. Let’s hope the folks in charge of Tokyo 2020 Summer Games and the Beijing 2022 Winter Games decide to take that putt, close the loop and communicate their greenness to a global audience.

 

^ PyeongChang 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games Sustainability Interim Report, February 2017, pgs. 26-27.

 


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The GSB Interview: Jamie Simon, Greening the LA Marathon

The Skechers Performance Los Angeles Marathon is one of the biggest in the United States, drawing 25,000+ runners from all over the world each year. The race passes through four cities, each with their own sustainability (recycling, composting, etc.) protocols and vendor contracts. Getting all four cities to pull together to deliver as sustainable an event as possible is a logistical challenge of epic proportions. To find out how they’re going about it, GSB talked with Jamie Simon, the Sustainability Consultant for Conqur Endurance Group, the event organizer.

GreenSportsBlog: Jamie, thanks for joining us. How did you get involved with Conqur Endurance Group?

Jamie Simon: I joined Conqur Endurance Group as a sustainability consultant. Before that I had been sustainability director of Red Bull USA

GSB: That must’ve been fascinating. When were you there?

JS: From 1999-2009, with the last two years in the sustainability role. The biggest challenge there was that outward-looking, consumer-facing sustainability programs were not in line with the brand at that time.

Jamie Simon

Jamie Simon, sustainability consultant for the Skechers Performance Los Angeles Marathon. (Photo credit: Jamie Simon)

 

GSB: What does that mean?

JS: It means that the brand’s image with consumers was about extreme sports and culture, etc. And not about sustainability. Their sustainability efforts—and the things that I focused on—were largely on how to streamline operations, to make them more efficient, use less water, etc.

GSB: Red Bull really should communicate their sustainability stories to their consumers. They’re starting to a bit, with their support of the documentary film about clean water, Waves for WaterBut that’s for a different interview. Back to the Skechers Performance Los Angeles Marathon: How did you find things, sustainability-wise, when you joined the effort there?

JS: Well, I have to say we were fortunate when we arrived back in 2014. My first assignment was to set sustainability benchmarks—basically, let the key stakeholders know where the marathon was in terms of a variety of sustainability metrics—mostly environmental but also social and governance. The marathon and its leadership had already taken a number of sustainability steps before that time and so, when we did the baseline analysis of their efforts, the 2015 Los Angeles Marathon was able to qualify for the silver certification level by the Council for Responsible Sport.

GSB: You mean by doing the benchmarking—and making no improvements—the Los Angeles Marathon was able to make silver level certification?

JS: That’s exactly right. The organizers were already giving funds to over 200 area nonprofits, which allows them to check the community development box of their Council certification form. They also had established a strong relationship with the LA Tourism Board, which allowed them to measure the economic impact of the marathon. Another box checked. And there were some waste management-recycling protocols in place.

GSB: So what were you brought in to do?

JS: Conqur Endurance Group made a three-year commitment to get to the Gold, or hopefully, Evergreen level of Council certification for the marathon. I was brought in to get us there. We set sustainability benchmarks with the 2015 Los Angeles Marathon, did more benchmarking with the 2016 race, and determined what kind of steps we would need to take if we were to qualify for Gold certification by the Council in 2017.

LAMarathonByCruse00259

The Skechers Performance Los Angeles Marathon is seeking Gold certification from the Council for Responsible Sport for 2017. (Photo credit: Los Angeles Marathon)

 

GSB: What did you learn?

JS: Well here’s one example: We learned that heat sheets are recyclable…

GSB: What are heat sheets?

JS: Those are the sheets of foil that are given to runners after they finish the marathon to keep their body temperatures regulated. At the 2017 Skechers Performance Los Angeles Marathon, we separated out the heat sheets and educated recyclers on the importance of actually recycling the material.

GSB: I never would have even thought about heat sheets. You guys really get down into the weeds with this…

JS: Here’s another one from the weeds. You know what you have tremendous quantities of at marathons? Banana peels.

GSB: Makes sense.

JS: And Santa Monica, one of the four cities that is part of the marathon every year, has a composting program for residents but not for events. Well, we got them to compost banana for the 2017 Skechers Performance Los Angeles Marathon.

GSB: You said Santa Monica is one of four cities? That’s got to be a logistical nightmare in terms of sustainability regulations and protocols.

JS: Oh yeah! The marathon starts at Dodger Stadium in LA, goes through West Hollywood and Beverly Hills before ending in Santa Monica near the Santa Monica Pier. This means we have four waste protocols to deal with, four sets of waste haulers, etc.

LA Marathon Start

Start of the Skechers Performance LA Marathon outside Dodger Stadium (Photo credit: Connect Run Club)

 

GSB: That sounds like a big logistical challenge. How does working with so many municipalities affect your metrics and measurements?

JS: We’ve got a pretty good handle on that aspect. We take carbon footprint, waste diversion and economic impact measurements. Right now, we’re working our way through the measurements of the 2017 race. Waste diversion for 2015 was at 84% so we’ve got a strong baseline there.

GSB: The waste collection must take a massive effort.

JS: You’d be surprised. We don’t supply food and beverage for the spectators. We’re all about the runners; 26,407 to be exact this year. There are about 6,000 volunteers, picking up waste along the way. Runners get bagels and bananas at the beginning. All unused food goes to the homeless through our partner Move For Hunger. We also work with Students Run LA—I love this group!—it teaches low income kids to run and to love running, which enhances self-esteem. And you know what? The most sustainable resource on earth is self-esteem. People who take care of themselves, take care of the planet.

GSB: I would love to see data that supports this notion but intuitively, it makes a ton of sense. What are your biggest goals for the Skechers Performance Los Angeles Marathon in 2018 and beyond?

JS: Definitely the elimination of bottled water. We’re working with the LA Department of Water and Power (LADWP), Beverly Hills and Santa Monica to access city water for our drinking water. WeTap, a nonprofit that promotes increased access to water from drinking fountains, is supporting our efforts.

GSB: Oh, WeTap is a terrific group and a great partner for the marathon. We interviewed them back a couple of months ago.

JS: Yes, I remember that. Now there are some logistical challenges—the fountains are currently on the wrong side of the course, for example—that need to be worked out. We also will revamp the water management bins at the finish of the course. Finally, we are looking to greatly reduce waste at the race expo, a two-day event at the LA Convention Center with over 100 exhibitors. It’s challenging but we will get it done, no doubt about it.

GSB: I have no doubt about that!

 


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