He became the first American male to win an Olympic medal in Single’s luge when he took home silver at the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Games. And he is leading a burgeoning movement among world class lugers to engage fans on the climate change fight.
GreenSportsBlog spoke with Mazdzer about his work on the luge track and as an environmental activist.
GreenSportsBlog: Chris, before we get into your very important work with your fellow lugers on the environment and on climate, I’d like to know how you got into the sport in the first place.
Chris Mazdzer: Thanks, Lew. So I grew up in Peru, New York near Lake Placid…
GSB: …Site of the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics and the “Miracle on Ice” — “Do you believe in miracles?? YES!!!!” — and one of the few places in the U.S. with a bobsled/luge run.
Chris: That would be the place. I was exposed to luge at eight years old and it was natural for me. I loved sledding — would go sledding through apple orchards for hours. Luge was like ultimate sledding for me. Anyway, I showed some talent for it at a young age. I was on a development team when I was 12; at 13, I showed enough promise that I was picked for a junior team that went to Europe for a competition.
GSB: Sliding down a sheet of ice on your back, with no protection. Yikes! I guess when you’re young, you’re more likely to be fearless, right? How come you picked luge over bobsled?
Chris: First of all there were many more kids bobsledding so there was a long line and not as many runs. Plus you’re only driving 50 percent of the time — that’s really where the action is. And luge was just SO MUCH FUN! It’s as simple as this: two runs with bobsled or ten with luge. Anyways, when I was 17, I was having a breakout season and tried out for the Olympic team for the 2006 Torino Games. I missed the last spot by 0.161 seconds total over three runs; lost out to my roommate.
GSB: You must’ve been devastated…
Chris: …Disappointed but not at all devastated. It gave me motivation and the confidence to really believe, “Hey, I can do this!” So I made the team in 2010, finishing 13th in Vancouver. Same thing happened in 2014 in Sochi. Finally, I broke through last year in Pyeongchang, winning silver…
GSB …In the process, becoming the first American male luger to win a medal of any kind in singles. Congratulations! Do you compete in doubles?
Chris Mazdzer (Photo credit: USA Luge)
Chris: Thank you, Lew. I did doubles in juniors but ended up specializing in singles, until now that is. My goal is to give the Olympics one more shot in Beijing in 2022, both in singles and for the first time in doubles.
GSB: How about medaling in both? Not to put any pressure on you or anything like that! OK, now pivoting to the environment. How did you get involved?
Chris: I’m 30 years-old. Growing up in the Adirondacks and being involved in winter sports, I’ve seen changes to our winters just in the time that I’ve been active. From bigger thaws to more rain during winter when it would normally snow. But it’s not just in winter. I travel a lot — I was in Indonesia and saw massive amounts of plastic on the beaches, in the oceans. I live in Salt Lake City these days, and the air quality is really, really bad. I don’t need the science to tell me — it’s clear, the climate is changing, the environment is worsening and it is humans that are helping to cause these adverse effects. And studying the science only confirms this. Without a doubt.
GSB: So what did you do, what are you doing to have an impact?
Chris: Well, I started out looking to offset the carbon emissions for which I’m responsible from all my flights. But, because I fly over 150,000 miles per year, that becomes quite costly. So I try to offset at least half for now. But then I became an athlete member on the International Luge Federation (FIL), sitting on a lot of committees. And I realized this is where I could have an impact! We’re starting small, working to have reusable cups at major competitions. But then I saw a video featuring several skiers at the World Championships in Finland, talking about why they love winter and why it’s important to take action on climate to protect it. I thought to myself, ‘We could do something similar.’ People don’t believe politicians; they don’t believe scientists. Who do they trust? Their peers and athletes! Scary but true: They trust athletes more than scientists. Thing is, athletes generally don’t engage on climate. And so I aimed to change that, at least with lugers.
GSB: You’ve put yourself on the hot seat, Chris: Qualify for the Olympics and getting athletes — in this case — lugers to care about and talk about climate. How are you doing the latter?
Chris: Well, I started in January by putting together a seminar for lugers competing at the 2019 World Championships in Winterberg, Germany. I was able to secure funding from one of my personal sponsors and brought in an expert and amazing speaker, Michael Pedersen of M Inc., a leader in sport governance. Tragically and unbelievably, Michael passed away suddenly a few weeks after our event due to a heart attack. He was 43.
GSB: I heard about that. What a tragic, unfathomable loss.
Chris: It’s still hard to believe. And his presentation to our group was incredible. He shared that athletes are in a unique position, with a powerful megaphone. He showed videos of people who’ve stood up and spoken up on a variety of issues, including climate, including Greta Thunberg, the 16 year-old Swedish girl who recently was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for starting what has virally become a global student “climate strike” movement.. He did not focus on the science — the athletes are already on board there — but rather the need to use our platform to talk about the environment, whether it be climate, plastic ocean waste, pollution, etc.
The late Michael Pedersen (Photo credit: M Inc.)
GSB: How did the lugers react and how many showed up?
Chris: Michael did such a great job — they really bought in. We had 15 lugers there. It was not as many as we would’ve liked but it was World Championship Week, the guys had to train, had media requirements so it was tough to get a bigger group. And it was a first time, so we learned a lot and am confident we’ll do better going forward.
GSB: How did you do on the track in Winterberg?
Chris: I only competed in doubles and doubles sprint this year due to a neck injury I sustained earlier in the week.My partner Jayson Terdiman and I finished fifth in the Doubles sprint and eleventh in Doubles. Being it was our first year together I felt that we did we really well.
GSB: Good to hear. What else are you working on, sustainability-wise?
Chris: I’m working on the single use plastic issue among athletes and also with the IOC to see how they can help athletes reduce their carbon footprints. It’s a bigger issue than you might think — we get killed by some critics. Because of going from event to event all over the world, my carbon footprint is 10 to 15 times that of the average American. I think that finding creative ways to partner with the IOC, FIL and sponsors to help fund the offsetting of athlete travel-related emissions will allow athletes to stand on firmer ground when discussing this important topic.
Chris Mazdzer navigates Turn 14 at the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics (Photo credit: USA Luge)
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CREDO Action is the advocacy arm of CREDO, a social change organization that offers products – like CREDO Mobile cell service – the proceeds of which allow it to fund grassroots activism and nonprofit organizations in support of a myriad of progressive causes and issues. Its customers and members — full disclosure: I am a member — have generated hundreds of millions of petition signatures, and tens of millions of phone calls and letters to elected officials and corporate bigwigs. On the environment, CREDO Action has, among other things, pushed the blocking of the Keystone XL pipeline, Arctic offshore drilling and coal leasing on federal lands^. Now it is venturing into the sports world, taking on the International Olympic Committee and Tokyo 2020 over the issue of rainforest destruction.
Now that the curtain is down on the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, the torch has been passed to Tokyo and the 2020 Summer Games.
From a sustainability perspective, the organizers of Tokyo 2020 look to be on par with PyeongChang 2018 and their mega sports event predecessors of the 2010s while falling short, it says here, of the stellar sustainability standard set by London 2012. Tokyo earns solid scores on what now are considered green-sports basics (venues being constructed to green-building standards, use of EVs and hybrids, using locally-sourced produce, etc.), and are making some incremental, newsworthy advances (making Olympic medals from recycled mobile phones, for example).
Artist’s rendering of the Tokyo New National (aka Olympic) Stadium, expected to receive CASBEE certification, Japan’s version of LEED. (Credit: Dezeen.com)
And, as with PyeongChang, there are concerns surrounding the treatment of forests and the sourcing of wood for Tokyo 2020 venues.
Writing in the May 11, 2017 edition of Vocativ#, Ray Lemire reported The Rainforest Action Network (RAN) claimed there is “evidence that the Japanese government is using tropical wood sourced from Shin Yang, a [large conglomerate with a logging operation] in the State of Sarawak, Malaysia, with a record of human rights abuses, illegal logging, and rainforest destruction.” To bring attention to this issue, RAN submitted petitions with 140,000 signatures to Japanese embassies and staged protests both in Malaysia and at the Olympic Stadium site.
Protesters at the Japanese Embassy in Malaysia last May, decrying the destruction of the rainforests of Sarawak, Borneo to help build venues at the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics (Photo credit: The Borneo Project)
And now, CREDO Action is taking the advocacy baton from RAN, springing into, well, action, and engaging its members in a petition drive on the wood sourcing issue.
“Tell the International Olympic Committee: No rainforest destruction for Tokyo 2020 Olympics” blared the headline of two CREDO Action petition drive mailings this week.
The petition reads, in part:
“Tokyo Olympic authorities recently admitted that they are using irreplaceable rainforest wood in the construction of Olympic venues.[According to this February 2018 Rainforest Action Network story] at least 87 percent of the plywood panels used for Tokyo’s New National Stadium came from the rainforests of Malaysia and Indonesia.
[T]he Tokyo [organizers] need to feel more pressure. We need the International Olympic Committee to use its influence to ensure that no more rainforests are harmed for the Tokyo Olympics.
Japan is the largest importer of plywood from tropical forests, and half of that plywood comes from the Malaysian state of Sarawak on the island of Borneo. Sarawak has one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world, and Indigenous communities in Sarawak have been fighting logging for decades.
Construction of the New National Stadium. Despite being on track to achieve CASBEE (green building) certification, the organizers used plywood concrete forms made from tropical timber. (Photo credit: Rainforest Action Network)
Rainforest advocates want Olympic organizers to cease using tropical wood, implement third party verification for the timber supply chain, respect Indigenous communities’ rights to natural resources and adopt robust sourcing requirements for all other commodities that could come from at-risk forests. (BOLD my emphasis)
We can amplify their call to action by telling the International Olympic Committee that the world is watching what happens in Tokyo.
Now, the question can reasonably be asked: Do petitions get meaningful results? By themselves, the odds, as the expression goes, are slim to none and Slim is on his way out of town. But petitions are an important tool in a grassroots movement’s tactical toolbox, along with peaceful demonstrations, letter writing, lobbying, boycotts and more. And, since the organizers of Tokyo 2020 are halfway around the world from North America, lending once’s voice to the cause via petition is the way for individuals here and elsewhere to take action now.
The “NO RAINFOREST DESTRUCTION FOR TOKYO 2020” petition drive, which launched February 27, is over 92 percent of the way to CREDO Action’s announced goal of 75,000 signatures, with 69,400+ folks weighing in so far. Click here if you would like to sign and help bring the drive over the signature goal line.
^ Sadly, it says here, Keystone XL and Arctic offshore drilling have been revived by the Trump Administration. Coal leasing on federal lands is in the process of being re-allowed.
# Vocativ is a website site claiming to use “deep web (GSB’s itals) technology as a force for good and go where others can’t to reveal hidden voices, emerging trends and surprising data”
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The Olympic flame is set to be doused in PyeongChang Sunday night in South Korea (the closing ceremonies will air on NBC starting at 6 AM ET Sunday). With that being the case, what better time than now for an Olympics-themed News & Notes column in which all three stories focus on climate change? We highlight the historic cross country skiing gold medal won by climate change fighter Jessie Diggins, dig in to Toyota’s powerful climate change ad that has been running during NBC Sports’ Olympics coverage, and feature Protect Our Winters’ chairman and big mountain snowboarder Jeremy Jones and his recent New York Times OpEd that makes the link between climate change fight and jobs.
JESSIE DIGGINS: CLIMATE CHANGE FIGHTER, CARBON PRICING ADVOCATE AND OLYMPIC GOLD MEDAL WINNER
Olympic cross country skier Jessie Diggins and teammate Kikkan Randall set two important firsts for the United States when they won the gold medal in the women’s team sprint freestyle race on Wednesday. The pair became the first U.S. women to ever medal in an Olympic cross country skiing event, and the first Americans, men or women, to win cross country gold.
Jessie Diggins exults as she crosses the finish line to win gold in the team sprint freestyle relay (Photo credit: Lars Baron/Getty Images)
And how’s this for another first: Diggins, from tiny Afton, MN, is the first U.S. cross country skier to win gold while also being very public with her climate change and carbon pricing advocacy.
As we noted in an earlier post, Diggins supports a revenue neutral carbon fee and dividend program (CF&D), like that proposed by Citizens’ Climate Lobby^. Carbon fee & dividend differs from a carbon tax in that the revenues raised by CF&D at the mine, well or border are passed directly on to all U.S. households rather than to the U.S. treasury department. CCL designed the program this way for two main reasons:
The direct-to-citizen dividend approach is the only way that Republicans in Congress could possibly support it. “Tax,” to the GOP, is a 4-letter word — they clearly have counting issues.
It is progressive — the monthly dividend amount sent to each household will be the same but higher income folks consume much more carbon (multiple cars, bigger homes, etc.) than those in the lower income demographics and so will, on a net basis, pay more than they get back in the dividend. Lower earners will, in the main, spend less than they get back.
Diggins is not shy about her passion for the climate change fight — she was quoted in a New York Times article at the start of the Games as saying, “you need to be able to stand up for things you believe in, and saving winter is something I believe in. It just breaks my heart because this is such a cool sport, and winter is so amazing and beautiful and I feel like we’re actually really at risk of losing it. And I don’t want my kids to grow up in a world where they’ve never experienced snow because we weren’t responsible enough.”
The newly-minted gold medal winner joined three other U.S. cross-country Olympians —Simi Hamilton, Andy Newell, Liz Stephen — in the video below that calls on all skiers to take action on climate change, specifically to ask their members of Congress to support CCL and its CF&D proposal.
TOYOTA ADVERTISES THE IMPORTANCE OF KEEPING THE WINTER IN WINTER
NBC Sports announcers commenting on events at the outdoor venues at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics have not made one mention of climate change, at least when I’ve been watching. This, despite the fact skiing and snowboarding are clearly being contested on manmade snow — in the rare instances when the camera gives a wide angle view of an outdoor venue, the viewer clearly sees wide swaths of snow-free land.
But Toyota is picking up climate change the slack with “Frozen,” a stunning 60 second ad produced by creative agency heavyweights Saatchi & Saatchi and Dentsu that emphasizes the automaker’s renewed “commitment to hybrid, electric and hydrogen vehicles…to help keep our winters winter.”
Check it out here:
Toyota is certainly not shy about telling its greener mobility story — “Frozen” has run throughout the Olympics fortnight on NBC and NBCSN, including during high profile/high viewership events like figure skating and alpine skiing. And they’re paying a pretty penny to do so: 60 second spots average $1.19 million during primetime Olympics coverage.
At some point, sports announcers will routinely highlight environmental and climate change-fighting actions taken by the teams and athletes they cover in the same way they talk about domestic violence and cancer.
We’re not there yet, unfortunately.
But, for now, advertisers like Toyota — or, Budweiser and Stella Artois in the case of the Super Bowl a couple of weeks ago — will have to do the heavy green lifting.
Which is much better than nothing.
POW CHAIRMAN JEREMY JONES: FIGHTING CLIMATE CHANGE MEANS SAVING JOBS
Jeremy Jones believes that taking on climate change is an economic as well as environmental imperative.
Jones has experienced the effects of climate change up close as a big mountain snowboarder. And he’s also in the center of the action in the climate change fight in his role as chairman of Protect Our Winters (POW), an organization made up of elite winter and snow sports athletes, including several 2018 Olympians, who advocate in Congress for meaningful action on climate. POW and winter sports athletes won GreenSportsBlog’s “Best Green-Sports Story of 2017.”
Jeremy Jones, chairman of Protect Our Winters (Photo credit: Protect Our Winters)
So it was with great interest that I read “Saving Winter Is About More Than Snow. It’s About Jobs,” Jones New York Times OpEd that ran smack dab in the middle of the Olympics. He highlighted key data points from a soon-to-be released report from POW on the economic risks to mountain areas and towns and the winter sports industry of climate change and its effects:
Winter sports are popular: “About 20 million [Americans] participate in winter sports every year.”
The mountain/winter sports economy is significant: “the 191,000 jobs supported by snow sports in the 2015-16 winter season generated $6.9 billion in wages, while adding $11.3 billion in economic value to the national economy.”
Low snow years are devastating: “causing a combined annual revenue loss of $1 billion and 17,400 fewer jobs.”
What to do? Once the Olympics are over, Jones and his POW teammates will continue taking the mountain/winter sports climate-jobs fight to Capitol Hill:
“Senators in states with vital mountain economies love to talk about jobs. These people include Senators Cory Gardner of Colorado and Dean Heller of Nevada, both Republicans, along with representatives of congressional districts that include mountain towns, like Greg Walden of Oregon, Scott Tipton and Mike Coffman of Colorado, and my district’s representative, Tom McClintock — Republicans as well.
But when the time comes to choose, these elected officials vote for legislation that will increase greenhouse gas emissions while ignoring the real threat to jobs in their own backyards — climate change. (Senator Gardner has a lifetime voting score from the League of Conservation Voters of 11 percent; Senator Heller’s score is 13 percent. The top score among the representatives was 9 percent.)”
Looking for a glimmer of hope? The jobs of Messers Gardner, Heller, Walden, Tipton, Coffman and McClintock are under threat. Because a lot of those 20 million winter sports participants Jones mentioned in his Times OpEd vote.
^ I am a volunteer with Citizens’ Climate Lobby
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For the tenth installment of our occasional “Green Leaders Talk Green Sports”^ series — we talk with luminaries from outside the Green-Sports world about the potential of, and challenges facing the Green-Sports world —we bring you sustainable business pioneer Solitaire Townsend, the London-based co-founder of Futerra, a firm that is both a “logical sustainability consultancy” and “a magical creative agency.” She is also the author of “The Happy Hero,” in which she endeavors to show readers how they can answer the question “What if saving the world was good for you?” with a resounding YES! GSB talked with Townsend (she goes by “Soli”) about how she got into the world-saving (and climate-saving) business and the role she sees sports playing in those efforts.
GreenSportsBlog: Soli, thanks for chatting with us! Futerra helps show companies can they can really do well by doing good — and provides them with the tools and direction to do so. We will get into that in a bit. But first, how did you get into the world-saving business?
Solitaire Townsend: It’s my pleasure, Lew. To answer your question, I go to the first chapter of “The Happy Hero.” It was the 1980s and I was growing up in Bedfordshire, north of London. Picture this — I was a 13 year-old girl, living in “Social Housing…”
Solitaire “Soli” Townsend, Co-founder of Futerra and author of “The Happy Hero” (Photo credit: Futerra)
GSB: Or, in American parlance, “the projects…”
ST: Exactly. There was trash all over the place and a company called Nirex planned to build a nuclear waste dump nearby. That was the last straw for me! So, at 13, I got involved in campaigning against Nirex, with my parents support. By the time I was 15, we had won — we beat back the Nirex proposal. It made me what I like to call a hardened optimist! This became my “modus operendi” from then on — I got a Masters Degree in sustainability in 1997.
GSB: Sounds like you were an early adapter…
ST: For sure. Getting a Masters in sustainability was unusual at that time. I worked for a time on the BBC show Newsnight and it was there that I gained a real appreciation for how important powerful communications is for the success of social movements, including sustainability. Eventually I founded Futerra along with a partner as an agency that would help our clients envision and deploy positive solutions to environmental and social issues as a fundamental business building strategy.
GSB: …Or, put another way, doing well by doing good, right?
ST: You got it.
GSB: So, where does sport fit in?
ST: Well, sport teaches us the power of belief. Talent takes you so far. It’s the belief in yourself and your team that makes the difference. Sport is the perfect platform for this line of thinking. And it is necessary for success in an advocacy campaign or, on the business side, in a corporate social responsibility campaign. Belief, against all odds!
GSB: Like, to use a great British sporting example, the incredible “Belief against all odds” story of Leicester City’s 5,000-to-1 Premier League champions in 2015-16. In addition to belief, in “The Happy Hero,” you talk about how elite athletes’ laser focus on achieving one goal can be instructive for the climate movement…
ST: Focus is a key aspect of a top athlete becoming world class. Also blocking out the negative. Now, with climate change, we don’t seem to have that world class athlete attitude. We talk about losing — we don’t have what it takes to win — it’s too big of a problem.
GSB: I know! I fight this, both in my own mind and in my communications. But, in the main, I’m in the Yes We WILL — as in “yes we will win the climate change fight” camp.
ST: Really, we need great climate change communicator coaches with that “Yes We Will Win” attitude.
GSB: Like Al Gore — at the time of “An Inconvenient Truth” about 10 years ago, I’d say his emphasis was 90 percent about the problem. But in the past five years, he’s gone all in on solutions…
ST: That’s a great example; there are many more. The great thing about sport is that it is all about what’s possible. There’s no ceiling. We have enough doom stories…Doom stories are crap. I sound like a broken record, I know, but we need belief, consistent hard work and positive stories to win the climate fight.
GSB: Hey, if Leicester City could win the EPL, we can solve climate change, right? So tell me about Futerra and sport.
GSB: …the most sustainable Olympics to date…What was Futerra’s role?
ST: Futerra were just one small part of the larger sustainability team. And when I say “larger,” I really mean it: The London 2012 environmental and social teams were as large as some of the countries’ actual Olympic teams! We worked on the big policy picture as well as providing guidance on very detailed sustainability aspects of the Olympics’ operations. Futerra handled sustainability reporting, including reporting on emissions generated from fan travel to and from the games, sourcing of food, the availability of water fountains and refillables within the Olympic footprint. London 2012 really was a sustainability breakthrough, not only for the Olympics but for all mega-sports events going forward. It was the first Olympics to issue a sustainability report. The Global Reporting Initiative or GRI developed a special supplement for sustainability reporting for large events, based on what was material…Of course that includes buildings, food, water, and travel. But also gender issues and other, broader elements of a sustainability plan.
The Velodrome in the London 2012 Olympic Park. The bicycle-racing venue features a 100 percent naturally-ventilated system that eliminates the need for air conditioning, along with rainwater harvesting systems on its roof. (Photo credit: Ruckus Roots)
GSB: That sounds like more than a small role to me. How do you see Futerra getting involved in sport going forward?
ST: We feel big, pro sports teams like Manchester United or Liverpool need to act like small ones and that Futerra can help them get there.
GSB: What do you mean by “getting big teams to act like small ones” and how can Futerra help?
ST: Well, Futerra is looking to get more involved with companies and nonprofits in emerging economies — China, Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America — with our sort of philosophical view of sport. What is the common denominator in those countries and elsewhere in the developing world? Sports. But for most people in those places, sports means a group of kids playing on a scrap of grass with a ball made of clumped together newspaper. When you think about it, this is, from a carbon footprint perspective, just about the lowest impact human activity there is, while also having a huge social impact. Now, when you look at the pro level, they too have a huge social impact but their carbon footprints are also massive. We aim to show sports organizations and the companies who sponsor them the benefits of lowering that footprint.
GSB: I can’t wait to follow up with you once you have some results from your efforts in those places. Do you have any other sports highlights you’d like to share?
ST: Well, recently we’ve done a lot of work with the great outdoor sports retailer REI. I love them and their #OptOutside program which has them close all their stores on Black Friday! They’ve really become a thought leader and are taking a lead role in the conversation about sustainable business, carbon footprint measurement, gender and more. We co-authored a report with them, The Path Ahead, about the future of the outdoor sports economy in the U.S., the threats…
GSB: …like climate change…
ST: …like climate change…and the opportunities.
GSB: I’m glad — and not at all surprised — to learn that REI is taking such a leading role. One thing that puzzles me is that the many sports teams and leagues in the U.S. that are doing great green things — zero-waste games, LEED certified stadia — do very little talking about it. Which to me defeats the purpose of greening in the first place. Why do you think that is the case?
ST: That’s an interesting question, Lew. I think sports teams and venues have two schools of thought. On the one hand, they want to be quiet about their green good works, loathe be seen as being boastful or, worse, greenwasher. But that attitude is really surprising to me and doesn’t pass the smell test. I mean, sports is, after all, about celebrating!!! Now, I fully acknowledge that the language of sustainability can be tricky — words like belief, caring, and stewardship. Sports is about winning and losing, overcoming obstacles, heroics. Perhaps the way to look at this is to make the language of sustainability more like sports. We need to do this — business already gets it, with all sorts of rankings. Sustainability needs to act more like sports.
GSB: And sports? Be not afraid about talking about your greenness. A little blowback from climate deniers? So what? The risk of inaction is too great and you’ll win with the millennial and GenZ fans you covet!
^ Here are links to the first eight installments of “Green Leaders Talk Green Sports”: 1. Joel Makower, executive editor of GreenBiz Group; 2. Jerry Taylor, leading libertarian DC lobbyist who was climate denier/skeptic, “switched teams” and is now a climate change fighter; 3. Dr. Michael Mann, one of the world’s foremost climate scientists and author of “The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars”; 4. Caryl Stern, President and CEO of US Fund for UNICEF; 5. Paul Polizzotto, President and Founder of CBS EcoMedia; 6. David Crane, former CEO of NRG, who, in addition to moving one of the largest electricity generators in the US away from coal and towards renewables, also oversaw the “solar-ization” of six NFL stadia; 7. Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, climate scientist and the best climate change communicator I’ve ever seen/heard; 8. Freya Williams, author of “Green Giants”; and 9. Mindy Lubber, CEO of Ceres.
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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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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
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
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.
Workers play soccer adjacent to the under-construction and BREEAM-certified Samara Stadium (Photo credit: The 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.
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, 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!
The Winter Sports world plays an outsized role in the Green-Sports movement. This makes sense, when one considers climate change is at least partly responsible for shortened outdoor pond hockey seasons, canceled ski races, and more. GreenSportsBlog is taking an in-depth look at the intersection of Green & Winter Sports with an occasional series, “Winter Sports Drives Green-Sports.”
Today, in Part 3, we talk with Green-Sports ROCK STAR, Gretchen Bleiler. She won a silver medal as a snowboarder for the USA at the Torino Olympics in 2006. Her climate change-fighting chops are also Olympian: Gretchen lobbies members of Congress, many of them Republicans, for action on climate and the environment as a member of Protect Our Winters (POW), an incredible group of outdoor sports professional athletes and climate change fighters. And if that’s not enough, she and her husband are Green-Sports entrepreneurs, with their reusable water bottle company, ALEX. I hope you enjoy reading our wide-ranging interview as much as I enjoyed conducting it.
GreenSportsBlog: Gretchen, there are so many things to talk about, so let’s begin at the beginning. I’m guessing you grew up in the mountains somewhere…
Gretchen Bleiler: I actually grew up in a town called Oakwood, just outside of Dayton, OH. A year after my mom and dad got divorced, my mom decided to move us out to Aspen, CO when I was 10. My grandparents had owned a place there since the 60s. And it was there that my awareness and respect for our environment really took root. During the first week of 6th grade, I knew my life was forever changed when I was catapulted into an Outdoor Education trip, part of our school curriculum, where we climbed a 14,000 foot mountain. And I had never been camping or hiking before!
GSB: …14,000 feet? No sweat! I grew up in Fairfield, CT and our field trips were to places like the United Nations and the Mark Twain Museum in Hartford. Cool in their own right but I wish we had outdoor education trips…
Gretchen: They were great. We hung out in nature for a week, far away from civilization, and learned how to survive on our own during 24-hour solos. During the winter, we learned how to build igloos in order to survive and stay warm in case we ever got lost in the mountains.
GSB: I’ve been to the area and it is spectacular. Is that where your interest in sports took off?
Gretchen: Oh that happened while I was in Ohio. I know it sounds crazy but, when I was seven years old I said to myself “I’m going to grow up to be an Olympian!” Actually what’s even crazier is that the sport I ended up competing in, snowboarding, wasn’t even close to being an Olympic sport at that time.
GSB: I knew when I was seven that I would never make the New York Yankees and I was right, too! Dang, we were two very self-aware kids! So what sports did you play in Ohio?
Gretchen: I did everything…swimming, diving, rode horses. I played soccer, tennis, and golf…You name it.
GSB: And when you got to Aspen you started with snow sports?
Gretchen: Yes! I had skied a bit before we moved to Colorado. But when we moved to Aspen, another incredible part of my education was that during the winters, we would have a half-day off one day per week to go skiing on the mountain.
GSB: OK, I’m officially jealous now…
Gretchen: One of those Wednesdays, I took a snowboard lesson with a bunch of friends and I was hooked. That was 1992.
GSB: …Even though it wasn’t an Olympic sport?
Gretchen: Even though it wasn’t an Olympic sport. Not only that, but it wasn’t even allowed on most mountain resorts. But that was actually what I loved about it. It was an anti-establishment movement meant to mix things up and bring fresh blood into the ski industry. It was about breaking the rules. It was free and creative and outside of the box. It wasn’t just about how fast could you get down the mountain, but equally important was your style; how creatively you could approach terrain, and the tricks you were doing. Snowboarding didn’t start as a competitive sport, but rather a new lifestyle.
Gretchen Bleiler (Photo credit: Monte Isom)
GSB: Sounds like a new culture, which must’ve been amazing to be part of at the start. Now, you told me off line you have three brothers…
Gretchen: …Also a half-sister…
GSB: …And a half-sister. Did you snowboard against your brothers and half-sister and could you beat them?
Gretchen: I always looked up to my brothers. They were always in on the cool new stuff. So I just watched what they were doing and would follow along. I would learn about the tricks they were doing and then go out and try to do them myself.
GSB: I imagine you pushed each other. When did you get into competitive snowboarding?
Gretchen: When I was 15, a kid from the Aspen Valley Snowboard team suggested I join them. That winter, I joined the team and found myself doing well in competitions. Snowboarding was controversially inducted into the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. While a lot of core snowboarders boycotted the Olympics, this was my dream come true. Now my goal was clear: Become an Olympic snowboarder.
GSB: Did you make the team?
Gretchen: I had only been snowboarding for 6 years in 1998. But I really went for it for the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics. I ended up tying with my best friend, Tricia Byrnes, for the last spot. By the way, she’s a real environmentalist — she’s never owned a car. Anyway, it came down to a triple tiebreaker and Tricia got the spot. I was happy for her, but I was devastated. After that experience, I vowed to myself that enjoying the ride had to be non-negotiable while I worked everyday towards my goal of becoming an Olympian. I realized I wanted to make the Olympic team so badly that I had lost the fun in my snowboarding, and vowed never to lose sight of that again.
GSB: Say more…
Gretchen: In order to achieve something, you have to become it. I became very aware of my choke points — self-doubt under pressure, worrying about results. “Lighten up,” I told myself. In January of 2003, I threw down a gold medal winning run at the X Games while having fun. I enjoyed the day with my friends and family. And I banked that feeling. I went on to win every contest I entered that year, and ultimately that feeling is what helped me make it to the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy and win a silver medal in the half-pipe.
Highlights of the women’s half-pipe competition at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, IT. Gretchen Bleiler’s silver medal-winning run starts at 1:24 of this 3:12 clip.
Danny Kass joins Gretchen Bleiler in celebrating their silver medals in men’s and women’s half-pipe at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, IT (Photo credit: Bob Martin)
GSB: You became it, you achieved it…
Gretchen: …Thanks. It was a dream come true, and a fairy tale all in one. Yet, one of the greatest things I took away from those Olympics is actually something most wouldn’t expect. There was a US speed skater named Joey Cheek…
GSB: Oh, sure, I remember him! Talented, charismatic…
Gretchen: …Not only did he win a bunch of medals, but he turned around and donated all of his prize money to an organization he worked with called Right To Play. Their mission is to use sport to educate and empower young people to overcome the effects of poverty, conflict, and disease in disadvantaged communities.
GSB: Incredible, really…
Gretchen: I know! He used his Olympic experience to stand on the podium, promote his mission, and then light up Right To Play by raising a lot of media attention and therefore a lot of funds towards the organization. It made a huge impression on me. Also, after the Olympics were over, the U.S. Team was invited to the White House to meet President Bush (43). We also had a luncheon with a House member and I’ll never forget what he told us: “Congratulations! You are Olympians. You will always be Olympians. But this is not an end, it’s just the beginning. The question is: What are you going to do with it?” Cheek and the White House meeting opened up my field of vision and I decided to use my platform to talk about climate change.
GSB: How did you go about doing that?
Gretchen: Well, it wasn’t from the scientific point of view; I let the scientists take care of that aspect of it. Rather, I share my own experiences as a professional snowboarder who’s traveled around the world chasing snow! Reduced snow pack, warmer temperatures and shorter winters all mean a hit to the sports we love, but these changes also impact the economies of all the mountain town communities where I compete and train. This has all been happening in my lifetime….
GSB: Which isn’t all that long…
Gretchen: …Hearing from locals in Switzerland about their receding glaciers, rain in January in the Alps and more. The reactions were and have been unanimous: Climate change is real, we are the cause, we have to do something — and we can. So I began to work with different climate change and environmental groups. Then, in 2009, I joined Protect Our Winters (POW) and that helped focus my efforts and hone in on my platform and find my voice.
GSB: What about POW allowed you to do that?
Gretchen: POW is terrific: We’re mobilizing the outdoor sports community against climate change. As individuals we all have unique stories, but, together, we are winter’s voice and are the voice for all the other industries that are affected when winters are impacted by climate change. I’ve found my niche in POW — it has given me opportunities to step outside of my comfort zone and stand up for something that, in my opinion, is the biggest issue facing humanity.
GSB: Tell us about some of those opportunities…
Gretchen: Throughout the years I’ve been a part of POW’s “Hot Planet, Cool Athletes” school assembly programs. It makes the topic of climate change engaging, more relatable, and more personal for students. And it also makes the solutions more real, more achievable. Then, I got into lobbying on Capitol Hill and speaking at big international events like COP21, the global climate conference in Paris in 2015 that led to the Paris Climate Agreement…
“Ms. Bleiler Goes to Washington”: Gretchen Bleiler on her 2017 lobbying trip to Capitol Hill with Protect Our Winters (Photo credit: Forest Woodward)
GSB: Which President Trump plans to pull the US out of. UGH! How did you feel when you were making these presentations?
Gretchen: I was sooooo insecure when I first started — didn’t go to college as I went into professional snowboarding straight from high school. Like I said, I had to battle and push myself out of my comfort zone. Even when my mind told me “I don’t want to do this!” I pushed myself to do it anyway. When we first started going to meet members of Congress in 2010, the reaction was “who are these winter sports athletes?” Now, everyone knows us and they know we come back every year and are holding them accountable for their words. They know that collectively we have a huge social media presence so our audience will find out what their representatives are doing to help on climate — or not. On our last trip to the Capitol a few months ago, after Hurricane Irma, I spoke in front of the House of Representatives’ new, bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus (CSC). This is a group that more people need to know about: For a Democrat to join, he or she has to bring in a Republican…
GSB: YES! I know about the CSC! I volunteer with Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL), a national group of citizen lobbyists advocating for a revenue neutral price on carbon through a “carbon fee and dividend” legislative proposal. An amazingly persistent CCL-er from Philadelphia, Jay Butera, would go down to Washington weekly, on his own dime, with an endless supply of positivity, to push the Climate Solutions Caucus. Started by Florida representatives Ted Deutch (D-FL22) and Carlos Curbelo (R-FL26), the group has grown from a handful of members to about 60 in about two years. Republicans are continuing to join, even in the wake of the Trump election and the hijacking of the EPA by his administration and the fossil fuel industry.
Gretchen Bleiler, flanked by professional fly fisherman Hilary Hutcheson (l) and Auden Schendler, Chairman of the Board of POW, testifying in front of the House of Representatives’ bi-partisan Climate Solutions Caucus (CSC) in 2017. At the head of the table sit CSC members Ryan Costello (R-PA, in purple tie) and Ted Deutch (D-FL, glasses). (Photo credit: Forest Woodward)
Gretchen: I love Citizens’ Climate Lobby and the CSC! To testify about the impacts of climate change on the outdoor sports and recreational industry, directly after Irma, was ironic in its timing. On one hand, Reps. Deutch and Curbelo from Florida, who started the caucus, were obviously dealing with matters of life and death after the destruction of the hurricane. On the other, what better time to talk about climate change because it was directly in our faces, with flooding in the south as well as wildfires in the west? We were able to inspire the committee with our stories and show them how important it was to us to see Democrats and Republicans working together around climate change. Beyond the caucus, we had a lot of meetings, mostly with Republicans who are on the fence about voting pro environment. These conversations are sometimes difficult because we don’t often share the same point of view, but that’s the point — we don’t have to agree to have a conversation. Actually, in order to solve this problem, we need to listen to people with different opinions, but we have to somehow agree on the facts of the reality of climate change. There is just no time for denial at this point; we need solutions. But what’s great about our group is that most everyone has a story about why they love the great outdoors, so we’re able to bring it back to that common ground, plus back it up with economic facts, like the snow sports industry is a $72 billion dollar industry.
GSB: That is significant…
Gretchen: …And it supports 695,000 jobs, which is more than all of the extractive industries — oil, gas and coal — combined.
GSB: Even more significant…Do you do anything else for POW?
Gretchen: Beyond our Capitol Hill trips, and the Hot Planet, Cool Athletes presentations, I write op-eds and make calls to Colorado electeds.
GSB: What is that like for you?
Gretchen: I’m getting more and more comfortable. POW is currently running a campaign to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) from a senate proposal to allow drilling on pristine lands that might net some limited short-term economic gains, but at a severe environmental cost. Drilling our public lands for fossil fuels that will only emit more greenhouse gases is no way to balance a budget. I called Colorado’s Republican US Senator, Cory Gardner on this issue…
GSB: Did you talk to the Senator or his staff?
Gretchen: I talked to a staff member, they listened and we’ll just keep on calling. Also, while we were on the Hill, a POW group met with Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) who is leading the effort to open up ANWR. Many members of POW’s Riders Alliance spend a lot of time skiing and snowboarding in Alaska, for obvious reasons. Unfortunately, for now at least, she continues to make choices that show she’s not looking at the big picture of protecting our public lands and climate.
GSB: Well, she’s facing significant resistance in Alaska and elsewhere. This just means POW’s calls and meetings with Members of Congress are more important than ever. So what can we look for from you and POW in 2018?
Gretchen: For 2018, we are laser-focused on electing a climate-friendly Congress in 2018, House and Senate. And we’re also working on the state level, from Governors races to state legislatures.
GSB: You know what, Gretchen? YOU should run!
Gretchen: Oh, I don’t think that’s for me. But activism and pushing our electeds on climate? Count me IN!
GSB: Well, I think you’d be great. But, what you’re doing with POW is so important. In fact, dear readers, I can’t stress how important and extraordinary Gretchen’s and the rest of POW’s efforts are. These athletes, Olympians and World Champions, are finding the time to lobby members of Congress, and campaign for climate-friendly candidates in the 2018 election. Now, before I let you go, tell us about your green business, Alex Bottle.
Gretchen: We started ALEX to be a sustainable lifestyle company. ALEX stands for Always Live EXtraordinarily; all of our products are a constant reminder for us to strive for that. “Extraordinary is such a big word and we want to make it approachable by reminding people that it’s our small everyday choices and actions that add up to an extraordinary life. By focusing on the steps in the journey and not the just the end result, we can achieve our own extraordinary, AND love the process.
As for products, our first focus was in the reusable bottle space because we were sick of seeing people around us use disposable plastic bottles. We realized that to get people to make the shift from disposable to reusable, we needed to make it simple. Since the reusable bottle offerings at the time lacked any style, and they were impossible to clean, they turned people off. That’s when my husband, Chris, had the idea to make a reusable bottle that opened in the middle for cleaning. What’s interesting is when we opened the bottle in the middle, it allowed for a bunch of other cool features we didn’t expect, like being able to compact it to half its size, use it as two cups, or completely customize the color combinations. It became so much more then just a bottle. We’ve since released two new products: An insulated commuter cup and a pint cup, both with sneaky bottle openers on the bottom.
We wanted to have a small and thoughtful line up that covers every drink situation. Our bottle is great for smoothies, cocktails, and fruit infused water, while our commuter cup is great for keeping coffee and tea hot, and then you have the stackable pint cup for festivals and parties. We designed it so that you could have three reusable products and be set for any situation.
The ALEX Bottle product line (Photo credit: ALEX Bottle)
Gretchen Bleiler, in her natural habitat, with snowboard and ALEX Bottle in hand (Photo credit: Kate Holstein)
GSB: Congratulations to you and Chris. What’s it like to be manufacturing a consumer product?
Gretchen: In some respects, it’s been like climbing Everest. Thankfully, Chris runs the business and manufacturing end, and I’m an ambassador for the mission of the brand, which is encouraging people to live their extraordinary. We wanted to manufacture Alex in the US but the costs are just prohibitive. So we started in Indonesia but had problems there. In fact, we’re on our fourth manufacturer since 2009. Now Alex is produced in China. But, despite the fits and starts, we’ve found our niche and we’re proud to be able to manufacture and sell a product that lives up to our high standards.
GSB: Where can one buy an Alex Bottle?
Gretchen: The best place to get one is on our website, www.alexbottle.com. That’s where you’ll find all of the color options. Since a lot of people love Amazon, we offer our insulated commuter cup and our Stainless Steel pint cup through Amazon Prime.
GSB: How are you planning to scale the business and perhaps add the brick and mortar channel? Are you looking for venture and/or angel funding?
Gretchen: We’re not looking at venture funding, at least as of now. Our plan is to grow the business organically, via the winter, adventure and outdoor sports communities. We really focus on customer service and celebrating the people who support and buy from us. We’ve definitely found that our ALEX family of customers are the best spokespeople for what we’re doing, so focusing on making sure their experience is extraordinary is our biggest opportunity for growing the business.
GSB: All the best to you and Chris…and I still think you should rethink the “run for office” thing.
Gretchen Bleiler, husband Chris Hotell and Kota in their ALEX Bottle studio (Photo credit: Gretchen Bleiler)
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GreenSportsBlog does not often get to write about eco-athletes. And we’ve never been able to write about a married couple who are both involved in environmental activism.
Until now, that is.
Last week, in the first edition of GSB’s new occasional series, Winter Sports Drives Green-Sports, we featured the story of Erika Flowers Newell, an American cross country skier who is pushing to make her first US Olympic team in 2018. She also works for Carol Cone On Purpose, an agency that helps companies do well by doing good. And, for Erika, doing good means taking positive action on the environment.
Today, in Part 2, we talk with her husband, Andy Newell, a three-time Olympian in cross country skiing about to start his campaign to qualify for the fourth time. He’s also a leading member of Protect Our Winters (POW), the group of elite winter sports athletes who advocate for climate action.
GreenSportsBlog: Your wife’s story starts out in Big Sky country, Montana. Are you from that part of the world, too?
Andy Newell: Nope. I grew up in Shastbury, VT, near Bennington and started skiing as early as I could walk.
Young Andy Newell (middle, red cap), skiing with his family in Vermont (Photo credit: Andy Newell)
GSB: When I think of Vermont as far as skiing is concerned, I think of downhill and the other alpine events. Was it unusual for you to gravitate towards cross country?
AN: Not at all. Our area in particular is great for cross country. It’s a blue collar region and, as compared to alpine, cross country is more of a blue collar sport — alpine is much more expensive. I’ve been into it forever; I started racing when I was 5 years old.
GSB: Holy COW! So were you on an “elite” track from those early years?
AN: It turned out that way. I competed all the way through my teen years and attended Stratton Mountain High School, about 40 minutes from home. It’s a specialty school designed for skiers and snowboarders with an academy and a private ski school for kids in grades 8-12. It is tiny —there were 25 kids in my graduating class.
GSB: It sounds like the way many European countries handle top young athletes — by putting them in special sports academies — for top soccer and tennis players. Similar also to IMG Academy down in Florida. I didn’t know there was such a thing for winter sports here.
AN: I got a lot out of it. It was great preparation for my career as a pro skier, especially where time management was concerned. And the education was top quality. It was like I got a college education in a high school setting because I had to juggle academics and a full time training and racing schedule.
GSB: So I imagine you competed at a high level while at Stratton Mountain School…
AN: It was great. I got to travel in high school as part of the US Ski Team as I was named to the developmental squad when I was a senior.
GSB: Where did you ski in college?
AN: I never went to college, deciding to pursue professional skiing as a career. This is not unheard of. I jumped to the A-team in 2003 when I was 19.
GSB: Congratulations! That’s young for a cross country skier, I believe. The US was never a cross country power — I remember that Bill Koch of Vermont was the only Olympic medal winner and that was back in 1976…How did you deal with that?
AN: Well, things were starting to look up for the USA when I came of age. It’s a long process as cross country takes training, hard work, top coaching, along with strong athletes, patience and funding. In the mid 2000s, we started to have success as a team and I did as an individual, in the sprints. I was the first American male to make the medal platform at a World Cup race in 2006, taking third place in Changchun, China. I followed that up with a 5th place at the 2007 World Championships. And then, on the women’s side, Kikkan Randall made the podium in 2008, on her way to even greater success down the road at the Olympics. It was a fun, exciting time.
GSB: It sounds like you were on track to be on Olympian yourself…
AN: I went to my first Olympics in 2006 in Torino Italy. 4 years later at the Vancouver Games I was in the best shape of my life! I was a medal hopeful for sure but I crashed out of my sprint…
AN: Well, they say those kind of things are “character builders”…So I trained and worked…
GSB: …And built some character…
AN: Hopefully… It taught me a lot about the process of being an athlete. That there is a whole lot more to success than just winning medals, it’s about enjoying the process and also giving back. That perspective has a lot to do with why I got involved in environmentalism and later made the Olympic team in 2014 in Sochi.
GSB: You mean the Olympics that were held in a tropical zone?
AN: The very same. But this time, I wasn’t in my best form, I didn’t stand out. So now we’re in 2017. I’ve done well in World Cup seasons, have made it to several podiums but I haven’t put it together in Olympic years. So I’m giving it another go for Pyeongchang 2018 — just like Erika is — to see if I can do my best at the highest profile event in my sport.
GSB: And, as a member of Protect Our Winters or POW, doing well at the Olympics will raise the profile of your environmental advocacy. When did that begin?
AN: Early on — during my high school days and into my early 20s, the environment was not something I focused on. At all. Now, when I speak to school audiences for POW, I show a picture of me in my 1990 Chevy Blazer which got 10 miles per gallon. As I say, I didn’t care about the environment, so it’s important to communicate to school kids that you can learn, you can change — at any age. I wish politicians could admit to, in fact, honor the idea that they can change. It’s very important.
GSB: So when did your change to environmentalism take place?
AN: Bill McKibben, the founder and driving force of the climate change fighting nonprofit, 350.org, is a big cross country skier who lives near Middlebury, VT. My older brother was also a Middlebury skier so I heard of Bill through him as well.. I had met Bill at some of the local ski races and really admired his work and writing, and his excitement for activisim. So around 2010 was when I got started volunteering for a few 350.org projects. Between 2010 and 2014 I got more and more involved and started working with Protect Our Winters. In advance of the Sochi Olympics I communicated with Bill and he voiced his concerns over the negative environmental impacts of the Olympics and the importance of the upcoming Paris Climate talks and how we could rally support internationally.
GSB: Oh it was bad alright — we’ve written about the environmental disaster that was Sochi 2014.
AN: You got that right. It was an awful decision by the IOC to give Sochi the Winter Olympics. The development there devastated the wetlands…they clear cut national forests. So, I spoke up about this in the run up to the 2014 Olympics. And, Bill and I drafted a letter for a group of snow sports athletes called Athletes for Action and that letter was addressed to world leaders, urging them to sign the Paris Climate Agreement.
GSB: …Which was signed in December 2015, about a year and a half after Sochi. Congratulations! Of course, the current U.S. President is planning to pull us out of the agreement. Regardless, it seems to me that you’re a natural advocate.
AN: For me, becoming an activist was a smooth transition. I like to say what I think, to take a stand. I’m definitely not afraid. In fact I tried to recruit other athletes to join Athletes for Action, to get athletes from other countries who might be able to impact political decisions in their countries.
GSB: How did that go?
AN: It went OK, not great. We got some Canadian, Finnish and Swiss athletes to join. Russians? Not so much. Since then, I’ve become much more involved with POW, which really fits my lifestyle…
GSB: That’s FANTASTIC! What has that activism looked like?
AN: Well, I helped lead POW’s participation in the People’s Climate March in New York City in April; one of many marches I’ve done. I’ve written OpEds, including one that ran in USA Today in 2014. I’m also one of the more active members of POW’s Ski and Riders Alliance.
GSB: What will POW’s presence be in Pyeongchang in February?
AN: Good question. They’ll have some presence, I’m just not sure what it will look like. The way I can be most effective will be to make the Olympic team, so that’s my focus heading into the qualifying season which starts in December.
GSB: All the best, of course. What do you plan on doing after your pro skiing career is over? And will environmental activism be a part of it?
AN: Well, I’m going to continue with pro skiing for as long as I can. And, for sure, my activism with POW will continue, especially on the grassroots level…making presentations, recruiting more athletes, lobbying members of Congress and other politicians on climate. On the recruiting, I figure if I, as a non-college graduate, can do this work, can lobby on Capitol Hill, so can many other winter sports athletes.
GSB: Have you lobbied Vermont’s two US senators?
AN: Absolutely…I’ve lobbied and talked with both Bernie Sanders and Patrick Leahy, who are great. I also had a one-on-one meeting with Todd Stern, President Obama’s lead negotiator at the Paris Climate Talks. My position was that we as the winter sports community need you negotiate an agreement with real teeth. He heard me for sure.
Andy Newell (l), with Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT). Also pictured, Liz Stephen and Ida Sargent, both of the U.S. Nordic Ski Team (Photo credit: Andy Newell)
Andy Newell (l), with Todd Stern, the U.S. chief negotiator at the Paris Climate Talks in 2015, and Alex Deibold, also of POW (Photo credit: Andy Newell)
GSB: Unfortunately, as mentioned above, our current President plans to pull the U.S. out of Paris.
AN: Well, it’s not a done deal yet. One of my favorite quotes from Leonardo DiCaprio’s movie about climate change, Before the Flood, is “we can create elected followers, not elected leaders.” Meaning if we citizens have a big enough cultural and economic shift toward sustainable energy the President and everyone else in DC has no choice but to follow. We have more power than we think. Senators, House members and the President will continue to hear from the winter sports community as to why staying in Paris is the only sane way to go.
GSB: I feel a bit better about it all now, I have to say.
Andy and Erika (Photo credit: Andy Newell)
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You know the green-sports movement is gaining traction when anthology textbooks/handbooks about the subject, made up of more than 30 scholarly articles, are published. Enter Brian P. McCullough, Assistant Professor in the Sport Administration and Leadership program at Seattle University. He, along with Timothy B. Kellison, Assistant Professor of Kinesiology and Health at Georgia State University, are the principal editors of “The Routledge Handbook of Sport and the Environment.” Here then is GreenSportsBlog’s first ever book review.
I thought the new “Routledge Handbook of Sport and the Environment” (click here for the link to the book) was the first Green-Sports textbook ever published. Brian P. McCullough, one of its two principal editors, set me straight.
Brian P. McCullough, principal editor of the “Routledge Handbook of Sport and the Environment” (Photo credit: Seattle University)
Timothy B. Kellison, principal editor of the “Routledge Handbook of Sport and the Environment” (Photo credit: Georgia State University)
The duo’s overarching goal was to build upon what Pfahl and Casper had done and firmly establish green-sports as a legitimate sub-genre of academic research and scholarship within sport or environmental management. What resulted is a 34 chapter anthology, with 46 contributors — some who have written on green-sports before, as well as others who have written on sport or environmental management.
My main takeaways after reading a smorgasbord of six of the 34 chapters, are that “Routledge Handbook of Sport and the Environment”:
Demonstrates that green-sports as a “thing” has moved beyond its “start up,” 1.0 phase to its “early growth,” 2.0 phase. Green-sports is clearly still in its early days, certainly in terms of broad fan awareness and also as far as environmental actions on the ground are concerned — the percentages of LEED certified stadia/arenas and Zero-Waste games are still relatively low at this point. That said, sustainability has taken root within the sports industry — the NHL’s carbon neutral seasons, more LEED certified stadia/arenas being built every year, and LED lighting becoming commonplace, are but three of many examples. This handbook’s mere existence and, even more so, its 34 chapters of meticulously researched green-sports scholarship demonstrates the topic’s depth, its diverse avenues for study and also its interest for academics. It is an important marker of green-sports’ increasing maturity.
Will serve as an important text for sport and/or environmental management graduate students. In particular for those pursuing sport management, the text can provide a solid grounding in sustainability that they then can bring to jobs with teams, leagues and venues, thus deepening sustainability’s roots within those organizations.
Can be a valuable reference for sustainability practitioners, operations professionals, and communications executives at sports leagues, teams and venues. It provides rigorously researched examples of a wide variety of environmentally-focused initiatives that can be built upon by teams and venues currently sitting on the green-sports sidelines.
Will lay the groundwork for future, more refined and meaningful green-sports scholarship and textbooks. McCullough’s and Kellison’s work shows that the state of academic research at the intersection of Green & Sports is in its early days, reflecting the newness of the field overall.
Here is a quick synopsis of the six chapters mentioned above:
Chapter 3: “Economics, sports and environment: incentives and intersections”
Allen R. Sanderson, an authority on sports economics issues and the author of the “On Economics” column for Chicago Lifemagazine, and Dr. Sabina L. Shaikh, a behavioral economist and director of the Environmental Studies program at the University of Chicago, examine the three-way intersection as it applies (or doesn’t) to the Olympics, NFL, auto racing, tennis, golf, and college athletics.
Sabina L. Shaikh, PhD (Photo credit: University of Chicago)
According to McCullough, “[Allen and Dr. Shaikh] use this chapter set the stage for how and why different sets of fans engage or don’t engage in sustainable behaviors and what can be done to ‘move the needle’.”
Chapter 5: “Climate change and the future of international events: A case of the Olympic and Paralympic Games”
Will past Olympic and Paralympic Games host cities be suitable venues in a climate changed world in 2100? Dr. Lisa M DeChano-Cook, Associate Professor of Geography at Western Michigan University and Dr. Fred M. Shelley, Professor of Geography at the University of Oklahoma take that on in Chapter 5.
The authors calculated estimated February and August 2100 temperatures by assuming average temperature increases of 1°C and 4°C. They also took into account potential sea level rise by 2100 of 0.3 meters at the low end and 1.2 meters at the high end.
With those parameters, prior Winter Olympic and Paralympic venues Sochi, Squaw Valley, and Torino are likely to be unsuitable hosts in 2100 in both the low and high scenarios. Calgary, Lake Placid, Lillehammer, Sapporo and St. Moritz are likely to be suitable in both scenarios. Every other Winter Olympic site is predicted to be either be unsuitable and/or “at risk” in at least the high temperature rise case if not both.
Athens, Rio and Tokyo (the site of the 2020 Games) are seen by the authors as likely being unsuitable Summer Games hosts in 2100 in both the low and high temperature rise cases. Amsterdam, Helsinki, and Los Angeles, the host in 2028, are all unlikely to make the grade in 2100 due to sea level rise. Best bets among prior host cities to be able to host in 2100 include Berlin, London, Melbourne, Mexico City (a surprise to yours truly), Munich, Paris (the 2024 host), Stockholm and Sydney.
The Japanese team enters the Tokyo Olympic Stadium for the opening ceremonies of the 1964 Summer Olympics. Drs. DeChano-Cook and Fred M. Shelley project that Tokyo will be an unsuitable site, due to climate change, by 2100. (Photo credit: IOC).
Chapter 10: “Marketing sustainability through sport: The importance of target market insights”
McCullough didn’t have to go far to find one contributor — Dr. Galen T. Trail, a colleague at Seattle University. They cowrote “Marketing sustainability through sport: The importance of target market insights.” In it, Trail and McCullough use data collected from a 10-mile running event to determine that different market segments respond differently to sustainability-focused engagement initiatives (i.e. recycling, offsetting travel related emissions). The researchers went beyond basic demographics (i.e. income, age) to delve into psychographics: values and attitudes; activities, interests and opinions; lifestyle, and more to determine how committed people who participated in or attended the race would be to taking different environmental actions.
Chapter 22: “Tailgating and air quality”
A possible linkage between “Tailgating and air quality” is examined by the aforementioned Dr. Jonathan M. Casper of NC State and his colleague, Dr. Kyle S. Bunds. The chapter represents the first attempt to understand the impacts of air pollution, if any, on tailgaters.
Thanks to a grant from the EPA, the authors were able to design an innovative study that would be conducted in and around Carter Finley Stadium, home of NC State football during the 2015 season. They used five stationery monitors to capture ambient air every 10 seconds at the perimeter of the tailgating parking lots. Another mobile device measured exposure to pollutants inside the lots and also in the stadium itself.
The stationery monitors showed that air pollution levels were in the healthy range during pre-game tailgating — this was somewhat surprising to me — and while the game was going on. But they spiked to unhealthy levels after the game when fans exiting the parking lots at roughly the same time lead to significant traffic congestion. The mobile devices showed similar results — “fair” air quality in the tailgating areas with spikes in CO₂ and carbon monoxide (CO) due to “flowing traffic, idling vehicles, generators (particularly older generators), and charcoal grills.”
Researchers strategically placed stationary air quality monitors in each of the major tailgating lots at NC State’s Carter-Finley Stadium. (Photo credit: NC State University Sustainability Office)
The authors offer some ideas on how venue operators can encourage fans to reduce emissions. This study seems like the tip of the iceberg for what could promise to be a rich area of inquiry.
Chapter 25: “Sport participation to create a deeper environmental identity with pro-environmental behaviors”
Drs. Vinathe Sharma-Brymer, an inter-disciplinary educator working in Australia, England and India; Tonia Gray, a senior researcher at the Centre for Educational Research at the University of Western Sydney; and Eric Brymer, a Reader at the Carnegie School of Sport at Leeds Beckett University, teamed up to show how, if managed effectively, participation in some outdoor and adventure sports (OAS) can cultivate a deeper environmental identity and pro-environmental behaviors. In fact, some political conservatives who become OAS enthusiasts may less likely to become climate change deniers.
Chapter 34: “A pragmatic perspective on the future of sustainability in sport
Messrs. McCullough and Kellison close the handbook with their assessment of the current state of play of green-sports and where the field is likely to go. Their main conclusion is that, for green-sports to become more than a small, niche movement will require “those interested in mainstreaming environmental sustainability…to press the many organizations that have committed either halfheartedly or not at all…through economic incentives, social pressures, or legal mandates. Until then, the promise of sport as a powerful vehicle for environmental change will remain unfulfilled.”
As cosmopolitan metropolises go, Paris and Los Angeles are as different from each other as two cities can be. But from an Olympics point of view, they have much in common. Each city has hosted two Summer Olympic Games (Paris, 1900 and 1924; Los Angeles, 1932 and 1984). Each will officially be awarded the right to host a third Olympics on Monday — Paris in 2024, L.A. in 2028. The latter was the last finalist in the contest for ’24 and, given the strength of its pitch, was awarded the ’28 Games before bidding even began. And each city put forth sustainability plans that will clearly become the gold standard for mega sports events.
Earlier this year, GreenSportsBlog profiled both bids from a variety of sustainability perspectives. Here are some excerpts, with the LA story changed to reflect the switch from 2024 to 2028.
Paris bid co-president and three-time Olympic canoeing gold medalist Tony Estanguet said in a January interview that, for his committee, sustainability is at the top of its priority list. “For us it is quite simple. Our vision is the most sustainable Games ever,” Estanguet told the South China Daily, adding that the bid was in line with the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement to reduce greenhouse gases. The Paris 2024 Olympics bid committee looks to make good on that vision by slashing carbon emissions by more than half compared to London 2012 and Rio 2016.
Tony Estanguet, head of Paris 2024 Bid Committee (Photo credit: Paris 2024)
The bid committee says it will produce an estimated 1.56 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, down 55 per cent from the roughly 3.4 million tonnes created by the Rio and the London Games. Here are some of the key ways Paris plans to meet those aggressive targets:
Rely on existing venues and temporary structures. The only major new venue scheduled to be constructed is an aquatics center.
Stade de France, site of the Opening Ceremonies of Paris 2024 should that city win the right to host the Olympics. It is one of many already-existing structures, the use of which will keep carbon emissions low. (Photo credit: Stade de France)
Build the aquatics center as well as the temporary facilities with low carbon materials.
Following in the footsteps of EURO 2016 (hosted by France), greatly restrict private car parking at the Olympic venues. This will lead 100 percent of fans to use public or shared transit. You read that right: 100 percent of spectators will take public or shared transit. Metro, commuter rail, bus transit, bicycles and car sharing will predominate.
House 85 per cent of athletes within 30 minutes of their competition venues, limiting their travel-related footprint.
Use existing infrastructure. According to Estanguet, “We have all the infrastructure – roads, hotels, airports – already in place. That allows us to claim we will be the most sustainable Games ever.”
To the Paris 2024 committee, embedding the notion of a sustainable Olympics in the minds of Parisians and people across France will be critical. And we’re talking financial as well as environmental sustainability —a smaller environmental footprint will lead to reduced costs. Thus, the greenness and efficiency of the bid will be promoted widely, and in a variety of ways. “During the seven years [between bid selection and the Opening Ceremonies], we want to educate people on sustainability,” said Estanguet.
Environmental and financial sustainability are two keystones of Agenda 2020, a process instituted by the IOC three years ago for bids starting with the 2024 cycle. The IOC is convinced, and I concur, that the Olympics simply have to get simpler, greener, and leaner so they remain an attractive proposition for future hosts. This is especially the case after a slew of candidate cities for the 2022 Winter Games (Krakow, Oslo and Stockholm) and 2024 Summer Games (Boston, Budapest, Hamburg and Rome) withdrew due to the sheer size and costs of organizing and putting on such an ambitious, sprawling event.
LOS ANGELES, FORMERLY 2024, NOW 2028
The greenest sports venue and/or Olympic and Paralympic Village is the one you don’t have to build.
That has been and is the mantra of LA 2028, the newly renamed committee (formerly LA 2024, of course) managing the recently announced Los Angeles 2028 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games, and especially its sustainability team.
THE MOST SUSTAINABLE OLYMPICS VENUES ARE THE ONES YOU DON’T HAVE TO BUILD
When the LA 2028 bid committee first began planning the Olympic and Paralympic Village and Media Center, it, like pretty much every other Olympic bid in recent memory, was looking at massive redevelopment alternatives. Thus, it made sense to recruit Brence Culp as its sustainability director. You see, Ms. Culp had been in charge of many big redevelopment and urban renewal projects as the second in command to the CEO of Los Angeles County (appointed, not a political position) for five years. Prior to that, she worked at a redevelopment agency in LA.
Brence Culp, Sustainability Director, LA 2028. (Photo credit: LA 2028)
But a funny thing happened on the way to the major redevelopment projects for LA 2028. The bid committee team visited the UCLA and USC campuses. “Before we got to the campuses, we thought ‘oh, the dorms and the food will not be up to par’,” recalled Ms. Culp. “But, both UCLA and USC were absolutely stunning, from the dorms to the recreation facilities to the landscaping. The food was fantastic. So, it turned out the most sustainable Village and Media Center were the ones we already had!” In the LA 2028 bid plan, UCLA will be home to the Olympic and Paralympic Village and USC, near the downtown venue cluster, will host the Media Center.
Now don’t get the idea that, because she is not supervising a big urban redevelopment project, Brence Culp is at all disappointed. Far from it.
“Sustainability is core to our bid and our DNA,” declared Ms. Culp, “Gene Sykes, LA 2028’s CEO has a long background in conservation and environmental stewardship. So our core principles of sustainable environmental and financial stewardship, as well as social inclusion are baked in to everything we do. When we, (LA) Mayor Garcetti and our sustainability consultants, AECOM, looked at, oh, two dozen urban redevelopment sites for the Village, we kept on coming back to UCLA and USC^. Great for the athletes and media. Sustainable from an environmental and financial sense. Innovative in that we don’t have to build something new and shiny.”
And LA 2028 doesn’t have to build new and shiny sports venues. The area boasts a veritable Hall of Fame lineup of stadia and arenas from which to choose, including:
Since the venues are largely in place, the sustainability team’s initiatives focus on making them greener. Exhibit A is the StubHub Center.
Per Ms. Culp, “Under the leadership of the venue’s owner, AEG, StubHub Center is going ‘all in’ on sustainability as it will be the location of LA 2028’s Green Sports Park, highlighting the best in sport and green innovation. AEG is implementing robust water efficiency strategies, including use of municipal greywater for irrigation. They also built and manage an on site garden that includes a large chicken coop and a greenhouse. StubHub Center’s chef uses the garden’s fruits and vegetables in meals prepared for staff, athletes and other guests. AEG also came up with an innovative way to harvest honey from relocated beehives found on site –located safely away from spectators! Leading up to the Games, we will actively explore ways to enhance AEG’s current practices, including onsite solar.”
MASS TRANSIT RAMPING UP IN LA IN TIME FOR 2028
Moving from chickens and bees to pachyderms, the big elephant in the room, sustainability-wise, is transportation. LA is a sprawling area—Paris’ geographic footprint is significantly smaller—and its mass transit offerings have been, relatively speaking, limited. But that is changing fast, to the benefit of LA 2028 attendees and the environment.
“The LA area is in the middle of an historic mass transit investment and much of it will be operational by the 2028 Opening Ceremonies,” offered Ms. Culp, “And leading up to the Games, LA 2028 will work with Metro to further incentivize comfortability with public transportation among Angelenos.”
FINANCIALLY LEAN, INNOVATIVELY GREEN
As with Paris 2024, an important facet of LA 2028’s sustainability equation is financial. It stands to reason if an Olympic host committee can use existing athletic venues and existing structures for an Olympic and Paralympic Village and Media Center, it will save money. But how much? Well, LA 2028’s budget is projected to be $5.3 billion as compared to Paris’ projection of $9.3 billion. Both sound like lots of dough but consider that Rio 2016 spent $12 billion and Tokyo 2020 is looking at $30 billion. Russia spent $50 billion to put on the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games ($50 billion??? On a Winter Olympics, which is a much smaller enterprise than its summer cousin?? That’s insane.) London 2012, considered the sustainability gold standard among Olympics, spent about $12 billion. So both LA 2028 and Paris 2024 are demonstrating that sustainability is not good Olympics business, it is great Olympics business.
Despite its lean budget and its reliance on existing structures, LA 2028 is not skimping on sustainable innovation. “One of our priorities is bringing together folks who are advancing sustainable practices through sport. Thus, we have allocated $25 million in seed funding for high impact, sustainability-focused projects with our partners,” Ms. Culp said, “The goal is to leave a positive long-term legacy for the community.”
WILL FANS KNOW THE LA 2028 SUSTAINABILITY STORY?
This wouldn’t be a GreenSportsBlog column on the sustainability impacts of a mega-sports event if we didn’t delve into how LA 2028 plans to communicate its sustainability initiatives to the fans at the Games and to the potentially billions who will be watching on TV, online and who knows how else in seven years time. Rio set the marker, with its Opening Ceremonies vignette on climate change that was seen by an estimated 1 billion people worldwide.
While there are no firm fan-focused sustainability communications plans in place, Ms. Culp is confident “the more sustainable we make our Games, the more that broadcasters and other media will pick that up. And we will have plenty of eye-catching, sustainability stories, accented with a distinctly diverse and innovative LA flavor from which the media will be able to choose: From the aforementioned region-changing mass transit expansion to the use of locally sourced food to the use of recycled construction materials, and much more.”
LA 2028’S SUSTAINABILITY LEGACY GOES BEYOND VENUES AND MASS TRANSIT
A recurring theme to our conservation was this: Go big on environmental sustainability and innovation, add a diverse and vibrant culture and you have Los Angeles—and LA 2028. “I tell you, wherever I go throughout the area, people across the demographic spectra—gender, age, income, race—are very excited about the bid, with public support running at 88 percent,” said Ms. Culp. “It is almost impossible these days to get people in a mega city to row together in the same direction. We know that our emphasis on sustainability in our bid has helped to make this happen.”
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The 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo are still more than three years away but sustainability planning is in high gear. GSB spoke with Takeo Tanaka, the man leading Tokyo 2020’s greening efforts. Aardvark brings its straws made from paper to sports stadiums and arenas, lessening the amount of plastic ocean waste in the process. And the Philadelphia Eagles, one of the early Green-Sports adapters, take their waste management to the next level with the installation of an Eco-Safe food digester.
TOKYO 2020 LOOKS TO TAKE OLYMPIC SUSTAINABILITY TO NEXT LEVEL
“We are building a substantive, five-pillar approach to sustainability,” said Mr. Tanaka. “The five pillars—Climate change, resource management, natural environment and biodiversity, human rights, labor and fair business practices, and involvement, cooperation and communications—are the framework that will earn us ISO 20121 certification* and allow us to take the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 sustainability to its highest level.”
Takeo Tanaka (center, front), Senior Director of Sustainability for the Organising Committee of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games and the sustainability team. (Photo credit: Organising Committee of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games)
Three years out, the pillars are taking shape:
Tokyo 2020’s Olympic Stadium, as well as all new permanent indoor venues, a big indoor temporary venue — the Olympic Gymnastic Centre — along with the Olympic and Paralympic Village, were all designed and are being built with the expectation of achieving CASBEE^ certification,
Energy efficient, low emission vehicles (hybrids and EVs) will be used throughout the Games.
The Organising Committee is pursuing CO2 emission reductions in the distribution process by procuring seasonal foods and other goods that are produced close to Tokyo.
The sustainability team is working closely with the communications group on an innovative program that encourages Japanese citizens in all 47 prefectures (states) to donate old mobile phones and small electric devices in collection boxes. 100 percent of the two tons of gold, silver and bronze for the more than 5,000 medals that will be awarded at the 2020 Games will be made from the transformed e-waste. “Unfortunately, not many people in Japan know about the richness and the potential of ‘urban mines,’ said Mr. Tanaka. “I believe that this project will raise awareness of the existence and the value of useful metals buried in the urban environment. People will hopefully become aware of the usefulness of recycling and this will leave a positive legacy for society.”
The Tokyo 2020 Medal Project Towards an Innovative Future for All is being promoted to the public via a popular TV program and a public service announcement campaign from the governors of Tokyo.
Artist’s rendering of the Tokyo Olympic Stadium, expected to receive CASBEE green building certification. (Credit: Dezeen.com)
The Tokyo 2020 Sustainability Communications plan — to the media and the public — is still taking shape. Suffice to say, Mr. Tanaka and his team took notes on what their Rio 2016 counterparts did, from the “sustainability booth” at the Media Press Center, to sustainability-themed venue tours for the media, to the climate change vignette that was featured during the Opening Ceremonies.
According to Mr. Tanaka, the five pillars approach ensures that sustainability will always be a core component of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games DNA: “Not only is every division of the Organising Committee being trained on the sustainability initiatives, top management is involved as well. Sustainability is an agenda item at every Senior Directors meeting and sustainability-themed blogs have been posted to build awareness and interest among Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games employees and ultimately, volunteers.”
What about corporate sponsors, you ask? The Organising Committee created a Corporate Sustainability Network for Tokyo 2020 corporate sponsors, both local and worldwide. So far 37 of the 55 local sponsors have joined the network, which aims to engage corporate stakeholders, from employees to customers to management in sustainable initiatives surrounding the Games.
Oh, there’s one more thing you should know about Mr. Tanaka. Before leading the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games sustainability charge, he had a 30-year career at Tokyo’s electric company, where he worked on environmental issues and the preservation of Japan’s national parks. He’s also worked with the Nature Conservancy and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development on climate change and biodiversity issues.
Suffice to say, sustainability is in good hands at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
AARDVARK PAPER STRAWS HELP GREEN STADIUMS AND ARENAS
Over time, as cheaper plastic straws came to dominate the category, the paper straw fell by the wayside. And, while straws are low interest items for consumers, the environmental costs add up. Consider that there are 1 billion plastic straws used each day, 500 million alone in North America. After their brief, one-time-use lives are over, where do they end up? Either in landfills or oceans.
In 2007, in response to a growing anti-plastic movement, the main buyers of plastic straws in the U.S. — restaurants, hospitals, and other industries, including sports — began to look for more sustainable, eco-friendly options.
As a leading U.S. manufacturer of small-size cylindrical tubing solutions, Precision Products Group looked to create a straw that was less environmentally toxic. The answer was in their archives: Marvin Stone’s original 1888 patent for the first paper straw. Putting a modern spin on Stone’s original concept, Aardvark created a straw using 100 percent sustainable and renewable papers that was more sustainable and durable than any other paper straw ever made. According to David Rhodes, Aardvark’s Global Business Manager, initially, “Aardvark was the only paper straw being made, but cheap and inferior China straws that get soggy and fall apart quickly entered into the market. Today, Aardvark remains the only quality and safe paper straw and the only [one that’s] Made in the USA.”
David Rhodes, Aardvark’s Global Business Manager (Photo credit: David Rhodes)
The sports industry is of great interest to Aardvark, with its high profile, passionate, and thirsty fan bases. The company has made some impressive inroads over the past two years. “We work with ‘Party Goods’ retailers like Amscan and Creative Converting to offer paper straws with team logos emblazoned on them,” related Mr. Rhodes. “Right now, they have licenses with all 32 NFL teams and most of the schools in the Power 5 conferences. This is an ideal product for tailgaters. Fans can buy packages of, say, Green Bay Packers Aardvark straws at Packer retail stores and via Amazon. And, because fan loyalty is so strong, the margins also can be strong for the retailer.”
New York Jets paper straws from Aardvark (Photo credit: Aardvark)
But sports retail is a much smaller potential market for Aardvark than the concessions stands and restaurants at a ballpark or arena — as the latter represents 99 percent of straw usage. Cost has been a drag on Aardvark’s ability to crack that market. “Plastic straws cost about 0.5¢ each, whereas Aardvark paper straws cost 1.5¢ without printing on them and 2.0¢ with printing,” said Mr. Rhodes. “Looking at sports stadiums and arenas, since concessionaires give straws away, going to our product simply adds cost.”
Mr. Rhodes sees a potentially elegant solution to the thorny cost problem: Selling a combined, retail-concession paper straw combination to teams: “We can show teams that the profit they will realize from selling Aardvark straws at retail will offset the increased costs from giving our straws away at concession stands. And with retail-concession being a wash, we make the case that reductions in trash transportation costs and enhanced branding from going green make Aardvark a clear winner.”
According to Mr. Rhodes, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the about-to-open home of the Atlanta Falcons and MLS’ Atlanta United F.C, and CenturyLink Field, home of the Seattle Seahawks and MLS’ Seattle Sounders, are dueling to be the first facility to offer Aardvark straws at the concession stand.
Finally, GreenSportsBlog readers may recall our March 2017 interview with Olivia and Carter Ries, the teenage founders of nonprofit One More Generation (OMG!) and its One Less Straw campaign, designed to dramatically reduce the number of straws used and thus lessen plastic ocean waste. I asked Mr. Rhodes if he saw OMG as a competitor or potential partner.
Not surprisingly, he chose the latter: “We partner with and support OMG and other [plastic ocean waste] advocate groups, including Lonely Whale Foundation, Plastic Pollution Coalition, The Last Plastic Straw, 5 Gyres, Hannah 4 Change, Surfrider Foundation, Sailors for the Sea, etc. Our long term goal is to assist in reducing the overall amount of straw usage by 50 percent and then converting at least 10 percent of the remaining straws to paper. [Thus,] we suggest restaurant owners and employees only offer a straw [and a paper one at that] if a customer specifically requests one.”
Aardvark found that restaurants that offer straws only on demand see reductions in straw consumption of up to 50 percent, diminishing the increased cost of switching to paper straws and allowing restaurants to save money while saving the planet.
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES EXPAND GO GREEN EFFORTS WITH INSTALLATION OF ECO-SAFE DIGESTER®
The Philadelphia Eagles, a green-sports early adapter, recently announced they will team up with environmental partner, Delaware-based Waste Masters Solutions (WMS), on the installation of a BioHiTech GlobalEco-Safe Digester®, a food waste digester and data analytics platform at Lincoln Financial Field. The unit uses a proprietary bacteria formula to break down pre- and post-consumer food scraps via aerobic digestion and send them through sewer systems with no residual solids.
BioHiTech Global’s Eco-Safe Digesters will be installed Lincoln Financial Field, the home of the Philadelphia Eagles, and will be managed and maintained by Waste Master Solutions. (Photo credit: BioHiTech Global)
This move builds upon the September 2016 installation of a waste digester at the team’s NovaCare Complex practice facility to help decompose pre-consumer food waste. Since then, more than nine tons (18,100 pounds) of food waste has been decomposed and, thus, diverted from landfills.
Cleantech leader BioHiTech Global – which develops and deploys innovative and disruptive waste management technologies like the Eco-Safe Digester – will handle, in collaboration with WMS, the design, construction and operation of the analytics platform.
Eagles minority owner Christina Weiss Lurie helped spearhead the team’s Go Green program in 2003 with the opening of an environmentally forward (especially for that time) Lincoln Financial Field. The club’s partnership with WMS is just the latest element of its comprehensive environmental program that also features on-site solar and small scale wind (eagle talon-shaped turbines spin atop the stadium), recycling and composting, energy and water conservation, reforestation and sustainability partnerships, as well as fan education programs.
Christina Weiss Lurie, minority owner, Philadelphia Eagles. (Photo credit: Christina Weiss Lurie)
* ISO 2012-1 is the global standard for sustainable events.
^ CASBEE is the Japanese green building certification that is somewhat akin to LEED.
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