The GSB Interview: Lindita Xhaferi-Salihu; Leading the Way at the UN on Sports For Climate Action

The Sports for Climate Action Framework, launched by the sport sector UN Climate Change (UNFCCC) in December, has gotten off to a strong start.

In its first six months, an A-List of sports governing bodies, leagues and teams — from FIFA to the IOC, from the NBA to the All England Lawn Tennis Association (aka Wimbledon), from the New York Yankees to the Minnesota Wild — have committed to doing their part to achieve the Framework’s two main objectives:

  1. Achieve a clear trajectory for the global sports community to combat climate change, including measuring, reducing, and reporting greenhouse gas emissions, in line with the 1.5 degree Celsius scenario enshrined in the 2015 Paris Agreement, and

  2. Use sports as a unifying tool to create solidarity among global citizens for climate action.

How did the Framework come together? How will the UN measure how signatories are living up to their commitments — or not?

We asked these questions, and more, of Lindita Xhaferi-Salihu who led development of the Sports for Climate Action Framework.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Lindita, I’ve wanted to talk with you for some time about the UN’s Sports for Climate Action Framework. How did it come to be? And what is your role — and the UN’s?

Lindita Xhaferi-Salihu: Our role at the UN Climate Change is to catalyze action on climate change at a significant scale. While we are not experts on sports, we can help corporations and other entities set the strategic vision that will help them to take climate action. That means providing support via our convening power and knowledge and working with them to set meaningful greenhouse gas GHG emission reduction and other targets that tie into the Paris Climate Agreement and the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

GSB: Why did the UNFCCC decide to work with the sports industry? Its emissions are relatively low compared to many other business categories.

Lindita: We have one ultimate goal as a civilization if we are to avoid the worst impacts of climate change: to limit global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels.

It will take the combined efforts of all segments of society — sports included – to achieve the change that is needed throughout society. —These changes will result in a low-emissions, highly-resilient and more sustainable future. There is no other future but a sustainable future. So, sports’ GHG emissions impact on climate may be low compared to some other industries, but nevertheless it does have a substantial impact that increasingly needs to be addressed. Sports are also uniquely positioned to act as a catalyst for change by promoting sustainable consumption, low carbon transport, and by educating fans and society at large.

 

Lindita Xhaferi-Salihu

Lindita Xhaferi-Salihu (Photo credit: UN Climate Change)

 

GSB: How did you get sports governing bodies, leagues, and teams to start the climate conversation?

Lindita: Well it turns out that, going back a few years, several key actors in the sports industry had expressed interest in taking action on climate, how to operate in a way that would meet the Paris goals and use the power of sports to spur climate action. So, in 2017, we convened a meeting in Bonn, Germany among some of the biggest governing bodies, leagues and teams in sports, to discuss what a climate action agenda for sports could look like.

It was clear then that the industry would have to do more to get their environmental houses in order before promoting climate more broadly. Some sports organizations were advanced in walking the climate action walk, others were not quite there yet. To help them move forward, together we developed what became the Sports for Climate Action Framework and its five principles:

  1. Undertake systematic efforts to promote greater environmental responsibility
  2. Reduce overall climate impact
  3. Educate for climate action
  4. Promote sustainable and responsible consumption
  5. Advocate for climate action through communication.

Our goal there was to make getting to the five principles easier by providing a global platform that would be built on best practice climate action, convened by the UN Climate Change and developed by the sector for the sector.

GSB: How do you go about doing that?

Lindita: Well, the environment we’re in is more favorable. The science is clear, young people are protesting, climate change as an issue is becoming much more front and center because we are seeing its impacts every day. Sports is front and center and what does it connote? Health, fun, and prosperity. What’s at risk for sports from climate change?

GSB: Health, fun and prosperity for starters…

Lindita: Right! It’s only natural for sports to get involved on climate. In fact, it’s good business for sports to lead on climate.

GSB: Amen, Lindita! Now it’s one thing for the IOC, FIFA, and now the New York Yankees, University of Colorado Athletics Department, NBA and more to commit to taking action on climate. How will fans know the signatories are winning on the greenhouse gas emissions reduction scoreboard?

Lindita: Of course, this is a crucial aspect of the Framework. We will be getting together with the signatories in Lausanne at a meeting hosted by the IOC in September to dive deeper into the framework principles and to jointly define roadmaps to adhering to them and to articulate what best of action and success would look like.

We will work together with our signatories to define these steps, metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) for each of the principles. This will also include reporting guidance, which will be built on best practice reporting standards. It will also include publicly reporting on the progress with commitments and we will explore how to best use UN Climate Change’s Global Climate Action platform, a searchable, user-friendly website where non-State actors can describe what they’re doing to combat climate change.

 

Yankees Earth Day

The New York Yankees communicated their commitment to operate by the tenets of the UN’s Sports for Climate Action Framework with a pre-game Earth Day ceremony. From left to right, it’s Doug Behar, Yankees Director of Operations; Satya Tripathi, UN Assistant Secretary General; Yankees manager Aaron Boone, and Allen Hershkowitz, Environmental Science Advisor to the Yankees (Photo credit: New York Yankees)

 

GSB: I hope and would expect most signatories will walk the Sports for Climate Action walk. Is there a remedy for any who don’t fulfill their commitments?

Lindita: We can revoke a signatory’s status as part of the Framework for non-performance. But we will collectively work to help any organizations that have difficulty making good on their commitments and adhering to the principles.

GSB: Two of the principles that are of particular interest to me are #3 — Educate for climate action, and #5 — Advocate for climate action through communication. The willingness of sports organizations to share their climate action stories with fans through the media has, for the most part, been lacking. And, with the welcome exception of Sky Sports in Great Britain, the sports media has largely ignored climate. What can the UNFCCC do to change this? And how do you plan to measure adherence to these principles? 

Lindita: I think the Framework is a big step towards that – with sports organizations recognizing their influence and the importance of them using it, for the good of their sports, their businesses, and their fans. But really, there will be no ignoring climate change.

We’re seeing that already, with the extreme weather events, floods, heat waves. I think that goes for the adherence to the principles as well. People will see which organizations are truly acting on climate change, and which are only talking about acting on climate change. And, I think public opinion – the supporting, paying fans – will demand the real thing. What we can do, and are doing, at UN Climate Change is to work with sports organizations to state their principles, state their goals, and help them communicate their progress – and communicate a message to everyone, urging global climate action.

 

GSB: Oh I agree there can be no ignoring climate change, but the world is still not paying enough attention yet and time to make significant dents in GHG emissions is short. I think for the Framework to maximize its impact, the sports media from all corners of the world will need to play a key role as they are the conduit to billions of sports fans. With that in mind, will UN Climate Change consider inviting sports media executives to the September meeting in Lausanne? If not, how would your organization look to involve the sports media going forward?

Lindita: The meeting in Lausanne is a working meeting and open to signatories of Sports for Climate Action framework. Principle 5 of the framework is about promoting awareness about climate change by mobilizing resources that sports have, to support action on climate change. This includes the broadcast sports media as well. As I said, we will get together to prepare a strategy that strikes a balance between ambitious and realistic and figure out what can we do collectively to reinforce the message of ambitious climate action.

GSB: Good to hear that the sports media is on Sports for Climate Action’s radar. Would it be possible for those companies to be signatories in the future?

Lindita: The Sports for Climate Action Framework is tailored for sports governing bodies, federations, leagues, teams, clubs, and not specifically for media. That said, the Framework would probably benefit from having categories, other than signatory, to support the work and amplify the message of sports for global climate action. And, sports media might be eager to engage with the Framework more formally, for example as designated media partners at events. We’ll work with the Framework signatories to come up with a strategy for that sort of thing, to amplify news about their climate work and importantly their engagement with fans. The role of the media in meeting the objectives of the Framework is clear. By doing what they do best – reporting on sports and the myriad interesting stories relating to sports – the media can do so much to make the Framework efforts a success, and spur climate action. Sports media, just like other sections of the media, are concerned with timely, topical and interesting news and features. That means the media will want to be reporting on climate-related sports matters.

 


 

Please comment below!
Email us: lew@greensportsblog.com
Friend us on Facebook: http:/facebook.com
Tweet us @GreenSportsBlog
#CoverGreenSports

The GSB Interview: Johanna McCloy, Helping Fans Find Vegetarian Food at Sports Venues with VeggieHappy

Johanna McCloy was on a date at her first baseball game back in 2000 when she noticed there were no vegetarian food options — and that was at Dodger Stadium in veggie-friendly Los Angeles. So the actress sprung into action, calling the Dodgers to ask why that was the case. And then she started calling other teams across the major leagues.

Fast forward to 2019 and McCloy is the co-founder of VeggieHappy, an online venue guide for plant-based food options at large professional and Division I college sports venues.

With vegetarian and vegan diets growing, especially among millennials and especially GenZers, there is no one better to talk to about where things stand regarding the availability and quality of plant-based food options at ballparks and other sports venues than Johanna McCloy.

 

GreenSportsBlog: When did the first vegetarian and/or vegan options first appear at sports venues?

Johanna McCloy: While I don’t know the history of plant-based food options at every venue before I got involved in this work, I can speak to the status of plant-based options when we first began reaching out to major league ballparks in 2000, sometimes through cold calling. They had items like pretzels and peanuts, of course, but none of the parks offered a viable plant-based option beyond those generic snacks. Our initial quest was to introduce veggie dogs at Major League Baseball venues, since hot dogs and baseball are as American as…

 

Johanna McCloy Kirsten Lara Getchell

Johanna McCloy (Photo credit: Kirsten Lara Getchell)

 

GSB: …Hot dogs and baseball! 

Johanna: Exactly! But no major league ballpark at the time offered veggie dogs. So we started calling all the ballparks, offering our consultation and liaison services to facilitate veggie dogs and other viable plant-based menu options. We got our first hit when the Chicago White Sox added veggie dogs to the concession stands menu Comiskey Park — now Guaranteed Rate Field — later in 2000. From there, other ballparks followed, including Dodger Stadium. Today, nearly all of them offer veggie dogs, and sports venues of all kinds offer a variety of fabulous plant-based options.

 

VeggieHappy Beyond Meat Veggie Dog Dodger Stadium

Vegan veggie dog, courtesy of Beyond Meat, at Dodger Stadium (Photo credit: Riley Williams, @chefrdog)

 

GSB: What are some of the best venues for plant-based options in terms of quality and quantity?

Johanna: Exactly! In addition to Dodger Stadium, some of the top major league ballparks, in terms of plant-based food quality and quantity are Citi Field (New York Mets), Globe Life Park (Texas Rangers), Target Field (Minnesota Twins), and Yankee Stadium.

There is a ton of variety these days. Fans can now find options like a plant-based burger with carmelized onions, guacamole, and non-dairy cheese. Also vegan nachos with either tempeh or plant-based meat crumbles. So you can go for some tasty, healthy, yet decadent stuff. And beyond all the plant-based meat options out there, you can also find wraps, burritos, falafels, sandwiches, bountiful salads, and all kinds of additional options. Not to mention vegan cookies. Gotta have those too!

 

VeggieHappy 32 Ingredient Salad Rogers Centre

The “32 Ingredient” vegan salad on offer at Rogers Centre, home of the Toronto Blue Jays (Photo credit: Aramark)

 

Some venues are choosing to provide a dedicated stand offering most of their plant-based options at one location. Others provide a variety of vegetarian and/or vegan options throughout many concession stands. Be sure to check out VeggieHappy’s online venue listings to discover which plant-based options they offer, and where to find them.

GSB: Is there a sport that has led on plant-based foods? Which sport lags the field?

Johanna: Well, in very general terms, NFL stadiums bring up the rear, though they are slowly starting to move up. NBA and MLS venues are catching on quickly. MLB, with the longest history with plant-based food, is the leader.

 

VeggieHappy Quinoa-Barley-Black Bean Taco Wizards

NBA teams are getting into the plant-based food act. Here are two quinoa-barley-black bean tacos (sans cilantro cream sauce to make it vegan) from Street Taco at Capital One Arena, home of the Washington Wizards (Photo credit: James Price, @veganfoodfinds)

 

GSB: Baseball leads thanks in part to your efforts going back two decades! Are fans demanding plant-based food options?

Johanna: Thank you, Lew. The interest and demand for these foods is growing at an amazing rate. Just look at the statistics overall on people choosing plant-based diets, or purchasing plant-based meats. The numbers of vegetarians, vegans and flexitarians — a person who has a primarily vegetarian diet but occasionally eats meat or fish — are all growing.

Not surprisingly, it’s Millennials and Generation Z that are driving that demand.

GSB: I know! According to a 2018 Statista study, 7.5 percent of Millennials and GenZers have given up meat while only 3 percent of those over 50 have done the same…

Johanna: Yes! And that is leading to stunning sales growth of plant-based alternatives. According to Nielsen, sales increased 17 percent over the past year alone. During the same time period, total U.S. retail food dollar sales grew just 2 percent. And sales of plant-based meat increased 23 percent in the past year, up from 6 percent growth the previous year, according to the Good Food Institute.

Fans definitely want these options, and some understand the value of asking for them. However, many fans are not aware of their power as a consumer, and have not asked; they are more complacent, bringing their own food, or eating before or after a game or event. That’s why VeggieHappy exists. We’re speaking to that very real demand.

GSB: What about organic offerings? Local food choices? 

Johanna: Same as with plant-based food; venues are increasingly adding them.

GSB: Forest Green Rovers, a minor league soccer club in England, ONLY offers vegan food at its concession stands. It was controversial at first but is mostly accepted these days. Could this happen here? What would it take? Why not?

Johanna: I love Forest Green Rovers and what they’ve done over there. They became fully vegan in 2011. In their case, it’s because of their ownership and the very strong position that they’ve taken around sustainability. It started at the very top. Their Chairman Dale Vince is vegan himself and is the owner of an electric company called Ecotricity. He also has an Order of the British Empire (OBE) designation from the Queen for his environmental activism. What is great is how fans who otherwise wouldn’t have chosen to eat vegan options now really love them and talking about how their own diets have changed as a result of the options offered there. That’s wonderful.

Could it happen here? Definitely. It’s about the team’s ownership and their vision. And any owner who would want to go deeper on plant-based food offerings has Dale Vince and Forest Green Rovers as a prove-point.

 

Veggie Happy FGR

Forest Green Rovers of League 2, the fourth tier of English football, serves its fans a vegan-only menu. Here is a stir-fried mixed peppers, red onion and Mexican spiced Quorn wrapped in a soft tortilla with fresh tomato relish (Photo credit: Forest Green Rovers)

 

GSB: GreenSportsBlog will take it as a challenge to find an owner in North America who will match Dale Vince and Forest Green Rovers. Final question: What do you think the sports venue-plant-based food landscape look like in five years or so?

There’s a food revolution underway right now, there is no question about it, and plant-based options are going to become fully mainstream. Right now, they’re starting to be better understood and more readily accepted, but in the next five years or so, they will be fully promoted and abundantly sold in mainstream venues. It’s a HUGE market. Venues should and will get on board. Cell-based meat may also enter the market in that time frame, and there is a lot of investment going into that. It’s a food revolution too. People are steadily moving away from products derived from animal agriculture and factory farming.

It comes down to this: Many notable international scientific consortiums have recently cited animal agriculture as one of the biggest sources of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions — some show the meat industrial complex to be the number one source — and have encouraged people to choose plant-based foods as a way to mitigate those effects.

With that as backdrop, plant-based food options have to play a major part in any sports-sustainability effort.

GSB: No doubt about it. Check out veggiehappy.com to learn about plant-based food options at your favorite ballpark. 

 


 

Please comment below!
Email us: lew@greensportsblog.com
Friend us on Facebook: http://facebook.com/greensportsblog
Tweet us @GreenSportsBlog
#CoverGreenSports

The GSB Interview: Viviane Fraisse, Helping to Make the Already-Green Roland Garros Even Greener

Viviane Fraisse is not close to being satisfied.

Not at all.

One could excuse the head of sustainability at Roland Garros — the Paris home of the French Open — as well as for the French Tennis Federation (FFT) if she rested on the strong green laurels her organization and the world’s lone clay court Grand Slam championship have earned over the past eight years.

But my refreshing conversation with Fraisse revealed her laser-like focus on — and a sense of urgency about — how she and her team could do better, from greenhouse gas emissions reductions at the tournament to fan engagement to tennis ball recycling to much more.

So with the 2019 French Open now underway, here is our interview with Viviane Fraisse.

GreenSportsBlog: Viviane, the FFT and Roland Garros have great Green-Sports stories. Before we get to them, how did you get involved with the organization and with sustainability?

Viviane Fraisse: Well, Lew, I’ve enjoyed sports from when I was a young girl and played tennis for fun. Then in 1991, I saw France defeat the United States in the Davis Cup final in Lyon and it was then that I knew that I wanted to work in sports.

 

Viviane Fraisse Sust Innovation Sport

Viviane Fraisse (Photo credit: Sustainable Innovation in Sports)

 

GSB: For those who don’t follow tennis, the Davis Cup is the most important tournament between national teams in men’s game. I unfortunately remember the ’91 Final. Somehow a US team with Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi approaching their primes lost to Guy Forget (fore-ZHAY) and Henri Leconte. Don’t worry, I’m over it. 

Viviane: It is a very pleasant memory for me. Anyway, I’ve been fortunate to work with with FFT and Roland Garros for many years. I was a law student and got to work in FFT’s legal department. Then I studied at the French Institute of Press and switched over to publishing, eventually become in charge of the department. Basically we handled everything the FFT published, for our tennis club operators all over France, for our athletic trainers. And at Roland Garros, we handled all of the match programs plus all other publishing during the tournament.

GSB: What a big and fun job! How did you end up running sustainability?

Viviane: Well, in around 2010 I was ready leave the publishing department. I had done pretty much everything I wanted to do there. While I was in publishing, I worked on a tennis ball recycling program on my own time and was really into it. The FFT were in the process of creating a CSR department; I decided I wanted to run it. And, in 2012, that’s exactly what happened.

GSB: That sounds like a huge challenge. How did you create a CSR department and, more specifically, an environmental sustainability effort from basically nothing?

Viviane: I was fortunate to start in 2012. That was the year London hosted the Summer Olympics and the host committee made huge strides forward on sustainability versus what had existed before. We followed their leadership in many areas. One was doing what was needed to earn ISO 20121 certification for Roland Garros as a sustainable event. Another was deploying our first Green Teams at the Open. And our commitment went far beyond the tournament. We also decided to take a similarly strong approach from 2012 on sustainability with our headquarters and with our tennis leagues around the country.

At the league and club level, we pushed an aggressive tennis ball recycling program — it some respects, it’s been the most important thing we’ve done. All the leagues across the 13 regions that make up France participate. To date we’ve recycled more than 12 million tennis balls. The clubs collect them and then our recyclers grind them up into granulate and felt.

The granulate has been used to construct over 1,200 square meters of playgrounds and tracks in areas of need, for schools and hospitals in the Paris area. The felt is trickier. First of all, the felt on our tennis balls is already recycled and it can’t be recycled more than once. So for now, we burn the felt and turn it into energy. We’re looking for a new partner to improve the process.

 

Equipe Verte, Roland Garros 2019, Photo : Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

Members of the Roland Garros Green Team, or équipe verte (Photo credit: Corinne DuBreuil/FFT)

 

GSB: Well done, Viviane. What have you done to green the FFT’s/Roland Garros’ headquarters?

Viviane: At headquarters, we focus on sustainable transport for our 360 employees, recycling and sustainable procurement. On the latter, we look to apply a sustainability lens to everything we buy. Right now, all contracts over €100,000 are governed by our sustainable procurement policy, which represents about 85 percent of all of our procurement. Alas, the last 15 percent, the small contracts, are proving to be a challenge. We have a long way to go but we will get there.

GSB: I can imagine how the small contracts and companies would be the hardest to push on sustainability. Talk about your efforts at Roland Garros. It clearly has the highest profile of all of your areas of endeavor.

Viviane: You’re right about that, Lew. In 2019, our big goal is to raise public and fan awareness of sustainability.

GSB: That’s music to my ears…Say more…

Viviane: We are an original member of the UN’s Sports for Climate Action Framework. In a certain sense, we look at the Framework as the UN asking us to do more than we have on fan engagement on climate, regarding fan use of public transportation, waste diversion and more.

We’ve been tracking fan use of public transport since 2011. Back then, 55 percent of fans used it. Last year 60 percent used mass transit and another 12 percent walked or took their bikes. And only 1.6 percent came by themselves by automobile. So we’re headed in the right direction but there still is room to grow. With that in mind, we have a new bicycle parking area at Roland Garros this year. And that will lead in to a much more comprehensive bicycle plan in 2020.

On waste sorting, we’ve had Green Teams at Roland Garros since 2012 showing fans where to dispose of recyclables, compostables, and the rest. Messaging on waste sorting runs on video boards on the concourses. In 2015 we started a contest in which Green Teamers quiz fans about our sustainability efforts, including our climate impacts. The winner gets a pass for two to the following year’s tournament.

GSB: What a great approach! What kind of waste diversion rates do you have at the French Open and how much goes to landfill? 

Viviane: Nothing goes to landfill, Lew. That is the law for the entire Paris region. Last year, 45 percent gets recycled and composted. Of the remaining 55 percent, 85 percent is converted into biogas and 15 percent is burned as electricity.

GSB: That is of course terrific, Viviane. Congratulations. I guess I still wonder how you are making the connection between your waste reduction mass transit to climate change?

Viviane: Great question, Lew. And this is of course very important. We weren’t talking about it as much as we could have before Sports for Climate Action. That is changing. For starters, we are hosting our first climate conference during the tournament on June 5, with a great lineup, including the Deputy Mayor of Paris, IOC, Paris 2024, the World Cup of Rugby 2023. Also our sponsors Lavazza and ENGIE.

Messaging about climate, including the conference, will run on screens, on our website, in the match programs. And there will be environmentally themed videos featuring players. Last year, Novak Djokovic, the world number one on the men’s side, did a video for us.

 

Novak Djokovic screen shot

Novak Djokovic, the world’s #1 tennis player, in FFT’s green-themed video (Photo credit: FFT)

 

GSB: What about on French TV? Of course it’s great to communicate on the environment and climate at Roland Garros but millions more watch the tournament on TV.

Viviane: Our environmental messages run a few times on TV but we need to do better there. We’re very strong via our social media channels.

GSB: We will keep up with you on progress on the TV front. What is happening regarding the expansion and renovations at Roland Gross from a green perspective?

Viviane: Our new Philippe-Chatrier Stadium, our #1 venue, will open in 2021 with a retractable roof. We are going for BREEAM¹ certification for sure. And we are working with ENGIE on a new way to do solar at a sports venue: This year we will be testing mobile solar on campus with the goal of a bigger deployment down the road.

 

Philippe-Chatrier

Rendering of the renovated Philippe-Chatrier Stadium which will open in 2021 with a retractable roof and a likely BREEAM certification (Credit: Roland Garros)

 

GSB: Very cool, Viviane. That’s the first I’ve heard of mobile solar at a sports venue. I have to say, you, the FFT and Roland Garros have done an amazing job on the environment and things are looking up on climate. But, as you say, you need to do more. With that in mind, what keeps you up at night, sustainability-wise?

Viviane: We need to do a better job of getting our sponsors fully on board regarding environment and climate. Some are doing great things but we can’t really have the effect we need on innovation, communications and more without more sponsor support. We believe Sport for Climate Action and the Climate Conference on June 5 will help. And our collaboration with Paris 2024, which is a daily thing, should help with sponsors.

 

¹ BREEAM = Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method, an alternative certification protocol to LEED. The Building Research Establishment is based in Watford, England.

 

Please comment below!
Email us: lew@greensportsblog.com
Friend us on Facebook: http://facebook.com/greensportsblog
Tweet us @GreenSportsBlog
#CoverGreenSports

The GSB Interview: Previewing the 2019 Green Sports Alliance Summit with Executive Director Roger McClendon

Philadelphia is known for its birthplaces.

Independence Hall, site of the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, is the Birthplace of America.

About three and a half miles south sits Lincoln Financial Field. In 2003 the home of the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles arguably became the Birthplace of Green-Sports. It was then that the club, under the leadership of principal owner Jeff Lurie and, in particular, minority owner Christina Weiss Lurie, launched its groundbreaking Go Green initiative.

Fast-forward 15 years and, on June 19-20, “The Linc” will play host to the ninth annual Green Sports Alliance Summit, the first under the direction of new Executive Director Roger McClendon.

With the Summit’s PLAYING FOR THE NEXT GENERATION theme as backdrop, GreenSportsBlog chatted with McClendon about his first four months on the job as well as the new programs and initiatives he and his team have in the incubator for summiteers in Philly. 

GreenSportsBlog: Roger, it’s been four months since you started as Executive Director at the Alliance and we are less than a month out from your first Summit as leader of the organization. We’ll get to that in a minute. But first, could you reflect on your tenure so far?

Roger McClendon: Lew, it’s been an exciting, productive and busy 120 days or so. We took this time to do a lot of listening. Met with our league partners in New York, spoke with teams and venues across North America, finding out what they need and think are the best ways forward. Looped in our corporate partners, board members and other stakeholders to find out if we’re delivering All-Star level value to our nearly 600 members from the pro and collegiate sports worlds.

I was impressed by the energy and ideas generated at the Alliance’s Sports & Sustainability Conference at Arizona State University in January. We most recently partnered with the Portland Trail Blazers organization and completed a successful symposium in April. Internationally, we connected with the UNFCCC, signing on to their exciting new Sports for Climate Action Framework. We’re in the infancy of an engagement with Sport and Sustainability International (SandSI) through our connection with ex-Alliance President Allen Hershkowitz, so that’s exciting too.

 

roger mcclendon suzanne

Roger McClendon (Photo credit: Suzanne McClendon)

 

GSB: That is a whirlwind four months! What have you learned?

Roger: So many things, Lew. #1. Many sports teams and vendors now believe and manage towards a triple bottom line model — people, planet, profit. #2. Teams and venues and leagues seem ready to change. #3. When sports organizations look at environmental impact, it cannot only be from a greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction standpoint. In some cases, cost reduction will take the lead role, based on an owner’s priorities, the fan base. Sometimes, a team will emphasize environmental benefit. It’s really a case-by-case basis thing.

GSB: That makes sense, even if I personally would like to see GHG reductions always be the Green-Sports hero. Widening out the lens a bit, that you’re having these fan engagement questions — what we call Green-Sports 2.0 as compared to Green-Sports 1.0, the greening of the games — represents important progress. What say you?

Roger: As we move forward with fan engagement on the environment, on climate, we have to accept that some sports fans just…don’t…care about it. Sometimes, they simply want to go to the game. What I’ve learned is that we need to listen to fans to get relevant fan/consumer insights. That feedback will show us how to communicate with fans more powerfully on environmental issues so more of them care more about it. It’s not easy and there’s not one answer. The Portland Trail Blazers and LA Kings have done some great work in getting fan feedback and enacting green-themed programs and events.

GSB: If memory serves, the last time the Alliance funded projectable, quantitative fan research was five years ago. It provided valuable insights. Will the Alliance fund new fan research in 2019 or 2020? If not, why not?

Roger: Yes, in the next year or two we plan to go deeper into the research, particularly around stadium owners/operators and what they can do to directly impact their consumers, the fans. We are likely to work with partner organizations and members to gather additional quantitative and qualitative data in years to come. Part of the challenge surrounding fan engagement is the actual measurement component. Some organizations like the Portland Trail Blazers have been tracking it via the Eco Challenge platform and others have been working to develop surveys for fans and season ticket holders about what they see value in and what’s important to them as fans. We hope to push the envelope to create different ways to track what fans are doing at home and in their communities and to determine if there is any correlation to a sports team influence, program, or initiative on the fan’s behavior. Exciting stuff, albeit challenging!

GSB: I look forward to seeing the next round of fan-based research, hopefully in 2020. Last time we talked, you said you were interested in moving to Green-Sports 3.0! What does that mean?

Roger: [LAUGHS] Hey Lew, we’re pushing the Green-Sports envelope here at the Alliance! So Green-Sports 3.0 focuses on WHAT’S NEXT; specifically how sports can help publicize and achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Not all team and league executives know the 17 SDGs exist; even fewer fans are aware. PLAYING FOR THE NEXT GENERATION, the theme for the Summit in Philadelphia, is a nod to Green-Sports 3.0 — how the movement can push the SDGs forward — while also providing us with an opportunity to celebrate the present, and the past, the folks who’ve made a difference over the past 10, 15 years.

As far as the past is concerned, it’s fitting that the Summit is being held at Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Philadelphia Eagles. The team, from owners Jeff and Christina Weiss Lurie on down, have been Green-Sports pioneers since they launched Go Green in 2003 So the Eagles will have a prominent role. In terms of the present, we will of course celebrate our annual award winners, including awarding the USTA, Billie Jean King and Lauren Tracy [the USTA’s director of strategic initiatives] with the 2019 Environmental Leadership Award — the Alliance’s highest honor.

Regarding the future and WHAT’S NEXT, young people will have a big role, in particular students from the many Philadelphia-area colleges and universities and beyond. They will get to see up close how folks in their 20s and 30s are making their marks as practitioners in various corners of the Green-Sports ecosystem. And, we are looking forward to our annual, forward-leaning Women, Sports & the Environment Symposium. This year’s WSE includes Melanie LeGrande with MLB, Jan Greenberg with MLS, Heather Vaughan with Pac-12 Conference, and the aforementioned Lauren Tracy with USTA.

But if we stopped there, that would mean we were running a “same old, same old” type of Summit. And we can’t afford to do that.

So we’re breaking the mold with many of our plenary sessions and panels, taking on topics that we’ve more or less glossed over in past years: Climate action, global income inequality, gender issues, and more.

 

Lincoln Financial Field

Solar panels cover the east wall of Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Philadelphia Eagles and site of the 2019 Green Sports Alliance Summit (Photo credit: Mark Stehle/Invision for NRG/AP Images)

 

GSB: Bravo, Roger! There’s no time to waste. As you know, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said humanity has 12 years — the length of Anaheim Angels star Mike Trout’s contract extension — to decarbonize by 45 percent in order to avoid the most calamitous consequences of climate change. In the interest of full disclosure, I am excited to be moderating a panel discussion called “Sports, Carbon and Climate.” These are the types of discussions that are necessary at Alliance Summits. What other panels and plenary sessions would you like to highlight?

Roger: We’re excited to offer our first ever environmental justice-focused main stage panel “Beyond the Ballpark: The Role of Sports in Environmental Justice Reform” featuring Alliance Board member Kunal Merchant with Lotus Advisory and Mustafa Santiago Ali, Co-Host, Hip Hop Caucus’ “Think 100% – The Coolest Show on Climate Change” and former Senior Vice President of Climate, Environmental Justice & Community Revitalization, Hip Hop Caucus.

Attendees will hear from Federico Addiechi, Head of Sustainability & Diversity at FIFA; Mike Zimmer, President of the Miami Super Bowl LIV Host Committee; and Bill Reed, Principal, Integrative Design and Regenesis. The Thought Leadership Forum is back with an impactful lineup of speakers including Elysa Hammond, VP of Environmental Stewardship at Clif Bar & Company and Jami Leveen, Director of Communications & Strategic Partnerships at Aramark.

Twelve breakout sessions will feature various topics, from the role of sport in resilience and climate preparedness, to speaking science and making climate change and sustainability relevant to fans. Check out the full program lineup on our website here.

 

Mustafa Ali Santiago

Mustafa Santiago Ali (Photo credit: Larry French/Getty Images North America)

 

 

Elysa Hammond

Elysa Hammond, Clif Bar’s vice president of environmental stewardship (Photo credit: Clif Bar)

 

GSB: That’s an impressive, “break the mold” lineup. We interviewed Elysa Hammond of Clif Bar about 18 months ago — she’s terrific. See you in Philadelphia!

 

If you would like to register to attend the Green Sports Alliance Summit in Philadelphia, June 19-20, please click here.

 

 


 

Please comment below!
Email us: lew@greensportsblog.com
Friend us on Facebook: http://facebook.com/greensportsblog
Tweet us @GreenSportsBlog
#CoverGreenSports

The GSB Interview: Chris Mazdzer, US Olympic Medal-winning Luger & Eco-Athlete

Chris Mazdzer is a true pioneer.

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

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.

 

Michael Pedersen

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.

 

Luge - Winter Olympics Day 1

Chris Mazdzer navigates Turn 14 at the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics (Photo credit: USA Luge)

 


 

Please comment below!
Email us: lew@greensportsblog.com
Friend us on Facebook: http://facebook.com/greensportsblog
Tweet us @GreenSportsBlog
#CoverGreenSports

 

The GSB Interview: JoAnn Neale, Helping Major League Soccer Reach its Greener Goals

Welcome to Day III of GreenSportsBlog’s Earth Week extravaganza!

Click here for Monday’s brainstorm among Green-Sports luminaries to find big, “Moon Shot” ways for sports to impact the climate change fight. And click here for Tuesday’s story about the New York Yankees’ strong climate change statement.

Today we turn to Major League Soccer, which just completed its “Greener Goals Week of Service.” 

MLS’ efforts surrounding sustainability earned it the title of No. 1 most responsible football league in the world according to ResponsiBALL, an annual report ranking the most prominent soccer leagues based on actions related to community and environment.

GSB believes MLS is perfectly positioned to lead on Green-Sports. Its fan base is the youngest of the five North American major professional men’s sports leagues. Young people “get green” at far higher percentages than their older counterparts.

We spoke with JoAnn Neale, MLS President and Chief Administrative Officer, about the league’s sustainability efforts, including what’s new this season. Before that, we delved into how Neale came to her unique role as one of the most senior female executives across all major professional sports leagues.

 

GreenSportsBlog: JoAnn, I have so many things to get to — the history of Major League Soccer and its Greener Goals program, how the league can leverage green more powerfully than it has to this point, where climate change fits into the league’s green messaging. But first, how did you come to run MLS’ greening initiatives?

JoAnn Neale: I grew up on Long Island and started playing soccer when I was five years old. Playing soccer and being an athlete was a big part of my identity. I also always had a dream of being a lawyer and an intention of going into litigation.

GSB: …Saying “I object!” and “May I approach the bench?” always sounded exciting to me! Was it?

JoAnn: While at NYU Law School, I had an internship in a firm’s litigation division and realized it wasn’t for me. The idea of going to court was exciting, but the reality was most cases take years before they get to court and a heavy focus is on research.

 

JoAnn Neale1 - Primary

JoAnn Neale (Photo credit: Major League Soccer)

 

GSB: So what did you do?

JoAnn: After law school, I was fortunate to land a job at Latham & Watkins. I did transactional work and realized my love for negotiating and working with clients in a collaborative way. The concept of getting alignment from both parties and overcoming obstacles to have the same end goal was always intriguing. It was really fulfilling work.

GSB: How and when did soccer come into the picture?

JoAnn: While studying for the bar exam in law school during the summer of 1994, my friends and I would take breaks and watch the World Cup games that took place in the USA that year. It was then that the formation of Major League Soccer was announced. I recall thinking it would be interesting to be part of the creation of the league. Ultimately, two lawyers at Latham & Watkins were involved with the founding of MLS. Fast forward a couple years and a friend of mine had gone to work at the league. Two months later, she said there was an opening in the law department and I joined in 1998.

GSB: What did your friends and family say? Going from a big firm to a new soccer league?

JoAnn: People said, “You’re crazy!” and ‘Why would you want to do THAT?!’ But it felt right and it was.

GSB: It must’ve been very exciting being at what was essentially a startup. What was your role in those early days?

JoAnn: The first four-to-six years I primarily did legal work. After that, I expanded into other areas like Human Resources and projects like spearheading a team responsible for all the logistics of moving MLS to our current headquarters in Manhattan.

In 2006, the executive team discussed the need for creating a social responsibility platform. We believed it was important to give back to the communities in which we live and play our games, as well as to our fans. I raised my hand and said I would like to lead the charge in developing the platform. MLS WORKS launched in 2007.

GSB: Congratulations! What is MLS WORKS’ mission?

JoAnn: MLS is dedicated to using soccer as a vehicle for positive social change. Through MLS WORKS, MLS and its clubs seek to enrich the lives of those in need across the United States and Canada.

From executing national programs and legacy projects, to charitable giving campaigns, MLS creates sustainable communities and promotes inclusion at all levels of the game. MLS WORKS has a strategic four-pillar approach to corporate social responsibility.

  • Soccer For All – This signifies that everyone is welcome to MLS, regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, gender, gender identity, disability, sexual orientation or socioeconomic status.
  • Youth Enrichment – This includes our work with the U.S. Soccer Foundation to build soccer pitches in inner cities.
  • Kick Childhood Cancer – The league “goes gold” throughout the month as part of the Kick Childhood Cancer campaign to raise awareness and funds for Children’s Oncology Group.
  • Greener Goals – The initiative kicks off this week with the Fourth Annual Greener Goals Week of Service leading into Earth Day weekend.

 

GSB: Not surprisingly, I’d like to hear more about Greener Goals. What kinds of programs are under that heading?

JoAnn: MLS has committed to measure, reduce and offset the league’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and promote healthy, sustainable communities throughout the United States and Canada, and areas in need throughout the rest of the world. Our clubs activate in different ways. Some have been heavily focusing on reducing food waste, others on raising awareness around plastic pollution, others on recycling, etc.

GSB: Can you share some examples?

JoAnn: Of course! On food waste, Sporting Kansas City provides fans with easy-to-implement tips on reducing food waste. Orlando City SC is partnering with the city of Orlando to deliver food waste to an energy/fertilizer plant at Walt Disney World. Seattle Sounders FC use compost from CenturyLink Field to grow vegetables at a nearby farm. On plastic waste, FC Cincinnati

GSB: …The league’s newest expansion team…

JoAnn: That’s right. The club worked with Newport Aquarium to drive awareness, attention and action around Earth Day. Fans bring single-use plastic bags to the team’s matches and the Newport Aquarium where collections will be taken on-site. On Earth Day, a special event was hosted to demonstrate the impact the bag collection will have on local Cincinnati-area waterways and its wildlife, and at a larger scale in oceans. Students at local schools and after-school programs will help repurpose the bags into useful items, including sleeping mats for the area’s homeless community.

 

IMG_1887a

FC Cincinnati’s Emmanuel Ledesma (l) and Greg Garza show off their new reusable bags created using recycled plastic bags at the Newport Aquarium (Photo credit: FC Cincinnati)

 

On energy, Real Salt Lake has a 2020-kilowatt (kWh) solar panel system at Rio Tinto Stadium which offsets approximately 73 percent of the organization’s total annual stadium power needs.

GSB: I knew about their solar installation but I didn’t know it offset such a high percentage. That’s great news. The Seattle Sounders recently committed to go carbon neutral. What does that mean exactly?

JoAnn: You’re right. The Sounders are the first professional soccer team in North America to go carbon neutral. The club worked with Seattle-based Sustainable Business Consulting to calculate its greenhouse gas emissions and develop plans to reduce its impacts where possible. For sources unable to be eliminated – such as team travel for matches, scouting and other business – Sounders FC is offsetting the club’s emissions through the Evergreen Carbon Capture (ECC) program of Forterra, a nonprofit that works for regional sustainability. Using the club’s contribution to ECC, Forterra and its partner DIRT Corps are joining with the team and its fans to plant hundreds of trees in a part of the region that needs added tree cover.

GSB: That’s impressive, JoAnn. I know the league is also involved in carbon offsetting as part of Greener Goals. What emissions is MLS offsetting and what kind of offsets did the league purchase?

JoAnn: Well, first I want to thank Allen Hershkowitz

GSB: …Environmental Science Advisor for the New York Yankees…

JoAnn: …and also Doug Behar, VP of Operations with the Yankees. They shared the offset program the Yanks embarked upon and we said, “MLS has to be involved!” So we started by offsetting emissions, including executive travel, surrounding the MLS All-Star Game. It was fitting that the 2018 All-Star Game was played at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, a venue that is LEED Platinum. In 2018 MLS compensated 5,400 tons of CO2 equivalent associated with hotel accommodations, ground transportation, staff, player, executive and MLS guest travel, and stadium operations as part of MLS All-Star Week and MLS Cup in Atlanta, in addition to player travel during the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs

To date, MLS’ investment has created tangible, constructive impacts for local communities that were generated by the distribution of 4,407 improved cook stoves in rural communities in Kenya. As of October 2018, the use of these cook stoves are estimated to have positively impacted the lives and wellbeing of 15,000 women and children.

 

GreenDayMariettaSixthGradeAcademy_0031a

Mercedes Benz Stadium, the first LEED Platinum football stadium in the USA, hosted 60 Marietta Middle School students for the stadium’s first sustainability tour in which the students learned about the venue’s greenness. In conjunction with the tour, Atlanta United’s players helped educate students about sustainable food choices, healthy eating and the environmental impact of locally sourced foods, followed by a taste test competition. Here Atlanta United goalkeeper Alec Kann serves up some of the tasty dish he cooked up (Photo credit: Atlanta United)

 

GSB: That’s important work. How did you communicate the Greener Goals expansion to MLS fans? Did you air PSAs in stadium and/or on TV broadcasts?

JoAnn: Social media was big for us — Facebook and Twitter in particular. Our Greener Goals messaging focuses on what MLS and our clubs are doing in or near the stadiums and in the communities that our teams play. Our Greener Goals PSAs focus on what we’re doing in or near the stadiums from an environmental perspective.

GSB: Really? I think the carbon-offsets-cookstoves project would make for a great PSA. Beyond the offsets, how else has MLS expanded Greener Goals?

JoAnn: All 24 MLS clubs wore special adidas-Parley eco-friendly kits over Earth Day weekend. These innovative uniforms are made with Climalite technology and built of technical yarns created with Parley Ocean Plastic™, made from up-cycled marine plastic waste, as a part of the global adidas x Parley initiative. The collaboration with adidas to support Parley for the Oceans also serves to encourage fans to decrease their use of single-use plastics and reinforcing the importance of changing human attitude and behavior towards plastic pollution.

 

Parley Timbers

The Portland Timbers version of the adidas Parley for the Oceans eco-friendly jerseys worn by all MLS players over Earth Day weekend (Photo credit: MLS)

 

GSB: Love that program — but why only use the Parley uniforms during Earth Week? Couldn’t all teams use Parley unis all the time?

JoAnn: Great question, Lew. We’re exploring that option.

GSB: Good to hear. I have one last question: Does MLS include climate change in its Greener Goals messaging?

JoAnn: Not yet. MLS does not want to get into a political debate on climate change. Rather, we want to focus our efforts on improving lives by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, increasing recycling, and more.

GSB: I think MLS is missing an opportunity by not directly talking about climate change with its fans. As discussed earlier, the demographic groups that make up the MLS fan base — Millennials, Gen-Zers, Hispanics — are also demanding real action on climate. My bet is that MLS fans would reward the league for linking its Greener Goals program to the climate change fight.

 


 

Please comment below!
Email us: lew@greensportsblog.com
Friend us on Facebook: http://facebook.com/greensportsblog
Tweet us @GreenSportsBlog
#CoverGreenSports

The GSB Interview: Kunal Merchant of Lotus Advisory, Bringing Green-Sports to Sacramento, Oakland and Beyond

Kunal Merchant occupies a fascinating perch in the Green-Sports world. A member of the Green Sports Alliance board, the Bay Area-based Merchant has a background in business, politics, and social enterprise. And as co-founder of Lotus Advisory with his sister Monisha, Merchant has guided the sustainability efforts on state-of-the-art green stadium and arena projects, from Sacramento’s Golden1 Center — the first LEED Platinum indoor arena in the world — to the nascent Oakland A’s ballpark project.

GreenSportsBlog spoke with Merchant about his work on Green-Sports projects, with the Alliance, and where he sees the movement heading.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Kunal, I can’t wait to dig into your story which takes place at the intersection of sports, politics, and sustainability. Nothing juicy there…

Kunal Merchant: It has been a fascinating ride to this point, Lew. I came to the sports world from the political side, working as Chief of Staff for then Sacramento Mayor and ex-NBA All Star Kevin Johnson. I served in that role during his first term, between December 2008 and June 2012, which was a dramatic time. The Mayor took office right as the national economy was entering the Great Recession. Sacramento was particularly hard hit by double-digit unemployment and a foreclosure crisis. Morale was low, and right when the town thought it couldn’t get any worse, we found out that our beloved Sacramento Kings – the one and only pro sports team in town – wanted to leave town.

The team had been struggling both on and off the court for years, including several failed attempts to build a new arena to replace what had by then become the oldest and smallest arena in the NBA. The Kings’ ownership felt that their best shot was to start over in a new city, with Seattle being the most likely destination. It was a punch to the gut for Sacramento, and in the Mayor’s office, we knew that how Sacramento responded to this challenge would have implications far beyond sports for the city’s economic and civic identity.

GSB: So how did you go about dealing with the significant headwinds?

Kunal: That’s a topic for a much longer conversation! But, oversimplified, there were three key checkboxes on our “to-do list” to save the team: (1) prove that Sacramento was a viable NBA market; (2) recruit a new ownership group willing to buy the team and keep it in Sacramento; and (3) develop a plan to build and finance a new arena. The arena was arguably the most critical – and difficult item – particularly since, for a market the size of Sacramento, some form of public investment was going to be needed.

Taxpayers were understandably skeptical about putting public money towards a basketball arena. But after studying similar situations around the country, we in the Mayor’s Office concluded that, under the right terms and structure, we could deliver a public-private partnership for a new arena that would be a win for the Kings and for Sacramento. To get there, we needed to generate transformative economic and community benefits, something that was only possible if we used the arena to anchor the broader revitalization of our blighted and long-underperforming downtown core.

In that respect, Sacramento really reminded me of the Denver of my childhood in the 1980s. At that time, Denver was perceived as a classic “flyover city” by people on the coasts. But over several years, the community and city leaders pushed through smart and strategic investments that led to a positive change in the city’s economic and cultural trajectory. Things really took off in the 1990s, in part due to the energy generated by Coors Field, the downtown ballpark built to be the home of our new Major League Baseball team, the Colorado Rockies.

 

Kumal Merchant Headshot

Kunal Merchant, co-founder of Lotus Advisory (Photo credit: Lotus Advisory)

 

GSB: I remember visiting Denver during the late 1990s and saw how Coors Field had seemingly changed a whole neighborhood. Was the ballpark built by the team, the city or some combination? The reason I ask is that there are many studies showing that public investments in sports venues are not efficient uses of the public’s money. Where do you come down on that question?

Kunal: Great question. Like a stodgy and aging arena, I think the rhetoric around public financing for sports venues is in serious need of an upgrade. There’s way too much dogma on a topic filled with nuance.

In the case of Coors Field, the project was a public-private partnership, where taxpayers made a significant investment. As a local resident who saw that area before and after Coors Field, I would argue that the taxpayers’ investment paid off handsomely in catalyzing a true economic and cultural renaissance that continues to this day.

But the success of Coors Field doesn’t vindicate all forms of public financing. The reality is that every situation is different, and plenty of sports facilities – too many I would argue – receive public funding in amounts and terms that are truly terrible deals for the public. When we were developing the Kings arena deal, we studied up on the good, bad and ugly of prior public subsidy deals. And we were determined that any arena deal we cut with the Kings would protect taxpayers and generate strong economic and community benefits.

That process in Sacramento began by fighting to locate the new arena downtown, and resist temptations by some in town to “play small” and simply refurbish or rebuild at the old arena’s suburban location.

GSB: The old Arco Arena is north of the city, kind of by itself off of I-5.

Kunal: Yes. At the time it was built in the mid-1980s, that building size and location made sense. But by the 2010s, we had different civic imperatives around sustainability and urban planning. Beyond the economic appeal of a downtown location – analysts forecasted $150 million in new annual economic activity each year – we wanted the arena project to reflect the values of a community that cared deeply about the environment. So we set – and ultimately met – incredibly ambitious goals for green design, air quality, water efficiency, energy efficiency, transit, food, waste diversion, and so on.

GSB: What was your role in the project?

Kunal: My role evolved over the course of the project. At the start, I was the Mayor’s Chief of Staff, representing the Mayor and City in almost every facet of our work with the NBA, Kings, City and community to save the team and develop the arena plan. When the NBA voted to keep the team in Sacramento in May 2013, and approve the sale of the Kings to a new ownership group, I moved over to the team side as an executive focused on making sure we followed through on our promises to the community on the arena.

That meant finalizing the public process to approve the deal, negotiating key labor and community benefit agreements, and continuing to engage the community in this truly once-in-a-generation project. It also meant championing what became the most ambitious sustainability agenda of an NBA arena to that date, anchored around achieving status as the first-ever LEED Platinum indoor sports arena.

GSB: That’s quite a transition. How did working for a sports team differ from working in municipal government?

Kunal: Well, it’s safe to say that spending a Tuesday night at an NBA game is a bit more fun than at a City Council meeting! And I used to joke with friends – only half-kidding – that I could get more done chatting with various folks at a Kings game than I could ever do in one month at City Hall. There were obvious advantages to working in a private sector context in terms of speed, agility, and efficiency. But this deal was a true public-private partnership where both bodies were integral. What’s most powerful to me is that my spirit and purpose on this project never changed regardless of what my business card said; from beginning to end, this endeavor was always about doing something really big and historic and transformative for the people of Sacramento. And both the City and Kings wholly embraced that mindset.

GSB: What did you do after the arena took shape?

Kunal: As Opening Day for the Golden 1 Center got closer, I started getting calls from other folks in sports who were impressed by what we’d done in Sacramento and wanted to see if I could help out elsewhere. To his credit, then-Team President Chris Granger was extremely supportive, and I was able to transition from being a full-time employee to a consultant able to take on other work. As part of that transition, I launched Lotus Advisory with my sister Monisha as a strategy and management consulting firm focused on driving positive change at the intersection of business, government and community. Because of my background, I ended up specializing quickly on sports-related projects, while my MIT-educated sister took on high tech clients like Airbnb. In the years since, we’ve been lucky to work with an amazing range of clients in a variety of industries and sectors.

 

Kumal Merchant at Golden 1 Center

Kunal Merchant touring construction of the Golden 1 Center and the Downtown Commons in 2015 during his time as a Sacramento Kings executive. The $1.5 billion dollar project includes a LEED Platinum NBA arena, hotel, and retail and entertainment district that has been the primary catalyst behind the new economic and cultural renaissance unfolding in Sacramento’s long-struggling downtown core (Photo credit: Lotus Advisory)

 

GSB: What are some the sports projects on which Lotus Advisory has worked?

In recent years, we’ve done a lot of work in soccer and baseball. I was the Chief Strategist for Nashville’s successful 2017 bid to join Major League Soccer, where we went from being on no one’s radar as a viable soccer city to finishing first in a twelve city race for the next expansion slot. A huge part of our success was powered by the people of Nashville – whose pride in their city is as strong as I’ve ever seen anywhere.

Similarly, I helped lead and advise Sacramento’s bid to join MLS for several years, particularly in shepherding their downtown stadium development plan through the planning, predevelopment and approval processes. The heart and soul of that bid are the supporters of Sacramento Republic, the United Soccer League (USL) Championship¹ club that took the city by storm when it launched in 2014 and has woven itself deeply into the cultural fabric of Sacramento with remarkable speed.

Currently, I’m working closely with the Oakland Athletics on their plans to revitalize the Oakland waterfront with a new privately-financed ballpark district near the Jack London Square area. It’s a really gorgeous project with a strong spirit of sustainability and environmental justice.

GSB: Very cool! What’s the status of Sacramento’s MLS bid? I know they’re looking to get to 28 teams by 2021 or 2022. Cincinnati United began play this month as the league’s 24th club, with Miami and Nashville set to join next year and Austin in ’21. So that means there’s one more slot left in the near term.

Kunal: Sacramento is one of two cities considered to be favorites for the 28th slot. I know that I’m biased, but I don’t think the competition is remotely close. Sacramento’s MLS bid stands alone as arguably the most resilient, mature, and comprehensive MLS bid in league history. Since embarking on the MLS journey in 2014, Republic FC has checked all the boxes time and again: a die-hard fan base, committed corporate support, a fully-approved and transformational downtown stadium plan; and a credible and committed ownership led by a formidable combination of Pittsburgh Penguins owner Ron Burkle and several local business leaders. MLS will be lucky to have Sacramento join its ranks and I’m cautiously optimistic that it will happen soon.

GSB: Good luck! When will the new stadium be ready and what are some of its green features? 

Kunal: Obviously the MLS stadium is contingent on entry into the league, but the stadium could likely be ready by either the 2021 or 2022 MLS season. As impactful as the Golden 1 Center is for Sacramento, the MLS stadium for Republic FC will be a game-changer in its own right.

The stadium will be built few blocks away from the Kings arena at a huge 240 acre site called the Sacramento Railyards that, when fully built out, will double the size of downtown Sacramento. The MLS stadium represents one of the first and largest major private investments in the Railyards in several decades, and will catalyze a historic wave of economic and community development. In terms of green features, the stadium will be another model of transit-oriented development, located a block from light rail, and a short distance by foot, bike, scooter, or rideshare from the rest of downtown. Republic FC has a terrific culture around local food and beer, so I’d expect some innovative sourcing strategies there as well.

 

Sacramento Republic MLS Stadium

Artist rendering of proposed Major League Soccer stadium in downtown Sacramento. The project will anchor an estimated $5B economic revitalization effort at Sacramento’s historic Railyards district (Credit: Sacramento Republic FC)

 

GSB: Turning to another long-running new stadium project, let’s talk about the Oakland A’s.

Kunal: The A’s have a truly visionary plan to revitalize the waterfront near Jack London Square through a new Major League Baseball ballpark. The project will be LEED Gold Certified and reflect a “ballpark within a park” theme, with an intimate 34,000 seat stadium nestled carefully into its urban surroundings. The ballpark is privately-financed and will anchor a new, vibrant waterfront district that will feature a mix of housing, including affordable housing, offices, restaurants, retail, small business space, parks and public gathering spaces. And the team is also showing tremendous leadership by leveraging the ballpark project to address longstanding environmental justice reform issues around air, soil and water quality faced by West Oakland residents for years.

 

Oakland Ballpark

Preliminary artist rendering for the proposed Oakland A’s ballpark near Jack London Square in Oakland. The project will be LEED Gold and reflect the A’s strong commitment to sustainable development and environmental justice (Credit: Oaklandballpark.com)

 

GSB: Add the A’s new ballpark to my sports bucket list. OK, before we go, let’s talk a bit about your work as a board member of the Green Sports Alliance. How did that come about?

Kunal: I’ve known and been a fan of the Green Sports Alliance since its earliest days, when Alliance leaders reached out to invite Mayor Johnson to the inaugural summit in Portland. The Alliance was hugely helpful in guiding my thinking on the Golden 1 Center, and I worked with the Alliance to help bring the Summit to Sacramento during the Golden1 Center’s inaugural season in 2017. I’ve continued to work closely with the Alliance since then, and at some point it just made sense to take on a more formal role. So, I joined the board last fall with a pretty important first project: co-leading the search for a new Executive Director. It was a fascinating process that yielded a terrific hire: Roger McClendon.

GSB: McClendon comes to the Alliance’s executive director role at a key inflection point in the Green-Sports movement. I like to say Green-Sports 1.0 — the greening of the games — is now almost if not quite a given. It was a necessary and obvious first step. But Green-Sports 2.0 — engaging fans, players and more to take positive environmental action, specifically on climate change — which is where I think is starting now, is a more complicated, heavier lift. What do you think?

Kunal: I totally agree. There are fundamental questions facing the green sports movement and the broader environmentalist community at the moment. The science around climate change grows more dire by the day, with the recent IPCC report advising that humanity has really just a handful of years left to aggressively decarbonize or face catastrophic consequences. So the cost of inaction is escalating. With that as backdrop, the Alliance is asking ourselves: what are we going to do? Our ethos has been to meet people where they are. Which means that if a league, an event, a team is aggressive on climate, we’ll support them. If they’re going slowly…

GSB: …Or not even talking climate at all?

Kunal: …we’re not going to push them too far beyond their comfort zone.

GSB: But doesn’t that imply that it’s ok for sports not to go fast enough? That seems risky at best.

Kunal: Well, it’s tricky. But here is a reason to be optimistic: things are impossible until they’re not. Looking at history, there are many social movements that looked bleak for years, or even decades, right until a period of rapid change that completely upended the status quo. I’m heartened by the younger generations — Millennials and Gen Zers — who will increasingly hold all institutions, including sports teams, accountable for the issue of climate change. The Alliance needs to be ready, and I think we’re taking important steps in that direction. If there’s one thing that I’ve come to appreciate deeply in my career, it’s that, with vision and leadership, sports can be an extraordinary platform for positive change. And on issues of climate, we can’t afford for sports teams, leagues, or fans to sit on the sidelines anymore.

GSB: With some well-timed and positive pushing from organizations like the Alliance, I’ll say. To be continued, Kunal!

 

¹ The USL Championship is the second-tier of North American professional soccer, one level below MLS.

 


 

Please comment below!
Email us: lew@greensportsblog.com
Friend us on Facebook: http://facebook.com/greensportsblog
Tweet us @GreenSportsBlog
#CoverGreenSports

The GSB Interview: Lauren Tracy, Leading the USTA Efforts to Green the US Open

The US Open, New York City’s two-week late summer tennis fest that draws over 800,000 people, has been at the forefront of sustainable mega-sports events for over a decade. Lauren Tracy, the US Tennis Association’s (USTA’s) Director of Strategic Initiatives, has been involved with their greening efforts since its early years. GreenSportsBlog chatted with Tracy about the USTA’s sustainability history, how the US Open made out from a green perspective in 2018, and what to watch for going forward.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Lauren, as a mediocre but avid tennis player, I have a particular fondness for the USTA’s greening efforts, especially at the US Open. So I’m excited to talk with you about all of this. How did you get involved?

Lauren Tracy: I’m not a tennis junkie. From New York City’s northern suburbs, Dutchess County to be exact, and an MBA from Marist College in Poughkeepsie, I was excited to get a job at the USTA as a paralegal in nearby White Plains working on the pro tennis side. Back in 2010, the USTA executive director asked me to transition into the Executive Office in a project management role. It included overseeing some of the USTA’s organizational priorities, including our US Open environmental program, as well as to help develop what is now our “SafePlay” athlete safety program.

 

2019 USTA Leadership

Lauren Tracy, Director of Strategic Initiatives at the US Tennis Association (Photo credit: USTA)

 

GSB: These are very important and high profile…

Lauren: Yes! I was in the right place at the right time for sure.

GSB: When did the environmental programs come into the mix?

Lauren: It really started in 2007. When we dedicated the National Tennis Center to Billie Jean King she wanted to know what we were doing to lessen the US Open’s environmental footprint. The venue was named for her.

GSB: Billie Jean King: Women’s rights and gay rights pioneer — that we knew — but eco-warrior?

Lauren: That’s right! Our board was asking the same thing. We had only taken baby steps, green-wise, before then. We engaged industry experts to help us develop a comprehensive environmental program for the US Open. Those experts included Bina Indelicato, founder and CEO of eco evolutions, who now serves as a sustainability consultant for the USTA, as well as Allen Hershkowitz, who really pioneered the green sports movement.

GSB: What were some of the first sustainability initiatives under the Tracy Administration?

Lauren: It was an exciting time because the USTA gave us the direction to try new things. So that’s what we did. We would identify an opportunity to improve the environmental efficiency of an element of our operations at our site and start by conducting a pilot during that year’s US Open.

After the conclusion of that year’s tournament, we’d evaluate to see what worked well and what did not. If it worked, we’d roll it out the next year across the entire USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

A good example of that was composting. We piloted it in 2011 in the back-of-house operations with our concessionaire, Levy Restaurants. That was the easy part, as their chefs bought in from the beginning. We went big the first year, starting with the kitchens at Arthur Ashe Stadium, the largest venue on our campus…

GSB: …And, at 23,700+, the largest seating capacity of any tennis stadium in the world…

Lauren: Yes. Over the years, composting was eventually rolled out to the other kitchens on the site. We partnered with Levy, as well as the waste hauler and did a lot of training with kitchen staff. Understandably, there were some growing pains but now we have a program with a lot of buy-in and had a very successful New York City Department of Sanitation inspection. In fact, so much so that, by 2017, our overall waste diversion rate was greater than 90 percent!

GSB: WOW! That’s a quick turnaround the way I look at it. And it qualifies the US Open as a zero-waste event but you knew that already…

Lauren: You bet! We did even better last year, getting to 97 percent diversion. What got us closer to 100 percent, in addition to recycling and composting, was bringing much of our un-recycled, un-compostable material to Covanta’s waste-to-energy site out on Long Island.

GSB: How does it work?

Lauren: First of all, the facility is the cleanest place I’ve ever seen — and it’s a place where garbage is hauled! It is then burned in a safe way, with the resulting heat being used to cleanly power swaths of Long Island. Amazing.

GSB: I’ll have to check out that facility someday. Congratulations on 97 percent diversion. That’s terrific. Now I know that the USTA undertook a major construction initiative at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center a few years ago. Where did sustainability fit in?

Lauren: Well, in 2013, we started a five-year plan to strategically transform the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Those renovations and new builds would be done in an environmentally-friendly and -forward way. The first structure to earn LEED certification was our Transportation Building — which serves as the headquarters for our transportation operation, as well as the credential office during the three weeks of the qualifying tournament and the main draw. Then, in 2016 our new Grandstand stadium opened…

GSB: …I love the Grandstand. The third-largest playing venue on campus, with a capacity of 8,000, is stunning, architecturally speaking.

Lauren: I agree. It became our first LEED certified playing venue. And, as anyone who has been to the Open the last couple years knows, we tore down our second largest playing venue, Louis Armstrong Stadium, and built the new, 14,000 seat Louis Armstrong, opening it last year.

 

Louis Armstrong

Louis Armstrong Stadium, the new, LEED Silver certified 14,000-seat venue that opened in 2018. It is the second largest venue at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center (Photo credit: Lewis Blaustein)

 

GSB: …Another winner. It is a beautiful place to watch tennis. Did new Louis Armstrong become LEED certified?

Lauren: It did, earning LEED Silver status — the highest certification level on campus. Its natural ventilation system is a significant advance in terms of green outdoor venue construction is concerned. Overall, we’re very proud of the new Louis Armstrong Stadium, including from a sustainability perspective, as it represented the completion of the five-year strategic transformation of our campus that I mentioned earlier. And that we were able to finish on time in 2018, on the 50th anniversary of the US Open, made it extra special.

GSB: Great timing indeed. With the major construction complete in Flushing Meadow, what other environmental advances are you and the team working on? Is on-site solar going to be part of the mix?

Lauren: On-site solar is a question we get a lot. It’s tricky for us. While the facility is open all year, our attendance and electricity usage spikes for the three weeks of the tournament in late August-early September. And while we own the venues, the City of New York owns the land and so the solar conversation involves several parties. This doesn’t mean solar won’t happen, it just means it will take awhile. As for what else is next, I wanted to mention that our location is a plus, sustainability-wise. The New York City subway and Long Island Railroad have a station just outside the tennis center, which allows over 50 percent of all attendees to take mass transit, which a great number.

GSB: That sounds about right…

Lauren: Also, in addition to the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, we also built our USTA National Campus in Orlando. The Welcome Center, which includes our staff offices, is LEED certified. Back to the Open, we’ve got some cool initiatives around recycling. In 2018, we started working with Ronald McDonald House up in the Hudson Valley of New York State. We sent them 9,000 metal tabs from tennis ball can tops. The metal tops are pure aluminum and they are able to earn some money from recycling it.

 

USTA National Campus

The LEED certified Welcome Center at the USTA’s National Campus in Orlando (Photo credit: USTA)

 

GSB: What a great idea? Can the USTA broaden that out beyond the Open to other tournaments and to the thousands of recreational tennis centers around the country with which you have relationships?

Lauren: This is something we’re exploring, Lew. Our sections across the country know about it; we hope they are able to bring it to their regions as well. As far as the used tennis ball cans from the Open are concerned, we send them to TerraCycle in Trenton, New Jersey…

GSB: …TerraCycle is an incredible company that specializes in a “zero-waste economy,” with state-of-the-art recycling and upcycling.

Lauren: That’s right. We send them our tennis ball cans and they break them down and recycle them. I also want to mention Imperfectly Delicious Produce. I love this program! We take imperfect-looking fruit and vegetables and use them in sauces and dips to eliminate unnecessary food waste. Finally, in 2018, we eliminated plastic straws, replacing them with paper straws.

GSB: Very cool. Now this would not be a GSB Interview if I didn’t ask about how the USTA goes about communicating its green initiatives to fans…So how do you do that?

Lauren: We do some marketing of our greening efforts, from content in our program magazine to our website. But we need to do more from a fan engagement perspective and are committed to doing that this year and in 2020.

GSB: I plan to be out at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center this summer and look forward to seeing what you and the team have done, fan engagement-wise.

 

 


 

Please comment below!
Email us: lew@greensportsblog.com
Friend us on Facebook: http://facebook.com/greensportsblog
Tweet us @GreenSportsBlog
#CoverGreenSports

The GSB Interview: Ex-Atlanta Falcon Ovie Mughelli, Creator of “Gridiron Green” Comic Superhero

Ovie Mughelli (moo-HAY-lee) is one of the most fascinating characters I’ve come across in the five plus years since I started GreenSportsBlog. College and pro football star. Announcer. Gets interested in the climate change fight. Comes up with “Gridiron Green,” an African American, environmental comic superhero.

We were fortunate to be able to sit down with Mughelli to hear his incredible story and his plans for Gridiron Green.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Ovie, we’ve been wanting to talk with you for a long time so thank you for the opportunity. Before getting to your evolution as a climate change fighter and to Gridiron Green, tell us your back story.

Ovie Mughelli: Thanks for the opportunity, Lew. And I’ll tell you, I’ve been blessed from the beginning. My parents both were born in Nigeria who moved here at 18, 19, looking for a better life. They gave me, my two sisters and my brother a very strong work ethic combined with a duty to others. The idea of, if you can make someone’s life better, you do it. And this was our ethos from the beginning, giving even as we received help. It was a humble beginning, all of us in a one bedroom apartment, sleeping on the floor. Grew up in New York City until third grade, then moved to Charleston, South Carolina through my high school years. My dad, Olumide, became a successful OB-Gyn, is a Big Brother and involved with the Charleston Boys Club. My mom, Agnes? She got her MBA and runs his office.

 

Ovie Mughelli

Ovie Mughelli (Photo credit: Ovie Mughelli)

 

GSB: This is an American Dream story if I ever heard one. Did you dream of an NFL career in high school?

Ovie: Not really. I did well enough in high school, both in the classroom and on the football field to get a scholarship to Wake Forest as a fullback. Went there as a pre-med student, you know, to follow dad. Was interested in sports medicine, took organic chem, bio mechanics…

GSB: …Sounds like the med school track to me…

Ovie: Absolutely. My older sister, who went to the University of Richmond and then the University of South Carolina Medical School, gave me the MCAT study guides!

GSB: Doesn’t sound like the NFL was where you were headed…

Ovie: I didn’t think so early in my college career, just didn’t see it as a real possibility that I could play in the NFL. Med school beckoned but my parents and coaches believed I could do it. And, lo and behold, the Baltimore Ravens selected me in the fourth round of the 2003 NFL Draft.

GSB: Fourth round out of a seven round draft is impressive, especially as a fullback — a position that was beginning a deemphasis that continues to this day.

Ovie: Thanks, Lew! I couldn’t believe it. And, even though I was drafted I just tried to survive that first training camp. Didn’t think I’d make it.

GSB: Man, you need to have more confidence in yourself! Or maybe that self-doubt is what propelled you to success?

Ovie: That and special teams¹. Back then teams still had two fullbacks on the 53-man roster. No team kept three. Except for the Ravens that year because I showed them what I could do on “specials.” That’s how I made the team. Once I established myself in Baltimore, I started thinking about how I could give back. Started the Ovie Mughelli Foundation in my third year there — it wasn’t environmentally focused; rather it was really a classic, “give back” with education and life skills being the main thing.

GSB: And you became a Pro Bowler (aka All-Star) as a special team ace…

Ovie: Again, something I wouldn’t have predicted. That allowed me to sign a six-year free agent contract with the Atlanta Falcons in 2007 which made me the highest paid fullback in the league. So my “give back” instinct kicked into a higher gear as far as the foundation was concerned.

 

Ovie Mughelli Falcons

Ovie Mughelli during his days with the Atlanta Falcons (Photo credit: Ovie Mughelli Foundation)

 

GSB: So how and when did environment and climate change become your thing?

Ovie: This is a crazy story, Lew. First, let’s go back to my childhood in Charleston. I remember watching Captain Planet environmentally-themed cartoons back in the 1980s…

GSB: The cartoons created by CNN founder Ted Turner…

Ovie: Yes. I thought at the time that it was so cool there was a character, Kwame, who was from Africa. You didn’t see anything like that on TV. So, now, flash forward to 2007. I’ve signed with the Falcons. went to this random event in Atlanta where I met Ted Turner and his daughter, Laura Turner Seydel. They eventually became second family to me. At that time, Laura started asking me, ‘What does your foundation do? What are you doing on the environment?’ I said, ‘Nothing. It’s not so important as access to education, life skills.’ Laura’s response? ‘The environment is connected to everything. If you love kids, you have to get involved with the environment!’ That really opened my eyes. I had thought the environment was for tree-huggers, for rich folks who didn’t have to worry about their basic needs so they had the time and means to care about the environment. But then I started to delve into it, and the more I did, the more I got it.

 

Ovie Laura Leilani

Ovie Mughelli flanked by Laura Turner Seydel (r) and Leilani Münter, the self-described eco “vegan, hippie chick with a race car” (Photo credit: Getty Images)

 

GSB: What did you start to understand?

Ovie: I learned that climate change is not just about polar bears. It’s also about Hurricane Katrina, wildfires in the West, food deserts, the Syrian crisis and much, much more. Thanks to the Captain Planet Foundation and the Turner Seydels, I got to attend numerous climate change-related seminars and conferences. It became crystal clear: You couldn’t argue the science.

I also learned that people of color are the most affected and the least able to adapt to climate change. Underserved and unengaged communities are impacted by climate issues for a longer duration. It effects health, economy and education due to the residual implications. And yet robust conversation with these communities are not heavily pursued to make these folks change agents.

So the question became how to combat climate change? Laura Turner Seydel urged me to get involved, to use the platform of sports to engage fans who, she said, ‘Love clean air, clean water and God’s Green Earth. You have to give people the mindset to make green normal.’ And Laura again pressed me about kids, saying, ‘Ovie, you can’t say you love kids if you don’t advocate for the environment!”

That hits home because my wife and I have three kids — our first two are girls and then a boy. Our daughter Nesia and our son Obasi were both born prematurely. We weren’t able to hold Obasi until he was 16 days old and could take either of them out of the NICU² for a long time because of the poor air quality in Atlanta — thankfully, they’re fine now. This brought environmental problems home more than anything and was unacceptable! So I felt I had to do something.

GSB: So what did you do with your interest in climate, and with Laura’s nudges?

Ovie: Through the Ovie Mughelli Foundation, I started to run football camps with an environmental theme. We had “Recycle On the Run” drills, had them answer environmental questions, take positive environmental actions and more. I also started to give climate change-themed speeches as part of a Green Speaker Series.

GSB: What were you talking about?

Ovie: Basically I said we have to go beyond complaining about the environment, about climate change. We had to shift from complain to action! I also emphasized that shifting to a greener, cleaner economy would be a winner job-wise and otherwise.

GSB: Did you talk about environment and the climate in the locker room with your Falcons teammates? If so, how did they react?

Ovie: I sure did. And look, teammates in an NFL locker room, we’re like brothers, supporting each other out on the field. So I felt comfortable talking about my climate activism with them. Now, it did raise some eyebrows among the guys like Matt Ryan, Tony Gonzalez, and Roddy White. They basically asked, ‘is climate change real?’ I told ’em, ‘Yeah, it’s not only real, it’s human caused and we need to deal with it, sooner rather than later.’ And they came around on it. Other guys fought fiercely with me, saying ‘it’s a hoax,’ or ‘climate change is just a way for the government to take more of my money.’ I don’t know that I changed those minds.

GSB: Sounds like, from talking to eco-athletes who are active today, that the locker rooms sound similar as they did a decade or so ago. That needs to improve, fast. So I get the environmental football camps and the speaking engagements. But how did your environmental super hero cartoon idea — Gridiron Green — come to pass?

Ovie: Well, it goes back to Captain Planet! I always wanted to recreate an environmentally-themed comic book, but with a black super-hero — Kwame times 1,000! — for planet earth. Environmental justice, the right to clean air and water, the right to live healthy, were the themes. I sketched out a rough version in 2009, showed to some corporations and the NFL for sponsorship back then; they showed some initial interest but not enough to fund it. Still, I kept going and in 2012 I had a friend-of-a-friend who is an artist, do an even better sketch.

 

Captain Planet Kwame

Kwame from Captain Planet (Credit: Captain Planet Foundation)

 

GSB: Then what happened?

Ovie: It kinda went on the back burner for several years — I didn’t really know how to market a comic book. Then, in 2016, I went to a youth summit led by John R. Seydel — Laura’s son. One of the sessions, “Comics Uniting Nations,” not surprisingly caught my eye.

GSB: I can see why! What was it about?

Ovie: The UN had recently published 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs). They were wordy, wonky and a bit confusing. So folks at Comics Uniting Nations and UNICEF thought ‘how about a comic book or books to make the SDGs clear and even fun.’ I thought, ‘Wait a second — I got this!!!” They liked it and gave some initial seed funding to help get Gridiron Green to get to the next level. That allowed me to hire a top flight artist, Matt Bahr, to work with me to tighten up the look, feel and story.

GSB: How has that gone so far?

Ovie: It’s been a two-year journey for Matt and me, sharing our drawings with folks at the NFL, as well as at environmental and social justice nonprofits. We want to use Gridiron Green to reach people who have not engaged on environment and climate yet, who don’t know what a carbon footprint is. Gridiron Green can be an important gateway to get people involved on climate, including conservatives, especially conservative sports fans! And we’re looking at more than a comic book, from curriculum to video games to toys to even feature animated films. We’ve asked for buy-in and financial support, moving the ball forward a bit but not enough to publish yet.

 

Ovie Gridiron Green

Prototypes of Gridiron Green (Photo credit: Ovie Mughelli)

 

GSB: It sounds like you’re moving towards the goal line; what has to happen next so you guys can finally make Gridiron Green a reality.

Ovie: Right now, we’re working on tightening up the business plan — we’re looking for funding in the neighborhood of $100,000, which includes curriculum.

GSB: This seems like a doable number to me; please keep us informed as to how fundraising goes!

 

¹ Special teams are the “third phase” of American football (offense and defense being the other two). They consist of the players on the kickoff and punt coverage, kickoff and punt returns, as well as field goal units.
² NICU = Neo-natal intensive care unit

 


 

Please comment below!
Email us: lew@greensportsblog.com
Friend us on Facebook: http://facebook.com/greensportsblog
Tweet us @GreenSportsBlog
#CoverGreenSports

The GSB Interview: Summer Minchew, Making Sports Venues Greener and More Fan-Friendly

Summer Minchew, Managing Partner of Ecoimpact Consulting, has worked on several stadium and arena projects, helping them through the LEED certification process and much more.

GreenSportsBlog spoke with Minchew about Ecoimpact Consulting’s innovative approach to sustainability that combines environment and efficiency with human health and wellness.

 

GreenSportsBlog: How did you get in to the sports venue sustainability space?

Summer Minchew: Well, Lew, I’m a bit of a rarity in this business in that I have stadium design in my blood. I grew up in Kansas City and my dad happened to be a lead project sports architect…

GSB: No WAY!

Summer: Yes WAY!! My dad worked on the Moda Center, home of the Portland Trail Blazers; the AT&T Center, home of the San Antonio Spurs; and Bankers Life Arena, where the Indiana Pacers call home, along with many more. I grew up around sports architecture. Funny thing, though: I’m not a sports fan. But even as kid I loved drawing designs for buildings…

GSB: …Funny thing is, when I was a kid I used to draw stadiums. Only thing was, I had no drawing talent. You clearly had it. So what did you do?

Summer: I went to Kansas State in Manhattan…

GSB: Manhattan, Kansas, the “Little Apple.” I’ve never been.

 

summer minchew melissa key

Summer Minchew (Photo credit: Melissa Key)

 

Summer: It’s a great place. I went to the College of Architecture Planning and Design. During my college internships, I worked for a few of the sport architecture firms in Kansas City …

GSB: …Kansas City is basically the hub for sports architecture, right?

Summer: That’s right. So when I graduated from college I moved to Charlotte and worked for a firm that was the associate architect on the Spectrum Center, home of the NBA’s Hornets. This experience became my foundation in sports architecture. From there, I moved to working mostly on interiors for corporate office space.

GSB: What do you mean by “interiors”?

Summer: Interior architecture and design. I love its focus on how humans interact with a space and how that space impacts humans. Consider that Americans spend approximately 90 percent of their time indoors. That connection is what drew me to sustainability: Green design is good design, it’s good for people, good for the planet.

GSB: That’s…good! What happened next?

Summer: I moved to Washington, D.C. in 2008 and worked for a firm called Envision Design, which has since merged with Perkins & Will. In 2006, the District passed the D.C. Green Building Act — all new non-residential public buildings were now required to pursue LEED certification. I was in the right city at the right time — and fortunately my mentors already had incredible sustainability ethos’, so it was a great place to be. One of my favorite projects while I was in D.C. was working on the design team for the US Green Building Council’s headquarters. Not surprisingly they wanted their space to be LEED Platinum. It was so great working on a project where the sustainability charge was client and mission driven, it really pushed the team to maximize the project’s performance. This was a phenomenal experience.

 

USGBC HQ Eric Laignel

Interior shot of US Green Building Council’s Washington, D.C. LEED Platinum-certified headquarters (Photo credit: Eric Laignel)

 

GSB: Sounds amazing. What did you do with that experience?

Summer: Having discovered my love for, and gaining expertise in the green building certification process, I began working with Ecoimpact Consulting in 2010. Quickly I came to manage all of the firm’s green building certification projects.

I worked with Penny Bonda, one of the firm’s founders, and eventually became her partner. She is truly incredible, an active participant in the green building industry since its very early stages. Penny pioneered the development of the LEED for Commercial Interiors rating system and co-authored Sustainable Commercial Interiors. I was contributing author on the second edition of the same book, published by Wiley and Sons in 2014. Penny retired in 2017 — but still serves as a trusted advisor to the firm.

GSB: Sounds like you and Penny were — and still are — a great team. What does Ecoimpact Consulting do?

Summer: The bulk of our work is management for green building project certifications, often supplementing a project team that needs to bolster their expertise in LEED.

From a LEED perspective, a sports venue can be a challenging building type. The prescriptive requirements in the LEED rating system can be difficult to adapt to sports projects, especially open-air venues.

GSB: What are prescriptive requirements?

Summer: With venues you have fluctuating operating hours and occupant densities, untraditional floor plans and less defined indoor and outdoor spaces than other building types. You have to know the rating system well in order to interpret the requirements and make sure you are meeting your intended goals. But it can also present some great opportunities to push the envelope and I’ll tell you, the challenge is worth it.

I don’t need to tell your readers that sports architecture is a very high-profile building type. Venues are meant to draw attention, attract fans and create a sense of place. Stadiums and arenas are more than just buildings, they are the physical embodiment of the brand. Increasingly the brand is not only about the league and the franchise but also about sustainability, community outreach, social and economic responsibility; and these building types have an amazing platform to reflect those values.

You can see the immediate impact in outcomes like a LEED certification and then hopefully a ripple effect in the influence of sustainable design and operations choices. I love the work!

GSB: Sounds like it. When you look at sports venues from human and sustainability perspective, what are you looking for?

Summer: We look at sustainable strategies not only from an efficiency perspective but also from human health and wellness points of view. For example, a venue with access to public transit not only reduces transit related greenhouse gas emissions and hardscape related heat island and stormwater management issues, it provides fans with increased opportunities to be physically active and better air quality for the surrounding neighborhoods. Access to natural light not only reduces overhead lighting costs but studies also show that access to daylight and views in the built environment positively impacts the health and productivity of building occupants. You get the idea. In any building, and sports venues are no exception, one of the most critical measures of building performance is occupant satisfaction.

GSB: No doubt about it. While you are a LEED AP and have been talking about LEED, it sure sounds like your work is more focused on the WELL standard.

Summer: Not necessarily. If you look at the point allocation of LEED, credits related to climate change represent the largest percentage of available points but coming in at a close second are credits related to human health. LEED does not simply evaluate energy, water and waste reduction, an integral component is the indoor environment including occupant comfort. WELL takes the human health and wellbeing baton to the next level, focusing on nutrition, fitness, mood and even sleep patterns of building occupants…

GSB: So it sounds like your work takes into account LEED, along with using WELL-type principles. Can you give an example of a stadium or arena project that is an example of the Ecoimpact Consulting approach?

Summer: We served as sustainability consultant on Audi Field, the home of D.C. United of Major League Soccer that opened last summer. We worked with Michael Marshall Design, the associate architect for the project supporting Populous. It’s a great venue, from its location to its design, its energy efficiency, on-site renewables and operational waste reduction strategies. Audi Field sits on what was a brownfield site — it had been a scrapyard before. It’s in the Southwest Waterfront area of Washington, which is making a comeback, close to the D.C. Metro’s Green line.

 

Audi Field Ecoimpact

Exterior of Audi Field, home of D.C. United (Photo credit: Ecoimpact Consulting)

 

GSB: That’s right. Nationals Park, home of the Washington Nationals and the first LEED certified MLB stadium, is nearby and was an important anchor for the area’s revitalization. I haven’t been there yet but Audi Field is high up on my newly created Green-Sports Venue Bucket List. Talk more about Ecoimpact’s involvement with the project…

Summer: Well, we helped shepherd the project through LEED certification — Audi Field ultimately earned LEED Gold certification…

GSB: Congratulations!

Summer: Thank you. The project earned 64 points. One of the most visible sustainability features is their prominent bike valet which includes 190 spaces for cyclists. The team also found ways to dramatically reduce water use, ultimately achieving reductions in the 40 percent range. Another focus for D.C. United was on community benefits.

GSB: What do you mean by community benefits?

Summer: There are significant opportunities to promote socially responsible practices in the design, construction and operation of buildings. Engaging in labor agreements will help to ensure that construction workers are paid prevailing wages and are provided workforce development opportunities. Community Benefits Agreements (CBAs) help to ensure that the needs of the surrounding community are being met. And of course, these types of considerations can help a project achieve LEED points as well.

For D.C. United it meant looking at the stadium design, construction and operations through the lens of social equity in the local community…or, put another way, by linking up the stadium project with the needs of the community. D.C. United developed a CBA that lays the groundwork for a lasting relationship between the team and the residents of the neighboring community. In addition to their youth programs; a successful soccer club and scholarship program for D.C. United summer camps, D.C. United will connect the new stadium to the community by making the facility and meeting rooms available for community use, participating in a summer job program, and engaging in local outreach for employment. In the end, adhering to the CBA enhances the club’s brand.

GSB: It’s almost like D.C. United is mirroring the neighborhood approach of English soccer clubs, as well as those from other European countries. By that I mean that, soccer fans across the pond are often tied to the teams of their local neighborhood and vice versa. Smart.

Summer: Smart indeed. D.C. United gets it. Another sports venue project that is serious about social equity, just across the Anacostia River in the Southeast section of D.C., is the Washington D.C. Entertainment & Sports Arena developed by Events DC and Monumental Sports & Entertainment. The new, 4,200-seat home of the WNBA’s Washington Mystics, Capital City Go-Go of the NBA’s developmental G League, and the training center for the NBA’s Washington Wizards sits on the revitalized St. Elizabeths East campus. Similar to Audi Field, we worked with the associate architect, Michael Marshall Design, in support of Rossetti, the lead architect to manage the LEED certification process — the final certification from USGBC is still being finalized at this point but Silver is anticipated.

The project features green roof areas, onsite stormwater retention systems and energy efficient systems. And, like Audi Field, this project has a great community outreach and engagement story. Events DC developed a CBA in partnership with neighboring residents that supports educational opportunities for youth, creates local business opportunities, and creates community enrichment activities. Touted by D.C. officials as “bigger than basketball” the project is estimated to generate 300 permanent and 600 construction jobs, and is part of an ongoing redevelopment that will transform the 180-acre St. Elizabeths campus into a thriving mixed-use community.

 

Washington Sports & Ent Arena Kelly Soong

Washington D.C. Entertainment & Sports Arena (Photo credit: Kelly Soong)

 

GSB: Very cool, Summer. I guess I need to add the D.C. E&SA to my bucket list, too!

 

 

¹ RISE = Resources to Inspire Students and Educators

 


 

Please comment below!
Email us: lew@greensportsblog.com
Friend us on Facebook: http://facebook.com/greensportsblog
Tweet us @GreenSportsBlog
#CoverGreenSports