“Twin Cities Rule US Green-Sports” — Part IV: r.Cup Reduces Number of Single Use Plastic Bottles at Sports, Entertainment Venues

“Which metro area is the Green-Sportsy-est in the US?”

While coastal areas like San Francisco-Oakland-Santa Clara and Seattle might come to mind first, it says here that Minneapolis and St. Paul, smack dab in the heartland of the country, wins the title. In fact, the Twin Cities’ Green-Sportsy-ness runs so deep that we can’t cover it all in one post.

In Part I of our four-part GSB special series, Twin Cities Rule US Green-Sports, we looked at US Bank Stadium (Minnesota Vikings), the University of Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium and CHS Field (Independent baseball’s St. Paul Saints) from a green perspective.

Part II featured Chef David Fhima, who brought clean, healthy, organic food to the Minnesota Timberwolves and Target Center.

Then in Part III we went back to the venues, this time visiting Target Field (Minnesota Twins), Xcel Energy Center (Minnesota Wild/NHL) and Allianz Field (Minnesota United/MLS).

In today’s Part IV finale, we profile Mike Martin, a pioneer in the sustainable concert space. He recently launched r.Cup, a Minneapolis-based startup whose goal is to dramatically reduce the number of single use plastic bottles at concerts and, going forward, sports events.

 

GSB: Mike, before we get to the r.Cup story, before we get to how sports venues can dramatically reduce the number single use plastic bottles, I’d like to understand how you got into the green concert world back before there really was a green concert world.

Mike Martin: This goes back to the 1980s. I was in the investment banking world, selling mortgage backed securities…

GSB: …The “Go-Go 80s”

Mike: You got that right. I mean I was selling to the Trump Organization at that time. Anyway, I was doing well but during that era the Bhopal disaster¹ happened, the Exxon Valdez spill² happened. I realized helping companies like these was not what I was supposed to be doing and wanted to create opportunities for capitalism to have a positive impact on the health of people and the planet.

 

Michael Martin Headshot

Mike Martin (Photo credit: Mike Martin)

 

GSB: So what did you do?

Mike: A friend got the rights to produce the official concert for the 20th Anniversary of Earth Day celebration in 1990. I had formed a concert committee when I was a student at Carroll University in Wisconsin. Based on that “vast experience”, the friend asked me to produce the event. So I left my job and set about managing the concert. It took place at the Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Maryland outside of Washington, D.C. A dozen artists including Ziggy Marley, Indigo Girls and Michael Stipe and Peter Buck of REM performed; over 20,000 people showed up. And these artists formed the core of the Earth Day + 20 rally on the National Mall which drew 500,000 people, and the revenues generated from the concert helped fund the rally.

Anyway, the next day, Jonathan Kraft called. His dad, Robert, was buying the New England Patriots. He wanted to do something positive for Boston and offered up the stadium for free if we would put on a similar concert in 1991 at Foxboro Stadium, the Pats’ home at the time. We produced that event — it aired on MTV, which was a very big deal back then.

We reunited Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr on Earth Day 1993 at the Hollywood Bowl. Broadcast on VH1, it was the “tent pole” (or centerpiece) event that tied in with 30 markets nationally to create that year’s National Earth Day Campaign. It raised money for PETA, Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace.

 

McCartney

Mike Martin presents Paul McCartney and his wife Linda (since deceased) with an Earth Day “Concerts for the Environment” poster in Minneapolis in 1993 (Photo credit: Michael Martin)

 

As part of producing these events, we greened the stadium, from installing the most energy efficient light bulbs available at the time to recycling to managing water usage. At the Earth Day Festivals, we also introduced many of the components still in use today: eco-villages, rewards for taking environmental action, community involvement, the whole thing.

GSB: And thus, basically overnight, you became a purpose-focused concert producer, with green as a major thread! How cool is that?

Mike: Yes, I feel very fortunate to have been able to not only influence the live event industry, reaching millions of people, and in the process, work on creative solutions to some of the world’s biggest environmental problems.

For the last three decades, I’ve acted, mainly behind the scenes, as a catalyst to bring culture and business together to tackle some of the most pressing social issues facing humanity. One of the things I am most known for is, helping to put the concept of global warming on the map for mainstream America. In the 90s, I started reading research papers about climate change and global warming and thought “this is a massive problem.” I decided I had to do something.

I spent a year talking to leading environmentalists and acted as a catalyst to unite the top 20 environmental organizations to create the first national global warming campaign.

So in 1999-2000, in partnership with Ben & Jerry’s and 20 environmental nonprofits, we produced the Ben & Jerry’s Dave Matthews Band One Sweet World Campaign. The concept was: “Eat This Ice Cream and Lose a Ton…..of CO₂”. This was the amount of CO2 each American needed to reduce their emissions according to the Kyoto Protocol. The campaign educated the country on steps individuals could take to reduce their CO₂ emissions.

 

One Sweet Whirled1

Ben & Jerry’s One Sweet Whirled/Dave Matthews Band limited edition ice cream (Photo credit: Ben & Jerry’s)

 

“One Sweet World” become the most successful Ben & Jerry’s launch up to that point. This helped reinforce the company’s commitment to social change, which helped re-invigorate the brand image, even after being sold to Unilever. Dave Matthews Band established its bona fides as a green band.

From there, we realized we were becoming a purpose-driven marketing agency of sorts…

GSB: …Long before purpose-driven was a thing…

Mike: Then it was called “cause marketing.” Well to us, it was the effect or impact that really mattered so in 2008 we changed the name of the company from Music Matters to Effect Partners, with a focus on developing the practice of “Effect Marketing”.

GSB: What were some of Effect Marketing’s highlight projects?

Mike: We helped launch Toyota’s Prius back in 2000. In 2005-6 we developed “Green Notes” for Clif Bar. This program is still in place. We work with cool emerging artists like Ingrid Michaelson, Soja, Michael Franti and Bon Iver, teaching them how to green their tours, while giving them tools to help inspire their fans to take positive social change actions.

In the early 2000’s we started working with Kim and Jack Johnson to help them develop their greening strategies and messaging. In 2008, we worked with Kim and Jack Johnson on creating their “All At Once” sustainability non-profit and tour. We introduced hydration stations to the music industry with the Brita Filter For Good program. And, we’ve worked with brands like Proctor & Gamble, Target and Apple on developing their Effect Marketing strategies and campaigns

GSB: That’s an amazing track record. Billboard magazine called you the “guru of live music greening.”

Mike: That was very kind of them. That’s been our mission from the beginning. Music is the platform to open the hearts and minds of fans and so it is the obvious way to move people along the continuum of awareness to action on environmental and social issues.

Going to back to Foxboro in 1991, we started something that was behind the scenes but also very important: We created a document called the “EnviroRider™” that can be added to the contracts a band signs with a venue or event promoter. You know, bands have production riders and catering riders, so why not have an EnviroRider? Steve Miller was the first artist who asked me to make this for his tour. By using an EnviroRider, bands would have leverage to make sure that their concerts would be as environmentally-friendly as possible. And it works. Venues do what bands want.

What makes me very happy is how many of the items on the EnviroRider that venues, concessionaires and promoters would say they could not do in the 1990’s and 2000’s are now common practice. Composting on site, offsetting emissions, using biodiesel to power generators, bicycle corrals, fan rewards for recycling, eliminating single-use water bottles, local food, organic food.

We’ve been the Sustainability Director for U2 since 2009 when they launched the 360 Tour, still the biggest tour in history. Our goal for them was to dramatically reduce their waste reduction and carbon footprint. We did that in a number of ways, including creating an offset that provides water filters for people in sub-Saharan Africa so they would not use wood for boiling water.

We moved the needle!

GSB: I’ll say! Talk about how you also got into the fight for clean water. 

Mike: This was in 2000-1. As you may know, arsenic run-off from farming is a by-product of the chemicals and pesticides used on our food. It gets into our drinking water supply. I got involved with getting artists to support a campaign against legislation from the Bush 43 administration that would have allowed more arsenic in our water.

That led to advocating for organics and to producing the “Go Organic for Earth Day,” working with 4,500 stores nationally. The result? Sales of organics jumped by up to 25 percent nationally. The other campaign was called ONE (Organic and Natural Experience). With ONE, we took up to 25 companies at a time out on the road to major events and concerts and distributed organic samples and coupons for organic products. Amazingly, we enjoyed up to 10 to 15 percent redemption rates…

GSB: That’s an insane redemption rate. Most successful coupon campaigns get between 1 and 1.5 percent. So an organic-based promotion outdid that by tenfold! When did sports come into your work?

Mike: Well, I never was that far away from it. Of course most of the venues the bands with which we work play at also host sports events. We created a very exciting campaign that ran during the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The USOC and the Dairy Industry Association…

GSB: The Milk Mustache people…

Mike: Them! Anyway they’ve had a long-term partnership, with US Olympians extolling the virtues of milk. But there is increasing awareness and more and more athletes who are adopting plant-based, vegan diets, and who decry the animal cruelty surrounding the dairy industry. So we created an ad that featured vegan Olympians called Switch4Good that refuted some of the pro-dairy claims in milk ads and extolled the virtues of a vegan diet. We ran the ad on NBC, it aired in one market and the Dairy Association complained and so NBC pulled it. But that was okay — we got a ton of publicity, plus we ran the ad on the Oscars broadcast.

 

The Switch for Good ad (60 seconds)

 

GSB: I remember that. Very cool! Now let’s talk r.Cup. How did it begin? 

Mike: To me, after greening live concert events for almost three decades, the environmental Holy Grail has always been waste reduction, especially those single-use plastic cups. We’ve tried fan education, fan incentives, trash goalies, etc. Truth is, most fans don’t really care about taking the time to recycle at concerts or sports events. They just want to enjoy the event!

A great example of this was when Live Nation hired me in 2016 to help them design the optimal way to green their amphitheaters. I was able to take the greening decisions out of the fans’ hands. No plastic, everything was designed to be recycled or composted. I thought we had the solution! But…But there was a big problem: About 80 percent of trash on the ground at a venue does not go to recycling or composting. It goes to landfill. And a lot of that trash was cups. For compostable plastic to work it has to be hand sorted and taken to an industrial composting facility. If not, it contaminates the recycled material.

And so I started to think about how to actually reduce the number of cups that end up on the floor and ultimately go to landfill from big concerts and sports events. We needed to see how we could reduce, reuse…Could we create a rent, refill, return mechanism? Now you can see where the germ of the idea for r.Cup came from.

GSB: Clever! How does it work?

Mike: r.Cup is simple and works amazingly well. You come to the event, buy a beverage of any kind. It’s served in a high quality artist or team branded cup. You pay for the beverage plus a $3 deposit for the cup. Then, if you want another beer or water or whatever, you come back with the same cup and get a refill. At the end of the event, you come to the r.Cup staff and get your $3 back or you can take your up home.

 

 

rCup Stones

An r.Cup from the Rolling Stones 2019 No Filter tour (Photo credit: r.Cup)

 

r.Cup provides the cups, handles all the logistics and tracks the positive environmental impact of the program. No waste is generated, venues do not have to clean-up or dispose of trash, saving them money. The concessionaires do not need to buy cups and can make a small fee on each cup kept. Additionally, we are seeing reports of increased per-head sales. I guess if you are holding a cup, you want to fill it up! Ten percent of the company is owned by ocean cleanup non-profits so as r.Cup grows, the plastic waste crisis begins to lessen.

 

 

r.Cup_U2_3

An r.Cup ambassador explains how the program works to a fan at a U2 concert (Photo credit: r.Cup)

 

GSB: So r.Cup gets its revenues from the people who keep the cups?

Mike: Exactly. And the cups are dishwasher-safe and recyclable. We’re working on a cup that’s fossil fuel-free. For concert tours, which is where we started in 2017, we sterilize the cups and then move on to the next city. For festivals, we will sterilize and warehouse any cups for next year’s festival.

For  sports teams — we’re dabbling in it this year with a big rollout in 2020 — obviously the cups stay where they are. And sports is a huge opportunity for us. Sports contributes far more in single use plastic waste than the music industry. We’ve been approached by sustainability leadership from all the major sports leagues. And six or seven teams at least, all among the leaders in Green-Sports, have reached out, so you will start seeing r.Cup at sport events in the near future.

GSB: Good to hear. How does sports differ from concerts for r.Cup?

Mike: They’re very different. A major band might tour every couple years. A major league baseball team has 81 home games every season. NBA clubs have 41, and NHL teams have 40. So the deposit for a cup model will not work as well in sports. That’s why we have a “no deposit model” for sports in which we become a cup service. The concessionaire pays us to provide the cups, collect, wash, house and manage the cups as well as providing environmental impact tracking. The cost of the cup service is embedded in the beverage. We collect the cups left behind, wash and sterilize them and put them back into use.

GSB: Let us know how it works out. r.Cup is based in Minneapolis, for my money, the hub of Green-Sports in the USA. Are Twin-Cities teams on your radar? And why do you think the Twin Cities sports teams are so green-minded?

Mike: Yes they are! We are in discussions with several of the local teams and you will be seeing r.Cup at some Twin Cities sports events this year.

The Twin Cities is one of the most aware and progressive communities in the country, so fans expect their teams to reflect their values. The owners of the Twin Cities teams are committed leaders who work hard to provide a positive fan experience. Eliminating tons of toxic plastic waste, creates a positive fan experience, helps the community, increases the bottom line, and, most importantly, it is the right thing to do!

 

¹ The Bhopal disaster was a gas leak incident in December 1984 at the Union Carbide India Limited pesticide plant in Bhopal. It is considered to be the world’s worst industrial disaster as up to an estimate 16,000 people died.
² The Valdez was an oil tanker owned by Exxon that spilled 11 million gallons of crude oil into Alaska’s Prince William Sound in 1989. The oil slick ultimately impacted 1,300 miles of coast line.

 


 

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Chris Long, Adidas Honored for Environmental Work

Recently retired NFL star Chris Long and adidas were honored last week with ESPN Sports Humanitarian Awards for their environmentally-related work.

 

The ESPY Awards, ESPN’s self-proclaimed “Oscars of Sports,” took place in Los Angeles on Wednesday, complete with red carpet, fancy gowns and ESPY’s going to the US Women’s Soccer Team (Best Team) along with one of its stars, Alex Morgan (Best Female Athlete).

The night before, the sporting community got together for the fifth annual Sports Humanitarian Awards presented by ESPN and sponsored by Bristol-Myers Squibb Company to “celebrate those who have used the power of sports to make a positive impact on society.”

GreenSportsBlog readers will be familiar with two of the winners.

Chris Long, most recently with the Philadelphia Eagles, was honored with the Muhammad Ali Sports Humanitarian Award, given “to an athlete whose continuous, demonstrated leadership has created a measured positive impact on their community through sports.”

 

Chris Long ESPN

Chris Long, accepting the Muhammad Ali Sports Humanitarian Award (Photo credit: ESPN)

 

That positive impact is expressed through Long’s Waterboys initiative, which funds the building and maintenance of wells in drought-stricken, climate crisis-bedeviled East Africa. To date, 26 NFL players from 21 teams have joined the cause to fund the construction of 61 wells, providing clean, safe drinking water for 225,000 people.

Beyond his environmental work, Long also was recognized for donating his entire 2017 salary to benefit educational equality. He encouraged his fans to join him in the effort and many stepped up to the challenge. Long’s “Pledge 10 for Tomorrow” raised $1.75 million to support the three cities in which he spent his NFL career: St. Louis, Boston and Philadelphia.

 


 

The Sports Sustainability Leadership Award goes to an organization that is “leveraging the power of sports to make a positive impact on the environment.”

Adidas earned the 2019 award for its partnership with Parley for The Oceans, in which they create fabric from upcycled plastic waste that is intercepted on beaches and in coastal communities before it gets to the ocean. This helps to, per ESPN, “turn a threat into a thread.”

 

Adidas Parley Shirt

Parley for the Oceans tennis shirt from adidas (Photo credit: adidas)

 

The adidas x Parley line transforms the plastics into jerseys, shoes and other into high performance sportswear. Five million pairs of Parley shoes were produced in 2018, with the company planning to produce 11 million pairs of shoes containing recycled ocean plastic by the end of this year.

 

 

Adidas x Parley
Adidas x Parley women’s running shoes (Photo credit: adidas)

 

The adidas-Parley partnership exists to try to extend the date, currently predicted to be 2050, when there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans. With that in mind, adidas also is working to educate consumers about the necessity of healthy oceans, the problem of plastic pollution in the oceans, and the ways to reduce and then eliminate the use of unnecessary virgin plastic. The company says its focus on using sustainable materials and reducing waste will help it cut its CO₂ emissions.

 

GSB’s Take: Honoring Chris Long is a no brainer. And we believe the judges got it right with the choice of adidas and Parley for The Oceans for the Sports Sustainability Leadership Award. That high-profile partnership is drawing much-needed attention to the plastic ocean waste issue and is making a difference — although it’s not clear how much of one — on the amount of waste that gets into our waterways. And, as someone who wears a Parley tennis shirt, I can attest that they make a great garment.

We have one bit of constructive criticism that we hope the Poo-Bahs of ESPN take to heart.

GSB believes there needs to be a Sports Climate Leadership Award dedicated to the team, league, and/or athlete(s) who specifically address the climate crisis in a meaningful way(s).

C’mon ESPN, you know we have the length of Mike Trout’s mega contract extension (11 years and shrinking) to make serious decarbonization strides. The least you can do is honor those sports entities that are moving in the right direction.

 


 

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Twin Cities Rule Green-Sports, Part III: Twins, Wild and Minnesota United Step Up

“Which metro area is the Green-Sportsy-est in the US?”

To GreenSportsBlog, Minneapolis/St. Paul is the clear winner.

The Twin Cities boast five, count ’em five pro sports venues plus one independent league baseball stadium that all have green stories to tell. Plus a Green-Sports startup. Plus a chef who has made the Target Center a place for foodies as well as basketball fans to call home.

That’s why we need a four-part series to do show how the Twin Cities Rule US Green-Sports!

In Part I, we looked at US Bank Stadium (Minnesota Vikings and the 2020 Green Sports Alliance Summit), the University of Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium and CHS Field (Independent baseball’s St. Paul Saints) from a green perspective.

Part II saw our our focus shift to food. David Fhima, has brought his tasty, clean, healthy culinary excellence to Target Center as head chef and “nutritional curator” for the NBA’s Timberwolves and WNBA’s Lynx. 

In today’s Part III, we head back out to the Twin Cities’ venues.

Starting in Minneapolis, we check out the greenness of Target Field, home of the American League Central Division-leading Minnesota Twins. Then we light rail over to St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center to see how the Minnesota Wild have shown the green way for years. Staying in the state’s capital city, we end our tour with the Twin Cities’ newest venue, Allianz Stadium, home of MLS’ Minnesota United.

 

GREEN-SPORTS PART OF TWINS, TARGET FIELD’S DNA

Gary Glawe is a facilities management lifer — he studied it at the University of Wisconsin-Stout and then worked to help make Twin Cities-area tech and healthcare firms (Boston Scientific and Medtronic, respectively) operate as efficiently as possible. Eleven years ago, Glawe made it to the major leagues — literally — of facilities when he joined the Twins to manage facility operations, just as they were transitioning from the Metrodome to Target Field.

“The design phase was complete when I joined the Twins so I spent most of my time at the beginning of my tenure at the Target Field construction site,” Glawe recalled. “I was happy that sustainability was embedded in the design and that we were going for LEED certification for new construction. This was 2009-2010, early days for LEED certified stadiums. In fact, we became the second¹ major league ballpark to earn any kind of LEED certification. And, only one year after Target Field opened in 2010, we earned LEED Silver for operations and maintenance (O&M) status.”

 

Gary Glawe Twins

Gary Glawe (Photo credit: Minnesota Twins)

 

LEED certification is certainly a good thing, but to Glawe, it’s the desire of Twins’ management to measure and constantly improve the club’s performance on a number of sustainability metrics — from waste to water use to energy use and more — that is most important.

“When it came time to re-certify for O&M in 2016, we asked ourselves if it was worth it,” Glawe said. “We found that the US Green Building Council, which administers LEED, wasn’t asking for accountability from us. So why should we pay thousands of dollars for what really is window dressing? We weren’t going to get re-certified until a consultant, Sustainability Investment Group, came in and told us about the Arc platform for LEED certified buildings.”

Arc helps venues turn raw data into usable information.

More Glawe: “You input data monthly on energy, waste, water, transportation and ‘human experience’ into Arc. It gives you a real-time scorecard of how you’re performing versus benchmarks. Arc provided the accountability I was looking for!”

One key Arc scorecard item for the Target Field team is lighting. The Twins shifted to LEDs for its field lights in 2017 as part of a multi-year upgrade. While the LEDs delivered top quality light as expected, it was the energy savings scorecard that most interested Glawe:

  • BEFORE (metal halides): 746 bulbs at 2,000 watts each.
  • AFTER (LEDs): 512 bulbs at 1,000 watts each.

Arc also puts a high priority on waste diversion rates.

When Target Field opened, rates hovered in the 50 percent range; now they’re up into the 70s. The Twins’ on-field performance has an impact on those rates.

“When the team’s record went south, attendance went down, and our diversion rates went down because divert-ible waste decreased,” noted Glawe. “Now that the team is doing much better, so are our diversion rates. One thing that helps is our move to compostable products, thanks to our partnership with Eco-Products.”

 

Target Field

Target Field (Photo credit: Ballpark Digest)

 

The lighting upgrades, improved waste diversion rates and more helped Target Field become the first sports facility to earn LEED Arc certification, and at the Gold level. But Glawe wants more: “When it comes time to re-certify in 2022, we’ll definitely be looking to achieve Platinum.”

The Twins are engaging their fans to up their green games with pregame messaging on the video board and a Go Twins/Go Green section on the website. The club hasn’t yet made the direct connection to fans between greener behaviors and the climate change fight.

 

XCEL ENERGY CENTER, MINNESOTA WILD BRING GREEN-SPORTS TO ST. PAUL 

The Minnesota Wild have a “Go Big” attitude and are “unafraid to fail” when it comes to the sustainability initiatives they’ve undertaken at St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center over the past ten years or so.

Don’t believe me?

In 2009 Jim Ibister, the Wild’s VP of Facility Administration tasked his team with a 50-50-2 challenge. All that meant was that the staff had to get recycling rates up to 50 percent and reduce waste by 50 in just two years.

Impossible, right?

Wrong.

The Xcel Energy Center staff blew by that number in 18 months.

 

Jim Ibister Dani Werner

Jim Ibister (Photo credit: Dani Werner)

 

That’s quite an achievement when you consider that per Ibister, Xcel Energy Center “did not have sustainability embedded in its building design or its operations when it opened in 2000.”

It took a few years, but Ibister — who joined the Xcel Energy Center that same year — and his team took matters into their own hands when it came to greening.

“A few years in, and all we had were some recycling bins,” Ibister recalled. “This was not nearly enough. So we put together a sustainability deck in 2004 that featured low hanging fruit like waste reduction, and presented it to management. They said ‘not interested.’ But with the help of Progressive Associates, a husband and wife sustainability consulting firm, I went ahead and implemented most of it anyway — hey, the costs were low!”

Not only was tackling waste inexpensive, Ramsey County and the State of Minnesota combined had levied a hefty 70 percent tax on trash. There was no tax on compost so going that route saved a lot of money. Once management realized that going green was good business, they bought in.

Ibister and his team follow three mantras when considering sustainability initiatives at Xcel Energy Center:

  1. Don’t chase certifications. “Do the best we can,” Ibister said. “If that gets us LEED certification, great. If not, that’s OK too.”
  2. Be transparent.
  3. Keep it simple.

Achieving simplicity has not been easy. “Fans have ‘separation anxiety’ with trash, recycling and composting bins,” admitted Ibister. “It’s easier for us in the suites and club level, where we only offer composting and recycling. It’s harder to get fans to place their refuse in the correct bin in the main seating bowl because there is trash as well as recycling and composting and it can get confusing at times. We work hard to educate them but we haven’t found the perfect system. But we will continue to set high goals and will keep trying to achieve them.”

Think 50-50-2 was a tall order? The Xcel Energy Center team challenged itself again in 2009 with an audacious 80-20 in 3 challenge: Reduce carbon emissions by 80 percent, increase efficiency to 20 percent better on average than similar buildings, all in 3 years.

They didn’t make it in time but Ibister doesn’t see that as a failure.

“We set goals that were hard to achieve so we knew there’s was a chance we wouldn’t get there,” Ibister reflected. “But we took away the fear of failing by failing. And we made great strides in the attempt, making progress on emissions reductions through purchases of offsets from Sterling Planet, a solar thermal installation, energy efficiency, composting and recycling, and more. We didn’t make the 80 percent reduction number by 2012 but now we are at 88.7 percent below 2007-2008 levels.”

On efficiency, Xcel Energy Center has a secret weapon on its HVAC team.

“We’ve brought in many companies to try to help us automate and save money,” said Ibister said. “Then they see the work our lead engineer has done and they say ‘oh, we can’t do better’ and leave. I’d name him but he prefers anonymity. The only way we will replace him someday is with a machine.”

Ibister says the one sustainability area he’d like to improve the most is on communications with the fans. But, like 80-20 in 3, it ain’t easy. And that means Ibister and team will go for it.

“We don’t communicate green with fans as much as we should,” lamented Ibister. “Some fans don’t want to hear about green — ‘Just get us a new goalie! Climate change is fake.’ But that doesn’t stop us. When we do talk about it we do so in a celebratory fashion (‘We just became LEED certified!”). And we’re being more strategic about it. The last few seasons we used University of Minnesota students to help communicate the importance of green. Last fall they did fan surveys which were well received.”

 

Xcel Center Solar Press Conf

Xcel Energy Center management held a press conference recently to announce a new solar installation on the outside of the arena’s parking deck (Photo credit: Minnesota Wild)

 

What’s next on the Xcel Energy Center green agenda?

While the light rail’s green line stops about three blocks away, there is a push for a modern streetcar to be built that would bring fans to the arena’s front door. The best guess is that this project is five to eight years down the road.

What’s the big deal about three blocks?

“Three blocks is a long way when it’s minus 30° Fahrenheit outside,” noted Ibister.

 

MINNESOTA UNITED BUILDS PUBLIC PARK FOR COMMUNITY OUTSIDE BRAND NEW ALLIANZ FIELD

Bill McGuire, owner of Minnesota United, had a clear plan back in 2015 for what would become Allianz Field, his team’s brand new stadium in St. Paul.

“Along with sports architect Populous and Mortenson Construction, McGuire pushed a vision for the stadium that evoked and fit the Midway neighborhood,” shared Samantha (Sam) Chapman, Project Manager for Minnesota United. “The area’s building stock is not very vertical and so Allianz Field is not overwhelming height-wise. Midway has a diverse population and we want to be a connector for the community.”

 

Samantha Chapman

Samantha Chapman (Photo credit: Minnesota United)

 

Helping to connect the community is the Great Lawn, a new green space funded by ownership on a 28,000 square foot plot of land north of the stadium. On game days, it’s an area for pre-game parties. But with only perhaps major 30 event days per year, the Great Lawn’s main function is as a new public park. “Anyone in the community can enjoy it,” Chapman said. “This was an essential aspect of the stadium project.”

 

Allianz Field Great Lawn

The Great Lawn (Photo credit: Minnesota United)

 

MLS has the youngest fan base of the five pro sports in North America. That’s why mass transit and bicycle access is arguably more important for Minnesota United than for their baseball, basketball, football and hockey counterparts.

Like the five other pro venues in the Twin Cities, Allianz Field is on the Green Line. While there are no data available yet on the percentage of Minnesota United supporters who take light rail — the stadium is only three months old — there’s a good chance the numbers will be impressive when they do come in.

“We expect the mass transit numbers should be strong since parking is limited” related Chapman. “Last year when we played at TCF Bank Stadium, the home of University of Minnesota football, 33 percent of fans took mass transit, a higher percentage than at UM games. Many fans commute to our games by bicycle, too. We can house 400 bikes on our permanent bike racks surrounding the stadium, and we’ve had to bring in more on game days for our fans.”

The club has not mounted a green fan engagement effort yet but, per Chapman, that is changing now.

“Our Green Team launched July 3rd at Allianz Field; they will be helping and educating our fans while disposing items during our game days,” Chapman asserted. “Along with Biz Recycling, our recycling and composting partner, the Green Team will make sure fans use the proper container — organics, recycling and trash. They’ll also be looking for fans who do this on their own, and recognizing them with a prize. We’ll be running messaging and images throughout our in-house production on game days as well on our social media outlets about the importance of waste diversion and minimizing items being sent to the landfill.”

 

¹ Nationals Park in Washington, DC became the first LEED certified stadium in major league baseball in 2009

 


 

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“Twin Cities Rule US Green-Sports”: Part II: David Fhima Brings Tasty, Green, Clean Food to Target Center Fans

“Which metro area is the Green-Sportsy-est in the US?”

While the San Francisco Bay Area or Seattle might come to mind first, it says here that Minneapolis and St. Paul win the title. In fact, the Twin Cities’ Green-Sportsy-ness runs so deep that we can’t cover it all in one post.

In Part I of our four-part GSB special series, Twin Cities Rule US Green-Sports, we looked at US Bank Stadium (Minnesota Vikings), the University of Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium and CHS Field (Independent baseball’s St. Paul Saints) from a green perspective.

Today, in Part II we shift our focus to food. YES!!!

David Fhima is the groundbreaking owner/chef behind the tasty, clean, healthy French-Mediterranean menus at one of Minneapolis’ finest restaurants, Fhima’s Minneapolis. And since 2016, he has brought that same culinary excellence to Target Center as “nutritional curator” for the NBA’s Timberwolves and WNBA’s Lynx. 

GSB spoke with Fhima about his culinary philosophy, his journey to Minneapolis, and his approach to his work with the Lynx and Wolves.

 

GreenSportsBlog: David, this story promises to be as good as a meal at one of the restaurants inside Target Center, so let’s dig in. How did you end up as the Timberwolves chef?

David Fhima: Well I was born in Casablanca, one of 17 children, but grew up and went to schools all over the world; from Paris to London to Geneva to Strasbourg. This influenced me greatly. I was always fascinated by food and was cooking from a very young age in my mother’s kitchen and before I knew it, it became my life’s work.

I came to the US in 1982, found my way to Los Angeles where I worked at some of the top restaurants prior to moving to Minneapolis following a former relationship. Seeing the need for a food scene in the Twin Cities, I opened my first restaurant here in 1993, Minneapolis Cafe.

Over the years, Timberwolves players and management would come to my restaurants. They enjoyed the food and the ambiance, and we became friends. Several years ago, Timberwolves management approached me, namely Ryan Tanke and Ethan Casson, about upgrading the Twolves and Lynx food and beverage experience at Target Center as major renovations to the arena were planned.

Previously, I had traveled with the team on a few road trips experiencing other venues. I found myself questioning why arena food was average, at best, when it didn’t have to be. I knew I could do it better, do it right. I was convinced that this would be an awesome undertaking when I realized that Ethan’s and Ryan’s standards were very aligned with mine. They were not about smoke and mirrors, but instead about quality, great ingredients and more importantly giving me the autonomy to create. Much of the credit is due to them and the organization as a whole. The Wolves and Lynx are world class organizations constantly searching how to be the best in every aspect.

 

David Fhima David Sherman Photog

David Fhima (Photo credit: David Sherman)

 

GSB: What do you mean when you talk about ‘doing it right’? What is your culinary philosophy?

David: My simple philosophy is this: Respect the ingredients.

It won’t be good if it’s full of additives and if the sources are suspect. Food needs to be clean. If you can buy local, great. Green and organic is great, but clean, to me, is a culmination of local first, organic second, sustainable third.

  • Local:  When I can look the purveyor in the eye and know that his product is grown nearby and is made without additives, preservatives, pesticides, etc.
  • Organic: While the industry isn’t as regulated as you might think, I believe that a tomato, organically grown has more flavor, more nutrients and is accepted into your system more readily than non-organic product.
  • Sustainable:  We have a responsibility to care for the environment in which our food is grown, I believe in eating seasonally which is mostly compatible with sustainability. When the seas are balanced, not over fished, the seafood is better. When the soil is let to rest seasonally, the food it produces has more nutrients.  There is a symbiotic rhythm to purchasing and eating food and I believe your body thrives within those seasons as well. A strawberry just doesn’t taste as good in January.

This is basic stuff, and, as I like to say, the art of doing simple, well, is a lost art.

With that as our philosophy, the trick was to change an entire arena and we couldn’t switch overnight. We’re not feeding 100 or 200 people, we’re feeding 19,000. We did, however, progress quicker than anticipated, becoming more local and sustainable, while always setting our goals higher. Among our successes are that all concession stands emphasize clean ingredients, Fhima’s concession stand is all organic, the rest are getting there. Target Center is one of the only sports arenas in North America that can say this.

 

David Fhima's Concessions_David Sherman

Fhima’s concession stand at Target Center (Photo credit: David Sherman)

 

Levy Restaurants, the concessionaire representing Target Center, does most of the purchasing for the concessions stands and they are doing it in partnership with us, with our clean philosophy in mind. We have a weekly meeting where we discuss many things including product quality and guest experience.

How many microwaves do you think we have at Target Center?

GSB: I have no idea…

David: None.

GSB: I should’ve guessed! Talk about what makes the Target Center restaurants and concession stands so sustainable, so healthy?

David: With no microwaves, everything is prepared day of. In the restaurants, we only cook with rice bran oil — it has no trans fats and there’s no waste with it. We partner with local farmers for our produce and our meats. All of our fish is sustainably caught and raised. We’re working to eliminate plastic straws throughout the arena. At the concession stands, how about making hot dogs without nitrates? Done. Healthier ketchup? Done. Next year, we’ll be pushing the envelope even further, working with local farmers who grow produce like lettuce and tomatoes hydroponically — in a water-based, nutrient-rich, soil-less environment. This can be done indoors, when it’s -30° Fahrenheit outside. Which, if you haven’t heard, happens here from time to time.

GSB: I’ve heard. Did the move to healthy and local cost significantly more? If so, have those cost increases been passed on to fans? What has been the reaction?

David: Through this “go local, organic, clean” process we have not needed to raise pricing, we have stayed competitive, if not less expensive, than other large stadiums in the area.

GSB: That’s a big deal! I’ve heard many chefs emphasize healthy and organic food. I haven’t heard them use the word “clean” before when talking about food. But it’s a big thing with you…

David: Look, the pollution of our food over the last 100 or so years is a big problem. It is baked in now, meaning our soil is polluted. Even if you don’t use pesticides or herbicides, the runoff is a real problem. As you might imagine, evaporation and precipitation is hard to control.

And you know what? Peoples’ palates have been hurt by this!

Pollution and now climate change affects everything when it comes to food and taste. That’s why the goal of 100 percent clean is very arduous. Although we’re not there yet,  we’re not afraid of the clean food challenge. And when your palate gets used to eating clean, it’s like a great relationship. Once you have the right one, you don’t look anywhere else. It’s been a battle but we have some of the cleanest, healthiest, best food in town. We pride ourselves on being the best place to eat, period. Not just the best sports venue.

GSB: What are some of the items you’re most proud of at the concession stands and in the restaurants in the premium seating areas?

David: Well, that’s like choosing a favorite child, which I cannot and won’t do. I am proud of most things in each area of our arena. I love that our sub-contractors are happy, making money and feel pride being at the Target Center. I am proud of the way everyone has bought into our vision of being the best in every level.  I am proud at the methodical change that we have made from top to bottom and the commitment the Wolves have to getting better each year and not resting on our laurels. Our premium restaurants were packed last season. Fans who used to eat out before the game changed their habits by eating at our Target Center restaurants. Most people used to have dinner somewhere before going to the game because the quality wasn’t there. We’ve changed that model. Our premium restaurants were packed last season.

GSB: How have Timberwolves and Lynx management reacted to your approach?

David: From top to bottom the whole organization, from the top executives — Ethan Casson, Ryan Tanke, Ted Johnson, Jake Vernon — to the sales advisers, it has been amazing — they love it! We cook for both the Wolves and the Lynx and they love it too. No one has said NO to us. We work very well with Levy, which manages the restaurants and concession stands. Also, I don’t know if this is significant, but the Timberwolves had a very good home record eating our clean, healthy food. On the road? Not so good. Speaking of on the road, other sports venues have expressed interest in our way of doing things. The organization as a whole has been 110 percent on board and committed to our culinary vision.

 

David Fhima_KAT_David Sherman

Karl-Anthony Towns of the Timberwolves samples some of David Fhima’s clean, healthy, organic food offerings (Photo credit: David Sherman)

 

GSB: That’s a new link between home cooking and home court advantage! The analytics folks need to look into that. More and more athletes are eating vegetarian or vegan diets. Where are you guys on plant-based options?

David: Every concession stand, every restaurant at Target Center, anywhere you get food in the building, has vegan and/or vegetarian options. At some of the stands you’ll find our house-made veggie burgers; they’re as good or better than what’s on the market. More and more, our players, especially the Lynx, have been asking for plant-based options. We have an amazing relationship with the players, trainers and coaches. Communication is key and we are in contact every day. Each group appreciates our contribution. A key part of the effort to win, we strive to do our part in creating meals for optimal performance. We aren’t just putting food on tables; we do our due diligence in sports nutrition research and work with players individually when asked.

GSB: That’s great to hear. So take out your crystal ball. Where would you like to see the Target Center food offerings three, four years down the road?

David: in my view, Target Center is already a world leader in providing clean, healthy, food that maintains is savory component! We want to be 100 percent clean, we don’t believe that is too lofty of a goal. I challenge you to find an arena currently that is as comprehensive and thoughtful from the guest to the staff to the athletes. Three, four years down the road, arenas will be following suit and asking for guidance. We are ahead of the game, providing an improved all around culinary experience. We will be known in the industry for being the thought and clean cuisine leader.

GSB: Forget three years down the road, I want to eat at Target Center this season…

David: We would love to have you.

 

Next in Part III, we find out how Target Field, (home of the AL Central-leading Twins), Xcel Energy Center (NHL’s Minnesota Wild) and the brand new Allianz Field (MLS’ Minnesota United FC) are helping the Twin Cities lead the way in Green-Sports

 


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Twin Cities Rule US Green-Sports: Vikings, U of Minnesota, St. Paul Saints LEED the Way

“Which metro area is the Green-Sportsy-est in the US?”

While coastal areas like San Francisco-Oakland-Santa Clara and Seattle might come to mind first, it says here that Minneapolis and St. Paul, smack dab in the heartland of the country, wins the title.

In fact, the Twin Cities’ Green-Sportsy-ness runs so deep that we can’t cover it all in one post.

We started things off last week with our look at the sustainability efforts surrounding the recent NCAA Men’s Final Four at US Bank Stadium, home of the Minnesota Vikings.

Today, in the first of our four-part Twin Cities Rule US Green-Sports series, we examine the greenness of three of the area’s many sports venues. 

The tour starts at US Bank Stadium. Then we get on the light rail’s Green Line and head east across the Mississippi River to the University of Minnesota to check out TCF Bank Stadium, home base for Gophers football. Finally, we hop back on the eastbound Green Line ride, ending up in St. Paul and CHS Field, home of the Saints, an innovative independent baseball club.

 

PEAKS AND VALLEYS GETTING TO ZERO WASTE AT US BANK STADIUM

Bradley Vogel, sustainability coordinator at US Bank Stadium, has seen a lot since he arrived in November 2016 after wrapping up his Masters Degree in Sustainability Management at the University of Minnesota.

His rookie year coincided with the Minnesota Vikings’ first season at the viking ship-shaped building. Then he and his operations team had a mega-event doubleheader for which to prepare: Super Bowl LII in February 2018 and April’s NCAA Men’s Final Four.

 

Bradley Vogel headshot

Bradley Vogel (Photo credit: MSFA)

 

Pressure came with the Super Bowl-Final Four back-to-back for Vogel and his team. 

Management wanted US Bank Stadium to achieve LEED Gold for Building Design and Construction — it ultimately earned that certification last year — but the waste diversion rate was too low at the outset.

“Our diversion rate was only 15 percent in Year One, July 2016 to June, 2017,” Vogel recalled. “But our director of operations Curtis Schmillen had a huge plan to turn that around. So in Year Two, we added compost in our back-of-house (kitchens) operations and throughout the rest of the stadium. It helped that Hennepin County and the city of Minneapolis are committed to composting.” 

ESPN’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) team played a big role with composting as well. “They are composting experts,” reported Vogel. “ESPN’s X Games became an annual event at US Bank Stadium starting in July 2017, and so they helped us get past some of the pitfalls that come with trying to compost at a big event.”

With the help of funding for composting from Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA), which owns the building, and the state, US Bank Stadium upped its diversion rate to 46 percent in 2017.

But, with Super Bowl LII upcoming in February 2018, MSFA management was not satisfied. 

“Management and NFL Environmental asked ‘what can do to make US Bank as green as possible by Super Bowl LII?,” Vogel said. “The answer: Get us to zero waste — at least 90 percent diversion. And despite an up-and-down 2017, we knew we had the ability to get to 90 percent diversion, especially since, per Minneapolis law and MSFA policy, everything had to be compostable or recyclable, including things like ‘to go tubs’ and cutlery.”

When it came time for the Super Bowl, concessionaire Aramark upped its game on compostables. Pepsi had “bin guards” to make sure fans placed their waste in the correct bins. When all was said and done, the post-game sort revealed that the US Bank Stadium team, like the Philadelphia Eagles, were winners, as the diversion rate came in at 91 percent.

 

Jack Groh NFL Environmental Bradley Vogel

Jack Groh of NFL Environmental gives instructions to Pepsi bin guards prior to Super Bowl LII (Photo credit: Bradley Vogel)

 

US Bank Sort board Bradley Vogel

Waste Sort Board educates US Bank Stadium staff on the proper ways waste should be disposed (Photo credit: Bradley Vogel)

 

But achieving zero waste for a Super Bowl, with sponsors and the NFL pitching in is one thing. Doing it for a full, 10-game Minnesota Vikings campaign, without that outside assistance, is quite another. The US Bank Stadium sustainability team notched a solid 72 percent rate for the 2018 season but they fell short of Super Bowl LII’s 91 percent diversion level.

Vogel believes the lessons learned at the Super Bowl and the Men’s Final Four (a lower-than-expected 64 percent diversion rate, due in part to back-of-house issues that were specific to that event), will help his team get US Bank Stadium and the Vikings over that season-long zero waste hump this fall.

“We’ve maximized our compost rate back-of-house,” Vogel noted. “Now we’re working on getting our fan-facing, front-of-house composting to similar levels. That’s how we’ll get to zero-waste on a season-long basis. In the meantime, our overall sustainable approach earned US Bank Stadium LEED Platinum for Operations and Maintenance (O&M) status, making us the first stadium to attain that level. Official certification will come in June or July.”

 

UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA: LOOKING TO SWITCH TO RECYCLABLE PROMOTIONAL ITEMS AT GOPHERS FOOTBALL GAMES TO INCREASE DIVERSION RATE

Getting to zero waste for a full season is also goal for University of Minnesota football. The Gophers play their games at TCF Bank Stadium, their 50,000 seat, LEED silver home adjacent to the light rail’s green line.

“We’ve averaged 82 percent diversion over the past four or five years at TCF Bank Stadium, and that includes 2014-15 when the Vikings played here and 2017-18 when we hosted Minnesota United¹,” said Jeff Seifriz, assistant athletics director- facility operations. “Getting to 90 percent has proven to be tricky but we made strides last season by working with the university’s sustainability office and third party vendors like Aramark and the University of Minnesota Waste Recovery Services to do detailed audits of our post-game sorts.”

 

Jeff Seifriz

Jeff Seifriz (Photo credit: University of Minnesota)

 

One thing that has kept the Gophers’ sustainability team from getting to zero waste has been promotional items: “The problem is that vessels like souvenir cups and serving boats have complex graphics that make them difficult to be accepted by recyclers. We’re looking at going to a simpler ‘single print’ approach that hopefully will get these items into the recycling stream and get us to 90 percent diversion.” It says here that venues and teams can reduce the environmental cost of promotional items by having fewer promotional days, at least those that involve giving out stuff.

Seifriz wishes that zero waste had been a thing when TCF Bank Stadium was in the planning stages back in 2006 (it opened in 2009): “Had zero waste been our radar back then, we would’ve made space for composting on site and for compactors.”

 

TCF Bank Stadium Exterior

TCF Bank Stadium, home of University of Minnesota Gophers football (Photo credit: University of Minnesota)

 

Since then, Seifriz and his team have gone to school on some of the best in Collegiate Green-Sports, studying the successes of the University of Colorado-Boulder, University of Washington and Big Ten rival Ohio State. The 20+ year University of Minnesota facilities veteran also shares best practices with his Green-Sports-minded counterparts from the St. Paul Saints, as well as the Minnesota Twins, Vikings, and Wild at the occasional brainstorm session (aka Happy Hours): “It’s a terrific group of committed practitioners who want to make a difference on the environment.”

 

ST. PAUL SAINTS: INCUBATING GREEN-SPORTS INNOVATION AT CHS FIELD

Independent League Baseball leagues and teams — they are not affiliated with and/or owned by major league league franchises as opposed to minor league clubs — are proving to be the sport’s petri dishes.

This season, the independent Atlantic League is experimenting with some outside-the-box rule changes, like moving the pitcher’s mound two feet farther away from home plate with the goal of reducing strikeouts and increasing the percentage of pitches that are hit in play.

The St. Paul Saints, who play in the North Division of the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball, have been a proving ground for green innovation since planning began about eight years ago for what would become CHS Field.

Tom Whaley, aside from a four year hiatus, has been with the Saints since 1993. He is now an owner of the club and serves executive vice-president.

Whaley said that the Twin Cities’ sustainable heritage was one of the main reasons that green figured so prominently in the new ballpark.

“Green became a top priority for us when we started planning for the new ballpark in the early 2010s for four key reasons,” recalled Whaley. “#1. A clean, healthy, environment is very important to most people in our area, #2. Industry was heading in a green direction, #3. The City of St. Paul has a cabinet-level sustainability position, and #4. We are in an eternal quest to connect with young fans and green is something to which they respond.”

 

TomWhaleyHeadshot

Tom Whaley (Photo credit: St. Paul Saints)

 

Sustainable elements at the 7,200-seat CHS Field that were state-of-the-green-ballpark-art when it opened in 2015 — especially in the world of independent baseball — included:

  • On-site 100 kWh solar array that supplies 17 percent of the ballpark’s electricity, thanks to a grant from Xcel Energy
  • A graywater re-use system, with water supplied from the roof of a large adjacent transit facility, used to water the field and flush toilets
  • A vigorous waste diversion effort, funded in part by a grant from the state of Minnesota.

As the ballpark opened, the team wrapped a green sponsorship around the initiative called “The Greenest Ballpark in America”, with Ecolab, a global sustainable cleaning solutions company based in St. Paul, coming on as title sponsor. The sponsorship is critical to helping the Saints communicate the ballpark’s environmentally friendly features and benefits to its fans.

“Our goal is to bring green closer to home for our fans, to get them to think ‘CHS Field has solar; I should look into solar at my house’,” added Whaley. “We have two touch screen kiosks on the concourse to educate fans, a mobile platform (sustainability.chsfield.com), do in-game public address and video board announcements, plus on-field contests, all to engage our fans around the ideas and technologies. In 2018, we began an internship program dedicated to sustainability, and we deploy a volunteer Green Team of about 15-20 fans that spread our green message at about one third of our home games.”

 

StPaulSaints solar

100 kWh solar array located in beyond the left field wall supplies approximately 17 percent of the electricity needs at CHS Field (Photo credit: St. Paul Saints)

 

StPaulSaints Ecolab Kiosk

Ecolab partners with the Saints on kiosks that take real-time data from CHS Field’s Building Automation System to show fans the amount of power generated and saved (Photo credit: St. Paul Saints)

 

The Saints’ sustainability efforts earned CHS Field GreenSportsBlog’s Greenest New Ballpark award for 2015.

How have the fans reacted to the Saints’ greening? “It’s been very well received,” offered Whaley. “One thing we haven’t done yet is survey the fans about it. We should and we will.”

 

Next in Twin Cities Rule US Green-Sports, Chef David Fhima brings clean, sustainable, tasty food to the Target Center, home of the NBA’s Timberwolves and the WNBA’s Lynx.

 

¹ The Vikings played at TCF Bank Stadium while US Bank Stadium was under construction. And Minnesota United played its initial MLS season at TCF Bank while Allianz Field was being built.

 


 

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“Sustainability at the 2019 Final Fours” — Part II: Men’s Final Four in Minneapolis

The 2019 NCAA Women’s and Men’s Final Fours both featured Green Teams, squads of volunteers that helped educate fans about environmentally friendly behaviors and to direct them to place their food waste in the proper receptacles. 

Aside from that, the two events were about as different as the host cities, Tampa for the women and Minneapolis for the men.

Wednesday, GreenSportsBlog shared the experiences of Madeleine “Maddy” Orr and her students from Laurentian University in Ontario, Canada as they ventured to Tampa, becoming the first Green Team at a Women’s Final Four.

Today we turn to Minneapolis and the story of how Tiffany Richardson brought her deep Green Team management experience — honed at several Major League Baseball All-Star Games — to the Men’s Final Four at US Bank Stadium.

 

Tiffany Richardson had three key things going for her as she worked to pull together and manage the green team for the 2019 Men’s Final Four in Minneapolis. Richardson:

  1. Was based in the Twin Cities, where she is owner of Elevate Sports Consulting and a former lecturer at the University of Minnesota in the Department of Kinesiology’s Sport Management area and an Educator at the Institute on the Environment (IOE). OK, she moved to Amsterdam about six months before the Final Four, but was able to handle things remotely in a smooth fashion thanks to a strong team back home.
  2. Had successfully managed Green Teams at four Major League Baseball All-Star Games, starting with the 2014 edition at Minneapolis’ Target Field.
  3. Reached out to the Minneapolis local organizing committee about a Green Team two years before the Final Four, giving her the necessary time to sell management on her vision.

Upon meeting Richardson for the first time at a Minneapolis cafe the morning of the semifinals doubleheader, one thing became crystal clear to me: Green team members would execute her vision to the best of their abilities.

 

“I WANTED TO DO IT!”

“My ears perked up as soon as I heard that Minneapolis was going to host the 2019 Men’s Final Four,” Richardson recalled. “They needed to have a sustainability effort and I knew how to make it work. And I wanted to do it! So in early 2017, I got in touch with Kate Mortenson, president of the local organizing committee. She knew my reputation in Green-Sports and asked me to be the sustainability chair. And she gave me a blank canvas on which to create the sustainability programming, which was fantastic.”

 

Tiffany Richardson

Tiffany Richardson (Photo credit: Tiffany Richardson)

 

Richardson consulted with Colin Tetreault, who managed the sustainability effort for the 2017 Men’s Final Four in Phoenix about how best to fill the canvas.

“Colin drove home the point that we needed to establish a sustainability legacy for the Minneapolis Final Four,” said Richardson. “Water was the legacy for Phoenix. We decided to go with mass transit. Our message: Fans don’t need to rent cars; use mass transit.”

A plan was developed to encourage fans coming in to Minneapolis for the tournament to take light rail from the airport to downtown. I saw this firsthand as I attended the tournament. It could not have been more convenient. Fans could easily get to US Bank Stadium via light rail, bus, commuter rail and on foot.

 

IT’S GO (GREEN) TIME

And, while Phoenix didn’t have a Green-Team in 2017 — the NCAA thought it would be too intrusive for fans — Richardson was determined to show the powers that be that this would not be the case in Minneapolis.

“We sent a ‘sizzle video’ of our Green-Team’s work at the 2017 All-Star Game at Marlins Park in Miami to JoAn Scott, the NCAA’s managing director for the Division I men’s basketball championship in the fall,” recounted Richardson. “I told her and her colleagues that the only difference between All-Star and Final Four was innings versus time outs. They LOVED the video! Fast-forward to late 2017-early 2018. We presented our full vision for the Green-Team to JoAnne and her team. They aired their concerns — ‘don’t be disruptive’ and ‘don’t chastise’. We came to a meeting of the minds and the Green-Team was a GO!”

Speaking of GO, Richardson decided to go — as in move —  to Amsterdam in late summer 2018 to pursue an MBA at the University of Amsterdam. She also lectured on Sports Ethics at The Hague University in their International Sport Management department.

Big problem, right?

You don’t know Tiffany Richardson.

“I asked the Minnesota Local Organizing Committee (MLOC) to appoint a top-notch former student, Nicole Petschow, to run things in Minneapolis while I was away, including managing the recruiting of green team members,” Richardson said. “I would be on all conference calls and then would fly in for the Final Four. It worked out really well.”

 

Nicole Petschow

Nicole Petschow (Photo credit: Nicole Petschow)

 

As the calendar turned to 2019, the pace of the Final Four sustainability effort kicked into high gear:

  • A strong recruitment effort netted 70-plus green team members. They came from the University of Minnesota, The University of St. Thomas (another local school), and the University of Louisville.
  • Background checks were conducted in January on all of the volunteers (Richardson: “Security around the Men’s Final Four is much tighter than at the Women’s, a big difference.”)
  • Volunteer training took place in February. Per Richardson, “The volunteers helped out at Minnesota Wild NHL games to get experience and assist in the Wild’s efforts because they have a robust sustainability program themselves.”
  • Richardson and team worked with the MLOC to help the Men’s Final Four earn certification as a sustainable event from the Council for Responsible Sport (level still pending.)

 

GREEN TEAMERS DELIVER SOLID RESULTS

Since this was far from Richardson’s first Green-Team rodeo, she and her leadership team were well prepared heading into the Saturday semifinals at US Bank Stadium.

Still, the massive size of the building posed some challenges.

“This was basketball being played in a football stadium,” Richardson noted. “Instead of 17,000 for hockey or 43,000 for a baseball All-Star Game we had 72,000 fans! Our plans had to be fluid. What if the crowd filed in slowly? What if it rained and everyone wanted to get in early? What if fans loitered near the entrances? We had to be ready for every eventuality and we were.”

 

US Bank Stadium Jeff Thurn

72,711 fans shoehorned into US Bank Stadium for the Men’s Final Four semifinals (Photo credit: Jeff Thurn)

 

When fans started entering the Stadium at 2:45 PM for the 5 PM first game between Auburn and Virginia, the Green-Teamers were there. Unobtrusive and pleasant, they collected plastics and aluminum cans on the concourses. I saw them trudge up and down the very long, steep aisles of the upper deck, taking empty items with a smile — great guest service.

Per Richardson, “Kudos go to students from the University of Minnesota, St. Thomas and The University of Louisville. They brought great energy, never complained and understood this was about the bigger vision — one less bottle in the landfill — and they GOT IT DONE!”

 

Men's Final Four Green Team

2019 Men’s Final Four Green Team in Minneapolis (Photo credit: Tiffany Richardson)

 

Approximately 62 percent of the 144,000 pounds of waste collected over the two nights of the Final Four was diverted, with about half of the diverted waste going to recycling and the other half to compost¹.

Why didn’t they get in the 80-90 percent diversion range?

“We had a few Back-of-House — i.e. kitchen — issues that were beyond our control,” Richardson acknowledged. “I’m confident that the next time US Bank Stadium hosts a mega-event, those problems will have been ironed out and the diversion rates would approach the 90 percent Zero-Waste threshold.”

 

WHAT COULD’VE GONE BETTER/HOW TO MAKE FUTURE FINAL FOURS GREENER

“We had a really great event: The Green Team, folks from US Bank Stadium and the local organizing committee came together beautifully,” Richardson said. “But it could’ve gone much better, with a stronger commitment to fan-facing sustainability by the NCAA and sponsors like Coke.”

According to Richardson, here’s where the NCAA and Coca-Cola, a corporate sponsor with a strong green initiative, missed the mark:

  • Coke failed to promote their World Without Waste sustainability campaign (“They leveraged their new Orange-Vanilla flavor everywhere. World Without Waste? Not so much.”)
  • There were no recycling or compost receptacles on the Fan Fest streets that were closed to traffic
  • The public transit initiative fell a bit short as Richardson’s and company’s request to provide free mass transit rides to fans bearing game tickets was rejected (volunteers and coaches did get that benefit)

How can Men’s Final Fours go greener in the future, starting with the 2020 edition in Atlanta at LEED Platinum Mercedes-Benz Stadium?

“The NCAA needs its own ‘sustainability charter’ for mega-events like the Final Fours and College Football Playoff National Championship, and that charter needs to have some real teeth,” recommended Richardson. “Corporate sponsors need to buy in. Sponsor-funded carbon offsets for every fan, Zero-Waste Games. Students will volunteer in great numbers; they don’t have to worry about that. There can’t be a greenwash; the NCAA can’t use half-measures because they don’t need to. They are the NCAA after all.”

 

 

¹ Actual amounts diverted: RECYCLED: 43,440 lbs.; COMPOST: 42,860 lbs.; DONATED FOOD: 6,427 lbs.

 


 

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Sustainability at the 2019 NCAA Final Fours — Part I: The Women in Tampa

The 2019 NCAA Women’s and Men’s Final Fours both had sustainability initiatives. And both featured Green Teams, squads of volunteers that helped educate fans about environmentally friendly behaviors and to direct them to place their food waste in the proper receptacles. 

Aside from that, the two events were about as different as the host cities, Tampa for the women and Minneapolis for the men.

GreenSportsBlog spoke with the leaders of the Green Teams about what they and their teams experienced.

On Friday, we will visit the Twin Cities to look at the Men’s Final Four. But today, our focus is on Tampa and the first Women’s Final Four to feature a Green Team. 

 

 

“Sustainability is not really a thing in the Tampa area.”

So observed Madeleine “Maddy” Orr, faculty member in Sport Administration at Ontario’s Laurentian University, and a founder of Sportecology.org, a new platform that connects people working in Green-Sports with research that can help propel their efforts forward.

 

MaddyOrr1.2017

Madeleine “Maddy” Orr (Photo credit: Katya Moussatova)

 

Tampa’s lack of recycling infrastructure was certainly a challenge.

“It seems like recycling is not a priority in the Tampa area,” Orr noted. “Only two people in Tampa city government had responsibility for promoting and overseeing recycling. They do their best but are resource-challenged and also fight an uphill battle against what seems like public apathy about sustainability. The local recycling plant can’t accept recyclable cups. Composting? Nowhere to be found.”

The local organizing committee, which, per Orr “did a great job on social sustainability — the event was accessible, inclusive, there were free community events” — had little experience with environmental sustainability, especially for a big event like the Women’s Final Four.

And Orr only had 90 days to organize the Green Team and to support the rudimentary environmental sustainability that was led by Coca-Cola, an NCAA corporate partner.

Hey, no one said organizing the first-ever Green Team for a Women’s Final Four would be easy.

But Maddy Orr doesn’t flinch when she believes in an idea and Tampa, there was only one way to go, green-wise, and that was up. So she went to her boss, Tony Church, in early January with a proposal to take a (green) team of Laurentian students down to Tampa.

“Before getting approval, I secured a block of hotel rooms on my personal credit card — with free cancelation of course,” Orr recalled with a laugh. “Professor Church said the department couldn’t help unless we got a critical mass of students to go. Now bear in mind that Canadians really don’t get college basketball, women’s basketball in particular. I talked with 80 students across two classes, with a goal of getting 30 to sign up. Even 20 would’ve been okay. We had 50 volunteers. I had to give a women’s basketball quiz to cull the group down to 30 second-year undergrads.”

 

GREEN TEAM SCORES WITH RECYCLING MESSAGE AT FAN FEST

Aside from the very welcome early spring Florida weather, the first thing the all-Canadian Green Team noticed when they arrived in Tampa was the lack of recycling bins…anywhere.

 

Maddy Tampa2019

Maddy Orr (kneeling at far right, front) and some of her Laurentian University Green Teamers in Tampa during the 2019 Women’s Final Four (Photo credit: Mykelti Stephens)

 

“The students were shocked and needed a pep talk,” Orr said. “Recycling bins are ubiquitous in Canada. So when we arrived on the Thursday before the Friday night semifinals, we put on shorts and went to Curtis Hixon Park on the waterfront, one of the central locations for fans to congregate. Coke had put out recycling bins. We branded them for the Final Four and arrayed them through the park.”

Despite Tampa being a recycling laggard, the Green Team had a good day at Friday’s “Tourney Town” Fan Fest inside the city’s convention center.

“First of all the place was crowded, especially with local school children, so we had access to a bunch of ten year-olds, and ten year-olds get recycling and much more regarding the environment,” Orr recalled. “One Green Team member badgered the DJ to make announcements about recycling, and it worked! And the team did a great job of reminding people as they waited in long lines to do the Pizza Hut Three Point Challenge. Outside on the plaza, our team became everyone’s photographer, urging people to recycle as they snapped pictures. The key was to be upbeat and they were.”

 

GAME TIME!

As the players for the Baylor Bears and the Oregon Ducks began their early warmups for Friday’s first semifinal, the Green Team was also getting ready. Sam Carr, Amalie Arena’s director of facilities and analysis, prepared them to perform at a championship level.

“Sam gave me hope for Amalie Arena as he is very passionate about sustainability,” offered Orr. “He’s trying to make it a much bigger initiative there.”

 

Amalie Arena

Laurentian University Green Teamers engage Women’s Final Four fans about sustainability outside of Amalie Arena in Tampa (Photo credit: Maya Spence)

 

Training complete, the Green Team was deployed throughout the arena. They collected recycling all night long — some were stationed by the condiments stand, acting as “garbage goalies” by directing fans to dispose of their waste in the proper bins; others walked up and down the aisles, taking cans from fans and providing recycling education in an unobtrusive, positive fashion.

Sunday’s championship final, in which Baylor nipped Notre Dame 82-81, was basically a repeat of the semifinal from a Green Team perspective: Educate (upbeat!), collect recycling up and down aisles, garbage goalie-ing.

 

FEEDBACK: TAMPA READY TO UP GREEN-SPORTS GAME?

The Green Team was a big hit in Tampa, especially among out-of-town fans.

“Oregon and UConn fans were particularly enthusiastic about recycling and the Green Team,” reported Orr. “Unfortunately, local fans were less engaged but given the lack of recycling in the area, that was only mildly surprising. Kids, no matter where they were from, were really into it.”

And maybe, just maybe, Orr and the Green Team planted some important Green-Sports seeds that will bear fruit in Tampa, hopefully sooner rather than later.

 

Amalie Green Team

Green Team members return to the concourse after an “aisle pick” (Photo credit: Maya Spence)

 

“Sam Carr and Katie Kicklighter, from the Tampa Sports Commission, were both super positive,” Orr said. “Tampa will host the Super Bowl LV in 2021 and we talked about the possibility of working together then. And Jeff Rossi, head of the New Orleans Sports Commission — the 2020 Women’s Final Four will take place there — was very impressed and is interested in looking into having a Green Team.”

 


 

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USTA Earns 2019 Environmental Leader Award From Green Sports Alliance

The Green Sports Alliance announced that the US Tennis Association is the winner of its 2019 Environmental Leader Award. It also recognized the legendary Billie Jean King for helping to launch the USTA greening movement at the National Tennis Center in Queens, NY home of the US Open that bears her name. 

The Environmental Leader Award is seen as among the most prestigious honors in the Green-Sports world and is given to an individual or organization that has demonstrated extraordinary leadership towards sustainability, environmental stewardship, and community engagement. The USTA will receive the award at the Green Sports Alliance’s annual Summit in Philadelphia on June 19. 

 

The US Tennis Association is a most deserving winner of the 2019 Environmental Leader Award.

That was the first thought that ran through my head upon hearing the news from the Green Sports Alliance since the governing body of tennis in the US has been leading the Green-Sports movement for more than a decade.

In addition to honoring Billie Jean King for her role as a true Green-Sports pioneer, the Alliance also recognizes Lauren Tracy, the USTA’s Director of Strategic Initiatives and current director of the USTA’s greening program, for her steadfast work in successfully building the program, from implementation to measurement, and beyond.

 

2019 USTA Leadership

Lauren Tracy (Photo credit: USTA)

 

In 2006, the USTA renamed its US Open venue the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. The next year, King, along with Pam Derderian and Nancy Becker, founded and launched GreenSlam, an environmental initiative for the sports industry aimed at inspiring sports venues, promoters and manufacturers to declare their commitment and actions to a greener approach.

Then in 2008, King teamed up with Allen Hershkowitz — who was then with the NRDC before being instrumental in the birth of the Green Sports Alliance — to launch the USTA’s greening initiatives her namesake venue. Its “Our courts may be blue, but we’re thinking green” campaign educated fans about environmental stewardship using the faces of legendary tennis players to encourage fans to make eco-friendly choices. 

 

Billie Jean and Allen

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

 

“With the renaming of the National Tennis Center in 2006, we worked with the USTA to launch year- round greening efforts for the home of the US Open,” said King. “The significant action taken almost 13 years ago has served as a springboard to positively impact the environment for the US Open, and the National Tennis Center, and has set an example for other tennis and sporting events to emulate.”

“It is a great privilege for the USTA to be named a recipient of the Environmental Leadership Award and join an impressive list of past honorees,” said Gordon Smith, CEO and Executive Director of the USTA. “As owners and operators of the US Open, one of the highest-attended annual sporting events in the world, we felt it both an obligation and opportunity to bring about measurable changes, and continue to do so across the board — including at the USTA National Campus [in Orlando, Florida]. A special thank you goes to all who have helped the USTA make green the color of choice.”

The USTA’s commitment to environmental sustainability is exemplified throughout all aspects of its work. Key examples include:

  • Greenhouse gas emissions have been reduced by over 100,000 metric tons through waste diversion, recycled paper use, and renewable energy certificates since the US Open Green Initiatives were established in 2008.
  • Since 2008, over 4,500 tons of waste generated during the US Open has been diverted from landfills, saving over 4,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions.
  • In 2018, the spectacular, new Louis Armstrong Stadium earned LEED Silver status, the third venue at the Billie Jean King National Center to earn LEED certification. It is the first naturally ventilated stadium with a retractable roof in the world.
  • The USTA offsets energy used on site during the US Open, the carbon emissions generated by the estimated 3.5 million miles the players travel to compete, as well as the miles traveled by the employees to work at the US Open for several years. For those offsets in 2018, the US Open focused on climate-intelligent humanitarian initiatives by investing in improved cookstoves in Malawi.
  • Since the start of the US Open Green program in 2008, almost 700 tons of food waste has been converted to nutrient rich compost for gardens and farms and over 100 tons of food has been donated to local communities.
  • The USTA has worked with its maintenance companies to develop a green cleaning policy to ensure that at least 50 percent of all cleaning materials used on site at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center and the National Campus are Green Seal Certified or equivalent.
  • 2018 US Open waste diversion rate of 97 percent achieved, easily passing the 90 percent threshold needed to claim Zero-Waste status.

 

Louis Armstrong

The LEED Silver Louis Armstrong Stadium (Photo credit: Lewis Blaustein)

 

“The Green Sports Alliance is thrilled to present the USTA, Billie Jean King, and Lauren Tracy with this honor,” remarked Roger McClendon, Executive Director of the Green Sports Alliance. They are exemplary leaders in the sports greening movement and serve as an inspiration to the entire sports industry. We look forward to honoring them at the 2019 Green Sports Celebration at our ninth annual Green Sports Alliance Summit in Philadelphia.”

Past Environmental Leader honorees include:

  • ESPN Corporate Citizenship (2018)
  • Jack Groh, director of the NFL’s Environmental Program (2017)
  • Andrew Ference, captain and defenseman, Edmonton Oilers, Stanley Cup winner with the Boston Bruins (2016)
  • Doug Behar, New York Yankees vice president of stadium operations (2015)
  • Gary Bettman, commissioner, National Hockey League (2014)
  • Christina Weiss Lurie, owner, Philadelphia Eagles (2013)
  • Allan H. Bud Selig, commissioner emeritus, Major League Baseball (2012)

 

 

GSB’s Take: As mentioned at the top, the USTA is a great choice by the Alliance for the 2019 Environmental Leader Award. They have been ahead of the Green-Sports curve for more than a decade. Bravo!

Going forward, I believe the USTA should ramp up its fan engagement efforts at the US Open, both to those 700,000+ fans attending the tournament and to the millions more watching on ESPN in the US and on a myriad of networks around the world. And, in those fan engagement efforts, it should clearly make the connection between its greening efforts and the climate change fight.

 

 


 

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GreenSportsBlogger to Moderate “Sports, Carbon and Climate” Panel at Green Sports Alliance Summit June 19

The 2018 UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report was crystal clear: Humanity has 12 years to decarbonize by 45 percent if we are to have a reasonable chance to avoid the most calamitous effects of climate change. To put that in sports terms, we only have the length of Mike Trout’s recent mega-contract extension with the Anaheim Angels, to make these changes. 

Thus it is fitting that climate change will have a much bigger role at the 2019 Green Sports Alliance Summit than any of the organization’s previous annual gatherings. The schedule features three sessions with climate in the title and I am proud to be moderating one of them, “Sports, Carbon and Climate.” Here’s a brief preview.

 

“Sports, Carbon and Climate” will delve into the best ways for the sports world to go about reducing carbon emissions and thus climate change, while navigating the scientific, political and cultural challenges inherent in sports taking on these fights . Specifically, the panel will discuss how:

  • Carbon pricing could potentially benefit the sports industry;
  • Going carbon neutral can help teams and events engage fans to take climate action;
  • The UN’s new Sports for Climate Action initiative turn into a powerful fan engagement tool;
  • Carbon offset projects, funded by sports teams and leagues, can make a positive impact, as well as their limitations

Our All-Star panel lineup includes:

  • David Antonioli, CEO, Verra: The nonprofit develops and manages standards and frameworks to vet environmental and sustainable development efforts, build their capacity and enable funding for sustaining and scaling up their benefits. Its Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) Program is the world’s most widely used voluntary greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) reductions program.
  • Steve Hams, Director of Engagement, Business Climate Leaders (BCL): BCL is an initiative of Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL), a nonpartisan grassroots advocacy group with nearly 120,000 members in over 450 U.S. chapters. It helps American businesses understand and take action in shaping federal climate policy, with a focus on carbon pricing. Specifically, BCL encourages leaders from businesses of all sizes to endorse the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act: the first bicameral, bipartisan carbon pricing bill ever introduced in Congress.
  • Aileen McManamon, Founder and Managing Partner of 5T Sports: McManamon has been working to promote the United Nations Sports for Climate Action initiative which she co-authored. She works with sports teams and leagues on triple bottom line business operations throughout North America and Europe.
  • Kevin Wilhelm, CEO Sustainable Business Consulting: Wilhelm played a key role in the Seattle Sounders (MLS) becoming North America’s first professional sports team to achieve carbon neutrality. He is the author of four books on the environment, including the acclaimed “Making Sustainability Stick.”

 

GSA Summit

 

The ninth annual Green Sports Alliance Summit takes place at Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Philadelphia Eagles¹, June 19-20. Click here if you would like to attend.

 

¹ The aforementioned Mike Trout is from the Philadelphia area and is a die hard Eagles fan.

 


 

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Greening the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games Seattle

How great is it when an iconic cause-based event like the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games embraces another cause — in this case, environmental sustainability? We’re talking really great.

GreenSportsBlog spoke with the sustainability team for Special Olympics USA 2018 Seattle — Karlan Jessen, Director of Volunteers and Sustainability; David Muller, Sustainability Consultant; and Tim Reeve, Sustainability Advisor — to find out how it came together, what worked well and what could’ve been better.

 

It was about a year before the July 1, 2018 Opening Ceremonies for the Special Olympics USA Games Seattle took place at Husky Stadium on the University of Washington campus, and an environmental sustainability plan was nowhere in sight.

And, since there had never been a sustainability effort at any of the three prior quadrennial USA Games, the odds were that Green would not be a part of the 2018 version.

Karlan Jessen, David Muller and Tim Reeve collectively and figuratively said “to heck with those odds,” and formed a Sustainability All-Star team of sorts. They created and implemented a greening program in what had to be record time.

 

Special Olympics Karlan_Headshot

Karlan Jessen (Photo credit: Karlan Jessen)

 

Special Olympics David Muller and Tim Reeve

David Muller (l) and Tim Reeve at the University of Washington (Photo credit: David Muller)

 

Jessen’s experience owning two used sporting goods stores, managing bicycle tours and running events made her an ideal pick for the Director of Volunteers and Sustainability role. Muller has deep experience consulting on sustainable events, focusing on environmental impact mitigation and positive social impact. And the Vancouver-based Reeve heads Reeve Consulting Group, a sustainability advisory firm. He’d worked with the Vancouver 2010 and Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics on sustainability and responsible sourcing issues.

 

“I THOUGHT THERE SHOULD BE A SUSTAINABILITY EFFORT SO I RAISED MY HAND”

As general planning for the Seattle Special Olympics got started in earnest, Jessen started to get questions about sustainability from some of the event’s existing corporate partners. “ESPN in particular asked about what could be done. Nothing was being planned at the time” Jessen recalled. “I thought there should be a sustainability effort, and even though we only had a year or so to make it happen, I raised my hand. I knew David from our sustainability studies at the Bainbridge Graduate Institute (which later merged with Presidio Graduate School), so it was natural to team up with him.” It wasn’t long before Reeve joined to make the group a triumvirate.

The team quickly established a plan that was made up of six sustainability pillars. Four were environmentally focused, while the other two fall in the social portion of the broad Environmental-Social-Governance (ESG) definition of sustainability:

Environmental Pillars

  1. Waste/Recycling
  2. Transportation
  3. Food/Beverage
  4. Sourcing

Social Pillars

  1. Accessibility/Inclusion
  2. Legacy/Education

Microsoft, based in nearby Redmond and the title sponsor of the 2018 USA Games, quickly bought into the social pillars. “Education and legacy were very important to Microsoft,” Jessen noted. “Inclusion, especially fair hiring practices, also was a big deal to them. And when you think about it, the Special Olympics demonstrates inclusion by its very existence!”

“Education and legacy was a home run,” chimed in Reeve. ”

 

BIGGEST ENVIRONMENTAL SUCCESSES: WASTE AND TRANSPORTATION

The environmental sustainability portion was more challenging. The success stories came from waste and transportation.

“Our waste-to-recycling program and food donations programs worked really well, thanks in large part to the University of Washington food service team,” reported Reeve. “Recycling is one of the most highly visible examples of a greening program at a sports event so we had to get that right. And we did.”

 

Special Olympics Green Team Volunteers success story

Green Team Volunteers sorting recycling, compost, and food donations (Photo credit: Tim Reeve)

 

Coca-Cola pitched in by bringing their reverse vending machines to the event. Fans and athletes would put empty plastics into the machine and a 5¢ donation would be made to Special Olympics for each donation. Per Muller, “Final numbers were not made public but it’s safe to say that thousands of bottles were recaptured.”

“Transportation was also a big win — that’s where we saw the biggest greenhouse gas emissions reductions,” added Muller. “The University of Washington was a great set up — it’s compact, very walkable and is located on a transit route. There is a robust bike share infrastructure at UW. Energy efficient shuttles ferried athletes and their families to and from events. And Lyft provided discounted as well as free ride sharing.”

 

Special Olympics Light Rail

Athletes and coaches taking light rail to T-Mobile Park (formerly Safeco Field) for the Special Olympics’ Night at the Ballpark (Photo credit: Cori Dixon)

 

The nearly 4,000 athletes and their families noticed Seattle’s greening efforts around the Special Olympics.

“We had numerous conversations with athletes and their families during the Special Olympics and they were really impressed by the city’s commitment to making this a green event,” recalled Reeve. “A sustainability passport was provided for the athletes for things like transportation so they were involved with the greening effort almost as soon as they arrived in the city.”

In a survey conducted after the Special Olympics among athletes and their families by Brian McCullough of Seattle University showed that 60 percent said, “My attitude toward environmental sustainably has improved due to the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games initiatives.”

 

TIME WAS THE SUSTAINABILITY TEAM’S BIGGEST ENEMY

Here’s a note to the leadership group that is organizing the 2022 Special Olympics USA for Orlando: Jessen, Muller and Reeve agreed that a year was not nearly enough time to maximize the effectiveness of a sustainability plan.

“Lack of time really challenged us in terms of getting buy-in on the value proposition of a robust sustainability effort from the CEO and Executive Committee,” noted Reeve. “That kind of early support would have been crucial in terms of being woven into the budgeting and sourcing processes, as well as securing sustainability-focused sponsors. That would have helped us on food donation, signage and more.”

The team had a plan to offset emissions but there was no budget for it.

“About 90 percent of event emissions came from air travel,” Muller said. “We were looking at offset costs ranging from $25,000-$60,000 but there was no budget for it. Had we started earlier, we certainly could’ve found a partner to fund the offsets.”

What kind of time frame would be ideal to develop and manage an effective sustainability effort at a Special Olympics?

Consider that planners for the FIFA 2026 World Cup in Canada, Mexico and the USA will have eight years to get sustainability right, and the organizers at the LA 2028 Olympics will have had eleven years since being award the Games in 2017.

Now, no one is saying that the Special Olympics USA is of a similar scale as those two mega events.

Given that’s the case, what is the ideal length of time to put a sustainability plan in place that the team would be proud of?

The verdict was unanimous:

“Three years!,” said Judges Jessen, Muller and Reeve.

 

 


 

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