Green-Sports Birthdays

EcoAthletes Turns Three Years Old Today


EcoAthletes, the nonprofit I conceived with the mission to ‘inspire and coach athletes to lead climate action’, was supposed to launch on March 17, 2020 — St. Patrick’s Day. But five days prior, Rudy Gobert, then of the Utah Jazz, tested positive for the then very novel COVID-19 virus. In very short order, the sports dominoes began to fall as the NBA, MLB, NHL, English Premier League, and basically almost everything shut down. So, Kristen Fulmer, then EcoAthletes’ strategic advisor and now a board member, and I decided to postpone the kickoff. But for how long?

Not long, as it turned out:

  1. We had no idea how long the sports shut down would last. What if sports stayed dark for a year? Should EcoAthletes stay dark as well? We thought no, we needed to go live.
  2. Athletes, including those who were climate-minded, would have more time on their hands to talk with us about potentially joining our nascent efforts to spark a #ClimateComeback,
  3. If ever there was a time when the sports world needed positive stories, this was it. And helping athletes become the Muhammad Alis, the Billie Jean Kings, and the Marcus Rashfords of climate change was certainly a positive story

So, on April 7, 2020, I hit ‘send’ to launch the website and EcoAthletes was born. And almost immediately, environmentally-minded and active athletes began to find their way to us or we found our way to them.

Pitcher Brent Suter, then of the Milwaukee Brewers and now of the Colorado Rockies, and a true climate All-Star, became our first EcoAthletes Champion and a member of our advisory board what a great way to start! Then Alexandra Rickham, a two-time Paralympic sailing medalist and now the head of sustainability for World Sailing, followed suit as Champion and advisory board member. Soon, inspirational Australian netballer-turned-climate risk analyst Amy Steel, US Olympic road cyclist Mara Abbott, USA rugby 7s star and future captain Alena Olsen, and AVP pro beach volleyballer/strategic partnerships manager for One Tree Planted Jeremy Casebeer enhanced our movement’s credibility by signing on as Champions.

Alena Olsen (Photo credit: USA Rugby)

Amy Steel (Photo credit: Netball Australia)

Now, it was one thing to build a network of Champions; it was and is quite another to begin to make good on our mission to ‘inspire and coach athletes to lead climate action’.

To do so, in 2021 we established the EcoAthletes Resource Hub, a set of tools that help our Champions advance along a continuum from climate curious or climate shy to climate leader. In no particular order, they are:

  • Community: From popular bi-monthly virtual community chats, to Champions network-wide initiatives, cwe make sure our Champions never feel like they’re alone on this climate journey and instead feel like they’re part of a growing and strong team.
  • Social Media: Communicating about climate on social media can be daunting; EcoAthletes demystifies it for the Champions by providing them with vetted, factual social content.
  • Mentorship: Includes post-athletic career coaching for Green or Green-Sports careers only, as well as Climate Communications for Athletes and Climate Education for Athletes webinars
  • Thought Leadership: Once the Champions feel confident about their ability to talk about their climate advocacy, EcoAthletes finds them opportunities to do so on podcasts, panels, and with traditional media interviews.
  • Sponsorship Connections with Climate Active Brands: Potential endorsement opportunities with vetted brands and nonprofits that are working to solve climate change.

Since its inception, the Resource Hub has elicited positive reactions from Champions and  partner organizations alike and it helped accelerate EcoAthletes’ growth, especially over the last year.

The current roster of 117 EcoAthletes Champions,which represents an increase of 43 since last April, 
  • Plays 42 sports, represent 19 countries and has over 1.75 million social media followers
  • Represents the ATP, AVP, English Super League, Major League Baseball, NFL, NHL, NWSL, SailGP, USA Rugby, WNBA, WTA, and more
  • Are NCAA student-athletes, the fastest growth within the Champions squad. A year ago, EcoAthletes had five college athletes; today that number is 28…and they are getting after it:
    • Yesterday, EcoAthletes announced the first-ever climate-themed Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) program in partnership with Knights of the Raritan, the official NIL collective of Rutgers University, and five Rutgers student-athletes/EcoAthletes Champions.
    • We are in the home stretch of the inaugural EcoAthletes Collegiate Cup Powered by Climategames. It is a three-month contest, concluding on Earth Day among our student-athletes Champions and the 14 schools they represent in which their exercise, and that of their teammates, friends and family is translated to carbon reduction. Work out and reduce carbon emissions? Talk about a win-win!
  • Are Olympic and Paralympic medal winners, including five gold medalists from Tokyo 2020
  • Attend the aforementioned Community Chats, brainstorm, collaborate, cajole and create. It was the Champions’ input that led to the creation of Clothes4Good, a program that encourages their followers to take actions that increase circularity in the apparel industry, in particular sports apparel.

All of the above has led to dramatically increased media attention. In the last year, the Champions have generated — through appearances on podcasts, panels, at conferences, and on traditional outlets like BBC Sport, CNN, ESPN, Sky Sports News and TSN — 40 million positive media impressions by conservative estimates.

BBC Sport, with global reach in the tens of millions, has over the past two months, interviewed SIX EcoAthletes Champions in insightful, long-form conversations (click on links to listen):

  • WNBA All-Star and Tokyo 2020 Olympic gold medalist Napheesa Collier (USA)
  • Angel City FC forward and eco-preneur Jasmyne Spencer (USA)
  • 2X mixed doubles grand slam winner and eco-fashion advocate Gaby Dabrowski (Canada)
  • Multiple Paralympic cycling medalist and communications manager for an environmental nonprofit Marie-Claude Molnar (Canada)
  • 2X Olympic table tennis player and CEO/founder of environmental- and economic-justice nonprofit Ping Sans Frontières Sarah Hanffou (Cameroon)
  • 2023 NCAA Division III All-American point guard on the NYU women’s basketball team that reached the Elite Eight, Belle Pellecchia (USA)

Napheesa Collier and her daughter Mila (Photo credit: Napheesa Collier)

Sarah Hanffou (Photo credit: ITTF)

Marie-Claude Molnar (Photo credit: Lyne Bolvin)

Despite whatever progress EcoAthletes has made, the sad truth is that global carbon emissions keep growing and, per the recent UN IPCC state-of-the-climate report, the time for humanity to make the changes necessary to keep global temperature increase even close to the 1.5ºC target versus pre-industrial levels is frighteningly short.

So, EcoAthletes’ #ClimateComeback task for Year 4 is harder than ever.

And we will take it on.

Because athletes do comebacks, athletes make the impossible possible.

Let’s do this!

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