Green Sports Day

A Brief History, a Look Forward, and a Comment


Today is the fifth annual Green Sports Day

The Green Sports Alliance is looking to turn GSD into an annual “thing” that will expand the reach and influence of the Green-Sports movement. Its model is the group of young environmentalists who built Earth Day in the early 1970s.

At the bottom of this piece, in the GSB’s Take section, we highlight an important issue that runs counter the very ethos of Green Sports Day.

In the meantime, the story of how Green Sports Day got off the ground in 2016 — and onto the White House grounds — is interesting and worth telling. 


Could Jason Twill, when he was helping to midwife the Green Sports Alliance in 2011, have imagined that just five years later, the organization would be the linchpin of something called Green Sports Day? And that President Barack Obama would sign a letter in support?

Thinking big comes naturally to the sustainability and urban regeneration consultant with an expansive imagination.

But Obama Signs a Letter Supporting Green Sports Day BIG?

Even Twill’s imagination has its limits.

So, how did the Green Sports Day I-Obama connection happen?

“It started with the Portland Green Mafia that I was a part of in Oregon back in the early 2010s, around the time of the founding of the Green Sports Alliance,” recalled Twill. “Peter Murchie, who was a staff member of the EPA’s Region 10 in the northwest was in the group and he introduced us to Dennis McLerran, the Region 10 Administrator.”


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Jason Twill (Photo credit: Jennifer Twill)


Administrator is EPA-speak for head honcho.

McLerran, who had a vision of the EPA working with the Alliance to engage sports fans on the environment, introduced the fledgling group to his boss.

As in Lisa Jackson, Administrator of the EPA on the Federal level during President Obama’s first term.

“Lisa Jackson was absolutely fantastic,” Twill gushed. “She became a huge supporter of the Alliance and what we were doing. Lisa immediately understood that the EPA would reach different and broader audiences by promoting waste reduction, recycling, the need for clean air and more in a fun space like sports.”


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Lisa Jackson, EPA Administrator from 2009-12 (Photo credit: EPA)


Jackson gave the Alliance an entrée to the White House. Then it was up to then GSA executive director Martin Tull and future executive director Justin Zeulner — both part of the Portland green scene with Twill and Murchie — to build a rapport with the White House staff. Future GSA President Dr. Allen Hershkowitz and Board Chair Scott Jenkins also played key roles.

That led to the first ever convening of a sports-environment roundtable at the White House in 2012. Momentum continued as Jackson handed the EPA Administrator baton to Gina McCarthy in 2013 at the dawn of President Obama’s second term, with Green-Sports conferences at 1600 Pennsylvania in 2013 and 2016.

Mary Harvey, CEO for the Centre for Sport & Human Rights and member of the Green Sports Alliance Board of Directors, was part of a Who’s Who of the Green-Sports world who made up the August 2016 roundtable.

“The roundtable was divided into three areas in which sports could aid in the climate change fight: mitigation—slowing down climate change, resilience—adapting to climate change that’s already ‘baked in,’ and education,” recounted Harvey to GreenSportsBlog at the time, “A different staffer led each section, then attendees presented case studies. The ‘feel’ of the meeting was very inclusive—they really wanted our thoughts.”



Just two months later, on October 6, 2016, President Obama welcomed the Pittsburgh Penguins to the White House for the traditional visit of newly-minted Stanley Cup champions.

During that celebration, Obama became the first POTUS to speak publicly about Green-Sports.

He thanked the Penguins for being “leaders in the Green Sports Alliance, [making] their facilities more energy and water efficient, lowering their carbon footprint when they travel.”


President Barack Obama lauds the 2016 Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins for their leadership in the Green-Sports movement. His relevant comments begin at the 6 minute 40 second mark.


But that wasn’t all.

His remarks came on the first Green Sports Day as proclaimed by the Green Sports Alliance and by Obama himself.

The President issued a letter that said in part, “America is leading the fight against climate change, and our favorite sports teams, athletes, and their fans have stepped up to the plate—taking significant steps to reduce their carbon footprints and educate people about sustainable solutions. On Green Sports Day, we celebrate these efforts and recommit to building a cleaner, safer, and healthier planet for all.”


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President Obama's letter acknowledging the first Green Sports Day on October 6, 2016 (Credit: The White House)


That commitment by the White House to advance the Green-Sports movement, including by supporting Green Sports Day, evaporated on January 20, 2017, the day Donald Trump was inaugurated as Commander — and, tragically, Climate Denier — In-Chief.

Green Sports Day continued to take place every October 6 since its auspicious 2016 debut but at a much lower profile.

The Alliance is trying to change that, starting today.



For the first time, the GSA has formally brought together a collection of sports organizations to jointly celebrate Green Sports Day, drawing more attention to the Green-Sports movement. Joining the Alliance is a global roster of official partners that includes BASIS, Beyond Sport, Council for Responsible Sport, Players for the Planet, Protect Our Winters, SandSI, and Sport Environment Alliance (SEA).
Those in the Green-Sports movement have been encouraged to:
  • Use the hashtag #greensportsday when making make relevant announcements on social media today/October 6th, similar to how many organizations celebrate Earth Day.
  • Promote the use of a website, Per the Alliance, the site “is dedicated to highlighting stories across our membership about green sports leadership.”
  • Attend a free webinar at 4:00pm ET today/October 6, “Green Sports Day Fireside Chat: A Journey Through the Past, Present and Future of the Green Sports Alliance”  Click here for more information and to register.
According to Roger McClendon, executive director of the Green Sports Alliance, the organization’s vision for Green Sports Day is “to grow in reach and influence every year and eventually become a key moment in time for our industry and movement to highlight leadership and encourage even more ambitious action.”

GSB’s Take: Kudos to the Green-Sports pioneers who launched Green Sports Day in 2016 and brought the Obama White House — and President Obama himself — on as a partner: Jason Twill, Martin Tull and Justin Zeulner. 

The Green Sports Alliance has not had a formal working relationship with the Trump Administration to this point so there have not been any subsequent White House events. While this has lowered Green Sports Day’s profile since its “Obama Letter Apex”, the Alliance is clearly better off for staying away. 

I mean, can you imagine the optics of a GSA-Trump Administration Green Sports Day celebration? The Administration that is hostile to climate science and has eviscerated environmental laws? The harm to the Alliance and the movement would be immense.

That is why GreenSportsBlog is very disappointed that the Alliance decided to feature a three minute video statement of support from Jim Gulliford, the Region 7 (Midwest) EPA Administrator on the Green Sports Day website.

A political appointee of the Trump Administration, Gulliford gave a soutout in the video to his boss, Andrew Wheeler. The former coal lobbyist said in 2019 that he “did not believe climate change was an existential threat”. He also opined that he did view climate change “as a top priority”.

GSB criticized the Alliance for having Gulliford give a keynote address at a regional forum it sponsored in August 2019. And we disagree with Gulliford, a representative of the most anti-environment Administration of the modern era, offer a video message in support of Green Sports Day.

Now, you might say, “the Alliance is demonstrating that Green Sports Day is a bipartisan event by posting a video from someone from Trump’s EPA.”

Hey, I am all for bipartisanship. I volunteer with Citizens’ Climate Lobby, a nonprofit that talks with and respectfully listens to all Members of Congress, including climate deniers, as it advances carbon pricing legislation.

But it is one thing engage in good faith with folks who have differing views. It is quite another to provide a high profile speaking platform, live or on video, to an official in an Administration that is hostile to virtually everything for which the GSA stands.

GSB hopes that 1) 2021 will usher in a new Administration with climate-forward policies, and 2) that the Green-Sports White House Roundtables resume. Our longer term wish is that, down the road (a looooooong way down!), when the next Republican Administration is inaugurated, it will build upon the climate and other environmental gains of its Democratic predecessors, not try to reverse them.

That way, GSB won’t have an issue if the GSA features the Administration on Green Sports Day.



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