Christina Weiss Lurie became an owner of the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles in 1994. She spearheaded the club’s effort to become a community leader off the field.
That leadership has been expressed most powerfully through the GO GREEN campaign, a groundbreaking initiative that has seen the Eagles divert 99% of their waste from the landfill and generate 100% of their electricity from renewable energy. GSB spoke with Weiss Lurie recently about the Eagles’ compelling green journey and the Green Sports movement more broadly.
GreenSportsBlog: Was sustainability a core strand of your personal DNA before your involvement with the Eagles?
Christina Weiss Lurie: NO! Not at all. My interest in sustainability evolved gradually. I lived in LA before Jeffrey Lurie and I bought the team and moving east. At the time, LA was ahead of the curve in terms of conservation, emissions standards, miles per gallon and so on. So that was the initial spark.
Then, once we moved to Philadelphia, we immediately looked to see where we could have the biggest positive impact in the community. We started with youth and education and healthcare issues. In the late 90’s, as we planned what became our Lincoln Financial Field, we looked for ways to make a positive statement to the community with the stadium.
And, while it was not designed with sustainability at the forefront, as time went on I started thinking about how we could operate more efficiently and with a smaller carbon footprint. 9/11 inspired us as well–with the idea that we had to do more to wean ourselves off of foreign sources of energy. We asked the simple question: What can we do? And so, when the stadium opened in 2003 we started the Go Green campaign with something relatively simple–recycling–and things took off from there.
GSB: How was Go Green received by the business side of the Eagles’ front office?
Christina: It was an uphill battle at the beginning, no doubt about it. We are a business after all and so the costs of greening had to be taken into account at every step of the way.
GSB: How did you deal with those who objected?
Christina: We just persevered! And, at the same time, we empowered the team employees from top to bottom to take ownership of Go Green. From the bottom up, we provided incentives for all employees to choose electricity supply from renewable sources for their homes by paying any premiums for green vs. “brown” power.
From the top down, I’ve been fortunate, over the years, to get buy in from our C-level on Go Green, especially our CFO at the time. The net result of the bottom-up/top-down strategy has been astounding: Our recycling rates have gone up from 8 percent in 2005 to 99 percent in 2012!
GSB: That’s amazing! Congratulations! How have the fans reacted to Go Green? Has there been any negative feedback (i.e. this is too political, focus on football, etc.)
Christina: Not really. First of all our main focus, and the main focus of the fans, is on winning, as it should be. So that’s what they’ll pay attention to for the most part. Second, we’ve not hit them over the head with Go Green so that when they do pay attention they react in a positive way. We intentionally have used a soft, low key, sometimes humorous approach to the way we’ve communicated Go Green to the fans over the years. And, with the fantastic fan buy-in on recycling and the strongly positive reaction to all of our greening efforts shows we’re on the right track.
GSB: How have Eagles players reacted to Go Green? My sense is that today’s athlete is much less likely than his/her predecessors to get involved in causes of any kind and that “green”/”climate change” is far down on the list.
Christina: It really depends on the player. Fact is, some care more than others. One of our newest players drives a Tesla and has been bugging me about when we would have electric car charging stations at the Linc. Others don’t get involved. Our commitment is to let the players known about all aspects of Go Green and let them decide for themselves.
GSB: Have other NFL teams and the league itself consulted with you and the Eagles with an eye towards instituting or improving upon their own greening programs?
Christina: Well, our approach has been a bit different. We first identified vendors we wanted to work with and asked them to team up with us on greening their part of the Eagles’ business. Once they’ve done so, they can then use their experience with us to reach out to other clubs to help green them. We’ve been very lucky with our vendors.
For example, SCA, a Swedish company that has its US headquarters in Philadelphia, is our paper vendor. They provide us with 100% post consumer recycled paper. Aramark, our food concessionaire, initially was resistant to “greening” our food services operations (composting, organics, etc.) due to cost. But ultimately they wanted to find solutions and now are bringing their green operations to other facilities!
Going the eco friendly route is a journey and can take time. NRG, our energy provider, built and financed our 11,000 panel solar array at Lincoln Financial Field. Now we generate 30% of our electricity from the panels and also mini wind turbines. The other 70% of our electricity is bought via Renewable Energy Credits (RECs). NRG is pursuing similar on-site renewable deals with other clubs. The ripple effect is what’s so exciting.
GSB: What about the league itself?
Christina: The NFL has a quarterly “green” call with all 32 clubs on the line. We share best practices. I know that the league is taking this issue seriously.
GSB: As has been said the Eagles are already diverting 99% of their waste away from landfills, are already powering their operations with electricity from 100% non-polluting sources. That’s phenomenal. What green/sustainability frontiers are next on the horizon for the Eagles?
Christina: Water is the next big challenge. We’d like to team up with the other clubs in our area [Ed. note: The Phillies, 76’ers and Flyers play in a stadium and an arena adjacent to Lincoln Financial Field] and work with the City of Philadelphia on water reclamation. This will be the next big hurdle to consider. We’ll also explore adding more solar, perhaps at our training facility.
GSB: Looking at the big picture, sports teams have made/are making major strides in the greening of stadia/arenas. On the other hand, it seems to me that engaging fans on sustainability/climate change is in its infancy but is where the real power is at the intersection of green and sports. What do you think it will take to get sports fans behind sustainability/climate change?
Christina: I’m not sure I have the answer to that question but know that we are working on it.
GSB: Thank you so much for your time and for what you and the Eagles are doing with Go Green! Because of GoGreen, the Eagles are officially my second favorite team (behind the Jets)! Good luck tonight vs. the Redskins on Monday Night Football and here’s to a successful season, on and off the field.
Christina: Thank you! And I’m glad you root for two teams that wear green.
Interesting that 9/11 was an inspiration for the Eagles. We have spent TRILLLIONS on war in the Middle East at the cost of much human life and other resources. Just think if we had used that money and those lives on greening. Much, not all, of our Middle East involvement over the years seems to be driven by our thirst for oil
It would be wonderful if owners of other teams followed CWL’s lead in this!
Candy: Agree 100%. CWL is working with the other NFL teams and the league itself to help them follow the Eagles. Since the NFL is the Behemoth of American sports right now (nothing is even close for 2nd) (the Prez is speaking on Syria tomorrow because he doesn’t want to go up against Monday Night Football), she’s in the right place. And she’s also working with the other Philly teams (MLB Phillies, NBA 76’ers, NHL Flyers) whose stadiums are in the same complex in South Philly as The Linc. Hopefully more CWL’s will sprout up soon.
John: I’m with you, for the most part (Afghanistan obviously doesn’t have oil but Al Qaeda, funded by Saudi oil dollars–funded by us in large part–found sanctuary there). In fact MY inspiration towards green/sustainability was 9/11. I felt, as a New Yorker, that I had to do something (much like, I suspect, folks a couple of generations earlier felt on December 7, 1941). Thing was, the military was not an option for me (42 years old at the time, bad knees, etc.) and, truth be told, I felt that was only one part of this equation…The bigger part was that we had to wean ourselves off of energy (primarily oil) from bad actors in the Middle East. Tom Friedman in the NY Times crystallized this in a column shortly after 9/11, saying “green was the new red, white and blue”. Here’s a link to a longer Friedman piece in 2007 on the same topic: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/15/magazine/15green.t.html?pagewanted=all
So I followed Friedman, bought a Hybrid car, changed out my lightbulbs, greened up my personal life, etc. That felt good for a few minutes, then I said I need to do this with my work. And the rest is history.
I love Christina’s frankness – that sustainability was not a priority for her before – which is likely so common with the leadership of other teams.. and, that she mentions how they are looking to partner with other clubs/teams with regard to water use. Sustainability is a collaborative pursuit, but those businesses/organizations that act early get extra kudos and help lead others to greener goals. Fantastic interview, Lewis – thanks much!
Thanks, Andrea, for your comment. And, yes, I found Christina’s direct approach to be refreshing. The result of that approach has been on display today as I’m at Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Eagles, for the Beyond Sport Conference. We took a tour of The Linc and its beyond groundbreaking onsite solar and wind power arrays. I will blog about this and more tonight.
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