GSB News and Notes: Kiribati Olympian Takes Stand on Climate; Newcastle United Gets Greener; BP Greenwashes at Rio, Subtlely


An Olympic weightlifter from the tiny Pacific island nation of Kiribati takes a stand against climate change. The Newcastle United Football Club is ramping up what it calls its “Carbon Crusade” by the installation of a combined heat and power (CHP) system at St. James’ Park. And BP talks a good green game as part of its sponsorship of the British Olympic team in Rio. But do they walk the green walk? Uh, no. It’s all here in today’s busy, TGI Summer Friday GSB News & Notes.

When a 231 lb. weightlifter from Kiribati danced off the stage following his 6th place effort at the Olympic Games, most onlookers in Rio and on TV were likely both charmed and curious. Did David Katoatau, 32, think that ballroom dancing was a new Olympic sport?
No, he was dancing to make a poignant point about climate change – which is an existential threat now, in real time, to Kiribati, his island nation home in the Central Pacific.
Kiribati is made up of 21 inhabited islands and has a population of about 100,000 (the same as South Bend, IN). It is, according to its government, suffering from “extreme coastal erosion not just of the beaches but also of the land.”
“Most people don’t know where Kiribati is,” Katoatau told Reuters. “I want people to know more about us so I use weightlifting, and my dancing, to show the world that we don’t have the resources to save ourselves.” The weightlifter, who lost his family in a cyclone, recently wrote an open letter “to tell people about all the homes lost to rising sea levels.”
Katoatau Kiribati Pennington

David Katoatau, Olympic weightlifter from Kiribati who danced to bring attention to the devastation climate change is bringing to his country. (Photo credit: Tom Pennington, Getty Images)

His dance moves—and is climate change activism—first gained attention at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland, where he won Kiribati’s first ever medal.
Newcastle United, one of the most storied clubs in English football, suffered the indignity of being relegated^ from the Premier League after last season and now plays in the 2nd tier Championship. While its devoted fan base hopes against hope that the team will earn promotion back to the Premier League after only a one year hiatus, they can take solace with the knowledge that an already green club is going even greener with the installation of a combined heat and power (CHP) system at St James’ Park, its 52,000 seat home ground.
St. James Park Footballtripper

St. James’ Park, the carbon positive home of Newcastle United. (Photo credit: Footballtripper.com)

The Magpies became the world’s first “Carbon Positive” sports team in 2012 by offsetting more carbon than they were emitting. The club’s facilities team had taken a myriad of actions, large and small (boiler optimization, lighting upgrades, water management, energy monitoring, etc.) to reduce energy consumption. And they offset more than the rest of the club’s residual carbon footprint through the purchase of RECs. Voilà, carbon positivity at St. James’ Park!
And now, as reported in an August 4 story in edie.net by Alex Baldwin, the club has put into operation a CHP co-generation system that provides electricity and heating through a 185kWh natural gas-fueled system, supplied by ENER-G. It is expected to reduce the football club’s carbon emissions by more than 390 tonnes every year.
Newcastle United facilities manager Eddie Rutherford said in the edie.net piece: “Our partnership with ENER-G to introduce a high efficiency CHP system is another major step in our mission to achieve outstanding green performance.”
Newcastle United, in its 12-year agreement with ENER-G, invested nothing upfront; rather, it pays only for the energy it uses. I imagine that other English clubs will be following suit in the near future.
“The dreaming. The training. The waiting. The hoping. The best of luck to Team GB. Its time to harness the #Energywithin.”
On Friday August 5, while upwards of 1 billion watched the Opening Ceremonies of the Rio Olympics, a much smaller but far more influential audience of approximately 2.2 million saw the above tagline and the #Energywithin hashtag in a 2/3 page ad from oil giant BP in the Financial TimesThe ad was promoting its sponsorship of the British Olympic team, or Team GB.
#Energywithin is the subtext of all of BP’s Olympic sponsorships—in addition to Team GB, the company also supports the national Olympic committees of the Azerbaijan, Trinidad & Tobago, Turkey and the USA, as well as the International Paralympic Committee. It is being used, in part, to subtly communicate that BP is concerned about the environment. “When the world’s best athletes compete in Rio this summer, many will discover an energy within that they didn’t know they possessed. The energy within is also what drives BP to keep searching for newer, better, safer ways (my italics) to provide the energy that the world needs,” said BP Director of Brands Duncan Blake in an August 8 article by Andy Rowell in Common Dreams.
Why the subtlety in Rio?
Perhaps because BP took a lot of flack for being a Sustainability Partner at the London 2012 Olympics? I mean, how could a big oil company that was responsible for the Deepwater Horizon disaster and is a major player in the extraction of highly-polluting tar sands, be the Sustainability Partner of London 2012? This is a stain on BP, but more so, it says here, on London 2012, which otherwise ran the greenest Olympics in history.
The Guardian was all over the the BP/London 2012/Greenwash% story. Jess Worth, an anti-oil activist from the UK Tar Sands Network said it best at the time: “[T]his is a dangerous greenwash. BP is one of the least sustainable companies on earth…Its entire business is geared towards keeping the world addicted to fossil fuels and driving us towards uncontrollable climate change.”
Perhaps another reason BP is speaking sotto voce on green this time around is because they see that Olympic athletes are starting to dance—a la weightlifter David Katoatau—and speak out on climate change issues. As noted in a GreenSportsBlog post the day of the Opening Ceremonies, “Olympians from Afghanistan, the Marshall Islands and South Sudan — all countries especially vulnerable to climate change — as well as other nations, are speaking out to raise awareness about the dangers of global warming of more than 1.5 degrees Celsius” via a powerful 30 second video, 1.5C: The record we must not break.
But BP, despite its so-called search for safer ways to provide the energy the world needs, keeps drilling for oil and gas, keeps exploiting tar sands oil, helping to push the world well beyond 1.5C.
And Olympic Committees (and other sports governing bodies) know this, of course. And all of them have well thought out, substantive sustainability plans and targets. The big question is: when will an Olympic Committee, whether from the UK, US, or elsewhere, loudly say NO to the sponsorship money from companies like BP that don’t reflect their stated values? We will work to answer this question in future posts.

^ Teams in European club football (soccer) get relegated to the league below when they finish the season at or near the bottom. In the English system, Premier League teams that finish 18-20 get relegated to the 2nd tier Championship with the top 3 teams in the Championship getting promoted. In 2015-2016, Newcastle finished 18th and so were relegated.
% BP also singled out Dow for greenwashing at London 2012. GreenSportsBlog recently wrote a piece about the sustainability work Dow is doing in Brazil as an IOC global sponsor and as the Official Carbon Partner of Rio 2016.
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  1. […] low minor leagues. While several Premier League giants, including Arsenal, Manchester City and Newcastle, have taken strong green-sports actions, it is the mid-to-lower levels of the English […]

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