GSB News and Notes: Pope Francis and The Vatican Engage on Green-Sports, the EcoHelmet, Leilani Münter to Race Teslas


Big things are happening at the intersection of Green + Sports. Last week, as reported in GreenSportsBlog, Barack Obama became the first US president to publicly speak about the greening of sports on the first Green Sports Day. But President Obama wasn’t the only global mega-leader to engage on the issue. Last Wednesday in Vatican City, Pope Francis opened Sport at the Service of Humanity, a 3-day conference about the power of faith and sport. Environmental issues were prominently featured on the agenda. In addition, from the “New, Green-Sports Product” world, an affordable, collapsible, recyclable bicycle helmet may become reality. And finally, GreenSportsBlog fave Leilani Münter became the first American driver in the all-Tesla Electric GT Championship.  Yes, today we have a particularly newsy News & Notes column.

Green-Sports leading light Allen Hershkowitz, President Emeritus of the Green Sports Alliance and co-founder of Green Sports International, the National Hockey League’s Pat LaFontaine and Omar Mitchell—responsible for NHL Green—and Pope Francis were among the luminaries from the faith, corporate, NGO and academic worlds who attended the first Sport at the Service of Humanity conference at The Vatican that ran from October 5 to 7. The Pope gave the opening address.

Pope Francis arrives at the Paul VI Audience Hall in Vatican City for his opening address at the Sport at the Service of Humanity conference. (Photo credit: AFP)

According to Hershkowitz, the ability of sports to positively impact environmental issues, including climate change, was given prominence at the conference along with the “power of sport to improve the lives of refugees and the disabled…Gender equity and LGBT issues also were front and center.”
To my mind, this is as it should be. Addressing ecological pressures and improving the living conditions of refugees and the disabled are topics that should lead the agenda of a Vatican-run conference. And the speed with which this pope has moved forward on gender equity and LGBT issues is stunning. That the environment/climate change was “in the room” with these massive global issues is a big deal. And yet, it’s not a surprising deal, considering Pope Francis’ widely praised, climate change-focused 2015 encyclical Laudato Si and the solar panels that top roofs of many Vatican buildings.
And, with apologies to FDR, Green-Sports’ inclusion was a new deal. “The theme of the conference was ‘What Problems Can Sports Help to Solve?’ The thing is, many of the stakeholders I talked to had never engaged on environmental issues, so the idea of sports solving environmental problems was completely new to them,” said Hershkowitz. Once briefed, leaders from organizations like the YMCA and the Olympic Committee of Jordan “quickly saw how sports could help generate meaningful action on CO2 reduction, on deforestation, on plastic waste.”
Hershkowitz expects new collaborations and programs to stem from Sport at the Service of Humanity but cautions that progress necessarily will be made up of many “little things that add up to big results.”

New product innovation at the intersection of Green + Sports is going strong in 2016, particularly when it comes to cycling. In July, GreenSportsBlog featured the Free Electric Hybrid Bike that powers a home for 24 hours with only one hour of pedaling. A few months earlier, we highlighted the Bike Washing Machine—yes, you will be able to do the laundry while pedaling if this product, now working its way through the development cycle, courtesy of a group of students in China, gets to market.

Now, we bring you the EcoHelmet, an affordable, collapsible, biodegradable helmet from innovative industrial designer Isis Shiffer. As detailed in a September 30 story from Mindy Weisberger in Live Science, EcoHelmet is “made entirely of cardboard, folds up accordion-style to about the size of a banana and is compact enough to fit in a laptop bag. It unfolds to fit just like a traditional helmet, cushioning the wearer’s head with honeycomb-patterned paper that absorbs and distributes impacts, protecting cyclists from injury.”


EcoHelmet, a reusable, recyclable, biodegradable and collapsible alternative to bulky helmets. (Photo credit: Isis Shiffer)

EcoHelmet was one of 20 new product designs—out of more than 1,000 submissions—selected by the James Dyson Foundation selected for the 2016 James Dyson Award Engineers Shortlist. The contest’s International Winner will be selected from this list on October 27.

EcoHelmet caught my eye for three reasons:

  1. The recyclability aspect of EcoHelmet connects with the GreenSportsBlogger in me: It is made of lightweight and recyclable paper honeycomb. Its lightness does not diminish its ability to absorb impacts: per Wesisberger, “paper honeycomb is used in packaging for helicopter drops in crisis zones.”
  2. EcoHelmet’s collapsible nature jazzes the urban cyclist in me. The advent of bike sharing (another great, cycling-related, green-sports innovation—more cycling miles ridden should mean less vehicle miles driven) in many cities, including New York has led to an increase, at least based on my own, admittedly unscientific eye test of cyclists in Central Park, of un-helmeted riders. This drives me nuts: I have had two serious falls but was spared lasting head/brain injury because I was wearing a helmet. Being able to collapse one’s helmet into a briefcase is a significant feature. “For a helmet to work in a bike-share arena, it has to be able to fold up and be reused,” Shiffer told Weisberger.
  3. The product’s affordability—it is projected that EcoHelmet will be able to be sold for $5 each—is a key selling point.



GreenSportsBlog fave Leilani Münter makes her third appearance on our pages this year (click here and here for the first two) with the announcement that the “eco, vegan, hippie chick with a race car” is joining the fledgling Electric GT (EGT) racing series. Münter becomes EGT’s first American and second female driver.

EGT’s inaugural season, which kicks off early next year, will feature a fleet of modified rear-wheel drive Tesla Model S P85+ vehicles. As compared to the 3-year old Formula E series, which uses open wheel vehicles, EGT is the first racing series dedicated to production run electric cars. The The Tesla Model S 85 kWh battery pack is significantly larger than Formula E’s 28 kWh version. Thus, a Model S-based race car will 1) stay on the track much longer and 2) generate higher speeds than a Formula E car. 

Münter has a strong history with Tesla: she drives a Model S at home in Charlotte, NC and she appeared with Tesla co-founder and CEO Elon Musk in the Emmy-nominated documentary Racing Extinction, drawing attention to the human impact on climate change and mass extinction of wildlife. EGT is banking on both Münter’s driving skills and her charismatic evangelism on the climate change fight and vegan lifestyle to help build awareness. 


Leilani Münter will be driving a Tesla Model S in the inaugural season of the all-electric EGT series. (Photo credit: Teslarati)

Fans can watch EGT live via Periscope, Twitch, YouTube and other social media outlets. Each event will consist of a 20-minute practice session, 30 minutes of qualifying, a 37-mile (60km) daytime race and a 37-mile race at dusk. The races will be the centerpiece of a weekend-long festival of sustainable technology and innovation.

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  1. […] last October, I attended an Audience with the Pope at the Vatican when he addressed the first Sport at the Service of Humanity conference. He said two key words to the sports industry: “DO MORE.” By pulling the […]

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