Welcome to the “All In” edition of GreenSportsBlog’s News and Notes, in which we highlight one athlete and one company that are taking their climate actions to the next level.
Morten Thorsby, star midfielder for Sampdoria of Serie A in Italy, changed his uniform number to make a statement about climate change.
Sustainable athletic apparel maker and retailer Allbirds is going “deeper green”, thanks to their new sustainable activewear line.
Sadly, one iconic rugby team is going “All In” in the wrong direction.
New Zealand Rugby, parent organization of the legendary men’s national rugby team, the All Blacks, as well as the top level Black Ferns women’s squad, is going “All In” on…petrochemicals?! It recently signed Ineos, a British fracking company, as the team’s performance partner.
SAMPDORIA’S MORTEN THORSBY MAKES CLIMATE STATEMENT BY CHANGING HIS UNIFORM TO THE NUMBER 2
When GreenSportsBlog interviewed Sampdoria (Serie A, Italy’s top league) midfielder Morten Thorsby last August, he showed that he takes climate change seriously in his personal life. “I no longer fly, aside from my football-related travel,” the Norwegian national team star shared. “And then I offset my carbon footprint from the air travel I do for Sampdoria or the Norwegian national team.”
Now, with the 2021-22 Sampdoria season set to kickoff Monday at home versus Milan, Thorsby will be making a much more public signal to his fans and other stakeholders that it’s on all of us to spark a #ClimateComeback.
He will wear the number 2 on his uniform this season to raise awareness about the climate crisis. It represents the maximum temperature (C) increase versus pre-industrial levels that humanity and other life forms can safely absorb, per the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.
Thorsby, who used to wear the number 18 jersey, recently told the BroPod podcast, that he wants to use his life to fight for what is important:
“We have a huge environmental crisis going on and I’m playing football. This makes no sense at all…I spoke to my parents and we reached the conclusion I wanted to use my life to fight for what is important — and the best thing I can do is to become as good at football as possible and keep on speaking about these important issues.”
The uniform number switch is not Thorsby’s first public climate initiative. Last year, he founded the We Play Green foundation, a “platform for engaged football players, clubs, and fans that want to help to save the planet”
GSB’s Take: Morten Thorsby is quickly becoming a leader among athletes advocating for climate action. His switch to uniform #2 as a way to draw attention to the 2°C global temperature increase threshold, versus pre-industrial levels, is a brilliant way to bring broader attention to the climate crisis. GSB will be watching Sampdoria matches to see if the announcers mention the switch.
Of course, Thorsby would have been more accurate if he switched to uniform #1.5 since the consensus among climate scientists holds that humanity needs to limit global temperature increase to 1.5°C, not 2°. But I’m guessing Serie A would not allow a player to wear a fractional uniform number.
Which is a mistake because the 1.5 jersey would definitely get announcers and fans to talk…and would sell!
ALLBIRDS INTRODUCES ITS FIRST ‘NATURAL RUN’ ACTIVEWEAR COLLECTION
Activewear, designed to help athletes of all levels work up a sweat, also works up a ton of carbon.
Polyester, the athletic industry’s go-to fabric thanks mainly to its cheap production cost, spews 700 million tons of carbon (the equivalent of 70 million football fields) into the atmosphere on an annual basis. It has also become a permanent fixture on the ocean floors, depositing 14 million tons of microplastics at the bottom of the seas.
Sustainable athletic apparel maker and retailer Allbirds is looking to turn this around.
Its “Natural Run” performance apparel line, which launched on Tuesday, is made of eucalyptus and wool. The company claims it is the industry’s first such line to clearly display its carbon footprint on the label. It says that all emissions that cannot be avoided are being offset to zero.
According to a company statement, athletes do not have to sacrifice performance to reduce carbon emissions. Natural Run products “meet industry benchmarks for breathability, sweat-wicking, quick-drying, and comfort stretch. Natural Leggings proved to be up to 2x more breathable than leading synthetic pairs on the market.”
GSB’s Take: Kudos to Allbirds on the launch of their eucalyptus and wool-based Natural Run activewear line. Several big questions remain:
- How quickly can the cost of eucalyptus/wool products become competitive with and/or lower than polyester so that mass manufacturers make the shift?
- Can production ramp up quickly?
- Will consumer demand scale quickly enough to make a real dent in polyester?
NEW ZEALAND RUGBY SIGNS $US5.6 MILLION ANNUAL SPONSORSHIP WITH BRITISH PETROCHEMICAL COMPANY INEOS; GREENPEACE URGES THE DEAL BE SCRAPPED
The logo of Ineos, the third largest petrochemical company in the world and the 13th biggest supplier of single use plastics, will appear on the back of the game shorts and the front of the training jerseys of New Zealand’s national rugby teams starting in 2022. These include the legendary All Blacks, as well as the Black Ferns women’s squad and the Māori All Blacks.
New Zealand Rugby’s decision to sign a six-year deal — reportedly worth $US5.6 million annually — with a company has lobbied to weaken carbon taxes and reduce restrictions on fracking, was blasted by Greenpeace, which said the deal goes against the country’s “clean, green” values.
Per a GreenSportsBlog story in April, Ineos has used high profile sports sponsorships across Europe to burnish their image, aka greenwash:
- Team Ineos Grenadiers – one of the world’s best cycling teams (UK)
- OGC Nice Ligue 1 football club (France)
- Lausanne football club (Switzerland)
- Mercedes’ Formula 1 team (UK)
- Ineos Team UK, the British America’s Cup sailing team
But the All Blacks, with their global following, will likely be the most impactful Ineos sports deal to date.
The company says the complaints against its environmental practices are unfair. Its website proclaims that its business has “put in place the plans and actions needed to ensure that they lead the transition to a net zero economy by no later than 2050, whilst remaining profitable, and staying ahead of evolving regulations and legislation.”
New Zealand Rugby President and former All Blacks player Mark Robinson “sees no (greenwashing) evil” with the deal, saying that “Ineos will bring an innovative approach and dedication to the partnership with our Teams in Black, particularly around sustainability with their commitment to deliver a zero-carbon emission future in line with the Paris Agreement.”
Greenpeace lobbied in June to spike the deal.
“In the thick of the climate crisis, it’s gutting to see NZ Rugby sign a sponsorship deal with an oil and gas polluting conglomerate like Ineos that is responsible for driving us deeper into the climate crisis, and fouling the oceans with plastic pollution,” Greenpeace campaigner Juressa Lee said in a story that ran in The Guardian on July 28. “Oil companies like Ineos…are desperate to associate themselves with popular brands like the All Blacks and with New Zealand’s good name, but we shouldn’t let them get away with it.”
But that lobbying ultimately did not carry the day.
GSB’s Take: It is somehow fitting that the Ineos logo will appear on the backsides of the All Blacks/Black Ferns shorts.
Now, I’m sure the pandemic took a real bite out of the All Blacks income, but is Ineos the only company in the world who would come up with the $US5.6 million to support the Yankees of world rugby (or are the Yankees the All Blacks of baseball)? That seems hard to believe. Work harder, work smarter NZ Rugby!
Greenpeace fought the good fight but the deal is done. So, what to do now?
It says here that environmentally-minded All Blacks/All Ferns fans should organize protests, virtually and/or in-person. A boycott of merchandise with the Ineos logo would make a powerful statement.
And Fabien Paget of purpose-driven sports agency/consultancy 17-Sport asks this important question: “What about the other [NZ Rugby] sponsors such as Adidas, who has committed to push the boundaries of sustainability with its new ‘Own the Game’ strategy which includes a commitment that nine out of 10 of the company’s products will be made from sustainable materials by 2025. Will Adidas stay on board knowing Ineos is now a major partner?” GSB will reach out to Adidas to see what they have to say.
Finally, will some/many players speak out against the deal? This clearly comes with real risks: Backlash from management, coaches and some fans.
Yet, there are also risks from staying silent. Greenpeace campaigner Lee noted that many rugby players are Māori and Pasifika and that their communities face significant climate threats since they are on the “frontline of sea level rise and extreme storm events.”
Watch this space.
Photo at top: Rieko Ioane of New Zeland’s famed All Blacks national rugby team performs their iconic Haka dance before a match (Photo credit: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)