News and Notes

Super Bowl and Winter Olympics Green Edition

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Super Bowl LVI and the Beijing Winter Olympics are in the rear view mirror. With that being the case, GreenSportsBlog is here with a News & Notes column that reviews the Green-Sports stories that percolated in and around these two mega-events over the past two weeks.


BEIJING WINTER OLYMPICS

CANADIAN OLYMPIAN SEYI SMITH, WHO RAN ON CLIMATE PLATFORM, FALLS SHORT IN BID TO EARN SPOT ON IOC ATHLETES COMMISSION

Seyi (“SHAY”) Smith used some of the skills that helped him become that rare Olympian to compete in both the Summer (4×100 relay at London 2012) and Winter (bobsled at Pyeonchang 2018) Games — perseverance, passion, and problem solving — in his campaign to win a seat on the IOC Athletes Commission. The Canadian EcoAthletes Champion, who ran on a climate action platform, was one of 16 candidates running for two spots on the Commission, with the electorate being the athletes at the Beijing Winter Olympics. Only 2022 Winter Games athletes or those who competed at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang could be on the ballot. The vote was conducted throughout the Olympiad.

Seyi Smith (2nd from left)and his Canadian Olympic teammates at the start of a run at Pyeongchang 2018 on Day 1 of the 4-man bobsled competition (Photo credit: Canadian Broadcast Corporation)

Smith, who was in Beijing as part of Team Canada’s support staff and so was able to campaign during the Games, overcame some structural challenges but couldn’t surmount enough of them, finishing in 4th place.

“I knew it wouldn’t be easy but I had a quiet confidence about getting into the top two,” Smith told GreenSportsBlog. “And making it onto the Athletes Commission for an eight year term would be a very big deal — the Commissioners also become one of 100 or so members of the International Olympic Committee, which decide policy matters, vote on future Olympics sites and more. I had great plans to advance climate action and my climate message seemed to be well received by the athletes I spoke to. So, I was really gutted when I heard that I didn’t make it.”

The campaign was an uphill climb for Smith. He figured he could count on 200 of the 600 or so votes needed to get into the top two by getting the support of the lion’s share of his ‘base’ — Canada’s Olympians. The rest would have to come from another base — fellow bobsledders and athletes from the other sliding sports (luge and skeleton) — as well as from other athletes he could personally persuade with his climate message.

“It was awkward at first, going up to athletes I didn’t know, talking to them while they were on their way to or from a training session,” recalled Smith. “But, as the Games went on, I got more comfortable with it, finding out what motivated the athletes, getting to know them a bit. And my climate action platform seemed to be very well received. So, the conversations became much less nerve wracking. Problem was that, during the latter part of the Olympics, many of the athletes I encountered had already voted.”

Ultimately, Smith was likely done in by the fact that, of the 16 candidates, eight came from his bailiwick, the sliding sports, splitting that vote.

“First place finisher Martin Fourcade of France benefitted from being a medal winner and the only biathlete in the field,” Smith acknowledged. “Frieda Hansdotter of Sweden, who came in second, was the only alpine skier. She also had great name recognition, having won Gold in 2018. Congratulations to them both.”

Frida Hansdotter of Sweden came in second in the IOC Athletes Commission election in Beijing (Photo credit: CGTN)

While disappointed, Smith is certainly not giving up on his commitment to use the power of sport to spur the #ClimateComeback.

“I always figured that I had three modes of attack on climate action,” he noted. “The IOC Athletes Commission, grassroots sports action, and engaging athletes. The first mode has been closed but I will continue to work on the grassroots with Racing to Zero YYC, the nonprofit I launched to help grassroots track meets become greener. And I will continue to engage athletes to speak out on climate in Canada and through my role as an EcoAthletes Champion. And I hopefully will get to speak to the two new members of the Athletes Commission about the need for climate action. My wife is about to give birth to our first child so making a difference on climate is something I must do.”

 

FAT TIRE BEER PRESSES IOC TO REQUIRE OFFICIAL SPONSORS TO ADOPT STRONG CLIMATE ACTION PLANS

Fat Tire, an Amber Ale offering from the über-sustainable New Belgium Brewing Co. launched a campaign at the start of Beijing 2022, urging the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to require that companies seeking to advertise around the Games must adopt strong 2030 climate action plans to qualify as official sponsors.

“The IOC has shown leadership in adopting its own climate action plan, and now it’s time to use their influence to push big companies to do the same by requiring climate leadership from all future sponsors,” said New Belgium CEO Steve Fechheimer. “Companies that want to show love for winter sports should be invested in protecting their future, too.”

To get beer drinkers and winter sports-lovers even more involved, Fat Tire and Protect Our Winters, the nonprofit that engages the snow sports community to take action against climate change, launched a petition telling the IOC that if big corporations want to profit from the Winter Games, they need to invest in winter’s future through real climate leadership. 

Fat Tire pointed out that two-thirds of Fortune 500 companies still don’t have a 2030 climate plan. They launched a simple tool that allows users to see which companies have shown climate leadership and urge those still lacking action to step up.

Finally, as part of the campaign, Fat Tire also released “Point of Snow Return.” The company calls it “a winter-friendly dark Helles Lager brewed with spruce tips.” 100 percent of its sales are earmarked to support Protect Our Winters.

Fat Tire’s ‘Point of Snow Return’ label (Image credit: New Belgium Beer Co.)


SUPER BOWL LVI

A MIXED GREEN SCORECARD

When the incandescent defensive tackle Aaron Donald wrapped his body around Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow to force a last-gasp incomplete pass, he wrapped up Super Bowl LVI for the Los Angeles Rams, 23-20. And with that, the greatest, most cliff-hanging-ly competitive run of post-season football¹ was over.

The Super Bowl’s green scorecard was more muddled.


WIN

The NFL continued its carbon neutral Super Bowl tradition, now dating back 17 years. CBS Marketwatch offered a solid summary of the league’s and SoFi Stadium’s greening efforts —

  • Plastic straws and cups were out at LA’s Sofi Stadium, replaced by compostable, biodegradable versions of the former from WinCup and aluminum versions of the latter from Ball.
  • The host committee planted trees across the Los Angeles region, with a focus on underserved neighborhoods.
  • The league purchased renewable energy credits to offset much of the energy used at the game.
  • Electric truck makers Nikola Corp. and BYD Motors hauled beer to the game as well as to area bars and stores for Anheuser-Busch.

A Nikola Motor electric truck on the way to Super Bowl LVI to deliver Anheuser-Busch beer (Photo credit: Nikola Motor)

LOSS

That compostable straws, aluminum cups and such at a Super Bowl venue are still considered big news is a big problem. If we were still in 2015? Sure, aluminum cups would’ve been news. But that doesn’t cut it in 2022.

If you’re reading this story, you of course know that we are in the midst of a human-caused climate crisis. In football terms, Team Humanity is down by 10 points, there are two minutes left and we’ve got the ball on our own 5 yard line and it’s 4th and 19. And yet the NFL is extolling aluminum cups? That is not nearly good enough, given the scope and severity of the climate crisis.

What would be good enough? Last year at around this time, GSB imagined being Commissioner of the NFL for a day and in that 24 hours, we would institute a serious climate policy. Ideas included committing as a league to reach the Paris Agreement emissions targets by 2040, ten years ahead of the standard (I’d push it to 2030 now), spiking transportation emissions, and engaging fans where they watch the games — on TV and on their devices. Think about it: 80,000 people watched Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium. 119 million people in the US watched it everywhere but SoFi. The NFL needs to reach that much bigger group with real climate messaging — and action.


WIN

Speaking of the many millions watching at home or at restaurants and bars, 20 percent of the ads during the Super Bowl featured a sustainability message. This continues a welcome trend of increased environmental/climate themed Super Bowl advertising since 2005.

Super Bowl ads referencing climate change, 2005-2022 (Source: Time)

The vast majority of that growth comes from electric vehicle (EV) advertising, a powerful validation of current and future sales growth. According to the International Energy Agency, automakers sold 6.6 million plug-in vehicles in 2021, more than double the 3 million sold in 2020, and more than triple the 2.2 million sold in 2019

BMW, Chevy, Kia and Nissan led the way — Tesla has, to this point, stayed away from consumer advertising spending and so, like the New York Jets², does not play in the Super Bowl.

Beyond EVs, Salesforce implored viewers to look at what we can do to save life on Earth so we don’t have to try to, you know, colonize Mars. Or, as Matthew McConaughey put it in the Salesforce spot, “While the others look to the metaverse and Mars, let’s stay here and restore ours.” Alright, alright!

LOSS

Of course, 80 percent of the Super Bowl ads had nothing to do with sustainability. Etienne White, writing in Sustainable Brandssaid “it seems the climate crisis is not yet a force driving brand messaging at the Super Bowl…The vast majority of this year’s ads encouraged us all to keep flying, to keep eating highly processed foods; and, in general, to keep on ‘buying’ as we’ve always done…It seems [that] the climate crisis and social inequities are not yet reasons for brands not to appear at the Super Bowl; nor, unfortunately, are most companies seeing it as an opportunity to drive adoption of sustainable behaviors at scale.” 

I know what you’re thinking: “C’mon GSB, you can’t expect Super Bowl advertisers and the NFL to prioritize sustainability over selling more stuff.”

While we don’t expect a massive change by Super Bowl advertisers to, as Etienne White put it, “to use their air time to address the climate crisis, biodiversity loss and the societal challenges we face”, we do need to see a bigger move in the climate action direction by brands beyond EVs. It will certainly help if the Salesforce campaign is deemed to be a success. 


POTENTIAL WIN

#FlipTheTurf, a grassroots petition/social media campaign on behalf of replacing the 16 artificial turf fields at NFL stadiums with natural grass kicked off during the Super Bowl and is gaining signatures and attention from players and fans alike. 

Sponsored by Pennington Grass Seed, the petition cites the expected reasons to switch — the dramatically increased injury rates on turf vs. grass: 28 percent more non-contact lower body injuries, 32 percent more non-contact knee injuries, and 69 percent more non-contact foot and ankle injuries occurred on turf, based on NFL injury data collected from 2012 to 2018.

Thankfully, the folks at Pennington also delved into the significant environmental and climate costs associated with turf fields³: 

  • Turf can get up to 60°F hotter than natural grass, increasing the rate at which toxic gases are released and ingested
  • Currently, turf can’t be recycled in the US, leading to an estimated 330 million pounds of landfill waste each year, and microplastics in our water and irrigation systems
  • On average, one turf field requires over 440,000 pounds of global warming-producing petroleum derivatives

Owners of the 16 artificial field teams may well say that it is too expensive to switch to grass. But is that really the case when the above costs are factored in? It is imperative for players and fans to let the owners know that these healthcare and environmental costs are part of the artificial turf vs. natural grass scoreboard. Watch this space.

Photo at top: Seyi Smith (Photo credit: Canadian Olympic Committee)


¹ Closest margin of victory, combined Divisional (quarterfinal), Championship (semifinal) and Super Bowl rounds since 1970: 2021: 3.43 points, 2003: 6.14, 1970: 7.00, 2012: 7.71
² I’m a Jets fan. I can make that kind of joke. 
³ 2017 Synthetic Turf Council data detailing an average 440,000 lbs of turf and infill per sports field and an estimated 750 fields being replaced in 2018

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#ClimateComeback

Episode 18: Claire Poole, Founder of Sport Positive Summit and Host of Climate of Sport Podcast

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