Lily Brazel is both a member of Australia’s national field hockey squad and is a distruptive eco-preneur as founder Stature Clothing Australia, a sustainable performance apparel company.
Brazel’s unique perspective — and her powerful voice — makes her an ideal occasional guest contributor to GreenSportsBlog.
Her first column for GSB delves into the lessons, positive and negative, that Brazel has learned from sport that are relevant to her sustainable business career.
Lew Blaustein and I met (virtually) back in May this year through his recently-launched nonprofit, EcoAthletes. In our first Zoom chat, we instantly connected, and it felt like we were on the same ‘vibrational frequency’. We both shared the same intense passion for protecting our Earth and had the same thought that athletes and sport could play a powerful role in the #climatecomeback.
Since then, we’ve been working together as part of the EcoAthletes community and sharing our stories with each other through our respective podcasts. Now, Lew has put the idea forward for me to write for GreenSportsBlog, starting with a piece about how the skills and lessons from my sporting career have been applicable to the skills needed to build a sustainable business. You see, last September, I launched Stature Clothing Australia as a sustainable, cradle-to-cradle performance apparel company.
I’ve found this piece challenging to write because although sport has taught me to be driven and dedicated, it has also taught me some other lessons that are often airbrushed out of media coverage.
Yes, sport has taught me, since the age of seven, to seek continuous improvement. To be more. To do more. To never be satisfied. To never stop. This can be extremely applicable in business and I’m grateful for the skills that playing field hockey at the highest level in Australia has allowed me to develop.
However, the main commonality that I’ve found between the life of an athlete and the world of business is the ‘extractive’ approach that dominates our capitalist system.
I want to challenge this system, but first, let me explain what I mean by extractive approach.
Sport, in particular the athletes who play them, is clearly a highly valuable resource in our world — audiences that number in the billions for FIFA World Cups and Olympic Games is but one of many metrics that proves the point. And like many of the resources we have access to, we have mined and mined and mined our resources to breaking point.
In reading Simon Sinek’s book ‘The Infinite Game’, the author states that one of the most common questions he gets asked by leaders is ‘how do I get the most out of my people?’ Sinek finds this question backwards — and so do I — because it shows that we see people as something we can take from, as a resource to be mined and, yes, extracted.
When I read this, a light bulb exploded in my head because “We’re just trying to get the best out of you” is a phrase you hear ALL THE TIME from coaches as an athlete. We are seen as a resource to be taken from. To be emptied and leave our ‘best’ out on the field. To be pushed, sometimes beyond our breaking points. And that takes some doing because, to get to the elite level, athletes have to be seriously competitive people to begin with.
Athletes are coached to never let a setback actually SET YOU BACK. That mentality builds up your resilience when you are told ‘no, you didn’t make the team’, to not being good enough and to losing. You develop an immunity to intolerable people, including some coaches. You just keep going.
And this is no different to how the capitalist system sees natural resources (humans included). We take and we take and we take, pushing the natural system to the edge, just as athletes are pushed to the edge in hope to win.
You may be thinking this is a bit of an extreme comparison. That athletes are getting paid to play the game they love, and the physical and emotional limits of athletes don’t compare to the livable limits of our Earth.
But I believe the comparison is an apt one.
After all, I’ve felt it.
The emptiness you have after giving yourself to a game or to every training session day in day out for long periods of time. To continually empty the best out of yourself, little by little for the potential taste of success. I sense that’s how our planet — and the atmosphere surrounding it — is reacting after centuries of extraction of resources.
This has especially been the case since the onset of the Industrial Revolution about 180 years ago, when the extraction and subsequent burning of fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas, have given us some great “wins” — modern conveniences, innovations in healthcare, etc., but also now is delivering big “losses”, most notably the “climate cancer”, per Sinek, that threatens all life forms.
This begs several questions:
- Rather than seeing the world and athletes as resources to be extracted, as Sinek puts it, we could flip the question to be ‘how do we create an environment in which my people can work to their natural best?’
- How do we approach sport, business and global systems to create environments in which all life on Earth can work to their natural best?
- How do we fuel and refuel our systems to sustain them healthfully?
Sport has shown me how not to treat resources. Sport has shown me that we shouldn’t Just Do It because we’ve been trained that way… or because it’s how things have been done. Sport has shown me that, above all, healthy environments are the ones that thrive… that win.
These learnings are reflected in my approach to Stature. I continually question how my business can create an environment in which all life on Earth can thrive? How my business can be regenerative instead of extractive?
These are big questions and I can’t say I have definitive answers, but I do have some big ideas.
Big ideas like regenerative apparel that cleans the air when you wear it and feeds the soil when it can no longer be worn.
But these are questions that every section of society, including sport and business, needs to be asking, answering and acting upon, and with a sense of urgency.
Photo at top: Lily Brazel (Photo credit: Stature Clothing Australia)