Green Biz Meets Green Sports

How Sports Can Help The Global Climate Pledge Reach 2 Billion Signees By 2022

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The U.S. Green Chamber of Commerce is thinking big when it comes to their Global Climate Pledge, which launched on Earth Day.

Its goal is to have 2 Billion people — roughly 28 percent of humanity — sign on by the end of 2022.

Sports needs to be a part of the Global Climate Pledge’s outreach plan. Consider that, in an increasingly fragmented media landscape with almost endless choices, sports is still the place where the world meets, in person or virtually. After all, an estimated 3.5 Billion people watched at least some of the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

GreenSportsBlog spoke with Michelle Thatcher, Executive Director of the U.S. Green Chamber, about the role sports will play in helping the Global Climate Pledge reach its audacious goal.

 

 

“I know nothing about sports. Nada.”

So said Michelle Thatcher within the first few seconds of our interview about the Global Climate Pledge.

That may be true but the Executive Director of the U.S. Green Chamber of Commerce — the organization behind the pledge — certainly understands the power of sports.

“One thing I do know is that there are billions of sports fans in the world,” acknowledged Thatcher. “If we are going to reach our goal of having two billion people sign the pledge by the end 2022, we are going need to connect with sports fans.”

 

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Michelle Thatcher (Photo credit: U.S. Green Chamber of Commerce)

 


 

Thatcher has always thought big when it has come to moving businesses to join in fighting for the environment and climate action rather than opposing it.

“Early in my career, while working with the Sierra Club and other nonprofits, I spent a lot of time fighting big business on the environment, from big real estate developments that destroyed local ecosystems to industries polluting the waterways to power companies refusing to transition to renewables ” she recalled.

But then Thatcher began to rethink how businesses could transition from being be part of the problem to part of the solution when she started working with small farmers and ranchers serving as Executive Director of the Association of Florida Conservation Districts.

“I started to see the positive impacts these types of businesses could make by just changing their practices”, said Thatcher. “Over time I began to think about how all businesses, whether large and small, could also become important parts of the solutions to our environmental and climate problems — just by changing their practices, too.”

After making that pivot, Thatcher founded the U.S. Green Chamber of Commerce in 2008, with a focus on bringing the Triple Bottom Line —people, planet and profit — to the forefront of business practices around the country.

“In the business culture today, the positive benefits of green practices has found momentum, but when we were getting started with the U.S. Green Chamber, ‘business sustainability’ was a very foreign, and often political or divisive, concept,” recalls Thatcher. “We had to figure out how to gain traction.”

The U.S. Green Chamber’s approach under Thatcher, now its CEO, has been to educate businesses that are not already in the sustainable lane. That that includes a focus on small and medium enterprises (SME’s).

“Big corporations have already begun implementing sustainable practices—which is fantastic — but unfortunately, the only make up five percent of the world’s, businesses,” she noted. “That leaves 95 percent of the companies which are small to midsized businesses outside in the cold. They represent our growing network and are the ones we really help with educational tools and resources.”

Just last year, the USGCC reached over 23,2oo small businesses, leaders and employees with their educational tools, information, certification and webinars. And they have expanded their outreach internationally for the first-time creating partnerships with six countries.

The U.S. Green Chamber is using its growing size and influence to show that businesses are keen to push forward on climate action, despite the anti-climate and anti-environmental policies of the Trump Administration.

“We are one of the partners in the We Are Still In movement, a coalition of U.S. state governments, including California and New York, as well as companies large and small that have made emissions commitments in line with the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement,” said Thatcher. “When taken together, We Are Still In is the third largest economy in the world.”

 

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At the end of 2018, a week after the release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report that said humanity has until 2030 to decarbonize by 50 percent in order to avoid climate change’s worst calamities, Thatcher attended a Self Organized Learning Experience (SOLE) event for businesses and nonprofits in Colombia on behalf of the USGCC.

Each participant was tasked with coming up with a big question that would, if answered affirmatively, have a positive impact on the world.

Her question sure was big: How do we get two billion people to take climate action over the next two years?

 

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Michelle Thatcher (4th from right) at the SOLE Conference in Colombia (Photo credit: Mauricio Cardenas)

 

Thatcher and her fellow conference attendees spent two hours brainstorming ways to create such a movement.

“The first step was really finding a way to motivate people into taking action” recalls Thatcher. “My first thought was that people aren’t taking action because they don’t feel the pain yet, so my initial thoughts were how do we make them feel that ‘pain’. But thankfully Sanjay, our skilled moderator from SOLE, guided us on a path to make us realize that inspiration was more of a motivating factor.”

“Really cool and fun ideas came from the everyone including proposals, slogans, and products,” Thatcher recalls. “But the most important takeaway for me was that the focus for the movement had to be positive and inspiring, not gloom and doom.”

 


 

Talk about positive and inspiring…and audacious: Eight months or so after the SOLE event, the Global Climate Pledge was born with the goal of getting two billion signatures — roughly 25 percent of the population — by the end of 2022.

Insane? Probably.

But Thatcher is undaunted. She knew the pledge had to be:

  1. An effective tool that is simple to communicate
  2. Inspiring to execute
  3. Inclusive-like “We are Still In”
  4. Action oriented- Everyone commits to simple actions
  5. A positive and fun experience for the participant: ‘I want to be part of the Pledge,’ rather than ‘I have to be part of it.’

Signees, whether they be individuals, companies or nonprofits, must commit to take at least one climate action. While these actions — from voting for candidates who support climate action to talking about climate change to walking or riding a bike more and driving less may appear to be basic and obvious — they have far from universal adoption.

The Global Climate Pledge launched on Earth Day 2020. Sports — as a driver of awareness and interest — was not high on the U.S. Green Chamber’s radar screen at the time.

That was about to change, when Alena Olsen, the global content director for the U.S. Green Chamber and the Pledge, and as it happens, a key member of the U.S. Women’s Rugby team, came to Thatcher with an idea.

 


 

Olsen asked if she could create a video with members of the USA Women’s and Men’s rugby teams supporting the Pledge timed to its Earth Day Launch; Thatcher gave her an enthusiastic go ahead.

The two-time All-American from the University of Michigan was able to produce the 1 minute 20 second video that shows a variety of her rugby mates taking a variety of individual environmentally-friendly, emissions-reducing actions, all despite the COVID-19 lockdown. The Canadian National Rugby Team as well as squads from Michigan and Harvard shared the video and it went viral from there.

 

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Alena Olsen (Photo credit: USA Rugby)

 

Despite not knowing anything about sports, Thatcher immediately saw the video’s value.

“Sports wasn’t on our radar before Alena came to me with the idea,” acknowledged Thatcher. “But as soon as I saw the video, I understood its potential power. Sports gets us beyond preaching the Pledge to our already ‘Deep Green’ choir, greatly expanding our potential audience. This is an urgent necessity given our audacious, two billion signees by New Year’s Eve 2022 target. So, we need to broaden our outreach to athletes in other sports.”

 

 

Turns out that another team member at the U.S. Green Chamber had a sports connection who helped them do just that: Her sister is on the U.S. Equestrian team — what are the odds of that? She produced another video which will be released soon.

 


 

It must be noted that Amazon, with just a slightly bigger budget than USGCC, launched their own Climate Pledge in 2019. How does their pledge differ from the USGCC’s? 

“Amazon’s Climate Pledge focuses solely on businesses making a new commitment of $2 billion to reduce carbon emissions,” Thatcher shared. “Ours is inclusive on every level. Every person, every group, every business, every organization, every religion, every indigenous tribe, every school, every sports team, every government, every club in the entire world can sign and participate in our pledge. Ours also has a very aggressive timeline and goal for engaging huge groups of people.”

Thatcher insists she is neither concerned about competition with Amazon nor worried about confusion between the pledge initiatives. She also welcomes Amazon’s decision to name the home of Seattle’s WNBA and new NHL team Climate Pledge Arena: “If a business signs Amazon’s pledge we are thrilled as we are all working to achieve similar goals. Same with the Arena: The more promotion about Climate Pledges, the better! In fact, we hope to collaborate with Amazon! Climate change is a  systemic problem and we need to address it with all hands on deck and not look at it as each one in our own silo.” 

 

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Climate Pledge Arena (Artist rendering: NHL Seattle)

 

 


 

Now, about that “getting two billion people to sign the Global Climate Pledge by the end of 2022” thing…Thatcher is undaunted by the extremely daunting task. The U.S. Green Chamber of Commerce’s plan includes:

  • Targeting China, India and other countries with sizable populations with  social media campaigns. The goal is to generate viral spread, with “one person asking two or three to join the movement, thereby generating exponential growth.”
  • Engaging nonprofit, climate and sustainability partners the world over to disseminate to their followings/outreach.
  • Reaching out to non-traditional targets for environmental messaging that the USGCC believes would be receptive to the pledge, from “accountants to farmers, religious organizations to meditation groups”
  • Partnering with celebrities and other influencers

 

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Oh yeah, and then there’s sports.

The last word on this story goes to a newly-enthusiastic sports fan.

“Athletes know how to build and be a part of team,” Thatcher said. “And we are building the largest team in the world, two billion strong.”

 

 


 

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