Following up on Tuesday’s trip through GreenSportsBlog Memory Lane, from our inception in May 2013 through 2017, we take you through our most important stories from 2018 through, well, today.
Enjoy!!! And thank you AGAIN!
This is the most disappointing Green-Sports-Wash story I’ve covered in the ten years of writing GreenSportsBlog.
Since 2015, GreenSportsBlog has posted no less than 10 stories featuring Sir Ben Ainslie and his Land Rover BAR sailing team’s significant and substantive sustainability programs, including an interview with Sir Ben. I publicly lauded his and his team’s sustainability bona fides any chance I got.
That is why, as recently as two weeks ago, I could not have imagined writing this sentence:
Sir Ben Ainslie is a greenwasher.
Sir Ben earned that moniker with the April 26th announcement that his team had signed Ineos, one of the UK’s leading fracking firms, as title sponsor for its 2021 America’s Cup campaign. This was big news beyond merely the Green-Sports niche: The Guardian and CNN, among others, covered it.
GSB gave Ainslie its ‘Greenwasher of the Year’ award for 2018. Despite Ineos’ sizable investment, Ainslie and team did not win the 2021 America’s Cup. He has become skipper of a leading team in the SailGP catamaran racing circuit. SailGP says its purpose is to ‘be the world’s most sustainable and purpose-driven global sports and entertainment platform’ so there is a bit of a disconnect with Ainslie in the fold. He says that his intent was to influence Ineos on sustainability but there is no tangible evidence of that being the case. Ineos and its CEO Jim Ratcliffe have continued to be dogged by greenwashing charges (click here and here to read more). Ratcliffe, one of the wealthiest people in Great Britain, remains one of two or three bidders for potential control of Manchester United. The most recent estimated price tag is $5.55 billion.
Jim Ratcliffe and Sir Ben Ainslie during their days as partners on the latter’s 2021 America’s Cup campaign (Photo credit: Ineos)
Julia Pallé was especially busy back in 2018. She was shepherding the growth and direction of the sustainability efforts of Formula E, the fully-electric racing series which was starting its fifth season that fall. And she was also President of the fledgling Sport and Sustainability International (SandSI).
From the beginning, Formula E worked to manage our events in a sustainable fashion, to ISO standards. We engage deep into our supply chain to make sure we use sustainable products and services. We recently achieved ISO 20121 certification for the entire championship. Every season, we conduct a Life Cycle Assessment to become more efficient in all aspects of our operations.
We are of the mind that our races themselves will change consumer behaviors. As you say, we are racing EVs on city streets mainly in urban centers. Fans see that and say to themselves “that could be me driving an EV!”
[On SandSI] Our focus is global, to ensure that the most sustainable practices are disseminated to sports organizations all over the world and to put sustainability and sports on the agenda of major global organizations like the UN.
Pallé continues in her sustainability director role at Formula E, helping to push the organization and electric motorsports to new green heights. We had another interview with Julia in 2020, during the height of the COVID pandemic. As for SandSI, Pallé has moved on from the Presidency to become Board Chair.
I became aware of the lefty relief pitcher’s interest in climate change through his Op Ed on the urgency of climate action that had appeared in Fast Company magazine.
Since I’ve been in pro ball, I’ve wanted to play with a higher purpose in mind. Given my interest in climate and the environment since seeing “An Inconvenient Truth” in high school, and given the recent onslaught of extreme weather, it seemed natural for me to move in that direction. About a year ago I got involved with the Urban Ecology Center, a great nonprofit in Milwaukee. They work to return abandoned waste lands back to their natural, pristine states. Then they bring kids who don’t have access to nature out to the newly restored lands.
It was late 2019 and I was planning the launch of EcoAthletes, the nonprofit that inspires and coaches athletes to lead climate action. I knew I needed to find an athlete with #ClimateComeback credibility to become an EcoAthletes Champion. This would signal other climate-minded athletes that joining us would be a good thing for the environment and for them. Brent Suter was the first person I contacted. He not only said yes right away, he also agreed to be part of our advisory board. I can’t overstate what that meant to us then and for the first three years of our existence.
Suter, after seven successful seasons with the Brewers is now in his first season with the Colorado Rockies. He is working on getting involved with environmental and climate-related nonprofits in the Denver area.
April 22 (Earth Day): Leading Lights Offer Sports-Climate Change Moonshot Ideas for Earth Day
I’ve long felt that the Green-Sports world has treaded way too lightly when it comes to climate change specifically. While I haven’t seen any data to back this up, I think that sports commissioners, team owners, and broadcasters are likely afraid of the politics of climate change and would rather not engage on the issue publicly. Or, if they do, they’d rather talk about sustainability, a word that has so many meanings as to often mean nothing at all.
Things have changed for the better the last 3-4 years — we’re still not nearly where we need to be but at least there is some positive movement. But back in 2019, this lack of ambition really angered me.
Rather than becoming embittered, I decided to try to do something about it. So, that Earth Day, I invited nine Green-Sports All-Stars to offer their ‘Moonshot’ ideas — BIG IDEAS on how the sports world could make a real, measurable difference on climate change. Check out their ideas here.
I’m biased but I thought those ideas were awesome! One, the idea for climate-active athletes to be honored with an award, has become reality. A couple others are being discussed/on drawing boards. Still, I haven’t noticed much in the way of big climate-sports ideas being seriously considered since this post and that’s more than four years ago now. We need to keep pushing, keep going big!
A sense of humor is a necessity in almost all aspects of life — and that is especially true when it comes to climate change. I’ve tried, from time to time, to inject some levity into GreenSportsBlog. The Moon Shot idea was one such example, as I brought Jerry, George and Kramer from “Seinfeld” into the brainstorm in a follow up post. Check it out here and, remember, we need to BAG THE SWAG BAG!
We made another attempt at GSB humor that same April, conducting a mock interview with Tiger Woods after he won that epic Masters, his first major championship in 11 years. In it, we imagined that his kids, Samantha and Charlie, pushed him on climate.
George Costanza (played by Jason Alexander) and Jerry Seinfeld discuss Green-Sports at the diner
The opening to this post said it all:
Women are the Engines of Green-Sports.
What did that mean in 2019?
Women advocated, built and collaborated.
Women listened, learned and led.
Women lobbied, produced and won (and lost a few, too).
Women worked inside sports governing bodies, leagues and teams, from the entry level to the C-Suite, to devise and enact meaningful greening programs.
Women from outside the Green-Sports ecosystem pushed sports to move faster on climate change.
In 2023, women are driving Green-Sports innovation more so than they did in 2019. That is the case on the field as well as in front offices, league offices, etc. Roughly 3 out of 4 EcoAthletes Champions are women.
St. Patrick’s Day, 2020. This was smack dab in the middle of Wave 1 of COVID-19 in the USA, with cases exploding, then-New York Governor Andrew Cuomo empathizing, and then-President Trump COVID-denying.
Sports was certainly not immune.
Six days earlier, Rudy Gobert, then of the Utah Jazz, tested positive. Within a day, the dominoes started falling: the NBA shut down. College basketball conference tournaments canceled, with March Madness soon to follow. The NHL stopped its season. Major League Baseball’s spring training closed up shop.
GSB imagined what the sports world would look like if it reacted with the same seriousness and alacrity when it came to the climate crisis.
Leaders of the top pro men’s and women’s sports leagues from around the world, along with the NCAA, IOC and FIFA, as well as a variety of players’ associations, yesterday agreed to a stunning list of changes to the way games are played…The centerpiece of the new regime is a strict season-long carbon emissions budget for each league…Each year, the budget will decrease by an agreed upon amount.
This has not come close to taking place. It needs to at least be part of the discussion in public and in the corridors of sports power.
GSB added GreenSportsPod to our offerings. It was fitting that we kicked off our occasional podcast series kicked off with an interview with a Founding Father of the Green-Sports movement, Dr. Allen Hershkowitz — former Green Sports Alliance President, founding director of SandSI, and environmental science advisor to the New York Yankees, MLS and the NBA.
Also in 2020, we offered this compelling interview with Garry Gilliam, retired NFL offensive lineman/founder & CEO of The Bridge Eco Village. His story could be made into a movie.
June 24: Interview with Etienne Stott, UK Olympic Gold Medal Winning Kayaker Who Sticks His Neck Out for the Climate
Etienne Stott walks the climate activist walk as powerfully as any athlete I’ve yet encountered. He brought the same focus, commitment, and drive to the climate fight as he did to kayaking. On the latter, Stott and his teammate won gold in the 2-man race at his home Olympics, London 2012. On climate, Stott…
…became a vegetarian when I retired for environmental reasons and eventually went fully plant-based. [And] I started becoming more publicly political. I heard about Extinction Rebellion or XR from a mate on the Swedish canoe team. XR is a politically non-partisan international movement that uses non-violent direct action to persuade governments to act justly on the Climate and Ecological Emergency. We would reluctantly get arrested to expose the gravity and the urgency of the crisis and to express our anger at the woeful shortcomings of our government on the issue as our emissions keep on rising.
Etienne Stott, co-founder of Champions for Earth, a group of mostly British athletes, has kept up his XR climate activism. He and four other XR protesters glued themselves to parts of a Shell tanker as it left a London gas station in April, 2022. They were cleared of protest charges earlier this year.
Etienne Stott navigates a British Premier Division race in Nottingham (Photo credit: Etienne Stott)
As was the case with mega-stars like Drew Brees and Tiger Woods who wouldn’t actually talk to us, we imagined what a conversation with Thunberg would be like via a mock interview. In particular, we would have discussed how the sports world was doing on the climate fight and how it can go — as the Olympic Motto says — Higher, Stronger, Faster.
[Faux Thunberg]: On the one hand, I believe that the sportsmen and women who have devoted their whole lives to make it to the Olympic stage deserve the opportunity to perform on it and to inspire billions of fans. The same thing goes for football players who make it to a World Cup. And for millions of fans, Olympics and World Cups are ways to connect and be inspired and energized. And we need this.
On the other hand, the climate crisis is immediate and existential. The scale of transition needed is, dare I say it, Olympian. Our leaders — political, business, and cultural — are not moving us at all towards the transition to the clean economy we need.
Greta Thunberg cheering for the Swedish Women’s National Team during the 2019 Women’s World Cup (Photo credit: Instagram)
GSB asked seven Olympians/Paralympians — EcoAthletes Champions all — who either took part in Tokyo 2020 and/or participated in prior Games, from seven different sports, to get their takes on how climate change impacts their sports.
But before the pandemic, Team USA traveled to Qatar for a tournament and we played a game outside, and we needed to walk about a mile to get to the venue. How can I describe it? It was so blazing hot, I felt like I couldn’t breathe! I’ve never experienced anything like that; I thought I was going to die! And I generally like the heat. But this was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. This was not normal.
It’s sad to say but I am really glad I don’t play a sport that is played outside.
Collier, who became a first-time mom to daughter Mila a year ago, has become a leading voice among athletes on the need for climate action and climate justice for this generation, for Mila’s and beyond.
Robert Saleh is the upbeat head coach of the perennially downtrodden New York Jets. That summer, his first on the job, he brought energy to a punch-drunk fan base. But that energy wasn’t clean. His ‘All GAS, No BRAKE!’ mantra was quickly adopted by the faithful who packed public practice sessions at the Jets’ training camp in Florham Park, New Jersey. This long-time Jets fan thought Saleh needed to go a cleaner, greener route. How about ‘All ELECTRIC, No BRAKE’, Coach?
A couple of our guys have Teslas. But, ‘All ELECTRIC, No BRAKE’?…It just doesn’t have the same ring to it! Truth is, we’ll be cool as soon as we start winning games! But ‘All ELECTRIC! No BRAKE!’? I’ll work on it. Maybe it’ll sound better as time goes on.
Coach Saleh has not yet listened to GreenSportsBlog as he’s still using “All GAS, No BRAKE”. I’m going to attend training camp this summer and will bring an ‘All ELECTRIC, No BRAKE’ sign to see if I can get his attention.
New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh (Photo credit: New York Jets)
Here are the ingredients for a potentially powerful Green-Sports recipe:
Take Keil Corey, Matt Wolff and four other soccer-loving friends. Then add a heaping helping of belief that sports can and must lead on climate change. Sprinkle in a pinch of entrepreneurial zest. Finally, bring this mélange to a state without a professional sports team. And, voilà, you have Vermont Green F.C., the Burlington-based expansion club that started its first season last May in the fourth tier of U.S. soccer with climate justice firmly baked into its DNA.
Wolff: It’s April 2020, the first wave of the pandemic. I was walking around my folks’ place in Massachusetts, thinking about the growth of soccer in the US, how supporters group culture is growing, too, and about the need to make real strides on the climate fight…
Corey: …And not long after that, Matt reached out to me and several others — we ultimately grew to be a group of six guys — to pitch us on launching a club in Burlington with environmental stewardship and social justice at its core.
Vermont Green had a strong inaugural campaign, making the USL League 2 Northeast Division playoffs and filling their 2,500 seat stadium on a regular basis. Their second season is off to a strong 2-0 start.
A small but growing cadre of athletes have become eco-preneurs, starting green businesses, most often in the sports sector. Doug Lynch, a Canadian former pro ice hockey player and an EcoAthletes Champion, is a great example.
[After retiring from pro hockey and having a personal eco-awakening], serial entrepreneur Lynch — he had already birthed seven companies, mostly in the hockey sector — asked himself ‘where does synthetic apparel come from and where does it end up? How can we do things differently to protect the environment and the climate?’
The answers to these questions led him to launch Zenkai Sports, a performance apparel startup with sustainability as a core pillar.
A year and change later, Zenkai Sports is in post-startup growth mode. Lynch is building his business thanks to social media/word-of-mouth recommendations from athlete ambassadors, including several EcoAthletes Champions.
Doug Lynch carries the puck for the Edmonton Oilers (Photo credit: Edmonton Oilers)
December 15: Australia’s Eco-Activist Athletes
Every year since 2014, GSB has awarded a Best-Worst Green-Sports story of the year. Last year, it went to Australia’s Eco-Activist athletes who are helping their country — long a friendly home for the fossil fuel industry — move in the climate action direction.
An impressive, indefatigable group of pioneering Australian eco-activist athletes — including a rugby legend-turned-senator, a growing group of Aussie Rules players, a principled squad of netballers, an outspoken two-time Olympic race walker, and more — played important, high profile roles in midwifing this nascent move towards a #ClimateComeback.
In his first year in office, David Pocock, the aforementioned rugby legend-turned-senator, has been a leading voice and an important vote for climate action in the closely divided senate.
Senator David Pocock, then playing for the Australian National Rugby Team, makes a tackle in the 2015 Rugby World Cup final vs. New Zealand’s All Blacks (Photo credit: StuffNZ/Getty Images)
Lina Taylor’s ‘no is the beginning of the road to yes’ story is the stuff of legend, given the severity of the nos she encountered. That ethos that allowed a girl from Bulgaria, a country with no beach volleyball infrastructure or tradition, to become a two-time Olympian. After becoming very concerned about the biggest NO facing humanity — climate change — Taylor began to work to turn that into a YES by launching Climate Executive Coaching (CEC).
“Our plan is to be the go-to source for climate-focused coaching for Fortune 500s to the venture capital firms looking to fund companies that could be the engines of the next big advances in clean tech. We will help their C-Level executives and other high-level managers become more effective climate leaders more quickly than they would have otherwise.”
Taylor and the CEC team, at this spring’s Climate Executive Accelerator, helped numerous executives as well as a group of athletes become more effective climate leaders.
The New Jersey Democrat is a leading voice in the Senate on environmental issues, from climate justice to sustainable agriculture. For these reasons and more, EcoAthletes recently inducted him as the fourth member of its Hall of Fame.
The 22-minute interview takes the viewer through how:
- Sports played a crucial role in Senator Booker’s life,
- The American Dream and the GREEN Dream are inextricably linked,
- His plant-based diet influenced his work on the senate’s Ag Committee, and,
- Climate action can and must be much more of a bipartisan endeavor.
Click here to watch the interview…
Senator Cory Booker during his days as a Stanford University tight end (Photo credit: Stanford University Athletics)
…And keep reading GreenSportsBlog and listening to our podcasts to get the Green-Sports news, interviews and commentary that will keep you on the cutting edge of the #ClimateComeback
Photo at top: Lina Taylor dives for a ball at the 2004 Athens Olympics (Photo credit: International Olympic Committee)