GreenSportsBlog, like everyone else, is feeling our way around this new, fast-evolving, perilous, coronavirus world.
GSB will post any stories we find from the new intersection of Green, Sports, and Coronavirus, as was the case with our two most recent efforts. We will do our best not to force the issue.
And we will also go live with some posts that do not mention coronavirus at all. That is the case today.
Our thought here is that the Green-Sports world needs to move forward, even through this unprecedented time. The climate crisis, the plastic ocean waste issue, and other serious environmental issues, while impacted in some ways by the coronavirus, are certainly not waiting for the pandemic to end.
So, neither will we.
On to today’s post about nonprofit Oceanic Global and its work with sports venues to reduce plastic ocean waste. It was largely written before the coronavirus outbreak took hold in the U.S. We look forward to a time, hopefully in the not-too-distant future, when sports has safely restarted and Oceanic Global has resumed its important work with the industry.
In the meantime, stay socially distant and safe.
Innovative nonprofit Oceanic Global engages new audiences in ocean conservation. They tap into universal passions like sports and music to raise awareness about issues impacting our oceans and to provide individual and industry solutions that drive positive change.
Program Director Cassia Patel took GreenSportsBlog through its unique approaches that are designed to help the sports world with its single-use plastic waste problems.
I went into my conversation with Cassia Patel of Oceanic Global with a bit of healthy skepticism.
After all, there are a number of organizations working with the sports industry on plastic waste. What can Oceanic Global bring to the table that’s different and compelling?
Quite a bit, it turns out.
OCEANIC GLOBAL HELPS SPORTS VENUES WITH SINGLE-USE PLASTIC REDUCTION (SUPR)
“An important part of our work is our industry solutions program, The Oceanic Standard, Patel said. “It is a set of free, industry-specific, research-backed guides as well as a badge verification system we created to help businesses adopt sustainable operating practices that meet both business and environmental needs. We drive scalable behavioral change towards responsible consumption to protect and restore the health of our ocean, our planet, and humanity.”
Hospitality, the music industry and corporate office spaces are three of the sectors for which Oceanic Global has developed guides. Professional sports is a high profile and relatively new industry for the nonprofit, which is deploying its single-use plastic reduction — or SUPR — pledge initiative.
SUPR is a collaboration between Oceanic Global and NEXUS, the latter being an organization — made up of young philanthropists, entrepreneurs and investors — committed to accelerating progress on a number of urgent issues, climate change and ocean waste chief among them.
“One of our Board Members, James Sternlicht who is also a NEXUS member was speaking at their annual summit about our work with The Oceanic Standard program and in the room were a few sport stadium owners,” Patel recalled. “One of the NEXUS members and stadium owners, Clark Seydel of the Atlanta Hawks and State Farm Arena, asked James if our program’s infrastructure could be applied to stadiums and that is where SUPR was born. We are now in the process of approaching the 65 teams and venues NEXUS has access to at the ownership level about SUPR.”
The SUPR team began meeting with senior venue executives in the spring of 2019. They gained strong interest from several, including Scott Jenkins, General Manager of Mercedes-Benz Stadium, home of the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United; Mike Dohnert, VP of Operations for the New York Mets at Citi Field and Sissy Burkhard, Manager of Cleaning Services at PNC Park, home of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Accenture provided pro bono support to SUPR and has been instrumental in building a business case for large-scale venues to reduce their single-use plastic consumption and improve waste management practices. They use hard data to demonstrate with hard data how SUPR’s benefits can exceed its costs.
Working with its partners, Oceanic Global sweats the details when it conducts a sports venue’s SUPR assessment or audit.
“We look at a sports venue’s entire procurement process and existing waste management infrastructure in extreme detail,” shared Patel, who foreshadowed her current career when she led a campaign to eliminate plastic water bottles while in sixth grade in Hong Kong. “We work with their food service ware providers and/or procurement teams to assess what front of house and back of house single-use plastic items they are order, look at the costs per item, and we provide sustainable alternatives that are price comparable. Ultimately, we come up with a ‘plastic footprint’ metric for them — quantifying the number of single-use plastic items diverted from the waste stream.”
Getting buy-in from food service providers on SUPR has been crucial to its success. The big players in the industry — Aramark, Centerplate and Levy — are all supportive of the mission, bringing operations managers, concession stand workers and more into the fold.
The SUPR team is implementing the program at four U.S. sports venues thus far: Atlanta’s LEED Platinum-certified Mercedes-Benz Stadium; State Farm Arena, home of the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks; Fiserv Forum, the new LEED-certified home of the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks and Hard Rock Stadium, home of the Miami Dolphins and site of last month’s Super Bowl LIV. Patel expects case studies from these venues should become available in the next 12 months.
SUPR made its presence felt in South Florida in the run-up to the Big Game.
“We went down to Miami to launch the SUPR movement the week before the Super Bowl,” Patel related. “NEXUS, Oceanic Global, and Accenture hosted a multi-sport Owners Roundtable. Over 30 U.S. sports team owners or their representatives were in attendance, along with Roger McClendon, Executive Director of the Green Sports Alliance, an important SUPR supporter. Hard Rock Stadium’s VP of operations Sam Coghill shared their journey towards a plastic-free Super Bowl. There was a terrific energy and response at the roundtable, with several new venues expressing interest in SUPR.”
The SUPR team plans to spread the SUPR word via similar, high level get togethers at upcoming mega-sports events once the sports world ramps up post-coronavirus.
SUPER GROWTH PROJECTED FOR SUPR AMONG LEAGUES, FANS
Per Patel, the immediate next step is to publish SUPR case studies: “Our goal, over the next year, is to publish two SUPR case studies in each of the major team sports in the U.S. Once we have those, we expect SUPR adoption to grow exponentially. Executives at league offices have demonstrated strong early interest. Case studies will turn their interest into action.”
SUPR is not only the preserve of team owners and food service executives.
Fans can get involved, too. Accenture played an instrumental role in building SUPR’s fan engagement program, which launched during Super Bowl week.
The centerpiece is the pledgeSUPR.com website, where fans are invited to take the SUPRfan pledge to reduce their single use plastic usage. There is plenty of room for improvement: For example, 51 million plastic cups are used at sports events annually. Fans are encouraged to reach out to their favorite teams and athletes via social media to urge them to get involved.
For the record, I tweeted New York Jets All Pro safety Jamal Adams, asking him to step up to support SUPR.
During Super Bowl week, Oceanic Global ran a SUPR social media campaign, spread the word at a variety of fan fests while handing out reusable cutlery, and live tweeted during the game. “We generated 23,000 SUPR-related impressions on Twitter during the game,” reported Patel. “Instagram also saw more than 9,000 impressions.”
Accenture also launched an educational augmented reality (AR) experience for fans prior to Super Bowl Week. It puts them in the middle of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to learn more about the human and environmental health concerns posed by plastic pollution. The hope is this program, now live on Instagram, will spur grassroots behavioral change.
The next steps, whenever the sports world’s coronavirus hiatus comes to an end, are to:
- Bring SUPR messaging to fans more directly, via public service announcements on scoreboards and TVs, in-stadium signage and in the tailgate areas.
- Tally and make public the overall SUPR scorecard, highlighting the number of teams and fans who’ve signed the pledge, and, most importantly, the amount of single-use plastics reduced at participating stadiums and arenas.
As SUPR becomes the rule rather than the exception at venues throughout the U.S., Patel believes that sports will be turning an important environmental corner.
“It is clear that shifting consumption away from single-use plastics will have significant environmental benefits on land and in the oceans as well as for human health,” Patel asserted. “That is why we are pursuing a new sports industry standard for responsible consumption through SUPR.”
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