GreenSportsBlog’s Five-Year Anniversary…A Reflection

When I started GreenSportsBlog back on May 22, 2013, I had no idea what to expect.

I had never blogged before, wasn’t sure if there would be an audience for content about the intersection of Green & Sports, and didn’t know if the movers and shakers of the Green-Sports world would talk to me.

Five years and 512 posts later, I can say happily say there is consistent and growing interest — our 7,000+ monthly readers attest to that. And I have been blessed to be able to interview Green-Sports activists, corporate leaders, eco-athletes, and more. To all, I say a heartfelt thank you — and keep reading and commenting!

To commemorate GSB’s fifth anniversary, I thought you might find it interesting to read about how I came to write about Green-Sports and to see which posts have been the most well-read.

 

HOW I BECAME A GREEN-SPORTS BLOGGER

A lifelong, passionate New York-area sports fan — for those who haven’t read this blog much, the Jets, Knicks, Rutgers, and Yankees are my local favorites, along with North London’s Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League. While at Rutgers, I announced football and basketball while a student at Rutgers on WRSU-FM

 

WRSU Knightline

Yours truly, 2nd from right and mustachioed in an old school Jets jersey, making what must surely have been an astute point on Knightline, the post-game sports talk show on WRSU-FM, the Rutgers student radio station back…a few years (Photo credit: WRSU-FM)

 

I tried to make a go of sportscasting as a professional, but it is a very tough way to make a living. After earning my MBA from NYU’s Stern School of Business, I pivoted to the sports business, where I was fortunate to spend 15 years, starting in the early 1990s through the mid 2000s, working in advertising sales and marketing. Getting paid to go to the World Series, NBA Finals, World Cup and more? How cool was that?!?!

The environment interested me — it was a factor in my voting decisions; I supported the Sierra Club and like organizations. But did my greenness match my sports fandom? Only when it came to the Jets, who wear green. Otherwise, not even close.

Until 9/11.

Working for Sports Illustrated Kids in midtown Manhattan at the time, I was very fortunate personally to not know anyone in the Twin Towers. Still, I felt like I had to do something. This was the Pearl Harbor of my generation and this was my home city.

But what to do?

It wasn’t until about four months after that horrible day that I found my answer.

In “Green Is the New Red, White & Blue,” Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman posited that we in the U.S. were fueling the wars on terrorism that we were fighting (we were already in Afghanistan at the time; the invasion of Iraq was a year or so away) by our insanely profligate energy use. His logic went something like this:

  1. The U.S. represented four percent of the world’s population but 25 percent of its energy usage.
  2. Since 9/11 happened before the fracking-led domestic oil and gas production boom, we had to source a good chunk of our energy from places like Saudi Arabia.
  3. The Saudi royal family siphoned some of that U.S oil revenue to its Wahhabi extremists to ensure they would remain in power.
  4. And those Wahhabists funded the training of 15 of the 19 9/11 attackers.

It was like the compact fluorescent lightbulb went on above my head! Green was going to play a big part in the solutions to geopolitical problems and I would play a small role. So I “greened up” my personal life, buying a hybrid car (becoming a very early adapter; I knew more about how a hybrid worked than the salesman), changing out all my lightbulbs to compact fluorescents, and becoming an almost-vegetarian.

But that wasn’t enough.

I needed to somehow green my work life. This became even more of an imperative the more I learned about climate change.

But how to get a green job? In 2002-2003, most were technical in nature. And, let’s put it this way: You do NOT want me installing solar panels on your roof.

So I thought, “what am I good at?” Sales, marketing and story telling. The trick was how to translate that from the mature sports industry to the nascent world of green business.

I began to network like crazy, joining a gaggle of sustainable business groups in New York. But when I couldn’t find what I call green “job-jobs” for someone with a sales/marketing/communications background, I decided, in September 2005, to take a risk, leaving SI Kids and recreating myself as a sustainability-focused, business development, marketing and communications consultant.

Since then I have helped a wide array of organizations — from Fortune 500 companies to startups to nonprofits — tell their sustainability stories more powerfully, generate new revenue by selling sponsorships to green events, and garner positive media coverage for their sustainability-related accomplishments. Some of my clients whose names you’d recognize include BT (aka British Telecom), Empire State Building, Whole Foods Market and the Wildlife Conservation Society

Then, about three years into my life as a sustainability consultant, in 2008-2009, I began to wonder if there was an intersection of Green and Sports, with the idea being that I would love to marry my two passions.

So I poked around and found out there was a fellow named Dr. Allen Hershkowitz who, working with NRDC, helped the Philadelphia Eagles and minority owner Christina Weiss Lurie make sure the toilet paper at Lincoln Financial Field wasn’t being sourced from eagle habitats. 

What an introduction to Green-Sports!

A year or so I discovered that a small group of pro sports teams from Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver had banded together to form the Green Sports Alliance. Their goal was to share better practices on energy efficiency, waste, and more. This sounded like an organization and a movement — Green-Sports — that was poised to grow. 

And I needed to be a part of it! But again, my question was “how?”

In 2011-12, I did more digging — and noticed that the Alliance was growing well beyond its Pacific Northwest roots, and that the organizers of the London 2012 Olympics made sustainability a key strand of their DNA. 

I figured media organization must be covering this burgeoning Green-Sports field. 

No one was.

So I decided would become that media organization.

And that led to GreenSportsBlog’s birth five years ago, almost to the day.

 

Lew GSA 2

Yours truly, making what what must surely have been an astute point at the 2016 Green Sports Alliance Summit in Houston (Photo credit: Lewis Blaustein)

 

FIVE KEY LESSONS

I’ve learned a ton these last five years — so much so, I could write an entire post just on that topic. But, for purposes of this story, I’ll boil it down to five key lessons that have been imparted to me by you, the readers, based on your comments and which GSB posts have drawn the most traffic:

  1. Allow the People Building the Green-Sports World to Share Their Stories Directly with Readers: Based on reader comments, The GSB Interview is the most popular segment on the blog. Sharing the unfiltered insights, struggles and successes of a wide array of women and men who are responsible for greening the sports world is an honor and a pleasure.
  2. Go Beyond Major League Sports and Mega-Events: Of course, we cover the greening of major pro sports leagues in North America and Europe, as well as of mega events like the Olympics and the FIFA World Cup. But stories like Forest Green Rovers, the fourth tier English soccer club that is the Greenest Team in Sports, and the St. Paul Saints, the minor league baseball team in Minnesota which won the Greenest New Stadium of the Year in 2015, have drawn some of the site’s best traffic numbers.
  3. Write with the Voice of the Sports Fan: From reader comments back in GSB’s early days, it seems that most expected the blog to be written by someone with a cleantech, facilities management and/or “green journalism” background. Many sounded pleased that I brought a different point-of-view, that of a passionate sustainability communicator who is also a big sports fan. Understanding and loving sports — and the people who follow it — was and is important. Especially when one considers, as Allen Hershkowitz is wont to say, that 13 percent of Americans follow science, but 65-70 percent follow sports. And as Nelson Mandela offered, “Sports can change the world!”
  4. Bringing a Sense of Humor to the Table is a Good Thing: Our forays into the satirical have been well received by readers and commenters. The July 2014 story in which I imagined that LeBron James decided to leave Miami to return to Cleveland — not because he wanted to go home, but because he was afraid of climate change’s effects in South Florida — remains the blog’s most read post. In fact, every post in which I’ve included the words “LeBron” and “James” has scored well. That bodes well for this one :). Hey, the climate change fight can be a very hard slog at times, so adding a dollop of humor here and there can’t hurt.

The fifth key lesson is that Green-Sports Needs To Play the “Climate Change Fight” Game…and It Needs to Play to WIN!: Herm Edwards, now the head football coach at Arizona State University, was coaching my New York Jets back in 2002, when he famously ranted that “The great thing about sports is, you play to win the game! Hello?! You play to win the game!!!”

 

Herm Edwards’ 2002 “You play to win the game” rant

 

To me, it’s clear that Green-Sports needs to be playing the “climate change fight” game. But are we? And are we playing to win? Despite some moves in the right direction, it’s clear to me that the Green-Sports world is not there yet.

Hey, I get it: Climate change is political and sports is where people often go to get away from politics. But acknowledging those realities shouldn’t mean we abandon the fight. 

And then there are two other important realities at play here:

  1. Climate change is the most existential threat the world faces
  2. It will take consistent and unyielding passion to generate the political will to turn humanity away from the carbon train wreck we’re hurtling towards.

It says here that tapping into the passion of sports fans and the massive size of the fan base is essential to the climate change fight. I have been heartened by the many GreenSportsBlog readers who have encouraged me to continue to push the Green-Sports world and sports media (#CoverGreenSports) to engage more forthrightly on climate change. I certainly will.

 

MOST READ GREENSPORTSBLOG POSTS

Here is a list of our 10 most read posts over our first five years. Enjoy and please keep reading and sharing GreenSportsBlog!

  1. The REAL Reason LeBron Chose to Leave Miami for Cleveland: Climate Change (July 2014)
  2. The GSB Interview: Mark Teixeira of the NY Yankees; Helping to Rebuild and Green NW Atlanta (February 2016)
  3. Mercedes-Benz Stadium: Super Cool, Super Green Future Home of the Falcons and Atlanta FC (November 2015)
  4. Birds Flying Into Minneapolis’ Glass-Walled US Bank Stadium Not a Good Look with Super Bowl LII Only Two Months Away (December 2017)
  5. Integral Hockey: Rebuilding Broken Hockey Sticks–and Keeping Them Out of the Landfill (October 2015)
  6. How Green is Augusta National Golf Club, Home of The Masters (April 2016)
  7. The GSB Interview: Leilani Münter, Looking to Turn on the Speed and Turn Auto Racing Fans on to a Vegan Diet at Daytona (January 2018)
  8. Forest Green Rovers, Greenest Team in Sports, Earns Promotion Up England’s Football/Soccer Ladder (May 2017)
  9. PyeongChang 2018: How Green will the Winter Olympics Be? A Conversation with Sustainability Manager Hyeona Kim (August 2017)
  10. Green Sports Alliance Calls on Sports Fans To Take “Live Green or Die™” Challenge in Response to Trump Pulling U.S Out of Paris Climate Agreement (June 2017)

 

 


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The GSB Interview: Giulia Carbone, Limiting the Sports Industry’s Impacts on Biodiversity Loss

The past 10 years has seen a boom in new stadium and arena construction in North America and beyond. Readers of GreenSportsBlog know that the sports facilities industry has done a strong job in making sustainability a priority, from construction (i.e. LEED certification) to operations (i.e. zero-waste games) and much more. But what about the effects of stadium and arena construction and operations, as well as the conduct of mega-events like the Olympics, on biodiversity — i.e. animal and plant life? That is a topic we have not touched on — until today.

Giulia Carbone is Deputy Director of the Global Business and Biodiversity Programme at the International Union for Conservation of Nature or IUCN. In the GSB Interview, and on World Biodiversity Day, Giulia delves into what is being done to limit the sports industry’s impacts on biodiversity loss.

 

GreenSportsBlog: We need to give more oxygen to the effects of sports on biodiversity so, Giulia, I am so glad we are talking with you! How did you get into the intersection of sports and biodiversity?

Giulia Carbone: Well Lew, from the time I was a girl in Torino…

GSB: Are you a Juventus or Torino F.C. fan?

Giulia: Oh, Torino ABSOLUTELY! Anyway, during my youth, I always loved nature and the also felt that it was only fair that people, no matter their circumstances, needed to have access to it and co-exist with it. Then I went to the University of California at Santa Barbara

GSB: UCSB — the Gauchos!

 

Carbone1

Giulia Carbone, Deputy Director of the Global Business and Biodiversity Programme at the International Union for Conservation of Nature or IUCN (Photo credit: IUCN)

 

Giulia: Best. School. EVER! I focused on the environment, especially marine issues, and the coexistence of people and the environment. That held true when I started my work life in London, focusing on marine issues. Then I worked with UN Environment for eight years on tourism and the environment.

GSB: What did you work on for UNEP? When was this?

Giulia: I started at UNEP in 1999, and focused on environmental initiatives for tour operators. Our approach was to bring together like-minded operators and give them the tools and the vision to integrate effective supply chain management, eco-friendly destinations and other protocols.

GSB: What tour operators took the lead back then on the environment?

Giulia: Tui, a German tourism company now headquartered in the UK — was really aggressive. They wanted to set the agenda for the tourism sector on supply chain and other sustainability elements and were successful, at least to an extent.

GSB: That’s terrific. What did you do next?

Giulia: I moved to Switzerland, near Geneva, and, in 2003, and started working for the International Union for Conservation of Nature or IUCN.

GSB: What is the IUCN? It seems like something I should’ve heard about.

Giulia: You should have! It’s been around for 70 years, since 1948. It’s a membership organization that includes governments, NGOs large and small and, unlike the UN, groups of indigenous peoples. Today, it is the world’s largest and most diverse environmental network. We have a Congress every four years, and, just like for the Olympic Games, there are bids and organizing committees. The host of our June 2020 Congress is going to be in Marseilles, France; in 2016, we met in Hawai’i, and before that in 2012, we convened in South Korea.

GSB: What does IUCN do?

Giulia: Programmatically, we work in a number of critical conservation issues related to water, forests and oceans, dry lands and more. Where possible, we also engage with corporations to show them that leading on the environment, and taking biodiversity conservation into account in their planning and operation, is actually good business. At the beginning of my time at IUCN, my work focused solely on tourism. But then I branched out to the extractive and energy sectors…

GSB: Energy? Mining?…That sounds like a BIG conservation challenge.

Giulia: Yes, but to our way of thinking, it is crucial for mining and energy companies to figure out how they can operate successfully in ways that limit biodiversity loss. As part of this work, we have also focused on the role that biodiversity offsets can play in conservation.

GSB: I imagine IUCN has taken some criticisms from others in the environmental movement for working with companies seen as bad actors…or worse.

Giulia: There is some of that for sure but we believe that collaborating with companies like Rio Tinto in the mining world and Shell in the energy world is important and necessary. They know that their opeations have environmental impacts and they are interested in working with us to improve things. Another example was with LafargeHolcim, one of the largest cement companies in the world, who owned hundreds of quarries at the time. In just four years of working with IUCN, biodiversity indicators were put in place, employees were trained to respect and account for biodiversity, standards were adopted — and biodiversity became recognized as an important risk factor, something that had value in being managed.

GSB: That’s hard to believe and yet I believe it. Amazing… So now sports? Why did IUCN decide to get involved with sports in the first place?

Giulia: The impacts of sport on biodiversity are also significant, but the opportunities to address them are equally huge. The sports industry has enormous influence and reach, so just being able to talk about the value of biodiversity and the role that species play with this audience is incredible.

GSB: Absolutely! How did IUCN get started in sports?

Giulia: The IOC approached us about four years ago about one of its bid cities. They were concerned about the bid damaging a UNESCO World Heritage Site. That led to conversations about how the IOC could influence sports federations on biodiversity loss. We were engaged to help bid committees and teams on how to limit biodiversity and species loss during venue construction, allocate funds for conservation and protection, and even to educate them on the value of purchasing climate-related offsets.

GSB: Did IUCN work with the summer and winter Olympics bids?

Giulia: Yes, we were involved with the bids for the Olympic Games 2024 and reviewed all the bids from a biodiversity perspective. We are also providing maps of the areas considered to be of high biodiversity value to the potential candidates for the 2026 Winter Olympics. For each of the cities, we have created maps that highlight the location of protected areas, World Heritage sites, Ramsar (intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources) sites, and Key Biodiversity Areas. Additionally, we have provided reports that list all the species of animals and plants that have been classified as threatened or close to extinction, in proximity of these sites. These maps are an amazing tool to help the cities plan better on where to place the venues and new infrastructures, and thus reduce the risk of having an impact on important plants and animals as well as key ecosystems.

GSB: As of now, it looks like there are seven cities considering bids to host the 2026 Winter Olympics, a marked increase as compared to recent cycles. These include Graz, Austria; Calgary, Canada; a joint Italian bid amongst Cortina d’Ampezzo, Milan and Torino; Sapporo, Japan; Sion, Switzerland; Stockholm, Sweden; and Erzurum, Turkey. How does IUCN get the word out about its work in the sports sector?

 

Sion 2026

Sion, Switzerland is one of seven cities looking into bidding on the 2026 Winter Olympics

 

Giulia: We just issued the first of a series of reports on Sport and Biodiversity.  It’s an overview for all of the industry’s key constituents…What is the intersection of sports and biodiversity? What are the risks and opportunities? The next report will be more technical than the first one, and it is almost complete. It focuses on how to mitigate biodiversity loss from venue construction. Then, the third one will focus on how to manage impacts on biodiversity in the organization of sporting events, including recommendations for athletes, venue managers and the fans. In the future, we hope to focus on things like Natural Capital Accounting^ and sports; how to manage invasive species; and, how to engage fans on biodiversity and involve the media more in these issues.  We have quite a challenge ahead of us!

 

Sport and Biodiversity

Cover of IUCN’s “Sport and Biodiversity” guide

 

GSB: Who are your audiences for these reports? Sports fans?

Giulia: No, our prime targets are senior level, C-suite executives throughout the sports world, who are not yet convinced biodiversity is an issue they need to be concerned about. We are also targeting those people involved in venue development and planning as well as those organizing sport events.

GSB: Do you have a sense as to what percentage of sports executives fit that “unconvinced” label?

Giulia: Actually, I just attended a very cool meeting on sport and the environment, the Sustainable Innovation in Sport Summit 2018 in Amsterdam, from 2-3 May, and I was very impressed by the level of commitment and involvement of the participants, mostly all representing sport federations, venues and teams. So I think this is a sector that it is already doing a lot of great work and is ready to do more.

GSB: That’s great! I look forward to reading the reports and seeing biodiversity taking its place in Green-Sports fan engagement programs in the not-too-distant future.

 

Natural Capital Accounting is the process of calculating the total stocks and flows of natural resources and services in a given ecosystem or region. Accounting for such goods may occur in physical or monetary terms. 

 


 

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The GSB Interview: Andrew Ference Goes from the Ice to the NHL Front Office; Sustainability and League’s Long Term Health His Remit

Pro athletes are unique among human beings in that they face retirement while they’re in their 20s, 30s or, at the latest, their 40s. After the shouting stops, what do they do? Many become coaches. Some go into team management. Others go into business. 

But only one that I know of becomes a Director of Social Impact, Growth and Fan Development.

That would be Andrew Ference.

During his 16 seasons as an NHL defenseman, Ference won a Stanley Cup with the Boston Bruins in 2011 and served as captain of the Edmonton Oilers. He also became known for his involvement with environmental and climate change-fighting causes — something that was unique at the time. 

Retiring after the 2015-16 season, Ference earned a certificate in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) at Harvard and became an investor in sustainability-related startups before joining the NHL league office last month. GreenSportsBlog caught up with Ference to find out what his new role — and his cool and super-long job title — entails.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Andrew, it’s great to catch up. Director of Social Impact, Growth and Fan Development…When did you start and what does that job title actually mean?

Andrew Ference: I hit the ground running on NHL Green Month when I started on March 1, working with the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) team — Omar Mitchell, Alicia Chin and Paul LaCaruba. It was a smooth transition as I knew and had worked with them during my playing days. That gave me more experience and familiarity with the league office than the average player. The job came up as an extension of my environmental work as a player, as well as my experience on the league’s Joint Marketing Committee and as a representative to the Players’ Association (NHLPA). My role is varied and exciting in that we’re the people who get to look at the long term future of the game of hockey.

 

Andrew Ference

Andrew Ference, upon winning the 2016 Green Sports Alliance Environmental Leadership Award (Photo credit: Green Sports Alliance)

 

GSB: What does “looking at the future of the game of hockey” mean, exactly?

AF: A lot of things. In most jobs, in sports, business, whatever…you’re forced to manage with a short term perspective — the next two weeks, the next quarter. The NHL Corporate Social Responsibility team thinks and acts differently, putting more responsibility in the CSR department. I’ve been tasked with, among other things, looking at what hockey will look like 20, 30, 40 years out. What will the U.S. and Canada look like demographically? Especially with low birth rates meaning that immigration will need to continue to drive population growth. How can we get those new, mid 21st century Americans, especially those in places without a strong ice rink infrastructure, to care about hockey? We’re looking at things like street hockey, ball hockey, and floorball. We’re looking at inner cities in places we haven’t been before. We need to expand hockey as a thing to do.

GSB: What an interesting job! And what is floorball?

AF: It’s a hockey-like game that’s popular in places like Finland and Sweden. It’s embraced more by schools as it’s less dangerous. And we want to work to make it, like the other games I mentioned, a gateway to playing and caring about hockey.

 

Floorball

Floorball is one of several sports Andrew Ference is examining as potential gateways to ice hockey (Photo credit: Floorball.org)

 

GSB: Getting millennials and Gen-Z-ers to care at levels anywhere close to their elders is the holy grail for all sports. So looking at those generations and beyond is not only smart, it is essential, it seems to me. I can’t wait to hear more once you’ve had more time to dig into this part of your job. Let’s pivot from the long-term future to the present. What are you working on, sustainability-wise?

AF: Well, to be clear I had nothing to do with writing of the new sustainability report. That was all Omar and Alicia.

GSB: I know…it was a Herculean effort on their part!

AF: Yes, and Sustainability Report 2.0 did a great job I think, especially on the qualitative side. Going forward, a lot of what we will be working on on the environmental side will be on the quantitative, measurement side to answer the question: What is a sustainable rink? We will be data driven, both with NHL rinks and community rinks. We will take deep dives into water and energy usage, to see where we are and how to improve.

 

Report at a Glance

Screen shot of the 2018 NHL Sustainability Report

 

GSB: Are these data points, water, energy usage and the rest, easy to obtain?

AF: It’s not as easy as you might think, Lew. Twelve NHL arenas are shared with at least one NBA team or a Power 5 men’s college basketball team. What energy and water usage is a hockey team responsible for in those cases? You would think community rinks would be simpler — and many are. But many community rinks in Canada and some in the U.S. are part of a larger fitness center that includes a swimming pool, a gym, and more. In those cases, the same question applies as with the shared NHL-NBA arenas: What is the ice rink’s energy and water responsibility? So we will drill down deep and use the best quantitative tools we have to get the accurate answers we need.

GSB: I look forward to seeing those answers in Sustainability Report 3.0, if not before. One thing that drew my eye in the current Sustainability Report, version 2.0, was the way climate change was called out. How will climate be dealt with by the league in 2019 and beyond?

AF: I don’t see us thumping our chest about climate change. But we will look for and find more ways for our fans to compost at games, have greater access to mass transit and bike valets.

GSB: The NHL certainly has done a solid job at engaging fans who attend games on the environment about energy efficiency, water restoration and more. My question is more geared to fans who consume NHL hockey on TV, via mobile and who rarely or never go to a game. I know Green Week, or this year, Green Month, gets mentioned here and there but that is rare, it seems to me. How will you communicate NHL Green and the climate change fight — while not thumping your chests — to that large cohort of fans?

AF: Storytelling will play a key role in communicating NHL Green, including those related to climate, to our fans who don’t go to games. The good thing is that we have great stories to tell, from what the teams have done and are doing on the environment, to our players’ efforts. And these stories will be driven locally more than on a league-wide basis. Which makes sense to me — you’ve got to care about where you live, after all. That’s what the core of environmentalism is, right?

GSB: Indeed. You mentioned the players. As someone who was in the league not long ago, I imagine a part of your remit is dealing with the current crop.

AF: Yes, part of my job is as a liaison to current players from a community relations point of view. We are letting them know that they don’t have to fit a mold…

GSB: What do you mean by that?

AF: Well, for some players, visiting kids at a children’s hospital is the right thing. Others will feel more comfortable doing other things. We aim to empower our players to engage the way they like by finding out what they’re interested in, what motivates them and then to provide them with the opportunities to engage…

GSB: …Including engaging with environmental issues…

AF: Of course! I want to help the guys find what their things are, in terms of community relations. For me, it was the green thing. The idea is to go beyond what the team and league expect. And the great thing is that hockey guys are, for the most part, very humble, very relatable.

GSB: So with that being the case, and harkening back to your long term mission of growing the game 20 to 40 years out, what can you and the league do to help young people choose to play hockey and also to become fans? In Canada, the NHL is still the biggest thing so maybe it’s easier there. But in the U.S., you’ve got basketball, football. Soccer is growing. Baseball is still a factor, of course. And then there are individual sports as well. Lots of competition.

AF: Great question. I’m a believer that people choose one pursuit over another based on emotion. What feels good. Something you can do with your friends. Maybe a terrific coach inspires you. We’re working with Hockey Canada and USA Hockey to emphasize fun, friendships, and teamwork with young players. That’s the way you create memories, that’s the way you create hockey players and lifelong fans.

GSB: I for one hope you succeed because once you get them in, then the younger generations will be exposed to the generosity of the players, the league’s community relations initiatives which, of course, include its myriad of green programs.

 


 

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Say It Ain’t So! Ben Ainslie Racing Signs Title Sponsor Deal with Fracking and Chemical Company Ineos; 11th Hour Racing No Longer a Partner

Sir Ben Ainslie is the most decorated sailor in Olympics history. As skipper of Land Rover BAR, the British entry in the 2017 America’s Cup in Bermuda, he won deserved plaudits from the green and sports worlds, for making environmental sustainability, in particular ocean health, a core value of his team.

One thing Land Rover BAR did not win was the 2017 America’s Cup, despite spending in the neighborhood of £100 million ($USD135 million) over the four-year cycle. By some estimates, it will cost as much as 30 percent more to mount a legitimate campaign for the 2021 Cup, to be contested in New Zealand.

So when British fracking and chemical company, Ineos, and its founder Jim Ratcliffe, offered Ainslie £110 million ($153 million) to fund the lion’s share of his 2021 America’s Cup quest, Sir Ben had a choice: Take the money and risk being labeled a greenwasher, or keep his good name and his well-earned global reputation as an eco-athlete among fans, his competitors, sponsors and more.

He chose the money. 

 

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.

 

Ainslie Ratcliffe

Jim Ratcliffe (l), CEO of Ineos, with Sir Ben Ainslie (Photo credit: Toby Melville/Reuters)

 

To get a sense of how stunning Ainslie’s 180 degree flip from eco-athlete to greenwasher is, one has to turn back the clock only two years or so.

 

AINSLIE WALKED SUSTAINABILITY WALK AND TALKED SUSTAINABILITY TALK IN 2017 AMERICA’S CUP CAMPAIGN

It is no exaggeration to say that sustainability was the most core of core values — along with trust and integrity — for the Land Rover Ben Ainslie Racing (BAR) team during its four year campaign to win the 2017 America’s Cup. The team:

  • Built a state-of-the-art home base in Portsmouth to BREEAM Excellent (the British equivalent of LEED Gold) standards
  • Used Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) to measure and improve the efficiency of its use of resources, including from a carbon point of view, in the building of its race and support boats. This was a first in sailing
  • Promoted its clean oceans ethos to fans around the world during the America’s Cup World Series prep races and at the America’s Cup finals in Bermuda through engaging, interactive educational programs
  • Shared its sustainability stories with millions of fans around the world through a myriad of mainstream, sailing and green media
  • Funded the installation of solar panels at Bermuda’s National Museum

And much, much more.

Land Rover BAR would not have been able to pull the above without its groundbreaking and close partnership with 11th Hour Racing.

The Newport, RI-based organization partners with elite sailing teams committed to sustainable practices, providing them with financial, technical and other support. America’s Cup hopeful Land Rover BAR was certainly the organization’s highest profile elite sailing team partner. In addition to an annual investment estimated to be in the seven figures, 11th Hour Racing provided Sir Ben and his team with a wide range of sustainability-related services.

As Jeremy Pochman, 11th Hour Racing’s President, said in an April, 2016 GreenSportsBlog post, “We work with [Land Rover BAR] to meet the ambitious standards we set together: challenge and change practices in technology, procurement, energy production and use, efficiency, economy, community and legacy.”

 

Jeremy Pochman

Jeremy Pochman, President, 11th Hour Racing (Photo credit: Yachts And Yachting)

 

In the same story, Sir Ben showed he was fully on board: “It was clear to me when we launched the team that we could make a real difference – to operate sustainably, protect the marine environment and positively impact the people and local businesses we needed to build a winning team. With the help of 11th Hour Racing, we’ve set up Land Rover BAR to be one of the most sustainable sports teams on the planet.”

And, after attending “Inspiring Sustainability Through Partnership,” a two-day, late 2016 program at the University of Cambridge sponsored by 11th Hour Racing, Sir Ben went even deeper, talking about the need for humanity to aggressively take on climate change.

“In the last 30 years, climate change has accelerated and we have lost the equivalent of a third of the size of Europe in Arctic sea ice. The impact of this change is an infrastructure breakdown in some parts of the world, with increased conflict and migration as people are displaced in their efforts to survive; and agriculture and food supply are lost through extreme weather events, such as huge droughts or severe flooding.”

“We have already seen a one degree global temperature rise since pre-industrial levels. I’ve got a 3-month old daughter and if we continue to do nothing then in her lifetime she will see a further three degree global increase. It will lead to a sea level rise of almost a meter and potential loss of over 24 per cent of the mammals and half of the plant species currently on the planet. In that scenario we can anticipate massive disruption to society as individuals and nations struggle for the resources – water, food, energy – required to survive.”

When one takes into account the depth of this quote and Ainslie’s massive global popularity (sailing is a very big deal in many countries, not so much in the U.S.), it’s not a stretch to say that Sir Ben was the most influential eco-athlete in the world.

 

SAY IT AIN’T SO! SIR BEN SELLS OUT FOR INEOS’ FRACKING MONEY

What a difference a year makes.

Last year at this time, Land Rover BAR and 11th Hour Racing were working together to bring sustainability to racing fans in Bermuda, site of the 2017 America’s Cup finals.

But just a couple of weeks ago, Sir Ben announced he had ditched incumbent title sponsor Land Rover — which supported the team’s sustainability ethos in a number of ways — for fracking^ giant Ineos.

As reported by Matthew Campelli in Sport Sustainability Journal on April 30, Ainslie’s partnership with 11th Hour Racing also is no more. While representatives of the organization declined to comment for this story, it seems impossible to imagine that 11th Hour Racing would have worked with Ineos Team GB. Pochman, co-founder Wendy Schmidt and the rest of the 11th Hour Racing team must feel gutted.

 

Ben Wendy Harry Kenney-Herbert-Land Rover BAR

During happier times, Sir Ben Ainslie with Wendy Schmidt, co-founder of 11th Hour Racing (Photo credit: Harry Kenney-Herbert/Land Rover BAR)

 

What the frack happened?

The prospect of skippering Britain’s first-ever America’s Cup win clearly trumped Sir Ben’s (I guess not so deep) commitment to sustainability.

And, with costs to mount a 2021 America’s Cup campaign expected to run as much as 30 percent higher as compared to 2017, money was an understandable concern for Ainslie.

Until Ineos’ Jim Ratcliffe, recently announced as Britain’s richest man, stepped up with his £110 million offer, that is.

Ainslie was quoted thusly by Martha Kelner in the April 26 issue of The Guardian: “The investment of Ineos leaves us with our best ever chance of bringing the America’s Cup home.” Allow me to translate that bland, press release-type language into what Sir Ben might have been thinking: Hmmm, with Ineos providing virtually all of my funding needs, I can focus on sailing pretty much 24-7. Land Rover and 11th Hour Racing won’t be able to cover our expenses by themselves so if I stayed with them, I would have had to spend valuable time selling more sponsors. And, if we end up needing additional funding, Mr. Ratcliffe can probably ring up his friends Charles and David Koch to sign on Koch Industries. OK let’s do this!

In the same story, somehow, the depth of climate change knowledge Sir Ben expressed in late 2016 eluded him in 2018: “Fracking is not a subject I’m an expert on, but I know, having worked with Ineos for this partnership, that they take their responsibilities with the environment extremely seriously.” Translation: Climate change? Sustainability? I want to talk about sailing! Of course if — strike that — when we bring the America’s Cup home to Britain, all of this will be forgotten by my fans, the media, everyone.

 

WILL FANS CARE?

Aside from some excited comments about the new partnership from sailing and technological perspectives, early reaction on Ineos Team GB’s Facebook account was largely negative. Many commenters were disgusted with Sir Ben’s turn towards Ineos and fracking and away from sustainability. Here’s a sampler:

$217 million buys your conscience and your morals? WOW! The seas are murderously loaded with plastics and your sponsor is a plastics manufacturer who intends to turn the UK into a toxic teabag for fracked gas. You are clearly seeing the dollars but ignoring the two most important issues of life, environment and health.

Please think about it. Ineos will pollute the ground. It’s not a safe bet for sponsorship.

Ineos is a fracking company which brings significant challenges for ongoing public support for the team.

But the sad truth is winning does cure pretty much everything, at least from a PR perspective. Many fans across all sports, from all corners of the world, excuse awful behavior from the favorite players, from domestic violence to tax fraud to PED# use, as long as they win. Sir Ben didn’t cheat. He didn’t beat anyone.

All Ainslie did was play the fans, sponsors and media — yours truly included — who bought into his “commitment to sustainability” spiel for fools.

All he did was make a mockery of his core values.

And all he did was show his now two year-old daughter that he values an America’s Cup on the mantel more than clean oceans and a hospitable climate.

Say in ain’t so, Ben.

 

^ Fracking (also known by its more technical name, hydraulic fracturing) is a process by which large amounts of water and sand, combined with often hazardous chemicals, are injected, at high rates of pressure, into rock formations to fracture surrounding material for the purpose of extracting oil and gas. Its negative environmental and health impacts are legion, many of which would’ve concerned pre-Ineos Sir Ben. These include contamination of groundwater, large volume water use in water-challenged regions, methane pollution which exacerbates climate change, exposure to toxic chemicals, and fracking-induced earthquakes.

 

 


 

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RinkWatch: Citizens Track Climate Change By Measuring Ice in Backyard Rinks

Ice plays a crucial role in the measurement of climate change. From the decline of Arctic sea ice to using ancient ice cores to help determine CO₂ content in the atmosphere from many millennia ago, a good chunk of the climate change story is told through frozen water.

Did you know that the climate change “ice-story” is being tracked, in part, by regular folks with ice rinks in their backyards? They are doing double duty as hockey parents and as climate researchers in Canada and the northern U.S. via an innovative program, supported by the NHL, called RinkWatch.

GreenSportsBlog spoke with Dr. Robert McLeman, an Associate Professor of Geography and Environmental Studies at Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario, and one of the founders of RinkWatch, about how citizens, spurred on by their love of hockey, are helping to add to the body of scientific knowledge about climate change.

 

“I’m a middle aged parent and an environmental scientist focused on the impact of climate change on humans, communities, and other species.”

Dr. Robert McLeman’s self-description shows why he is exceptionally well-suited to have co-founded and help lead RinkWatch, a program that encourages people with backyard ice rinks in Canada and the northern U.S. to become citizen climate scientists by recording data about their ice.

It also doesn’t hurt that Dr. McLeman is a Canadian — and an Ontarian — through and through. “Growing up in Cambridge, Ontario and a fan of the two teams in the province — the Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators — spent many a winter day playing shinny (i.e. outdoor) hockey on frozen ponds.” He did his undergraduate work at the University of Western Ontario, got his PhD in Ontario at the University of Guelph, and works today as an Associate Professor of Geography and Environmental Studies at Wilfrid Laurier University in, you guessed it, Ontario.

 

mcleman winter1

Dr. Robert McLeman, one of the co-founders of RinkWatch and Associate Professor of Geography and Environmental Studies at Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario (Photo credit: Robert McLeman)

 

Awareness of the conditions surrounding climate refugees, has been and continues to be a major focus of Dr. McLeman’s research: “I am very interested in making the issue of climate refugees, and climate change broadly speaking, more accessible for the general public.

 

CANADIANS LOVE TO TALK ABOUT TWO THINGS: HOCKEY AND THE WEATHER

But accessibility wasn’t the only thing Dr. McLeman and Wilfrid Laurier University colleague Dr. Colin Robertson had in mind in 2013 when they began to talk about collaborating. “We really wanted to answer the question, ‘How do we make individuals and families more interested in the environment, interested in climate change, to the point where they take positive action?’,” recalled Dr. McLeman. “We kept coming back to two things Canadians love to talk about: hockey and the weather.”

 

Colin Robertson Geographers w-out borders

Dr. Colin Robertson, co-founder of RinkWatch (Photo credit: Geographers Without Borders)

 

That realization led McLeman and Robertson to the high tech world of makeshift, backyard hockey rinks. “It started with a simple thought,” shared Dr. McLeman. “Maybe we could create a project in which we would ask regular folks who happen to have backyard ice rinks to track weather-related conditions.”

The January 2013 launch of what would become RinkWatch was a no-budget operation.

“We had zero funding to start,” recalled Dr. McLeman. “So we built a simple website than can compile data like location of the rink, quality of ice, first date ice is playable, etc. We also had a form that showed people how to build a rink. The university put out a press release and the Montreal Gazettethe main English language paper there, picked it up. That really was the catalyst as the story made its way through radio and print media throughout Canada, and really took on a life of its own!”

By the end of their first month, a couple hundred RinkWatchers had signed up. Five years on, 1,500 rinks have participated in RinkWatch. The lions’ share are in Canada, with 20 percent coming from the U.S., along with a handful in China, Estonia and elsewhere.

[Editor’s Note: This is a great example of how, when the media decides to #CoverGreenSports, things can change in a positive fashion.]

 

THE NHL BUYS IN TO RINKWATCH

RinkWatch soon caught the eye of the NHL, the most proactive professional sports league sustainability-wise in North America, if not the world.

“The NHL started checking in with us, through Omar Mitchell and NHL Green,” said Dr. McLeman. “He had seen articles about RinkWatch in places like National GeographicThe league saw that what we were doing reflected the sustainability vision and commitment of Commissioner Gary Bettman, which is to say that hockey improves lives and communities and we want to do what we can to ensure it is around for the next 100 years.”

Next thing Drs. McLeman and Robertson knew, the NHL started tweeting about RinkWatch, asked them to contribute to the NHL Green website and invited them to speak, as part of the league’s centennial celebration, at a December 2016 event on the long term future of the sport at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. “We became a bit of hit,” offered Dr. McLeman, a bit sheepishly.

 

McLeman Hockey HOF

Dr. McLeman, speaking at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto (Photo credit: Getty Images)

 

A formal relationship with the NHL began in 2017, with the league providing funding to help improve the look and functionality of the web site, allow for a broader range data to be included in the future, and to help in the building and dissemination of learning modules for teachers to use with their students. According to Dr. McLeman, the NHL and the academics share two overlapping goals: “1. Get more kids to get more parents to build outdoor rinks, and 2. Get those kids interested in studying environmental science.”

 

RINKWATCH LEADS TO PEER REVIEWED ACADEMIC STUDIES

Drs. McLeman and Robertson are also using RinkWatch data to advance the body of peer reviewed, climate change research.

“We have been able to publish our results in two scholarly journals,” reported Dr. McLeman. “In The Canadian Geographer, we reported results of a study in which we took RinkWatch observations from a number of Canadian cities, identified the key temperatures need to have a skate-able ice surface (the low 20s Fahrenheit) and put these into a climate model to forecast future skating conditions out to the end of the century.” The study showed that if carbon emissions continue on their current course, the outdoor skating season will be significantly shorter. Calgary’s season will be curtailed by about 20 percent. Outdoor skating in Toronto and Montreal is expected to be 30 to 40 percent shorter.

 

Lake Louise hockey

According to a study by McLeman and Robertson, published in The Canadian Geographer, the future of outdoor ice hockey on Lake Louise in Alberta and elsewhere in Canada is at risk due to the effects of climate change (Photo credit: Edmonton Journal)

 

In another study, this one for the journal Leisure/Loisir, the duo reported on findings from a survey they conducted of RinkWatch participants to find out what motivates people to build rinks. According to Dr. McLeman, “an overarching response is that people see backyard rinks as community assets, shared with neighbors and friends, with the goal of getting kids outside, exercising and having fun in the middle of winter.”

That their work has been peer reviewed is a very big deal. “The importance of crossing the peer reviewed threshold cannot be overstated,” concurs Dr. McLeman. “Other environmental scientists like the idea that we’re legitimately, with accepted rigor, connecting sports to climate and ordinary citizens with science. They realize that the urgency and importance of climate change is very difficult to communicate and they see that our work makes it more relatable.”

As for what’s next, the Wilfrid Laurier University colleagues will look to reconstruct the temperature and ice conditions in Canada going back to 1950 so they will have a 150-year (1950-2100) data record. There is a practical aspect to this,” said Dr. McLeman: “Our data can help municipalities determine whether to invest in outdoor rinks or put their resources into indoor facilities.”

While that 150-year horizon is actually a nano-second in a field like climate science, Dr. McLeman finds it easy to see the real-time importance of his and Dr. Robertson’s work with RinkWatch.

“My daughter Anna is now 13. When she was 8, we built an outdoor rink with our community association on top of a tennis court — man, it was hard to spray water with a hose in my hand — it was COLD! In those five years, we’ve had one and a half good winters for skating, the rest were awful. I know this is one awfully small sample size, but it is this type of experience that, we hope, will lead to more and more collective positive environmental action.”

 

McLeman ANNA on Backyard Rink

Young RinkWatcher Anna McLeman takes to the ice in the outdoor rink she, her dad Robert and their community built (Photo credit: Robert McLeman)

 


 

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The GSB Interview: Rita Ricobelli, Sustainability and the 2026 Canada-Mexico-USA FIFA World Cup Bid

The winner of the right to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup will be announced in Moscow on June 13 on the eve of the start of this year’s tournament. Sustainability is a key pillar of the first ever three-country bid from Canada, Mexico and the United States — aka the United Bid. Wanting to know much more, GreenSportsBlog spoke with Rita Ricobelli, Sustainability Director of the United Bid.  

 

GreenSportsBlog: So Rita, how does a woman from Argentina lead the sustainability effort for the United Bid — from Canada, Mexico and the USA — to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup (men’s)?

Rita Ricobelli: Great question, Lew. Growing up in San Francisco, a small town near the city of Cordoba in Argentina, I developed a passion for soccer (or futbol), even though there were no soccer leagues in which girls were allowed to play … Nevertheless, I became a big fan of Boca Juniors, one of the two biggest teams in my country.

GSB: River Plate being their big rivals…

RR: We don’t talk about them 🙂 Fast forward to early adulthood. Interested in global development, I got my Masters of International Affairs at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA). During that time, I formed an amateur soccer team, which is still part of the New York Women’s Metropolitan Soccer League. Given my passion for sports (I also grew-up playing tennis), my first job after graduate school was at a sports and media platform in New York City, which included the Pan-American Sports Network (PSN).

GSB: What is the Pan-American Sports Network?

RR: It was a Spanish-Portuguese language sports network in Latin America, with significant soccer content, as part of a sports media and marketing platform based in the US. It was a great working experience but the network was sold (a lot of its content was passed over to Fox). Then I pivoted again, workwise.

GSB: What did that pivot entail?

 

Rita Ricobellii

Rita Ricobelli, sustainability director for the United Bid to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup, at FIFA’s world headquarters in Switzerland (Photo credit: Rita Ricobelli)

 

RR: I went to work for a New York-based educational NGO, then moved back to Argentina for a year, consulting for the Columbia Business School down there, where I also experienced sports in a fascinating way that was new to me: to engage at-risk youth. I came back to New York in 2006, determined to work on Sustainable Development and the potential application of sports in this quest. In 2007, I joined Columbia’s Earth Institute.

GSB: …Led by economist Dr. Jeffrey Sachs…

RR: …At the time, yes. I was hired by the Earth Institute to help manage its international research, education and applied-research initiatives, including the Millennium Villages Project (MVP), a very ambitious endeavor based on the UN’s Millennium Development Goals. The MVP involved multidisciplinary scientists and collaborators working alongside more than 100 communities, mainly in Africa, on health, agriculture, education, infrastructure, and business development projects. Community engagement, in some cases, was a challenge, and that is when I proposed the use of sports, particularly soccer, as an engaging platform. Many academics were skeptical about linking scientific projects with soccer. But, some understood the opportunity and provided support, including Dr. Sachs, as well as Sree Sreenivasan, a visionary alum, and Dr. Safwan Masri.

GSB: So how did you get from working on the Millennium Villages Project with the Earth Institute to managing sustainability for the United Bid of Canada, Mexico and the United States to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup?

RR: My first involvement with a World Cup bid was in 2009, advising the U.S. bid team on an innovative proposition to combine soccer with social and environmental science-based projects. Together with Columbia University experts, we developed initiatives to work — through soccer — on STEM education and childhood obesity — through urban planning models — in the U.S. and on youth health and other sustainability areas in developing countries, to be included in the U.S.’ 2022 World Cup Bid Book.

GSB: …”Bid Books” being another way to say proposal for an interested country or countries to be considered as a host of the FIFA World Cup…And the 2022 World Cup, despite a wonderful proposal, was awarded to Qatar. We could get into that decision by FIFA but that would take away from the focus of this story, the sustainability facets of the 2026 United Bid…so we won’t!

RR: Yes. I am fortunate to have this extraordinary opportunity as part of the 2026 United Bid Committee of Canada, Mexico and the United States. The sustainability requirements for our current bid book are a lot more detailed and follow international sustainability standards more tightly prescriptive than in prior World Cup cycles, including new human rights and labor sections, as well as the application of international sustainability standards.

GSB: Talk more about the 2026 bid — how it became a United bid, your involvement on the sustainability side, the bid’s highlights as they compare to your lone competitor, Morocco, and where things stand about six weeks away from the decision.

RR: The 2026 FIFA World Cup will be the largest in the event’s history, expanding from the current 32 to 48 participating countries, and a total of 80 matches. Host countries will need to provide more stadiums and modern infrastructure as well as the ability to support larger populations of local/global fans. That is why Canada, Mexico and the United States came together in April 2017, to combine their resources, experience and capacity, to be UNITED, AS ONE.

 

United Bid Infographics

 

It has been an incredible sprint: an exciting and intense proposition, requiring a 24-7 commitment. We only received the final bid requirements in October last year, five months before the Bid submission deadline.

GSB: …Holy cow! That’s only eight months before the bid will be awarded! Now I get your 24-7 comment! Had prior US bids had a sustainability director or is this United Bid a first?

RR: It is a first and that’s largely thanks to John Kristick, executive director for the 2026 United Bid. He was already very supportive of the sustainable development agenda in the previous Bid (as managing director), understanding that sustainability is a key issue not only for the event but for the sport at large. He has an extensive track record in sports, particularly in soccer. Having a director of sustainability was in his management plan from the very beginning as he saw it as an essential role.

GSB: I’ll say! What are the main sustainability initiatives for 2026?

RR: The last three sections of our Bid Book, which your readers can access online (click here), are devoted to sustainability in its broadest definition. Section 22 includes our proposal for a sustainable event management system, based on ISO 20121, and other international standards. ISO 20121 takes into account social, economic and environmental areas, including governance and other aspects to sustainably manage the World Cup. Section 23 details our human rights and labor strategy, including an extensive human rights risk assessment. Section 24 is devoted to environmental protection and enhancement. As our Bid proposition does not include the need to build any new stadiums, we can then focus on other hosting priorities, including sustainability aspects.

GSB: …The most energy efficient stadium is the one you don’t have to build…

RR: Exactly. The three key themes of our bid are Unity, Certainty and Opportunity. The fact that all 23 stadiums in our bid — a list that will be culled down to 16 for the tournament — are already built is a foundation of its certainty. All stadiums will have an environmental certification by 2025, which is one of FIFA’s requirements. But, our commitment is to go beyond FIFA’s requirements. That is why we proposed a Sustainability+ strategy, looking to set a new standard for mega-sporting events and to maximize soccer’s contribution in achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals. We will strive to offer an event that is carbon neutral and zero-waste, with no loss of biodiversity. Carbon emissions and water usage, as well as transportation will be managed from a best-in-class sustainability perspective. Healthy, sustainably produced food and beverage options will be available at all of our venues. Goods and services will be sourced via a sustainable procurement process.

 

Azteca Sportsnet.ca

Iconic Estadio Azteca in Mexico City, one of three Mexican venues in the mix to host matches in the 2026 FIFA World Cup as part of the United Bid (Photo credit: Sportsnet.ca)

 

Edmonton Daily Hive

Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton, Alberta is one of three Canadian venues in the United Bid’s application to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup (Photo credit: Daily Hive)

 

Levi's Stadium

Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara is one of 17 US stadia included in the 2026 United Bid (Photo credit: Levi’s Stadium)

 

GSB: From what I understand of Morocco 2026’s plan, all of their stadiums will either need to be built or renovated, which is a massive difference between the bids, sustainability-wise and otherwise. As far as transportation is concerned, if history is any guide, getting people to and from the three countries will make up the lion’s share of carbon emissions for your bid.

RR: You’re right. In fact 85 percent of emissions are projected to be transportation-related, with 51 percent resulting from international travel and 34 percent coming from inter and intra-city travel. Therefore, we have proposed a Carbon Management Plan, including reporting and reviewing of carbon reduction opportunities, training and awareness, offsetting and mitigation strategies. We will provide low-emissions transportation options for players, officials, the media, fans, and other visitors. Cycling and walking will also be encouraged.

GSB: I expect that, by 2026, EVs and EBuses will be in far greater supply than they are now. Finally, it wouldn’t be a GreenSportsBlog interview about a mega-sports event without a question about fan engagement. Here goes: What is the 2026 United Bid team’s plan for fan engagement on environmental sustainability?

RR: What a wonderful last question. We presented a Fan Engagement section, which was not part of the Bid requirements. Focused on sports for development, marketing and business, the section proposed the crafting of new approaches to connecting with fans, refining new methods of fan activation and testing what works and what doesn’t. In connection to sustainability, we hope to better harness the passion of fans towards sustainable development, which is a topic very close to my heart. I have worked with behavioral science experts, including Dr. Elke Weber, on opportunities to foster positive behavior change through sports, particularly soccer. A focus has been improving the communication of sustainability aspects to fans as well as their level of engagement on these issues. So, there are definitely a lot of interesting opportunities to further engage and empower fans to support sustainability.

GSB: I look forward to discussing that platform in the not-too-distant future. Good luck in Moscow on June 13! 

RR: Thank you! I look forward to future discussions and tante grazie!


 

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The GSB Interview: Justin Zeulner, Previewing the 2018 Green Sports Alliance Summer in Atlanta

Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the new home of the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United, will be the site for two mega-events over the next year. Next February, the first LEED Platinum NFL stadium will play host to Super Bowl LIII. But well before that — June 26-27 to be exact — Green Sports Alliance Summit VIII takes center stage. Its theme is PLAY GREENER™: Get In The Game. GSB talked with Alliance Executive Director Justin Zeulner to find out about the new initiatives the Alliance has planned for attendees. 

 

GreenSportsBlog: Justin, before we got on the phone to talk Green Sports Alliance Summit in Atlanta, I had two main thoughts going through my head: 1. How can you and the rest of the Alliance braintrust freshen the Summit going into its eighth iteration, and 2. Having it at LEED Platinum Mercedes-Benz Stadium is a great freshener, indeed!

Justin Zeulner: Keeping things fresh — that’s a great question and it’s something we’re very much focused on, especially coming into this Summit. In fact, a couple of years ago, the leadership took a collective deep breath to figure out, strategically, what would be best, not only for our Summits but for the sports greening movement as a whole. We undertook this strategic refresh at a time of strong growth for us. Two or three years ago, we had 300+ members; now we’re nearing 600. When an organization like ours starts to scale like we have, new challenges arise. What can you provide that’s new, innovative and meaningful? How can we best continue to serve and lead our members, helping them grow their sustainability initiatives when there are many more of them.

GSB: A good problem to have…

JZ: We agree…

GSB: So how is the Alliance going about upping its game service-, growth- and leadership-wise?

JZ: Serve — We keep in close touch with our membership, finding out where they want to go and what guidance they need when it comes to environmental issues. We help by convening the Summit, providing resources and programs, largely around energy, water, transportation, food, and waste. Adding the Corporate Members Network was wonderful because that helped add a great many greener products and services to help our teams and venues reach their goals. Grow — the more the Alliance grows, the more people we get involved in the movement and the greater the impact we have as it relates to our mission — “to build healthy, sustainable communities where we live and play.” Lead—means trying new things, taking some risks…

 

Zeulner GSA

Justin Zeulner, Executive Director of the Green Sports Alliance (Photo credit: Green Sports Alliance)

 

GSB: Justin, that’s a great segue to this year’s Summit in Atlanta. What new things will you try? What risks will you take?

JZ: The title of our Summit is “PLAY GREENER ™: Get In The Game.” The “Get in the Game” piece is illustrative of the changes we’ve made for this year and takes into account comments we received from attendees last year in Sacramento.

GSB: What does that mean exactly?

JZ: One big change is that our sessions will be much more interactive than in past years — more workshops, than panel discussions. We want there to be a robust dialogue that’s as attendee-driven as possible. And we want attendees to leave with a crystal clear road map as to how to implement the greening programs they learn about in Atlanta.

GSB: What kind of programs are you talking about?

JZ: We’re adhering to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDGs), helping our teams and venues do their part in terms of carbon mitigation to put humanity on a path to a less than 2°C temperature rise, as compared to pre-industrial levels. Food is one key area — we are helping venues with menu design, from more veggie options, to locally sourced food, and more. And venues are responding. Of course they offer burgers —but sometimes those burgers are veggie. In fact, Impossible Burgers

GSB: …The veggie burgers that taste and feel beef-like? They’re GREAT!

JZ: Impossible Burger will be at the Summit! Vegetarian and vegan foods are something athletes are getting more into, so we’ll be talking about that. But we’re getting even deeper with our “Business of Food” workshop. Larry Kopald of Carbon Underground will lead a discussion about regenerative farming, how it can help tackle our carbon problems, and how the sports industry can help support it. A local farmer will share his inspirational story of transforming his family farm from the traditional approach to regenerative farming and what scaling that can mean for sports and the world more broadly. Chefs will also take part, discussing how stadia and arenas can gradually add “plant forward” proteins to their menus.

 

GSA Mercedes-Benz Stadium_dusk_8_30_17

Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, site of the upcoming 2018 Green Sports Alliance Summit (Photo credit: Mercedes-Benz Stadium)

 

GSB: This sounds like a fantastic workshop. And now I’m hungry!

JZ: Well save that appetite for the Tuesday night of the Summit. That’s when we will have our awards celebration at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Top chefs will be featured at our  “Taste of Atlanta”” event.

GSB: Sounds like it will be a must-attend event. Beyond food, what else will attendees see at Mercedes-Benz Stadium?

JZ: Engagement will be a watchword at this year’s Summit, from athletes, to fans, to youth. Youth will be a particular focus with Diana Dehm leading another Student Summit.

GSB: I imagine attendees from teams and leagues will be very interested in how to engage youth with green sports. My bet is that nothing makes sports executives lose sleep these days more than the issue of to how to ensure millennials, Gen Zers, and the generation after follow sports with something close to the passion of their forebears. I’m not saying a team’s, a sport’s greenness is the determining factor but it can be a factor. Who will be delivering the keynote address at this year’s Summit?

JZ: Arthur M. Blank, the owner of the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United, and the driving force behind the building of the LEED Platinum Mercedes-Benz Stadium, will be giving the keynote. His talk will center on how environmental leadership impacts community, social justice and health and wellness. Mr. Blank believes the environmental and the social are linked and it is his mission and that of the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation to positively impact both. Speaking of the social aspects of sustainability, another speaker of note is Samantha “Sam” Gordon. Honored by the NFL with their inaugural Game Changer award, Sam is a young woman from Utah who plays football with the boys and became the one of the best players on the team. That wasn’t enough for Sam — she started a league in her area for female tackle football players. Now Sam is not doing all this just for women to play football. She is doing this work to activate interest among girls in physical activity, exercise, and wellness and ensure underserved populations have a voice.

 

GSA Arthur Blank-headshot

Arthur M. Blank, owner of the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United (Photo credit: Arthur M. Blank Sports and Entertainment)

 

GSA Sam Gordon-headshot

Samantha “Sam” Gordon (Photo credit: Samantha Gordon)

 

GSB: For a GenZ girl like Sam, this is how social movements start!

JZ: Exactly. Also ex-major league baseball player and manager Dusty Baker and former NFLer Will Allen, both advocates for renewable energy, will talk about their experiences in the solar field. And we are honored to have David Kenny, CEO of the Weather Channel, as a speaker.

GSB: Well, I have to say, before we spoke, I was a bit skeptical about this Summit differing enough from its predecessors, that its focus would be too Green-Sports 1.0 (i.e. LEED certified stadia, Zero-Waste games) and not enough Green-Sports 2.0 (fan, athlete engagement) for my taste. But, from the speakers, to the topics, to the workshop style, to audience engagement, I see the 2018 Green Sports Alliance Summit at Mercedes-Benz Stadium as an event that will, while still touching on worthwhile Green-Sports 1.0 issues, push the GreenSports clearly into its 2.0 phase. I am looking forward to it.

JZ: See you in Atlanta!

 

Click here for information on how to attend the 2018 Green Sports Alliance Summit at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta June 26-27.
GreenSportsBlog is a media sponsor of the 2018 Green Sports Alliance Summit.

 


 

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