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Sports-Climate Intersection On Display at Beyond Sport House

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Beyond Sport has been an influential convener and funder of sport-for-good nonprofits around the world for over a decade. Their global summits, along with Beyond Sport United in the US, have highlighted the ability of sports to positively impact intractable issues from child protection to diversity and inclusion to supporting refugees.

The environment, and specifically climate change, has not had the prominence of these worthy causes at past Beyond Sport events.

That changed dramatically this week at SAP’s New York City headquarters. It played host to the first Beyond Sport House, a new participatory, intimate, solutions-oriented event.

On Wednesday, representatives of six organizations with strong climate change-fighting bona fides convened after having been selected as inaugural Collective Impact Award winners. They began a year-long collaborative project with an audacious goal: Produce a program that drives meaningful progress on UN Sustainable Development Goal #13, Climate Action.

And Thursday’s How Can the Sport Community Help the Planet panel discussion started from the point of view that humanity is already in the fourth quarter of the climate crisis.

 

CLIMATE ACTION COLLECTIVE IMPACT AWARD WINNERS GET TO WORK

Beyond Sport supports nonprofits, companies and other institutions that use the platform of sports to make progress on one or more of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)¹.

The organization gave two of those SDGs — Reduced Inequalities (SDG #10) and Climate Action (#13) — special prominence at Beyond Sport House by choosing them to be the focus of the inaugural Collective Impact Awards.

On Climate Action, a panel of judges chose a diverse group of six Sport-for Good organizations from around the world to collaborate over the next year to develop a program(s) that will hopefully produce real climate impacts. The timetable is tight and the goal is audacious. A $350,000 grant from the Swedish Postcode Foundation (funded by the proceeds from the largest lottery in Sweden) will help accelerate the team’s progress.

Here, in alphabetical order, is the Climate Action team lineup:

  • AEG 1EARTH: AEG, headquartered in Los Angeles, is the largest sports and entertainment venue operator in the world, entertaining over 100 million guests annually. Climate action is core to its DNA: AEG is a signatory of the UN’s Sports for Climate Action Framework. And through its AEG 1EARTH initiative, the organization engages fans and the broader public on climate through programs like the LA Galaxy’s (MLS) Protect the Pitch.
  • I AM WATER Foundation: This innovative Cape Town, South Africa-based foundation provides access to the ocean to young people who have never experienced it. I AM WATER believes that, by taking these kids on two-day snorkeling adventures, they will spark a lifelong passion for ocean conservation and the climate change fight.
  • MANTA Sail Training Centre: Vietnam’s first and only sailing school equips local fishermen to become independent from fossil fuels through water-sports. These newly trained fishermen then pay it forward by teaching large groups of students about climate change as well as water-sports survival-skills.
  • Protect Our Winters (POW): A GreenSportsBlog fave, Colorado-based POW trains passionate elite winter sports athletes and others to become powerful climate advocates and lobbyists. In fact, while some POW-ites were at Green Sports House, others were on Capitol Hill on Thursday at a hearing before the Senate Democrats’ Special Committee on the Climate Crisis. That this was a Democrats-only gathering is a tragedy that needs to change yesterday but it’s a start.

 

Protect Our Winters athletes outside the US Capitol on a lobbying day (Photo credit: Protect Our Winters)

 

  • World Sailing: The governing body of a sport powered by the wind has made promoting lower carbon lifestyles a key tenet. With 75 million participants worldwide and many millions more fans, World Sailing has a powerful platform for its climate change fighting and ocean health messaging.
  • Youth Service Organization: YSO works with young gymnasts in rural areas of Rwanda to raise awareness about climate change and environmental protection. Tools include the use of improved cooking stoves and planting trees.

GreenSportsBlog had the privilege to sit in on the first working session of the Climate Action team. It took me about three nanoseconds to become convinced that this group will own the Collective part of Collective Impact — the ideas were flowing from the get go. But to paraphrase Shakespeare, generating a program(s) that will have real climate Impact is the rub.

 

CLIMATE PANEL: HERE’S WHAT SPORTS CAN, MUST DO

“We are running out of time on climate change. We are. Running. Out. Of. Time.”

Justin Zeulner, ex-President of the Green Sports Alliance and moderator of Thursday’s “On Climate: What The Sport Community Really Needs to Do to Help the Planet” panel, gave that WAKE UP! jolt to the after-lunch main stage audience.

He noted that humanity has less than ten years to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change by dramatically reducing the carbon we spew into the atmosphere — and by returning ‘legacy carbon’ already in the atmosphere back into the soil.

 

Justin Zeulner (Photo credit: Justin Zeulner)

 

Panelists shared how they are trying to take on this daunting task through the prism of sports.

Niall Dunne, CEO of Polymateria, a British post-startup that is looking to make a real dent in the plastic ocean waste issue through the combination of technology and people power.

“We’ve developed a plastic cup that is both recyclable and also, after a certain date, will begin to naturally degrade,” Dunne shared. “Our engagement strategy is to encourage users to write the date they’ll recycle the cup on the cup — there’s a space to do so. A birthday, anniversary, or another important date, like when your favorite club last won a championship.” Dunne hopes this personalization approach will encourage the cups — and their recycling/composting message — to spread virally.

Lukas Haynes, a former Protect Our Winters board member, emphasized his organization’s emphasis on using elite skiers and snowboarders to push for climate legislation in the USA, both at the federal and state levels. “Our athletes have a tremendous platform,” noted Haynes. “We have a short window for decisive action and so we’re using our megaphone to go for big solutions.”

World Sailing’s sustainability director Dan Reading shared that all of his organization’s national governing bodies are on board. “We put a number of sustainability initiatives on our latest meeting agenda,” Reading recalled. “They all passed unanimously.”

Recently retired vegan race car driver, animal rights activist and environmentalist Leilani Münter extolled the climate change-fighting virtues of switching, individually and en masse, to a plant based diet. She shared how she and her race team served vegan Impossible Burgers to NASCAR fans at Daytona. “We didn’t serve Kale burgers,” said Münter. “Impossible Burgers taste like beef. The fans loved them!”

 

Leilani Munter (Photo credit: Leilani Munter, Vegan Strong)

 

She is working to help scale the plant-based food movement through the promotion of documentary films like The Game Changers (released September 16). The potential climate benefit from a mass switch away from meat is significant: The meat-industrial complex is responsible for about 15 percent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, greater than the global GHG emissions contributed by all forms of transportation.

Münter also brought up what she called the uncomfortable third rail of the climate change conversation and that is the un-sustainability of worldwide population growth: “When I was born 45 years ago, the world’s population was 3.5 billion. It has more than doubled in my lifetime to more than 7 billion. The projections are that it will grow to almost 10 billion by 2050. Our ecosystem cannot handle this level of population and the emissions it would generate. We cannot sweep this topic under the rug.”

And Masika Mughelli, Executive Director of the Ovie Mughelli Foundation, said her organization is looking to shed light on a different macro-climate problem: Climate Injustice.

“We need to connect people of color, poor people, indigenous peoples and the unengaged to the idea that climate impacts them disproportionately and that the solutions can benefit them,” Mughelli asserted. “Right now, when (husband and ex-NFL fullback) Ovie and I go to a climate or green-sports conference, we see the same small group of people of color there. That has to change. Because the problems are so global and inclusive, the responses have to be global and inclusive.”

 

GSB’s Take: Beyond Sport House’s decentralized, intimate system of pop-up talks, workshops, and small group meetings was just terrific. At least according to this focus group of one. The energy felt more positive, the conversations sounded less Kumbaya-y than one feels and hears at a typical audience-listens-to-panel style conferences.

 

One of the many small group discussions at Beyond Sport House (Photo credit: Beyond Sport)

 

We can’t afford to stick with platitudes. Per Justin Zeulner, we’re out of time and humanity’s efforts, including those of the Green-Sports movement, have failed to move the carbon needle to this point.

That puts just a wee bit of pressure on the Climate Action Collective Impact Award team. Watch this space to see the programs and/or initiatives they’ve developed by this time next year.

 

 

 

 

 

¹ The 17 UN SDGs are 1. No Poverty, 2. Zero Hunger, 3. Good Health and Well-being, 4. Quality Education, 5. Gender Equality, 6. Clean Water and Sanitation, 7. Affordable and Clean Energy, 8. Decent Work and Economic Growth, 9. Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure, 10. Reduced Inequalities, 11. Sustainable Cities and Communities, 12. Responsible Consumption and Production, 13. Climate Action, 14. Life Below Water, 15. Life on Land, 16. Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions, and 17. Partnerships to Achieve the Goals.

 


 

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