We have conducted a ton of interviews over the three+ years of GreenSportsBlog’s existence with leading lights of the sports-greening movement. I hope these talks have enlightened you, dear reader. But I realize that the Green-Sports niche, while growing is still in its infancy, is still very small.
How much does the niche have to grow until it reaches critical mass? What will that look like? To try and get some answers, GreenSportsBlog is going outside of the Green-Sports world to take a look inward.
We will be talking, over the coming weeks and months, to leaders in the sustainability world with little or no connection to the sports world to get their takes on the sports-greening movement. I hope some valuable insights will result.
Our first such interview is with Joel Makower, chairman and executive editor of GreenBiz Group, which boasts a website (GreenBiz.com) at the intersection of Green + Business that has about 300,000 unique monthly visitors, hosts well attended annual international summits that draw leaders of the sustainable business community.
Joel is also an author, including the just-published book “The New Grand Strategy” (St. Martin’s Press), which describes a business plan for America, born at the Pentagon, which embeds sustainability as a strategic national imperative.
GreenSportsBlog: Joel, thanks for joining us for the first of our Green Thought Leader Series. Before we get into your perspective, as founder of GreenBiz Group, could you tell our readers how you came to start an enterprise at the intersection of Green & Business?
Joel Makower: Sure…I grew up in Oakland back in the 60s and went to UC Berkeley. My parents were Sierra Club members and I was a senior in high school when the first Earth Day took place back in 1970. So environmentalism was always part of my world.
Anyway, I studied journalism at Berkeley—I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do but I knew that I loved media and writing about the world. I became a freelance magazine writer in the 70’s, focusing mainly on business and consumer issues—green themes became a part of my writing as well.
In 1990 I wrote The Green Consumer (Penguin Books) which established me a voice on green consumer issues. I very quickly had a syndicated column on the topic that ran in 90 newspapers. In 1991 I started writing what we’d now call an eight-page snail-mail newsletter, “The Green Business Letter,” which eventually led to the formation in 1999 of GreenBiz.com—and, later, GreenBiz Group.
GSB: What a fascinating journey, Joel. Is GreenBiz.com, which is a must-read for anyone interested in sustainable business, the main enterprise?
Joel: Thank you, Lew. It might surprise your readers to know that our GreenBiz events—summits and conferences—are the biggest facet of our business. We also manage the GreenBiz Executive Network, a membership group of corporate sustainability executives from large companies, who we convene three times a year face to face. And, of course we produce GreenBiz.com. We have a 20-person team that works incredibly hard to produce quality content for all of our audiences on all of our platforms.
GSB: Congratulations on the success of GreenBiz Group. For me, GreenBiz.com is must-read, almost every day. Now let’s turn to the intersection of Green + Sports. First of all, are you a sports fan?
Joel: Growing up in San Francisco in the 60’s, I was a big-time Giants fan — it was the era of Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Orlando Cepeda, Juan Marichal, and the rest.
When I was 15, I worked as a vendor at Oakland Raiders games, which was then coached by Al Davis. This was before the Coliseum opened, so it was Frank Youell Field, a tiny stadium on the campus of Laney College. I worked the first-ever Raiders and A’s games at the Coliseum. I saw Daryle Lamonica, George Blanda, all those guys. And I’ve stayed a San Francisco-Oakland fan since then.
By the way, we host our GreenBiz Executive Network events in different cities around the country. Whenever possible we fit in a baseball game—in just the past year we’ve been to Target Field (Minnesota Twins), Safeco Field (Seattle Mariners), U.S. Cellular Field (Chicago White Sox), and Turner Field (Atlanta Braves).
GSB: So you clearly get sports; what about Green-Sports? We at GreenSportsBlog are, of course, believers in the power of sports to leverage positive green actions and are itching to dramatically increase the number and power of those actions. What say you from your perch at GreenBiz?
Joel: The sports-greening movement is a very important part of the sustainability ecosystem. I mean sports, as I’m sure you and your readers know well, touch so many people (70 percent of humans by one study) identify as sports fans.
Now, the actual environmental impacts of the games themselves are relatively small; especially when you think about the fans who watch on TV and follow their teams online, but the impact on the broader community is huge. That said, it makes sense for the sports-greening movement to start at the stadium, at the arena.
GSB: Why is that?
Joel: In a certain sense the Greening of Sports tracks the Greening of Business. Nowadays, you can’t build a stadium or arena or, in the case of business, a corporate headquarters, without it being LEED certified in some way.
You can’t host an event, whether sports event or a trade show, without doing something about recycling and, more recently, with composting, energy and water use. And, when you add the goodwill and the positive community engagement that goes with being a green leader, there’s no reason not to go green.
GSB: Actually I think there are risks to teams not going green…
Joel: I agree. First of all, environmental activists will be in a team’s face if it doesn’t have a meaningful greening plan. The cities in which teams play increasingly have aggressive waste-reduction and energy-efficiency goals, and the stadiums are high-profile buildings that are use a lot of energy when games are being played. Teams will want to be, need to be on the city’s good side environmentally, which means, among other things, being close to mass transit so as to discourage driving.
GSB: From where I sit, teams are, for the most part, doing the right thing on the environment, from LEED stadiums to recycling to situating themselves near mass transit. This is the rule rather than the exception.
The one recent outlier to this is the Atlanta Braves decision to move away from the city center and build their new stadium, opening next season, in the Cobb County suburbs, away from the MARTA light rail system. That’s so dumb! Anyway, if you look ahead 3-5 years or more, what do you think needs to happen; will happen, for the sports-greening movement to gain critical mass?
Joel: I see the games themselves getting greener than ever as technology improves, the economics of going green becomes more cost effective. With that, and with the increased interest in climate change among the public, interest in green sports will grow. The one thing that teams and leagues can do to speed the pace of greening up is to engage fans—and for activist groups outside of the sports world to do the same…
GSB: Amen, brother!
Joel: If fans would reward a team’s good green behavior by buying more tickets, or patronizing their sponsors’ green products and services, that would move the needle. Until an owner sees even one more ticket sold to a “green game,” dramatic and meaningful sustainability actions will not take place.
And the problem is human nature: the public is slow to compliment and quick to criticize. Fans definitely need to criticize bad environmental behavior by teams and leagues. But if fans would take a few minutes to give credit to a team for being a green leader, that would be big, indeed.
GSB: Oh yeah, fans are much quicker to criticize—just look at Philadelphia sports fans! What do you think an athlete’s role should/could be in Green-Sports?
Joel: It’s cliché but athletes are certainly role models. It’s enormously helpful for athletes to get engaged on social issues, including climate change but also health care, income inequality and many more.
GSB: Finding and shouting out about Eco-Athletes is a big goal for GreenSportsBlog in 2016 and beyond. Those that are involved are doing great things, from the NHL’s Andrew Ference (taking classes remotely via in the Harvard Extension School Certificate program for Corporate Sustainability and Innovation), Arsenal’s Mathieu Flamini (co-founded GF Biochemicals, an alternative energy company), and Olympic and America’s Cup sailor Sir Ben Ainslie (trying to win the 2017 America’s Cup while reducing his team’s carbon emissions; Ambassador of 100 percent Sport, the effort to encourage fans to take environmentally friendly action. #Go100Percent).
Right now Eco-Athletes are relatively few in number but, if GreenSportsBlog has anything to say about it, will change for the better.
Back to the owners. So many are doing the right thing in terms of greening their operations. But at the same time, many are supporting political candidates who are climate change deniers or skeptics. It was reported that, in the 2012 Presidential election, 24 of the 32 NFL owners voted for Mitt Romney, a climate change do-very-little/it’s-not-that-big-a-deal candidate, over Barack Obama. My guess is that many of those NFL owners will support Donald Trump (unfortunately Woody Johnson, owner of my New York Jets, is fund-raising for the presumptive GOP nominee), a hard core climate change denier, in 2016. What gives?
Joel: Sports team owners, just like CEOs in many other industries, tend to be right-of-center politically. But they most often operate their businesses in ways that appeal to their customers’ sensibilities.
Political issues for them are a different matter entirely, a sideshow of sorts. Now, on climate change specifically, even if an owner is a denier or a skeptic, they also believe in good will, in reputation…
GSB: Perhaps with the exceptions of Daniel Snyder of the Washington Redskins…
Joel: So they will do the right thing for the most part, in spite of themselves.
GSB: Well, perhaps if any head-in-climate-sand owners read “The New Grand Strategy” they will see the light on both on the seriousness of the problem and of the opportunities inherent in getting out front on the issue with fans and other stakeholders. Good luck with the book!