The Best and Worst of Green-Sports, 2018

Eco-athletes became more of a thing in 2018 — and that’s a very good thing.

This statement is not data-based. I haven’t seen data on the number of athletes who engage on environmental issues.

Yet anecdotally, I can say that I spoke to more eco-athletes in 2018 than in any other year since starting GreenSportsBlog in 2013.

Given the dire climate news coming out of recent UN and U.S. government reports, the world needs this year’s eco-athlete “thing” to become a wave in 2019. But that is for another day.

Today, we bring you an eco-athlete-infused BEST AND WORST OF GREEN-SPORTS, 2018.

 

BEST GREEN-SPORTS STORY OF 2018

Leilani Münter, The “Vegan, Hippy Chick with a Race Car”

There are three great reasons why Leilani Münter, the “vegan, hippy chick with a race car,” is GreenSportsBlog’s Best Green-Sports Story of 2018. Münter…

  1. Signed A Well-Fed World and TryVeg.com to sponsor her ARCA series car for an eight race campaign
  2. Earned two top ten finishes
  3. Sampled vegan Impossible Burgers to 30,000 racing fans (they loved ’em!)

 

Leilani Munter Scott LePage

Leilani Münter, GreenSportsBlog’s “Best Green-Sports Story of 2018” (Photo credit: Scott LePage)

 

Thing is, no one would have blamed Münter if she had decided to give up her career as a driver in NASCAR’s ARCA Presented by Menard developmental series before this year.

Her strong commitment to only work with brands that align with her lifestyle and the issues that animate her — most notably veganism, animal rights and the climate change fight — has limited her ability to secure the sponsors and thus the funding necessary to enter races. In some years, Münter has competed in only one race; in others none at all.

But Münter did not quit, although she came close several times. The Minnesota native kept selling the idea that auto racing fans would react positively to vegan messaging — and food. “Some of the vegan brands I called on said ‘the NASCAR fan is not the right audience for us.’ I said ‘you don’t need to talk to vegans; they’re already converted. You need to talk to people who are not already in your world.’ Auto racing fans fit that definition.”

Her logic and persistence — she pitched sponsorship of a vegan-branded car for six years — paid off in 2018 when two non-profit organizations, A Well-Fed World and TryVeg.com, signed on as her lead sponsors to carry the Vegan Strong message. The deal allowed Münter to run an eight race campaign, which included an eighth place finish at the ARCA race during Daytona 500 week and a ninth place result at Michigan International Speedway.

More importantly, Münter and Vegan Strong teamed up at five of her eight races to fund the sampling of vegan Impossible Burgers in the Fan Zones to 30,000 fans. The fans ate ’em up, literally and figuratively.

“Many fans were skeptical at first and didn’t want to try the Impossible Burgers,” recalled Münter. “But once they did, they loved the taste and texture! And when you tell them it’s better for their health and for the planet, they got more excited.”

 

Leilani at Tent

Leilani Münter takes a photo of skeptical racing fans trying Impossible Burgers at the Daytona International Speedway Fan Zone in February (Photo credit: Natalka Lindstrom)

 

I am excited to see what Münter will do for encore to spread her vegan, along with her animal rights and climate change-fighting messages. On the latter, she is a big advocate of electric vehicles — her personal car is a Tesla, powered by solar panels on the roof of her house.

Münter says to expect an announcement about her 2019 plans in early January.

 

PAST WINNERS

2017: The Athletes of Protect Our Winters (POW)

2016: The Rio “Climate Change” Olympics Opening Ceremony vignette

2015: Pac-12 Conference

2014: Forest Green Rovers

 

MORE ECO-ATHLETES WHO MADE A DIFFERENCE IN 2018

I’m happy to say that Leilani Münter is not a lone wolf eco-athlete. She is joined by a veritable All-Star squad of sailors, skiers and more who spoke out and/or took action on the environment this year.

Team director Mark Towill and skipper Charlie Enright led the Vestas 11th Hour Racing Crew to a fifth place finish in the ’round-the-world Volvo Ocean Race. Sustainability is a core element of the team’s DNA. They communicated their ethos of a cleaner, healthier environment to thousands of fans at race stops via an interactive Exploration Zone.

Jessie Diggins, who along with teammate Kikkan Randall, won the gold medal in the women’s team sprint freestyle race at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Diggins also found the time to engage on the climate change fight. She supports a revenue neutral carbon fee and dividend program (CF&D), similar to the bill that was recently introduced with bipartisan support in the House of Representatives. Diggins told the New York Times, “Saving winter is something I believe in…and I feel like we’re actually really at risk of losing it.” 

 

Jessie Diggins NYDN

U.S. Olympic cross country gold medal winner and carbon pricing advocate Jessie Diggins (Photo credit: New York Daily News)

 

Arizona Cardinals rookie quarterback Josh Rosen talked climate change in a March interview in ESPN The Magazine: “One cause I’ll champion is the environment. It touches everything. I mean, the war in Syria started because of the drought and famine that destabilized the country and led the population to revolt against the government. I know global warming is a partisan issue for some stupid reason, but it touches everything.”

Sam Martin, punter for the Detroit Lions and an advocate for renewable energy, helped broker a deal that resulted in new solar installations at Ford Field and the club’s nearby Allen Park training facility. North Carolina-based Power Home Solar approached the team through a preexisting partnership with Martin and his Sam Martin Foundation,

Milwaukee Bucks point guard Malcolm Brogdon and four other NBA players announced the launch of Hoops₂Ojoining the fight for access to clean water in East Africa. Staying in the Beer Capital of the U.S., Brewers’ pitcher Brent Suter penned an OpEd urging action on climate in Fast Company. 

 

GREENEST NEW STADIUM OR ARENA OF 2018

Audi Field, D.C. United

It took D.C. United a quarter century to build its own, soccer-specific stadium. Audi Field sure looks like it was worth the wait as the 20,000 seat, $500 million stadium earned LEED Gold certification when it opened in July. Five months later, it added another honor by being named GSB’s Greenest New Stadium/Arena of 2018.

Audi Field drew our attention for a number of reasons, including:

  • The rooftop solar panel installation that provides roughly one million kilowatt hours of electricity annually, enough to offset nearly one third of the stadium’s electricity usage
  • Nearby access to D.C. Metro system’s green line train
  • An advanced, energy-efficient building envelope/skin
  • A storage vessel that collects rain water underneath the building. When it rains, water drains under the pitch into the vessel where it is slowly released so it doesn’t go into the nearby Anacostia River.

 

Audi Field

A packed Audi Field during the national anthem on opening night (Photo credit: WTOP/Noah Frank)

 

Fiserv Forum, the new home of the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks, deserves honorable mention. On track to receive LEED Silver certification, the downtown arena is the world’s first bird-friendly sports and entertainment venue, thanks in part to a collaboration with the American Bird Conservancy.

 

PAST WINNERS

2017: Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United

2016: Golden1 Center, Sacramento Kings

2015: CHS Field, St. Paul (MN) Saints

2014: Levi’s Stadium, San Francisco 49ers

 

BEST TEAM ON/GREENEST TEAM OFF FIELD OF 2018

TIE: Philadelphia Eagles, Super Bowl LII Champions and Atlanta United F.C., Major League Soccer’s 2018 Title Winners 

The Eagles checked the on-field box for their Best Team On/Greenest Team Off Field Court of 2018 award when they captured the franchise’s first Super Bowl in dramatic fashion, as backup QB Nick Foles outdueled Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, 41-33. Off the field, the Eagles became the first pro sports team to earn ISO 20121 certification for integrating sustainability practices into their management model. Among other things, the team:

  • Deployed edgy, humorous billboards that encouraged support for GO GREEN, the Eagles’ long-running fan-facing environmental program on Lincoln Financial Field’s concourses, ramps, and yes, even the restrooms.
  • Installed an interactive LED screen at the NovaCare Complex, the team’s practice facility down the street from “The Linc”. “It shows our employees how much energy our solar panels and wind turbines are producing every day, how much we recycle, and more,” said Norman Vossschulte, the Eagles director of fan experience.

And, just before we went to press, the Eagles announced that Lincoln Financial Field earned an upgrade from the US Green Building Council to LEED Gold status — it had qualified for LEED Silver in 2013.

 

Dallas Cowboys v Philadelphia Eagles

Sustainability-themed signage on display at Lincoln Financial Field (Photo credits: Philadelphia Eagles)

 

 

Atlanta United secured its spot on GSB’s Best Team On/Greenest Team Off Field podium by winning the MLS Cup trophy in only its second season of play. The “Five Stripes” knocked off the Portland Timbers 2-0 on Saturday night.

The team’s green cred is also championship caliber. After all, they play at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the world’s first LEED Platinum pro sports stadium, sharing it with the NFL’s Falcons. Stadium management uses its massive, wrap-around scoreboard to share the green story with fans, 73,019 of whom showed for MLS Cup, the largest crowd in league history.

 

M-B Stadium

Green messaging greets fans of Atlanta United, the newly-minted MLS Cup champion, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium (Photo credit: Lewis Blaustein)

 

PAST WINNERS

2017: Golden State Warriors

2016: Cleveland Indians

2015: New England Patriots

2014: Ohio State University

 

GREEN-SPORTS GREENWASH OF 2018

Eco-Sailor Sir Ben Ainslie Signs Title Sponsor Deal with Fracking and Chemical Company Ineos

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

One thing Sir Ben did not win was the 2017 America’s Cup, despite spending in the neighborhood $135 million over the four-year cycle. By some estimates, it will cost as much as $175 million to mount a legitimate campaign for the 2021 Cup.

So when British fracking^ and chemical company, Ineos, and its founder Jim Ratcliffe, offered Ainslie $153 million to fund the lion’s share of his 2021 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, competitors, sponsors and more.

He chose Ratcliffe’s fracking money.

 

Ainslie Ratcliffe

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

 

Not surprisingly, GreenSportsBlog chose Sir Ben for Green-Sports Greenwash of 2018.  

And it wasn’t close for second place.

 

PAST “WINNERS”

2017: Super Bowl LI, Houston*

2016: Super Bowl L, Santa Clara, Super Green But (Virtually) No One (Outside of the Green-Sports Ecosystem) Knew About It*

2015: College Athletics Departments That Talk a Good Green Game But Took Koch Brothers Sponsorship Dollars

2014: Sochi Winter Olympics

 

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.
* 2017 and 2016 designation was titled “GREEN-SPORTS MISSED OPPORTUNITY OF THE YEAR”

 

 


 

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#CoverGreenSports

Purpose + Sport: Helping Brands Do Well By Doing Good, Including by Going Green

Neill Duffy has graced the pages of GreenSportsBlog several times, most notably for his work as Sustainability Director of the San Francisco Bay Area Super Bowl 50 Host Committee. Since then, he founded and serves as CEO of Purpose + Sport, a purpose-led marketing and sponsorship agency. Neill is very bullish on the future of top brands investing some of their sports sponsorship and advertising dollars on programs that have a social and/or environmental purpose. Neill and Advisory Board member Tony Ponturo, formerly the VP of media and sponsorships at Anheuser-Busch, talked to GreenSportsBlog about the move to purpose that is underway and how the business of sport is, and isn’t yet, embracing this opportunity.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Neill, what do you mean by your company’s name, Purpose + Sport?

Neill Duffy: Well, using the “+” sign was very intentional. I wanted to connote the notion of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts.

GSB: Kind of like 2 + 2 = 5 and that being the right answer.

ND: Exactly! When you add purpose to sports you get amplified results for all involved.

 

Neill Duffy

Neill Duffy, CEO, Purpose + Sport (Photo credit: Purpose + Sport)

 

GSB: And how did you and Tony connect?

Tony Ponturo: Well, in 2010, the St. Louis Sports Commission and National Sportsmanship Foundation launched the Musial Awards, to honor the athletes, male and female, who exhibit the best in sportsmanship, just like the legendary Cardinals Hall of Fame outfielder from the 1940s-60s, Stan “The Man” Musial. While not a member of the commission at the time, I consulted with them and have remained a fan of their work. Neill and my paths crossed when the National Sportsmanship Foundation asked Neill if he could help take the awards beyond St. Louis to more of a national footprint. They also introduced Neill and I to each other We talked a lot more about socially responsible business and how sports needs to move into this space more aggressively as he was in the process of building Purpose + Sport. So it seemed like a natural fit for me to take on the advisory role earlier, which I did earlier this year.

 

Panturo Tony

Tony Ponturo, Purpose + Sport Advisory Board Member (Photo Credit: Purpose + Sport)

 

GSB: Got it. What a great pairing of expertise. So give our readers the Purpose + Sport elevator pitch…

ND: Happy to. Consumers increasingly expect corporations to stand for something more than just profit…and in turn corporations are responding by embracing purpose as a management philosophy. The business of sport has however been slow to embrace this move and that’s where we come in. We’re all about inspiring the business of sport to do good and do well. We provide purposeful strategic, commercial engagement solutions to sports sponsor, properties and non-profits to help them show up more meaningfully and remain relevant to the fans.

GSB: I guess I buy that, but with a bit of an asterisk. I mean, do consumers really care that the companies from which they buy their sneakers or cars do good?

ND: Absolutely. And the number that do is going up, especially among younger consumers. For example, the 2017 Cone Report found that 78 percent want companies to address important social justice issues and that 87 percent will purchase a product because a company advocated for an issue they cared about and 76 percent will refuse to purchase a company’s products or services upon learning it supported an issue contrary to their beliefs. Corporations are starting to get this. According to the April, 2017 State of Marketing survey from Salesforce.com, about 2/3 of the most successful marketing managers today are “purpose driven.” Companies that make sustainability — in the broadest, “environmental, social and governance” sense of the word — core to their brands really do engender greater brand loyalty among their consumer bases. It’s that simple. The problem, as we see it, is that, until now, sports have lagged the broader market in embracing purpose. In fact, not a single sports team, event or federation makes any list of the most purposeful brands.

GSB: That’s a real shame. What are the reasons, do you think?

ND: Firstly, there is a lot of inertia in the sports business system to continue doing things the way they always have. Why would we want to change something that’s working. Secondly, people have been so caught up of late in chasing the next piece of shiny technology that’s going to enhance the fan experience – the app that tells fans which restroom line is the shortest – that they’ve lost sight of the equal if not greater importance of the message…I’m a great believer in the message being as important if not more important than the medium. But, like I said earlier, that’s changing. Mars, which advertises heavily on sports, recently announced that it is committing $1 billion to a climate-focused messaging campaign. I’ll be surprised if this commitment doesn’t carry through to their sponsorship activation.

GSB: I saw that—it is FANTASTIC. Tony, you were at the center of the sports marketing-sponsorship-advertising nexus for more than two decades at Anheuser-Busch — you were VP of media, sports and entertainment marketing from 1991 to 2008. You ran the Busch Media Group, with 150 people, commanded a $600 million budget, worked with leagues, and teams and the rest. So how come more leading sports sponsors haven’t done the type of thing Mars is doing?

TP: My take is that sports haven’t seen the need just yet — but like Neill is saying, that is changing. One reason they haven’t jumped in may be that most sports fans have been men and, and, this is a generalization, but most male sports fans don’t care that much about a team’s social responsibility profile. They basically care about one thing: wining the game. Women sports fans, on the other hand, are much more socially conscious.

GSB: And since women sports fans, as a cohort, are growing…

TP: …It follows that the number of teams doing good will grow, as will the number of brands sponsoring pro-social programs — no doubt about it. In 2016, I taught at a conference at NYU on “Leadership, Social Responsibility and Sports.” We conducted focus groups there and found that women routinely mentioned a team’s social responsibility profile as being important drivers as to their attitudes about the team and their sponsors. ND: And, given the current US federal government’s hostility to environmental sustainability and other pro social programs, business should step into the breach and take a leadership position on purpose — a big chunk of the public is hungering for this.

GSB:…”Greed is GOOD!” said Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko in Wall Street…

ND: Exactly…that was the ethos back then. Since about 2000, the importance of purpose has been rising in that longitudinal study…People — men and women —are saying in greater numbers that while I need to do well, society also needs to do well. It’s just that sports need to get with the program. We saw something similar in the late adoption of operational sustainability by the teams and leagues which lagged what was happening in the corporate sector by 5-10 years.

GSB: How do you think most fans, male and female, will react purpose-themed sports initiatives.

TP: Fans tend to question “purpose” initiatives at first but, I believe, over the long haul, they’ll get on board.

GSB: So where does Purpose + Sport fit in?

ND: We aim to accelerate the process, deepen the impact and build business for sports sponsors, property owners and non-profits via Purpose-driven programs. We will show them how to bring to life doing good and doing well.

GSB: Can you give some examples?

TP: The Musial Awards are a good place to start. The 2017 version takes place on November 18 with an edited special airing in December. We are helping the Commission increase the awareness and value of the Awards beyond the St. Louis area. Our job is to bring the Awards’ focused, powerful message — that sports has the power to get people to take positive action and that fans and viewers will care — to broadcasters across the country, get them to say “YES!” to airing them. Having a national audience rather than a regional one is so much more appealing to most brands.

 

Musial Award Sign

 

GSB: On the one hand, I imagine that a TV show about athletes who do great things in the community will have broad appeal. On the other, I’m guessing that Stan Musial’s name doesn’t mean much for Gen Xers, Millennials and Gen Zers…

TP: You’re right…People who are under 45 don’t really know Musial, outside of folks in St. Louis. So we’re focusing on making the awards themselves relevant to broadcasters in Atlanta, Los Angeles, New York, and beyond. Right now, there are around ten awards offered, with the big one being the Lifetime Achievement award.

ND: We’ve been able, by showing the value of and interest in “purpose,” to take the awards from St. Louis only to 39 markets. Our aspiration is to eventually find a national broadcaster to see the value in the awards and for national advertisers/sponsors to do so as well.

GSB: Congratulations on getting to 39 markets. It seems to me that, getting a national broadcaster, along with national advertisers and sponsors, to see the value of the Musial Awards tis a logical next step for Purpose + Sport. Good luck. Let’s move over to Green-Sports specifically. At the 2016 Summer Olympics opening ceremonies in Rio, there was a 5-10 minute vignette on climate change. A global audience of an estimated 1 billion people saw this. NEWS FLASH: THE WORLD DIDN’T STOP SPINNING!! But in North American sports, there hasn’t been anything remotely like that at the Super Bowl, College Football Playoff, etc. Why are sports leagues, even those that are greening aggressively like the NHL, loath to talk about it? Loath to run PSA’s on actual broadcasts of actual games?

ND: Wasn’t what Rio 2016 did great?

GSB: LOVED IT!

ND: I haven’t seen any insights around how viewers reacted to this segment but, for me, it made perfect sense. It was very relevant given the importance of the Amazon to global climate. Kudos to the IOC and Rio 2016 for supporting the decision by the creative directors for the ceremony – Fernando Meirelles, Daniela Thomas and Andrucha Waddington – to include this piece on climate in the ceremony. My sense is that the North American pro and college sports leagues take a very tactical approach to the greening of their events and view it more for its operational efficiency / cost reduction benefits than anything else. This mirrors what happened in the business sector more broadly where sustainability started off being about improving efficiencies before evolving to be viewed as a strategic imperative that could be engage customers and other stakeholders for competitive advantage. My view is that the business of sport is beginning to change their view on the role that environmental sustainability should play in their organizations — and that means telling environmental and climate stories to their audiences and fan bases not just being green behind the scenes. Another important part to his story is the role that the television producers play. Many of the producers involved today across all the major broadcasters have been doing what they do for decades. They have a tried and tested format that has worked for them and they are loathe to alter it. They seem to be prepared to remain relevant and up to date when it comes to the technology they adopt but are much less current as to the messages they convey. As fresh eyes and hearts start to infiltrate the ranks of the producers, I think things will start to change.

 

Opening Ceremonies Rio

Aerial view of the climate change vignette during the opening ceremonies of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio (Photo credit: Huffington Post)

 

GSB: Do you think teams and leagues are afraid of the politics of environment/green/climate change?

ND: When I worked with the 34th America’s Cup Event Authority in San Francisco (2013), the words “climate change” were taboo within the organization despite the fact that we had made a legally binding commitment to the City of San Francisco that we would deliver a carbon neutral event. At the time, the leadership of the Event Authority was concerned that any discussion around climate change would be polarizing. Two years on from this event, at the Super Bowl 50 Host Committee, also in the Bay Area, we spoke openly about reducing our impact on climate change. Why were we able to do so? Thanks to bold leadership that celebrated rather than ran from the fact that Bay Area is a place where the acceptance of climate change is a given. It’s interesting to note that despite the Trump Administration’s position on climate change, Americans believe now more so than at any time in history that global warming is as a result of human activity and that the effects have already begun. This should give leagues, teams, athletes and sponsors the confidence to embrace this issue and I think we will as a result start to see more of them…

GSB: A la Mars…

ND: Exactly…We will see more of them openly aligning with the issue – particularly those where there is a direct link between the climate and the sport involved…winter sports, golf, sailing. In fact, Purpose + Sport recently advised a team that are preparing an entry for the 2021 edition of the Volvo Ocean Race on their purpose strategy. We brokered a partnership between the teams and Conservation International around a purpose very closely aligned to climate change and its impact on ocean health. I think this is a sign of things to come.

GSB: I hope and actually believe that you are right.

 


 

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