Canada/Mexico/USA “United Bid” Wins Right to Host 2026 FIFA World Cup; GSB Reprises Interview w/ Bid Sustainability Director Rita Ricobelli

Neither the USA’s (ugh!) nor Canada’s national soccer teams qualified to play in the 2018 FIFA World Cup, which kicks off tomorrow in Russia. But those two countries, along with 2018 participant Mexico, hit the soccer/football jackpot this morning when they won a vote among 200 FIFA member countries to host the 2026 World Cup, defeating Morocco, 134 votes to 65 (1 voted for neither). Sustainability was one of the metrics upon which both bids were judged and the so-called United Bid was the clear winner on that count.

With that in mind, we are pleased to re-run our interview with Rita Ricobelli, Sustainability Director of the United Bid which first ran on May 4.

 

 

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 U.S. 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 (EDITOR’S NOTE: Morocco would have had to build eight new stadia!], 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 that will play host to 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 that will host matches during the 2026 FIFA World Cup (Photo credit: Daily Hive)

 

MetLife Stadium NY DN

MetLife Stadium in the Meadowlands of New Jersey is rumored to be the host of the championship match of the 2026 FIFA World Cup (Photo credit: New York Daily News)

 

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!

 


 

POSTSCRIPT #1: Here is a photo taken at today’s FIFA Congress in Moscow. Delegates from the United Bid of Canada, Mexico and the United States celebrate after winning the vote to host the 2026 World Cup

 

United Bid Wins

Victory! (Photo credit: Pavel Golovkin/AP)

 

POSTCRIPT #2: FIFA announced that no decision has been made on whether Canada, Mexico and the USA will all have guaranteed spots in the tournament. It has been customary for the host nation to be able to bypass the qualification process and gain an automatic bid into the World Cup. But there has never been a World Cup with three host countries. However, the 2026 World Cup will see the field expanded from the current 32-team format to 48, so that will make it easier for FIFA to provide three automatic bids.

 


 

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South Pole Measures Carbon Footprint for FIFA World Cup, UEFA Euro Championships; Helps Members of Auto Racing’s FIA Offset Emissions

 

Mega-sports events like the Olympics, FIFA World Cup and Super Bowl have been greening in some way, shape or form for more than a decade. Waste reduction, LEED (or BREEAM or CASBEE) certification, measuring carbon footprint, and more. I got to thinking it would be interesting to talk to one of the companies that does the carbon footprint accounting — to understand how it works, what gets measured, what decisions, if any, are made to reduce emissions. So we were very happy to chat with Natalia Gorina and Franka Bosman of South Pole, a very interesting company that is one part sustainability consulting firm and one part emissions reduction project developer. There may be even more parts but this is good enough for now.

 

Natalia Gorina and Franka Bosman have very cool job titles and even cooler missions at South Pole.

Geneva, Switzerland-based Natalia’s is Sales Director, Carbon and Renewables. Sounds like a good fit for someone who describes her career as being “devoted to using economic incentives to solve the climate crisis.” With South Pole since 2014, Natalia helps corporations understand that it is good business to measure and reduce carbon emissions. She helps corporations talk the sustainability talk and walk the sustainability walk.

 

Natalia Gorina 1

Natalia Gorina, South Pole (Photo credit: South Pole)

 

Franka wants to “devote my life to improving the world by helping companies and people to take action against climate change.” Prior to coming to South Pole, Franka worked in finance, trying to disrupt it from the inside out.

 

Franka Bosman

Franka Bosman, South Pole (Photo credit: South Pole)

 

Natalia and Franka sure seem like they are in the right place.

 

SOUTH POLE: MATCHMAKING CARBON REDUCTION PROJECTS WITH CORPORATE FUNDERS

South Pole was founded in 2006 as a climate change fighting/sustainable business spinoff from ETH, a technical university in Switzerland. The company has since grown to over 200 employees with 16 offices around the world, with several located in Latin America, China and the Indian sub-continent where many emissions reductions projects are located.

Those employees 1) help corporate clients source and develop emissions reductions and renewable energy development projects, 2) consult on sustainability strategy for corporations and, 3) manage their own carbon emissions projects that generate carbon credits that they then try sell to corporations.

“We are more than emissions reduction credit providers,” explained Natalia. “We come in at an earlier stage than most sustainability consulting firms by investing our own funds to cover carbon certification costs and leading projects through the entire certification cycle. We serve as the project developer for renewable energy companies and local organizations that produce and distribute water filtration systems and cook stoves, for example.”

“South Pole is a matchmaker of sorts,” added Franka. “We currently have over 500 emissions projects underway that we match with corporate funders. Then we measure results in a way that is linked to the UN Sustainable Development Goals: biodiversity gains, jobs created, and more.”

 

HANDLING FAN ENGAGEMENT FOR UEFA 2016 CHAMPIONSHIP

South Pole has partnered with UEFA, the governing body of European soccer/football, since 2012. They started by calculating the greenhouse gas emissions generated from flights taken by UEFA referees and staff and offering Gold Standard certified carbon credits to offset those emissions. “We make it easy for them,” offered Natalia. “We give them a choice of projects and they choose one per year.”

Given that UEFA governs European soccer and manages Euro Championships, it makes sense that they would want to invest in European projects. Thing is, there aren’t that many to choose from because the Kyoto Protocol mandated that the lions’ share of emissions reductions projects be in the developing world. “So we have to work outside the box a bit,” advised Natalia. “Turkey, a UEFA member, has some projects. For example, last year UEFA supported the Gold Standard Cakirlar Hydro Project. And then we offer projects from countries that have a connection to a UEFA country.  For example, UEFA chose to support the Prony Windfarm project because it is located in New Caledonia, a French territory overseas. The wind turbines installed there are very innovative because they tilt downward during hurricanes which leads to significant reductions in damage.”

 

Prony Windfarm Vergnet

Prony wind farm in New Caledonia (Photo credit: Vergnet)

 

South Pole and UEFA ramped up their sustainability efforts at Euro 2016, the quadrennial continent-wide tournament by engaging fans. Fans traveling to the month-long soccer-fest held throughout France had the opportunity to offset their travel via an easy-to-use carbon calculator. “We aimed to make it fun for fans to take environmental action,” said Natalia. “Committing to measure and offset their travel entered fans into a sweepstakes; the grand prize offered a ticket to the final game.”

Fan participation levels were not as high as envisioned. Natalia attributes this to the complexity of the entry process: “Fans had to go through several steps to compensate for their emissions. It needs to be a super easy, one click process. Or, even better, have the offsetting option as the default position in the ticket purchasing process, from which fans can opt-out if they don’t want to participate.” South Pole will have the opportunity to collaborate with UEFA further on environmental issues, including hopefully improving upon fan engagement participation, with a four-year extension of its contract. That will take it through Euro 2020, the first tournament to be played across the continent rather than in one or two countries.

 

MEASURING GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS FOR 2018 FIFA WORLD CUPTM IN RUSSIA

FIFA, the governing body of world soccer, hired South Pole to measure greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions for the 2018 men’s World Cup in Russia.

The company issued a report that offered a broad estimate of GHG emissions for 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia, from the preparation phase — per Natalia: “The organizers committed to ‘green certification’ for all 12 venues; as of now, at least 3 have achieved BREEAM^ certification” — through the World Cup itself. They projected Scope 1 (direct emissions from owned or controlled sources), Scope 2 (indirect emissions from the generation of purchased energy), and Scope 3 (value/supply chain emissions). Fan travel to and from Russia, the by far the largest GHG emissions component, falls within Scope 3. According to Natalia, “More than two thirds of all GHG emissions associated with 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia are linked to international air travel of attendees.”

 

Volvograd Arena Guardian

The BREEAM-certified Volgograd Arena (Photo credit: The Guardian)

 

Not surprisingly, it says here, the organizers of the 2018 FIFA World Cup feel fan travel to get to and from Russia is not under its control and are focusing on Scopes 1 and 2. But wouldn’t emissions from travel within a country as vast as Russia be massive? Not so, said Natalia: “Emissions from travel within Russia will be much lower, in large part because the venues are concentrated in the European, west-of-the-Ural-Mountains section of the country.”

Will South Pole do an accounting of actual 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia emissions to see how they compare to the estimate? “Our assignment was just to do the estimate,” reported Natalia.

If South Pole is engaged by FIFA and the organizers of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, here’s hoping they get to report on the actual GHG emissions, and not just estimate them. Lord knows, a World Cup in Qatarian summer will be a massive environmental challenge (and that’s putting it mildly).

 

HELPING FIA MEMBERS OFFSET EMISSIONS FROM MOTOR SPORTS

Turning to motor sports, South Pole is helping members of FIA (Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile), the governing body for Formula 1, auto rallies, Formula E and more, to achieve carbon neutrality.

Similar to UEFA, South Pole is finding offset projects for FIA members to support in the areas where races take place. “Rally Australia, a long-distance auto race in Coff’s Harbour off the country’s east coast, wanted projects that benefitted wildlife and the environment in Australia,” asserted Franka. “We helped them offset unavoidable emissions by connecting them with a project that protects the habitats of the Tasmanian Devil.”

Franka also notes that, “While European projects would be desirable for sports events taking place in Europe because of their proximity, most are happy to support programs in the developing world. One, because that’s where the need is the greatest and, two, there’s a sexiness to them given the huge positive impact these projects have for local people and the environment.”

 

WHAT’S NEXT? TELLING THE STORY TO FANS MORE CONSISTENTLY

GreenSportsBlog readers certainly know that my biggest pet peeve about the sports-greening world is that the fantastic stories about its greatest advances are not being told to fans and other stakeholders with a loud enough voice. Natalia and Franka agree.

What will change this dynamic? Franka believes the impetus will come from sponsors: “Organizers of greener sports events fear that if they tout how sustainable they are, they will be criticized for what they don’t do. But their sponsors are urging them to talk about what they are doing — commitments to renewables, recycling and to offset programs that preserve at-risk species, or help people in the developing world to source clean water.”

Since sponsor dollars are almost as vital as clean water to sports teams and leagues, Franka may be on to something.

Watch this space. And keep your eyes on South Pole.

 

^ BREEAM is a British version of LEED

 


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The GSB Interview: Vijay Sudan on 21st Century Fox, Fox Sports and Sustainability

Sports stadiums and arenas were the first to join the sports-greening movement. After all, that’s where the games are played and where tremendous amounts of energy is expended, including getting to-and-from the venue. Media companies, while a “second order” greenhouse gas emissions driver at sports events, still are part of the energy mix. Plus they of course communicate what is happening on the court, field or course to billions of people worldwide. How do they look at their own sustainability issues around sports? And how do they communicate sustainability-related issues to their viewers and listeners? To get into this question, GSB spoke with Vijay Sudan, VP of Social Impact at 21st Century Fox, the corporate umbrella under which Fox Sports resides.

 

GreenSportsBlog: How did you find yourself at 21st Century Fox (“21CF”), social responsibility and green-sports?

Vijay Sudan: It happened quite by accident. I’m not a huge sports fan, tell you the truth. At Johns Hopkins, I of course followed our top ranked lacrosse team but sports does not drive me as it does some of my colleagues. But, I had been working in management consulting at Bain & Company when I was given the opportunity to take a five month leave and start off in the Social Impact department at 21CF. It was meant to be temporary, but five months has turned into eight years and counting.

GSB: What was Social Impact like at 21st Century Fox when you joined?

VS: The CSR or Social Impact program is about a decade old. It has always existed as a corporate level initiative with business unit-level implementation. For the first seven and a half years of its existence—including when I arrived—CSR only involved environmental sustainability, what we called our “Global Energy Initiative.” Then, in 2013, News Corporation, the parent company, split into two, with the broadcast and cable outlets as well as film becoming 21st Century Fox, and the print entities—Wall Street Journal, Times of London, New York Post and Harper Collins, among others—remained under the News Corp name. Many of our initial sustainability investments—before the split—took place in our factories and print plants, which were on the publishing side.

 

vijay15998RETfinalScrop

Vijay Sudan, VP of Social Impact at 21st Century Fox. (Photo credit: 21st Century Fox)

 

GSB: That makes sense. You can save much more energy, water, ink, etc., in a factory than in an office environment or studio.

VS: Exactly. Once the split took place, our CSR strategy broadened to more of a “Social Impact” approach…

GSB: …Hence your job title, VP of Social Impact…

VS: That’s right. That broadening meant we now support initiatives in Creativity & the Arts, Sports & Well Being, as well as Knowledge & Exploration. These areas are all organic and closely tied to who we are as a business. Our operating units include the 20th Century Fox film studio, and the Fox broadcast and cable properties: the FOX network, FX, Fox Sports, Fox News, and National Geographic, as well as STAR, a large TV business in India. We’re a very decentralized corporation so we work with points of contact at each of our businesses who are our partners in delivering on our initiatives. My three colleagues and I manage CSR corporately and an important part of our jobs is to bring the various business units’ CSR efforts together where possible.

GSB: I am glad there are so many people on the CSR/sustainability case over there. What is the emissions profile of 21st Century Fox?

VS: Good question. Like I said earlier, since we spun off our publishing assets under News Corp, we really don’t have factories, which is where many of our prior environmental impacts were. So what are our environmental impacts now? Really, they’re relatively small. From our office buildings and other facilities, they’re less than 200,000 metric tonnes of CO2 annual Scope 1 and 2 emissions combined. That said, we are studying and working hard to improve upon our environmental performance in our film and TV production unit as well as in sports. For example, in terms of materials, we’ve looked at the temporary studio and other infrastructure that goes into large events like Super Bowl LI and the US Open golf, both in terms of sourcing the materials sustainably to disposal of the materials after the event. As for energy usage, we are looking at opportunities to increase the use of biodiesel, to move from generators to grid power where possible, and to trial other technologies like UPS systems to replace generators, or solar powered light towers.

GSB: It seems to me that it would be difficult to continually improve on energy usage on sets. How do you go about doing that?

VS: It is challenging. In a print factory, improvements made on energy are realized every day. With sets, our teams are constantly building new ones or are filming in new locations. We often have to use mostly new materials and get them to remote parts of the world. We shot The Revenant in Northern Canada, for example. And in some of these places your only option for power is usually diesel generators, unfortunately. Also, because every production is unique in size, location, and crew, solutions aren’t necessarily scalable. But we are making lots of improvements and trying out new technologies everywhere we can. And we’ve been a leader in the entertainment industry in that regard for many years. We had the first carbon neutral TV show with 24, also the first to use 100 percent Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified lumber. More recently we experimented with battery powered “generators” while filming Legion for FX in Vancouver and have trialed solar powered trailers for our talent on set.

GSB: What about the sports side of the business…Have you been able to make energy and materials usage improvements?

VS: Sports got ignored early on a bit. Compared to movie shoots, they’re relatively small-scale productions. And we’re really temporary guests at a stadium or arena. We bring two trucks to an event, plug into the stadium’s or arena’s power source and then head out when it’s over. The employees are, aside from the on-air talent, mostly freelancers. So the carbon footprint, like I said earlier, is relatively low. But, we looked deeper and realized Fox Sports, including our regional sports networks broadcast something like 10,000 events annually in the US, and even more when you consider our international businesses. Each event may have a small footprint but when you multiply that by 10,000 it becomes something meaningful and significant.

GSB: What kind of savings could you find that would, multiplied by 10,000, turn out to be significant?

VS: We asked ourselves this question: What kind of energy usage goes into a typical Fox Sports production? To answer it, we went to Miami to observe how we covered a Miami Marlins baseball game at Marlins Park, and a Miami Heat NBA game at American Airlines Arena. We sat in the back of the production trucks, surveyed the scene, and talked to a bunch of people on site, from replay editors to electricians to directors and more. Doing so confirmed that our energy usage is indeed low, especially compared to operating a stadium or arena and to fan travel. But as a result of gaining a better understanding of those operations, we’ve zeroed in on our supplier relationships, kicking off conversations about sustainability with our vendors, from the firms that own the production trucks to the catering companies that provide food. For both film & TV production and sports broadcast we’ve found that physical material and waste are where there are big opportunities for improvement. At this year’s Super Bowl we were able to divert more than 2,800 pounds of waste from the landfill including things like flooring signage from our temporary studio and fan areas, and almost 10 miles of Ethernet cable.

 

Heat production truck

Inside the production truck for a Fox Sports cable cast of a Miami Heat game. (Photo credit: Vijay Sudan)

 

GSB: That’s impressive. But, especially given the smallish carbon footprints, relatively speaking, of 21st Century Fox’s sports productions, the bigger impact would be from promoting your environmental and climate change bona fides on air, especially on your marquee events like the Super Bowl (when you have it every third year), World Series, FIFA World Cup, and US golf Open (men’s and women’s). Is Fox Sports doing that kind of thing?

VS: I agree, and we are telling some sustainability stories. For example we broadcast the championships of the US Golf Association (USGA), including the US Men’s and Women’s Opens. We’re working with them to reduce energy usage and food waste on site. The USGA asked us if we could tell those stories in an on air Public Service Announcement (PSA). Shortly thereafter we cut video spots with Greg Norman, our chief color commentator at the time, about our environmental efforts. Fox Sports is the conduit to the fans at home and we’ve been talking to many of our partners at the leagues and organizing bodies about how can work collaboratively to find ways to share their and our sustainability messages on air or online. Just this spring we teamed up with MLB, DePaul University and our colleagues who run Fox Sports University, which engages PR and marketing students at colleges across the US, to work on a project creating a campaign that engages fans and promotes Fox Sports’ and MLB’s sustainability efforts. I was blown away by the creative ideas the DePaul students came up with. Everything from seed packets designed like baseball cards for community gardens, to the “Strike Out Your Footprint” campaign that empowered fans to take action in reducing their own impacts. The “Strike Out Your Footprint” team won a “pitch-off” and was rewarded with a trip to Miami last week to see the 2017 Home Run Derby and MLB All Star Game.

 

DePaul Culpwrit

Members of the “Strike Out Your Footprint” team from DePaul University at the 2017 Major League Baseball All Star Game at Marlins Stadium in Miami. (Photo credit: Culpwrit)

 

GSB: Kudos to the winners, and what a great prize! Do organizing bodies of major sporting events tell you what you can and cannot say on-air? Because, for example, with the FIFA World Cup 2018 in Russia, I think environmental stories may well be big news, especially with the greenwashing that went on surrounding the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

VS: We always want to work collaboratively with our partners and find common ground. We haven’t had any conversations yet about the upcoming World Cup, but when we broadcast the Women’s World Cup in 2015 in Canada, I had a great series of conversations with FIFA, particularly around helping get more girls into sports and into soccer, which is an area we have invested in as well.

GSB: Finally, as a viewer, if I see a video about the good environmental work Fox Sports is doing, in the back of my mind I’m thinking, “wait a minute, this is the same company as Fox News and Fox News’ opinion shows are perhaps the most influential purveyors of virulent climate change denialism. I’m not buying this greening of Fox Sports.” I’m guessing I’m far the from the only person who has this thought. How do you and your team combat this?

VS: It’s not the first time I’ve heard something like that. To give a bit of context, each of our business units runs very independently from the others, and there’s also a firewall between our corporate entity and our creative and editorial outlets. Corporate will never dictate what stories to tell or how to tell them, whether for our creatives or our news teams. Beyond that, our various outlets often don’t agree with another on a variety of topics – and not only do we encourage and value a wide diversity of opinions, we think that’s part of what makes us unique. And so while some commentators may have skeptical attitudes on climate change, you’ll find many others both on the news side, and all across the company, that have strongly countering opinions.

GSB: The problem, the way I look at it, is that the commentators, like Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, and others, are mainly on in prime time, have higher ratings, greater social media traction and thus a more significant impact on the body politic than respected journalists on the news side like Shep Smith and Chris Wallace do, who are generally on during lower viewership periods. And the effect has been significant: A 2011 study from American, George Mason, and Yale Universities found that Fox News programs overwhelmingly rejected or ignored the scientific evidence on climate change, and promoted a false sense of balance by favoring guests who denied the planet was heating up.

VS: A Yale University study also found that one of the most effective communications to raise awareness and concern for climate change among the general public was our film, The Day After Tomorrow. Not to mention the hundreds of millions of people that saw Fox’s Avatar, a movie with strong environmental themes, making it the highest grossing film in history. So yes, we have a wide variety of programming and opinions expressed on screen across our businesses, and we also generate a lot of content that is crystal clear in its affirmation of the scientific consensus. The Simpsons, for instance, is regularly lauded for addressing environmental issues in an entertaining, lighthearted, but engaging way. I’m sure there are folks out there who have learned everything they know about climate from Lisa Simpson! And, of course, we also own National Geographic. Nat Geo has been very strong on climate change. As one example, they recently put out Before the Flood, Leonardo DiCaprio’s climate change documentary. We premiered it at the United Nations with then Secretary of State John Kerry. Nat Geo also aired the film globally in 171 countries and made it freely available for streaming online. The movie was watched by more than 70 million people worldwide.

 

The Simpsons tackle global warming with “None Like it Hot” (1:43)

 

GSB: Well, I certainly wish that the Fox News commentariat would move closer to their 21st Century Fox cousins on climate. While I am not holding my breath; what a huge benefit that would be to the climate fight. Back to Nat Geo, it also aired the second season of the amazing documentary series Years of Living Dangerously in 2016. Years examines the effects of climate change happening now, in real time. The first season aired on Showtime. Will there be a third?

VS: I hope so! I’m glad you like Years…

GSB: It’s more than like…it’s LOVE!

VS: Even better. The overall thing I’d like to leave you with is this: for the past decade 21st Century Fox has been committed to addressing its climate impacts, growing sustainably and inspiring others to take action. We’ve been vocal about the need for businesses to be transparent on their carbon footprint, we have advocated for climate legislation in the US, and we publicly supported the international climate agreement in Paris. We are serious about it operationally and in terms of letting our audiences know what we’re doing to help in the fight. Sports is a key venue for telling those stories.

GSB: I am glad to hear that. I’ll be even happier if I hear Years of Living Dangerously gets renewed for another season and if I see coverage of environmental issues on Fox’ air during the 2018 FIFA World Cup. I know that’s not your call but it can’t hurt to lobby a little bit.

VS: Noted!

 


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