The GSB Interview: Zane Schweitzer, World Champion Surfer and Eco-Athlete

Surfer Zane Kekoa Schweitzer is at the top of his game: Contending for world championships across multiple surfing disciplines, about to compete for a spot on the first-ever U.S. Olympic surfing team, and an ascendant eco-athlete. GreenSportsBlog spoke with the young Hawaiian in December as he was about to compete in the last event of the 2018 APP paddle surfing tour at Las Palmas in the Grand Canary Islands about his career, his work on behalf of clean oceans and more.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Zane, thanks so much for taking time to talk to us in the middle of your competition!

Zane Schweitzer: Thank you, Lew!

GSB: How did you get into surfing?

Zane: Growing up in Maui, I could swim before I could walk. My dad is an 18-time world windsurfing champion and we all, including my mom and sister, basically lived on and in the water. Swimming, windsurfing, surfing, paddling…you name it.

 

zane schweitzer

Zane Schweitzer (Photo credit: Matt Schweitzer)

 

GSB: Wow! It sounds like competitive surfing is in your DNA. And you are gaining on your dad as you now have 15 world championship event wins and you’re still only 25. When did you start competing?

Zane: Lew, you’re not going to believe this but I was three years old when I won my first surfing competition. And I was up against kids as old as six. I won a big surfboard!

GSB: I cannot imagine that at any age. When did you first think you could be a world champion?

Zane: Good question. I guess I was 13 when I started to think I could be a world champ. I got more serious about surfing — including wind surfing, got a sponsor and a coach. Then I went out on tour along with my friend and surfing partner Connor Baxter. I was in junior high, traveling Japan and South Korea in Asia along with Spain, Germany and Italy in Europe to windsurf. It was awesome!

GSB: Sounds like it. How did you handle high school while doing all that traveling on tour?

Zane: I went to high school in Maui for the first two years but then it got too crazy so I was homeschooled my junior and senior years, which worked out fine as it allowed me to really focus on my craft and building my own brand.

GSB: Which has worked out well for you. I understand you are a decathlete of sorts in surfing in that you compete and win in a wide variety of surfing disciplines.

Zane: Yeah, most people are unaware that there are multi-discipline ocean sport competitions, the most prestigious of them being the Ultimate Waterman championship, which is eight events. I’ve won it twice and they are the titles I’m most proud of.

GSB: Congratulations! Sounds like the surfing equivalent of the decathlon.

Zane: You’ve got that right. And it’s actually more than just surfing. We compete in long distance canoe and stand up paddle (SUP) races, underwater strength and endurance and more!

 

zane paddle

Zane Schweitzer competes in the Stand Up Paddle competition (Photo credit: Matt Schweitzer)

 

GSB: What is underwater strength and endurance?

Zane: The underwater strength and endurance discipline — a combination of swimming, breath holding and running with 50kgs underwater — is nuts!! The other events are stand up paddle surfing, stand up paddle endurance racing, prone paddle board technical race, OC1 or one man outrigger canoeing, shortboard surfing, longboard surfing and big wave riding.

GSB: Dang! That sounds impossible. How did your 2018 season go?

Zane: Earlier this year I won the indoor wave pool event at the worlds largest boat show in Germany, that was fun! Was crowned champion of the Santa Cruz Paddlefest and the Ventura Paddle Surf Championships both in the discipline of SUP Surfing. During Race season I set a new record time winning the Maui to Moloka’i 27 mile Hydrofoil race and placed fourth at the 2018 Pan Am Games in Lima, Peru in the stand up paddle race. During the Pan-Am SUP Surf discipline I had a technicality that did me in losing my qualifying position for 2019 Pan Am Games. I was pretty bummed about that! But it was a strong year overall and I’m grateful to finish the APP World Tour in second overall between Paddle Race and Surf combined results and as well as third on the APP World Tour in Stand Up Surf. It sets me up well for 2019 as I look to put myself in prime position to make the U.S. Olympic team when shortboard surfing makes its debut at Tokyo 2020.

GSB: That’s right — surfing becomes an Olympic sport.

Zane: It is so exciting! It’ll be shortboard surfing in Tokyo and then longboard and stand up paddle may be added for Paris 2024.

GSB: All the best! What inspired you to be an environmentalist?

Zane: Ah yes…My lifelong respect for the environment was passed down to me by my family. Growing up in Hawai’i in a culture in which environmentalism is almost a given also has a lot to with it. In Hawai’i we have a connection with nature from the mountains to the sea. Our “kuleana” or privileged responsibility, to care for the land and waters could be derived from the old way of living that was dependent on the health of the complete environment. My dad passed down the pride and respect for “mauka to makai” or “mountains to oceans” mentality to me that embraced this connection to land, water and nature. He would take me dirt biking up in the mountains or fishing in the middle of the ocean far from land and we’d eat and drink off of the land, providing for our family and connecting with nature. It is my ethos. And then, as I started to make a profession from ocean sports, I realized my competitors and I have a huge opportunity, because of the influence sports has, to share these unique experiences and appreciation for the ocean.

For me, the ocean is so much more than a big, unknown world. It is my classroom, playground, church and place of refuge that I deeply honor and respect.

GSB: Very well said, Zane. When did you start speaking out on the environment?

Zane: It really started in 2015. My surfboard sponsor, Starboard, had not been very eco-minded before then, but then they made an amazing flip, a true 180. They partnered with Sustainable Surf and Parley for the Oceans, nonprofits committed to inspiring innovation and behavior changes to help save ocean ecosystems, from our personal day-to-day choices to macro corporate production decisions. I was honored to work with them all and learn how I could adopt eco innovation personally and professionally. In 2016, Starboard invited me to the “Parley Ocean School” in the Maldives.

GSB: …The small island nation off the southern coast of India that is at serious risk now, in real time, from the effects of climate change.

Zane: Youʻre right. This became a pivotal point in my evolution as an eco-warrior and environmental ambassador! For eight days, our group of 16 was taught lessons from people like ocean health experts Silvia Earle and Paul Watson, along with leaders from a variety of arenas. I had a chance to host an engagement, sharing with the group, 1) my connection to the environment through sports and, 2) how I run nonprofit events for kids worldwide to inspire future generations to embrace a healthy, active, and environmentally respectful lifestyle.

We scuba dove together with local climate change experts and saw the devastation to coral reefs and Maldivian islands first hand. It was a pivotal moment in my life.

GSB: Was Parley Ocean School solely a gathering of elite water sports athletes?

Zane: No, it was an eclectic group of influencers that included actors like Chris Hemsworth and Diego Luna as well as Victoriaʻs Secret models, recognized environmental photographer/videographers, marine biologists and more! Ocean school was about sharing experiences, lessons as well as telling stories. The goal was to shift our minds and actions so we would make better environmental choices — and share that approach with as many people as possible.

 

parley ocean school maldives

Plastic ocean waste washed up on the shore of the Maldive Islands during Parley Ocean School in 2016 (Photo credit: Parley for the Oceans)

 

GSB: How did you go about doing that?

Zane: I decided then and there to refocus my purpose towards environmental action and to inspire my community to take responsibility for the health of our environment with our own daily choices.

I committed to making “Blue Life Choices” such as:

  1. Adopting a plant-based, vegan diet,
  2. Only working with brands as sponsors whose values and actions on the environment mirror my own,
  3. Packing my own water bottle and lunchbox to avoid daily single use plastic consumption,
  4. Investing only in likeminded companies as far the environment is concerned,
  5. Hosting beach cleanups on my travels and even during competitions

I also pledged to show off my “Pocket of Plastic Challenge,” a fun campaign I started in 2015 that asks surfers and beachgoers to put their pockets to use by leaving the water and beach with a few pieces of plastic they may have found in the water or sand and dispose of them appropriately.

GSB: Brilliant!

Zane: Then I began advocating against single-use plastics. Wanting to give as many people as possible a taste of the Ocean School, I started partnering with nonprofits like Sustainable Surf, 5 Gyres, Eat Less Plastic, Surfrider Foundation in addition to Parley for the Oceans to spread the word. As mentioned earlier, I only work with sponsors that are the greenest in their product categories. Starboard is leading the charge for eco-innovation in its class. Did you know they plant mangrove trees for every product sold to offset their carbon footprint?

GSB: I had no idea. That’s fantastic!

Zane: I know! I also work with Indosole, a B-Corp that makes shoes out of old car tires…

GSB: …A B-Corp is a for-profit business that is managed to balance profit and purpose, not solely the former.

Zane: B-Corps are phenomenal but having them sponsor me was not enough. I chose to adapt my lifestyle and also my business to continue innovating and inspiring, so in 2017 I started hosting more events — such as Surf, SUP and Hydrofoil clinics — and retreats that included beach cleanups and environmental education. I also published a book, “Beneath The Surface,” based on 15 years of journaling that allowed me to further share with people how to innovate and inspire and live a Deep Blue Life.

 

beneathsurface

 

GSB: What do you mean by “living a Deep Blue Life”?

Zane: It’s the idea that, since pretty much all waste ends up in oceans or other bodies of water, we need to make a collective mindset shift towards making ocean health a priority in our everyday lives. I’ll take it from the words of Sustainable Surf: “We believe that the key to solving most environmental problems, including climate change, is for individuals and organizations to begin making sustainable choices in their everyday lives that are engaging, cost effective, fulfilling – and yes, even fun.”

That’s living a Deep Blue Life. I can help because of my platform. If I see a dead animal on the beach with plastic inside it, I embrace the grief I feel, because there’s nothing more that makes me want my community to stop using plastic bags and straws than when I see these daily conveniences leading to the death of life. After praying for the life lost to single use plastic, I may snap a photo and post it on social media because I want my community to embrace that grief as well, and make “Blue Life Choices” themselves. And, since blue is a key component in the color green, living a Deep Blue Life also encompasses going green — from renewables to EVs to energy efficiency. So I’ve created a tribe of sorts, a following, via the hashtags #DeepBlueLife #BlueLifeChoices and #MyBlueLife.

I talk to high school and middle school kids about the Deep Blue Life — they get it immediately — as well as to corporate audiences through my partners such as Parley for the Oceans.

 

“Zane’s Deep Blue Day,” a 7-minute video, details Zane Schweitzer’s commitment to the environment

 

GSB: I bet the audiences love your messaging. Finally, how much do you engage your audiences on climate change? It is of course intimately connected to ocean health, from sea level rise to ocean acidification to death of coral reefs and much more.

Zane: I try to connect my audience with our changing environment through my personal experiences. I have not yet focused on climate change per se. However I am only 25 years old, have witnessed entire beaches near home vanish, species go extinct, reefs bleached to the point of no return, record rain falls causing deadly flash floods, and islands once lived on sinking into the ocean such as in the Maldives. The phrase, “climate change” may not be a highlighted topic in my engagements, but the message is clear that the actions of humans have caused these accelerated changes and its up to us whether we decide to contribute to the solution or the problem. I’m definitely looking to contribute to the solutions. That’s why I’m happy to endorse a carbon-pricing bill, the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, which was introduced with bipartisan support in both houses of Congress in the fall.

GSB: That’s great news, Zane! You’ve joined a growing group of athletes from a variety of sports who are backing EICDA. And I’m confident the lion’s share of your audience of GenZ-ers and Millennials will be happy to hear about your endorsement.

Zane: My hope is that sharing my endorsement as well as my experiences of seeing environmental damage firsthand will resonate with my fans, leading them to take actions that will put them on the positive side of climate change.

 

zane jungle

Zane Schweitzer, in the jungle of Hawai’i (Photo credit: Matt Schweitzer)

 

 


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GSB News and Notes: Sustainability Effort for Tokyo 2020 Builds on Past Games; Aardvark Paper Straws at Stadiums and Arenas; Philadelphia Eagles Amp Up Green Efforts

The 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo are still more than three years away but sustainability planning is in high gear. GSB spoke with Takeo Tanaka, the man leading Tokyo 2020’s greening efforts. Aardvark brings its straws made from paper to sports stadiums and arenas, lessening the amount of plastic ocean waste in the process. And the Philadelphia Eagles, one of the early Green-Sports adapters, take their waste management to the next level with the installation of an Eco-Safe food digester.

 

TOKYO 2020 LOOKS TO TAKE OLYMPIC SUSTAINABILITY TO NEXT LEVEL

Takeo Tanaka, the Senior Director of Sustainability for the Organising Committee of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, has some audacious greening goals for the Games that begin on July 24, 2020.

“We are building a substantive, five-pillar approach to sustainability,” said Mr. Tanaka. “The five pillars—Climate change, resource management, natural environment and biodiversity, human rights, labor and fair business practices, and involvement, cooperation and communications—are the framework that will earn us ISO 20121 certification* and allow us to take the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 sustainability to its highest level.”

 

Tokyo 2020 SUS team

Takeo Tanaka (center, front), Senior Director of Sustainability for the Organising Committee of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games and the sustainability team. (Photo credit: Organising Committee of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games)

 

Three years out, the pillars are taking shape:

  • Tokyo 2020’s Olympic Stadium, as well as all new permanent indoor venues, a big indoor temporary venue — the Olympic Gymnastic Centre — along with the Olympic and Paralympic Village, were all designed and are being built with the expectation of achieving CASBEE^ certification,
  • Energy efficient, low emission vehicles (hybrids and EVs) will be used throughout the Games.
  • The Organising Committee is pursuing CO2 emission reductions in the distribution process by procuring seasonal foods and other goods that are produced close to Tokyo.
  • The sustainability team is working closely with the communications group on an innovative program that encourages Japanese citizens in all 47 prefectures (states) to donate old mobile phones and small electric devices in collection boxes. 100 percent of the two tons of gold, silver and bronze for the more than 5,000 medals that will be awarded at the 2020 Games will be made from the transformed e-waste. “Unfortunately, not many people in Japan know about the richness and the potential of ‘urban mines,’ said Mr. Tanaka. “I believe that this project will raise awareness of the existence and the value of useful metals buried in the urban environment. People will hopefully become aware of the usefulness of recycling and this will leave a positive legacy for society.”
    • The Tokyo 2020 Medal Project Towards an Innovative Future for All is being promoted to the public via a popular TV program and a public service announcement campaign from the governors of Tokyo.

 

Tokyo Olympic Stadium

Artist’s rendering of the Tokyo Olympic Stadium, expected to receive CASBEE green building certification. (Credit: Dezeen.com)

 

The Tokyo 2020 Sustainability Communications plan — to the media and the public — is still taking shape. Suffice to say, Mr. Tanaka and his team took notes on what their Rio 2016 counterparts did, from the “sustainability booth” at the Media Press Center, to sustainability-themed venue tours for the media, to the climate change vignette that was featured during the Opening Ceremonies.

According to Mr. Tanaka, the five pillars approach ensures that sustainability will always be a core component of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games DNA: “Not only is every division of the Organising Committee being trained on the sustainability initiatives, top management is involved as well. Sustainability is an agenda item at every Senior Directors meeting and sustainability-themed blogs have been posted to build awareness and interest among Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games employees and ultimately, volunteers.”

What about corporate sponsors, you ask? The Organising Committee created a Corporate Sustainability Network for Tokyo 2020 corporate sponsors, both local and worldwide. So far 37 of the 55 local sponsors have joined the network, which aims to engage corporate stakeholders, from employees to customers to management in sustainable initiatives surrounding the Games.

Oh, there’s one more thing you should know about Mr. Tanaka. Before leading the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games sustainability charge, he had a 30-year career at Tokyo’s electric company, where he worked on environmental issues and the preservation of Japan’s national parks. He’s also worked with the Nature Conservancy and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development on climate change and biodiversity issues.

Suffice to say, sustainability is in good hands at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

 

AARDVARK PAPER STRAWS HELP GREEN STADIUMS AND ARENAS

This Green-Sports story goes back aways, to 1888.

It was then a man named Marvin Stone invented the original paper straw and patented his idea. That patent became the foundation for Precision Products Group, Inc.  — the same company that manufactures Aardvark®, The Original Paper Straw, today.

Over time, as cheaper plastic straws came to dominate the category, the paper straw fell by the wayside. And, while straws are low interest items for consumers, the environmental costs add up. Consider that there are 1 billion plastic straws used each day, 500 million alone in North America. After their brief, one-time-use lives are over, where do they end up?  Either in landfills or oceans.

In 2007, in response to a growing anti-plastic movement, the main buyers of plastic straws in the U.S. — restaurants, hospitals, and other industries, including sports — began to look for more sustainable, eco-friendly options.

As a leading U.S. manufacturer of small-size cylindrical tubing solutions, Precision Products Group looked to create a straw that was less environmentally toxic. The answer was in their archives: Marvin Stone’s original 1888 patent for the first paper straw. Putting a modern spin on Stone’s original concept, Aardvark created a straw using 100 percent sustainable and renewable papers that was more sustainable and durable than any other paper straw ever made.  According to David Rhodes, Aardvark’s Global Business Manager, initially, “Aardvark was the only paper straw being made, but cheap and inferior China straws that get soggy and fall apart quickly entered into the market. Today, Aardvark remains the only quality and safe paper straw and the only [one that’s] Made in the USA.”

 

David Rhodes

David Rhodes, Aardvark’s Global Business Manager (Photo credit: David Rhodes)

 

The sports industry is of great interest to Aardvark, with its high profile, passionate, and thirsty fan bases. The company has made some impressive inroads over the past two years. “We work with ‘Party Goods’ retailers like Amscan and Creative Converting to offer paper straws with team logos emblazoned on them,” related Mr. Rhodes. “Right now, they have licenses with all 32 NFL teams and most of the schools in the Power 5 conferences. This is an ideal product for tailgaters. Fans can buy packages of, say, Green Bay Packers Aardvark straws at Packer retail stores and via Amazon. And, because fan loyalty is so strong, the margins also can be strong for the retailer.”

Jets straws

New York Jets paper straws from Aardvark (Photo credit: Aardvark)

 

But sports retail is a much smaller potential market for Aardvark than the concessions stands and restaurants at a ballpark or arena — as the latter represents 99 percent of straw usage. Cost has been a drag on Aardvark’s ability to crack that market. “Plastic straws cost about 0.5¢ each, whereas Aardvark paper straws cost 1.5¢ without printing on them and 2.0¢ with printing,” said Mr. Rhodes. “Looking at sports stadiums and arenas, since concessionaires give straws away, going to our product simply adds cost.”

Mr. Rhodes sees a potentially elegant solution to the thorny cost problem: Selling a combined, retail-concession paper straw combination to teams: “We can show teams that the profit they will realize from selling Aardvark straws at retail will offset the increased costs from giving our straws away at concession stands. And with retail-concession being a wash, we make the case that reductions in trash transportation costs and enhanced branding from going green make Aardvark a clear winner.”

According to Mr. Rhodes, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the about-to-open home of the Atlanta Falcons and MLS’ Atlanta United F.C, and CenturyLink Field, home of the Seattle Seahawks and MLS’ Seattle Sounders, are dueling to be the first facility to offer Aardvark straws at the concession stand.

Finally, GreenSportsBlog readers may recall our March 2017 interview with Olivia and Carter Ries, the teenage founders of nonprofit One More Generation (OMG!) and its One Less Straw campaign, designed to dramatically reduce the number of straws used and thus lessen plastic ocean waste. I asked Mr. Rhodes if he saw OMG as a competitor or potential partner.

Not surprisingly, he chose the latter: “We partner with and support OMG and other [plastic ocean waste] advocate groups, including Lonely Whale Foundation, Plastic Pollution Coalition, The Last Plastic Straw, 5 Gyres, Hannah 4 Change, Surfrider Foundation, Sailors for the Sea, etc. Our long term goal is to assist in reducing the overall amount of straw usage by 50 percent and then converting at least 10 percent of the remaining straws to paper. [Thus,] we suggest restaurant owners and employees only offer a straw [and a paper one at that] if a customer specifically requests one.”

Aardvark found that restaurants that offer straws only on demand see reductions in straw consumption of up to 50 percent, diminishing the increased cost of switching to paper straws and allowing restaurants to save money while saving the planet.

 

 

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES EXPAND GO GREEN EFFORTS WITH INSTALLATION OF ECO-SAFE DIGESTER®

The Philadelphia Eagles, a green-sports early adapter, recently announced they will team up with environmental partner, Delaware-based Waste Masters Solutions (WMS), on the installation of a BioHiTech Global Eco-Safe Digester®, a food waste digester and data analytics platform at Lincoln Financial Field. The unit uses a proprietary bacteria formula to break down pre- and post-consumer food scraps via aerobic digestion and send them through sewer systems with no residual solids.

 

BioHiTech Eco-Safe

BioHiTech Global’s Eco-Safe Digesters will be installed Lincoln Financial Field, the home of the Philadelphia Eagles, and will be managed and maintained by Waste Master Solutions. (Photo credit: BioHiTech Global)

 

This move builds upon the September 2016 installation of a waste digester at the team’s NovaCare Complex practice facility to help decompose pre-consumer food waste. Since then, more than nine tons (18,100 pounds) of food waste has been decomposed and, thus, diverted from landfills.

Cleantech leader BioHiTech Global – which develops and deploys innovative and disruptive waste management technologies like the Eco-Safe Digester – will handle, in collaboration with WMS, the design, construction and operation of the analytics platform.

Eagles minority owner Christina Weiss Lurie helped spearhead the team’s Go Green program in 2003 with the opening of an environmentally forward (especially for that time) Lincoln Financial Field. The club’s partnership with WMS is just the latest element of its comprehensive environmental program that also features on-site solar and small scale wind (eagle talon-shaped turbines spin atop the stadium), recycling and composting, energy and water conservation, reforestation and sustainability partnerships, as well as fan education programs.

 

Christina Weiss Lurie

Christina Weiss Lurie, minority owner, Philadelphia Eagles. (Photo credit: Christina Weiss Lurie)

 

* ISO 2012-1 is the global standard for sustainable events.
^ CASBEE is the Japanese green building certification that is somewhat akin to LEED.

 

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