Paul Allen, Co-Founder of Microsoft and a Founder of Green-Sports Movement, Dies

Paul G. Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, died Monday due to complications from non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. He was 65.

Allen, who owned the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks and the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers, played an important role in the early days of the Green-Sports movement.

 

Paul G. Allen was a creator and visionary of the highest order. Allen, who died Monday at 65 of complications from non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, is most well-known for helping to usher in the personal computing age when, along with Bill Gates, he co-founded Microsoft in 1975 at age 22. Allen left the company in 1982 during his first bout with cancer.

 

Paul Allen

Paul G. Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, owner of the Portland Trail Blazers and Seattle Seahawks, and an early Green-Sports pioneer, in 2014. (Photo credit: Béatrice de Géa/The New York Times)

 

SPORTS AND THE ENVIRONMENT PLAYED A BIG ROLE IN ALLEN’S POST-MICROSOFT LIFE

In 1988, Allen purchased the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers. Nine years later, he bought the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks, ensuring that the team, which was at risk of moving to Los Angeles, would remain in the Pacific Northwest. And in 2009 he took a minority stake in the Seattle Sounders of Major League Soccer. The Seahawks won Super Bowl LXVIII in 2014 and the Sounders brought the MLS Soccer Bowl trophy to Seattle in 2016.

 

Paul Allen Super Bowl

Paul Allen held the Vince Lombardi trophy aloft after the Seahawks defeated the Denver Broncos in the 2014 Super Bowl at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey (Photo credit: Ray Stubblebine/Reuters)

 

Allen’s environmental passions were broad and deep. A partial list includes:

  • Curbing elephant poaching
  • Saving coral reefs
  • Supporting the mainstreaming of sustainable seafood
  • Building the plastic-free ocean movement
  • Funding the documentary film “Racing Extinction,” which focused on species preservation
  • Investing in renewable energy
  • Developing some of the first LEED certified buildings in the U.S.

 

PAUL ALLEN AND THE BEGINNINGS OF THE GREEN-SPORTS MOVEMENT

Allen’s environmentalism and innovativeness led him and his company, Vulcan, Inc., to take some significant Green-Sports steps during the early days of his ownership of the Trail Blazers and Seahawks.

“When Paul bought the Trail Blazers in 1988, it was clear the team needed a new arena,” recalled Justin Zeulner, who worked for Allen at Vulcan starting in 1999 and served as Executive Director of the Green Sports Alliance from 2014-2018. “It was important to Paul to show fans, sponsors and the media that Portland was a leader in technology, energy efficiency, and innovation. So when planning for what would become the Moda Center began in 1991-92, he directed the team to design a green building before green building was even a thing!”

Allen felt even more passionate about Seattle — he directed a good chunk of his enormous fortune (estimated at $26.1 billion at his passing) towards transforming the city into a cultural hub. So when the new Seahawks (and later Sounders) stadium, now known as CenturyLink Field, opened in 2002, Allen made sure it was a green leader for that time.

The use of recycled concrete and steel — now an expected feature at most new stadium and arenas — is one example of how Allen and Vulcan paved the Green-Sports way with the new venue. Over the next decade, CenturyLink Field upped its green game, with the installation of solar panels at the stadium and on the roof of the neighboring Event Center, as well as recycling and composting, encouraging bike travel to games, and much more.

 

Solar CenturyLink

A solar array, the largest in the state of Washington, tops the roof of the Event Center adjacent to CenturyLink Field, home of the Seattle Seahawks and Seattle Sounders (Photo credit: Seattle Seahawks)

 

AN IMPORTANT BEHIND-THE-SCENES PLAYER AT THE BIRTH OF THE GREEN SPORTS ALLIANCE

During a brief meeting several years after the Moda Center opened, Allen asked then-Trail Blazers President Larry Miller a simple question: “How do we scale the way we greened the Blazers beyond Portland?”

 

Paul Allen Blazers

Paul Allen, left, at a Portland Trail Blazers game with general manager Neil Olshey in 2016 (Photo credit: Craig Mitchelldyer/Associated Press)

 

That, according to Zeulner, was an important spark that ultimately led to the formation of the Green Sports Alliance. “Sometime after that conversation, Miller grabbed me and my colleague Jason Twill and gave us the task of broadening the Greening of Sports,” Zeulner remembered. “Soon after that, Allen Hershkowitz at Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), who was doing great sustainability work with the Philadelphia Eagles and others, joined our efforts. We engaged the Seattle Mariners and Vancouver Canucks in the discussion with the Blazers, Seahawks and Sounders and that group ultimately became the core of the Pacific Northwest Green Sports Alliance, the precursor to the GSA.”

And once Paul Allen provided a spark, those working at Vulcan knew what to do.

“Working under Paul’s leadership, you couldn’t help but feel you were always held to the highest expectations, no matter what you worked on,” reflected Jason Twill, a Senior Project Manager at Vulcan from 2007 to 2013. “This expectation was not only for our organization, but for how we positively impacted humanity as well. His belief in human potential was infectious and inspired us to seek transformation in areas he was most passionate about and where scaled impact could happen; science, technology, music, art and sports. I know that sounds grandiose but you could feel it. It was an incredibly electrifying place to work. We just knew what he expected of us.”

What did that mean in terms of Green-Sports, which was in its embryonic stages in 2007-2008?

“Investing in green building was just something you did because Paul Allen expected it,” said Twill, now the Director of Urban Apostles, a Sydney, Australia-based consulting services business specializing in urban regenerative development. “Paul’s combined passion for sports and the environment led to a group of staff members within Vulcan and the sports teams to initiate the Green Sports Alliance, in partnership with the NRDC. All we tried to do was take Paul’s early Green-Sports leadership and expand upon it.”

Allen who, dating back to his Microsoft days, preferred to stay largely in the background, played a crucial if “silent partner” role in the Alliance’s early days. He provided financial support, organizational development as well as pro bono labor. The latter took the form of lending the time and efforts of Vulcan executives Zeulner, Twill and 15 or so others to the cause. “Paul’s funding, which amounted to hundreds of thousands of dollars, along with the financial support of the NRDC and other founding partners were critical,” asserted Zeulner. “It allowed the Alliance to get off the ground and ensured that the first two annual Summits, in Portland and Seattle, respectively, were successful.”

Twill summed up Allen’s role in the birth of the Alliance this way: “Simply put, Paul’s commitment to world change, his leadership and his organizations were the launching pad that enabled the Green Sports Alliance to come into existence.”

 


 

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Sports and Climate Change Summit: Yankees, Mets, MLS, NASCAR and USTA Saving Lives in Africa Via Innovative Carbon Offsets Program

Five high-profile North American sports teams and leagues are helping to save lives in Africa while reducing carbon emissions at the same time.

That powerful message was delivered during an All-Star panel discussion at Friday’s first Sports and Climate Change Summit in New York City, hosted by Sport and Sustainability International (SandSI) and the Global Crisis Information Network (GCINET). Guided by SandSI co-founder Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, senior officials from the New York Yankees, the New York Mets, Major League Soccer, NASCAR, and the US Tennis Association, shared how and why they are making life-saving investments in Africa.

 

The panel that kicked off Friday’s first Sports and Climate Change Summit at New York’s Scandinavia House had a title that many in the audience could not have imagined even two years ago: “North American Sport Invests in Climate Mitigation and Promoting the Sustainable Development Goals in Africa”.

Yet, per moderator Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, co-founder of SandSI, those investments — by the Yankees, Mets, Major League Soccer (MLS), NASCAR, and the USTA — are indeed being made. And they are not only helping to take on climate change, air pollution and several other of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals^, they are saving lives. Thousands of lives. In some of the most needy regions on Earth.

 

Allen Hershkowitz J. Henry Fair

Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, co-founder of SandSI (photo credit: J. Henry Fair)

 

You may be asking yourself these three questions right about now:

  1. What problems are these North American sports teams and leagues trying to help solve with these investments in Africa?
  2. What types of investments are they making to solve those problems and save lives?
  3. Why are they making these investments?

 

COOKING WITH INEFFICIENT STOVES IN SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA ADDS TO AIR POLLUTION, DEFORESTATION AND CARBON EMISSIONS

In his presentation preceding the panel discussion, Hershkowitz cited chilling statistic after chilling statistic that laid bare the severity of health problems, borne largely by women and children in Sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere, caused by cooking with inefficient, dirty, primitive stoves:

“The number one cause of death in the world is air pollution.”

“Close to half the deaths from pneumonia of children under age five are caused by household air pollution.”

“Three billion people cook over open flames or with simple stoves powered by unhealthy coal, wood or other forms of biomass.”

“According to the World Health Organization, three to four million people, mostly women and girls die prematurely because of inefficient, dirty stoves.”

Add to these grim metrics the fact that significant deforestation results from scavenging for the wood that is used in the inefficient, old stoves, and you have a recipe for a public health and environmental disaster.

 

NORTH AMERICAN TEAMS AND LEAGUES QUICKLY RAMP UP TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA BY FUNDING CLEAN, EFFICIENT COOKSTOVES AND AVOIDED DEFORESTATION

How did Major League Soccer, NASCAR, the Mets and Yanks and the USTA decide to get involved in helping to reduce the Sub-Saharan African air pollution problem?

Hershkowitz showed each of them that, by funding efficient cookstoves that emit 30 to 50 percent fewer emissions, they would be creating healthier cooking environments for women and children, extending and saving lives in the process. And, since the cookstoves require far less fuelwood, the teams and leagues are also playing an important role in avoided deforestation.

The clean cookstove initiative is supported by the United Nations. Consequently, these cookstove purchases — which reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, other air pollutants and deforestation — qualify as third party, independently certified carbon offset programs, burnishing the teams’ and leagues’ sustainability credentials.

Hershkowitz began connecting the teams and leagues with private sector firms like The South Pole Group, Eco-Act and Allcot. They do the important grunt work of designing, developing and implementing environmental and climate change mitigation projects on the ground.

 

Cookstoves

Clean burning cookstoves (Photo credit: South Pole Group)

 

Although the initiative is in its early days — cookstove purchases only began late last year — the results are impressive. Collectively, the benefits of the offsets purchased by the Yankees, Mets, MLS, NASCAR and the USTA include:

  • Distribution of 7,250 cookstoves for use in cabins and huts
  • Positive impacts on the lives of 13,000+ women and girls
  • Avoidance of 39.4 metric tonnes of carbon emissions
  • Keeping 22.4 metric tonnes of wood from being cut down
  • The manufacture and maintenance of cookstoves being handled by locals, bringing much-needed economic activity to the region

 

TEAMS, LEAGUES SEE COOKSTOVES, AVOIDED DEFORESTATION AS “NO-BRAINERS”

When asked why the Yankees are investing in Africa, Doug Behar, the team’s senior VP of operations, said it was a logical next step in the team’s long-standing commitment to sustainability: “We’ve evolved on sustainability over time, seeing that it made sense from a business perspective to measure and reduce our energy usage, and that it made sense to recycle and compost. So we were ready when the cookstove investment opportunity was brought to us. Really, it was a no-brainer as the impact on human life was too big to ignore.”

 

Doug Behar Profile

Doug Behar of the Yankees (Photo credit: New York Yankees)

 

NASCAR focused their investments on avoided mangrove deforestation projects on the shores of Lake Kariba in Northern Zimbabwe. Catherine Kummer, senior director of NASCAR Green, echoed Behar’s “no-brainer” sentiments. “When something makes sense to management and fans alike, you know you’ve got something,” shared Kummer. “Management got it right away. And the avoided deforestation aspects of our investments matches our fan base’s commitment to the outdoors.”

The Mets’ senior director of ballpark operations, Mike Dohnert, shared a different motivation when Hershkowitz brought the African investment opportunity his way. “I know it sounds cliche, but it was incredibly powerful to be able to explain to my six year-old son how important it is do the right thing,” Dohnert recalled. “I am very lucky that Mets management allows me the freedom to pursue these types of initiatives.”

Switching to tennis, why would its governing body in the United States make investments in Africa? “That’s an easy one — the US Open is an event that draws 800,000 fans from all over the world and tennis is truly a global sport,” offered Lauren Tracy, the USTA’s director of strategic initiatives. The organization funded the sending of 300+ cookstoves to women in Malawi. That purchase helped offset the carbon embedded in the millions of player travel miles to the recently completed US Open.

Major League Soccer, which joined with SandSI and The South Pole Group to advance a big sustainability push at this summer’s All-Star Game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the LEED Platinum home of Atlanta United, also found the global nature of the cookstove program compelling. “Since the All-Star Game pitted MLS’ best vs. Juventus, the perennial champion of Italy’s Serie A and one of the most popular teams in the world, we decided to go ‘glocal’ with our sustainability initiatives,” said JoAnn Neale, the league’s chief administrative and social responsibility officer. “Locally, we undertook a tree planting program in Atlanta. And our investments in 1,450 cookstoves in Kenya represented the global side of the equation.”

 

M-B Stadium 2a

Mercedes-Benz Stadium, LEED Platinum home of Atlanta United (Photo credit: Lewis Blaustein)

 

 

GSB’s Takes:

  • If five teams and leagues can get the kinds of life-saving and carbon emissions-reduction results detailed above in less than a year, imagine if all of the major pro and college sports leagues in North America rallied around cookstoves, avoided deforestation and other climate change and environmental programs in Sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere in the developing world. This is a huge opportunity for SandSI and the entire Green-Sports movement. Perhaps a team or two could pry their PhD analytics gurus away from their advanced metrics spreadsheets for a minute to calculate the macro public health and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions benefits of a massive Pan-North American sports cookstove/avoided deforestation/clean water initiative.
  • There was a kind of Bizarro World, up-is-down aspect to the Summit when it came to fan engagement on climate change and the environment:
    • NASCAR — whose brand image to this observer is decidedly “Red State”/skeptical on climate change — is in fact aggressively connecting with fans on environmental and climate change issues. Why? Because NASCAR fans have indicated that they care about the environment, to hell with the GSB’s stereotypes. “Ten years ago, 50 percent of our fans said they cared about the environment,” Catherine Kummer reported. “Fast forward to our April 2018 survey, and 87 percent of NASCAR fans now believe Earth is going through a period of climate change and 77 percent feel they have a personal responsibility to do something about it. So now we run environmentally-themed TV spots on NASCAR broadcasts.” I do have questions about how to square these results with polling before the 2016 Presidential election that showed NASCAR fans preferred Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton. But that’s a subject for another day. For today, the fact that NASCAR runs green TV spots is a very cool thing.

 

 

The 30 second NASCAR Green TV spot

 

  • On the other hand, while the Mets and Yankees have done exemplary greening work at Citi Field and Yankee Stadium, including eliminating trash bins and replacing them with recycling and compost bins, they have chosen to communicate their sustainability bona fides to fans in a much quieter fashion* than NASCAR. The clubs have not yet aired green-themed public service announcements on TV or radio. I mean, they play in climate change-is-real, humans-are-the-cause, “Blue State” New York. One would think their fan bases would react positively to such TV ads. What gives? Mike Dohnert acknowledged that, for Mets management, climate change “politics is an issue. They’re still trying to figure this out.” The Mets and Yanks might want to talk to NASCAR.
  • Kudos to SandSI and GCINET for hosting the first Sports and Climate Change Summit! This needs to be an annual event. 

 

 

 

^ The 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are: 1. No Poverty, 2. Zero Hunger, 3. Good Health and Well-Being, 4. Quality Education, 5. Gender Equity, 6. Clean Water and Sanitation, 7. Affordable and Clean Energy, 8. Decent Work and Economic Growth, 9. Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure, 10. Reduced Inequalities, 11. Sustainable Cities and Communities, 12. Responsible Consumption and Production, 13. Climate Action, 14. Life Below Water, 15. Life on Land, 16. Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions, 17. Partnerships for the Goals
* The Mets and Yankees communicate their greening initiatives to fans by posting sustainability information on their websites, leading sustainability-themed tours of the ballparks for high school students and more.
 

 

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Ken Belson and The New York Times #CoverGreenSports

About a month ago, GreenSportsBlog launched a new hashtag, #CoverGreenSports. Its goal is to encourage the mainstream media, from sports to green to news, to cover the sports greening movement. Last week, the US “paper of record,” The New York Times and lead NFL writer Ken Belsonstepped up to the #CoverGreenSports plate in a big way, with “Sports Stadiums Help Lead the Way Toward Greener Architecture”

 

The fourth week in May should be a quiet time for the lead NFL reporter at The New York TimesThe draft, which took place in April, is already old news and training camps don’t open until late July. You would think this time of year is when NFL writers should be on vacation.

But last week was a busy one for Ken Belson, proving that there is no such thing as a quiet period for the NFL.

 

Ken Belson NYT

Ken Belson of The New York Times (Photo credit: The New York Times)

 

In fact Belson, working at breakneck pace, had three stories in The Times over a 48 hour period:

  1. “The NFL and Nike Make Room for Fanatics,” detailed how the League expects revenue from merchandise sales to increase by 50 percent by 2030 through a new deal with Fanatics.
  2. In “NFL Anthem Policy Bound to Please Only the NFL,” Belson opined about the NFL’s controversial, just-announced national anthem policy. It was instituted in response to protests by some NFL players in 2016 and 2017, most notably ex-49ers QB Colin Kaepernick, who knelt during the playing of the national anthem. They did so to draw attention to police brutality and other social injustice against African-Americans. But many NFL fans, including President Trump, feel that the kneeling players disrespect the flag. The new policy requires players to stand for the playing of the anthem or stay in the locker room during that time. There was no player input on this decision. Belson’s take: “It’s hard to envision the N.F.L. crafting a policy that satisfies everyone. But one that is likely to satisfy only the 32 owners hardly seems like an enlightened solution.”

But it was his third story that interested me most — and made me smile.

In Sports Stadiums Help Lead the Way Toward Greener Architecture,” Belson gave Times readers a terrific Green-Sports tutorial. 

He kicked off with Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the new home of the city’s NFL and MLS teams and the world’s first LEED Platinum certified stadium. Belson’s main insight is in sync with GreenSportsBlog’s overall ethos: “Green stadiums are shining a light on the complex and critical issue of climate change. Fans disinclined to care about the issue are exposed to things like highly efficient LED lighting or low-flush toilets, and can see that going green is not a hardship, but a choice.”

 

Mercedes-Benz Stadium

Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, the first to win LEED Platinum certification. (Photo credit: Kevin D. Liles for The New York Times)

 

Belson then took readers on a brief trip across the pond — “many of the innovations [in green stadiums-arenas] are being developed in Europe, where laws and regulations governing greenhouse gas emissions are stricter,” — before pivoting back to North America and the National Hockey League.

He lauded the NHL as a green leader among sports leagues for understanding the existential threat the sport faces from climate change and for taking steps to combat it: “The number of ponds that freeze over in winter has fallen dramatically in recent years, making the sport less accessible in countries like Canada, where many children first start playing the game outdoors. Going green is a way to address a long-term threat, not just save money.”

 

Lake Louise hockey

According to a study by McLeman and Robertson, published in The Canadian Geographer, the future of outdoor ice hockey on Lake Louise in Alberta and elsewhere in Canada is at risk due to the effects of climate change (Photo credit: Edmonton Journal)

 

GreenSportsBlog readers are likely familiar with much of this. And the folks quoted in Belson’s piece likely ring a bell.

You probably recognize Scott Jenkins, Mercedes-Benz Stadium’s general manager and the Chairman of the Board of the Green Sports Alliance, as an “evangelist of all things green.” 

 

 

LEED Platinum Certification Event - from right - Rich McKay, Scott Jenkins, Arthur Blank

Scott Jenkins (c), General Manager of Mercedes-Benz Stadium, flanked by Rich McKay (l), President of the Atlanta Falcons and Arthur Blank, at the LEED Platinum announcement event (Photo credit: AMB Sports and Entertainment)

 

And you probably know of Allen Herskhowitz, ex-President of the Alliance and a founder of Sport and Sustainability International (SandSI), which promotes low-carbon strategies for sports teams, leagues and association. He told Belson, “Any single sporting event doesn’t really have a giant ecological footprint, whether it’s a football game or even a season for a team. But the cultural and social platform of sports is almost unparalleled in terms of its ability to reach people.”

Yes, you may recognize Scott and Allen and the many other Green-Sports luminaries who have been featured in our posts these past five years, but the thing is, most humans have no idea who they are and are unaware of the important work they are doing. 

So it is very important that The (NOT failing) New York Times, with its massive reach and prestige, has decided to #CoverGreenSports with Belson’s piece.

Does this foreshadow a trend? 

It should, especially since the millennial and GenZ readers that The Times — and for that matter, almost all media outlets — is desperate to engage, care more deeply about the environment, sustainability and climate change than do their predecessor generational cohorts. 

But it is, methinks, too early to tell. 

One potential brake on an increase in Green-Sports coverage from mainstream media outlets is that the topic crosses many areas — sports, green/environment, business, and politics, to name a few.  That means that no one department claims natural ownership of Green-Sports and so no editor will assign a beat writer to cover it. What is more likely is that the hodgepodge we see now — a rare story by a sports reporter here and another one-off story from a business reporter there — will continue.

Until, that is, a department editor — I don’t care which department — says strongly “Green-Sports is MINE!”

With that in mind, we invite any visionary Green-Sports-minded editors to go through GreenSportsBlog’s archives to find a few hundred compelling story ideas to bring to their readers.

You will be glad you did!


 

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GreenSportsBlog’s Five-Year Anniversary…A Reflection

When I started GreenSportsBlog back on May 22, 2013, I had no idea what to expect.

I had never blogged before, wasn’t sure if there would be an audience for content about the intersection of Green & Sports, and didn’t know if the movers and shakers of the Green-Sports world would talk to me.

Five years and 512 posts later, I can say happily say there is consistent and growing interest — our 7,000+ monthly readers attest to that. And I have been blessed to be able to interview Green-Sports activists, corporate leaders, eco-athletes, and more. To all, I say a heartfelt thank you — and keep reading and commenting!

To commemorate GSB’s fifth anniversary, I thought you might find it interesting to read about how I came to write about Green-Sports and to see which posts have been the most well-read.

 

HOW I BECAME A GREEN-SPORTS BLOGGER

A lifelong, passionate New York-area sports fan — for those who haven’t read this blog much, the Jets, Knicks, Rutgers, and Yankees are my local favorites, along with North London’s Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League. While at Rutgers, I announced football and basketball while a student at Rutgers on WRSU-FM

 

WRSU Knightline

Yours truly, 2nd from right and mustachioed in an old school Jets jersey, making what must surely have been an astute point on Knightline, the post-game sports talk show on WRSU-FM, the Rutgers student radio station back…a few years (Photo credit: WRSU-FM)

 

I tried to make a go of sportscasting as a professional, but it is a very tough way to make a living. After earning my MBA from NYU’s Stern School of Business, I pivoted to the sports business, where I was fortunate to spend 15 years, starting in the early 1990s through the mid 2000s, working in advertising sales and marketing. Getting paid to go to the World Series, NBA Finals, World Cup and more? How cool was that?!?!

The environment interested me — it was a factor in my voting decisions; I supported the Sierra Club and like organizations. But did my greenness match my sports fandom? Only when it came to the Jets, who wear green. Otherwise, not even close.

Until 9/11.

Working for Sports Illustrated Kids in midtown Manhattan at the time, I was very fortunate personally to not know anyone in the Twin Towers. Still, I felt like I had to do something. This was the Pearl Harbor of my generation and this was my home city.

But what to do?

It wasn’t until about four months after that horrible day that I found my answer.

In “Green Is the New Red, White & Blue,” Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman posited that we in the U.S. were fueling the wars on terrorism that we were fighting (we were already in Afghanistan at the time; the invasion of Iraq was a year or so away) by our insanely profligate energy use. His logic went something like this:

  1. The U.S. represented four percent of the world’s population but 25 percent of its energy usage.
  2. Since 9/11 happened before the fracking-led domestic oil and gas production boom, we had to source a good chunk of our energy from places like Saudi Arabia.
  3. The Saudi royal family siphoned some of that U.S oil revenue to its Wahhabi extremists to ensure they would remain in power.
  4. And those Wahhabists funded the training of 15 of the 19 9/11 attackers.

It was like the compact fluorescent lightbulb went on above my head! Green was going to play a big part in the solutions to geopolitical problems and I would play a small role. So I “greened up” my personal life, buying a hybrid car (becoming a very early adapter; I knew more about how a hybrid worked than the salesman), changing out all my lightbulbs to compact fluorescents, and becoming an almost-vegetarian.

But that wasn’t enough.

I needed to somehow green my work life. This became even more of an imperative the more I learned about climate change.

But how to get a green job? In 2002-2003, most were technical in nature. And, let’s put it this way: You do NOT want me installing solar panels on your roof.

So I thought, “what am I good at?” Sales, marketing and story telling. The trick was how to translate that from the mature sports industry to the nascent world of green business.

I began to network like crazy, joining a gaggle of sustainable business groups in New York. But when I couldn’t find what I call green “job-jobs” for someone with a sales/marketing/communications background, I decided, in September 2005, to take a risk, leaving SI Kids and recreating myself as a sustainability-focused, business development, marketing and communications consultant.

Since then I have helped a wide array of organizations — from Fortune 500 companies to startups to nonprofits — tell their sustainability stories more powerfully, generate new revenue by selling sponsorships to green events, and garner positive media coverage for their sustainability-related accomplishments. Some of my clients whose names you’d recognize include BT (aka British Telecom), Empire State Building, Whole Foods Market and the Wildlife Conservation Society

Then, about three years into my life as a sustainability consultant, in 2008-2009, I began to wonder if there was an intersection of Green and Sports, with the idea being that I would love to marry my two passions.

So I poked around and found out there was a fellow named Dr. Allen Hershkowitz who, working with NRDC, helped the Philadelphia Eagles and minority owner Christina Weiss Lurie make sure the toilet paper at Lincoln Financial Field wasn’t being sourced from eagle habitats. 

What an introduction to Green-Sports!

A year or so I discovered that a small group of pro sports teams from Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver had banded together to form the Green Sports Alliance. Their goal was to share better practices on energy efficiency, waste, and more. This sounded like an organization and a movement — Green-Sports — that was poised to grow. 

And I needed to be a part of it! But again, my question was “how?”

In 2011-12, I did more digging — and noticed that the Alliance was growing well beyond its Pacific Northwest roots, and that the organizers of the London 2012 Olympics made sustainability a key strand of their DNA. 

I figured media organization must be covering this burgeoning Green-Sports field. 

No one was.

So I decided would become that media organization.

And that led to GreenSportsBlog’s birth five years ago, almost to the day.

 

Lew GSA 2

Yours truly, making what what must surely have been an astute point at the 2016 Green Sports Alliance Summit in Houston (Photo credit: Lewis Blaustein)

 

FIVE KEY LESSONS

I’ve learned a ton these last five years — so much so, I could write an entire post just on that topic. But, for purposes of this story, I’ll boil it down to five key lessons that have been imparted to me by you, the readers, based on your comments and which GSB posts have drawn the most traffic:

  1. Allow the People Building the Green-Sports World to Share Their Stories Directly with Readers: Based on reader comments, The GSB Interview is the most popular segment on the blog. Sharing the unfiltered insights, struggles and successes of a wide array of women and men who are responsible for greening the sports world is an honor and a pleasure.
  2. Go Beyond Major League Sports and Mega-Events: Of course, we cover the greening of major pro sports leagues in North America and Europe, as well as of mega events like the Olympics and the FIFA World Cup. But stories like Forest Green Rovers, the fourth tier English soccer club that is the Greenest Team in Sports, and the St. Paul Saints, the minor league baseball team in Minnesota which won the Greenest New Stadium of the Year in 2015, have drawn some of the site’s best traffic numbers.
  3. Write with the Voice of the Sports Fan: From reader comments back in GSB’s early days, it seems that most expected the blog to be written by someone with a cleantech, facilities management and/or “green journalism” background. Many sounded pleased that I brought a different point-of-view, that of a passionate sustainability communicator who is also a big sports fan. Understanding and loving sports — and the people who follow it — was and is important. Especially when one considers, as Allen Hershkowitz is wont to say, that 13 percent of Americans follow science, but 65-70 percent follow sports. And as Nelson Mandela offered, “Sports can change the world!”
  4. Bringing a Sense of Humor to the Table is a Good Thing: Our forays into the satirical have been well received by readers and commenters. The July 2014 story in which I imagined that LeBron James decided to leave Miami to return to Cleveland — not because he wanted to go home, but because he was afraid of climate change’s effects in South Florida — remains the blog’s most read post. In fact, every post in which I’ve included the words “LeBron” and “James” has scored well. That bodes well for this one :). Hey, the climate change fight can be a very hard slog at times, so adding a dollop of humor here and there can’t hurt.

The fifth key lesson is that Green-Sports Needs To Play the “Climate Change Fight” Game…and It Needs to Play to WIN!: Herm Edwards, now the head football coach at Arizona State University, was coaching my New York Jets back in 2002, when he famously ranted that “The great thing about sports is, you play to win the game! Hello?! You play to win the game!!!”

 

Herm Edwards’ 2002 “You play to win the game” rant

 

To me, it’s clear that Green-Sports needs to be playing the “climate change fight” game. But are we? And are we playing to win? Despite some moves in the right direction, it’s clear to me that the Green-Sports world is not there yet.

Hey, I get it: Climate change is political and sports is where people often go to get away from politics. But acknowledging those realities shouldn’t mean we abandon the fight. 

And then there are two other important realities at play here:

  1. Climate change is the most existential threat the world faces
  2. It will take consistent and unyielding passion to generate the political will to turn humanity away from the carbon train wreck we’re hurtling towards.

It says here that tapping into the passion of sports fans and the massive size of the fan base is essential to the climate change fight. I have been heartened by the many GreenSportsBlog readers who have encouraged me to continue to push the Green-Sports world and sports media (#CoverGreenSports) to engage more forthrightly on climate change. I certainly will.

 

MOST READ GREENSPORTSBLOG POSTS

Here is a list of our 10 most read posts over our first five years. Enjoy and please keep reading and sharing GreenSportsBlog!

  1. The REAL Reason LeBron Chose to Leave Miami for Cleveland: Climate Change (July 2014)
  2. The GSB Interview: Mark Teixeira of the NY Yankees; Helping to Rebuild and Green NW Atlanta (February 2016)
  3. Mercedes-Benz Stadium: Super Cool, Super Green Future Home of the Falcons and Atlanta FC (November 2015)
  4. Birds Flying Into Minneapolis’ Glass-Walled US Bank Stadium Not a Good Look with Super Bowl LII Only Two Months Away (December 2017)
  5. Integral Hockey: Rebuilding Broken Hockey Sticks–and Keeping Them Out of the Landfill (October 2015)
  6. How Green is Augusta National Golf Club, Home of The Masters (April 2016)
  7. The GSB Interview: Leilani Münter, Looking to Turn on the Speed and Turn Auto Racing Fans on to a Vegan Diet at Daytona (January 2018)
  8. Forest Green Rovers, Greenest Team in Sports, Earns Promotion Up England’s Football/Soccer Ladder (May 2017)
  9. PyeongChang 2018: How Green will the Winter Olympics Be? A Conversation with Sustainability Manager Hyeona Kim (August 2017)
  10. Green Sports Alliance Calls on Sports Fans To Take “Live Green or Die™” Challenge in Response to Trump Pulling U.S Out of Paris Climate Agreement (June 2017)

 

 


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Super Bowl LII Champion Eagles Have Been Green-Sports Leaders for More than a Decade

The first-time Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles have long been Green-Sports trail blazers. As the City of Brotherly Love gets ready for Thursday’s parade (please stay off the hotel awnings and street light poles, Iggles fans!), GreenSportsBlog is happy to play some of the Eagles’ Greatest Green-Sports Hits.

 

IT ALL STARTED WITH…TOILET PAPER?

As Green Sports Alliance co-founder Dr. Allen Hershkowitz likes to tell it, the impetus for the Eagles’ commitment to sustainability  — and, for that matter, the beginning of the broader sports-greening movement — can be traced back to 2004 and…

…toilet paper?

The second paragraph of “This May Be the Most Radical Idea in All of Professional Sports,” Ian Gordon’s spot-on profile of Hershkowitz in the July/August 2015 issue of Mother Jonescaptures the essence of the story:

“Back in 2004, the Philadelphia Eagles had recently moved into a brand new stadium, Lincoln Financial Field, and wanted to become more environmentally responsible. The team reached out to [Hershkowitz] to talk about paper, one of his areas of expertise. It wasn’t exactly exciting stuff, but Hershkowitz, then a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) with a track record of taking on ambitious projects, had done his homework: The Eagles’ TP supplier was Kimberly-Clark, which was getting wood pulp from forests in the southern Appalachians that were home to, you guessed it, real-life eagles. ‘The people at the Eagles’ stadium were wiping their butts with eagle habitat,’ he recalls. ‘That’s what we call a branding liability.'”

Indeed.

 

CHRISTINA WEISS LURIE LEADS THE EAGLES GREENING EFFORTS

Why did the Eagles want to become more environmentally responsible?

Christina Weiss Lurie, a minority owner of the club since 1994, deserves much of the credit. She spearheaded the Eagles Go Green campaign, coinciding with the opening of “The Linc” in 2003. That groundbreaking initiative has seen the Eagles divert 99 percent of their waste from the landfill and generate 100 percent of their electricity from renewable energy.

 

(player/coach/executive name)

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

 

In a wide-ranging September 2013 GreenSportsBlog interview, Weiss Lurie shared…

…her inspirations for Go Green:

“In the late 90’s, as we planned what became Lincoln Financial Field, we looked for ways to make a positive statement to the community with the stadium.  And, while it was not designed with sustainability at the forefront, as time went on I started thinking about how we could operate more efficiently and with a smaller carbon footprint.  9/11 inspired us as well — with the idea that we had to do more to wean ourselves off of foreign sources of energy.  We asked the simple question: What can we do? And so, when the stadium opened in 2003 we started the Go Green campaign with something relatively simple–recycling–and things took off from there.”

…how her colleagues in Eagles management didn’t exactly embrace Go Green from the start:

“It was an uphill battle at the beginning, no doubt about it.  We are a business after all and so the costs of greening had to be taken into account at every step of the way. ‘[But] we just persevered!  And, at the same time, we empowered the team employees from top to bottom to take ownership of Go Green.  From the bottom up, we provided incentives for all employees to choose electricity supply from renewable sources for their homes by paying any premiums for green vs. “brown” power.  From the top down, I’ve been fortunate, over the years, to get buy in from our C-level on Go Green, especially our CFO at the time.  The net result of the bottom-up/top-down strategy has been astounding:  Our recycling rates have gone up from 8 percent in 2005 to 99 percent in 2012!”

…how a variety of forward-thinking companies partnered with the club to make Go Green a success:

“We’ve been very lucky with our vendors.  For example, SCA, a Swedish company that has its US headquarters in Philadelphia, is our paper vendor.  They provide us with 100% post consumer recycled paper. Aramark, our food concessionaire, initially was resistant to “greening” our food services operations (composting, organics, etc.) due to cost.  But ultimately they wanted to find solutions and now are bringing their green operations to other facilities!  Going the eco friendly route is a journey and can take time. NRG, our energy provider, built and financed our 11,000 panel solar array at Lincoln Financial Field.  Now we generate 30 percent of our electricity from the panels and also mini wind turbines.”

 

IMG_1937

Solar array, topped by Eagle talon-shaped wind turbines at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. (Photo credit: Lewis Blaustein)

 

GO GREEN DOES NOT REST ON ITS LAURELS 

While repeating as Super Bowl champs is super difficult — the 2004-2005 New England Patriots were the last team to turn that trick — the Eagles, through Go Green, have been consistent Green-Sports winners over the past a decade and a half. Last summer, GreenSportsBlog shared how the Eagles continued that trend through the installation of  Eco-Safe Digesters® at The Linc and their practice facility:

“The Philadelphia Eagles team[ed] 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…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 of food waste has been decomposed and, thus, diverted from landfills.”

 

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)

 

EAGLE ECO-ATHLETES; CHRIS LONG AND CONNOR BARWIN

The Eagles’ Go Green ethos has made its way to the locker room.

Defensive end Chris Long, who donated his entire 2017 salary of $1 million to educational charities, is also the co-founder of the nonprofit Waterboys. A January 2017 GreenSportsBlog story provides some of the inspiring particulars:

“[After Long’s season ends,] the former first round draft pick from the University of Virginia will turn a good chunk of his offseason attention to Waterboys, the nonprofit he founded to use his platform as a pro football player to affect change by bringing water to drought-ravaged Tanzania and other countries in East Africa…

…Long first visited Tanzania to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. Seeing the poverty and the challenging quality of life—due, in large part, to the water scarcity in the area—were his catalysts for action. That water deficit has reached crisis levels due to a massive prolonged drought that, according to climate scientists, is being exacerbated by climate change.

…Through Waterboys, Long, philanthropist Doug Pitt and a network of 23 current and former NFLers, including ex-Eagle (currently with the Los Angeles Rams) Connor Barwin, donate their own funds and, through social media, raise money from their fans to support the digging of wells by local workers in East Africa.”

 

Chris Long

Eagles defensive end Chris Long, co-founder of Waterboys (Photo credit: WPVI-TV Philadelphia)

 

To date, 31 wells have been funded, with each serving 7,500 people at a cost of $45,000.

Speaking of Connor Barwin, while he was with Philadelphia, the popular linebacker became one of pro sports’ leading eco-athletes. He drove a Tesla, rode his bike to work and, as a volunteer, installed solar panels on the roofs of local homes.

 

GREEN X 2 IN SUPER BOWL LIII?

Given the Eagles Green-Sports leadership, rooting for them to get back to Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta next February is not a heavy lift for this GreenSportsBlogger. And how fitting would it be if, across the sideline, stood the New York Jets, aka Gang Green.

OK, to be completely transparent, the Gang Green moniker has nothing to do with sustainability — rather, it refers to the color of the Jets’ uniforms. But the club does play at MetLife Stadium, a green leader in its own right. And they are, for better and mostly worse, my favorite team. Of course they don’t really have a quarterback, but that’s a story for another day.

Still, I choose to dream big and green. And nothing would be bigger — or greener — than an Eagles-Jets Super Bowl.

But, for now, it’s the Eagles day. So Fly Eagles FLY!

 

 

 


 

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If the Most Important Green Aspects of Super Bowl LII are Two Beer TV Ads, Is That a Good Thing?

Super Bowl LII will be played in Minnesota, one of the most environmentally-conscious states in the country. Host city Minneapolis is mass-transit friendly and filled with LEED certified stadia and arenas. The Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots will do battle in LEED Gold US Bank Stadium. The game will be zero-waste and 100 percent of the energy used to power the contest will be offset. Yet, it says here that the most important green aspect of the 2018 Super Bowl may well be two beer ads — unless the NFL steps up to tell the Big Game’s green story to the audience 100+ million people.

 

Question: What does this triumvirate — Clydesdale horses, the Bud Bowl, and recent catastrophic extreme weather events — have in common?

Answer: They are each themes of Budweiser Super Bowl ads, past and immediate future. If there was a Super Bowl Advertising Hall of Fame, the brand’s ads featuring the iconic, white maned horses and the fun, computer-generated football games played by teams of beer bottles (Bud vs. Bud Light!) would both certainly be first ballot inductees.

But corporate parent AB InBev’s stablemates Budweiser and Stella Artois are going in a different direction for Sunday’s broadcast on NBC.

In “Budweiser’s Super Bowl Beer Ad Isn’t about Beer,” which ran in the January 26 issue of Environmental Leader, Jennifer Hermes reported that the brand’s 60 second Super Bowl spot is actually about…water: “[US corporate parent] Anheuser-Busch currently produces canned drinking water at its Cartersville, GA, brewery, and ships them to communities in need. This year, the company shipped nearly three million cans of emergency drinking water to areas hit by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, and by the California wildfires. In total, the company says it has provided over 79 million cans of drinking water to communities in need. The Super Bowl ad tells the story of its employees in the Cartersville plant who produce the emergency drinking water. [It] features the general manager of the brewery, along with more than 20 of his local colleagues.”

 

Budweiser’s “Stand By You” water-themed Super Bowl ad (60 seconds)

 

Stella Artois’ 30 second ad, produced in partnership with water.org, features actor Patriots fan Matt Damon, who calls on beer lovers to step up to help solve the water crisis by buying a Stella beer chalice. Damon asserts that if just one percent of Super Bowl viewers purchase the glass, Stella will provide “clean water to one million people. For five years.”

 

Matt Damon stars in Stella Artois’ 30 second, water conservation-themed, Super Bowl ad

 

Why did Budweiser and Stella take this turn?

 

IT COMES DOWN TO WATER — AND EYEBALLS

Quality water is, of course, crucial to the beer brewing process. AB InBev and its U.S. subsidiary Anheuser-Busch has implemented a robust water stewardship and environmental protection program across its sprawling brewery roster.

The initiative has engaged employees, farmers, suppliers and strategic partners to devise and implement a wide range of water conservation and management measures. Anheuser-Busch says this approach helped it reduce water use across all of its U.S. breweries by nearly 50 percent over the last 10 years.

That is a BIG achievement which warrants the BIG ad spend — NBC Sports is charging $5 million dollars for a 30 second spot — on the BIG game to reach the BIGGEST television audience of the year — 111 million people watched the 2017 Super Bowl.

Reaching such a vast audience with environmentally-themed messaging is why I believe Bud and Stella Artois have co-authored the most important green story surrounding Super Bowl LII.

Oh, you might say, “I think the fact that the the NFL, the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee, and US Bank Stadium are teaming up to offset 100 percent of the game’s carbon footprint via the purchase of renewable energy credits is more consequential than a couple of ads.” Or, you might opine that “Rush2Recycle, the program sponsored by PepsiCo, and promoted by ex-NFL great Hines Ward, that will help Sunday’s game be the first zero-waste^ Super Bowl, has to be considered the most important green story.”

 

us bank stadium

Exterior of US Bank Stadium, site of Super Bowl LII (Photo credit: SI.com)

 

While those efforts are, of course, laudable, I still go with Bud and Stella.

Because the  audience of 100 million+ people who might see the Bud and/or Stella Artois water-themed ads on NBC will likely be between 50 to 100 times greater than the number of people who learn about the zero-waste and/or the offset aspects of Super Bowl LII. That audience includes the 66,000+ fans inside US Bank Stadium, along with readers of national media outlets like Fast Company magazine, which are giving the zero-waste Super Bowl story welcome coverage.

Now, the NFL can easily wrest the “most important green story of Super Bowl LII” title away from Bud and Stella. All it needs to do is to create a public service announcement touting the green aspects of Super Bowl LII — hey, as of this writing, there are three days left; plenty of time for great content to be produced — and air it on NBC during the game.

What a BIG deal that would be! But will the NFL step up?

The stakes, said Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, founder and former president of the Green Sports Alliance and a founding director of Sport and Sustainability International (SandSI), are much higher than even the Super Bowl itself.

“As one of the most visible sporting events in the world, the Super Bowl has a unique opportunity to promote environmental literacy and reduce cultural polarization related to climate change,” said Dr. Allen Hershkowitz. “US Bank Stadium’s commitment to 100 percent renewable energy credits, ambitious zero-waste goals, and the [Minneapolis] region’s intelligent mass transit infrastructure, positions this event to be among the most carbon intelligent Super Bowls ever. The question before us is this: Will the NFL meaningfully promote this aspect of the Super Bowl story? Given the bewildering retreat from essential, science-based climate policy being enacted by the worst environmental administration in our nation’s history, a counter message by the NFL promoting progress on climate could not be more important. It has a responsibility to the world to do so.”

 

ENVIRONMENTAL MESSAGING: A WINNER FOR THE NFL

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, Commissioner of the NFL, talks a good environmental game: “The NFL is a responsible steward of the environment in all areas of our business. Through [these zero-waste and offset projects], the League and its partners hope to set a new standard of environmental sustainability at the Super Bowl.”

But Goodell’s green talk mainly takes place in dry, easily ignorable press releases, not on Super Bowl broadcasts.

The Commish and league should go beyond press releases and talk the green talk to the widest possible audience — i.e. during the Super Bowl. Because doing so would likely be good for business.

Say what?

Hasn’t has been a tough season for the NFL: from anthem protests to “Fire the Sons of B**ches!;” from CTE to declining TV ratings#? Won’t many older fans get ticked off? Isn’t it better for a league whose ownership and fan base is seen as right-of-center to keep quiet about the environment and climate?

No, it is not.

And, again, I say this from a business building, not from the “it’s the right thing to do” point-of-view.

It is a 2016 conversation with an NFL marketing executive who preferred to remain anonymous that sticks with me. He said the one thing that kept him and his colleagues up at night the most was how to attract Millennial and Generation Z fans and keep them.

One thing that resonates with younger cohorts is the environment and climate: across the political spectrum, the 35-and-under set accepts the reality and seriousness of climate change at rates far greater than their older counterparts.

Will embracing climate and the environment be the main catalyst to turning the tide the NFL’s young fan problems? Of course not. This is a complex, multi-factorial problem and going BIG on the environment is, admittedly, not close to the most important potential solution.

But, it says here that an intelligent, clever environmentally-themed PSA will be well-received among Millennials and Gen Zers. Which would help.

Budweiser and Stella Artois, hardly fringe, left wing brands, believe leading with the environment is the right way to go. Will the NFL join them by airing a green PSA on Sunday? I wouldn’t bet* on it.

In the meantime, buy a Stella chalice and (responsibly) enjoy a Stella or a Bud in it on Super Sunday.

 

 

^ A sports event can claim “Zero-Waste” status by diverting 90 percent or more of its game day waste from landfill, most often by a combination of recycling and composting.
* I also am not betting on the game itself. My prediction? Patriots 24, Eagles 17. I hope I am wrong.
# NFL TV ratings have declined over the past three years but it still generates, by far, the biggest television audience — and not only in terms of sports programming.

 


 

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Green Leaders Talk Green Sports, Part 9: Mindy Lubber, CEO of Ceres

For the ninth installment of our “Green Leaders Talk Green Sports”^ series — where we talk with luminaries from outside the Green-Sports world about its potential to impact the climate change fight — we bring you our discussion with Mindy Lubber, CEO of Ceres.

Ceres, a Boston-based sustainability nonprofit, works with the world’s most influential companies and investors to build leadership on climate change and drive climate solutions throughout the economy. Among other things, we talked about how sports can influence the increasingly busy intersection of Green & Business & Finance.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Mindy, thank you for talking with us; I’ve wanted to get your perspective on the potential power of sports to influence sustainable business for a long time. To start, what does Ceres do?

Mindy Lubber: Ceres works with influential corporations and investors to drive sustainable change in the economy. We advocate for the integration of climate risk, water scarcity and pollution, and human rights abuses from company supply chains to the board room. And our ethos is to Think Big! Many of the large companies we work with are changing and are moving the sustainability discussion forward — not necessarily fast enough or bold enough, but we are working on that — and we need to be having the discussion with a wider audience of folks. And who are more compelling than athletes — admired by many — to lend their powerful voices in support of addressing the future of our planet? (Editor’s Note: Emphasis is mine)

 

MindyLubber_Headshot

Mindy Lubber, CEO of Ceres (Photo credit: Karen Rivera, Ceres)

 

GSB: I like it all, especially that last bit! So how did you get to lead big thinking, big acting Ceres?

ML: Well, despite the admonition of my parents not to follow my MBA and Law degrees with a public interest/nonprofit career, I made that jump and, 35 years later; have not looked back. My question to myself always has been: How can I maximize my impact? So I started a long road in which I worked as a lawyer — a tortured litigator, in fact —  regulator, researcher, and in politics, always looking to see how I can affect change. I worked for 10 years with the Public Interest Research Groups. In 1988, I was a senior staffer on the Dukakis for President campaign. Then, after we didn’t quite end up in the White House…

GSB:…[SIGH]…

ML:…I founded and launched an environmental investment firm — this was very new at the time — focusing on investing in environmentally sustainable companies. The firm continues to this day — 17 years later — as does an entire industry around responsible investing. Years later, I found myself back in government, working for the Clinton Administration under Carol Browner as Regional Administrator at the Environmental Protection Agency. When I left the Administration, I took some time to think about what strategies and tactics I could employ that would have the most impact on climate change and environmental sustainability. My conclusion? Capital markets have to be involved in solving climate and environmental problems, especially companies in the Fortune 500. In fact, companies and investors are key to solving these problems – problems and challenges which are about the future of our families as well as our economy.

Much has changed in the world of corporate sustainability. When I got here in 2003, Ceres had a staff of eight. Now, we’re 107 people — because it is clear capital market leaders need to be and are becoming increasingly involved. Ceres works with hundreds of companies and investors to limit their carbon footprint, reduce water and other resource use, commit to clean energy and electric vehicles, support the Paris Climate Agreement and other environmental and social policies.

GSB: What drives Ceres’ success in helping move corporations to more sustainable behaviors?

ML: The best way to say it is we work as advocates to move the largest companies, as well as major investors, to integrate sustainability more quickly and more deeply, because it is a driver of shareholder value. Right now, 90 large companies and 140 large investors are Ceres members, along with the rating agencies and stock exchanges with whom we engage regularly. And, the truth is, leadership at these big organizations get climate change for the most part. They see the increased intensity of storms, wildfires, and other extreme weather and they know that it matters and has a direct impact on their businesses. The largest companies really get it. Apple, Citicorp, Dell and PepsiCo are all Ceres members. Now, not all of our members are doing everything well, sustainability-wise, but they’re moving in the right direction.

GSB: Are any companies in the sports industry Ceres members?

ML: Nike is an important partner of Ceres; they’ve been a leader on sustainable innovation in product design and materials, while also decreasing their environmental footprint. Disney, of which ESPN is a part, is a member, as is Time-Warner, with sports cable-casters TBS and TNT on their roster.

 

Nike Flyleather

Ceres member Nike’s recently launched Flyleather shoe — a sustainable material made with 50 percent recycled leather fibers (Photo credit: Nike)

 

GSB: What are some of the major initiatives Ceres is working on with its members?

ML: We just launched a new initiative with our global investor partners– the Climate Action 100+. It is designed to engage the world’s largest corporate greenhouse gas emitters to curb emissions, strengthen climate-related financial disclosures and improve governance on climate change. Betty Yee, California State Controller and board member of CalPERS, CalSTRS and Ceres, announced the initiative at the One Planet Summit hosted by the French Government in December. Launching on the second anniversary of the Paris Climate Agreement, Climate Action 100+ aims to realize the goals of that agreement by bringing together the world’s most influential institutional investors with a clear and coordinated agenda to get the biggest emitters to act more ambitiously on climate. We are tremendously excited about this initiative and the unprecedented global collaboration among investors that it represents.

 

One Planet Summit

 

We are also doing exciting work on water through Feeding Ourselves Thirsty, an analysis and ranking of the largest food sector companies on how they are responding to water risks and, in our most recent report, how performance has shifted since the first round of benchmarking in 2015. Feeding Ourselves Thirsty also serves as a resource to companies by offering insights on the water and climate risks food sector companies are exposed to and how these risks impact current and future profitability.

GSB: This is very important work, Mindy, but I always wonder, how big, really, is the awareness of corporate sustainability initiatives among the general public? My sense is that a very small percentage of the public, of small investors, are aware of any of this. Is my sense nonsensical?

ML: We are seeing extraordinary changes regarding sustainability within companies and investment firms, within cities and states, and, yes, with consumers and small investors. The world is changing – the reality of climate change is becoming ever more clear. Millennials, a larger demographic cohort than the baby boomers, are starting to act in big numbers — as are other groups.

GSB: In this case, I’m glad my instincts were off! Ceres must have a very full plate…

ML: No doubt about it. Every company is on its own journey — some doing a little and some doing a lot. Our job is to increase the pace and the size of the impact if we are going to successfully address the sustainability issues of our time. A good number of corporations are moving in the right direction and are doing so forcefully. What we are seeing is over 100 corporations committing to 100 percent renewables. Mars not long ago pledged $1 billion to fight climate change; Morgan Stanley committed to get all its energy from renewables by 2022; Bank of America pledged $125 billion dollars for a clean energy future; and dozens of companies have showed their support for the US commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement by joining Ceres at November’s COP23 in Bonn, Germany.

 

Mars

Mars climate change-themed promotional piece (Image credit: Mars)

 

GSB: Sounds like Ceres had a great 2017; what’s ahead for 2018 and beyond?

ML: Two big areas we’ll be focusing on are 1) Scaling the adoption of electric vehicles, and 2) Expanding finance to a renewable energy future.

GSB: Speaking of finance, how does Ceres work with investors?

ML: Investor engagement has been at the core of Ceres’ work since our founding. We work with investors on environmental, social, and governance issues to drive sustainable investment leadership and action through every level of the capital markets and government. In 2003, we launched the Investor Network on Climate Risk and Sustainability (originally referred to as INCR), which now numbers over 130 institutional investors, collectively managing about $15 trillion in assets. Facilitated by Ceres staff, network members participate in working groups, webinars, and more to advance leading investment practices, corporate engagement strategies and policy solutions. And by pressuring exchanges and capital market regulators to improve climate and sustainability risk disclosure, our Investor Network members are able to serve as advocates for stronger climate, clean energy and water policies.

Sustainability-related shareholder resolutions are also a big aspect of our work with large investors. Five years ago, we reached the 50 percent voting threshold on about 10 percent of our resolutions; now we’re at 66 percent. This past May, our investors had an historic win at ExxonMobil’s annual meeting with a 62 percent majority vote in favor of a shareholder proposal calling on the oil and gas giant to assess and disclose how it is preparing its business for the transition to a low-carbon future. We are expecting to see a lot more of that.

GSB: That’s a big deal! But, to me, this highlights a gap between what companies and large investors are doing sustainability-wise and the relative absence of consumers. What can be done? And can sports be part of the solution?

ML: Consumers certainly need information on what companies are doing on sustainability and what sustainable investment opportunities are available to them, in a clear, digestible fashion. There is no time to waste on this if the world is going to make the Paris Agreement’s 2°C target — buy in from consumers is a must. Sustainability messaging and messengers for consumers in many cases need to be different than for those involved with the capital markets. This is where popular culture and sports needs to play their roles as parts of the solution. Pope Francis’ encyclical on climate change, Laudato Si, was an extraordinary message of change.

Sports stars and leaders can play an important role in our work as so much of humanity follows and is passionate about sports…

GSB: Well, as Allen Hershkowitz, former President of the Green Sports Alliance often says, “13 percent of people care about science; 70 percent care about sports.”

ML: Allen is probably right. Thing is, even though athletes are often not seen as left leaning — a challenge the climate movement faces — I was heartened to see some sports stars get involved with the Flint (MI) water crisis. They were largely apolitical — they were there to get things done, to win. And, even when sports gets political, as in the Colin Kaepernick case, the conversation gets outsized attention because it is sports. For the world to make the 2°C target, climate change needs much more attention from consumers, from business and from government. Sports can provide a big platform.

GSB: My contention is the Green-Sports movement’s impact on climate will scale as it moves from Version 1.0 — the greening of stadia and arenas — to a more expansive 2.0 — engaging fans at the games and as well as the much bigger audience watching on TV and/or other devices. In the meantime, the world needs Ceres to continue to engage the sports industry where possible to help corporations and investors win their 2°C battles…

 

^ Here are links to the first eight installments of “Green Leaders Talk Green Sports”: 1. Joel Makower, executive editor of GreenBiz Group; 2. Jerry Taylor, leading libertarian DC lobbyist who was climate denier/skeptic, “switched teams” and is now a climate change fighter; 3. Dr. Michael Mann, one of the world’s foremost climate scientists and author of “The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars”; 4. Caryl Stern, President and CEO of US Fund for UNICEF;  5. Paul Polizzotto, President and Founder of CBS EcoMedia; 6. David Crane, former CEO of NRG, who, in addition to moving one of the largest electricity generators in the US away from coal and towards renewables, also oversaw the “solar-ization” of six NFL stadia; 7. Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, climate scientist and the best climate change communicator I’ve ever seen/heard; 8. Freya Williams, author of “Green Giants” and CEO of sustainability consulting firm Futerra USA.

 


 

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