Green Leaders Talk Green-Sports, Part 10: Solitaire Townsend, Co-founder of Futerra, Author of “The Happy Hero”

For the tenth installment of our occasional “Green Leaders Talk Green Sports”^ series — we talk with luminaries from outside the Green-Sports world about the potential of, and challenges facing the Green-Sports world —we bring you sustainable business pioneer Solitaire Townsend, the London-based co-founder of Futerra, a firm that is both a “logical sustainability consultancy” and “a magical creative agency.” She is also the author of “The Happy Hero,” in which she endeavors to show readers how they can answer the question “What if saving the world was good for you?” with a resounding YES! GSB talked with Townsend (she goes by “Soli”) about how she got into the world-saving (and climate-saving) business and the role she sees sports playing in those efforts.


GreenSportsBlog: Soli, thanks for chatting with us! Futerra helps show companies can they can really do well by doing good — and provides them with the tools and direction to do so. We will get into that in a bit. But first, how did you get into the world-saving business?

Solitaire Townsend: It’s my pleasure, Lew. To answer your question, I go to the first chapter of “The Happy Hero.” It was the 1980s and I was growing up in Bedfordshire, north of London. Picture this — I was a 13 year-old girl, living in “Social Housing…”


SolitaireTownsend_Headshot Futerra

Solitaire “Soli” Townsend, Co-founder of Futerra and author of “The Happy Hero” (Photo credit: Futerra)


GSB: Or, in American parlance, “the projects…”

ST: Exactly. There was trash all over the place and a company called Nirex planned to build a nuclear waste dump nearby. That was the last straw for me! So, at 13, I got involved in campaigning against Nirex, with my parents support. By the time I was 15, we had won — we beat back the Nirex proposal. It made me what I like to call a hardened optimist! This became my “modus operendi” from then on — I got a Masters Degree in sustainability in 1997.

GSB: Sounds like you were an early adapter…

ST: For sure. Getting a Masters in sustainability was unusual at that time. I worked for a time on the BBC show Newsnight and it was there that I gained a real appreciation for how important powerful communications is for the success of social movements, including sustainability. Eventually I founded Futerra along with a partner as an agency that would help our clients envision and deploy positive solutions to environmental and social issues as a fundamental business building strategy.

GSB: …Or, put another way, doing well by doing good, right?

ST: You got it.

GSB: So, where does sport fit in?

ST: Well, sport teaches us the power of belief. Talent takes you so far. It’s the belief in yourself and your team that makes the difference. Sport is the perfect platform for this line of thinking. And it is necessary for success in an advocacy campaign or, on the business side, in a corporate social responsibility campaign. Belief, against all odds!

GSB: Like, to use a great British sporting example, the incredible “Belief against all odds” story of Leicester City’s 5,000-to-1 Premier League champions in 2015-16.  In addition to belief, in “The Happy Hero,” you talk about how elite athletes’ laser focus on achieving one goal can be instructive for the climate movement…

ST: Focus is a key aspect of a top athlete becoming world class. Also blocking out the negative. Now, with climate change, we don’t seem to have that world class athlete attitude. We talk about losing — we don’t have what it takes to win — it’s too big of a problem.

GSB: I know! I fight this, both in my own mind and in my communications. But, in the main, I’m in the Yes We WILL — as in “yes we will win the climate change fight” camp.

ST: Really, we need great climate change communicator coaches with that “Yes We Will Win” attitude.

GSB: Like Al Gore — at the time of “An Inconvenient Truth” about 10 years ago, I’d say his emphasis was 90 percent about the problem. But in the past five years, he’s gone all in on solutions…

ST: That’s a great example; there are many more. The great thing about sport is that it is all about what’s possible. There’s no ceiling. We have enough doom stories…Doom stories are crap. I sound like a broken record, I know, but we need belief, consistent hard work and positive stories to win the climate fight.

GSB: Hey, if Leicester City could win the EPL, we can solve climate change, right? So tell me about Futerra and sport.

ST: We worked on London 2012

GSB: …the most sustainable Olympics to date…What was Futerra’s role?

ST: Futerra were just one small part of the larger sustainability team. And when I say “larger,” I really mean it: The London 2012 environmental and social teams were as large as some of the countries’ actual Olympic teams! We worked on the big policy picture as well as providing guidance on very detailed sustainability aspects of the Olympics’ operations. Futerra handled sustainability reporting, including reporting on emissions generated from fan travel to and from the games, sourcing of food, the availability of water fountains and refillables within the Olympic footprint. London 2012 really was a sustainability breakthrough, not only for the Olympics but for all mega-sports events going forward. It was the first Olympics to issue a sustainability report. The Global Reporting Initiative or GRI developed a special supplement for sustainability reporting for large events, based on what was material…Of course that includes buildings, food, water, and travel. But also gender issues and other, broader elements of a sustainability plan.


Velodrome London 2012

The Velodrome in the London 2012 Olympic Park. The bicycle-racing venue features a 100 percent naturally-ventilated system that eliminates the need for air conditioning, along with rainwater harvesting systems on its roof. (Photo credit: Ruckus Roots)


GSB: That sounds like more than a small role to me. How do you see Futerra getting involved in sport going forward?

ST: We feel big, pro sports teams like Manchester United or Liverpool need to act like small ones and that Futerra can help them get there.

GSB: What do you mean by “getting big teams to act like small ones” and how can Futerra help?

ST: Well, Futerra is looking to get more involved with companies and nonprofits in emerging economies — China, Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America — with our sort of philosophical view of sport. What is the common denominator in those countries and elsewhere in the developing world? Sports. But for most people in those places, sports means a group of kids playing on a scrap of grass with a ball made of clumped together newspaper. When you think about it, this is, from a carbon footprint perspective, just about the lowest impact human activity there is, while also having a huge social impact. Now, when you look at the pro level, they too have a huge social impact but their carbon footprints are also massive. We aim to show sports organizations and the companies who sponsor them the benefits of lowering that footprint.

GSB: I can’t wait to follow up with you once you have some results from your efforts in those places. Do you have any other sports highlights you’d like to share?

ST: Well, recently we’ve done a lot of work with the great outdoor sports retailer REI. I love them and their #OptOutside program which has them close all their stores on Black Friday! They’ve really become a thought leader and are taking a lead role in the conversation about sustainable business, carbon footprint measurement, gender and more. We co-authored a report with them, The Path Ahead, about the future of the outdoor sports economy in the U.S., the threats…




GSB: …like climate change…

ST: …like climate change…and the opportunities.

GSB: I’m glad — and not at all surprised — to learn that REI is taking such a leading role. One thing that puzzles me is that the many sports teams and leagues in the U.S. that are doing great green things — zero-waste games, LEED certified stadia — do very little talking about it. Which to me defeats the purpose of greening in the first place. Why do you think that is the case?

ST: That’s an interesting question, Lew. I think sports teams and venues have two schools of thought. On the one hand, they want to be quiet about their green good works, loathe be seen as being boastful or, worse, greenwasher. But that attitude is really surprising to me and doesn’t pass the smell test. I mean, sports is, after all, about celebrating!!! Now, I fully acknowledge that the language of sustainability can be tricky — words like belief, caring, and stewardship. Sports is about winning and losing, overcoming obstacles, heroics. Perhaps the way to look at this is to make the language of sustainability more like sports. We need to do this — business already gets it, with all sorts of rankings. Sustainability needs to act more like sports.

GSB: And sports? Be not afraid about talking about your greenness. A little blowback from climate deniers? So what? The risk of inaction is too great and you’ll win with the millennial and GenZ fans you covet!

ST: I like it, Lew!

GSB: Sometimes I get fired up…


Happy Hero Cover

You can purchase “The Happy Hero” on


^ 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 9. Mindy Lubber, CEO of Ceres.


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The GSB Interview: Ex-MLBer Chris Dickerson Leads Players for the Planet

Chris Dickerson played major league baseball for five teams in a seven-year career. As impressive as that is — heck, only 18,856 people have played in “The Bigs” since the National League was founded in 1876 — GreenSportsBlog is more interested in Dickerson’s role as a leading Eco-Athlete and his efforts to recruit others to join the climate change fight through Players for the Planet.


GreenSportsBlog: Chris, I was so glad find out about you — as an Eco-Athlete and founder of Players for the Planet! When did you become interested in the environment and climate change?

Chris Dickerson: I was the athlete of the family — I played everything; baseball, football, basketball. I noticed some kids my age couldn’t play sports because of asthma. Everyone I grew up with up in Southern California was aware of elements of significant environmental misfortune in the area, from air pollution due to the area’s heavy reliance on cars to water quality to plastic waste on the beaches. And my dad is an avid recycler. I remember he built color-coded bins made of PVC pipe and showed us which bins to toss which materials into. This was before the state required recycling so my dad was an early adapter! So I noticed the environmental irresponsibility of Southern California from a young age but it wasn’t until after college that I really got into it.


Chris Dickerson Yankees

Chris Dickerson, in the dugout after hitting a home run for the New York Yankees in 2012… (Photo credit: Getty Images/Hannah Foslien)


Chris Dickerson

…And here’s Dickerson in his role as co-founder of Players for the Planet (Photo credit: Players for the Planet)


GSB: What prompted the change?

CD: In 2007, I was just starting out in pro ball after my college career at USC and Nevada Reno. Seeing Al Gore’s documentary film, “An Inconvenient Truth,” really was a wake up call and prompted my passion for environmental stewardship. So I started to research climate change. I devoured the 2008 Time Magazine “Green Issue,” read New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman’s pieces on climate change…

GSB: …Really?! Friedman’s writings on climate, from scientific and geopolitical points of view, that inspired me to work on climate change!!

CD: Amazing! His book on climate change, “Hot, Flat & Crowded” was an important influence for me. All of this became building blocks for Players for the Planet.

GSB: How did Players for the Planet come to be?

CD: Back around 2007-2008, I saw two ads that really had an impact on me. One was for Brita — it showed that a plastic water bottle takes 1,000 years to decompose in a landfill. The other was for a refillable water bottle from Sigg, a Swiss company. In 2008, I had been called up to the Cincinnati Reds. We, like every other sports team, used an incredible number of plastic water bottles. So I had Sigg send 50 bottles to the clubhouse…


Players for the Planet


GSB: How did your teammates react?

CD: I’d say the initial reaction was that it all was a bit silly — they certainly didn’t dive right in. But, after awhile, the guys saw that using the Sigg bottles was more convenient than getting a new plastic bottle several times a day. Convenience became my main selling point, rather than the environment. And so they eventually switched and we were able to cut down on our plastic water bottle waste by 50 percent. An article was written on the Sigg bottles, the Reds and me that caught a lot of people’s attention. ESPN and got in on it and then the fans in Cincinnati caught on — there were banners of me and the recycling symbol. Once I saw that kind of response, I felt I needed to step up to the plate and use the platform I had to something positive, something big on the environment and climate.

GSB: What did you do next?

CD: I reached to other baseball players I knew, along with athletes from other sports. Jack Cassel, who was pitching for the Houston Astros at the time, was from Southern California. He really “got it”…

GSB: …Is Jack related to Matt Cassel, the former Patriots backup quarterback who now serves the same role for the Tennessee Titans?

CD: They’re brothers. I knew Matt from USC and he joined us as well, as did a third Cassel brother — Justin. I also engaged two of the biggest stars in baseball stars of this era: Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers and Chase Utley of the Philadelphia Phillies. So that was the beginning of Players for the Planet.

GSB: What did you have those guys do? And what were some of Players for the Planet’s early activities?

CD: Those athletes and more shared my vision, lent their names and offered quotes and other types of support. Our first event was at the 2009 Super Bowl in Tampa…

GSB: Super Bowl XLIII? The one in which the Steelers beat the Cardinals on the Roethlisberger-to-Santonio Holmes last minute TD pass?

CD: That’s the one! So we gave out gift bags made of recycled plastic bottles at the Super Bowl party hosted by Michael Strahan.

GSB: Very high profile…

CD: That was our goal. Back in Cincinnati in 2009, we formed an alliance with the Reds to kick off an E-Waste recycling event. Fans from around the city were invited to drop off their electronic devices that were collecting dust in their garages and attics. The E-Waste would then be handled and recycled in safe fashion. Some of my teammates and would come out to the participating Kroger supermarkets in the area. These became very popular. We would load up DVRs, TVs, stereos, computers, tablets, and cell phones.


Chris Dickerson e-waste

Chris Dickerson helps out at a Players for the Planet e-waste recycling drive during his days with the Cincinnati Reds (Photo credit: Chris Dickerson)


GSB: How much stuff did you collect and e-recycle?

CD: About 235,000 lbs. worth! It was one of the largest E-waste drives ever done in the area. This continued for seven seasons, even after I left the Reds in 2010 when I was traded to the Brewers. Jay Bruce and Ryan Hannigan took the baton and did great jobs.

GSB: Were you able to build Players for the Planet in Milwaukee?

CD: It wasn’t easy to focus on it because I was only in Milwaukee for part of the 2010 season. Then I went to the Yankees in 2011 and the Baltimore Orioles in 2013. So I was moving around a lot, trying to advance my career on the field, which made it somewhat challenging to build Players for the Planet at that time. That being said, there were some successes. In 2012, we worked with the MLB Players Association to have a Green Carpet at the All-Star Game in Kansas City to highlight the work we and the clubs were doing on recycling. The Royals used that game to feature biodegradable silverware. We also collected empty plastic bottles and cans at the 2013 All-Star Game at Citi Field in New York. On another front, a bunch of the Southern California guys in Players for the Planet organized a beach cleanup in Marina del Rey. They got on paddleboards and picked up all sorts of crap, from tires to traffic cones.

GSB: We’ve covered the ocean waste issue quite a bit in GreenSportsBlog — it’s serious and it’s pathetic. How have you kept Players for the Planet going since you last played in the big leagues in 2014?

CD: It’s been a challenge to keep it going, to build on it, and to find new “keepers of the flame,” that’s for sure. Guys I came in with and who joined me in this effort are retired or will retire soon. So we’ve had to pivot in some ways. We’ve teamed up with OneVillage, a nonprofit that promotes sustainable global development through individual community empowerment in underdeveloped countries. And I’m in the process of building a corporate responsibility sports agency with my business partner, Brian Ingram a former minor league baseball player out of Oregon State. One of our main goals, not surprisingly, is to find athletes concerned with climate. OneVillage is working with us to help find corporations to support this initiative. On another front, we’re working with Nelson Cruz of the Seattle Mariners to get Watly solar powered water de-salinization and filtration systems to the Dominican Republic and other places in the developing world…

GSB: WOW! The Watly sounds incredible and like it can be a real game changer!

CD: It really can be. Access to clean, drinkable water is a real crisis, of course. Watly’s also can provide WiFi and electric power.

GSB: I had no idea.

CD: Amazing, right? Brian went to Italy to see the first demonstration of the Watly and said it was “incredible!” On the same trip, Brian also went to Belgium, where he investigated a potentially groundbreaking urban farming project in which the produce would be dropped by drone into places like Syria and East Africa. We see an application for this approach in the urban food deserts of the U.S. as we don’t have the luxury of growing outwards — we have to look at growing vertically. Also in the U.S., we also are looking to build a fully sustainable little league baseball field.

GSB: What would that look like?

CD: Among other things it will be powered 100 percent by solar, only refillable bottles will be used, and the turf will be organic.

GSB: That is an ambitious agenda, to be sure. Back to your playing days, when you would talk about climate change in the locker room, how did your teammates react? Were there deniers among them?

CD: Oh yeah, definitely. It was a problem — I’d say climate change denial was at a significant level. I found that they really weren’t open to learning. Some guys accepted that there were environmental problems but didn’t connect them to climate change. Truthfully, most just didn’t care one way or the other…

GSB: …That tracks with the U.S. public’s attitude on climate — one of general indifference — although I was heartened by a December poll that showed environment/climate change now ranks as the 4th most important issue; let’s see if that sticks…

CD: …I hope so. But back in the early 2010s, it was hard to turn the naysayers among my teammates into believers about climate change when they would see that teams talk about how green they are but don’t engage the fans in meaningful ways…

GSB: …With notable exceptions in places like Seattle — with the Mariners, Seahawks and Sounders engaging fans in environmental actions — as well as the University of Colorado in Boulder.

CD: Of course; those are great exceptions — we need those kind of programs to quickly become the rule. Also my clubhouse managers would see that haulers taking the recycling from the clubhouse weren’t doing the job properly, primarily just taking the recycling and throwing it in with the regular trash.

GSB: That needs to be brought to light. Now even though you’ve been out of the bigs for a few years now, are you hearing from your friends who are still playing that attitudes are starting to change?

CD: I would love to say yes but the best I can say is that attitudes are probably still the same.




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