The GSB Interview: Catherine Kummer, Driving Force Behind NASCAR Green

That NASCAR has had a green initiative for ten years surprises some, heartens many and engenders skepticism about green washing from others. GreenSportsBlog has wanted to get the real story on NASCAR Green for several years and so we were pleased to be able to talk with Catherine Kummer, one of its many driving forces.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Catherine, one of the most common questions I get when I tell people I write about the intersection of Green & Sports is “what is NASCAR Green all about? Is it legit?” So I want to get into that with you. First, though, I want to find out how you got to NASCAR Green. Are you a lifelong auto racing fan? An environmentalist from way back?

Catherine Kummer: I love that it’s one of the first questions you get, means folks are paying attention and catching wind of our work. I was not a motorsports fan growing up in Raeford, NC, a small farming community in the southeastern part of the state, near Fayetteville and Fort Bragg. I was fortunate to grow up spending time on the North Carolina coast and unfortunately saw the erosion of the coastline firsthand. In fact, the area just a bit further inland was devastated by Hurricane Matthew and, more recently, Hurricane Florence in September. I was also incredibly fortunate to have amazing parents and siblings. My family has a grocery store, Home Food Market, that has been in our family for over 100 years — I grew up there and my brother runs it now.

GSB: This sounds like a Mayberry type of childhood…

Catherine: It was…and, in addition to amazing vegetables, the store gave me a deeply rooted appreciation for growing local, shopping local and buying local from an early age. Respect for the outdoors and keeping the environment better than we found it is in my DNA. I’ll give you an example. When I was in middle school, I wrote letters about the environment to then-President George H.W. Bush. The White House would send back a signed (aka stamped) photo of the President. I was also reminded by my Dad a few weeks ago that I started an early recycling initiative at my middle school….I wore my reduce, reuse and recycle shirt all the time!

 

Catherine Kummer Recycling at West Hoke Middle School cafe 1993

Catherine (“Katie”) Kummer, then McNeill, in the white shirt on the right, was a young recycling pioneer at her middle school in 1993 (Photo credit: Catherine Kummer)

 

Catherine Kummer with son opening an employee tree planting event in Charlotte, NC.

A more recent photo of Catherine, with her son opening a NASCAR employee tree planting event in Charlotte, N.C. (Photo credit: NASCAR)

 

GSB: So maybe it was destiny that you’d end up working in sustainability. But how did you end up at NASCAR and NASCAR Green specifically?

Catherine: Well I went to UNC Chapel Hill for undergrad…

GSB: You were a “Tar Heel born…”

Catherine: …”And a Tar Heel bred.” That’s right! I was a journalism major and wrote for The Daily Tar HeelI saw a job posting in 2004 at NASCAR in their publishing division. Graduated UNC in May, started at NASCAR in June. I also bleed a bit of gold and black however as I am currently finishing a Masters in Sustainability at Wake Forest University and have been fortunate to also join courses taught by Leith Sharp at Harvard in Sustainability Leadership.

GSB: Were you a NASCAR fan?

Catherine: Not originally. My first project was editing “NASCAR For Dummies” which gave me a deep dive into all things NASCAR, real quick. It was a really amazing job. I grew to respect the sport, what the drivers and team members go through, from the physical challenges to the stress. I love the competitiveness of it and the idea that NASCAR is a tight-knit family, its own ecosystem.

GSB: Talk about how NASCAR Green came about…

Catherine: NASCAR Green launched in 2008. But the idea came a year or two prior, when NASCAR leaders met with Former Vice President Al Gore…

GSB: …During the time of “An Inconvenient Truth”? I can absolutely see the former Vice President talking to an organization, NASCAR, who might seem an unlikely partner in greening. But he is a guy who sees possibilities and so, it sounds, did NASCAR.

Catherine:.. NASCAR had always wanted to influence, educate, and inspire our fans on fuel efficiency, reforestation, sustainability, etc. So after meeting with former Vice President Gore, our key stakeholders brought in Dr. Mike Lynch to be our VP of Green Innovation. Thanks to his leadership, NASCAR Green was built, and I got connected with him soon after.

 

CEO Brian France (L) and former U.S. Vice President Al Gore at the NASCAR Green Summit on 2013Chicago Brian Kersey NASCAR Getty

NASCAR CEO Brian France (L) and former U.S. Vice President Al Gore (R) listen to retired Army General Wesley Clark at the 2013 NASCAR Green Summit in Chicago (Photo credit: Brian Kersey NASCAR/Getty Images)

 

GSB: What was NASCAR Green like at the beginning and what part did you play?

Catherine: Leadership supported us from the beginning, allowing us to pilot new things, even mess up occasionally. The vibe from the top down was “some things will work, some won’t, but we need to always look ten moves ahead and keep the big picture in mind.” Our sport, like all of society has an environmental impact therefore we started and continue to keep our focus on three key areas of environmental impact: waste, emissions and energy.

One of the first things we got involved with is automotive fluid recycling. Safety-Kleen, owned by Clean Harbors, which safely recycles and transports oils, is in every NASCAR garage as well as many team shops. They re-refine the waste oil and put it back to work in various team cars as well as asphalt re-paving initiatives at track. Circular economy from the beginning. We also kicked off an aluminum and PET waste diversion program with tracks which was environmentally and financially beneficial. The tracks do a great job of ensuring they are disposing of waste responsibly inclusive of food and other potential landfill items. Many of the teams in our sport also recycle their race cars. Our leaders and others liked that we were able to drive value to the business and inspiration to the industry, employees and fans.

 

Recycling efforts at NASCAR races

Recycling bins alongside NASCAR tracks are a common sight (Photo credit: NASCAR)

 

GSB: That is really impressive. But I have to ask — how did NASCAR fans react to this green programming? Have you ever gotten negative push-back from them? Implied in the last question — and with my New York City bias likely baked in — is that green programming that might be well received in Boulder or Berkeley might not get such a good reception in places like Talladega, Alabama or Bristol, Tennessee.

Catherine: I have never gotten negative pushback from fans. Not once, other than one fan being upset that they did not have a blue recycling bag for their campground location. I think one reason our fans support NASCAR Green is many are outdoorsmen and women so they understand that protecting our environment is very important. And a number of our corporate sponsors get that our fans, well, get it. They embraced a number of green initiatives. For example working with Goodyear and Champion Tire, we recycle all of our tires through an innovative sponsorship with Liberty Tire Recycling. The tires are recycled and turned into mulch for landscaping and playgrounds as well as used in rubberized asphalt projects…many of the roads on the West Coast are being made with recycled tires as I’m sure you know already!

GSB: What about composting?

Catherine: We’ve tried it at several tracks. Available composting infrastructure is challenging, but we are excited to watch it advance as our tracks are supportive of green initiatives. Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania is one to keep an eye on for sure. They have been an environmental leader for quite some time.

GSB: I know! Their solar array in an old parking area powers the entire facility! Amazing!

 

Solar Farm_8

Solar panels cover an abandoned former parking lot at Pocono Raceway (Photo credit: Pocono Raceway)

 

Catherine: They also have, according to their sustainability report, one of the highest diversion rates and one of their family businesses, Pocono Organics, just broke ground on a new project this summer working with the Rodale Institute, a leader in Regenerative Organics…

GSB: Say more…

Catherine: The result of the partnership is a 55 acre regenerative organics farm across the street from the track that will provide produce for events, “Farm to Track.”

GSB: How cool is THAT?! What are other tracks doing, green-wise?

Catherine: You’ve got to check out www.NASCAR.com/Green for the whole scoop as I’m not sure GSB has enough space for me to properly note all of the work! However to name a few, Indianapolis Motor Speedway now has a nine megawatt solar array across the street on their land. Green Sports Alliance-member Sonoma Raceway in California has solar on-site as well along with Daytona International Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway. These are just solar applications; readers can check the site for more detail on how tracks support the three areas of environmental focus I mentioned earlier; waste, emissions and energy.

GSB: What are the tracks and NASCAR Green doing to minimize carbon emissions?

Catherine: Blended fuels. Sunoco Green E15 specifically which is a 15 percent ethanol blended biofuel used in our top three national series. We’ve now run well over 10 million miles on it. This has helped in reducing emissions by 20 percent per the EPA Renewable Fuel Standard. We’ve also invested in offsetting our carbon emissions, through verified carbon offsets programs globally and our long-standing reforestation efforts with the Arbor Day Foundation and others. Our NASCAR Green Community Tree Recovery Effort is the first of its kind in sports and was launched just this year where with partners such as K&N Engineering and Ford we’ve been able to go into race markets affected by climate-related natural disasters and support those race fans with trees, LED lighting kits and more.

 

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver Matt DiBenidetto supporting our #RaceforTrees Campaign

Monster Energy Cup Series driver Matt DiBenidetto supporting NASCAR’s #RaceforTrees campaign (Photo credit: NASCAR)

 

GSB: Really impressive, Catherine. NASCAR Green has done terrific — and many would say surprising — work on what I call “Green-Sports 1.0,” the greening of the games or, in your case, races. Now let’s turn to “Green-Sports 2.0,” the much more important, in my view, effort to engage fans, especially those who don’t attend races, on the environment, especially on climate change. I understand NASCAR Green has surveyed NASCAR fans on the environment and climate change. What do those results show?

Catherine: We survey fans and non-fans regularly. As of April 2018, we know that more than four out of five NASCAR fans (88 percent) believe the Earth is going through a period of climate change, and three-quarters of them feel a personal responsibility to combat it.

These survey results have given us confidence that our environmental programs and activations with partners, including nationally broadcast television commercials, reach a largely receptive audience.

 

 

GSB: Great commercial, but I notice it doesn’t mention climate change. Why is that? And will future commercials mention it?

Catherine: More than half of our fans believe climate change is real, our work including these television commercials contribute to that belief based on the increases we’ve seen year over year. Their actions as a result are most important. Will they contribute to our digital tree planting tool? Will they better understand their carbon footprint? Will they push our social and digital content….to date, they have and that’s what makes sport and sustainability impactful.

GSB: That’s great! More sports leagues should survey their fans on climate. What are some of your drivers doing NASCAR Green-wise?

Catherine: A lot of our drivers support NASCAR Green and sustainability initiatives. Ryan Newman for example, one of our top Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers and his wife Krissie, have a non-profit called the Rescue Ranch, whose mission is to promote through education, respect for all animals, as well as, agricultural, environmental and wildlife conservation.

GSB: Great to hear. We look forward to hearing more about NASCAR Green innovation in 2019.

 

 


 

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The GSB Interview: Brent Suter, Milwaukee Brewers Pitcher and Climate Change Fighter

Milwaukee Brewers’ pitcher Brent Suter is not your typical major league pitcher.

He played his college ball at Harvard. His fastball, when he really airs it out, barely reaches 90 miles per hour in an era when 97-100 mph heaters are commonplace.

But what really sets the 29-year-old lefty apart from his peers is his interest in climate change and his willingness to speak up about it.

GreenSportsBlog, always on the lookout for eco-athletes, was pleased to read Suter’s OpEd on the urgency of climate action that appeared in a recent issue of Fast Company magazine. And we were even more pleased to be able to talk with Suter about his baseball career and his relatively newfound role as a climate change fighter.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Brent, thank you so much for talking with us today. I will get to your interest in the climate change fight in a bit. First, tell our readers how you got your start in baseball.

Brent Suter: My pleasure, Lew. We moved around a lot when I was a kid. Born in Chicago, moved to California when I was two, then to Atlanta when I was four and finally to Cincinnati when I was seven.

GSB: Were you a Cincinnati Reds fan growing up?

Brent: Oh yeah! When Ken Griffey, Jr. came to the Reds, that was THE BEST!

GSB: Was baseball your first love?

Brent: No doubt about it. I did play football and basketball as well — I was a role player in the latter. But baseball was always number one. I was primarily a pitcher but also played first base and centerfield.

 

Brent Suter 3

Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Brent Suter looks to apply the tag to a Kansas City Royals runner (Photo credit: Benny Sieu, USA Today Sports)

 

GSB: When you were in high school did you think to yourself, “Hey, I’m really good at this; I’m going to be a big leaguer,” or was it more like “Hopefully baseball can help get me into college”?

Brent: It was definitely more the latter. I wasn’t thinking big leagues when I was a kid or in high school. I did believe in myself, worked hard and enjoyed it. But my goal was to get into college.

GSB: Were you heavily recruited coming out of high school?

Brent: Not so much. Actually I had to sort of sell myself. I do remember going to a college showcase the fall of my senior year at which high school players try out for a bunch of recruiters. I threw harder than I ever did before. I had a video made and sent the tape, along with an email to the Harvard baseball coach. He loved it and sent an assistant down to Florida to see me pitch at another showcase. It went great.

GSB: Were you always looking to go the Ivy League route?

Brent: Not really. I always wanted to go to a good school and play baseball there. Harvard was the only Ivy League school I was in serious contact with and it turned out to be a perfect fit!

GSB: What did you study at Harvard?

Brent: Environmental science and public policy…

GSB: …What a great combination!

Brent: Absolutely! I love math and science. Got to learn about renewables, the policy implications of decarbonization and much more.

GSB: What got you into the environment, renewables and climate change?

Brent: I always had affinity and an appreciation for nature and the outdoors. But the big thing for me on climate change was seeing Al Gore’s documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” while I was in high school. Say what you will about Al Gore from the political point of view, his film was able to communicate the serious reality of climate change in a way that inspired many, including me. Before seeing that film, I really had no idea about climate change.

GSB: It inspired me too! In fact, I was trained by Vice President Gore and his Climate Reality Project in 2012 to give the slide show presentation that was at the heart of the movie to community groups in my area. Back to your time at Harvard, how hard was it to balance your academic load and baseball?

Brent: It was challenging at times. You have to be so efficient with your time. That said, Harvard has tremendous resources and I met such an interesting, high quality group of people. It was a whirlwind but an incredible one at that. I loved Harvard and the connections I made there will last a lifetime.

 

Brent Suter 6

Brent Suter on the mound for Harvard (Photo credit: The Harvard Crimson)

 

GSB: Did you have a sense from early on at Harvard that you were on track for the big leagues?

Brent: Not at all. It wasn’t until after my junior year that I started to think pro ball might be a possibility. I was lousy as a junior but I had a strong Cape Cod Summer League season after that. And I backed that up with a decent senior year. Still I wasn’t on scouts’ radars so I went to a showcase for New England regional scouts in Amherst…

GSB: …I didn’t know these showcases existed.

Brent: Oh they’re a big thing all over the country. Anyway, the day of my showcase, it was really cold out and only two scouts showed up. And I was very sick. But somehow, I threw the best I ever had!

GSB: Kind of like Michael Jordan scoring 38 points in Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals when he was sick with the flu?

Brent: I wouldn’t go that far but I guess I got the attention of at least one of the two scouts because the Brewers picked me in the 31st round of the 2012 draft.

GSB: Amazing! Where did you go then?

Brent: To the Brewers’ team in the Arizona Rookie League, made up mostly of high school prospects. I thought to myself, “Sheesh, I’m one of the oldest guys here!” And then things started to fall into place for me in some unusual ways.

GSB: Please explain…

Brent: Two days after I showed up in Arizona, a pitcher on the Brewers’ club on the next level up punched a wall in frustration and injured himself. So I got sent up to the Helena (MT) Brewers in the High Level Rookie League. I struggled at first but then turned it around. The next month, the Brewers’ team in Single A ball — the next level up — needed a pitcher for their stretch run. I got the call and was able to close out the championship game. That led to an invitation to the Fall Instructional League — that was a big deal. It seemed like I was always the right guy in the right situation. And that continued until I made it up to the big club.

GSB: Aside from being in the right place at the right time, how did you make it and stick in the big leagues with a pedestrian fastball?

Brent: Great question. One of my first days in rookie ball I realized I had a natural cut on the professional baseball which has lower seams than college baseballs.

GSB: I had no idea that was the case…

Brent: …Now I use that cut to elevate the ball over swings and thus miss the barrel of hitters’ bats as much as possible.

GSB: …Even if the speed isn’t blowing them away.

Brent: That’s right.

GSB: And that cutter put you in the Brewers’ starting rotation…

Brent: Eventually I became the club’s fourth or fifth starter. My approach is to attack the strike zone and give the team a chance to win the game every time I take the ball. I felt like I was starting to find my stride this year when injury struck. I suffered a torn ulnar collateral ligament in my pitching arm in July.

 

Brent Suter 7j

Brent Suter (2nd from right) with Milwaukee Brewers teammates (from left) Junior Guerra, Manny Piña, and Freddy Peralta (Photo credit: Milwaukee Brewers)

 

GSB: Which led to Tommy John surgery — in which a healthy tendon extracted from an arm is used to replace an arm’s torn ligament — which means a year-long rehab. How’s that going?

Brent: Rehab is going great and my arm feels strong. I’m working out five to six days a week and rehab three times a week. My goal is to make it back by August or September of next year…

GSB: …Which would put you smack dab in the middle of the stretch run to the playoffs. And, from afar, it seems like the Brewers are a great team to want to come back to.

Brent: Oh yeah! We really are a team that plays for each other; it’s a great group of guys. And this season we were were so close to getting to the World Series, losing to the Dodgers in seven games in the National League Championship Series (NLCS). So we have some unfinished business for sure!

GSB: Good luck with that! Now we know you’re interested in the environment and climate change. How did that turn into you writing an OpEd in Fast Company?

Brent: Since I’ve been in pro ball, I’ve wanted to play with a higher purpose in mind. Given my interest in climate and the environment since seeing “An Inconvenient Truth” in high school, and given the recent onslaught of extreme weather, it seemed natural for me to move in that direction. About a year ago I got involved with the Urban Ecology Center, a great nonprofit in Milwaukee. They work to return abandoned waste lands back to their natural, pristine states. Then they bring kids who don’t have access to nature out to the newly restored lands. Urban Ecology Center does an awesome and important job. I also connected with ECO, the environmental collaboration office of the City of Milwaukee.

GSB: What do they do and what is your role with them?

Brent: They are a small city government agency that is working to make Milwaukee a green hub, environmentally and economically. Their initiatives include Milwaukee Shines, which provides financing solutions for residential and business customers to reduce the up front cost of solar, and Milwaukee Energy Efficient (Me²). We’re just starting our relationship. I’ve filmed a short video with them and we have had some brainstorming sessions about everything we can do next season. I also wrote the article that ran in Fast Company for ECO. ECO had a relationship with the magazine and the next thing I knew, the article went live.

 

Brent Suter teamed up with the City of Milwaukee’s ECO initiative for this 50 second video

 

GSB: Did your Brewers’ teammates know about your interest in climate before the Fast Company piece? And if so what do they think?

Brent: Oh they all know about it! I mean, some people give me the “side eye” look and some good-natured ribbing when I would bring in reusable water bottles and tupperware. The truth is they really respect my passion for the environment and climate change. A couple of guys have really bought into it. Ryan Braun is one…

GSB: …The former National League MVP.

Brent: Exactly. And our manager Craig Counsell has been involved with Urban Ecology Center!

GSB: Craig Counsell seems like a guy who really gets it in a number of ways. Now are there any guys in the Brewers’ locker room who are deniers or skeptics on climate change? And how do those conversations go, if you even have them?

Brent: Oh there are a few. I’ve gotten into debates on climate with some of the guys. I find them both entertaining and frustrating. On the latter, I just find it is hard to change any minds. It doesn’t get ugly but we just don’t move the needle with deniers. But I think, in the big picture, the pendulum is starting to swing in the direction of sanity and science. And I want to play a part in continuing to move the conversation in the right direction on climate.

GSB: That’s great as the Green-Sports world is desperate for eco-athletes. Of course I hope your career lasts for a long, long time. But as far as your post-baseball career is concerned, does the environment and/or climate change figure into your thinking?

Brent: No doubt about it — 100 percent! I’m interested in environmental consulting, the renewable energy business. It’s early days in terms of my networking; I’ve talked with an environmentally-focused hospital cleaning company. There will be more to come.

GSB: Fantastic! I wish you the best with that, along with your rehab, and getting to the World Series — where hopefully the Brewers will play the Yankees! And, please, keep spreading the Green-Sports word.

Brent: You don’t have to worry about that!

 


 

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The GSB Interview: Monica Rowand, Bringing Green-Sports to University of Louisiana. Part I: Honing Her Craft at UCLA and CU-Boulder

Monica Rowand is one of the brightest, young stars in the Green-Sports world as she helps to lead the University of Louisiana’s (Lafayette) athletic department’s burgeoning sustainability efforts. 

Despite Monica’s youth, her story is rich and deep, so much so that we’re dividing the interview into two parts. Today’s Part I delves into her lifelong love affair with sports, her discovery of Green-Sports at UCLA and her work with Dave Newport and University of Colorado-Boulder’s powerhouse Green-Sports program.

In tomorrow’s Part II, we move with Monica to 1,200 miles to the southeast to Lafayette, LA to find out what she and the University of Louisiana’s sustainability department are doing to green the Ragin’ Cajuns athletics department. 

 

GreenSportsBlog: Monica, you’ve done so much important Green-Sports work and you’re not yet 30. When did you start, when you were in middle school?

Monica Rowand: Well Lew, I wanted to work in sports for as long as I can remember, baseball specifically. In fact, when I was a little girl I knew the exact job I wanted…

GSB: …Which was?

Monica: To manage the Los Angeles Angels, or Anaheim Angels as I grew up calling them!

GSB: I’m dating myself by saying I grew up calling them the California Angels! Why not aim high?

Monica: Exactly! And that Angels job is still in my plans. But Green-Sports really started for me while I was an undergrad at UCLA

GSB:…Recently named the number one public university in the country!

Monica: I know! Anyway I started out as a business economics major but then switched to geography and environmental studies.

GSB: Why did you switch?

 

RowandM2

Monica Rowand (Photo credit: Monica Rowand)

 

Monica: Good question. I had first gotten interested in the environment in high school when I saw “An Inconvenient Truth.” Then at UCLA I signed up for a Global Environment class to, if I’m being honest about it, take care of a science requirement.

GSB: Many of us can relate to that kind of college class scheduling…

Monica: The thing was, I really loved it! Then, in my senior year, I took this amazing class — Remote Sensing…

GSB: What is that?

Monica: It’s about using satellites, radar and other tools to scan the earth and obtain information that include temperature and other weather and climate metrics. We were told to pick semester project topics based on our passions so, given my love of baseball, mine was about the size of parking lots at Major League Baseball stadiums and the resulting heat island effect. I also looked at tree coverage in those lots. All of this was done using remote sensing. I studied the LA Dodgers…

GSB: …Dodger Stadium has massive circular parking lots surrounding it…

 

Dodger Stadium

Aerial view of the massive parking lots surrounding Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles (Photo credit: change.org)

 

Monica: Yeah! Awful for heat island effect. We also looked at AT&T Park, the home of the San Francisco Giants and Nationals Park, home of the Washington Nationals. I really enjoyed the project; this was the first time I realized I could combine sustainability and sports.

GSB: Did you work on any other Green-Sports projects while at UCLA?

Monica: Yeah. The second one looked at the waste generated at large sports events by league — Major League Baseball, the NBA, NFL and NHL. I figured out the average amount of waste per league and then compared that to total waste in the U.S.

GSB: It must’ve been tiny…

Monica: Oh it was. But that didn’t deter me. In fact, it made me realize that the real promise of Green-Sports was in engaging fans to care about the environment, climate change, and more…more so than focusing on greening the games themselves, because, like I said, total waste and carbon emissions from sports events are quite small relative to everywhere else.

GSB: So you knew you were Green-Sports 2.0 rather than Green-Sports 1.0…

Monica: That’s right. Sports is perhaps the most powerful platform in the world and it is past time that it was used in service of the environment!

GSB: Indeed! So what did you do when you graduated?

Monica: I moved to Denver — needed to get out of LA then. I got a job at a gym because, well, I needed a job. We did waste reduction and recycling, had an Earth Week program but that wasn’t a green job. But I networked like crazy with something called the Rocky Mountain Green Venue Partnership. All the major Denver area sports venues were in the group…Coors Field, home of the Rockies, Pepsi Center, home of the NBA’s Nuggets and NHL’s Avalanche. CU Boulder was there too. It was at these events that I became convinced that I wanted to work in Green-Sports and that I could get a job in it. It just didn’t happen then…

GSB: And next you…

Monica: …Moved to New Orleans in 2012 as I decided to join the Americorps VISTA program and work with Global Green doing community outreach.

GSB: Global Green is a great group!

Monica: I loved that job. I worked on so many things — education, energy efficiency, and community organizing. During this time I also networked in Green-Sports: I went to the 2013 Green Sports Alliance Summit in Brooklyn. I connected with Jarian Kerekes…

GSB: …Then the NBA’s Corporate Social Responsibility head.

Monica: Yes. We collaborated on ideas to help green the 2014 NBA All-Star Weekend in New Orleans. I spoke to leading Green-Sports practitioners like Omar Mitchell of the NHL and Paul Hanlon of MLB. Both told me I should get an MBA, with the idea being that I already had a strong environmental background but I needed to learn about business. So I looked for business programs with a strong sustainability bent. At that time, Dave Muller at the Green Sports Alliance said, “You should talk to Dave Newport at CU-Boulder. He runs the Environmental Center there and is doing amazing Green-Sports things.”

GSB: What did Dave Newport tell you?

Monica: He said, “Come to CU and I’ll hire you to help grow ‘Ralphie’s Green Stampede!'” So I went off to Boulder. I mean, sports and B-school? INCREDIBLE!!

GSB: Sounds like the perfect spot as Ralphie’s Green Stampede is arguably the best Green-Sports initiative in college athletics.

Monica: Oh yeah! For several reasons. Number one: Dave has the same mentality I do: Sports has the power to change behavior. Two: The Green-Sports infrastructure was already in place when I arrived there in 2015. Ralphie’s Green Stampede, which launched in 2008, had already helped CU Athletics become Zero-Waste, reduce its carbon emissions, get involved in water balancing and…

GSB: What is water balancing?

Monica: Athletics reduced their water usage. Whatever we did use, BEF worked with us on river restoration projects, thus adding the same amount of water back that CU Athletics had used.

GSB: Who funded this?

Monica: We were able to get corporate sponsors to pay for it.

GSB: Brilliant! What was your role with Ralphie’s Green Stampede?

Monica: I was the program manager for fan engagement…

GSB: AGAIN, perfect for you!

Monica: YES!!! I got to work with Dave, Athletics, and Learfield, the company that sold CU Athletics sponsorships. Working with Learfield’s Brandon Leimbach, a true rock star, we were able solidify a unique category of sponsorship that created value for our sports property, the corporate partner, and our community.

 

Ralphie Team

From left, Monica Rowand and Ralphie’s Green Stampede teammates Dave Newport, Brandon Leimbach and Angie Gilbert (Photo credit: Monica Rowand)

 

GSB: What kind of sponsorship programs did you guys develop and sell?

Monica: On water restoration, working with the aforementioned BEF, we created Water For The West for men’s and women’s basketball in 2015-16 and then football in 2016. Wells Fargo and Kohler sponsored it. CU’s venues have high efficiency water fixtures like faucets and then CU Athletics purchased 10 million gallons of water restoration credits.

GSB: Where did the fan engagement piece come in?

Monica: The idea with fans was to get them to follow the Buffs’ lead and save water at home, work, and play. So we set up a text platform, text “CU Water” to 27126 — I believe it’s still live — and promoted it at games and on social media. By texting, you were committing to saving water on your own— we showed them how by texting them water saving tips. For every text pledge we got Wells Fargo would restore an additional 1,000 gallons of water to the Colorado River through the BEF water restoration certificate program.

 

Water For The West promotional video (1 min 4 secs) featuring CU Women’s Soccer player Taylor Kornieck

 

GSB: What a neat program! How many people participated and how much water was restored?

Monica: In addition to the 10 million gallons that balanced the Buffs’ annual water footprint, 956 students and fans made text pledges during the 15-16 basketball seasons. So in the program’s first season an extra 956,000 gallons worth of water restoration projects could be done!

 

TOMORROW’S PART II: Monica Rowand moves from CU-Boulder to the sustainability department of the University of Louisiana in Lafayette to help launch their Green-Sports initiative.

 


 

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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…

 

OptOutside

 

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 Amazon.com

 

^ 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 MLB.com 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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