GSB Eco-Scorecard #4: Catching Up with Green-Sports Leaders on the Field

Since 2013, GreenSportsBlog has featured the teams and athletes leading the sports-greening movement. What we haven’t focused on is their work on the field, in the arena, on the track.

So in September, we launched GSB Eco-Scoreboard: Catching Up with Green-Sports Leaders on the Field, an occasional series highlighting recent on-field/court results of the greenest teams and athletes. Why? Because if they do well, their green messages will gain a wider audience.

But what if the eco-athletes struggle?

Hey, I’m a Jets, Knicks and Rutgers sports fan. I — and a gazillion other sports fans — certainly can relate to struggle. And those engaged in the climate change fight know it is a multi-generational slog. 

So the theme of today’s fourth Eco-Scoreboard entry is struggle and overcoming obstacles.

 

STEPHEN PISCOTTY STARTS ANEW WITH OAKLAND A’S, FIGHTS ALS ON BEHALF OF MOM

GreenSportsBlog first wrote about Piscotty last January after we learned that the then-Cardinals outfielder had majored in Atmosphere and Energy Engineering at Stanford and is keenly interested in the investment and climate change fighting possibilities in inherent in renewable energy. That Piscotty was coming off of a stellar rookie campaign in 2016 made the story all the better.

But 2017 proved to be challenging on and off the field.

On the field, Piscotty dealt with two stints on the disabled list with hamstring and groin injuries along with a sophomore slump at the plate. The double whammy led to a brief demotion to Triple-A Memphis in August.

The off field news was much, much worse as Piscotty’s mother, Gretchen, was diagnosed with ALS^ or Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

In our most recent Eco-Scorecard in January, we shared the news that Piscotty had been traded by the Cardinals to the Oakland A’s, only an hour’s drive from his parents’ home. Both the Cardinals and the A’s acknowledged that Gretchen’s illness was a factor in the trade. Amazing, no?

“It says a lot about both organizations,” Piscotty said in a February 23rd interview with Martin Gallegos of The San Jose Mercury News. “Baseball is very important, but sometimes there are other things that may take priority. It’s heartwarming and humbling, and we are so grateful.”

Piscotty is projected to be the A’s starting right fielder in 2018. After a very slow start at the plate in spring training, he rebounded over the past ten days, getting his batting average up to a respectable .269 with 2 home runs. If Piscotty can stay healthy, it says here that he will provide stability and punch to the Oakland lineup, with results resembling his breakout 22 HR, 85 RBI rookie 2016 campaign rather than his difficult 2017 (9 HR, 37 RBI).

Meanwhile, the 27 year-old has decided to set up a donation page along with his family to raise funds for ALS research.

“My mom was on board with it and we felt like getting something started would be a really cool thing,” Piscotty told Gallegos. “It actually came about by one of my mom’s really good friends, who has actually been helping us a tremendous amount at the house. She is going to run a couple races and dedicate those to my mom, so we are just rallying around that to raise funding and awareness and also kind of use my platform to attack it in that sort of way. I’m pretty excited about the support we have gotten already, and we’ll keep going.”

 

 

Piscotty A's

Stephen Piscotty in his new Oakland A’s uniform (Photo credit: Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group)

 

 

More Piscotty: “It’s one of those things that is hard to talk about, but awareness is step one and then the funding. People have to know about it before they are going to donate, and what have you. I think that is the biggest thing. The ice bucket challenge that happened a few years ago was a tremendous thing, and I think there is a jalapeno challenge that is starting to circle around, and hopefully that catches fire too. Things like that day by day and little by little will eventually get us there.”

People looking to contribute to the fund can do so by visiting www.youcaring.com/alstherapydevelopmentinstitute-1101042#mlb-oakland.

 

POW MEMBER AND U.S. CROSS COUNTRY SKIER ANDY NEWELL HOPES PYEONGCHANG 2018 IS HIS LAST OLYMPICS

Cross country skier Andy Newell is a leading member of Protect Our Winters (POW), the group of elite winter sports athletes who advocate for climate action. In the run up to the 2014 Sochi Olympics, Newell co-drafted a letter with fellow Vermonter and climate change fighter Bill McKibben — and founder of 350.org — addressed to world leaders, urging them to sign the Paris Climate Agreement. He helped lead POW’s participation in the People’s Climate March in New York City last April and has lobbied members of Congress of both parties on climate-related legislation.

Qualifying for his fourth Olympics at age 34, Newell took on the high-pressured first leg of the 4×10 km relay. After a decent start — he reached the initial 1.67 km split in 8th place in the 14-team race — Newell struggled, ending up in 12th place with a time of 26 minutes 09.7 seconds, 1.28.8 off the lead. Team USA’s difficulties continued from there as they finished in last, 9 minutes 24 seconds behind the gold medal winners from Norway.

“As expected, it was tough,” Newell told USA Today Network’s Jeff Seidel. “It’s always nerve-wracking to go out first. It’s an honor to lead off the team, but it’s also a high-pressure situation. I went out and did my best. I was dying. I actually barfed my face off at the end of the race. That’s how I know I pushed myself pretty hard.”

 

Andy Newell

Andy Newell (r) and Canada’s Len Valjas scrambling during the first leg 4×10 km cross country ski race at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics (Photo credit: Flying Point Road)

 

Newell hopes PyeongChang is his final Olympics, despite sounding like he wants to give qualifying for Beijing 2022 a go.

Wait, what? He wants to try out for another Olympics and…fail?

Well, when one considers Newell’s team-first, legacy-based ethos, his willingness to see the next generation of U.S cross country skiers beat him out four years from now starts to make some sense.

“The only thing that would make me happier than going to a…fifth Olympics would be that the U.S. team is so strong that a guy like me can’t make it,” said Newell to Seidel.“Hopefully those guys will be crushing it and they will be coming in as medal contenders…I hope that an old guy like me won’t even be able to make the team four years from now.”

 

FOREST GREEN ROVERS STRUGGLING TO AVOID RELEGATION

GreenSportsBlog readers know Forest Green Rovers (FGR) as the Greenest Team in Sports — from its solar powered “Mow-Bots” used to manicure the organic pitch at The New Lawn stadium to all vegan-only concession stands.

FGR took a major step up on the pitch in 2017, earning promotion from the fifth to the fourth tier of English football — the highest rung achieved in the club’s 125-year history. The trick for FGR this season is to stay in the fourth tier and avoid relegation down from whence they came. Their task is clear: finish above the bottom two places in the 24-team league when the campaign ends in May.

Newly-promoted sides often struggle to stay “up” and FGR is no different as they’ve flirted with the “drop zone” all season. But an undefeated February (three wins and a draw) gave the club some breathing room.

Their run of good play continued as the calendar turned to March when super-sub Lee Collins scored in the 81st minute to earn a back-and-forth 3-3 draw at Newport County.

 

Lee Colins

Forest Green Rovers’ Lee Collins (#5) exults after scoring the 81st minute equalizer in their 3-3 draw at Newport County on March 3rd (Photo credit: Forest Green Rovers)

 

The 81st minute came back to bite FGR at home on Saturday as it was Notts County who scored during that 60 second window to earn a 2-1 win, ending Forest Green’s six match unbeaten streak. Still, the club sits in 20th place with 37 points, seven points ahead of the drop zone with 10 matches to play.

But safety is not yet assured as the season moves to its May conclusion and the struggle continues for FGR with two road contests in four days.

First, Forest Green visits first place Accrington Stanley on Saturday. Then its a mid-week battle among two clubs eager to stay afloat when FGR heads to 19th place Crewe Alexander.

 


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Green-Sports News and Notes, Winter Olympics — and Climate Change — Style

The Olympic flame is set to be doused in PyeongChang Sunday night in South Korea (the closing ceremonies will air on NBC starting at 6 AM ET Sunday).  With that being the case, what better time than now for an Olympics-themed News & Notes column in which all three stories focus on climate change? We highlight the historic cross country skiing gold medal won by climate change fighter Jessie Diggins, dig in to Toyota’s powerful climate change ad that has been running during NBC Sports’ Olympics coverage, and feature Protect Our Winters’ chairman and big mountain snowboarder Jeremy Jones and his recent New York Times OpEd that makes the link between climate change fight and jobs.

 

JESSIE DIGGINS: CLIMATE CHANGE FIGHTER, CARBON PRICING ADVOCATE AND OLYMPIC GOLD MEDAL WINNER

Olympic cross country skier Jessie Diggins and teammate Kikkan Randall set two important firsts for the United States when they won the gold medal in the women’s team sprint freestyle race on Wednesday. The pair became the first U.S. women to ever medal in an Olympic cross country skiing event, and the first Americans, men or women, to win cross country gold.

 

Jessie Diggins Lars Baron Getty

Jessie Diggins exults as she crosses the finish line to win gold in the team sprint freestyle relay (Photo credit: Lars Baron/Getty Images)

 

And how’s this for another first: Diggins, from tiny Afton, MN, is the first U.S. cross country skier to win gold while also being very public with her climate change and carbon pricing advocacy.

As we noted in an earlier post, Diggins supports a revenue neutral carbon fee and dividend program (CF&D), like that proposed by Citizens’ Climate Lobby^. Carbon fee & dividend differs from a carbon tax in that the revenues raised by CF&D at the mine, well or border are passed directly on to all U.S. households rather than to the U.S. treasury department. CCL designed the program this way for two main reasons:

  1. The direct-to-citizen dividend approach is the only way that Republicans in Congress could possibly support it. “Tax,” to the GOP, is a 4-letter word — they clearly have counting issues.
  2. It is progressive — the monthly dividend amount sent to each household will be the same but higher income folks consume much more carbon (multiple cars, bigger homes, etc.) than those in the lower income demographics and so will, on a net basis, pay more than they get back in the dividend. Lower earners will, in the main, spend less than they get back.

Diggins is not shy about her passion for the climate change fight — she was quoted in a New York Times article at the start of the Games as saying, “you need to be able to stand up for things you believe in, and saving winter is something I believe in. It just breaks my heart because this is such a cool sport, and winter is so amazing and beautiful and I feel like we’re actually really at risk of losing it. And I don’t want my kids to grow up in a world where they’ve never experienced snow because we weren’t responsible enough.”

The newly-minted gold medal winner joined three other U.S. cross-country Olympians —Simi Hamilton, Andy Newell, Liz Stephen — in the video below that calls on all skiers to take action on climate change, specifically to ask their members of Congress to support CCL and its CF&D proposal.

 

TOYOTA ADVERTISES THE IMPORTANCE OF KEEPING THE WINTER IN WINTER

NBC Sports announcers commenting on events at the outdoor venues at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics have not made one mention of climate change, at least when I’ve been watching. This, despite the fact skiing and snowboarding are clearly being contested on manmade snow — in the rare instances when the camera gives a wide angle view of an outdoor venue, the viewer clearly sees wide swaths of snow-free land.

But Toyota is picking up climate change the slack with “Frozen,” a stunning 60 second ad produced by creative agency heavyweights Saatchi & Saatchi and Dentsu that emphasizes the automaker’s renewed “commitment to hybrid, electric and hydrogen vehicles…to help keep our winters winter.”

Check it out here:

 

 

Toyota is certainly not shy about telling its greener mobility story — “Frozen” has run throughout the Olympics fortnight on NBC and NBCSN, including during high profile/high viewership events like figure skating and alpine skiing. And they’re paying a pretty penny to do so: 60 second spots average $1.19 million during primetime Olympics coverage.

At some point, sports announcers will routinely highlight environmental and climate change-fighting actions taken by the teams and athletes they cover in the same way they talk about domestic violence and cancer.

We’re not there yet, unfortunately.

But, for now, advertisers like Toyota — or, Budweiser and Stella Artois in the case of the Super Bowl a couple of weeks ago — will have to do the heavy green lifting.

Which is much better than nothing.

 

POW CHAIRMAN JEREMY JONES: FIGHTING CLIMATE CHANGE MEANS SAVING JOBS

Jeremy Jones believes that taking on climate change is an economic as well as environmental imperative.

Jones has experienced the effects of climate change up close as a big mountain snowboarder. And he’s also in the center of the action in the climate change fight in his role as chairman of Protect Our Winters (POW), an organization made up of elite winter and snow sports athletes, including several 2018 Olympians, who advocate in Congress for meaningful action on climate. POW and winter sports athletes won GreenSportsBlog’s “Best Green-Sports Story of 2017.”

 

Jeremy Jones

Jeremy Jones, chairman of Protect Our Winters (Photo credit: Protect Our Winters)

 

So it was with great interest that I read “Saving Winter Is About More Than Snow. It’s About Jobs,” Jones New York Times OpEd that ran smack dab in the middle of the Olympics. He highlighted key data points from a soon-to-be released report from POW on the economic risks to mountain areas and towns and the winter sports industry of climate change and its effects:

  • Winter sports are popular: “About 20 million [Americans] participate in winter sports every year.”
  • The mountain/winter sports economy is significant: “the 191,000 jobs supported by snow sports in the 2015-16 winter season generated $6.9 billion in wages, while adding $11.3 billion in economic value to the national economy.”
  • Low snow years are devastating: “causing a combined annual revenue loss of $1 billion and 17,400 fewer jobs.”

What to do? Once the Olympics are over, Jones and his POW teammates will continue taking the mountain/winter sports climate-jobs fight to Capitol Hill:

“Senators in states with vital mountain economies love to talk about jobs. These people include Senators Cory Gardner of Colorado and Dean Heller of Nevada, both Republicans, along with representatives of congressional districts that include mountain towns, like Greg Walden of Oregon, Scott Tipton and Mike Coffman of Colorado, and my district’s representative, Tom McClintock — Republicans as well.

But when the time comes to choose, these elected officials vote for legislation that will increase greenhouse gas emissions while ignoring the real threat to jobs in their own backyards — climate change. (Senator Gardner has a lifetime voting score from the League of Conservation Voters of 11 percent; Senator Heller’s score is 13 percent. The top score among the representatives was 9 percent.)”

Looking for a glimmer of hope? The jobs of Messers Gardner, Heller, Walden, Tipton, Coffman and McClintock are under threat. Because a lot of those 20 million winter sports participants Jones mentioned in his Times OpEd vote.

 

 

^ I am a volunteer with Citizens’ Climate Lobby

 

 


 

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Will NBC Cover the Eco-Athlete Story at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics Opening Ceremonies?

A TV audience of at least 15 million is expected to tune into this evening’s delayed tape coverage of the 2018 Winter Olympics opening ceremonies on NBC. Hosts Mike Tirico and Katie Couric will no doubt wax poetic about the otherworldly achievements of, and the superhuman obstacles overcome by, a gaggle of (mostly) American Olympians. But will Katie and Mike mention the impressive eco-exploits of some of American athletes? They sure would have a lot to talk about. So I got to imagining what it would be like if they went the eco-athlete route…

 

 

Mike Tirico: As you know Katie, all teams are entering the stadium in alphabetical order in the host country’s language, of course in this case, Korean. The United States, pronounced “Mi Guk” in Korean, will come in 26th following Malta and Mongolia and just before our friends in the ever-rising Atlantic, Bermuda. So we’re getting close!

 

PyeongChang Olympic Stadium

Aerial view of PyeongChang’s Olympic Stadium in advance of the opening ceremonies of the 2018 Winter Games (Photo credit: Time Inc.)

 

Katie Couric: 고맙습니다 Gomabseubnida or Thank you! And you’re right: Here comes tiny Malta, an archipelago in the central Mediterranean between Sicily and the North African coast. With that location, it’s no surprise that its Winter Olympics history is also tiny. In fact, its flag bearer, alpine skier Elise Pellegrin, is the entire Malta team. And, at the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia, Elise became the first ever athlete to represent Malta in a Winter Olympics.

MT: Fitting perhaps that an athlete would be the first Winter Olympics athlete from a country near the equator at a Winter Olympics held in a tropical climate — impacted heavily by global warming, I might add — like Sochi. Now here comes Mongolia or Mong Gol…

KC: …That’s an easy one to pronounce…

MT: …Indeed. Like Malta, Mongolia has a very small delegation — just two cross country skiers — including flag-bearer Achbadrakh Batmunkh. Unlike Malta, it does have a long Winter Olympics history, dating back to the Innsbruck, Austria Games of 1964. Their heritage has been in the Nordic sports of cross-country skiing and biathlon…

KC: …But that heritage has been under threat due to extensive drought in parts of that landlocked land. Wait, I see in the tunnel…It’s gonna be I believe…YES! Here comes the USA!

MT: Leading the 244-member squad into the stadium is luger Erin Hamlin…

KC: …Erin is a fitting flag bearer. This is her fourth Olympics and she is the first Amercian luger to ever earn an Olympic medal, taking bronze at Sochi in 2014. LOOK AT THE SPIRIT OF THE AMERICANS!! It’s INFECTIOUS!!!

KC: …And there is women’s cross country skiing medal hopeful Jessie Diggins!!

MT: Cross country skiing has been a vast Winter Olympics wasteland for Uncle Sam, with Bill Koch’s silver in 1976 the only medal the country has ever won. But Diggins hopes to double that total in the women’s 1.2 km sprint. She seems to have the tenacity necessary to get to the medal stand. Look no further than her work on the climate change fight. A supporter of a revenue neutral carbon fee and dividend, like that proposed by Citizens’ Climate Lobby, Jessie was quoted in a New York Times article earlier this week saying, “you need to be able to stand up for things you believe in, and saving winter is something I believe in. It just breaks my heart because this is such a cool sport, and winter is so amazing and beautiful and I feel like we’re actually really at risk of losing it. And I don’t want my kids to grow up in a world where they’ve never experienced snow because we weren’t responsible enough.”

 

Jessie Diggins NYDN

U.S. Olympic cross country ski medal hopeful and carbon pricing advocate Jessie Diggins (Photo credit: New York Daily News)

 

KC: Amen to that!

MT: You got that right, Katie! Moving from cross-country to alpine skiing, there is Lindsey Vonn, one of Team USA’s biggest stars and brightest medal hopes!! Wow, Lindsey sure looks relaxed!

KC: Vonn, as has been well-documented, has survived a laundry list of career-threatening injuries and yet here she is again, ready to take on all comers in the downhill. The 33-year old won gold in the downhill and bronze in the Super-G at Vancouver 2010. And she looks in top form coming into PyeongChang.

MT: While she is looking for a smooth trip at the Jeongseon Alpine Centre, Vonn’s off-slope approach to life sometimes invites some bumpy controversy. Lindsey recently stated she is representing the United States and not the President here in PyeongChang and that she will not visit the White House should she win a Gold Medal.

KC: Vonn was certainly not happy when the President pulled the United States out of the landmark 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, saying in an Instagram post that “climate change is REAL and I watch the glaciers I love melt more every year…We can’t change the opinions of others but if we are all conscious and make small changes, we can make a big difference. Let’s try to save our planet!”

 

Lindsey Vonn Zimbio

Lindsey Vonn (Photo credit Zimbio.com)

 

MT: Speaking of saving our planet, there are women’s halfpipe medal hopeful Kelly Clark and 4-time Olympic cross country skier Andy Newell. Both devote a good amount of their precious spare time to climate advocacy. In fact, last fall Andy, along with several other elite winter sports athletes, went to Capitol Hill to educate and lobby Members of Congress…

KC: …of both parties

MT: …of both parties, yes, about the effects of climate change in winter sports states like Utah and Colorado and in favor of action to help to curtail it.

 

Andy Newell Sochi

Andy Newell at the 2014 Sochi Olympics (Photo credit: Andy Newell)

 

KC: …That’s right, Mike. And his climate advocacy work is not a new thing. Last fall, in an interview with GreenSportsBlog, Newell shared how he and Bill McKibben…

MT: …Bill McKibben of grassroots climate activist group 350.org fame?

KC: …That’s the one…How he and McKibben “drafted a letter for a group of snow sports athletes called Athletes for Action and that letter was addressed to world leaders, urging them to sign the Paris Climate Agreement.”

MT: An agreement that ultimately was ratified by over 200 countries, including the United States. As we stated earlier, the Trump Administration has decided to pull the U.S. out of Paris. We shall see how that goes. But our South Korean hosts have stayed in Paris and they’ve done some good things from a sustainability point of view with the PyeongChang Olympics.

KC: That’s right, Mike. Hyeona Kim, a senior project manager responsible for sustainability at the PyeongChang Organizing Committee or POCOG, reported that POCOG “is funding wind farms that will produce more than the minimum amount of electricity need to power the 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Games.”

 

Hyeona Kim

Hyeona Kim, Senior Project Manager, POCOG. (Photo credit: PyeongChang Organizing Committee for the 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games or POCOG)

 

MT: Great to hear, Katie. Now, we will back with the entrance of the Bermuda delegation — where sea level rise is indeed a big concern — after this word from our sponsors.

 

Hey, a GreenSportsBlogger can dream, can’t he?

 

 

 


 

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The Best and Worst of Green-Sports, 2017

The Green-Sports world saw some important firsts in 2017: The first UN Dialogue on Sport and Climate Action in Germany, the first Pac-12 Sustainability Conference in Sacramento, and the first LEED Platinum professional sports stadium in the US are but three examples.

Beyond the firsts, eco-athletes, from sailors to snowboarders, used their sizable platforms to promote ocean health and the climate change fight. Some even lobbied members of Congress. 

But in this Age of Trump and with the ascendancy of climate change deniers and do-nothings in the upper reaches of the US Government, the Green-Sports world needed to go much bigger, move much faster.

Against that backdrop, we bring you the BEST AND WORST OF GREEN-SPORTS, 2017.


 

BEST GREEN SPORTS STORY OF 2017

Protect Our Winters (POW) and Winter Sports Athletes

 

POW Athletes at Capitol Credit Forest Woodward

Photo credit: Protect Our Winters

 

The photo above is the perfect visualization as to why Protect Our Winters (POW), the organization of elite winter sports athletes who advocate for substantive action on climate change, is the winner of GSB’s BEST GREEN-SPORTS STORY OF 2017.

You see, the 21 folks captured in front of the US Capitol made up most of the 25-person delegation of active and retired skiers, snowboarders and more, who, along with staffers, descended on Washington this fall to lobby 22 members of Congress and their staffs. Topics included carbon pricing, solar energy and electrifying transportation.

That winter sports athletes are more concerned about climate change than any other group of athletes I can think of makes sense since they can see the negative effects of warming temperatures on their playing fields (i.e. ski slopes, snowboard courses, frozen ponds) in real time.

That they have built POW into the only climate change action advocacy group led by athletes, Olympians and world champions among them, is the amazing thing.

In recent months, GreenSportsBlog interviewed retired Olympic silver medal winning snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler and Olympic cross country skier Andy Newell, about their involvement with POW.

Bleiler takes part in “Hot Planet, Cool Athletes” school assembly programs, which helps  make “climate change engaging, more relatable, and more personal for students.” She spoke at COP21, the global climate conference in Paris in November 2015 that led to the Paris Climate Agreement. Newell helped lead POW’s participation in the People’s Climate March in New York City in April and has written OpEds, including one that ran in USA Today in 2014.

Both were part of the POW 2017 DC fall lobby team; their firsthand experiences — and those of their colleagues — with the effects of climate change are powerful aspects of their presentations to Congress.

Here’s Bleiler: “[I share] my own experiences as a professional snowboarder who’s traveled around the world chasing snow! Reduced snow pack, warmer temperatures and shorter winters all mean a hit to the sports we love, but these changes also impact the economies of all the mountain town communities where I compete and train. This has all been happening in my lifetime…”

Given that the vast majority of the Republican-led Congress, the head of the EPA, as well as the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, are virulently opposed to fighting climate change, POW’s 2017 legislative efforts did not bear immediate fruit.

But, in the climate change fight, POW is all in for a marathon.

It is a race cross country skier Andy Newell has no doubt POW and, well, we — as in the American people — will win: “If we citizens have a big enough cultural and economic shift toward sustainable energy, the President and everyone else in DC has no choice but to follow. We have more power than we think. Senators, House members and the President will continue to hear from the winter sports community.”

Certain House members and Senators will hear from POW in 2018. The group’s main goal for the next year is to, in the words of Lindsay Bourgoine, manager of advocacy and campaigns, “get down and dirty in the midterm elections in November…We have identified ten ‘battleground elections’ where we feel it is really important to elect a climate friendly leader, whether Democrat or Republican.”

Honorable Mention: Land Rover BAR, Great Britain’s Entry in 2017 America’s Cup; Most Sustainable Olympics Bids Ever Earn Paris and LA the 2024 and 2028 Summer Games.

 

GREENEST SPORTS LEAGUE OR EVENT OF 2017

US Open Tennis/US Tennis Association

Formerly titled the Greenest Sports League award, this year the category expanded to include mega-sports events like the Olympics, FIFA World Cup, the Masters, and the US Open. The latter is GSB’s choice for the GREENEST SPORTS LEAGUE OR EVENT OF 2017. 

The Open —which draws over 700,000 fans over two weeks in late August/early September at the USTA’s Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Queens, NY — earned the award not only for its stellar sustainability performance at this year’s tournament but for its decade of green-sports leadership. 

King was there at the beginning of the US Open’s/USTA’s greening efforts in 2008. And she wanted to go BIG.

“Billie…wanted to make the US Open the most environmentally responsible tennis event in the world,” shared Dr. Allen Hershkowitz^, then a scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the nonprofit that would manage the sustainability project. “I told Billie that doing so would take years. ‘Great,’ she said. ‘I’m in. Let’s do it.'”

 

 

Billie Jean and Allen

Billie Jean King and Allen Hershkowitz during the 2008 shooting of the USTA’s “Our Courts May Be Blue But We’re Thinking Green” public service announcements (Photo credit: NRDC)

 

Ten years on, the fruits of King’s and Hershkowitz’ vision can be seen in virtually every nook and cranny of the National Tennis Center. The event:

  • Is zero-waste, meaning 90 percent or more of food waste is diverted from the landfill, thanks to a sophisticated composting and recycling operation
  • Powers itself solely by renewable energy
  • Uses the tournament’s daily draw sheet (schedule of play) to share “eco-tips” with fans
  • Promotes mass transit use and the fans have responded: More than 55 percent arrived by subway, Long Island Railroad or bus, making the US Open the most transit-friendly professional sporting event in the country
  • Collects and recycles over 17,000 tennis ball cans
  • Boasts two LEED certified structures; the two year-old, 8,000 seat Grandstand Court and the upgraded transportation center.

 

Grandstand Court Brian Friedman USTA

The LEED certified Grandstand Court rocked during the dramatic comeback win by Juan Martin del Potro over Dominic Thiem on Labor Day (Photo credit: Brian Friedman/USTA)

 

2018 will bring a big sustainability advance as the new, 10,000 seat Louis Armstrong Stadium will open as the world’s first naturally ventilated stadium with a retractable roof.

Honorable Mention: National Hockey League, Pac-12 Conference, Waste Management Phoenix Open (golf)

 

GREENEST NEW STADIUM OR ARENA OF 2017

Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United F.C.

When Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the new home of the Atlanta Falcons of the NFL and MLS’ Atlanta United F.C., announced in November that it had earned LEED Platinum certification, it became the first pro stadium in the U.S. to achieve such a designation. Just one month later, it won GreenSportsBlog’s GREENEST NEW STADIUM OR ARENA OF 2017.

“We set out to build a venue that would not only exceed expectations, but also push the limits of what was possible in terms of stadium design, fan experience and sustainability,” noted Arthur Blank, owner and chairman of the two teams, at the LEED Platinum announcement. “[Our] goal was to achieve the highest LEED rating because it was the right thing to do for our city and the environment.”

 

 

Mercedes Benz

Mercedes-Benz Stadium (Photo credit: AMB Sports and Entertainment)

 

Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which hosts the College Football Playoff National Championship Game on January 9, and Super Bowl LIII in February 2019, compiled 88 LEED points — blowing by the 80 point threshold needed for Platinum status — in a myriad of ways, including by:

  • Using 47 percent less water than baseline standards due to water-efficient fixtures and conservation infrastructure
  • Storing water in a 1.1 million gallon, underground water vault, providing the area with crucial flood management, as well as an additional 680,000 gallons of water for use in irrigation and the stadium’s cooling tower
  • Installing 4,000 solar panels to power the equivalent of nearly ten Falcons games or 13 Atlanta United matches with clean, renewable energy.
  • Featuring LED lighting that will reduce energy usage by as much as 60 percent
  • Encouraging fans to take MARTA light rail to three nearby stations, resulting in 25-30 percent of fans ditching their cars to go to and from Falcons and United games.

Honorable Mention: Little Caesar’s Arena, Detroit (home of NBA’s Pistons and NHL’s Red Wings), currently seeking LEED certification

 

BEST TEAM ON/GREENEST TEAM OFF FIELD/COURT OF 2017

Golden State Warriors, NBA Champions

The Golden State Warriors cemented their status as the gold standard of the NBA’s current era when they defeated LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, four games to one, to win their second title in the last three seasons. A sustainability leader off the court, the Warriors also earned the BEST TEAM ON/GREENEST TEAM OFF FIELD  award for 2017.

On the court, head coach Steve Kerr seamlessly managed the addition of Kevin Durant to their championship core of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Andre Iguodala. This made the Dubs even more fun to watch and much harder to play against. As a result, Golden State methodically avenged its shocking 2016 Finals loss to the Cavs.

 

KD Steph

Kevin Durant (l) and Steph Curry of the 2017 NBA Champion Golden State Warriors — and winner of GSB’s BEST TEAM ON/GREENEST TEAM OFF FIELD/COURT award (Photo credit: USA Today)

 

This fall, the Warriors started the 2017-18 campaign slowly —for them — they’re “only” 23-6 at this writing. Curry and Green are injured for now. And the Houston Rockets look ready to mount a serious challenge in the West. Despite all that, Golden State is still the team to beat.

Off the court, the Warriors reflect the strong environmental ethos of the Bay Area, earning strong sustainability grades for:

  • Powering their practice facility with solar panels
  • Reducing energy use at Oracle Arena through a smart energy management system
  • Introducing a rainwater recapture system that uses the harvested H₂O to feed the plants and vegetation surrounding the arena.
  • Partnering with a local vendor who turns oils from concessions into bio-diesel,
  • Implementing ORBIO Sc-5000 which utilizes water, salt and electricity to create an eco-friendly cleaning solution
  • Reducing the carbon footprint of, and the waste produced by the food service. In partnership with Levy Restaurants, the club uses compostable cutlery and flatware and composts food waste.

It wasn’t only GreenSportsBlog who noticed the Warriors sustainability efforts: Oracle Arena earned LEED certification from the US Green Building Council in September.

“Ensuring that we have a positive impact on the Oakland/Alameda County community and our environment is extremely important to us” said Krystle von Puschendorf, Sustainability Programs Manager for Oracle Arena, “We are proud to have achieved LEED certification and are dedicated to running an environmentally friendly operation here in Oakland.”

If the Warriors stay at the top of their game on the court, the club will likely be in the running for the 2019 award because it will have moved into the new Chase Center in San Francisco — an arena expected to seek LEED Gold certification.

Given the Warriors incredibly high standards, I am surprised — and a bit disappointed — they’re not going for LEED Platinum. But there’s still time for Golden State to up its green game even further.

 

Chase Arena

Artist’s rendering of Chase Center, future home of the Warriors. Scheduled to open in 2019, the arena seeks LEED Gold certification (Credit: Stok)

 

Honorable Mention: New England Patriots, NFL — the Pats might have won the award but they were hurt by the strong support for climate disaster Donald Trump by owner Robert Kraft; Seattle Sounders, MLS

 

GREEN-SPORTS MISSED OPPORTUNITY OF 2017

Super Bowl LI in Houston

Super Bowl 50, the Greenest Super Bowl of All Time, was played in the Bay Area, one of the most environmentally engaged areas in the country. Super Bowl LI took place in Houston, not exactly a green hotbed. Many would say it is not realistic to expect a Super Bowl taking place in the Oil Capital of the US to be as green as one contested in Northern California.

I agree.

But while it’s one thing to fall short of the Super Bowl 50 standard, it’s quite another thing for the Houston Super Bowl Host Committee to do nothing from a sustainability point of view.

Or, to be fair, almost nothing: The Houston Host Committee did work with NFL Environmental, the Houston Texans, Verizon and local partners to help plant trees, but that seems to be it.

 

Trees for Houston

Trees For Houston and Marathon Oil helped plant 50 new trees at Crespo Elementary in advance of Super Bowl LI (Photo credit: Trees For Houston)

Tree planting is well and good but the Houston Super Bowl LI Host Committee missed a Texas-sized opportunity regarding sustainability.

This is the case especially when one considers that there is a sustainable business infrastructure and a green subculture taking root in the US’ fourth biggest city and in the Lone Star State more broadly:

Honorable mention: Minnesota Vikings and MSFA deciding not to upgrade the glass exterior of US Bank Stadium to reduce its bird kill problem.

 


 

We close with some end-of-year thank-you and a remembrance:

To our guests/interviewees: Your time, commitment and insights are much appreciated. You are helping to green the sports world in important ways. I always come away from GreenSportsBlog interviews feeling inspired.

To our readers: Thank you for making 2017 a year of significant growth: Our subscriber base grew by a third. On Twitter, our retweets and mentions nearly doubled. If you haven’t done so already, please subscribe (it’s FREE!) and comment on the blog. Follow us on Twitter (@GreenSportsBlog) and friend us on Facebook (http://faceboook.com/greensportsblog).

A remembrance: Earlier this month, Ryan Yanoshak, formerly managing director of marketing communications with the Pocono International Raceway, passed away at 42 following a battle with cancer. Ryan played an important role in telling Pocono’s forward-leaning sustainability story. He will be missed.

Looking ahead, I expect the green-sports world will continue to grow in 2018, especially on the green building/venue side. But will meaningful fan engagement programs ramp up? Will we find new eco-athletes who can become the Colin Kaepernicks of green-sports? Will POW’s lobbying efforts help bring more climate change-fighters to Congress? No matter the results, you can be certain that GreenSportsBlog will remain your source for news, features and commentary on the increasingly busy intersection of Green + Sports.

Here’s to a healthy, happy Holiday Season to you and yours!

 

^ Dr. Hershkowitz later served as President of the Green Sports Alliance and is currently founding director of Sport and Sustainability International (SandSI)

 


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Winter Sports Drives Green-Sports, Part 4: The POWer of Protect Our Winters

The Winter Sports world plays an outsized role in the Green-Sports movement. This makes sense, when one considers climate change is responsible for shortened outdoor pond hockey seasons, canceled ski races, and more. GreenSportsBlog is taking an in-depth look at the intersection of Green & Winter Sports with an occasional series, “Winter Sports Drives Green-Sports.”

In the first three installments, we highlighted winter sports athletes who are also environmental activists: Cross country skiers Erika Flowers-Newell (Part 1) and Andy Newell (Part 2) (yes, they’re married to each other) as well as Olympic silver medal winning snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler (Part 3).

Today, we take a different path with “The POWer of Protect Our Winters.” In it, we look at Protect Our Winters, or POW, an amazing organization of elite winter sports athletes, including Andy Newell and Gretchen Bleiler, which advocates for substantive action on climate, especially as it relates to mountain and snow sports. 

 

 

Protect Our Winters (POW) is, without doubt, one of the most impactful organizations in the Green-Sports world.

It may also be the most important athlete activist group in the world.

The only climate change action advocacy group led by athletes, POW’s Riders Alliance is made up over 100 current and retired professional skiers, snowboarders and more. They give talks on climate change to student groups and take part in climate marches. Most impressively, it says here, POW lobbies members of Congress and other elected officials on climate change-related legislation.

Are there other like groups of activist athletes in other sports? I don’t know of any.

We got a sense of the POW from the athlete point of view in recent interviews with cross country skier Andy Newell and snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler. Today, we are pleased to give you a different perspective — that of the POW staff — as we talk with Lindsay Bourgoine, manager of advocacy and campaigns, and senior brand manager Barbara Weber.

 


 

GreenSportsBlog: How did both of you end up at POW?

Lindsay Bourgoine: Well, I come from Maine and grew up outdoors, climbing mountains and skiing — I love downhill and back country. I got into policy end of things and worked in that arena for the Appalachian Mountain Club and the Outdoor Industry Association. I’ve always strived to find opportunities as the intersection of environmental advocacy and the outdoor industry. We have such an incredible opportunity to leverage our impact to better the planet. Once I found out about POW, I fell in love with it. I mean, the impact of our athletes is so authentic and effective.

 

Lindsay Bourgoine POW

Lindsay Bourgoine, Protect Our Winters’ manager of advocacy and campaigns for (Photo credit: Protect Our Winters)

 

Barbara Weber: I’m from Northern Michigan and started skiing when I was three; we got a ton of lake effect snow. At 12, I went to the “dark side,” aka snowboarding. Eventually, I went to Michigan State…

GSB: Sparty!

Barbara: Go Sparty! In school I studied advertising. I’m fascinated with what motivates people psychologically. But when I moved to Chicago to pursue a “Big Girl Ad Agency” job, I knew after my first interview that it wasn’t the world I wanted to be in. I found myself working in the local Patagonia shop while I “figured things out” and they really laid the foundation for the path I’d find myself on for the next 10 years.

 

Barbara Weber POW

Barbara Weber, POW’s senior brand manager (Photo credit: Protect Our Winters)

 

GSB: What a fantastic turn of events! Patagonia is beyond great.

Barbara: Indeed. I worked for a local Patagonia store in Vail before moving on to a marketing position with Ski.com, essentially selling ski vacations. It was while I was working at that Patagonia store when I first found out about POW. I think that was around 2009-2010.

GSB: You were busy!

Barbara: For sure. While at ski.com, I was also serving a two-year term on a non-profit board in Aspen (where I had relocated) called Spring Board. POW had stuck with me and I had been trying to find an intersection between my personal desire to give back and make an impact for the benefit of our environment, and with my professional career. For three years at Ski.com I pushed to get them involved with POW. After all, there won’t be many ski vacations in the future if we don’t tackle this issue.

GSB: So true…

Barbara: I left ski.com in 2013 and after a bit of travel, a series of fateful events led me to landing my current role with POW when they were based in Los Angeles. I’ve been with POW since June 2014.

GSB: An odd place for something called Protect Our Winters but, OK…So you were at POW in LA…What was it like?

Barbara: It was a lot of work — but the best kind. I found a fire in me that had been waiting to be lit. It felt as if my background and personality were the perfect fit for the position and vice versa. I was fired up. And I’m still fired up. And the funny thing about avoiding the career of advertising per se; is that in a way, it’s exactly what I’m doing. But instead of selling a material item, I’m selling an idea. I’m selling activism.

Part of my job involves working with our incredible group of professional athletes. Getting to know them over the years has been something I’ll always be grateful for. This group is so passionate, so thoughtful, insightful, and genuine. I think from the outside it can be easy to look and them and find ways to be critical, but they really work hard to become knowledgeable about climate change, both from the science and political sides, and leverage their influence as pros to inspire other people to get involved in this fight.

GSB: I sure was inspired talking with Andy Newell and Gretchen Bleiler. These are world class athletes, Olympians…and they’re knowledgeably lobbying members of Congress on climate change? How do they have the time? Where do they get the inspiration?

Barbara: I can’t speak for each Riders Alliance member but, in general, it seems as though winter sports athletes — POW athletes — spend so much time outside, in nature…it’s natural they would appreciate it. I mean, they have an intimate interaction with the outdoors.

GSB: That makes sense, but what motivates them to speak up about climate change? Don’t they worry that being “political” could put their sponsorship relationships at risk?

Barbara: Well, snowboarders, skiers and the rest are already outside the traditional athlete world to a certain extent. There’s a natural rebelliousness to this community, particularly the snowboarders. They’ve found a way to make a living most of us could only dream of, and are often rewarded for thinking unconventionally and for taking risks. So many of them are OK with going outside their comfort zones. What is really great is that POW athletes do their homework on climate and know their stuff. In fact, our athletes who go to Washington often report that members of Congress are slack-jawed at their knowledge and expertise.

GSB: As someone who has presented to Congress on climate issues with Citizens’ Climate Lobby, I can tell you that house members and senators are hard to impress. That holds true with their staffers. So getting a slack-jawed reaction is a big deal. Also a big deal is POW’s Riders Alliance Summit…

Barbara: Absolutely. It’s our biggest event of the year that we do with the athletes. We use it as our opportunity to bring them up to speed on the latest climate science, how to effectively communicate climate facts and information, provide them with social media and public speaking training, and other meaningful ways to engage in advocacy. To me, though, I think one of the biggest takeaways is the sense of community and camaraderie the summit evokes. It’s good for these athletes to see each other in person, commiserate on their experiences, become friends and supporters of each other.

 

POW Riders Alliance Credit Krystle Wright

POW athletes enjoying the 2017 Riders Alliance (Photo credit: Protect Our Winters)

 

GSB: The camaraderie is so great to hear about, especially given that some of these athletes compete against each other. Now, speaking of lobbying, talk to us about POW’s lobby days on Capitol Hill and elsewhere…

Lindsay: Well, there were 13 POW athletes at our most recent lobbying effort on the Hill a few months back. This was our biggest contingent to date; with partners and staff, we had 25 total. One of our goals this time was to work on forming relationships with Republican lawmakers, which we did by focusing on our passion for, and love of the outdoors. Sometimes, this bill and that endorsement and that policy get in the way. We need to remember we’re all people, and for the most part, we can all connect over our mutual love of the outdoors. Climate change threatens that. So, we went into offices, talked about who we are and what we do, reflected on the changes we see in the field, and then asked how they could help us address the issue. If they asked for more specifics, or if they were more amenable to our cause, we talked about our priority issues: carbon pricing, solar energy, and electrifying transportation.

GSB: …That’s great about meeting with Republicans; otherwise, POW would simply be preaching to the converted…How many members of Congress did you get to meet with this time around?

Lindsay: We met with 22 members, half of whom are part of the bipartisan House Climate Solutions Caucus, which includes an equal number of Republicans and Democrats. Snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler, pro fly fisherman Hilary Hutcheson, as well as our board chair and VP of Aspen Skiing Company, Auden Schendler spoke on behalf of POW. Gretchen talked about how impactful the cancellation of competitions can be, especially on rural mountain towns at the beginning of the season — for example, if Birds of Prey at Beaver Creek (CO) is cancelled, that’s $4-6 million gone from the local economy, just in a weekend. Hilary recounted how her insurance adjuster told her if she kept working as a fly fishing guide outside of Glacier National Park in Montana with the poor air quality from nearby forest fires, he would cancel her policy. She literally couldn’t guide — and earn an income — because the air quality from fire smoke was so dangerous. Climate is impacting her way of life. And Auden spoke about how ski resorts lose money in low snowfall years and the snowball effect on the economy. It was very powerful to speak to this bipartisan group– very uplifting to see lawmakers on both sides of the aisle really listen and come together to educate themselves on these issues and impacts. This hearing was definitely the highlight of the trip.

 

Alex Deibold, Gretchen Bleiler, Kaitlyn Farrington on POW_s September 2017 Lobby Trip to Washington DC Forest Woodward Athletes

POW takes Washington by storm: From left to right, Alex Deibold, Kaitlyn Farrington and Gretchen Bleiler on the steps of the Capitol (Photo credit: Forest Woodward)

 

Hilary Hutcheson TDN

Hilary Hutcheson, pro fly fisherman (Photo credit: TDN)

 

Auden Schendler ClimateCon 2018

Auden Schendler, Aspen Skiing Company (Photo credit: ClimateCon2018)

 

GSB: I hope the GOPers with whom you spoke vote in a POW-like manner sooner rather than later. Now, one thing I’ve noticed as a Citizens’ Climate Lobby volunteer is that the number of volunteers skyrocketed after Trump’s election. Have you seen something similar at POW? Also has Trump’s election had any effects on the issues POW takes on, the tone and aggressiveness with which it does so, etc.

Lindsay: People can no longer afford to be apathetic as our climate is under attack day after day. Now, more than ever, our community is asking us “how can we help” over and over. Our community is stepping up to the challenge. In a way, this is a silver lining of Trump’s election. Now, does it make it harder when there is an unfriendly administration? Yes. That just means we have to work harder to fight the fights that need to be fought and to get creative to see if there are any places we can potentially work with Republicans. I would say one way the results of Trump’s election is that we are looking opportunistically at actions in state legislatures. There is a ton of progress being made there, especially on carbon pricing in winter sports states like Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington.

GSB: Are there Trump-supporting POW athletes? If so, how is that working out?

Lindsay: I can’t speak to that specifically, but we do have Republican athletes. We have always worked to be bipartisan and if anything, put even more of an effort into that this year in our DC lobbying. We know climate is deeply politicized, but we don’t believe it should be. The Republican party is the only conservative party in the world that denies climate change. We just need to get to a place where it is safe for Republicans to talk about climate. You’d be surprised; many of them understand and agree, they just care about being re-elected, too. It’s tough. Our goal is to elect climate friendly officials, regardless of what party.

GSB: That’s all very important…so good luck. Turning to next year, with the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang only two months away, how might that mega-event affect POW?

Barbara: Well, 2018 being an Olympic year helps POW. It amplifies the visibility of our athletes who end up being part of their Olympic teams. That helps us in the long run when it comes to the platforms they use to speak out against climate change. Additionally, we’ve found politicians tend to geek out when one of our athletes brings an Olympic medal or two to our lobby day meetings. Mainly, though, the Olympics will probably just decrease our productivity those two weeks it takes place, as we’ll be anxiously watching the competitions and supporting our athletes when we should be working! We’ll for sure be having a viewing party or two in the office.

GSB: Sounds like a lot of fun — y’all deserve it! I hope to see NBC Sports feature a POW athlete or two at the Olympics. What are POW’s main goals in 2018?

Lindsay: Our main goal in 2018 is to get down and dirty in the midterm elections in November. POW is working on establishing a 501(c)4, which will allow us to get more engaged in elections as an organization. We have identified ten ‘battleground elections’ where we feel it is really important to elect a climate friendly leader, whether Democrat or Republican — I want to be clear that we are not working to help the Democrats take the House. We will execute all of our programs in those ten areas — whether going into schools for Hot Planet Cool Athletes assemblies to get kids talking about the importance of climate change, or hosting educational events. Our objective is to make people more aware of their role in elections, help them understand the importance of electing climate friendly leaders, and push the conversation in each election to cover climate change.

GSB: We will stay tuned throughout 2018 to see how POW makes out in those 10 races. One last question: What are POW’s expansion plans, if any? Are you looking to move beyond winter sports?

Barbara: We want to engage the broader outdoor industry in POW’s work. This is already happening — we’re signing trail runners, climbers, anglers, guides, and mountain bikers. We’re working to bridge the gap with hunters and find ways to collaborate. The reality is climate change impacts all of us, whether it’s too hot to mountain bike or there’s not enough water in rivers to paddle or to support viable fish habitat.

 

Want to see the true POWer of POW? Watch this 1 minute 5 second video.

 


 

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Winter Sports Drives Green-Sports, Part 2: Andy Newell, U.S. Olympic Cross Country Skier, Climate Change Advocate for Protect Our Winters (POW)

GreenSportsBlog does not often get to write about eco-athletes. And we’ve never been able to write about a married couple who are both involved in environmental activism.

Until now, that is.

Last week, in the first edition of GSB’s new occasional series, Winter Sports Drives Green-Sports, we featured the story of Erika Flowers Newell, an American cross country skier who is pushing to make her first US Olympic team in 2018. She also works for Carol Cone On Purpose, an agency that helps companies do well by doing good. And, for Erika, doing good means taking positive action on the environment.

Today, in Part 2, we talk with her husband, Andy Newell, a three-time Olympian in cross country skiing about to start his campaign to qualify for the fourth time. He’s also a leading member of Protect Our Winters (POW), the group of elite winter sports athletes who advocate for climate action.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Your wife’s story starts out in Big Sky country, Montana. Are you from that part of the world, too?

Andy Newell: Nope. I grew up in Shastbury, VT, near Bennington and started skiing as early as I could walk.

 

Andy Newell Young Red Cap

Young Andy Newell (middle, red cap), skiing with his family in Vermont (Photo credit: Andy Newell)

 

GSB: When I think of Vermont as far as skiing is concerned, I think of downhill and the other alpine events. Was it unusual for you to gravitate towards cross country?

AN: Not at all. Our area in particular is great for cross country. It’s a blue collar region and, as compared to alpine, cross country is more of a blue collar sport — alpine is much more expensive. I’ve been into it forever; I started racing when I was 5 years old.

GSB: Holy COW! So were you on an “elite” track from those early years?

AN: It turned out that way. I competed all the way through my teen years and attended Stratton Mountain High School, about 40 minutes from home. It’s a specialty school designed for skiers and snowboarders with an academy and a private ski school for kids in grades 8-12. It is tiny —there were 25 kids in my graduating class.

GSB: It sounds like the way many European countries handle top young athletes — by putting them in special sports academies — for top soccer and tennis players. Similar also to IMG Academy down in Florida. I didn’t know there was such a thing for winter sports here.

AN: I got a lot out of it. It was great preparation for my career as a pro skier, especially where time management was concerned. And the education was top quality. It was like I got a college education in a high school setting because I had to juggle academics and a full time training and racing schedule.

GSB: So I imagine you competed at a high level while at Stratton Mountain School…

AN: It was great. I got to travel in high school as part of the US Ski Team as I was named to the developmental squad when I was a senior.

GSB: Where did you ski in college?

AN: I never went to college, deciding to pursue professional skiing as a career. This is not unheard of. I jumped to the A-team in 2003 when I was 19.

GSB: Congratulations! That’s young for a cross country skier, I believe. The US was never a cross country power — I remember that Bill Koch of Vermont was the only Olympic medal winner and that was back in 1976…How did you deal with that?

AN: Well, things were starting to look up for the USA when I came of age. It’s a long process as cross country takes training, hard work, top coaching, along with strong athletes, patience and funding. In the mid 2000s, we started to have success as a team and I did as an individual, in the sprints. I was the first American male to make the medal platform at a World Cup race in 2006, taking third place in Changchun, China. I followed that up with a 5th place at the 2007 World Championships. And then, on the women’s side, Kikkan Randall made the podium in 2008, on her way to even greater success down the road at the Olympics. It was a fun, exciting time.

GSB: It sounds like you were on track to be on Olympian yourself…

AN: I went to my first Olympics in 2006 in Torino Italy. 4 years later at the Vancouver Games I was in the best shape of my life! I was a medal hopeful for sure but I crashed out of my sprint…

GSB: YIKES!

AN: Well, they say those kind of things are “character builders”…So I trained and worked…

GSB: …And built some character…

AN: Hopefully… It taught me a lot about the process of being an athlete. That there is a whole lot more to success than just winning medals, it’s about enjoying the process and also giving back. That perspective has a lot to do with why I got involved in environmentalism and later made the Olympic team in 2014 in Sochi.

 

Andy Newell Sochi

Andy Newell at the 2014 Sochi Olympics (Photo credit: Andy Newell)

 

GSB: You mean the Olympics that were held in a tropical zone?

AN: The very same. But this time, I wasn’t in my best form, I didn’t stand out. So now we’re in 2017. I’ve done well in World Cup seasons, have made it to several podiums but I haven’t put it together in Olympic years. So I’m giving it another go for Pyeongchang 2018 — just like Erika is — to see if I can do my best at the highest profile event in my sport.

GSB: And, as a member of Protect Our Winters or POW, doing well at the Olympics will raise the profile of your environmental advocacy. When did that begin?

AN: Early on — during my high school days and into my early 20s, the environment was not something I focused on. At all. Now, when I speak to school audiences for POW, I show a picture of me in my 1990 Chevy Blazer which got 10 miles per gallon. As I say, I didn’t care about the environment, so it’s important to communicate to school kids that you can learn, you can change — at any age. I wish politicians could admit to, in fact, honor the idea that they can change. It’s very important.

GSB: So when did your change to environmentalism take place?

AN: Bill McKibben, the founder and driving force of the climate change fighting nonprofit, 350.org, is a big cross country skier who lives near Middlebury, VT. My older brother was also a Middlebury skier so I heard of Bill through him as well.. I had met Bill at some of the local ski races and really admired his work and writing, and his excitement for activisim. So around 2010 was when I got started volunteering for a few 350.org projects. Between 2010 and 2014 I got more and more involved and started working with Protect Our Winters. In advance of the Sochi Olympics I communicated with Bill and he voiced his concerns over the negative environmental impacts of the Olympics and the importance of the upcoming Paris Climate talks and how we could rally support internationally.

GSB: Oh it was bad alright — we’ve written about the environmental disaster that was Sochi 2014.

AN: You got that right. It was an awful decision by the IOC to give Sochi the Winter Olympics. The development there devastated the wetlands…they clear cut national forests. So, I spoke up about this in the run up to the 2014 Olympics. And, Bill and I drafted a letter for a group of snow sports athletes called Athletes for Action and that letter was addressed to world leaders, urging them to sign the Paris Climate Agreement.

GSB: …Which was signed in December 2015, about a year and a half after Sochi. Congratulations! Of course, the current U.S. President is planning to pull us out of the agreement. Regardless, it seems to me that you’re a natural advocate.

AN: For me, becoming an activist was a smooth transition. I like to say what I think, to take a stand. I’m definitely not afraid. In fact I tried to recruit other athletes to join Athletes for Action, to get athletes from other countries who might be able to impact political decisions in their countries.

GSB: How did that go?

AN: It went OK, not great. We got some Canadian, Finnish and Swiss athletes to join. Russians? Not so much. Since then, I’ve become much more involved with POW, which really fits my lifestyle…

GSB: That’s FANTASTIC! What has that activism looked like?

AN: Well, I helped lead POW’s participation in the People’s Climate March in New York City in April; one of many marches I’ve done. I’ve written OpEds, including one that ran in USA Today in 2014. I’m also one of the more active members of POW’s Ski and Riders Alliance.

GSB: What will POW’s presence be in Pyeongchang in February?

AN: Good question. They’ll have some presence, I’m just not sure what it will look like. The way I can be most effective will be to make the Olympic team, so that’s my focus heading into the qualifying season which starts in December.

GSB: All the best, of course. What do you plan on doing after your pro skiing career is over? And will environmental activism be a part of it?

AN: Well, I’m going to continue with pro skiing for as long as I can. And, for sure, my activism with POW will continue, especially on the grassroots level…making presentations, recruiting more athletes, lobbying members of Congress and other politicians on climate. On the recruiting, I figure if I, as a non-college graduate, can do this work, can lobby on Capitol Hill, so can many other winter sports athletes.

GSB: Have you lobbied Vermont’s two US senators?

AN: Absolutely…I’ve lobbied and talked with both Bernie Sanders and Patrick Leahy, who are great. I also had a one-on-one meeting with Todd Stern, President Obama’s lead negotiator at the Paris Climate Talks. My position was that we as the winter sports community need you negotiate an agreement with real teeth. He heard me for sure.

 

Andy Newell with Bernie Sanders

Andy Newell (l), with Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT). Also pictured, Liz Stephen and Ida Sargent, both of the U.S. Nordic Ski Team (Photo credit: Andy Newell)

 

Andy Newell w: Todd Stern

Andy Newell (l), with Todd Stern, the U.S. chief negotiator at the Paris Climate Talks in 2015, and Alex Deibold, also of POW (Photo credit: Andy Newell)

 

GSB: Unfortunately, as mentioned above, our current President plans to pull the U.S. out of Paris.

AN: Well, it’s not a done deal yet. One of my favorite quotes from Leonardo DiCaprio’s movie about climate change, Before the Flood, is “we can create elected followers, not elected leaders.” Meaning if we citizens have a big enough cultural and economic shift toward sustainable energy the President and everyone else in DC has no choice but to follow. We have more power than we think. Senators, House members and the President will continue to hear from the winter sports community as to why staying in Paris is the only sane way to go.

GSB: I feel a bit better about it all now, I have to say.

 

Andy Newell & Erika

Andy and Erika (Photo credit: Andy Newell)

 


 

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Winter Sports Drives Green-Sports, Part 1: Erika Flowers Newell, US Olympic Cross-Country Skiing Hopeful and Advocate for the Environment

The Winter sports world, from the NHL to climate change-fighting Olympic skiers and snowboarders, plays an outsized role in the Green-Sports movement. This makes sense, when one considers that climate change is at least partly responsible for shortened outdoor pond hockey seasons, canceled ski races, and more. Over the next few months, GreenSportsBlog will take an in-depth look at the intersection of Green & Winter Sports, in a new, occasional series, “Winter Sports Drives Green-Sports.”

We begin the series with the first of two stories about a pair of world class cross country skiers from the United States preparing for the start of their respective qualifying campaigns for the 2018 US Olympic teams, Erika Flowers Newell and Andy Newell. Both are environmental activists and also are married to each other! 

Today, the focus is on Erika, her skiing career, environmental advocacy along with her work for one of the legends of cause-related marketing. Next week, we shift over to Andy and his climate change-fighting efforts with Protect Our Winters (POW).

GreenSportsBlog: Erika, thank you for taking the time out from your pre-Olympic qualification training to talk with us about your skiing career, your role as an eco-athlete, and more. So let’s get right to it. When did you get into cross country skiing? And were you always an environmentalist?

Erika Flowers Newell: Skiing definitely came first. I was born in Missoula, Montana. I was always into sports — soccer and running — as well as theatre. When I was 10, we moved over to Bozeman. It was the middle of 4th grade. I knew no one but saw that a bunch of kids were into skiing. So I connected with a bunch of girls who were into cross country — they remain among my best friends today.

 

Erika Flowers Reese Brown

Erika Flowers-Newell (Photo credit: Reese Brown)

 

GSB: So you got into from a social point of view?

EFN: Yes. And I was a terrible skier at first…

 

Erika Flowers youth

A young, self-proclaimed “terrible skier,” Erika Flowers (Photo credit: Erika Flowers’ mom and dad)

 

EFN: …Really, I wanted to play soccer. But, truthfully, I wasn’t that good at soccer either…The only reason I made the team my freshman year was because I could run really fast. And, as time went on, I saw that I wasn’t such a terrible skier after all and I — and this a real surprise to me — really liked it. I loved to train, loved the running part of the training, plus the actual skiing. So, as a high schooler I made my first international trip, to the Scandinavia Cup and had some decent results. While still in high school, I ranked as high as #6 among all junior skiers in the US.

GSB: That’s incredible!

EFN: Believe me, I was shocked. I went from thinking I wasn’t much good at cross country skiing to believing I could compete at a very high level, get to travel all over the world. I thought this was pretty cool. But then my mom passed away while I was  in my junior year.

GSB: Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.

EFN: Thanks. It was very tough. In fact, I was at a race at the time. But I tried to borrow some of her grit and toughness after she passed, and that helped me win my first international race in the spring of my junior year in high school.

GSB: You are certainly talented and tough. So was college next on the horizon?

EFN: Yes…I looked seriously at three schools: Utah, Princeton and Dartmouth. Utah has a strong ski program but going to college out East intrigued me. So I visited Princeton — I liked the idea of going to the Woodrow Wilson School of International Affairs but…

GSB: …there’s not much skiing in and around Princeton, NJ!

EFN: Exactly. And so after we visited Princeton, we headed up to Dartmouth. It was right on the Connecticut River, the skiing trails are pristine, the campus is beautiful and the women’s nordic team was very good — at the time, five women on the Dartmouth nordic squad also were on the US Ski Team.

GSB: So that made the decision easy…

EFN: No doubt about it. I loved Dartmouth; I bleed Dartmouth Green for sure. Was surrounded by smart, interesting people. It was challenging academically. I studied government, health policy and more. And the skiing was even more challenging. As a freshman, I was just trying to get to compete in “Carnival”…

GSB: What’s that?

EFN: They are a big part of college skiing’s regular season — combined alpine and nordic events.

GSB: The alpine events are the downhill and the various slaloms (slalom, giant slalom, and Super-G). Nordic is the umbrella term for cross country, biathlon and ski jumping.

EFN: You got it! There are six weekends of carnivals in each of three regions; East, Midwest and West. You need to be in the top six at Dartmouth to make the carnival roster and top three to be assured of competing. And, as I was able to make it to carnival as a freshman, my next goal was to make it to the NCAAs — I said to myself “If I can go to the NCAA’s once before I graduate, that will be good.”

GSB: And what does one have to do to make it to the NCAA’s?

EFN: You had to be in the top 15 in your region across the various cross country disciplines — skate style and classic, sprints and longer races, and relays. To make it even harder, only three skiers from any one school can make it and Dartmouth, along with the University of Vermont, are perennial eastern powerhouses…

GSB: So you could be in the top 15 in your region but if you were, say, the fifth best on Dartmouth, you’d be out of luck, NCAA-wise?

EFN: That’s right. But that tougher climb made me a better skier. So junior year I got to go to the NCAAs in Stowe, VT…

GSB: Home mountain advantage!

EFN: …and finished fourth. Before senior year, I spent time in Guatemala working in a health clinic — I was planning to apply to medical school — but I constantly was daydreaming about skiing…

GSB: Clearly you weren’t ready to give it up!

EFN: That’s what I learned about myself. So senior year, I went to the NCAAs one last time, finished sixth. I was content with that and was happier that the team did really well — that was the best part of it.  

 

Erika Flowers Dartmouth

Erika, while skiing for Dartmouth (Photo credit: Erika Flowers Newell)

 

GSB: So what about medical school?

EFN: Well, before that decision was made, I started to volunteer with Fast and Female, a nonprofit founded by Chandra Crawford, a Canadian nordic Olympic gold medal winner in Torino 2006. Kikkan Randall, the best US women’s cross country skier ever runs the US group. The organization hosts events in the US and Canada for girls, 8-18. It’s a combination of physical events, socializing, motivational talks, and more. I loved working with them and being an athlete role model of sorts, so that made the medical school choice even harder. So I decided to go for skiing full time, see where it would take me. This was my time.

 

Erika Flowers Fast Female

Erika Flowers Newell, inspiring young athletes through “Fast and Female” (Photo credit: Tom Kelley)

 

GSB: So how does that work, exactly? Who funds you?

EFN: Great questions. Thankfully, I came along at a time where, in addition to the US Ski Team, there were professional development programs for elite skiers in the US. One is in Stratton, VT. I went up there along with two other skiers in 2012 with two goals in mind:

  1. Race internationally every weekend in the World Cup events — the regular season of cross country — and,
  2. Make the US Ski Team

The latter is a big deal because that gives you more of a salary, coaching, and support staff.

GSB: How many make the US nordic Ski Team?

EFN: Five men and 10 women — there are more women because our team is stronger relative to the men.

GSB: So if you’re on one of those elite teams but not the US Ski Team, how do you support yourself?

EFN: They do give support — they pay for a coach which is huge. But I have to secure my own corporate sponsorship outreach and sales, which takes about 25 percent of my time. This pays for my living expenses and travel.

GSB: I had no idea you had to be a sponsorship sales pro in order to have a ski career. A good skill to have, though. So I imagine it’s a lot easier if you make the US Ski Team. How does that happen?

EFN: Of course that isn’t easy, especially if you’re an older skier and I’m now 28. I’ve been at it awhile: I tried out for the Olympic team for Sochi 2014 but didn’t make it. But I did qualify for the 2016-17 World Cup, which was fantastic. So now I’m going for the 2018 Pyeonchang Winter Olympics, with the first qualifying races the first weekend in December in Montana…

GSB: Another Home Mountain Advantage! So what do you have to do to make the Olympic team?

EFN: There are likely going to be between 10-13 slots on the women’s nordic team. My goal is to finish first or second among the non-US Ski Team qualifiers. That would pretty much guarantee me a spot on the team. So I am pushing on all cylinders.

GSB: I have no doubt about that! So, now that our readers are cross country skiing experts, we turn to the green part of your story…Where does that fit in?

EFN: Well, first of all, as a full-time skier, it’s been a challenge to keep my mind as active as it was in college. But I know I have to develop myself professionally for my post-skiing life and sustainability is at the top of my list. So it was a happy coincidence that a friend of mine from Bozeman, Elizabeth Davis, was starting a new purpose-driven agency with Carol Cone…

GSB: …A corporate social responsibility pioneer!

EFN: YES! So they started Carol Cone On Purpose

GSB: Love that name!

EFN: And I saw on Elizabeth’s Facebook feed that were looking for interns. I applied and got it. Let me tell you, it was a real eye-opener for me about the intersection of business and purpose, the idea of doing good and doing well. And I brought the sports angle. So they allowed to help expand Fast and Female and I also worked with the Women’s Sports Foundation. After awhile, they hired me as a part-time Purpose Associate. They’ve been great about me working remotely and to get the work done around my skiing schedule. I handle research, social media and writing. On the research side, I’m diving into what companies are doing, well, on purpose.

GSB: What has that research shown you, if anything, about companies, sports and sustainability?

EFN: Oh, there’s definitely a growing interest on the part of companies about the Green-Sports intersection. From hockey arenas to ski areas and the companies that sponsor those venues and those sports, they clearly get it. And then, as a skier, I see the effects of climate change up close. There’s no way to avoid it. In the 10 years since high school, a lot of places at which I used to ski are just not viable. I mean, that’s 10 years, which is really nothing from a climate perspective.

GSB: Can you give an example?

EFN: Easily. Glacier Ramsau in Austria for years was a summer training ground for nordic athletes. Early on, we could ski there. The last two years? Un-skiable. The glaciers are melting before our eyes.

 

Erika Flowers races canceled MW 2017 Julia Kern

Cross country skiing races were canceled during the 2016-17 season because of lack of snow in the US midwest (Photo credit: Julia Kern)

 

Erika Flowers no snowman

In fact, there wasn’t enough snow for Erika (r) and her teammates to make a snowman (Photo credit: Erika Flowers Newell)

 

GSB: So where do you do summer training?

EFN: For training in snow, we go New Zealand. Of course then we get fan criticism, not completely unjustified, that here we are, talking about climate change and yet we spend massive amounts of CO₂ to train in the Southern Hemisphere. Also the climate problem is coming close to home. We used to do early season training in Bozeman but not now. The snow just isn’t there.

 

Erika Flowers Summer Training Matt Whitcomb

Erika Flowers Newell (2nd place, in blue top) trains with Kikkan Randall (1st place) and others in Soldier Hollow, Utah last fall (Photo credit: Matt Whitcomb)

 

GSB: Are the effects of climate change the same for nordic and alpine?

EFN: It’s actually more acute for nordic. Alpine events typically are at higher altitudes where it’s often colder. And there’s more snow making for alpine because those events are seen as being more glamorous.

GSB: So with your work at Carol Cone On Purpose and your front row seat for climate change as a cross country skier, you are really positioned well to be an eco-athlete advocate. With that said, are you involved with Protect Our Winters (POW), the great group of winter sports, well, eco-athlete-advocates?

EFN: I’m not yet in POW, but my husband, Andy Newell, a member of the last three US Olympic men’s nordic teams, is very involved. I’ve had too much on my plate just yet with Carol Cone On Purpose and skiing to join. But with Andy taking a lead role, I can see that being part of my future. No matter what, I’ll be an eco-advocate. Athletes have a powerful platform to share our stories and influence a lot of people in positive ways. Climate change really needs to be a platform for almost every winter sports athlete. We need to continue to push for meaningful carbon reduction policies. Why? Because we see the effects of climate change EVERY. DAY. We cannot wait to take action. And as much as I want to make the Olympic team and even win a medal, making a positive impact on climate is even more important.

GSB: When you and Andy met, was environmentalism an important part of your connection? Does he up your green game or vice versa?

EFN: Andy and I both value and appreciate the opportunities we’ve had growing up to spend time in the outdoors. We both recognize that the viability and longevity of our sport depends on a healthy global climate as well as the local communities that support land stewardship and the preservation of parks and open spaces. While sustainability and environmentalism where not the things that brought us together at first, I do think our similar value systems allowed us to bond and develop an appreciation for each other and the way we interact with the natural world. I was also very impressed with Andy’s work with POW, and continue to be inspired by his dedication to the organization as he travels to meet with politicians and speak at universities to build support for the cause. He definitely “ups” my green game! I’m much more informed on the state of climate change and the politics involved with climate change and sustainability because of Andy. I think I have a better pulse on the business side of climate change and sustainability while Andy knows more of the politics but we are both working towards a greener future and I think will continue to be involved in climate action for a long time.

 

Andy Newell & Erika

Andy & Erika (Photo credit: Andy Newell)

 

GSB: Well, you and Andy make up an important eco-athlete combination. Good luck in your environmental athletes and, of course, with qualifying for Pyeongchang.

 

NEXT WEEK: Andy Newell on his work with Protect Our Winters…and more.

 

 


 

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