Men’s and Women’s Final Four From a Green-Sports Perspective

After the greatest weekend of Elite Eight games ever — all four went down to the wire, with two going to overtime — the Men’s Final Four is now set. This Saturday evening in Minneapolis, Auburn takes on the University of Virginia and then Texas Tech and Michigan State will go at it.

While the ESPN’s and SI.com’s of the world will analyze the on-court matchups in detail throughout the week, GreenSportsBlog digs into each school from a Green-Sports point of view.

And, we also take a look at Green-Sports goings on at Oregon, Baylor, Notre Dame and UConn — the participants in the Women’s Final Four in Tampa.

 

AUBURN TIGERS

Charles Barkley, the greatest basketball player in Auburn history, was overcome by emotion after his alma mater’s thrilling 77-71 overtime victory over favored Kentucky sent the school to its first Final Four. He wiped back tears in the game’s immediate aftermath, calling the win “the greatest day in Auburn basketball history” on the CBS Sports postgame show.

 

 

The Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame member would likely need to have tissues at the ready if he were to read our January story about Auburn’s growing Green-Sports résumé. In “Auburn Athletics: Green-Sports Grows in the SEC,” Barkley would learn that, per Mike Kensler, Auburn’s Director of the Office of Sustainability:

  • An energy efficiency campaign is underway at Auburn Arena, home of Tigers men’s and women’s basketball and women’s gymnastics.
  • The football team hosts an annual Green Game at 87,000 seat Jordan-Hare Stadium that features student “Trash Talkers” roaming the tailgate areas, urging fans to recycle, a video on Auburn’s greening programs that runs in-game on the video board, and a Green-Sports focused column in the game program.
  • Energy-efficient LED lighting illuminates Plainsman Park, Auburn’s baseball stadium.
  • Auburn football players, coaches, and others traveled to the Dominican Republic in May 2017 where they built and distributed water filters and solar light packets to those in need.
  • Helen Ulrich, a sophomore journalism major on the women’s equestrian team, earned her eco-athlete stripes by writing a story on the anti-plastic straw movement.

 

auburn football 2017

Auburn football players Dontavius Russell and Daniel Carlson drain and assemble the filters before they are inserted into the buckets in the Dominican Republic in 2017 (Photo credit: Auburn University)

 

And while there’s no way of knowing if the Tigers (also, for some reason, known by the “War EAGLE” battle cry) will qualify for the 2020 Men’s Final Four at in Atlanta, there will definitely be an Auburn flavor to the event from a green point of view. Per this 2018 GreenSportsBlog interview, Carlie Bullock-Jones, CEO of sustainability consulting firm Ecoworks Studio, and an Auburn grad (“War Damn EAGLE!”), played an important role in helping Mercedes-Benz Stadium achieve Platinum status.

 

UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA CAVALIERS

If you are a UVA fan, you still probably can’t get enough of seeing THIS:

 

 

It took that miraculous last millisecond bucket by Mamadi Diakite for Virginia, off of that amazing whip pass from Kihei Clark, to send its Midwest Region final against the gutty Purdue Boilermakers into overtime. The top seeded Cavaliers then took care of business in the extra frame, winning the “Game of the Tournament” (so far) 80-75, earning the school its first Final Four berth since 1984.

Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia Class of ’16, only made it as far as the Sweet Sixteen during his four seasons in Charlottesville. But the Milwaukee Bucks guard is making UVA alums proud through his Hoops₂O initiative. Brogdon and four other NBA players¹ are working to raise funds and awareness for clean water initiatives in East Africa. Fans donate to the program in the name of one of the players, with the players matching those contributions dollar-for-dollar. So far, Hoops₂O has raised $164,000 towards its Year One goal of $225,000. Click here to contribute.

 

Brogdon 2

Malcolm Brogdon, founder of Hoops₂o at a Waterboys well site in East Africa (Photo credit: Clay Cook Photography)

 

Brogdon was inspired by Waterboysthe program midwifed by former Virginia football star Chris Long. The two-time Super Bowl champ and 2018 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award winner, along with support from more than 20 current and retired NFL players, funds the digging of wells in the area and teaches the locals how to operate and maintain them.

 

Chris Long was the keynote speaker at the University of Virginia’s 2018 Commencement ceremony (Photo credit: Sanjay Suchak, University Communications)

 

Since its inception in 2013, Waterboys, now officially connected to Hoops₂O, has raised more $2.6 million to fund 55 wells that will provide water to over 205,000 people.

 

TEXAS TECH RED RAIDERS

Run a Google search on “Texas Tech University Athletics Sustainability” or something similar and you get several links to articles about…the University of Texas. This is to say that, so far, Red Raiders’ Athletics has not yet embraced Green-Sports.

Yet the university is a leader when it comes to climate change communications despite being located in the politically and religiously conservative West Texas city of Lubbock.

That is thanks largely to climate scientist Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, Director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech and arguably the world’s most powerful climate change communicator. In fact, Time Magazine named her to its “100 Most Influential People in the World” list in 2014.

 

hayhoe-credit-artielimmer-texastechuniversity

Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, Director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University. (Photo credit: Artie Limmer, Texas Tech University)

 

Dr. Hayhoe spoke with us in 2016 for GreenSportsBlog’s “Green Leaders Talk Green Sports” series. Here’s an excerpt that focuses on how sports can play an important role in the climate change fight (click here to read the entire interview):

GSB: You emphasize the community-religious-economy boosting nature of climate change solutions in your must-watch web series, Global Weirding. That makes total sense.

Katharine: Science is the foundation but what connects with people, what binds them together — shared values — turns out to be bigger than the science! And the pathways in our brains that are used to solve issues respond more to the shared values approach than the scientific. And community and shared values, that’s what sports is all about. Sports is part of our collective shared identity. It builds community. And this goes back millennia to Roman times and chariot races.

GSB: So how do you think sports can play an important role in building awareness and action among fans? Many times, when I ask why more athletes don’t get involved, I hear that “climate change is too complex!” But if what you’re saying is right — and I think it is — athletes don’t need to worry so much about the science. They need to emphasize the importance of the solutions to the communities where they play!

KH: Exactly. Now some sports are effected more directly and more in the present than others. Hey, I’m Canadian, so I get that hockey and other snow sports are deeply concerned about the effects of climate change on their sports in the here and now. That’s why it’s great that Protect Our Winters and the National Hockey League are leading the climate change fight. Hey, we’re a skiing family so we see a shorter ski season. I’m also a sailor and so the effects of increased ocean acidification are powerful as they are obvious…But athletes in sports that don’t have as direct a link as those we mentioned can certainly get involved. Look, I often talk about the Six America’s of Global Warming. Basically, Americans fall into six groups as it relates to global warming/climate change: From most engaged to least, it goes like this:

  1. Alarmed
  2. Concerned
  3. Cautious
  4. Dis-engaged
  5. Doubtful
  6. Dismissive

I think for now at least, we’ll leave the Dismissives — they’ll be very hard to move. But I’ve found the way to communicate with the Cautious, Dis-engaged and Doubtfuls is to emphasize shared values and concerns, and then you can move them. Sports is as powerful, as passionate a platform as there is to move masses of people.

Amen, Dr. Hayhoe. AMEN!

 

MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS

Michigan State can lay claim to being the greenest school in this year’s Final Four on at least one metric: It is the only one of the four to have green as one of its school colors.

In addition, its Sustainability Office:

  • Manages the Be Spartan Green team of student volunteers. They monitor waste stations at Men’s and Women’s Basketball, Football and Hockey games to help divert recyclable items from going to the landfill, as well as informing attendees about recycling options.
  • Published a Green Your Tailgate page on its website

The East Lansing-based school, now just two wins shy of its third national championship, also boasts a faculty member whose research has centered on sustainability issues surrounding mega-events like Olympics, World Cup and, yes, Final Fours.

GreenSportsBlog interviewed Dr. Eva Kassens-Noor, Associate Professor in Michigan State’s Global Urban Studies Program, in 2015. In this excerpt, we discuss the sustainability legacies of the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Summer Olympics.

 

Eva Kassens-Noor

Dr. Eva Kassens-Noor of Michigan State University (Photo credit: Dr. Eva Kassens-Noor)

 

GSB: How did sustainability figure into London 2012?

Eva: Legacy and sustainability were central tenets of the London 2012 bid. The facilities that were built for the Games, for the most part, have found significant post Games use, often for the general public. The Olympic Stadium will become the home of West Ham United Football Club of the Premier League starting next season.

GSB: Now let’s look to Rio 2016. Plenty of media outlets have tackled the environmental problems related to the polluted waters of the sailing and rowing venues. But what about its legacy?

Eva: I’ve been very critical of Rio in terms of legacy…

GSB: Why? We wrote about the additional Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) lines in Rio that are Olympics-related (links here and here). That should be a carbon footprint reducer, no?

EKN: You would think so but the Olympic Village and the BRT plowed through many Favelas, removing hundreds of families and businesses. The route of the BRT is also problematic — one of the routes goes from the airport to a wealthy area without going through downtown. Very ineffective.

BRT will play a significant role in transporting fans to and from this weekend’s Final Four in Minneapolis. GreenSportsBlog is heading to the Twin Cities and will report on what, arguably, is the greenest stadium and arena inventory of any metropolitan area in North America.

As far as the basketball is concerned, I picked Michigan State to beat Virginia in the championship game before the tournament began and so will stick with that².

 

WHAT ABOUT THE WOMEN’S FINAL FOUR?

Friday night’s semifinal matchups for the 2019 Women’s Final Four in Tampa feature two-time national champion Baylor vs. Oregon, seeking its first title. The nightcap is a battle of true women’s hoops heavyweights:  Defending champion Notre Dame vs. 11-time winner UConn.

From a Green-Sports perspective, the University of Oregon looks to be the favorite, but all four schools have a story to tell.

The Eugene-based university is a member of the Green Sports Alliance, as is the PAC-12 Conference. It participates in the league’s Zero-Waste Challenge, a series of waste-reduction competitions that engage fans in sustainability, develop best practices, and provide an outlet for friendly environmental competitions. And Sabrina Ionescu, the Ducks’ All America guard, took part in a PAC-12 Team Green promotional 15 second video.

 

Sabrina Ionescu

Sabrina Ionescu, University of Oregon’s 1st team All American guard (Photo credit: Sabrina Ionescu)

 

Baylor University, located in Waco, Texas, has been recycling since 2015, at McLane Stadium, the 45,100-seat home of Bears football.

Notre Dame’s Green-Sports initiatives are mainly focused on waste generated at Notre Dame Stadium, the 80,795-seat cathedral of Fighting Irish football. The Go Irish. Be Green. program features teams of volunteer students circulating through the tailgate lots, distributing blue recycle bags to fans and answering questions about single stream recycling. And they also produced this sustainability-themed video for the 2018 season.

 

 

The big question is where has this video been shown: In stadium? On Notre Dame football broadcasts? To date it has received only 64 views on YouTube.

UConn, through its EcoHusky student group, has hosted women’s and men’s Basketball Green Game Days at Gampel Pavilion over the past several years. Starting in 2017, the university’s Office of Environmental Policy purchased carbon offsets to be able to make the claim that the games were carbon-free. P.A. announcements, video board mentions, and social media posts during the events promoted the greening initiative to fans.

 

¹ In addition to Brogdon, the Hoops₂O team includes Justin Anderson (Atlanta Hawks), Joe Harris (Brooklyn Nets), Garrett Temple (Memphis Grizzlies) and Anthony Tolliver (Minnesota Timberwolves)
² In case you think I’m some sort of March Madness savant, think again. This is the first year in at least a decade in which my brackets weren’t busted by the Sweet 16.

 


 

Please comment below!
Email us: lew@greensportsblog.com
Friend us on Facebook: http://facebook.com/greensportsblog
Tweet us @GreenSportsBlog
#CoverGreenSports

Auburn Athletics: Green-Sports Grows In the SEC

The Southeastern Conference (SEC)¹ has been the king of college football for more than a decade. Member schools Alabama, Auburn and Florida have combined to win seven national championships over the past decade. That reputation took a bit of a hit Monday night when Clemson of the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) throttled Alabama, 44-16.

On the Green-Sports front, the SEC has gotten a bit of a late start, but maybe that is starting to change.

GreenSportsBlog took a look at the Green-Sports shoots that are beginning to sprout at Auburn University’s Athletics Department.  

 

It took a Michigan Man to champion sustainability in partnership with Auburn University Athletics.

Mike Kensler, Auburn’s Director of the Office of Sustainability, grew up on the streams and rivers of the Great Lake State, developing a lifelong appreciation of the outdoors.

Education and life experiences helped Mike appreciate the importance of economic, social, and individual wellbeing aspects of sustainability. He earned Bachelors and Masters degrees at the University of Michigan, the latter a sustainability-focused program in the School of Natural Resources.

After stints at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and National Wildlife Foundation, Kensler joined Auburn University— located 110 miles southeast of Birmingham on the plains of eastern Alabama — in 2008, where he worked on water policy and water education issues for three years. He became sustainability director in 2011.

 

Mike Kensler in canoe on 5milecreek

Mike Kensler, canoeing on Five Mile Creek in Alabama (Photo credit: Beth Maynor Young)

 

He arrived at a school where sustainability already enjoyed a high profile.

“A number of sustainability initiatives were already underway, including a minor in sustainability studies. The university President had committed Auburn to be carbon neutral by 2050 as a result of strong student support,” Kensler recalled. “The sustainability office reports to the President’s Chief of Staff,  which signals the importance of sustainability to Auburn University.”

Since then, Auburn has moved forward on a number of green fronts.

“Probably the biggest thing was Auburn’s commitment, in 2016, to only build LEED certified structures, at a minimum silver level,” recounted Kensler. “That was huge.” Another example is Tiger Dining, the school’s food service and a font of sustainable innovation.

Per Kensler, Tiger Dining’s Auburn Foods program “provides food grown by the Auburn family for the Auburn family, including an innovative aquaponics initiative in partnership with the School of Fisheries.” Responsible sourcing, waste minimization — including a ban on polystyrene, more sustainable transportation management and energy efficiency are hallmarks of Tiger Dining’s approach to sustainable management.

 

ATHLETICS JOINS AUBURN’S GREENING PARTY

Soon after Kensler joined the Auburn staff, he found an athletics department already on the sustainability train, and eager to do more.

“Jeff Steele, the Associate Athletics Director for Facilities, was dedicated to efficient operations, green cleaning, and improving recycling at our stadiums and arenas from the get-go,” Kensler recalled. “Auburn joined the Green Sports Alliance under the leadership of then-athletics director Jay Jacobs. He passed the sustainability baton to current AD Allan Greene, who is fully on board.”

The highlight of athletics’ greening initiatives, not surprisingly, takes place at 87,000-seat Jordan-Hare Stadium, home of Auburn Tigers football (Auburn fans also use “War Eagle!” as a battle cry and as a way to greet each other).

 

jordan hare

Auburn’s eagle flies into a full house at Jordan-Hare Stadium (Photo credit: auburn.edu)

 

The annual Green Game features student “Trash Talkers” roaming the tailgate areas, urging fans to recycle, a video on Auburn’s greening programs that runs in-game on the video board, and a Green-Sports focused column from Mike Kensler in the game program.

Beyond the Green Game, athletics’ sustainability initiatives, both current and those on the drawing board, include:

  • An energy efficiency campaign is underway at Auburn Arena, home of Tigers men’s and women’s basketball and women’s gymnastics. The Athletics Department reported $114,000 in annual savings and 1,800 metric tonnes of CO₂ equivalent in carbon savings in 2014 as a result of a variety of efficiency upgrades.
  • Water refilling stations at Jordan-Hare Stadium. “Fans can fill up their empty water bottles,” Kensler noted. “Which is a big deal because it gets really hot there, especially at September and October games.”
  • The installation of LED lighting at Plainsman Park, Auburn’s baseball stadium. Jordan-Hare (2019), the track stadium (2020), and Auburn Arena (2021) are next up.

Recycling at football had been going on since before Kensler arrived, with rates slowly improving (per Kensler, “we’re not near zero-waste…yet”). Composting — essential to getting to zero-waste — has been a challenge, one Auburn’s sustainability director is confident will be surmounted.

“We’ve talked about it for years,” acknowledged Kensler. “Students, faculty, and staff are all interested and Tiger Dining is committed to seeing composting happen. Recently we learned of an option that looks very promising. There are several hurdles to jump, but I’m telling you, COMPOSTING WILL HAPPEN and within the foreseeable future.”

 

AUBURN ATHLETES GO GREEN

Sustainability, already popular with the Auburn student body at large, is now finding advocates among student-athletes.

  • In May 2017, Auburn football players, coaches, and others traveled to the Dominican Republic where they built and distributed water filters and solar light packets to those in need.

 

auburn football 2017

Auburn football players Dontavius Russell and Daniel Carlson drain and assemble the filters before they are inserted into the buckets in the Dominican Republic in 2017 (Photo credit: auburn.edu)

 

  • Track athlete and current Peace Corps volunteer Kensley Defler, who graduated in 2018, was a 2-year intern with the sustainability office. .
  • Helen Ulrich, a sophomore journalism major on the women’s equestrian team^, earned her eco-athlete stripes by writing a story on the anti-plastic straw movement.

“I’m a huge animal lover,” enthused Ulrich. “So when I read a story about a turtle with a straw in its nose, I got angry. Then, when I visited cousins in California, I saw that some restaurants were going strawless. So I got curious. Then I noticed Starbucks was planning to get rid of its straws, I became even more interested. I noticed that our Wellness Kitchen had gone strawless. At first there was a lot anger — that’s because no one explained it. Once they put signage up that communicated that the new policy was enacted to help the environment, the anger vanished pretty much overnight. The equestrian team rallied around the policy immediately — hey, we’re animal lovers! The football players took a little while but they’re coming around.”

 

helen ulrich headshot

Helen Ulrich (Photo credit: Auburn University Athletics)

 

The Mooresville, NC native sees the strawless campaign as a green starting point for athletes and the student body more broadly: “Getting rid of straws can lead us to take on bigger environmental issues,” Ulrich said. “I can see plastic bags being a natural next step and then we can go bigger.”

 

helen ulrich auburn vs. ole miss ritz. mackenzie michaels

Helen Ulrich, aboard Ritz, competes for Auburn vs. Ole Miss (Photo credit: Mackenzie Michaels)

 

AUBURN FANS WOULD LIKELY REACT POSITIVELY TO CLIMATE CHANGE MESSAGING

According to a fascinating, county-by-county study on attitudes about global warming# conducted by the Yale Center on Climate Communication in August, residents of Lee County, Alabama — where Auburn is located — should be open to climate messaging from their beloved Tigers.

Yes, it is true that Lee County residents scored lower than the U.S. average on all 29 questions about global warming#. But those differences were, for the most part, small — or at least smaller than I thought they would be. And, on most questions, more than half of residents had positive attitudes about the existence of global warming and on the need for climate action:

  • 68 percent of Lee County residents think global warming is happening, only 2 percentage points below the U.S. average
  • 55 percent are worried about global warming, 6 points below the U.S. average
  • 83 percent believe the government should fund research into renewable energy sources, 2 points below the U.S. average
  • 63 percent say fossil fuel companies should be required to pay a carbon tax, 5 points below the U.S. average

So far, climate change has not been included in the messaging at Jordan-Hare Stadium during the annual Green Game. But, the attitudes of Lee County residents show that talking climate to fans should not be a major risk for the Auburn Athletics Department.

 

IT’S TIME FOR A GREEN “IRON BOWL”

For those GreenSportsBlog readers who don’t follow college sports, the Iron Bowl — the annual football game between Auburn and Alabama — is like the Yankees—Red Sox rivalry, times about 1,000. Watch “Roll Tide/War Eagle,” ESPN’s documentary on the in-state rivalry between the schools that are separated by 157 miles, and you’ll get the gist.

 

 

So how about channeling some of the intense energy generated by Alabama-Auburn towards a positive end — via a Green Iron Bowl? The 2019 edition will be played at Jordan-Hare on November 30 so there is time to make it happen.

“Auburn University has a Sustainability Policy which states, in part, that sustainability is a core institutional value to be integrated in to all aspects of the University,” Kensler said. “It is important and gratifying that Auburn Athletics, so much the public face of the University, is making tangible and visible progress toward sustainability – doing its part and setting an example for the Auburn family. Adding Green to an always Orange and Blue Iron Bowl would certainly be noticed! War Eagle!”

 

GSB’s Take: Auburn Athletics has demonstrated they are walking-the-green-walk. Now it’s time for the Athletics Department needs to push the Green-Sports envelope further by talking-the-green-talk directly with its fans, including on climate change. It says here that Tigers’ fan reactions will be more positive than expected — if not quite as positive as their reactions to Clemson 44 Alabama 16.

 

¹ The 14 SEC member schools are Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi, Mississippi State, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt
* Auburn’s sports teams are known as both the Tigers and War Eagles
^ Auburn is one of the few Division I schools in the U.S. to have an equestrian program — others include SEC rivals Georiga, South Carolina, and Texas A&M as well as Baylor.
# The Yale Center on Climate Communications study used “global warming” in its questions rather than “climate change”

 


 

 

Please comment below!
Email us: lew@greensportsblog.com
Friend us on Facebook: http://facebook.com/greensportsblog
Tweet us @GreenSportsBlog
#CoverGreenSports