The GSB Interview: Mark Davis; from NBA Hardwood to DC Solar-Preneur

Mark Davis is a member of two very exclusive clubs. He is one of about 3,200 people who have played in the NBA, and, with WDC Solar, he is one of an even smaller number of people who have started inner city solar companies. His dual goals? Put a dent in climate change and reduce urban unemployment.

GreenSportsBlog sat down with Mr. Davis to talk about his journey from being a rural Georgia farm boy to the NBA to installing solar panels on rooftops in the nation’s capital.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Mark, GreenSportsBlog is always on the lookout for eco-athletes so we are glad to have found you! How did you go from the NBA to building a solar company in Washington, D.C.?

Mark Davis: There were two main factors that may, on the surface, sound unrelated. First, my upbringing on a farm in Georgia in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and second, Barack Obama’s run for the White House in 2008. Let me explain. Growing up on that farm made me acutely aware of the environment, how it works, and how important it is to do what I can to protect it. Now, fast forward to 2008. I had been retired from pro basketball for about 10 years by then. I had been working in real estate and software businesses, but was looking for something else. I was very excited about Senator Obama’s presidential campaign and was particularly inspired by his advocacy of renewables as part of his overall clean energy plan.

GSB: What did that inspiration lead to?

Mark: I started to ask about and study the clean energy markets. Talked to a friend from Nepal who was involved with the hydropower business over there. I traveled to Northern California to see the solar market up close and took a course about the solar business. I created a business plan and, even more importantly, found the right business climate in which to launch a solar company to give myself the best chance of success.

 

Mark Davis Sierra Magazine Jonathan Timmes

Mark Davis, founder of WDC Solar (Photo credit: Jonathan Timmes, Sierra Magazine)

 

GSB: What do you mean by “right business climate”?

Mark: There were some aspects of a good business climate for solar when President Obama took office in 2009. For example, the federal stimulus program included funding for solar. But that wasn’t enough. And, at that time, incentives were not in place at the local, Washington D.C. level for solar and other renewables…

GSB: …and the prices for solar panels were much higher then than they are now.

Mark: …Yes, by a wide margin. We weren’t anywhere close to grid parity at that time. So what did we local D.C. installers do? The birth of a new industry doesn’t just happen. We did our homework and found that rebates and other incentives would be needed to allow solar to compete on a price basis with fossil fuel generated power provided by the utility. We lobbied local D.C. politicians and civic groups to promote legislation that put incentives in place that eliminated the boom-bust cycles that were the hallmark of the solar industry back then. Eventually, the city council and mayor joined our side.

GSB: Sounds like a lot of work!

Mark: It took a ton of homework and legwork, but it had to be done.

GSB: What happened next?

Mark: Once the legislation was in place and we were confident there would be a market for solar in D.C., we launched WDC Solar. But our approach to sustainability was not purely environmental. We also established the company to provide sustainable employment for young men and women who desperately needed it.

 

GSB: How did you do that?

Mark: We launched a training program that would teach young folks to be solar practitioners, which provided a pathway to employment at no cost to them.

 

Solar Trainees WDC Solar

WDC Solar installation trainees learning their trade (Photo credit: WDC Solar)

 

GSB: Incredible! How did you fund this? Through angel investors and/or venture capital?

Mark: We bootstrapped it.

GSB: Meaning that you invested your own money for those unfamiliar to the startup scene…

Mark: That’s right. That’s how we were able to get the solar training program up and running.

GSB: Impressive. And then how did you get solar panels installed on people’s homes?

Mark: Well, at first, back in 2012-13, we worked with the DC Sustainable Energy Utility to transfer the solar rebates, tax credits and solar renewable energy credits (SRECs) to private equity investors, so solar panels could be installed on the roofs at no cost to low-income homeowners. The low-income families owned the energy produced by the panels. They had to pay for any electricity they used over and above what the panels produced which became a major incentive for the homeowners to become more energy efficient.

GSB: How did that work?

Mark: Very well in most cases. I’ll never forget it when one of my customers told me he had a monthly electric bill of 56 cents!

GSB: 56 cents???

Mark: He couldn’t believe it. couldn’t believe it! I’ll tell you, our customers have been just so thankful; it’s been a blessing to be able to help people. Another great outgrowth of our business was that many of our early trainees used that experience to get better jobs, thanks to a program with the District’s Department of Employment Services.

GSB: Talk about a blessing…So is WDC Solar only involved with residential customers?

Mark: We started with small-scale residential jobs; I’m talking 3-4 kW. Then, we got involved with bigger jobs when the District put out a request for proposal (RFP) to put solar on public school roofs. The RFP was for installations totaling 12 megawatts. We were fortunate to work on a portion of that portfolio. We also were involved with some commercial and utility-scale jobs, thanks to a partnership with Standard Solar. Our “sweet spot”, however, still remains low-income residential at this point.

GSB: Have you expanded beyond Washington, DC?

Mark: It’s been slow because in places like Maryland, the SREC prices aren’t so great. But with the price of solar panels coming down, the SRECS are becoming less important and that makes it is easier for us to go to other jurisdictions. Heck, when you and I first spoke, I was on the roof at Chevy Chase Baptist Church, just across the street from Maryland, helping to install a 100 kW system. Currently, we’re looking at opportunities in Atlanta and Chicago, but both are a bit complicated right now. One thing is certain: We only go into a market where we can create jobs for the local community.

GSB: I love the “solar plus jobs” business model. It just makes so much sense! Has WDC Solar worked on any sports venues?

Mark: We partnered with New Columbia Solar to provide installers to the Audi Field project, the brand new home of D.C. United in Major League Soccer (MLS).

 

Audi Field Solar

Artist’s rendering of the solar installation on the roof of Audi Field, the recently-opened home of DC United (Credit: New Columbia Solar)

 

GSB: I’ve heard great things about Audi Field; I need to get there soon. Sticking with sports GSB is constantly on the lookout for eco-athletes like yourself who could have a great effect on fans. Why haven’t we seen more eco-athletes and what can we do to change that?

Mark: That’s a complicated question. I think a big part of it is that it is so difficult, from a communications perspective, for many folks to connect extreme weather to the global, long-term climate change problem. The perception among many is that climate change is coming on slowly, that it is not a problem for today and that solutions are a century or more away. On the other hand, so the argument goes, there are clear and present dangers right now like police brutality against people of color and the opioid crisis that need more attention.

GSB: I couldn’t have said it better myself. So if that’s the case, how do we fight back?

Mark: Athletes and ex-athletes who work with people of color — WE have to be the agents of change! We need athletes to help us emphasize the massive economic benefits that will come to those who help solve the many climate-related crises. I see it starting to occur here — installing solar on your roof is definitely a statement of self-empowerment.

GSB: So which athletes can we get? How about LeBron James?? Nothing like aiming high, I always say!

Mark: LeBron James will be tough right out of the box. I think we should go for some great elder statesmen of sports who are also involved in renewables. In particular, I’m thinking of Bernard King, member of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, who has worked on climate change issues and in the solar business. Also Dusty Baker, the Washington Nationals’ manager has a solar company. Another idea I have is to create a celebrity golf tournament dedicated to raising money to combat the climate crisis. Basketball players and other pro athletes love golf and this way we can highlight and communicate the urgency of solving the climate crisis in a collegial atmosphere. What do you think?

GSB: LOVE IT! Forget LeBron; let’s get serious and line up NBA superstar and scratch golfer and Brita water filter endorser Steph Curry in the mix! We must make this happen.

Mark: Hey, we’re in the “let’s make the impossible happen business”. I’m in!

 

Obama-Davis 2

Mark Davis with President Obama at the 2016 State of the Union address (Photo credit: The White House)

 


 

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#CoverGreenSports

Vestas 11th Hour Racing Going For Unheard of Triple: Win the Volvo Ocean Race; Go Zero-Waste In the Process; Elevate Public Interest in Ocean Health, Climate Change

THIS STORY IS AN UPDATE OF A PIECE THAT FIRST APPEARED IN SUSTAINABLE BRANDS ON JANUARY 2, 2018

Vestas 11th Hour Racing’s team director Mark Towill and skipper Charlie Enright take on challenges the way most people layer cold cuts; one on top of the other. The duo and their team are 1) one of seven squads trying to win the Around the World Volvo Ocean Race, a nine-month sailing slog, over 45,000 nautical miles, in all sorts of weather; 2) doing so while being the most sustainable team in the race; and 3) working to increase public awareness, concern and action on behalf of ocean health.

No problem, right?

Perhaps the main reason they have a chance to succeed on all three counts is the unique collaboration between sport (Towill and Enright), business (Vestas, the largest wind turbine maker in the world) and philanthropy (11th Hour Racing, an organization that promotes ocean health via the sponsorship of elite sailing teams).

 

A LIFELONG INTEREST IN OCEAN HEALTH; A DESIRE TO COMPETE IN THE PINNACLE OF OPEN OCEAN SAILING RACING

For Mark Towill, concern about ocean health goes back to childhood. “I saw significant amounts of marine debris up close, growing up on the water in Hawai’i,” said the team director of Vestas 11th Hour Racing, one of seven sailing squads competing to win the Volvo Ocean Race.

Towill attended Honolulu’s Punahou High School, alma mater of Barack Obama. In his senior year, he met environmentally minded Rhode Island native Charlie Enright during filming of the documentary “Morning Light,” produced by Roy Disney, in which young sailors competed in the TransPac Race from Los Angeles to Honolulu.

 

Vestas 11th Hour Racing crew portrait. Mark Towill

 

Vestas 11th Hour Racing crew portrait. Charlie Enright

Vestas 11th Hour Racing team director Mark Towill (top) and skipper Charlie Enright (Credit for both photos: Ainhoa Sanchez/Volvo Ocean Race)

 

The duo sailed for Brown’s nationally ranked team in the mid-2000s; it was at the Providence, RI university that Towill and Enright hatched their dream of leading a team in the Volvo Ocean Race, the pinnacle of open ocean racing. Making that dream a reality costs serious money — upwards of $20 million — but only a few years after Enright graduated in 2008, the business majors (Towill also majored in environmental science) set out to raise the money to fund a boat for the 2014-15 race.

Surprisingly to many in the sailing world, a three-year effort to find a major sponsor bore fruit when Alvimedica, a new Turkish medical equipment manufacturer, signed on.

 

SEEING OCEAN WASTE AND EFFECTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE DURING 2014-15 VOLVO OCEAN RACE

Towill’s and Enright’s first trip around the world was peppered by a substantial amount of ocean waste.

“The amount of marine debris we encountered was truly astonishing,” marveled Charlie Enright. “We expected to see plenty of ‘leakage’ — all sorts of materials from container ships that would fall into the ocean — and we did. But the old refrigerators, air conditioners and tires we saw floating around in the middle of the ocean — they didn’t fall off of ships. The waste was so thick, it looked like you could walk in some parts of the waters between Malaysia and Indonesia, thanks to the lax dumping regulations.”

As one might expect, the ocean waste occasionally slowed Team Alvimedica’s progress. “It hindered our performance, big time. Sometimes, when the boat would slow down, we would send someone overboard to go underwater and take the stuff off,” offered Enright. “Of course, it wasn’t only our boat that had to deal with this problem; it affected everyone in the race.”

They also observed the effects of climate change up close. “One way we saw this was through ‘ice gates,’ which are established for safety reasons by race organizers to represent the northernmost and southernmost latitudes beyond which the boats cannot safely sail,” explained Enright. “Because of climate change, icebergs are floating further south from the Arctic regions and further north from the Antarctic. That meant that, for example, the Cape Town to Melbourne leg’s Antarctic ice gates were pushed further north for the 2014-15 Volvo Ocean Race than they would have been in prior years.”

Even before Team Alvimedica’s fifth place finish in their maiden 2014-15 voyage, Towill and Enright began planning for the race’s 2017-18 edition.

The pair had worked with a sustainability consultant to determine the environmental impact of their 2014-15 journey, establishing a baseline for the next go-round. More importantly, it says here, they made a commitment that improving ocean health as well as fighting climate change would be core values for both the team as well as prospective sponsors. Their goals were, of course, modest: Just win the 2017-18 Volvo Ocean Race and be, as Towill put it, “the [event’s] most sustainable team.”

 

Leg Zero, Prologue start round the corner on-board Vestas 11th Hour, light breeze downwind. Photo by Martin Keruzore/Volvo Ocean Race. 08 October, 2017

Vestas 11th Hour Racing aims to win the 2017-2018 Volvo Ocean Race, be the event’s most sustainable team, and, in the process, increase public awareness, concern and action on behalf of ocean health (Photo credit: Martin Keruzore/Volvo Ocean Race)

 

With that dual mission firmly in place, it is highly doubtful that the team director and skipper could have found a better title partner pairing than Vestas and 11th Hour Racing.

 

VESTAS: PARTNERSHIP WITH TOWILL/ENRIGHT, 11TH HOUR RACING AND VOLVO OCEAN RACE IS A PERFECT FIT

To Magnus Bach, senior director of global marketing at Aarhus, Denmark-based Vestas, the world’s largest wind turbine manufacturer, co-sponsoring Towill and Enright’s team with 11th Hour Racing, a program of The Schmidt Family Foundation focused on ocean health, was a perfect storm of sorts: “We see ourselves as the ‘above the water surface’ sustainability partner with our focus on wind energy and climate solutions. Meanwhile, 11th Hour Racing brings its ‘below the surface’ expertise on ocean waste and ocean health.”

 

Magnus Bach

Magnus Bach, senior director of global marketing at Vestas (Photo credit: Magnus Bach)

 

Bach says the relationship between Vestas, Towill/Enright and 11th Hour Racing came about thanks to the matchmaking skills of Volvo Ocean Race executives: “Having sponsored a team in the 2014-15 cycle, we knew the ropes a bit. Our goal in 2017-18 was to partner with a team that would make a serious, long-term commitment to sustainability and to the climate change fight; we were not interested in a one-off. Knowing this, our friends at the Volvo Ocean Race introduced us to Mark and Charlie in December 2016. From there, the relationship between us, the guys and 11th Hour Racing crystallized quickly and we announced our joint partnership in March.”

The strategic and technical fit between Vestas and sailing could not be tighter and is a prime reason the company also serves as the Data Analytics Partner of the race itself.  Bach noted Vestas “is in the business of harvesting wind and so, of course, is sailing. And think about this: the aerodynamics of a hull is somewhat similar to that of a wind blade; in fact many of its engineers have worked in both sailing and the wind business. Vestas also has the biggest climate library in the world — the amount of data in the wind business is staggering — which the sailors use to help with navigation.”

Sponsoring the team and the race provides Vestas with unmatched business building opportunities. “We are a business-to-business company — we sell wind turbines and service solutions mostly to utility companies around the world — so doing a big, consumer-facing sponsorship with, for instance, a soccer team like Manchester United or Liverpool does not make sense for us,” asserted Bach. “The global nature of the race and the intimate nature of its stops provides us with powerful opportunities to entertain some of our existing partners along with new prospects, wherever they may be located. This makes the Volvo Ocean Race a stronger option for us than, say, the America’s Cup, which takes place in far fewer locales.”

 

11TH HOUR RACING: SAILING SPONSOR WITH A POSITIVE ENVIRONMENTAL PURPOSE 

When you think of a typical corporate sponsor of a sports team or event, what kind of company comes to mind? A car company? A beer brand, perhaps? No matter what category you chose, you know that companies spend substantial sums to put their products or services in front of their target audiences so they can sell more of those products or services.

Newport, RI-based 11th Hour Racing is not a corporation, and it is not selling a product or service.

Rather, the organization pays for the privilege of selling behavior change — positive environmental actions, primarily surrounding ocean health — to dual audiences: 1. World class sailing teams and, sometimes, the races in which they compete, and 2. The millions of sailing fans worldwide who follow the teams, and races.

How does 11th Hour Racing help close its “sale”? By acting as sustainability consultant — helping to develop sustainability plans — as well as a marketing and communications agency of sorts for the teams it sponsors in the world’s most widely followed sailing races.

They played this role for Land Rover BAR, the British entry in the 35th America’s Cup held in 2017. And, with a history of support for Towill and Enright, it’s not surprising they are doing the same as part of the Vestas 11th Hour Racing team. And, if that’s not enough, 11th Hour Racing is also providing sustainability consulting services to the 2017-18 Volvo Ocean Race as Founding Principal Sustainability Partner and Race Partner.

 

VESTAS 11TH HOUR RACING TEAM: A WORLD CLASS COLLABORATION

11th Hour Racing’s collaboration with Towill, Enright along with Vestas for the 2017-18 edition of the Volvo Ocean Race resulted in a comprehensive and groundbreaking sustainability, communications, legacy and reporting plan that put the team on a path to make good on its “most sustainable team in the race” pledge — and more. Sustainability and communications initiatives include:

Sustainability 

  • Calculating Vestas 11th Hour Racing’s carbon footprint by tracking all travel, accommodations, electricity usage, water consumption and waste. That footprint will be offset at race’s end.
  • Outfitting each team member with a “sustainability kit” containing refillable water bottle, coffee mug, bamboo toothbrushes, and much more. It also includes a personal water filter to ensure clean, safe drinking water.
  • Creating a positive plastic footprint by removing more trash from beach cleanups than they create during the race
  • Using a desalinator for on-board water needs, saving an estimated 13,500 one-liter water bottles
  • Achieving a 75 percent waste diversion rate
  • Wearing Karün sunglasses made from 100 percent recycled fishing nets and using Aethic sunblock, produced with a unique formula that does not harm coral reefs
  • Sourcing local, sustainable foods from the countries they visit
  • Following a Meatless Monday diet

 

Communications

  • Designing and operating Vestas 11th Hour Racing’s Exploration Zones at 10 of the 12 race stops. The Exploration Zone is a dedicated, immersive educational space where the public learns about renewable energy and ocean health through the prism of sailing’s most crucial elements; wind and water. From virtual reality goggles to interactive displays, the space drew thousands of people each day at the race’s first three stops (Alicante, Spain; Lisbon, Portugal, and Cape Town, South Africa). Visitors can also charge their phone using a grinder similar to the ones on board the race boat, and make their own public pledge for a sustainable future.
  • Raising awareness of the team’s vision of a cleaner, healthier environment at race stops and during the race via the Vestas 11th Hour Racing website, Social Media channels and the #LeadingSustainability hashtag

 

Video detailing the Vestas 11th Hour Racing “Exploration Zone” (1 min 6 sec)

 

Legacy

  • At each Volvo Ocean Race stopover, Vestas 11th Hour Racing will be meeting with a local non-profit to learn more about their environmental work.
  • 11th Hour Racing will be giving a $10,000 grant to each of these non-profits as part of the team’s mission to leave a lasting legacy beyond the race.

Grant recipients so far have been: Asociación De Naturalistas Del Sureste in Alicante, Spain; Circular Economy Portugal in Lisbon, Portugal; Environmental Monitoring Group in Cape Town, South Africa, and Take 3 (as in “take three pieces of rubbish with you when you leave the beach”) in Melbourne, Australia.

 

Reporting

  • 11th Hour Racing is using the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) template to monitor the team’s progress (or lack thereof) towards reaching its sustainability goals after each legs. A final sustainability report will be issued after the race ends.

 

YOU PLAY TO WIN THE RACE!

To paraphrase the famous 2002 rant of Herm Edwards, the preacher-like former head coach of the New York Jets (a woebegone American football team, for those unfamiliar with U.S. sports), ESPN commentator, and soon-to-be head man at Arizona State University, “You play to win the Volvo Ocean Race!!”

 

Former NY Jets head coach Herm Edwards’ now infamous 2002 “You Play to Win the Game” rant (37 seconds)…

 

Prologue on-board Vestas 11th Hour. Upwind heading to gibraltar. Photo by Martin Keruzore/Volvo Ocean Race. 10 October, 2017

…and the Vestas 11th Hour Racing team, “playing to win the race…while being its most sustainable team!” (Photo credit:

 

Winning would be a great boost for the awareness and impact of the Vestas 11th Hour Racing’s sustainability leadership.

Towill and Enright are, of course, all in on winning both the Volvo Ocean and sustainability races.

“Winning the race is of paramount importance and a massive challenge. Know that our team is up for it,” said Mark Towill. “Ocean health and climate change are also of paramount importance. That’s why we set out to be the most sustainable team in the Volvo Ocean Race. Thanks to Vestas and 11th Hour Racing, we’re on the way to achieving the environmental goals. As for the race, that’s on us!”

After winning the first leg from Alicante, Spain to Lisbon, Vestas 11th Hour Racing earned third place honors in both the second (Lisbon-Cape Town) and third (Cape Town-Melbourne) chapters. Thus the team left Melbourne tied for second place when the fourth leg set off on January 2 for Hong Kong, with expected arrival on January 19.

After Hong Kong, the race proceeds to Guangzhou (China) then back to Hong Kong. After that, it’s on to Auckland (New Zealand), Itajaí (Brazil), Newport (Rhode Island, USA), Cardiff (Wales), Gothenberg (Sweden), before finishing in The Hague (Netherlands) at the end of June.

 

 

 

To learn more about Vestas 11th Hour Racing: https://vestas11thhourracing.com/
To learn more about the Volvo Ocean Race: https://www.volvooceanrace.com/en/home.html

 


 

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President Trump Yanks Yanks Out of Paris Climate Agreement; Sports World Starts to Speak Out

President Trump yesterday announced he was pulling the United States out of the Paris Climate Agreement in a carefully staged White House Rose Garden event. Even before he finished speaking, leaders from the worlds of international and domestic politics—with the notable exceptions of Trump-world and many but not all Congressional Republicans^—business, and science made strongly worded statements of condemnation. Some corners of the sports world—in particular, green-sports groups like Sport and Sustainability International (SandSI) and Protect Our Winters (POW), also spoke out. Here are their statements, GreenSportsBlog’s take and more.

 

STATEMENTS FROM GREEN-SPORTS WORLD ON U.S. PULL OUT FROM PARIS CLIMATE AGREEMENT

 

Sport and Sustainability International (SandSI)

SandSI is a new global organization made up of sports federations, governing bodies and other parties, including individuals, from 6 continents and nearly thirty countries. It is designed to leverage the combined cultural and market influence of sports in support of healthy, sustainable and just communities.

“Sport and Sustainability International (SandSI) stands united with the global sports industry in support of international cooperation to address the serious threat of climate change, as enshrined in the Paris Agreement. SandSI deeply regrets the decision of the United States to withdraw from the Agreement, and will support all sports federations, leagues, teams, venues, and events in re-doubling efforts to mobilize operations, business partners and millions of fans in response to the urgent global threat posed by worsening climate change. SandSI supports united collective action. We urge all members of the global sports industry, and all fans alike to join Sport and Sustainability International’s work to respond to the increasingly dangerous threat that that climate change poses to current and especially future generations.”

 

SandSI Congress

Attendees at the inaugural Sport and Sustainability International Congress in Paris. (Photo credit: Sport and Sustainability International)

 

Sport and Sustainability International founding director Allen Hershkowitz’ gave his take on the U.S. exit to GreenSportsBlog Thursday. Click here to read it.

 

Protect Our Winters (POW)

Protect Our Winters (POW) is the leading climate advocacy group for the winter sports community, led by elite skiers, snowboarders and more. In response to Trump’s decision, POW encouraged their followers to take positive action.

 

Protect Our Winters

 

“Trump Bailed on Paris. What’s Next?”

“Today, Trump bailed on the Paris Agreement. With one over-hyped, fancy announcement, he told the nation he’s taking the United States out of the most monumental global climate agreement. We do not accept inaction on climate change. We are extremely disappointed in this decision.

Here at Protect Our Winters, we try very hard to find a silver lining in everything. We want you to have an opportunity to take positive action on every negative rollback. Fortunately, cities, states, and business leaders across the country have already initiated conversations about setting greenhouse gas reduction targets to mimic what was agreed upon in Paris at COP21. We’re really happy to hear this. And, we need you to call your governor and ask them to join this movement. If our federal government won’t do it, let’s ask our governors and mayors to step up.

As always, we made it easy for you. Enter your information to make the call below; we even wrote you a script. Thanks for helping us take action to move our nation forward, not backward, on climate change.”

 

I AM PRO SNOW

Staying in the winter sports world, I AM PRO SNOW (IAPS) brings together winter sports athletes, businesses, resorts, and mountain communities around the world to help stop climate change and shifting to 100 percent clean, renewable energy.

IAPS is a division of the Climate Reality Project, a group founded by Vice President Al Gore in 2006 to bring together a grass roots network of individuals from around the world to, according to its website, “turn climate change awareness into action” to “solve the greatest challenge of our time.”

FULL DISCLOSURE: I am a Climate Reality Leader, trained by Vice President Gore in 2012 to give presentations of an updated version of the “An Inconvenient Truth” slide show and have done so 30+ times.

IAPS did not put out its own statement on Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Agreement, but the Climate Reality Project put out a long, detailed, call-to-climate-change-fight arms statement. Click here for the link. Al Gore also put out this:

“Removing the United States from the Paris Agreement is a reckless and indefensible action. It undermines America’s standing in the world and threatens to damage humanity’s ability to solve the climate crisis in time. But make no mistake: if President Trump won’t lead, the American people will.

Civic leaders, mayors, governors, CEOs, investors and the majority of the business community will take up this challenge. We are in the middle of a clean energy revolution that no single person or group can stop. President Trump’s decision is profoundly in conflict with what the majority of Americans want from our president; but no matter what he does, we will ensure that our inevitable transition to a clean energy economy continues.”

 

Gore

Al Gore (Photo credit: Climate Reality Project)

 

President Barack Obama

Barack Obama was, without question, the United States’ first Green-Sports president. Obama:

Plus Obama, now 56, still has a smooth, left-handed jump shot.

 

obama-souza

President Obama, driving to the basket during a pickup game with White House staffers at Martha’s Vineyard in August, 2009. (Photo credit: The White House/Pete Souza, official photographer)

 

The first Green-Sports President has largely stayed silent since leaving office. But I guess watching his successor begin the process of unraveling one his administration’s most important accomplishments was too much for Obama to take so he issued this statement:

“A year and a half ago, the world came together in Paris around the first-ever global agreement to set the world on a low-carbon course and protect the world we leave to our children.

It was steady, principled American leadership on the world stage that made that achievement possible. It was bold American ambition that encouraged dozens of other nations to set their sights higher as well. And what made that leadership and ambition possible was America’s private innovation and public investment in growing industries like wind and solar — industries that created some of the fastest new streams of good-paying jobs in recent years, and contributed to the longest streak of job creation in our history.

Simply put, the private sector already chose a low-carbon future. And for the nations that committed themselves to that future, the Paris Agreement opened the floodgates for businesses, scientists, and engineers to unleash high-tech, low-carbon investment and innovation on an unprecedented scale.

The nations that remain in the Paris Agreement will be the nations that reap the benefits in jobs and industries created. I believe the United States of America should be at the front of the pack. But even in the absence of American leadership; even as this Administration joins a small handful of nations that reject the future; I’m confident that our states, cities, and businesses will step up and do even more to lead the way, and help protect for future generations the one planet we’ve got.”

 

GreenSportsBlog

I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiments expressed by SandSI, Allen Hershkowitz in yesterday’s interview, POW, Vice President Gore and President Obama about President Trump’s #AmericaLast decision to pull the U.S out of the Paris Climate Agreement.

As far as the sports world is concerned, I will be interested to see if/when U.S. pro sports leagues/college conferences, teams, owners and athletes speak up on the Paris Exit. I hope I am wrong but I think POW will be the exception and many will stay on the sidelines, citing the desire to stay out of politics. Given the way sports got involved in the North Carolina bathroom bill and other issues, if politics becomes the excuse for staying silent, it would seem to be a disingenuous one. But we shall see; perhaps the leagues and teams will step up. GreenSportsBlog asked the major U.S. pro sports leagues, the USTA and the PAC-12 for comment. So far, the NFL and the PAC-12 declined comment; we’re waiting to hear back from the rest. We will relay any statements we receive to you.

Finally, since this is GreenSportsBlog, I will use a sports analogy to make my our statement:

In the “Global Affairs, Global Emissions and the Global Economy” game, businesses, nonprofits and individuals are the players. In this case of the Paris Climate Agreement, 195 national governments are the referees, steering the action of the game. In this Climate World Cup, the U.S. has the best team (scientists, cleantech innovators, companies, nonprofits). The U.S also is the head referee, a crucial and, in terms of leadership of the 21st century global economy, advantageous position to be in.

At least it was until yesterday.

Now the U.S. has sidelined itself as a referee, joining Syria and Nicaragua on the sidelines.

To be sure, as Vice President Gore, President Obama and many others have said, U.S. companies, governors, and mayors, academics and others will continue to play the game. And, per Allen Hershkowitz, sports federations and governing bodies will do so as well. But having the federal government step away from its important role will hurt the U.S. economically and diplomatically. Thankfully, we’re in the early stages of this crucial global game and most fans in the U.S. (71 percent in one poll) want their country to stay on as referee. My bet? Sooner or later, continued pressure from fans and the players will bring the U.S. federal government back into the game. So keep the pressure on.

 

^ Republican House members who are part of the Climate Solutions Caucus, including Carlos Curbelo (FL) and Patrick Meehan (PA), spoke out strongly against the decision to take the U.S out of the Paris Climate Agreement.

 


 

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GSB News and Notes: LA Coliseum Goes Zero Waste; The Green(er) Aussie Open; Last Day in Office for First POTUS to Talk Green-Sports

A busy GSB News & Notes kicks off with the newly minted Zero-Waste Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (the Zero-Waste part is new; the Coliseum opened during the Harding Administration). Also greening is tennis’ first major championship, the Australian Open, now underway in Melbourne. And, finally, a brief send off from GreenSportsBlog to President Obama, the first POTUS to publicly talk about the importance of the intersection of Green + Sports, on his last full day in office.

 

LA COLISEUM GOES ZERO-WASTE

The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum is huge, both literally—it holds 93,607 for football— and in terms of its place in American and global sports history.

la-coliseum-usc-neil-leifer

The Los Angeles Coliseum, packed and jammed for USC-UCLA crosstown rivalry game in 2005 (Photo credit: Neil Leifer)

 

Just consider that the Coliseum:

  • Hosted the 1932 and 1984 Summer Olympics. If Los Angeles is chosen to host in 2024, the Coliseum will play a key role.
  • Was the landing place for the Los Angeles Dodgers when they moved west from Brooklyn in 1958 (until Dodger Stadium opened in 1962)
  • Hosted Super Bowl I in 1967
  • Is the home of USC Trojans football. UCLA shared the Coliseum with its crosstown rival from 1928-1981*.
  • Starting last season, is the temporary home for the NFL Rams after a 20 year hiatus in St. Louis. The club will move to the gaudily-named City Of Champions Stadium—for the 2019 campaign#.

And, as of 2016, this west coast sports mecca became a Zero-Waste facility—the second-largest such stadium in college football and the largest in the NFL. 

“We’re proud to be a part of a program such as the Zero Waste Initiative at the Coliseum. This is an opportunity for USC Athletics and our fans to lead the way in terms of taking ownership of our environmental impact on game days,” said USC Athletic Director Lynn Swann. “Our university, fans and alumni should be proud of the success of this program.”

“A large part of making our communities a better place includes making as little an impact on the environment as possible,” said Molly Higgins, the Rams’ vice president of community affairs and engagement.

The Zero Waste program diverted over 400,000 pounds of waste over the season. It took a 3-step effort between fans (who first sorted waste into bins), a crew of 80-100 custodial and sustainability staff (who further sorted the waste), and Athens Services, the Coliseum’s recycling partner, to make the grade. 

usc-recycle

Recycling bin outside of the LA Coliseum on USC game day (Photo credit: USCTrojans.com)

 

 

Corporate green-sports stalwarts BASF and EcoSafe added their waste management expertise as partners of the Coliseum’s Zero-Waste efforts. They were joined by Legends Hospitality (sustainable catering), ABM Janitorial Services (green cleaning), and Waxie (sustainable sanitary supply). 

THE GREEN(ER) AUSTRALIAN OPEN

The team responsible for sustainability at the Australian Open—Tennis Australia (governing body of tennis in Australia), Melbourne & Olympic Parks (host facility of the Australian Open), and the State of Victoria—is in the midst of a 15 year, $AUD700 million redevelopment project with the goal to establish Melbourne & Olympic Park as “one of the most sustainable sports and entertainment venues in the world.”

About a year ago, GreenSportsBlog gave the Australian Open “Green Team” high marks for their on-site sustainability efforts but saw room for improvement in 2016 in terms of fan engagement and awareness of their sustainability good works.

How did they make out?

Thanks to a fine case study from the Sports Environment Alliance (SEA, Australia’s version of the Green Sports Alliance), it looks like the Tennis Australia and the Australian Open continued its strong greening performance on site but the fan engagement portion still rates an “Incomplete” grade. The Tennis Australia Green Team:

  • Continued its decrease in water usage. The effort, which started in 2008, has now reached 25 percent, in part by:
    • Irrigating Melbourne Park with recycled water thanks to large underground water tanks installed onsite.
    • Switching irrigation systems from overhead spray to drip and sub surface.
    • Installing above ground water tanks at Hisense Arena with 550,000-liter capacity to use rainwater for washing courts, stadiums and irrigation.
  • Invested in smart solar powered lighting 

  • Converted 100% of takeaway food packaging to recyclable materials
  • Ensured all seafood is served according to Australia’s Marine Conservation Society’s Seafood Watch “avoid list”

  • Added state-of-the-art roof coatings that reflect 70 percent of the sun’s heat, keeping buildings cooler on the many very hot days that often plague the tournament.

 

aus-open-infographic

Infographic detailing Australian Open/Tennis Australia’s greening efforts from Sports Environment Alliance

 

Tennis Australia still needs to better communicate the existence and benefits of the green initiatives to fans. This last point is echoed in the SEA case study: “Australian Open organizers know all about these greening efforts, however there remains a need to engage” the 700,000+ fans expected to attend the tournament about the greening efforts. I would add that fans watching on TV and online also need to be made aware that the Australian Open is a leader of the Green-Sports movement.

 

LAST DAY IN OFFICE FOR FIRST POTUS TO TALK GREEN-SPORTS

Today is the last full day in office for Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States. It is not at all a stretch to say he was the first Climate Change President:  Obama, mainly through executive actions, authored more stringent fuel economy standards for automobiles; enacted the Clean Power Plan, which is leading to a reduction in carbon emissions; signed a meaningful carbon emissions deal with China, and led the effort that resulted in the Paris Climate Accord, signed by 195 countries. He also is the first POTUS ever to publish a peer reviewed journal article,“The Irreversible Momentum of Clean Energy,” appearing in Science.

Obama, a serious sports fan and, at 55, still a competitive basketball player, was also the first POTUS to publicly discuss the power of the intersection of Green + Sports. GreenSportsBlog chronicled Obama’s and his administration’s dives into Green-Sports, from Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz speaking to the 2015 Green Sports Alliance Summit to the White House Sports-Climate Change Roundtables to POTUS’ mention of the NHL’s and the Pittsburgh Penguins’ commitment to sustainability (“we wanna continue to have ice so that we can play hockey”) at the latter’s White House ceremony celebrating its 2016 Stanley Cup win.

President Obama talks Green-Sports at the October 2016 ceremony honoring the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins (Green-Sports section of the talk starts at 6:41 mark of the video).

As Vice President Joe Biden so eloquently put it after Congress passed the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) in 2010, Obama’s Green-Sports forays were “big BLEEPING deals” for the movement. Because, while the sports world has done incredible work greening the games themselves over a very short time span (the Obama presidency began before the Green Sports Alliance was launched), it has a long way to go as far as generating fan awareness of, and interest in said greening is concerned. A President talking about Green-Sports automatically generates both.

Obama used sports to promote social causes beyond Green-Sports. Has there ever been a POTUS who embodied Nelson Mandela’s “Sport can change the world!” ethos more than the 44th President? I think not. Among other things, Obama:

And, it seems likely that the first black President was a key catalyst for the recent expressions of social conscience by African American athletes. That’s one of the points made in “Obama’s Basketball Jones Connected Him to Hoopheads Everywhere” by Mike Wise^. His STOP WHAT YOU’RE DOING RIGHT NOW AND READ THIS column appears in the January 17 issue of ESPN’s The Undefeateda website that explores “the intersections of race, sports and culture.”

obama-souza

President Obama, driving to the basket during a pickup game with White House staffers at Martha’s Vineyard in August, 2009. (Photo credit: The White House/Pete Souza, official photographer)

 

Will President Trump link sports and social causes? If so, which causes will he pursue? It is safe to assume that Green-Sports will not be a high priority for the 45th President. But that’s a discussion for another day.

For now, I say a heartfelt thank you to President Obama for his service, leadership (especially on climate change), integrity and dignity.

* UCLA has called the Rose Bowl home since 1982.
# The Rams will be joined by the San Diego (now Los Angeles) Chargers.
^ Wise cited a June 6 piece in The Undefeated by colleague L.Z. Granderson, “Will Current NBA Stars #staywoke After Obama Leaves Office?”, as the source for his linkage of the activism of African American athletes and President Obama.

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What 2 Watch 4 in Green-Sports in 2017

Happy New Year to you, GreenSportsBlog readers! Thank you for your comments, suggestions and consistent support throughout 2016; keep ’em coming in 2017. Speaking of 2017, the climate change fight is facing some stiff headwinds in the US that were unexpected as recently as November 7, 2016. How will the increasingly high profile Green-Sports world react? With that in mind, let’s take a look at “What 2 Watch 4” in Green-Sports in 2017.

 

January 20: Inauguration of Donald J. Trump as 45th President of the United States; Washington, DC.

What a difference a POTUS can make in Green-Sports.

Barack Obama was the first US president to engage in Green-Sports. He publicly praised the Pittsburgh Penguins for their greening initiatives at a White House ceremony in October and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) hosted Green-Sports roundtables on his watch.

potus

President Obama lauds the Pittsburgh Penguins and the NHL for their sustainability leadership at the White House in October, 2016. (Photo credit: TMZ)

 

His successor, Donald J. Trump, is a climate change skeptic/denier who has nominated a climate change denier as EPA Administrator and promises to remove the United States from the landmark Paris Climate Agreement.

How will the Green-Sports world react to President Trump? With the US government expected to pull back from the climate change fight, the private sector and the general public will need to, pardon the pun, pick up the green ball and run with it harder and faster than before. This is a great opportunity for leaders at the intersection of Green + Sports (commissioners, teams, sponsors, eco-athletes, non-profits) to play a pivotal role in accelerating the impetus for positive climate action.

 

 

February 7: Super Bowl LI; Houston, TX

What a difference a year makes in terms of the greenness of the Super Bowl Host Committee.

At this point last year, we were wondering whether The Bay Area Super Bowl 50 Host Committee would make good on its audacious promise to deliver “the greenest Super Bowl ever.” The answer, for the most part, was a resounding yes. Here are just a few of the Committee’s many sustainability accomplishments at Super Bowl City in San Francisco (the 9-day festival ahead of the game) and at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara:

  • Ensured, working with regional transportation agencies, there was ample public transit during Super Bowl week. Gate Ferry ridership during Super Bowl Week increased by 81 percent vs. 2015.
  • Partnered with the San Francisco Bike Coalition to establish a bike valet at Super Bowl City for the entire 9-day activation.
  • Sold tickets to a ‘Fan Express’ charter bus system for transport to Levi’s Stadium on Super Bowl Sunday from pick-up points throughout the Bay Area. The buses, from Google’s fleet, ran on Neste NEXBTL renewable diesel and removed approximately 2,000 cars from the road on Super Bowl Sunday.
  • Worked with PG&E, the Official Clean Energy Partner, to run Super Bowl City on clean, temporary power. 91% of temporary power in Super Bowl City was supplied by Neste NEXBTL renewable diesel generators, which reduced emissions and improved air quality.
  • Engaged master food concessionaire Legends to serve locally-sourced (within 75 miles) and/or organic food in Super Bowl City.
  • Free water stations were provided by U.S. Pure Water and FloWater. FloWater estimated it diverted 14,580 single use plastic bottles from landfill.

Click here for more details.

The hope was that the Houston Super Bowl LI Host Committee would, pardon the pun, take the sustainability baton from the Bay Area folks and run with it.

This appears not to be the case.

Yes, the Houston Host Committee is working closely with the NFL Environmental team as part of the NFL’s Super Bowl LI Environmental efforts. This is a continuation of the league’s 15+ year Super Bowl greening program. In Houston, the NFL is offsetting the energy consumed at the game; the league, Host Committee, Houston Texans and Verizon are helping to plant trees.

The NFL, Houston Super Bowl Committee, Verizon and the Houston Texans team up to plan trees in advance of Super Bowl LI.

 

But, with the maturing of Green-Sports, these actions, welcome though they are, seem like the “cost of doing green business.” It is up to local Host Committees to make their Super Bowls beacons for environmental action. The Bay Area Super Bowl 50 Host Committee showed future Host Committees the way. The Houston Host Committee, unfortunately, chose not to take that baton.

Of course Houston, capital of the US oil industry, is not the eco-hub that the Bay Area is. In many precincts of the Lone Star State, climate change denial and/or skepticism is alive and well. Expecting Houston to match or surpass Super Bowl 50’s greenness was probably a stretch.
Yet, amidst the oil, Houston and Texas have a strong sustainability heritage to build upon.
That Houston Super Bowl Committee chose not to celebrate this, it says here, is an opportunity missed.

So it’s “Wait ‘Til Next Year” for Host Committee greening as we soon turn our attention to Minnesota, the Vikings  and US Bank Stadium in advance of Super Bowl LII next February.

 

February 22-23: Sustainable Innovation in Sport Conference; Munich, Germany

Following a successful launch at the historic COP21 Climate Change Conference in Paris in late 2015, Sustainable Innovation in Sport will convene for a second time, bringing together an international lineup of Green-Sports leaders and influencers to discuss how best to accelerate the pace of positive environmental impacts via sport.

A sampling of confirmed speakers includes Vivianne Fraisse, Head of Sustainable Development at Roland Garros/French Open, Michelle Lemaitre, Head of Sustainability at the International Olympic Committee (IOC); Frederik Lindgren, Head of Corporate Sustainability for the European PGA Tour, and Norman Vossschulte, Director of Guest Experience with the Philadelphia Eagles.

 

June 3: UEFA Champions League Final, Principality Stadium; Cardiff, Wales

The European Champions League, comprised of the best soccer clubs across the continent and the British Isles, is a 32 team competition running from September to June. The Sweet 16 commences in February with the likes of Arsenal, Bayern Munich, Barcelona, and Real Madrid battling to make it to the Super Bowl of Club Soccer at 74,500 seat Principality Stadium (formerly known as Millennium Stadium) in Cardiff, Wales.

millennium-stadium

Principality Stadium in Cardiff, Wales; site of the 2017 UEFA Champions League final. (Photo credit: Footballtripper.com)

 

The first Champions League final to be played in Wales will take place in Great Britain’s first ISO 2012-1 (standard for sustainable events) certified stadium and, according edie.net, a leading British sustainability-focused market research firm, one of the six greenest stadiums in the world. This is quite remarkable since Principality Stadium is not new—it opened in 1999—and was built without sustainability in mind. But things changed dramatically in 2010 when stadium owners announced their intention to significantly green operations.

  • Recycling and especially composting were far from standard operating procedure at British sporting facilities in 2010. Yet by 2012, Principality Stadium diverted 98.4 percent of its waste from landfill.
  • LED lighting and smart grid electronic systems were installed, along with water controls, leading to meaningful reductions in carbon emissions and water usage.
  • Further carbon emissions ensued as sustainability was imbued into the stadium’s supply chain processes.

 

June 27-29: Green Sports Alliance Summit; Sacramento, CA

The seventh Green Sports Alliance Summit will be held at Golden1 Center, the new, LEED Platinum home of the Sacramento Kings, recently named GreenSportsBlog’s Greenest New Arena of 2016.

The theme for Summit 2017 is Play Greener: Engaging Fans, Athletes & Communities. 

GSA is certainly on the right track here: The Green-Sports Movement needs more eco-athletes to speak out on behalf of positive environmental action and the climate change fight. Doing so will draw many more fans and communities to the cause.

To quickly maximize awareness of and interest in Green-Sports among fans, there is one constituency that needs to be added to the Play Greener lineup.

The Media.

There is a mutually beneficial, (Green-Sports) Movement-Media tango to be danced here.

The Movement needs the Media (sports, green, business and mass): Unless the many great Green-Sports stories told at the GSA and elsewhere are exposed to the broad audience of sports fans and thought leaders through the media megaphone, it will be difficult for the Movement to grow far beyond its current niche.

The Media needs the Movement: Actually, what the media really needs is eyeballs. And a fast-maturing Green-Sports Movement (climate change montage was featured at the Rio Olympics opening ceremonies, LEED certified stadiums are expected, etc., etc.) has plenty of inspiring, forward looking content to attract lots of eyeballs.

 

 

Late June-Early July: Mercedes-Benz Stadium Opens, new home of the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United F.C.

The Atlanta Falcons, thanks to having the second best record in the NFC, are enjoying a week of rest before their playoff run to a potential Super Bowl LI berth begins.

Rest is not something Scott Jenkins is getting much of these days.

Jenkins is General Manager of Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the new LEED Platinum home of the Falcons and MLS expansion club Atlanta United F.C. that is set to open in late June or early July. It will be the first LEED Platinum stadium in the world (the aforementioned Golden1 Center in Sacramento is the first LEED platinum arena.) He also serves as Chairman of the Board of the Green Sports Alliance.

Scott Jenkins

Scott Jenkins, General Manager of Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the future home of the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United FC, scheduled to open in 2017. (Photo credit: Mercedes-Benz Stadium)

 

Jenkins is implementing Falcons/Atlanta United F.C. owner Arthur Blank’s vision of top flight environmental performance in comprehensive fashion:

  • Light: The LED lighting system will use 60% less electricity than the metal halides at Georgia Dome, the Falcons current home. Abundant natural light will enter the concourses through energy efficient, floor-to-ceiling glass. The Oculus-style (think camera lens) retractable roof, the signature feature of Mercedes-Benz Stadium, will, when open, also maximize natural light.

Open Roof Aerial 08.18.15 (1)

Artist’s rendering of the open “oculus” roof of Mercedes-Benz Stadium. (Photo credit: Mercedes-Benz Stadium)

 

  • On-site Renewables: Solar panels on top of the garage nearest the stadium will, among other things, power charging stations that provide juice for EVs parked below.
  • Green Space: The Georgia Dome will be demolished; in its place will be new, grassy open space for tailgating and non-game day community use.
  • Rainwater Collection: Rainwater will be collected and used for irrigation and cooling towers.
  • Food: Farm-to-table and organic offerings will be available throughout the building.
  • Mass Transit: The stadium will be served by 2 MARTA light rail stops.

 

September 13: 2024 Summer Olympics Host City Announced; Lima, Peru

Three cities remain in the bidding to host the 2024 Summer Olympics: Budapest, Los Angeles, and Paris. Paris, which hosted in 1900 and 1924 and lost out on bids in 1992, 2008 and 2012, is the betting favorite, with current odds from British online bookmaker NicerOdds.com standing at 1.6 to 1. Los Angeles, which hosted the 1932 and 1984 summer games, is 2.75 to 1. First time bidder is the long shot at 8 to 1.

With sustainability (environmental, social and financial) now deeply codified in the Olympic bid process through a series of reforms passed by the IOC known as Agenda 2020, all of the bids have green elements that would have been unimaginable 12-16 years ago:
  • The Budapest bid’s compactness stands out: Most of the events would take place within seven clusters within the city proper along the Danube. Access by boat, metro and bus will be augmented by Active Route Network (ARN), an innovative bike share program. Five of the seven clusters can be reached from the city center by bicycle in 20 minutes or less.
  • Sustainability is, arguably the Los Angeles bid’s centerpiece. Every event will be contested in an existing or temporary facility. From the Rose Bowl to the Staples Center, from the new Rams stadium to the Coliseum, the sports infrastructure is there. The Olympic Village will use existing housing.
  • The Paris 2024 committee sees the city’s status as a global sustainability leader as a major plus. After all, the 2015 global climate pact signed in The City of Lights by 195 countries is known as the Paris Agreement. And, as reported by GamesBids.com, since the signing of the agreement, Paris 2024 has launched several major green initiatives, including “700 charging stations for electric cars, the regeneration of 55,000 square meters of urban land in the [city centre] to be converted into green space, the pedestrianization of 3.3 km of the right bank of the River Seine, a promenade for walking, jogging and cycling, creating an environmental charter implemented at major events such as the EURO 2016 football championships.”

Tough choice.

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