The GSB Interview: Lauren Tracy, Leading the USTA Efforts to Green the US Open

The US Open, New York City’s two-week late summer tennis fest that draws over 800,000 people, has been at the forefront of sustainable mega-sports events for over a decade. Lauren Tracy, the US Tennis Association’s (USTA’s) Director of Strategic Initiatives, has been involved with their greening efforts since its early years. GreenSportsBlog chatted with Tracy about the USTA’s sustainability history, how the US Open made out from a green perspective in 2018, and what to watch for going forward.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Lauren, as a mediocre but avid tennis player, I have a particular fondness for the USTA’s greening efforts, especially at the US Open. So I’m excited to talk with you about all of this. How did you get involved?

Lauren Tracy: I’m not a tennis junkie. From New York City’s northern suburbs, Dutchess County to be exact, and an MBA from Marist College in Poughkeepsie, I was excited to get a job at the USTA as a paralegal in nearby White Plains working on the pro tennis side. Back in 2010, the USTA executive director asked me to transition into the Executive Office in a project management role. It included overseeing some of the USTA’s organizational priorities, including our US Open environmental program, as well as to help develop what is now our “SafePlay” athlete safety program.

 

2019 USTA Leadership

Lauren Tracy, Director of Strategic Initiatives at the US Tennis Association (Photo credit: USTA)

 

GSB: These are very important and high profile…

Lauren: Yes! I was in the right place at the right time for sure.

GSB: When did the environmental programs come into the mix?

Lauren: It really started in 2007. When we dedicated the National Tennis Center to Billie Jean King she wanted to know what we were doing to lessen the US Open’s environmental footprint. The venue was named for her.

GSB: Billie Jean King: Women’s rights and gay rights pioneer — that we knew — but eco-warrior?

Lauren: That’s right! Our board was asking the same thing. We had only taken baby steps, green-wise, before then. We engaged industry experts to help us develop a comprehensive environmental program for the US Open. Those experts included Bina Indelicato, founder and CEO of eco evolutions, who now serves as a sustainability consultant for the USTA, as well as Allen Hershkowitz, who really pioneered the green sports movement.

GSB: What were some of the first sustainability initiatives under the Tracy Administration?

Lauren: It was an exciting time because the USTA gave us the direction to try new things. So that’s what we did. We would identify an opportunity to improve the environmental efficiency of an element of our operations at our site and start by conducting a pilot during that year’s US Open.

After the conclusion of that year’s tournament, we’d evaluate to see what worked well and what did not. If it worked, we’d roll it out the next year across the entire USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

A good example of that was composting. We piloted it in 2011 in the back-of-house operations with our concessionaire, Levy Restaurants. That was the easy part, as their chefs bought in from the beginning. We went big the first year, starting with the kitchens at Arthur Ashe Stadium, the largest venue on our campus…

GSB: …And, at 23,700+, the largest seating capacity of any tennis stadium in the world…

Lauren: Yes. Over the years, composting was eventually rolled out to the other kitchens on the site. We partnered with Levy, as well as the waste hauler and did a lot of training with kitchen staff. Understandably, there were some growing pains but now we have a program with a lot of buy-in and had a very successful New York City Department of Sanitation inspection. In fact, so much so that, by 2017, our overall waste diversion rate was greater than 90 percent!

GSB: WOW! That’s a quick turnaround the way I look at it. And it qualifies the US Open as a zero-waste event but you knew that already…

Lauren: You bet! We did even better last year, getting to 97 percent diversion. What got us closer to 100 percent, in addition to recycling and composting, was bringing much of our un-recycled, un-compostable material to Covanta’s waste-to-energy site out on Long Island.

GSB: How does it work?

Lauren: First of all, the facility is the cleanest place I’ve ever seen — and it’s a place where garbage is hauled! It is then burned in a safe way, with the resulting heat being used to cleanly power swaths of Long Island. Amazing.

GSB: I’ll have to check out that facility someday. Congratulations on 97 percent diversion. That’s terrific. Now I know that the USTA undertook a major construction initiative at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center a few years ago. Where did sustainability fit in?

Lauren: Well, in 2013, we started a five-year plan to strategically transform the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Those renovations and new builds would be done in an environmentally-friendly and -forward way. The first structure to earn LEED certification was our Transportation Building — which serves as the headquarters for our transportation operation, as well as the credential office during the three weeks of the qualifying tournament and the main draw. Then, in 2016 our new Grandstand stadium opened…

GSB: …I love the Grandstand. The third-largest playing venue on campus, with a capacity of 8,000, is stunning, architecturally speaking.

Lauren: I agree. It became our first LEED certified playing venue. And, as anyone who has been to the Open the last couple years knows, we tore down our second largest playing venue, Louis Armstrong Stadium, and built the new, 14,000 seat Louis Armstrong, opening it last year.

 

Louis Armstrong

Louis Armstrong Stadium, the new, LEED Silver certified 14,000-seat venue that opened in 2018. It is the second largest venue at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center (Photo credit: Lewis Blaustein)

 

GSB: …Another winner. It is a beautiful place to watch tennis. Did new Louis Armstrong become LEED certified?

Lauren: It did, earning LEED Silver status — the highest certification level on campus. Its natural ventilation system is a significant advance in terms of green outdoor venue construction is concerned. Overall, we’re very proud of the new Louis Armstrong Stadium, including from a sustainability perspective, as it represented the completion of the five-year strategic transformation of our campus that I mentioned earlier. And that we were able to finish on time in 2018, on the 50th anniversary of the US Open, made it extra special.

GSB: Great timing indeed. With the major construction complete in Flushing Meadow, what other environmental advances are you and the team working on? Is on-site solar going to be part of the mix?

Lauren: On-site solar is a question we get a lot. It’s tricky for us. While the facility is open all year, our attendance and electricity usage spikes for the three weeks of the tournament in late August-early September. And while we own the venues, the City of New York owns the land and so the solar conversation involves several parties. This doesn’t mean solar won’t happen, it just means it will take awhile. As for what else is next, I wanted to mention that our location is a plus, sustainability-wise. The New York City subway and Long Island Railroad have a station just outside the tennis center, which allows over 50 percent of all attendees to take mass transit, which a great number.

GSB: That sounds about right…

Lauren: Also, in addition to the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, we also built our USTA National Campus in Orlando. The Welcome Center, which includes our staff offices, is LEED certified. Back to the Open, we’ve got some cool initiatives around recycling. In 2018, we started working with Ronald McDonald House up in the Hudson Valley of New York State. We sent them 9,000 metal tabs from tennis ball can tops. The metal tops are pure aluminum and they are able to earn some money from recycling it.

 

USTA National Campus

The LEED certified Welcome Center at the USTA’s National Campus in Orlando (Photo credit: USTA)

 

GSB: What a great idea? Can the USTA broaden that out beyond the Open to other tournaments and to the thousands of recreational tennis centers around the country with which you have relationships?

Lauren: This is something we’re exploring, Lew. Our sections across the country know about it; we hope they are able to bring it to their regions as well. As far as the used tennis ball cans from the Open are concerned, we send them to TerraCycle in Trenton, New Jersey…

GSB: …TerraCycle is an incredible company that specializes in a “zero-waste economy,” with state-of-the-art recycling and upcycling.

Lauren: That’s right. We send them our tennis ball cans and they break them down and recycle them. I also want to mention Imperfectly Delicious Produce. I love this program! We take imperfect-looking fruit and vegetables and use them in sauces and dips to eliminate unnecessary food waste. Finally, in 2018, we eliminated plastic straws, replacing them with paper straws.

GSB: Very cool. Now this would not be a GSB Interview if I didn’t ask about how the USTA goes about communicating its green initiatives to fans…So how do you do that?

Lauren: We do some marketing of our greening efforts, from content in our program magazine to our website. But we need to do more from a fan engagement perspective and are committed to doing that this year and in 2020.

GSB: I plan to be out at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center this summer and look forward to seeing what you and the team have done, fan engagement-wise.

 

 


 

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GSB News and Notes: NY Times Links Federer Upset Loss to Climate Change; Lakers Go Solar at their Training Facility; Denver Broncos Give Out 100% Recycled Rally Towels

September is, without question, the most wonderful time of the sports year in the US:

  • The final tennis grand slam tournament, the US Open, concludes;

  • Baseball’s long season comes down the home stretch;

  • The college football and NFL seasons kick off;

  • Basketball and hockey teams hit training camp;

  • The Ryder Cup takes over the golf world

GreenSportsBlog’s TGIF News & Notes reflects that full calendar, with tennis, basketball, and football on the docket.  

 

NEW YORK TIMES MAKES LINK BETWEEN FEDERER UPSET LOSS AT US OPEN AND EXTREME NIGHTTIME HEAT AND HUMIDITY

Until Serena Williams’ dispute with the chair umpire in her straight set defeat to Naomi Osaka at the US Open final became an international hot topic, excessive heat was the dominant storyline during the recently completed tournament in Queens.

  • The ATP, the governing body of the men’s pro tennis tour, took the unprecedented step of instituting a new rule, after the tournament began, that allowed players to go to the locker room for a 10 minute cooling break after the third set (women’s players already were permitted such a break after the second set).
  • With on-court temperatures reaching as high as 130 degrees Fahrenheit (54.4 degrees Celsius), it was common to see players draping large ice wraps over their shoulders during one minute changeover breaks. 
  • Eventual men’s champion Novak Djokovic was almost felled in two early round matches by two implacable foes: the oppressive afternoon heat and humidity.
  • Night matches were affected: Unheralded John Millman shocked Roger Federer in the Round of 16 on a particularly hot, sticky, stuffy evening. 

 

Novak US Open

Novak Djokovic suffering from the heat and humidity during a changeover in his first round match at the 2018 US Open (Photo credit: Getty Images)

 

While ESPN covered the heat/humidity story during the tournament’s fortnight — there was no way the cable-caster could avoid it. After all, players were wilting and fans stayed away from the sunny side of Billie Jean King National Tennis Center venues in droves. But ESPN did not get delve into any potential links between the extreme weather at the Open and climate change. 

And, while Federer cited heat and stuffiness as the main reason for his upset loss — “It was hot. It was just one of those nights where I guess I felt I couldn’t get air; there was no circulation at all.” — he didn’t “go there” on climate change. 

 

Federer

Roger Federer struggled on an extremely hot and humid night in the round of 16 at the US Open, losing to John Millman (Photo credit: Mohammed Elshamy/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

 

Thankfully, reporter Kendra Pierre-Louis of The New York Times’ fantastic “Climate Fwd” newsletter, did make the climate connection for millions of readers on September 4 in Roger Federer Is Tough to Beat. Global Warming Might Have Pulled an Upset.” Her particular focus was the relatively unsung trend of increasingly hot nights.

Per Pierre-Louis, “To some, the comments by Federer…may sound like sour grapes. But they also underscore a growing problem: increasing nighttime temperatures…[Global] warming is not happening evenly. Summer nights have warmed at nearly twice the rate of summer days. Average overnight low temperatures in the United States have increased 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit per century since 1895, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)…While daytime temperatures above 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius) have been a persistent problem at this U.S. Open, conditions [during the Federer-Millman night match] were not much cooler. Temperatures hovered in the mid-80s, with the humidity for much of the match above 70 percent. The heat index, which combines heat and humidity to indicate a ‘feels like’ temperature, was in the 90s.”

The effects on the human body of exercising in high temperatures with high humidity can be calamitous, reported Pierre-Louis. That’s because sweating, “a key cooling mechanism,” gets stymied. When the air is excessively humid, sweat drips instead of evaporating. And that eliminates the cooling effect on the body. 

GSB’s Take: As a lifelong resident of the New York City metro area, let me tell you, a nighttime heat index in the 90s, a rarity back in the 1970s-80s, is becoming all too common in July and August. While heat and humidity played a major role in Federer’s exit from the US Open, such extreme weather is much more perilous for non-athletes. And until humanity, non-athletes and athletes alike, gets its act together on a massive decarbonizing effort to break climate change’s serve, extreme heat and humidity that makes exercise — among many other activities — risky will become the norm. I wonder if, as the effects of climate change get more severe, tournaments like the US Open and Australian Open, which are played in the heat and the humidity of the summer, will move towards more temperate times on the calendar.

 

LAKERS WELCOME LEBRON JAMES TO TRAINING CAMP WITH NEW SOLAR INSTALLATION 

When LeBron James joins the Los Angeles Lakers for his first training camp in Los Angeles later this month, he’ll be doing so at a training facility with a new rooftop solar array. 

According to a story by Kyle Field in the September 2 issue of CleanTechnica, Vaha Energy installed a 171 kW system comprised of 456 LG Solar panels on the roof of the team’s new LEED Platinum, 120,000 square foot UCLA Health Training Center in El Segundo.

 

The solar array at the LA Lakers new UCLA Health Training Center (Photo credit: CleanTechnica)

 

“The system is expected to save about $38,000 per year, on a rate of 16 cents per kWh,” wrote Field. Vaha Energy projects that the team should be able to pay off the system in a relatively quick four years.

Joseph McCormack, the Lakers Chief Financial Officer and Senior Vice President of Finance, told Field, “One of our goals as an organization is to be at the forefront of energy efficiency, and these panels further our commitment to sustainability.”

The Lakers plan to communicate their greening efforts at UCLA Health Training Center to fans — the cozy venue seats 900 — during team practices and at home games of the NBA G League’s South Bay Lakers.

 

GSB’s Take: The move by the Lakers to solar-ize their new UCLA Health Training Center is, of course, welcome news. As costs of solar continue to go down, we can expect more such on-site solar installations at sports venues. It says here that the Lakers would’ve done even better to install solar panels atop car ports in the parking lot, in addition to their rooftop array. That way, fans could not miss the Lakers solar play — the panels on the roof are not easily visible to passersby. Oh yeah, it would be cooler than cool if LeBron agreed to be featured in video messaging about the Lakers’ solar installation.

 

 

DENVER BRONCOS GIVE ORANGE RALLY TOWELS MADE FROM 100 PERCENT RECYCLED MATERIALS TO FANS AT HOME OPENER

A crowd of 76,000+ at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver saw the home team open their 2018 NFL season Sunday with a come-from-behind 27-24 home win over the Seattle Seahawks. Fans 21-and-older were able to urge the Broncos on by waving orange rally towels, presented by Bud Light, made from 100 percent recycled materials from earlier Broncos games. 

 

Rally Towel Broncos

The rally towel, made from 100 percent recycled materials, that was given out to Denver Broncos fans at Sunday’s home opener (Photo credit: Denver Broncos)

 

Believed to be the NFL’s first promotional giveaway made from fully recycled materials, the towels are made from plastic Coke bottles from Broncos Stadium. The 100% recycled icon is located on the lower left of the towel, clearly visible to fans.

Here’s how the Broncos Stadium bottles turn into Broncos Stadium rally towels:

  • Coke bottles get hauled from the stadium to Waste Management’s Denver Recycling Center.
  • The bottles are then delivered to a Materials Recovery Facility and sold to a plastic processing plant.
  • The processing plant breaks the bottles down into flakes or pellets and sells them to yarn manufacturers, who in turn sell the yarn to fabric weavers and knitters around the world.
  • Fabric makers sell the fabric to cut, sew and decorating plants — in this case, G&G Outfitters, a Maryland-based NFL licensee — where the towels are produced, decorated and shipped back to Denver for the game.

“The Denver Broncos and Coca-Cola are teaming up to show fans the value of recycling,” said Antoinette Williams, account executive at Coca-Cola, USA. “Recycling is the first step, but Coca-Cola and the Broncos want to create a ‘Life-Cycle’ story and make sure once the bottles are recycled they continue on a sustainable path.”

“We have never executed a promotion to this nature for any NFL team where the giveaway was made 100 percent out of certified recycled bottles collected from their own waste,” added Danny Papilion of G&G Outfitters. “To our knowledge, the Broncos are the first NFL team to do so.”

GSB’s Take: I love this promotion — a towel that is clearly marked as 100 percent recyclable given out to many thousands of fans. But how cool would it be if the Broncos encouraged fans to bring their towels every time they come to a game? Show your towel at four games and you get a free Bud Light. Or some other idea. No matter the promotion, the team would be emphasizing the important sustainability principle of reuse as well as recycling. 

 


 

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