The GSB Interview: Monica Rowand, Bringing Green-Sports to the University of Louisiana; Part II, Leading the Sustainable Sports Charge in Lafayette

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

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

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

 

To read Part I, click here

 

GSB: So what did you do after you got your MBA?

Monica: After graduating CU-Boulder in May 2017, I really wanted to stay in sustainable sports and would go anywhere to do it. My dad sort of became my agent and sent me the job listing at University of Louisiana in Lafayette for a sustainability coordinator — who turned out to be ME!

 

RowandM2

Monica Rowand (Photo credit: Monica Rowand)

 

GSB: I’m not surprised! I know you haven’t been in Lafayette long but I wonder what differences you’ve noticed between your new home, about 135 miles west of New Orleans, and Boulder — aside, of course, from the humidity. My guess is it’s a more complex comparison than the stereotypical Red State Lafayette and crunchy-granola-y Blue State Boulder.

Monica: Well, it is very early days for me here. But to compare the two, my observation is that the pride of place here is more powerful than it is in Boulder — and it’s strong there. But you can feel the pride people have for Lafayette. And that extends to athletics — the connection the community has to UL athletics is greater than it is in Boulder and CU is in the Pac-12, a Power 5 conference, and UL is in the less prominent Sun Belt Conference.

GSB: What a great atmosphere to be a part of. Was the sustainability department already involved in Green-Sports before you got to Lafayette?

Monica: Not in the way I was accustomed to from CU. During the interview process, I was blunt about wanting to build an award-winning Green-Sports platform and that we would use it to build the profile and impact of sustainability for the entire campus. Sustainability director Gretchen Vanicor, who would become my boss, agreed.

GSB: Was it a hard sell?

Monica: I thought I’d have a harder time, to be honest with you. But, like I said, Gretchen was on board during my interview process and then, once I started, the athletics department bought in almost immediately. Interestingly, Learfield won the right to market UL Athletics a few months before I started. Soon after I started, I told our Learfield rep about what we did with Ralphie’s Green Stampede, the sustainability initiative at CU-Boulder Athletics and said I’d like to build something like that with the Ragin’ Cajuns.

GSB: But with CU, the Green-Sports infrastructure was in place…

Monica: You’re right, Lew. It’s definitely a slower build here in Lafayette. Our goal is to be Zero-Waste in football and then all sports and on campus.

GSB: What’s the time frame?

Monica: Not clear yet. But we only started recycling at Cajun Field and in the parking lots in 2014. Of course there’s no way we’re going to get to Zero-Waste unless we can compost. I asked Gretchen about it and she said “let’s go for it”. Which was incredible on her part. I started at UL in June and we kicked off our composting efforts just last month at our home football games.

 

Rowand Recycle

GSB: That is very fast…

Monica: I know!! And composting at UL is not easy, as it turns out.

GSB: Why not?

Monica: The main problem was there is nowhere in the entire state of Louisiana to send commercial-scale organic waste to be composted. But we found a solution — composting on our own, at the Cade Experimental Farm. Which was phenomenal. But then there were permitting issues to get it hauled to the farm.

GSB: Really? What are those?

Monica: Well, without getting too much in the weeds here, the compost operations in Louisiana are traditionally only for things like agricultural byproducts and yard waste. We worked with the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry to create a plan that allows for a maximum 15 percent of our compost pile to be made up of food and compostable service ware from football games. We need to prove to them that our “cocktail” of compostable plastic straws, plates, paper and such, is pure enough to not hinder the decomposition process. It’s now a Living Lab project for the University and we hope it will lead to greater post-consumer compost efforts in the state. We’ve already been contacted by festivals, food prep companies, and restaurants who have been looking for somewhere to send their compost!

GSB: No composting in the state so you decide to do it in house – BRILLIANT! For how long have the Ragin’ Cajuns been using compostable cutlery and flatware?

Monica: We just started that this season — again Gretchen, and thankfully our food service provider Sodexo, bought in immediately. We also have Zero Waste Goalies help fans during the game and then go sort through our compost bags to remove any contamination.

GSB: Who are the Zero Waste Goalies?

Monica: A mix of student volunteers, some Americorps volunteers and staff. Also we donate unused food through Second Harvest to local groups who can use it. And, since they can’t be recycled in our single stream system, we collect plastic bags and film separately and take them to a local grocery store.

 

Green Goalies UL

University of Louisiana Zero Waste Goalies at Cajun Field (Photo credit: Monica Rowand)

 

GSB: Do you have results for diversion rates for the early season games?

Monica: Not yet, but based on the cubic feet of our bins I estimate we diverted about 50 percent of waste from inside the stadium. That will change because we measure diversion by weight and not size – but I’ll keep you posted. Our goal for the season is to achieve an average 65 percent total diversion.

GSB: Are you going to do the same thing with basketball?

Monica: Basketball is different. The team plays in the Cajundome which is not owned by the university. So we don’t have control of the venue and thus what we can do there is limited, at least for the time being. We will be looking at it, though. Baseball is next.

GSB: You must be thrilled with that!

Monica: I am indeed. It’s very big here. We’re not sure about the compost piece yet with baseball but definitely will increase recycling. Soccer is also something we will look at, as well as other Olympic sports. One great thing is that our office sits under the office of the university president, so sustainability has a seat at the table for athletics and beyond.

 

Moore Field Ragin Cajuns

M.L. “Tigue” Moore Field at Russo Park, home of Ragin’ Cajuns baseball, the next sport up for greening at the University of Louisiana (Photo credit: RaginCajuns.com)

 

GSB: Going beyond waste, what is UL Athletics looking to do, if anything, regarding on-site renewables, energy efficiency, and more?

Monica: Great question. Once we get to where we want to be on waste diversion, we are going to take on transportation next. My goal is to build a mini-Boulder on clean transportation. We want to improve our bus system by creating a loop that will dramatically cut down car miles driven on campus. Bike share is already here; car ride sharing is on the drawing board. On energy, UL is at the leading edge of research on renewables. Ten percent of the campus’ electricity already comes from solar; we have a 1.1 megawatt (mW) solar farm tied directly into our grid about one mile from the stadium.

GSB: That’s great to hear. With all the work going on in Athletics and campus wide on waste, transportation and energy, how is the sustainability department connecting that to climate change?

Monica: We haven’t yet. Pride of place, a healthy environment, conservation and quality of life? Absolutely. We’re staying away from climate change right now.

GSB: Why do you think that is, what do you think will change it and when might that happen? Not to put any pressure on you, of course.

Monica: Climate change is a more difficult topic to grasp and sometimes hard to draw the connection in a few words or sentences. Behavior change 101 is to know your audience. We have to make tangible connections we know our audience has.

It relates back to what I said about the strong Ragin’ Cajun fan identity. South Louisianans, like no other place I’ve lived – and I’ve lived in some gorgeous states – have a uniquely strong connection with their geography and environment. Take fishing for example. Whether it is for economic or recreation purposes, people here are in touch with the ecosystems that provide that opportunity. Things that harm that, say water pollution or salt water intrusion, are issues of concern.

In the case of zero waste and compost, yes, it is a means for reducing atmospheric methane emissions from landfills, the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that lead to climate change, but closer to home for people in South Louisiana, is the concept of “Cajuns Don’t Waste”. Some of the biggest local culinary traditions were created based on that concept – using every part of the pig at a boucherie, mixing smaller quantities of ingredients together for dishes like gumbo and jambalaya. Food in particular is a valuable resource that should not just be mindlessly discarded, but milked for all it’s got to offer. In the case of compost, we want to keep the nutrients from our organic waste in play by collecting, composting, and spreading the resulting soil back on our farms and gardens.

GSB: That is terrific, and well said, Monica. The thing is, especially in light of the new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, the threat from climate change is more pressing, more immediate than even previously thought, with potentially catastrophic consequences appearing by 2040. So I get the basic conundrum: Folks in Ragin’ Cajun territory may not be ready for climate change messaging but the clock is ticking. Think about it this way: The UL Class of 2040 is being born now. So bringing climate change messaging to this audience ain’t gonna be easy. Far from it. But I know you are up for the challenge – that’s why UL is lucky to have you. You, Gretchen and company can do this! I look forward to keeping this conversation going.

 


 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

GSB: …Which was?

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

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

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

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

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

GSB: Why did you switch?

 

RowandM2

Monica Rowand (Photo credit: Monica Rowand)

 

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

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

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

GSB: What is that?

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

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

 

Dodger Stadium

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

 

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

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

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

GSB: It must’ve been tiny…

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

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

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

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

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

GSB: And next you…

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

GSB: Global Green is a great group!

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

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

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

GSB: What did Dave Newport tell you?

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

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

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

GSB: What is water balancing?

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

GSB: Who funded this?

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

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

Monica: I was the program manager for fan engagement…

GSB: AGAIN, perfect for you!

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

 

Ralphie Team

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

 

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

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

GSB: Where did the fan engagement piece come in?

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 


 

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