The GSB Interview: Ex-Atlanta Falcon Ovie Mughelli, Creator of “Gridiron Green” Comic Superhero

Ovie Mughelli (moo-HAY-lee) is one of the most fascinating characters I’ve come across in the five plus years since I started GreenSportsBlog. College and pro football star. Announcer. Gets interested in the climate change fight. Comes up with “Gridiron Green,” an African American, environmental comic superhero.

We were fortunate to be able to sit down with Mughelli to hear his incredible story and his plans for Gridiron Green.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Ovie, we’ve been wanting to talk with you for a long time so thank you for the opportunity. Before getting to your evolution as a climate change fighter and to Gridiron Green, tell us your back story.

Ovie Mughelli: Thanks for the opportunity, Lew. And I’ll tell you, I’ve been blessed from the beginning. My parents both were born in Nigeria who moved here at 18, 19, looking for a better life. They gave me, my two sisters and my brother a very strong work ethic combined with a duty to others. The idea of, if you can make someone’s life better, you do it. And this was our ethos from the beginning, giving even as we received help. It was a humble beginning, all of us in a one bedroom apartment, sleeping on the floor. Grew up in New York City until third grade, then moved to Charleston, South Carolina through my high school years. My dad, Olumide, became a successful OB-Gyn, is a Big Brother and involved with the Charleston Boys Club. My mom, Agnes? She got her MBA and runs his office.

 

Ovie Mughelli

Ovie Mughelli (Photo credit: Ovie Mughelli)

 

GSB: This is an American Dream story if I ever heard one. Did you dream of an NFL career in high school?

Ovie: Not really. I did well enough in high school, both in the classroom and on the football field to get a scholarship to Wake Forest as a fullback. Went there as a pre-med student, you know, to follow dad. Was interested in sports medicine, took organic chem, bio mechanics…

GSB: …Sounds like the med school track to me…

Ovie: Absolutely. My older sister, who went to the University of Richmond and then the University of South Carolina Medical School, gave me the MCAT study guides!

GSB: Doesn’t sound like the NFL was where you were headed…

Ovie: I didn’t think so early in my college career, just didn’t see it as a real possibility that I could play in the NFL. Med school beckoned but my parents and coaches believed I could do it. And, lo and behold, the Baltimore Ravens selected me in the fourth round of the 2003 NFL Draft.

GSB: Fourth round out of a seven round draft is impressive, especially as a fullback — a position that was beginning a deemphasis that continues to this day.

Ovie: Thanks, Lew! I couldn’t believe it. And, even though I was drafted I just tried to survive that first training camp. Didn’t think I’d make it.

GSB: Man, you need to have more confidence in yourself! Or maybe that self-doubt is what propelled you to success?

Ovie: That and special teams¹. Back then teams still had two fullbacks on the 53-man roster. No team kept three. Except for the Ravens that year because I showed them what I could do on “specials.” That’s how I made the team. Once I established myself in Baltimore, I started thinking about how I could give back. Started the Ovie Mughelli Foundation in my third year there — it wasn’t environmentally focused; rather it was really a classic, “give back” with education and life skills being the main thing.

GSB: And you became a Pro Bowler (aka All-Star) as a special team ace…

Ovie: Again, something I wouldn’t have predicted. That allowed me to sign a six-year free agent contract with the Atlanta Falcons in 2007 which made me the highest paid fullback in the league. So my “give back” instinct kicked into a higher gear as far as the foundation was concerned.

 

Ovie Mughelli Falcons

Ovie Mughelli during his days with the Atlanta Falcons (Photo credit: Ovie Mughelli Foundation)

 

GSB: So how and when did environment and climate change become your thing?

Ovie: This is a crazy story, Lew. First, let’s go back to my childhood in Charleston. I remember watching Captain Planet environmentally-themed cartoons back in the 1980s…

GSB: The cartoons created by CNN founder Ted Turner…

Ovie: Yes. I thought at the time that it was so cool there was a character, Kwame, who was from Africa. You didn’t see anything like that on TV. So, now, flash forward to 2007. I’ve signed with the Falcons. went to this random event in Atlanta where I met Ted Turner and his daughter, Laura Turner Seydel. They eventually became second family to me. At that time, Laura started asking me, ‘What does your foundation do? What are you doing on the environment?’ I said, ‘Nothing. It’s not so important as access to education, life skills.’ Laura’s response? ‘The environment is connected to everything. If you love kids, you have to get involved with the environment!’ That really opened my eyes. I had thought the environment was for tree-huggers, for rich folks who didn’t have to worry about their basic needs so they had the time and means to care about the environment. But then I started to delve into it, and the more I did, the more I got it.

 

Ovie Laura Leilani

Ovie Mughelli flanked by Laura Turner Seydel (r) and Leilani Münter, the self-described eco “vegan, hippie chick with a race car” (Photo credit: Getty Images)

 

GSB: What did you start to understand?

Ovie: I learned that climate change is not just about polar bears. It’s also about Hurricane Katrina, wildfires in the West, food deserts, the Syrian crisis and much, much more. Thanks to the Captain Planet Foundation and the Turner Seydels, I got to attend numerous climate change-related seminars and conferences. It became crystal clear: You couldn’t argue the science.

I also learned that people of color are the most affected and the least able to adapt to climate change. Underserved and unengaged communities are impacted by climate issues for a longer duration. It effects health, economy and education due to the residual implications. And yet robust conversation with these communities are not heavily pursued to make these folks change agents.

So the question became how to combat climate change? Laura Turner Seydel urged me to get involved, to use the platform of sports to engage fans who, she said, ‘Love clean air, clean water and God’s Green Earth. You have to give people the mindset to make green normal.’ And Laura again pressed me about kids, saying, ‘Ovie, you can’t say you love kids if you don’t advocate for the environment!”

That hits home because my wife and I have three kids — our first two are girls and then a boy. Our daughter Nesia and our son Obasi were both born prematurely. We weren’t able to hold Obasi until he was 16 days old and could take either of them out of the NICU² for a long time because of the poor air quality in Atlanta — thankfully, they’re fine now. This brought environmental problems home more than anything and was unacceptable! So I felt I had to do something.

GSB: So what did you do with your interest in climate, and with Laura’s nudges?

Ovie: Through the Ovie Mughelli Foundation, I started to run football camps with an environmental theme. We had “Recycle On the Run” drills, had them answer environmental questions, take positive environmental actions and more. I also started to give climate change-themed speeches as part of a Green Speaker Series.

GSB: What were you talking about?

Ovie: Basically I said we have to go beyond complaining about the environment, about climate change. We had to shift from complain to action! I also emphasized that shifting to a greener, cleaner economy would be a winner job-wise and otherwise.

GSB: Did you talk about environment and the climate in the locker room with your Falcons teammates? If so, how did they react?

Ovie: I sure did. And look, teammates in an NFL locker room, we’re like brothers, supporting each other out on the field. So I felt comfortable talking about my climate activism with them. Now, it did raise some eyebrows among the guys like Matt Ryan, Tony Gonzalez, and Roddy White. They basically asked, ‘is climate change real?’ I told ’em, ‘Yeah, it’s not only real, it’s human caused and we need to deal with it, sooner rather than later.’ And they came around on it. Other guys fought fiercely with me, saying ‘it’s a hoax,’ or ‘climate change is just a way for the government to take more of my money.’ I don’t know that I changed those minds.

GSB: Sounds like, from talking to eco-athletes who are active today, that the locker rooms sound similar as they did a decade or so ago. That needs to improve, fast. So I get the environmental football camps and the speaking engagements. But how did your environmental super hero cartoon idea — Gridiron Green — come to pass?

Ovie: Well, it goes back to Captain Planet! I always wanted to recreate an environmentally-themed comic book, but with a black super-hero — Kwame times 1,000! — for planet earth. Environmental justice, the right to clean air and water, the right to live healthy, were the themes. I sketched out a rough version in 2009, showed to some corporations and the NFL for sponsorship back then; they showed some initial interest but not enough to fund it. Still, I kept going and in 2012 I had a friend-of-a-friend who is an artist, do an even better sketch.

 

Captain Planet Kwame

Kwame from Captain Planet (Credit: Captain Planet Foundation)

 

GSB: Then what happened?

Ovie: It kinda went on the back burner for several years — I didn’t really know how to market a comic book. Then, in 2016, I went to a youth summit led by John R. Seydel — Laura’s son. One of the sessions, “Comics Uniting Nations,” not surprisingly caught my eye.

GSB: I can see why! What was it about?

Ovie: The UN had recently published 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs). They were wordy, wonky and a bit confusing. So folks at Comics Uniting Nations and UNICEF thought ‘how about a comic book or books to make the SDGs clear and even fun.’ I thought, ‘Wait a second — I got this!!!” They liked it and gave some initial seed funding to help get Gridiron Green to get to the next level. That allowed me to hire a top flight artist, Matt Bahr, to work with me to tighten up the look, feel and story.

GSB: How has that gone so far?

Ovie: It’s been a two-year journey for Matt and me, sharing our drawings with folks at the NFL, as well as at environmental and social justice nonprofits. We want to use Gridiron Green to reach people who have not engaged on environment and climate yet, who don’t know what a carbon footprint is. Gridiron Green can be an important gateway to get people involved on climate, including conservatives, especially conservative sports fans! And we’re looking at more than a comic book, from curriculum to video games to toys to even feature animated films. We’ve asked for buy-in and financial support, moving the ball forward a bit but not enough to publish yet.

 

Ovie Gridiron Green

Prototypes of Gridiron Green (Photo credit: Ovie Mughelli)

 

GSB: It sounds like you’re moving towards the goal line; what has to happen next so you guys can finally make Gridiron Green a reality.

Ovie: Right now, we’re working on tightening up the business plan — we’re looking for funding in the neighborhood of $100,000, which includes curriculum.

GSB: This seems like a doable number to me; please keep us informed as to how fundraising goes!

 

¹ Special teams are the “third phase” of American football (offense and defense being the other two). They consist of the players on the kickoff and punt coverage, kickoff and punt returns, as well as field goal units.
² NICU = Neo-natal intensive care unit

 


 

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The GSB (Mock) Interview: Drew Brees; Standing Tall on Climate Change

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees broke Peyton Manning’s record for the most career passing yards in NFL history at a raucous Mercedes-Benz Superdome a week ago Monday. The next day, about 300 miles to the east of the Crescent City, Hurricane Michael plowed into Panama City, Florida. 

Brees, who played a crucial role as a high profile ambassador supporting the recovery of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina hit, had to be affected by the devastation wrought by this latest mega-storm. With that in mind, GreenSportsBlog spoke with Brees to see if he has made the connection between the Katrinas and Michaels — as well as the Harveys, Irmas and Marias of the world and climate change.

OK, we didn’t really talk to Brees — he was too busy preparing for Sunday’s game with the Baltimore Ravens.

So we’re doing the next best thing: Imagining a conversation with Brees about Katrina, Michael and climate change.

To be clear, Brees has not spoken out about climate change, at least as far as I can tell. I have no idea what he thinks on the issue. 

And even though he publicly stated that NFL players should stand for the national anthem, thus aligning himself with President Trump, a climate change denier/skeptic, that does not mean Brees is a denier/skeptic. In fact, he seems to be a thoughtful fellow, one who relies heavily on data to do his job. So, this faux interview posits that he would follow the scientific data on climate change.

This is our second imagined conversation about climate change with a mega sports star. LeBron James was the first back in 2013.

GreenSportsBlog believes that finding über athletes who are willing to engage with their fans on climate change is absolutely crucial to scaling the impact of the Green-Sports movement. That’s why we’re kinda-sorta talking to Brees, a beloved figure in Louisiana and throughout the football world.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Drew, congratulations on breaking the NFL career passing yards record held by a great son of New Orleans, Peyton Manning. In fact, Peyton sent this short congratulatory video to you.

 

 

Drew Brees: Uh, thanks, Peyton…I guess. And thank you, Lew. This is truly a team honor. Or teams. Going back to the 2006 group, my first year with the Saints, when the squad came back to New Orleans after being nomads in 2005, post-Hurricane Katrina…

 

Drew Brees

Drew Brees talks to Lisa Salters of ESPN after breaking the NFL’s career passing yards record (Photo credit: ESPN)

 

GSB: …That’s right, Katrina hit New Orleans in August, 2005, two weeks before the start of the season. So the Saints played their home games in places like Baton Rouge and San Antonio.

Drew: That’s right. The city was severely damaged — on its knees, really — and, coming in as a free agent, I was seen as damaged goods because the then-San Diego (now Los Angeles) Chargers released me and my surgically repaired right shoulder…

GSB: …And you were seen as too short at 6′ 0″ coming out of Purdue.

Drew: But I got very lucky — the Saints and coach Sean Payton took a chance on me and in 2006, just as the team was ready to return to a rebuilt Superdome. It’s been magical since our first game back in New Orleans, on that Monday night vs. the Atlanta Falcons.

 

 

GSB: You ain’t kidding. The 2005 Saints were 3-13 and there were rumors that the team was going to permanently leave a Katrina-battered New Orleans for San Antonio or elsewhere. But with you at the helm, and kind of taking the team and New Orleans on your back, the Saints had the most successful season in its 40 year existence, going 10-6 and reaching the NFC Championship Game.

Drew: It was incredible, so, when you think of it, the career passing yards record is really born of the spirit of New Orleans post-Katrina. And you’re kind to say I carried the city and the team. It was as much the other way around — the city lifted me. The 2006 team lifted me — guys like Reggie Bush, Marques Colston, the late, great Will Smith, and Steve Gleason, my buddy who blocked that punt vs. the Falcons in our first game back to the Dome and now courageously battling ALS.

GSB: Gleason is indeed a profile in courage. And then, in February 2010 in Super Bowl XLIV, you led the Saints to their first — and to date, only — championship, defeating the aforementioned Peyton Manning and his Indianapolis Colts.

Drew: I know I use this word a lot but it was INCREDIBLE!

GSB: As a Jets fan I hope I get one taste of “incredible” one of these years. But I digress. Let’s talk about Katrina. You arrived in New Orleans a year after the storm and almost immediately got involved in rebuilding efforts.

Drew: My wife Brittany and I chose to come here in large part because we thought we could do something special here. When we arrived in the spring of 2006, it was like a ghost town. There still were boats in the middle of roads, and cars still upside down in people’s living rooms. What was amazing was that we leaned on each other. People were trying to rebuild their homes, rebuild their lives, yet they were still coming to the Dome to cheer on the Saints because it gave them so much energy and enthusiasm…just this feeling that we’re all in this together.

GSB: Well, you put your money where your mouth is. In 2007, your Brees Dream Foundation entered into a partnership with Operation Kids to rebuild city schools, parks, playgrounds, and athletic centers. It also funded after school and mentoring programs.

Drew: It was the least I could do.

 

Drew Brees Siding

Drew Brees installs a piece of siding at a home under construction at the Habitat for Humanity Musicians Village in the 9th Ward in May, 2007, 21 months after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. (AP Photo/Bill Haber)

 

GSB: Thankfully, from a New Orleans perspective, there hasn’t been another Katrina. But these once in a hundred year hurricanes are happening with much more frequency than that. Just last year, in a very short period of time, Harvey hit the Houston area, Irma blasted South Florida and Maria obliterated the British Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. And of course last month, Florence devastated the Carolinas and, the day after you broke the record, Michael slammed into the Florida Panhandle as a Category IV storm.

Drew: I know. I raffled off one of the game balls from the record-setter with all of the proceeds going to Michael relief. J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans of course did incredible work in that area post-Harvey last year. You still feel kind of helpless, because there’s really nothing you can do to stop it.

 

JJ Watt Houston Business

J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans (c) with a $5,000,000 check from his Foundation, raised by donations from thousands of fans post 2017’s Hurricane Harvey. The funds went to Harvey-related relief efforts (Photo credit: Houston Business Journal)

 

GSB: Is that really true? In the short term, governments can build stronger levees, create manmade barrier islands to keep some storm water out of cities, make sure that future urban development takes the environment into account, and more.

Drew: I guess. But those things cost a lot of money.

GSB: Yes, but these storms are costing billions, and that’s not including the human costs. There is a strong case to be made that the investments in levees and the like make financial sense in light of the costs. Just ask the folks in the Netherlands, where those types of investments were made decades ago, and they have largely been successful.

Drew: If what you say is backed up by real data and the benefits of those types investments outweigh the costs then we are foolish not to investigate and make them.

GSB: The data is there in terms of investments to help areas adapt to a changing environment. But these are band-aids, really. The bigger problem is the increased frequency of severe hurricanes. Do you think human-caused climate change is having an impact?

Drew: Well, I’m going to start by saying I’m not a scientist BUT don’t worry, Lew, I’m not going to use that as a dodge.

GSB: Thank YOU!!

Drew: No problem. Because even though I am a man of deep faith I also am a man who appreciates science and data — the two can definitely co-exist in my mind. So when I read that 97 percent of climate scientists say climate change is real and human caused, that gets my attention. If our analytics department told me that the Baltimore Ravens defense, our opponent this Sunday, is going to blitz 97 percent of the time when we lined up a certain way, you bet we will call a play to counteract that blitz. Or if 97 percent of doctors studying the brains of deceased NFL players say that brain trauma from football caused the players to suffer from CTE

GSB: …Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease found in athletes, military veterans, and others with a history of repetitive brain trauma…

Drew …I would believe that there’s a strong link between football and CTE. That’s why, while I love football and think it’s the greatest game in the world, I think kids should not play tackle football until they’re of high school age so their brains and bodies are more developed. Play flag football until then. But I digress. The data and the science are clear: Climate change is real and it’s human caused and it’s having a disastrous effect now on my city and on coastal cities all over the United States and elsewhere.

GSB: So what should we do about it?

Drew: Great question. I have to admit I need to study the potential remedies. I’m a small government conservative kind of guy but, as with the idea of building levees, if public investment can yield a positive return on climate, I’d be open to it.

GSB: How about a market-based, revenue neutral price on carbon that is being advocated by a group called the Climate Leadership Council (CLC), led by Republican elder statesmen like James Baker and George Shultz? Or a similar plan as proposed by Citizens’ Climate Lobby, a group with which I volunteer. The gist of both is that a fee would be placed on carbon-based fuels (coal, natural gas, oil) at the mine, well, or border. The money raised from that fee would be returned to U.S. households in the form of a monthly dividend rather than going to the Treasury. Higher prices on gas and other products due to the fee would encourage citizens to find and demand lower carbon options and accelerate the growth of the clean economy.

Drew: Now that’s a playbook I’d like to dive into. After the season, of course.

GSB: I’ll be happy to send you some info. I’ll wait until after February 3, the date of Super Bowl LIII at the LEED Platinum Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. One more question: Do you guys ever talk about climate change in the locker room? Say after Harvey or Maria hit?

Drew: Maybe a couple of guys mention it here or there but it really didn’t bubble up after those storms. We of course talk about the national anthem — I believe that everyone should stand despite the fact that I also believe that African Americans are often unfairly treated by police — and we talk about healthcare, both for NFL players and everyone else, and other issues. But climate change? Not that much.

GSB: What do you think would change that?

Drew: Truth is, I don’t have a real answer. I hate to say it but it may take a few more Katrinas.

 


 

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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 with Colin Tetreault: Part I — Former Phoenix Sustainability Director Helps Arizona State Become Green-Sports Leader

Colin Tetreault of Arizona State is both a Green-Sports visionary and top-level practitioner. This was made clear when he moderated the Thought Leader panel at the Green Sports Alliance Summit in June. Next up, thought leadership-wise, for Tetreault is a home game of sorts: the Sports & Sustainability Symposium at ASU this winter. GreenSportsBlog spoke with Tetreault in a two-part interview.

Part I deals with Tetreault’s pre-Green-Sports life: His passion for the environment, as well as his sustainability work at Arizona State and in the mayor’s office in Phoenix. Tomorrow’s Part II delves into Tetreault’s and ASU’s Green-Sports leadership and where he thinks the movement needs to go.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Colin, you have an impressive — and, I have to say, long job title: Senior Sustainability Scholar and Global Sports Scholar, Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability at Arizona State University. You’ve worked with Major League Baseball, USA Triathlon and others on innovative Green-Sports initiatives. And, as I experienced first hand at the Green Sports Alliance Summit in June when you moderated the Thought Leader panel and workshop, you’re also working to push the Green-Sports movement forward faster. So I’ve been looking forward to this interview. How did you get to this place at the leading edge of Green-Sports?

Colin Tetreault: Thanks so much, Lew. Hey, I’m the proud product of a west coast business-guy dad and a Delaware Quaker mom. I grew up in the outdoors, climbed my first mountain when I was 9, learned contract negotiation at 12, did migrant refugee social work in my early teens, and gave thanks for the “return of a bull market” in high school. I have a background in capitalism and environmentalism, marketing and social work. Since my mom worked at ASU, I’ve been in that community since kindergarten. I did my undergrad and grad school work there.

GSB: You are a Sun Devil through and through! What did you study?

Colin: Well, after peaking in kindergarten I studied marketing and sociology as an undergrad. I was part of the inaugural cohort, back in 2007-08 in the sustainability graduate degree program, which emphasized the need for purpose in business.

 

Colin

Colin Tetreault, Senior Sustainability Scholar and Global Sports Scholar, Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability at Arizona State University (Photo credit: Colin Tetreault)

 

GSB: Ahead of its time…

Colin: I was very fortunate in terms of my timing, to say the least. While in grad school I started S2 Consulting. We showed corporate leadership how sustainability could drive business…How to do well while doing good. Clients included Intel, Starbucks, and PetSmart.

GSB: What did S2 Consulting do for these A-List companies?

Colin: We basically applied a sustainability lens to business consulting, showing our clients how leading on environment, as well as the social and governance aspects of sustainability, would help drive revenue, mitigate risk and drive brand image upward.

GSB: WOW! What did you do next?

Colin: I wanted to serve students, but didn’t want to go for a PhD — I didn’t want to write a dissertation that no one read, nor did I want to teach students to do the same. Instead, I wanted to help students interested in sustainability in a more practical fashion. In 2010, ASU offered a new Masters of Sustainable Solutions. It quickly became the most popular masters degree program at the School. It involved one year of studying and one year of doing.

GSB: That sounds right up your alley…

Colin: It was. I mean, if you want graduates to get hired in cool, sustainability-oriented jobs, what they needed was practical experience. So corporations would come to our program and we connected them to students, who then worked on sustainability projects that were material to the enterprise. And that set them up for jobs once they graduated

GSB: That is how a graduate school program should run. Now I understand you also got involved in politics at around that time. Talk about that…

Colin: Yes. I was a Director on the Phoenix Green Chamber of Commerce. This was 2011-12. There was a mayoral election then. If memory serves, there were 11 candidates running. They had a debate on sustainability. Eight of the candidates were on stage; two of them were respectable on environmental issues. One of them actually understood that sustainability was more than trees and recycling. That was Greg Stanton. He said “if I’m elected, I will appoint Phoenix’ first full time sustainability policy director.” I said to myself, “I want this job!” I was qualified, had the subject matter expertise and was known as an honest broker in the community. So when Greg won, I went for it and — what do you know — he appointed me to his team!

 

Colin 2013 Eugene Scott Mayor Greg Stanton. Grid Bike

Colin Tetreault (l), Eugene Scott (now a Washington Post reporter) and then-Phoenix mayor Greg Stanton promote bike share in the city in 2013 (Photo credit: Grid Bike)

 

GSB: That’s AMAZING! How did ASU react?

Colin: They were great about it. The university loaned me to the city. The city was able to save cost on a director level role and the university was able to be of service to its community.

GSB: That’s quite the win-win. What did you do in the sustainability policy director role?

Colin: Well, when I came into the city government, Phoenix was known as the “Bird On Fire,” the least sustainable city in the USA…

GSB: …So there was only one way to go: UP!

Colin: I served with a great team in the writing of the city’s first sustainability plans. We made sure they were 100 percent policy driven, not a political document. That way we could get much more buy in. After two years, I’m proud to say that we were able to author one of the best sustainability turnaround stories for a city.

GSB: What were some of its key tenets?

Colin: Let me frame the situation we faced: Phoenix is the fifth largest city in the nation. I was tasked with serving 1.7 million people over an area that is 520 square miles. You can fit Paris, Rome, Manhattan, and San Francisco into the legal borders of Phoenix. That doesn’t include the two dozen additional cities in our region. To add to the challenge, our state-level politics and historical orientations didn’t make sustainability practice difficult, it made it outright hostile. But that didn’t stop us. We rolled up our sleeves, made our work focused on cost efficiencies to create buy-in, and set out to create positive change.

Some of the big and fun ones were energy, waste, land use, and transportation.

In energy, we built a $25 million deal – the largest in the nation – in partnership with the Department of Energy and a regional bank – to accelerate home rooftop solar deployment in the city. It only makes sense that place with the best solar capacity should empower its residents to take control of their energy bills and reduce their environmental impact in perpetuity. We specifically carved out this program to be reserved for folks of low-to-moderate income areas. We believed — and still do — that we are judged not on how we treat those with the most, but how we treat those with the least.

We also authored the most aggressive approach to waste in the history of the state. Prior, the city and region had no waste management goals. None.

GSB: How was that possible for the fifth largest city in the nation?

Colin: Crazy, right? Well, we became the first American city to partner with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation to create a “circular economy”. We basically said there’s no such thing as trash. While setting a 100 percent Zero Waste goal, we also looked to transform “trash” into resources. We called the campaign Reimagine Phoenix, asking folks to reimagine a future with no waste…just resources and opportunities. We built, in partnership with ASU, a public-private tech accelerator to cultivate and build local companies that could address the waste stream and grow private-sector jobs. Here are a few examples: palm fronds. Yeah, those things people like to sip umbrella laden drink under…turns out that they are a pickle to compost. The fibrous nature of them precludes them from being incorporated into normal compost operations. For anyone who has been to Phoenix knows we’ve got trees in spades. The city partnered with a private enterprise to break those fronds into a material that is incorporated into an animal feedstock. Another venture takes hard to recycle plastic items and breaks the polymers into base-level monomers…the building blocks of other items. From there, they can make “stuff” and keep materials in play…not downgrading them or sending them to a landfill.

 

Reimagine Phoenix

 

GSB: That is very cool…What about land?

Colin: Land…oh boy…don’t get me started! There was a 2000 article indicating that nearly 40 percent of the Phoenix region was vacant land. Not only does that look terrible, it depresses property values, which reduces tax revenues, which means school budget cuts. It also adds to the urban heat island effect, and reduces community cohesion.

GSB: Not a good look.

Colin: Not at all. While certain land use policies are primarily the purview of the county and state, we showcased what reform could look like. We worked with Keep Phoenix Beautiful to transform 15 acres of vacant land in the heart of central Phoenix.

GSB: Fifteen acres of vacant land? Downtown?

Colin: It was the largest vacant piece of land in the heart of a downtown in the nation…and it had been that way for over 20 years. We — and a dozen community partners — built the largest and most impactful community space in the state. Refugee gardeners built and operated businesses. We hosted veterans therapy groups to help treat those with PTSD symptoms, built gathering collaboration spaces for LGBTQ youth bullied out of high school, hosted concerts and more. We called it PHX Renews. We wanted to renew our urban fabric. And we did. The fun part…everything on the site was made to be interim and moveable. Here’s the cool part…that giant piece of land…is going to be redeveloped. Our work didn’t disappear, it moved – like germinating seeds – to grow opportunities all over the Valley of the Sun.

GSB: Finally, on transportation?

Colin: We brought bike share to the city, accelerated the deployment of more light rail, and sought to create a policy of “complete streets” where thoroughfares are designed to move goods, ideas, peoples and services…not just cars. Instead of a banal streetscape that consists of 4 lanes of vehicular traffic with episodic, anemic tree or shade cover that is not just uncomfortable for, but openly hazardous for pedestrians and cyclists – in addition to vehicle operators – “complete streets” paints a more virtuous picture for all. By embracing slower vehicular speeds, with more purposeful pedestrian and non-motorized transit options and gathering spots, places and businesses flourish. Look to intersections from Manhattan to Curitiba. What were once solely car dominated areas are now bastions of commerce and culture. By the way, it also has positive environmental impacts by tailpipe emissions…so it’s got that going for it, too.

 

IN FRIDAY’S PART II: Colin discusses his return to Arizona State and how he helped it become a Green-Sports innovator.

 

 


 

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GreenSportsBlogger Interviewed on Let’s Give A Damn Podcast

I recently had the pleasure of being interviewed by Nashville-based Nick LaParra for his terrific “Let’s Give A Damn” podcast.

 

Nick LaParra is one cool, purposeful dude.

He has led non-profit organizations of all shapes and sizes. Now he helps leaders and organizations with their social impact, leadership development, and communications needs. Nick and his family live an über-minimalist lifestyle — “anytime we buy something like clothes or a toy, we have to give an older version of that ‘something’ away”.

And Nick’s “Let’s Give A Damn” podcast is a must-listen for those interested in the intersection of doing well and doing good.

 

Nick LaParra

Nick LaParra, host of the “Let’s Give A Damn” podcast (Photo credit: Nick LaParra)

 

So it was a great honor when Nick asked to interview me on “Lets’ Give A Damn” about my journey to the climate change fight and the Green-Sports world. We also spoke about how sports can best engage fans on environmental issues. Our conversation lasted almost two hours but don’t worry; Nick is a great editor so the podcast runs for a tight 45 minutes.

Click here to Give a Listen and ENJOY!

 


 

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GreenSportsBlog’s Five-Year Anniversary…A Reflection

When I started GreenSportsBlog back on May 22, 2013, I had no idea what to expect.

I had never blogged before, wasn’t sure if there would be an audience for content about the intersection of Green & Sports, and didn’t know if the movers and shakers of the Green-Sports world would talk to me.

Five years and 512 posts later, I can say happily say there is consistent and growing interest — our 7,000+ monthly readers attest to that. And I have been blessed to be able to interview Green-Sports activists, corporate leaders, eco-athletes, and more. To all, I say a heartfelt thank you — and keep reading and commenting!

To commemorate GSB’s fifth anniversary, I thought you might find it interesting to read about how I came to write about Green-Sports and to see which posts have been the most well-read.

 

HOW I BECAME A GREEN-SPORTS BLOGGER

A lifelong, passionate New York-area sports fan — for those who haven’t read this blog much, the Jets, Knicks, Rutgers, and Yankees are my local favorites, along with North London’s Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League. While at Rutgers, I announced football and basketball while a student at Rutgers on WRSU-FM

 

WRSU Knightline

Yours truly, 2nd from right and mustachioed in an old school Jets jersey, making what must surely have been an astute point on Knightline, the post-game sports talk show on WRSU-FM, the Rutgers student radio station back…a few years (Photo credit: WRSU-FM)

 

I tried to make a go of sportscasting as a professional, but it is a very tough way to make a living. After earning my MBA from NYU’s Stern School of Business, I pivoted to the sports business, where I was fortunate to spend 15 years, starting in the early 1990s through the mid 2000s, working in advertising sales and marketing. Getting paid to go to the World Series, NBA Finals, World Cup and more? How cool was that?!?!

The environment interested me — it was a factor in my voting decisions; I supported the Sierra Club and like organizations. But did my greenness match my sports fandom? Only when it came to the Jets, who wear green. Otherwise, not even close.

Until 9/11.

Working for Sports Illustrated Kids in midtown Manhattan at the time, I was very fortunate personally to not know anyone in the Twin Towers. Still, I felt like I had to do something. This was the Pearl Harbor of my generation and this was my home city.

But what to do?

It wasn’t until about four months after that horrible day that I found my answer.

In “Green Is the New Red, White & Blue,” Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman posited that we in the U.S. were fueling the wars on terrorism that we were fighting (we were already in Afghanistan at the time; the invasion of Iraq was a year or so away) by our insanely profligate energy use. His logic went something like this:

  1. The U.S. represented four percent of the world’s population but 25 percent of its energy usage.
  2. Since 9/11 happened before the fracking-led domestic oil and gas production boom, we had to source a good chunk of our energy from places like Saudi Arabia.
  3. The Saudi royal family siphoned some of that U.S oil revenue to its Wahhabi extremists to ensure they would remain in power.
  4. And those Wahhabists funded the training of 15 of the 19 9/11 attackers.

It was like the compact fluorescent lightbulb went on above my head! Green was going to play a big part in the solutions to geopolitical problems and I would play a small role. So I “greened up” my personal life, buying a hybrid car (becoming a very early adapter; I knew more about how a hybrid worked than the salesman), changing out all my lightbulbs to compact fluorescents, and becoming an almost-vegetarian.

But that wasn’t enough.

I needed to somehow green my work life. This became even more of an imperative the more I learned about climate change.

But how to get a green job? In 2002-2003, most were technical in nature. And, let’s put it this way: You do NOT want me installing solar panels on your roof.

So I thought, “what am I good at?” Sales, marketing and story telling. The trick was how to translate that from the mature sports industry to the nascent world of green business.

I began to network like crazy, joining a gaggle of sustainable business groups in New York. But when I couldn’t find what I call green “job-jobs” for someone with a sales/marketing/communications background, I decided, in September 2005, to take a risk, leaving SI Kids and recreating myself as a sustainability-focused, business development, marketing and communications consultant.

Since then I have helped a wide array of organizations — from Fortune 500 companies to startups to nonprofits — tell their sustainability stories more powerfully, generate new revenue by selling sponsorships to green events, and garner positive media coverage for their sustainability-related accomplishments. Some of my clients whose names you’d recognize include BT (aka British Telecom), Empire State Building, Whole Foods Market and the Wildlife Conservation Society

Then, about three years into my life as a sustainability consultant, in 2008-2009, I began to wonder if there was an intersection of Green and Sports, with the idea being that I would love to marry my two passions.

So I poked around and found out there was a fellow named Dr. Allen Hershkowitz who, working with NRDC, helped the Philadelphia Eagles and minority owner Christina Weiss Lurie make sure the toilet paper at Lincoln Financial Field wasn’t being sourced from eagle habitats. 

What an introduction to Green-Sports!

A year or so I discovered that a small group of pro sports teams from Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver had banded together to form the Green Sports Alliance. Their goal was to share better practices on energy efficiency, waste, and more. This sounded like an organization and a movement — Green-Sports — that was poised to grow. 

And I needed to be a part of it! But again, my question was “how?”

In 2011-12, I did more digging — and noticed that the Alliance was growing well beyond its Pacific Northwest roots, and that the organizers of the London 2012 Olympics made sustainability a key strand of their DNA. 

I figured media organization must be covering this burgeoning Green-Sports field. 

No one was.

So I decided would become that media organization.

And that led to GreenSportsBlog’s birth five years ago, almost to the day.

 

Lew GSA 2

Yours truly, making what what must surely have been an astute point at the 2016 Green Sports Alliance Summit in Houston (Photo credit: Lewis Blaustein)

 

FIVE KEY LESSONS

I’ve learned a ton these last five years — so much so, I could write an entire post just on that topic. But, for purposes of this story, I’ll boil it down to five key lessons that have been imparted to me by you, the readers, based on your comments and which GSB posts have drawn the most traffic:

  1. Allow the People Building the Green-Sports World to Share Their Stories Directly with Readers: Based on reader comments, The GSB Interview is the most popular segment on the blog. Sharing the unfiltered insights, struggles and successes of a wide array of women and men who are responsible for greening the sports world is an honor and a pleasure.
  2. Go Beyond Major League Sports and Mega-Events: Of course, we cover the greening of major pro sports leagues in North America and Europe, as well as of mega events like the Olympics and the FIFA World Cup. But stories like Forest Green Rovers, the fourth tier English soccer club that is the Greenest Team in Sports, and the St. Paul Saints, the minor league baseball team in Minnesota which won the Greenest New Stadium of the Year in 2015, have drawn some of the site’s best traffic numbers.
  3. Write with the Voice of the Sports Fan: From reader comments back in GSB’s early days, it seems that most expected the blog to be written by someone with a cleantech, facilities management and/or “green journalism” background. Many sounded pleased that I brought a different point-of-view, that of a passionate sustainability communicator who is also a big sports fan. Understanding and loving sports — and the people who follow it — was and is important. Especially when one considers, as Allen Hershkowitz is wont to say, that 13 percent of Americans follow science, but 65-70 percent follow sports. And as Nelson Mandela offered, “Sports can change the world!”
  4. Bringing a Sense of Humor to the Table is a Good Thing: Our forays into the satirical have been well received by readers and commenters. The July 2014 story in which I imagined that LeBron James decided to leave Miami to return to Cleveland — not because he wanted to go home, but because he was afraid of climate change’s effects in South Florida — remains the blog’s most read post. In fact, every post in which I’ve included the words “LeBron” and “James” has scored well. That bodes well for this one :). Hey, the climate change fight can be a very hard slog at times, so adding a dollop of humor here and there can’t hurt.

The fifth key lesson is that Green-Sports Needs To Play the “Climate Change Fight” Game…and It Needs to Play to WIN!: Herm Edwards, now the head football coach at Arizona State University, was coaching my New York Jets back in 2002, when he famously ranted that “The great thing about sports is, you play to win the game! Hello?! You play to win the game!!!”

 

Herm Edwards’ 2002 “You play to win the game” rant

 

To me, it’s clear that Green-Sports needs to be playing the “climate change fight” game. But are we? And are we playing to win? Despite some moves in the right direction, it’s clear to me that the Green-Sports world is not there yet.

Hey, I get it: Climate change is political and sports is where people often go to get away from politics. But acknowledging those realities shouldn’t mean we abandon the fight. 

And then there are two other important realities at play here:

  1. Climate change is the most existential threat the world faces
  2. It will take consistent and unyielding passion to generate the political will to turn humanity away from the carbon train wreck we’re hurtling towards.

It says here that tapping into the passion of sports fans and the massive size of the fan base is essential to the climate change fight. I have been heartened by the many GreenSportsBlog readers who have encouraged me to continue to push the Green-Sports world and sports media (#CoverGreenSports) to engage more forthrightly on climate change. I certainly will.

 

MOST READ GREENSPORTSBLOG POSTS

Here is a list of our 10 most read posts over our first five years. Enjoy and please keep reading and sharing GreenSportsBlog!

  1. The REAL Reason LeBron Chose to Leave Miami for Cleveland: Climate Change (July 2014)
  2. The GSB Interview: Mark Teixeira of the NY Yankees; Helping to Rebuild and Green NW Atlanta (February 2016)
  3. Mercedes-Benz Stadium: Super Cool, Super Green Future Home of the Falcons and Atlanta FC (November 2015)
  4. Birds Flying Into Minneapolis’ Glass-Walled US Bank Stadium Not a Good Look with Super Bowl LII Only Two Months Away (December 2017)
  5. Integral Hockey: Rebuilding Broken Hockey Sticks–and Keeping Them Out of the Landfill (October 2015)
  6. How Green is Augusta National Golf Club, Home of The Masters (April 2016)
  7. The GSB Interview: Leilani Münter, Looking to Turn on the Speed and Turn Auto Racing Fans on to a Vegan Diet at Daytona (January 2018)
  8. Forest Green Rovers, Greenest Team in Sports, Earns Promotion Up England’s Football/Soccer Ladder (May 2017)
  9. PyeongChang 2018: How Green will the Winter Olympics Be? A Conversation with Sustainability Manager Hyeona Kim (August 2017)
  10. Green Sports Alliance Calls on Sports Fans To Take “Live Green or Die™” Challenge in Response to Trump Pulling U.S Out of Paris Climate Agreement (June 2017)

 

 


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

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

 

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

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

 

Jessie Diggins Lars Baron Getty

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

TOYOTA ADVERTISES THE IMPORTANCE OF KEEPING THE WINTER IN WINTER

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

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

Check it out here:

 

 

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

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

We’re not there yet, unfortunately.

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

Which is much better than nothing.

 

POW CHAIRMAN JEREMY JONES: FIGHTING CLIMATE CHANGE MEANS SAVING JOBS

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

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

 

Jeremy Jones

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

^ I am a volunteer with Citizens’ Climate Lobby

 

 


 

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Cape Town Sports Hit Hard By Water Crisis

Cape Town, South Africa’s largest city with a population about the size of Los Angeles, is facing a catastrophic water crisis. Authorities have sounded the alarm that as soon as June 4 — ominously referred to as “Day Zero” — the drought-stricken city will have to cut off the taps to all homes and most businesses, leaving nearly all of the city’s 3.7 million residents without access to clean running water. How will the water crisis impact the city’s sports teams and events?

 

Cape Town, South Africa is a sports-mad city.

Rugby, soccer, cricket, cycling, and more have passionate followings among many of the “Mother City’s” 3.7 million residents.

But with June 4 expected to be the day the city runs out of clean, running water — considered to be the case when water levels in dams reach 13.5 percent — sports will find itself in an unfamiliar, yet wholly justifiable position: The back burner.

Before we get into how Cape Town’s sports teams and events are reacting to and are affected by the water crisis, let’s take a quick look at how the city got to this point.

 

NO WATER IN CAPE TOWN? HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE?

According to numerous reports from experts, for the last decade or more, Cape Town’s authorities have been forward thinkers and actors on water conservation. Writing in the February 9 issue of Vox.com, Zeeshan Alleem asserted that the city “worked hard to fix leaks in the pipes that distribute water across the city….Leaky pipes account for between 30 and 40 percent of a city’s lost water…Cape Town has reduced the amount of water it loses through leaks to about half of that. And in 2015…Cape Town even won a prestigious international award for its water conservation policies.”

Despite these successes and others, dams that were completely full just a few years ago now stand at about a quarter capacity and Day Zero is less than four months away. How did this happen?

The main culprits are a once-in-a-century, three-year drought, along with a dangerous lack of water supply diversification — Cape Town gets more than 99 percent of its water supply from dams that rely solely on rain; underground aquifers and desalination are not part of the mix. And, as University of Cape Town hydrologist Piotr Wolski told Laura Poppick in the February 13 edition of Smithsonian.com, climate change is serving as a crucial accelerant.

 

Cape Town H2O supply

The city’s main water supply — Theewaterskloof dam outside Grabouw, Cape Town — is largely empty (Photo credit: AP)

 

WHAT HAPPENS AFTER DAY ZERO?

Whenever Day Zero hits, Cape Town residents, per Alleem’s Vox.com piece, will then “have to go to roughly 200 collection points scattered throughout the city to collect strictly rationed water. People will be allowed just 25 liters — about 6.5 gallons — of water a day.” For context, one toilet flush uses about nine liters of water; the average American or European uses at least 100 liters of H2O per day. And each collection station is expected to be trafficked by roughly 18,000 people each day — think about that for a second — 18,000 people per day. Not surprisingly, South African police and military forces will guard collection points.

 

Cape Town drought

Residents of Cape Town wait in line to fill containers with water at a source for natural spring water on February 2 (Photo credit: Bram Janssen/AP)

 

HOW ARE SPORTS DEALING WITH THE WATER CRISIS?

Here’s a sampling of how the major Cape Town sports leagues, venues and events are dealing with the water crisis:

  • The city’s many soccer teams were forced to close 13 venues in the city in an effort to conserve water. Cape Town’s five Premier Soccer League clubs are now all playing in Athlone Stadium, which has greatly diminished the quality of the pitch. Going forward, the prospect of game postponements and/or cancellations is real.
  • Speaking of postponements, the Western Province Rugby Union made the unprecedented decision to delay the start of its season, which normally takes place in April, until at least June. Ashfak Mohamad reported in an IOL News story on February 8, that “the state of various fields around the Cape Peninsula and beyond paints a grim picture…[and] is believed to be dire at many underprivileged community clubs on the Cape Flats as well.”
  • A parched Hamilton Rugby Ground hosted the popular Cape Town Rugby Tens tournament on February 1-3. Tournament Director Gerhard Ordendaal said the event, which drew 20,000+ fans, was water-neutral, “drawing zero litres of drinking water from the municipal supply.”

 

Stephen Oval Hamilton Rugby Club

The pitch at the usually lush Hamilton Rugby Club ground, Stephan Oval, in Green Point (Photo credit: IOL News)

 

  • The Cape Town Cycle Tour, the biggest timed cycle race in the world with upwards of the 35,000 participants, is still on for March 11. Like the Rugby Tens, it claims it will also be water-neutral. Tour director Dave Bellairs told the South Africa Sunday Times’ Craig Ray on January 30 that, “Eliminating the event’s reliance on municipal drinking water will be achieved through a variety of strategies, [including] bringing water in from upcountry for drinking and ice on the route‚ and using locally-produced desalinated water for all cleansing purposes. Water stations along the route will be reduced to 14, [which are] essential from a medical point of view.” As a former long-distance cyclist, I am a bit skeptical that the Tour’s zero-water goal will be achieved. After all, is it a given that the 35,000+ participants resist the understandable urge to take long, post-Tour showers? Hopefully the answer will be a resounding YES but I’m not so sure.
  • Despite the water crisis-related cancellations of many local cricket competitions, the big international Test match between South Africa and Australia, set for Cape Town’s Newlands Cricket Ground on March 22, is still on. Dave Faulkner, writing in The Australian on February 3,  reported that “Newlands has an ample supply of bore water so what is often called the world’s most beautiful cricket ground is exempt from [current] restrictions.” That said, given the heightened tensions in the city, there is a chance the Test will be postponed.

 

Newlands Cricket Ground

Newlands Cricket Ground, an oasis of green in Cape Town during the three-year drought, is still scheduled to host the Test match between South Africa and Australia on March 22 (Photo credit: Mybroadband.co.za)

 

  • The 30,000 runners taking part in the iconic Two Oceans Marathon, set for March 31, will also rely on purified spring water from Newlands. It will be distributed to all participants via sachets (small cloth pouches) and other water delivery systems. Some runners will use hydration packs to fill up at the start of the race instead of using their daily household allowance. All portable toilets brought to the race course will use recycled water and, unlike in past years, there will be no shower facilities at the finish line.

 

This likely wouldn’t be the case in any other year but, in 2018, I feel comfortable saying that most of the runners in the Two Oceans Marathon will be fine if the race is rain soaked.

 


 

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Winter Sports Drives Green-Sports, Part 3: Gretchen Bleiler, Olympic Snowboarder and Climate Change-Fighting Advocate

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

In Parts 1 and 2, we interviewed the First Couple of Green-Sports, cross-country skiers and climate change fighters, Erika Flowers-Newell and Andy Newell.

Today, in Part 3, we talk with Green-Sports ROCK STAR, Gretchen Bleiler. She won a silver medal as a snowboarder for the USA at the Torino Olympics in 2006. Her climate change-fighting chops are also Olympian: Gretchen lobbies members of Congress, many of them Republicans, for action on climate and the environment as a member of Protect Our Winters (POW), an incredible group of outdoor sports professional athletes and climate change fighters. And if that’s not enough, she and her husband are Green-Sports entrepreneurs, with their reusable water bottle company, ALEX. I hope you enjoy reading our wide-ranging interview as much as I enjoyed conducting it.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Gretchen, there are so many things to talk about, so let’s begin at the beginning. I’m guessing you grew up in the mountains somewhere…

Gretchen Bleiler: I actually grew up in a town called Oakwood, just outside of Dayton, OH. A year after my mom and dad got divorced, my mom decided to move us out to Aspen, CO when I was 10. My grandparents had owned a place there since the 60s. And it was there that my awareness and respect for our environment really took root. During the first week of 6th grade, I knew my life was forever changed when I was catapulted into an Outdoor Education trip, part of our school curriculum, where we climbed a 14,000 foot mountain. And I had never been camping or hiking before!

GSB: …14,000 feet? No sweat! I grew up in Fairfield, CT and our field trips were to places like the United Nations and the Mark Twain Museum in Hartford. Cool in their own right but I wish we had outdoor education trips…

Gretchen: They were great. We hung out in nature for a week, far away from civilization, and learned how to survive on our own during 24-hour solos. During the winter, we learned how to build igloos in order to survive and stay warm in case we ever got lost in the mountains.

GSB: I’ve been to the area and it is spectacular. Is that where your interest in sports took off?

Gretchen: Oh that happened while I was in Ohio. I know it sounds crazy but, when I was seven years old I said to myself “I’m going to grow up to be an Olympian!” Actually what’s even crazier is that the sport I ended up competing in, snowboarding, wasn’t even close to being an Olympic sport at that time.

GSB: I knew when I was seven that I would never make the New York Yankees and I was right, too! Dang, we were two very self-aware kids! So what sports did you play in Ohio?

Gretchen: I did everything…swimming, diving, rode horses. I played soccer, tennis, and golf…You name it.

GSB: And when you got to Aspen you started with snow sports?

Gretchen: Yes! I had skied a bit before we moved to Colorado. But when we moved to Aspen, another incredible part of my education was that during the winters, we would have a half-day off one day per week to go skiing on the mountain.

GSB: OK, I’m officially jealous now…

Gretchen: One of those Wednesdays, I took a snowboard lesson with a bunch of friends and I was hooked. That was 1992.

GSB: …Even though it wasn’t an Olympic sport?

Gretchen: Even though it wasn’t an Olympic sport. Not only that, but it wasn’t even allowed on most mountain resorts. But that was actually what I loved about it. It was an anti-establishment movement meant to mix things up and bring fresh blood into the ski industry. It was about breaking the rules. It was free and creative and outside of the box. It wasn’t just about how fast could you get down the mountain, but equally important was your style; how creatively you could approach terrain, and the tricks you were doing. Snowboarding didn’t start as a competitive sport, but rather a new lifestyle.

 

Gretchen Bleiler headshot Monte Isom

Gretchen Bleiler (Photo credit: Monte Isom)

 

GSB: Sounds like a new culture, which must’ve been amazing to be part of at the start. Now, you told me off line you have three brothers…

Gretchen: …Also a half-sister…

GSB: …And a half-sister. Did you snowboard against your brothers and half-sister and could you beat them?

Gretchen: I always looked up to my brothers. They were always in on the cool new stuff. So I just watched what they were doing and would follow along. I would learn about the tricks they were doing and then go out and try to do them myself.

GSB: I imagine you pushed each other. When did you get into competitive snowboarding?

Gretchen: When I was 15, a kid from the Aspen Valley Snowboard team suggested I join them. That winter, I joined the team and found myself doing well in competitions. Snowboarding was controversially inducted into the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. While a lot of core snowboarders boycotted the Olympics, this was my dream come true. Now my goal was clear: Become an Olympic snowboarder.

GSB: Did you make the team?

Gretchen: I had only been snowboarding for 6 years in 1998. But I really went for it for the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics. I ended up tying with my best friend, Tricia Byrnes, for the last spot. By the way, she’s a real environmentalist — she’s never owned a car. Anyway, it came down to a triple tiebreaker and Tricia got the spot. I was happy for her, but I was devastated. After that experience, I vowed to myself that enjoying the ride had to be non-negotiable while I worked everyday towards my goal of becoming an Olympian. I realized I wanted to make the Olympic team so badly that I had lost the fun in my snowboarding, and vowed never to lose sight of that again.

GSB: Say more…

Gretchen: In order to achieve something, you have to become it. I became very aware of my choke points — self-doubt under pressure, worrying about results. “Lighten up,” I told myself. In January of 2003, I threw down a gold medal winning run at the X Games while having fun. I enjoyed the day with my friends and family. And I banked that feeling. I went on to win every contest I entered that year, and ultimately that feeling is what helped me make it to the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy and win a silver medal in the half-pipe.

 

Highlights of the women’s half-pipe competition at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, IT. Gretchen Bleiler’s silver medal-winning run starts at 1:24 of this 3:12 clip.

 

 

Gretchen Bleiler Danny Kass Bob Martin

Danny Kass joins Gretchen Bleiler in celebrating their silver medals in men’s and women’s half-pipe at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, IT (Photo credit: Bob Martin)

 

GSB: You became it, you achieved it…

Gretchen: …Thanks. It was a dream come true, and a fairy tale all in one. Yet, one of the greatest things I took away from those Olympics is actually something most wouldn’t expect. There was a US speed skater named Joey Cheek

GSB: Oh, sure, I remember him! Talented, charismatic…

Gretchen: …Not only did he win a bunch of medals, but he turned around and donated all of his prize money to an organization he worked with called Right To Play. Their mission is to use sport to educate and empower young people to overcome the effects of poverty, conflict, and disease in disadvantaged communities.

GSB: Incredible, really…

Gretchen: I know! He used his Olympic experience to stand on the podium, promote his mission, and then light up Right To Play by raising a lot of media attention and therefore a lot of funds towards the organization. It made a huge impression on me. Also, after the Olympics were over, the U.S. Team was invited to the White House to meet President Bush (43). We also had a luncheon with a House member and I’ll never forget what he told us: “Congratulations! You are Olympians. You will always be Olympians. But this is not an end, it’s just the beginning. The question is: What are you going to do with it?” Cheek and the White House meeting opened up my field of vision and I decided to use my platform to talk about climate change.

GSB: How did you go about doing that?

Gretchen: Well, it wasn’t from the scientific point of view; I let the scientists take care of that aspect of it. Rather, I share my own experiences as a professional snowboarder who’s traveled around the world chasing snow! Reduced snow pack, warmer temperatures and shorter winters all mean a hit to the sports we love, but these changes also impact the economies of all the mountain town communities where I compete and train. This has all been happening in my lifetime….

GSB: Which isn’t all that long…

Gretchen: …Hearing from locals in Switzerland about their receding glaciers, rain in January in the Alps and more. The reactions were and have been unanimous: Climate change is real, we are the cause, we have to do something — and we can. So I began to work with different climate change and environmental groups. Then, in 2009, I joined Protect Our Winters (POW) and that helped focus my efforts and hone in on my platform and find my voice.

GSB: What about POW allowed you to do that?

Gretchen: POW is terrific: We’re mobilizing the outdoor sports community against climate change. As individuals we all have unique stories, but, together, we are winter’s voice and are the voice for all the other industries that are affected when winters are impacted by climate change. I’ve found my niche in POW — it has given me opportunities to step outside of my comfort zone and stand up for something that, in my opinion, is the biggest issue facing humanity.

GSB: Tell us about some of those opportunities…

Gretchen: Throughout the years I’ve been a part of POW’s “Hot Planet, Cool Athletes” school assembly programs. It makes the topic of climate change engaging, more relatable, and more personal for students. And it also makes the solutions more real, more achievable. Then, I got into lobbying on Capitol Hill and speaking at big international events like COP21, the global climate conference in Paris in 2015 that led to the Paris Climate Agreement

 

Gretchen Bleiler Forest Woodward

“Ms. Bleiler Goes to Washington”: Gretchen Bleiler on her 2017 lobbying trip to Capitol Hill with Protect Our Winters (Photo credit: Forest Woodward)

 

GSB: Which President Trump plans to pull the US out of. UGH! How did you feel when you were making these presentations?

Gretchen: I was sooooo insecure when I first started — didn’t go to college as I went into professional snowboarding straight from high school. Like I said, I had to battle and push myself out of my comfort zone. Even when my mind told me “I don’t want to do this!” I pushed myself to do it anyway. When we first started going to meet members of Congress in 2010, the reaction was “who are these winter sports athletes?” Now, everyone knows us and they know we come back every year and are holding them accountable for their words. They know that collectively we have a huge social media presence so our audience will find out what their representatives are doing to help on climate — or not. On our last trip to the Capitol a few months ago, after Hurricane Irma, I spoke in front of the House of Representatives’ new, bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus (CSC). This is a group that more people need to know about: For a Democrat to join, he or she has to bring in a Republican…

GSB: YES! I know about the CSC! I volunteer with Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL), a national group of citizen lobbyists advocating for a revenue neutral price on carbon through a “carbon fee and dividend” legislative proposal. An amazingly persistent CCL-er from Philadelphia, Jay Butera, would go down to Washington weekly, on his own dime, with an endless supply of positivity, to push the Climate Solutions Caucus. Started by Florida representatives Ted Deutch (D-FL22) and Carlos Curbelo (R-FL26), the group has grown from a handful of members to about 60 in about two years. Republicans are continuing to join, even in the wake of the Trump election and the hijacking of the EPA by his administration and the fossil fuel industry.

 

Gretchen Bleiler Capitol Hill Forrest Woodward

Gretchen Bleiler, flanked by professional fly fisherman Hilary Hutcheson (l) and Auden Schendler, Chairman of the Board of POW, testifying in front of the House of Representatives’ bi-partisan Climate Solutions Caucus (CSC) in 2017. At the head of the table sit CSC members Ryan Costello (R-PA, in purple tie) and Ted Deutch (D-FL, glasses). (Photo credit: Forest Woodward)

 

Gretchen: I love Citizens’ Climate Lobby and the CSC! To testify about the impacts of climate change on the outdoor sports and recreational industry, directly after Irma, was ironic in its timing. On one hand, Reps. Deutch and Curbelo from Florida, who started the caucus, were obviously dealing with matters of life and death after the destruction of the hurricane. On the other, what better time to talk about climate change because it was directly in our faces, with flooding in the south as well as wildfires in the west? We were able to inspire the committee with our stories and show them how important it was to us to see Democrats and Republicans working together around climate change. Beyond the caucus, we had a lot of meetings, mostly with Republicans who are on the fence about voting pro environment. These conversations are sometimes difficult because we don’t often share the same point of view, but that’s the point — we don’t have to agree to have a conversation. Actually, in order to solve this problem, we need to listen to people with different opinions, but we have to somehow agree on the facts of the reality of climate change. There is just no time for denial at this point; we need solutions. But what’s great about our group is that most everyone has a story about why they love the great outdoors, so we’re able to bring it back to that common ground, plus back it up with economic facts, like the snow sports industry is a $72 billion dollar industry.

GSB: That is significant…

Gretchen: …And it supports 695,000 jobs, which is more than all of the extractive industries — oil, gas and coal — combined.

GSB: Even more significant…Do you do anything else for POW?

Gretchen: Beyond our Capitol Hill trips, and the Hot Planet, Cool Athletes presentations, I write op-eds and make calls to Colorado electeds.

GSB: What is that like for you?

Gretchen: I’m getting more and more comfortable. POW is currently running a campaign to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) from a senate proposal to allow drilling on pristine lands that might net some limited short-term economic gains, but at a severe environmental cost. Drilling our public lands for fossil fuels that will only emit more greenhouse gases is no way to balance a budget. I called Colorado’s Republican US Senator, Cory Gardner on this issue…

GSB: Did you talk to the Senator or his staff?

Gretchen: I talked to a staff member, they listened and we’ll just keep on calling. Also, while we were on the Hill, a POW group met with Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) who is leading the effort to open up ANWR. Many members of POW’s Riders Alliance spend a lot of time skiing and snowboarding in Alaska, for obvious reasons. Unfortunately, for now at least, she continues to make choices that show she’s not looking at the big picture of protecting our public lands and climate.

GSB: Well, she’s facing significant resistance in Alaska and elsewhere. This just means POW’s calls and meetings with Members of Congress are more important than ever. So what can we look for from you and POW in 2018?

Gretchen: For 2018, we are laser-focused on electing a climate-friendly Congress in 2018, House and Senate. And we’re also working on the state level, from Governors races to state legislatures.

GSB: You know what, Gretchen? YOU should run!

Gretchen: Oh, I don’t think that’s for me. But activism and pushing our electeds on climate? Count me IN!

GSB: Well, I think you’d be great. But, what you’re doing with POW is so important. In fact, dear readers, I can’t stress how important and extraordinary Gretchen’s and the rest of POW’s efforts are. These athletes, Olympians and World Champions, are finding the time to lobby members of Congress, and campaign for climate-friendly candidates in the 2018 election. Now, before I let you go, tell us about your green business, Alex Bottle.

Gretchen: We started ALEX to be a sustainable lifestyle company. ALEX stands for Always Live EXtraordinarily; all of our products are a constant reminder for us to strive for that. “Extraordinary is such a big word and we want to make it approachable by reminding people that it’s our small everyday choices and actions that add up to an extraordinary life. By focusing on the steps in the journey and not the just the end result, we can achieve our own extraordinary, AND love the process.

As for products, our first focus was in the reusable bottle space because we were sick of seeing people around us use disposable plastic bottles. We realized that to get people to make the shift from disposable to reusable, we needed to make it simple. Since the reusable bottle offerings at the time lacked any style, and they were impossible to clean, they turned people off. That’s when my husband, Chris, had the idea to make a reusable bottle that opened in the middle for cleaning. What’s interesting is when we opened the bottle in the middle, it allowed for a bunch of other cool features we didn’t expect, like being able to compact it to half its size, use it as two cups, or completely customize the color combinations. It became so much more then just a bottle. We’ve since released two new products: An insulated commuter cup and a pint cup, both with sneaky bottle openers on the bottom.

We wanted to have a small and thoughtful line up that covers every drink situation. Our bottle is great for smoothies, cocktails, and fruit infused water, while our commuter cup is great for keeping coffee and tea hot, and then you have the stackable pint cup for festivals and parties. We designed it so that you could have three reusable products and be set for any situation.

 

ALEX FAMILY -01-01

The ALEX Bottle product line (Photo credit: ALEX Bottle)

 

 

Gretchen ALEX Kate Holstein

Gretchen Bleiler, in her natural habitat, with snowboard and ALEX Bottle in hand (Photo credit: Kate Holstein)

 

GSB: Congratulations to you and Chris. What’s it like to be manufacturing a consumer product?

Gretchen: In some respects, it’s been like climbing Everest. Thankfully, Chris runs the business and manufacturing end, and I’m an ambassador for the mission of the brand, which is encouraging people to live their extraordinary. We wanted to manufacture Alex in the US but the costs are just prohibitive. So we started in Indonesia but had problems there. In fact, we’re on our fourth manufacturer since 2009. Now Alex is produced in China. But, despite the fits and starts, we’ve found our niche and we’re proud to be able to manufacture and sell a product that lives up to our high standards.

GSB: Where can one buy an Alex Bottle?

Gretchen: The best place to get one is on our website, www.alexbottle.com. That’s where you’ll find all of the color options. Since a lot of people love Amazon, we offer our insulated commuter cup and our Stainless Steel pint cup through Amazon Prime.

GSB: How are you planning to scale the business and perhaps add the brick and mortar channel? Are you looking for venture and/or angel funding?

Gretchen: We’re not looking at venture funding, at least as of now. Our plan is to grow the business organically, via the winter, adventure and outdoor sports communities. We really focus on customer service and celebrating the people who support and buy from us. We’ve definitely found that our ALEX family of customers are the best spokespeople for what we’re doing, so focusing on making sure their experience is extraordinary is our biggest opportunity for growing the business.

GSB: All the best to you and Chris…and I still think you should rethink the “run for office” thing.

 

Gretchen and Chris

Gretchen Bleiler, husband Chris Hotell and Kota in their ALEX Bottle studio (Photo credit: Gretchen Bleiler)

 


 

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Protect Our Winters Slams President’s Anti-Climate Change Executive Action

The mission of Protect Our Winters (POW), an organization made up of leading winter sports athletes and the brands that support them, is to mobilize the outdoor sports community to lead the charge towards positive climate action. The group stepped up Wednesday with a strong statement and a positive action plan against President Trump’s anti-climate change executive action.

 

 

President Trump, with a broad-stroke executive order issued Tuesday, directed his Cabinet to start taking an axe to a wide array of Obama-era policies on climate change — from emissions rules for power plants (aka the Clean Power Plan) to limits on methane leaks; from the use of the social cost of carbon to guide government actions to a moratorium on federal coal leasing, and more.

Trump Signs Exec Order

President Donald J. Trump after signing the executive order on climate change. (Photo credit: Boston Globe)

 

Criticism came from expected and very important quarters: Former Vice President Al Gore called the President’s executive order that makes the United States’ 2015 Paris Agreement pledge to lower emissions by at least 26 percent below 2005 levels by 2025 virtually impossible to achieve “a misguided step away from a sustainable, carbon-free future for ourselves and generations to come.” Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman used but one word in his must-read column, “Trump is a Chinese Agent,” to describe the action: “Stupid.” 

Let’s be clear: the President’s actions are not orders that can immediately be implemented; rather they are directions to reconsider the Clean Power Plan and other Obama-era climate change fighting rules. Before those can be acted upon, legal actions can be filed that could take years to resolve. For an in-depth and insightful analysis of all this, I urge you to read Brad Plumer’s top notch piece in Vox. But, suffice to say, for the climate change fight, Tuesday’s actions were possibly calamitous in the long run and potentially dispiriting in the hear and now.

But this is not the time for discouragement. Again, I refer you to Al Gore: No matter how discouraging this executive order may be, we must, we can, and we will solve the climate crisis. No one man or group can stop the encouraging and escalating momentum we are experiencing in the fight to protect our planet.”

Discouragement is not part of Protect Our Winters‘ (POW) vocabulary.

POW is the Boulder, CO-based nonprofit whose leadership is made up of leading professional skiers, snowboarders and other winter sports athletes. To engage in the climate change fight, POW’s Olympic medal- and World Championship-winning athletes trade in their skis and snowboards for political advocacy and lobbying along with community-based activism. To my knowledge, there is no other athlete group or sports league that is as deeply involved in the climate change fight as POW. 

Exhibit A of POW’s climate change fighting chops is Tuesday’s Let’s Take Action”-type blog that was posted shortly after the executive order was announced. It urges its followers to:

  1. Call their governors, as states can move forward on limiting emissions from fossil fuel fired power plants.
  2. Keep focused. Per the blog, when the EPA and the other government agencies take up President Trump’s directions to change course, they will “have to prove that they have reason to change the Clean Power Plan and the other environmental rules under attack. (read: they have to prove it’s not just politics, but that there is new information or evidence requiring change). When they do this, there will be opportunity for the public to comment.” 

POW

 

 

At that point, you can be sure POW will provide their 94,000+ Facebook friends and 20,000+ Twitter followers with the tools to maximize the impact of their comments. And POW athletes will continue to lobby, blog and speak out against the Trump Administration’s assault on the climate change fight.

 


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