Sustainability at the 2019 NCAA Final Fours — Part I: The Women in Tampa

The 2019 NCAA Women’s and Men’s Final Fours both had sustainability initiatives. And both featured Green Teams, squads of volunteers that helped educate fans about environmentally friendly behaviors and to direct them to place their food waste in the proper receptacles. 

Aside from that, the two events were about as different as the host cities, Tampa for the women and Minneapolis for the men.

GreenSportsBlog spoke with the leaders of the Green Teams about what they and their teams experienced.

On Friday, we will visit the Twin Cities to look at the Men’s Final Four. But today, our focus is on Tampa and the first Women’s Final Four to feature a Green Team. 

 

 

“Sustainability is not really a thing in the Tampa area.”

So observed Madeleine “Maddy” Orr, faculty member in Sport Administration at Ontario’s Laurentian University, and a founder of Sportecology.org, a new platform that connects people working in Green-Sports with research that can help propel their efforts forward.

 

MaddyOrr1.2017

Madeleine “Maddy” Orr (Photo credit: Katya Moussatova)

 

Tampa’s lack of recycling infrastructure was certainly a challenge.

“It seems like recycling is not a priority in the Tampa area,” Orr noted. “Only two people in Tampa city government had responsibility for promoting and overseeing recycling. They do their best but are resource-challenged and also fight an uphill battle against what seems like public apathy about sustainability. The local recycling plant can’t accept recyclable cups. Composting? Nowhere to be found.”

The local organizing committee, which, per Orr “did a great job on social sustainability — the event was accessible, inclusive, there were free community events” — had little experience with environmental sustainability, especially for a big event like the Women’s Final Four.

And Orr only had 90 days to organize the Green Team and to support the rudimentary environmental sustainability that was led by Coca-Cola, an NCAA corporate partner.

Hey, no one said organizing the first-ever Green Team for a Women’s Final Four would be easy.

But Maddy Orr doesn’t flinch when she believes in an idea and Tampa, there was only one way to go, green-wise, and that was up. So she went to her boss, Tony Church, in early January with a proposal to take a (green) team of Laurentian students down to Tampa.

“Before getting approval, I secured a block of hotel rooms on my personal credit card — with free cancelation of course,” Orr recalled with a laugh. “Professor Church said the department couldn’t help unless we got a critical mass of students to go. Now bear in mind that Canadians really don’t get college basketball, women’s basketball in particular. I talked with 80 students across two classes, with a goal of getting 30 to sign up. Even 20 would’ve been okay. We had 50 volunteers. I had to give a women’s basketball quiz to cull the group down to 30 second-year undergrads.”

 

GREEN TEAM SCORES WITH RECYCLING MESSAGE AT FAN FEST

Aside from the very welcome early spring Florida weather, the first thing the all-Canadian Green Team noticed when they arrived in Tampa was the lack of recycling bins…anywhere.

 

Maddy Tampa2019

Maddy Orr (kneeling at far right, front) and some of her Laurentian University Green Teamers in Tampa during the 2019 Women’s Final Four (Photo credit: Mykelti Stephens)

 

“The students were shocked and needed a pep talk,” Orr said. “Recycling bins are ubiquitous in Canada. So when we arrived on the Thursday before the Friday night semifinals, we put on shorts and went to Curtis Hixon Park on the waterfront, one of the central locations for fans to congregate. Coke had put out recycling bins. We branded them for the Final Four and arrayed them through the park.”

Despite Tampa being a recycling laggard, the Green Team had a good day at Friday’s “Tourney Town” Fan Fest inside the city’s convention center.

“First of all the place was crowded, especially with local school children, so we had access to a bunch of ten year-olds, and ten year-olds get recycling and much more regarding the environment,” Orr recalled. “One Green Team member badgered the DJ to make announcements about recycling, and it worked! And the team did a great job of reminding people as they waited in long lines to do the Pizza Hut Three Point Challenge. Outside on the plaza, our team became everyone’s photographer, urging people to recycle as they snapped pictures. The key was to be upbeat and they were.”

 

GAME TIME!

As the players for the Baylor Bears and the Oregon Ducks began their early warmups for Friday’s first semifinal, the Green Team was also getting ready. Sam Carr, Amalie Arena’s director of facilities and analysis, prepared them to perform at a championship level.

“Sam gave me hope for Amalie Arena as he is very passionate about sustainability,” offered Orr. “He’s trying to make it a much bigger initiative there.”

 

Amalie Arena

Laurentian University Green Teamers engage Women’s Final Four fans about sustainability outside of Amalie Arena in Tampa (Photo credit: Maya Spence)

 

Training complete, the Green Team was deployed throughout the arena. They collected recycling all night long — some were stationed by the condiments stand, acting as “garbage goalies” by directing fans to dispose of their waste in the proper bins; others walked up and down the aisles, taking cans from fans and providing recycling education in an unobtrusive, positive fashion.

Sunday’s championship final, in which Baylor nipped Notre Dame 82-81, was basically a repeat of the semifinal from a Green Team perspective: Educate (upbeat!), collect recycling up and down aisles, garbage goalie-ing.

 

FEEDBACK: TAMPA READY TO UP GREEN-SPORTS GAME?

The Green Team was a big hit in Tampa, especially among out-of-town fans.

“Oregon and UConn fans were particularly enthusiastic about recycling and the Green Team,” reported Orr. “Unfortunately, local fans were less engaged but given the lack of recycling in the area, that was only mildly surprising. Kids, no matter where they were from, were really into it.”

And maybe, just maybe, Orr and the Green Team planted some important Green-Sports seeds that will bear fruit in Tampa, hopefully sooner rather than later.

 

Amalie Green Team

Green Team members return to the concourse after an “aisle pick” (Photo credit: Maya Spence)

 

“Sam Carr and Katie Kicklighter, from the Tampa Sports Commission, were both super positive,” Orr said. “Tampa will host the Super Bowl LV in 2021 and we talked about the possibility of working together then. And Jeff Rossi, head of the New Orleans Sports Commission — the 2020 Women’s Final Four will take place there — was very impressed and is interested in looking into having a Green Team.”

 


 

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Greening the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games Seattle

How great is it when an iconic cause-based event like the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games embraces another cause — in this case, environmental sustainability? We’re talking really great.

GreenSportsBlog spoke with the sustainability team for Special Olympics USA 2018 Seattle — Karlan Jessen, Director of Volunteers and Sustainability; David Muller, Sustainability Consultant; and Tim Reeve, Sustainability Advisor — to find out how it came together, what worked well and what could’ve been better.

 

It was about a year before the July 1, 2018 Opening Ceremonies for the Special Olympics USA Games Seattle took place at Husky Stadium on the University of Washington campus, and an environmental sustainability plan was nowhere in sight.

And, since there had never been a sustainability effort at any of the three prior quadrennial USA Games, the odds were that Green would not be a part of the 2018 version.

Karlan Jessen, David Muller and Tim Reeve collectively and figuratively said “to heck with those odds,” and formed a Sustainability All-Star team of sorts. They created and implemented a greening program in what had to be record time.

 

Special Olympics Karlan_Headshot

Karlan Jessen (Photo credit: Karlan Jessen)

 

Special Olympics David Muller and Tim Reeve

David Muller (l) and Tim Reeve at the University of Washington (Photo credit: David Muller)

 

Jessen’s experience owning two used sporting goods stores, managing bicycle tours and running events made her an ideal pick for the Director of Volunteers and Sustainability role. Muller has deep experience consulting on sustainable events, focusing on environmental impact mitigation and positive social impact. And the Vancouver-based Reeve heads Reeve Consulting Group, a sustainability advisory firm. He’d worked with the Vancouver 2010 and Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics on sustainability and responsible sourcing issues.

 

“I THOUGHT THERE SHOULD BE A SUSTAINABILITY EFFORT SO I RAISED MY HAND”

As general planning for the Seattle Special Olympics got started in earnest, Jessen started to get questions about sustainability from some of the event’s existing corporate partners. “ESPN in particular asked about what could be done. Nothing was being planned at the time” Jessen recalled. “I thought there should be a sustainability effort, and even though we only had a year or so to make it happen, I raised my hand. I knew David from our sustainability studies at the Bainbridge Graduate Institute (which later merged with Presidio Graduate School), so it was natural to team up with him.” It wasn’t long before Reeve joined to make the group a triumvirate.

The team quickly established a plan that was made up of six sustainability pillars. Four were environmentally focused, while the other two fall in the social portion of the broad Environmental-Social-Governance (ESG) definition of sustainability:

Environmental Pillars

  1. Waste/Recycling
  2. Transportation
  3. Food/Beverage
  4. Sourcing

Social Pillars

  1. Accessibility/Inclusion
  2. Legacy/Education

Microsoft, based in nearby Redmond and the title sponsor of the 2018 USA Games, quickly bought into the social pillars. “Education and legacy were very important to Microsoft,” Jessen noted. “Inclusion, especially fair hiring practices, also was a big deal to them. And when you think about it, the Special Olympics demonstrates inclusion by its very existence!”

“Education and legacy was a home run,” chimed in Reeve. ”

 

BIGGEST ENVIRONMENTAL SUCCESSES: WASTE AND TRANSPORTATION

The environmental sustainability portion was more challenging. The success stories came from waste and transportation.

“Our waste-to-recycling program and food donations programs worked really well, thanks in large part to the University of Washington food service team,” reported Reeve. “Recycling is one of the most highly visible examples of a greening program at a sports event so we had to get that right. And we did.”

 

Special Olympics Green Team Volunteers success story

Green Team Volunteers sorting recycling, compost, and food donations (Photo credit: Tim Reeve)

 

Coca-Cola pitched in by bringing their reverse vending machines to the event. Fans and athletes would put empty plastics into the machine and a 5¢ donation would be made to Special Olympics for each donation. Per Muller, “Final numbers were not made public but it’s safe to say that thousands of bottles were recaptured.”

“Transportation was also a big win — that’s where we saw the biggest greenhouse gas emissions reductions,” added Muller. “The University of Washington was a great set up — it’s compact, very walkable and is located on a transit route. There is a robust bike share infrastructure at UW. Energy efficient shuttles ferried athletes and their families to and from events. And Lyft provided discounted as well as free ride sharing.”

 

Special Olympics Light Rail

Athletes and coaches taking light rail to T-Mobile Park (formerly Safeco Field) for the Special Olympics’ Night at the Ballpark (Photo credit: Cori Dixon)

 

The nearly 4,000 athletes and their families noticed Seattle’s greening efforts around the Special Olympics.

“We had numerous conversations with athletes and their families during the Special Olympics and they were really impressed by the city’s commitment to making this a green event,” recalled Reeve. “A sustainability passport was provided for the athletes for things like transportation so they were involved with the greening effort almost as soon as they arrived in the city.”

In a survey conducted after the Special Olympics among athletes and their families by Brian McCullough of Seattle University showed that 60 percent said, “My attitude toward environmental sustainably has improved due to the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games initiatives.”

 

TIME WAS THE SUSTAINABILITY TEAM’S BIGGEST ENEMY

Here’s a note to the leadership group that is organizing the 2022 Special Olympics USA for Orlando: Jessen, Muller and Reeve agreed that a year was not nearly enough time to maximize the effectiveness of a sustainability plan.

“Lack of time really challenged us in terms of getting buy-in on the value proposition of a robust sustainability effort from the CEO and Executive Committee,” noted Reeve. “That kind of early support would have been crucial in terms of being woven into the budgeting and sourcing processes, as well as securing sustainability-focused sponsors. That would have helped us on food donation, signage and more.”

The team had a plan to offset emissions but there was no budget for it.

“About 90 percent of event emissions came from air travel,” Muller said. “We were looking at offset costs ranging from $25,000-$60,000 but there was no budget for it. Had we started earlier, we certainly could’ve found a partner to fund the offsets.”

What kind of time frame would be ideal to develop and manage an effective sustainability effort at a Special Olympics?

Consider that planners for the FIFA 2026 World Cup in Canada, Mexico and the USA will have eight years to get sustainability right, and the organizers at the LA 2028 Olympics will have had eleven years since being award the Games in 2017.

Now, no one is saying that the Special Olympics USA is of a similar scale as those two mega events.

Given that’s the case, what is the ideal length of time to put a sustainability plan in place that the team would be proud of?

The verdict was unanimous:

“Three years!,” said Judges Jessen, Muller and Reeve.

 

 


 

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The GSB Interview: Catherine Kummer, Driving Force Behind NASCAR Green

That NASCAR has had a green initiative for ten years surprises some, heartens many and engenders skepticism about green washing from others. GreenSportsBlog has wanted to get the real story on NASCAR Green for several years and so we were pleased to be able to talk with Catherine Kummer, one of its many driving forces.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Catherine, one of the most common questions I get when I tell people I write about the intersection of Green & Sports is “what is NASCAR Green all about? Is it legit?” So I want to get into that with you. First, though, I want to find out how you got to NASCAR Green. Are you a lifelong auto racing fan? An environmentalist from way back?

Catherine Kummer: I love that it’s one of the first questions you get, means folks are paying attention and catching wind of our work. I was not a motorsports fan growing up in Raeford, NC, a small farming community in the southeastern part of the state, near Fayetteville and Fort Bragg. I was fortunate to grow up spending time on the North Carolina coast and unfortunately saw the erosion of the coastline firsthand. In fact, the area just a bit further inland was devastated by Hurricane Matthew and, more recently, Hurricane Florence in September. I was also incredibly fortunate to have amazing parents and siblings. My family has a grocery store, Home Food Market, that has been in our family for over 100 years — I grew up there and my brother runs it now.

GSB: This sounds like a Mayberry type of childhood…

Catherine: It was…and, in addition to amazing vegetables, the store gave me a deeply rooted appreciation for growing local, shopping local and buying local from an early age. Respect for the outdoors and keeping the environment better than we found it is in my DNA. I’ll give you an example. When I was in middle school, I wrote letters about the environment to then-President George H.W. Bush. The White House would send back a signed (aka stamped) photo of the President. I was also reminded by my Dad a few weeks ago that I started an early recycling initiative at my middle school….I wore my reduce, reuse and recycle shirt all the time!

 

Catherine Kummer Recycling at West Hoke Middle School cafe 1993

Catherine (“Katie”) Kummer, then McNeill, in the white shirt on the right, was a young recycling pioneer at her middle school in 1993 (Photo credit: Catherine Kummer)

 

Catherine Kummer with son opening an employee tree planting event in Charlotte, NC.

A more recent photo of Catherine, with her son opening a NASCAR employee tree planting event in Charlotte, N.C. (Photo credit: NASCAR)

 

GSB: So maybe it was destiny that you’d end up working in sustainability. But how did you end up at NASCAR and NASCAR Green specifically?

Catherine: Well I went to UNC Chapel Hill for undergrad…

GSB: You were a “Tar Heel born…”

Catherine: …”And a Tar Heel bred.” That’s right! I was a journalism major and wrote for The Daily Tar HeelI saw a job posting in 2004 at NASCAR in their publishing division. Graduated UNC in May, started at NASCAR in June. I also bleed a bit of gold and black however as I am currently finishing a Masters in Sustainability at Wake Forest University and have been fortunate to also join courses taught by Leith Sharp at Harvard in Sustainability Leadership.

GSB: Were you a NASCAR fan?

Catherine: Not originally. My first project was editing “NASCAR For Dummies” which gave me a deep dive into all things NASCAR, real quick. It was a really amazing job. I grew to respect the sport, what the drivers and team members go through, from the physical challenges to the stress. I love the competitiveness of it and the idea that NASCAR is a tight-knit family, its own ecosystem.

GSB: Talk about how NASCAR Green came about…

Catherine: NASCAR Green launched in 2008. But the idea came a year or two prior, when NASCAR leaders met with Former Vice President Al Gore…

GSB: …During the time of “An Inconvenient Truth”? I can absolutely see the former Vice President talking to an organization, NASCAR, who might seem an unlikely partner in greening. But he is a guy who sees possibilities and so, it sounds, did NASCAR.

Catherine:.. NASCAR had always wanted to influence, educate, and inspire our fans on fuel efficiency, reforestation, sustainability, etc. So after meeting with former Vice President Gore, our key stakeholders brought in Dr. Mike Lynch to be our VP of Green Innovation. Thanks to his leadership, NASCAR Green was built, and I got connected with him soon after.

 

CEO Brian France (L) and former U.S. Vice President Al Gore at the NASCAR Green Summit on 2013Chicago Brian Kersey NASCAR Getty

NASCAR CEO Brian France (L) and former U.S. Vice President Al Gore (R) listen to retired Army General Wesley Clark at the 2013 NASCAR Green Summit in Chicago (Photo credit: Brian Kersey NASCAR/Getty Images)

 

GSB: What was NASCAR Green like at the beginning and what part did you play?

Catherine: Leadership supported us from the beginning, allowing us to pilot new things, even mess up occasionally. The vibe from the top down was “some things will work, some won’t, but we need to always look ten moves ahead and keep the big picture in mind.” Our sport, like all of society has an environmental impact therefore we started and continue to keep our focus on three key areas of environmental impact: waste, emissions and energy.

One of the first things we got involved with is automotive fluid recycling. Safety-Kleen, owned by Clean Harbors, which safely recycles and transports oils, is in every NASCAR garage as well as many team shops. They re-refine the waste oil and put it back to work in various team cars as well as asphalt re-paving initiatives at track. Circular economy from the beginning. We also kicked off an aluminum and PET waste diversion program with tracks which was environmentally and financially beneficial. The tracks do a great job of ensuring they are disposing of waste responsibly inclusive of food and other potential landfill items. Many of the teams in our sport also recycle their race cars. Our leaders and others liked that we were able to drive value to the business and inspiration to the industry, employees and fans.

 

Recycling efforts at NASCAR races

Recycling bins alongside NASCAR tracks are a common sight (Photo credit: NASCAR)

 

GSB: That is really impressive. But I have to ask — how did NASCAR fans react to this green programming? Have you ever gotten negative push-back from them? Implied in the last question — and with my New York City bias likely baked in — is that green programming that might be well received in Boulder or Berkeley might not get such a good reception in places like Talladega, Alabama or Bristol, Tennessee.

Catherine: I have never gotten negative pushback from fans. Not once, other than one fan being upset that they did not have a blue recycling bag for their campground location. I think one reason our fans support NASCAR Green is many are outdoorsmen and women so they understand that protecting our environment is very important. And a number of our corporate sponsors get that our fans, well, get it. They embraced a number of green initiatives. For example working with Goodyear and Champion Tire, we recycle all of our tires through an innovative sponsorship with Liberty Tire Recycling. The tires are recycled and turned into mulch for landscaping and playgrounds as well as used in rubberized asphalt projects…many of the roads on the West Coast are being made with recycled tires as I’m sure you know already!

GSB: What about composting?

Catherine: We’ve tried it at several tracks. Available composting infrastructure is challenging, but we are excited to watch it advance as our tracks are supportive of green initiatives. Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania is one to keep an eye on for sure. They have been an environmental leader for quite some time.

GSB: I know! Their solar array in an old parking area powers the entire facility! Amazing!

 

Solar Farm_8

Solar panels cover an abandoned former parking lot at Pocono Raceway (Photo credit: Pocono Raceway)

 

Catherine: They also have, according to their sustainability report, one of the highest diversion rates and one of their family businesses, Pocono Organics, just broke ground on a new project this summer working with the Rodale Institute, a leader in Regenerative Organics…

GSB: Say more…

Catherine: The result of the partnership is a 55 acre regenerative organics farm across the street from the track that will provide produce for events, “Farm to Track.”

GSB: How cool is THAT?! What are other tracks doing, green-wise?

Catherine: You’ve got to check out www.NASCAR.com/Green for the whole scoop as I’m not sure GSB has enough space for me to properly note all of the work! However to name a few, Indianapolis Motor Speedway now has a nine megawatt solar array across the street on their land. Green Sports Alliance-member Sonoma Raceway in California has solar on-site as well along with Daytona International Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway. These are just solar applications; readers can check the site for more detail on how tracks support the three areas of environmental focus I mentioned earlier; waste, emissions and energy.

GSB: What are the tracks and NASCAR Green doing to minimize carbon emissions?

Catherine: Blended fuels. Sunoco Green E15 specifically which is a 15 percent ethanol blended biofuel used in our top three national series. We’ve now run well over 10 million miles on it. This has helped in reducing emissions by 20 percent per the EPA Renewable Fuel Standard. We’ve also invested in offsetting our carbon emissions, through verified carbon offsets programs globally and our long-standing reforestation efforts with the Arbor Day Foundation and others. Our NASCAR Green Community Tree Recovery Effort is the first of its kind in sports and was launched just this year where with partners such as K&N Engineering and Ford we’ve been able to go into race markets affected by climate-related natural disasters and support those race fans with trees, LED lighting kits and more.

 

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver Matt DiBenidetto supporting our #RaceforTrees Campaign

Monster Energy Cup Series driver Matt DiBenidetto supporting NASCAR’s #RaceforTrees campaign (Photo credit: NASCAR)

 

GSB: Really impressive, Catherine. NASCAR Green has done terrific — and many would say surprising — work on what I call “Green-Sports 1.0,” the greening of the games or, in your case, races. Now let’s turn to “Green-Sports 2.0,” the much more important, in my view, effort to engage fans, especially those who don’t attend races, on the environment, especially on climate change. I understand NASCAR Green has surveyed NASCAR fans on the environment and climate change. What do those results show?

Catherine: We survey fans and non-fans regularly. As of April 2018, we know that more than four out of five NASCAR fans (88 percent) believe the Earth is going through a period of climate change, and three-quarters of them feel a personal responsibility to combat it.

These survey results have given us confidence that our environmental programs and activations with partners, including nationally broadcast television commercials, reach a largely receptive audience.

 

 

GSB: Great commercial, but I notice it doesn’t mention climate change. Why is that? And will future commercials mention it?

Catherine: More than half of our fans believe climate change is real, our work including these television commercials contribute to that belief based on the increases we’ve seen year over year. Their actions as a result are most important. Will they contribute to our digital tree planting tool? Will they better understand their carbon footprint? Will they push our social and digital content….to date, they have and that’s what makes sport and sustainability impactful.

GSB: That’s great! More sports leagues should survey their fans on climate. What are some of your drivers doing NASCAR Green-wise?

Catherine: A lot of our drivers support NASCAR Green and sustainability initiatives. Ryan Newman for example, one of our top Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers and his wife Krissie, have a non-profit called the Rescue Ranch, whose mission is to promote through education, respect for all animals, as well as, agricultural, environmental and wildlife conservation.

GSB: Great to hear. We look forward to hearing more about NASCAR Green innovation in 2019.

 

 


 

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