“Sustainability at the 2019 Final Fours” — Part II: Men’s Final Four in Minneapolis

The 2019 NCAA Women’s and Men’s Final Fours 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.

Wednesday, GreenSportsBlog shared the experiences of Madeleine “Maddy” Orr and her students from Laurentian University in Ontario, Canada as they ventured to Tampa, becoming the first Green Team at a Women’s Final Four.

Today we turn to Minneapolis and the story of how Tiffany Richardson brought her deep Green Team management experience — honed at several Major League Baseball All-Star Games — to the Men’s Final Four at US Bank Stadium.

 

Tiffany Richardson had three key things going for her as she worked to pull together and manage the green team for the 2019 Men’s Final Four in Minneapolis. Richardson:

  1. Was based in the Twin Cities, where she is owner of Elevate Sports Consulting and a former lecturer at the University of Minnesota in the Department of Kinesiology’s Sport Management area and an Educator at the Institute on the Environment (IOE). OK, she moved to Amsterdam about six months before the Final Four, but was able to handle things remotely in a smooth fashion thanks to a strong team back home.
  2. Had successfully managed Green Teams at four Major League Baseball All-Star Games, starting with the 2014 edition at Minneapolis’ Target Field.
  3. Reached out to the Minneapolis local organizing committee about a Green Team two years before the Final Four, giving her the necessary time to sell management on her vision.

Upon meeting Richardson for the first time at a Minneapolis cafe the morning of the semifinals doubleheader, one thing became crystal clear to me: Green team members would execute her vision to the best of their abilities.

 

“I WANTED TO DO IT!”

“My ears perked up as soon as I heard that Minneapolis was going to host the 2019 Men’s Final Four,” Richardson recalled. “They needed to have a sustainability effort and I knew how to make it work. And I wanted to do it! So in early 2017, I got in touch with Kate Mortenson, president of the local organizing committee. She knew my reputation in Green-Sports and asked me to be the sustainability chair. And she gave me a blank canvas on which to create the sustainability programming, which was fantastic.”

 

Tiffany Richardson

Tiffany Richardson (Photo credit: Tiffany Richardson)

 

Richardson consulted with Colin Tetreault, who managed the sustainability effort for the 2017 Men’s Final Four in Phoenix about how best to fill the canvas.

“Colin drove home the point that we needed to establish a sustainability legacy for the Minneapolis Final Four,” said Richardson. “Water was the legacy for Phoenix. We decided to go with mass transit. Our message: Fans don’t need to rent cars; use mass transit.”

A plan was developed to encourage fans coming in to Minneapolis for the tournament to take light rail from the airport to downtown. I saw this firsthand as I attended the tournament. It could not have been more convenient. Fans could easily get to US Bank Stadium via light rail, bus, commuter rail and on foot.

 

IT’S GO (GREEN) TIME

And, while Phoenix didn’t have a Green-Team in 2017 — the NCAA thought it would be too intrusive for fans — Richardson was determined to show the powers that be that this would not be the case in Minneapolis.

“We sent a ‘sizzle video’ of our Green-Team’s work at the 2017 All-Star Game at Marlins Park in Miami to JoAn Scott, the NCAA’s managing director for the Division I men’s basketball championship in the fall,” recounted Richardson. “I told her and her colleagues that the only difference between All-Star and Final Four was innings versus time outs. They LOVED the video! Fast-forward to late 2017-early 2018. We presented our full vision for the Green-Team to JoAnne and her team. They aired their concerns — ‘don’t be disruptive’ and ‘don’t chastise’. We came to a meeting of the minds and the Green-Team was a GO!”

Speaking of GO, Richardson decided to go — as in move —  to Amsterdam in late summer 2018 to pursue an MBA at the University of Amsterdam. She also lectured on Sports Ethics at The Hague University in their International Sport Management department.

Big problem, right?

You don’t know Tiffany Richardson.

“I asked the Minnesota Local Organizing Committee (MLOC) to appoint a top-notch former student, Nicole Petschow, to run things in Minneapolis while I was away, including managing the recruiting of green team members,” Richardson said. “I would be on all conference calls and then would fly in for the Final Four. It worked out really well.”

 

Nicole Petschow

Nicole Petschow (Photo credit: Nicole Petschow)

 

As the calendar turned to 2019, the pace of the Final Four sustainability effort kicked into high gear:

  • A strong recruitment effort netted 70-plus green team members. They came from the University of Minnesota, The University of St. Thomas (another local school), and the University of Louisville.
  • Background checks were conducted in January on all of the volunteers (Richardson: “Security around the Men’s Final Four is much tighter than at the Women’s, a big difference.”)
  • Volunteer training took place in February. Per Richardson, “The volunteers helped out at Minnesota Wild NHL games to get experience and assist in the Wild’s efforts because they have a robust sustainability program themselves.”
  • Richardson and team worked with the MLOC to help the Men’s Final Four earn certification as a sustainable event from the Council for Responsible Sport (level still pending.)

 

GREEN TEAMERS DELIVER SOLID RESULTS

Since this was far from Richardson’s first Green-Team rodeo, she and her leadership team were well prepared heading into the Saturday semifinals at US Bank Stadium.

Still, the massive size of the building posed some challenges.

“This was basketball being played in a football stadium,” Richardson noted. “Instead of 17,000 for hockey or 43,000 for a baseball All-Star Game we had 72,000 fans! Our plans had to be fluid. What if the crowd filed in slowly? What if it rained and everyone wanted to get in early? What if fans loitered near the entrances? We had to be ready for every eventuality and we were.”

 

US Bank Stadium Jeff Thurn

72,711 fans shoehorned into US Bank Stadium for the Men’s Final Four semifinals (Photo credit: Jeff Thurn)

 

When fans started entering the Stadium at 2:45 PM for the 5 PM first game between Auburn and Virginia, the Green-Teamers were there. Unobtrusive and pleasant, they collected plastics and aluminum cans on the concourses. I saw them trudge up and down the very long, steep aisles of the upper deck, taking empty items with a smile — great guest service.

Per Richardson, “Kudos go to students from the University of Minnesota, St. Thomas and The University of Louisville. They brought great energy, never complained and understood this was about the bigger vision — one less bottle in the landfill — and they GOT IT DONE!”

 

Men's Final Four Green Team

2019 Men’s Final Four Green Team in Minneapolis (Photo credit: Tiffany Richardson)

 

Approximately 62 percent of the 144,000 pounds of waste collected over the two nights of the Final Four was diverted, with about half of the diverted waste going to recycling and the other half to compost¹.

Why didn’t they get in the 80-90 percent diversion range?

“We had a few Back-of-House — i.e. kitchen — issues that were beyond our control,” Richardson acknowledged. “I’m confident that the next time US Bank Stadium hosts a mega-event, those problems will have been ironed out and the diversion rates would approach the 90 percent Zero-Waste threshold.”

 

WHAT COULD’VE GONE BETTER/HOW TO MAKE FUTURE FINAL FOURS GREENER

“We had a really great event: The Green Team, folks from US Bank Stadium and the local organizing committee came together beautifully,” Richardson said. “But it could’ve gone much better, with a stronger commitment to fan-facing sustainability by the NCAA and sponsors like Coke.”

According to Richardson, here’s where the NCAA and Coca-Cola, a corporate sponsor with a strong green initiative, missed the mark:

  • Coke failed to promote their World Without Waste sustainability campaign (“They leveraged their new Orange-Vanilla flavor everywhere. World Without Waste? Not so much.”)
  • There were no recycling or compost receptacles on the Fan Fest streets that were closed to traffic
  • The public transit initiative fell a bit short as Richardson’s and company’s request to provide free mass transit rides to fans bearing game tickets was rejected (volunteers and coaches did get that benefit)

How can Men’s Final Fours go greener in the future, starting with the 2020 edition in Atlanta at LEED Platinum Mercedes-Benz Stadium?

“The NCAA needs its own ‘sustainability charter’ for mega-events like the Final Fours and College Football Playoff National Championship, and that charter needs to have some real teeth,” recommended Richardson. “Corporate sponsors need to buy in. Sponsor-funded carbon offsets for every fan, Zero-Waste Games. Students will volunteer in great numbers; they don’t have to worry about that. There can’t be a greenwash; the NCAA can’t use half-measures because they don’t need to. They are the NCAA after all.”

 

 

¹ Actual amounts diverted: RECYCLED: 43,440 lbs.; COMPOST: 42,860 lbs.; DONATED FOOD: 6,427 lbs.

 


 

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Green-Sports Startups, Part 6: Raea Jean Leinster and Yuck Old Paint; Helping Stadiums Find New Homes for (Yuck) Old Paint

Well-known global corporations, from Anheuser-Busch to Nike, have waded into the Green-Sports waters. While it makes sense for them to do so from PR and mission points of view, Green-Sports (for now) represents a small aspect of these companies’ businesses.

Then again, there are startups for which Green-Sports is a significant part of their raison d’être. Last year, GreenSportsBlog launched an occasional series, Green-Sports Startups that focuses on small (for now) companies and nonprofits that see the greening of sports as essential to their prospects for success.

In today’s sixth^ version of Green-Sports Startups, we bring you Yuck Old Paint (yup, that’s the name of the company), brainchild of Raea Jean Leinster, that finds second uses for stockpiles of leftover paint — including from places like Nationals Park in Washington, D.C.

Raea Jean’s story is colorful (there, I had to say it!), important and fun so ENJOY!

 

How does a Russian Studies major and a Czech minor who pursued a career path to work at the NSA, CIA and State Department and then became a concert violinist end up in the business of finding reuse opportunities for tons of cans of unused paint— from places like Nationals Park, home of the Washington Nats? And she calls her company Yuck Old Paint?

I know what you’re thinking: “This has to be FAKE NEWS!”

Nope. It’s the real, incredible story from the incredible Raea Jean Leinster.

 

FROM BRATISLAVA TO BELL LABS TO CONCERT VIOLINIST TO INTERIOR DESIGNER TO…

Leinster’s unlikely journey to becoming a Green-Sports pioneer started in an unlikely place: Bratislava, now the capital of Slovakia. But back in the late 80s-early 90s, just before the Soviet Union was about to collapse, Bratislava was part of Czechoslovakia. I’ll let Leinster pick up the story from there:

“I was in the middle of my Russian and Czech studies at George Mason University when the Soviet Union collapsed. So I dropped out of school to go to Czechoslovakia and teach English. While in Bratislava, I saw first-time-ever capitalist billboards in the former Eastern bloc for Apple, Coke and Marlboro. I asked myself, ‘how do these companies permeate a city like Bratislava when there was no real diplomatic US presence there?’ I realized that brands and business move faster than countries, so I redirected my career path to international business.”

 

Raea jean 1

Raea Jean Leinster, founder of Yuck Old Paint (Photo credit: Raea Jean Leinster)

 

Leinster returned to GMU and upon graduation went into the telecom industry just as AT&T was being deregulated: “I worked in telecom for ten years, helping MCI launch its ‘Friends and Family’ program and managed global channel communications and branding for Lucent Technologies for 80 countries before I was 30,” she recalled. “Then, in 2002-3, the telecom industry imploded and hundreds of thousands of people across the country lost their jobs, including me.”

So Leinster licked her wounds and took a gap year, spending much of it playing volleyball in the Virgin Islands. Batteries recharged, Leinster returned to Northern Virginia in 2004 and pivoted to a different career path, that of concert violinist/faux finisher/interior designer.

HOLD ON A SECOND…She became a concert violinist and a faux finisher? What the heck is that?

Turns out Leinster had been playing violin since she was a little girl, kept at it throughout her various adventures and continues to perform today with a variety of orchestras.

 

Raea w violin at GU

Raea jean Leinster (r), rehearsing with a string quartet at Georgetown University (Photo credit: Raea Jean Leinster)

 

And as a faux finisher, Leinster restored murals, became an expert in Venetian and Italian plasters, a gilding artist and created custom art in restaurants, commercial spaces and private homes.

 

Contemporary Metallic

A “contemporary metallic” faux finish from Raea Jean Leinster (Photo credit: Raea Jean Leinster)

 

And that led to…

 

…YUCK OLD PAINT

Over the next ten years, Leinster “…kept hearing a steady drumbeat of ‘Raea, can you help me get rid of these pallets of Sherwin-Williams off-white leftover paint in my building?’ or ‘Raea, I have 40 cans of paint in my garage. Can you take them?’”

Leinster’s initial answer was a flat NO — after all, what would she do with the paint? She didn’t have the space to store all the paint her clients asked her to take away, and in Virginia, the landfills are only permitted for residential use.

But in December 2012, she started to figure it out.

“A DC design client asked me to take away four paint cans at the end of a job. I have no idea why I said ‘yes’ after years of telling clients ‘no’. But I did,” recalled Leinster. “And to my surprise, a $25 Starbucks gift card accompanied the 4 gallons of paint that were left at the concierge desk.”

As Leinster drove away, she took stock of what just happened.

“My client was totally capable of taking the paint cans herself to the DC landfill,” Leinster thought to herself. “But she couldn’t be bothered with it.”

The client also didn’t care what Leinster did with the paint, but trusted her to do the right thing and handle it safely. The client gained more space in her condo and time.

“Turns out it was worth it to my client to compensate me for my trouble to pick up the paint and to do something with it,” said Leinster. “I then wondered, ‘How many other home owners are out there who would pay for a professional service to pick up leftover, unwanted, unused cans of latex paint?’”

Leinster spent 2013 beta testing the business concept and in April 2014 launched Yuck Old Paint, LLC.

Since then, the phone has not stopped ringing.

Four years later, Yuck Old Paint now counts among her clients several federal agencies, the U.S. Army. the Washington Nationals and Nationals Park.

 

“WE DON’T RECYCLE PAINT; WE HELP FIND USES FOR UNUSED PAINT”

Leinster’s business is based on the “reuse” model in lieu of recycling. “Our first step is to qualify paint for reuse,” reported Leinster. “About 75 percent of the paint we pick up in its original containers is perfectly good and useable.”

Yuck Old Paint gives the useable paint to theatre companies who use it for set design, and to local contractors looking for a specific type of paint. Much of it is distributed overseas, to developing countries for sale in hardware stores and for humanitarian construction projects.

Wait a second.

Yuck Old Paint gives the paint away? 

Yes, that’s what they do. Because they are paid by customers who need the paint to go away a flat service fee plus a per-can price  — $5 for one quart and one gallon can; $10 for a five-gallon bucket.

OK, back to what happens to the Yuck Old Paint.

“Twenty percent of the remaining liquid paint stockpile is not useable — think of it like sour milk,” continued Leinster. “That batch gets turned into solid waste material. Another five percent is solid and dry. In either case, we ensure it is no longer in liquid form, which is a hazard to local soil and water tables. Once it has been cured into a solid material, it is delivered into the solid waste stream.”

 

Yuck Old cured latex paint

Some of the “sour”, unusable paint recovered by Yuck Old Paint after it has been cured into solid material using organic ingredients (Photo credit: Raea Jean Leinster)

 

YUCK OLD PAINT PARTNERS WITH THE WASHINGTON NATIONALS

“Before the start of each season, Nats management repaints the entire park: from the press box to the offices, from the locker rooms to the concession stands,” shared Leinster. “And every June we get a call from the Nats to remove between a half a ton and one ton of paint.

 

Yuck Old Paint Nats

Unused paint outside of Nationals Park before it gets picked up by Yuck Old Paint (Photo credit: Raea Jean Leinster)

 

In addition to removing the paint from the ballpark, there are four important reasons the club is happy to have Yuck Old Paint on their green team:

  1. Adds to the team’s environmentally responsible brand — Nationals Park was the first LEED stadium in Major League Baseball.
  2. Earn up to 2 LEED points because they transfer the leftover latex paint waste to Yuck Old Paint, which employs a landfill diversion model.
  3. Win back much needed storage space. One ton of latex paint is about 225 single gallon cans. That takes up a lot of space! And Washington D.C., along with 44 states, has banned the commercial dumping of latex paints in the landfill. Before, Yuck Old Paint, the Nats’ only solution — as well as for many sports stadiums — was to stow it away.
  4. The Nats are no longer in violation of the fire code. Per Leinster,
    “Even though latex paint is not combustible, it is flammable. And although how much paint commercial buildings and stadiums are allowed to have varies from city to city with no statewide or national standard, there’s no fire marshal who will look past 1 ton of latex paint as acceptable.”

 

“MOST PEOPLE DON’T KNOW THEY HAVE A PAINT PROBLEM”

Leinster, with the Nationals Park case study in her hip pocket, came to the Green Sports Alliance Summit in Atlanta in June, looking to attract other sports venues. “This was my first GSA Summit,” said Leinster. “I soon realized that most facilities managers and team owners have no idea they have a latex paint waste problem! We received some very enthusiastic responses from other Major League Baseball and NFL clubs. We look forward to working with them to be their latex paint and hazardous waste solutions provider. Which is great news for Yuck Old Paint.”

And it is great news for the environment.

 

^ The first five startups in the series were: Nube 9, a Seattle-based company committed to making recyclable sports uniforms; Underdogs United, which sells renewable energy credits to sports teams in the developed world that are generated by vital greening projects in the developing world; Phononic, a tech company that views sports venues as key to its ambition to disrupt the refrigeration market, leading to a meaningful reduction in carbon emissions; Play Fresh, a nonprofit that uses American football as a catalyst to help build environmental awareness among at-risk kids and teens; and Hytch, a Nashville-based startup that uses a state-of-the-art ride sharing app and financial rewards to encourage ride sharing to Nashville Predators games.

 


 

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