Green Leaders Talk Green Sports, Part 9: Mindy Lubber, CEO of Ceres

For the ninth installment of our “Green Leaders Talk Green Sports”^ series — where we talk with luminaries from outside the Green-Sports world about its potential to impact the climate change fight — we bring you our discussion with Mindy Lubber, CEO of Ceres.

Ceres, a Boston-based sustainability nonprofit, works with the world’s most influential companies and investors to build leadership on climate change and drive climate solutions throughout the economy. Among other things, we talked about how sports can influence the increasingly busy intersection of Green & Business & Finance.


GreenSportsBlog: Mindy, thank you for talking with us; I’ve wanted to get your perspective on the potential power of sports to influence sustainable business for a long time. To start, what does Ceres do?

Mindy Lubber: Ceres works with influential corporations and investors to drive sustainable change in the economy. We advocate for the integration of climate risk, water scarcity and pollution, and human rights abuses from company supply chains to the board room. And our ethos is to Think Big! Many of the large companies we work with are changing and are moving the sustainability discussion forward — not necessarily fast enough or bold enough, but we are working on that — and we need to be having the discussion with a wider audience of folks. And who are more compelling than athletes — admired by many — to lend their powerful voices in support of addressing the future of our planet? (Editor’s Note: Emphasis is mine)



Mindy Lubber, CEO of Ceres (Photo credit: Karen Rivera, Ceres)


GSB: I like it all, especially that last bit! So how did you get to lead big thinking, big acting Ceres?

ML: Well, despite the admonition of my parents not to follow my MBA and Law degrees with a public interest/nonprofit career, I made that jump and, 35 years later; have not looked back. My question to myself always has been: How can I maximize my impact? So I started a long road in which I worked as a lawyer — a tortured litigator, in fact —  regulator, researcher, and in politics, always looking to see how I can affect change. I worked for 10 years with the Public Interest Research Groups. In 1988, I was a senior staffer on the Dukakis for President campaign. Then, after we didn’t quite end up in the White House…


ML:…I founded and launched an environmental investment firm — this was very new at the time — focusing on investing in environmentally sustainable companies. The firm continues to this day — 17 years later — as does an entire industry around responsible investing. Years later, I found myself back in government, working for the Clinton Administration under Carol Browner as Regional Administrator at the Environmental Protection Agency. When I left the Administration, I took some time to think about what strategies and tactics I could employ that would have the most impact on climate change and environmental sustainability. My conclusion? Capital markets have to be involved in solving climate and environmental problems, especially companies in the Fortune 500. In fact, companies and investors are key to solving these problems – problems and challenges which are about the future of our families as well as our economy.

Much has changed in the world of corporate sustainability. When I got here in 2003, Ceres had a staff of eight. Now, we’re 107 people — because it is clear capital market leaders need to be and are becoming increasingly involved. Ceres works with hundreds of companies and investors to limit their carbon footprint, reduce water and other resource use, commit to clean energy and electric vehicles, support the Paris Climate Agreement and other environmental and social policies.

GSB: What drives Ceres’ success in helping move corporations to more sustainable behaviors?

ML: The best way to say it is we work as advocates to move the largest companies, as well as major investors, to integrate sustainability more quickly and more deeply, because it is a driver of shareholder value. Right now, 90 large companies and 140 large investors are Ceres members, along with the rating agencies and stock exchanges with whom we engage regularly. And, the truth is, leadership at these big organizations get climate change for the most part. They see the increased intensity of storms, wildfires, and other extreme weather and they know that it matters and has a direct impact on their businesses. The largest companies really get it. Apple, Citicorp, Dell and PepsiCo are all Ceres members. Now, not all of our members are doing everything well, sustainability-wise, but they’re moving in the right direction.

GSB: Are any companies in the sports industry Ceres members?

ML: Nike is an important partner of Ceres; they’ve been a leader on sustainable innovation in product design and materials, while also decreasing their environmental footprint. Disney, of which ESPN is a part, is a member, as is Time-Warner, with sports cable-casters TBS and TNT on their roster.


Nike Flyleather

Ceres member Nike’s recently launched Flyleather shoe — a sustainable material made with 50 percent recycled leather fibers (Photo credit: Nike)


GSB: What are some of the major initiatives Ceres is working on with its members?

ML: We just launched a new initiative with our global investor partners– the Climate Action 100+. It is designed to engage the world’s largest corporate greenhouse gas emitters to curb emissions, strengthen climate-related financial disclosures and improve governance on climate change. Betty Yee, California State Controller and board member of CalPERS, CalSTRS and Ceres, announced the initiative at the One Planet Summit hosted by the French Government in December. Launching on the second anniversary of the Paris Climate Agreement, Climate Action 100+ aims to realize the goals of that agreement by bringing together the world’s most influential institutional investors with a clear and coordinated agenda to get the biggest emitters to act more ambitiously on climate. We are tremendously excited about this initiative and the unprecedented global collaboration among investors that it represents.


One Planet Summit


We are also doing exciting work on water through Feeding Ourselves Thirsty, an analysis and ranking of the largest food sector companies on how they are responding to water risks and, in our most recent report, how performance has shifted since the first round of benchmarking in 2015. Feeding Ourselves Thirsty also serves as a resource to companies by offering insights on the water and climate risks food sector companies are exposed to and how these risks impact current and future profitability.

GSB: This is very important work, Mindy, but I always wonder, how big, really, is the awareness of corporate sustainability initiatives among the general public? My sense is that a very small percentage of the public, of small investors, are aware of any of this. Is my sense nonsensical?

ML: We are seeing extraordinary changes regarding sustainability within companies and investment firms, within cities and states, and, yes, with consumers and small investors. The world is changing – the reality of climate change is becoming ever more clear. Millennials, a larger demographic cohort than the baby boomers, are starting to act in big numbers — as are other groups.

GSB: In this case, I’m glad my instincts were off! Ceres must have a very full plate…

ML: No doubt about it. Every company is on its own journey — some doing a little and some doing a lot. Our job is to increase the pace and the size of the impact if we are going to successfully address the sustainability issues of our time. A good number of corporations are moving in the right direction and are doing so forcefully. What we are seeing is over 100 corporations committing to 100 percent renewables. Mars not long ago pledged $1 billion to fight climate change; Morgan Stanley committed to get all its energy from renewables by 2022; Bank of America pledged $125 billion dollars for a clean energy future; and dozens of companies have showed their support for the US commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement by joining Ceres at November’s COP23 in Bonn, Germany.



Mars climate change-themed promotional piece (Image credit: Mars)


GSB: Sounds like Ceres had a great 2017; what’s ahead for 2018 and beyond?

ML: Two big areas we’ll be focusing on are 1) Scaling the adoption of electric vehicles, and 2) Expanding finance to a renewable energy future.

GSB: Speaking of finance, how does Ceres work with investors?

ML: Investor engagement has been at the core of Ceres’ work since our founding. We work with investors on environmental, social, and governance issues to drive sustainable investment leadership and action through every level of the capital markets and government. In 2003, we launched the Investor Network on Climate Risk and Sustainability (originally referred to as INCR), which now numbers over 130 institutional investors, collectively managing about $15 trillion in assets. Facilitated by Ceres staff, network members participate in working groups, webinars, and more to advance leading investment practices, corporate engagement strategies and policy solutions. And by pressuring exchanges and capital market regulators to improve climate and sustainability risk disclosure, our Investor Network members are able to serve as advocates for stronger climate, clean energy and water policies.

Sustainability-related shareholder resolutions are also a big aspect of our work with large investors. Five years ago, we reached the 50 percent voting threshold on about 10 percent of our resolutions; now we’re at 66 percent. This past May, our investors had an historic win at ExxonMobil’s annual meeting with a 62 percent majority vote in favor of a shareholder proposal calling on the oil and gas giant to assess and disclose how it is preparing its business for the transition to a low-carbon future. We are expecting to see a lot more of that.

GSB: That’s a big deal! But, to me, this highlights a gap between what companies and large investors are doing sustainability-wise and the relative absence of consumers. What can be done? And can sports be part of the solution?

ML: Consumers certainly need information on what companies are doing on sustainability and what sustainable investment opportunities are available to them, in a clear, digestible fashion. There is no time to waste on this if the world is going to make the Paris Agreement’s 2°C target — buy in from consumers is a must. Sustainability messaging and messengers for consumers in many cases need to be different than for those involved with the capital markets. This is where popular culture and sports needs to play their roles as parts of the solution. Pope Francis’ encyclical on climate change, Laudato Si, was an extraordinary message of change.

Sports stars and leaders can play an important role in our work as so much of humanity follows and is passionate about sports…

GSB: Well, as Allen Hershkowitz, former President of the Green Sports Alliance often says, “13 percent of people care about science; 70 percent care about sports.”

ML: Allen is probably right. Thing is, even though athletes are often not seen as left leaning — a challenge the climate movement faces — I was heartened to see some sports stars get involved with the Flint (MI) water crisis. They were largely apolitical — they were there to get things done, to win. And, even when sports gets political, as in the Colin Kaepernick case, the conversation gets outsized attention because it is sports. For the world to make the 2°C target, climate change needs much more attention from consumers, from business and from government. Sports can provide a big platform.

GSB: My contention is the Green-Sports movement’s impact on climate will scale as it moves from Version 1.0 — the greening of stadia and arenas — to a more expansive 2.0 — engaging fans at the games and as well as the much bigger audience watching on TV and/or other devices. In the meantime, the world needs Ceres to continue to engage the sports industry where possible to help corporations and investors win their 2°C battles…


^ Here are links to the first eight installments of “Green Leaders Talk Green Sports”: 1. Joel Makower, executive editor of GreenBiz Group; 2. Jerry Taylor, leading libertarian DC lobbyist who was climate denier/skeptic, “switched teams” and is now a climate change fighter; 3. Dr. Michael Mann, one of the world’s foremost climate scientists and author of “The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars”; 4. Caryl Stern, President and CEO of US Fund for UNICEF;  5. Paul Polizzotto, President and Founder of CBS EcoMedia; 6. David Crane, former CEO of NRG, who, in addition to moving one of the largest electricity generators in the US away from coal and towards renewables, also oversaw the “solar-ization” of six NFL stadia; 7. Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, climate scientist and the best climate change communicator I’ve ever seen/heard; 8. Freya Williams, author of “Green Giants” and CEO of sustainability consulting firm Futerra USA.



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“Take a Knee” Sunday and Its Implications for Green-Sports

Did Sunday’s”Take a Knee” protests by NFL players at all 14 stadiums, primarily against recent comments made by the President of the United States, along with longer-standing grievances about racism, police brutality and income and opportunity inequality, have any implications for Green-Sports? GreenSportsBlog offers its take.


I wasn’t going to write about “Take a Knee” Sunday.

In case you were off the media grid for most of the past week, you know that “Take A Knee” refers to the silent protests, both kneeling and arm-in-arm, made by NFL players, coaches, and even some owners during the playing of the national anthem at all 14 games Sunday (and then again at Monday night’s Cowboys-Cardinals contest in Arizona).   They were in reaction to a storm of, from my point of view, divisive, and racially charged comments, from the President of the United States, starting on Friday night. But they were born of the 2016 Take a Knee national anthem actions by then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick to protest racism, police brutality, and income and opportunity equality.

To be sure, climate change has strong, if not well-publicized connections, to social and economic justice. But I didn’t think there was a GreenSportsBlog segment here.

Then I had a conversation Monday with Diana Dehm, the dynamic host of the Sustainability News and Entertainment Radio Show and President of Climate and Sports Youth Summits. She, metaphorically speaking, shook me by the lapels and challenged me to write about Take a Knee as a “huge opportunity for Green-Sports!!!”

Here’s why she is right.

“Take a Knee Sunday” is arguably the highest profile recent example of athletes saying “Hell NO!” to the “You’re a jock, just Stick to Sports, don’t get involved in politics, that’s not your lane” — ethos that has long prevailed in the US and Canada, if not the world. It still has its adherents (cue the Wall Street Journal editorial page and Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson) but Colin Kaepernick changed things.

Whatever you think of the substance of his racism and police brutality-inspired Take a Knee protest last year, Kaepernick was the spark that jumpstarted a downward spiral for “Stick to Sports.” The ascendancy of President Trump was like dumping kerosene on it.


Dolphins Take a Knee QZ

Four members of the Miami Dolphins “Take a Knee” during the playing of the national anthem before the start of their game with the New York Jets on Sunday at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey (Photo credit:


Athletes, even despite the inevitable pushback from some segments of the media and public, should feel more empowered to speak out on issues of racism, income and opportunity inequality and the President’s bullying. Kaepernick already took the bullet for them. He doesn’t have an NFL job right now, but owners will not fire hundreds of Take a Knee-ers en masse (they can do so legally but it’s hard to imagine a mass firing taking place). And now that über-popular NBA megastars LeBron James and Steph Curry are openly criticizing the President’s criticisms of the Take a Knee-ers, that gives even more cover to more athletes across more sports to speak their minds on a whole host of issues.

Including climate change.

Do I think athletes are going to take to the climate change fight with the same numbers, at the same volume, they are bringing to the racism and income inequality fights? Of course not; not even close.

But do I think more athletes will mention climate change as a social justice and economic justice issue; that there will be more eco-athletes, post-“Take a Knee” Sunday? Yes*.

* Green-Sports growth among athletes won’t happen by itself.

To knock out that asterisk, we need to find more eco-athletes. And those newly-discovered and existing eco-athletes, along with other leaders of the sports-greening movement and, for that matter, GreenSportsBlog, must connect with the many athletes already active on the social and economic justice fronts. Once those connections are made, let’s educate the activist athletes about how the effects of climate change exacerbate problems from public health to unemployment to income inequality and how taking aggressive action to fight climate change (i.e. a Marshall Plan for clean energy and energy efficiency) is one of the best prescriptions to start to cure those ills.


LeBron James commenting Monday on President Trump’s attacks on NFL “Take a Knee”-ers (5 minutes 40 seconds)



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The Politics of Climate Change and Sports

After a spasm of activism during the 60s and 70s —mainly on civil rights, the Vietnam War and women’s rights—North American athletes, have, for the most, kept quiet about politics. That is clearly changing. Ignited by the Black Lives Matter movement, accelerated by the ascendancy to the White House of Donald J. Trump and spurred on by his recent immigration ban, politics and the issues of the day have increasingly found their way on to ESPN, and other sports media platforms.

Climate change has not been on the politics-meet-sports agenda. This should surprise no one. You won’t find the topic near the top of the “most important issues” list facing the American public. It involves science, which can be daunting. And the sports world likely wants to stay away from angering the portion of the U.S. population that is still skeptical about/denying the reality and human causality of climate change.

Conventional wisdom would likely say that it is a good thing for the Green-Sports movement to stay away from the political crossfire. But the conventional is not always wise. Avoiding the realm of politics could actually stunt the growth of the Green-Sports movement and thus reduce its impact in the climate change fight, especially among sports fans under 35.



“Republicans buy sneakers, too.”

That 1990 quote, attributed to Michael Jordan, was allegedly# uttered by His Airness in response to a request for an endorsement of Harvey Gantt, Democratic Mayor of Charlotte and an African American. Gantt was running that year for the US Senate seat in North Carolina held by Jesse Helms, seen by many as racist. Jordan didn’t endorse anyone, Helms was re-elected and the quote became a kind of shorthand for “Avoidance of Politics,” the basic default position for athletes (as well as for owners and sports sponsors/advertisers) for the next twenty or so years.


Harvey Gantt, former mayor of Charlotte, NC. Michael Jordan famously did not endorse Gantt for US Senate in 1990 vs. incumbent GOP Senator Jesse Helms, allegedly because “Republicans buy sneakers, too.” (Photo credit: Alchetron)


Fast forward to 2016-17.

Things have changed, in particular regarding issues of race and, just in the last few weeks, immigration:

On race:

  • San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sparked nationwide controversy and conversation in September when he “took a knee”, refusing to stand during the playing of the national anthem as a statement of support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
  • Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney and John Tortorella, coach of hockey’s Team USA, among many others, criticized Kaepernick.
  • Jim Brown and Kareem Abdul Jabbar, veterans of the 60s and 70s protest movements, came out in support of the Niners’ QB, as did Megan Rapinoe, a key member of the US Women’s National Soccer Team.
  • NBA stars LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Carmelo Anthony made a strong Black Lives Matter statement during the opening segment of the 2016 ESPY Awards show.

On the recent “immigration/refugee ban” executive order from the Trump Administration:

  • Two of the winningest and most respected coaches in the NBA, San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich and Golden State’s Steve Kerr, voiced strong public opposition to the policy. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban echoed those sentiments.
  • Many athletes have done so as well, including retired NBA star Steve Nash, Toronto F.C. and U.S. Soccer captain Michael Bradley, and NASCAR’s Dale Earnhart, Jr.
  • News was made in the run up to the Super Bowl LI when Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady would NOT opine on the immigration ban.
  • Budweiser aired a 60 second, pro-immigration ad during Sunday’s Super Bowl broadcast (cost of air time: roughly $10 million). AirBnB ran a 30 second spot with a similar theme. Google’s and Coca Cola’s efforts, while not specific to immigration, celebrated ethnic diversity.


Budweiser’s pro-immigration ad that ran during Super Bowl LI


While many team owners would rather have their players keep their political views to themselves, a few are starting to encourage their players to take stands. Speaking at a November town hall on race and sports at Arizona State University, Stephen M. Ross, Principal Owner of the NFL’s Miami Dolphins, opined that “Athletes recognize their role in society. Let’s take advantage of that…I am probably in the minority of NFL owners encouraging players to express [their political] feelings and speak out. This country needs it.”

So, with apologies to Bob Dylan, “The Times, They are a’ Changin’…”



…Except, for the most part, when it comes to climate change. Greening sports teams, leagues, and mega sports events have largely ignored or danced around climate change, especially when communicating their greenness to fans. (why are sports greening, after all, if not to, you know, help solve climate change?!?!) The networks that broadcast sports, and the sponsors/advertisers that support them also stay away from climate change.

If the climate change-themed vignette at the opening ceremonies of the 2016 Rio Olympics, seen by as many by a billion people worldwide, is the rare exception to the unspoken “avoid climate change” rule; that axiom is exemplified by the just completed Waste Management Phoenix Open (WMPO).

Let’s get this straight from the get-go: I LOVE the WMPO. Why? To use the tournament organizers’ words, it may well be the “most sustainable sporting event in the world.” The WMPO:

  • Has been Zero-Waste for four straight years with 100 percent of the waste generated at the tournament repurposed for beneficial reuse. This is especially impressive when one considers that more than 600,000 fans or more showed up over the course of the tournament, making it the most well-attended event on the PGA Tour by far.
  • Directly involved fans in the event’s greenness through Green Out SaturdayFor every fan who wore green to the third round on Saturday, the tournament hosts make a donation to three deserving, sustainability-focused, non-profits. Now in its seventh year, Green Out has raised over $390,000.
  • Supports Change The Coursea water sustainability campaign supporting water flow restoration projects. These include Northern Arizona’s Verde River, which flows into canals that provide water to the tournament course.


Recycling and compost receptacles at the Zero-Waste Waste Management Phoenix Open. (Photo credit: Waste Management)


But visit the WMPO website and you will not find climate change mentioned on their sustainability-focused pages. Enter “climate change” into the search box and you will find it in the eighth paragraph of one press release highlighting the tournament’s designation as an “Inspire” event by the Council for Responsible Sport, a terrific, Eugene, Oregon-based sustainable sports event standards-setting organization.

It says here that leaving climate change out of the WMPO’s greening story was unwise.

I have been working in the sustainability world for 11 years and know very well that the politics of climate change are challenging. And I know Arizona voted for Trump and Trump is a climate skeptic/denier. And because the politics is tricky and because of the red-state-ness of Arizona, I know that talking directly about climate change runs the risk of some blowback from customers, fans, talk radio hosts and who knows who else.

And to all that, I say so what!

The current political climate, even with Donald Trump in the Oval Office, is more ripe than ever for the WMPO, an athlete, a sponsor/advertiser, and/or a network to talk to fans about climate change, especially those fans under 35.

  • Millennials (18-34 year-olds) and Generation Z (11-17), the Holy Grail cohorts for the sports industry, are proving to be extremely difficult to grab and hold. A significant chunk of the well-publicized ratings drop suffered by the NFL this season was attributable to younger viewers. Major League Baseball is considering rules changes to speed up the game to cater to the <35s.
  • Climate change is important to Millennials and Gen Z-ers. The issue is a much bigger deal for folks under 35 than it is for their older (and, on this issue, not wiser) counterparts. And while engaging on climate change will not attract younger folks to become sports fans (I’m not suffering from Green-Sports fever); doing so will help keep them in the fold once they’ve become hooked.
  • The reality of climate change—and humans causal role in it—is now accepted by a majority of Americans. According to an April 2016 poll from Gallup, a record 65 percent of Americans blame human activity for climate change. That means a significant number of Republicans think this is the case. And check out “A Conservative Case for Climate Action,” an Op-Ed in yesterday’s New York Times from three esteemed GOP economists.
  • Brands are less afraid of wading into the political pool and when they do, for the most part, they’re wading in on the progressive end—where climate change swims: While there were some online protests of AirBnB, Budweiser and Coca-Cola as a result of their politically-themed Super Bowl ads, they were relatively small in size and low in volume. Early reports show that the ads garnered more positive attention than negative. And, while one might expect “Blue State” brands like AirBnB and Google to air pro-immigration, pro-diversity ads, what does it say that quintessential “Red State” brands Budweiser and Coke did the same?

Finally, avoiding a challenge—i.e. shying away from mentioning climate change—is antithetical to what sports is all about. Think about almost every sports movie you’ve ever seen. Or Super Bowl LI* for that matter. You know the script: Player and/or team is behind, things are going badly. Formidable obstacles make victory seem impossible. Then player/team regroups, often heroically, working hard to comeback until an incredible triumph is won. Or a valiant loss is suffered with the journey deemed to be well worth it.

Keeping that “overcoming obstacles” ethos in mind, it’s time for the many precincts of the sports world that are greening to strongly and consistently say why they are doing so. And the prime reason in many cases is the climate change fight.

Now is the time for sports to take on climate change. It is why sports is greening.

We will delve into how that fight should be waged in coming posts. In the meantime, the sports industry should take on any incoming climate change flak; your team, your league, your brand will most certainly survive and thrive.


# There is some doubt as to whether Jordan actually said those exact words. He may have said it, indicated that was his position or it may have been Jordan biographer Sam Smith’s interpretation of Jordan’s attitudes about politics in general and the Gantt-Helms race in particular.
^ POTUS = President of the United States
* I rooted HARD for the Falcons but kudos to the Patriots for the most incredible comeback in Super Bowl history.

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