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. GSB spoke with Tetreault in a two-part interview.
In Part I, Tetreault shared how his love for nature and Arizona State University led him to be a sustainability leader in Phoenix city government. Today’s Part II delves into Tetreault’s journey back to ASU, where is he is helping to turn the school into a Green-Sports leader.
We pick up the conversation as Colin Tetreault sums up his experience as Phoenix’ first sustainability director and then returned to Arizona State.
GSB: Kudos to you and your colleagues in Phoenix. You really made a difference! What did you do after the City began to embrace sustainability as a driver?
Colin: My job was to be a catalyst. By nature, catalysts drive change and then disappear. We hired a Chief Sustainability Officer and moved the full-time work to a great team in the City Management. That, in and of itself, was a statement on how the City shifted from where it had been two-years prior.
I went back to ASU, and that’s when the sustainability and sports link really began to accelerate. We began teaching a Sport & Sustainability class. Dawn Rogers, who was President and CEO of the 2017 Men’s Final Four in Phoenix, came to us and asked us “What should a mega-event like the Final Four do from a sustainability perspective?” Well, we went into overdrive, putting together a Sport and Sustainability Dream Team of state leaders with the goal of leaving a strong sustainability legacy for the city through the power of sport. Our focus was on Zero-Waste, renewable energy credits (RECS) and being water positive. On the latter, we worked with Bonneville Environmental, Northern Arizona Forest Fund, and Salt River Project on an innovative water restoration program.
Colin Tetreault, Arizona State University (Photo credit: Colin Tetreault)
GSB: Were your efforts successful?
Colin: We did good work, especially on water. Even the downtown events achieved a zero waste level. Our energy was entirely offset with sustainable energy production. And we worked in the arena of climate justice…
GSB: Whoa…Whoa. Climate justice and sports rarely comes up. How did you guys do that?
Colin: Here’s how. The games were played in suburban Glendale, northwest of the city. But most of the fan-fest type events were held in downtown Phoenix. Due south of downtown happens to be some the most disadvantaged areas in Arizona. We asked ourselves: Will people from those areas be able to enjoy the Final Four? There were a ton of free events in downtown Phoenix, including the Fan Fest and concerts and so folks were able to enjoy those. And we intentionally engaged low-income and high-minority school districts. The most important question was: How can we empower disadvantaged people in some way because the Final Four was here? Our idea there was to take the total kilowatt hours (kWh) used at the Final Four, multiply that times ten and do that amount of energy efficiency upgrades at Section 8 (low income) housing near Phoenix and Glendale. The plan was to have it funded by the federal Department of Energy (DOE), Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and other sponsors The efficiency investment would allow residents to have more money to for education, healthy food, and would positively impact their credit rankings.
GSB: That is BRILLIANT! Did it come to fruition?
Colin: Unfortunately it did not.
GSB: Why not?
Colin: Interest and funding ability wasn’t the hurdle; time was. We introduced the idea in December, 2016 and thus it was too late to do it right by the time of the Final Four in April, 2017. Hopefully, this will be done at another mega-event in the future. But, aside from that, I’d say our sustainability efforts for the Final Four were largely successful. We earned platinum certification, the highest level possible for a sustainable event and a first for any mega-event, from the Council for Responsible Sport…
Fan participating at the sustainability-themed fan-fest at the 2017 NCAA Men’s Final Four in Glendale, AZ (Photo credit: Colin Tetreault)
Poster promoting water restoration projects at the 2017 NCAA Men’s Final Four fan-fest (Photo credit: Colin Tetreault)
GSB: Terrific. Council certification is impressive…What was next at ASU, Green-Sports-wise, after the Final Four?
Colin: Major League Baseball came to ASU at the beginning of 2017, looking for a strategic approach to fan engagement and sustainability with clubs. Working together, we created a comprehensive approach for the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies spring training facility, Salt River Fields. We executed a program that included signage throughout the ballpark, social media engagement, a message that ran on the scoreboard from Shea Hillenbrand, standup interviews, a press release from Commissioner Rob Manfred and more.
On another front, we provided a graduate-level intern to Catharine Kummer and her NASCAR Green team. The “Change Agent,” Meghan Tierney, conducted an analysis for Richmond (VA) Raceway that went beyond recycling and tree planting to figure out how the venue could drive incremental revenue by protecting the environment and engaging the community. They plan to present this to track leadership over the next few months.
Salt River Fields, spring training home of the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Colorado Rockies (Photo credit: Colin Tetreault)
We are also interested in the sociocultural impacts and benefits of sport. I mentored another one of our graduate students – McCady Findley – in creating an advocacy activation platform for athletes and leagues. He called it the Chagemaker Platform.
GSB: Advocacy platform? What, is this some sort of social media push?
Colin: Far more than that, it’s an education and engagement model that finds ways to encourage – not discourage – our young athletes to become leading experts in social and environmental areas off the field.
GSB: Oh man, that is HUGE!
Colin: In this age of athlete activism, leagues have two choices: 1) Empower and direct your athletes to act like champions on AND off the field. This will create lasting change that can build greater fan affinity, while concurrently reducing brand risk and exposure issues. Or; 2) pretend that the stone age ended due to lack of stones and ignore to responsibility of sport to be involved in our collective human evolution and suffer the brand firestorms. Need I point to the innumerable examples of late?
GSB: Let’s go with door number one…
Colin: McCady built a platform to educate, empower, and direct advocacy for impact and outcomes…before finishing grad school. My Change Agents rock!
GSB: No doubt! Finally, talk about “Sustainability and Sport,” the event ASU is hosting in January with the Green Sports Alliance…
Colin: We’re taking a broader view of sustainability than what you normally see at Green-Sports gatherings, including taking on issues of social justice and human equity. We’re scheduled to hear from the head of the Arizona Girl Scouts and athletic leaders on social justice. The former Mayor, Greg Stanton, will also be there sharing the power of sports in building communities. Topics like sports and the circular economy as well as regenerative natural capital will be on the docket.
GSB: What is regenerative natural capital?
Colin: It gets into how being “less bad” on the environment is not good enough if we’re going to avoid the worst effects of climate change. We need to be “more good” incorporating the value of nature into our decision and policies.
When we view our natural resources as stocks of assets (water, clean air, material flows) we recognize that we need to not just mitigate their depletion or degradation. Rather, we need to think strategically and in a systems perspective about how to reinvest and grow returns on that capital. While some may think of this as new thinking, even Teddy Roosevelt understood this over 100 years ago by saying, “The nation behaves well if it treats its natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased, not impaired in value.”
GSB: And how can sports engage on regenerative natural capital?
Colin: First, it starts with understanding an organizations impacts and dependencies on the natural systems and society around it. From there, one can better understand the associated costs/benefits and risks/opportunities.
From there, leagues, teams, and brands to make better development, purchasing, operational, and disposition choices that benefit – demonstrably – ecosystems and societies. A framework like that reduces risk and exposure, opens up new areas for innovative purchasing decisions, and advances the organization’s brand in the public eye. I think that the biggest opportunity is the exposure and reach sport can provide in illustrating the importance and value of nature in our business decisions.
GSB: Sounds like the event will be like a fusion of a Green Sports Alliance Summit and NPR! Speaking of the GSA Summit, I thought your Thought Leader panel was also NPRish — thought-provoking, in depth. So put your Thought Leader cap on…How do we amp up what I call Green-Sports 2.0 — engaging fans, especially those who don’t go to games — a much, much, much bigger number than attendees — on environmental and climate change issues?
Colin: You’re 100 percent right. And it’s funny you mention NPR — we have Tracy Wahl, formerly an executive editor there, at ASU’s Cronkite School of Journalism, leading an amazing partnership on sustainability reporting in the Western US. But I digress. The way I look at it, sports is about 15 years behind business in terms of harnessing sustainable strategies and communicating those practices to a wide stakeholder base. That’s not derogatory. Traditional enterprise faced the same issues. Sports is catching up…quickly. I’d also offer that sports has an even greater opportunity to leapfrog traditional enterprise in its impact. People connect on a very personal basis with sports. It’s that reach and narrative – that sports excels in – that will undoubtedly create the wave of change we need.
I like your Green-Sports 1.0 and 2.0 constructs. What I want to know is: What will Green-Sports 3.0 look like? Sport needs to be thinking 30 years out the way businesses does on issues of sustainability, climate change and more. How can sports be bold yet pragmatic? We see that FIFA, UEFA and the IOC are taking laudable steps on sustainability and climate…
Tracy Wahl, executive editor of the Regional Journalism Collaboration for Sustainability, at Arizona State’s Cronkite School of Journalism (Photo credit: Arizona State University)
GSB:…Like the climate change vignette at the 2016 Rio Olympics Opening Ceremonies…But that’s a one off to this point.
Colin: True, but those groups are headed in the right direction on communicating on environment and climate to fans. They and domestic leagues have opportunities to do more while concurrently creating institutional value, especially since they can appeal to younger people…To get and keep them as fans in the way their elders were, sports organizations need to show young folks that they’re innovating — on the field and off. Sustainability can and must be a key off-field tenet going forward. I’m earnestly proud of our leagues and teams and the work they have trail blazed. It’s not easy, but it’s impactful. It’s that impact that I’m committed to supporting and furthering.