Green-Sports Startups, Part 4: Derek Battle and Play Fresh — Teaching Climate Change and Football

Well-known global corporations, from BASF to Miller-Coors 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 existential to their prospects for success. Our first three startups are Nube 9, a Seattle-based company committed to making recyclable sports uniforms in the U.S.A from American fabrics, Underdogs United, which helps sports teams already talking the green talk to walk the green walk by selling them renewable energy credits generated by vital greening projects in the developing world, and Phononic, a tech company that sees sports venues as important testing grounds for its audacious ambition to disrupt the set-in-its-ways refrigeration market, leading to a meaningful reduction in carbon emissions.

Today we talk with Derek Battle, founder of Play Fresh, a nonprofit that uses American football as a catalyst to help build environmental awareness among at-risk kids and teens. The goal is to give them the tools necessary to combat environmental risks and their adverse effects on their communities. 

 

 

GreenSportsBlog: Creating Play Fresh as a nonprofit that aims to use football as a medium to teach kids about the challenges and opportunities presented by climate change is a novel approach to be sure.  To understand how you came up with it, much less turn it from idea to reality has to be a fascinating story that, I imagine, starts with the football side of the equation. Am I right?

Derek Battle: Yes you are! I grew up playing football through high school in Charlotte, then played linebacker at the University of Delaware, Class of 2015…

GSB: …The Fighting Blue Hens!

DB: Exactly! I played as a freshman but tore my anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), rehabbed, made it back to the team, started again, but then I tore my other ACL. And so that was it, football-wise, at least at that level.

 

 

Play Fresh Group Pic

Play Fresh co-founder Derek Battle (2nd from right) and the management team. From left to right: Marketing strategist Will Prstowsky, Co-founder Keon Williams, Battle, and COO Ena Linton (Photo credit: Play Fresh)

 

GSB: A brutal yet all-too-familiar story. So where and when did your interest in climate change come about?

DB: I always had a passion for science and majored in Energy and Environmental Policy. While at Delaware I met John Byrne of the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy. He suggested I check it out, that this was where the future was heading and that there would be strong employment opportunities. So I did, found it interesting and that started me on the climate road.

GSB: So where did the connection between football and climate come from?

DB: As I was learning about climate change, I thought there could be a strong correlation between sports, environmental sustainability and the climate change fight.

GSB: AMEN!

DB: I did my senior thesis research on stadiums and energy efficiency. And I got an internship with the Philadelphia Water Department

GSB: What did that entail?

DB: It was really cool — I worked on the first sewage geothermal solution in Pennsylvania. We investigated it for big public buildings, like Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Super Bowl Champion Eagles, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art…

GSB: Of “Rocky” fame…

DB: That’s the one.

GSB: Did those buildings end up implementing the sewage geothermal solution?

DB: Unfortunately, no. But it really inspired me. So then I did research for the Environmental Center on solar, wind and sewage geothermal on NFL stadiums, focusing primarily on M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, home of the Ravens.

GSB: What did you find out?

DB: That it paid off from a financial point of view. Again, the club didn’t implement it but it further cemented the idea that I wanted to work in the green-sports niche. That said, there weren’t opportunities in that niche when I graduated so I took a job in the insurance industry, focused primarily on construction safety. The key thing for me was that the job afforded flexibility in terms of hours and working from home. Which meant I could pursue green-sports. I went to the Green Sports Alliance Summits in 2015 and 2016 in Chicago and Houston. And I took online courses through the University of Seattle’s Sports, Sustainability & Leadership program in 2016-2017. Courses included policy, marketing and fan engagement.

GSB: Did Play Fresh emerge during this time period?

DB: Yes…In around December 2016, as I was learning a ton about sustainability and sports, I thought, “I know a lot about football already. Why not host an eco-friendly football camp where we could teach inner city youth about climate change?” I talked to some of my friends who’d played in the NFL — they gave me some encouragement. And then I reconnected with a high school friend, Keon Williams, who played cornerback at Gardner-Webb University in South Carolina. And he wanted to host a camp. But he wasn’t eco-minded, at least not to that point.

GSB: Did he become green-minded?

DB: Definitely. We became partners and I took some grant writing and policy courses through University of Seattle, which furthered my knowledge base for starting up a nonprofit. By that time I had moved to Baltimore, started networking, connected with a fellow named Joe Gamble who was running an NFL-endorsed “Play 60” program and coached youth football. Joel’s program along with a great guy Jeff Thompsons, and members from the Baltimore Office of Sustainability really helped me learn the social dynamics of the city so that my project would be accepted by the youth. We applied for 501-C3 status and produced a business plan, thanks to my girlfriend, Ena Linton, who is getting her Masters in Public Health at George Washington University — she sees Play Fresh as a public health initiative.

GSB: Then what happened?

DB: Spring 2017 was devoted to organizing the event. We modeled it on Council for Responsible Sport certification standards. Unfortunately, getting certified was too expensive for us just starting out, but we were still committed to developing sustainable operations. We connected with companies who were just as committed to reducing their environmental impact such as, Eco-Promotions. They supplied us with BPA-free water bottles, plus they planted a tree to offset the production of each bottle. Staff and participant t-shirts were made from recycled material and the screen printing was done with eco-friendly dyes by a local company, Momentum Printing.

GSB: That’s impressive. So when did you have the camp and how did it go?

DB: The camp took place on July 22 in Patterson Park in Baltimore City. We had 62 kids from 12 to 16 years of age and 20 coaches, including three with NFL experience. On the football side, we did all sorts of testing — 40-yard dash, shuttle run, etc. — and worked with them on how to improve their performance since college recruiters put a lot of stock on those results. And we held a variety of 7-on-7 scrimmages. On the sustainability side, we handled it in stealthy way in some respects.

 

Play Fresh 40 yd dash

Play Fresh athletes run the 40 yard dash (Photo credit: Play Fresh)

 

Play Fresh 3D Group

Younger Play Fresh athletes engage in flag football drills (Photo credit: Play Fresh)

 

GSB: How so?

DB: We provided healthy food and snacks and the water bottles. Kids who walked, biked and bused were entered into raffle to win Beats headphones. Throughout the day, we put the onus on the kids to improve their circumstances and their local environment, whether it be through recycling, using a reusable water bottle or participating in community clean-ups. The general messaging was that Under Armour inspires you all to “Protect This House” but at Play Fresh we want to Protect This WORLD!

 

Play Fresh Fresh Change

Play Fresh attendees engage in environmental cleanup in Baltimore City (Photo credit: Play Fresh)

 

Play Fresh H2O bottles Kristin Hanczor

Sustainability Officer Kristin Hanczor provides Play Fresh athletes with reusable BPA-Free water bottles (Photo credit: Play Fresh)

 

GSB: I love that! Did your team talk to the kids about climate change?

DB: We felt that, as mentioned earlier, that a softer approach was the way to go. Climate change would not have resonated with these kids at that time. But getting them to be aware of and take care of their built environment, we hope, will allow them to be open to climate change going forward.

GSB: How much did it cost?

DB: With the sponsorship from Spornado, and some friends and family funding and not looking for a margin, we were able to drive the cost down to $20 but even that was too expensive for many kids.

GSB: That’s a sad reality…

DB: No doubt and we really can’t do it at that price again. But we are going forward this summer with two Play Fresh events. Our camps will be on June 16 in Charlotte — we’re looking for 100 kids at $30 each and then we’ll be back in Baltimore City in July — date is still TBD — again, going for 100 kids at $30 each. We’re hoping to get grants from Under Armour…

GSB: …A great local Baltimore company.

DB: Under Armour, Nike and/or adidas to help take us to the next level.

GSB: That was going to be my final question. How do you plan to scale Play Fresh?

DB: Our goals are to be like a “Nike Combine” on the football side and ramp up the eco-messaging. So, we will need to have a strong 2018 as a proof point for funders and then ramp up in 2019 with more events and markets. At the same time, we’re building out our ongoing and new Play Fresh initiatives. We have a partnership with Chip’n in which any athlete who volunteers six hours at a local event or organization will receive a complimentary pass to the Play Fresh camp. Through Chip’n’s mobile app, athletes can find local volunteer opportunities and our complimentary ticket offer. And we’ve got Play Fresh 3-D where children participate in a series of relays that test their knowledge of which everyday materials are compostable, recyclable and non-recyclable, as well as, educating them on how air pollution reduces community wellness. Additionally, with our Fresh Change initiative, we work to engage student athletes in community cleanups throughout school year. Really, what we’re looking to create is a living classroom for kids of all ages.

 

Play Fresh Chip'N

 


 

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GSB News and Notes: Sports Sponsor Volvo to Make Only Hybrid and EV Cars; 2017 Final Four Gets Highest Level Green Certification; MLS’ C.J. Sapong Brings Urban Farming to Philadelphia

After a week off, GreenSportsBlog is back with a News & Notes column about a trio of Green-Sports winners: Swedish car maker and sports sponsor Volvo announced it will only be making hybrids and electric vehicles (EV’S) as of the 2019 model year. The 2017 Men’s Final Four in Phoenix received the highest certification possible from the Council for Responsible Sport. And C.J. Sapong of Major League Soccer’s Philadelphia Union teaches kids in the City of Brotherly Love about nutrition. 

 

VOLVO WILL MAKE ONLY HYBRIDS AND EV’S BY 2019; SPORTS FANS NEED TO HEAR ABOUT IT

In a story that should’ve gotten much more attention amidst the Trump-Putin meeting at the G-20, Volvo announced on July 5 that every car it introduces from the 2019 model year (fall 2018) onward will have an electric motor as they will only offer hybrids or electric vehicles (EVs). The Swedish company is the first major carmaker to take that step.

Now, this doesn’t mean Volvo is ditching gasoline and diesel engines—at least not yet—but it does put them on an inexorable path to ultimately phase out and replace internal combustion engines with cleaner and more efficient drivetrains. The next big step for the company is to transform all of its current models into hybrids, as well as launching five EVs between 2019 and 2021.

This is the latest move in the Swedish automaker’s rapid carbon footprint reduction program. Ciprian Florea, writing in the July 5 issue of Top Speed magazine, noted that in 2013, “Volvo described V-8 engines as ‘dinosaurs’ and pledged to eliminate [them] from its lineup. Come 2017, and all new Volvo vehicles feature four-cylinder engines only, some backed by electric motors in plug-in hybrid versions.”

“This is about the customer,” said Håkan Samuelsson, Volvo president and CEO, in a statement. “People increasingly demand electrified cars and we want to respond to our customers’ current and future needs. You can now pick and choose whichever electrified Volvo you wish.”

 

Samuelsson Volvo

Håkan Samuelsson, Volvo president and CEO (Photo credit: Volvo)

 

To ensure increased demand for electrified cars turns into increased sales for Volvo and not its competitors, the company will need to promote its new hybrid and EV models.

That’s where the company’s sports sponsorships should come into play. Interestingly, in recent years, Volvo has exited the premium car industry’s traditional sponsorship bailiwicks of auto racing and golf, preferring instead to focus on environmentally-friendly sailing along with tennis.

 

Volvo Ocean Race, October 2017-June 2018

The 2017-2018 round-the-world Volvo Ocean Race, which has sustainability coursing through its DNA, provides a fantastic platform on which to promote the switch to hybrids and EVs:

  • The 2017-2018 edition has adopted the United Nations Environment Program’s (UNEP) Clean Seas initiative, plastic ocean waste reduction campaign.
  • The race’s commitment to reduce its overall carbon footprint will be on display through educational and science programs at the fan villages at each of the 13 race stops, from its start in Alicante, Spain to its conclusion in The Hague, Netherlands.

 

Volvo Ocean Race

The 2017-2018 Volvo Ocean Race will start in Alicante, Spain and end in The Hague, Netherlands.

 

The race’s timing and length, from October 2017 to June 2018, as well as its consistent, worldwide broadcast coverage (NBCSN will follow the race in the U.S., Rogers SportsNet in Canada and Sky Sports in the U.K.) offers the company a global, 9-month run up to the start of the 2019 model year (beginning in August-September 2018). One can easily imagine ads touting the Volvo hybrids and EVs, themed to the Volvo Ocean Race, airing on TV and via digital channels during race broadcasts. It would be a huge opportunity missed if such ads don’t run.

 

Volvo Car (Women’s Tennis) Open, March 31-April 8, 2018, Charleston, S.C.

While the Volvo Ocean Race makes only one U.S. stop (Newport, R.I., May, 2018), the company has another stateside sports sponsorship; the Volvo Car Open Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) in Charleston, S.C.

The tournament, at least from publicly available information, has not made the environment nor sustainability a priority. That is unfortunate but Volvo can take the green lead at its own tournament by promoting its EVs and hybrids on site. And, more importantly, they can do so during Tennis Channel’s exclusive coverage of the event.

Tennis Channel, as of March, 2017, reaches 52 million U.S. homes and has one of the most affluent audiences of any cable network. Since at least two of its five EVs will be at the high priced end of the car spectrum, Volvo and Tennis Channel will make for a strong marriage. And, as title sponsor, Volvo will have plenty of advertising opportunities during the tournament to stoke demand.

 

2017 MEN’S FINAL FOUR IN PHOENIX EARNS COUNCIL FOR RESPONSIBLE SPORT’S HIGHEST CERTIFICATION

A record crowd of more than 77,000 at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, AZ, along with an audience of millions more on TV and online, saw the University of North Carolina Tar Heels upend the Gonzaga Bulldogs, 71-65, to win the 2017 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship back in April. Likely unknown to all but a few folks at the time was the fact that the 2017 Men’s Final Four was under consideration for the top level of sustainability certification available from the Council for Responsible Sport.

Consideration has now become reality as the Council and Phoenix Local Organizing Committee recently announced that the 2017 NCAA Final Four Basketball Championship garnered the top-level Evergreen Certification for its sustainability efforts and achievements. As long-time readers of GreenSportsBlog know, the Council for Responsible Sport is an Oregon-based not-for-profit organization that provides independent verification of the socially and environmentally responsible work event organizers, from road races to cycling events to Final Fours, are undertaking.

 

UNC Final Four

The University of North Carolina Tar Heels celebrate after winning the 2017 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship in Glendale, AZ. The 2017 Men’s Final Four recently achieved the top level of sustainability certification (Evergreen) from the Council For Responsible Sport. (Photo credit: David J. Phillip)

 

The Organizing Committee made the Evergreen grade by achieving more than 90 percent of the 61 total best practice standards offered in the Council’s framework across five categories: planning and communications, procurement, resource management, access and equity and community legacy. Here are some highlights:

  • 91 percent of all unavoidable waste was diverted from the landfill via a robust recycling, reuse and compost strategy led by the City of Phoenix Department of Public Works, which has a 40 percent diversion rate goal for Phoenix by 2020.
  • 5,300 Fan Fest, Tip Off Tailgate, and Music Fest visitors took a water saving pledge (and a selfie to #DropBuckets4AZ). Bonneville Environmental Foundation (BEF) pledged to restore 1,000 gallons of water to Arizona Watersheds for each picture taken, resulting in restoring 5.3 million gallons of freshwater into an Arizona ecosystem.
  • All of the electricity used at the Phoenix Convention Center for Fan Fest and at the stadium during the event weekend was sourced from clean energy sources through the purchase of verified Renewable Energy Certificates.
  • An e-waste collection, with the support of LG, resulted in the proper recycling of 925 pounds of electronic waste.

 

PHILADELPHIA UNION’S C.J. SAPONG TEACHES KIDS ABOUT URBAN FARMING, NUTRITION THROUGH “SACRED SEEDS”

C.J. Sapong has been a top performer in Major League Soccer (MLS) over his seven year career. The Philadelphia Union forward won the Rookie of the Year award and, while with Sporting Kansas City, earned MLS and U.S. Open Cups. This season, Sapong is off to his best start ever, with nine goals in his first 18 games.

 

Sapong Goal Eric Hartline

C.J. Sapong of the Philadelphia Union. (Photo credit: Eric Hartline/Goal Magazine)

 

But as impressive as that record is, it is what Sapong has been up to off the pitch that drew GreenSportsBlog’s attention.

Sapong, an avid gardener and a student of hydroponics (the process of growing plants in sand, gravel and/or water, but without soil), is working, with his new nonprofit Sacred Seeds, to help children in Philadelphia reach their potential through improved nutrition. ​He shared his story in a must-read, “as told to” interview with Kevin Koczwara in the June 21st issue of Good Sports. Here are some excerpts:

  • “After some incidents that nearly derailed my career, improving my eating habits helped me get back on the field. My experience opened my eyes to the importance of diet, and as I looked around, I could see kids weren’t getting the nutrients they needed, either. But for them, it wasn’t a choice. In Philadelphia…I could see food deserts depriving kids of their basic needs. So I began brainstorming ideas on how to bring healthy, nutritious food to less-fortunate children [by] empowering kids to take charge of their own diet while getting their hands dirty.”
  • “There is a serious problem in Philadelphia and other major cities with food deserts…where access to fresh fruit and vegetables is nonexistent because of a lack of grocery stores or farmers markets. Usually occurring in impoverished neighborhoods, food deserts have a negative impact on the people living in them…A healthy diet helps quell things like anxiety, depression, lethargy, and behavioral issues. With that in mind, I wanted to combine my research [into micro-greens, hydroponics and aquaculture] to help combat food deserts in Philadelphia.”
  • Sapong partnered with Temple and Drexel universities to launch Sacred Seeds. “We’re implementing hydroponics in the greenhouses…using recycled materials, like used and discarded tires dumped around the city…but want to eventually move towards aquaculture…where plants grow in an environment that is fed by fish that live in a tank under the grow pads, feeding the plants on constant loop while the plants provide nutrients back to the fish. [This allows] the greenhouses [to] almost [fully] maintain themselves while providing children and neighborhoods with nutrient-rich food for their diets.”
  • The Union’s leading goal scorer this season wants kids in Philadelphia to help lead Sacred Seeds. “We need to teach kids [to] feel the positive energy that comes with harvesting something you created. We want them to get their hands dirty, to dig and grow their food. Nothing tastes as good as the food you make and grow.”

 

Sapong Good Seeds

C.J. Sapong of the Philadelphia Union works with Philadelphia kids as part of the Sacred Seeds initiative. (Photo credit: C.J. Sapong via Instagram)

 


 

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The GSB Interview: Jamie Simon, Greening the LA Marathon

The Skechers Performance Los Angeles Marathon is one of the biggest in the United States, drawing 25,000+ runners from all over the world each year. The race passes through four cities, each with their own sustainability (recycling, composting, etc.) protocols and vendor contracts. Getting all four cities to pull together to deliver as sustainable an event as possible is a logistical challenge of epic proportions. To find out how they’re going about it, GSB talked with Jamie Simon, the Sustainability Consultant for Conqur Endurance Group, the event organizer.

GreenSportsBlog: Jamie, thanks for joining us. How did you get involved with Conqur Endurance Group?

Jamie Simon: I joined Conqur Endurance Group as a sustainability consultant. Before that I had been sustainability director of Red Bull USA

GSB: That must’ve been fascinating. When were you there?

JS: From 1999-2009, with the last two years in the sustainability role. The biggest challenge there was that outward-looking, consumer-facing sustainability programs were not in line with the brand at that time.

Jamie Simon

Jamie Simon, sustainability consultant for the Skechers Performance Los Angeles Marathon. (Photo credit: Jamie Simon)

 

GSB: What does that mean?

JS: It means that the brand’s image with consumers was about extreme sports and culture, etc. And not about sustainability. Their sustainability efforts—and the things that I focused on—were largely on how to streamline operations, to make them more efficient, use less water, etc.

GSB: Red Bull really should communicate their sustainability stories to their consumers. They’re starting to a bit, with their support of the documentary film about clean water, Waves for WaterBut that’s for a different interview. Back to the Skechers Performance Los Angeles Marathon: How did you find things, sustainability-wise, when you joined the effort there?

JS: Well, I have to say we were fortunate when we arrived back in 2014. My first assignment was to set sustainability benchmarks—basically, let the key stakeholders know where the marathon was in terms of a variety of sustainability metrics—mostly environmental but also social and governance. The marathon and its leadership had already taken a number of sustainability steps before that time and so, when we did the baseline analysis of their efforts, the 2015 Los Angeles Marathon was able to qualify for the silver certification level by the Council for Responsible Sport.

GSB: You mean by doing the benchmarking—and making no improvements—the Los Angeles Marathon was able to make silver level certification?

JS: That’s exactly right. The organizers were already giving funds to over 200 area nonprofits, which allows them to check the community development box of their Council certification form. They also had established a strong relationship with the LA Tourism Board, which allowed them to measure the economic impact of the marathon. Another box checked. And there were some waste management-recycling protocols in place.

GSB: So what were you brought in to do?

JS: Conqur Endurance Group made a three-year commitment to get to the Gold, or hopefully, Evergreen level of Council certification for the marathon. I was brought in to get us there. We set sustainability benchmarks with the 2015 Los Angeles Marathon, did more benchmarking with the 2016 race, and determined what kind of steps we would need to take if we were to qualify for Gold certification by the Council in 2017.

LAMarathonByCruse00259

The Skechers Performance Los Angeles Marathon is seeking Gold certification from the Council for Responsible Sport for 2017. (Photo credit: Los Angeles Marathon)

 

GSB: What did you learn?

JS: Well here’s one example: We learned that heat sheets are recyclable…

GSB: What are heat sheets?

JS: Those are the sheets of foil that are given to runners after they finish the marathon to keep their body temperatures regulated. At the 2017 Skechers Performance Los Angeles Marathon, we separated out the heat sheets and educated recyclers on the importance of actually recycling the material.

GSB: I never would have even thought about heat sheets. You guys really get down into the weeds with this…

JS: Here’s another one from the weeds. You know what you have tremendous quantities of at marathons? Banana peels.

GSB: Makes sense.

JS: And Santa Monica, one of the four cities that is part of the marathon every year, has a composting program for residents but not for events. Well, we got them to compost banana for the 2017 Skechers Performance Los Angeles Marathon.

GSB: You said Santa Monica is one of four cities? That’s got to be a logistical nightmare in terms of sustainability regulations and protocols.

JS: Oh yeah! The marathon starts at Dodger Stadium in LA, goes through West Hollywood and Beverly Hills before ending in Santa Monica near the Santa Monica Pier. This means we have four waste protocols to deal with, four sets of waste haulers, etc.

LA Marathon Start

Start of the Skechers Performance LA Marathon outside Dodger Stadium (Photo credit: Connect Run Club)

 

GSB: That sounds like a big logistical challenge. How does working with so many municipalities affect your metrics and measurements?

JS: We’ve got a pretty good handle on that aspect. We take carbon footprint, waste diversion and economic impact measurements. Right now, we’re working our way through the measurements of the 2017 race. Waste diversion for 2015 was at 84% so we’ve got a strong baseline there.

GSB: The waste collection must take a massive effort.

JS: You’d be surprised. We don’t supply food and beverage for the spectators. We’re all about the runners; 26,407 to be exact this year. There are about 6,000 volunteers, picking up waste along the way. Runners get bagels and bananas at the beginning. All unused food goes to the homeless through our partner Move For Hunger. We also work with Students Run LA—I love this group!—it teaches low income kids to run and to love running, which enhances self-esteem. And you know what? The most sustainable resource on earth is self-esteem. People who take care of themselves, take care of the planet.

GSB: I would love to see data that supports this notion but intuitively, it makes a ton of sense. What are your biggest goals for the Skechers Performance Los Angeles Marathon in 2018 and beyond?

JS: Definitely the elimination of bottled water. We’re working with the LA Department of Water and Power (LADWP), Beverly Hills and Santa Monica to access city water for our drinking water. WeTap, a nonprofit that promotes increased access to water from drinking fountains, is supporting our efforts.

GSB: Oh, WeTap is a terrific group and a great partner for the marathon. We interviewed them back a couple of months ago.

JS: Yes, I remember that. Now there are some logistical challenges—the fountains are currently on the wrong side of the course, for example—that need to be worked out. We also will revamp the water management bins at the finish of the course. Finally, we are looking to greatly reduce waste at the race expo, a two-day event at the LA Convention Center with over 100 exhibitors. It’s challenging but we will get it done, no doubt about it.

GSB: I have no doubt about that!

 


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Houston Marathon Goes for the Green Gold—And Gold Level Certification from the Council for Responsible Sport

Houston, the oil capital of the US, is not, like Portland, or San Francisco, a Green-Sports hub. But there are “Green-Sports shoots” sprouting up in Texas’ largest city. The Chevron Houston Marathon is one of the success stories there, earning sustainable event certification from the Council for Responsible Sport since 2012. With the 2017 version of the race having taken place in January, we gave a call to Shelley Villalobos, Managing Director of the Council, to get a sense of how the Houston Marathon made out, sustainability-wise, and what the future holds.

 

Let’s dispense with the finery: The Houston Super Bowl Host Committee dropped the green ball.

As documented in a January GSB post, the Host Committee did not appear to offer up even a tepid effort to take the Green-Sports baton from the Bay Area Super Bowl 50 Host Committee.

Of course, Houston is not San Francisco, green-wise. Heck, it’s not even in the same sustainability league as Austin, 165 miles to its west. But Houston has some important green things going for it, including its longstanding, comprehensive greening initiative, Green Houstonand its status, per EPA, as the #1 user of Green Power in the country in 2015.

Despite the big missed opportunity at Super Bowl LI, Houston does have a solid, if not well-publicized Green-Sports heritage. The 2016 NCAA Men’s Final Four, held at NRG Stadium, site of Super Bowl LI, was the first Final Four ever to be certified as a sustainable event by the Council for Responsible Sport.

And the Chevron Houston Marathon has been certified by the Council since 2012 by the Council for Responsible Sport and is in the process of attaining its 2017 certification. Brant Kotch, Race Director and President of the Board of the Houston Marathon Committee sounded downright Portlandian when we said that the main reason his team undertook Council certification is “it’s our responsibility to take care of our planet for the present as well as for future generations. We thank the Council for helping to show us the way.”

CHM Start 2017

Runners await the start of the 2017 Chevron Houston Marathon on January 15. (Photo credit: @PhotoRun)

 

With that in mind, we talked with Council Managing Director Shelley Villalobos to get her take on the Chevron Houston Marathon’s sustainability story.


 

GreenSportsBlog: Shelley, first of all, congratulations on the important sustainability certification work of the Council for Responsible Sport. It sounds like the Chevron Houston Marathon (CHM) has really made sustainability a key facet of its DNA. Take us through how that happened.

Shelley Villalobos: Well, they’ve been on board for six years now, getting their initial certification back in 2012 at the Silver level. That certification was focused on putting protocols and systems in place to track performance and things like energy use, waste generation and diversion and sustainability engagement with their youth program offerings. In 2013 they said, “we want to go for Gold!” And they did it that year and again in 2015. The recertification is still in process for this year’s event as they pull together documentation and report on how they did.

GSB: Could you tell us the difference between Silver and Gold? And is Gold the highest level certification possible at the Council?

SV:  The Council’s 4.2 Responsible Sport Standards are like a menu. There are 61 opportunities across five categories (Planning & Communications, Procurement, Resource Management, Access & Equity, Community Legacy) to earn individual credits towards certification. Silver level is earned when 60% (36 credits) of the standards are met. Gold is earned with 75% of the standards implemented, and our highest level of certification possible, Evergreen, comes when an event meets 90% of the standards.

So to get from Silver to Gold, CHM had to expand their effort beyond what they’d done in the past. Some things they have been working on include tracking their printing more closely, reusing more signage from year to year (they ordered 380 signs less this year than last), eliminating unnecessary waste and expanding their direct outreach to underrepresented groups in the community.

One of my favorite things they did recently was work with their suppliers to eliminate the individual plastic bags around every finisher’s t-shirt and medal. It adds up when we’re talking about an event that 17,000 people participate in!

 

The Council for Responsible Sport works with its primary evaluation partner, Waste Management, to asses an event’s performance across the five categories of responsible sport according to the v4.2 Responsible Sport Standards for Certification.

 

GSB: What will it take for them to get to the next level?

SV: For an event like the CHM, once the basic policies and programs are in place it really becomes about engagement and education with event vendors, sponsors and other partners—looking for ways to engage in genuine partnership with people doing good work locally, like Green Houston that you mentioned, to get people in-the-know and involved with pertinent local sustainability issues. That looks different in every place. In some cities it means air quality and transit, for others it’s water conservation and river ecosystems restoration, but generally it comes down to organizers thinking creatively and looking to use an event platform to serve as a connection point for shared community values.

Then from the Council’s perspective, for events that have a legacy of certified responsible performance, we have an invitation-based program called Inspire. It recognizes the challenges long-standing certified events to share what they’ve learned with other organizers in a formal mentorship as well as tell their story publicly. CHM will likely be invited to that club when the current certification is up for renewal in 2019 (certification is good for two years). At that point, we’ll work with them to identify and connect them with another race or organization looking to create or expand their efforts and see what we can come up with!

SVillalobos_headshot

Shelley Villalobos, Managing Director of The Council for Responsible Sport (Photo credit: The Council for Responsible Sport)

 

GSB: Well it seems to me that the Houston Marathon is tailor made for the Inspire level. Where does the Houston Marathon team’s sustainability drive come from?

SV: Brant Kotch really has been a driving force behind the event’s sustainability efforts (though he may humbly deny it!) as well as a few key staff. When the leadership is there, and there is a willingness to put some resource behind stated values, people tend to do great work. Brant even spoke last month at the Run Mexico conference in Mexico City to share the evolution of his event, including growing with an awareness of environmental and social impacts. We’ve heard from several organizers of races in Mexico since then who are interested in getting started and doing better. In the interest of full disclosure, Brant Kotch also sits on the Council for Responsible Sport’s Board.

GSB: Talking to Brant for two minutes let me know that he is a great ambassador for sustainable events and for the Council. There’s one question I have to ask…How does the Houston Marathon sustainability team deal with having an oil company like Chevron as the title sponsor?

SV: I can’t answer that for them, but I can say that to the best of my knowledge, the leadership to do better has come from within the marathon committee, not from the title or other sponsors. Realistically, there are probably very few events anywhere that would turn down title sponsorship dollars, period.

GSB: And, in Houston, the economy is largely driven by Big Oil…and Big Oil thus represents the lion’s share of potential title sponsors there.

SV: Agree. Texas more broadly has, of course, been the nation’s oil and gas hub. Tenneco (formerly Tennessee Gas), was the marathon’s title sponsor before Chevron all the way back to ’79. From an energy perspective, things are changing now. Texas is actually the #1 state for installed wind capacity (20, 321 MW as of 2017 according to the American Wind Energy Association).

Chevron acknowledges climate change on its website and has created a division—I don’t know how big or small—dedicated to evaluating emerging technologies in wind, solar and biofuels. That doesn’t change the fact that it’s a company that profits from the trade of fuels that are cooking the planet, but it does signal an effort to be at least somewhat adaptive to the current reality.

GSB: …Sadly, the current reality is that the Houston Marathon has to take Chevron’s money. I think we will know we are on the road to winning the Climate Change fight when we’re talking about the “Fill in the Blank Wind Energy” Houston Marathon. Back to the current reality and to get us to friendlier turf, I understand that Houston was involved in a sustainable sports event symposium of sorts, co-hosted by the Council. Tell us what that was about…

SV: Yeah! We collaborated with the City of Eugene to convene sustainability directors from several cities during the 2016 U.S. Olympic Track & Field trials hosted by TrackTown USA at Hayward Field on the University of Oregon campus. We talked in depth about what responsible sport means to their locales using the Council’s certification framework to jumpstart the conversation.

As a follow up, the participating cities jointly applied for (and were approved!) an Innovation Fund Grant around responsible sport resources development, funded by the Urban Sustainability Directors’ Network (USDN), a consortium of city sustainability directors in the US and Canada. We’ll be working on that project a lot this year.

GSB: Which cities were involved?

SV: In addition to Eugene; Chicago, Houston, Phoenix, Portland, San Jose, and Washington, D.C. participated in the July event, as well as sustainability representatives of the LA 2024 Olympic bid team. Minneapolis and Boulder joined on after that, and several cities are set up to be secondary ‘observers’ on the project moving forward, offering feedback and such, including Austin, Calgary, and Sacramento.

USDN group_OregonO_2016July

Representatives from the city governments of Eugene, Chicago, Houston, Portland (OR), and Washington D.C. alongside members of the Council for Responsible Sport board and staff. The group “Throws the O” (for University of Oregon) as they culminate a two-day summit exploring responsible sports events alongside the Evergreen Certified 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Track & Field in Eugene, OR in 2016. (Photo credit: City of Eugene, OR)

 

GSB: And what is this collaboration of cities proposing to do?

SV: The project is really about creating comprehensive responsible event programs consisting of guidelines, standards, recommendations and asset maps so that each partner city will be equipped to realize their own sustainable event strategies. So we’ll be working with them to create tools to help with reporting, involving sponsors and vendors, and working with local infrastructures (e.g are there facilities that can accept large amounts of compostable waste from events?) to understand what’s possible, then share results and compare and contrast stories.

GSB: That is an Olympian list of deliverables! We look forward to seeing the results.

 

 

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