“Twin Cities Rule US Green-Sports” — Part IV: r.Cup Reduces Number of Single Use Plastic Bottles at Sports, Entertainment Venues

“Which metro area is the Green-Sportsy-est in the US?”

While coastal areas like San Francisco-Oakland-Santa Clara and Seattle might come to mind first, it says here that Minneapolis and St. Paul, smack dab in the heartland of the country, wins the title. In fact, the Twin Cities’ Green-Sportsy-ness runs so deep that we can’t cover it all in one post.

In Part I of our four-part GSB special series, Twin Cities Rule US Green-Sports, we looked at US Bank Stadium (Minnesota Vikings), the University of Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium and CHS Field (Independent baseball’s St. Paul Saints) from a green perspective.

Part II featured Chef David Fhima, who brought clean, healthy, organic food to the Minnesota Timberwolves and Target Center.

Then in Part III we went back to the venues, this time visiting Target Field (Minnesota Twins), Xcel Energy Center (Minnesota Wild/NHL) and Allianz Field (Minnesota United/MLS).

In today’s Part IV finale, we profile Mike Martin, a pioneer in the sustainable concert space. He recently launched r.Cup, a Minneapolis-based startup whose goal is to dramatically reduce the number of single use plastic bottles at concerts and, going forward, sports events.

 

GSB: Mike, before we get to the r.Cup story, before we get to how sports venues can dramatically reduce the number single use plastic bottles, I’d like to understand how you got into the green concert world back before there really was a green concert world.

Mike Martin: This goes back to the 1980s. I was in the investment banking world, selling mortgage backed securities…

GSB: …The “Go-Go 80s”

Mike: You got that right. I mean I was selling to the Trump Organization at that time. Anyway, I was doing well but during that era the Bhopal disaster¹ happened, the Exxon Valdez spill² happened. I realized helping companies like these was not what I was supposed to be doing and wanted to create opportunities for capitalism to have a positive impact on the health of people and the planet.

 

Michael Martin Headshot

Mike Martin (Photo credit: Mike Martin)

 

GSB: So what did you do?

Mike: A friend got the rights to produce the official concert for the 20th Anniversary of Earth Day celebration in 1990. I had formed a concert committee when I was a student at Carroll University in Wisconsin. Based on that “vast experience”, the friend asked me to produce the event. So I left my job and set about managing the concert. It took place at the Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Maryland outside of Washington, D.C. A dozen artists including Ziggy Marley, Indigo Girls and Michael Stipe and Peter Buck of REM performed; over 20,000 people showed up. And these artists formed the core of the Earth Day + 20 rally on the National Mall which drew 500,000 people, and the revenues generated from the concert helped fund the rally.

Anyway, the next day, Jonathan Kraft called. His dad, Robert, was buying the New England Patriots. He wanted to do something positive for Boston and offered up the stadium for free if we would put on a similar concert in 1991 at Foxboro Stadium, the Pats’ home at the time. We produced that event — it aired on MTV, which was a very big deal back then.

We reunited Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr on Earth Day 1993 at the Hollywood Bowl. Broadcast on VH1, it was the “tent pole” (or centerpiece) event that tied in with 30 markets nationally to create that year’s National Earth Day Campaign. It raised money for PETA, Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace.

 

McCartney

Mike Martin presents Paul McCartney and his wife Linda (since deceased) with an Earth Day “Concerts for the Environment” poster in Minneapolis in 1993 (Photo credit: Michael Martin)

 

As part of producing these events, we greened the stadium, from installing the most energy efficient light bulbs available at the time to recycling to managing water usage. At the Earth Day Festivals, we also introduced many of the components still in use today: eco-villages, rewards for taking environmental action, community involvement, the whole thing.

GSB: And thus, basically overnight, you became a purpose-focused concert producer, with green as a major thread! How cool is that?

Mike: Yes, I feel very fortunate to have been able to not only influence the live event industry, reaching millions of people, and in the process, work on creative solutions to some of the world’s biggest environmental problems.

For the last three decades, I’ve acted, mainly behind the scenes, as a catalyst to bring culture and business together to tackle some of the most pressing social issues facing humanity. One of the things I am most known for is, helping to put the concept of global warming on the map for mainstream America. In the 90s, I started reading research papers about climate change and global warming and thought “this is a massive problem.” I decided I had to do something.

I spent a year talking to leading environmentalists and acted as a catalyst to unite the top 20 environmental organizations to create the first national global warming campaign.

So in 1999-2000, in partnership with Ben & Jerry’s and 20 environmental nonprofits, we produced the Ben & Jerry’s Dave Matthews Band One Sweet World Campaign. The concept was: “Eat This Ice Cream and Lose a Ton…..of CO₂”. This was the amount of CO2 each American needed to reduce their emissions according to the Kyoto Protocol. The campaign educated the country on steps individuals could take to reduce their CO₂ emissions.

 

One Sweet Whirled1

Ben & Jerry’s One Sweet Whirled/Dave Matthews Band limited edition ice cream (Photo credit: Ben & Jerry’s)

 

“One Sweet World” become the most successful Ben & Jerry’s launch up to that point. This helped reinforce the company’s commitment to social change, which helped re-invigorate the brand image, even after being sold to Unilever. Dave Matthews Band established its bona fides as a green band.

From there, we realized we were becoming a purpose-driven marketing agency of sorts…

GSB: …Long before purpose-driven was a thing…

Mike: Then it was called “cause marketing.” Well to us, it was the effect or impact that really mattered so in 2008 we changed the name of the company from Music Matters to Effect Partners, with a focus on developing the practice of “Effect Marketing”.

GSB: What were some of Effect Marketing’s highlight projects?

Mike: We helped launch Toyota’s Prius back in 2000. In 2005-6 we developed “Green Notes” for Clif Bar. This program is still in place. We work with cool emerging artists like Ingrid Michaelson, Soja, Michael Franti and Bon Iver, teaching them how to green their tours, while giving them tools to help inspire their fans to take positive social change actions.

In the early 2000’s we started working with Kim and Jack Johnson to help them develop their greening strategies and messaging. In 2008, we worked with Kim and Jack Johnson on creating their “All At Once” sustainability non-profit and tour. We introduced hydration stations to the music industry with the Brita Filter For Good program. And, we’ve worked with brands like Proctor & Gamble, Target and Apple on developing their Effect Marketing strategies and campaigns

GSB: That’s an amazing track record. Billboard magazine called you the “guru of live music greening.”

Mike: That was very kind of them. That’s been our mission from the beginning. Music is the platform to open the hearts and minds of fans and so it is the obvious way to move people along the continuum of awareness to action on environmental and social issues.

Going to back to Foxboro in 1991, we started something that was behind the scenes but also very important: We created a document called the “EnviroRider™” that can be added to the contracts a band signs with a venue or event promoter. You know, bands have production riders and catering riders, so why not have an EnviroRider? Steve Miller was the first artist who asked me to make this for his tour. By using an EnviroRider, bands would have leverage to make sure that their concerts would be as environmentally-friendly as possible. And it works. Venues do what bands want.

What makes me very happy is how many of the items on the EnviroRider that venues, concessionaires and promoters would say they could not do in the 1990’s and 2000’s are now common practice. Composting on site, offsetting emissions, using biodiesel to power generators, bicycle corrals, fan rewards for recycling, eliminating single-use water bottles, local food, organic food.

We’ve been the Sustainability Director for U2 since 2009 when they launched the 360 Tour, still the biggest tour in history. Our goal for them was to dramatically reduce their waste reduction and carbon footprint. We did that in a number of ways, including creating an offset that provides water filters for people in sub-Saharan Africa so they would not use wood for boiling water.

We moved the needle!

GSB: I’ll say! Talk about how you also got into the fight for clean water. 

Mike: This was in 2000-1. As you may know, arsenic run-off from farming is a by-product of the chemicals and pesticides used on our food. It gets into our drinking water supply. I got involved with getting artists to support a campaign against legislation from the Bush 43 administration that would have allowed more arsenic in our water.

That led to advocating for organics and to producing the “Go Organic for Earth Day,” working with 4,500 stores nationally. The result? Sales of organics jumped by up to 25 percent nationally. The other campaign was called ONE (Organic and Natural Experience). With ONE, we took up to 25 companies at a time out on the road to major events and concerts and distributed organic samples and coupons for organic products. Amazingly, we enjoyed up to 10 to 15 percent redemption rates…

GSB: That’s an insane redemption rate. Most successful coupon campaigns get between 1 and 1.5 percent. So an organic-based promotion outdid that by tenfold! When did sports come into your work?

Mike: Well, I never was that far away from it. Of course most of the venues the bands with which we work play at also host sports events. We created a very exciting campaign that ran during the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The USOC and the Dairy Industry Association…

GSB: The Milk Mustache people…

Mike: Them! Anyway they’ve had a long-term partnership, with US Olympians extolling the virtues of milk. But there is increasing awareness and more and more athletes who are adopting plant-based, vegan diets, and who decry the animal cruelty surrounding the dairy industry. So we created an ad that featured vegan Olympians called Switch4Good that refuted some of the pro-dairy claims in milk ads and extolled the virtues of a vegan diet. We ran the ad on NBC, it aired in one market and the Dairy Association complained and so NBC pulled it. But that was okay — we got a ton of publicity, plus we ran the ad on the Oscars broadcast.

 

The Switch for Good ad (60 seconds)

 

GSB: I remember that. Very cool! Now let’s talk r.Cup. How did it begin? 

Mike: To me, after greening live concert events for almost three decades, the environmental Holy Grail has always been waste reduction, especially those single-use plastic cups. We’ve tried fan education, fan incentives, trash goalies, etc. Truth is, most fans don’t really care about taking the time to recycle at concerts or sports events. They just want to enjoy the event!

A great example of this was when Live Nation hired me in 2016 to help them design the optimal way to green their amphitheaters. I was able to take the greening decisions out of the fans’ hands. No plastic, everything was designed to be recycled or composted. I thought we had the solution! But…But there was a big problem: About 80 percent of trash on the ground at a venue does not go to recycling or composting. It goes to landfill. And a lot of that trash was cups. For compostable plastic to work it has to be hand sorted and taken to an industrial composting facility. If not, it contaminates the recycled material.

And so I started to think about how to actually reduce the number of cups that end up on the floor and ultimately go to landfill from big concerts and sports events. We needed to see how we could reduce, reuse…Could we create a rent, refill, return mechanism? Now you can see where the germ of the idea for r.Cup came from.

GSB: Clever! How does it work?

Mike: r.Cup is simple and works amazingly well. You come to the event, buy a beverage of any kind. It’s served in a high quality artist or team branded cup. You pay for the beverage plus a $3 deposit for the cup. Then, if you want another beer or water or whatever, you come back with the same cup and get a refill. At the end of the event, you come to the r.Cup staff and get your $3 back or you can take your up home.

 

 

rCup Stones

An r.Cup from the Rolling Stones 2019 No Filter tour (Photo credit: r.Cup)

 

r.Cup provides the cups, handles all the logistics and tracks the positive environmental impact of the program. No waste is generated, venues do not have to clean-up or dispose of trash, saving them money. The concessionaires do not need to buy cups and can make a small fee on each cup kept. Additionally, we are seeing reports of increased per-head sales. I guess if you are holding a cup, you want to fill it up! Ten percent of the company is owned by ocean cleanup non-profits so as r.Cup grows, the plastic waste crisis begins to lessen.

 

 

r.Cup_U2_3

An r.Cup ambassador explains how the program works to a fan at a U2 concert (Photo credit: r.Cup)

 

GSB: So r.Cup gets its revenues from the people who keep the cups?

Mike: Exactly. And the cups are dishwasher-safe and recyclable. We’re working on a cup that’s fossil fuel-free. For concert tours, which is where we started in 2017, we sterilize the cups and then move on to the next city. For festivals, we will sterilize and warehouse any cups for next year’s festival.

For  sports teams — we’re dabbling in it this year with a big rollout in 2020 — obviously the cups stay where they are. And sports is a huge opportunity for us. Sports contributes far more in single use plastic waste than the music industry. We’ve been approached by sustainability leadership from all the major sports leagues. And six or seven teams at least, all among the leaders in Green-Sports, have reached out, so you will start seeing r.Cup at sport events in the near future.

GSB: Good to hear. How does sports differ from concerts for r.Cup?

Mike: They’re very different. A major band might tour every couple years. A major league baseball team has 81 home games every season. NBA clubs have 41, and NHL teams have 40. So the deposit for a cup model will not work as well in sports. That’s why we have a “no deposit model” for sports in which we become a cup service. The concessionaire pays us to provide the cups, collect, wash, house and manage the cups as well as providing environmental impact tracking. The cost of the cup service is embedded in the beverage. We collect the cups left behind, wash and sterilize them and put them back into use.

GSB: Let us know how it works out. r.Cup is based in Minneapolis, for my money, the hub of Green-Sports in the USA. Are Twin-Cities teams on your radar? And why do you think the Twin Cities sports teams are so green-minded?

Mike: Yes they are! We are in discussions with several of the local teams and you will be seeing r.Cup at some Twin Cities sports events this year.

The Twin Cities is one of the most aware and progressive communities in the country, so fans expect their teams to reflect their values. The owners of the Twin Cities teams are committed leaders who work hard to provide a positive fan experience. Eliminating tons of toxic plastic waste, creates a positive fan experience, helps the community, increases the bottom line, and, most importantly, it is the right thing to do!

 

¹ The Bhopal disaster was a gas leak incident in December 1984 at the Union Carbide India Limited pesticide plant in Bhopal. It is considered to be the world’s worst industrial disaster as up to an estimate 16,000 people died.
² The Valdez was an oil tanker owned by Exxon that spilled 11 million gallons of crude oil into Alaska’s Prince William Sound in 1989. The oil slick ultimately impacted 1,300 miles of coast line.

 


 

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The GSB Interview: Lindita Xhaferi-Salihu; Leading the Way at the UN on Sports For Climate Action

The Sports for Climate Action Framework, launched by the sport sector UN Climate Change (UNFCCC) in December, has gotten off to a strong start.

In its first six months, an A-List of sports governing bodies, leagues and teams — from FIFA to the IOC, from the NBA to the All England Lawn Tennis Association (aka Wimbledon), from the New York Yankees to the Minnesota Wild — have committed to doing their part to achieve the Framework’s two main objectives:

  1. Achieve a clear trajectory for the global sports community to combat climate change, including measuring, reducing, and reporting greenhouse gas emissions, in line with the 1.5 degree Celsius scenario enshrined in the 2015 Paris Agreement, and

  2. Use sports as a unifying tool to create solidarity among global citizens for climate action.

How did the Framework come together? How will the UN measure how signatories are living up to their commitments — or not?

We asked these questions, and more, of Lindita Xhaferi-Salihu who led development of the Sports for Climate Action Framework.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Lindita, I’ve wanted to talk with you for some time about the UN’s Sports for Climate Action Framework. How did it come to be? And what is your role — and the UN’s?

Lindita Xhaferi-Salihu: Our role at the UN Climate Change is to catalyze action on climate change at a significant scale. While we are not experts on sports, we can help corporations and other entities set the strategic vision that will help them to take climate action. That means providing support via our convening power and knowledge and working with them to set meaningful greenhouse gas GHG emission reduction and other targets that tie into the Paris Climate Agreement and the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

GSB: Why did the UNFCCC decide to work with the sports industry? Its emissions are relatively low compared to many other business categories.

Lindita: We have one ultimate goal as a civilization if we are to avoid the worst impacts of climate change: to limit global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels.

It will take the combined efforts of all segments of society — sports included – to achieve the change that is needed throughout society. —These changes will result in a low-emissions, highly-resilient and more sustainable future. There is no other future but a sustainable future. So, sports’ GHG emissions impact on climate may be low compared to some other industries, but nevertheless it does have a substantial impact that increasingly needs to be addressed. Sports are also uniquely positioned to act as a catalyst for change by promoting sustainable consumption, low carbon transport, and by educating fans and society at large.

 

Lindita Xhaferi-Salihu

Lindita Xhaferi-Salihu (Photo credit: UN Climate Change)

 

GSB: How did you get sports governing bodies, leagues, and teams to start the climate conversation?

Lindita: Well it turns out that, going back a few years, several key actors in the sports industry had expressed interest in taking action on climate, how to operate in a way that would meet the Paris goals and use the power of sports to spur climate action. So, in 2017, we convened a meeting in Bonn, Germany among some of the biggest governing bodies, leagues and teams in sports, to discuss what a climate action agenda for sports could look like.

It was clear then that the industry would have to do more to get their environmental houses in order before promoting climate more broadly. Some sports organizations were advanced in walking the climate action walk, others were not quite there yet. To help them move forward, together we developed what became the Sports for Climate Action Framework and its five principles:

  1. Undertake systematic efforts to promote greater environmental responsibility
  2. Reduce overall climate impact
  3. Educate for climate action
  4. Promote sustainable and responsible consumption
  5. Advocate for climate action through communication.

Our goal there was to make getting to the five principles easier by providing a global platform that would be built on best practice climate action, convened by the UN Climate Change and developed by the sector for the sector.

GSB: How do you go about doing that?

Lindita: Well, the environment we’re in is more favorable. The science is clear, young people are protesting, climate change as an issue is becoming much more front and center because we are seeing its impacts every day. Sports is front and center and what does it connote? Health, fun, and prosperity. What’s at risk for sports from climate change?

GSB: Health, fun and prosperity for starters…

Lindita: Right! It’s only natural for sports to get involved on climate. In fact, it’s good business for sports to lead on climate.

GSB: Amen, Lindita! Now it’s one thing for the IOC, FIFA, and now the New York Yankees, University of Colorado Athletics Department, NBA and more to commit to taking action on climate. How will fans know the signatories are winning on the greenhouse gas emissions reduction scoreboard?

Lindita: Of course, this is a crucial aspect of the Framework. We will be getting together with the signatories in Lausanne at a meeting hosted by the IOC in September to dive deeper into the framework principles and to jointly define roadmaps to adhering to them and to articulate what best of action and success would look like.

We will work together with our signatories to define these steps, metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) for each of the principles. This will also include reporting guidance, which will be built on best practice reporting standards. It will also include publicly reporting on the progress with commitments and we will explore how to best use UN Climate Change’s Global Climate Action platform, a searchable, user-friendly website where non-State actors can describe what they’re doing to combat climate change.

 

Yankees Earth Day

The New York Yankees communicated their commitment to operate by the tenets of the UN’s Sports for Climate Action Framework with a pre-game Earth Day ceremony. From left to right, it’s Doug Behar, Yankees Director of Operations; Satya Tripathi, UN Assistant Secretary General; Yankees manager Aaron Boone, and Allen Hershkowitz, Environmental Science Advisor to the Yankees (Photo credit: New York Yankees)

 

GSB: I hope and would expect most signatories will walk the Sports for Climate Action walk. Is there a remedy for any who don’t fulfill their commitments?

Lindita: We can revoke a signatory’s status as part of the Framework for non-performance. But we will collectively work to help any organizations that have difficulty making good on their commitments and adhering to the principles.

GSB: Two of the principles that are of particular interest to me are #3 — Educate for climate action, and #5 — Advocate for climate action through communication. The willingness of sports organizations to share their climate action stories with fans through the media has, for the most part, been lacking. And, with the welcome exception of Sky Sports in Great Britain, the sports media has largely ignored climate. What can the UNFCCC do to change this? And how do you plan to measure adherence to these principles? 

Lindita: I think the Framework is a big step towards that – with sports organizations recognizing their influence and the importance of them using it, for the good of their sports, their businesses, and their fans. But really, there will be no ignoring climate change.

We’re seeing that already, with the extreme weather events, floods, heat waves. I think that goes for the adherence to the principles as well. People will see which organizations are truly acting on climate change, and which are only talking about acting on climate change. And, I think public opinion – the supporting, paying fans – will demand the real thing. What we can do, and are doing, at UN Climate Change is to work with sports organizations to state their principles, state their goals, and help them communicate their progress – and communicate a message to everyone, urging global climate action.

 

GSB: Oh I agree there can be no ignoring climate change, but the world is still not paying enough attention yet and time to make significant dents in GHG emissions is short. I think for the Framework to maximize its impact, the sports media from all corners of the world will need to play a key role as they are the conduit to billions of sports fans. With that in mind, will UN Climate Change consider inviting sports media executives to the September meeting in Lausanne? If not, how would your organization look to involve the sports media going forward?

Lindita: The meeting in Lausanne is a working meeting and open to signatories of Sports for Climate Action framework. Principle 5 of the framework is about promoting awareness about climate change by mobilizing resources that sports have, to support action on climate change. This includes the broadcast sports media as well. As I said, we will get together to prepare a strategy that strikes a balance between ambitious and realistic and figure out what can we do collectively to reinforce the message of ambitious climate action.

GSB: Good to hear that the sports media is on Sports for Climate Action’s radar. Would it be possible for those companies to be signatories in the future?

Lindita: The Sports for Climate Action Framework is tailored for sports governing bodies, federations, leagues, teams, clubs, and not specifically for media. That said, the Framework would probably benefit from having categories, other than signatory, to support the work and amplify the message of sports for global climate action. And, sports media might be eager to engage with the Framework more formally, for example as designated media partners at events. We’ll work with the Framework signatories to come up with a strategy for that sort of thing, to amplify news about their climate work and importantly their engagement with fans. The role of the media in meeting the objectives of the Framework is clear. By doing what they do best – reporting on sports and the myriad interesting stories relating to sports – the media can do so much to make the Framework efforts a success, and spur climate action. Sports media, just like other sections of the media, are concerned with timely, topical and interesting news and features. That means the media will want to be reporting on climate-related sports matters.

 


 

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The GSB Interview: Johanna McCloy, Helping Fans Find Vegetarian Food at Sports Venues with VeggieHappy

Johanna McCloy was on a date at her first baseball game back in 2000 when she noticed there were no vegetarian food options — and that was at Dodger Stadium in veggie-friendly Los Angeles. So the actress sprung into action, calling the Dodgers to ask why that was the case. And then she started calling other teams across the major leagues.

Fast forward to 2019 and McCloy is the co-founder of VeggieHappy, an online venue guide for plant-based food options at large professional and Division I college sports venues.

With vegetarian and vegan diets growing, especially among millennials and especially GenZers, there is no one better to talk to about where things stand regarding the availability and quality of plant-based food options at ballparks and other sports venues than Johanna McCloy.

 

GreenSportsBlog: When did the first vegetarian and/or vegan options first appear at sports venues?

Johanna McCloy: While I don’t know the history of plant-based food options at every venue before I got involved in this work, I can speak to the status of plant-based options when we first began reaching out to major league ballparks in 2000, sometimes through cold calling. They had items like pretzels and peanuts, of course, but none of the parks offered a viable plant-based option beyond those generic snacks. Our initial quest was to introduce veggie dogs at Major League Baseball venues, since hot dogs and baseball are as American as…

 

Johanna McCloy Kirsten Lara Getchell

Johanna McCloy (Photo credit: Kirsten Lara Getchell)

 

GSB: …Hot dogs and baseball! 

Johanna: Exactly! But no major league ballpark at the time offered veggie dogs. So we started calling all the ballparks, offering our consultation and liaison services to facilitate veggie dogs and other viable plant-based menu options. We got our first hit when the Chicago White Sox added veggie dogs to the concession stands menu Comiskey Park — now Guaranteed Rate Field — later in 2000. From there, other ballparks followed, including Dodger Stadium. Today, nearly all of them offer veggie dogs, and sports venues of all kinds offer a variety of fabulous plant-based options.

 

VeggieHappy Beyond Meat Veggie Dog Dodger Stadium

Vegan veggie dog, courtesy of Beyond Meat, at Dodger Stadium (Photo credit: Riley Williams, @chefrdog)

 

GSB: What are some of the best venues for plant-based options in terms of quality and quantity?

Johanna: Exactly! In addition to Dodger Stadium, some of the top major league ballparks, in terms of plant-based food quality and quantity are Citi Field (New York Mets), Globe Life Park (Texas Rangers), Target Field (Minnesota Twins), and Yankee Stadium.

There is a ton of variety these days. Fans can now find options like a plant-based burger with carmelized onions, guacamole, and non-dairy cheese. Also vegan nachos with either tempeh or plant-based meat crumbles. So you can go for some tasty, healthy, yet decadent stuff. And beyond all the plant-based meat options out there, you can also find wraps, burritos, falafels, sandwiches, bountiful salads, and all kinds of additional options. Not to mention vegan cookies. Gotta have those too!

 

VeggieHappy 32 Ingredient Salad Rogers Centre

The “32 Ingredient” vegan salad on offer at Rogers Centre, home of the Toronto Blue Jays (Photo credit: Aramark)

 

Some venues are choosing to provide a dedicated stand offering most of their plant-based options at one location. Others provide a variety of vegetarian and/or vegan options throughout many concession stands. Be sure to check out VeggieHappy’s online venue listings to discover which plant-based options they offer, and where to find them.

GSB: Is there a sport that has led on plant-based foods? Which sport lags the field?

Johanna: Well, in very general terms, NFL stadiums bring up the rear, though they are slowly starting to move up. NBA and MLS venues are catching on quickly. MLB, with the longest history with plant-based food, is the leader.

 

VeggieHappy Quinoa-Barley-Black Bean Taco Wizards

NBA teams are getting into the plant-based food act. Here are two quinoa-barley-black bean tacos (sans cilantro cream sauce to make it vegan) from Street Taco at Capital One Arena, home of the Washington Wizards (Photo credit: James Price, @veganfoodfinds)

 

GSB: Baseball leads thanks in part to your efforts going back two decades! Are fans demanding plant-based food options?

Johanna: Thank you, Lew. The interest and demand for these foods is growing at an amazing rate. Just look at the statistics overall on people choosing plant-based diets, or purchasing plant-based meats. The numbers of vegetarians, vegans and flexitarians — a person who has a primarily vegetarian diet but occasionally eats meat or fish — are all growing.

Not surprisingly, it’s Millennials and Generation Z that are driving that demand.

GSB: I know! According to a 2018 Statista study, 7.5 percent of Millennials and GenZers have given up meat while only 3 percent of those over 50 have done the same…

Johanna: Yes! And that is leading to stunning sales growth of plant-based alternatives. According to Nielsen, sales increased 17 percent over the past year alone. During the same time period, total U.S. retail food dollar sales grew just 2 percent. And sales of plant-based meat increased 23 percent in the past year, up from 6 percent growth the previous year, according to the Good Food Institute.

Fans definitely want these options, and some understand the value of asking for them. However, many fans are not aware of their power as a consumer, and have not asked; they are more complacent, bringing their own food, or eating before or after a game or event. That’s why VeggieHappy exists. We’re speaking to that very real demand.

GSB: What about organic offerings? Local food choices? 

Johanna: Same as with plant-based food; venues are increasingly adding them.

GSB: Forest Green Rovers, a minor league soccer club in England, ONLY offers vegan food at its concession stands. It was controversial at first but is mostly accepted these days. Could this happen here? What would it take? Why not?

Johanna: I love Forest Green Rovers and what they’ve done over there. They became fully vegan in 2011. In their case, it’s because of their ownership and the very strong position that they’ve taken around sustainability. It started at the very top. Their Chairman Dale Vince is vegan himself and is the owner of an electric company called Ecotricity. He also has an Order of the British Empire (OBE) designation from the Queen for his environmental activism. What is great is how fans who otherwise wouldn’t have chosen to eat vegan options now really love them and talking about how their own diets have changed as a result of the options offered there. That’s wonderful.

Could it happen here? Definitely. It’s about the team’s ownership and their vision. And any owner who would want to go deeper on plant-based food offerings has Dale Vince and Forest Green Rovers as a prove-point.

 

Veggie Happy FGR

Forest Green Rovers of League 2, the fourth tier of English football, serves its fans a vegan-only menu. Here is a stir-fried mixed peppers, red onion and Mexican spiced Quorn wrapped in a soft tortilla with fresh tomato relish (Photo credit: Forest Green Rovers)

 

GSB: GreenSportsBlog will take it as a challenge to find an owner in North America who will match Dale Vince and Forest Green Rovers. Final question: What do you think the sports venue-plant-based food landscape look like in five years or so?

There’s a food revolution underway right now, there is no question about it, and plant-based options are going to become fully mainstream. Right now, they’re starting to be better understood and more readily accepted, but in the next five years or so, they will be fully promoted and abundantly sold in mainstream venues. It’s a HUGE market. Venues should and will get on board. Cell-based meat may also enter the market in that time frame, and there is a lot of investment going into that. It’s a food revolution too. People are steadily moving away from products derived from animal agriculture and factory farming.

It comes down to this: Many notable international scientific consortiums have recently cited animal agriculture as one of the biggest sources of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions — some show the meat industrial complex to be the number one source — and have encouraged people to choose plant-based foods as a way to mitigate those effects.

With that as backdrop, plant-based food options have to play a major part in any sports-sustainability effort.

GSB: No doubt about it. Check out veggiehappy.com to learn about plant-based food options at your favorite ballpark. 

 


 

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Did IOC Make Right Call, Climate Change-Wise by Choosing Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo to Host 2026 Winter Olympics?

Milan and the Alpine resort of Cortina d’Ampezzo won the right to host the 2026 Winter Olympics earlier this week when the IOC chose the Northern Italian duo over the Swedish capital of Stockholm and the village of Åre. While the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has made a variety of recent positive moves on climate in recent years, including signing on to the UN’s Sports for Climate Action Framework, GreenSportsBlog wanted to know if the IOC made the best choice from a climate perspective. 

 

It only took one ballot to decide the matter.

Milan-Cortina d’Ampezzo won 47 of the IOC committee votes cast, Stockholm-Åre garnered 34 votes, and there was one abstention. Cortina hosted the Winter Olympics in 1956. Sweden was seeking to host the Winter Games for the first time.

 

Cortina Getty Images Philippe Lopez:AFP

Members of the delegation from Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo react after the Italian cities were named to host the 2026 Olympic Winter Games (Photo credit: Philippe Lopez/AFP/Getty Images)

 

Sustainability figured prominently in the discussion of Italy’s win by the IOC’s top brass.

“We can look forward to outstanding and sustainable Olympic Winter Games in a traditional winter sports country,” IOC President Thomas Bach said in his congratulatory message.

Of course Bach likely would’ve said the same thing had the Swedish duo been victorious — both bids offered robust sustainability plans.

And let’s be honest: Neither sustainability nor climate change were the main reasons Milan-Cortina won the day. Much more likely, per polling conducted by the IOC, it was a lack of enthusiasm for the project in Sweden — rating 28 percent below the Italians — that turned out to be a decisive factor.

But what if climate change had been the sole criterion on which voters would make their decision? Which bid should have prevailed in that case?

It turns out the answer is a bit complicated as both the Swedes and the Italians had sustainability points in their favor.

 

STOCKHOLM/ÅRE

According to an article in the June 24 issue of The Conversation by Mark Wilson and Eva Kassens-Noor, Professor and Associate Professor, respectively, of Urban and Regional Planning at Michigan State University, “hosting in Stockholm and…Åre would have been more practical for a simple reason: It’s colder there and the Swedish region gets far more natural snow than Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo.”

With images of Sochi 2014 and its acres of man-made snow still clearly etched on my brain, it seemed to me that the bid that wins the natural snow battle should win the right to host the Winter Olympics if climate change is the only metric.

 

Stockholm Are

Artists rendering of the moguls venue for the 2026 Stockholm-Åre Winter Olympics bid (Sweden Olympic Committee)

 

But there is another side to this story.

 

MILAN/CORTINA D’AMPEZZO

Kassens-Noor, in an email exchange with GreenSportsBlog, also made strong points about the climate bona fides of the Italian bid.

She cited a 2014 study by three researchers from the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada and one from the Management Center of Innsbruck, Austria¹ that noted that “even under the highest greenhouse gas (GHG) emission scenarios, Cortina D’Ampezzo is one of the four most climatically-reliable locations of all those cities that have hosted the Games before.” Of course, since the Winter Olympics have never visited Sweden (the 1912 Summer Olympics were held in Stockholm), the researchers did not study Stockholm-Åre. Still, Cortina earns climate reliability points.

 

Eva Kassens-Noor

Dr. Eva Kassens Noor, Associate Professor in the Global Urban Studies Program and the School of Planning, Design and Construction at Michigan State University (Photo credit: Eva Kassens-Noor)

 

And, per Kassens-Noor, the facts that the “the region has hosted the Games before” and that 93 percent of the Milan-Cortina Olympics venues already exist are significant climate-related advantages for the Italians.

 

 

GSB’S Take: Like most of you, I like a clear choice in my which-is-the-more-climate-friendly-Winter Olympic-bid decisions. Milan-Cortina vs. Stockholm-Åre was not clear cut.

While Cortina is one of the four most climate-reliable host cities of those that have hosted Olympics before, we don’t know where Stockholm-Åre  would fall on that spectrum because they have never hosted a Winter Games. So, to me, we still don’t know which is the most climate-reliable between the two bids.

Thus it becomes a choice between natural snow/Stockholm-Åre and venues-already-exist/Milan-Cortina. The problem is, I haven’t seen emissions data on both of these metrics. So the choice becomes one from the gut.

My gut goes with the Italians and their existing facilities. 

Then I hope it snows in the week or so before the Games in 2026.

Finally, it’s important to note, per Kassens-Noor, that both the Milan-Cortina and Stockholm-Åre bids were far superior, from a climate perspective than Sochi 2014 and Pyeongchang 2018. So progress is being made on climate and Winter Olympic bids.

 

¹ D. Scott, M. Rutty and P. Johnson, University of Waterloo. R. Steiger, Management Center, Innsbruck

 


 

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Green Sports Alliance Summit “Goes There” on Climate Change & Environmental Justice; Minneapolis Named 2020 Host

Green Sports Alliance Summits past have largely kept climate change in the background.

That changed, hopefully forever, as the climate crisis percolated throughout the two days of the 2019 Summit that ended Thursday afternoon at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.

And, in a Green Sports Alliance Summit main stage first, several speakers went beyond urging the sports world to take on climate change, making the powerful case for leagues, teams and athletes to make the needed connections between social justice and environmental (or climate) justice.

 

“Climate change is about equity and inclusiveness. The problem affects everyone.”

Jim Kenney, Mayor of Philadelphia

“Everyone is responsible for climate change. It’s really human change.”

Jason Twill, Founding Green Sports Alliance Director

“We found that kids in certain Philadelphia zip codes weren’t going outside because of fear of violence, fear of asthma. The best tool to predict health disparities is zip code.”

Jerome Shabazz, Executive Director, Overbrook Environmental Association

“It’s hard to play basketball, it’s hard to breathe, when the air is polluted. Eighteen percent of Oakland kids have asthma. I’m one of those kids.”

— Nehemiah Vaughn, 19, Youth Ambassador, Green for All

 

Jim Kenney

Jim Kenney, Mayor of Philadelphia (Photo credit: Philly Voice)

 

These quotes, and many others like it, were uttered during the first two hours of the ninth Green Sports Alliance Summit. As someone who’s been to six of the last seven summits, I say it’s time for the Green-Sports movement and sports more broadly to take heed of these messages, acknowledge the fear and risks of going bigger and faster on climate as well as environmental-social justice…and go bigger and faster anyway.

 

IT’S PAST TIME

I get that the sports world would rather go slowly about climate change.

I get that the sports power brokers, from owners to media to sponsors, would, for the most part, avoid anything that smacks of politics.

Thing is, the Green-Sports movement, as well as the rest of humanity, does not have the luxury of time to dance around climate change any longer. The Alliance, at its eight previous summits, often did the climate change-avoidance cha-cha.

Given that humanity only has 12 years or less to decarbonize by 45 percent in order to avoid the most calamitous impacts of climate change, it was past time for the dance to end and the real talk — and then action — to commence.

So it was a much needed and unprecedented start to the 2019 Alliance Summit as presenters at Wednesday morning’s opening session spoke clearly and directly about the climate crisis. In addition to the quotes above, summiteers heard these messages before the first coffee break:

  • Eagles President Don Smolenski, in his welcome to the summiteers, noted “We generate more energy from clean sources than any other sports venue in North America. We take managing and reducing our climate impacts seriously.”
  • Jason Twill, who followed Smolenski and Mayor Kenney on to the main stage shared, “At the founding meeting of the Green Sports Alliance back in 2010, someone said ‘we are in the first year of the final decade in which we can make a major impact on climate.’ Now we’re at the end of that decade. Sustainable, to which many aspire, is not enough. Even restoring the planet is not enough. We need to get to a regenerative economy.”
  • More Twill: “In 2018, we passed ‘Earth Overshoot Day’ — the day when humanity’s demand for ecological resources and services in a given year exceeds what Earth can regenerate in that year — on August 1st. The US passed it on March 15, Canada on March 18. We need to from being ego-centric to eco-centric.”

 

Jason Twill

Jason Twill (Photo credit: Jennifer Twill)

 

MOVING FORWARD ON ENVIRONMENTAL INJUSTICE

If the attendees weren’t awake before these talks, surely they were wide eyed afterwards, even without the benefits of caffeine.

And that was a very good thing because “Beyond The Ballpark: The Role of Sports in Environmental Justice Reform” was unlike anything an Alliance Summit had ever offered. Moderator Kunal Merchant, an Alliance board member and the co-founder of Lotus Advisory, led a panel that thoughtfully explored the underreported-on intersection of social justice and environmental (climate) justice.

Merchant, whose firm is consulting on the proposed new waterfront ballpark for the Oakland A’s, shared how environmental remediation and cleanup is central to the plan: “The club will work to clean up the water, soil and waste, with the goal of improving the health and lives of the often marginalized people who have been living with the consequences of the environmental degradation of the area.”

 

Oakland Ballpark

Preliminary artist rendering for the proposed Oakland A’s ballpark near Jack London Square in Oakland. The project will be LEED Gold and reflect the A’s strong commitment to sustainable development and environmental justice (Credit: Oaklandballpark.com)

 

Recently retired former Eagles linebacker Connor Barwin has made building parks and safe spaces to play for kids in at-risk area the focus of his MTWB (Make The World Better) Foundation work — they’re now on their fourth park in Philadelphia. When asked how to get more athletes involved in the climate and social-environmental justice fights, Barwin’s answer was simple: “Corporate sponsors need to ask us!”

 

barwin

Ex-Philadelphia Eagles LB Connor Barwin (r) helped install solar panels atop the roof of this couple’s home in Cherry Hill, NJ in 2015. (Photo credit: NRG)

 

Mustafa Santiago Ali, VP of Environmental Justice at the National Wildlife Federation, talked about growing up in West Virginia, across the river from a coal plant. “Some days, we would be playing outside, and when the wind blew in a certain direction, ‘the fog’ would come in,” recalled Santiago Ali. “We didn’t know we were being impacted, but  some parts of the region have a 50 percent cancer rate…This is environmental INjustice. We need to get to environmental justice for frontline communities: people of color, indigenous people.”

 

Mustafa

Mustafa Santiago Ali (Photo credit: National Wildlife Federation)

 

The showstopper of the panel was the aforementioned Nehemiah Vaughn.

Asthma may have cut short his basketball dreams, but that didn’t stop Vaughn. Far from it. The engaging 19-year old pivoted to music, entering and winning a hip-hop contest by starring in this #FuelChange anthem, promoted by Green For All. Check it out:

 

 

Can the Green-Sports movement catalyze this energy and vision displayed in Wednesday morning’s session into meaningful, consistent action ofrom leagues, teams, media, athletes and more?

Watch this space.

 

MINNEAPOLIS TO HOST 2020 SUMMIT

Thursday morning’s session kicked off with the announcement from Green Sports Alliance Executive Director Roger McClendon that the organization’s 10th annual summit would be held at US Bank Stadium, the LEED Gold home of the Minnesota Vikings.

GreenSportsBlog is ecstatic about this news for two reasons:

  1. Minneapolis, along with St. Paul, make up the Green-Sports-y-est metro area in the United States. In fact, GSB is in the midst of a four-part series on the Twin Cities’ Green-Sports-y-ness. Click here and here for the first two parts.
  2. We urged the Green Sports Alliance to pick Minneapolis just this Tuesday! 

 

PHILLY SUMMIT NEWS & NOTES

Here are a few more nuggets and thoughts on the summit before closing the book on Philadelphia 2019:

  • Another first for a GSA Summit: A conversation about carbon pricing and how it would benefit the sports business. Panelist Steve Hams, representing Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL), shared the details of the bipartisan Energy Innovation & Carbon Dividend Act (EICDA) of 2019 bill currently making the rounds in the US House of Representatives.
    • It would place a price on carbon ($15/metric ton of carbon in year one and then rising $10/ton/year after that) at the point of extraction (mine, well) or the border. The fees raised would not go to the federal treasury. Rather, they would be paid out as a dividend to households in the form of a monthly direct deposit. It’s progressive: Independent analyses estimate that the lowest 66 percent of American households on the income scale would earn more in dividends than they would pay out in higher prices due to the fees. And it’s revenue neutral in that it doesn’t add to the size of government, which should appeal to conservatives.
    • According to Hams, businesses involved in sports, including the small and medium size companies who sell to venues and teams — many of whom were exhibitors at the summit — should love this policy: “Most fans will have more money in their pockets because of this policy, which means more money to spend on tickets. Plus the policy will accelerate the pace of reducing emissions and cleaning up our environment, which will be good for all sports.”
    • Full disclosure: The discussion on carbon pricing took place during a panel, “Sports, Carbon, & Climate,” moderated by yours truly. And I am a CCL volunteer.
  • Tuesday was Stadium Tour Day. Three venues in four hours. This is only possible in Philadelphia because Lincoln Financial Field (Eagles), Citizens’ Bank Park (Phillies) and Wells Fargo Center (76ers and Flyers) are all in the same complex.
    • The Eagles are, by far, the green leader: Massive solar installations on the stadium’s east wall and in the parking lot, LEED Gold, ISO 20121 certified and more.
    • The Phillies are doing a lot right: An LED lighting retrofit that has reduced energy use by 25 percent, an advanced water pump and HVAC monitoring system, and a branded “Red Goes Green” program to communicate with fans. But they aren’t measuring their overall carbon footprint yet. A big opportunity missed, it says here, because measuring it would uncover more energy and dollar savings.
    • Wells Fargo Center is in the midst of huge renovation — Transformation 2020 — with energy efficiency a part of the mix. That said, I did not get the sense that the environment is central part of the arena’s DNA. Comcast, which owns the facility is not looking to go for LEED certification.

 

Citizens Bank

Citizens’ Bank Park, home of the Philadelphia Phillies (Photo credit: Visit Philly)

 

  • Substantive discussions on climate ruled the day on Thursday. “The Role of Sport in Civic Engagement & Public Policy,” was a wonkish discussion of how:
    • Sports can marshal the favorable market forces in the renewable energy, EV and energy storage sectors
    • Brands can engage fans and athletes for a greater purpose, like the climate fight, and,
    • The sports world can encourage fans to vote.
    • The wonkishness was not surprising given the panel lineup of former Obama administration members. Moderator Cyrus Wadia worked in the Obama White House, as did panelists Kyle Lierman, CEO of When We All Vote (perennial NBA All Star Chris Paul of the Houston Rockets is involved) and Charlie Gay, who worked in 44’s Department of Energy. And while Perfecto (that’s his real name) Sanchez did not work in the Obama Administration, he did do two tours of duty with the Army in Iraq and his company, JourneyOne, helps align corporate mission with employee purpose in order move companies achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

 

Cyrus Wadia.png

Cyrus Wadia (Photo credit: Unreasonable Group)

 

Finally, I came away from the Summit with one big thing from Thursday’s last session, “Speaking Science: Making Climate Change & Sustainability Relevant to Fans.”

Panelist Eric Fine, Project Manager of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, shared these data from a 2018 survey of Americans that divided us into six groups regarding our attitudes on climate. Almost 60 percent are alarmed or concerned. Another 17 percent are cautious with 5 percent disengaged. Another 9 percent are doubtful and only 9 percent are dismissive.

The alarmed/concerned number was higher than I expected, with the doubtful/dismissive number being significantly lower.

So what was that one big thing?

Public attitudes are moving towards the Green-Sports movement so teams, leagues and more have the space now to be bolder than they’ve ever been. 

There will be some blow back. There will be instances where “go slow” wins the day. And there will, understandably, be disagreements on what language to use.

But the movement needs push through self-imposed brakes whenever possible and go forward faster and more consistently on climate and environmental-social justice than it has before.

Because 2030 will be here sooner than we think.

But before 2030 comes 2020, so see you in Minneapolis next June.

 


 

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“Twin Cities Rule US Green-Sports”: Part II: David Fhima Brings Tasty, Green, Clean Food to Target Center Fans

“Which metro area is the Green-Sportsy-est in the US?”

While the San Francisco Bay Area or Seattle might come to mind first, it says here that Minneapolis and St. Paul win the title. In fact, the Twin Cities’ Green-Sportsy-ness runs so deep that we can’t cover it all in one post.

In Part I of our four-part GSB special series, Twin Cities Rule US Green-Sports, we looked at US Bank Stadium (Minnesota Vikings), the University of Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium and CHS Field (Independent baseball’s St. Paul Saints) from a green perspective.

Today, in Part II we shift our focus to food. YES!!!

David Fhima is the groundbreaking owner/chef behind the tasty, clean, healthy French-Mediterranean menus at one of Minneapolis’ finest restaurants, Fhima’s Minneapolis. And since 2016, he has brought that same culinary excellence to Target Center as “nutritional curator” for the NBA’s Timberwolves and WNBA’s Lynx. 

GSB spoke with Fhima about his culinary philosophy, his journey to Minneapolis, and his approach to his work with the Lynx and Wolves.

 

GreenSportsBlog: David, this story promises to be as good as a meal at one of the restaurants inside Target Center, so let’s dig in. How did you end up as the Timberwolves chef?

David Fhima: Well I was born in Casablanca, one of 17 children, but grew up and went to schools all over the world; from Paris to London to Geneva to Strasbourg. This influenced me greatly. I was always fascinated by food and was cooking from a very young age in my mother’s kitchen and before I knew it, it became my life’s work.

I came to the US in 1982, found my way to Los Angeles where I worked at some of the top restaurants prior to moving to Minneapolis following a former relationship. Seeing the need for a food scene in the Twin Cities, I opened my first restaurant here in 1993, Minneapolis Cafe.

Over the years, Timberwolves players and management would come to my restaurants. They enjoyed the food and the ambiance, and we became friends. Several years ago, Timberwolves management approached me, namely Ryan Tanke and Ethan Casson, about upgrading the Twolves and Lynx food and beverage experience at Target Center as major renovations to the arena were planned.

Previously, I had traveled with the team on a few road trips experiencing other venues. I found myself questioning why arena food was average, at best, when it didn’t have to be. I knew I could do it better, do it right. I was convinced that this would be an awesome undertaking when I realized that Ethan’s and Ryan’s standards were very aligned with mine. They were not about smoke and mirrors, but instead about quality, great ingredients and more importantly giving me the autonomy to create. Much of the credit is due to them and the organization as a whole. The Wolves and Lynx are world class organizations constantly searching how to be the best in every aspect.

 

David Fhima David Sherman Photog

David Fhima (Photo credit: David Sherman)

 

GSB: What do you mean when you talk about ‘doing it right’? What is your culinary philosophy?

David: My simple philosophy is this: Respect the ingredients.

It won’t be good if it’s full of additives and if the sources are suspect. Food needs to be clean. If you can buy local, great. Green and organic is great, but clean, to me, is a culmination of local first, organic second, sustainable third.

  • Local:  When I can look the purveyor in the eye and know that his product is grown nearby and is made without additives, preservatives, pesticides, etc.
  • Organic: While the industry isn’t as regulated as you might think, I believe that a tomato, organically grown has more flavor, more nutrients and is accepted into your system more readily than non-organic product.
  • Sustainable:  We have a responsibility to care for the environment in which our food is grown, I believe in eating seasonally which is mostly compatible with sustainability. When the seas are balanced, not over fished, the seafood is better. When the soil is let to rest seasonally, the food it produces has more nutrients.  There is a symbiotic rhythm to purchasing and eating food and I believe your body thrives within those seasons as well. A strawberry just doesn’t taste as good in January.

This is basic stuff, and, as I like to say, the art of doing simple, well, is a lost art.

With that as our philosophy, the trick was to change an entire arena and we couldn’t switch overnight. We’re not feeding 100 or 200 people, we’re feeding 19,000. We did, however, progress quicker than anticipated, becoming more local and sustainable, while always setting our goals higher. Among our successes are that all concession stands emphasize clean ingredients, Fhima’s concession stand is all organic, the rest are getting there. Target Center is one of the only sports arenas in North America that can say this.

 

David Fhima's Concessions_David Sherman

Fhima’s concession stand at Target Center (Photo credit: David Sherman)

 

Levy Restaurants, the concessionaire representing Target Center, does most of the purchasing for the concessions stands and they are doing it in partnership with us, with our clean philosophy in mind. We have a weekly meeting where we discuss many things including product quality and guest experience.

How many microwaves do you think we have at Target Center?

GSB: I have no idea…

David: None.

GSB: I should’ve guessed! Talk about what makes the Target Center restaurants and concession stands so sustainable, so healthy?

David: With no microwaves, everything is prepared day of. In the restaurants, we only cook with rice bran oil — it has no trans fats and there’s no waste with it. We partner with local farmers for our produce and our meats. All of our fish is sustainably caught and raised. We’re working to eliminate plastic straws throughout the arena. At the concession stands, how about making hot dogs without nitrates? Done. Healthier ketchup? Done. Next year, we’ll be pushing the envelope even further, working with local farmers who grow produce like lettuce and tomatoes hydroponically — in a water-based, nutrient-rich, soil-less environment. This can be done indoors, when it’s -30° Fahrenheit outside. Which, if you haven’t heard, happens here from time to time.

GSB: I’ve heard. Did the move to healthy and local cost significantly more? If so, have those cost increases been passed on to fans? What has been the reaction?

David: Through this “go local, organic, clean” process we have not needed to raise pricing, we have stayed competitive, if not less expensive, than other large stadiums in the area.

GSB: That’s a big deal! I’ve heard many chefs emphasize healthy and organic food. I haven’t heard them use the word “clean” before when talking about food. But it’s a big thing with you…

David: Look, the pollution of our food over the last 100 or so years is a big problem. It is baked in now, meaning our soil is polluted. Even if you don’t use pesticides or herbicides, the runoff is a real problem. As you might imagine, evaporation and precipitation is hard to control.

And you know what? Peoples’ palates have been hurt by this!

Pollution and now climate change affects everything when it comes to food and taste. That’s why the goal of 100 percent clean is very arduous. Although we’re not there yet,  we’re not afraid of the clean food challenge. And when your palate gets used to eating clean, it’s like a great relationship. Once you have the right one, you don’t look anywhere else. It’s been a battle but we have some of the cleanest, healthiest, best food in town. We pride ourselves on being the best place to eat, period. Not just the best sports venue.

GSB: What are some of the items you’re most proud of at the concession stands and in the restaurants in the premium seating areas?

David: Well, that’s like choosing a favorite child, which I cannot and won’t do. I am proud of most things in each area of our arena. I love that our sub-contractors are happy, making money and feel pride being at the Target Center. I am proud of the way everyone has bought into our vision of being the best in every level.  I am proud at the methodical change that we have made from top to bottom and the commitment the Wolves have to getting better each year and not resting on our laurels. Our premium restaurants were packed last season. Fans who used to eat out before the game changed their habits by eating at our Target Center restaurants. Most people used to have dinner somewhere before going to the game because the quality wasn’t there. We’ve changed that model. Our premium restaurants were packed last season.

GSB: How have Timberwolves and Lynx management reacted to your approach?

David: From top to bottom the whole organization, from the top executives — Ethan Casson, Ryan Tanke, Ted Johnson, Jake Vernon — to the sales advisers, it has been amazing — they love it! We cook for both the Wolves and the Lynx and they love it too. No one has said NO to us. We work very well with Levy, which manages the restaurants and concession stands. Also, I don’t know if this is significant, but the Timberwolves had a very good home record eating our clean, healthy food. On the road? Not so good. Speaking of on the road, other sports venues have expressed interest in our way of doing things. The organization as a whole has been 110 percent on board and committed to our culinary vision.

 

David Fhima_KAT_David Sherman

Karl-Anthony Towns of the Timberwolves samples some of David Fhima’s clean, healthy, organic food offerings (Photo credit: David Sherman)

 

GSB: That’s a new link between home cooking and home court advantage! The analytics folks need to look into that. More and more athletes are eating vegetarian or vegan diets. Where are you guys on plant-based options?

David: Every concession stand, every restaurant at Target Center, anywhere you get food in the building, has vegan and/or vegetarian options. At some of the stands you’ll find our house-made veggie burgers; they’re as good or better than what’s on the market. More and more, our players, especially the Lynx, have been asking for plant-based options. We have an amazing relationship with the players, trainers and coaches. Communication is key and we are in contact every day. Each group appreciates our contribution. A key part of the effort to win, we strive to do our part in creating meals for optimal performance. We aren’t just putting food on tables; we do our due diligence in sports nutrition research and work with players individually when asked.

GSB: That’s great to hear. So take out your crystal ball. Where would you like to see the Target Center food offerings three, four years down the road?

David: in my view, Target Center is already a world leader in providing clean, healthy, food that maintains is savory component! We want to be 100 percent clean, we don’t believe that is too lofty of a goal. I challenge you to find an arena currently that is as comprehensive and thoughtful from the guest to the staff to the athletes. Three, four years down the road, arenas will be following suit and asking for guidance. We are ahead of the game, providing an improved all around culinary experience. We will be known in the industry for being the thought and clean cuisine leader.

GSB: Forget three years down the road, I want to eat at Target Center this season…

David: We would love to have you.

 

Next in Part III, we find out how Target Field, (home of the AL Central-leading Twins), Xcel Energy Center (NHL’s Minnesota Wild) and the brand new Allianz Field (MLS’ Minnesota United FC) are helping the Twin Cities lead the way in Green-Sports

 


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Twin Cities Rule US Green-Sports: Vikings, U of Minnesota, St. Paul Saints LEED the Way

“Which metro area is the Green-Sportsy-est in the US?”

While coastal areas like San Francisco-Oakland-Santa Clara and Seattle might come to mind first, it says here that Minneapolis and St. Paul, smack dab in the heartland of the country, wins the title.

In fact, the Twin Cities’ Green-Sportsy-ness runs so deep that we can’t cover it all in one post.

We started things off last week with our look at the sustainability efforts surrounding the recent NCAA Men’s Final Four at US Bank Stadium, home of the Minnesota Vikings.

Today, in the first of our four-part Twin Cities Rule US Green-Sports series, we examine the greenness of three of the area’s many sports venues. 

The tour starts at US Bank Stadium. Then we get on the light rail’s Green Line and head east across the Mississippi River to the University of Minnesota to check out TCF Bank Stadium, home base for Gophers football. Finally, we hop back on the eastbound Green Line ride, ending up in St. Paul and CHS Field, home of the Saints, an innovative independent baseball club.

 

PEAKS AND VALLEYS GETTING TO ZERO WASTE AT US BANK STADIUM

Bradley Vogel, sustainability coordinator at US Bank Stadium, has seen a lot since he arrived in November 2016 after wrapping up his Masters Degree in Sustainability Management at the University of Minnesota.

His rookie year coincided with the Minnesota Vikings’ first season at the viking ship-shaped building. Then he and his operations team had a mega-event doubleheader for which to prepare: Super Bowl LII in February 2018 and April’s NCAA Men’s Final Four.

 

Bradley Vogel headshot

Bradley Vogel (Photo credit: MSFA)

 

Pressure came with the Super Bowl-Final Four back-to-back for Vogel and his team. 

Management wanted US Bank Stadium to achieve LEED Gold for Building Design and Construction — it ultimately earned that certification last year — but the waste diversion rate was too low at the outset.

“Our diversion rate was only 15 percent in Year One, July 2016 to June, 2017,” Vogel recalled. “But our director of operations Curtis Schmillen had a huge plan to turn that around. So in Year Two, we added compost in our back-of-house (kitchens) operations and throughout the rest of the stadium. It helped that Hennepin County and the city of Minneapolis are committed to composting.” 

ESPN’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) team played a big role with composting as well. “They are composting experts,” reported Vogel. “ESPN’s X Games became an annual event at US Bank Stadium starting in July 2017, and so they helped us get past some of the pitfalls that come with trying to compost at a big event.”

With the help of funding for composting from Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA), which owns the building, and the state, US Bank Stadium upped its diversion rate to 46 percent in 2017.

But, with Super Bowl LII upcoming in February 2018, MSFA management was not satisfied. 

“Management and NFL Environmental asked ‘what can do to make US Bank as green as possible by Super Bowl LII?,” Vogel said. “The answer: Get us to zero waste — at least 90 percent diversion. And despite an up-and-down 2017, we knew we had the ability to get to 90 percent diversion, especially since, per Minneapolis law and MSFA policy, everything had to be compostable or recyclable, including things like ‘to go tubs’ and cutlery.”

When it came time for the Super Bowl, concessionaire Aramark upped its game on compostables. Pepsi had “bin guards” to make sure fans placed their waste in the correct bins. When all was said and done, the post-game sort revealed that the US Bank Stadium team, like the Philadelphia Eagles, were winners, as the diversion rate came in at 91 percent.

 

Jack Groh NFL Environmental Bradley Vogel

Jack Groh of NFL Environmental gives instructions to Pepsi bin guards prior to Super Bowl LII (Photo credit: Bradley Vogel)

 

US Bank Sort board Bradley Vogel

Waste Sort Board educates US Bank Stadium staff on the proper ways waste should be disposed (Photo credit: Bradley Vogel)

 

But achieving zero waste for a Super Bowl, with sponsors and the NFL pitching in is one thing. Doing it for a full, 10-game Minnesota Vikings campaign, without that outside assistance, is quite another. The US Bank Stadium sustainability team notched a solid 72 percent rate for the 2018 season but they fell short of Super Bowl LII’s 91 percent diversion level.

Vogel believes the lessons learned at the Super Bowl and the Men’s Final Four (a lower-than-expected 64 percent diversion rate, due in part to back-of-house issues that were specific to that event), will help his team get US Bank Stadium and the Vikings over that season-long zero waste hump this fall.

“We’ve maximized our compost rate back-of-house,” Vogel noted. “Now we’re working on getting our fan-facing, front-of-house composting to similar levels. That’s how we’ll get to zero-waste on a season-long basis. In the meantime, our overall sustainable approach earned US Bank Stadium LEED Platinum for Operations and Maintenance (O&M) status, making us the first stadium to attain that level. Official certification will come in June or July.”

 

UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA: LOOKING TO SWITCH TO RECYCLABLE PROMOTIONAL ITEMS AT GOPHERS FOOTBALL GAMES TO INCREASE DIVERSION RATE

Getting to zero waste for a full season is also goal for University of Minnesota football. The Gophers play their games at TCF Bank Stadium, their 50,000 seat, LEED silver home adjacent to the light rail’s green line.

“We’ve averaged 82 percent diversion over the past four or five years at TCF Bank Stadium, and that includes 2014-15 when the Vikings played here and 2017-18 when we hosted Minnesota United¹,” said Jeff Seifriz, assistant athletics director- facility operations. “Getting to 90 percent has proven to be tricky but we made strides last season by working with the university’s sustainability office and third party vendors like Aramark and the University of Minnesota Waste Recovery Services to do detailed audits of our post-game sorts.”

 

Jeff Seifriz

Jeff Seifriz (Photo credit: University of Minnesota)

 

One thing that has kept the Gophers’ sustainability team from getting to zero waste has been promotional items: “The problem is that vessels like souvenir cups and serving boats have complex graphics that make them difficult to be accepted by recyclers. We’re looking at going to a simpler ‘single print’ approach that hopefully will get these items into the recycling stream and get us to 90 percent diversion.” It says here that venues and teams can reduce the environmental cost of promotional items by having fewer promotional days, at least those that involve giving out stuff.

Seifriz wishes that zero waste had been a thing when TCF Bank Stadium was in the planning stages back in 2006 (it opened in 2009): “Had zero waste been our radar back then, we would’ve made space for composting on site and for compactors.”

 

TCF Bank Stadium Exterior

TCF Bank Stadium, home of University of Minnesota Gophers football (Photo credit: University of Minnesota)

 

Since then, Seifriz and his team have gone to school on some of the best in Collegiate Green-Sports, studying the successes of the University of Colorado-Boulder, University of Washington and Big Ten rival Ohio State. The 20+ year University of Minnesota facilities veteran also shares best practices with his Green-Sports-minded counterparts from the St. Paul Saints, as well as the Minnesota Twins, Vikings, and Wild at the occasional brainstorm session (aka Happy Hours): “It’s a terrific group of committed practitioners who want to make a difference on the environment.”

 

ST. PAUL SAINTS: INCUBATING GREEN-SPORTS INNOVATION AT CHS FIELD

Independent League Baseball leagues and teams — they are not affiliated with and/or owned by major league league franchises as opposed to minor league clubs — are proving to be the sport’s petri dishes.

This season, the independent Atlantic League is experimenting with some outside-the-box rule changes, like moving the pitcher’s mound two feet farther away from home plate with the goal of reducing strikeouts and increasing the percentage of pitches that are hit in play.

The St. Paul Saints, who play in the North Division of the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball, have been a proving ground for green innovation since planning began about eight years ago for what would become CHS Field.

Tom Whaley, aside from a four year hiatus, has been with the Saints since 1993. He is now an owner of the club and serves executive vice-president.

Whaley said that the Twin Cities’ sustainable heritage was one of the main reasons that green figured so prominently in the new ballpark.

“Green became a top priority for us when we started planning for the new ballpark in the early 2010s for four key reasons,” recalled Whaley. “#1. A clean, healthy, environment is very important to most people in our area, #2. Industry was heading in a green direction, #3. The City of St. Paul has a cabinet-level sustainability position, and #4. We are in an eternal quest to connect with young fans and green is something to which they respond.”

 

TomWhaleyHeadshot

Tom Whaley (Photo credit: St. Paul Saints)

 

Sustainable elements at the 7,200-seat CHS Field that were state-of-the-green-ballpark-art when it opened in 2015 — especially in the world of independent baseball — included:

  • On-site 100 kWh solar array that supplies 17 percent of the ballpark’s electricity, thanks to a grant from Xcel Energy
  • A graywater re-use system, with water supplied from the roof of a large adjacent transit facility, used to water the field and flush toilets
  • A vigorous waste diversion effort, funded in part by a grant from the state of Minnesota.

As the ballpark opened, the team wrapped a green sponsorship around the initiative called “The Greenest Ballpark in America”, with Ecolab, a global sustainable cleaning solutions company based in St. Paul, coming on as title sponsor. The sponsorship is critical to helping the Saints communicate the ballpark’s environmentally friendly features and benefits to its fans.

“Our goal is to bring green closer to home for our fans, to get them to think ‘CHS Field has solar; I should look into solar at my house’,” added Whaley. “We have two touch screen kiosks on the concourse to educate fans, a mobile platform (sustainability.chsfield.com), do in-game public address and video board announcements, plus on-field contests, all to engage our fans around the ideas and technologies. In 2018, we began an internship program dedicated to sustainability, and we deploy a volunteer Green Team of about 15-20 fans that spread our green message at about one third of our home games.”

 

StPaulSaints solar

100 kWh solar array located in beyond the left field wall supplies approximately 17 percent of the electricity needs at CHS Field (Photo credit: St. Paul Saints)

 

StPaulSaints Ecolab Kiosk

Ecolab partners with the Saints on kiosks that take real-time data from CHS Field’s Building Automation System to show fans the amount of power generated and saved (Photo credit: St. Paul Saints)

 

The Saints’ sustainability efforts earned CHS Field GreenSportsBlog’s Greenest New Ballpark award for 2015.

How have the fans reacted to the Saints’ greening? “It’s been very well received,” offered Whaley. “One thing we haven’t done yet is survey the fans about it. We should and we will.”

 

Next in Twin Cities Rule US Green-Sports, Chef David Fhima brings clean, sustainable, tasty food to the Target Center, home of the NBA’s Timberwolves and the WNBA’s Lynx.

 

¹ The Vikings played at TCF Bank Stadium while US Bank Stadium was under construction. And Minnesota United played its initial MLS season at TCF Bank while Allianz Field was being built.

 


 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

MaddyOrr1.2017

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

GREEN TEAM SCORES WITH RECYCLING MESSAGE AT FAN FEST

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

 

Maddy Tampa2019

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

 

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

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

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

 

GAME TIME!

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

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

 

Amalie Arena

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

 

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

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

 

FEEDBACK: TAMPA READY TO UP GREEN-SPORTS GAME?

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

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

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

 

Amalie Green Team

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

 

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

 


 

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GreenSportsBlogger to Moderate “Sports, Carbon and Climate” Panel at Green Sports Alliance Summit June 19

The 2018 UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report was crystal clear: Humanity has 12 years to decarbonize by 45 percent if we are to have a reasonable chance to avoid the most calamitous effects of climate change. To put that in sports terms, we only have the length of Mike Trout’s recent mega-contract extension with the Anaheim Angels, to make these changes. 

Thus it is fitting that climate change will have a much bigger role at the 2019 Green Sports Alliance Summit than any of the organization’s previous annual gatherings. The schedule features three sessions with climate in the title and I am proud to be moderating one of them, “Sports, Carbon and Climate.” Here’s a brief preview.

 

“Sports, Carbon and Climate” will delve into the best ways for the sports world to go about reducing carbon emissions and thus climate change, while navigating the scientific, political and cultural challenges inherent in sports taking on these fights . Specifically, the panel will discuss how:

  • Carbon pricing could potentially benefit the sports industry;
  • Going carbon neutral can help teams and events engage fans to take climate action;
  • The UN’s new Sports for Climate Action initiative turn into a powerful fan engagement tool;
  • Carbon offset projects, funded by sports teams and leagues, can make a positive impact, as well as their limitations

Our All-Star panel lineup includes:

  • David Antonioli, CEO, Verra: The nonprofit develops and manages standards and frameworks to vet environmental and sustainable development efforts, build their capacity and enable funding for sustaining and scaling up their benefits. Its Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) Program is the world’s most widely used voluntary greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) reductions program.
  • Steve Hams, Director of Engagement, Business Climate Leaders (BCL): BCL is an initiative of Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL), a nonpartisan grassroots advocacy group with nearly 120,000 members in over 450 U.S. chapters. It helps American businesses understand and take action in shaping federal climate policy, with a focus on carbon pricing. Specifically, BCL encourages leaders from businesses of all sizes to endorse the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act: the first bicameral, bipartisan carbon pricing bill ever introduced in Congress.
  • Aileen McManamon, Founder and Managing Partner of 5T Sports: McManamon has been working to promote the United Nations Sports for Climate Action initiative which she co-authored. She works with sports teams and leagues on triple bottom line business operations throughout North America and Europe.
  • Kevin Wilhelm, CEO Sustainable Business Consulting: Wilhelm played a key role in the Seattle Sounders (MLS) becoming North America’s first professional sports team to achieve carbon neutrality. He is the author of four books on the environment, including the acclaimed “Making Sustainability Stick.”

 

GSA Summit

 

The ninth annual Green Sports Alliance Summit takes place at Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Philadelphia Eagles¹, June 19-20. Click here if you would like to attend.

 

¹ The aforementioned Mike Trout is from the Philadelphia area and is a die hard Eagles fan.

 


 

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Greening the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games Seattle

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

Special Olympics Karlan_Headshot

Karlan Jessen (Photo credit: Karlan Jessen)

 

Special Olympics David Muller and Tim Reeve

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

Environmental Pillars

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

Social Pillars

  1. Accessibility/Inclusion
  2. Legacy/Education

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

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

 

BIGGEST ENVIRONMENTAL SUCCESSES: WASTE AND TRANSPORTATION

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

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

 

Special Olympics Green Team Volunteers success story

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

 

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

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

 

Special Olympics Light Rail

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

 

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

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

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

 

TIME WAS THE SUSTAINABILITY TEAM’S BIGGEST ENEMY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The verdict was unanimous:

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

 

 


 

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