The GSB Interview: Monica Rowand, Bringing Green-Sports to University of Louisiana. Part I: Honing Her Craft at UCLA and CU-Boulder

Monica Rowand is one of the brightest, young stars in the Green-Sports world as she helps to lead the University of Louisiana’s (Lafayette) athletic department’s burgeoning sustainability efforts. 

Despite Monica’s youth, her story is rich and deep, so much so that we’re dividing the interview into two parts. Today’s Part I delves into her lifelong love affair with sports, her discovery of Green-Sports at UCLA and her work with Dave Newport and University of Colorado-Boulder’s powerhouse Green-Sports program.

In tomorrow’s Part II, we move with Monica to 1,200 miles to the southeast to Lafayette, LA to find out what she and the University of Louisiana’s sustainability department are doing to green the Ragin’ Cajuns athletics department. 

 

GreenSportsBlog: Monica, you’ve done so much important Green-Sports work and you’re not yet 30. When did you start, when you were in middle school?

Monica Rowand: Well Lew, I wanted to work in sports for as long as I can remember, baseball specifically. In fact, when I was a little girl I knew the exact job I wanted…

GSB: …Which was?

Monica: To manage the Los Angeles Angels, or Anaheim Angels as I grew up calling them!

GSB: I’m dating myself by saying I grew up calling them the California Angels! Why not aim high?

Monica: Exactly! And that Angels job is still in my plans. But Green-Sports really started for me while I was an undergrad at UCLA

GSB:…Recently named the number one public university in the country!

Monica: I know! Anyway I started out as a business economics major but then switched to geography and environmental studies.

GSB: Why did you switch?

 

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Monica Rowand (Photo credit: Monica Rowand)

 

Monica: Good question. I had first gotten interested in the environment in high school when I saw “An Inconvenient Truth.” Then at UCLA I signed up for a Global Environment class to, if I’m being honest about it, take care of a science requirement.

GSB: Many of us can relate to that kind of college class scheduling…

Monica: The thing was, I really loved it! Then, in my senior year, I took this amazing class — Remote Sensing…

GSB: What is that?

Monica: It’s about using satellites, radar and other tools to scan the earth and obtain information that include temperature and other weather and climate metrics. We were told to pick semester project topics based on our passions so, given my love of baseball, mine was about the size of parking lots at Major League Baseball stadiums and the resulting heat island effect. I also looked at tree coverage in those lots. All of this was done using remote sensing. I studied the LA Dodgers…

GSB: …Dodger Stadium has massive circular parking lots surrounding it…

 

Dodger Stadium

Aerial view of the massive parking lots surrounding Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles (Photo credit: change.org)

 

Monica: Yeah! Awful for heat island effect. We also looked at AT&T Park, the home of the San Francisco Giants and Nationals Park, home of the Washington Nationals. I really enjoyed the project; this was the first time I realized I could combine sustainability and sports.

GSB: Did you work on any other Green-Sports projects while at UCLA?

Monica: Yeah. The second one looked at the waste generated at large sports events by league — Major League Baseball, the NBA, NFL and NHL. I figured out the average amount of waste per league and then compared that to total waste in the U.S.

GSB: It must’ve been tiny…

Monica: Oh it was. But that didn’t deter me. In fact, it made me realize that the real promise of Green-Sports was in engaging fans to care about the environment, climate change, and more…more so than focusing on greening the games themselves, because, like I said, total waste and carbon emissions from sports events are quite small relative to everywhere else.

GSB: So you knew you were Green-Sports 2.0 rather than Green-Sports 1.0…

Monica: That’s right. Sports is perhaps the most powerful platform in the world and it is past time that it was used in service of the environment!

GSB: Indeed! So what did you do when you graduated?

Monica: I moved to Denver — needed to get out of LA then. I got a job at a gym because, well, I needed a job. We did waste reduction and recycling, had an Earth Week program but that wasn’t a green job. But I networked like crazy with something called the Rocky Mountain Green Venue Partnership. All the major Denver area sports venues were in the group…Coors Field, home of the Rockies, Pepsi Center, home of the NBA’s Nuggets and NHL’s Avalanche. CU Boulder was there too. It was at these events that I became convinced that I wanted to work in Green-Sports and that I could get a job in it. It just didn’t happen then…

GSB: And next you…

Monica: …Moved to New Orleans in 2012 as I decided to join the Americorps VISTA program and work with Global Green doing community outreach.

GSB: Global Green is a great group!

Monica: I loved that job. I worked on so many things — education, energy efficiency, and community organizing. During this time I also networked in Green-Sports: I went to the 2013 Green Sports Alliance Summit in Brooklyn. I connected with Jarian Kerekes…

GSB: …Then the NBA’s Corporate Social Responsibility head.

Monica: Yes. We collaborated on ideas to help green the 2014 NBA All-Star Weekend in New Orleans. I spoke to leading Green-Sports practitioners like Omar Mitchell of the NHL and Paul Hanlon of MLB. Both told me I should get an MBA, with the idea being that I already had a strong environmental background but I needed to learn about business. So I looked for business programs with a strong sustainability bent. At that time, Dave Muller at the Green Sports Alliance said, “You should talk to Dave Newport at CU-Boulder. He runs the Environmental Center there and is doing amazing Green-Sports things.”

GSB: What did Dave Newport tell you?

Monica: He said, “Come to CU and I’ll hire you to help grow ‘Ralphie’s Green Stampede!'” So I went off to Boulder. I mean, sports and B-school? INCREDIBLE!!

GSB: Sounds like the perfect spot as Ralphie’s Green Stampede is arguably the best Green-Sports initiative in college athletics.

Monica: Oh yeah! For several reasons. Number one: Dave has the same mentality I do: Sports has the power to change behavior. Two: The Green-Sports infrastructure was already in place when I arrived there in 2015. Ralphie’s Green Stampede, which launched in 2008, had already helped CU Athletics become Zero-Waste, reduce its carbon emissions, get involved in water balancing and…

GSB: What is water balancing?

Monica: Athletics reduced their water usage. Whatever we did use, BEF worked with us on river restoration projects, thus adding the same amount of water back that CU Athletics had used.

GSB: Who funded this?

Monica: We were able to get corporate sponsors to pay for it.

GSB: Brilliant! What was your role with Ralphie’s Green Stampede?

Monica: I was the program manager for fan engagement…

GSB: AGAIN, perfect for you!

Monica: YES!!! I got to work with Dave, Athletics, and Learfield, the company that sold CU Athletics sponsorships. Working with Learfield’s Brandon Leimbach, a true rock star, we were able solidify a unique category of sponsorship that created value for our sports property, the corporate partner, and our community.

 

Ralphie Team

From left, Monica Rowand and Ralphie’s Green Stampede teammates Dave Newport, Brandon Leimbach and Angie Gilbert (Photo credit: Monica Rowand)

 

GSB: What kind of sponsorship programs did you guys develop and sell?

Monica: On water restoration, working with the aforementioned BEF, we created Water For The West for men’s and women’s basketball in 2015-16 and then football in 2016. Wells Fargo and Kohler sponsored it. CU’s venues have high efficiency water fixtures like faucets and then CU Athletics purchased 10 million gallons of water restoration credits.

GSB: Where did the fan engagement piece come in?

Monica: The idea with fans was to get them to follow the Buffs’ lead and save water at home, work, and play. So we set up a text platform, text “CU Water” to 27126 — I believe it’s still live — and promoted it at games and on social media. By texting, you were committing to saving water on your own— we showed them how by texting them water saving tips. For every text pledge we got Wells Fargo would restore an additional 1,000 gallons of water to the Colorado River through the BEF water restoration certificate program.

 

Water For The West promotional video (1 min 4 secs) featuring CU Women’s Soccer player Taylor Kornieck

 

GSB: What a neat program! How many people participated and how much water was restored?

Monica: In addition to the 10 million gallons that balanced the Buffs’ annual water footprint, 956 students and fans made text pledges during the 15-16 basketball seasons. So in the program’s first season an extra 956,000 gallons worth of water restoration projects could be done!

 

TOMORROW’S PART II: Monica Rowand moves from CU-Boulder to the sustainability department of the University of Louisiana in Lafayette to help launch their Green-Sports initiative.

 


 

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Looking Back at the First PAC-12 Sustainability Conference

The Pac-12 Conference is a leader on the field and court — member schools UCLA and Stanford are at the top of the “total NCAA championships won” list. And, the conference also leads in Green-Sports: It is the first conference to have all of its schools become members of the Green Sports Alliance. And, in late June, it became the first conference to host a sustainability conference. GreenSportsBlog spoke with University of Colorado Athletic Director Rick George, Dave Newport, the University of Colorado Environmental Center Director, and Pac-12 Deputy Commissioner Jamie Zaininovich, to get a sense of why green sports are important—and how the Pac-12’s leadership can influence all of college sports.

 

For basketball fans, Hall of Famer and announcer Bill Walton’s enthusiastic, stentorian tones are instantly recognizable. But, in late June, instead of intoning, slowly and dramatically, about, “the incredible three point genius of Steph Curry,” Walton talked Green-Sports at the first Pac-12 Sustainability Conference: “[Sustainability is] good policy, good economics, and it’s good for all of us! What more can you ask for?…The Pac-12, the Conference of Champions, we’re leading the charge forward.”

The genesis of the recent Pac-12 Sustainability Conference came from University of Colorado Athletic Director Rick George. “We are the first NCAA Power 5* league to join the Green Sports Alliance,” said George. “So it seemed fitting to me that we be the first Power 5 league to host a sustainability conference.”

 

Rick George UofC Ath

Rick George, University of Colorado Athletics Director (Photo credit: University of Colorado Athletics)

 

According to Dave Newport, the University of Colorado Environmental Center Director, “Rick George’s main goal was to create a forum at which the 12 schools could help each other raise our ‘Green Games’.”

Jamie Zaninovich, Deputy Commissioner and Chief Operating Officer of the Pac-12, thought more broadly, looking to host a conference that would “bring together athletics professionals, sustainability professionals, rights holders, and marketers from both inside and outside (my italics) the Pac-12 to have productive conversations on further integrating sustainability into intercollegiate athletics.”

 

NCAA: WCC Staff Headshots

Jamie Zaininovich, Pac-12 Deputy Commissioner and Chief Operating Officer (Photo credit: Pac-12 Conference)

 

With those goals in mind, Newport, his colleague at USC Halli Bovia, and sports and sustainability staffers at the 10 other Pac-12 schools created an ad-hoc “sustainability conference planning group” to put things in motion.

While George initially offered to host the event in Boulder, it quickly became apparent to the planning group that attaching the Pac-12 Sustainability Conference to the June, 2017 Green Sports Alliance Summit in Sacramento made the most sense. “Sacramento, right in the Pac-12’s backyard — the league office is in San Francisco — is a great location for our member schools, so costs would be kept low,” said Newport. “Plus it would be easier to draw people from non-Pac-12 schools since they’d already be out there for the GSA. And the late June timing was right.”

 

Bill Walton Poster

Poster for the Pac-12 Sustainability Conference, designed and created by Bill Walton (Credit: Pac-12 Conference and Bill Walton)

 

Over 150 people registered — the Pac-12 expected about 100 — small enough, per Newport, “so people could really learn from each other,” yet big enough to generate buzz and energy. Interest was not limited to the Pac-12. Attendees included an NCAA senior executive — more Newport: who was “very interested in figuring out how to seamlessly weave sustainability in to the 92 championships they administer” — as well as representatives from the Big 12, Big Ten and SEC schools.

As for what was discussed, perhaps not surprisingly, Sustainability Sponsorships (how to raise money for green-themed initiatives) and Engaging Fans (to be sustainable at home, work, and play) were the two subject areas that bubbled to the top of the conference agenda.

 

Sustainability Sponsorships

Seth Matlins, Executive Vice President of Branded Impact at IMG/IMG College, the sports marketing and sponsorship sales firm for six Pac-12 schools#, dug into the aspects of sustainability that should appeal to sponsors of college sports. Matlins holds that fans tell the story: “87% of [college sports fans] believe business should place equal weight on societal issues and business issues. 68% want the US to lead global efforts to slow climate change,” he said, citing the College Sports Fans over-index.

Colorado’s sports marketing and sustainability teams presented a case study highlighting Ralphie’s Green Stampedethe green-sports sponsorship platform that has yielded fruitful partnerships with BASF, Eco-Products, Pepsi, Wells Fargo, White Wave and others.

 

Fan Engagement

“CU Boulder and the Green Sports Alliance hosted a “Think Camp for Fan Engagement” last fall to develop a ‘Fan Engagement for Sustainability Playbook’,” said Newport. “We rolled out the skeleton at the GSA Summit and it was very well received, the evaluations were through the roof.”

 

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Dave Newport, University of Colorado Environmental Center Director (Photo credit: University of Colorado)

 

The Playbook walks users (sports marketers, school sustainability professionals and more) through the steps needed to create and measure effective sustainable behavior change campaigns. And it connects fans with their teams’ sustainability initiatives and encourages them to participate in sustainable actions both in and out of the stadium.

After quick tutorials on how to 1) choose sustainability topics and 2) develop effective campaigns, attendees worked with their school groups to follow steps laid out by the Playbook and plan their own fan engagement-sustainability campaigns. Many focused on getting fans to properly recycle and/or compost in stadium and while tailgating.

Colorado Athletic Director George has no doubts that fans will enjoy engaging with green-themed initiatives from their favorite Pac-12 school: “Green/sustainability is a natural connector between the schools and the various communities we serve. Everyone wants a cleaner, healthier environment, after all. So people get this.”

But for fans to get it, they have to know about it. 

And they will.

“Pac-12 Networks covered the conference and produced a video that is being aired throughout the summer,” shared Zaninovich. “We’ve also included coverage of our schools’ sustainability work on various Pac-12 Networks live broadcasts, including football games.”

 

What’s Next?

The Pac-12 Sustainability Working Group was born at the conference. Made up of representatives from each of the league’s 12 athletic departments and from each school’s sustainability office, the team will work to ensure that the conference keeps pushing the green envelope on sponsorships, fan engagement, and overall awareness of the league’s sustainability advancements. This is a big deal.

“Hard as it may be to believe, before the Sustainability Conference, many sustainability people didn’t know the athletic directors,” noted Newport. “The Conference helped and the Working Group will help, too. We walked in as 12 schools; we walked out as one Athletic Conference, committed to growing the impact of sustainable college sports.”

Will there be a 2018 PAC-12 Sustainability Conference? And will other Power Five Conferences follow the Pac-12’s lead?

Atlanta is likely to host the next Green Sports Alliance Summit, not exactly a good geographic fit for a conference whose easternmost school is in Boulder, CO. But there are Pac-12 Athletic Directors meetings to which a Sustainability Conference could be attached.

Given the enthusiasm and initiatives coming out of the first Pac-12 Sustainability Conference, I doubt it will be the last.

 

* “Power 5” are the biggest, most powerful NCAA sports leagues/conferences. They include the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and the Southeastern Conference (SEC)
^ In addition to Colorado, the PAC-12 schools are Arizona, Arizona State, Cal-Berkeley, Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, UCLA, USC, Utah, Washington, and Washington State.
# Arizona, Cal-Berkeley, Oregon, UCLA, Washington, and Washington State are the IMG schools. Learfield, IMG’s main competitor, handles Colorado, Oregon State, Stanford and Utah.

 


 

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