We are in the midst of Earth Fortnight (Earth Day was Saturday, April 22; related celebrations were held during the week prior and are continuing this week), a great time for sports leagues to highlight their sustainability bona fides to their fans and other stakeholders. GreenSportsBlog is celebrating with two columns this week: Tuesday, we reviewed the Earth Fortnight activities of Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer, and the NFL Draft. And today we talk with Diane Wood, President of the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF), about its innovative “energy saving” fan engagement partnership with the NBA.
GreenSportsBlog: Diane, I can’t wait to share with our readers the nuts-and-bolts of the program NEEF and the NBA launched at the start of the playoffs a week or so ago, encouraging fans to take energy saving actions and then measure those actions. But they will have to wait just a bit. First, let’s talk a bit about your story—how you got to NEEF, what led you to the NBA, etc.
Diane Wood: Well, this partnership between NEEF and the NBA seems like a natural evolution for me. After getting my Masters in Science and Environmental Education, I went to the Peace Corps, helping Paraguay develop its first environmental education program. It was truly life changing—I saw that I was able to make a real difference in peoples’ lives. It was a privilege, really.
GSB: I love it! Thank you for your service. What came next?
Diane Wood, President, National Environmental Education Foundation. (Photo credit: NEEF)
DW: Next came the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). I was there for 18 years, running their Latin America and Caribbean programs most of that time and then spending a few years leading their research and development program. But, after awhile, I got a bit restless: I had adopted two kids from Colombia and the travel from the US and being away from the girls was taxing. And, almost as important, I felt that the environmental problems that animated a lot of my international conservation work emanated from the USA. I wanted to help Americans learn about how people and the environment beyond our borders were suffering consequences because of our actions or lack thereof. So when the NEEF opportunity came up, I thought to myself, “Oh, this is ideal.”
GSB: What did the opportunity look like?
DW: Let’s take a step back. When I arrived, I found a great model, what we call Lifelong Environmental Education, that was based on reaching people through trusted professionals—think meteorologists, medical care providers, teachers and land owners. NEEF provided environmental education content for them and they disseminated it to their audiences.
GSB: How was that working out?
DW: It went well, but…
GSB: I knew there would be a “but” there!
DW: …But I and the NEEF board felt we were risking being successful only on the margins, meaning we were only touching hundreds or maybe thousands of people. That is several orders of magnitude shy of the numbers of people we need to impact. So, even though we were in the midst of the Great Recession, we decided to go big.
GSB: Hey, never let a crisis go to waste. And the econo-pocalypse certainly qualified. So what did you mean by “going big”?
DW: We set ourselves a vision that by 2022, 300 million Americans actively use environmental knowledge to ensure the wellbeing of the earth and its people. Yes that is about 90 percent of the population.
GSB: You know what? That qualifies as “Going Big”. How the heck are you gonna do THAT?
DW: Well, we set benchmarks through a 2012 survey that queried the US population on their environmental attitudes, knowledge, and behaviors. We gave people eco-scores and then segmented them. The most knowledgeable and environmentally active group we call the “bloomed”, but the group we were most interested in engaging is what we refer to as the “moveable middle,” which represents some 129 million Americans.
GSB: What defines the “moveable middle”?
DW: They want to do the right thing environmentally, but simply forget or feel it’s too expensive, both in terms of money and time. Or, by doing the right thing, these folks feel they would somehow have to become someone else to fit in. These are real barriers that cast the environment as something extra to care about, an obligation to add on to an already very busy lifestyle. Even though they understand that we all need a healthy environment to survive.
GSB: So, how does NEEF overcome “green is too hard to do?”
DW: Our approach is fourfold: 1. Start where people are; 2) Individual environmental actions matter; 3. Taking environmental action can make you feel good, save money, and improve health, and 4. Collectively, people are motivated by their peers and are rewarded by being part of something much bigger than themselves.
GSB: That makes sense to me as a way to make environmental action less daunting. But that approach and motivating 129 million Americans? That’s a heavy lift!
DW: We knew that and that’s why we needed to find trusted partners with scale to amplify our reach and engagement. And that led us to professional sports.
GSB: Bingo! As Allen Hershkowitz, former President of the Green Sports Alliance, often says, 65-70 percent of people follow sports.
DW: Yes…sports reaches a diverse national—even global—audience, engendering both trust and emotional connection. We have also worked with zoos, natural history museums, and aquariums as they too, when you roll them up nationally, engage huge numbers of people in an immersive experience that creates a high level of trust and emotional connection too. So sports and zoos are in great positions to reach many people when they’re open to receiving a positive environmental message, and to then lead them to making better everyday environmental decisions. Now, speaking of Allen, he has been key to our sports journey. We went to several GSA summits during his tenure. And it was he who brokered our introduction to the folks at NBA Cares.
GSB: Why did you decide to go to the NBA and not one of the other pro leagues?
DW: Well, we saw great value in all of the major sports leagues and hope to work with more going forward. But, to start off, we felt the NBA fan base was the best match with our 129 million “moveable middles” we were trying to, well, move. Specifically, we found their audience to be a fit with our target on a variety of metrics, including diversity in the broadest sense, household income, social media engagement and, size. They had also decided to move away from their focus on a once a year “Green Week” and were working with Allen to identify a more on-going eco-outreach opportunity.
GSB: Plus it has to help that the league, at least in my opinion, has the highest cool factor of all of the leagues.
DW: Don’t get me picking favorites Lew. We think they’re all cool. Plus we found the league to be—and I know this will sound cliché—authentic.
GSB: Absolutely. So you, NEEF and Allen Hershkowitz identified the NBA as your prospective partner. What did you propose to do with them?
DW: We pitched our concept to NBA Cares and they were very open to extending their fan engagement around energy saving—something many teams are already championing in-arena. They already had done “NBA Green Week” in the past, and were looking for a fresh way to involve fans in saving energy at home in their everyday lives. They invited us to further develop our concept, and, following some preliminary meetings, we chose energy efficiency as the focus. Our challenge was to then develop an approach that would garner attention without interrupting the flow of the game. So, in late 2015, a group of us, including Allen and a brand consultant, Ryan Gallagher of Good Gallagher, met with Kathy Behrens and her team at NBA Cares, to share our “Learning By Doing” fan engagement concept. It has two main components: a fun animated video featuring a handful of diverse former NBA and WNBA players, as well as a text messaging (SMS) option to remind and prompt fans to take a series of six energy saving actions at home (unplugging electronics when not in use, switching laundry from warm to cold water wash, etc.). We call this platform “NBA Green Energy All-Star.”
GSB: Great! How did the NBA Cares folks react?
DW: Positively. They invited us back to work with their NBA Cares leadership team and we added our pro bono creative agency, Culture ONE World. Our message had to be tight, relevant, and fun. The working group came up with four concepts, each of which fit within NBA culture. The winner turned out to be the animated bobblehead video, which was launched by NBA Cares and through NBAGREEN.com on Earth Day (April 22nd) with the video and “timeout tips.” The video and timeout tips are being promoted by all NBA and WNBA teams to their fans on social media and through other outreach. In addition, at NEEFUSA.org, you can find more information about why these energy saving actions count.
NBA Green Energy All-Star video (0:58)
GSB: What about in-arena during the NBA playoffs?
DW: It is certainly possible that the video will run in-arena during the playoffs but that is up to each individual team. The big news is that the video aired on NBA TV on Earth Day!
GSB: That’s a big win. Let’s hope that most of the remaining teams show the video…and hopefully the Green Energy All-Star campaign makes it to WNBA arenas this summer. Now, speaking of All Stars, how was it to work with those former NBA and WNBA greats?
DW: The former players themselves who were “bobble-ized” were great to work with: Dikembe Mutombo…
GSB: Oh, he’s a tremendous humanitarian and gets environmental issues.
Dikembe Mutombo bobblehead (Courtesy of NEEF)
DW: He’s terrific. Also Bill Walton…
GSB: Another fabulous “get”…
DW: …Swin Cash, Ruth Riley, Jason Collins and Felipe Lopez. Then fans are cued by text to take an energy saving actions— The fan then receives a “slam dunk” or a “swish” response message that positively reinforces their action and provides an option to learn more about that specific environmental action.
GSB: That seems to fit the “it’s easy” metric quite well and also will appeal to the slightly younger demographic of the NBA attendee as compared to the NFL and MLB. Speaking of metrics, what does success look like??
DW: Our greatest success is developing our working relationship with the NBA on the issue of environmental literacy. I hope we can continue to build on this good work. In terms of metrics, we will be looking at multiple measures, from total impressions across social media and web, to texting opt-ins and action-taken, and then estimating collective energy savings, including how that translates to dollars and greenhouse gases prevented. We know that individual actions taken together can add up to a significant lasting impact. We look forward to sharing the results of the NBA community’s collective impact at the end of this campaign.
GSB: Please let us know the results when you have them. We would also love to talk about Year 2 when the time is right.
DW: Will do!