The GSB Interview: Haruki Sawada, Launching Green Sports Alliance Japan

The Green Sports Alliance has, for most of its nine-year existence, been a North American organization.

That has changed, thanks to the Earth Day 2018 launch of Green Sports Alliance Japan.

With its first birthday coming up soon, GreenSportsBlog spoke with CEO Haruki Sawada, to understand how and why GSA Japan came to be and how it plans to bring Green-Sports to the Land of the Rising Sun.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Haruki, I am really glad to hear that there is a Green Sports Alliance Japan. Tell us how it came to be and how you came to be the fellow who helped make it happen?

Haruki Sawada: Great to talk with you, Lew! It’s quite a story. You see, up until September 2017, I worked for the Mitsubishi Corporation for 16 years, mainly in their chemical group. I lived in Dusseldorf for the last 3 years, traveling throughout Europe, selling chemical products. During early 2016, as I would go into customers’ headquarters like BASF and Dow, I noticed things were changing. These companies were looking into new, sustainability-enhanced business opportunities like bioplastics, feedstock flexibility, process innovation, operational excellence, nanotechnologies and other things. These businesses are working on social and environmental challenges and they were doing well by doing good. I thought to myself, ‘we also need to develop this sort of thing for the Japanese market.’ So, since then, I started to propose sustainability-enhanced new business models — one after another — to Mitsubishi management.

 

Haruki Headshot1

Haruki Sawada of Green Sports Alliance Japan (Photo credit: Green Sports Alliance Japan)

 

GSB: How did they react?

Haruki: Well, Mitsubishi had started to incorporate some sustainability aspects into their business strategies earlier than other Japanese companies but it was still early days overall. My ideas did not convince them to want to move faster. So management said no. I went back to my boss with more ideas but, after reviewing them, the result was the same. Still, I felt there was something there. So in November, 2016, I was attending a bioplastics conference in Berlin and I bumped into Justin Zeulner

GSB: …At the time the President of the Green Sports Alliance

Haruki: Yes! I thought ‘What is this American guy doing at a bioplastics conference in Germany, talking about sports?’ But as he talked about how the interconnected supply chains at sports stadiums and arenas, from food to lighting to HVAC¹, are just like those of all other industries — helping to cause our greenhouse gas emissions problems — and how sports touches so many people, my boss and I quickly understood why he was there. Every sustainable business idea could be funneled through sports. So Justin and I kept on talking. And I started thinking about starting a non-profit in Japan dedicated to the greening of sports.

GSB: Wow!! That seems like a big risk…

Haruki: Oh yes. Leaving a big conglomerate to start a nonprofit is very difficult in Japan, much more so than in the U.S. or Europe. It’s just not done. Also the startup, entrepreneurial culture is not as organic as in the U.S. Plus sports as a business is not nearly as big, not nearly as developed as it is in the west. And in Japan, “green” is not a term we recognize. “Eco” — which means things like energy saving and tree planting — is something we get. But “green” or “sustainability” — not so much. And, then there is the barrier of language to make the challenge even bigger.

GSB: I’ll say! Sounds like a big, green-sports mountain to climb.

Haruki: Yes! But we do have some advantages. For example, in Japan, we have no oil, no shale gas. We have to import most of our energy because we don’t have our own resources. So we’ve had to live sustainably for a long time even though we don’t use the term ‘sustainability’ in Japan at the moment.

GSB: Interesting. What term do the Japanese use?

Haruki: The most popular term at the moment is “eco.” Anyway, I thought that getting involved with Green-Sports could help the Japanese market access the best greentech products from the U.S. and/or Europe. And some Japanese clean technology products and services can be sold throughout the world. So I approached Justin and told him I was ready to take the step to start Green Sports Alliance Japan.

GSB: That’s a huge step! I give you credit. What happened next?

Haruki: Well, in 2017, Justin and GSA board member Jason Twill came to visit Japan. I showed them our plans for building out the nonprofit as well as for green headquarters building which our founder Mr. Mikio Yoshino is developing in a forest near Mount Fuji. I told them it would be a big challenge because Japan does not have a deep culture donating to nonprofits. Teams are currently not seeking out eco- or green programs. Most of the sports stadiums and arenas in Japan — about 95 percent —are owned by municipalities rather than teams. This adds a layer of complexity. But despite the challenges, I thought the opportunities are strong enough, the eco-culture and technical innovation embedded enough in the country, to make a go of starting Green Sports Alliance Japan. So we legally registered in December 2017, and our commercial operations started in the end of April 2018. We were very appreciative that New York Yankees Senior Vice President of Operations Doug Behar, Jackie Ventura, Sustainability Director of the Miami Heat, as well as Justin, and Jason gathered in Japan to support the kickoff of GSA Japan.

Our first partnership is with the Tohoku Free Blades, a professional ice hockey team owned by Xebio, the largest sports retailer in Japan. In the city of Hachinohe, Aomori Prefecture (akin to a U.S. state). They are currently in the development of a new ice rink arena, called “Flat Hachinohe” that is scheduled to open in spring of 2020. GSA Japan, as the arena’s green project manager, will develop social and environmental sustainability activations.

 

Flat hachinoe

An artist’s rendering of the Flat Hachinohe Arena, future home of Tohoku Free Blades (Credit: Tohoku Free Blades)

 

GSB: That is brilliant! What will those activations look like?

Haruki: We are planning to collect used down coats from fans and people in the local community. Tohoku Free Blades will repurpose them into bench coats, in collaboration with a feather supplier, apparel producer, designer, and nonprofits. The coats will be for players and coaches, and leased to fans that come watch the games at the arena. This way, they can engage as many people as possible. That will allow the rink to reduce their HVAC costs and contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

GSB: That’s really impressive, Haruki. How are you connected the Green Sports Alliance? And how does GSA Japan generate revenue?

Haruki: GSA Japan is a separate entity from the original Green Sports Alliance, including from a financial perspective. We license the name, collaborate whenever possible and are helping to build overall brand awareness. As for monetization, we are making revenue sharing agreements with our partners at the moment.

GSB: And will you be soliciting donations, even though that’s not such a big thing in Japan?

Haruki: Yes, we will, but as our founder Mr. Mikio Yoshino mentions to us all the time, we shall first work to develop and invent others benefits. Therefore, at the moment, we are closely working for Japanese club teams and venues.

GSB: What’s the second project you guys are working on?

Haruki: We are about to facilitate a discussion between Sano High School Rugby Football Club and Shimojima, one of the leading paper and plastic packaging material producers in Japan. Shimojima supports the club’s commitment to join the UN-led Sports for Climate Action Framework.

 

Haruki GSA

Haruki Sawada (standing at left) tells the story of the Green Sports Alliance Japan to members of the Sano High School boys and girls rugby clubs (Photo credit: Green Sports Alliance Japan)

 

GSB: I like that you and the Green Sports Alliance Japan is building support and interest from the grassroots level. How big is your team?

Haruki: Right now, we have four directors including me, eight board members, seven advisors plus two operational staff members.

GSB: It’s smart to start off as a lean organization. Given that your team is small right now, how does GSA Japan plan to approach and connect with the biggest sports in Japan — baseball, soccer, sumo, golf and tennis — to bring things like on-site solar and other green technologies to stadiums and other venues?

Haruki: Recently we supported a couple of Japanese club teams in playing a leadership role at the first ever Sports for Climate Action event at the COP24 global climate summit in Katowice, Poland in December 2018. And the construction of at least 20 new stadiums and arenas are planned in Japan by 2025, with renovations of a number of existing venues on the docket as well, so the potential is there for eco-principles to take hold and we want to be there to make sure that takes place. It is of course clear that Japan is not as big as the U.S., but we believe we still have something we can contribute to achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Sustainable Development Goals, both of which hold great potential to stabilize our climate, proliferate peace and prosperity, and new and open opportunity for billions of people. We look forward to seeing how the dots connect with each other through sports in Japan.

 

¹ HVAC = Heating and air conditioning

 


 

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Sports and Climate Change Summit: Yankees, Mets, MLS, NASCAR and USTA Saving Lives in Africa Via Innovative Carbon Offsets Program

Five high-profile North American sports teams and leagues are helping to save lives in Africa while reducing carbon emissions at the same time.

That powerful message was delivered during an All-Star panel discussion at Friday’s first Sports and Climate Change Summit in New York City, hosted by Sport and Sustainability International (SandSI) and the Global Crisis Information Network (GCINET). Guided by SandSI co-founder Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, senior officials from the New York Yankees, the New York Mets, Major League Soccer, NASCAR, and the US Tennis Association, shared how and why they are making life-saving investments in Africa.

 

The panel that kicked off Friday’s first Sports and Climate Change Summit at New York’s Scandinavia House had a title that many in the audience could not have imagined even two years ago: “North American Sport Invests in Climate Mitigation and Promoting the Sustainable Development Goals in Africa”.

Yet, per moderator Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, co-founder of SandSI, those investments — by the Yankees, Mets, Major League Soccer (MLS), NASCAR, and the USTA — are indeed being made. And they are not only helping to take on climate change, air pollution and several other of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals^, they are saving lives. Thousands of lives. In some of the most needy regions on Earth.

 

Allen Hershkowitz J. Henry Fair

Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, co-founder of SandSI (photo credit: J. Henry Fair)

 

You may be asking yourself these three questions right about now:

  1. What problems are these North American sports teams and leagues trying to help solve with these investments in Africa?
  2. What types of investments are they making to solve those problems and save lives?
  3. Why are they making these investments?

 

COOKING WITH INEFFICIENT STOVES IN SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA ADDS TO AIR POLLUTION, DEFORESTATION AND CARBON EMISSIONS

In his presentation preceding the panel discussion, Hershkowitz cited chilling statistic after chilling statistic that laid bare the severity of health problems, borne largely by women and children in Sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere, caused by cooking with inefficient, dirty, primitive stoves:

“The number one cause of death in the world is air pollution.”

“Close to half the deaths from pneumonia of children under age five are caused by household air pollution.”

“Three billion people cook over open flames or with simple stoves powered by unhealthy coal, wood or other forms of biomass.”

“According to the World Health Organization, three to four million people, mostly women and girls die prematurely because of inefficient, dirty stoves.”

Add to these grim metrics the fact that significant deforestation results from scavenging for the wood that is used in the inefficient, old stoves, and you have a recipe for a public health and environmental disaster.

 

NORTH AMERICAN TEAMS AND LEAGUES QUICKLY RAMP UP TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA BY FUNDING CLEAN, EFFICIENT COOKSTOVES AND AVOIDED DEFORESTATION

How did Major League Soccer, NASCAR, the Mets and Yanks and the USTA decide to get involved in helping to reduce the Sub-Saharan African air pollution problem?

Hershkowitz showed each of them that, by funding efficient cookstoves that emit 30 to 50 percent fewer emissions, they would be creating healthier cooking environments for women and children, extending and saving lives in the process. And, since the cookstoves require far less fuelwood, the teams and leagues are also playing an important role in avoided deforestation.

The clean cookstove initiative is supported by the United Nations. Consequently, these cookstove purchases — which reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, other air pollutants and deforestation — qualify as third party, independently certified carbon offset programs, burnishing the teams’ and leagues’ sustainability credentials.

Hershkowitz began connecting the teams and leagues with private sector firms like The South Pole Group, Eco-Act and Allcot. They do the important grunt work of designing, developing and implementing environmental and climate change mitigation projects on the ground.

 

Cookstoves

Clean burning cookstoves (Photo credit: South Pole Group)

 

Although the initiative is in its early days — cookstove purchases only began late last year — the results are impressive. Collectively, the benefits of the offsets purchased by the Yankees, Mets, MLS, NASCAR and the USTA include:

  • Distribution of 7,250 cookstoves for use in cabins and huts
  • Positive impacts on the lives of 13,000+ women and girls
  • Avoidance of 39.4 metric tonnes of carbon emissions
  • Keeping 22.4 metric tonnes of wood from being cut down
  • The manufacture and maintenance of cookstoves being handled by locals, bringing much-needed economic activity to the region

 

TEAMS, LEAGUES SEE COOKSTOVES, AVOIDED DEFORESTATION AS “NO-BRAINERS”

When asked why the Yankees are investing in Africa, Doug Behar, the team’s senior VP of operations, said it was a logical next step in the team’s long-standing commitment to sustainability: “We’ve evolved on sustainability over time, seeing that it made sense from a business perspective to measure and reduce our energy usage, and that it made sense to recycle and compost. So we were ready when the cookstove investment opportunity was brought to us. Really, it was a no-brainer as the impact on human life was too big to ignore.”

 

Doug Behar Profile

Doug Behar of the Yankees (Photo credit: New York Yankees)

 

NASCAR focused their investments on avoided mangrove deforestation projects on the shores of Lake Kariba in Northern Zimbabwe. Catherine Kummer, senior director of NASCAR Green, echoed Behar’s “no-brainer” sentiments. “When something makes sense to management and fans alike, you know you’ve got something,” shared Kummer. “Management got it right away. And the avoided deforestation aspects of our investments matches our fan base’s commitment to the outdoors.”

The Mets’ senior director of ballpark operations, Mike Dohnert, shared a different motivation when Hershkowitz brought the African investment opportunity his way. “I know it sounds cliche, but it was incredibly powerful to be able to explain to my six year-old son how important it is do the right thing,” Dohnert recalled. “I am very lucky that Mets management allows me the freedom to pursue these types of initiatives.”

Switching to tennis, why would its governing body in the United States make investments in Africa? “That’s an easy one — the US Open is an event that draws 800,000 fans from all over the world and tennis is truly a global sport,” offered Lauren Tracy, the USTA’s director of strategic initiatives. The organization funded the sending of 300+ cookstoves to women in Malawi. That purchase helped offset the carbon embedded in the millions of player travel miles to the recently completed US Open.

Major League Soccer, which joined with SandSI and The South Pole Group to advance a big sustainability push at this summer’s All-Star Game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the LEED Platinum home of Atlanta United, also found the global nature of the cookstove program compelling. “Since the All-Star Game pitted MLS’ best vs. Juventus, the perennial champion of Italy’s Serie A and one of the most popular teams in the world, we decided to go ‘glocal’ with our sustainability initiatives,” said JoAnn Neale, the league’s chief administrative and social responsibility officer. “Locally, we undertook a tree planting program in Atlanta. And our investments in 1,450 cookstoves in Kenya represented the global side of the equation.”

 

M-B Stadium 2a

Mercedes-Benz Stadium, LEED Platinum home of Atlanta United (Photo credit: Lewis Blaustein)

 

 

GSB’s Takes:

  • If five teams and leagues can get the kinds of life-saving and carbon emissions-reduction results detailed above in less than a year, imagine if all of the major pro and college sports leagues in North America rallied around cookstoves, avoided deforestation and other climate change and environmental programs in Sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere in the developing world. This is a huge opportunity for SandSI and the entire Green-Sports movement. Perhaps a team or two could pry their PhD analytics gurus away from their advanced metrics spreadsheets for a minute to calculate the macro public health and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions benefits of a massive Pan-North American sports cookstove/avoided deforestation/clean water initiative.
  • There was a kind of Bizarro World, up-is-down aspect to the Summit when it came to fan engagement on climate change and the environment:
    • NASCAR — whose brand image to this observer is decidedly “Red State”/skeptical on climate change — is in fact aggressively connecting with fans on environmental and climate change issues. Why? Because NASCAR fans have indicated that they care about the environment, to hell with the GSB’s stereotypes. “Ten years ago, 50 percent of our fans said they cared about the environment,” Catherine Kummer reported. “Fast forward to our April 2018 survey, and 87 percent of NASCAR fans now believe Earth is going through a period of climate change and 77 percent feel they have a personal responsibility to do something about it. So now we run environmentally-themed TV spots on NASCAR broadcasts.” I do have questions about how to square these results with polling before the 2016 Presidential election that showed NASCAR fans preferred Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton. But that’s a subject for another day. For today, the fact that NASCAR runs green TV spots is a very cool thing.

 

 

The 30 second NASCAR Green TV spot

 

  • On the other hand, while the Mets and Yankees have done exemplary greening work at Citi Field and Yankee Stadium, including eliminating trash bins and replacing them with recycling and compost bins, they have chosen to communicate their sustainability bona fides to fans in a much quieter fashion* than NASCAR. The clubs have not yet aired green-themed public service announcements on TV or radio. I mean, they play in climate change-is-real, humans-are-the-cause, “Blue State” New York. One would think their fan bases would react positively to such TV ads. What gives? Mike Dohnert acknowledged that, for Mets management, climate change “politics is an issue. They’re still trying to figure this out.” The Mets and Yanks might want to talk to NASCAR.
  • Kudos to SandSI and GCINET for hosting the first Sports and Climate Change Summit! This needs to be an annual event. 

 

 

 

^ The 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are: 1. No Poverty, 2. Zero Hunger, 3. Good Health and Well-Being, 4. Quality Education, 5. Gender Equity, 6. Clean Water and Sanitation, 7. Affordable and Clean Energy, 8. Decent Work and Economic Growth, 9. Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure, 10. Reduced Inequalities, 11. Sustainable Cities and Communities, 12. Responsible Consumption and Production, 13. Climate Action, 14. Life Below Water, 15. Life on Land, 16. Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions, 17. Partnerships for the Goals
* The Mets and Yankees communicate their greening initiatives to fans by posting sustainability information on their websites, leading sustainability-themed tours of the ballparks for high school students and more.
 

 

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GreenSportsBlogger to Moderate Panel April 3 at NYU Stern School of Business

Will you be in New York City next Tuesday evening? Interested in Green-Sports? Then come on down to NYU’s Stern School of Business at 6:30 PM ET for an engaging panel discussion on the “Intersection of Sustainability, Sports & Business,” sponsored by the Center for Sustainable Business. As a Stern alum, it will be my pleasure to moderate the event.

 

Next Tuesday evening’s panel discussion at the NYU Stern School of Business on the “Intersection of Sustainability, Sports & Business” comes at an inflection point of sorts for the Green-Sports movement.

It has been quite successful at what I call “Green-Sports 1.0,” the greening of stadia and arenas. LEED certified venues and zero-waste games are more the rule than the exception these days, and that is a very good thing.

Now, we are slowly pivoting to the early days of “Green-Sports 2.0,” in which the sports world engages fans to take positive environmental actions. For this effort to have maximum impact, teams, leagues and the media that cover them must bring environmental messaging beyond the venues. That’s because the vast majority of fans who follow sports do so not by schlepping to the ballpark or arena, but rather via TV, online, mobile, radio, and newspaper sports pages.

And, it seems to me that for version 2.0 to get where it needs to go, the sponsors and advertisers who provide much of the mother’s milk for the sports industry, will have to take a leading role.

With that in mind, I could not imagine a better panel with whom to talk about the passing of the proverbial Green-Sports baton and more:

  • Doug Behar: Senior Vice President of Operations at Yankee Stadium
  • Alicia Chin: Senior Manager, Corporate Social Responsibility, National Hockey League
  • David McKenzie: Director, Corporate Social Responsibility, Anheuser-Busch
  • Will Yandell: Northeast Regional Marketing Manager, Clif Bar & Company

The event, which takes place at Stern’s Tisch Hall (40 West 4th Street, Room 411-413), is FREE (such a deal!) but you do need to register as seating is limited. Click here to do so. Start time is 6:30. I recommend that you arrive early as it is first come, first serve and seats are not guaranteed.

 

Tisch Hall NYU

Lobby of Tisch Hall at NYU’s Stern School of Business, site of next Tuesday evening’s panel discussion on the “Intersection of Sustainability, Sports & Business” (Photo credit: Yelp)

 

Thank you to the panelists and to Stern’s Center for Sustainable Business for hosting the event. I hope to see you there! If you know someone who would be interested in attending, by all means, please forward this post.

 

 


 

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