USTA Earns 2019 Environmental Leader Award From Green Sports Alliance

The Green Sports Alliance announced that the US Tennis Association is the winner of its 2019 Environmental Leader Award. It also recognized the legendary Billie Jean King for helping to launch the USTA greening movement at the National Tennis Center in Queens, NY home of the US Open that bears her name. 

The Environmental Leader Award is seen as among the most prestigious honors in the Green-Sports world and is given to an individual or organization that has demonstrated extraordinary leadership towards sustainability, environmental stewardship, and community engagement. The USTA will receive the award at the Green Sports Alliance’s annual Summit in Philadelphia on June 19. 

 

The US Tennis Association is a most deserving winner of the 2019 Environmental Leader Award.

That was the first thought that ran through my head upon hearing the news from the Green Sports Alliance since the governing body of tennis in the US has been leading the Green-Sports movement for more than a decade.

In addition to honoring Billie Jean King for her role as a true Green-Sports pioneer, the Alliance also recognizes Lauren Tracy, the USTA’s Director of Strategic Initiatives and current director of the USTA’s greening program, for her steadfast work in successfully building the program, from implementation to measurement, and beyond.

 

2019 USTA Leadership

Lauren Tracy (Photo credit: USTA)

 

In 2006, the USTA renamed its US Open venue the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. The next year, King, along with Pam Derderian and Nancy Becker, founded and launched GreenSlam, an environmental initiative for the sports industry aimed at inspiring sports venues, promoters and manufacturers to declare their commitment and actions to a greener approach.

Then in 2008, King teamed up with Allen Hershkowitz — who was then with the NRDC before being instrumental in the birth of the Green Sports Alliance — to launch the USTA’s greening initiatives her namesake venue. Its “Our courts may be blue, but we’re thinking green” campaign educated fans about environmental stewardship using the faces of legendary tennis players to encourage fans to make eco-friendly choices. 

 

Billie Jean and Allen

Billie Jean King and Allen Hershkowitz during the 2008 shooting of the USTA’s “Our Courts May Be Blue But We’re Thinking Green” public service announcements (Photo credit: NRDC)

 

“With the renaming of the National Tennis Center in 2006, we worked with the USTA to launch year- round greening efforts for the home of the US Open,” said King. “The significant action taken almost 13 years ago has served as a springboard to positively impact the environment for the US Open, and the National Tennis Center, and has set an example for other tennis and sporting events to emulate.”

“It is a great privilege for the USTA to be named a recipient of the Environmental Leadership Award and join an impressive list of past honorees,” said Gordon Smith, CEO and Executive Director of the USTA. “As owners and operators of the US Open, one of the highest-attended annual sporting events in the world, we felt it both an obligation and opportunity to bring about measurable changes, and continue to do so across the board — including at the USTA National Campus [in Orlando, Florida]. A special thank you goes to all who have helped the USTA make green the color of choice.”

The USTA’s commitment to environmental sustainability is exemplified throughout all aspects of its work. Key examples include:

  • Greenhouse gas emissions have been reduced by over 100,000 metric tons through waste diversion, recycled paper use, and renewable energy certificates since the US Open Green Initiatives were established in 2008.
  • Since 2008, over 4,500 tons of waste generated during the US Open has been diverted from landfills, saving over 4,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions.
  • In 2018, the spectacular, new Louis Armstrong Stadium earned LEED Silver status, the third venue at the Billie Jean King National Center to earn LEED certification. It is the first naturally ventilated stadium with a retractable roof in the world.
  • The USTA offsets energy used on site during the US Open, the carbon emissions generated by the estimated 3.5 million miles the players travel to compete, as well as the miles traveled by the employees to work at the US Open for several years. For those offsets in 2018, the US Open focused on climate-intelligent humanitarian initiatives by investing in improved cookstoves in Malawi.
  • Since the start of the US Open Green program in 2008, almost 700 tons of food waste has been converted to nutrient rich compost for gardens and farms and over 100 tons of food has been donated to local communities.
  • The USTA has worked with its maintenance companies to develop a green cleaning policy to ensure that at least 50 percent of all cleaning materials used on site at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center and the National Campus are Green Seal Certified or equivalent.
  • 2018 US Open waste diversion rate of 97 percent achieved, easily passing the 90 percent threshold needed to claim Zero-Waste status.

 

Louis Armstrong

The LEED Silver Louis Armstrong Stadium (Photo credit: Lewis Blaustein)

 

“The Green Sports Alliance is thrilled to present the USTA, Billie Jean King, and Lauren Tracy with this honor,” remarked Roger McClendon, Executive Director of the Green Sports Alliance. They are exemplary leaders in the sports greening movement and serve as an inspiration to the entire sports industry. We look forward to honoring them at the 2019 Green Sports Celebration at our ninth annual Green Sports Alliance Summit in Philadelphia.”

Past Environmental Leader honorees include:

  • ESPN Corporate Citizenship (2018)
  • Jack Groh, director of the NFL’s Environmental Program (2017)
  • Andrew Ference, captain and defenseman, Edmonton Oilers, Stanley Cup winner with the Boston Bruins (2016)
  • Doug Behar, New York Yankees vice president of stadium operations (2015)
  • Gary Bettman, commissioner, National Hockey League (2014)
  • Christina Weiss Lurie, owner, Philadelphia Eagles (2013)
  • Allan H. Bud Selig, commissioner emeritus, Major League Baseball (2012)

 

 

GSB’s Take: As mentioned at the top, the USTA is a great choice by the Alliance for the 2019 Environmental Leader Award. They have been ahead of the Green-Sports curve for more than a decade. Bravo!

Going forward, I believe the USTA should ramp up its fan engagement efforts at the US Open, both to those 700,000+ fans attending the tournament and to the millions more watching on ESPN in the US and on a myriad of networks around the world. And, in those fan engagement efforts, it should clearly make the connection between its greening efforts and the climate change fight.

 

 


 

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The GSB Interview: JoAnn Neale, Helping Major League Soccer Reach its Greener Goals

Welcome to Day III of GreenSportsBlog’s Earth Week extravaganza!

Click here for Monday’s brainstorm among Green-Sports luminaries to find big, “Moon Shot” ways for sports to impact the climate change fight. And click here for Tuesday’s story about the New York Yankees’ strong climate change statement.

Today we turn to Major League Soccer, which just completed its “Greener Goals Week of Service.” 

MLS’ efforts surrounding sustainability earned it the title of No. 1 most responsible football league in the world according to ResponsiBALL, an annual report ranking the most prominent soccer leagues based on actions related to community and environment.

GSB believes MLS is perfectly positioned to lead on Green-Sports. Its fan base is the youngest of the five North American major professional men’s sports leagues. Young people “get green” at far higher percentages than their older counterparts.

We spoke with JoAnn Neale, MLS President and Chief Administrative Officer, about the league’s sustainability efforts, including what’s new this season. Before that, we delved into how Neale came to her unique role as one of the most senior female executives across all major professional sports leagues.

 

GreenSportsBlog: JoAnn, I have so many things to get to — the history of Major League Soccer and its Greener Goals program, how the league can leverage green more powerfully than it has to this point, where climate change fits into the league’s green messaging. But first, how did you come to run MLS’ greening initiatives?

JoAnn Neale: I grew up on Long Island and started playing soccer when I was five years old. Playing soccer and being an athlete was a big part of my identity. I also always had a dream of being a lawyer and an intention of going into litigation.

GSB: …Saying “I object!” and “May I approach the bench?” always sounded exciting to me! Was it?

JoAnn: While at NYU Law School, I had an internship in a firm’s litigation division and realized it wasn’t for me. The idea of going to court was exciting, but the reality was most cases take years before they get to court and a heavy focus is on research.

 

JoAnn Neale1 - Primary

JoAnn Neale (Photo credit: Major League Soccer)

 

GSB: So what did you do?

JoAnn: After law school, I was fortunate to land a job at Latham & Watkins. I did transactional work and realized my love for negotiating and working with clients in a collaborative way. The concept of getting alignment from both parties and overcoming obstacles to have the same end goal was always intriguing. It was really fulfilling work.

GSB: How and when did soccer come into the picture?

JoAnn: While studying for the bar exam in law school during the summer of 1994, my friends and I would take breaks and watch the World Cup games that took place in the USA that year. It was then that the formation of Major League Soccer was announced. I recall thinking it would be interesting to be part of the creation of the league. Ultimately, two lawyers at Latham & Watkins were involved with the founding of MLS. Fast forward a couple years and a friend of mine had gone to work at the league. Two months later, she said there was an opening in the law department and I joined in 1998.

GSB: What did your friends and family say? Going from a big firm to a new soccer league?

JoAnn: People said, “You’re crazy!” and ‘Why would you want to do THAT?!’ But it felt right and it was.

GSB: It must’ve been very exciting being at what was essentially a startup. What was your role in those early days?

JoAnn: The first four-to-six years I primarily did legal work. After that, I expanded into other areas like Human Resources and projects like spearheading a team responsible for all the logistics of moving MLS to our current headquarters in Manhattan.

In 2006, the executive team discussed the need for creating a social responsibility platform. We believed it was important to give back to the communities in which we live and play our games, as well as to our fans. I raised my hand and said I would like to lead the charge in developing the platform. MLS WORKS launched in 2007.

GSB: Congratulations! What is MLS WORKS’ mission?

JoAnn: MLS is dedicated to using soccer as a vehicle for positive social change. Through MLS WORKS, MLS and its clubs seek to enrich the lives of those in need across the United States and Canada.

From executing national programs and legacy projects, to charitable giving campaigns, MLS creates sustainable communities and promotes inclusion at all levels of the game. MLS WORKS has a strategic four-pillar approach to corporate social responsibility.

  • Soccer For All – This signifies that everyone is welcome to MLS, regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, gender, gender identity, disability, sexual orientation or socioeconomic status.
  • Youth Enrichment – This includes our work with the U.S. Soccer Foundation to build soccer pitches in inner cities.
  • Kick Childhood Cancer – The league “goes gold” throughout the month as part of the Kick Childhood Cancer campaign to raise awareness and funds for Children’s Oncology Group.
  • Greener Goals – The initiative kicks off this week with the Fourth Annual Greener Goals Week of Service leading into Earth Day weekend.

 

GSB: Not surprisingly, I’d like to hear more about Greener Goals. What kinds of programs are under that heading?

JoAnn: MLS has committed to measure, reduce and offset the league’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and promote healthy, sustainable communities throughout the United States and Canada, and areas in need throughout the rest of the world. Our clubs activate in different ways. Some have been heavily focusing on reducing food waste, others on raising awareness around plastic pollution, others on recycling, etc.

GSB: Can you share some examples?

JoAnn: Of course! On food waste, Sporting Kansas City provides fans with easy-to-implement tips on reducing food waste. Orlando City SC is partnering with the city of Orlando to deliver food waste to an energy/fertilizer plant at Walt Disney World. Seattle Sounders FC use compost from CenturyLink Field to grow vegetables at a nearby farm. On plastic waste, FC Cincinnati

GSB: …The league’s newest expansion team…

JoAnn: That’s right. The club worked with Newport Aquarium to drive awareness, attention and action around Earth Day. Fans bring single-use plastic bags to the team’s matches and the Newport Aquarium where collections will be taken on-site. On Earth Day, a special event was hosted to demonstrate the impact the bag collection will have on local Cincinnati-area waterways and its wildlife, and at a larger scale in oceans. Students at local schools and after-school programs will help repurpose the bags into useful items, including sleeping mats for the area’s homeless community.

 

IMG_1887a

FC Cincinnati’s Emmanuel Ledesma (l) and Greg Garza show off their new reusable bags created using recycled plastic bags at the Newport Aquarium (Photo credit: FC Cincinnati)

 

On energy, Real Salt Lake has a 2020-kilowatt (kWh) solar panel system at Rio Tinto Stadium which offsets approximately 73 percent of the organization’s total annual stadium power needs.

GSB: I knew about their solar installation but I didn’t know it offset such a high percentage. That’s great news. The Seattle Sounders recently committed to go carbon neutral. What does that mean exactly?

JoAnn: You’re right. The Sounders are the first professional soccer team in North America to go carbon neutral. The club worked with Seattle-based Sustainable Business Consulting to calculate its greenhouse gas emissions and develop plans to reduce its impacts where possible. For sources unable to be eliminated – such as team travel for matches, scouting and other business – Sounders FC is offsetting the club’s emissions through the Evergreen Carbon Capture (ECC) program of Forterra, a nonprofit that works for regional sustainability. Using the club’s contribution to ECC, Forterra and its partner DIRT Corps are joining with the team and its fans to plant hundreds of trees in a part of the region that needs added tree cover.

GSB: That’s impressive, JoAnn. I know the league is also involved in carbon offsetting as part of Greener Goals. What emissions is MLS offsetting and what kind of offsets did the league purchase?

JoAnn: Well, first I want to thank Allen Hershkowitz

GSB: …Environmental Science Advisor for the New York Yankees…

JoAnn: …and also Doug Behar, VP of Operations with the Yankees. They shared the offset program the Yanks embarked upon and we said, “MLS has to be involved!” So we started by offsetting emissions, including executive travel, surrounding the MLS All-Star Game. It was fitting that the 2018 All-Star Game was played at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, a venue that is LEED Platinum. In 2018 MLS compensated 5,400 tons of CO2 equivalent associated with hotel accommodations, ground transportation, staff, player, executive and MLS guest travel, and stadium operations as part of MLS All-Star Week and MLS Cup in Atlanta, in addition to player travel during the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs

To date, MLS’ investment has created tangible, constructive impacts for local communities that were generated by the distribution of 4,407 improved cook stoves in rural communities in Kenya. As of October 2018, the use of these cook stoves are estimated to have positively impacted the lives and wellbeing of 15,000 women and children.

 

GreenDayMariettaSixthGradeAcademy_0031a

Mercedes Benz Stadium, the first LEED Platinum football stadium in the USA, hosted 60 Marietta Middle School students for the stadium’s first sustainability tour in which the students learned about the venue’s greenness. In conjunction with the tour, Atlanta United’s players helped educate students about sustainable food choices, healthy eating and the environmental impact of locally sourced foods, followed by a taste test competition. Here Atlanta United goalkeeper Alec Kann serves up some of the tasty dish he cooked up (Photo credit: Atlanta United)

 

GSB: That’s important work. How did you communicate the Greener Goals expansion to MLS fans? Did you air PSAs in stadium and/or on TV broadcasts?

JoAnn: Social media was big for us — Facebook and Twitter in particular. Our Greener Goals messaging focuses on what MLS and our clubs are doing in or near the stadiums and in the communities that our teams play. Our Greener Goals PSAs focus on what we’re doing in or near the stadiums from an environmental perspective.

GSB: Really? I think the carbon-offsets-cookstoves project would make for a great PSA. Beyond the offsets, how else has MLS expanded Greener Goals?

JoAnn: All 24 MLS clubs wore special adidas-Parley eco-friendly kits over Earth Day weekend. These innovative uniforms are made with Climalite technology and built of technical yarns created with Parley Ocean Plastic™, made from up-cycled marine plastic waste, as a part of the global adidas x Parley initiative. The collaboration with adidas to support Parley for the Oceans also serves to encourage fans to decrease their use of single-use plastics and reinforcing the importance of changing human attitude and behavior towards plastic pollution.

 

Parley Timbers

The Portland Timbers version of the adidas Parley for the Oceans eco-friendly jerseys worn by all MLS players over Earth Day weekend (Photo credit: MLS)

 

GSB: Love that program — but why only use the Parley uniforms during Earth Week? Couldn’t all teams use Parley unis all the time?

JoAnn: Great question, Lew. We’re exploring that option.

GSB: Good to hear. I have one last question: Does MLS include climate change in its Greener Goals messaging?

JoAnn: Not yet. MLS does not want to get into a political debate on climate change. Rather, we want to focus our efforts on improving lives by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, increasing recycling, and more.

GSB: I think MLS is missing an opportunity by not directly talking about climate change with its fans. As discussed earlier, the demographic groups that make up the MLS fan base — Millennials, Gen-Zers, Hispanics — are also demanding real action on climate. My bet is that MLS fans would reward the league for linking its Greener Goals program to the climate change fight.

 


 

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Yankees Make Strong Statement on Climate Change on Earth Day

Earth Week 2019 continues on GreenSportsBlog!

The New York Yankees, one of the most iconic sports franchises in the world, are on a roll in 2019 from a climate action perspective.

A Green-Sports leader for more than a decade, the club took its climate change fight to a higher gear in January when they hired Dr. Allen Hershkowitz as the first Environmental Science Advisor in team sports history. And earlier this month, they became the first major North American pro sports team to sign on to the UN Sports for Climate Action Framework. 

Sunday’s Earth Day-themed pregame ceremony at home plate — which highlighted the Yankees’ climate change work directly to fans — was their biggest Green-Sports step to date. 

 

Surreal

That is the only word to describe the experience.

It was a few minutes before the 1:09 PM first pitch of the Yankees’ Easter Sunday matchup against the Kansas City Royals.

Standing a few paces behind home plate at Yankee Stadium, watching a ceremony I could not have imagined when I started GreenSportsBlog almost six years ago.

 

YANKEES TELL FANS THEY’RE FIGHTING CLIMATE CHANGE

At home plate, Yankees manager Aaron Boone had sauntered over from the dugout to join Doug Behar, the Yankees’ Senior Vice President and Director of Ballpark Operations, Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, the club’s Environmental Science Advisor; and Satya Tripathi, Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations.

The dulcet tones of public address announcer Paul Olden voice wafted through Yankee Stadium, telling the crowd that would grow to more than 40,000 that the Yankees had “become the first professional sports team in North America to sign on to the UN Sports for Climate Action Framework.” And that “the framework’s aim is to bring the sports industry’s greenhouse emissions in line with the Paris Climate Change Agreement.” The giant scoreboards beyond the bleachers augmented Olden’s story; fans clapped in a respectful tone.

 

Yankees Earth Day

Sunday’s Earth Day-themed pregame ceremony commemorated the Yankees commitment to operate by the tenets of the UN’s Sports for Climate Action platform. 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)

 

But don’t let the fans’ measured reaction fool you. This was a watershed moment for the Green-Sports movement.

According to Hershkowitz, “The Yankees on-field climate event with the UN, announcing the team’s support for the UNFCCC’s Climate Action Principles was one of the most influential and important moments not only in the history of the sports greening movement, but in the history of climate action communication.”

And that is why the ceremony seemed so surreal to me.

After all the New York Yankees spoke to their fans — clearly and without any dodgy language — about climate change!

Are you kidding me?

We’re not talking the Seattle Crunchy Granolas! These are the establishment, conservative New York Yankees! 

 

YANKEES SHOW WILLINGNESS TO HELP LEAD A CULTURAL SHIFT ON CLIMATE

At a Yankee Stadium press conference that preceded the ceremony, UN Assistant Secretary General Tripathi clearly laid out the scope of our climate problems: “The planet is unwell, and humanity has 10 to 12 years to make big changes towards decarbonization so we can turn the corner.”

After concurring with Tripathi, Hershkowitz pivoted, making the point that moving the Yankees’ towards zero carbon emissions over the next few years will not be the club’s biggest contribution to the climate change fight: “The emissions from the Yankees’ operations, which total about 14,000 tonnes of CO₂, equivalent per year, are minuscule compared to the world’s annual total of 37 billion tonnes.”

Rather, it will be the power of the Yankees’ brand to influence the culture of sports and business about the need for urgent action on climate change that moves the needle.

“The biggest thing humans must do if we’re going to take on climate change at the needed scale and speed is to change cultural assumptions how we relate to the planet, to the eco-systems that give us air to breathe and water to drink,” Hershkowitz asserted. “That requires a massive cultural shift. The Yankees brand represents an uncompromising commitment to excellence and performance — the team is universally admired for its determination to succeed. It provides a unique platform to make that cultural shift happen. The potential cultural and market impact of an organization with the stature and brand image of the Yankees leading on climate and carbon emissions is incredible.”

The Yankees hope that, once other teams in baseball and across the sports world see them leading on climate, more of them will step up to the plate on climate action.

The organization has been building its climate change-fighting platform for 20 years, largely under the radar of the general public. That pace has accelerated since the move into the current Yankee Stadium in 2009, as the organization:

  • Installed energy efficient lights that were state-of-the-art in 2009, saving 35 percent on energy usage vs. their predecessors. And then, when the technology had improved again a few years later, ownership approved another switch, this time to LEDs. The result? An additional 70 percent energy usage reduction.

 

Yankee Stadium Lights

The two square light fixtures on the far left are examples of the energy efficient LEDs installed by the Yankees (Photo credit: Lewis Blaustein)

 

  • Now diverts 85 percent of total waste from landfill via recycling and composting. Management is working diligently towards getting to 90 percent diversion and Zero-Waste status
  • Measures and reduces its carbon emissions while offsetting the unavoidable environmental impacts they can’t eliminate through the innovative distribution of efficient cookstoves in some of the world’s poorest regions, saving lives in the process.

The offset program warranted an explanation.

“The number one cause of death in the world is air pollution,” said Hershkowitz. “Consider that 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, four million people, mostly women and girls die prematurely every year because of inefficient, dirty stoves. The cookstoves the Yankees purchased and had distributed in Sub-Saharan Africa reduce air pollution from cooking by 35 to 50 percent. As a result of their investment in cookstoves, it is estimated the Yankees organization saved more than 7,000 lives in just the last year, primarily women and children.”

 

Cookstoves

Clean burning cookstoves (Photo credit: South Pole Group)

 

That is one “save statistic” that the great Mariano Rivera would be proud to own.

 

JUST THE BEGINNING

Sunday’s press conference was covered by local mainstream media, including WCBS Newsradio 880 and News 12 — the cable news channel for the Bronx. The Yankees’ own media outlet, the YES Network, sent a reporter. Getting the climate change fighting story out to a mass audience via media — and to the fans through the ceremony — is a crucial start to building the climate change “cultural shift platform” that Hershkowitz described above.

Where will the Yankees go from here?

Will Hershkowitz be talking climate change with John Sterling and/or Suzyn Waldman on the Yankees radio network anytime soon?

That conversation — one I’d pay to hear — is not going to happen in the near future, but Michael Margolis, the Yankees’ Director, Baseball Information and Public Communications, did say, “Sustainability has been and will continue to be a point of emphasis for the Yankees. We plan to increase climate messaging to our fans in the future.”

 

GSB’s Take 

Allen Hershkowitz is spot on: Sunday’s home plate ceremony at Yankee Stadium really was “one of the most … important moments not only in the history of the sports greening movement, but in the history of climate action communication.” It also provided a bit of much needed climate hope for those in the Green-Sports world and beyond.

That hope was tempered somewhat by a brief conversation I had with UN Assistant Secretary General Tripathi at the press conference.

I mentioned that humanity has 12 to 15 years to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half. Tripathi quickly corrected me: “Twelve years is the maximum.” 

That’s the same time span as the new mega-contract Mike Trout signed with the Anaheim Angels.

Think about that for a second.

We have the length of one baseball player’s contract to make the sizable and necessary cultural shifts and behavioral changes on climate to which Hershkowitz referred.

The Yankees know this and that’s why Sunday can only be the beginning of their public facing climate efforts. I look forward to see how the next innings of this most important game play out.

 


 

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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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