New Rules for Green Sports, Part Deux

About two years ago, I wrote a post in which I imagined myself Commissioner of (Green) Sports. In that idyllic world (at least to me), I gave myself powers to unilaterally enact any Green-Sports initiative I wanted. In a nod to the popular segment on Bill Maher’s HBO show, Real Time, I entitled the post “New Rules for Green Sports.” Despite the autocratic leanings of the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania and my own strong love for democracy, I thought it’s time to once again put on my regal vestments and offer you, my subjects, er, readers, “New Rules for Green Sports, Part Deux.^”

 

 

Mike Francesa, the pompous, yet immensely popular host of New York’s SportsRadio WFAN’s afternoon gab fest is often termed the “Sports Pope.” I wonder, if Pope Francis is aware of Francesa’s moniker, how He feels about sharing the pontifical stage. 

Francesa

Mike “Sports Pope” Francesa, pontificating. (Photo credit: Awful Announcing)

 

I have no interest in being the Green-Sports Pope. There should be only one Pope, period (sorry, Mike). And I think Francis, who has aggressively embraced the climate change fight, per his 2015 encyclical, Laudato Si, is fantastic. 

Still, I wouldn’t mind having a smidge of unilateral power, just for one day, to be able to enact some Green-Sports initiatives that would help accelerate the climate change fight.

For that, my model is not the Pope, but rather an anti-Pope of sorts: Bill Maher. Host of HBO’s Real Time with Bill MaherBorn Catholic but staunchly atheist. Maher ends each episode of his show with New Rules in which imagines enacting his own rules for politics and life in general. 

 

Bill Maher and New Rules from HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher, original air date May 4, 2017. (Courtesy HBO and YouTube)

 

Riffing off of Maher, we ran a New Rules for Green-Sports column in February, 2015. Here are three of them:

  • Every broadcast of a sports event must air at least one 30 second Public Service Announcement (PSA) themed to the climate change fight. While this hasn’t happened yet, there have been Green-Sports themed PSAs seen on NBA TV and the NHL Network. Good start, but we need to pick up the pace.

 

NBA Green Energy All-Star video (0:58)

 

  • Auto racing (that’s NASCAR, F-1, Indy, drag racing, etc) must commit to using only Electric Vehicles (EVs) by 2030. Formula-E, the EV circuit, continues to grow. Who knows? With the power, efficiency of EVs going up and the price coming down, this could be possible.

 

  • Fans who travel to games via mass transit, drive EVs or hybrids get a rebate, paid for from parking revenues. Fans who come by bike or walk also qualify. UEFA, soccer’s governing body in Europe, ran a program during the EURO 2016 championships in France, in which fans with tickets to games in some cities could ride the Metro for free. A step in the right direction.

 


I know what you are thinking: “Lew, we need some new New Rules!” So, without further ado, we reveal our New Rules of Green-Sports, Part Deux!

New Green-Sports Rule #1Every Major League Baseball team and every Major League Soccer club must have a Climate Change Solutions Day on or around Earth Day. MLB and MLS are the only North American pro sports leagues in the midst of their regular seasons on Earth Day. Each team in those sports must host Climate Change Solutions Day at a game on or close to April 22. Climate Change Solutions Day will include:

  • Having a climate scientist throw out the first pitch/make a ceremonial first kick
  • Running a video on the scoreboard about what the team is doing to reduce carbon emissions
  • 10% of all ticket revenue will go to a climate change fighting non-profit

Might this offend some climate change skeptics or deniers? Sure but so what! Fans boo a pitching change they don’t like, some fans will boo a video. Life will go on. And young fans, for whom climate change is a priority, will, in the main, think this is cool. That is especially important for MLB, which has struggled to attract younger demographics.

 

New Green-Sports Rule #2Each stadium and arena will have at least one vegan-only food stand. As long-time readers of GreenSportsBlog know, our vote for Greenest Sports Team in the World goes to Forest Green Rovers, the fifth division (equivalent to the low minor leagues in baseball) English soccer club, owned by a renewable energy CEO. FGR, among other green innovations, only serves vegan food at its concession stands. According to club owner Dale Vince, fans were angry at first but now are supportive of the vegan-only approach (“[many fans say] it’s inspired them to go veggie – which is a great thing.”) Our rule does not look to shock the sports system here in North America so all we’re demanding is that teams have a vegan only stand, not go all-vegan. Maybe next year.

 

Eight minute video shows fan reaction to Forest Green Rovers’ greening efforts, including its vegan-only concession stands.

 

New Green-Sports Rule #3Super Bowls, College Football Championship Games, NCAA Men’s and Women’s Tournament Games/Final Fours, and US (golf) Opens cannot be awarded to states whose governors do not publicly state “climate change is real, humans are the main cause and we need to take meaningful steps to solve the problems.” North Carolina lost out on hosting NCAA Men’s basketball tournament games because of its “bathroom bill” requiring transgender students to use school bathrooms corresponding to their birth gender. The Tar Heel State’s hoops addiction led the state legislature to change the law, sort of. Let’s apply that approach to climate change. Florida Governor Rick Scott (R), you want to deny climate change? Fine. No college football championship game in Tampa. Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R), you want to question the science behind climate change? Go right ahead but that Super Bowl you want for Dallas is going to go to Jerry Brown’s “carbon free by 2050” California.

 

New Green-Sports Rule #4Teams that broadcast their climate change-fighting actions receive a tax break. Teams across all sports, in all markets, are greening their games in many ways. That’s why we’ve been able to write over 400 posts about Green-Sports in less than four years. But precious few fans seem to know about it. Teams seem loath to push Green-Sports stories and, even more so, to make the link between their greening efforts and the climate change fight. We offered a stick in Green-Sports Rule #3; in Rule #4 we provide teams with carrots—dollars from the government in exchange for promoting their work on climate change to fans. In arena/stadium and on the air.

 

Now, you might say, “Lew, you are ahead of the general public here. Shouldn’t you go more slowly?” To that I say, “Go big or go home!” Plus these are my New Green-Sports Rules. I’d love to hear yours. Feel free to add some in the comments section.

 

^ Part Deux is an homage to the people of France, who said NON to xenophobia and authoritarianism and said an emphatic OUI on behalf science and the climate change fight when they elected Emmanuel Macron to the Presidency on Sunday.

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The GSB Interview: Diane Wood, President, National Environmental Education Foundation, on its Partnership with the NBA

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?

WoodD

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.

Mutombo

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!

 


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