GSB News and Notes: Veja Enters Running for World’s Most Sustainable Sneaker Maker; Arsenal Can Run Match-Day Power via Battery; Field Hockey Seeks Sustainable Alternative to H₂O-Reliant Artificial Turf

GreenSportsBlog spans the globe in today’s News & Notes column. First, we go to Paris to tell the story of how outsider sneaker brand Veja is challenging green giants Adidas and Nike on sustainability. Then we head to North London to check out Arsenal and its newly-deployed, Tesla-made storage battery. And we end up in India where the governing body of international field hockey (FIH) is committing to develop waterless artificial turf fields.



Adidas, with its Parley for the Oceans line of athletic footwear (and apparel) made from repurposed and upcycled materials, including plastic ocean waste, is a strong contender for most sustainable sneaker company in the world. Rival Nike would no doubt protest, citing its super-light, super-efficient Flyknit sneaker line which reduces waste by 80 percent, as the reason why they should be the green champ.

But both athletic shoe giants had better watch out for a new entrant into the mix, Paris-based fashion brand Veja.



A Veja sneaker being manufactured in Brazil (Photo credit: Veja)


The primary goal of Veja co-founders Sébastien Kopp and François-Ghislain Morillion, is to manufacture sneakers from the most ecological materials and ethical suppliers possible. According to Alyssa Danigelis, writing in the November 12 issue of Environmental Leader, “The company uses raw materials sourced from organic farming and ecological agriculture in Brazil.” The footwear is manufactured there as well.


Kopp Morillion

Veja co-founders Sébastien Kopp (l) and François-Ghislain Morillion (Photo credit: Corentin Fohlen, Encore)


Danigelis reports that the duo call Veja “their ‘project,’ with one foot in design and the other in social responsibility.” On the latter, Kopp and Morillion are committed to protecting the Amazon, upcycling materials, and being transparent about chemical testing.

“A lot of our clients are discovering what is behind Veja after they buy one or two pairs,” Kopp told Andrea Lo of CNN Business. “[They] usually come back for more after learning the brand’s story.”

Veja, which means “look!” in Portuguese, and its sneakers are drawing attention from celebrities like Meghan Markle — the Duchess of Sussex — and others, for the right reasons:

  • The company purchases organic cotton directly from farmer associations in Brazil and Peru, all while respecting fair trade principles.
  • Each sneaker sole is made from 30 – 40% natural rubber. Since 2004, Veja has purchased 130 tons of wild rubber, preserving 120,000 hectares of the Amazon.
  • One Veja sneaker SKU is 100 percent vegan…
  • …The others that do contain leather only use product that has been certified Gold by the Leather Working Group. And some of it is “fish leather” from tilapia that has been discarded by freshwater fish farms. According to Danigelis, “the skin gets upcycled through a handcrafted process involving vegetable dyeing.”
  • Kopp and Morillion are Veja’s sole shareholders because they believe that bringing in outside investors could compromise the company’s integrity.

The founders are transparent about their limitations. Per Danigelis, Veja’s “shoelaces aren’t made from organic cotton and the eyelets…come from metal the company didn’t source themselves.”

Since it costs five to seven times more for Veja to make sneakers than it does Adidas, Nike and the others, the founders decided to stay away from advertising and rely instead on word-of-mouth. This has allowed Kopp and Morillion to stay competitive on retail price, which ranges from $95 to $195.

GSB’s Take: Absent taking a deep dive into sustainability reports from Adidas, Nike and Veja, it is impossible to say which sneaker company is the most sustainable. But with Veja demonstrating a serious, long-standing commitment to using organic and eco-friendly raw materials, it shows it belongs in the conversation. I expect that the green race between the two giants and the hungry outsider will be a virtuous one.



When Arsenal hosts English Premier League blood rival Tottenham Hotspur at The Emirates Stadium Sunday at 9:05 AM EST in the latest version of the “North London Derby,” the outcome may be determined by which of the two quality sides has the most energy.

Regardless of the result on the pitch, Arsenal has a decided advantage in energy storage.

The team recently unveiled a Tesla-manufactured battery storage unit at its 60,000-seat Emirates Stadium in north London that can store enough energy to run the stadium for 90 minutes, the length of a match.


Arsenal Tesla Storage

The Tesla storage system at Emirates Stadium in North London, home of Arsenal (Photo credit: David Price/Arsenal Football Club)


Per a November 26 story by Patrick Hodges in Bloomberg“the two-megawatt lithium-ion battery installed by Pivot Power LLP — which will operate it for 15 years — will allow the soccer club to buy electricity when it’s cheaper and use it at peak times. Arsenal said it plans to add a further one megawatt of storage next summer.”

The battery can also generate income for the club through a deal with utility company National Grid in which the battery can be used to stabilize the grid. Basically, the Arsenal battery can sell electrons to the utility on non-game days when demand is high.

“This is a big step forward for us in being efficient with energy usage, and building on our work in reducing our carbon footprint as an organization,” said Vinai Venkatesham, Arsenal’s managing director, in a statement on


Arsenal Vinai

Vinai Venkatesham, Arsenal Football Club managing director (Photo credit: The Economic Times)


Arsenal already was a Premier League green leader. It was the first club to switch to 100 percent green electricity — supplied by Octopus Energy — and the team installed energy efficient LED floodlights.

“Arsenal is showing how football clubs and other big power users can save money and support the U.K.’s climate change and clean air targets,” said Pivot Power’s Chief Executive Officer Matt Allen. “Batteries are central to creating a cost-effective, low-carbon economy.”

GSB’s Take: While the price of energy storage has come down dramatically — and that trend is projected to continue — big increases in the deployment of batteries at stadia and arenas will also depend on future reductions in their size. 



International field hockey made a commitment to water efficiency at the recent 46th FIH Congress in New Delhi.

Thierry Weil, the governing body’s CEO, said that while international hockey at the highest level would continue to be played on artificial turf, the federation was in talks with key manufacturers and suppliers to develop a surface that would not consume water. The current surface requires constant watering to allow a smooth game and minimize injuries.


Field Hockey

Field hockey at the international level is played on Astro turf, which requires lot of water to make the surface playable (Photo credit: L. Balachandar/SportsStar LIVE)


“We are looking to achieve this by the Paris Olympics in 2024, but try and do it much earlier, develop a surface close to the quality we have right now on turf with water,” Weil told Uthra Ganesan of Sportstar LIVE. “We cannot continue to put all this water on turf when people next door may not have enough to drink.”

GSB’s Take: India and Pakistan, hotbeds of world-class field hockey, are both suffering significant water shortages and those are projected to continue. Thus it makes sense for the FIH to take on the water crisis by working to develop artificial surfaces that don’t use H₂O. I wonder if there will soon be a natural grass surface that uses little to no water. If so, grass would be preferable to a waterless artificial surface because the latter is much hotter. 

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GSB News and Notes: 50 Biggest Solar Systems at Stadiums and Arenas; Nike Steps Up Its Green Game Through “Science Based Targets”

It’s “Techno-forward Tuesday” in GSB News & Notes column. First, we take a dive into a new global list of the 50 biggest solar systems at stadiums and arenas. Then we look at Nike and its commitment to reduce its carbon emissions, and those of its supply chain, via the tenets of the Science Based Targets initiative. Adhering to those tenets means the Beaverton, OR company would be doing its part to keep global carbon emissions at levels that will keep the world below a 2°C increase vs. pre-industrial levels.



Szabolc Magyari, writing in the September 5th issue of SolarPlaza, a Rotterdam, Netherlands-based newsletter about all things solar, compiled a list of the 50 biggest solar systems at stadiums and arenas, with “biggest” defined as the amount of power generated per system. Click here for the list.

Three nuggets stood out to me.

1. Auto Racing Leading on Big Solar Installations: Auto racing venues’ prominence at the top of the list — three of the four biggest solar installations at stadiums/arenas are in the motor sports world — may be surprising to many at first glance. After all, burning copious amounts of fossil fuels is an essential part of the sport itself (save for the notable exception of the all electric vehicle Formula-E circuit) and, in the United States at least, the perception — if not the reality — is that the epicenter of auto racing fandom is in states where climate change denial is highest. So why are auto racing venues going solar so…bigly?



Indianapolis Motor Speedway, TT Circuit Assen (Netherlands) and Pocono Speedway have three of the four biggest solar installations in the sports world (Source: Solarplaza, September 2017)


When you realize that the footprint (size, not carbon) of a raceway or speedway is 3-4X that of the biggest stadium, then it makes sense that their solar arrays would be much bigger, too. And the fact that the cost curve is decreasing rapidly makes solar an economically wise choice. And it may well be that the motor sports industry is ahead of a portion of its fan base on climate change, at least as of now. Hopefully, these solar installations, in at least a small way, will help bring some of those fans around.


2. The Netherlands Punches Way Above Its Weight, Solar Stadium/Arena-Wise. The USA leads the way on the Solar Top 50 list with 21 stadiums/arenas or 42 percent, an impressive showing, especially considering the US only represents 4.4 percent of the world’s population of 7.5 billion.

Even more impressive is the Netherlands’ solar-stadium performance: It has seven stadiums/arenas on the list which represents 14 percent of the total. But at 17 million and change, the Netherlands represents only 0.2 percent of the world’s population. Thus, it has 85 times more solar-topped stadiums and arenas than its population would indicate. Hartelijk gefeliciteerd*, Netherlands!


Cruyff Arena Holland

Solar panels top Johann Cruyff Arena in Amsterdam, home of Dutch soccer powerhouse Ajax. (Photo credit:


TT Circuit Solar ABN Amro

Solar panels line the race track and a field adjacent to the TT Circuit in Assen, The Netherlands (Photo credit: ABN Amro)


3. How Great Is It That There Is a Top 50 Solar Stadium/Arenas List At All?! If there’s a Top 50 list of solar stadiums and arenas, that means there must be many more such buildings who didn’t make the list. Which is a great thing, indeed.



Nike, a leader in the sustainable athletic apparel world, recently committed to set corporate emission reduction targets through the Science Based Targets (SBT) initiative, pushing the number of companies pledged to the scheme beyond 300.

The SBT initiative, a partnership between CDP, WRI, WWF and the UN Global Compact, judges a corporation’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions targets to qualify as “science-based” if they are in line with the level of decarbonization required to keep the global temperature increase below 2°C compared to preindustrial temperatures, as described in the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

All firms looking for the SBT initiative stamp of approval will need to take the necessary steps to embed science-based targets amongst their suppliers. This is particularly acute for the apparel world in general and the athletic apparel segment in particular as more than 90 percent of apparel brand emissions are located in the supply chain.

In 2017 alone, more than 90 companies have joined the initiative. Aside from Nike, that list includes global corporate heavyweights Colgate-Palmolive, HP, Mars^, Nestlé, and SAP.

Conspicuous by its absence to this point in the SBT initiative is adidas, Nike’s chief global competitor, and a true Green-Sports leader. Puma, an early Green-Sports adapter, is part of the initiative.

According to Matt Mace, writing in the September 18 edition of, companies that have joined the Science Based Targets initiative represent around “$6.5 trillion in market value and are responsible for 0.750 metric gigatonnes of CO2 emissions annually” — or 7.8 percent of the 9.74 metric gigatonnes# of CO2 that were emitted globally in 2015.

“As more and more companies see the advantages of setting science-based targets, the transition towards a low-carbon economy is becoming a reality,” said Lila Karbassi, UN Global Compact’s chief of programmes. “This is becoming the new ‘normal’ in the business world, proving that a low-carbon economy is not only vital for consumers and the planet, but also for future-proofing growth.”


Flyleather will help Nike move towards its Science Based Targets

Nike, while on the right path emissions reduction-wise, has a long way to go (as do practically all companies) to actually achieve its target for a 2°C or less world. Its latest eco-sartorial innovation, the recently launched Flyleather — a sustainable leather material made with 50 percent recycled leather fibers — is a step in the right direction.

While the product looks and feels just like premium leather, the process used to produce it is 180 degrees different than the traditional curing, soaking and tanning approach.

During a typical leather manufacturing process, up to 30 percent of a cow’s hide is discarded. To make Flyleather shoes, Nike collects the discarded leather scrap from the floors of tanneries and turns them into fibers. The recycled fibers are then combined with synthetic fibers and fabric through a hydro process with a force so strong it fuses everything into one material.

Nike partnered with E-Leather, which pioneered the process, to develop the new material, which they claim is 40 percent lighter and five times as durable as traditional leather due to its innate structural strength and stability. The process to produce Flyleather also uses 90 percent less water and has an 80 percent lower carbon footprint than traditional leather manufacturing. And because Nike Flyleather is produced on a roll, it improves cutting efficiency and creates less waste than traditional cut-and-sew methods for full-grain leather.

The first product to feature Nike Flyleather is the Nike Flyleather Tennis Classic, an all-white version of the premium court shoe.


Nike Flyleather Tennis

Nike’s Flyleather Tennis Classic (Photo credit: Nike)


“One of our greatest opportunities is to create breakthrough products while protecting our planet,” said Hannah Jones, Chief Sustainability Officer and VP of the Innovation Accelerator at Nike. “Nike Flyleather is an important step toward ensuring athletes always have a place to enjoy sport.”


Hartelijk gefeliciteerd = congratulations in Dutch
^ Mars recently committed to pledge $1 billion to fight climate change (Source: Fortune, September 6, 2017)
# Source: Global Carbon Project, 2015.


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Tesla and Nike: Promote Your Greenness to Sports Audiences

Precious few companies with sustainable product/service lines have used sports as a platform on which to market their greenness to fans. Fear of consumer backlash could be a reason for the reticence. 

Sure, some aspects of those fears could be well founded. But, it says here that the marketing climate, even despite the results of November 8, is more favorable than not for Green Giants (companies with sustainability as a core value and a market cap of at least $1 billion as detailed in the book of the same name by recent GSB interviewee Freya Williams) who are also influential, trend-shapers to market their sustainability bona fides.

Companies like Tesla and Nike.

In case these two Green Giants are not quite ready to advertise a sustainability-focused and/or climate change-fighting message, GreenSportsBlog is here to offer rationale—and even some free creative concepts—to nudge them in the green direction.



BASF and White Wave are two companies with strong sustainability track records who successfully market their greenness through sports. They both get that, in an ever more fragmented media landscape, sports is still the best way to reach a mass audience. And they obviously believe that promoting their greenness through sports will enhance their image and build their business.

But BASF, a global chemical conglomerate that is aggressively shifting to greener processes and products, is mainly in the Business-to-Business (B-to-B) space. White Wave is a small-but-growing, purpose driven food company. Neither are major, Green Giant consumer brands with the ability, spending-wise and image-wise, to use sports to influence a wide swath of the population.

Is it time for Green Giants to build upon what BASF and White Wave have started to market to fans of the New York Giants—and those of many other teams? 

Yes, it is.

But what about those consumer backlash fears?

Perhaps the election of climate change skeptic Donald Trump validates the notion that companies should shy away from promoting their greenness as an important feature through sports or any other advertising platform. 

But other data from 2016 point in a very different direction:

  • Several polls show that up to 70% of Americans think climate change is real (Monmouth University, January), with about half citing human activity as the main cause (Pew, October). 
  • Concern about climate change was at an 8 year high as of March (Gallup).
  • And, post-election, a majority of US adults say stricter environmental laws and regulations are worth the cost (Pew, December).
  • More broadly, a global research study sponsored by Green Giant Unilever revealed that 78 percent of US shoppers feel better when they buy sustainably produced products. (Europanel and Flamingo, December)

Our take? The winds seem more at the backs of the Green Giants in terms of marketing their greenness than not. But even if there are some headwinds, GGs like Tesla and Nike have made their reputations in part by going against the grain. 

So here are some ways Tesla and Nike can go about using sports to communicate their green bona fides.



Tesla, synonymous with the small but fast-growing electric vehicles (EV) market, is one of the coolest brands of this era. It launched in 2008 with the ultra-high end, ultra-high profile, ultra-hip $110,000 Roadster. That many, including company founder Elon Musk, judged the Roadster to be a technical failure was of little import; Tesla’s ultra cool brand image was born.

The company broadened its potential audience in 2014 by moving down to merely the high end market with the $70,000 Model S sedan, seen by most observers as a clear technical and commercial success. And, by the end of 2017, although Tesla is notoriously late on actual launch dates, its Model 3 is expected for delivery. Expected to be priced at $35,000—while, according to the company, not making any compromise on range and performance—the Model 3 will be Tesla’s first EV offering targeted to a mass audience. 


Premarket version of the Tesla Model 3. (Photo credit: Tesla Motors)


To reach that mass audience, Tesla would do well to reach sports audiences.

The Super Bowl is always the most watched television show of any year by a wide margin. The number one rated series in 2016? Sunday Night Football on NBC, despite the NFL’s well publicized ratings drop. The Olympics, Final Four and World Series all easily out-rate most other non-sports shows.

One could imagine the Model 3 being advertised on NFL games, especially since its mass audience (even despite this season’s ratings drop) will be a great fit for the leader in the fast growing/scaling EV market—according to a study by Navigant Research, EV sales are expected to almost triple between 2015 and 2024.

With a $35,000 price point, the Model 3 should also consider the NBA with, compared to the NFL, its hipper, younger, more urban, above-average-but-not-other-worldly income viewer base. If Tesla could get an NBA star or two to drive a Model 3, look out! Add a sprinkle of tennis and/or golf to get higher end viewers who still weren’t able to afford the Roadster and Model S and you have a smart, sports oriented TV plan for the Tesla Model 3.

But we’re not suggesting Tesla only use TV. Upscale millennials will be a key target and many of them have cut the cable cord (ESPN had 99 million subscribers in 2013; that number is down to 89 million in 2016). But, according to Beth Egan, Associate Professor of Advertising at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications, Tesla can reach a good chunk of those cord cutters “where they get sports, via their mobile devices, streaming services, on social media and ‘over-the-(TV set) top’ offerings like Roku and Apple TV.”

This sounds like a great start to a sports-focused media plan for Tesla, except for one tiny problem.

Tesla does not advertise.

Or, at least it hasn’t done so yet.

This can work when you’re a boutique brand, trading on word-of-mouth and Elon Musk’s élan.

But will that ad-free strategy carry the day as Tesla looks to compete with the EVs that are/will soon be on offer from the BMWs, Mercedes Benzes and Acuras of the world, not to mention their internal combustion engine cousins?


Tesla will have to advertise if it’s going to  maintain and build its EV leadership status as the category grows and gets more crowded and competitive. Sports will be the perfect venue, both in terms of audience size and demographics, as well as the powerful creative messaging potential.

On the latter point, GSB is happy to provide Tesla with two creative approaches:

  • Testimonial: Tesla would sign athletes who drive Model 3s as spokespeople (future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints and punt returner Jordan Norwood of the Denver Broncos are among the athletes who drive Model S.) Some will talk about how cool the car is, how well it performs, how it goes from zero to sixty in less than three seconds. Others will talk about how it will help save the planet for their kids—to go from zero to sixty in less than three seconds
  • Hate-Love: Find players who are loathed by most fans (think Christian Laettner, Kobe Bryant or Tom Brady). Show scenes of fans expressing their venom. Then show the hated stars with their Model 3s, talking about how the car’s greenness is their gift to their fans and the planet. Voilà, the haters turn into devoted fans.



Per GreenSportsBlog’s interview with Freya Williams, the super-fast Flyknit shoe “cuts waste by 80 percent and makes the shoe 20 percent lighter…it symbolizes the future of sustainable business at scale. “Despite having a strong environmental story to tell, Nike has, to date, chosen not to tell it. 


Flyknit by Nike (Photo credit: Nike, Inc.)


Ads for Flyknit have, like most Nike ads over the past 45 years, emphasized performance and a cool look. This makes perfect sense as it is Nike’s business to help people to run faster. One 30 second ad hints at the “natural” aspects of the shoe, but Flyknit’s sustainability/climate change-fighting benefits are not spelled out. 


30 second ad for Nike’s Flyknit shoe


Should Nike add a “Just Green It” spot with a climate change message to its Flyknit ad portfolio?

Absolutely, and here’s why.

  1. Nike can mention Flyknit’s greenness and its strong performance in one 30 second spot. There is enough time (Miller Lite was able to promote “tastes great” and “less filling”) and the two are not mutually exclusive.
  2. A good chunk of potential Flyknit customers should also be in favor of Nike taking positive environmental action. Data from a 2013 Running USA survey indicates that runners are more highly educated and have higher incomes than the average American. The high education/income cohort, in the main, supports action on climate change. And it’s not a stretch to imagine that the Flyknit target audience is more highly educated and has a higher income than the average runner.
  3. Nike ads have taken on social issues (e.g. “If You Let Me Play” campaign which promoted the benefits of access to sports for girls)
  4. Nike has not shied away from controversy (e.g “I’m Not a Role Model” with Charles Barkley).

Taking a stand on climate would break the mold, spark some dialogue about the issue, and generate more sales from sustainability-minded athletes. All of this is perfect for Nike.

What might the ads look like? You know, Wieden + Kennedy and Nike’s other agencies do a phenomenal job. I will leave it to them. 

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Green Leaders Talk Green Sports, Part 8: Freya Williams, CEO Futerra USA; Author of “Green Giants”

For the eighth installment of our occasional “Green Leaders Talk Green Sports”^ series—in which we talk with luminaries from outside the Green-Sports world about the potential of, and challenges facing the Green-Sports world—we bring you our wide ranging discussion with Freya Williams, CEO of Futerra North America, an agency that is both a “logical sustainability consultancy” and “a magical creative agency.” She is also the author of Green Giants, a deep dive into how smart companies are turning sustainability into billion-dollar businesses. We talked about how sports can become an important accelerator of the growth of sustainable business.


GreenSportsBlog: Hi Freya! We have so much to get to—your work at Futerra North America helping big companies unleash progress with sustainable purpose…and Green Giants, your 2015 book about how smart companies turn sustainability into billion-dollar businesses…and how sports can help sustainable business scale further, faster. But before we get into all that, I’d love to know how you got to this very cool place of making sustainable businesses bigger and more purposeful.

Freya Williams: My route to sustainable business came through advertising agencies, working in brand planning and strategy. I started at Ogilvy in London and then moved with them to New York in 2000. Clients were top level…American Express, Dove, Goldman-Sachs, Hershey, to name a few.

GSB: That sounds like a fast track to the top of the agency world, but it doesn’t sing “sustainability!” to me…

FW: No, it didn’t. But then I had my first kid, moved out of the city to the country in Pennsylvania, and my passion for sustainability and climate change took on a new urgency. I even wrote a blog—”Little Green Dot”—about green living. But that didn’t quite pay the bills. So then I talked to my former colleagues at Ogilvy about going back, but not to standard strategy work. Rather, I pitched them on starting a green practice, on the idea of the power of big business, big brands to harness their power for good.

GSB: That sounds like an embryonic version of Futerra, of Green Giants!  When was that?

FW: 2006…

GSB: Ahhhh, the “An Inconvenient Truth” era, when green was “in,” at least in marketing terms.

FW: That’s right! So the timing was good. Anyway, Ogilvy said “Well don’t give up the day job, but if you can bring in the business, we’ll support you.” So my colleague Seth Farbman and I got to work, starting up OgilvyEarth.


Freya Williams (Photo credit: Freya Willliams)


GSB: How did it go?

FW: We did well. One of our biggest campaigns was Hopenhagen, to garner support for the COP15 UN climate change conference in Copenhagen, Denmark in 2009.

GSB: Ah, yes! That was the last major global climate change conference before COP21, the November 2015 worldwide get together in Paris that resulted in the first-ever agreement on country-by-country greenhouse gas emissions targets. While the results of Copenhagen, in terms of meaningful, intergovernmental climate change agreements, were less than stellar, how did Hopenhagen work out?

FW: Hopenhagen was a success. Coke, SAP and Siemens, among other global corporations, bought in. More impressive to me was that 6 million citizens worldwide joined our campaign, demanding action on climate, with 75 percent of that group being first time activists! But, with all that, Copenhagen 2009 was, as you alluded to, a failure. I felt that, with governments unable or unwilling to come to significant climate change agreements, it was up to business to take the lead.

GSB: Sounds like the situation we’re in now in the USA—a likely lack of positive action at the Federal level so business has to step in.

FW: Exactly. But how to make this happen? Well, in 2011, I co-authored a report called “Mainstream Green,” with my Ogilvy colleague Graceanne Bennett. I was the “green” and Graceanne was the “mainstream.” In it, we looked at how to move people from green to normal, from sustainable intention to sustainable action. What we learned was that social norms were huge in mainstreaming green.

GSB: Meaning?

FW: …We’re very much influenced by what our neighbors and others in our social circles do. This is innately human. If neighbors recycle, if friends ride their bikes to work, you’re much more likely to do the same. So that was a key insight in how to take green/sustainable behaviors from niche to scale. And this was true with consumers, businesses and investors alike. Another big insight for businesses was that, for the most part, they are not going to get to sustainable scale by being “Planet Savers.” No. The way they will get there is by making money by being sustainable. The business case for sustainability is essential. I took this approach from OgilvyEarth to the Social Purpose practice at Edelman in 2014 and then moved to Futerra in July, 2015 as CEO.

GSB: What is Futerra, exactly?

FW: Futerra is a change agency. We marry logic, through the technical rigor of sustainability, and magic, with the creative chops of a top agency.

GSB: What a powerful combination! Are you finding companies who are looking for that duality?

FW: Yes. Among others, we’ve helped Hain Celestial, the company behind Terra Chips and Blueprint Juices, develop their new sustainable business strategy, helped McDonald’s introduce much more effective recycling messaging in their restaurants, and helped FUZE TEA share its sustainable sourcing story with consumers. We also helped the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) reach over 300 million consumers around the globe with a powerful message about wildlife trafficking—our campaign has been awarded top 10 by China’s social media network Weibo. And we’re growing—we’ve tripled our staff over the past year.

GSB: That’s great to hear. Now, a natural extension of your work with Futerra is your 2015 book, Green Giants



FW: …Right, well, Green Giants takes the change narrative and applies it to sustainability and corporations. Until now sustainability and climate change have been largely seen as a hypothetical, something to be dealt with in the future. But, the truth is, of course, is that climate change is here, right now. That means the opportunity to act to fight it is here now, too. That’s a business opportunity. And, you see, businesses, successful businesses, have recognized this. But I didn’t think business case had been presented in a simple compelling way. Well, a billion dollars is pretty compelling. But very few people have realized this. The Green Giants have.

GSB: So what are Green Giants, exactly?

FW: The Green Giants were nine companies when I wrote the book—there are more now—who have made sustainability core to their DNA and have at least $1 billion in annual revenues. It shows that these companies are not only successful; they’re more successful than their less sustainable competitors precisely because of their adoption of sustainable practices, not in spite of it. Green Giants use sustainability to disrupt their categories.

GSB: Nike, an icon of the sports world, is one of the Green Giants you focused on in the book. Tell us about that.

FW: Nike made the book as a result of their Flyknit Shoe. Their approach is so disruptive; it symbolizes the future of sustainable business at scale. It’s not just a new shoe; it’s a new way to make shoes, by some estimates the first in 40 years of sneaker history.


The Nike Flyknit Shoe (Photo credit: Nike)


GSB: How so?

FW: See, Nike decided not to go greener, not to go crunchier, but to go BETTER. In fact, Hannah Jones and the leadership at Nike changed the name of the department she runs from the typical Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) to Sustainable Business and Innovation. As innovation is their lifeblood, connecting it directly with sustainability was both extremely practical and deeply symbolic showing that Nike is building sustainability into the beating heart of their business.

GSB: What is the Flyknit Shoe all about? What makes it so green-ly revolutionary?

FW: Through their sustainability-infused design approach, Nike was able to cut waste by 80 percent and make the shoe 20 percent lighter in the process. Which made it a super high performance shoe. Which is the Nike ethos. It also just looks really cool which has always been one secret to Nike’s success.

GSB: Do elite runners use Flyknit?

FW: Yes! The shoe was launched at the 2012 London Olympics and many of the athletes who run in Nikes ran with the Flyknit. Nike has since rolled the technology out across football (soccer) shoes, basketball shoes, and there’s much more to come.

GSB: What a comeback for Nike, sustainability-wise, from the lows of their child labor and sweatshop problems of the 2000s to the highs of Flyknit. I’m interested to know why Nike made the Green Giants cut and rival adidas did not? In 2015, GreenSportsBlog highlighted adidas’ work with Parley for the Oceans to make shoe components out of plastic ocean waste.

FW: That’s a good question. The reason is simply that Adidas has not yet had that breakout sustainability-inspired innovation that has reached the $1 Billion revenue mark – at least not to my knowledge. If that’s wrong, I’d love to be corrected – let me know!

GSB: Does that mean the Parley for the Oceans/ocean waste products can be looked at as promotional offerings rather than integral to everything they do?

FW: As far as I know, it’s not a technology that’s truly integrated into the heart of the business and the design process.

GSB: I get it and will check with adidas to get an update on how integral their ocean waste based products are to their overall operations. Another question: How come companies that are doing the right thing, sustainability-wise, rarely, if ever communicate this to the general public? Put another way, how come we don’t see Nike ads about sustainability for Flyknit on NFL or NBA broadcasts? I can’t recall seeing any…

FW: For the Green Giants, sustainability, from a consumer-marketing point of view, plays a supporting role. With apologies to JFK, Green Giants ask not what their customers can do for sustainability. Rather they ask what sustainability can do for their customers. This is particularly the case for Millennials and Generation Z. They don’t buy something because of a brand’s sustainability but they expect it to be part of a company’s ethos. Tesla, another Green Giant, gets this. For them, sustainability is a desirable outcome, not a marketing message. They make very cool, stylish, state-of-the-art, high performing cars that happen to run on electricity.

GSB: …And Tesla, it must be said, is getting involved at the intersection of Green + Sports, partnering with stadium and arena operator AEG to deploy its advanced energy storage Powerpacks at the StubHub Center, home of the LA Galaxy of MLS.

FW: This doesn’t surprise me. Now, another reason why sports has not been the place for sustainable messaging is that, according to the 2011 Mainstream Green research I mentioned earlier, 82 percent of people surveyed recently say that sustainability is for women, not men and that men don’t want to be seen as “girlie”

GSB: That is unfortunate…

FW: Unfortunate but, for at least the time being, true. Tesla runs counter to all that, by making sustainable manly, sexy, and enlightened. So I would expect sustainability-themed messaging to come first from winter sports—after all, their very existence is threatened directly by climate change…

GSB: And winter sports like skiing and the Winter Olympics have a strong female viewership…

FW: Yes! And it is important to note that we find attitude change follows behavior change. Meaning that people who start to recycle will, over time, have more pro-sustainable attitudes. Sports, by being a community convener, can play an important catalyst role in this process.


^ Here are links to the first seven installments of “Green Leaders Talk Green Sports”: 1. Joel Makower, chairman and executive editor of GreenBiz Group; 2. Jerry Taylor, a leading libertarian DC lobbyist who was climate denier/skeptic, “switched teams” and is now a climate change fighting advocate; 3. Dr. Michael Mann, one of the world’s foremost climate scientists and the author of “The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars”; 4. Caryl Stern, President and CEO of the US Fund for UNICEF;  5. Paul Polizzotto, President and Founder of CBS EcoMedia; 6. David Crane, former CEO of NRG, who, in addition to moving one of the largest electricity generators in the US away from coal and towards renewables, also oversaw the “solar-ization” of 8 NFL stadiums; and 7. Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, another leading climate scientist and the best climate change communicator I’ve ever seen/heard.
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