The UNFCCC’s Sports For Climate Action Framework has gotten some serious traction from the US sports world recently. Last month, the New York Yankees became the first pro sports team to sign on to the framework. And yesterday, the NBA became the first pro league to make the commitment.
The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) announced yesterday that the NBA had become the first pro sports league in the US to sign on to its Sports for Climate Action initiative.
The UNFCCC’s tweet announcing that the NBA signed on to the Sports for Climate Action Framework
Launched in December, the Framework’s aim is to bring the sports industry’s greenhouse emissions in line with the 2015 Paris Climate Change Agreement and inspire others to take ambitious climate action.
The Framework welcomes the NBA to its impressive list of A-List early adapters, including FIFA, the IOC, Fédération Française de Tennis, FFT, and the New York Yankees. Signatories commit to support Sport for Climate Action’s five core principles:
Undertake systematic efforts to promote greater environmental responsibility
Reduce overall climate impact
Educate for climate action
Promote sustainable and responsible consumption
Advocate for climate action through communication
With its massive global fan base and its particular popularity among millennials and Gen-Z’ers, the NBA is a terrific get for the Framework. According to the league:
The NBA has 150 million followers on social media
One billion people around the world have access to the NBA Finals
It is the most popular sports league in China, where over 300 million people play basketball
The NBA, in collaboration with FIBA, basketball’s international governing body, will launch the Basketball Africa League (BAL) in 12 countries¹ in January
Signing on to the Sports for Climate Action Framework is certainly the biggest green step taken by the league to date. Its sustainability foundation has largely been built by forward-leaning teams and a smattering of eco-athletes:
The Sacramento Kings’ Golden 1 Center became the world’s first arena to earn LEED Platinum certification.
Golden 1 Center, LEED Platinum home of the Sacramento Kings (Photo credit: Sacramento Kings)
Portland’s Trail Blazers have hosted five “Green Games” per season at the Moda Center since 2015. The club invites its fans to take an active part in its efforts to be more environmentally conscious and to help reach a set of green goals (around energy, waste, food, water, and transportation) at the arena by 2025.
Malcolm Brogdon, of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals-bound Milwaukee Bucks, along with four other NBA players, launched Hoops₂O to teach East Africans to dig wells for fresh water.
GSB’s Take: Kudos to the NBA for joining the Sports for Climate Action Framework. Given the NBA’s brand image — cool, progressive, cutting edge — GSB will explore in the coming months if this commitment will be the beginning of a full-throated approach to the climate change fight from commissioner Adam Silver, its teams, sponsors and more of its players. I may sound like a broken record but, per the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), humanity has 12 years to cut our carbon emissions by 45 percent in order to avoid the most calamitous effects of climate change.
Adam Silver, commissioner of the NBA (Photo credit: NBA)
Beyond basketball, in the parlance of playground hoops, the question becomes “Who’s Got Next?” — as in which leagues and events will join the NBA in signing on to the Sports For Climate Action Framework. I am surprised the NHL, the only league to issue a sustainability report — it has done so twice — has not joined the Framework. Hopefully that will change soon. The US Tennis Association, which has a very strong greening track record, seems like a logical signee sometime before the US Open starts in August.
You may ask, “What about the NFL, MLB, and MLS?”
Great question. Whaddya say, commissioners Roger Goodell (NFL), Rob Manfred (MLB), and Don Garber (MLS)?
¹ Teams from Angola, Egypt, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia expected to be represented in BAL
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Kunal Merchant occupies a fascinating perch in the Green-Sports world. A member of the Green Sports Alliance board, the Bay Area-based Merchant has a background in business, politics, and social enterprise. And as co-founder of Lotus Advisory with his sister Monisha, Merchant has guided the sustainability efforts on state-of-the-art green stadium and arena projects, from Sacramento’s Golden1 Center — the first LEED Platinum indoor arena in the world — to the nascent Oakland A’s ballpark project.
GreenSportsBlog spoke with Merchant about his work on Green-Sports projects, with the Alliance, and where he sees the movement heading.
GreenSportsBlog: Kunal, I can’t wait to dig into your story which takes place at the intersection of sports, politics, and sustainability. Nothing juicy there…
Kunal Merchant: It has been a fascinating ride to this point, Lew. I came to the sports world from the political side, working as Chief of Staff for then Sacramento Mayor and ex-NBA All Star Kevin Johnson. I served in that role during his first term, between December 2008 and June 2012, which was a dramatic time. The Mayor took office right as the national economy was entering the Great Recession. Sacramento was particularly hard hit by double-digit unemployment and a foreclosure crisis. Morale was low, and right when the town thought it couldn’t get any worse, we found out that our beloved Sacramento Kings – the one and only pro sports team in town – wanted to leave town.
The team had been struggling both on and off the court for years, including several failed attempts to build a new arena to replace what had by then become the oldest and smallest arena in the NBA. The Kings’ ownership felt that their best shot was to start over in a new city, with Seattle being the most likely destination. It was a punch to the gut for Sacramento, and in the Mayor’s office, we knew that how Sacramento responded to this challenge would have implications far beyond sports for the city’s economic and civic identity.
GSB: So how did you go about dealing with the significant headwinds?
Kunal: That’s a topic for a much longer conversation! But, oversimplified, there were three key checkboxes on our “to-do list” to save the team: (1) prove that Sacramento was a viable NBA market; (2) recruit a new ownership group willing to buy the team and keep it in Sacramento; and (3) develop a plan to build and finance a new arena. The arena was arguably the most critical – and difficult item – particularly since, for a market the size of Sacramento, some form of public investment was going to be needed.
Taxpayers were understandably skeptical about putting public money towards a basketball arena. But after studying similar situations around the country, we in the Mayor’s Office concluded that, under the right terms and structure, we could deliver a public-private partnership for a new arena that would be a win for the Kings and for Sacramento. To get there, we needed to generate transformative economic and community benefits, something that was only possible if we used the arena to anchor the broader revitalization of our blighted and long-underperforming downtown core.
In that respect, Sacramento really reminded me of the Denver of my childhood in the 1980s. At that time, Denver was perceived as a classic “flyover city” by people on the coasts. But over several years, the community and city leaders pushed through smart and strategic investments that led to a positive change in the city’s economic and cultural trajectory. Things really took off in the 1990s, in part due to the energy generated by Coors Field, the downtown ballpark built to be the home of our new Major League Baseball team, the Colorado Rockies.
Kunal Merchant, co-founder of Lotus Advisory (Photo credit: Lotus Advisory)
GSB: I remember visiting Denver during the late 1990s and saw how Coors Field had seemingly changed a whole neighborhood. Was the ballpark built by the team, the city or some combination? The reason I ask is that there are many studies showing that public investments in sports venues are not efficient uses of the public’s money. Where do you come down on that question?
Kunal: Great question. Like a stodgy and aging arena, I think the rhetoric around public financing for sports venues is in serious need of an upgrade. There’s way too much dogma on a topic filled with nuance.
In the case of Coors Field, the project was a public-private partnership, where taxpayers made a significant investment. As a local resident who saw that area before and after Coors Field, I would argue that the taxpayers’ investment paid off handsomely in catalyzing a true economic and cultural renaissance that continues to this day.
But the success of Coors Field doesn’t vindicate all forms of public financing. The reality is that every situation is different, and plenty of sports facilities – too many I would argue – receive public funding in amounts and terms that are truly terrible deals for the public. When we were developing the Kings arena deal, we studied up on the good, bad and ugly of prior public subsidy deals. And we were determined that any arena deal we cut with the Kings would protect taxpayers and generate strong economic and community benefits.
That process in Sacramento began by fighting to locate the new arena downtown, and resist temptations by some in town to “play small” and simply refurbish or rebuild at the old arena’s suburban location.
GSB: The old Arco Arena is north of the city, kind of by itself off of I-5.
Kunal: Yes. At the time it was built in the mid-1980s, that building size and location made sense. But by the 2010s, we had different civic imperatives around sustainability and urban planning. Beyond the economic appeal of a downtown location – analysts forecasted $150 million in new annual economic activity each year – we wanted the arena project to reflect the values of a community that cared deeply about the environment. So we set – and ultimately met – incredibly ambitious goals for green design, air quality, water efficiency, energy efficiency, transit, food, waste diversion, and so on.
GSB: What was your role in the project?
Kunal: My role evolved over the course of the project. At the start, I was the Mayor’s Chief of Staff, representing the Mayor and City in almost every facet of our work with the NBA, Kings, City and community to save the team and develop the arena plan. When the NBA voted to keep the team in Sacramento in May 2013, and approve the sale of the Kings to a new ownership group, I moved over to the team side as an executive focused on making sure we followed through on our promises to the community on the arena.
That meant finalizing the public process to approve the deal, negotiating key labor and community benefit agreements, and continuing to engage the community in this truly once-in-a-generation project. It also meant championing what became the most ambitious sustainability agenda of an NBA arena to that date, anchored around achieving status as the first-ever LEED Platinum indoor sports arena.
GSB: That’s quite a transition. How did working for a sports team differ from working in municipal government?
Kunal: Well, it’s safe to say that spending a Tuesday night at an NBA game is a bit more fun than at a City Council meeting! And I used to joke with friends – only half-kidding – that I could get more done chatting with various folks at a Kings game than I could ever do in one month at City Hall. There were obvious advantages to working in a private sector context in terms of speed, agility, and efficiency. But this deal was a true public-private partnership where both bodies were integral. What’s most powerful to me is that my spirit and purpose on this project never changed regardless of what my business card said; from beginning to end, this endeavor was always about doing something really big and historic and transformative for the people of Sacramento. And both the City and Kings wholly embraced that mindset.
GSB: What did you do after the arena took shape?
Kunal: As Opening Day for the Golden 1 Center got closer, I started getting calls from other folks in sports who were impressed by what we’d done in Sacramento and wanted to see if I could help out elsewhere. To his credit, then-Team President Chris Granger was extremely supportive, and I was able to transition from being a full-time employee to a consultant able to take on other work. As part of that transition, I launched Lotus Advisory with my sister Monisha as a strategy and management consulting firm focused on driving positive change at the intersection of business, government and community. Because of my background, I ended up specializing quickly on sports-related projects, while my MIT-educated sister took on high tech clients like Airbnb. In the years since, we’ve been lucky to work with an amazing range of clients in a variety of industries and sectors.
Kunal Merchant touring construction of the Golden 1 Center and the Downtown Commons in 2015 during his time as a Sacramento Kings executive. The $1.5 billion dollar project includes a LEED Platinum NBA arena, hotel, and retail and entertainment district that has been the primary catalyst behind the new economic and cultural renaissance unfolding in Sacramento’s long-struggling downtown core (Photo credit: Lotus Advisory)
GSB: What are some the sports projects on which Lotus Advisory has worked?
In recent years, we’ve done a lot of work in soccer and baseball. I was the Chief Strategist for Nashville’s successful 2017 bid to join Major League Soccer, where we went from being on no one’s radar as a viable soccer city to finishing first in a twelve city race for the next expansion slot. A huge part of our success was powered by the people of Nashville – whose pride in their city is as strong as I’ve ever seen anywhere.
Similarly, I helped lead and advise Sacramento’s bid to join MLS for several years, particularly in shepherding their downtown stadium development plan through the planning, predevelopment and approval processes. The heart and soul of that bid are the supporters of Sacramento Republic, the United Soccer League (USL) Championship¹ club that took the city by storm when it launched in 2014 and has woven itself deeply into the cultural fabric of Sacramento with remarkable speed.
Currently, I’m working closely with the Oakland Athletics on their plans to revitalize the Oakland waterfront with a new privately-financed ballpark district near the Jack London Square area. It’s a really gorgeous project with a strong spirit of sustainability and environmental justice.
GSB: Very cool! What’s the status of Sacramento’s MLS bid? I know they’re looking to get to 28 teams by 2021 or 2022. Cincinnati United began play this month as the league’s 24th club, with Miami and Nashville set to join next year and Austin in ’21. So that means there’s one more slot left in the near term.
Kunal: Sacramento is one of two cities considered to be favorites for the 28th slot. I know that I’m biased, but I don’t think the competition is remotely close. Sacramento’s MLS bid stands alone as arguably the most resilient, mature, and comprehensive MLS bid in league history. Since embarking on the MLS journey in 2014, Republic FC has checked all the boxes time and again: a die-hard fan base, committed corporate support, a fully-approved and transformational downtown stadium plan; and a credible and committed ownership led by a formidable combination of Pittsburgh Penguins owner Ron Burkle and several local business leaders. MLS will be lucky to have Sacramento join its ranks and I’m cautiously optimistic that it will happen soon.
GSB: Good luck! When will the new stadium be ready and what are some of its green features?
Kunal: Obviously the MLS stadium is contingent on entry into the league, but the stadium could likely be ready by either the 2021 or 2022 MLS season. As impactful as the Golden 1 Center is for Sacramento, the MLS stadium for Republic FC will be a game-changer in its own right.
The stadium will be built few blocks away from the Kings arena at a huge 240 acre site called the Sacramento Railyards that, when fully built out, will double the size of downtown Sacramento. The MLS stadium represents one of the first and largest major private investments in the Railyards in several decades, and will catalyze a historic wave of economic and community development. In terms of green features, the stadium will be another model of transit-oriented development, located a block from light rail, and a short distance by foot, bike, scooter, or rideshare from the rest of downtown. Republic FC has a terrific culture around local food and beer, so I’d expect some innovative sourcing strategies there as well.
Artist rendering of proposed Major League Soccer stadium in downtown Sacramento. The project will anchor an estimated $5B economic revitalization effort at Sacramento’s historic Railyards district (Credit: Sacramento Republic FC)
GSB: Turning to another long-running new stadium project, let’s talk about the Oakland A’s.
Kunal: The A’s have a truly visionary plan to revitalize the waterfront near Jack London Square through a new Major League Baseball ballpark. The project will be LEED Gold Certified and reflect a “ballpark within a park” theme, with an intimate 34,000 seat stadium nestled carefully into its urban surroundings. The ballpark is privately-financed and will anchor a new, vibrant waterfront district that will feature a mix of housing, including affordable housing, offices, restaurants, retail, small business space, parks and public gathering spaces. And the team is also showing tremendous leadership by leveraging the ballpark project to address longstanding environmental justice reform issues around air, soil and water quality faced by West Oakland residents for years.
Preliminary artist rendering for the proposed Oakland A’s ballpark near Jack London Square in Oakland. The project will be LEED Gold and reflect the A’s strong commitment to sustainable development and environmental justice (Credit: Oaklandballpark.com)
GSB: Add the A’s new ballpark to my sports bucket list. OK, before we go, let’s talk a bit about your work as a board member of the Green Sports Alliance. How did that come about?
Kunal: I’ve known and been a fan of the Green Sports Alliance since its earliest days, when Alliance leaders reached out to invite Mayor Johnson to the inaugural summit in Portland. The Alliance was hugely helpful in guiding my thinking on the Golden 1 Center, and I worked with the Alliance to help bring the Summit to Sacramento during the Golden1 Center’s inaugural season in 2017. I’ve continued to work closely with the Alliance since then, and at some point it just made sense to take on a more formal role. So, I joined the board last fall with a pretty important first project: co-leading the search for a new Executive Director. It was a fascinating process that yielded a terrific hire: Roger McClendon.
GSB: McClendon comes to the Alliance’s executive director role at a key inflection point in the Green-Sports movement. I like to say Green-Sports 1.0 — the greening of the games — is now almost if not quite a given. It was a necessary and obvious first step. But Green-Sports 2.0 — engaging fans, players and more to take positive environmental action, specifically on climate change — which is where I think is starting now, is a more complicated, heavier lift. What do you think?
Kunal: I totally agree. There are fundamental questions facing the green sports movement and the broader environmentalist community at the moment. The science around climate change grows more dire by the day, with the recent IPCC report advising that humanity has really just a handful of years left to aggressively decarbonize or face catastrophic consequences. So the cost of inaction is escalating. With that as backdrop, the Alliance is asking ourselves: what are we going to do? Our ethos has been to meet people where they are. Which means that if a league, an event, a team is aggressive on climate, we’ll support them. If they’re going slowly…
GSB: …Or not even talking climate at all?
Kunal: …we’re not going to push them too far beyond their comfort zone.
GSB: But doesn’t that imply that it’s ok for sports not to go fast enough? That seems risky at best.
Kunal: Well, it’s tricky. But here is a reason to be optimistic: things are impossible until they’re not. Looking at history, there are many social movements that looked bleak for years, or even decades, right until a period of rapid change that completely upended the status quo. I’m heartened by the younger generations — Millennials and Gen Zers — who will increasingly hold all institutions, including sports teams, accountable for the issue of climate change. The Alliance needs to be ready, and I think we’re taking important steps in that direction. If there’s one thing that I’ve come to appreciate deeply in my career, it’s that, with vision and leadership, sports can be an extraordinary platform for positive change. And on issues of climate, we can’t afford for sports teams, leagues, or fans to sit on the sidelines anymore.
GSB: With some well-timed and positive pushing from organizations like the Alliance, I’ll say. To be continued, Kunal!
¹ The USL Championship is the second-tier of North American professional soccer, one level below MLS.
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The wildfires that have ravaged Paradise (north of Sacramento) and areas in Ventura and Los Angeles counties, are among the most devastating in California history — and that’s saying something. While trivial compared to the loss of life and property, the sports world has also felt the wildfire’s effects. While dealing with their own safety and property, athletes are stepping up to help those in need. And one, Kyle Kuzma of the LA Lakers, mentioned climate change as a potential cause of the fires.
SACRAMENTO SPORTS FEELING THE EFFECTS OF “CAMP FIRE” WILDFIRE 85 MILES TO THE NORTH
If these were normal times in Sacramento, LeBron James’ first game as a Los Angeles Laker vs. the Kings at the Golden 1 Center would have been the #1 story in California’s capital city.
These are far from normal times.
Smoke from the “Camp Fire” wildfire raging since Thursday in Paradise — about 85 miles north of downtown Sacramento — quickly wafted towards and then inside the arena. It was visible above the court before and during Saturday night’s Kings-Lakers contest. Several members of the Lakers told ESPN that they could see the fire burning from the plane on their approach to Sacramento on Friday.
“You can smell it,” LeBron James told ESPN’s Dave McMenamin before the game. “We haven’t really gotten up and down [running] like that to the point where you can tell it affects you or not, but anytime smoke is around, you know it can affect all of us. Not only us as athletes but everyone. Everyone gets affected by pollution.”
LeBron James of the LA Lakers surveys the scene at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento during Saturday’s game vs. the Kings. Smoke from the Camp Fire wildfire 85 miles north in Butte County, entered the arena and was noticeable to James and his teammates (Photo credit: Sergio Estrada)
Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma linked the Camp Fire — as well as the Woolsey Fire that has consumed over 70,000 acres of land in Ventura and Los Angeles counties — to climate change, telling ESPN, “Climate change, or I don’t know what it is, but there’s a lot [wildfires] coming.”
There were no reports of smoke-related problems at Golden 1 Center before or during Monday’s San Antonio Spurs-Kings game. That was likely due, at least in part, to arena management’s decision to keep the entrance doors closed as much as possible during the pre-game window.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS HOST PARADISE HIGH SCHOOL TEAM AT MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL
After watching the deadly Camp Fire lay waste to their town last week, the Paradise High football squad found a smidge of relief Monday night with a road trip, courtesy of the San Francisco 49ers.
At 11 AM, players, cheerleaders and coaches boarded a bus provided by the Niners for the 200 mile journey to Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara. The Paradise team, who had to forfeit its playoff game due to the fire, stood on the sideline with their NFL counterparts during the playing of the national anthem. Then they watched the home team fall in the last minute to the New York Giants, 27-23.
San Francisco 49ers players stand alongside members of the Paradise High football team during the playing of the national anthem at Monday’s game between the Niners and the New York Giants at Levi’s Stadium (Photo credit: Kyle Terada, USA Today)
But the bus trip itself might have been an even bigger deal than going on the field.
“I think the biggest reaction was on the bus ride here when they all slept,” coach Rick Prinz told ESPN’s Nick Wagoner. “They’re exhausted. They’re all displaced. [Almost] all of their homes have burned down. They’ve lost everything.”
More than 6,400 homes have been destroyed, according to the Butte County Sheriff’s Department. While the school survived the fire, about 90 percent of the players’ homes did not. Like most of the Paradise community, the coaches, players and cheerleaders spent the past few days living elsewhere and seeking updates on the status of their houses.
49ers’ assistant strength and conditioning coach Shane Wallen grew up in Paradise and decided to take action. Per Wagoner, he “started a GoFundMe page in efforts to offer support for his hometown. The fire destroyed Wallen’s father’s home in Magalia, California. Thanks to multiple Niners players making donations and posting on their social media platforms, Wallen had already raised more than $19,000 of the $50,000 goal as of early Monday evening.”
While Paradise High School survived the Camp Fire, about 90 percent of its football players’ homes did not (Photo credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
After Monday’s game, the Paradise contingent took the long ride back to Butte County. Instead of going home, they dispersed to various points — some to hotels, some with relatives and some to evacuation shelters.
LA RAMS ANDREW WHITWORTH, IMPACTED BY WOOLSEY FIRE AND BORDERLINE BAR SHOOTING, STEPS UP
“Pretty amazing, to be able to win a football game in circumstances like this.”
The circumstances to which Whitworth referred are the horrific Borderline Bar shooting, where at least 12 people were killed, and the Woolsey Fire, now the largest ever recorded in Los Angeles county. The tragedies overlapped each other in an apocalyptic Thursday-Friday in Thousand Oaks.
Andrew Whitworth of the LA Rams (Photo credit: Kirby Lee, USA Today Sports)
Whitworth quickly sprung into action.
The shooting took place in the wee hours of Thursday morning. By 1 PM, the LSU product and his wife agreed that he would donate his game check from the Packers game — about $60,000 after taxes, according to King — to a fund established to help the victims of the shootings, and their families.
By 3 PM, the Rams, who practice in Thousand Oaks, could clearly see two massive fires that were only about three miles from the facility.
Firefighters from various departments work to protect structures Friday as the Woolsey Fire moves through Agoura Hills, which is where the Rams’ business headquarters are located. The team trains in nearby Thousand Oaks (Photo credit: Matthew Simmons, Getty Images)
Eleven hours later, at 2 AM, King reported that Whitworth “woke up in his bedroom, the smell of acrid smoke everywhere. ‘We need to go,’ he told his wife. His friend [and fellow offensive lineman] John Sullivan lives in the same neighborhood. ‘We can’t leave them,’ Whitworth said, and he went to bang on the Sullivans’ door. The two families quickly packed. The Whitworths piled their kids in one of their cars and headed south, to Los Angeles.” Whitworth and Sullivan became 2 of 90 Rams players and staffers who had evacuated their homes.
PHILLIES MANAGER GABE KAPLER’S MALIBU HOME DESTROYED BY WOOLSEY FIRE
Philadelphia Phillies manager Gabe Kapler (Photo credit: Matt Rourke, AP)
Kapler, who lives in Philadelphia, wants to raise awareness of those who are less fortunate. “Keep talking about it,” Kapler told The Athletic. “When you’re out in your community, talk about it with other people. Use it as a way to come together. I sent this text message back to people: Talk about it. Shine light on it. Raise awareness. Feel it.”
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Last month, Mercedes-Benz Stadium became the first pro stadium to earn LEED Platinum certification. For that honor and more, the new home of the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United, won GreenSportsBlog’s Greenest New Stadium/Arena of 2017 award. How the stadium became a Green-Sports beacon is an interesting story. To get the inside scoop on that project and more, we talked to Carlie Bullock-Jones, CEO of sustainability consulting firm Ecoworks Studios, which helped Mercedes-Benz Stadium achieve Platinum status.
GreenSportsBlog: Sustainability consulting for sports stadium and arena projects is a very specialized niche. Carlie, tell us how you got into it…
Carlie Bullock-Jones: Well, I’ve been into sports and design since as far back as I can remember. Grew up in Auburn, AL — my dad went to Auburn…
GSB: War EAGLE!!
CBJ: War Damn EAGLE!! He then became a professor of Industrial Design there. Then, to top that off, I went to Auburn and studied design. I was interested in how buildings affected people and the environment. Heck, my thesis was “The Built Environment and its Impact on the Natural Environment.” Anyway, I got a job in Atlanta as an interior designer at an architecture firm. And even though sustainability wasn’t common practice in the industry, I started a sustainability committee at the firm in 1999, the same year as LEED was born, so the time was right, unbeknownst to me. Some of our government and education clients wanted to pursue LEED for the facilities we were designing — the CDC and Georgia Tech come to mind — and the practice just blossomed.
GSB: That’s fantastic! When did sports venues come into the mix?
CBJ: Well, before sports, we started with getting convention centers LEED certified— the two are similar in that they’re both large public spaces. Raleigh’s (NC) convention center was one of our early LEED projects. This gave me experience that would later prove valuable for stadia and arenas — working with “surge buildings” — structures that accommodate a few hundred people on most days and then jump to tens of thousands on a few days. I should mention that in 2007 I left the architecture firm and started my own professional consulting practice, with a focus on sustainability and LEED certification, Ecoworks Studio in Atlanta. Among other things, that gave me freedom to work on a wider variety of projects, which would end up including sports venues.
Raleigh Convention Center (Photo credit: Barnhill Contracting Company)
GSB: 2007…That was about a year before the “econ-o-pocalypse,” perhaps not the best time to go out on one’s own, especially with a sustainability-focused design and consulting firm…
CBJ: It did turn out to be a big challenge. Thankfully, Auburn asked me to teach. And we were able to get some work from the get-go, including teaching LEED certification workshops. In fact, in 2007-8, I taught 22 such workshops all over the world, with about 80 people in each. I loved it. Now, the economic crash did affect our growth. Until 2011, Ecoworks Studio was just, well, me. But with interest in and, acceptance of LEED growing in the industry, and by keeping up with the frequent changes and updates to LEED made by the US Green Building Council (USGBC), we were able to add value to project teams. During the downturn we also helped turn projects from non-LEED to LEED — a relatively low-cost way to add value. That allowed us to keep going and grow, so that by 2012, we were able to add staff. And we continued our focus on what I’d call “atypical projects.”
GSB: Like the aforementioned convention centers?
CBJ: Yes, and also data centers — which consume tremendous amounts of energy — and zoos. And, in May 2013, we were interviewed by 360 Architecture, which has since been acquired by HOK, a leading sports architecture firm— about working with them on LEED certification for new construction of stadia and arenas and to help convince teams and stadium authorities that going for high levels of LEED certification — think Gold or Platinum — was worth the added effort. 360 ended up hiring us and we started working on sports venues.
GSB: Were there any stadium/arena projects in 2013 that were going for LEED Gold or Platinum?
CBJ: No. At the time, teams building stadiums and arenas were not pursuing Gold or Platinum levels of LEED, since the LEED Rating System at that time was really focused on certifying an office, but they were interested in going for LEED at Certified or Silver, which was still a move in the right direction. And we became the conduit to work creatively with USGBC to apply LEED standards specifically to arenas, stadiums and convention centers to reflect the uniqueness of those structures, and we in turn showed the designers and managers of sports, as well as those other atypical venues I mentioned earlier, the benefits of applying for LEED certification.
GSB: That sounds like a great niche to occupy. How did you go about making this happen with USGBC and with designers of stadia, arenas and other big public building projects?
CBJ: Great question. Ecoworks Studio looked at office buildings, which host roughly the same amount of people every day, but only a fraction of the numbers a stadium or arena hosts on a surge day. It makes sense for office buildings to earn a significant number of LEED points for having enough bike racks to service five percent of peak visitors — if the 2,000 people occupy the building on average, that means 100 bike racks. But it makes no sense for the standard to be five percent for an arena that holds 20,000 people on surge days (1,000 bike racks?) or a stadium that holds 60,000 (3,000 bike racks?). So we worked with USGBC to reasonably apply this to stadiums, arenas and other big public buildings with surge traffic to a realistic number of bike racks. In a similar vain, we helped adapt CO₂ monitoring standards for big public building projects like stadia to account for spikes on surge usage days.
GSB: I imagine that the high profile nature of stadia and arenas would make the vendors that architects and builders employ want to be a part of the LEED-ification movement.
CBJ: No doubt about it. The move to LEED at sports venues has been a great way to leverage conversations with materials manufacturers — paints, carpets and adhesives are just three examples — to come up with more environmentally friendly, healthy offerings.
GSB: So I get that sports stadium developers and designers of convention centers increasingly were interested in getting LEED certification five or six years ago. What drove some of them, in more recent years, to go for Gold — or Platinum for that matter?
CBJ: Well, there was interest among big public space projects in LEED Gold and Platinum even back to the early part of this decade. But the general thought was that doing so was too expensive. It took visionaries to break through that way of thinking, like Arthur Blank, owner of the Falcons…
GSB: …Along with Jed York of the San Francisco 49ers with Levi’s Stadium and Vivek Ranadive, owner of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings with Golden 1 Center…
CBJ: …to see the value in LEED Gold or Platinum. I can speak to the Mercedes-Benz Stadium case as I worked on that project. Mr. Blank said “we’re going for LEED Platinum” early on in the process and he and his team never wavered. The project team saw that sustainability-oriented companies, who might not have become stadium sponsors otherwise, saw Platinum as a reason to sign on…
Five minute video featuring, among others, Carlie Bullock-Jones, tells Mercedes-Benz Stadium’s LEED Platinum story
GSB: …That is music to my ears — corporations deciding to sponsor a stadium specifically because it goes for the high levels of LEED certification. And those sponsorship dollars help defray some of the added cost of going for Platinum! So when did Ecoworks Studio start working on the Mercedes-Benz Stadium project?
CBJ: Ecoworks Studio joined the 360 team in 2013, early on in the design process for Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Expansive thinking on what the stadium could be was a hallmark throughout the planning process. Stakeholder charettes or brainstorms were held at the Arthur Blank Foundation with local environmental nonprofits taking part. An innovative “What If” approach was part of the process in which pie in the sky ideas were encouraged. The broad question that started things was “What if a stadium could contribute to a more sustainable future?” Sub-teams drilled down to more specific questions. Our Green Team asked questions like “What if the water leaving the stadium was as clean as it was coming in?” and “What if we could store the kinetic energy fans create when they walk through the stadium?”
GSB: Did any of the ideas get put into practice?
CBJ: Many did, including installing urban gardens on the property. This strategy was also an opportunity to connect with the neighboring community. This might sound like small stuff but it was all of these little things, along with the consistent commitment to go for Platinum, which got the project over the finish line…
Carlie Bullock-Jones, flanked by Scott Jenkins (l), Mercedes-Benz General Manager, and Chris DeVolder of 360 Architects — now HOK (Photo credit: Ecoworks Studio)
GSB: Not only did Mercedes-Benz Stadium achieve Platinum certification, it earned 88 points, blowing by the minimum 80 point Platinum threshold. Congratulations on being a part of the team that made this happen. What other stadium and arena LEED certification projects has Ecoworks Studios worked on?
CBJ: Thank you. Mercedes-Benz Stadium going LEED Platinum was a classic case of “right teams, right time.” Beyond that, we are wrapping the LEED certification process for Little Caesar’s Arena in Detroit, the new home of the NHL’s Red Wings and the NBA’s Pistons. And we are working on LEED certification efforts for Welsh-Ryan Arena in Evanston, IL, the existing home of Northwestern University basketball as well as its training center. Back in Atlanta, we are working with Atlanta United of MLS on LEED certification for their training facility and with the Atlanta Hawks on getting LEED certification for Philips Arena…
Ecoworks Studios is working on LEED Certification for the renovation of Welsh-Ryan Arena, home of Northwestern University basketball (Photo credit: Northwestern Athletics)
GSB: It is great to hear that Ecoworks Studios is so busy with LEED certification in sports venue world! I have one more question: What isn’t happening yet in the LEED certification end of the sports venue world that you think should be?
CBJ: I’ll answer that with a “What If”: What if a stadium could help improve your health from wellness, fitness and nutrition perspectives? We should be looking at that and I think women sustainability practitioners in particular are well-positioned to play important roles in that arena, pun intended. I also believe we have the opportunity to focus on fan engagement initiatives.
GSB: I’m a bit disappointed that’s not the case now…
CBJ: Facilities can apply for and sometimes earn what are called “innovative points” – this would be the area in LEED where fan engagement could be included. This needs to be brought up with the USGBC as something to consider, that’s for sure. The impact can be far-reaching, going beyond the walls of the building.
GSB: Somehow I can picture Ecoworks Studios playing a key role in that conversation.
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We are pleased to bring you a GSB News & Notes column full of firsts: The San Francisco 49ers represented the NFL in the first UN Dialogue on Sport and Climate Action. The first compostable peanut bags anywhere in the world are sold at Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium. And, the NBA’s Sacramento Kings host the first sustainability-themed fan engagement program at Golden 1 Center, their LEED Platinum certified arena (also a first!)
49ERS PLAY IMPORTANT ROLE AT UN DIALOGUE ON SPORT AND CLIMATE ACTION IN GERMANY
The San Francisco 49ers, along with the Philadelphia Eagles, represented the NFL when leaders of global sports organizations and sustainability experts convened October 30-31 in Bonn, Germany at the inaugural UN Dialogue on Sport and Climate Action. Its primary goal was to develop collaborative approaches by which stakeholders at the intersection of Sport & Climate Change can contribute to achieving the long-term goals of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The gathering was a preliminary of sorts to the main event in Bonn: The 23rd session of the global UN Conference of the Parties, or COP 23. That larger summit was held to advance implementation of the Paris Agreement, the multi-national accord which aims to limit global average temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius and as close as possible to 1.5 degrees Celsius, and to build greater resilience to climate change.
You might have heard this is also the very agreement the United States, on the direction of President Trump, is planning to exit as of 2019. With Nicaragua and Syria having decided to join the Paris Agreement, that will leave the U.S. as the only country not to be part of the pact. Now, I’ve certainly heard of “American Exceptionalism” but this is ridiculous — along with wrongheaded and dangerous.
But, I digress.
Back to the 49ers.
The team earned its seat at the Sport and Climate Action table, thanks in large part to its LEED Gold certified Levi’s® Stadium, which opened in 2015. The Santa Clara-based stadium, which played host to Super Bowl 50 — generally regarded as the “Greenest Super Bowl Ever”^ — in 2016, is a leader among green-sports venues, as it features on-site solar, green roof, recycled water usage, composting and much more.
Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, CA, LEED Gold certified home of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo credit: HNTB)
“Meeting with sports venues and organizations from around the world…really demonstrated that our Levi’s Stadium team is really well positioned to help lead the movement towards a more sustainable future for our industry,” said Pat Rogan, Levi’s Stadium Director of Engineering Operations, who represented the 49ers in Bonn. “The conference showed us there are many organizations as committed as we are to being environmentally responsible neighbors and that if we all work together, we can be meaningful resources for the rest of the sports industry.”
The UN Dialogue on Sports and Climate Action featured two full days of workshops, panel discussions, and keynote speeches focused on leveraging sport and its ability to influence fan behavior in areas like energy consumption, water conservation, and more. Group working sessions included assessments of the sports industry’s impact on climate change, the risks to sport from climate change and related potential governmental policy decisions, and the expectations of the sports industry to be climate change advocates. The groups also discussed what the sports industry can do to promote broader climate action.
Joining the 49ers and the Eagles at the UN Dialogue on Sport and Climate Action were a who’s who of world sport and green-sports, including:
Bundesliga, Germany’s top professional soccer/football league
Roland Garros, legendary home of the French Open tennis tournament in Paris
“Rapidly halting greenhouse gas emissions and achieving a carbon-neutral economy in the next few decades requires a fundamental change from all sectors of the business world, including sports,” said Justin Zeulner, Executive Director of the Green Sport Alliance, who also attended the conference. “And few sectors cross cultural boundaries in the way that sports does.”
Back in Santa Clara, the 49ers are committing to take the necessary steps that will enable them to sign and live up to the UN’s Climate Neutral Now Pledge:
Measure and report their greenhouse gas emissions for an agreed-upon period of time
Reduce their greenhouse gas emissions as much as possible
Offset remaining emissions with UN Certified Emission Reductions (CERs)
Per a statement from the team, these commitments and acts of leadership “are designed to help inspire the growing movement of governments, companies, and individuals [to take] proactive actions to mitigate the impact of climate change, a movement that the 49ers are determined to help lead.”
COMPOSTABLE PEANUT BAGS AT KANSAS CITY’S ARROWHEAD STADIUM
Most of the 74,929 fans left Arrowhead Stadium in a funk on Sunday after the hometown Kansas City Chiefs’ 26-14 loss to the Buffalo Bills, their fifth defeat in the last six games. Those fans were likely unaware of perhaps the best thing to happen at the game — the introduction of compostable bags of peanuts, which concessionaire Aramark says is a first for sports. The Chiefs and Aramark made the compostable bags a reality by teaming up with bag maker/Green-Sports leader BASF and Hampton Farms, which is among the country’s top peanut suppliers.
Compostable peanut bags, made of a material developed by BASF, were introduced by the Kansas City Chiefs and its concessionaire, Aramark, at Sunday’s game vs. the Buffalo Bills (Photo credit: Waste360)
Aramark, which sells 15,000 bags of peanuts every season at Arrowhead, said Chiefs officials approached them to find ways to comply with the team’s Extra Yard for the Environment waste reduction and diversion-from-landfill initiative.
As part of the 18-month developmental process, BASF worked with Missouri Organic Recycling in Kansas City to test packaging prototypes and ensure the final product met composting guidelines for quality and safety. The product is the first commercially available peanut bag to be made from BASF’s certified compostable ecovio biopolymer and Epotal adhesive.
The Chiefs are selling the peanuts for $5.75 per bag, the same price as the old bags made of non-compostable materials. Fans at Arrowhead can dispose of empty bags at compost bins or leave them under their seats for postgame pickup and sorting.
Paul Kearns, BASF’s business development manager, said, “We welcome the opportunity to demonstrate to snack producers and users of flexible packaging that compostable is a viable waste reduction strategy.”
“Over the past few years we have put an increased focus on our sustainability program, Extra Yard for the Environment, and have worked to find new, innovative ways to reduce our organization’s carbon footprint,” added Brandon Hamilton, Chiefs vice president of stadium operations. “We have received tremendous support from our partners, such as Aramark, and have been fortunate to work with…organizations like BASF and Hampton Farms, who are dedicated to helping us meet our goals.”
Philadelphia-based Aramark’s main objective, pending additional testing at other NFL stadia, is to expand the compostable bag concept to include all peanuts sold for all of their food clients.
SACRAMENTO KINGS “SPOTLIGHT” SUSTAINABILITY AT RECENT HOME GAME
On November 20, the Sacramento Kings Foundation hosted the first Spotlight Night of the 2017-18 season at Golden 1 Center, supporting regional non-profits using NBA basketball as an agent of change in the community. While the Denver Nuggets walked away with a 114-98 victory, it was Yolo Farm to Fork — a nonprofit whose work educating students on the importance of locally grown fresh food and reducing waste through school gardens — who won the night and earned its place in the “Spotlight.”
“Sustainability is one of our core values, and we’re passionate about how we can continue to reduce our impact on the planet,” said Kings President of Business Operations John Rinehart. “Through our Spotlight Nights, we’re able to support the work of incredible non-profits by sharing our stage with over 17,000 fans to raise awareness.”
During Spotlight Nights, a Sacramento-area nonprofit will “take over” the arena and engage Kings fans through in-arena programming, social media, concourse activations, and more. The Spotlight on Sustainability Night was the first in this season’s three-part series with future game nights focusing on health and education.
Yolo Farm to Fork took over the arena, sharing their message at an informational table and with special farm boxes in the suites and lofts in the arena. They educated fans on best practices for growing in-season produce, composting techniques and incorporating farm-fresh food into school lunches – thus helping Sacramento area residents reduce their environmental impact.
The Kings made sure fans were engaged and entertained, with a “Veggie Race,” videos featuring farm-to-fork trivia, as well as sharing some of the team’s innovative practices that helped Golden 1 Center become the world’s first LEED platinum arena while earning GreenSportsBlog’s “Greenest New Stadium/Arena” award for 2016.
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Like many of us, Diana Dehm understands that humanity needs to take significant actions to take on climate change to avert its most severe effects. Unlike most of us, she’s devoted her work life towards that end. The LA-based Green-preneur hosts the Sustainability News and Entertainment Radio Show and is president of Climate and Sports Youth Summits, a series of events that uses sports to engage students from primary grades through high school in climate change education. GreenSportsBlog talked with Ms. Dehm to understand, 1) the motivation behind her climate change-fighting spirit, and 2) what Climate and Sports Youth Summits are all about.
GreenSportsBlog: Diana, there is so much to cover so let’s get right to it. When did you get into the environment, into climate change? And when did you decide to work in this space?
Diana Dehm: Thanks Lew for all you do. You are right there is SO MUCH to discuss! Growing up in California until I was 15, I always had a passion for clean oceans. I’m a diver, sailor and a SUP Surfer or Paddleboarder. Moved to the Boston area at 15, went to Lesley University there, ultimately came back to Southern California. Started out as an environmental health and safety consultant; working for clients like AT&T, NBC, NCR and many more. Companies like those had started to get that sustainability was good for business. Eventually I moved up and became a VP for two large environmental consulting firms.
Diana Dehm (Photo credit: Diana Dehm)
GSB: What did you do for those firms and their Fortune 500 clients?
DD: We provided strategic counsel, environmental, health and safety (EHS) audits, and helped them integrate sustainability and environmental better practices into their businesses. We pushed them beyond mere compliance, demonstrating that doing so would drive social and tangible value for their companies and, in the process, reduce CO? emissions. We worked with companies on their supply chains, helping them to replace high polluting suppliers with companies that worked towards making “zero impact” by emphasizing biodegradability, recycling and more. Then, we would seed these stories into the media.
GSB: That sounds great — can you give us an example?
DD: Sure! GE needed environmental and health training at their NBC studios in the Los Angeles area — this was before they sold NBC to Comcast — and so I led that effort with an awesome team. GE and NBC were great leading the way towards educating their many employees.
GSB: Impressive! Sounds like you were on a great track in the corporate sustainability consulting world. What made you change course and where did that change take you?
DD: 2007-2008 was the game changer. My dad became ill with pancreatic cancer and I contracted a MRSA bacterial infection; was in and out of the hospital for a month.
GSB: Oh no!
DD: That was quite the wake up call! It strengthened my need to do big things for humanity and the planet…and FAST. So I quit my job as a VP/partner and, with the encouragement of several clients, went off on my own.
GSB: What did you do?
DD: I started working on technology innovation and how it connects to sustainability and more…Big Data, City integration, Predictive Technology, Virtual Reality, and Sense Technology…LOVED IT. In 2009, I started Sustainable Business Partnerships. It brought technical innovation and top-flight business thinking to the triple bottom line/CSR world. Some examples: I worked with Hewlett Packard Labs in Palo Alto, and I helped support tech innovation for a city in Southern California for which Hewlett Packard managed IT.
GSB: As a career-shifter and pivot-er, I have to say, you are a role model! But how did this lead to a radio show?
DD: OK…love this story. In 2010 I was visiting family on the east coast…went to dinner with an old friend. After hearing me describe my sustainability work, a friend of that friend said “you should do a radio show about all of this!” “How in the world would I do THAT,” I replied. His calm response? “I manage WSMN-AM 1590, a radio station in Nashua, NH! You can start there!”
GSB: Had you been on the air before?
DD: NEVER! I had NO IDEA WHAT I WAS DOING! Really, no clue. And here I was hosting a one hour show every Tuesday. I really just wanted to create a platform to share the solutions on the planet happening right now. Remember the economy in 2010 wasn’t so great. Thought we needed some inspiration from amazing guests from around the world!
GSB: One hour can be a loooonnng time in radio!
DD: You ain’t kidding, Lew. So like Nike says, I “just did it.” I found myself on the air the following Tuesday as the host for Sustainability News & Entertainment. Flew to New Hampshire to do the shows. It was so much fun interviewing and learning about some of the most sustainable innovations on the planet and how we can connect the dots globally to take action. Interviewed a broad range of folks — sustainability directors, sports executives, green-minded kids, scientists, politicians, musicians, artists, celebrities, the military –my early guests were especially brave. I stay connected to many of them to this day.
GSB: Terrific! Flying east to do the shows? That sounds, well, unsustainable.
DD: You’re right. So in 2010 we built a “Studio in a Box,” a flexible studio, for me..I can travel the world with my studio in a box. It was awesome at COP21 in Paris.
GSB: Amazing. How are you funded?
DD: I’ve self-funded the show because I do like the feeling of being able to work without corporate influence. I do plan to seek outside funding but would only do so if I maintain editorial control. I am convinced sustainability-minded sponsors would benefit greatly by reaching our green-minded global audience that reaches 3 to 5 million.
GSB: HOLY COW! How did you build that kind of audience?
DD: The market was ready and open: when the show started in 2010, there were few green-themed radio shows. The show’s real-world, solutions-based and positive ethos was unique…that’s why our tag line is an open sourced focus on solutions happening on the planet right now.
GSB: Not pie-in-the-sky, though, right?
DD: Nope. Always fact based. But that solutions-based approach really works. The audience grew organically as other stations, including NPR affiliates, started to pick it up. In 2013-14, we pitched the show to major radio stations. Their response? “Too new, different, controversial.”
GSB: Really? I think controversy is what radio station owners want?
DD: You would think. But the economics of the traditional, terrestrial radio business was changing — so I went to the digital world, streaming live shows, podcasting and using social media to reach a global audience of next generation entrepreneurs and innovators. That was clearly for the best as now we are blessed with having that low seven-figure audience.
GSB: Not to be redundant, but Holy COW!
DD: Thank you! It really is amazing. Anyone can listen live anytime, anywhere. I was surprised to learn that the biggest audience segment is in China — interesting to correlate that with how fast China is growing their renewable energy market. Russia and Brazil also contribute significantly; the US is third in audience size.
GSB: What do your listeners learn about?
DD: How people are making a living driving positive human impact while reducing environmental impact. From climate reduction, to zero waste, to water harvesting, to renewable energy – from the race car world to celebrities to musicians to CEO’s.
Now, like I said before, I haven’t made money doing the show so I continue to make my living through sustainability consulting, working with non-profits, corporations and schools.
GSB: Ahhh…schools! So now I see most of the Diana Dehm picture: the radio show, your interest in education. Where does your interest in Green-Sports come in? Did you ever cover Green-Sports on your show?
DD: YES! First of all, I saw the sports-environment-planet connection about 20 years ago but didn’t know what to do with that. But then I went to the first Green Sports Alliance Summit and was hooked. — I’m a sports fan and an athlete so I know the power of sports. I saw the potential connections between sports, solutions-based thinking and innovation. So that’s a part of my consulting work. And, we have done lots of sports-themed radio shows. I love them. I can’t recall the year right now — when we had 10 people — from teams, stadium managers, all talking about what they were doing to green the sports world, and how they were influencing sustainability more broadly. It was GREAT! We’ve done several Super Bowl-focused shows, talked with NFL Green’s Jack Groh and the Green Sports Alliance’s board chairman Scott Jenkins about Zero-Waste Super Bowls. We’ve had Justin Zeulner, Executive Director of the Green Sports Alliance, on our air….
GSB: The trade group for the Green-Sports world…
DD: Exactly. Now, on schools, I love kids, and we’ve had them on our show a lot..They get sustainability and climate change. Back in 2010 while interviewing MIT’s Drew Jones from Climate Interactive, he was telling me about when he was in school at Dartmouth, he and a bunch of his college buddies decided to learn what their trash impact was and decided to carry their trash around with them for a week…well, I thought that idea that needed to be recycled…
GSB: Pun intended…
DD: …So I came up with the Trash On Your Back Challenge, made it up. Drew and I pulled some heavyweights to the table to try it — Rear Navy Admiral Len Hering, the aforementioned Atlanta Falcons GM and GSA Co-Founder Scott Jenkins, Former Senior Policy Counsel at the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, US EPA Matt Bogoshian, Former President/CEO, along with many others. We walked around with our trash on our back for 5 days and learned the hard way that the average person in the US generates 4.4 pounds of trash per day. Carrying that weight around on your back provides an incentive to reduce it…right? It was smelly too, so we end up innovating ways to avoid waste and smell.
The Challenge still goes on today. Thousands of people around the world have taken it, diverting tons of waste from what I call our earthfills – our earth and our oceans.
Diana Dehm, flanked by Scott Jenkins (l) and Matt Bogoshian, is ready to embark on the Trash on Your Back Challenge. (Photo credit: Diana Dehm)
GSB: I can only imagine How low did you go?
DD: Together we were able to knock down the 4.4 pounds of trash per day, down to 0.8 pounds on average. It’s all based on simple choices.
DD: After attending several Green Sports Alliance Summits, I realized there was only one thing they were missing: kids. Kids love sports, of course. After working on student summits for many years, I shared my idea of having a kids module at the Green Sports Alliance Summit with their executive team. They loved the idea and saw great potential impact.
GSB: Who was on your team and what did you end up creating?
DD: I brought in a great team: One of most brilliant, sustainability-minded principals I knew – the former coach, and Co-Founder and CEO of the Green Schools National Network, Jim McGrath and asked him if he would like to start a non-profit focused on harnessing the power of sports to motivate K-12 students and college students to take action on climate change. Thankfully, he said yes and we proceeded to bring two other education superstars from Florida: former Olympic soccer player, teacher, and founder of the How Low Can You Go Net Zero Energy Challenge, Linda Gancitano. And Broward County’s Sustainability Teacher of the Year; Elaine Fiore.
GSB:…Don’t know Jim but I do know Linda and Elaine, interviewed them in fact. LOVE “How Low Can You Go” — sports teams working with schools on a challenge to reduce the schools’ carbon emissions…I can’t imagine two better people for your team.
DD: Indeed, they are the best!
GSB: So what did you all come up with?
DD: We partnered with the NBA’s Miami Heat for our first Climate and Sports Youth Summit, which took place at American Airlines Arena. Students, athletes and celebrities came together for a fast-paced, educational, fun day. Started at 9 AM with the tip off: “Game On For the Planet.” Brought a basketball and started passing it around quickly. Anyone who caught it had to shout out something they would do to protect the planet, reduce carbon emissions, etc. Then we took tours of the American Airlines Arena and were shown the recycling systems, the LED lighting and the other sustainability aspects of the building’s operations. We had students presenting to students, engaging them with games like “Climate Eliminators” and “Recycle Relays” and we took the “Trash On Your Back” zero waste Challenge – and the students left with their own climate action plan along with knowing we are there to support them.
GSB: They must’ve loved it!
DD: For sure. And we taught them, through the “How Low Can You Go Challenge,” how they could help their schools reach Zero Energy. We also asked them for their own ideas. One great one was “Plastic Mermaids” — a symbol of the need to get plastics out of the oceans. The kids brought them to the mayor of Broward County, FL. The Mayor liked it and showed it to the state senate in Tallahassee.
GSB: And then you brought Climate and Sports Youth Summit to the Green Sports Alliance Summit (GSA) in Sacramento in June. What was that like?
DD: Oh it was a big success…It was a two-day program at Golden 1 Center, the LEED Platinum home of the Sacramento Kings, vs. one day in Miami. We had 60 students, mostly from the local area. Day 1 was similar to Miami. On Day 2, the students monitored waste, recycling and composting stations in the arena. There was a scavenger hunt where the students were challenged to go to the various sustainable product and service exhibitors at the GSA Summit and learn about their sustainable innovations and thinking. And then the kids got to do some “trash talking” while manning the trash and recycling receptacles, helping adults learn how to recycle and compost. Afterwards they headed down to the court where they got to feel like an NBA player.
Kids make their presence felt at the 2017 Climate and Sports Youth Summit in Sacramento (Photo credit: Diana Dehm)
GSB: They must’ve eaten that up…
DD: They LOVED IT! former King Doug Christie shared his inspirational story with them, and left the students knowing that they can take action on anything they put their minds to. Calum Worthy of Disney Channel fame presented and was INCREDIBLE! He stayed with the kids for 2-3 hours and communicated, in compelling fashion, that solving climate change is a huge career opportunity for them. Also, the Oregon State student-athletes you wrote about awhile back…
GSB: Sam Lewis and Jesikah Cavanaugh from the Beaver Athlete Sustainability Team (BAST)?
DD: Yes! They shared how, by creating the first student-athlete-run sustainability organization, they are helping Oregon State fans get involved in the greening of their games.
GSB: Did you have corporate sponsors in Sacramento?
DD: We’re heading to Boulder, CO, the University of Colorado in December. Hosted by Dave Newport, their Director of Environment. Can’t wait! And 2018 will be bigger and better. Our goal is to obtain funding so we can host 20 summits per year and then grow from there. So sponsors, please join us and support our kid’s futures. I like saying “Love them, educate them, support them, and get out of the way!” – Kids get it and, once given the tools, will take action on climate!
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THIS IS PART TWO OF A TWO-STORY SERIES ON THE GREEN SPORTS ALLIANCE.
Part One, posted Thursday, centered on the Alliance’s statement about President Trump’s decision to pull the U.S out of the Paris Climate Agreement (#Prexit) and its new “Live Green or Die” initiative.
Today’s Part Two is devoted to the seventh annual Green Sports Alliance Summit, taking place in Sacramento, CA at Golden 1 Center, the new LEED Platinum home of the NBA’s Kings, June 27-29. The Summit’s theme is PLAY GREENER. What does that mean, exactly? To find out the answers to this and other Summit-related questions, GreenSportsBlog spoke with Alliance Executive Director Justin Zeulner. NOTE: The interview took place before Prexit.
GreenSportsBlog: Justin, I know things must be crazy with the 2017 Green Sports Alliance (Alliance) Summit in Sacramento close at hand so thanks for taking the time to talk. Tell us, what does the Alliance mean by the PLAY GREENER theme for the Summit?
Justin Zeulner: My pleasure, Lew. To us, PLAY GREENER, which is not only the tagline for the Summit, but also for the Alliance more broadly, means anyone and everyone in the sports industry can get involved in the sports greening movement. We’re focusing this year’s Summit on how fans, athletes, and communities are getting engaged around sustainability. At the Summit, attendees will hear stories about how teams, leagues, venues, and athletes are doing this through our plenary and panel discussion. Many of our breakout sessions will even provide road maps for how they’re doing this inspiring work. To give you a sense of what I mean by that, let’s go back a few years. You know well, and have written about how the sports greening movement’s early days were mainly inward focused, concentrating on the greening of the games at the stadium, at the arena—from LED lights, to LEED certified stadiums, to recycling. Well that work has become the norm now; the green sports standards are pretty much set. The Summit is going to highlight how the next, impactful opportunity for green sports and the Alliance is to be outwardly focused. How teams are connecting with fans, at the stadium but also, crucially, at home, to get them making mindful, greener decisions; how teams and leagues are working with environmental non-profits and community groups; how corporate sponsors are getting behind green sports initiatives; and more.
Justin Zeulner, Executive Director, Green Sports Alliance (Photo credit: Green Sports Alliance)
GSB: Well, you’re certainly talking GreenSportsBlog’s language, Justin. So many more fans consume sports on TV, online, and through other media than actually attend games. So you, we, have to get them involved in green sports.
JZ: And that we’ll be in Sacramento for PLAY GREENER is no accident. As we are being hosted by one of the leaders of the sports greening movement, the Sacramento Kings, at the LEED Platinum Golden 1 Center. The arena, a result of an innovative private-public partnership, demonstrates that Greater Sacramento is dedicated to being green through eco-smart buildings that is leading to a healthier community, not in some distant future but now, and in the near-term future. PLAY GREENER connotes a sense of urgency, that the time to act on environmental issues, on climate change, is now. We can’t leave it solely to our kids.
GSB: Amen! Do you think fans, whether at the ballpark or at home or on their mobile device, are ready to PLAY GREENER? By that I mean are they open to receiving environmental, climate change messaging through sports?
JZ: Yes! In fact, research shows fans are open to green messaging through sports. Because when people are in the sports environment, no matter where they’re consuming sports, they’re no longer Democrats or Republicans. Rather, they are Yankees fans or Cubs fans or you name it. And the word fan is absolutely key here. The passion of the fan differentiates sports from other forms of entertainment. If you reach them with a positive environmental message while people are in their fan mode, you can get to them.
Golden 1 Center, home of the NBA Sacramento Kings and the site of the 2017 Green Sports Alliance Summit (Photo credit: Sacramento Kings)
GSB: Sounds like you’re talking about green sports, Version 2.0.
JZ: I think Version 5.0 is probably more accurate…
GSB: You know what? I agree…As there have been several inflection points for the sports greening movement over the past few years…
JZ: When you take a step back, you can see that the sports greening movement is in the midst of a typical evolution in its “product life cycle.” At first, we had to build the foundation…the greening of the games at the venues. This allowed teams, venues and leagues to walk the walk. And the Alliance went from its foundation of 6 member teams to nearly 500, in 15 leagues and now in 14 countries–all in six years time. So the foundation is rock solid. Now we’re building the house, influencing society at large on climate change through sports. As I said before, the time is ripe for society to look inside our house to see what we’re doing. And what they’ll see when they look in are fan and community engagement programs, they’ll see more athletes getting involved. And—this is really important—all stakeholders in green sports will surely notice that the Alliance is moving from a model that focused mainly on the Summit as “the main thing”, with webinars mixed in, to a model that includes year-round, PLAY GREENER campaigns. Campaigns that include the Summit and webinars, but also the second annual Green Sports Day, October 6, as well as publications—like our Champions of Game Day Food Report and upcoming reports around paper and water.
GSB: How will PLAY GREENER play out in Sacramento?
JZ: We’re starting off with golf, which as you know, is innovating at a rapid pace in terms of the environment, from the PGA of America to the USGA to the R&A in the UK and beyond. A pre-Summit golf tournament, in concert with the Sacramento Kings Foundation, will kick things off at Granite Bay, a greening course…The Alliance is assisting there. Foursomes will see what is happening from a sustainability perspective as they play the course. And then there will be green golf content at the Summit. Another key area at the Summit will be food. The Kings will, at the Summit, share their approach to using local food at the arena, along with their concessionaire, Aramark.
GSB: Both are leaders in at the intersection of sports and sustainable food.
JZ: Absolutely. Another area we will be exploring at the Summit is measurement, where are we on measuring the sustainable efforts of our teams and how we can do better. This is a must for the Alliance and for the sports industry more broadly. We’ll be talking about how teams and venues are measuring water usage, energy and food waste. Also, the community impact of the teams’ and venues’ sustainability programs will be examined. What’s been really gratifying is that teams and leagues have really been pushing measurement of environmental impacts, which has attracted the interest of the EPA and of the DOE.
GSB: Makes sense. As the expression goes, what gets measured gets managed and what gets managed matters. Plus measurement—after all, what are batting average, third down conversion rate, player efficiency ratings, but measurement tools—is endemic to sports. I understand that the Pac-12 is having a “summit within the Summit” of sorts…What will that be about?
JZ: I’m glad you brought that up. In the big picture, we see the college sports in the US as a great area for growth of the sports greening movement. That’s certainly been the case the last few years. In fact, Ray Anderson, Athletic Director at Arizona State University and an Alliance board member, introduced us to leaders at the other Power 5 conferences (ACC, Big 12, Big Ten and SEC) and the NCAA. And he was a prime mover behind the first Pac-12 Green Sports Conference, which will take place in Sacramento the day before the Alliance Summit kicks off. It will take a deep dive into the many and varied green sports efforts undertaken by the conference and its member schools.^ We expect attendees from the other Power 5 conferences, non-Power 5 conferences, as well as Division II and III, to benefit from the sessions. In addition to the Pac-12, we’re also going to have a Green Sports Youth Summit, a joint effort of the Alliance, Climate Sports Student Summits, and the Kings Foundation. Hosted by radio personality Diana Dehm, we will have speakers from Disney, the How Low Can You Go Challenge, and more…
GSB: The in-school carbon reduction challenge that was started in Florida by Linda Gancitano?
JZ: Exactly. And we will also have, as in past years, our Women, Sports & the Environment Symposium. Our opening night speakers will include the Mayor of Sacramento, Kings owner and green sports visionary Vivek Ranadivé. And Basketball Hall of Famer Bill Walton will be interviewed by Abe Madkour, Executive Editor of Sports Business Journal.
GSB: Bill Walton? That is PERFECT. All-time great player. Announcer. Outsized personality. Grateful Dead Head. Environmentalist.
Bill Walton: Two time NCAA championship winner (UCLA), two time NBA champion (Portland, Boston), member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, NBA and college basketball announcer, Grateful Dead Head. And Keynote Speaker at the 2017 Green Sports Alliance Summit. (Photo credit: Awful Announcing)
JZ: I knew him when I worked with the Trail Blazers in Portland—he’s a real climate change advocate who knows what he’s talking about. Jeremy Jones from Protect Our Winters (POW) is also on the docket, as is sustainable surfing, and much more.
GSB: What Jeremy Jones and POW are doing is fantastic, especially their lobbying for climate action in Congress. Speaking of politics—nice segue, right?—have you noticed any slowing of interest on greening issues among team owners since the change of administrations in Washington in January. My educated guess is many team owners likely supported Donald Trump, not exactly a climate change fighting champion.
JZ: We have not seen any slow down of greening from any team owners, any league, or from sponsors. In fact, we’ve seen the opposite—more engagement by teams on sustainability since the election.
GSB: That’s great to hear. Sounds like it will be an active, fun and substantive summit. I can’t end our talk without bringing up the media—or, to be accurate, the lack of media attention green sports has gotten. How does the Alliance hope to combat that, at the Summit and beyond?
JZ: Well, we know we need to get the great green sports stories to media outlets. And they should cover them for two reasons: 1. Their audiences will like them, and 2. They’re powerful stories. I am confident increased media coverage will happen, naturally and organically.
GSB: Is that something the Alliance will be measuring over the coming months and years?
JZ: We already measure it, in the context of our members and the Alliance. We’ve seen a 60% increase in media references to our organization over last year. Let’s not forget the social conversations either—in 2016 we found #greensports saw an over 350% increase in use across Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram! We only anticipate the coverage to increase and the conversations to amplify!
GSB: Those are strong results and I hope you’re right. But “I’m from Mizz-ou-rah” on this: I feel network and local sports broadcasters need to do much more to publicize green sports. One more thing: If people want to PLAY GREENER and attend the 2017 Green Sports Alliance Summit, how do they go about it?
JZ: Easy. Just go to http://summit.greensportsalliance.org/register/ and you can sign up in a few minutes.
^ Pac-12 school roster: Arizona, Arizona State, Cal-Berkeley, Colorado, Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, UCLA, USC, Utah, Washington and Washington State