Leading Lights Offer Sports-Climate Change Moonshot Ideas for Earth Day

Happy Earth Day…Happy Earth Week!

The Green-Sports field is so rich and deep that we are offer a full Earth Week’s worth of columns, starting today.

Of course, the field’s richness and depth is directly related to the existential and immediate nature of our climate change problems. 

Per the 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report — as well as other studies — humanity has a dozen years, max, to cut carbon emissions in half in order to avoid the most calamitous effects of climate change. 

And yet to date, sports has largely taken a hands off approach when it comes to climate change, with a handful of exceptions.

People come to games to be entertained and climate change is not an entertaining topic. Teams, leagues and college athletics departments have taken a wide range of substantive green actions but most have been kept in the shadows. Why rock the boat, annoy sponsors and some fans?

It says here, with only a dozen years to dramatically decarbonize, rocking the boat should be the least of sports’ — or any other industry’s — worries.

In fact, many say the world needs to engage in a mobilization on par with World War II or the Apollo “Moon Shots” to attack the climate problems at the required scale and pace.

So now is the time for industry, government, individuals and, yes, sports, to go BIG on climate.

What would going big look like?

In honor of Earth Day, GreenSportsBlog asked luminaries from the Green-Sports world and beyond to offer up their ideas — brainstorm-style — for Sports-Climate Change MOON SHOTS.

The rules were simple: 1) Be brief, 2) There are no bad ideas, 3) Impossible is good, and 4) Go…

BIG!!!

So enjoy, and feel free to share your own MOON SHOT ideas in the comments section below.

 


 

Creating the world’s largest carbon offset project

Neill Duffy Purpose + Sport CEO

Fan travel is the greatest source of emissions in sport.

Imagine if sports fans everywhere could be part of the biggest team in the world fighting climate change, with a mission to create the world’s largest carbon offset project.

 

Neill-Duffy-Chief-Executive-150x150

Neill Duffy (Photo credit: Neill Duffy)

 

We would achieve this by inspiring sports fans to make a commitment to never travel to a game with less than at least three other fans — in whatever form of transportation — and measure the shared miles traveled. The resulting emissions reductions would be monetized by a corporate sponsor(s). The funds generated would be allocated to climate change-related projects, from renewable energy generation to climate change education to climate refugee resettlement and more.

And the best part, is that the technology exists this now.

 


 

NFL Meatless Monday Night Football

Summer Minchew EcoImpact Consulting Managing Partner

I would love to see an NFL “Meatless Monday Night Football” campaign!

Host teams for all Monday night football games would serve only vegetarian or vegan foods at their concessions and encourage fans watching at home to go veggie during the game as well. ESPN, which broadcasts the games on cable, would only serve vegetarian/vegan food to their cast and crew as well as at their Bristol, Connecticut studios. On-air talent would promote the veggie/vegan options heavily, with a contest among the host cities for the best Monday Night Vegetarian/Vegan Fare.

 

summer minchew melissa key

Summer Minchew (Photo credit: Melissa Key)

 

I’ll probably get booed out of the stadium for this idea¹ but the environmental impacts of meat consumption are a real issue. Meat production generates 18 percent of the world’s man-made greenhouse gases, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. And Americans are consuming way too much meat. To be precise, the average consumer ate 222.2 pounds of red meat and poultry in 2018, surpassing a record set in 2004, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. I think we could all stand more Meatless Mondays for our health and for the earth’s.

 


 

Requiring Venues To Reach Minimum Levels of Green Performance

Dale Vince Forest Green Rovers, English League Two²the Greenest Team in Sports Chairman; Ecotricity Founder 

We’ve suggested to the UN and to the English Football League³ (EFL) that ground grading regulations — enough food and restroom facilities, disabled access, etc. — should include environmental measures. Simple things like recycling facilities, no single use plastics, charging facilities for EVs, bicycle parking and meat and dairy free food options. Even use of green energy is simple enough.

Clubs should be required to put these greening initiatives into match day programs and on stadium advertising.

 

Dale Vince

Dale Vince (Photo credit: Forest Green Rovers)

 

Governing bodies could insist on minimum standards like these, and perhaps run league tables/standings that would end up highlighting clubs that go over and above the minimum on the environment— giving a different measure of club performance.

 


 

Build venues that feature “Circular Operations”

Aileen McManamon 5T Sports Group Founder and Managing Partner

The next stadiums or arenas to be built will feature Circular Operations. This means that these buildings will be self-sustaining across four key metrics: zero-waste, carbon-neutral, water-neutral and energy positive.

 

McManamon Headshot Tonino Guzzo

Aileen McManamon (Photo credit: Tonino Guzzo)

 

They will be entirely self-contained, with circular usage systems and net-positive designs (for example, stored energy put back into the grid at downtimes and use as an emergency shelter). Venues that operate circularly will shoulder their responsibility by becoming a ‘Beacon-on-the-Hill’ community asset.

 


 

All sports leagues become One Planet Leagues 

Jason Twill Green Sports Alliance Co-founder; Urban Apostles Director

The Idea: All major pro and college sports leagues adopt ecological foot printing as a measurement tool support their efforts to become One Planet Leagues.

The Background:  Ecological foot printing is considered the ’true north’ of environmental performance and is the only metric that measures how much nature we have and how much nature we use annually. An ecological foot print calculator will determine how many acres of biologically productive land are required to support an organization’s — including players, staff, fans — impact measured against the biological capacity of land available within a given country, region, or city.

 

Jason Twill

Jason Twill (Photo credit: Jennifer Twill)

 

Humans are consuming natural resources each year faster than the planet can replenish those same resources. This is called ecological overshoot. 

In 2018, humanity reached Ecological Overshoot Day on August 1, so every day after this date we were consuming another planets worth of resources.  The U.S. reached ecological overshoot day on March 15. In fact, if everyone in the world lived the lifestyle of an average American, we would need over five planets worth of resources. 

In pro football terms, we are way over the salary cap before training camp begins.  

By adopting strategies and tactics to deploy ecological foot printing, sports organizations would become One Planet Leagues and Teams, proving they are playing and operating within the resources of One Planet. The beauty of this tool is its scalability. Imagine if sports took this on and inspired millions of fans across North America to live One Planet lifestyles! 

 


 

Bring sports attendees’ footprints more in line with non-attendees

Claire Poole Clear Bright Consulting Founder

We know the average attendee of a sports event generates a carbon footprint about seven times greater than somebody going about their every day life; with transport being the largest contributing factor, followed by food and then energy. This doesn’t even consider the infrastructure of stadiums and venues, team travel and so many other factors. We never want to get to a stage where going to see our favorite team becomes untenable because of climate change.

 

Claire Poole II

Claire Poole (Photo credit: Claire Poole)

 

Thus my moon shot idea is for all sports organizations around the world to measure, publicly report and significantly reduce carbon emissions through all aspects of their operations, and reward fans for doing the same.

The platform to do this already exists, with the recently launched UNFCCC Sports for Climate Action Framework. The likes of the World Surf League, FIFA, UEFA, the IOC, the New York Yankees and Formula E have already signed up, clearly moving this moon shot idea into the realm of possibility.

 


 

Appeal to younger fans by making mass transit fun 

Monica Rowand University of Louisiana (Lafayette) Sustainability Coordinator

Imagine a campaign in which fans are encouraged and rewarded for using alternative transit methods to get to the stadium or arena. I’d love to see a team-sponsored game-day transportation system imbued with the vibe of a party bus. This will incentivize the use of public transit, especially among the younger fans teams are concerned about reaching.

And no one will argue with the results: Reductions in 1) the negative environmental impacts that go with travel in single-occupancy-vehicles, 2) traffic and the stress that goes with it.

 

RowandM2

Monica Rowand (Photo credit: Monica Rowand)

 


 

Making Auburn Athletics Carbon Negative

Mike Kensler Auburn University Office of Sustainability Director

The most important sports-climate change moon shot idea I can think of is for Auburn Athletics — and all other athletics departments — to achieve carbon negativity. They would do this by eliminating or sequestering more carbon than they produce, creating a net overall carbon reduction.

 

Mike Kensler in canoe on 5milecreek

Mike Kensler  (Photo credit: Beth Maynor Young)

 

That means using 100 percent renewable energy to power all of Auburn Athletics operations including sports events and venues. Athletics would also offset or onset — making investments in local, campus-focused clean energy, energy efficiency, and carbon sequestration projects — the carbon footprint of departmental travel to help achieve carbon negativity.  A carbon-negative Athletics Department would be a powerful force indeed.

 


 

Create awards for eco-athletes

Randy Salim Citizens’ Climate LobbyBusiness Climate Leaders Steering Committee 

Let’s use the NFL as an example. Have each of the 32 teams nominate an Eco-Athlete of the Year and then pick one to be the league’s winner, a green NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year Award. Bring as many of them as possible to Washington, D.C. to lobby for climate legislation.

 

Randy Salim photo1

Randy Salim (Photo credit: Randy Salim)

 


 

Greenest NFL fan base earns winning team an additional draft pick

Lew Blaustein GreenSportsBlog

The NFL is America’s most popular sport by far. And its brand image is corporate, conservative and establishment. If the NFL goes big on climate, that will have incredible ripple effects to all sports and beyond. So that’s why my first call with a MOON SHOT idea is to commissioner Roger Goodell.

I tell the commish to “imagine that the league administers a contest among its 32 teams that asks attendees to take positive green actions — recycling, composting, using mass transit to games, and purchasing plant-based food at concession stands to name a few.”

 

LewBiz27

Yours truly (Photo credit: Lewis Blaustein)

 

Taking into account stadium capacity and other issues to make sure there’s a level playing field, the league will award the team with the greenest fan base an additional pick in the third round of the next NFL Draft.

The idea is that positive environmental behavior by fans can help their favorite team. I gotta believe that fans — even those who don’t think climate change is real or don’t think about it at all — will “take one for the team” by engaging in positive environmental behaviors!

 


 

And finally, given sports organizations’ maniacal pursuit of Millennial and Gen-Z fans, it’s fitting that we close with not one but EIGHT MOON SHOT IDEAS from a young, future Green-Sports practitioner who will be living with the effects of climate change…

 

What If?

Ivonne Zuniga Jiminez Savannah College of Art and Design Candidate for Masters Degree in Design for Sustainability; Architect Costa Rica

What if a fan could get season tickets after recycling a certain amount of plastic?

What if instead of buying a new jersey, your favorite team would repair your old one?

What if teams allocate space in tailgate areas for local, organic and plant-based food vendors?

 

Ivonne Zuniga Jimenez

Ivonne Zuniga Jimenez (Photo credit: Purvisha Peshwe)

 

What if, by reducing the waste in the stadium, the home team lets fans know they are saving the team money in hauling and landfill costs and that saved money will be invested in (hopefully) better players?

What if being sustainable becomes part of the score of the game? As in when announcing the final score, a broadcaster also mentions how much carbon was saved by the home team’s green actions.

What if, to be drafted or signed by a team, players have to commit to engaging with a climate change-fighting nonprofit?

What if big leagues such as NFL, NBA, UEFA required sustainable certifications (i.e. LEED, BREEAM) for every venue?

What if recruiting fans to embrace sustainable behavior becomes as important as recruiting players?

Or…

What if we keep doing things in the same way?

We sports fans have the power to make a big difference in the climate change fight but we have to act now!

Sports, a powerful universal language which connects billions of people around the world, has been a powerful channel over many decades for the fights against racism, war, terrorism, gender inequality and more. What is stopping us right now from using it to make a positive impact on climate change, at scale?

Either we take action now or we continue to ignore the climate problem until some “then” in the future, but…

What if then is too late?

The world, including the sports world, can’t let that happen!

 

¹ No you won’t!
² League Two = The fourth tier of English football/soccer
³ English Football League is the governing body for the top four tiers of professional soccer/football: 1. Premier League, 2. Championship, 3. League One, 4. League Two
* Citizens’ Climate Lobby works to build the political will necessary for passage of federal revenue neutral carbon pricing legislation that returns the revenue generated to all US households in the form of a monthly dividend.

 


 

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Sportecology.org: A Platform for Green-Sports Practitioners To Connect with Academic Research

The growing Green-Sports world has spawned a cadre of academics who study the movement’s myriad of topic areas. The result is a blossoming of substantive, peer-reviewed research.

The challenge for academics in this newly busy and somewhat unruly space is how to get the research — and its insights — into the hands of Green-Sports practitioners in ways that can be easily digested and acted upon.

Stepping up to try to solve this problem is Madeleine Orr, a PhD candidate in Sport Management at the University of Minnesota. She and several colleagues from Green-Sports academia are launching Sportecology.org on Earth Day — April 22 — as a platform to connect people working in Green-Sports with research that can help propel their efforts forward.

 

“Academic journal articles are very important but for the most part, nobody reads them except for other academics. The insights in those articles aren’t getting to the people who need them. That is true in the Green-Sports world. We created Sportecology.org to bridge that gap and to become the ‘CliffsNotes’ of sustainable sports.”

So said Madeleine “Maddy” Orr, PhD candidate at the University of Minnesota and faculty member in Sport Administration at Ontario’s Laurentian University, about the new venture she and a group of leading sustainable sports academics are launching on April 22 — Earth Day.

 

MaddyOrr1.2017

Madeleine “Maddy” Orr (Photo credit: Katya Moussatova)

 

Orr envisions Sportecology.org as a platform that will help Green-Sports practitioners — from facilities managers to sustainability coordinators at college athletics departments to organizers of mega-sports events to journalists and more — improve the quality and accelerate the impact of their work.

“Groups like the Green Sports Alliance, Sport Environment Alliance in Australia and BASIS in Great Britain are all doing great work but it is largely anecdotal, based on case studies of one organization’s experience or successful initiative” noted Orr. “Peer reviewed research can give practitioners credibility and offer empirical, scientifically tested evidence to support their ideas and programs. But they can’t get that credibility if they don’t know the research exists.”

Academics will benefit because their audience will be bigger and broader.

“Believe me, no one in academia dreams of having their work gather dust on a shelf,” shared Orr. “I would talk to sport-sustainability colleagues at conferences run by the North American Society for Sport Management (NASSM) and we’d all ask ‘how can we work better with practitioners; how can we get them to access our work.”

The idea of what would become Sportecology.org popped into the Toronto native’s head in 2015, picking up real steam about a year ago.

“I started to build a database of sport-sustainability journal articles to help me study for my PhD exams, writing it out long-hand at first,” recalled Orr. “At some point, I started to think ‘this should be for everybody.’ So I began to build out what would become Sportecology.org, including starting a digital record of all the files on my computer.”

Each two-paragraph book review-like entry includes:

  • Article name and author
  • What question(s) is the author trying to answer
  • What’s the context of the question(s)
  • What the author found

Orr, after compiling the first 100 of the 200 or so existing peer-reviewed Green-Sports-focused journal articles, realized she needed assistance to get the platform up and running. That help started to appear after she presented her idea for Sportecology.org at last year’s NASSM conference in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

“I teased the idea in one of my presentations and the audience seemed to love it,” Orr recalled. “Soon after, I got an email from Brian McCullough at Seattle University saying he was interested in collaborating, which was fantastic in helping to get us started. He’s now our Co-Director.”

Orr secured some initial seed money from the University of Minnesota — where she’s getting her PhD — and Laurentian University to get the website off the ground.

 

Maddy 3MinThesis 2018

Maddy Orr pictured with University of Minnesota Vice-Provost and Dean of the Graduate School, accepting the award for the UMN’s 3 Minute Thesis First Place Winner in December 2017. Maddy was subsequently a finalist in the Midwest Association of Graduate Schools’ 3 Minute Championship Round in 2018 (Photo credit: Silke Moeller)

 

Other members on what is turning out to be a Sportecology.com All-Star team from the Green-Sports-Academia intersection include Walker Ross, who starts at the University of Florida Southern College in August, Tiffany Richardson, a mentor of Orr’s from the University of Minnesota, NC State’s John Casper, Sylvia Trendafilova at UT Knoxville, Tim Kellison at Georgia State, and Jamee Pelcher, who studied under McCullough and will begin her PhD studies at the University of Tennessee this fall.

The initial interest from Green-Sports academics and the energy brought by the burgeoning Sport Ecology Group begat more funding — from “small grants from universities and companies in the green space,” said Orr. This allowed the group to bring student “Green Teams” to the recent NCAA Women’s and Men’s Final Fours and for Orr to produce a Green-Sports podcast series called Climate Champions, on which I was an interviewee. The podcast will launch in June 2019 as a limited series, and will be available on iTunes and Spotify.

 

Maddy Tampa2019

Maddy (far right, kneeling) and some of her students in Tampa where they served as the Green Team at the recent NCAA Women’s Final Four (Photo credit: Mykelti Stephens)

 

After Earth Day, the Sportecology.org team will shift their efforts into a higher gear.

Per Orr, “We will have student interns this summer who will help us get the remaining sport ecology journal articles up on the site by August. Every month, a team member will write a news summary article. And we will highlight the news and activities of the academic side of the sport sustainability arena every quarter. We’re also building a ‘story map’ of all the sport management programs at universities, and organizations that have Green Sports programming or commitments, to accelerate collaboration between the private and university sectors. The goal is to become an easy access portal for Green-Sports practitioners, as well as professors, students and anyone interested in the topic.”

 

GSB’s Take: If one wanted evidence of the maturing of the Green-Sports world, the launch of Sportecology.org is a good data point. It says here that the site will quickly become a valuable resource for practitioners of all stripes, including GreenSportsBloggers. I for one look forward to digging into Sportecology.org come Earth Day.

 


 

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The GSB Interview: Kunal Merchant of Lotus Advisory, Bringing Green-Sports to Sacramento, Oakland and Beyond

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.

 

Kumal Merchant Headshot

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.

 

Kumal Merchant at Golden 1 Center

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.

 

Sacramento Republic MLS Stadium

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.

 

Oakland Ballpark

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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Men’s and Women’s Final Four From a Green-Sports Perspective

After the greatest weekend of Elite Eight games ever — all four went down to the wire, with two going to overtime — the Men’s Final Four is now set. This Saturday evening in Minneapolis, Auburn takes on the University of Virginia and then Texas Tech and Michigan State will go at it.

While the ESPN’s and SI.com’s of the world will analyze the on-court matchups in detail throughout the week, GreenSportsBlog digs into each school from a Green-Sports point of view.

And, we also take a look at Green-Sports goings on at Oregon, Baylor, Notre Dame and UConn — the participants in the Women’s Final Four in Tampa.

 

AUBURN TIGERS

Charles Barkley, the greatest basketball player in Auburn history, was overcome by emotion after his alma mater’s thrilling 77-71 overtime victory over favored Kentucky sent the school to its first Final Four. He wiped back tears in the game’s immediate aftermath, calling the win “the greatest day in Auburn basketball history” on the CBS Sports postgame show.

 

 

The Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame member would likely need to have tissues at the ready if he were to read our January story about Auburn’s growing Green-Sports résumé. In “Auburn Athletics: Green-Sports Grows in the SEC,” Barkley would learn that, per Mike Kensler, Auburn’s Director of the Office of Sustainability:

  • An energy efficiency campaign is underway at Auburn Arena, home of Tigers men’s and women’s basketball and women’s gymnastics.
  • The football team hosts an annual Green Game at 87,000 seat Jordan-Hare Stadium that features student “Trash Talkers” roaming the tailgate areas, urging fans to recycle, a video on Auburn’s greening programs that runs in-game on the video board, and a Green-Sports focused column in the game program.
  • Energy-efficient LED lighting illuminates Plainsman Park, Auburn’s baseball stadium.
  • Auburn football players, coaches, and others traveled to the Dominican Republic in May 2017 where they built and distributed water filters and solar light packets to those in need.
  • Helen Ulrich, a sophomore journalism major on the women’s equestrian team, earned her eco-athlete stripes by writing a story on the anti-plastic straw movement.

 

auburn football 2017

Auburn football players Dontavius Russell and Daniel Carlson drain and assemble the filters before they are inserted into the buckets in the Dominican Republic in 2017 (Photo credit: Auburn University)

 

And while there’s no way of knowing if the Tigers (also, for some reason, known by the “War EAGLE” battle cry) will qualify for the 2020 Men’s Final Four at in Atlanta, there will definitely be an Auburn flavor to the event from a green point of view. Per this 2018 GreenSportsBlog interview, Carlie Bullock-Jones, CEO of sustainability consulting firm Ecoworks Studio, and an Auburn grad (“War Damn EAGLE!”), played an important role in helping Mercedes-Benz Stadium achieve Platinum status.

 

UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA CAVALIERS

If you are a UVA fan, you still probably can’t get enough of seeing THIS:

 

 

It took that miraculous last millisecond bucket by Mamadi Diakite for Virginia, off of that amazing whip pass from Kihei Clark, to send its Midwest Region final against the gutty Purdue Boilermakers into overtime. The top seeded Cavaliers then took care of business in the extra frame, winning the “Game of the Tournament” (so far) 80-75, earning the school its first Final Four berth since 1984.

Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia Class of ’16, only made it as far as the Sweet Sixteen during his four seasons in Charlottesville. But the Milwaukee Bucks guard is making UVA alums proud through his Hoops₂O initiative. Brogdon and four other NBA players¹ are working to raise funds and awareness for clean water initiatives in East Africa. Fans donate to the program in the name of one of the players, with the players matching those contributions dollar-for-dollar. So far, Hoops₂O has raised $164,000 towards its Year One goal of $225,000. Click here to contribute.

 

Brogdon 2

Malcolm Brogdon, founder of Hoops₂o at a Waterboys well site in East Africa (Photo credit: Clay Cook Photography)

 

Brogdon was inspired by Waterboysthe program midwifed by former Virginia football star Chris Long. The two-time Super Bowl champ and 2018 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award winner, along with support from more than 20 current and retired NFL players, funds the digging of wells in the area and teaches the locals how to operate and maintain them.

 

Chris Long was the keynote speaker at the University of Virginia’s 2018 Commencement ceremony (Photo credit: Sanjay Suchak, University Communications)

 

Since its inception in 2013, Waterboys, now officially connected to Hoops₂O, has raised more $2.6 million to fund 55 wells that will provide water to over 205,000 people.

 

TEXAS TECH RED RAIDERS

Run a Google search on “Texas Tech University Athletics Sustainability” or something similar and you get several links to articles about…the University of Texas. This is to say that, so far, Red Raiders’ Athletics has not yet embraced Green-Sports.

Yet the university is a leader when it comes to climate change communications despite being located in the politically and religiously conservative West Texas city of Lubbock.

That is thanks largely to climate scientist Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, Director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech and arguably the world’s most powerful climate change communicator. In fact, Time Magazine named her to its “100 Most Influential People in the World” list in 2014.

 

hayhoe-credit-artielimmer-texastechuniversity

Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, Director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University. (Photo credit: Artie Limmer, Texas Tech University)

 

Dr. Hayhoe spoke with us in 2016 for GreenSportsBlog’s “Green Leaders Talk Green Sports” series. Here’s an excerpt that focuses on how sports can play an important role in the climate change fight (click here to read the entire interview):

GSB: You emphasize the community-religious-economy boosting nature of climate change solutions in your must-watch web series, Global Weirding. That makes total sense.

Katharine: Science is the foundation but what connects with people, what binds them together — shared values — turns out to be bigger than the science! And the pathways in our brains that are used to solve issues respond more to the shared values approach than the scientific. And community and shared values, that’s what sports is all about. Sports is part of our collective shared identity. It builds community. And this goes back millennia to Roman times and chariot races.

GSB: So how do you think sports can play an important role in building awareness and action among fans? Many times, when I ask why more athletes don’t get involved, I hear that “climate change is too complex!” But if what you’re saying is right — and I think it is — athletes don’t need to worry so much about the science. They need to emphasize the importance of the solutions to the communities where they play!

KH: Exactly. Now some sports are effected more directly and more in the present than others. Hey, I’m Canadian, so I get that hockey and other snow sports are deeply concerned about the effects of climate change on their sports in the here and now. That’s why it’s great that Protect Our Winters and the National Hockey League are leading the climate change fight. Hey, we’re a skiing family so we see a shorter ski season. I’m also a sailor and so the effects of increased ocean acidification are powerful as they are obvious…But athletes in sports that don’t have as direct a link as those we mentioned can certainly get involved. Look, I often talk about the Six America’s of Global Warming. Basically, Americans fall into six groups as it relates to global warming/climate change: From most engaged to least, it goes like this:

  1. Alarmed
  2. Concerned
  3. Cautious
  4. Dis-engaged
  5. Doubtful
  6. Dismissive

I think for now at least, we’ll leave the Dismissives — they’ll be very hard to move. But I’ve found the way to communicate with the Cautious, Dis-engaged and Doubtfuls is to emphasize shared values and concerns, and then you can move them. Sports is as powerful, as passionate a platform as there is to move masses of people.

Amen, Dr. Hayhoe. AMEN!

 

MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS

Michigan State can lay claim to being the greenest school in this year’s Final Four on at least one metric: It is the only one of the four to have green as one of its school colors.

In addition, its Sustainability Office:

  • Manages the Be Spartan Green team of student volunteers. They monitor waste stations at Men’s and Women’s Basketball, Football and Hockey games to help divert recyclable items from going to the landfill, as well as informing attendees about recycling options.
  • Published a Green Your Tailgate page on its website

The East Lansing-based school, now just two wins shy of its third national championship, also boasts a faculty member whose research has centered on sustainability issues surrounding mega-events like Olympics, World Cup and, yes, Final Fours.

GreenSportsBlog interviewed Dr. Eva Kassens-Noor, Associate Professor in Michigan State’s Global Urban Studies Program, in 2015. In this excerpt, we discuss the sustainability legacies of the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Summer Olympics.

 

Eva Kassens-Noor

Dr. Eva Kassens-Noor of Michigan State University (Photo credit: Dr. Eva Kassens-Noor)

 

GSB: How did sustainability figure into London 2012?

Eva: Legacy and sustainability were central tenets of the London 2012 bid. The facilities that were built for the Games, for the most part, have found significant post Games use, often for the general public. The Olympic Stadium will become the home of West Ham United Football Club of the Premier League starting next season.

GSB: Now let’s look to Rio 2016. Plenty of media outlets have tackled the environmental problems related to the polluted waters of the sailing and rowing venues. But what about its legacy?

Eva: I’ve been very critical of Rio in terms of legacy…

GSB: Why? We wrote about the additional Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) lines in Rio that are Olympics-related (links here and here). That should be a carbon footprint reducer, no?

EKN: You would think so but the Olympic Village and the BRT plowed through many Favelas, removing hundreds of families and businesses. The route of the BRT is also problematic — one of the routes goes from the airport to a wealthy area without going through downtown. Very ineffective.

BRT will play a significant role in transporting fans to and from this weekend’s Final Four in Minneapolis. GreenSportsBlog is heading to the Twin Cities and will report on what, arguably, is the greenest stadium and arena inventory of any metropolitan area in North America.

As far as the basketball is concerned, I picked Michigan State to beat Virginia in the championship game before the tournament began and so will stick with that².

 

WHAT ABOUT THE WOMEN’S FINAL FOUR?

Friday night’s semifinal matchups for the 2019 Women’s Final Four in Tampa feature two-time national champion Baylor vs. Oregon, seeking its first title. The nightcap is a battle of true women’s hoops heavyweights:  Defending champion Notre Dame vs. 11-time winner UConn.

From a Green-Sports perspective, the University of Oregon looks to be the favorite, but all four schools have a story to tell.

The Eugene-based university is a member of the Green Sports Alliance, as is the PAC-12 Conference. It participates in the league’s Zero-Waste Challenge, a series of waste-reduction competitions that engage fans in sustainability, develop best practices, and provide an outlet for friendly environmental competitions. And Sabrina Ionescu, the Ducks’ All America guard, took part in a PAC-12 Team Green promotional 15 second video.

 

Sabrina Ionescu

Sabrina Ionescu, University of Oregon’s 1st team All American guard (Photo credit: Sabrina Ionescu)

 

Baylor University, located in Waco, Texas, has been recycling since 2015, at McLane Stadium, the 45,100-seat home of Bears football.

Notre Dame’s Green-Sports initiatives are mainly focused on waste generated at Notre Dame Stadium, the 80,795-seat cathedral of Fighting Irish football. The Go Irish. Be Green. program features teams of volunteer students circulating through the tailgate lots, distributing blue recycle bags to fans and answering questions about single stream recycling. And they also produced this sustainability-themed video for the 2018 season.

 

 

The big question is where has this video been shown: In stadium? On Notre Dame football broadcasts? To date it has received only 64 views on YouTube.

UConn, through its EcoHusky student group, has hosted women’s and men’s Basketball Green Game Days at Gampel Pavilion over the past several years. Starting in 2017, the university’s Office of Environmental Policy purchased carbon offsets to be able to make the claim that the games were carbon-free. P.A. announcements, video board mentions, and social media posts during the events promoted the greening initiative to fans.

 

¹ In addition to Brogdon, the Hoops₂O team includes Justin Anderson (Atlanta Hawks), Joe Harris (Brooklyn Nets), Garrett Temple (Memphis Grizzlies) and Anthony Tolliver (Minnesota Timberwolves)
² In case you think I’m some sort of March Madness savant, think again. This is the first year in at least a decade in which my brackets weren’t busted by the Sweet 16.

 


 

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GSB News and Notes: Brewers’ Pitcher Brent Suter Launches Strikeout Waste; Winnipeg Jets Go Green

In today’s TGIF GSB News & Notes:

  • Eco-athlete and Milwaukee Brewers’ pitcher Brent Suter launches Strikeout Waste to encourage major league ballplayers and their fans to switch to resusable water bottles

  • The NHL’s Winnipeg Jets hosted their second annual Go Green Night, with a climate change nonprofit showing fans — via tabling on the arena’s concourses — how they can engage on the issue.

 

BRENT SUTER LOOKS TO STRIKEOUT WASTE BY RIDDING BREWERS OF ONE-TIME USE PLASTIC WATER BOTTLES

Twenty-nine year-old Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Brent Suter has more free time than usual this spring training as he is rehabbing from Tommy John arm surgery. And the eco-athlete is taking advantage of it, last month launching Strikeout Waste — an initiative designed to drastically reduce usage of plastic, one-time-use water bottles by Brewers players and staff — with his cousin Lauren Burke.

 

Suter Instagram

Brent Suter announced the launch of #StrikeOutWaste on Instagram in February

 

The Harvard grad is two thirds of the way through the year-long rehab process. If there are no major setbacks — Suter says he feels great and should be throwing off a pitcher’s mound soon — Brewers’ fans can expect to see the lefty back on a major league mound sometime in July, as the pennant race starts to heat up. 

In the meantime, Suter and Burke are working to move Strikeout Waste from the drawing board to the dugout. The goal is to show fans that, if their favorite players and teams can reduce plastic waste, so can they.

“Think about a baseball TV broadcast immediately after the game’s final out,” offered Suter. “There’s always a shot of the players heading from the dugout to the clubhouse, with empty plastic water bottles strewn all over the place. This is not a good look, to say the least. So we aim to change the look along with player and fan behavior with Strikeout Waste.”

The idea for Strikeout Waste began to percolate between the cousins two and a half years ago but Suter’s main focus was on making the Brewers and, once he did, sticking with the big club. With more free time since his injury and subsequent surgery last summer, Suter started to take eco-action.

“We thought going with reusable water bottles would work on several levels,” Suter recalled. “It’s something everybody can do to save a lot of plastic waste. Fans can easily relate to it. And it shouldn’t be that hard to change players’ and fans’ behaviors, ideally taking most people just a few days to get used to using a reusable water bottle and have it become like an appendage.” 

Suter and Burke engaged Chicago-based LW Branding to help them flesh out the concept during the offseason. Then, at the start of spring training, they created a partnership with Suter’s favorite water bottle brand and had reusable bottles shipped to the spring facility. 

“We ended up choosing a bottle from Zulu Athletic,” reported Suter. “It’s made out of high-quality glass that is also hard to break, with a pop-off lid perfect for frequent use in the dugout, clubhouse and everywhere else.”

The duo is starting small — Suter distributed about 100 total bottles from several test vendors during the early part of spring training to eager Brewers players and staff and he expects his first order of 100 Zulu Athletic bottles to arrive in the next week so the rest of the organization has them — but they have big plans.

 

Suter Murph H2O Bottles

Milwaukee Brewers bench coach Pat Murphy holds a water bottle, surrounded by Brent Suter (2nd from left) and other members of the ball club (Photo credit: Brent Suter, Milwaukee Brewers)

 

“Since I will still be rehabbing here in Arizona once spring training ends next week, I am going to try spreading the campaign to the Arizona Diamondbacks through shortstop Nick Ahmed, who is already into it!” Suter said. “Cincinnati Reds second baseman Scooter Gennett is another guy who I am confident will advocate for it.”

Suter’s and Burke’s plans go beyond baseball — they can envision a Slam Dunk Waste for the NBA, a Sack Waste for the NFL. You get the idea.

Brent Suter gets the last word: “We need to show fans that their favorite athletes care about about plastic waste, climate change and the environment more broadly. Some portion of those fans will take positive environmental action. Of that I have no doubt.”

 

WINNIPEG JETS INVITE CLIMATE CHANGE-FIGHTING NONPROFIT TO CONNECT WITH FANS AT GO GREEN NIGHT

“Green Games” are rapidly becoming commonplace among a wide swath of North American pro and college teams, a sure sign that Green-Sports 2.0 — i.e. fan engagement — is here.

So I wasn’t all that excited when the news that the Winnipeg Jets hosted their second annual Go Green Night at Bell MTS Place last Thursday came across my transom. Don’t get me wrong: I’m glad the Jets are having Go Green Night — it’s just that it didn’t seem that newsy anymore.

 

MTS Place

MTS Place, home of the Winnipeg Jets, hosted its second Go Green Night last week (Photo credit: Winnipeg Jets)

 

I was wrong.

That is because the Jets invited Climate Change Connection (CCC), a program of the Manitoba Eco Network, to interact with fans in the arena’s concourses during the Green Game. CCC’s mission is to make Manitobans aware of the facts surrounding climate change and to inspire them to take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to build climate resilient communities. The organization promoted ways for Jets fans to act on climate, and provided easy-to-digest information on how to go about it. 

 

Winnipeg Jets Go Green Game

 

Of course, you may ask, “Lew, the Jets Green Game partnership with CCC doesn’t sound unique. Why are you so excited about it?”

I am excited because True North Sports & Entertainment, the owner of the Jets and MTS Place felt comfortable having an organization called Climate Change Connection interact with its fans in a very public way.

Since the Green-Sports movement’s beginnings around 15 years ago, teams and leagues have done a terrific job greening the games, from improving energy efficiency to on-site renewables, to much, much more. But they didn’t communicate about their greening initiatives much to their fans during this Green-Sports 1.0 era. Climate change? It was mentioned rarely.

We are in the early days of the movement’s fan engagement-focused 2.0 iteration. This era is unfolding in the same time period as the release of a devastating report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It asserted that humanity has 12-15 years to decarbonize significantly if it is to avoid the most calamitous effects of climate change. With that as backdrop, it says here that the sports world can no longer afford to play it coy when it comes to talking about climate change.

This does not mean fans should be bludgeoned by climate change. After all, they’re at the arena or stadium to enjoy a game.

But there’s a great deal of space between bludgeoning and saying nothing.

Climate change-themed public service announcements on the scoreboard here and there wouldn’t hurt.

Nor would having a group called Climate Change Connection interact with hockey fans at an arena concourse.

 


 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

Haruki Headshot1

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

 

GSB: How did they react?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GSB: Interesting. What term do the Japanese use?

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

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

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

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

 

Flat hachinoe

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Haruki GSA

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

¹ HVAC = Heating and air conditioning

 


 

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The GSB Interview: Roger McClendon, New Executive Director of the Green Sports Alliance

Roger McClendon was named Executive Director of the Green Sports Alliance on January 15. The former Chief Sustainability Officer of Yum! Brands took a break from the whirlwind of his first six weeks weeks on the job to talk with GreenSportsBlog about his path to the Alliance and his early thoughts on where the organization needs to go.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Congratulations, Roger! I’m sure you’re being pulled in a million directions, so let’s get into it. When did your interest in sustainability and sustainable business begin?

Roger McClendon: Thank you, Lew, for the opportunity to talk to GreenSportsBlog readers. I’m an engineer by academic training and a graduate from the University of Cincinnati. Early in my professional career I studied and worked on automating manufacturing processes in a paper mill using control theory and algorithms to improve production efficiency. I also worked on wastewater treatment and power generation systems. Those projects focused on important questions like how do you reduce waste and improve the process as well as save money?

So it was that mindset that drew me to sustainability, technology, and innovation. Of course this work became the foundation of my environmental sustainability experience and background. And, as time went on, I became interested in the social and governance sides of the sustainability equation as well. Things like diversity, how workers are treated, human trafficking, public policy, shareholder proposals, etc. These are, I think, undervalued aspects of the sustainability world, and was something I pushed in my role as Chief Sustainability Officer at Yum! Brands.

 

roger mcclendon gsa

Roger McClendon, the new executive director of the Green Sports Alliance (Photo credit: Green Sports Alliance)

 

GSB: Speaking of the CSO job, that didn’t exist before you took it on in 2010. How did you come to create it? And how did Yum! Brands management react?

Roger: Sustainability was not really on top management’s radar screen when I brought it to them in 2009-10. But you have to understand David Novak, the founder of the company, which was a spinoff of the restaurant brands KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell from PepsiCo was a passionate values-driven leader. His management style recognized that, by putting people first, profits would follow, not the other way around. Before the Yum! Brands spinoff, I had worked my way up through the engineering ranks at KFC and, in so doing, had seen that prioritizing sustainability would grow profits and drive new business.

So after the spinoff, I saw that the new company had a Corporate Social Responsibility or CSR function but there was a big gap: Sustainability was not included. I saw this as a huge opportunity for the company. I conducted some benchmarking studies internally to see how applying a sustainability lens — efficiency, innovation, environment — could improve our best practices. Then I looked outside the company to see how corporations like GE and P&G were treating sustainability. Eventually, I made a presentation to top management about how sustainability could be a powerful business driver. They loved it! David did ask ‘Why should I make you CSO?’ I said ‘Because I’m already doing the job!’ And that was that.

 

David Novak Yum!

David Novak (Photo credit: Yum! Brands)

 

GSB: Great story! Was there any pushback from management and/or the rank-and-file at Yum! Brands about sustainability? Did some say things like ‘Why are we doing this tree hugger, Berkeley stuff?’

Roger: There was some of that cultural stuff but the broader challenge was that big change is difficult, especially in a penny-profit business like restaurant chains. I mean, we worried about each napkin that we bought. Getting 16, 17 year-old employees and franchisees to implement programs and promotions was always a heavy lift.

GSB: How did you overcome that?

Roger: Well we always looked to show all stakeholders how sustainability aligned with value creation. And we emphasized, especially with millennial and GenZ employees, that we were transforming Yum! Brands into triple bottom line company — People, Planet, Profit. And now the company is well on its way to living those values.

GSB: Aside from the very important transition on corporate values, what were some of Yum! Brands biggest sustainability wins during your tenure as CSO?

Roger: Thanks for asking. We helped drive energy efficiency initiatives that have resulted in an estimated savings of 4.3 megawatt hours (mWh) of electricity globally. Yum! Brands also created Blueline, a sustainable restaurant design, build, operational, and maintenance standard that uses key restaurant-relevant aspects of LEED, paired with proven, actionable solutions in areas such as lighting and optimized hood exhaust and ventilation systems.

These initiatives and more resulted in Yum! Brands being named to the Dow Jones Sustainability North America index in 2017 and 2018. We also earned Top 100 Best Corporate Citizens status by Corporate Responsibility Magazine, also in 2017 and 2018.

GSB: Have any of the major Yum! Brands messaged sustainability to consumers?

Roger: Consumer messaging really has been centered on the local level rather than through national ads. KFC in Australia did a local campaign around its switch to canola oil. That screams sustainability and health without actually saying it. And the folks got it.

GSB: Which is great. I understand you retired from Yum! Brands last spring but you’re way too young to be fully retired. Was Green-Sports and the Alliance on your radar at the time?

Roger: Not really. I mean, I was well aware of the sports greening movement, especially since KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell sponsor all manner of sports. And I’d been at conferences at which folks from the Alliance spoke. So I knew Green-Sports was a growing and good thing but I wasn’t looking at it as a landing spot when I retired from Yum! Brands.

Instead I worked with the Aspire Basketball Foundation in Louisville where my family lives. It teaches life skills, leadership, and personal development to high school students and those in a gap year before college, all through the prism of basketball, which I played at the University of Cincinnati and love. That’s what I was doing when I heard about the opening at the Alliance. I reached out to Scott Jenkins, the Board Chair at the GSA and we talked about the job, how I would be able to magnify the impact of Green-Sports at a high level. I thought, ‘this sounds like a great fit’ so I went for it.

 

roger mcclendon uc hoops

Roger McClendon, while a member of the  University of Cincinnati Bearcats, launches a jump shot over Virginia Tech’s Dell Curry, aka Steph Curry’s dad (Photo credit: University of Cincinnati Athletics)

 

GSB: And you got it!

Roger: I’m very thankful and realize that, as I take this position, I realize I stand on the shoulders of giants who created the Green-Sports movement like Christina Weiss Lurie, minority owner of the Philadelphia Eagles and their Go Green initiative, the late Paul Allen, owner of the Portland Trail Blazers, Seattle Seahawks and Sounders, and an early funder of the GSA, and Allen Hershkowitz, one of the true Green-Sports visionaries.

GSB: Indeed. And, as you take the helm at the Alliance, you do so as the movement is at what I see as a pivot point, from a Green-Sports 1.0 world, in which the focus is on greening the games and venues, to the Green-Sports 2.0 world, in which the emphasis shifts to engaging fans, both those who attend games and those who consume sports via media. I know it’s early days, but with that backdrop, what do you see as the top two or three items on your agenda?

Roger: That’s a great way to frame it, Lew. And you’re right, it’s early days. So my first order of business is engaging the Board, teams and venues, and the media to get a great sense of the state-of-play in Green-Sports. At the same time, I think we need to take a look at what’s next — Green-Sports 2.0 as you call it — and then what comes after that.

GSB: Green-Sports 3.0?

Roger: That’s right.

GSB: What do Green-Sports 2.0 and 3.0 look like to you right now?

Roger: First, it’s important to note that the sports world has done an admirable job on Green-Sports 1.0, greening the venues…

GSB: Thanks certainly go to the Alliance for its part in 1.0.

Roger: I wasn’t here for that work, obviously, but I’ll accept that thanks on behalf of the people who were. The greening of stadiums, arenas, and training centers needs to continue. And then we need to go forward on not only fan engagement, but also on helping our member teams, venues, leagues and more take on environmental and social issues in ways that have measurable impacts. The 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs can serve as great metrics for us.

GSB: Absolutely. Of course seven of the 17 SDGs focus on the environment¹. Going forward, will the Alliance work mainly on helping its members on those seven green SDGs? Or will it look to put as much weight on the social and governance aspects of sustainability, as it does on the environment?

Roger: The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals is one framework that I think the Alliance can leverage with our key stakeholders and determine where we should focus and prioritize. It can help us focus on what has the most material impact to our partners, members, fans, and communities as a whole.

There is a process of engagement, alignment, strategy development and execution planning that the Alliance will facilitate with our partners, members, and other key stakeholders. I anticipate that the Alliance and our partners will focus primarily on social and environmental sustainability issues and less on governance.

GSB: Finally, I want to get your take on climate change. I think it’s fair to say that the sports world at large and the Alliance to this point have, for the most part, stayed away from the topic. How do you want to take it on?

Roger: Well this gets into what problems do we want to help solve. Can we impact things like access to clean drinking water, dealing with drought, wildfires, and more? I say yes and we need to get involved in a strategic, focused way to do that sooner rather than later. But do we need to get into the politics of climate change? I think we should stay away but, at the same time, focus on doing what we can to help venues and teams to reduce their emissions.

GSB: Understood. Thing is, I think it will be much harder to stay away from climate change and the politics surrounding it with the recent introduction in Congress of the Green New Deal proposal. How might the Alliance’s alter its approach to climate change in a Green New Deal world?

Roger: We don’t have to debate climate change as the science is evident. We do have to act as a responsible citizen, business, community, city and country. We need to focus on improving sustainable operations and supply chains as well as partnering and investing in smart city infrastructure and develop social and environmental awareness and engagement movements to engage future generations.

GSB: Sounds good, Roger. I look forward to our future conversations to see the types of Green-Sports 2.0 initiatives the Alliance undertakes under your leadership, particularly on fan engagement and climate change. In the meantime, all the best.

 

¹ Seven SDGs that focus on the environment are Clean Water and Sanitation, Affordable and Clean Energy, Sustainable Cities and Communities, Responsible Consumption and Production, Climate Action, Life Below Water and Life on Land. The rest of the SDGs are: No Poverty, Zero Hunger, Good Health and Well-Being, Quality Education, Gender Equality, Decent Work and Economic Growth, Industry/Innovation/Infrastructure, Reduced Inequality, Peace and Justice, Partnerships to Achieve the Goals

 

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