The GSB Interview: Catherine Kummer, Driving Force Behind NASCAR Green

That NASCAR has had a green initiative for ten years surprises some, heartens many and engenders skepticism about green washing from others. GreenSportsBlog has wanted to get the real story on NASCAR Green for several years and so we were pleased to be able to talk with Catherine Kummer, one of its many driving forces.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Catherine, one of the most common questions I get when I tell people I write about the intersection of Green & Sports is “what is NASCAR Green all about? Is it legit?” So I want to get into that with you. First, though, I want to find out how you got to NASCAR Green. Are you a lifelong auto racing fan? An environmentalist from way back?

Catherine Kummer: I love that it’s one of the first questions you get, means folks are paying attention and catching wind of our work. I was not a motorsports fan growing up in Raeford, NC, a small farming community in the southeastern part of the state, near Fayetteville and Fort Bragg. I was fortunate to grow up spending time on the North Carolina coast and unfortunately saw the erosion of the coastline firsthand. In fact, the area just a bit further inland was devastated by Hurricane Matthew and, more recently, Hurricane Florence in September. I was also incredibly fortunate to have amazing parents and siblings. My family has a grocery store, Home Food Market, that has been in our family for over 100 years — I grew up there and my brother runs it now.

GSB: This sounds like a Mayberry type of childhood…

Catherine: It was…and, in addition to amazing vegetables, the store gave me a deeply rooted appreciation for growing local, shopping local and buying local from an early age. Respect for the outdoors and keeping the environment better than we found it is in my DNA. I’ll give you an example. When I was in middle school, I wrote letters about the environment to then-President George H.W. Bush. The White House would send back a signed (aka stamped) photo of the President. I was also reminded by my Dad a few weeks ago that I started an early recycling initiative at my middle school….I wore my reduce, reuse and recycle shirt all the time!

 

Catherine Kummer Recycling at West Hoke Middle School cafe 1993

Catherine (“Katie”) Kummer, then McNeill, in the white shirt on the right, was a young recycling pioneer at her middle school in 1993 (Photo credit: Catherine Kummer)

 

Catherine Kummer with son opening an employee tree planting event in Charlotte, NC.

A more recent photo of Catherine, with her son opening a NASCAR employee tree planting event in Charlotte, N.C. (Photo credit: NASCAR)

 

GSB: So maybe it was destiny that you’d end up working in sustainability. But how did you end up at NASCAR and NASCAR Green specifically?

Catherine: Well I went to UNC Chapel Hill for undergrad…

GSB: You were a “Tar Heel born…”

Catherine: …”And a Tar Heel bred.” That’s right! I was a journalism major and wrote for The Daily Tar HeelI saw a job posting in 2004 at NASCAR in their publishing division. Graduated UNC in May, started at NASCAR in June. I also bleed a bit of gold and black however as I am currently finishing a Masters in Sustainability at Wake Forest University and have been fortunate to also join courses taught by Leith Sharp at Harvard in Sustainability Leadership.

GSB: Were you a NASCAR fan?

Catherine: Not originally. My first project was editing “NASCAR For Dummies” which gave me a deep dive into all things NASCAR, real quick. It was a really amazing job. I grew to respect the sport, what the drivers and team members go through, from the physical challenges to the stress. I love the competitiveness of it and the idea that NASCAR is a tight-knit family, its own ecosystem.

GSB: Talk about how NASCAR Green came about…

Catherine: NASCAR Green launched in 2008. But the idea came a year or two prior, when NASCAR leaders met with Former Vice President Al Gore…

GSB: …During the time of “An Inconvenient Truth”? I can absolutely see the former Vice President talking to an organization, NASCAR, who might seem an unlikely partner in greening. But he is a guy who sees possibilities and so, it sounds, did NASCAR.

Catherine:.. NASCAR had always wanted to influence, educate, and inspire our fans on fuel efficiency, reforestation, sustainability, etc. So after meeting with former Vice President Gore, our key stakeholders brought in Dr. Mike Lynch to be our VP of Green Innovation. Thanks to his leadership, NASCAR Green was built, and I got connected with him soon after.

 

CEO Brian France (L) and former U.S. Vice President Al Gore at the NASCAR Green Summit on 2013Chicago Brian Kersey NASCAR Getty

NASCAR CEO Brian France (L) and former U.S. Vice President Al Gore (R) listen to retired Army General Wesley Clark at the 2013 NASCAR Green Summit in Chicago (Photo credit: Brian Kersey NASCAR/Getty Images)

 

GSB: What was NASCAR Green like at the beginning and what part did you play?

Catherine: Leadership supported us from the beginning, allowing us to pilot new things, even mess up occasionally. The vibe from the top down was “some things will work, some won’t, but we need to always look ten moves ahead and keep the big picture in mind.” Our sport, like all of society has an environmental impact therefore we started and continue to keep our focus on three key areas of environmental impact: waste, emissions and energy.

One of the first things we got involved with is automotive fluid recycling. Safety-Kleen, owned by Clean Harbors, which safely recycles and transports oils, is in every NASCAR garage as well as many team shops. They re-refine the waste oil and put it back to work in various team cars as well as asphalt re-paving initiatives at track. Circular economy from the beginning. We also kicked off an aluminum and PET waste diversion program with tracks which was environmentally and financially beneficial. The tracks do a great job of ensuring they are disposing of waste responsibly inclusive of food and other potential landfill items. Many of the teams in our sport also recycle their race cars. Our leaders and others liked that we were able to drive value to the business and inspiration to the industry, employees and fans.

 

Recycling efforts at NASCAR races

Recycling bins alongside NASCAR tracks are a common sight (Photo credit: NASCAR)

 

GSB: That is really impressive. But I have to ask — how did NASCAR fans react to this green programming? Have you ever gotten negative push-back from them? Implied in the last question — and with my New York City bias likely baked in — is that green programming that might be well received in Boulder or Berkeley might not get such a good reception in places like Talladega, Alabama or Bristol, Tennessee.

Catherine: I have never gotten negative pushback from fans. Not once, other than one fan being upset that they did not have a blue recycling bag for their campground location. I think one reason our fans support NASCAR Green is many are outdoorsmen and women so they understand that protecting our environment is very important. And a number of our corporate sponsors get that our fans, well, get it. They embraced a number of green initiatives. For example working with Goodyear and Champion Tire, we recycle all of our tires through an innovative sponsorship with Liberty Tire Recycling. The tires are recycled and turned into mulch for landscaping and playgrounds as well as used in rubberized asphalt projects…many of the roads on the West Coast are being made with recycled tires as I’m sure you know already!

GSB: What about composting?

Catherine: We’ve tried it at several tracks. Available composting infrastructure is challenging, but we are excited to watch it advance as our tracks are supportive of green initiatives. Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania is one to keep an eye on for sure. They have been an environmental leader for quite some time.

GSB: I know! Their solar array in an old parking area powers the entire facility! Amazing!

 

Solar Farm_8

Solar panels cover an abandoned former parking lot at Pocono Raceway (Photo credit: Pocono Raceway)

 

Catherine: They also have, according to their sustainability report, one of the highest diversion rates and one of their family businesses, Pocono Organics, just broke ground on a new project this summer working with the Rodale Institute, a leader in Regenerative Organics…

GSB: Say more…

Catherine: The result of the partnership is a 55 acre regenerative organics farm across the street from the track that will provide produce for events, “Farm to Track.”

GSB: How cool is THAT?! What are other tracks doing, green-wise?

Catherine: You’ve got to check out www.NASCAR.com/Green for the whole scoop as I’m not sure GSB has enough space for me to properly note all of the work! However to name a few, Indianapolis Motor Speedway now has a nine megawatt solar array across the street on their land. Green Sports Alliance-member Sonoma Raceway in California has solar on-site as well along with Daytona International Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway. These are just solar applications; readers can check the site for more detail on how tracks support the three areas of environmental focus I mentioned earlier; waste, emissions and energy.

GSB: What are the tracks and NASCAR Green doing to minimize carbon emissions?

Catherine: Blended fuels. Sunoco Green E15 specifically which is a 15 percent ethanol blended biofuel used in our top three national series. We’ve now run well over 10 million miles on it. This has helped in reducing emissions by 20 percent per the EPA Renewable Fuel Standard. We’ve also invested in offsetting our carbon emissions, through verified carbon offsets programs globally and our long-standing reforestation efforts with the Arbor Day Foundation and others. Our NASCAR Green Community Tree Recovery Effort is the first of its kind in sports and was launched just this year where with partners such as K&N Engineering and Ford we’ve been able to go into race markets affected by climate-related natural disasters and support those race fans with trees, LED lighting kits and more.

 

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver Matt DiBenidetto supporting our #RaceforTrees Campaign

Monster Energy Cup Series driver Matt DiBenidetto supporting NASCAR’s #RaceforTrees campaign (Photo credit: NASCAR)

 

GSB: Really impressive, Catherine. NASCAR Green has done terrific — and many would say surprising — work on what I call “Green-Sports 1.0,” the greening of the games or, in your case, races. Now let’s turn to “Green-Sports 2.0,” the much more important, in my view, effort to engage fans, especially those who don’t attend races, on the environment, especially on climate change. I understand NASCAR Green has surveyed NASCAR fans on the environment and climate change. What do those results show?

Catherine: We survey fans and non-fans regularly. As of April 2018, we know that more than four out of five NASCAR fans (88 percent) believe the Earth is going through a period of climate change, and three-quarters of them feel a personal responsibility to combat it.

These survey results have given us confidence that our environmental programs and activations with partners, including nationally broadcast television commercials, reach a largely receptive audience.

 

 

GSB: Great commercial, but I notice it doesn’t mention climate change. Why is that? And will future commercials mention it?

Catherine: More than half of our fans believe climate change is real, our work including these television commercials contribute to that belief based on the increases we’ve seen year over year. Their actions as a result are most important. Will they contribute to our digital tree planting tool? Will they better understand their carbon footprint? Will they push our social and digital content….to date, they have and that’s what makes sport and sustainability impactful.

GSB: That’s great! More sports leagues should survey their fans on climate. What are some of your drivers doing NASCAR Green-wise?

Catherine: A lot of our drivers support NASCAR Green and sustainability initiatives. Ryan Newman for example, one of our top Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers and his wife Krissie, have a non-profit called the Rescue Ranch, whose mission is to promote through education, respect for all animals, as well as, agricultural, environmental and wildlife conservation.

GSB: Great to hear. We look forward to hearing more about NASCAR Green innovation in 2019.

 

 


 

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

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

 

INDIANAPOLIS MOTOR SPEEDWAY LEADS THE LIST OF 50 BIGGEST SOLAR SYSTEMS AT STADIUMS AND ARENAS

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

Three nuggets stood out to me.

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

 

Solarplaza

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

Cruyff Arena Holland

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

 

TT Circuit Solar ABN Amro

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

 

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

 

NIKE STEPS UP ITS GREEN GAME: JOINS SCIENCE BASED TARGETS INITIATIVES; LAUNCHES ‘SUSTAINABLE LEATHER’ SHOE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Flyleather will help Nike move towards its Science Based Targets

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

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

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

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

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

 

Nike Flyleather Tennis

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

 

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

 


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

 


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