Los Angeles-based AEG is the largest sports and entertainment venue operator in the world, entertaining over 100 million guests annually. On the sports side, AEG is both a venue owner-operator — marquee properties like LA’s Staples Center, London’s O₂ Arena and T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas headline its portfolio — as well as a team owner, with LA’s Galaxy, Kings and Lakers among its leading lights.
An early driver of the sports greening movement, the company has accelerated the pace of its sustainability efforts over the past three years, committing to science-based targets in 2016 and to the UN’s Sports for Climate Action Framework earlier this year.
GreenSportsBlog first spoke with John Marler, the company’s VP of Energy and Environment and newly announced Green Sports Alliance board member, three years ago. We caught up with him recently to delve into AEG’s recent sustainability advances and to get his take on how hard sports can push on climate going forward.
GreenSportsBlog: Hi John, it’s great to talk again. AEG adopted “science-based targets” regarding its greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) reductions goals in 2016. What are science-based targets in general and how has the company progressed in the first three years since making the commitment?
John Marler: GHG reductions targets adopted by companies are considered science-based if they are aligned with the level of decarbonization necessary to keep global temperature rise below 1.5°C as compared to preindustrial levels.
While AEG was not the first company to commit to science-based targets, we were an early adopter back in 2016.
GSB: Why did AEG go all in on science-based targets?
John: We realized that, while the planet doesn’t care if we get things right on GHG emissions reductions, humanity and other life forms certainly will care. Progress has been slow but steady. In 2018, we were able to move closer towards our goal by purchasing additional renewable energy. This allowed us to keep up, emissions-reductions-wise, with the growth in emissions from adding new venues to our roster. Many other companies are in the same boat and are taking a similar approach.
John Marler (Photo credit: AEG)
GSB: What specific targets are AEG moving towards?
John: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report says humanity has until 2030 to reduce GHG emissions by 45 percent versus a 2010 baseline. We’re working towards that goal and also towards being carbon neutral by 2050.
GSB: How far along is AEG in terms of emissions reductions and how have you gotten there?
John: We reduced GHG emissions by 18 percent from 2017 to 2018 and are very close to being on pace to get to the 33 percent reduction level by 2020, putting us on track to get to the “45 percent by 2030” threshold. Our approach for our venues has been to focus on energy efficiency wherever possible and to purchase renewable energy credits (RECs).
We’ve been encouraged by the quality and quantity of the RECs that have become available as more renewable energy generation capacity is being built out. One somewhat paradoxical challenge for us has been our growth. Meaning that the more properties we acquire or build, those added emissions get assigned to our ledger versus our 2010 baseline.
GSB: So that means you’re actually performing better on a per venue basis if total AEG emissions are down vs. 2010 as your portfolio has grown, right? How do on-site renewables fit into this?
John: Solar and wind at sports or entertainment venues are great in that they serve as high profile advertisements for renewable energy. But the amount of emissions reduction we see from on-site renewables at stadiums and arenas is quite small. The truth is, only about 25 percent of venue roofs can even accommodate solar. So on-site renewables alone will not get us close to where we need to get in terms of GHG emissions.
Again, for us, getting to our targets will come from improvements on energy efficiency plus funding new off-site renewable energy by the purchase of RECs. We’re pleased by the technological advancements and thus the price reductions in solar and wind as well as on energy storage. The question is, when we’re talking about climate change globally rather than just in the sports industry, will these advances be fast enough?
Solar panels atop the roof of the Staples Center in Los Angeles (Photo credit: John Marler)
GSB: And will there be the will, from the grassroots and political levels, to make the policy changes necessary to accelerate the adoption of these technologies fast enough? Back to sports for a minute. I think Green-Sports 1.0 — the greening of the games themselves — has largely been a success over the past decade or more. LEED certified stadiums and arenas have become the norm. But the sports world cannot rest on those laurels. What do you think the sports greening movement needs to do going forward to maximize GHG reduction impacts?
John: The good thing is that most people in the sports greening movement realize that Green-Sports 1.0 is not nearly enough to get us where we need to be. The real opportunity is for sports venue management — and that means companies like ours — as well as teams, leagues and athletes is to inspire fans to care about climate. For this to happen, sports organizations need to be more public about their greening efforts and encouraging fans to do the same in their own lives. Maybe fans get interested via the plastic ocean waste issue, maybe by trying a plant-based diet. The important thing is they get there.
GSB: How is AEG going about communicating its greening initiatives to its fans?
Signage promoting LA Galaxy’s decision to phase out plastic straws as part of its Protect the Pitch initiative (Credit: LA Galaxy)
GSB: How does AEG promote #GoGreen to its guests? How is traffic to the site?
John: Sustainability is increasingly informing consumers’ purchasing habits and behaviors. Because everyone plays a role in sustainability, we encourage employees and fans through our social channels to visit AEGGoGreen.com, learn how to lessen their environmental impact and ask others to join the movement by sharing a #GOGREEN Pledge via Facebook and Twitter.
Conserving our planet’s resources is a shared endeavor that not only touches all levels of our organization, but all people in all corners of the globe. Only by working together can we improve the health of our planet.
The program underscores AEG’s belief that it has an opportunity to use the power of sports and music to create significant, positive change in the world.
GSB: Finally, AEG’s energy efficiency initiatives, its renewable energy purchases and its communications efforts fit well with the five pillars of the UN’s new Sports For Climate Action framework, something to which the company committed. What is AEG looking for from the framework?
John: One of the underlying principles behind the creation of the Green Sports Alliance is that people care deeply about sports and it’s a great platform to engage with people about a variety of issues. We see the Framework as one of these opportunities – to use the most popular and iconic sports brands in the world to help address climate change.
GSB: Speaking of the Alliance, congratulations John on being named to its Board. You will bring a deep well of venue management and technical experience to the Alliance. As for the Framework, it’s off to a strong start with high profile commitments, including AEG’s. I look forward to talking with you down the road to see how compliance and awareness of the Framework develops.
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The 2018 UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report was crystal clear: Humanity has 12 years to decarbonize by 45 percent if we are to have a reasonable chance to avoid the most calamitous effects of climate change. To put that in sports terms, we only have the length of Mike Trout’s recent mega-contract extension with the Anaheim Angels, to make these changes.
Thus it is fitting that climate change will have a much bigger role at the 2019 Green Sports Alliance Summit than any of the organization’s previous annual gatherings. The schedule features three sessions with climate in the title and I am proud to be moderating one of them, “Sports, Carbon and Climate.” Here’s a brief preview.
“Sports, Carbon and Climate” will delve into the best ways for the sports world to go about reducing carbon emissions and thus climate change, while navigating the scientific, political and cultural challenges inherent in sports taking on these fights . Specifically, the panel will discuss how:
Carbon pricing could potentially benefit the sports industry;
Going carbon neutral can help teams and events engage fans to take climate action;
Carbon offset projects, funded by sports teams and leagues, can make a positive impact, as well as their limitations
Our All-Star panel lineup includes:
David Antonioli, CEO, Verra: The nonprofit develops and manages standards and frameworks to vet environmental and sustainable development efforts, build their capacity and enable funding for sustaining and scaling up their benefits. Its Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) Program is the world’s most widely used voluntary greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) reductions program.
Steve Hams, Director of Engagement, Business Climate Leaders (BCL): BCL is an initiative of Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL), a nonpartisan grassroots advocacy group with nearly 120,000 members in over 450 U.S. chapters. It helps American businesses understand and take action in shaping federal climate policy, with a focus on carbon pricing. Specifically, BCL encourages leaders from businesses of all sizes to endorse the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act: the first bicameral, bipartisan carbon pricing bill ever introduced in Congress.
Aileen McManamon, Founder and Managing Partner of 5T Sports: McManamon has been working to promote the United Nations Sports for Climate Action initiative which she co-authored. She works with sports teams and leagues on triple bottom line business operations throughout North America and Europe.
Kunal Merchant occupies a fascinating perch in the Green-Sports world. A member of the Green Sports Alliance board, the Bay Area-based Merchant has a background in business, politics, and social enterprise. And as co-founder of Lotus Advisory with his sister Monisha, Merchant has guided the sustainability efforts on state-of-the-art green stadium and arena projects, from Sacramento’s Golden1 Center — the first LEED Platinum indoor arena in the world — to the nascent Oakland A’s ballpark project.
GreenSportsBlog spoke with Merchant about his work on Green-Sports projects, with the Alliance, and where he sees the movement heading.
GreenSportsBlog: Kunal, I can’t wait to dig into your story which takes place at the intersection of sports, politics, and sustainability. Nothing juicy there…
Kunal Merchant: It has been a fascinating ride to this point, Lew. I came to the sports world from the political side, working as Chief of Staff for then Sacramento Mayor and ex-NBA All Star Kevin Johnson. I served in that role during his first term, between December 2008 and June 2012, which was a dramatic time. The Mayor took office right as the national economy was entering the Great Recession. Sacramento was particularly hard hit by double-digit unemployment and a foreclosure crisis. Morale was low, and right when the town thought it couldn’t get any worse, we found out that our beloved Sacramento Kings – the one and only pro sports team in town – wanted to leave town.
The team had been struggling both on and off the court for years, including several failed attempts to build a new arena to replace what had by then become the oldest and smallest arena in the NBA. The Kings’ ownership felt that their best shot was to start over in a new city, with Seattle being the most likely destination. It was a punch to the gut for Sacramento, and in the Mayor’s office, we knew that how Sacramento responded to this challenge would have implications far beyond sports for the city’s economic and civic identity.
GSB: So how did you go about dealing with the significant headwinds?
Kunal: That’s a topic for a much longer conversation! But, oversimplified, there were three key checkboxes on our “to-do list” to save the team: (1) prove that Sacramento was a viable NBA market; (2) recruit a new ownership group willing to buy the team and keep it in Sacramento; and (3) develop a plan to build and finance a new arena. The arena was arguably the most critical – and difficult item – particularly since, for a market the size of Sacramento, some form of public investment was going to be needed.
Taxpayers were understandably skeptical about putting public money towards a basketball arena. But after studying similar situations around the country, we in the Mayor’s Office concluded that, under the right terms and structure, we could deliver a public-private partnership for a new arena that would be a win for the Kings and for Sacramento. To get there, we needed to generate transformative economic and community benefits, something that was only possible if we used the arena to anchor the broader revitalization of our blighted and long-underperforming downtown core.
In that respect, Sacramento really reminded me of the Denver of my childhood in the 1980s. At that time, Denver was perceived as a classic “flyover city” by people on the coasts. But over several years, the community and city leaders pushed through smart and strategic investments that led to a positive change in the city’s economic and cultural trajectory. Things really took off in the 1990s, in part due to the energy generated by Coors Field, the downtown ballpark built to be the home of our new Major League Baseball team, the Colorado Rockies.
Kunal Merchant, co-founder of Lotus Advisory (Photo credit: Lotus Advisory)
GSB: I remember visiting Denver during the late 1990s and saw how Coors Field had seemingly changed a whole neighborhood. Was the ballpark built by the team, the city or some combination? The reason I ask is that there are many studies showing that public investments in sports venues are not efficient uses of the public’s money. Where do you come down on that question?
Kunal: Great question. Like a stodgy and aging arena, I think the rhetoric around public financing for sports venues is in serious need of an upgrade. There’s way too much dogma on a topic filled with nuance.
In the case of Coors Field, the project was a public-private partnership, where taxpayers made a significant investment. As a local resident who saw that area before and after Coors Field, I would argue that the taxpayers’ investment paid off handsomely in catalyzing a true economic and cultural renaissance that continues to this day.
But the success of Coors Field doesn’t vindicate all forms of public financing. The reality is that every situation is different, and plenty of sports facilities – too many I would argue – receive public funding in amounts and terms that are truly terrible deals for the public. When we were developing the Kings arena deal, we studied up on the good, bad and ugly of prior public subsidy deals. And we were determined that any arena deal we cut with the Kings would protect taxpayers and generate strong economic and community benefits.
That process in Sacramento began by fighting to locate the new arena downtown, and resist temptations by some in town to “play small” and simply refurbish or rebuild at the old arena’s suburban location.
GSB: The old Arco Arena is north of the city, kind of by itself off of I-5.
Kunal: Yes. At the time it was built in the mid-1980s, that building size and location made sense. But by the 2010s, we had different civic imperatives around sustainability and urban planning. Beyond the economic appeal of a downtown location – analysts forecasted $150 million in new annual economic activity each year – we wanted the arena project to reflect the values of a community that cared deeply about the environment. So we set – and ultimately met – incredibly ambitious goals for green design, air quality, water efficiency, energy efficiency, transit, food, waste diversion, and so on.
GSB: What was your role in the project?
Kunal: My role evolved over the course of the project. At the start, I was the Mayor’s Chief of Staff, representing the Mayor and City in almost every facet of our work with the NBA, Kings, City and community to save the team and develop the arena plan. When the NBA voted to keep the team in Sacramento in May 2013, and approve the sale of the Kings to a new ownership group, I moved over to the team side as an executive focused on making sure we followed through on our promises to the community on the arena.
That meant finalizing the public process to approve the deal, negotiating key labor and community benefit agreements, and continuing to engage the community in this truly once-in-a-generation project. It also meant championing what became the most ambitious sustainability agenda of an NBA arena to that date, anchored around achieving status as the first-ever LEED Platinum indoor sports arena.
GSB: That’s quite a transition. How did working for a sports team differ from working in municipal government?
Kunal: Well, it’s safe to say that spending a Tuesday night at an NBA game is a bit more fun than at a City Council meeting! And I used to joke with friends – only half-kidding – that I could get more done chatting with various folks at a Kings game than I could ever do in one month at City Hall. There were obvious advantages to working in a private sector context in terms of speed, agility, and efficiency. But this deal was a true public-private partnership where both bodies were integral. What’s most powerful to me is that my spirit and purpose on this project never changed regardless of what my business card said; from beginning to end, this endeavor was always about doing something really big and historic and transformative for the people of Sacramento. And both the City and Kings wholly embraced that mindset.
GSB: What did you do after the arena took shape?
Kunal: As Opening Day for the Golden 1 Center got closer, I started getting calls from other folks in sports who were impressed by what we’d done in Sacramento and wanted to see if I could help out elsewhere. To his credit, then-Team President Chris Granger was extremely supportive, and I was able to transition from being a full-time employee to a consultant able to take on other work. As part of that transition, I launched Lotus Advisory with my sister Monisha as a strategy and management consulting firm focused on driving positive change at the intersection of business, government and community. Because of my background, I ended up specializing quickly on sports-related projects, while my MIT-educated sister took on high tech clients like Airbnb. In the years since, we’ve been lucky to work with an amazing range of clients in a variety of industries and sectors.
Kunal Merchant touring construction of the Golden 1 Center and the Downtown Commons in 2015 during his time as a Sacramento Kings executive. The $1.5 billion dollar project includes a LEED Platinum NBA arena, hotel, and retail and entertainment district that has been the primary catalyst behind the new economic and cultural renaissance unfolding in Sacramento’s long-struggling downtown core (Photo credit: Lotus Advisory)
GSB: What are some the sports projects on which Lotus Advisory has worked?
In recent years, we’ve done a lot of work in soccer and baseball. I was the Chief Strategist for Nashville’s successful 2017 bid to join Major League Soccer, where we went from being on no one’s radar as a viable soccer city to finishing first in a twelve city race for the next expansion slot. A huge part of our success was powered by the people of Nashville – whose pride in their city is as strong as I’ve ever seen anywhere.
Similarly, I helped lead and advise Sacramento’s bid to join MLS for several years, particularly in shepherding their downtown stadium development plan through the planning, predevelopment and approval processes. The heart and soul of that bid are the supporters of Sacramento Republic, the United Soccer League (USL) Championship¹ club that took the city by storm when it launched in 2014 and has woven itself deeply into the cultural fabric of Sacramento with remarkable speed.
Currently, I’m working closely with the Oakland Athletics on their plans to revitalize the Oakland waterfront with a new privately-financed ballpark district near the Jack London Square area. It’s a really gorgeous project with a strong spirit of sustainability and environmental justice.
GSB: Very cool! What’s the status of Sacramento’s MLS bid? I know they’re looking to get to 28 teams by 2021 or 2022. Cincinnati United began play this month as the league’s 24th club, with Miami and Nashville set to join next year and Austin in ’21. So that means there’s one more slot left in the near term.
Kunal: Sacramento is one of two cities considered to be favorites for the 28th slot. I know that I’m biased, but I don’t think the competition is remotely close. Sacramento’s MLS bid stands alone as arguably the most resilient, mature, and comprehensive MLS bid in league history. Since embarking on the MLS journey in 2014, Republic FC has checked all the boxes time and again: a die-hard fan base, committed corporate support, a fully-approved and transformational downtown stadium plan; and a credible and committed ownership led by a formidable combination of Pittsburgh Penguins owner Ron Burkle and several local business leaders. MLS will be lucky to have Sacramento join its ranks and I’m cautiously optimistic that it will happen soon.
GSB: Good luck! When will the new stadium be ready and what are some of its green features?
Kunal: Obviously the MLS stadium is contingent on entry into the league, but the stadium could likely be ready by either the 2021 or 2022 MLS season. As impactful as the Golden 1 Center is for Sacramento, the MLS stadium for Republic FC will be a game-changer in its own right.
The stadium will be built few blocks away from the Kings arena at a huge 240 acre site called the Sacramento Railyards that, when fully built out, will double the size of downtown Sacramento. The MLS stadium represents one of the first and largest major private investments in the Railyards in several decades, and will catalyze a historic wave of economic and community development. In terms of green features, the stadium will be another model of transit-oriented development, located a block from light rail, and a short distance by foot, bike, scooter, or rideshare from the rest of downtown. Republic FC has a terrific culture around local food and beer, so I’d expect some innovative sourcing strategies there as well.
Artist rendering of proposed Major League Soccer stadium in downtown Sacramento. The project will anchor an estimated $5B economic revitalization effort at Sacramento’s historic Railyards district (Credit: Sacramento Republic FC)
GSB: Turning to another long-running new stadium project, let’s talk about the Oakland A’s.
Kunal: The A’s have a truly visionary plan to revitalize the waterfront near Jack London Square through a new Major League Baseball ballpark. The project will be LEED Gold Certified and reflect a “ballpark within a park” theme, with an intimate 34,000 seat stadium nestled carefully into its urban surroundings. The ballpark is privately-financed and will anchor a new, vibrant waterfront district that will feature a mix of housing, including affordable housing, offices, restaurants, retail, small business space, parks and public gathering spaces. And the team is also showing tremendous leadership by leveraging the ballpark project to address longstanding environmental justice reform issues around air, soil and water quality faced by West Oakland residents for years.
Preliminary artist rendering for the proposed Oakland A’s ballpark near Jack London Square in Oakland. The project will be LEED Gold and reflect the A’s strong commitment to sustainable development and environmental justice (Credit: Oaklandballpark.com)
GSB: Add the A’s new ballpark to my sports bucket list. OK, before we go, let’s talk a bit about your work as a board member of the Green Sports Alliance. How did that come about?
Kunal: I’ve known and been a fan of the Green Sports Alliance since its earliest days, when Alliance leaders reached out to invite Mayor Johnson to the inaugural summit in Portland. The Alliance was hugely helpful in guiding my thinking on the Golden 1 Center, and I worked with the Alliance to help bring the Summit to Sacramento during the Golden1 Center’s inaugural season in 2017. I’ve continued to work closely with the Alliance since then, and at some point it just made sense to take on a more formal role. So, I joined the board last fall with a pretty important first project: co-leading the search for a new Executive Director. It was a fascinating process that yielded a terrific hire: Roger McClendon.
GSB: McClendon comes to the Alliance’s executive director role at a key inflection point in the Green-Sports movement. I like to say Green-Sports 1.0 — the greening of the games — is now almost if not quite a given. It was a necessary and obvious first step. But Green-Sports 2.0 — engaging fans, players and more to take positive environmental action, specifically on climate change — which is where I think is starting now, is a more complicated, heavier lift. What do you think?
Kunal: I totally agree. There are fundamental questions facing the green sports movement and the broader environmentalist community at the moment. The science around climate change grows more dire by the day, with the recent IPCC report advising that humanity has really just a handful of years left to aggressively decarbonize or face catastrophic consequences. So the cost of inaction is escalating. With that as backdrop, the Alliance is asking ourselves: what are we going to do? Our ethos has been to meet people where they are. Which means that if a league, an event, a team is aggressive on climate, we’ll support them. If they’re going slowly…
GSB: …Or not even talking climate at all?
Kunal: …we’re not going to push them too far beyond their comfort zone.
GSB: But doesn’t that imply that it’s ok for sports not to go fast enough? That seems risky at best.
Kunal: Well, it’s tricky. But here is a reason to be optimistic: things are impossible until they’re not. Looking at history, there are many social movements that looked bleak for years, or even decades, right until a period of rapid change that completely upended the status quo. I’m heartened by the younger generations — Millennials and Gen Zers — who will increasingly hold all institutions, including sports teams, accountable for the issue of climate change. The Alliance needs to be ready, and I think we’re taking important steps in that direction. If there’s one thing that I’ve come to appreciate deeply in my career, it’s that, with vision and leadership, sports can be an extraordinary platform for positive change. And on issues of climate, we can’t afford for sports teams, leagues, or fans to sit on the sidelines anymore.
GSB: With some well-timed and positive pushing from organizations like the Alliance, I’ll say. To be continued, Kunal!
¹ The USL Championship is the second-tier of North American professional soccer, one level below MLS.
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In a TGIF GSB News & Notes, we share two positive news stories and one naggingly troubling if still hopeful note.
On the positive side, Kevin Anderson, the world’s fifth ranked men’s tennis player, took on the plastic waste issue in Jon Wertheim’s SI.com much-read mailbag column. And the Seattle Sounders used the term “climate crisis” (Italics my emphasis) when they announced their commitment to going carbon neutral in the season that kicks off on March 2. I’ve never seen a team put the words “climate” and “crisis” together before.
On the flip side, despite many calls for his resignation, Gian-Franco Kasper remains the President of the International Ski Federation (FIS) almost three weeks after he outed himself as a climate change denier. But an effort to generate public pressure to force his resignation, led by Protect Our Winters, shows no signs of slowing down.
KEVIN ANDERSON, WORLD’S 5TH RANKED TENNIS PLAYER, SERVES UP PLASTIC OCEAN WASTE TO SI.COM READERS
I know what you’re thinking: “Wait, who is Kevin Anderson? And how popular is tennis, really?”
Kevin Anderson (Photo credit: Tony O’Brien/Reuters)
The hard-serving, 6′ 8″ Anderson is currently the fifth ranked men’s player in the world¹, having reached the finals of two grand slam tournaments since 2017. You might remember this incredible left-handed shot (Anderson is a righty) after having tumbled to the grass late in his marathon, 6 hour-plus 2018 Wimbledon semifinal vs. John Isner that propelled him to the final.
As to tennis’ popularity, a 2018 WorldAtlas.com study reports that the sport has 1 billion fans globally, enough to make it the fourth most popular sport on the planet, trailing only soccer (#1 at 4 billion fans), cricket (2.5 billion), and field hockey (2 billion). To my knowledge, the only active eco-athlete who be more well known than Anderson is Mesut Özil, the German soccer star who currently plays for Arsenal.
Back to Wertheim’s mailbag.
The first question came from a reader in Toronto who asked, “When is tennis going to stop its environmentally unfriendly use of plastic?”
Instead of answering it himself, Wertheim gave Anderson, “tennis’ green czar” (who knew??), the court.
An excepted version of Anderson’s reply reads this way:
That your question was submitted to Jon Wertheim’s mailbag makes me very pleased to know that tennis fans are also taking the plastics issue seriously.
Reducing plastic pollution — and particularly keeping plastic waste out of the oceans — is one of my biggest passions. In fact, in December I hosted a charity event at home in Florida with a portion of the proceeds benefitting Ocean Conservancy’sTrash Free Seas Alliance. Once your eyes are opened to the plastic pollution problem, it’s hard not to care about the consequences. I hope that tennis players can be leaders in this space to raise awareness and help make the public more mindful of reducing single-use plastics when possible.
As a member of the ATP Player Council, I’ve been sharing my passion for this issue and last November, the ATP developed measures to reduce its negative impact on the environment at the Nitto ATP Finals in London. For the first time ever, players were given reusable bottles for on-court use, staff were given reusable bottles and encouraged to refill them at water stations, and fans were given reusable cups when they purchased drinks at The O2 (Arena). There are many more things that can be done in the future, but I believe this was a great first step in the right direction.
I’m hopeful we can continue to make other changes, such as do away with plastic racquet bags after re-stringing (which I always politely decline or make sure to recycle), put recycling bins at all tournaments for fans to dispose of their rubbish properly (and on the practice courts for players), and most importantly – provide education. If we can get more and more tournaments, players and fans to recognize the issue we have on our hands, and just how dire of a situation it is, we can make more change.
GSB’s Take: So glad to hear Kevin Anderson is leading the anti-plastic ocean waste movement on the ATP Tour. Hopefully he is recruiting others, including his women’s tennis counterparts, to join his effort. And if his interest in plastic waste becomes an on-ramp to a broader commitment to the climate change fight, all the better.
SEATTLE SOUNDERS, MLS’ FIRST CARBON NEUTRAL CLUB, USES “CLIMATE CRISIS” TERM
The Seattle Sounders committed to going carbon neutral starting with the 2019 season — FC Cincinnati visits CenturyLink Field on March 2 to kick off the new campaign — marking them as the first professional soccer team in North America to do so. In a press release announcing the move, the club pledged that their “operations will make no net contribution to atmospheric carbon dioxide, the leading cause of the climate crisis.”
Wait a second.
Did you notice anything special in that press release quote? Because I sure did.
A North American pro sports team, used the term “climate crisis.”
But widen the lens a bit and one sees that most pro teams, including those who have done great green work for years, do not even speak of climate change. At all. Benign terms like “sustainability” and “environmentally responsible” are used much more frequently.
It says here that the Sounders use of climate crisis is at least as big a deal as the team going carbon neutral.
And that’s saying something because the club’s carbon neutral commitment is certainly important and substantive.
One reason is that the Sounders included fan travel to and from games — which represent 28 percent of total emissions — in its calculations. Some teams and leagues that have claimed carbon neutrality have not done so.
Fan travel accounted for 28 percent of the Sounders’ emissions in 2018, trailing only team travel (33 percent) and CenturyLink Field operations (29 percent)
Team management partnered with Seattle-based Sustainable Business Consulting to calculate its greenhouse gas emissions and develop plans to reduce its impacts where possible. For emissions unable to be eliminated – such as team travel for matches, scouting and other business – the Sounders are offsetting their emissions through the Evergreen Carbon Capture (ECC) program of Forterra, a regional nonprofit. Using the club’s contribution to ECC, Forterra and its partner DIRT Corps are joining with the team and fans to plant hundreds of trees in a part of the region that needs added tree cover. This not only reduces CO₂, but enhances air and water quality.
“We’re incredibly excited to announce that our club is officially carbon neutral,” said Sounders Owner Adrian Hanauer. “The Sounders have always been committed to investing in our community, and that includes recognizing the immense responsibility we have as environmental stewards.”
And climate crisis fighters.
Adrian Hanauer, owner of the Seattle Sounders (Photo credit: Seattle Sounders FC)
GSB’s Take: This is a win-win-win Green-Sports story if I ever saw one: Win #1: The Sounders go carbon neutral. Win #2: The club includes fan travel in their emissions calculations. Win #3: Rightfully calling climate change a CRISIS is a big step forward. Kudos to the Sounders for doing so. Will this give other pro teams across all sports the confidence to use the words “climate” and “change” together? Watch this space. Note that I’m starting slowly here and not asking teams to say climate “crisis”. Yet. If you want to let the Sounders know that you appreciate their bold green-sports steps, click here.
CLIMATE DENIER GIAN-FRANCO KASPER REMAINS IN POWER AS HEAD OF INTERNATIONAL SKI FEDERATION;
We close the week with an update on the Gian-Franco Kasper story.
The President of the International Ski Federation (FIS) denied climate change in a February 4 interview, saying, “There is no proof for it. We have snow, in part even a lot of it. I was in Pyeongchang for the Olympiad. We had minus 35 degrees C. Everybody who came to me shivering I welcomed with: welcome to global warming.”
Gian-Franco Kasper, President of FIS (Photo credit: Mark Runnacles, Getty Images)
Protect Our Winters, the nonprofit made up of elite winter sports athletes who advocate on behalf of systemic political solutions to climate change, quickly wrote an open letter calling for Kasper to resign and encouraged its followers to do the same.
As of February 19, over 8,300 letters had arrived in FIS’ in box.
But that’s not all.
Jessie Diggins, who won Olympic gold at Pyeonchang 2018 in cross country skiing, and other elite winter sports athletes like Jamie Anderson, Danny Davis, and Maddie Phaneuf, made strong statements condemning Kasper’s remarks.