2018 Green Sports Alliance Summit Recap: Substance and The Art of the Possible

The eighth Green Sports Alliance Summit that concluded Wednesday in Atlanta was the most substantive of the five such events I’ve attended. From the plenary sessions to the workshops to the stadium tours to the conversations with vendors at their booths, the hallmark for me was that I learned a ton!

With that as backdrop, here is a final recap of the substantive Green Sports Alliance Summit 2018.

 

PANEL DISCUSSES MICROGRIDS FOR SPORTS VENUES

“We are in the Excuse Removal business!'”

Karen Morgan, President and CEO of Dynamic Energy Networks, began “The Art of the Possible: New Business Models to Achieve Your Community’s Energy Goals” panel discussion with that proclamation.

 

Karen Morgan

Karen Morgan, President and CEO, Dynamic Energy Networks (Photo credit: Dynamic Energy Networks)

 

What excuses are Morgan and her team aiming to remove from the lexicon of sports owners?

That their stadia and arenas can’t become hubs of a microgrid — a form of distributed electricity generation that brings together a small network of electricity users with a local source of supply that, in the main, functions independently of the grid — because doing so is too costly, technologically challenging, and/or just too different.

Moderated adroitly by Anne Kelly, Ceres’ Senior Director, Policy, “The Art of the Possible” offered a detailed tutorial on the potential of microgrids to benefit not only sports venues but the surrounding community.

Morgan set the stage: “Our team invests in microgrid projects, often including solar and other renewables, taking on the financial risk from property owners. Our capital, provided by the Carlyle Group, one of the world’s largest private equity firms, is invested upfront. Property owners pay our investors back over time through power purchase agreements (PPAs), energy services agreements and other such vehicles. Schneider Electric contributes critical software integration expertise.”

Key members of the Dynamic Energy Networks microgrid All-Star team joined Morgan on the panel.

Mark Feasel, Vice President Electric Utility Segment and Smart Grid at Schneider Electric, evangelized about microgrids’/distributed generation’s three most powerful features:

  • Digitization: “Data profoundly is transforming the effectiveness of energy assets. Solar, for example, has become exponentially more efficient thanks to digitization.”
  • Decarbonization: “Distributed generation allows for the faster integration of renewables. We see decarbonization rates of up to 85 percent in distributed generation networks.”
  • Decentralization: “For 100 years, energy was supplied to homes and businesses from a massive central hub, and consumers were passive. Now, with distributed generation, customers are proactive actors, getting more reliable, sustainable and predictable energy, sometimes at lower cost.”

Andrew Marino, Co-Head of Carlyle Group and a member of Dynamic Energy Networks’ Board of Directors, offered this take: “We see microgrids as a massive opportunity for distributed, integrated sustainable energy and a huge investment opportunity. And it’s not only renewables and storage. Electric vehicles are also part of the mix. All of our EV conversations involve integrating them with microgrids.”

Where does sports fit in?

Morgan said “Sports venues can be laboratories for energy innovation.” She then imagined the integration of Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Philips Arena^ and Georgia World Congress (convention) Center  — the three structures form a triangle of sorts — via battery-powered energy storage: “This would become a resilient center for disaster relief. Sports venues are where the community goes. Five years ago, back up power was exclusively diesel-based, meaning it was dirty and took a half-hour or more to ramp up — remember the blackout at the 2013 Super Bowl in New Orleans. Now we can leverage solar, dispatch a battery for resilience. It is cleaner, quicker, more reliable and at a lower price. Microgrids will help venues win the right to host the best and biggest events. So, to team owners, venue owners, I say be leaders on microgrids and distributed generation.”

 

CARBON UNDERGROUND PRESIDENT SAYS KEY SOLUTION TO CLIMATE CHANGE IS…UNDERGROUND

“There is no solution to climate change that does not include drawing carbon back down from our atmosphere. And there is no mechanism with the scale and immediacy to draw enough carbon back down to mitigate climate change other than the restoration of soil. Doing so will be transformational.”

So said Larry Kopald, Co-Founder and President of The Carbon Underground, as a lead-in to a brief presentation Tuesday afternoon about his organization’s important but not-so-well-known work.

Kopald asserted that “According to the United Nations, mismanagement of soil has resulted in a loss of as much as 70 percent of topsoil worldwide. And that loss of topsoil is a big contributor to climate change. If we continue at the current pace, the UN predicts we may have as little as sixty years left before the soil-based foundation for feeding the planet is gone.”

The good news is that restoring health of our soil can happen quickly, will reduce atmospheric CO₂ levels, increase the water supply and is now seen by many, including Big Food, as a winning investment. According to Mr. Kopald:

  • One acre of healthy soil stores 25,000 gallons of water
  • Per a UCLA study, restoring health to our soil, and thereby increasing our water supply and beginning to reverse climate change, will reduce healthcare costs by up to 25 percent
  • The largest food companies — Danone, General Mills and Unilever among them — support The Carbon Underground and are moving towards a system of “regenerative agriculture,” farming and grazing practices that, among other benefits, reverse climate change by rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring degraded soil biodiversity – resulting in both carbon drawdown and improving the water cycle.
  • Individuals can do so as well, through The Carbon Underground’s “Adopt-a-Meter” program. For as little as $5, folks can adopt a meter of degraded soil and bring it back to health.

 

 

 

How can the sports world chip in? It seems that sports played outside, on grass and dirt like golf, soccer, baseball, and football, should support the work of groups like The Carbon Underground. Healthy soil is something almost all humans are in favor of — why not make it the centerpiece of a fan engagement program?

 

 

A MISSED OPPORTUNITY

After Kopald’s presentation, he moderated “Food, Fans and Farmers: Teaming Up for a Healthier Planet.” Panel members Will Witherspoon (sustainable farmer and ex-NFL linebacker), Robby Sansom (COO/CFO of Epic Provisions, maker of bars from 100 percent grass-fed animal protein), and Will Harris (fourth generation cattle farmer), all agreed that animal-based foods play an important, essential role in our diets.

Beyond the panel, there is clear disagreement about that point.

In fact, that same evening, the Alliance hosted a screening of the new documentary film, “The Game Changers.” Per the Alliance, “it tells the story of UFC fighter James Wilks as he travels the world for the truth behind the world’s most dangerous myth: that meat is necessary for protein, strength and optimal health.”

 

 

With that in mind, it says here that Wilks — who was at the Summit for a post-screening Q&A — should have been a part of Kobald’s “Food” panel. Having an athlete who thrives on a plant-based diet in a discussion with animal farmers would have been fascinating and illuminating.

 

James Wilks

James Wilks (Photo credit: vegan-fighter.com)

 

Also missing from the panel was a discussion of the climate change impact of animal-based foods — it is accepted science that it takes between seven to ten times more energy to get animal-based food to one’s plate than plant-based food.

So this was an opportunity missed — hopefully a fuller discussion about food can be part of the 2019 Summit lineup in Philadelphia.

 

CLEMSON UNIVERSITY PLAYS LONG GAME WHEN IT COMES TO BRINGING RECYCLING TO MEMORIAL STADIUM

Eleven years.

That’s how long it took Tom Jones, Director of Custodial, Recycling, Solid Waste and Special Events at Clemson University, and his team to get recycling fully embedded at Memorial Stadium, the 81,500 seat home of Tigers football.

Talk about playing the long game.

As Jones told the story at the “Engagement through Operations, Staff, Fans, and Community” workshop, the Clemson athletics department was very resistant to the introduction of recycling bins at the stadium and, even more so, in the suites — they felt it would be a big annoyance. His approach: Listen to them, overcome their objections one by one, and advance recycling slowly.

“You’re not going to get anywhere trying to tell the athletics department what to do,” advised Jones. “We kept at it with a ‘soft sell’ approach. We showed them that, by having fans, whether in the tailgate area or in the stadium, separate their waste into trash and recycling would make the trash haul much lighter and quicker. They liked that. Then we showed them that the cost of recycling would be the same or lower than the cost of trash hauling. That got their attention. We got students to volunteer. That got their attention, too. But we didn’t pester them. Slowly, they started to come around. Finally, in recent years, the athletics department started coming to us, asking us to help them. Because we were solving problems. And now we have a solid partnership with athletics based on trust.”

 

Clemson Recycle

Blocks of recycled cans and bottles collected by Clemson student volunteers at a home football game in 2014 (Photo credit: Clemson Newsstand)

 

BEST LINE OF THE SUMMIT

At the same “Engagement” workshop, moderator Monica Rowand, Sustainability Coordinator at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, had us break into groups. Our task was to come up with ways to improve recycling rates among fans, stadium/arena staff and the community. One of the folks in our group was Kelsey Hallowell, the head of waste reduction consultancy Reduction In Motion. When I asked what she does day-to-day, she replied “I get paid to trash talk!”

If Kelsey had a microphone, she would’ve dropped it.

See you in Philadelphia next June!

 

 

^ Philips Arena: Home of the Atlanta Hawks

 


 

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The GSB Interview: Justin Zeulner, Previewing the 2018 Green Sports Alliance Summer in Atlanta

Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the new home of the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United, will be the site for two mega-events over the next year. Next February, the first LEED Platinum NFL stadium will play host to Super Bowl LIII. But well before that — June 26-27 to be exact — Green Sports Alliance Summit VIII takes center stage. Its theme is PLAY GREENER™: Get In The Game. GSB talked with Alliance Executive Director Justin Zeulner to find out about the new initiatives the Alliance has planned for attendees. 

 

GreenSportsBlog: Justin, before we got on the phone to talk Green Sports Alliance Summit in Atlanta, I had two main thoughts going through my head: 1. How can you and the rest of the Alliance braintrust freshen the Summit going into its eighth iteration, and 2. Having it at LEED Platinum Mercedes-Benz Stadium is a great freshener, indeed!

Justin Zeulner: Keeping things fresh — that’s a great question and it’s something we’re very much focused on, especially coming into this Summit. In fact, a couple of years ago, the leadership took a collective deep breath to figure out, strategically, what would be best, not only for our Summits but for the sports greening movement as a whole. We undertook this strategic refresh at a time of strong growth for us. Two or three years ago, we had 300+ members; now we’re nearing 600. When an organization like ours starts to scale like we have, new challenges arise. What can you provide that’s new, innovative and meaningful? How can we best continue to serve and lead our members, helping them grow their sustainability initiatives when there are many more of them.

GSB: A good problem to have…

JZ: We agree…

GSB: So how is the Alliance going about upping its game service-, growth- and leadership-wise?

JZ: Serve — We keep in close touch with our membership, finding out where they want to go and what guidance they need when it comes to environmental issues. We help by convening the Summit, providing resources and programs, largely around energy, water, transportation, food, and waste. Adding the Corporate Members Network was wonderful because that helped add a great many greener products and services to help our teams and venues reach their goals. Grow — the more the Alliance grows, the more people we get involved in the movement and the greater the impact we have as it relates to our mission — “to build healthy, sustainable communities where we live and play.” Lead—means trying new things, taking some risks…

 

Zeulner GSA

Justin Zeulner, Executive Director of the Green Sports Alliance (Photo credit: Green Sports Alliance)

 

GSB: Justin, that’s a great segue to this year’s Summit in Atlanta. What new things will you try? What risks will you take?

JZ: The title of our Summit is “PLAY GREENER ™: Get In The Game.” The “Get in the Game” piece is illustrative of the changes we’ve made for this year and takes into account comments we received from attendees last year in Sacramento.

GSB: What does that mean exactly?

JZ: One big change is that our sessions will be much more interactive than in past years — more workshops, than panel discussions. We want there to be a robust dialogue that’s as attendee-driven as possible. And we want attendees to leave with a crystal clear road map as to how to implement the greening programs they learn about in Atlanta.

GSB: What kind of programs are you talking about?

JZ: We’re adhering to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDGs), helping our teams and venues do their part in terms of carbon mitigation to put humanity on a path to a less than 2°C temperature rise, as compared to pre-industrial levels. Food is one key area — we are helping venues with menu design, from more veggie options, to locally sourced food, and more. And venues are responding. Of course they offer burgers —but sometimes those burgers are veggie. In fact, Impossible Burgers

GSB: …The veggie burgers that taste and feel beef-like? They’re GREAT!

JZ: Impossible Burger will be at the Summit! Vegetarian and vegan foods are something athletes are getting more into, so we’ll be talking about that. But we’re getting even deeper with our “Business of Food” workshop. Larry Kopald of Carbon Underground will lead a discussion about regenerative farming, how it can help tackle our carbon problems, and how the sports industry can help support it. A local farmer will share his inspirational story of transforming his family farm from the traditional approach to regenerative farming and what scaling that can mean for sports and the world more broadly. Chefs will also take part, discussing how stadia and arenas can gradually add “plant forward” proteins to their menus.

 

GSA Mercedes-Benz Stadium_dusk_8_30_17

Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, site of the upcoming 2018 Green Sports Alliance Summit (Photo credit: Mercedes-Benz Stadium)

 

GSB: This sounds like a fantastic workshop. And now I’m hungry!

JZ: Well save that appetite for the Tuesday night of the Summit. That’s when we will have our awards celebration at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Top chefs will be featured at our  “Taste of Atlanta”” event.

GSB: Sounds like it will be a must-attend event. Beyond food, what else will attendees see at Mercedes-Benz Stadium?

JZ: Engagement will be a watchword at this year’s Summit, from athletes, to fans, to youth. Youth will be a particular focus with Diana Dehm leading another Student Summit.

GSB: I imagine attendees from teams and leagues will be very interested in how to engage youth with green sports. My bet is that nothing makes sports executives lose sleep these days more than the issue of to how to ensure millennials, Gen Zers, and the generation after follow sports with something close to the passion of their forebears. I’m not saying a team’s, a sport’s greenness is the determining factor but it can be a factor. Who will be delivering the keynote address at this year’s Summit?

JZ: Arthur M. Blank, the owner of the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United, and the driving force behind the building of the LEED Platinum Mercedes-Benz Stadium, will be giving the keynote. His talk will center on how environmental leadership impacts community, social justice and health and wellness. Mr. Blank believes the environmental and the social are linked and it is his mission and that of the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation to positively impact both. Speaking of the social aspects of sustainability, another speaker of note is Samantha “Sam” Gordon. Honored by the NFL with their inaugural Game Changer award, Sam is a young woman from Utah who plays football with the boys and became the one of the best players on the team. That wasn’t enough for Sam — she started a league in her area for female tackle football players. Now Sam is not doing all this just for women to play football. She is doing this work to activate interest among girls in physical activity, exercise, and wellness and ensure underserved populations have a voice.

 

GSA Arthur Blank-headshot

Arthur M. Blank, owner of the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United (Photo credit: Arthur M. Blank Sports and Entertainment)

 

GSA Sam Gordon-headshot

Samantha “Sam” Gordon (Photo credit: Samantha Gordon)

 

GSB: For a GenZ girl like Sam, this is how social movements start!

JZ: Exactly. Also ex-major league baseball player and manager Dusty Baker and former NFLer Will Allen, both advocates for renewable energy, will talk about their experiences in the solar field. And we are honored to have David Kenny, CEO of the Weather Channel, as a speaker.

GSB: Well, I have to say, before we spoke, I was a bit skeptical about this Summit differing enough from its predecessors, that its focus would be too Green-Sports 1.0 (i.e. LEED certified stadia, Zero-Waste games) and not enough Green-Sports 2.0 (fan, athlete engagement) for my taste. But, from the speakers, to the topics, to the workshop style, to audience engagement, I see the 2018 Green Sports Alliance Summit at Mercedes-Benz Stadium as an event that will, while still touching on worthwhile Green-Sports 1.0 issues, push the GreenSports clearly into its 2.0 phase. I am looking forward to it.

JZ: See you in Atlanta!

 

Click here for information on how to attend the 2018 Green Sports Alliance Summit at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta June 26-27.
GreenSportsBlog is a media sponsor of the 2018 Green Sports Alliance Summit.

 


 

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