Green Sports Alliance Announces Environmental Innovator of the Year Awards

The Green Sports Alliance today announced ten winners of its 2019 Environmental Innovator awards. The honorees — a wide-ranging group that includes a chef in addition to the more teams, venues and nonprofits one might associate with this award — will be presented with their hardware at the Alliance’s Summit at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia on June 19.

 

Last week, the Green Sports Alliance announced that the USTA, Lauren Tracy, its director of strategic initiatives, and the legendary Billie Jean King, had won its 2019 Environmental Leader award.

Today, the Portland, Oregon-based Alliance followed that up by recognizing ten organizations with 2019 Environmental Innovator awards. In no particular order, the winners are:

The Center for Sport and Urban Policy (CSUP) at Georgia State University works to enhance public understanding of issues related to sports and environmental sustainability by bridging the gap between academic research and the sports industry. CSUP provided volunteer recruitment services for the Playoff Green program at the 2018 College Football Playoff National Championship Game, where more than 40 students, faculty, and staff served as Green Ambassadors to promote sustainable behavior during the game. 

Despite not reaching the NBA Finals, the Milwaukee Bucks had a breakout 2018-19 regular season, securing the league’s best regular season record. The club also moved into the beautiful new Fiserv Forum, which earned LEED Silver certification soon after it opened. And arena management, in conjunction with concessionaire Levy, announced a broad swath of sustainability initiatives, including plans to not offer straws at events and to utilize compostable food packaging. To date, Fiserv Forum has eliminated 370,000 straws and 50 tons of food waste that would have otherwise gone to landfills. 

 

fiserv Ty Helbach

Fiserv Forum, newly-minted LEED Silver certified home of the Milwaukee Bucks (Photo credit: Ty Helbach)

 

Staying in Milwaukee, Chef Seth VanderLaan, of Delaware North, has made sustainability a focus at Miller Park, home of MLB’s Brewers, since arriving four seasons ago. He regularly speaks at regional events discussing how to source food locally for 45.000 fans and added an on-property biodigester — during its 2018 test phase it diverted over 28,000 lbs. of waste from the landfill. Chef Seth also works with children on their “Roots for the Home Team” farm-to-stadium program and was instrumental in building the on-property gardens at the 18 year-old ballpark, where produce is harvested to serve the team and fans.

 

Seth VanderLaan

Chef Seth VanderLaan (Photo credit: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel/Michael Sears)

 

During the 2018 football season, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Zero Waste Program diverted more than 91 percent of the 293 tons of waste generated at the stadium and achieved zero waste during 14 of the 17 football game days during the season. The Coliseum, which hosts USC football and the LA Rams of the NFL, until the latter moves into its new home in 2020, uses its zero-waste program and annual Green Game as an engagement platform to educate fans about recycling, composting, and sustainability.

 

la-coliseum-usc-neil-leifer

The world-famous LA Coliseum (Photo credit: Neil Leifer)

 

Sticking with diversion, NC State University’s Zero Waste Wolfpack (ZWW) program has engaged students and fans to reduce waste at athletic events. Since its launch in 2015, the diversion rate inside Carter-Finley Stadium, home of NC State football, has improved from 18 percent to 44 percent in 2018. But ZWW goes beyond football: Last year, more than 18,000 fans at every men’s and women’s soccer match and thousands of fans attending home track and field events were able to recycle, compost, and engage with ZWW volunteers. 

Pocono Organics is a 90-acre organic farm located in Long Pond, PA that grows a number of regenerative crops including fruits, vegetables, grains, herbs, potatoes, and greens. When fully operational, the farm will draw power from the 25-acre 3MW solar farm that also powers its sister company, Pocono Raceway. Pocono Organics has developed the first-ever “Farm-to-Track” program with Pocono Raceway. The raceway diverts 75 percent of event-weekend waste and sends its compostable waste to the farm. The farm uses the compost to grow organic foods, which in turn will be served at the raceway. 

 

Pocono Organics

Representatives from Pocono Organics speak at a news conference last July for the groundbreaking of the company’s 50-acre farm in Long Pond, Pa. (Photo courtesy of Pocono Organics)

 

The San Francisco Giants’ Oracle Park (formerly AT&T Park) earned LEED Platinum Certification in 2019. The club was able to move up from LEED Gold (achieved in 2014) to Platinum in part by installing or investing in:

  • LED field lights (55 percent energy reduction)
  • A new field irrigation system (reduced water usage by more than 50 percent)
  • Renewable energy credits (offset 50 percent of their energy use) 

2019 saw the Seattle Sounders FC commit to carbon neutrality, becoming the first professional franchise of the five major leagues (MLB, MLS, NBA, NFL and NHL) to do so. The pledge, well-received by fans and the broader community alike, is not a one-off: The club has guaranteed to remain carbon neutral in perpetuity.  

The Banff Marathon takes place annually in beautiful Banff National Park in Alberta where it hosts more than 10,000 participants over a series of activities spanning three days. Since the inaugural race in 2014, in partnership with SustainDriven, event organizers have continuously worked to decrease its environmental footprint and mitigate those environmental impacts it cannot eliminate. The green highlight of the 2018 event was its incredible 100 percent waste diversion rate. You read that right: No waste was sent to landfill! A robust education program and “Sustainability Village” that engaged runners, sponsors, volunteers, staff, vendors, media, and spectators certainly helped. 

 

banff marathon

Runners helped the 2018 Banff Marathon achieve a 100 percent waste diversion rate (Photo credit: Banff Marathon)

 

Last but certainly not least, University of Texas (Austin) Athletics created a strategy for all UT athletic events to achieve zero waste by 2020. They are getting close at their crown jewel, Longhorns football: The athletics department closed in on the 90 percent diversion rate threshold needed to claim zero waste, reaching 76 percent diversion at one home game last season at the 100,000-seat Darrell K. Royal Memorial Stadium. To get there, 900-ish volunteers donated 2,700 hours of time, with their actions reaching more than 600,000 fans. Looking ahead to the 2019 season, GSB predicts that the Longhorns, ranked #6 in the Sporting News preseason poll, will make it to the College Football Playoff semifinals and the athletics department will get to zero waste a year ahead of schedule. 

 

 


 

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The GSB Interview: Previewing the 2019 Green Sports Alliance Summit with Executive Director Roger McClendon

Philadelphia is known for its birthplaces.

Independence Hall, site of the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, is the Birthplace of America.

About three and a half miles south sits Lincoln Financial Field. In 2003 the home of the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles arguably became the Birthplace of Green-Sports. It was then that the club, under the leadership of principal owner Jeff Lurie and, in particular, minority owner Christina Weiss Lurie, launched its groundbreaking Go Green initiative.

Fast-forward 15 years and, on June 19-20, “The Linc” will play host to the ninth annual Green Sports Alliance Summit, the first under the direction of new Executive Director Roger McClendon.

With the Summit’s PLAYING FOR THE NEXT GENERATION theme as backdrop, GreenSportsBlog chatted with McClendon about his first four months on the job as well as the new programs and initiatives he and his team have in the incubator for summiteers in Philly. 

GreenSportsBlog: Roger, it’s been four months since you started as Executive Director at the Alliance and we are less than a month out from your first Summit as leader of the organization. We’ll get to that in a minute. But first, could you reflect on your tenure so far?

Roger McClendon: Lew, it’s been an exciting, productive and busy 120 days or so. We took this time to do a lot of listening. Met with our league partners in New York, spoke with teams and venues across North America, finding out what they need and think are the best ways forward. Looped in our corporate partners, board members and other stakeholders to find out if we’re delivering All-Star level value to our nearly 600 members from the pro and collegiate sports worlds.

I was impressed by the energy and ideas generated at the Alliance’s Sports & Sustainability Conference at Arizona State University in January. We most recently partnered with the Portland Trail Blazers organization and completed a successful symposium in April. Internationally, we connected with the UNFCCC, signing on to their exciting new Sports for Climate Action Framework. We’re in the infancy of an engagement with Sport and Sustainability International (SandSI) through our connection with ex-Alliance President Allen Hershkowitz, so that’s exciting too.

 

roger mcclendon suzanne

Roger McClendon (Photo credit: Suzanne McClendon)

 

GSB: That is a whirlwind four months! What have you learned?

Roger: So many things, Lew. #1. Many sports teams and vendors now believe and manage towards a triple bottom line model — people, planet, profit. #2. Teams and venues and leagues seem ready to change. #3. When sports organizations look at environmental impact, it cannot only be from a greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction standpoint. In some cases, cost reduction will take the lead role, based on an owner’s priorities, the fan base. Sometimes, a team will emphasize environmental benefit. It’s really a case-by-case basis thing.

GSB: That makes sense, even if I personally would like to see GHG reductions always be the Green-Sports hero. Widening out the lens a bit, that you’re having these fan engagement questions — what we call Green-Sports 2.0 as compared to Green-Sports 1.0, the greening of the games — represents important progress. What say you?

Roger: As we move forward with fan engagement on the environment, on climate, we have to accept that some sports fans just…don’t…care about it. Sometimes, they simply want to go to the game. What I’ve learned is that we need to listen to fans to get relevant fan/consumer insights. That feedback will show us how to communicate with fans more powerfully on environmental issues so more of them care more about it. It’s not easy and there’s not one answer. The Portland Trail Blazers and LA Kings have done some great work in getting fan feedback and enacting green-themed programs and events.

GSB: If memory serves, the last time the Alliance funded projectable, quantitative fan research was five years ago. It provided valuable insights. Will the Alliance fund new fan research in 2019 or 2020? If not, why not?

Roger: Yes, in the next year or two we plan to go deeper into the research, particularly around stadium owners/operators and what they can do to directly impact their consumers, the fans. We are likely to work with partner organizations and members to gather additional quantitative and qualitative data in years to come. Part of the challenge surrounding fan engagement is the actual measurement component. Some organizations like the Portland Trail Blazers have been tracking it via the Eco Challenge platform and others have been working to develop surveys for fans and season ticket holders about what they see value in and what’s important to them as fans. We hope to push the envelope to create different ways to track what fans are doing at home and in their communities and to determine if there is any correlation to a sports team influence, program, or initiative on the fan’s behavior. Exciting stuff, albeit challenging!

GSB: I look forward to seeing the next round of fan-based research, hopefully in 2020. Last time we talked, you said you were interested in moving to Green-Sports 3.0! What does that mean?

Roger: [LAUGHS] Hey Lew, we’re pushing the Green-Sports envelope here at the Alliance! So Green-Sports 3.0 focuses on WHAT’S NEXT; specifically how sports can help publicize and achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Not all team and league executives know the 17 SDGs exist; even fewer fans are aware. PLAYING FOR THE NEXT GENERATION, the theme for the Summit in Philadelphia, is a nod to Green-Sports 3.0 — how the movement can push the SDGs forward — while also providing us with an opportunity to celebrate the present, and the past, the folks who’ve made a difference over the past 10, 15 years.

As far as the past is concerned, it’s fitting that the Summit is being held at Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Philadelphia Eagles. The team, from owners Jeff and Christina Weiss Lurie on down, have been Green-Sports pioneers since they launched Go Green in 2003 So the Eagles will have a prominent role. In terms of the present, we will of course celebrate our annual award winners, including awarding the USTA, Billie Jean King and Lauren Tracy [the USTA’s director of strategic initiatives] with the 2019 Environmental Leadership Award — the Alliance’s highest honor.

Regarding the future and WHAT’S NEXT, young people will have a big role, in particular students from the many Philadelphia-area colleges and universities and beyond. They will get to see up close how folks in their 20s and 30s are making their marks as practitioners in various corners of the Green-Sports ecosystem. And, we are looking forward to our annual, forward-leaning Women, Sports & the Environment Symposium. This year’s WSE includes Melanie LeGrande with MLB, Jan Greenberg with MLS, Heather Vaughan with Pac-12 Conference, and the aforementioned Lauren Tracy with USTA.

But if we stopped there, that would mean we were running a “same old, same old” type of Summit. And we can’t afford to do that.

So we’re breaking the mold with many of our plenary sessions and panels, taking on topics that we’ve more or less glossed over in past years: Climate action, global income inequality, gender issues, and more.

 

Lincoln Financial Field

Solar panels cover the east wall of Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Philadelphia Eagles and site of the 2019 Green Sports Alliance Summit (Photo credit: Mark Stehle/Invision for NRG/AP Images)

 

GSB: Bravo, Roger! There’s no time to waste. As you know, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said humanity has 12 years — the length of Anaheim Angels star Mike Trout’s contract extension — to decarbonize by 45 percent in order to avoid the most calamitous consequences of climate change. In the interest of full disclosure, I am excited to be moderating a panel discussion called “Sports, Carbon and Climate.” These are the types of discussions that are necessary at Alliance Summits. What other panels and plenary sessions would you like to highlight?

Roger: We’re excited to offer our first ever environmental justice-focused main stage panel “Beyond the Ballpark: The Role of Sports in Environmental Justice Reform” featuring Alliance Board member Kunal Merchant with Lotus Advisory and Mustafa Santiago Ali, Co-Host, Hip Hop Caucus’ “Think 100% – The Coolest Show on Climate Change” and former Senior Vice President of Climate, Environmental Justice & Community Revitalization, Hip Hop Caucus.

Attendees will hear from Federico Addiechi, Head of Sustainability & Diversity at FIFA; Mike Zimmer, President of the Miami Super Bowl LIV Host Committee; and Bill Reed, Principal, Integrative Design and Regenesis. The Thought Leadership Forum is back with an impactful lineup of speakers including Elysa Hammond, VP of Environmental Stewardship at Clif Bar & Company and Jami Leveen, Director of Communications & Strategic Partnerships at Aramark.

Twelve breakout sessions will feature various topics, from the role of sport in resilience and climate preparedness, to speaking science and making climate change and sustainability relevant to fans. Check out the full program lineup on our website here.

 

Mustafa Ali Santiago

Mustafa Santiago Ali (Photo credit: Larry French/Getty Images North America)

 

 

Elysa Hammond

Elysa Hammond, Clif Bar’s vice president of environmental stewardship (Photo credit: Clif Bar)

 

GSB: That’s an impressive, “break the mold” lineup. We interviewed Elysa Hammond of Clif Bar about 18 months ago — she’s terrific. See you in Philadelphia!

 

If you would like to register to attend the Green Sports Alliance Summit in Philadelphia, June 19-20, please click here.

 

 


 

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USTA Earns 2019 Environmental Leader Award From Green Sports Alliance

The Green Sports Alliance announced that the US Tennis Association is the winner of its 2019 Environmental Leader Award. It also recognized the legendary Billie Jean King for helping to launch the USTA greening movement at the National Tennis Center in Queens, NY home of the US Open that bears her name. 

The Environmental Leader Award is seen as among the most prestigious honors in the Green-Sports world and is given to an individual or organization that has demonstrated extraordinary leadership towards sustainability, environmental stewardship, and community engagement. The USTA will receive the award at the Green Sports Alliance’s annual Summit in Philadelphia on June 19. 

 

The US Tennis Association is a most deserving winner of the 2019 Environmental Leader Award.

That was the first thought that ran through my head upon hearing the news from the Green Sports Alliance since the governing body of tennis in the US has been leading the Green-Sports movement for more than a decade.

In addition to honoring Billie Jean King for her role as a true Green-Sports pioneer, the Alliance also recognizes Lauren Tracy, the USTA’s Director of Strategic Initiatives and current director of the USTA’s greening program, for her steadfast work in successfully building the program, from implementation to measurement, and beyond.

 

2019 USTA Leadership

Lauren Tracy (Photo credit: USTA)

 

In 2006, the USTA renamed its US Open venue the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. The next year, King, along with Pam Derderian and Nancy Becker, founded and launched GreenSlam, an environmental initiative for the sports industry aimed at inspiring sports venues, promoters and manufacturers to declare their commitment and actions to a greener approach.

Then in 2008, King teamed up with Allen Hershkowitz — who was then with the NRDC before being instrumental in the birth of the Green Sports Alliance — to launch the USTA’s greening initiatives her namesake venue. Its “Our courts may be blue, but we’re thinking green” campaign educated fans about environmental stewardship using the faces of legendary tennis players to encourage fans to make eco-friendly choices. 

 

Billie Jean and Allen

Billie Jean King and Allen Hershkowitz during the 2008 shooting of the USTA’s “Our Courts May Be Blue But We’re Thinking Green” public service announcements (Photo credit: NRDC)

 

“With the renaming of the National Tennis Center in 2006, we worked with the USTA to launch year- round greening efforts for the home of the US Open,” said King. “The significant action taken almost 13 years ago has served as a springboard to positively impact the environment for the US Open, and the National Tennis Center, and has set an example for other tennis and sporting events to emulate.”

“It is a great privilege for the USTA to be named a recipient of the Environmental Leadership Award and join an impressive list of past honorees,” said Gordon Smith, CEO and Executive Director of the USTA. “As owners and operators of the US Open, one of the highest-attended annual sporting events in the world, we felt it both an obligation and opportunity to bring about measurable changes, and continue to do so across the board — including at the USTA National Campus [in Orlando, Florida]. A special thank you goes to all who have helped the USTA make green the color of choice.”

The USTA’s commitment to environmental sustainability is exemplified throughout all aspects of its work. Key examples include:

  • Greenhouse gas emissions have been reduced by over 100,000 metric tons through waste diversion, recycled paper use, and renewable energy certificates since the US Open Green Initiatives were established in 2008.
  • Since 2008, over 4,500 tons of waste generated during the US Open has been diverted from landfills, saving over 4,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions.
  • In 2018, the spectacular, new Louis Armstrong Stadium earned LEED Silver status, the third venue at the Billie Jean King National Center to earn LEED certification. It is the first naturally ventilated stadium with a retractable roof in the world.
  • The USTA offsets energy used on site during the US Open, the carbon emissions generated by the estimated 3.5 million miles the players travel to compete, as well as the miles traveled by the employees to work at the US Open for several years. For those offsets in 2018, the US Open focused on climate-intelligent humanitarian initiatives by investing in improved cookstoves in Malawi.
  • Since the start of the US Open Green program in 2008, almost 700 tons of food waste has been converted to nutrient rich compost for gardens and farms and over 100 tons of food has been donated to local communities.
  • The USTA has worked with its maintenance companies to develop a green cleaning policy to ensure that at least 50 percent of all cleaning materials used on site at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center and the National Campus are Green Seal Certified or equivalent.
  • 2018 US Open waste diversion rate of 97 percent achieved, easily passing the 90 percent threshold needed to claim Zero-Waste status.

 

Louis Armstrong

The LEED Silver Louis Armstrong Stadium (Photo credit: Lewis Blaustein)

 

“The Green Sports Alliance is thrilled to present the USTA, Billie Jean King, and Lauren Tracy with this honor,” remarked Roger McClendon, Executive Director of the Green Sports Alliance. They are exemplary leaders in the sports greening movement and serve as an inspiration to the entire sports industry. We look forward to honoring them at the 2019 Green Sports Celebration at our ninth annual Green Sports Alliance Summit in Philadelphia.”

Past Environmental Leader honorees include:

  • ESPN Corporate Citizenship (2018)
  • Jack Groh, director of the NFL’s Environmental Program (2017)
  • Andrew Ference, captain and defenseman, Edmonton Oilers, Stanley Cup winner with the Boston Bruins (2016)
  • Doug Behar, New York Yankees vice president of stadium operations (2015)
  • Gary Bettman, commissioner, National Hockey League (2014)
  • Christina Weiss Lurie, owner, Philadelphia Eagles (2013)
  • Allan H. Bud Selig, commissioner emeritus, Major League Baseball (2012)

 

 

GSB’s Take: As mentioned at the top, the USTA is a great choice by the Alliance for the 2019 Environmental Leader Award. They have been ahead of the Green-Sports curve for more than a decade. Bravo!

Going forward, I believe the USTA should ramp up its fan engagement efforts at the US Open, both to those 700,000+ fans attending the tournament and to the millions more watching on ESPN in the US and on a myriad of networks around the world. And, in those fan engagement efforts, it should clearly make the connection between its greening efforts and the climate change fight.

 

 


 

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The GSB Interview: Lauren Tracy, Leading the USTA Efforts to Green the US Open

The US Open, New York City’s two-week late summer tennis fest that draws over 800,000 people, has been at the forefront of sustainable mega-sports events for over a decade. Lauren Tracy, the US Tennis Association’s (USTA’s) Director of Strategic Initiatives, has been involved with their greening efforts since its early years. GreenSportsBlog chatted with Tracy about the USTA’s sustainability history, how the US Open made out from a green perspective in 2018, and what to watch for going forward.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Lauren, as a mediocre but avid tennis player, I have a particular fondness for the USTA’s greening efforts, especially at the US Open. So I’m excited to talk with you about all of this. How did you get involved?

Lauren Tracy: I’m not a tennis junkie. From New York City’s northern suburbs, Dutchess County to be exact, and an MBA from Marist College in Poughkeepsie, I was excited to get a job at the USTA as a paralegal in nearby White Plains working on the pro tennis side. Back in 2010, the USTA executive director asked me to transition into the Executive Office in a project management role. It included overseeing some of the USTA’s organizational priorities, including our US Open environmental program, as well as to help develop what is now our “SafePlay” athlete safety program.

 

2019 USTA Leadership

Lauren Tracy, Director of Strategic Initiatives at the US Tennis Association (Photo credit: USTA)

 

GSB: These are very important and high profile…

Lauren: Yes! I was in the right place at the right time for sure.

GSB: When did the environmental programs come into the mix?

Lauren: It really started in 2007. When we dedicated the National Tennis Center to Billie Jean King she wanted to know what we were doing to lessen the US Open’s environmental footprint. The venue was named for her.

GSB: Billie Jean King: Women’s rights and gay rights pioneer — that we knew — but eco-warrior?

Lauren: That’s right! Our board was asking the same thing. We had only taken baby steps, green-wise, before then. We engaged industry experts to help us develop a comprehensive environmental program for the US Open. Those experts included Bina Indelicato, founder and CEO of eco evolutions, who now serves as a sustainability consultant for the USTA, as well as Allen Hershkowitz, who really pioneered the green sports movement.

GSB: What were some of the first sustainability initiatives under the Tracy Administration?

Lauren: It was an exciting time because the USTA gave us the direction to try new things. So that’s what we did. We would identify an opportunity to improve the environmental efficiency of an element of our operations at our site and start by conducting a pilot during that year’s US Open.

After the conclusion of that year’s tournament, we’d evaluate to see what worked well and what did not. If it worked, we’d roll it out the next year across the entire USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

A good example of that was composting. We piloted it in 2011 in the back-of-house operations with our concessionaire, Levy Restaurants. That was the easy part, as their chefs bought in from the beginning. We went big the first year, starting with the kitchens at Arthur Ashe Stadium, the largest venue on our campus…

GSB: …And, at 23,700+, the largest seating capacity of any tennis stadium in the world…

Lauren: Yes. Over the years, composting was eventually rolled out to the other kitchens on the site. We partnered with Levy, as well as the waste hauler and did a lot of training with kitchen staff. Understandably, there were some growing pains but now we have a program with a lot of buy-in and had a very successful New York City Department of Sanitation inspection. In fact, so much so that, by 2017, our overall waste diversion rate was greater than 90 percent!

GSB: WOW! That’s a quick turnaround the way I look at it. And it qualifies the US Open as a zero-waste event but you knew that already…

Lauren: You bet! We did even better last year, getting to 97 percent diversion. What got us closer to 100 percent, in addition to recycling and composting, was bringing much of our un-recycled, un-compostable material to Covanta’s waste-to-energy site out on Long Island.

GSB: How does it work?

Lauren: First of all, the facility is the cleanest place I’ve ever seen — and it’s a place where garbage is hauled! It is then burned in a safe way, with the resulting heat being used to cleanly power swaths of Long Island. Amazing.

GSB: I’ll have to check out that facility someday. Congratulations on 97 percent diversion. That’s terrific. Now I know that the USTA undertook a major construction initiative at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center a few years ago. Where did sustainability fit in?

Lauren: Well, in 2013, we started a five-year plan to strategically transform the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Those renovations and new builds would be done in an environmentally-friendly and -forward way. The first structure to earn LEED certification was our Transportation Building — which serves as the headquarters for our transportation operation, as well as the credential office during the three weeks of the qualifying tournament and the main draw. Then, in 2016 our new Grandstand stadium opened…

GSB: …I love the Grandstand. The third-largest playing venue on campus, with a capacity of 8,000, is stunning, architecturally speaking.

Lauren: I agree. It became our first LEED certified playing venue. And, as anyone who has been to the Open the last couple years knows, we tore down our second largest playing venue, Louis Armstrong Stadium, and built the new, 14,000 seat Louis Armstrong, opening it last year.

 

Louis Armstrong

Louis Armstrong Stadium, the new, LEED Silver certified 14,000-seat venue that opened in 2018. It is the second largest venue at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center (Photo credit: Lewis Blaustein)

 

GSB: …Another winner. It is a beautiful place to watch tennis. Did new Louis Armstrong become LEED certified?

Lauren: It did, earning LEED Silver status — the highest certification level on campus. Its natural ventilation system is a significant advance in terms of green outdoor venue construction is concerned. Overall, we’re very proud of the new Louis Armstrong Stadium, including from a sustainability perspective, as it represented the completion of the five-year strategic transformation of our campus that I mentioned earlier. And that we were able to finish on time in 2018, on the 50th anniversary of the US Open, made it extra special.

GSB: Great timing indeed. With the major construction complete in Flushing Meadow, what other environmental advances are you and the team working on? Is on-site solar going to be part of the mix?

Lauren: On-site solar is a question we get a lot. It’s tricky for us. While the facility is open all year, our attendance and electricity usage spikes for the three weeks of the tournament in late August-early September. And while we own the venues, the City of New York owns the land and so the solar conversation involves several parties. This doesn’t mean solar won’t happen, it just means it will take awhile. As for what else is next, I wanted to mention that our location is a plus, sustainability-wise. The New York City subway and Long Island Railroad have a station just outside the tennis center, which allows over 50 percent of all attendees to take mass transit, which a great number.

GSB: That sounds about right…

Lauren: Also, in addition to the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, we also built our USTA National Campus in Orlando. The Welcome Center, which includes our staff offices, is LEED certified. Back to the Open, we’ve got some cool initiatives around recycling. In 2018, we started working with Ronald McDonald House up in the Hudson Valley of New York State. We sent them 9,000 metal tabs from tennis ball can tops. The metal tops are pure aluminum and they are able to earn some money from recycling it.

 

USTA National Campus

The LEED certified Welcome Center at the USTA’s National Campus in Orlando (Photo credit: USTA)

 

GSB: What a great idea? Can the USTA broaden that out beyond the Open to other tournaments and to the thousands of recreational tennis centers around the country with which you have relationships?

Lauren: This is something we’re exploring, Lew. Our sections across the country know about it; we hope they are able to bring it to their regions as well. As far as the used tennis ball cans from the Open are concerned, we send them to TerraCycle in Trenton, New Jersey…

GSB: …TerraCycle is an incredible company that specializes in a “zero-waste economy,” with state-of-the-art recycling and upcycling.

Lauren: That’s right. We send them our tennis ball cans and they break them down and recycle them. I also want to mention Imperfectly Delicious Produce. I love this program! We take imperfect-looking fruit and vegetables and use them in sauces and dips to eliminate unnecessary food waste. Finally, in 2018, we eliminated plastic straws, replacing them with paper straws.

GSB: Very cool. Now this would not be a GSB Interview if I didn’t ask about how the USTA goes about communicating its green initiatives to fans…So how do you do that?

Lauren: We do some marketing of our greening efforts, from content in our program magazine to our website. But we need to do more from a fan engagement perspective and are committed to doing that this year and in 2020.

GSB: I plan to be out at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center this summer and look forward to seeing what you and the team have done, fan engagement-wise.

 

 


 

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Sports and Climate Change Summit: Yankees, Mets, MLS, NASCAR and USTA Saving Lives in Africa Via Innovative Carbon Offsets Program

Five high-profile North American sports teams and leagues are helping to save lives in Africa while reducing carbon emissions at the same time.

That powerful message was delivered during an All-Star panel discussion at Friday’s first Sports and Climate Change Summit in New York City, hosted by Sport and Sustainability International (SandSI) and the Global Crisis Information Network (GCINET). Guided by SandSI co-founder Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, senior officials from the New York Yankees, the New York Mets, Major League Soccer, NASCAR, and the US Tennis Association, shared how and why they are making life-saving investments in Africa.

 

The panel that kicked off Friday’s first Sports and Climate Change Summit at New York’s Scandinavia House had a title that many in the audience could not have imagined even two years ago: “North American Sport Invests in Climate Mitigation and Promoting the Sustainable Development Goals in Africa”.

Yet, per moderator Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, co-founder of SandSI, those investments — by the Yankees, Mets, Major League Soccer (MLS), NASCAR, and the USTA — are indeed being made. And they are not only helping to take on climate change, air pollution and several other of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals^, they are saving lives. Thousands of lives. In some of the most needy regions on Earth.

 

Allen Hershkowitz J. Henry Fair

Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, co-founder of SandSI (photo credit: J. Henry Fair)

 

You may be asking yourself these three questions right about now:

  1. What problems are these North American sports teams and leagues trying to help solve with these investments in Africa?
  2. What types of investments are they making to solve those problems and save lives?
  3. Why are they making these investments?

 

COOKING WITH INEFFICIENT STOVES IN SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA ADDS TO AIR POLLUTION, DEFORESTATION AND CARBON EMISSIONS

In his presentation preceding the panel discussion, Hershkowitz cited chilling statistic after chilling statistic that laid bare the severity of health problems, borne largely by women and children in Sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere, caused by cooking with inefficient, dirty, primitive stoves:

“The number one cause of death in the world is air pollution.”

“Close to half the deaths from pneumonia of children under age five are caused by household air pollution.”

“Three billion people cook over open flames or with simple stoves powered by unhealthy coal, wood or other forms of biomass.”

“According to the World Health Organization, three to four million people, mostly women and girls die prematurely because of inefficient, dirty stoves.”

Add to these grim metrics the fact that significant deforestation results from scavenging for the wood that is used in the inefficient, old stoves, and you have a recipe for a public health and environmental disaster.

 

NORTH AMERICAN TEAMS AND LEAGUES QUICKLY RAMP UP TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA BY FUNDING CLEAN, EFFICIENT COOKSTOVES AND AVOIDED DEFORESTATION

How did Major League Soccer, NASCAR, the Mets and Yanks and the USTA decide to get involved in helping to reduce the Sub-Saharan African air pollution problem?

Hershkowitz showed each of them that, by funding efficient cookstoves that emit 30 to 50 percent fewer emissions, they would be creating healthier cooking environments for women and children, extending and saving lives in the process. And, since the cookstoves require far less fuelwood, the teams and leagues are also playing an important role in avoided deforestation.

The clean cookstove initiative is supported by the United Nations. Consequently, these cookstove purchases — which reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, other air pollutants and deforestation — qualify as third party, independently certified carbon offset programs, burnishing the teams’ and leagues’ sustainability credentials.

Hershkowitz began connecting the teams and leagues with private sector firms like The South Pole Group, Eco-Act and Allcot. They do the important grunt work of designing, developing and implementing environmental and climate change mitigation projects on the ground.

 

Cookstoves

Clean burning cookstoves (Photo credit: South Pole Group)

 

Although the initiative is in its early days — cookstove purchases only began late last year — the results are impressive. Collectively, the benefits of the offsets purchased by the Yankees, Mets, MLS, NASCAR and the USTA include:

  • Distribution of 7,250 cookstoves for use in cabins and huts
  • Positive impacts on the lives of 13,000+ women and girls
  • Avoidance of 39.4 metric tonnes of carbon emissions
  • Keeping 22.4 metric tonnes of wood from being cut down
  • The manufacture and maintenance of cookstoves being handled by locals, bringing much-needed economic activity to the region

 

TEAMS, LEAGUES SEE COOKSTOVES, AVOIDED DEFORESTATION AS “NO-BRAINERS”

When asked why the Yankees are investing in Africa, Doug Behar, the team’s senior VP of operations, said it was a logical next step in the team’s long-standing commitment to sustainability: “We’ve evolved on sustainability over time, seeing that it made sense from a business perspective to measure and reduce our energy usage, and that it made sense to recycle and compost. So we were ready when the cookstove investment opportunity was brought to us. Really, it was a no-brainer as the impact on human life was too big to ignore.”

 

Doug Behar Profile

Doug Behar of the Yankees (Photo credit: New York Yankees)

 

NASCAR focused their investments on avoided mangrove deforestation projects on the shores of Lake Kariba in Northern Zimbabwe. Catherine Kummer, senior director of NASCAR Green, echoed Behar’s “no-brainer” sentiments. “When something makes sense to management and fans alike, you know you’ve got something,” shared Kummer. “Management got it right away. And the avoided deforestation aspects of our investments matches our fan base’s commitment to the outdoors.”

The Mets’ senior director of ballpark operations, Mike Dohnert, shared a different motivation when Hershkowitz brought the African investment opportunity his way. “I know it sounds cliche, but it was incredibly powerful to be able to explain to my six year-old son how important it is do the right thing,” Dohnert recalled. “I am very lucky that Mets management allows me the freedom to pursue these types of initiatives.”

Switching to tennis, why would its governing body in the United States make investments in Africa? “That’s an easy one — the US Open is an event that draws 800,000 fans from all over the world and tennis is truly a global sport,” offered Lauren Tracy, the USTA’s director of strategic initiatives. The organization funded the sending of 300+ cookstoves to women in Malawi. That purchase helped offset the carbon embedded in the millions of player travel miles to the recently completed US Open.

Major League Soccer, which joined with SandSI and The South Pole Group to advance a big sustainability push at this summer’s All-Star Game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the LEED Platinum home of Atlanta United, also found the global nature of the cookstove program compelling. “Since the All-Star Game pitted MLS’ best vs. Juventus, the perennial champion of Italy’s Serie A and one of the most popular teams in the world, we decided to go ‘glocal’ with our sustainability initiatives,” said JoAnn Neale, the league’s chief administrative and social responsibility officer. “Locally, we undertook a tree planting program in Atlanta. And our investments in 1,450 cookstoves in Kenya represented the global side of the equation.”

 

M-B Stadium 2a

Mercedes-Benz Stadium, LEED Platinum home of Atlanta United (Photo credit: Lewis Blaustein)

 

 

GSB’s Takes:

  • If five teams and leagues can get the kinds of life-saving and carbon emissions-reduction results detailed above in less than a year, imagine if all of the major pro and college sports leagues in North America rallied around cookstoves, avoided deforestation and other climate change and environmental programs in Sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere in the developing world. This is a huge opportunity for SandSI and the entire Green-Sports movement. Perhaps a team or two could pry their PhD analytics gurus away from their advanced metrics spreadsheets for a minute to calculate the macro public health and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions benefits of a massive Pan-North American sports cookstove/avoided deforestation/clean water initiative.
  • There was a kind of Bizarro World, up-is-down aspect to the Summit when it came to fan engagement on climate change and the environment:
    • NASCAR — whose brand image to this observer is decidedly “Red State”/skeptical on climate change — is in fact aggressively connecting with fans on environmental and climate change issues. Why? Because NASCAR fans have indicated that they care about the environment, to hell with the GSB’s stereotypes. “Ten years ago, 50 percent of our fans said they cared about the environment,” Catherine Kummer reported. “Fast forward to our April 2018 survey, and 87 percent of NASCAR fans now believe Earth is going through a period of climate change and 77 percent feel they have a personal responsibility to do something about it. So now we run environmentally-themed TV spots on NASCAR broadcasts.” I do have questions about how to square these results with polling before the 2016 Presidential election that showed NASCAR fans preferred Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton. But that’s a subject for another day. For today, the fact that NASCAR runs green TV spots is a very cool thing.

 

 

The 30 second NASCAR Green TV spot

 

  • On the other hand, while the Mets and Yankees have done exemplary greening work at Citi Field and Yankee Stadium, including eliminating trash bins and replacing them with recycling and compost bins, they have chosen to communicate their sustainability bona fides to fans in a much quieter fashion* than NASCAR. The clubs have not yet aired green-themed public service announcements on TV or radio. I mean, they play in climate change-is-real, humans-are-the-cause, “Blue State” New York. One would think their fan bases would react positively to such TV ads. What gives? Mike Dohnert acknowledged that, for Mets management, climate change “politics is an issue. They’re still trying to figure this out.” The Mets and Yanks might want to talk to NASCAR.
  • Kudos to SandSI and GCINET for hosting the first Sports and Climate Change Summit! This needs to be an annual event. 

 

 

 

^ The 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are: 1. No Poverty, 2. Zero Hunger, 3. Good Health and Well-Being, 4. Quality Education, 5. Gender Equity, 6. Clean Water and Sanitation, 7. Affordable and Clean Energy, 8. Decent Work and Economic Growth, 9. Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure, 10. Reduced Inequalities, 11. Sustainable Cities and Communities, 12. Responsible Consumption and Production, 13. Climate Action, 14. Life Below Water, 15. Life on Land, 16. Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions, 17. Partnerships for the Goals
* The Mets and Yankees communicate their greening initiatives to fans by posting sustainability information on their websites, leading sustainability-themed tours of the ballparks for high school students and more.
 

 

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