GreenSportsBlog’s Five-Year Anniversary…A Reflection

When I started GreenSportsBlog back on May 22, 2013, I had no idea what to expect.

I had never blogged before, wasn’t sure if there would be an audience for content about the intersection of Green & Sports, and didn’t know if the movers and shakers of the Green-Sports world would talk to me.

Five years and 512 posts later, I can say happily say there is consistent and growing interest — our 7,000+ monthly readers attest to that. And I have been blessed to be able to interview Green-Sports activists, corporate leaders, eco-athletes, and more. To all, I say a heartfelt thank you — and keep reading and commenting!

To commemorate GSB’s fifth anniversary, I thought you might find it interesting to read about how I came to write about Green-Sports and to see which posts have been the most well-read.

 

HOW I BECAME A GREEN-SPORTS BLOGGER

A lifelong, passionate New York-area sports fan — for those who haven’t read this blog much, the Jets, Knicks, Rutgers, and Yankees are my local favorites, along with North London’s Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League. While at Rutgers, I announced football and basketball while a student at Rutgers on WRSU-FM

 

WRSU Knightline

Yours truly, 2nd from right and mustachioed in an old school Jets jersey, making what must surely have been an astute point on Knightline, the post-game sports talk show on WRSU-FM, the Rutgers student radio station back…a few years (Photo credit: WRSU-FM)

 

I tried to make a go of sportscasting as a professional, but it is a very tough way to make a living. After earning my MBA from NYU’s Stern School of Business, I pivoted to the sports business, where I was fortunate to spend 15 years, starting in the early 1990s through the mid 2000s, working in advertising sales and marketing. Getting paid to go to the World Series, NBA Finals, World Cup and more? How cool was that?!?!

The environment interested me — it was a factor in my voting decisions; I supported the Sierra Club and like organizations. But did my greenness match my sports fandom? Only when it came to the Jets, who wear green. Otherwise, not even close.

Until 9/11.

Working for Sports Illustrated Kids in midtown Manhattan at the time, I was very fortunate personally to not know anyone in the Twin Towers. Still, I felt like I had to do something. This was the Pearl Harbor of my generation and this was my home city.

But what to do?

It wasn’t until about four months after that horrible day that I found my answer.

In “Green Is the New Red, White & Blue,” Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman posited that we in the U.S. were fueling the wars on terrorism that we were fighting (we were already in Afghanistan at the time; the invasion of Iraq was a year or so away) by our insanely profligate energy use. His logic went something like this:

  1. The U.S. represented four percent of the world’s population but 25 percent of its energy usage.
  2. Since 9/11 happened before the fracking-led domestic oil and gas production boom, we had to source a good chunk of our energy from places like Saudi Arabia.
  3. The Saudi royal family siphoned some of that U.S oil revenue to its Wahhabi extremists to ensure they would remain in power.
  4. And those Wahhabists funded the training of 15 of the 19 9/11 attackers.

It was like the compact fluorescent lightbulb went on above my head! Green was going to play a big part in the solutions to geopolitical problems and I would play a small role. So I “greened up” my personal life, buying a hybrid car (becoming a very early adapter; I knew more about how a hybrid worked than the salesman), changing out all my lightbulbs to compact fluorescents, and becoming an almost-vegetarian.

But that wasn’t enough.

I needed to somehow green my work life. This became even more of an imperative the more I learned about climate change.

But how to get a green job? In 2002-2003, most were technical in nature. And, let’s put it this way: You do NOT want me installing solar panels on your roof.

So I thought, “what am I good at?” Sales, marketing and story telling. The trick was how to translate that from the mature sports industry to the nascent world of green business.

I began to network like crazy, joining a gaggle of sustainable business groups in New York. But when I couldn’t find what I call green “job-jobs” for someone with a sales/marketing/communications background, I decided, in September 2005, to take a risk, leaving SI Kids and recreating myself as a sustainability-focused, business development, marketing and communications consultant.

Since then I have helped a wide array of organizations — from Fortune 500 companies to startups to nonprofits — tell their sustainability stories more powerfully, generate new revenue by selling sponsorships to green events, and garner positive media coverage for their sustainability-related accomplishments. Some of my clients whose names you’d recognize include BT (aka British Telecom), Empire State Building, Whole Foods Market and the Wildlife Conservation Society

Then, about three years into my life as a sustainability consultant, in 2008-2009, I began to wonder if there was an intersection of Green and Sports, with the idea being that I would love to marry my two passions.

So I poked around and found out there was a fellow named Dr. Allen Hershkowitz who, working with NRDC, helped the Philadelphia Eagles and minority owner Christina Weiss Lurie make sure the toilet paper at Lincoln Financial Field wasn’t being sourced from eagle habitats. 

What an introduction to Green-Sports!

A year or so I discovered that a small group of pro sports teams from Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver had banded together to form the Green Sports Alliance. Their goal was to share better practices on energy efficiency, waste, and more. This sounded like an organization and a movement — Green-Sports — that was poised to grow. 

And I needed to be a part of it! But again, my question was “how?”

In 2011-12, I did more digging — and noticed that the Alliance was growing well beyond its Pacific Northwest roots, and that the organizers of the London 2012 Olympics made sustainability a key strand of their DNA. 

I figured media organization must be covering this burgeoning Green-Sports field. 

No one was.

So I decided would become that media organization.

And that led to GreenSportsBlog’s birth five years ago, almost to the day.

 

Lew GSA 2

Yours truly, making what what must surely have been an astute point at the 2016 Green Sports Alliance Summit in Houston (Photo credit: Lewis Blaustein)

 

FIVE KEY LESSONS

I’ve learned a ton these last five years — so much so, I could write an entire post just on that topic. But, for purposes of this story, I’ll boil it down to five key lessons that have been imparted to me by you, the readers, based on your comments and which GSB posts have drawn the most traffic:

  1. Allow the People Building the Green-Sports World to Share Their Stories Directly with Readers: Based on reader comments, The GSB Interview is the most popular segment on the blog. Sharing the unfiltered insights, struggles and successes of a wide array of women and men who are responsible for greening the sports world is an honor and a pleasure.
  2. Go Beyond Major League Sports and Mega-Events: Of course, we cover the greening of major pro sports leagues in North America and Europe, as well as of mega events like the Olympics and the FIFA World Cup. But stories like Forest Green Rovers, the fourth tier English soccer club that is the Greenest Team in Sports, and the St. Paul Saints, the minor league baseball team in Minnesota which won the Greenest New Stadium of the Year in 2015, have drawn some of the site’s best traffic numbers.
  3. Write with the Voice of the Sports Fan: From reader comments back in GSB’s early days, it seems that most expected the blog to be written by someone with a cleantech, facilities management and/or “green journalism” background. Many sounded pleased that I brought a different point-of-view, that of a passionate sustainability communicator who is also a big sports fan. Understanding and loving sports — and the people who follow it — was and is important. Especially when one considers, as Allen Hershkowitz is wont to say, that 13 percent of Americans follow science, but 65-70 percent follow sports. And as Nelson Mandela offered, “Sports can change the world!”
  4. Bringing a Sense of Humor to the Table is a Good Thing: Our forays into the satirical have been well received by readers and commenters. The July 2014 story in which I imagined that LeBron James decided to leave Miami to return to Cleveland — not because he wanted to go home, but because he was afraid of climate change’s effects in South Florida — remains the blog’s most read post. In fact, every post in which I’ve included the words “LeBron” and “James” has scored well. That bodes well for this one :). Hey, the climate change fight can be a very hard slog at times, so adding a dollop of humor here and there can’t hurt.

The fifth key lesson is that Green-Sports Needs To Play the “Climate Change Fight” Game…and It Needs to Play to WIN!: Herm Edwards, now the head football coach at Arizona State University, was coaching my New York Jets back in 2002, when he famously ranted that “The great thing about sports is, you play to win the game! Hello?! You play to win the game!!!”

 

Herm Edwards’ 2002 “You play to win the game” rant

 

To me, it’s clear that Green-Sports needs to be playing the “climate change fight” game. But are we? And are we playing to win? Despite some moves in the right direction, it’s clear to me that the Green-Sports world is not there yet.

Hey, I get it: Climate change is political and sports is where people often go to get away from politics. But acknowledging those realities shouldn’t mean we abandon the fight. 

And then there are two other important realities at play here:

  1. Climate change is the most existential threat the world faces
  2. It will take consistent and unyielding passion to generate the political will to turn humanity away from the carbon train wreck we’re hurtling towards.

It says here that tapping into the passion of sports fans and the massive size of the fan base is essential to the climate change fight. I have been heartened by the many GreenSportsBlog readers who have encouraged me to continue to push the Green-Sports world and sports media (#CoverGreenSports) to engage more forthrightly on climate change. I certainly will.

 

MOST READ GREENSPORTSBLOG POSTS

Here is a list of our 10 most read posts over our first five years. Enjoy and please keep reading and sharing GreenSportsBlog!

  1. The REAL Reason LeBron Chose to Leave Miami for Cleveland: Climate Change (July 2014)
  2. The GSB Interview: Mark Teixeira of the NY Yankees; Helping to Rebuild and Green NW Atlanta (February 2016)
  3. Mercedes-Benz Stadium: Super Cool, Super Green Future Home of the Falcons and Atlanta FC (November 2015)
  4. Birds Flying Into Minneapolis’ Glass-Walled US Bank Stadium Not a Good Look with Super Bowl LII Only Two Months Away (December 2017)
  5. Integral Hockey: Rebuilding Broken Hockey Sticks–and Keeping Them Out of the Landfill (October 2015)
  6. How Green is Augusta National Golf Club, Home of The Masters (April 2016)
  7. The GSB Interview: Leilani Münter, Looking to Turn on the Speed and Turn Auto Racing Fans on to a Vegan Diet at Daytona (January 2018)
  8. Forest Green Rovers, Greenest Team in Sports, Earns Promotion Up England’s Football/Soccer Ladder (May 2017)
  9. PyeongChang 2018: How Green will the Winter Olympics Be? A Conversation with Sustainability Manager Hyeona Kim (August 2017)
  10. Green Sports Alliance Calls on Sports Fans To Take “Live Green or Die™” Challenge in Response to Trump Pulling U.S Out of Paris Climate Agreement (June 2017)

 

 


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#CoverGreenSports

Green Leaders Talk Green-Sports, Part 10: Solitaire Townsend, Co-founder of Futerra, Author of “The Happy Hero”

For the tenth installment of our occasional “Green Leaders Talk Green Sports”^ series — we talk with luminaries from outside the Green-Sports world about the potential of, and challenges facing the Green-Sports world —we bring you sustainable business pioneer Solitaire Townsend, the London-based co-founder of Futerra, a firm that is both a “logical sustainability consultancy” and “a magical creative agency.” She is also the author of “The Happy Hero,” in which she endeavors to show readers how they can answer the question “What if saving the world was good for you?” with a resounding YES! GSB talked with Townsend (she goes by “Soli”) about how she got into the world-saving (and climate-saving) business and the role she sees sports playing in those efforts.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Soli, thanks for chatting with us! Futerra helps show companies can they can really do well by doing good — and provides them with the tools and direction to do so. We will get into that in a bit. But first, how did you get into the world-saving business?

Solitaire Townsend: It’s my pleasure, Lew. To answer your question, I go to the first chapter of “The Happy Hero.” It was the 1980s and I was growing up in Bedfordshire, north of London. Picture this — I was a 13 year-old girl, living in “Social Housing…”

 

SolitaireTownsend_Headshot Futerra

Solitaire “Soli” Townsend, Co-founder of Futerra and author of “The Happy Hero” (Photo credit: Futerra)

 

GSB: Or, in American parlance, “the projects…”

ST: Exactly. There was trash all over the place and a company called Nirex planned to build a nuclear waste dump nearby. That was the last straw for me! So, at 13, I got involved in campaigning against Nirex, with my parents support. By the time I was 15, we had won — we beat back the Nirex proposal. It made me what I like to call a hardened optimist! This became my “modus operendi” from then on — I got a Masters Degree in sustainability in 1997.

GSB: Sounds like you were an early adapter…

ST: For sure. Getting a Masters in sustainability was unusual at that time. I worked for a time on the BBC show Newsnight and it was there that I gained a real appreciation for how important powerful communications is for the success of social movements, including sustainability. Eventually I founded Futerra along with a partner as an agency that would help our clients envision and deploy positive solutions to environmental and social issues as a fundamental business building strategy.

GSB: …Or, put another way, doing well by doing good, right?

ST: You got it.

GSB: So, where does sport fit in?

ST: Well, sport teaches us the power of belief. Talent takes you so far. It’s the belief in yourself and your team that makes the difference. Sport is the perfect platform for this line of thinking. And it is necessary for success in an advocacy campaign or, on the business side, in a corporate social responsibility campaign. Belief, against all odds!

GSB: Like, to use a great British sporting example, the incredible “Belief against all odds” story of Leicester City’s 5,000-to-1 Premier League champions in 2015-16.  In addition to belief, in “The Happy Hero,” you talk about how elite athletes’ laser focus on achieving one goal can be instructive for the climate movement…

ST: Focus is a key aspect of a top athlete becoming world class. Also blocking out the negative. Now, with climate change, we don’t seem to have that world class athlete attitude. We talk about losing — we don’t have what it takes to win — it’s too big of a problem.

GSB: I know! I fight this, both in my own mind and in my communications. But, in the main, I’m in the Yes We WILL — as in “yes we will win the climate change fight” camp.

ST: Really, we need great climate change communicator coaches with that “Yes We Will Win” attitude.

GSB: Like Al Gore — at the time of “An Inconvenient Truth” about 10 years ago, I’d say his emphasis was 90 percent about the problem. But in the past five years, he’s gone all in on solutions…

ST: That’s a great example; there are many more. The great thing about sport is that it is all about what’s possible. There’s no ceiling. We have enough doom stories…Doom stories are crap. I sound like a broken record, I know, but we need belief, consistent hard work and positive stories to win the climate fight.

GSB: Hey, if Leicester City could win the EPL, we can solve climate change, right? So tell me about Futerra and sport.

ST: We worked on London 2012

GSB: …the most sustainable Olympics to date…What was Futerra’s role?

ST: Futerra were just one small part of the larger sustainability team. And when I say “larger,” I really mean it: The London 2012 environmental and social teams were as large as some of the countries’ actual Olympic teams! We worked on the big policy picture as well as providing guidance on very detailed sustainability aspects of the Olympics’ operations. Futerra handled sustainability reporting, including reporting on emissions generated from fan travel to and from the games, sourcing of food, the availability of water fountains and refillables within the Olympic footprint. London 2012 really was a sustainability breakthrough, not only for the Olympics but for all mega-sports events going forward. It was the first Olympics to issue a sustainability report. The Global Reporting Initiative or GRI developed a special supplement for sustainability reporting for large events, based on what was material…Of course that includes buildings, food, water, and travel. But also gender issues and other, broader elements of a sustainability plan.

 

Velodrome London 2012

The Velodrome in the London 2012 Olympic Park. The bicycle-racing venue features a 100 percent naturally-ventilated system that eliminates the need for air conditioning, along with rainwater harvesting systems on its roof. (Photo credit: Ruckus Roots)

 

GSB: That sounds like more than a small role to me. How do you see Futerra getting involved in sport going forward?

ST: We feel big, pro sports teams like Manchester United or Liverpool need to act like small ones and that Futerra can help them get there.

GSB: What do you mean by “getting big teams to act like small ones” and how can Futerra help?

ST: Well, Futerra is looking to get more involved with companies and nonprofits in emerging economies — China, Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America — with our sort of philosophical view of sport. What is the common denominator in those countries and elsewhere in the developing world? Sports. But for most people in those places, sports means a group of kids playing on a scrap of grass with a ball made of clumped together newspaper. When you think about it, this is, from a carbon footprint perspective, just about the lowest impact human activity there is, while also having a huge social impact. Now, when you look at the pro level, they too have a huge social impact but their carbon footprints are also massive. We aim to show sports organizations and the companies who sponsor them the benefits of lowering that footprint.

GSB: I can’t wait to follow up with you once you have some results from your efforts in those places. Do you have any other sports highlights you’d like to share?

ST: Well, recently we’ve done a lot of work with the great outdoor sports retailer REI. I love them and their #OptOutside program which has them close all their stores on Black Friday! They’ve really become a thought leader and are taking a lead role in the conversation about sustainable business, carbon footprint measurement, gender and more. We co-authored a report with them, The Path Ahead, about the future of the outdoor sports economy in the U.S., the threats…

 

OptOutside

 

GSB: …like climate change…

ST: …like climate change…and the opportunities.

GSB: I’m glad — and not at all surprised — to learn that REI is taking such a leading role. One thing that puzzles me is that the many sports teams and leagues in the U.S. that are doing great green things — zero-waste games, LEED certified stadia — do very little talking about it. Which to me defeats the purpose of greening in the first place. Why do you think that is the case?

ST: That’s an interesting question, Lew. I think sports teams and venues have two schools of thought. On the one hand, they want to be quiet about their green good works, loathe be seen as being boastful or, worse, greenwasher. But that attitude is really surprising to me and doesn’t pass the smell test. I mean, sports is, after all, about celebrating!!! Now, I fully acknowledge that the language of sustainability can be tricky — words like belief, caring, and stewardship. Sports is about winning and losing, overcoming obstacles, heroics. Perhaps the way to look at this is to make the language of sustainability more like sports. We need to do this — business already gets it, with all sorts of rankings. Sustainability needs to act more like sports.

GSB: And sports? Be not afraid about talking about your greenness. A little blowback from climate deniers? So what? The risk of inaction is too great and you’ll win with the millennial and GenZ fans you covet!

ST: I like it, Lew!

GSB: Sometimes I get fired up…

 

Happy Hero Cover

You can purchase “The Happy Hero” on Amazon.com

 

^ Here are links to the first eight installments of “Green Leaders Talk Green Sports”: 1. Joel Makower, executive editor of GreenBiz Group; 2. Jerry Taylor, leading libertarian DC lobbyist who was climate denier/skeptic, “switched teams” and is now a climate change fighter; 3. Dr. Michael Mann, one of the world’s foremost climate scientists and author of “The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars”; 4. Caryl Stern, President and CEO of US Fund for UNICEF;  5. Paul Polizzotto, President and Founder of CBS EcoMedia; 6. David Crane, former CEO of NRG, who, in addition to moving one of the largest electricity generators in the US away from coal and towards renewables, also oversaw the “solar-ization” of six NFL stadia; 7. Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, climate scientist and the best climate change communicator I’ve ever seen/heard; 8. Freya Williams, author of “Green Giants”; and 9. Mindy Lubber, CEO of Ceres.

 

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