The GSB Interview: Monica Rowand, Bringing Green-Sports to University of Louisiana. Part I: Honing Her Craft at UCLA and CU-Boulder

Monica Rowand is one of the brightest, young stars in the Green-Sports world as she helps to lead the University of Louisiana’s (Lafayette) athletic department’s burgeoning sustainability efforts. 

Despite Monica’s youth, her story is rich and deep, so much so that we’re dividing the interview into two parts. Today’s Part I delves into her lifelong love affair with sports, her discovery of Green-Sports at UCLA and her work with Dave Newport and University of Colorado-Boulder’s powerhouse Green-Sports program.

In tomorrow’s Part II, we move with Monica to 1,200 miles to the southeast to Lafayette, LA to find out what she and the University of Louisiana’s sustainability department are doing to green the Ragin’ Cajuns athletics department. 

 

GreenSportsBlog: Monica, you’ve done so much important Green-Sports work and you’re not yet 30. When did you start, when you were in middle school?

Monica Rowand: Well Lew, I wanted to work in sports for as long as I can remember, baseball specifically. In fact, when I was a little girl I knew the exact job I wanted…

GSB: …Which was?

Monica: To manage the Los Angeles Angels, or Anaheim Angels as I grew up calling them!

GSB: I’m dating myself by saying I grew up calling them the California Angels! Why not aim high?

Monica: Exactly! And that Angels job is still in my plans. But Green-Sports really started for me while I was an undergrad at UCLA

GSB:…Recently named the number one public university in the country!

Monica: I know! Anyway I started out as a business economics major but then switched to geography and environmental studies.

GSB: Why did you switch?

 

RowandM2

Monica Rowand (Photo credit: Monica Rowand)

 

Monica: Good question. I had first gotten interested in the environment in high school when I saw “An Inconvenient Truth.” Then at UCLA I signed up for a Global Environment class to, if I’m being honest about it, take care of a science requirement.

GSB: Many of us can relate to that kind of college class scheduling…

Monica: The thing was, I really loved it! Then, in my senior year, I took this amazing class — Remote Sensing…

GSB: What is that?

Monica: It’s about using satellites, radar and other tools to scan the earth and obtain information that include temperature and other weather and climate metrics. We were told to pick semester project topics based on our passions so, given my love of baseball, mine was about the size of parking lots at Major League Baseball stadiums and the resulting heat island effect. I also looked at tree coverage in those lots. All of this was done using remote sensing. I studied the LA Dodgers…

GSB: …Dodger Stadium has massive circular parking lots surrounding it…

 

Dodger Stadium

Aerial view of the massive parking lots surrounding Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles (Photo credit: change.org)

 

Monica: Yeah! Awful for heat island effect. We also looked at AT&T Park, the home of the San Francisco Giants and Nationals Park, home of the Washington Nationals. I really enjoyed the project; this was the first time I realized I could combine sustainability and sports.

GSB: Did you work on any other Green-Sports projects while at UCLA?

Monica: Yeah. The second one looked at the waste generated at large sports events by league — Major League Baseball, the NBA, NFL and NHL. I figured out the average amount of waste per league and then compared that to total waste in the U.S.

GSB: It must’ve been tiny…

Monica: Oh it was. But that didn’t deter me. In fact, it made me realize that the real promise of Green-Sports was in engaging fans to care about the environment, climate change, and more…more so than focusing on greening the games themselves, because, like I said, total waste and carbon emissions from sports events are quite small relative to everywhere else.

GSB: So you knew you were Green-Sports 2.0 rather than Green-Sports 1.0…

Monica: That’s right. Sports is perhaps the most powerful platform in the world and it is past time that it was used in service of the environment!

GSB: Indeed! So what did you do when you graduated?

Monica: I moved to Denver — needed to get out of LA then. I got a job at a gym because, well, I needed a job. We did waste reduction and recycling, had an Earth Week program but that wasn’t a green job. But I networked like crazy with something called the Rocky Mountain Green Venue Partnership. All the major Denver area sports venues were in the group…Coors Field, home of the Rockies, Pepsi Center, home of the NBA’s Nuggets and NHL’s Avalanche. CU Boulder was there too. It was at these events that I became convinced that I wanted to work in Green-Sports and that I could get a job in it. It just didn’t happen then…

GSB: And next you…

Monica: …Moved to New Orleans in 2012 as I decided to join the Americorps VISTA program and work with Global Green doing community outreach.

GSB: Global Green is a great group!

Monica: I loved that job. I worked on so many things — education, energy efficiency, and community organizing. During this time I also networked in Green-Sports: I went to the 2013 Green Sports Alliance Summit in Brooklyn. I connected with Jarian Kerekes…

GSB: …Then the NBA’s Corporate Social Responsibility head.

Monica: Yes. We collaborated on ideas to help green the 2014 NBA All-Star Weekend in New Orleans. I spoke to leading Green-Sports practitioners like Omar Mitchell of the NHL and Paul Hanlon of MLB. Both told me I should get an MBA, with the idea being that I already had a strong environmental background but I needed to learn about business. So I looked for business programs with a strong sustainability bent. At that time, Dave Muller at the Green Sports Alliance said, “You should talk to Dave Newport at CU-Boulder. He runs the Environmental Center there and is doing amazing Green-Sports things.”

GSB: What did Dave Newport tell you?

Monica: He said, “Come to CU and I’ll hire you to help grow ‘Ralphie’s Green Stampede!'” So I went off to Boulder. I mean, sports and B-school? INCREDIBLE!!

GSB: Sounds like the perfect spot as Ralphie’s Green Stampede is arguably the best Green-Sports initiative in college athletics.

Monica: Oh yeah! For several reasons. Number one: Dave has the same mentality I do: Sports has the power to change behavior. Two: The Green-Sports infrastructure was already in place when I arrived there in 2015. Ralphie’s Green Stampede, which launched in 2008, had already helped CU Athletics become Zero-Waste, reduce its carbon emissions, get involved in water balancing and…

GSB: What is water balancing?

Monica: Athletics reduced their water usage. Whatever we did use, BEF worked with us on river restoration projects, thus adding the same amount of water back that CU Athletics had used.

GSB: Who funded this?

Monica: We were able to get corporate sponsors to pay for it.

GSB: Brilliant! What was your role with Ralphie’s Green Stampede?

Monica: I was the program manager for fan engagement…

GSB: AGAIN, perfect for you!

Monica: YES!!! I got to work with Dave, Athletics, and Learfield, the company that sold CU Athletics sponsorships. Working with Learfield’s Brandon Leimbach, a true rock star, we were able solidify a unique category of sponsorship that created value for our sports property, the corporate partner, and our community.

 

Ralphie Team

From left, Monica Rowand and Ralphie’s Green Stampede teammates Dave Newport, Brandon Leimbach and Angie Gilbert (Photo credit: Monica Rowand)

 

GSB: What kind of sponsorship programs did you guys develop and sell?

Monica: On water restoration, working with the aforementioned BEF, we created Water For The West for men’s and women’s basketball in 2015-16 and then football in 2016. Wells Fargo and Kohler sponsored it. CU’s venues have high efficiency water fixtures like faucets and then CU Athletics purchased 10 million gallons of water restoration credits.

GSB: Where did the fan engagement piece come in?

Monica: The idea with fans was to get them to follow the Buffs’ lead and save water at home, work, and play. So we set up a text platform, text “CU Water” to 27126 — I believe it’s still live — and promoted it at games and on social media. By texting, you were committing to saving water on your own— we showed them how by texting them water saving tips. For every text pledge we got Wells Fargo would restore an additional 1,000 gallons of water to the Colorado River through the BEF water restoration certificate program.

 

Water For The West promotional video (1 min 4 secs) featuring CU Women’s Soccer player Taylor Kornieck

 

GSB: What a neat program! How many people participated and how much water was restored?

Monica: In addition to the 10 million gallons that balanced the Buffs’ annual water footprint, 956 students and fans made text pledges during the 15-16 basketball seasons. So in the program’s first season an extra 956,000 gallons worth of water restoration projects could be done!

 

TOMORROW’S PART II: Monica Rowand moves from CU-Boulder to the sustainability department of the University of Louisiana in Lafayette to help launch their Green-Sports initiative.

 


 

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