Johanna McCloy was on a date at her first baseball game back in 2000 when she noticed there were no vegetarian food options — and that was at Dodger Stadium in veggie-friendly Los Angeles. So the actress sprung into action, calling the Dodgers to ask why that was the case. And then she started calling other teams across the major leagues.
Fast forward to 2019 and McCloy is the co-founder of VeggieHappy, an online venue guide for plant-based food options at large professional and Division I college sports venues.
With vegetarian and vegan diets growing, especially among millennials and especially GenZers, there is no one better to talk to about where things stand regarding the availability and quality of plant-based food options at ballparks and other sports venues than Johanna McCloy.
GreenSportsBlog: When did the first vegetarian and/or vegan options first appear at sports venues?
Johanna McCloy: While I don’t know the history of plant-based food options at every venue before I got involved in this work, I can speak to the status of plant-based options when we first began reaching out to major league ballparks in 2000, sometimes through cold calling. They had items like pretzels and peanuts, of course, but none of the parks offered a viable plant-based option beyond those generic snacks. Our initial quest was to introduce veggie dogs at Major League Baseball venues, since hot dogs and baseball are as American as…
Johanna McCloy (Photo credit: Kirsten Lara Getchell)
GSB: …Hot dogs and baseball!
Johanna: Exactly! But no major league ballpark at the time offered veggie dogs. So we started calling all the ballparks, offering our consultation and liaison services to facilitate veggie dogs and other viable plant-based menu options. We got our first hit when the Chicago White Sox added veggie dogs to the concession stands menu Comiskey Park — now Guaranteed Rate Field — later in 2000. From there, other ballparks followed, including Dodger Stadium. Today, nearly all of them offer veggie dogs, and sports venues of all kinds offer a variety of fabulous plant-based options.
Vegan veggie dog, courtesy of Beyond Meat, at Dodger Stadium (Photo credit: Riley Williams, @chefrdog)
GSB: What are some of the best venues for plant-based options in terms of quality and quantity?
Johanna: Exactly! In addition to Dodger Stadium, some of the top major league ballparks, in terms of plant-based food quality and quantity are Citi Field (New York Mets), Globe Life Park (Texas Rangers), Target Field (Minnesota Twins), and Yankee Stadium.
There is a ton of variety these days. Fans can now find options like a plant-based burger with carmelized onions, guacamole, and non-dairy cheese. Also vegan nachos with either tempeh or plant-based meat crumbles. So you can go for some tasty, healthy, yet decadent stuff. And beyond all the plant-based meat options out there, you can also find wraps, burritos, falafels, sandwiches, bountiful salads, and all kinds of additional options. Not to mention vegan cookies. Gotta have those too!
The “32 Ingredient” vegan salad on offer at Rogers Centre, home of the Toronto Blue Jays (Photo credit: Aramark)
Some venues are choosing to provide a dedicated stand offering most of their plant-based options at one location. Others provide a variety of vegetarian and/or vegan options throughout many concession stands. Be sure to check out VeggieHappy’s online venue listings to discover which plant-based options they offer, and where to find them.
GSB: Is there a sport that has led on plant-based foods? Which sport lags the field?
Johanna: Well, in very general terms, NFL stadiums bring up the rear, though they are slowly starting to move up. NBA and MLS venues are catching on quickly. MLB, with the longest history with plant-based food, is the leader.
NBA teams are getting into the plant-based food act. Here are two quinoa-barley-black bean tacos (sans cilantro cream sauce to make it vegan) from Street Taco at Capital One Arena, home of the Washington Wizards (Photo credit: James Price, @veganfoodfinds)
GSB: Baseball leads thanks in part to your efforts going back two decades! Are fans demanding plant-based food options?
Johanna: Thank you, Lew. The interest and demand for these foods is growing at an amazing rate. Just look at the statistics overall on people choosing plant-based diets, or purchasing plant-based meats. The numbers of vegetarians, vegans and flexitarians — a person who has a primarily vegetarian diet but occasionally eats meat or fish — are all growing.
Not surprisingly, it’s Millennials and Generation Z that are driving that demand.
GSB: I know! According to a 2018 Statista study, 7.5 percent of Millennials and GenZers have given up meat while only 3 percent of those over 50 have done the same…
Johanna: Yes! And that is leading to stunning sales growth of plant-based alternatives. According to Nielsen, sales increased 17 percent over the past year alone. During the same time period, total U.S. retail food dollar sales grew just 2 percent. And sales of plant-based meat increased 23 percent in the past year, up from 6 percent growth the previous year, according to the Good Food Institute.
Fans definitely want these options, and some understand the value of asking for them. However, many fans are not aware of their power as a consumer, and have not asked; they are more complacent, bringing their own food, or eating before or after a game or event. That’s why VeggieHappy exists. We’re speaking to that very real demand.
GSB: What about organic offerings? Local food choices?
Johanna: Same as with plant-based food; venues are increasingly adding them.
GSB: Forest Green Rovers, a minor league soccer club in England, ONLY offers vegan food at its concession stands. It was controversial at first but is mostly accepted these days. Could this happen here? What would it take? Why not?
Johanna: I love Forest Green Rovers and what they’ve done over there. They became fully vegan in 2011. In their case, it’s because of their ownership and the very strong position that they’ve taken around sustainability. It started at the very top. Their Chairman Dale Vince is vegan himself and is the owner of an electric company called Ecotricity. He also has an Order of the British Empire (OBE) designation from the Queen for his environmental activism. What is great is how fans who otherwise wouldn’t have chosen to eat vegan options now really love them and talking about how their own diets have changed as a result of the options offered there. That’s wonderful.
Could it happen here? Definitely. It’s about the team’s ownership and their vision. And any owner who would want to go deeper on plant-based food offerings has Dale Vince and Forest Green Rovers as a prove-point.
Forest Green Rovers of League 2, the fourth tier of English football, serves its fans a vegan-only menu. Here is a stir-fried mixed peppers, red onion and Mexican spiced Quorn wrapped in a soft tortilla with fresh tomato relish (Photo credit: Forest Green Rovers)
GSB: GreenSportsBlog will take it as a challenge to find an owner in North America who will match Dale Vince and Forest Green Rovers. Final question: What do you think the sports venue-plant-based food landscape look like in five years or so?
There’s a food revolution underway right now, there is no question about it, and plant-based options are going to become fully mainstream. Right now, they’re starting to be better understood and more readily accepted, but in the next five years or so, they will be fully promoted and abundantly sold in mainstream venues. It’s a HUGE market. Venues should and will get on board. Cell-based meat may also enter the market in that time frame, and there is a lot of investment going into that. It’s a food revolution too. People are steadily moving away from products derived from animal agriculture and factory farming.
It comes down to this: Many notable international scientific consortiums have recently cited animal agriculture as one of the biggest sources of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions — some show the meat industrial complex to be the number one source — and have encouraged people to choose plant-based foods as a way to mitigate those effects.
With that as backdrop, plant-based food options have to play a major part in any sports-sustainability effort.
GSB: No doubt about it. Check out veggiehappy.com to learn about plant-based food options at your favorite ballpark.
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Kunal Merchant occupies a fascinating perch in the Green-Sports world. A member of the Green Sports Alliance board, the Bay Area-based Merchant has a background in business, politics, and social enterprise. And as co-founder of Lotus Advisory with his sister Monisha, Merchant has guided the sustainability efforts on state-of-the-art green stadium and arena projects, from Sacramento’s Golden1 Center — the first LEED Platinum indoor arena in the world — to the nascent Oakland A’s ballpark project.
GreenSportsBlog spoke with Merchant about his work on Green-Sports projects, with the Alliance, and where he sees the movement heading.
GreenSportsBlog: Kunal, I can’t wait to dig into your story which takes place at the intersection of sports, politics, and sustainability. Nothing juicy there…
Kunal Merchant: It has been a fascinating ride to this point, Lew. I came to the sports world from the political side, working as Chief of Staff for then Sacramento Mayor and ex-NBA All Star Kevin Johnson. I served in that role during his first term, between December 2008 and June 2012, which was a dramatic time. The Mayor took office right as the national economy was entering the Great Recession. Sacramento was particularly hard hit by double-digit unemployment and a foreclosure crisis. Morale was low, and right when the town thought it couldn’t get any worse, we found out that our beloved Sacramento Kings – the one and only pro sports team in town – wanted to leave town.
The team had been struggling both on and off the court for years, including several failed attempts to build a new arena to replace what had by then become the oldest and smallest arena in the NBA. The Kings’ ownership felt that their best shot was to start over in a new city, with Seattle being the most likely destination. It was a punch to the gut for Sacramento, and in the Mayor’s office, we knew that how Sacramento responded to this challenge would have implications far beyond sports for the city’s economic and civic identity.
GSB: So how did you go about dealing with the significant headwinds?
Kunal: That’s a topic for a much longer conversation! But, oversimplified, there were three key checkboxes on our “to-do list” to save the team: (1) prove that Sacramento was a viable NBA market; (2) recruit a new ownership group willing to buy the team and keep it in Sacramento; and (3) develop a plan to build and finance a new arena. The arena was arguably the most critical – and difficult item – particularly since, for a market the size of Sacramento, some form of public investment was going to be needed.
Taxpayers were understandably skeptical about putting public money towards a basketball arena. But after studying similar situations around the country, we in the Mayor’s Office concluded that, under the right terms and structure, we could deliver a public-private partnership for a new arena that would be a win for the Kings and for Sacramento. To get there, we needed to generate transformative economic and community benefits, something that was only possible if we used the arena to anchor the broader revitalization of our blighted and long-underperforming downtown core.
In that respect, Sacramento really reminded me of the Denver of my childhood in the 1980s. At that time, Denver was perceived as a classic “flyover city” by people on the coasts. But over several years, the community and city leaders pushed through smart and strategic investments that led to a positive change in the city’s economic and cultural trajectory. Things really took off in the 1990s, in part due to the energy generated by Coors Field, the downtown ballpark built to be the home of our new Major League Baseball team, the Colorado Rockies.
Kunal Merchant, co-founder of Lotus Advisory (Photo credit: Lotus Advisory)
GSB: I remember visiting Denver during the late 1990s and saw how Coors Field had seemingly changed a whole neighborhood. Was the ballpark built by the team, the city or some combination? The reason I ask is that there are many studies showing that public investments in sports venues are not efficient uses of the public’s money. Where do you come down on that question?
Kunal: Great question. Like a stodgy and aging arena, I think the rhetoric around public financing for sports venues is in serious need of an upgrade. There’s way too much dogma on a topic filled with nuance.
In the case of Coors Field, the project was a public-private partnership, where taxpayers made a significant investment. As a local resident who saw that area before and after Coors Field, I would argue that the taxpayers’ investment paid off handsomely in catalyzing a true economic and cultural renaissance that continues to this day.
But the success of Coors Field doesn’t vindicate all forms of public financing. The reality is that every situation is different, and plenty of sports facilities – too many I would argue – receive public funding in amounts and terms that are truly terrible deals for the public. When we were developing the Kings arena deal, we studied up on the good, bad and ugly of prior public subsidy deals. And we were determined that any arena deal we cut with the Kings would protect taxpayers and generate strong economic and community benefits.
That process in Sacramento began by fighting to locate the new arena downtown, and resist temptations by some in town to “play small” and simply refurbish or rebuild at the old arena’s suburban location.
GSB: The old Arco Arena is north of the city, kind of by itself off of I-5.
Kunal: Yes. At the time it was built in the mid-1980s, that building size and location made sense. But by the 2010s, we had different civic imperatives around sustainability and urban planning. Beyond the economic appeal of a downtown location – analysts forecasted $150 million in new annual economic activity each year – we wanted the arena project to reflect the values of a community that cared deeply about the environment. So we set – and ultimately met – incredibly ambitious goals for green design, air quality, water efficiency, energy efficiency, transit, food, waste diversion, and so on.
GSB: What was your role in the project?
Kunal: My role evolved over the course of the project. At the start, I was the Mayor’s Chief of Staff, representing the Mayor and City in almost every facet of our work with the NBA, Kings, City and community to save the team and develop the arena plan. When the NBA voted to keep the team in Sacramento in May 2013, and approve the sale of the Kings to a new ownership group, I moved over to the team side as an executive focused on making sure we followed through on our promises to the community on the arena.
That meant finalizing the public process to approve the deal, negotiating key labor and community benefit agreements, and continuing to engage the community in this truly once-in-a-generation project. It also meant championing what became the most ambitious sustainability agenda of an NBA arena to that date, anchored around achieving status as the first-ever LEED Platinum indoor sports arena.
GSB: That’s quite a transition. How did working for a sports team differ from working in municipal government?
Kunal: Well, it’s safe to say that spending a Tuesday night at an NBA game is a bit more fun than at a City Council meeting! And I used to joke with friends – only half-kidding – that I could get more done chatting with various folks at a Kings game than I could ever do in one month at City Hall. There were obvious advantages to working in a private sector context in terms of speed, agility, and efficiency. But this deal was a true public-private partnership where both bodies were integral. What’s most powerful to me is that my spirit and purpose on this project never changed regardless of what my business card said; from beginning to end, this endeavor was always about doing something really big and historic and transformative for the people of Sacramento. And both the City and Kings wholly embraced that mindset.
GSB: What did you do after the arena took shape?
Kunal: As Opening Day for the Golden 1 Center got closer, I started getting calls from other folks in sports who were impressed by what we’d done in Sacramento and wanted to see if I could help out elsewhere. To his credit, then-Team President Chris Granger was extremely supportive, and I was able to transition from being a full-time employee to a consultant able to take on other work. As part of that transition, I launched Lotus Advisory with my sister Monisha as a strategy and management consulting firm focused on driving positive change at the intersection of business, government and community. Because of my background, I ended up specializing quickly on sports-related projects, while my MIT-educated sister took on high tech clients like Airbnb. In the years since, we’ve been lucky to work with an amazing range of clients in a variety of industries and sectors.
Kunal Merchant touring construction of the Golden 1 Center and the Downtown Commons in 2015 during his time as a Sacramento Kings executive. The $1.5 billion dollar project includes a LEED Platinum NBA arena, hotel, and retail and entertainment district that has been the primary catalyst behind the new economic and cultural renaissance unfolding in Sacramento’s long-struggling downtown core (Photo credit: Lotus Advisory)
GSB: What are some the sports projects on which Lotus Advisory has worked?
In recent years, we’ve done a lot of work in soccer and baseball. I was the Chief Strategist for Nashville’s successful 2017 bid to join Major League Soccer, where we went from being on no one’s radar as a viable soccer city to finishing first in a twelve city race for the next expansion slot. A huge part of our success was powered by the people of Nashville – whose pride in their city is as strong as I’ve ever seen anywhere.
Similarly, I helped lead and advise Sacramento’s bid to join MLS for several years, particularly in shepherding their downtown stadium development plan through the planning, predevelopment and approval processes. The heart and soul of that bid are the supporters of Sacramento Republic, the United Soccer League (USL) Championship¹ club that took the city by storm when it launched in 2014 and has woven itself deeply into the cultural fabric of Sacramento with remarkable speed.
Currently, I’m working closely with the Oakland Athletics on their plans to revitalize the Oakland waterfront with a new privately-financed ballpark district near the Jack London Square area. It’s a really gorgeous project with a strong spirit of sustainability and environmental justice.
GSB: Very cool! What’s the status of Sacramento’s MLS bid? I know they’re looking to get to 28 teams by 2021 or 2022. Cincinnati United began play this month as the league’s 24th club, with Miami and Nashville set to join next year and Austin in ’21. So that means there’s one more slot left in the near term.
Kunal: Sacramento is one of two cities considered to be favorites for the 28th slot. I know that I’m biased, but I don’t think the competition is remotely close. Sacramento’s MLS bid stands alone as arguably the most resilient, mature, and comprehensive MLS bid in league history. Since embarking on the MLS journey in 2014, Republic FC has checked all the boxes time and again: a die-hard fan base, committed corporate support, a fully-approved and transformational downtown stadium plan; and a credible and committed ownership led by a formidable combination of Pittsburgh Penguins owner Ron Burkle and several local business leaders. MLS will be lucky to have Sacramento join its ranks and I’m cautiously optimistic that it will happen soon.
GSB: Good luck! When will the new stadium be ready and what are some of its green features?
Kunal: Obviously the MLS stadium is contingent on entry into the league, but the stadium could likely be ready by either the 2021 or 2022 MLS season. As impactful as the Golden 1 Center is for Sacramento, the MLS stadium for Republic FC will be a game-changer in its own right.
The stadium will be built few blocks away from the Kings arena at a huge 240 acre site called the Sacramento Railyards that, when fully built out, will double the size of downtown Sacramento. The MLS stadium represents one of the first and largest major private investments in the Railyards in several decades, and will catalyze a historic wave of economic and community development. In terms of green features, the stadium will be another model of transit-oriented development, located a block from light rail, and a short distance by foot, bike, scooter, or rideshare from the rest of downtown. Republic FC has a terrific culture around local food and beer, so I’d expect some innovative sourcing strategies there as well.
Artist rendering of proposed Major League Soccer stadium in downtown Sacramento. The project will anchor an estimated $5B economic revitalization effort at Sacramento’s historic Railyards district (Credit: Sacramento Republic FC)
GSB: Turning to another long-running new stadium project, let’s talk about the Oakland A’s.
Kunal: The A’s have a truly visionary plan to revitalize the waterfront near Jack London Square through a new Major League Baseball ballpark. The project will be LEED Gold Certified and reflect a “ballpark within a park” theme, with an intimate 34,000 seat stadium nestled carefully into its urban surroundings. The ballpark is privately-financed and will anchor a new, vibrant waterfront district that will feature a mix of housing, including affordable housing, offices, restaurants, retail, small business space, parks and public gathering spaces. And the team is also showing tremendous leadership by leveraging the ballpark project to address longstanding environmental justice reform issues around air, soil and water quality faced by West Oakland residents for years.
Preliminary artist rendering for the proposed Oakland A’s ballpark near Jack London Square in Oakland. The project will be LEED Gold and reflect the A’s strong commitment to sustainable development and environmental justice (Credit: Oaklandballpark.com)
GSB: Add the A’s new ballpark to my sports bucket list. OK, before we go, let’s talk a bit about your work as a board member of the Green Sports Alliance. How did that come about?
Kunal: I’ve known and been a fan of the Green Sports Alliance since its earliest days, when Alliance leaders reached out to invite Mayor Johnson to the inaugural summit in Portland. The Alliance was hugely helpful in guiding my thinking on the Golden 1 Center, and I worked with the Alliance to help bring the Summit to Sacramento during the Golden1 Center’s inaugural season in 2017. I’ve continued to work closely with the Alliance since then, and at some point it just made sense to take on a more formal role. So, I joined the board last fall with a pretty important first project: co-leading the search for a new Executive Director. It was a fascinating process that yielded a terrific hire: Roger McClendon.
GSB: McClendon comes to the Alliance’s executive director role at a key inflection point in the Green-Sports movement. I like to say Green-Sports 1.0 — the greening of the games — is now almost if not quite a given. It was a necessary and obvious first step. But Green-Sports 2.0 — engaging fans, players and more to take positive environmental action, specifically on climate change — which is where I think is starting now, is a more complicated, heavier lift. What do you think?
Kunal: I totally agree. There are fundamental questions facing the green sports movement and the broader environmentalist community at the moment. The science around climate change grows more dire by the day, with the recent IPCC report advising that humanity has really just a handful of years left to aggressively decarbonize or face catastrophic consequences. So the cost of inaction is escalating. With that as backdrop, the Alliance is asking ourselves: what are we going to do? Our ethos has been to meet people where they are. Which means that if a league, an event, a team is aggressive on climate, we’ll support them. If they’re going slowly…
GSB: …Or not even talking climate at all?
Kunal: …we’re not going to push them too far beyond their comfort zone.
GSB: But doesn’t that imply that it’s ok for sports not to go fast enough? That seems risky at best.
Kunal: Well, it’s tricky. But here is a reason to be optimistic: things are impossible until they’re not. Looking at history, there are many social movements that looked bleak for years, or even decades, right until a period of rapid change that completely upended the status quo. I’m heartened by the younger generations — Millennials and Gen Zers — who will increasingly hold all institutions, including sports teams, accountable for the issue of climate change. The Alliance needs to be ready, and I think we’re taking important steps in that direction. If there’s one thing that I’ve come to appreciate deeply in my career, it’s that, with vision and leadership, sports can be an extraordinary platform for positive change. And on issues of climate, we can’t afford for sports teams, leagues, or fans to sit on the sidelines anymore.
GSB: With some well-timed and positive pushing from organizations like the Alliance, I’ll say. To be continued, Kunal!
¹ The USL Championship is the second-tier of North American professional soccer, one level below MLS.
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Sports stadiums and arenas have been in the greening business for almost a decade, which is a great thing. But do venues and teams know how much energy they’re saving, how much waste they’re diverting from landfill, and more? You would think so but measurement of greening lagged actual greening. Until Matt Ellis and Measurabl came along. GreenSportsBlog talked with Matt, the company’s founder and CEO, to understand how he got into the sustainability measurement business, where sports fits in and…what happened to the last “e” at the end of Measurabl.
GreenSportsBlog: When thinking about Measurabl, this adage comes to mind: “What gets measured gets managed. And what gets managed matters.” How did you get into the sustainability measurement space and why the big move into sports?
Matt Ellis: Well, Lew, we have to go back to 2008 to get to the beginning of the story. I was working in real estate in the San Diego area — I’m a San Diego guy, went to UC San Diego undergrad and San Diego State for grad school, my family was in the real estate business. I was working for CBRE at the time…
GSB: …When the “econ-o-pocalpyse” hit…
ME: Exactly! My business was not that strong, to say the least. I had plenty of time on my hands, walking around town, looking for deals. I saw plenty of decals on buildings, decals like “LEED ” and “ENERGY STAR.” I started to ask “why?” I found out sustainability drives higher occupancy rates, higher quality tenants, and higher rents, among other positive outcomes. Not long after that, CBRE management asked me to start and run a sustainability practice group.
Matt Ellis, founder and CEO of Measurabl (Photo credit: Measurabl)
GSB: Was that in the San Diego area or national? How did it go?
ME: National. Despite the economic collapse, we were getting calls consistently from our clients who were interested in how they could leverage sustainability in their real estate portfolios. By 2010-11, we had started to offer RECs, offsets, and the first carbon neutral leases. Eventually I became CBRE’s Director of Sustainability Solutions. As all this was happening, I noticed our sustainability efforts lacked one key thing: data. We needed better measurement tools so we could learn what worked and what didn’t, sustainability-wise. We needed to be able to benchmark on a number of metrics so we could measure progress over time. Every time we looked at measurement, we were told it was too hard, too costly.
GSB: Did you accept that?
ME: Not at all. In fact, I started to ask this question: “Can we provide meaningful sustainability measurement tools?” That would be a big deal. As I investigated this question, I realized that a software solution is what was was needed. We needed to gather environmental, social and governance (ESG) data, create benchmarks for buildings and then be able to sort all of this data. The goal is to know how buildings perform in terms of energy usage, carbon footprint, materials, waste, environmental certifications and more. Convinced that an environmental benchmarking and measurement software platform was indeed doable and valuable, I left CBRE and incorporated Measurabl in 2013.
GSB: How did Measurabl do out of the gate?
ME: We’ve done well the last couple of years, providing environmental benchmarking and measurement software to real estate investment trusts (REITS), asset managers like Black Rock, property managers like CBRE, and corporations like VMware, among others. They’ve found great value in it.
Matt Ellis at the whiteboard during the early days of Measurabl (Photo credit: Measurabl)
GSB: Congratulations! What is the Measurabl business model? What is a reasonable ROI for a client?
ME: We provide three Software as a Service aka “SaaS” plans: Basic, Pro, and Premium starting at no cost for the “Basic” plan and going to over $100/building/month for the most feature rich plan. Each provides for data management, benchmarking, and reporting and, depending on the level you sign up for, the client can achieve different ROIs which include cost savings from resource management and efficiency through to Investment Grade reporting which helps them secure lower interest rates on their loans and preferred access to capital from investors.
GSB: That sounds like a great deal for a property manager or building owner. What made you think of sports as a vertical for Measurabl?
ME: Sports makes sense for a couple of reasons for Measurabl. One is that over half of our workforce are athletes, mostly from the world of water polo, which I played at UCSD. And benchmarking sustainability metrics is kind of like how sports uses statistics: data stokes the competitive fire in athletes as well as in building or venue management. So we get sports culturally and from a data perspective. So it fits that Chase Cockerill from our business development team, an athlete himself, made a call to Jason Kobeda at Major League Baseball and Jason said “we get it, this is cool, this can help us take the game to the next level, literally” We established the relationship with MLB in April, right around Opening Day.
Measurabl’s CEO Matt Ellis (l) and business development executive Chase Cockerill at June’s Green Sports Alliance Summit in Atlanta (Photo credit: Measurabl)
GSB: WOW! That was super quick! Did all 30 teams buy in?
ME: Yes, the relationship is at the league level so all clubs and venues can access the software. So far about two thirds of the clubs are on board and the rest are ramping up. We’re providing them with data management and benchmarking on energy usage, water usage, carbon footprint, waste diversion, environmental impacts of upgrade projects, certifications and reports.
GSB: What kind of reports?
ME: For example, our software can generate a CDP report for the League. CDP is a well-known global standard for reporting carbon performance. We can also provide stadium level reports specific to each venue.
GSB: That has to be a huge time saver for the clubs.
ME: Absolutely. It is also a way to improve the accuracy of the data and therefore make more informed decisions. At the same time we talked to the Green Sports Alliance (GSA). GSA’s Erik Distler said “all of our members share a common set of needs around data management” so we then went on to form an exclusive, worldwide partnership with GSA to be their data management and benchmarking partner and platform.
GSB: That is terrific. How is the stadium or arena environment different from a high-rise office building in terms of benchmarking and measurement?
ME: The sports venue environment is generally more complex than a typical commercial building. Think of Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. There’s the retail components, the exterior parking areas, the solar panels the field, boxes… Right now, we’re able to compare a venue’s performance, year-over-year by breaking the space down to its constituent parts and comparing that performance across like-kind spaces to create benchmarks.
GSB: What about comparing stadium vs. stadium, arena vs. arena?
ME: That’s the next step, and a big part of MLB and the Alliance’s leadership, which is to create a global benchmark for sports facilities. Comparing stadiums to each other, when all of them are unique, is tough. But that’s what we love about the sports world — whether it’s MLB, the NHL, NASCAR or the Alliance — they don’t accept “it’s too tough” to compare, and neither do we. Eventually, we hope to put all venues in a given sport on the platform and to create an “apples-to-apples” comparison that is meaningful. The more data, the more facilities, the more accurate the benchmark. It’s a “team effort” so to speak! The good news is the momentum is strong and roll out well underway.
GSB: I have no doubts. Does the Measurabl platform measure fan engagement and interest?
ME: We do reporting really well. The reports can be easily understood by fans. It’s up to the clubs to decide to tell the sustainability stories but we certainly advocate that they do so on a consistent basis.
GSB: We will check back with you after this season to see how the teams are doing on the fan engagement piece. Meanwhile, I have one last question: What happened to the last “e” in Measurabl?
ME: Ha! “Measurable” was too traditional – not “startup” enough, so drop the “e” and it was a home run.
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Late April is a great time of year to be a sports fan. The NBA and NHL playoffs are in the early days of their two month championship/Stanley Cup marathons. The NFL Draft, Christmas in April for football fans—especially those who root for perennial also rans like my New York Jets—starts on Thursday night. Major League Baseball’s and Major League Soccer’s regular seasons are in full swing.
And we are in the midst of Earth Fortnight (Earth Day was Saturday, April 22; related celebrations were held during the week prior and are continuing this week), a great time for sports leagues to highlight their sustainability bona fides to their fans and other stakeholders.
GreenSportsBlog will have two Earth Fortnight-Green Sports columns for you: An in-depth feature on the NBA’s greening activities is upcoming. And today, we review the Earth Day/Earth Fortnight activities of MLB, MLS, and the NFL. What about the NHL? They’re in the process of completing their third consecutive carbon-neutral season so one could say every day is Earth Day over there.
MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL: 5TH ANNUAL CARBON NEUTRAL GAME AT FENWAY; HELPING TREES GROW IN BROOKLYN
The third Monday in April is tradition-laden in Boston. It’s Patriots’s Day (thankfully, named not in honor of the football team, but for John Adams, John Hancock, Paul Revere, etc. Those Pats). The Boston Marathon snaked its way for 26.2 miles from Hopkinton to Boston. At the early but traditional 11 AM start time, the Red Sox took the field against the Tampa Bay Rays as the marathon passed close by Fenway Park.
And, in a newer tradition, for the fifth consecutive year, the BoSox observed Earth Day by offsetting all carbon emissions from that day’s game and sorting waste to recover recyclables and food waste. The offsets were made in the form of renewable energy credits (RECs) purchased from several Massachusetts-based solar installations: Morra Brook Farm in Rehoboth, Westford Stony Brook School in Westford, and the firehouse and library in Wellfleet.
Meanwhile, in Brooklyn, on Earth Day itself, approximately 35 front office employees at MLB, MLB Network and MLB Advanced Media volunteered at Lincoln Terrace Park for New York Cares Day (Spring). New York Cares is an amazing organization that serves as a platform for New Yorkers who want to volunteer with seniors, youth, on environmental cleanup, etc. They manage over 400 such projects per month. I have been a New York Cares volunteer for over 20 years and can attest to its phenomenal work.
New York Cares Day is a massive, five borough-wide environmental cleanup and beautification initiative, pooling the efforts of over 4,000 volunteers at 40 public spaces. In the case of Lincoln Terrace Park, volunteers were tasked with composting, removing invasive seedlings, planting ground covers and clearing the park of debris.
Volunteers from MLB, MLB Network and MLB Advanced Media at Earth Day cleanup in Lincoln Terrace Park in Brooklyn, NY (Photo credit: MLB)
MLS’ LA GALAXY AND STUBHUB CENTER “PROTECT THE PITCH” IN EARTH WEEK INITIATIVE
StubHub Center and the LA Galaxy hosted a variety of environmentally-focused community events last week in the run up to Protect the Pitch Day, their Earth Day-themed, nationally-televised home game vs. the Seattle Sounders on Sunday.
The week featured school tours of Stub Hub Center, featuring the stadium’s initiatives to reduce the carbon footprint of its operations. These range from the high-tech (on-site advanced battery storage units from Tesla) to the not-so-high-tech (four bee hives that will produce over 800 pounds of honey annually, produce grown from the LA Galaxy Greenhouse; both will be used for healthy food preparation for players, coaches and staff)
LA area elementary school students explore StubHub Center’s sustainability projects, such as its greenhouse which produces numerous types of vegetables to provide food for players and staff. (Photo credit: LA Galaxy)
And the club brought its greenness out to the community when it visited Griffith Park to assist TreePeople^ with their tree care efforts.
The Galaxy’s carbon footprint-reducing efforts, showcased to the 24,931 fans during Protect the Pitch Day, were more successful than their on-field results, as they dropped a 3-0 decision to the Sounders. In fact, the club’s greenness harkened back to happier days, as they sold tote bags from Relan, made from recycled materials from the club’s 2014 MLS Cup Championship banner, which had previously hung inside StubHub Center.
NFL AND PHILADELPHIA TEAM UP TO GREEN UP NFL DRAFT
200,000 diehards are expected to descend on Philadelphia as the 2017 NFL Draft comes to The City of Brotherly Love from Thursday’s first round through Saturday’s seventh stanza. According to an April 21 Philly.com story by Frank Kummer, the NFL and city officials, the latter using “what it learned from the Philadelphia Marathon, are aiming for ‘zero waste’ – meaning that at least 90 percent of trash and leftover food does not end up in a landfill.” An army of volunteers are stepping up to bring the plans to fruition at the free NFL Draft Experience festival along a half-mile stretch of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
Volunteers, like those shown here at the 2016 Philadelphia Marathon, will help make the 2017 NFL Draft in Philadelphia a Zero-Waste event. (Photo credit: Green Works Philadelphia)
“There is going to be an impact on the City of Philadelphia and its environment,” said Jack Groh, director of the NFL’s environmental program. “So we need to step up and do something about it.”
According to Groh, 16 stations with trash, recycling, and composting bins, staffed by volunteers from Keep Philadelphia Beautiful, the Sierra Club, and other groups, will be placed along the Parkway. And all building materials, including carpeting and wood, will be dismantled and donated for reuse. Extra or leftover food will go to soup kitchens and shelters throughout the area, or it will end up at a compost facility in Fairmount Park. Food donations could exceed the 11,000 pounds given out during the Democratic National Convention in July, officials estimated.
Additional highlights include:
The league’s purchase of Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) equal to the amount of electricity used to power activities in the Draft Experience site along the Parkway.
Signs, decorations, lumber, and carpeting will be donated to organizations including Habitat for Humanity and Resource Exchange. The materials will be remade into such things as whiteboards for classrooms.
Water bottle refilling stations along the Parkway.
The NFL and Verizon are putting up $10,000 for urban forestry as part of a matching grant. Eventually, 10 trees will be planted for each of the 253 players drafted in 2017.
The NFL Draft’s sustainability effort is poised to be a winning one. If the Jets picks prove to be as successful, I will be one happy man.
^ TreePeople is a two-year LA Galaxy partner that inspires the people of Los Angeles to take personal responsibility for the urban forest.
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