Olivia and Carter Ries: Greening Sports, Saving Wildlife, and Taking on Plastic Ocean Waste; All While Doing Their Homework

14 year-old Olivia Ries and her 16 year-old brother, Carter, are like most kids in some respects. They participate in sports (lacrosse and soccer, respectively) in the Atlanta suburb of Fayetteville, play instruments, do their homework and “OMG!” is part of their lexicon. OK, they’re not like most kids in one important way: That’s because OMG is the acronym for One More Generation, the non-profit they started seven years ago, that works to protect animals and the environment for the next generation, the one after that, and the one after that. GreenSportsBlog spoke with Olivia, Carter, and their dad Jim, about OMG, and how sports can help it realize its goals. OMG, indeed!

 

When Carter and Olivia Ries were 8 1/2 and 7 years old, respectively, their aunt visited South Africa and brought each of them back a certificate stating they were adoptive parents of cheetahs who are at risk of extinction due to massive habitat loss and persecution by farmers. When a crestfallen Olivia asked her dad, Jim, why animals even needed to be adopted, he replied that if there were not agencies like the one with which they were working, there may not be cheetahs left in the wild for her children to see.

Olivia did not like this answer and pressed Jim about what she and Carter could do to save animals. At first, Jim admits he tried desperately to get out of doing anything but the kids persisted and eventually he said they could start a nonprofit that would protect animals and the environment they—and we—inhabit.

Two weeks later, Olivia and Carter had their first board meeting and One More Generation—OMG!—was born. The nonprofit’s initial goal was to educate children and adults about the plight of endangered species. The kids’ long-term intention is to preserve all species for at least One More Generation…and far beyond.

Carter and Olivia

Carter and Olivia Ries (Photo credit: OneMoreGeneration.org)

 

Not long after OMG’s founding, Carter and Olivia were horrified to watch on CNN as the devastation wrought by the Deepwater Horizon-BP oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico spilled right into their living room. In what would become their pattern, instead of wallowing, they sprang into action. “For four months straight, we collected all sorts of supplies,” said Olivia. “Then, on my 8th birthday, dad drove us 11 and a half hours down to the Gulf where we donated the supplies to a marine mammal rescue center. We saw sharks, sea turtles, birds and dolphins, all sickened by oil pollution. It was tragic.”

You might think that would’ve been enough for Carter and Olivia. After all, there was school, music lessons, sports and all the rest.

But this was just the beginning.

In fact, Jim, who, at the time OMG was founded, worked for fitness equipment manufacturer Precor, soon became full-time CEO. The OMG C-suite is an all-in-the-family affair as mom Lauren, who works for Ivantis, a company dedicated to the development of innovative solutions for glaucoma, fills the CFO role.

Jim’s and Lauren’s commitment to OMG allowed the kids to be able to balance (sort of) their home and school lives while expanding OMG’s letter writing, public speaking and other grass roots campaigns in three verticals:

Endangered Species: Letter-writing plays a big part here as the kids, among many other examples:

  • Spearheaded an effort to save rhinos that resulted in 10,000 letters being written from kids all over the world. The kids then presented the letters to authorities in South Africa.
  • Led another letter writing effort, this one on behalf of sea turtles, which led to an invitation to the White House last June.

Carter Olivia White House Sea Turtles

Carter and Olivia Ries outside of the White House as part of their mission to save Sea Turtles. (Photo credit: OneMoreGeneration.org)

 

Youth Empowerment: Carter and Olivia believe children must stand up, be heard, and make a difference, no matter what their passion may be. They’ve shown how it’s done via TEDx Youth Talks.

 

Carter and Olivia’s 2016 TEDx Youth Talk (14:51)

 

And Carter was one of only two youth representatives who spoke this Friday at the UN’s 2017 World Wildlife Day. Carter commanded the attention of the entire room when he pleaded for the adults to “take responsibility to preserve wildlife for the next generation. Because if you don’t, you’ll be teaching us, the youth of the world, that protecting wildlife isn’t that important. And then we’ll teach our kids that same lesson. But if you change, that will inspire us.”

Carter at UN

Carter Ries, speaking at World Wildlife Day at the UN on March 3. (Photo credit: OneMoreGeneration.org)

 

They also launched We’ve Got You Covered, a program that empowers kids to collect donated materials, including blankets, and have them delivered to homeless kids.

 

Environmental Conservation: The BP-Deepwater Horizon spill was the spark here. In fact, the kids learned quickly enough that, as Olivia put it, “Cleaning up the animals is one thing but, if we don’t protect the environment that they’d be going back into once they become healthy, then our efforts are largely wasted.”

This led the kids to plastics; specifically, the plastics that end up as waste in the oceans.

In 2012-2013, Carter and Olivia created an award-winning plastic ocean waste awareness and recycling curriculum that is being used by K-6 teachers nationwide. The response by students was positive, according to Olivia, but “some of the teachers reacted a bit ‘strangely’ to having kids teach.” To date, thousands of students and dozens of schools here in the US have already completed the weeklong curriculum and the program is currently being tested in the UK and soon in Australia. Olivia and Carter are working with The Ellen MacArthur Foundation and Ocean First Institute on having their curriculum converted to an online format that will dramatically expand its availability.

Then they turned their attention to straws, many of which end up in the oceans. How many?

When Jim quizzed me about how many straws are used each day in the US, I guessed 50 million (out of a population of 327 million). “You’re a little low there, Lew” Jim replied. “Over 500 million straws are used daily in the US! That is 1.6 straws for every man, woman and child living in this country and none ever get recycled”

Talk about OMG!!

So Carter and Olivia went to work, designing and deploying the One Less Straw Pledge Campaign, in which children, adults, schools, restaurants and other businesses commit to not using a plastic straw for 30 days. If a kid catches a parent using a straw, the parent gives 25¢ to the kids’ school.

It’s early days, but so far, 15+ schools have already signed-on to the campaign and the kids’ have received thousands of individual “I’m going strawless” pledges via their website from people in over 30 countries around the world.

Now, I rarely drink out of a straw so it seemed like a very easy behavioral change to effect but, as Carter put it, it isn’t that easy: “People say they don’t want to drink directly out of a glass. This makes no sense to me. You eat off of plates, why not drink from a glass?? Especially when 90 percent of people surveyed said they don’t need to drink out of straws.”

 

SPORTS AND ONE LESS STRAW

At this point, you may be saying to yourself, “What Carter and Olivia are doing is incredible, but what does it have to do with Green-Sports?”

Potentially, a lot.

Jim, Carter and Olivia realized that a marriage of One Less Straw with sports venues and teams was a no brainer: Sports venues use massive amounts of straws and the pop-culture power of sports would provide a program like One Less Straw with unmatched awareness. In the kids’ own backyard of Atlanta, they’ve made initial contacts with Phillips’ Arena, home of the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks and with Georgia Tech University. And, now that the finishing touches are being put on Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the dazzling, first ever LEED Platinum facility in the NFL and MLS, which opens on July 30, it made sense for the kids to meet with Scott Jenkins, its General Manager and Chairman of the Board of the Green Sports Alliance.

Making the new home of the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United F.C. straw-free right off the bat might be a bridge too far, thought Jim, Carter, and Olivia. So, when they met with Jenkins, their ask was to make straws a request-only item. “It is expected that a ‘request only’ policy would result in a reduction in straw usage of up to 70 percent!,” enthused Jim. “Those savings go right to the stadium’s bottom line and means fewer straws in the oceans.” Obviously, Jenkins and his team are laser-focused on getting the stadium ready for its late July opening. That said, I hope that, at some point in the next year or two, Mercedes-Benz Stadium will hop on board the One Less Straw train. And if that happens, other stadiums and arenas will no doubt follow suit.

Participatory sports are another outlet for One Less Straw. Olivia reported that many school districts use thousands of sports packs—including fruit, juice and a straw, between lunch and sports—every day. One Less Straw is working on a program to get straws out of sports packs, protecting the oceans and saving schools and taxpayers 0.5¢/straw.

Somehow, I have a strong feeling we will be writing a lot more about Carter, Olivia, One More Generation and sports in the months and years to come.

 

If your school, sports team or community organization is interested in getting involved in the work Olivia and Carter are doing, we encourage you to reach out to them via email at info@onemoregeneration.org

 

 

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Mercedes-Benz Stadium Goes for LEED Platinum Designation; Watch Video to See How

Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the soon-to-open downtown home of the Atlanta Falcons and Major League Soccer expansion club Atlanta United FC, is raising the bar for green stadium construction and operations as it expects to attain LEED Platinum certification. That would be a first for both the NFL and MLS buildings. A new video provides an eye-popping look inside the state-of-the-green-art building as it nears completion. 

 

This message is for Atlanta Falcons fans:

You are, I am sure, still gutted three weeks or so after watching your team blow the biggest lead in Super Bowl history. This will sting for a long time; there’s no way around it. Hey, I’m a long suffering Jets fan; I know about pain.

But time—and meditation—will slowly heal the wounds. In fact, as a public service, we are providing Falcons supporters, free of charge, with two (long-ish) mantras that, if repeated twice daily, should help hasten the healing process:

  1. The Falcons are good, young and should contend for the Super Bowl next season and beyond. The team has the reigning NFL MVP, QB Matt Ryan, and, arguably, the best wide receiver in the game, Julio Jones, both still in their primes. A young, powerful, two-headed running game, working behind a solid young offensive line, is in place. A fast and—you guessed it—young defense does need some tweaks. But this is a contending team that bloody well better have a serious chip on its shoulder heading into 2017.
  2. The Falcons, along with Major League Soccer expansion club Atlanta United F.C., are moving into the beautiful Mercedes-Benz Stadium, on track to become the first LEED Platinum stadium in the NFL and MLS. What an embarrassment of riches—a Super Bowl contender and a brand new soccer team that sold over 27,000 seasons tickets (a record for MLS), all playing in one of the greenest sports venues in the world.

Namaste.

Feel better?

You should.

I’ll leave the on-field Falcons (therapeutic) analysis to the gridiron experts and will instead take a deeper look at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, slated to open July 30, when Atlanta United F.C.^ takes on Orlando City F.C.

m-b-stadium

Artist’s rendering of Mercedes-Benz Stadium (Credit: Atlanta United F.C.)

 

When we interviewed Mercedes-Benz Stadium General Manager and Green Sports Alliance Chairman of the Board Scott Jenkins in November, 2015, the building’s breakthrough greenness was only beginning to come into focus. Now, with only five months till Opening Day, that focus is sharp and the sustainability picture is impressive. Mercedes-Benz Stadium will:

  • Feature water fixtures that use 47 percent less water than baseline standards.
  • Save 29% in energy usage vs. a typical stadium design.
  • Collect rain water in a 1,100,000 gallon storm vault and a 680,000 gallon cistern for cooling tower water and landscape irrigation. This will also keep storm water away from the adjacent residential neighborhoods.
  • Contain 4,000 PV solar panels. The 1.3 megawatts generated by the panels will be enough to power 9 Falcons home games or 13 United home matches.
  • Incorporate edible landscaping (apples and blueberries) into the site.

To get a better sense of what Falcons and United owner Arthur Blank, Jenkins and the rest of the Mercedes-Benz Stadium team will deliver, please watch the short video below.

 

Again, I ask Falcons fans: Feel better? I tell you what: I feel better, and my team’s starting quarterback isn’t even on the roster.

 


Here’s one more thing to feel good about, Falcons fan or not.

The same best-in-green-class ethos that characterizes the construction of Mercedes-Benz Stadium is also being brought to bear on the demolition of the Georgia Dome, the Falcons home the past 25 years*.

georgia-dome

The Georgia Dome (Photo credit: Atlanta Journal Constitution)

 

Beginning towards the end of this year, the project will result in 97 percent—or 176,000+ tons—of Georgia Dome materials (concrete, steel, and non-ferrous materials, including Copper, Brass, Aluminum and more) being recycled, reused and otherwise salvaged.

 

^Atlanta United F.C. will play the early portion of its inaugural campaign at Georgia Tech’s Bobby Dodd Stadium
* Here’s a question for a separate story to which I don’t now have an answer: How sustainable is it to tear down a stadium after only 25 years?

 

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What 2 Watch 4 in Green-Sports in 2017

Happy New Year to you, GreenSportsBlog readers! Thank you for your comments, suggestions and consistent support throughout 2016; keep ’em coming in 2017. Speaking of 2017, the climate change fight is facing some stiff headwinds in the US that were unexpected as recently as November 7, 2016. How will the increasingly high profile Green-Sports world react? With that in mind, let’s take a look at “What 2 Watch 4” in Green-Sports in 2017.

 

January 20: Inauguration of Donald J. Trump as 45th President of the United States; Washington, DC.

What a difference a POTUS can make in Green-Sports.

Barack Obama was the first US president to engage in Green-Sports. He publicly praised the Pittsburgh Penguins for their greening initiatives at a White House ceremony in October and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) hosted Green-Sports roundtables on his watch.

potus

President Obama lauds the Pittsburgh Penguins and the NHL for their sustainability leadership at the White House in October, 2016. (Photo credit: TMZ)

 

His successor, Donald J. Trump, is a climate change skeptic/denier who has nominated a climate change denier as EPA Administrator and promises to remove the United States from the landmark Paris Climate Agreement.

How will the Green-Sports world react to President Trump? With the US government expected to pull back from the climate change fight, the private sector and the general public will need to, pardon the pun, pick up the green ball and run with it harder and faster than before. This is a great opportunity for leaders at the intersection of Green + Sports (commissioners, teams, sponsors, eco-athletes, non-profits) to play a pivotal role in accelerating the impetus for positive climate action.

 

 

February 7: Super Bowl LI; Houston, TX

What a difference a year makes in terms of the greenness of the Super Bowl Host Committee.

At this point last year, we were wondering whether The Bay Area Super Bowl 50 Host Committee would make good on its audacious promise to deliver “the greenest Super Bowl ever.” The answer, for the most part, was a resounding yes. Here are just a few of the Committee’s many sustainability accomplishments at Super Bowl City in San Francisco (the 9-day festival ahead of the game) and at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara:

  • Ensured, working with regional transportation agencies, there was ample public transit during Super Bowl week. Gate Ferry ridership during Super Bowl Week increased by 81 percent vs. 2015.
  • Partnered with the San Francisco Bike Coalition to establish a bike valet at Super Bowl City for the entire 9-day activation.
  • Sold tickets to a ‘Fan Express’ charter bus system for transport to Levi’s Stadium on Super Bowl Sunday from pick-up points throughout the Bay Area. The buses, from Google’s fleet, ran on Neste NEXBTL renewable diesel and removed approximately 2,000 cars from the road on Super Bowl Sunday.
  • Worked with PG&E, the Official Clean Energy Partner, to run Super Bowl City on clean, temporary power. 91% of temporary power in Super Bowl City was supplied by Neste NEXBTL renewable diesel generators, which reduced emissions and improved air quality.
  • Engaged master food concessionaire Legends to serve locally-sourced (within 75 miles) and/or organic food in Super Bowl City.
  • Free water stations were provided by U.S. Pure Water and FloWater. FloWater estimated it diverted 14,580 single use plastic bottles from landfill.

Click here for more details.

The hope was that the Houston Super Bowl LI Host Committee would, pardon the pun, take the sustainability baton from the Bay Area folks and run with it.

This appears not to be the case.

Yes, the Houston Host Committee is working closely with the NFL Environmental team as part of the NFL’s Super Bowl LI Environmental efforts. This is a continuation of the league’s 15+ year Super Bowl greening program. In Houston, the NFL is offsetting the energy consumed at the game; the league, Host Committee, Houston Texans and Verizon are helping to plant trees.

The NFL, Houston Super Bowl Committee, Verizon and the Houston Texans team up to plan trees in advance of Super Bowl LI.

 

But, with the maturing of Green-Sports, these actions, welcome though they are, seem like the “cost of doing green business.” It is up to local Host Committees to make their Super Bowls beacons for environmental action. The Bay Area Super Bowl 50 Host Committee showed future Host Committees the way. The Houston Host Committee, unfortunately, chose not to take that baton.

Of course Houston, capital of the US oil industry, is not the eco-hub that the Bay Area is. In many precincts of the Lone Star State, climate change denial and/or skepticism is alive and well. Expecting Houston to match or surpass Super Bowl 50’s greenness was probably a stretch.
Yet, amidst the oil, Houston and Texas have a strong sustainability heritage to build upon.
That Houston Super Bowl Committee chose not to celebrate this, it says here, is an opportunity missed.

So it’s “Wait ‘Til Next Year” for Host Committee greening as we soon turn our attention to Minnesota, the Vikings  and US Bank Stadium in advance of Super Bowl LII next February.

 

February 22-23: Sustainable Innovation in Sport Conference; Munich, Germany

Following a successful launch at the historic COP21 Climate Change Conference in Paris in late 2015, Sustainable Innovation in Sport will convene for a second time, bringing together an international lineup of Green-Sports leaders and influencers to discuss how best to accelerate the pace of positive environmental impacts via sport.

A sampling of confirmed speakers includes Vivianne Fraisse, Head of Sustainable Development at Roland Garros/French Open, Michelle Lemaitre, Head of Sustainability at the International Olympic Committee (IOC); Frederik Lindgren, Head of Corporate Sustainability for the European PGA Tour, and Norman Vossschulte, Director of Guest Experience with the Philadelphia Eagles.

 

June 3: UEFA Champions League Final, Principality Stadium; Cardiff, Wales

The European Champions League, comprised of the best soccer clubs across the continent and the British Isles, is a 32 team competition running from September to June. The Sweet 16 commences in February with the likes of Arsenal, Bayern Munich, Barcelona, and Real Madrid battling to make it to the Super Bowl of Club Soccer at 74,500 seat Principality Stadium (formerly known as Millennium Stadium) in Cardiff, Wales.

millennium-stadium

Principality Stadium in Cardiff, Wales; site of the 2017 UEFA Champions League final. (Photo credit: Footballtripper.com)

 

The first Champions League final to be played in Wales will take place in Great Britain’s first ISO 2012-1 (standard for sustainable events) certified stadium and, according edie.net, a leading British sustainability-focused market research firm, one of the six greenest stadiums in the world. This is quite remarkable since Principality Stadium is not new—it opened in 1999—and was built without sustainability in mind. But things changed dramatically in 2010 when stadium owners announced their intention to significantly green operations.

  • Recycling and especially composting were far from standard operating procedure at British sporting facilities in 2010. Yet by 2012, Principality Stadium diverted 98.4 percent of its waste from landfill.
  • LED lighting and smart grid electronic systems were installed, along with water controls, leading to meaningful reductions in carbon emissions and water usage.
  • Further carbon emissions ensued as sustainability was imbued into the stadium’s supply chain processes.

 

June 27-29: Green Sports Alliance Summit; Sacramento, CA

The seventh Green Sports Alliance Summit will be held at Golden1 Center, the new, LEED Platinum home of the Sacramento Kings, recently named GreenSportsBlog’s Greenest New Arena of 2016.

The theme for Summit 2017 is Play Greener: Engaging Fans, Athletes & Communities. 

GSA is certainly on the right track here: The Green-Sports Movement needs more eco-athletes to speak out on behalf of positive environmental action and the climate change fight. Doing so will draw many more fans and communities to the cause.

To quickly maximize awareness of and interest in Green-Sports among fans, there is one constituency that needs to be added to the Play Greener lineup.

The Media.

There is a mutually beneficial, (Green-Sports) Movement-Media tango to be danced here.

The Movement needs the Media (sports, green, business and mass): Unless the many great Green-Sports stories told at the GSA and elsewhere are exposed to the broad audience of sports fans and thought leaders through the media megaphone, it will be difficult for the Movement to grow far beyond its current niche.

The Media needs the Movement: Actually, what the media really needs is eyeballs. And a fast-maturing Green-Sports Movement (climate change montage was featured at the Rio Olympics opening ceremonies, LEED certified stadiums are expected, etc., etc.) has plenty of inspiring, forward looking content to attract lots of eyeballs.

 

 

Late June-Early July: Mercedes-Benz Stadium Opens, new home of the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United F.C.

The Atlanta Falcons, thanks to having the second best record in the NFC, are enjoying a week of rest before their playoff run to a potential Super Bowl LI berth begins.

Rest is not something Scott Jenkins is getting much of these days.

Jenkins is General Manager of Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the new LEED Platinum home of the Falcons and MLS expansion club Atlanta United F.C. that is set to open in late June or early July. It will be the first LEED Platinum stadium in the world (the aforementioned Golden1 Center in Sacramento is the first LEED platinum arena.) He also serves as Chairman of the Board of the Green Sports Alliance.

Scott Jenkins

Scott Jenkins, General Manager of Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the future home of the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United FC, scheduled to open in 2017. (Photo credit: Mercedes-Benz Stadium)

 

Jenkins is implementing Falcons/Atlanta United F.C. owner Arthur Blank’s vision of top flight environmental performance in comprehensive fashion:

  • Light: The LED lighting system will use 60% less electricity than the metal halides at Georgia Dome, the Falcons current home. Abundant natural light will enter the concourses through energy efficient, floor-to-ceiling glass. The Oculus-style (think camera lens) retractable roof, the signature feature of Mercedes-Benz Stadium, will, when open, also maximize natural light.

Open Roof Aerial 08.18.15 (1)

Artist’s rendering of the open “oculus” roof of Mercedes-Benz Stadium. (Photo credit: Mercedes-Benz Stadium)

 

  • On-site Renewables: Solar panels on top of the garage nearest the stadium will, among other things, power charging stations that provide juice for EVs parked below.
  • Green Space: The Georgia Dome will be demolished; in its place will be new, grassy open space for tailgating and non-game day community use.
  • Rainwater Collection: Rainwater will be collected and used for irrigation and cooling towers.
  • Food: Farm-to-table and organic offerings will be available throughout the building.
  • Mass Transit: The stadium will be served by 2 MARTA light rail stops.

 

September 13: 2024 Summer Olympics Host City Announced; Lima, Peru

Three cities remain in the bidding to host the 2024 Summer Olympics: Budapest, Los Angeles, and Paris. Paris, which hosted in 1900 and 1924 and lost out on bids in 1992, 2008 and 2012, is the betting favorite, with current odds from British online bookmaker NicerOdds.com standing at 1.6 to 1. Los Angeles, which hosted the 1932 and 1984 summer games, is 2.75 to 1. First time bidder is the long shot at 8 to 1.

With sustainability (environmental, social and financial) now deeply codified in the Olympic bid process through a series of reforms passed by the IOC known as Agenda 2020, all of the bids have green elements that would have been unimaginable 12-16 years ago:
  • The Budapest bid’s compactness stands out: Most of the events would take place within seven clusters within the city proper along the Danube. Access by boat, metro and bus will be augmented by Active Route Network (ARN), an innovative bike share program. Five of the seven clusters can be reached from the city center by bicycle in 20 minutes or less.
  • Sustainability is, arguably the Los Angeles bid’s centerpiece. Every event will be contested in an existing or temporary facility. From the Rose Bowl to the Staples Center, from the new Rams stadium to the Coliseum, the sports infrastructure is there. The Olympic Village will use existing housing.
  • The Paris 2024 committee sees the city’s status as a global sustainability leader as a major plus. After all, the 2015 global climate pact signed in The City of Lights by 195 countries is known as the Paris Agreement. And, as reported by GamesBids.com, since the signing of the agreement, Paris 2024 has launched several major green initiatives, including “700 charging stations for electric cars, the regeneration of 55,000 square meters of urban land in the [city centre] to be converted into green space, the pedestrianization of 3.3 km of the right bank of the River Seine, a promenade for walking, jogging and cycling, creating an environmental charter implemented at major events such as the EURO 2016 football championships.”

Tough choice.

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