The GSB Interview: Justin Zeulner, Previewing the 2018 Green Sports Alliance Summer in Atlanta

Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the new home of the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United, will be the site for two mega-events over the next year. Next February, the first LEED Platinum NFL stadium will play host to Super Bowl LIII. But well before that — June 26-27 to be exact — Green Sports Alliance Summit VIII takes center stage. Its theme is PLAY GREENER™: Get In The Game. GSB talked with Alliance Executive Director Justin Zeulner to find out about the new initiatives the Alliance has planned for attendees. 

 

GreenSportsBlog: Justin, before we got on the phone to talk Green Sports Alliance Summit in Atlanta, I had two main thoughts going through my head: 1. How can you and the rest of the Alliance braintrust freshen the Summit going into its eighth iteration, and 2. Having it at LEED Platinum Mercedes-Benz Stadium is a great freshener, indeed!

Justin Zeulner: Keeping things fresh — that’s a great question and it’s something we’re very much focused on, especially coming into this Summit. In fact, a couple of years ago, the leadership took a collective deep breath to figure out, strategically, what would be best, not only for our Summits but for the sports greening movement as a whole. We undertook this strategic refresh at a time of strong growth for us. Two or three years ago, we had 300+ members; now we’re nearing 600. When an organization like ours starts to scale like we have, new challenges arise. What can you provide that’s new, innovative and meaningful? How can we best continue to serve and lead our members, helping them grow their sustainability initiatives when there are many more of them.

GSB: A good problem to have…

JZ: We agree…

GSB: So how is the Alliance going about upping its game service-, growth- and leadership-wise?

JZ: Serve — We keep in close touch with our membership, finding out where they want to go and what guidance they need when it comes to environmental issues. We help by convening the Summit, providing resources and programs, largely around energy, water, transportation, food, and waste. Adding the Corporate Members Network was wonderful because that helped add a great many greener products and services to help our teams and venues reach their goals. Grow — the more the Alliance grows, the more people we get involved in the movement and the greater the impact we have as it relates to our mission — “to build healthy, sustainable communities where we live and play.” Lead—means trying new things, taking some risks…

 

Zeulner GSA

Justin Zeulner, Executive Director of the Green Sports Alliance (Photo credit: Green Sports Alliance)

 

GSB: Justin, that’s a great segue to this year’s Summit in Atlanta. What new things will you try? What risks will you take?

JZ: The title of our Summit is “PLAY GREENER ™: Get In The Game.” The “Get in the Game” piece is illustrative of the changes we’ve made for this year and takes into account comments we received from attendees last year in Sacramento.

GSB: What does that mean exactly?

JZ: One big change is that our sessions will be much more interactive than in past years — more workshops, than panel discussions. We want there to be a robust dialogue that’s as attendee-driven as possible. And we want attendees to leave with a crystal clear road map as to how to implement the greening programs they learn about in Atlanta.

GSB: What kind of programs are you talking about?

JZ: We’re adhering to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDGs), helping our teams and venues do their part in terms of carbon mitigation to put humanity on a path to a less than 2°C temperature rise, as compared to pre-industrial levels. Food is one key area — we are helping venues with menu design, from more veggie options, to locally sourced food, and more. And venues are responding. Of course they offer burgers —but sometimes those burgers are veggie. In fact, Impossible Burgers

GSB: …The veggie burgers that taste and feel beef-like? They’re GREAT!

JZ: Impossible Burger will be at the Summit! Vegetarian and vegan foods are something athletes are getting more into, so we’ll be talking about that. But we’re getting even deeper with our “Business of Food” workshop. Larry Kopald of Carbon Underground will lead a discussion about regenerative farming, how it can help tackle our carbon problems, and how the sports industry can help support it. A local farmer will share his inspirational story of transforming his family farm from the traditional approach to regenerative farming and what scaling that can mean for sports and the world more broadly. Chefs will also take part, discussing how stadia and arenas can gradually add “plant forward” proteins to their menus.

 

GSA Mercedes-Benz Stadium_dusk_8_30_17

Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, site of the upcoming 2018 Green Sports Alliance Summit (Photo credit: Mercedes-Benz Stadium)

 

GSB: This sounds like a fantastic workshop. And now I’m hungry!

JZ: Well save that appetite for the Tuesday night of the Summit. That’s when we will have our awards celebration at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Top chefs will be featured at our  “Taste of Atlanta”” event.

GSB: Sounds like it will be a must-attend event. Beyond food, what else will attendees see at Mercedes-Benz Stadium?

JZ: Engagement will be a watchword at this year’s Summit, from athletes, to fans, to youth. Youth will be a particular focus with Diana Dehm leading another Student Summit.

GSB: I imagine attendees from teams and leagues will be very interested in how to engage youth with green sports. My bet is that nothing makes sports executives lose sleep these days more than the issue of to how to ensure millennials, Gen Zers, and the generation after follow sports with something close to the passion of their forebears. I’m not saying a team’s, a sport’s greenness is the determining factor but it can be a factor. Who will be delivering the keynote address at this year’s Summit?

JZ: Arthur M. Blank, the owner of the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United, and the driving force behind the building of the LEED Platinum Mercedes-Benz Stadium, will be giving the keynote. His talk will center on how environmental leadership impacts community, social justice and health and wellness. Mr. Blank believes the environmental and the social are linked and it is his mission and that of the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation to positively impact both. Speaking of the social aspects of sustainability, another speaker of note is Samantha “Sam” Gordon. Honored by the NFL with their inaugural Game Changer award, Sam is a young woman from Utah who plays football with the boys and became the one of the best players on the team. That wasn’t enough for Sam — she started a league in her area for female tackle football players. Now Sam is not doing all this just for women to play football. She is doing this work to activate interest among girls in physical activity, exercise, and wellness and ensure underserved populations have a voice.

 

GSA Arthur Blank-headshot

Arthur M. Blank, owner of the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United (Photo credit: Arthur M. Blank Sports and Entertainment)

 

GSA Sam Gordon-headshot

Samantha “Sam” Gordon (Photo credit: Samantha Gordon)

 

GSB: For a GenZ girl like Sam, this is how social movements start!

JZ: Exactly. Also ex-major league baseball player and manager Dusty Baker and former NFLer Will Allen, both advocates for renewable energy, will talk about their experiences in the solar field. And we are honored to have David Kenny, CEO of the Weather Channel, as a speaker.

GSB: Well, I have to say, before we spoke, I was a bit skeptical about this Summit differing enough from its predecessors, that its focus would be too Green-Sports 1.0 (i.e. LEED certified stadia, Zero-Waste games) and not enough Green-Sports 2.0 (fan, athlete engagement) for my taste. But, from the speakers, to the topics, to the workshop style, to audience engagement, I see the 2018 Green Sports Alliance Summit at Mercedes-Benz Stadium as an event that will, while still touching on worthwhile Green-Sports 1.0 issues, push the GreenSports clearly into its 2.0 phase. I am looking forward to it.

JZ: See you in Atlanta!

 

Click here for information on how to attend the 2018 Green Sports Alliance Summit at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta June 26-27.
GreenSportsBlog is a media sponsor of the 2018 Green Sports Alliance Summit.

 


 

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The GSB Interview: Carlie Bullock-Jones of Ecoworks Studio; Helping Stadia and Arenas Earn LEED Gold or Platinum Status

Last month, Mercedes-Benz Stadium became the first pro stadium to earn LEED Platinum certification. For that honor and more, the new home of the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United, won GreenSportsBlog’s Greenest New Stadium/Arena of 2017 award. How the stadium became a Green-Sports beacon is an interesting story. To get the inside scoop on that project and more, we talked to Carlie Bullock-Jones, CEO of sustainability consulting firm Ecoworks Studios, which helped Mercedes-Benz Stadium achieve Platinum status.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Sustainability consulting for sports stadium and arena projects is a very specialized niche. Carlie, tell us how you got into it…

Carlie Bullock-Jones: Well, I’ve been into sports and design since as far back as I can remember. Grew up in Auburn, AL — my dad went to Auburn…

GSB: War EAGLE!!

CBJ: War Damn EAGLE!! He then became a professor of Industrial Design there. Then, to top that off, I went to Auburn and studied design. I was interested in how buildings affected people and the environment. Heck, my thesis was “The Built Environment and its Impact on the Natural Environment.” Anyway, I got a job in Atlanta as an interior designer at an architecture firm. And even though sustainability wasn’t common practice in the industry, I started a sustainability committee at the firm in 1999, the same year as LEED was born, so the time was right, unbeknownst to me. Some of our government and education clients wanted to pursue LEED for the facilities we were designing — the CDC and Georgia Tech come to mind — and the practice just blossomed.

 

Carlie Headshot

Carlie Bullock-Jones (Photo credit: Ecoworks Studio)

 

GSB: That’s fantastic! When did sports venues come into the mix?

CBJ: Well, before sports, we started with getting convention centers LEED certified— the two are similar in that they’re both large public spaces. Raleigh’s (NC) convention center was one of our early LEED projects. This gave me experience that would later prove valuable for stadia and arenas — working with “surge buildings” — structures that accommodate a few hundred people on most days and then jump to tens of thousands on a few days. I should mention that in 2007 I left the architecture firm and started my own professional consulting practice, with a focus on sustainability and LEED certification, Ecoworks Studio in Atlanta. Among other things, that gave me freedom to work on a wider variety of projects, which would end up including sports venues.

 

Raleigh Conv Center Barnhill

Raleigh Convention Center (Photo credit: Barnhill Contracting Company)

 

GSB: 2007…That was about a year before the “econ-o-pocalypse,” perhaps not the best time to go out on one’s own, especially with a sustainability-focused design and consulting firm…

CBJ: It did turn out to be a big challenge. Thankfully, Auburn asked me to teach. And we were able to get some work from the get-go, including teaching LEED certification workshops. In fact, in 2007-8, I taught 22 such workshops all over the world, with about 80 people in each. I loved it. Now, the economic crash did affect our growth. Until 2011, Ecoworks Studio was just, well, me. But with interest in and, acceptance of LEED growing in the industry, and by keeping up with the frequent changes and updates to LEED made by the US Green Building Council (USGBC), we were able to add value to project teams. During the downturn we also helped turn projects from non-LEED to LEED — a relatively low-cost way to add value. That allowed us to keep going and grow, so that by 2012, we were able to add staff. And we continued our focus on what I’d call “atypical projects.”

GSB: Like the aforementioned convention centers?

CBJ: Yes, and also data centers — which consume tremendous amounts of energy — and zoos. And, in May 2013, we were interviewed by 360 Architecture, which has since been acquired by HOK, a leading sports architecture firm— about working with them on LEED certification for new construction of stadia and arenas and to help convince teams and stadium authorities that going for high levels of LEED certification — think Gold or Platinum — was worth the added effort. 360 ended up hiring us and we started working on sports venues.

GSB: Were there any stadium/arena projects in 2013 that were going for LEED Gold or Platinum?

CBJ: No. At the time, teams building stadiums and arenas were not pursuing Gold or Platinum levels of LEED, since the LEED Rating System at that time was really focused on certifying an office, but they were interested in going for LEED at Certified or Silver, which was still a move in the right direction. And we became the conduit to work creatively with USGBC to apply LEED standards specifically to arenas, stadiums and convention centers to reflect the uniqueness of those structures, and we in turn showed the designers and managers of sports, as well as those other atypical venues I mentioned earlier, the benefits of applying for LEED certification.

GSB: That sounds like a great niche to occupy. How did you go about making this happen with USGBC and with designers of stadia, arenas and other big public building projects?

CBJ: Great question. Ecoworks Studio looked at office buildings, which host roughly the same amount of people every day, but only a fraction of the numbers a stadium or arena hosts on a surge day. It makes sense for office buildings to earn a significant number of LEED points for having enough bike racks to service five percent of peak visitors — if the 2,000 people occupy the building on average, that means 100 bike racks. But it makes no sense for the standard to be five percent for an arena that holds 20,000 people on surge days (1,000 bike racks?) or a stadium that holds 60,000 (3,000 bike racks?). So we worked with USGBC to reasonably apply this to stadiums, arenas and other big public buildings with surge traffic to a realistic number of bike racks. In a similar vain, we helped adapt CO₂ monitoring standards for big public building projects like stadia to account for spikes on surge usage days.

GSB: I imagine that the high profile nature of stadia and arenas would make the vendors that architects and builders employ want to be a part of the LEED-ification movement.

CBJ: No doubt about it. The move to LEED at sports venues has been a great way to leverage conversations with materials manufacturers — paints, carpets and adhesives are just three examples — to come up with more environmentally friendly, healthy offerings.

GSB: So I get that sports stadium developers and designers of convention centers increasingly were interested in getting LEED certification five or six years ago. What drove some of them, in more recent years, to go for Gold — or Platinum for that matter?

CBJ: Well, there was interest among big public space projects in LEED Gold and Platinum even back to the early part of this decade. But the general thought was that doing so was too expensive. It took visionaries to break through that way of thinking, like Arthur Blank, owner of the Falcons…

GSB: …Along with Jed York of the San Francisco 49ers with Levi’s Stadium and Vivek Ranadive, owner of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings with Golden 1 Center

CBJ: …to see the value in LEED Gold or Platinum. I can speak to the Mercedes-Benz Stadium case as I worked on that project. Mr. Blank said “we’re going for LEED Platinum” early on in the process and he and his team never wavered. The project team saw that sustainability-oriented companies, who might not have become stadium sponsors otherwise, saw Platinum as a reason to sign on…

 

Five minute video featuring, among others, Carlie Bullock-Jones, tells Mercedes-Benz Stadium’s LEED Platinum story

 

GSB: …That is music to my ears — corporations deciding to sponsor a stadium  specifically because it goes for the high levels of LEED certification. And those sponsorship dollars help defray some of the added cost of going for Platinum! So when did Ecoworks Studio start working on the Mercedes-Benz Stadium project?

CBJ: Ecoworks Studio joined the 360 team in 2013, early on in the design process for Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Expansive thinking on what the stadium could be was a hallmark throughout the planning process. Stakeholder charettes or brainstorms were held at the Arthur Blank Foundation with local environmental nonprofits taking part. An innovative “What If” approach was part of the process in which pie in the sky ideas were encouraged. The broad question that started things was “What if a stadium could contribute to a more sustainable future?” Sub-teams drilled down to more specific questions. Our Green Team asked questions like “What if the water leaving the stadium was as clean as it was coming in?” and “What if we could store the kinetic energy fans create when they walk through the stadium?”

GSB: Did any of the ideas get put into practice?

CBJ: Many did, including installing urban gardens on the property. This strategy was also an opportunity to connect with the neighboring community. This might sound like small stuff but it was all of these little things, along with the consistent commitment to go for Platinum, which got the project over the finish line…

 

Carlie Scott Chris M-B Stadium

Carlie Bullock-Jones, flanked by Scott Jenkins (l), Mercedes-Benz General Manager, and Chris DeVolder of 360 Architects — now HOK (Photo credit: Ecoworks Studio)

 

GSB: Not only did Mercedes-Benz Stadium achieve Platinum certification, it earned 88 points, blowing by the minimum 80 point Platinum threshold. Congratulations on being a part of the team that made this happen. What other stadium and arena LEED certification projects has Ecoworks Studios worked on?

CBJ: Thank you. Mercedes-Benz Stadium going LEED Platinum was a classic case of “right teams, right time.” Beyond that, we are wrapping the LEED certification process for Little Caesar’s Arena in Detroit, the new home of the NHL’s Red Wings and the NBA’s Pistons. And we are working on LEED certification efforts for Welsh-Ryan Arena in Evanston, IL, the existing home of Northwestern University basketball as well as its training center. Back in Atlanta, we are working with Atlanta United of MLS on LEED certification for their training facility and with the Atlanta Hawks on getting LEED certification for Philips Arena…

 

Welsh-Ryan Northwestern

Ecoworks Studios is working on LEED Certification for the renovation of Welsh-Ryan Arena, home of Northwestern University basketball (Photo credit: Northwestern Athletics)

 

GSB: It is great to hear that Ecoworks Studios is so busy with LEED certification in sports venue world! I have one more question: What isn’t happening yet in the LEED certification end of the sports venue world that you think should be?

CBJ: I’ll answer that with a “What If”: What if a stadium could help improve your health from wellness, fitness and nutrition perspectives? We should be looking at that and I think women sustainability practitioners in particular are well-positioned to play important roles in that arena, pun intended. I also believe we have the opportunity to focus on fan engagement initiatives.

GSB: I’m a bit disappointed that’s not the case now…

CBJ: Facilities can apply for and sometimes earn what are called “innovative points” – this would be the area in LEED where fan engagement could be included. This needs to be brought up with the USGBC as something to consider, that’s for sure. The impact can be far-reaching, going beyond the walls of the building.

GSB: Somehow I can picture Ecoworks Studios playing a key role in that conversation.

 


 

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What 2 Watch 4 in Green-Sports in 2018

Happy New Year to you, GreenSportsBlog readers! I hope you had a great holiday season. Thank you for your comments, suggestions and consistent support throughout 2017; keep it coming in 2018.

Speaking of 2018, the way GSB sees it, the Green-Sports world will continue its necessary transition from Version 1.0, which focused mainly on the greening of games at the stadia and arenas, to Version 2.0, which emphasizes athlete and fan engagement, both at the game, and even more importantly, beyond the stadium/arena — after all, that’s where the bulk of the sports fans can be found. With that in mind, let’s take a look at What 2 Watch 4 in Green-Sports for 2018. 

 

January 9: College Football Playoff National Championship Game, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, GA

Monday’s College Football Playoff (CFP) championship game between Georgia and Alabama, will take place in Atlanta’s brand new LEED Platinum showplace, Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Looked at through a Green-Sports 1.0 lens, the stadium is already a champion, from its state-of-the-art water efficiency efficiency systems to its 4,000 solar panels to its LED lighting throughout the building.

 

Mercedes Benz

Aerial view of Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta (Photo credit: AMB Sports and Entertainment)

 

But how will the championship game fare from a Green-Sports 2.0 perspective?

CFP’s Playoff Green initiative ran a semester-long tree planting campaign in the Atlanta area — public service announcements are scheduled to promote it to the 71,000 fans in attendance.

But will ESPN, with its multiple channels (I put the over/under at five) airing the game, share the story of the greenness of the stadium and of Playoff Green, with the 25 or so million people watching?

I bet the answer is no; I hope I will be proven wrong.

 

 

February 4: Super Bowl LII; US Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, MN

It is safe to say Super Bowl LII will be a more sustainable event than its predecessor in Houston last February. After all the bar is set extremely low: the Houston Super Bowl LI Host Committee did next to nothing of note, green-wise.

What is noteworthy are the solid, green actions taken by the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee. These include:

  • Granting a portion of its $4 million Legacy Fund to environmental charities. One grantee is the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe Native American tribe — the funds helped build a community garden, supplying healthy food in an area where access is lacking.
  • The collection of over 42,000 pounds of TVs, computers and cell phones at the Minnesota Zoo as part of an October E-Waste drive, in partnership with NFL sponsor Verizon.
  • Working with Verizon and Minneapolis-based Andersen Corporation to fund 14 habitat restoration and urban forestry projects across the state, resulting in the planting of thousands of trees and native species.

 

MN UrbanForestryPosterHorizontal

The Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee, in partnership with the NFL, Verizon and Andersen Windows have planted more than 700 trees as part of their Urban Forestry Initiative for Super Bowl LII (Infographic Credit: Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee)

 

There is one environmental concern surrounding US Bank Stadium and thus, by extension, Super Bowl LII, that, to be fair to the Host Committee, predated its existence: The problem of birds killing themselves by crashing into the largely glass exterior of the stadium that opened in 2016. The Vikings and the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority were made aware of this issue during the stadium’s design phase and chose to do nothing about it.

Neither Audubon Minnesota nor Audubon Chapter of Minneapolis plan to organize protests tied to Super Bowl LII. And without protests, the likelihood that the media covers the “old news” bird kill issue is slim.

And, it says here, that NBC Sports will not devote air time to the Super Bowl LII “solid but not groundbreaking” sustainability story.

Hey, I never said this Green-Sports 2.0 thing would be easy. Maybe the Winter Olympics will provide a better platform?

 

 

February 9-25: XXIII Winter Olympics, Pyeongchang, South Korea

The myriad of issues surrounding North Korea’s nuclear weapons program will no doubt garner the lion’s share of NBC Sports’ non-sports coverage during the Winter Olympics. And that is at should be.

Will there be enough non-sports oxygen for the environment and climate change?

Even though the organizers will not feature a climate change-themed vignette in the Opening Ceremonies, as did Rio 2016,  I say there is at least a 50-50 chance that the Peacock Network features the environment and climate in its countless sidebar stories — and that Green-Sports 2.0 will be be a winner at PyeongChang 2018.

After all, there are great sustainability tales to tell:

  • PyeongChang 2018 will generate more clean electricity than total electricity consumed during the Games. You read that right: PyeongChang 2018, together with  host provincial government Gangwon, funded wind farms that will produce 45 percent more electricity than will be needed to power the Games.
  • Six of the newly constructed competition venues feature either solar or geothermal power.
  • Several of the venues will be G-SEED certified, the Korean green building equivalent of LEED.

 

POCOG Wind farm 1

Wind turbines in Gangwon Province, part of the developments funded by PyeongChang Organizing Committee for the 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games (POCOG) that will, in total, generate 45 percent more energy than the Games will use. (Photo credit: POCOG)

 

Most importantly, it is likely that Protect Our Winters (POW), an organization made up of current and retired elite winter sports athletes which advocates for legislative action on climate change, will have several articulate, charismatic members on the U.S. team.

Will NBC Sports interview POW athletes about their activism as well as their athleticism?

I say YES!

 

Spring: NHL Issues Its Second Sustainability Report

In 2014, the National Hockey League became the first professional sports league in North America to issue a sustainability report. Among other things, the league disclosed its direct carbon footprint and that of its sizable supply chain.

That the league will be issuing its second such report this spring before any of its counterparts (MLB, MLS, NBA, NFL) produce their first demonstrates 1) the NHL’s consistent, substantive Green-Sports leadership, and 2) the need for the other leagues to step up their green games.

Regarding the upcoming report, I look forward to see 1) how the league has progressed on emissions reductions since 2014, and 2) if emissions from fan travel to and from games will be added.

 

April 29: Opening, Banc of California Stadium, Los Angeles

This is a classic Green-Sports 1.0 story about a new, LEED certified stadium — and 1.0 stories are still good things.

Banc of California Stadium, the 22,000 seat home of Major League Soccer expansion team LAFC will open this spring with LEED Silver level certification. Sustainability features include:

  • Easy metro accessibility via the Expo Line at nearby Expo Park/USC station
  • EV charging stations for 5 percent of vehicles, and that number will increase
  • 140,000 sq. ft. of additional public open space
  • 440 bicycle parking spaces and a bike path that feeds into Los Angeles’ My Figueroa path system

 

 

Banc of California

Artist rendering of Banc of California Stadium (Credit: LAFC)

 

Banc of California Stadium will serve as an appetizer on the LA new stadium scene. The main course? The projected 2020 opening of LA Stadium at Hollywood Park, the new home of the NFL’s Chargers and Rams. Early reports say LEED certification is being considered.

 

June 14-July 15: FIFA Men’s World Cup, 11 cities in Russia

GSB has low exceptions, Green-Sports-wise, for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia, the world’s most followed sporting event..

FIFA did issue “A More Sustainable World Cup,” a 15-page, Russia 2018 progress report which asserted that:

  • At least six of the 12 stadiums hosting World Cup matches will be BREEAM certified: Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, site of the final match; Mordovia Arena in Saransk, Nizhny Novgorod Stadium, Samara Stadium, Spartak Stadium, and Volgograd Arena.

 

Samara Stadium Guardian

Workers play soccer adjacent to the under-construction and BREEAM-certified Samara Stadium (Photo credit: The Guardian)

 

Volvograd Arena Guardian

The BREEAM-certified Volgograd Arena (Photo credit: The Guardian)

 

  • The South Pole Group, a carbon management consulting firm, is working with FIFA to estimate the carbon footprint of Russia 2018.
  • FIFA plans to offset all of the greenhouse gas emissions related to the event.

This is fine from a 1.0 POV, but there is much more to the story.

Remember, the organizers of Sochi, Russia’s 2014 Winter Olympics promised the “cleanest Olympics ever.”

The reality was far different.

According to a piece in the February 21, 2014 issue of Earth Island Journal by Zoe Loftus-Farren:

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin has a stunning disregard for environmental laws: “Environmental laws can be pesky, and Putin’s government amended several laws to make way for Olympic glory: In 2006, the Russia government amended a ban on holding large sporting events in National Parks, in 2007 it eliminated compulsory environmental assessment for construction projects, and in 2009 the legislature [weakened] the Forest Code.” 
  • On Sochi 2014-related environmental wrongs: “Large illegal waste dumps have cropped up around the region, including within Sochi National Park. More than 3,000 hectares of forest have been logged, including regions with rare plant species. Large swaths of previously protected wetlands now lay underneath the Olympic Village.”

Aside from the BREEAM-certified stadia, it is fair to assume that, from an environmental perspective, the Sochi 2014 past is prologue for Russia 2018.

It would be great if Fox Sports undertakes some award-winning investigative journalism into the Russia 2018 environmental story during its coverage of the tournament.

I’m not holding my breath.

 

 

June 26-27: Green Sports Alliance Summit; Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, GA

Atlanta’s LEED Gold Mercedes-Benz Stadium will occupy the Green-Sports center stage for the second time in 2018, this time as host of the eighth Green Sports Alliance (GSA) Summit.

According to the GSA’s website, Summit 2018 will feature “more networking opportunities and [will] focus on hands-on workshops for attendees to work through challenges, share lessons learned, and gather valuable take-aways to implement in their communities.”

Speakers and panels have yet to be announced so stay tuned.

 

 

August 27-September 9: US Open Tennis, Bille Jean King National Tennis Center, Queens, NY

After a decade of Green-Sports leadership paid off with the US Open winning GSB’s “Greenest Sports League/Event” award for 2017, what can the USTA do for an encore?

From a Green-Sports 1.0 perspective, the answer is clear: The opening of Louis Armstrong Stadium 2.0.

The 10,000 seat stadium will likely achieve LEED certification by the start of the tournament. Here are three reasons why:

  • 95 percent of the waste from the demolition of the original Armstrong Stadium was recycled
  • Landscaping around the new stadium has been designed to use 55 percent less water
  • The new Armstrong Stadium will be the first naturally ventilated stadium with a retractable roof in the world.

Methinks this last point is so cool that it will warrant attention from ESPN during its tournament coverage, which would mean a nice Green-Sports 2.0 win.

 

One minute, time lapse photography video of the demolition of the old Louis Armstrong Stadium and the building of the new one. The latter will be the first naturally ventilated stadium with a retractable roof.

 

November 6: Midterm Elections, United States

What do the midterm elections in the United States, in which the control of the House of Representatives and perhaps the Senate are up for grabs, have to do with Green-Sports?

Well, the aforementioned Protect Our Winters (POW) won GSB’s 2017 “Best Green-Sports Story of the Year” award in large part due to its lobbying efforts on Capitol Hill and its willingness to get involved in electoral politics.

When asked about POW’s goals for 2018, manager of advocacy and campaigns Lindsay Bourgoine said: “Our main goal in 2018 is to get down and dirty in the midterm elections in November…We have identified ten ‘battleground elections’ where we feel it is really important to elect a climate friendly leader, whether Democrat or Republican.”

 

Lindsay Bourgoine POW

Lindsay Bourgoine, manager of advocacy and campaigns for Protect Our Winters (Photo credit: Protect Our Winters)

 

Bourgoine also said that POW is not “working to help the Democrats take the House.” While I understand completely POW’s desire to help the climate-friendly Democrats and Republicans, I will be doing my small part as a volunteer to help flip the House.

In the meantime, I look forward to sharing powerful Green-Sports stories — of both the Version 1.0 and 2.0 varieties — wherever I find them!

 


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The Best and Worst of Green-Sports, 2017

The Green-Sports world saw some important firsts in 2017: The first UN Dialogue on Sport and Climate Action in Germany, the first Pac-12 Sustainability Conference in Sacramento, and the first LEED Platinum professional sports stadium in the US are but three examples.

Beyond the firsts, eco-athletes, from sailors to snowboarders, used their sizable platforms to promote ocean health and the climate change fight. Some even lobbied members of Congress. 

But in this Age of Trump and with the ascendancy of climate change deniers and do-nothings in the upper reaches of the US Government, the Green-Sports world needed to go much bigger, move much faster.

Against that backdrop, we bring you the BEST AND WORST OF GREEN-SPORTS, 2017.


 

BEST GREEN SPORTS STORY OF 2017

Protect Our Winters (POW) and Winter Sports Athletes

 

POW Athletes at Capitol Credit Forest Woodward

Photo credit: Protect Our Winters

 

The photo above is the perfect visualization as to why Protect Our Winters (POW), the organization of elite winter sports athletes who advocate for substantive action on climate change, is the winner of GSB’s BEST GREEN-SPORTS STORY OF 2017.

You see, the 21 folks captured in front of the US Capitol made up most of the 25-person delegation of active and retired skiers, snowboarders and more, who, along with staffers, descended on Washington this fall to lobby 22 members of Congress and their staffs. Topics included carbon pricing, solar energy and electrifying transportation.

That winter sports athletes are more concerned about climate change than any other group of athletes I can think of makes sense since they can see the negative effects of warming temperatures on their playing fields (i.e. ski slopes, snowboard courses, frozen ponds) in real time.

That they have built POW into the only climate change action advocacy group led by athletes, Olympians and world champions among them, is the amazing thing.

In recent months, GreenSportsBlog interviewed retired Olympic silver medal winning snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler and Olympic cross country skier Andy Newell, about their involvement with POW.

Bleiler takes part in “Hot Planet, Cool Athletes” school assembly programs, which helps  make “climate change engaging, more relatable, and more personal for students.” She spoke at COP21, the global climate conference in Paris in November 2015 that led to the Paris Climate Agreement. Newell helped lead POW’s participation in the People’s Climate March in New York City in April and has written OpEds, including one that ran in USA Today in 2014.

Both were part of the POW 2017 DC fall lobby team; their firsthand experiences — and those of their colleagues — with the effects of climate change are powerful aspects of their presentations to Congress.

Here’s Bleiler: “[I share] my own experiences as a professional snowboarder who’s traveled around the world chasing snow! Reduced snow pack, warmer temperatures and shorter winters all mean a hit to the sports we love, but these changes also impact the economies of all the mountain town communities where I compete and train. This has all been happening in my lifetime…”

Given that the vast majority of the Republican-led Congress, the head of the EPA, as well as the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, are virulently opposed to fighting climate change, POW’s 2017 legislative efforts did not bear immediate fruit.

But, in the climate change fight, POW is all in for a marathon.

It is a race cross country skier Andy Newell has no doubt POW and, well, we — as in the American people — will win: “If we citizens have a big enough cultural and economic shift toward sustainable energy, the President and everyone else in DC has no choice but to follow. We have more power than we think. Senators, House members and the President will continue to hear from the winter sports community.”

Certain House members and Senators will hear from POW in 2018. The group’s main goal for the next year is to, in the words of Lindsay Bourgoine, manager of advocacy and campaigns, “get down and dirty in the midterm elections in November…We have identified ten ‘battleground elections’ where we feel it is really important to elect a climate friendly leader, whether Democrat or Republican.”

Honorable Mention: Land Rover BAR, Great Britain’s Entry in 2017 America’s Cup; Most Sustainable Olympics Bids Ever Earn Paris and LA the 2024 and 2028 Summer Games.

 

GREENEST SPORTS LEAGUE OR EVENT OF 2017

US Open Tennis/US Tennis Association

Formerly titled the Greenest Sports League award, this year the category expanded to include mega-sports events like the Olympics, FIFA World Cup, the Masters, and the US Open. The latter is GSB’s choice for the GREENEST SPORTS LEAGUE OR EVENT OF 2017. 

The Open —which draws over 700,000 fans over two weeks in late August/early September at the USTA’s Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Queens, NY — earned the award not only for its stellar sustainability performance at this year’s tournament but for its decade of green-sports leadership. 

King was there at the beginning of the US Open’s/USTA’s greening efforts in 2008. And she wanted to go BIG.

“Billie…wanted to make the US Open the most environmentally responsible tennis event in the world,” shared Dr. Allen Hershkowitz^, then a scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the nonprofit that would manage the sustainability project. “I told Billie that doing so would take years. ‘Great,’ she said. ‘I’m in. Let’s do it.'”

 

 

Billie Jean and Allen

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

 

Ten years on, the fruits of King’s and Hershkowitz’ vision can be seen in virtually every nook and cranny of the National Tennis Center. The event:

  • Is zero-waste, meaning 90 percent or more of food waste is diverted from the landfill, thanks to a sophisticated composting and recycling operation
  • Powers itself solely by renewable energy
  • Uses the tournament’s daily draw sheet (schedule of play) to share “eco-tips” with fans
  • Promotes mass transit use and the fans have responded: More than 55 percent arrived by subway, Long Island Railroad or bus, making the US Open the most transit-friendly professional sporting event in the country
  • Collects and recycles over 17,000 tennis ball cans
  • Boasts two LEED certified structures; the two year-old, 8,000 seat Grandstand Court and the upgraded transportation center.

 

Grandstand Court Brian Friedman USTA

The LEED certified Grandstand Court rocked during the dramatic comeback win by Juan Martin del Potro over Dominic Thiem on Labor Day (Photo credit: Brian Friedman/USTA)

 

2018 will bring a big sustainability advance as the new, 10,000 seat Louis Armstrong Stadium will open as the world’s first naturally ventilated stadium with a retractable roof.

Honorable Mention: National Hockey League, Pac-12 Conference, Waste Management Phoenix Open (golf)

 

GREENEST NEW STADIUM OR ARENA OF 2017

Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United F.C.

When Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the new home of the Atlanta Falcons of the NFL and MLS’ Atlanta United F.C., announced in November that it had earned LEED Platinum certification, it became the first pro stadium in the U.S. to achieve such a designation. Just one month later, it won GreenSportsBlog’s GREENEST NEW STADIUM OR ARENA OF 2017.

“We set out to build a venue that would not only exceed expectations, but also push the limits of what was possible in terms of stadium design, fan experience and sustainability,” noted Arthur Blank, owner and chairman of the two teams, at the LEED Platinum announcement. “[Our] goal was to achieve the highest LEED rating because it was the right thing to do for our city and the environment.”

 

 

Mercedes Benz

Mercedes-Benz Stadium (Photo credit: AMB Sports and Entertainment)

 

Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which hosts the College Football Playoff National Championship Game on January 9, and Super Bowl LIII in February 2019, compiled 88 LEED points — blowing by the 80 point threshold needed for Platinum status — in a myriad of ways, including by:

  • Using 47 percent less water than baseline standards due to water-efficient fixtures and conservation infrastructure
  • Storing water in a 1.1 million gallon, underground water vault, providing the area with crucial flood management, as well as an additional 680,000 gallons of water for use in irrigation and the stadium’s cooling tower
  • Installing 4,000 solar panels to power the equivalent of nearly ten Falcons games or 13 Atlanta United matches with clean, renewable energy.
  • Featuring LED lighting that will reduce energy usage by as much as 60 percent
  • Encouraging fans to take MARTA light rail to three nearby stations, resulting in 25-30 percent of fans ditching their cars to go to and from Falcons and United games.

Honorable Mention: Little Caesar’s Arena, Detroit (home of NBA’s Pistons and NHL’s Red Wings), currently seeking LEED certification

 

BEST TEAM ON/GREENEST TEAM OFF FIELD/COURT OF 2017

Golden State Warriors, NBA Champions

The Golden State Warriors cemented their status as the gold standard of the NBA’s current era when they defeated LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, four games to one, to win their second title in the last three seasons. A sustainability leader off the court, the Warriors also earned the BEST TEAM ON/GREENEST TEAM OFF FIELD  award for 2017.

On the court, head coach Steve Kerr seamlessly managed the addition of Kevin Durant to their championship core of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Andre Iguodala. This made the Dubs even more fun to watch and much harder to play against. As a result, Golden State methodically avenged its shocking 2016 Finals loss to the Cavs.

 

KD Steph

Kevin Durant (l) and Steph Curry of the 2017 NBA Champion Golden State Warriors — and winner of GSB’s BEST TEAM ON/GREENEST TEAM OFF FIELD/COURT award (Photo credit: USA Today)

 

This fall, the Warriors started the 2017-18 campaign slowly —for them — they’re “only” 23-6 at this writing. Curry and Green are injured for now. And the Houston Rockets look ready to mount a serious challenge in the West. Despite all that, Golden State is still the team to beat.

Off the court, the Warriors reflect the strong environmental ethos of the Bay Area, earning strong sustainability grades for:

  • Powering their practice facility with solar panels
  • Reducing energy use at Oracle Arena through a smart energy management system
  • Introducing a rainwater recapture system that uses the harvested H₂O to feed the plants and vegetation surrounding the arena.
  • Partnering with a local vendor who turns oils from concessions into bio-diesel,
  • Implementing ORBIO Sc-5000 which utilizes water, salt and electricity to create an eco-friendly cleaning solution
  • Reducing the carbon footprint of, and the waste produced by the food service. In partnership with Levy Restaurants, the club uses compostable cutlery and flatware and composts food waste.

It wasn’t only GreenSportsBlog who noticed the Warriors sustainability efforts: Oracle Arena earned LEED certification from the US Green Building Council in September.

“Ensuring that we have a positive impact on the Oakland/Alameda County community and our environment is extremely important to us” said Krystle von Puschendorf, Sustainability Programs Manager for Oracle Arena, “We are proud to have achieved LEED certification and are dedicated to running an environmentally friendly operation here in Oakland.”

If the Warriors stay at the top of their game on the court, the club will likely be in the running for the 2019 award because it will have moved into the new Chase Center in San Francisco — an arena expected to seek LEED Gold certification.

Given the Warriors incredibly high standards, I am surprised — and a bit disappointed — they’re not going for LEED Platinum. But there’s still time for Golden State to up its green game even further.

 

Chase Arena

Artist’s rendering of Chase Center, future home of the Warriors. Scheduled to open in 2019, the arena seeks LEED Gold certification (Credit: Stok)

 

Honorable Mention: New England Patriots, NFL — the Pats might have won the award but they were hurt by the strong support for climate disaster Donald Trump by owner Robert Kraft; Seattle Sounders, MLS

 

GREEN-SPORTS MISSED OPPORTUNITY OF 2017

Super Bowl LI in Houston

Super Bowl 50, the Greenest Super Bowl of All Time, was played in the Bay Area, one of the most environmentally engaged areas in the country. Super Bowl LI took place in Houston, not exactly a green hotbed. Many would say it is not realistic to expect a Super Bowl taking place in the Oil Capital of the US to be as green as one contested in Northern California.

I agree.

But while it’s one thing to fall short of the Super Bowl 50 standard, it’s quite another thing for the Houston Super Bowl Host Committee to do nothing from a sustainability point of view.

Or, to be fair, almost nothing: The Houston Host Committee did work with NFL Environmental, the Houston Texans, Verizon and local partners to help plant trees, but that seems to be it.

 

Trees for Houston

Trees For Houston and Marathon Oil helped plant 50 new trees at Crespo Elementary in advance of Super Bowl LI (Photo credit: Trees For Houston)

Tree planting is well and good but the Houston Super Bowl LI Host Committee missed a Texas-sized opportunity regarding sustainability.

This is the case especially when one considers that there is a sustainable business infrastructure and a green subculture taking root in the US’ fourth biggest city and in the Lone Star State more broadly:

Honorable mention: Minnesota Vikings and MSFA deciding not to upgrade the glass exterior of US Bank Stadium to reduce its bird kill problem.

 


 

We close with some end-of-year thank-you and a remembrance:

To our guests/interviewees: Your time, commitment and insights are much appreciated. You are helping to green the sports world in important ways. I always come away from GreenSportsBlog interviews feeling inspired.

To our readers: Thank you for making 2017 a year of significant growth: Our subscriber base grew by a third. On Twitter, our retweets and mentions nearly doubled. If you haven’t done so already, please subscribe (it’s FREE!) and comment on the blog. Follow us on Twitter (@GreenSportsBlog) and friend us on Facebook (http://faceboook.com/greensportsblog).

A remembrance: Earlier this month, Ryan Yanoshak, formerly managing director of marketing communications with the Pocono International Raceway, passed away at 42 following a battle with cancer. Ryan played an important role in telling Pocono’s forward-leaning sustainability story. He will be missed.

Looking ahead, I expect the green-sports world will continue to grow in 2018, especially on the green building/venue side. But will meaningful fan engagement programs ramp up? Will we find new eco-athletes who can become the Colin Kaepernicks of green-sports? Will POW’s lobbying efforts help bring more climate change-fighters to Congress? No matter the results, you can be certain that GreenSportsBlog will remain your source for news, features and commentary on the increasingly busy intersection of Green + Sports.

Here’s to a healthy, happy Holiday Season to you and yours!

 

^ Dr. Hershkowitz later served as President of the Green Sports Alliance and is currently founding director of Sport and Sustainability International (SandSI)

 


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Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium Earns LEED Platinum Certification, First for Pro Stadium

Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the brand-spanking-new home of the NFL’s Falcons and MLS’ Atlanta United has drawn praise for several firsts in stadium design since its opening this summer. The oculus-shaped roof and the scoreboard that wraps around the perimeter of the interior of the stadium roof are but two examples. A third and, to GreenSportsBlog, most important first, came to light last week when it was announced Mercedes-Benz Stadium had earned LEED Platinum certification, the first pro stadium^ to do so.

 

88.

While we are living in the “Moneyball” era of sports, dominated by complex, advanced statistics, that simple number may be the most significant metric of the year.

You see, 88 represents the most LEED points earned to date by any sports facility in the world. Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium amassed that haul to become the first pro stadium to attain LEED Platinum level certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. For those keeping score at home, 80 points is the minimum threshold for LEED Platinum.

 

Mercedes Benz

Aerial view of Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta (Photo credit: AMB Sports and Entertainment)

 

Getting to 88 points didn’t just happen. It took an anything-is-possible vision and a consistent commitment to sustainability — from both environmental and community development points of view — from Arthur Blank, Owner and Chairman of the two teams.

“We set out to build a venue that would not only exceed expectations, but also push the limits of what was possible in terms of stadium design, fan experience and sustainability,” noted Blank. “[Our] goal was to achieve the highest LEED rating because it was the right thing to do for our city and the environment and with this achievement, we have a powerful new platform to showcase to the industry and to our fans that building sustainably and responsibly is possible for a venue of any type, size and scale.”

 

Arthur Blank LEED Platinum Certification Event

Arthur Blank, owner of the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United, speaking at the LEED Platinum announcement event for Mercedes-Benz Stadium (Photo credit: AMB Sports and Entertainment)

 

Blank’s innovative vision was executed by Scott Jenkins, General Manager of Mercedes-Benz Stadium, along with a team that included leading sports architecture firm HOK. “One of the reasons we were able to get to 88 points was that we aggressively pursued innovation credits, one of the newer elements of LEED,” offered Jenkins. “Arthur pushed the team to innovate in water, lighting, energy conservation, as well as in community development and social equity programming.” Here are some examples:

  • Mercedes-Benz Stadium earned every available LEED water credit by:
    • Using 47 percent less water than baseline standards due to water-efficient fixtures and conservation infrastructure
    • Building a 1.1 million gallon, underground water vault, providing the area with much-needed flood management
    • Storing another 680,000 gallons of water for use in irrigation and the stadium’s cooling tower
    • Restoring water to the nearby Flint River#
    • Partnering with community organizations like Trees Atlanta to share captured rainwater for tree irrigation
  • The stadium’s 4,000 solar panels power the equivalent of nearly ten Falcons games or 13 Atlanta United matches with clean, renewable energy. An important feature of the installation, said Jenkins, is that “most of the panels are visible to fans, as parking lot canopies and atop an underground garage.”
  • LED lighting throughout the building will reduce energy usage by as much as 60 percent
  • Three nearby MARTA light rail stations have resulted in 25-30 percent of fans taking mass transit to attend Falcons and Atlanta United games
  • Copious alternative transportation options, including a bike valet program, EV charging stations with capacity to charge up to 48 electric cars simultaneously and new pedestrian-friendly walking paths, provide more connectivity between communities

 

Bike Valet ATLUTDvsOC 091617_0043

Fans dropping off their bikes at Mercedes-Benz Stadium’s free bike valet at September’s Atlanta United-Orlando City match (Photo credit: AMB Sports and Entertainment)

 

 

M-B EV Charging

EV charging station adjacent to Mercedes-Benz Stadium (Photo credit: AMB Sports and Entertainment)

 

  • Partnerships with local organizations are training residents in the stadium’s Westside neighborhood in nursing, construction, culinary arts, IT and automotive with the goal of placing them in living wage jobs in the industry

 

The remains of the Georgia Dome, the Falcons’ prior home which was imploded Monday, will be handled in an environmentally sound fashion: 98 percent of its materials will be reused and thus will not end up in a landfill. One might expect a parking lot to take its place. But that was not what Blank had in mind. Instead, after the Dome’s concrete fills the hole the implosion created; after the metal and steel is salvaged, the Home Depot Backyard will open on that site next August. It will boast 13 acres of new greenspace and parkland for arts and cultural events, entertainment and community building on non-event days. Tailgaters will rule the roost on game days.

Blank’s sustainable vision extends beyond the stadium and environs. “It certainly was not lost on Arthur that, while Mercedes-Benz Stadium is situated in very close proximity to Spelman College, Martin Luther King’s childhood home and other sites of significance to the civil rights movement, it is also close to two very poor communities” shared Jenkins. “That’s a big reason why he made a significant investment in the Westside, going beyond even what was necessary to earn Platinum certification to make the stadium a focal point for new employment and community development opportunities.”

 

LEED Platinum Certification Event - from right - Rich McKay, Scott Jenkins, Arthur Blank

Scott Jenkins (c), General Manager of Mercedes-Benz Stadium, flanked by Rich McKay (l), President of the Atlanta Falcons and Arthur Blank, at the LEED Platinum announcement event (Photo credit: AMB Sports and Entertainment)

 

It must be noted that, while Mercedes-Benz Stadium’s 88 is the best LEED score ever, it’s not perfect.” Hey, I am a stickler!

So how can Blank and Co. improve on things? According to Jenkins, “we’re looking at reducing plastic usage — straws, for example — as well as increasing our vegetarian, vegan and healthy food offerings.”

These are worthy goals, indeed, and are examples of how Mercedes-Benz Stadium is taking the notion of sustainable sports venues to an entirely new level.

^ Sacramento’s Golden 1 Center is the first LEED Platinum-certified arena and the University of North Texas’ Apogee Stadium is the first collegiate stadium to earn that designation
# The Flint River is not to be confused with the city of Flint, MI, which, of course, which is living through its own serious water issue.

 


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The GSB Interview: Ryan Hall, Greening the College Football Playoff

With the 2017 college football season set to move into high gear this weekend, GreenSportsBlog takes a look for the first time at the Greening of the College Football Playoff (CFP). The CFP, now about to enter its fourth season, draws higher television ratings than just about any other non-NFL sports event in the United States. Given its incredibly high profile, a strong greening program could resonate throughout broad swaths of American sports fandom. To understand what the CFP has done, sustainability-wise and where its green efforts are going, GreenSportsBlog talked with Ryan Hall, its Director of Community Relations.

GreenSportsBlog: Ryan, before we get to the nuts and bolts of the greening programs at the College Football Playoff (CFP), I gotta ask you: How did you get to be the CFP’s Director of Community Relations?

Ryan Hall: Well Lew, I grew up in Austin and went to Rice University there as an undergrad. Went on to Notre Dame for law school…

GSB: A step up in class in terms of football and basketball I’d say…

RH: You’d be right about that but I didn’t drink the Notre Dame Kool-Aid, didn’t become a huge fan. But I did meet my future wife the first day of orientation in South Bend.

GSB: Congratulations!

RH: Thank you. Anyway, I practiced as an attorney in Cincinnati for three years before going to work for the NCAA in Indianapolis in the compliance department. Did that for seven years. Then my wife’s firm opened a Dallas office so we moved down there — strong family connections.

GSB: And Dallas is where the College Football Playoff headquarters is…

RH: Given my experience at the NCAA, I was able to make some connections at the CFP. I ended up taking the job of Director of Community Relations in 2015, right after the first CFP. Sustainability, through our “Playoff Green” initiative, is a core part of my job, in addition to developing and ultimately executing the community relations programs during CFP Week, communication of, and enforcement of regulations, as well as membership relations.

 

Ryan Hall CFP

Ryan Hall, Director of Community Relations, College Football Playoff (Photo credit: College Football Playoff)

 

GSB: So talk about Playoff Green. What is it?

RH: The folks at the CFP knew from the very beginning that we needed to have a strong green commitment and thus a fan-facing program. Early on, we engaged Jack Groh, who manages the greening programs for the NFL, including at their premier events, the Super Bowl and NFL Draft, to build Playoff Green for us.

GSB: Jack is a natural fit for yo…

RH: You got that right!

GSB: Why do you think green was so central to the CFP?

RH: Well, from before the time I got here until now, the organizers of the CFP have realized that we have a responsibility to do more than put on a great semifinals and national championship. Of course, that is our primary task but, since we see the CFP as being a game changer in the “Big Game” landscape, we also want to be a positive game changer on societal issues…

GSB: Like sustainability and climate change? That makes sense to me, especially since colleges and universities have millions of students who study climate change, sustainability and the like…

RH: Exactly right. For those reasons and more, we knew we had to make the CFP a green event and get students into it. Not only college students, but also young people all the way down to the grammar school level. So we need our green program to have strong educational components down to the district level, including curriculum. And there are, of course, strong “big game” precedents for green community programs, including the Super Bowl, Olympics and FIFA World Cup. But, along with the Final Four, we’re the only big game event that has a potential army of college students, passionate about sustainability, at our disposal.

GSB: So how did you go about building the CFP greening program? Is climate change a part of it?

RH: Well, we created a foundation almost at our creation, the CFP Foundation. Our greening curriculum that gets deployed in the markets where our games are played each year has climate change as a core pillar. Our team has educators and it’s on us to 1) be leaders, educationally-speaking, and 2) leave the cities and towns that host us in better shape than when we arrived.

GSB: So talk about the specifics of the CFP greening programs…

RH: The true heart of Playoff Green has been tree planting. It started as a challenge, as a competition between groups of students from the four competing schools in parks at the game sites. The students were really into it, as were the localities. Then, with Jack Groh’s guidance, we broadened the project from parks into schools. For our 2017 game in Tampa, we ran a semester-long project in which we planted trees on the grounds of underserved public schools. In 2018, we expect Atlanta, host of the the championship game, to go even bigger as our curriculum and tree planting will reach even more schools.

 

Jack Groh CFPO 2017-bailey-50

Playoff Green Campus Challenge at Bailey Elementary, Dover, Florida, January 6, 2017 (Photo credit: College Football Playoff)

 

GSB: Atlanta is a great place, from a green-sports point of view, especially with the championship game being played at the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, expected to be the NFL’s first LEED Platinum-certified stadium.

RH: We are very excited about being in, arguably, the greenest football stadium in the USA. It will be our biggest Playoff Green yet, especially with our partners at the Atlanta College Football Playoff Host Committee working with Jack Groh. The campus challenge will be bigger and better, involving more kids, from grammar schools to middle schools to high schools. We are also working with DonorsChoose.org the great nonprofit that helps fund teachers’ projects in underfunded districts. As schools become involved and meet the parameters of the Playoff Green challenge, we provided gift cards to DonorsChoose.org that help teachers at the school fund projects. We put resources directly into the school and classrooms.

 

CFP Bins 2017

An example of enhanced Trash and Recycling efforts at 2017 College Football Playoff events in the Tampa, FL area (Photo credit: College Football Playoff)

 

GSB: Are CFP corporate sponsors getting involved with Playoff Green, and if so, what does that look like?

RH: Corporate sponsorship is coming but we need to do it right — it’s a bit of a challenge, as we want to make sure there’s not a whiff of greenwashing. So we will be careful but it will happen.

GSB: That makes perfect sense. Finally, how are you and the CFP going to get the Playoff Green story out to the broader public? Will ESPN promote it? Because my biggest concern, and it’s not limited to the CFP, is that mega-events will keep their greening good works under the radar. This has largely been the case with the Super Bowl — my sense is that precious few know that the Super Bowl has been carbon neutral for more than a decade — and with the FIFA World Cup. Thankfully, the organizers of the Rio 2016 Olympics produced a vignette on climate change during the Opening Ceremonies that was viewed by an estimated worldwide audience of 1 billion people. Will ESPN tell the Playoff Green story on air?

RH: Great question. Outsiders really don’t know how great a partner ESPN has been, especially as it relates to Playoff Green. They’ve provided resources in terms of the implementation of Playoff Green and the tree planting, including funding. Playoff Green public service announcements (PSA’s) will be aired in stadium in Atlanta.

GSB: What about on air? Because 25 million people will watch the game on ESPN as compared to maybe 75,000 in stadium.

RH: That’s something we’ll work on in future years with our TV partner, ESPN as well as future partners.

GSB: That’s great…you know we will follow up on that down the road.

 


 

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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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