Greening the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games Seattle

How great is it when an iconic cause-based event like the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games embraces another cause — in this case, environmental sustainability? We’re talking really great.

GreenSportsBlog spoke with the sustainability team for Special Olympics USA 2018 Seattle — Karlan Jessen, Director of Volunteers and Sustainability; David Muller, Sustainability Consultant; and Tim Reeve, Sustainability Advisor — to find out how it came together, what worked well and what could’ve been better.

 

It was about a year before the July 1, 2018 Opening Ceremonies for the Special Olympics USA Games Seattle took place at Husky Stadium on the University of Washington campus, and an environmental sustainability plan was nowhere in sight.

And, since there had never been a sustainability effort at any of the three prior quadrennial USA Games, the odds were that Green would not be a part of the 2018 version.

Karlan Jessen, David Muller and Tim Reeve collectively and figuratively said “to heck with those odds,” and formed a Sustainability All-Star team of sorts. They created and implemented a greening program in what had to be record time.

 

Special Olympics Karlan_Headshot

Karlan Jessen (Photo credit: Karlan Jessen)

 

Special Olympics David Muller and Tim Reeve

David Muller (l) and Tim Reeve at the University of Washington (Photo credit: David Muller)

 

Jessen’s experience owning two used sporting goods stores, managing bicycle tours and running events made her an ideal pick for the Director of Volunteers and Sustainability role. Muller has deep experience consulting on sustainable events, focusing on environmental impact mitigation and positive social impact. And the Vancouver-based Reeve heads Reeve Consulting Group, a sustainability advisory firm. He’d worked with the Vancouver 2010 and Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics on sustainability and responsible sourcing issues.

 

“I THOUGHT THERE SHOULD BE A SUSTAINABILITY EFFORT SO I RAISED MY HAND”

As general planning for the Seattle Special Olympics got started in earnest, Jessen started to get questions about sustainability from some of the event’s existing corporate partners. “ESPN in particular asked about what could be done. Nothing was being planned at the time” Jessen recalled. “I thought there should be a sustainability effort, and even though we only had a year or so to make it happen, I raised my hand. I knew David from our sustainability studies at the Bainbridge Graduate Institute (which later merged with Presidio Graduate School), so it was natural to team up with him.” It wasn’t long before Reeve joined to make the group a triumvirate.

The team quickly established a plan that was made up of six sustainability pillars. Four were environmentally focused, while the other two fall in the social portion of the broad Environmental-Social-Governance (ESG) definition of sustainability:

Environmental Pillars

  1. Waste/Recycling
  2. Transportation
  3. Food/Beverage
  4. Sourcing

Social Pillars

  1. Accessibility/Inclusion
  2. Legacy/Education

Microsoft, based in nearby Redmond and the title sponsor of the 2018 USA Games, quickly bought into the social pillars. “Education and legacy were very important to Microsoft,” Jessen noted. “Inclusion, especially fair hiring practices, also was a big deal to them. And when you think about it, the Special Olympics demonstrates inclusion by its very existence!”

“Education and legacy was a home run,” chimed in Reeve. ”

 

BIGGEST ENVIRONMENTAL SUCCESSES: WASTE AND TRANSPORTATION

The environmental sustainability portion was more challenging. The success stories came from waste and transportation.

“Our waste-to-recycling program and food donations programs worked really well, thanks in large part to the University of Washington food service team,” reported Reeve. “Recycling is one of the most highly visible examples of a greening program at a sports event so we had to get that right. And we did.”

 

Special Olympics Green Team Volunteers success story

Green Team Volunteers sorting recycling, compost, and food donations (Photo credit: Tim Reeve)

 

Coca-Cola pitched in by bringing their reverse vending machines to the event. Fans and athletes would put empty plastics into the machine and a 5¢ donation would be made to Special Olympics for each donation. Per Muller, “Final numbers were not made public but it’s safe to say that thousands of bottles were recaptured.”

“Transportation was also a big win — that’s where we saw the biggest greenhouse gas emissions reductions,” added Muller. “The University of Washington was a great set up — it’s compact, very walkable and is located on a transit route. There is a robust bike share infrastructure at UW. Energy efficient shuttles ferried athletes and their families to and from events. And Lyft provided discounted as well as free ride sharing.”

 

Special Olympics Light Rail

Athletes and coaches taking light rail to T-Mobile Park (formerly Safeco Field) for the Special Olympics’ Night at the Ballpark (Photo credit: Cori Dixon)

 

The nearly 4,000 athletes and their families noticed Seattle’s greening efforts around the Special Olympics.

“We had numerous conversations with athletes and their families during the Special Olympics and they were really impressed by the city’s commitment to making this a green event,” recalled Reeve. “A sustainability passport was provided for the athletes for things like transportation so they were involved with the greening effort almost as soon as they arrived in the city.”

In a survey conducted after the Special Olympics among athletes and their families by Brian McCullough of Seattle University showed that 60 percent said, “My attitude toward environmental sustainably has improved due to the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games initiatives.”

 

TIME WAS THE SUSTAINABILITY TEAM’S BIGGEST ENEMY

Here’s a note to the leadership group that is organizing the 2022 Special Olympics USA for Orlando: Jessen, Muller and Reeve agreed that a year was not nearly enough time to maximize the effectiveness of a sustainability plan.

“Lack of time really challenged us in terms of getting buy-in on the value proposition of a robust sustainability effort from the CEO and Executive Committee,” noted Reeve. “That kind of early support would have been crucial in terms of being woven into the budgeting and sourcing processes, as well as securing sustainability-focused sponsors. That would have helped us on food donation, signage and more.”

The team had a plan to offset emissions but there was no budget for it.

“About 90 percent of event emissions came from air travel,” Muller said. “We were looking at offset costs ranging from $25,000-$60,000 but there was no budget for it. Had we started earlier, we certainly could’ve found a partner to fund the offsets.”

What kind of time frame would be ideal to develop and manage an effective sustainability effort at a Special Olympics?

Consider that planners for the FIFA 2026 World Cup in Canada, Mexico and the USA will have eight years to get sustainability right, and the organizers at the LA 2028 Olympics will have had eleven years since being award the Games in 2017.

Now, no one is saying that the Special Olympics USA is of a similar scale as those two mega events.

Given that’s the case, what is the ideal length of time to put a sustainability plan in place that the team would be proud of?

The verdict was unanimous:

“Three years!,” said Judges Jessen, Muller and Reeve.

 

 


 

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GreenSportsBlog Translated to Japanese; Runs in NikkeiBP

GreenSportsBlog has readers all over the world — thank you, global readers — but our content has not been translated into other languages. Until now, that is. Today, GSB appears in Japanese, in the Nikkei Business Press, or NikkeiBP.

 

NikkeiBP, a 50 year-old subsidiary of Nikkei, Inc., is Japan’s leading online business journal. Thus, it is a great honor that its editors saw fit to run an excerpted version of GreenSportsBlog’s October 2018 story about the passing of Microsoft co-founder, Seattle Seahawks owner, and Green-Sports pioneer Paul Allen in, of course, Japanese.

 

NikkeiBP 1

NikkeiBP 2

Portions of today’s Nikkei BP excerpt of GreenSportsBlog’s October 2018 story about the passing of Paul Allen (Credit: Nikkei BP)

 

A heartfelt arigato — or thank you — goes out to Haruki Sawada, Executive Director of the nascent Green Sports Alliance Japan. He paved the way for the expansion of GreenSportsBlog’s reach, and thus awareness of Green-Sports, to Japan. We look forward to additional GSB content appearing in Nikkei BP.

 


 

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Paul Allen, Co-Founder of Microsoft and a Key Figure in Early Days of Green-Sports Movement, Dies

Paul G. Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, died Monday due to complications from non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. He was 65.

Allen, who owned the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks and the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers, played an important role in the early days of the Green-Sports movement.

 

Paul G. Allen, a creator and visionary of the highest order, died Monday at 65 of complications from non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. He is most well-known for helping to usher in the personal computing age when, along with Bill Gates, he co-founded Microsoft in 1975 at age 22. Allen left the company in 1982 during his first bout with cancer.

 

Paul Allen

Paul G. Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, owner of the Portland Trail Blazers and Seattle Seahawks, and an early Green-Sports pioneer, in 2014. (Photo credit: Béatrice de Géa/The New York Times)

 

SPORTS AND THE ENVIRONMENT PLAYED A BIG ROLE IN ALLEN’S POST-MICROSOFT LIFE

In 1988, Allen purchased the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers. Nine years later, he bought the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks, ensuring that the team, which was at risk of moving to Los Angeles, would remain in the Pacific Northwest. And in 2009 he took a minority stake in the Seattle Sounders of Major League Soccer. The Seahawks won Super Bowl LXVIII in 2014 and the Sounders brought the MLS Soccer Bowl trophy to Seattle in 2016.

 

Paul Allen Super Bowl

Paul Allen held the Vince Lombardi trophy aloft after the Seahawks defeated the Denver Broncos in the 2014 Super Bowl at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey (Photo credit: Ray Stubblebine/Reuters)

 

Allen’s environmental passions were broad and deep. A partial list includes:

  • Curbing elephant poaching
  • Saving coral reefs
  • Supporting the mainstreaming of sustainable seafood
  • Building the plastic-free ocean movement
  • Funding the documentary film “Racing Extinction,” which focused on species preservation
  • Investing in renewable energy
  • Developing some of the first LEED certified buildings in the U.S.

 

PAUL ALLEN AND THE BEGINNINGS OF THE GREEN-SPORTS MOVEMENT

Allen’s environmentalism and innovativeness led him and his company, Vulcan, Inc., to take some significant Green-Sports steps during the early days of his ownership of the Trail Blazers and Seahawks.

“When Paul bought the Trail Blazers in 1988, it was clear the team needed a new arena,” recalled Justin Zeulner, who worked for Allen at Vulcan starting in 1999 and served as Executive Director of the Green Sports Alliance from 2014-2018. “It was important to Paul to show fans, sponsors and the media that Portland was a leader in technology, energy efficiency, and innovation. So when planning for what would become the Moda Center began in 1991-92, he directed the team to design a green building before green building was even a thing!”

Allen felt even more passionate about Seattle — he directed a good chunk of his enormous fortune (estimated at $26.1 billion at his passing) towards transforming the city into a cultural hub. So when the new Seahawks (and later Sounders) stadium, now known as CenturyLink Field, opened in 2002, Allen made sure it was a green leader for that time.

The use of recycled concrete and steel — now an expected feature at most new stadium and arenas — is one example of how Allen and Vulcan paved the Green-Sports way with the new venue. Over the next decade, CenturyLink Field upped its green game, with the installation of solar panels at the stadium and on the roof of the neighboring Event Center, as well as recycling and composting, encouraging bike travel to games, and much more.

 

Solar CenturyLink

A solar array, the largest in the state of Washington, tops the roof of the Event Center adjacent to CenturyLink Field, home of the Seattle Seahawks and Seattle Sounders (Photo credit: Seattle Seahawks)

 

AN IMPORTANT BEHIND-THE-SCENES PLAYER AT THE BIRTH OF THE GREEN SPORTS ALLIANCE

During a brief meeting several years after the Moda Center opened, Allen asked then-Trail Blazers President Larry Miller a simple question: “How do we scale the way we greened the Blazers beyond Portland?”

 

Paul Allen Blazers

Paul Allen, left, at a Portland Trail Blazers game with general manager Neil Olshey in 2016 (Photo credit: Craig Mitchelldyer/Associated Press)

 

That, according to Zeulner, was an important spark that ultimately led to the formation of the Green Sports Alliance. “Sometime after that conversation, Miller grabbed me and my colleague Jason Twill and gave us the task of broadening the Greening of Sports,” Zeulner remembered. “Soon after that, Allen Hershkowitz at Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), who was doing great sustainability work with the Philadelphia Eagles and others, joined our efforts. We engaged the Seattle Mariners and Vancouver Canucks in the discussion with the Blazers, Seahawks and Sounders and that group ultimately became the core of the Pacific Northwest Green Sports Alliance, the precursor to the GSA.”

And once Paul Allen provided a spark, those working at Vulcan knew what to do.

“Working under Paul’s leadership, you couldn’t help but feel you were always held to the highest expectations, no matter what you worked on,” reflected Jason Twill, a Senior Project Manager at Vulcan from 2007 to 2013. “This expectation was not only for our organization, but for how we positively impacted humanity as well. His belief in human potential was infectious and inspired us to seek transformation in areas he was most passionate about and where scaled impact could happen; science, technology, music, art and sports. I know that sounds grandiose but you could feel it. It was an incredibly electrifying place to work. We just knew what he expected of us.”

What did that mean in terms of Green-Sports, which was in its embryonic stages in 2007-2008?

“Investing in green building was just something you did because Paul Allen expected it,” said Twill, now the Director of Urban Apostles, a Sydney, Australia-based consulting services business specializing in urban regenerative development. “Paul’s combined passion for sports and the environment led to a group of staff members within Vulcan and the sports teams to initiate the Green Sports Alliance, in partnership with the NRDC. All we tried to do was take Paul’s early Green-Sports leadership and expand upon it.”

Allen who, dating back to his Microsoft days, preferred to stay largely in the background, played a crucial if “silent partner” role in the Alliance’s early days. He provided financial support, organizational development as well as pro bono labor. The latter took the form of lending the time and efforts of Vulcan executives Zeulner, Twill and 15 or so others to the cause. “Paul’s funding, which amounted to hundreds of thousands of dollars, along with the financial support of the NRDC and other founding partners were critical,” asserted Zeulner. “It allowed the Alliance to get off the ground and ensured that the first two annual Summits, in Portland and Seattle, respectively, were successful.”

Twill summed up Allen’s role in the birth of the Alliance this way: “Simply put, Paul’s commitment to world change, his leadership and his organizations were the launching pad that enabled the Green Sports Alliance to come into existence.”

 


 

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