Leading Lights Offer Sports-Climate Change Moonshot Ideas for Earth Day

Happy Earth Day…Happy Earth Week!

The Green-Sports field is so rich and deep that we are offer a full Earth Week’s worth of columns, starting today.

Of course, the field’s richness and depth is directly related to the existential and immediate nature of our climate change problems. 

Per the 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report — as well as other studies — humanity has a dozen years, max, to cut carbon emissions in half in order to avoid the most calamitous effects of climate change. 

And yet to date, sports has largely taken a hands off approach when it comes to climate change, with a handful of exceptions.

People come to games to be entertained and climate change is not an entertaining topic. Teams, leagues and college athletics departments have taken a wide range of substantive green actions but most have been kept in the shadows. Why rock the boat, annoy sponsors and some fans?

It says here, with only a dozen years to dramatically decarbonize, rocking the boat should be the least of sports’ — or any other industry’s — worries.

In fact, many say the world needs to engage in a mobilization on par with World War II or the Apollo “Moon Shots” to attack the climate problems at the required scale and pace.

So now is the time for industry, government, individuals and, yes, sports, to go BIG on climate.

What would going big look like?

In honor of Earth Day, GreenSportsBlog asked luminaries from the Green-Sports world and beyond to offer up their ideas — brainstorm-style — for Sports-Climate Change MOON SHOTS.

The rules were simple: 1) Be brief, 2) There are no bad ideas, 3) Impossible is good, and 4) Go…

BIG!!!

So enjoy, and feel free to share your own MOON SHOT ideas in the comments section below.

 


 

Creating the world’s largest carbon offset project

Neill Duffy Purpose + Sport CEO

Fan travel is the greatest source of emissions in sport.

Imagine if sports fans everywhere could be part of the biggest team in the world fighting climate change, with a mission to create the world’s largest carbon offset project.

 

Neill-Duffy-Chief-Executive-150x150

Neill Duffy (Photo credit: Neill Duffy)

 

We would achieve this by inspiring sports fans to make a commitment to never travel to a game with less than at least three other fans — in whatever form of transportation — and measure the shared miles traveled. The resulting emissions reductions would be monetized by a corporate sponsor(s). The funds generated would be allocated to climate change-related projects, from renewable energy generation to climate change education to climate refugee resettlement and more.

And the best part, is that the technology exists this now.

 


 

NFL Meatless Monday Night Football

Summer Minchew EcoImpact Consulting Managing Partner

I would love to see an NFL “Meatless Monday Night Football” campaign!

Host teams for all Monday night football games would serve only vegetarian or vegan foods at their concessions and encourage fans watching at home to go veggie during the game as well. ESPN, which broadcasts the games on cable, would only serve vegetarian/vegan food to their cast and crew as well as at their Bristol, Connecticut studios. On-air talent would promote the veggie/vegan options heavily, with a contest among the host cities for the best Monday Night Vegetarian/Vegan Fare.

 

summer minchew melissa key

Summer Minchew (Photo credit: Melissa Key)

 

I’ll probably get booed out of the stadium for this idea¹ but the environmental impacts of meat consumption are a real issue. Meat production generates 18 percent of the world’s man-made greenhouse gases, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. And Americans are consuming way too much meat. To be precise, the average consumer ate 222.2 pounds of red meat and poultry in 2018, surpassing a record set in 2004, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. I think we could all stand more Meatless Mondays for our health and for the earth’s.

 


 

Requiring Venues To Reach Minimum Levels of Green Performance

Dale Vince Forest Green Rovers, English League Two²the Greenest Team in Sports Chairman; Ecotricity Founder 

We’ve suggested to the UN and to the English Football League³ (EFL) that ground grading regulations — enough food and restroom facilities, disabled access, etc. — should include environmental measures. Simple things like recycling facilities, no single use plastics, charging facilities for EVs, bicycle parking and meat and dairy free food options. Even use of green energy is simple enough.

Clubs should be required to put these greening initiatives into match day programs and on stadium advertising.

 

Dale Vince

Dale Vince (Photo credit: Forest Green Rovers)

 

Governing bodies could insist on minimum standards like these, and perhaps run league tables/standings that would end up highlighting clubs that go over and above the minimum on the environment— giving a different measure of club performance.

 


 

Build venues that feature “Circular Operations”

Aileen McManamon 5T Sports Group Founder and Managing Partner

The next stadiums or arenas to be built will feature Circular Operations. This means that these buildings will be self-sustaining across four key metrics: zero-waste, carbon-neutral, water-neutral and energy positive.

 

McManamon Headshot Tonino Guzzo

Aileen McManamon (Photo credit: Tonino Guzzo)

 

They will be entirely self-contained, with circular usage systems and net-positive designs (for example, stored energy put back into the grid at downtimes and use as an emergency shelter). Venues that operate circularly will shoulder their responsibility by becoming a ‘Beacon-on-the-Hill’ community asset.

 


 

All sports leagues become One Planet Leagues 

Jason Twill Green Sports Alliance Co-founder; Urban Apostles Director

The Idea: All major pro and college sports leagues adopt ecological foot printing as a measurement tool support their efforts to become One Planet Leagues.

The Background:  Ecological foot printing is considered the ’true north’ of environmental performance and is the only metric that measures how much nature we have and how much nature we use annually. An ecological foot print calculator will determine how many acres of biologically productive land are required to support an organization’s — including players, staff, fans — impact measured against the biological capacity of land available within a given country, region, or city.

 

Jason Twill

Jason Twill (Photo credit: Jennifer Twill)

 

Humans are consuming natural resources each year faster than the planet can replenish those same resources. This is called ecological overshoot. 

In 2018, humanity reached Ecological Overshoot Day on August 1, so every day after this date we were consuming another planets worth of resources.  The U.S. reached ecological overshoot day on March 15. In fact, if everyone in the world lived the lifestyle of an average American, we would need over five planets worth of resources. 

In pro football terms, we are way over the salary cap before training camp begins.  

By adopting strategies and tactics to deploy ecological foot printing, sports organizations would become One Planet Leagues and Teams, proving they are playing and operating within the resources of One Planet. The beauty of this tool is its scalability. Imagine if sports took this on and inspired millions of fans across North America to live One Planet lifestyles! 

 


 

Bring sports attendees’ footprints more in line with non-attendees

Claire Poole Clear Bright Consulting Founder

We know the average attendee of a sports event generates a carbon footprint about seven times greater than somebody going about their every day life; with transport being the largest contributing factor, followed by food and then energy. This doesn’t even consider the infrastructure of stadiums and venues, team travel and so many other factors. We never want to get to a stage where going to see our favorite team becomes untenable because of climate change.

 

Claire Poole II

Claire Poole (Photo credit: Claire Poole)

 

Thus my moon shot idea is for all sports organizations around the world to measure, publicly report and significantly reduce carbon emissions through all aspects of their operations, and reward fans for doing the same.

The platform to do this already exists, with the recently launched UNFCCC Sports for Climate Action Framework. The likes of the World Surf League, FIFA, UEFA, the IOC, the New York Yankees and Formula E have already signed up, clearly moving this moon shot idea into the realm of possibility.

 


 

Appeal to younger fans by making mass transit fun 

Monica Rowand University of Louisiana (Lafayette) Sustainability Coordinator

Imagine a campaign in which fans are encouraged and rewarded for using alternative transit methods to get to the stadium or arena. I’d love to see a team-sponsored game-day transportation system imbued with the vibe of a party bus. This will incentivize the use of public transit, especially among the younger fans teams are concerned about reaching.

And no one will argue with the results: Reductions in 1) the negative environmental impacts that go with travel in single-occupancy-vehicles, 2) traffic and the stress that goes with it.

 

RowandM2

Monica Rowand (Photo credit: Monica Rowand)

 


 

Making Auburn Athletics Carbon Negative

Mike Kensler Auburn University Office of Sustainability Director

The most important sports-climate change moon shot idea I can think of is for Auburn Athletics — and all other athletics departments — to achieve carbon negativity. They would do this by eliminating or sequestering more carbon than they produce, creating a net overall carbon reduction.

 

Mike Kensler in canoe on 5milecreek

Mike Kensler  (Photo credit: Beth Maynor Young)

 

That means using 100 percent renewable energy to power all of Auburn Athletics operations including sports events and venues. Athletics would also offset or onset — making investments in local, campus-focused clean energy, energy efficiency, and carbon sequestration projects — the carbon footprint of departmental travel to help achieve carbon negativity.  A carbon-negative Athletics Department would be a powerful force indeed.

 


 

Create awards for eco-athletes

Randy Salim Citizens’ Climate LobbyBusiness Climate Leaders Steering Committee 

Let’s use the NFL as an example. Have each of the 32 teams nominate an Eco-Athlete of the Year and then pick one to be the league’s winner, a green NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year Award. Bring as many of them as possible to Washington, D.C. to lobby for climate legislation.

 

Randy Salim photo1

Randy Salim (Photo credit: Randy Salim)

 


 

Greenest NFL fan base earns winning team an additional draft pick

Lew Blaustein GreenSportsBlog

The NFL is America’s most popular sport by far. And its brand image is corporate, conservative and establishment. If the NFL goes big on climate, that will have incredible ripple effects to all sports and beyond. So that’s why my first call with a MOON SHOT idea is to commissioner Roger Goodell.

I tell the commish to “imagine that the league administers a contest among its 32 teams that asks attendees to take positive green actions — recycling, composting, using mass transit to games, and purchasing plant-based food at concession stands to name a few.”

 

LewBiz27

Yours truly (Photo credit: Lewis Blaustein)

 

Taking into account stadium capacity and other issues to make sure there’s a level playing field, the league will award the team with the greenest fan base an additional pick in the third round of the next NFL Draft.

The idea is that positive environmental behavior by fans can help their favorite team. I gotta believe that fans — even those who don’t think climate change is real or don’t think about it at all — will “take one for the team” by engaging in positive environmental behaviors!

 


 

And finally, given sports organizations’ maniacal pursuit of Millennial and Gen-Z fans, it’s fitting that we close with not one but EIGHT MOON SHOT IDEAS from a young, future Green-Sports practitioner who will be living with the effects of climate change…

 

What If?

Ivonne Zuniga Jiminez Savannah College of Art and Design Candidate for Masters Degree in Design for Sustainability; Architect Costa Rica

What if a fan could get season tickets after recycling a certain amount of plastic?

What if instead of buying a new jersey, your favorite team would repair your old one?

What if teams allocate space in tailgate areas for local, organic and plant-based food vendors?

 

Ivonne Zuniga Jimenez

Ivonne Zuniga Jimenez (Photo credit: Purvisha Peshwe)

 

What if, by reducing the waste in the stadium, the home team lets fans know they are saving the team money in hauling and landfill costs and that saved money will be invested in (hopefully) better players?

What if being sustainable becomes part of the score of the game? As in when announcing the final score, a broadcaster also mentions how much carbon was saved by the home team’s green actions.

What if, to be drafted or signed by a team, players have to commit to engaging with a climate change-fighting nonprofit?

What if big leagues such as NFL, NBA, UEFA required sustainable certifications (i.e. LEED, BREEAM) for every venue?

What if recruiting fans to embrace sustainable behavior becomes as important as recruiting players?

Or…

What if we keep doing things in the same way?

We sports fans have the power to make a big difference in the climate change fight but we have to act now!

Sports, a powerful universal language which connects billions of people around the world, has been a powerful channel over many decades for the fights against racism, war, terrorism, gender inequality and more. What is stopping us right now from using it to make a positive impact on climate change, at scale?

Either we take action now or we continue to ignore the climate problem until some “then” in the future, but…

What if then is too late?

The world, including the sports world, can’t let that happen!

 

¹ No you won’t!
² League Two = The fourth tier of English football/soccer
³ English Football League is the governing body for the top four tiers of professional soccer/football: 1. Premier League, 2. Championship, 3. League One, 4. League Two
* Citizens’ Climate Lobby works to build the political will necessary for passage of federal revenue neutral carbon pricing legislation that returns the revenue generated to all US households in the form of a monthly dividend.

 


 

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Men’s and Women’s Final Four From a Green-Sports Perspective

After the greatest weekend of Elite Eight games ever — all four went down to the wire, with two going to overtime — the Men’s Final Four is now set. This Saturday evening in Minneapolis, Auburn takes on the University of Virginia and then Texas Tech and Michigan State will go at it.

While the ESPN’s and SI.com’s of the world will analyze the on-court matchups in detail throughout the week, GreenSportsBlog digs into each school from a Green-Sports point of view.

And, we also take a look at Green-Sports goings on at Oregon, Baylor, Notre Dame and UConn — the participants in the Women’s Final Four in Tampa.

 

AUBURN TIGERS

Charles Barkley, the greatest basketball player in Auburn history, was overcome by emotion after his alma mater’s thrilling 77-71 overtime victory over favored Kentucky sent the school to its first Final Four. He wiped back tears in the game’s immediate aftermath, calling the win “the greatest day in Auburn basketball history” on the CBS Sports postgame show.

 

 

The Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame member would likely need to have tissues at the ready if he were to read our January story about Auburn’s growing Green-Sports résumé. In “Auburn Athletics: Green-Sports Grows in the SEC,” Barkley would learn that, per Mike Kensler, Auburn’s Director of the Office of Sustainability:

  • An energy efficiency campaign is underway at Auburn Arena, home of Tigers men’s and women’s basketball and women’s gymnastics.
  • The football team hosts an annual Green Game at 87,000 seat Jordan-Hare Stadium that features student “Trash Talkers” roaming the tailgate areas, urging fans to recycle, a video on Auburn’s greening programs that runs in-game on the video board, and a Green-Sports focused column in the game program.
  • Energy-efficient LED lighting illuminates Plainsman Park, Auburn’s baseball stadium.
  • Auburn football players, coaches, and others traveled to the Dominican Republic in May 2017 where they built and distributed water filters and solar light packets to those in need.
  • Helen Ulrich, a sophomore journalism major on the women’s equestrian team, earned her eco-athlete stripes by writing a story on the anti-plastic straw movement.

 

auburn football 2017

Auburn football players Dontavius Russell and Daniel Carlson drain and assemble the filters before they are inserted into the buckets in the Dominican Republic in 2017 (Photo credit: Auburn University)

 

And while there’s no way of knowing if the Tigers (also, for some reason, known by the “War EAGLE” battle cry) will qualify for the 2020 Men’s Final Four at in Atlanta, there will definitely be an Auburn flavor to the event from a green point of view. Per this 2018 GreenSportsBlog interview, Carlie Bullock-Jones, CEO of sustainability consulting firm Ecoworks Studio, and an Auburn grad (“War Damn EAGLE!”), played an important role in helping Mercedes-Benz Stadium achieve Platinum status.

 

UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA CAVALIERS

If you are a UVA fan, you still probably can’t get enough of seeing THIS:

 

 

It took that miraculous last millisecond bucket by Mamadi Diakite for Virginia, off of that amazing whip pass from Kihei Clark, to send its Midwest Region final against the gutty Purdue Boilermakers into overtime. The top seeded Cavaliers then took care of business in the extra frame, winning the “Game of the Tournament” (so far) 80-75, earning the school its first Final Four berth since 1984.

Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia Class of ’16, only made it as far as the Sweet Sixteen during his four seasons in Charlottesville. But the Milwaukee Bucks guard is making UVA alums proud through his Hoops₂O initiative. Brogdon and four other NBA players¹ are working to raise funds and awareness for clean water initiatives in East Africa. Fans donate to the program in the name of one of the players, with the players matching those contributions dollar-for-dollar. So far, Hoops₂O has raised $164,000 towards its Year One goal of $225,000. Click here to contribute.

 

Brogdon 2

Malcolm Brogdon, founder of Hoops₂o at a Waterboys well site in East Africa (Photo credit: Clay Cook Photography)

 

Brogdon was inspired by Waterboysthe program midwifed by former Virginia football star Chris Long. The two-time Super Bowl champ and 2018 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award winner, along with support from more than 20 current and retired NFL players, funds the digging of wells in the area and teaches the locals how to operate and maintain them.

 

Chris Long was the keynote speaker at the University of Virginia’s 2018 Commencement ceremony (Photo credit: Sanjay Suchak, University Communications)

 

Since its inception in 2013, Waterboys, now officially connected to Hoops₂O, has raised more $2.6 million to fund 55 wells that will provide water to over 205,000 people.

 

TEXAS TECH RED RAIDERS

Run a Google search on “Texas Tech University Athletics Sustainability” or something similar and you get several links to articles about…the University of Texas. This is to say that, so far, Red Raiders’ Athletics has not yet embraced Green-Sports.

Yet the university is a leader when it comes to climate change communications despite being located in the politically and religiously conservative West Texas city of Lubbock.

That is thanks largely to climate scientist Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, Director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech and arguably the world’s most powerful climate change communicator. In fact, Time Magazine named her to its “100 Most Influential People in the World” list in 2014.

 

hayhoe-credit-artielimmer-texastechuniversity

Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, Director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University. (Photo credit: Artie Limmer, Texas Tech University)

 

Dr. Hayhoe spoke with us in 2016 for GreenSportsBlog’s “Green Leaders Talk Green Sports” series. Here’s an excerpt that focuses on how sports can play an important role in the climate change fight (click here to read the entire interview):

GSB: You emphasize the community-religious-economy boosting nature of climate change solutions in your must-watch web series, Global Weirding. That makes total sense.

Katharine: Science is the foundation but what connects with people, what binds them together — shared values — turns out to be bigger than the science! And the pathways in our brains that are used to solve issues respond more to the shared values approach than the scientific. And community and shared values, that’s what sports is all about. Sports is part of our collective shared identity. It builds community. And this goes back millennia to Roman times and chariot races.

GSB: So how do you think sports can play an important role in building awareness and action among fans? Many times, when I ask why more athletes don’t get involved, I hear that “climate change is too complex!” But if what you’re saying is right — and I think it is — athletes don’t need to worry so much about the science. They need to emphasize the importance of the solutions to the communities where they play!

KH: Exactly. Now some sports are effected more directly and more in the present than others. Hey, I’m Canadian, so I get that hockey and other snow sports are deeply concerned about the effects of climate change on their sports in the here and now. That’s why it’s great that Protect Our Winters and the National Hockey League are leading the climate change fight. Hey, we’re a skiing family so we see a shorter ski season. I’m also a sailor and so the effects of increased ocean acidification are powerful as they are obvious…But athletes in sports that don’t have as direct a link as those we mentioned can certainly get involved. Look, I often talk about the Six America’s of Global Warming. Basically, Americans fall into six groups as it relates to global warming/climate change: From most engaged to least, it goes like this:

  1. Alarmed
  2. Concerned
  3. Cautious
  4. Dis-engaged
  5. Doubtful
  6. Dismissive

I think for now at least, we’ll leave the Dismissives — they’ll be very hard to move. But I’ve found the way to communicate with the Cautious, Dis-engaged and Doubtfuls is to emphasize shared values and concerns, and then you can move them. Sports is as powerful, as passionate a platform as there is to move masses of people.

Amen, Dr. Hayhoe. AMEN!

 

MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS

Michigan State can lay claim to being the greenest school in this year’s Final Four on at least one metric: It is the only one of the four to have green as one of its school colors.

In addition, its Sustainability Office:

  • Manages the Be Spartan Green team of student volunteers. They monitor waste stations at Men’s and Women’s Basketball, Football and Hockey games to help divert recyclable items from going to the landfill, as well as informing attendees about recycling options.
  • Published a Green Your Tailgate page on its website

The East Lansing-based school, now just two wins shy of its third national championship, also boasts a faculty member whose research has centered on sustainability issues surrounding mega-events like Olympics, World Cup and, yes, Final Fours.

GreenSportsBlog interviewed Dr. Eva Kassens-Noor, Associate Professor in Michigan State’s Global Urban Studies Program, in 2015. In this excerpt, we discuss the sustainability legacies of the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Summer Olympics.

 

Eva Kassens-Noor

Dr. Eva Kassens-Noor of Michigan State University (Photo credit: Dr. Eva Kassens-Noor)

 

GSB: How did sustainability figure into London 2012?

Eva: Legacy and sustainability were central tenets of the London 2012 bid. The facilities that were built for the Games, for the most part, have found significant post Games use, often for the general public. The Olympic Stadium will become the home of West Ham United Football Club of the Premier League starting next season.

GSB: Now let’s look to Rio 2016. Plenty of media outlets have tackled the environmental problems related to the polluted waters of the sailing and rowing venues. But what about its legacy?

Eva: I’ve been very critical of Rio in terms of legacy…

GSB: Why? We wrote about the additional Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) lines in Rio that are Olympics-related (links here and here). That should be a carbon footprint reducer, no?

EKN: You would think so but the Olympic Village and the BRT plowed through many Favelas, removing hundreds of families and businesses. The route of the BRT is also problematic — one of the routes goes from the airport to a wealthy area without going through downtown. Very ineffective.

BRT will play a significant role in transporting fans to and from this weekend’s Final Four in Minneapolis. GreenSportsBlog is heading to the Twin Cities and will report on what, arguably, is the greenest stadium and arena inventory of any metropolitan area in North America.

As far as the basketball is concerned, I picked Michigan State to beat Virginia in the championship game before the tournament began and so will stick with that².

 

WHAT ABOUT THE WOMEN’S FINAL FOUR?

Friday night’s semifinal matchups for the 2019 Women’s Final Four in Tampa feature two-time national champion Baylor vs. Oregon, seeking its first title. The nightcap is a battle of true women’s hoops heavyweights:  Defending champion Notre Dame vs. 11-time winner UConn.

From a Green-Sports perspective, the University of Oregon looks to be the favorite, but all four schools have a story to tell.

The Eugene-based university is a member of the Green Sports Alliance, as is the PAC-12 Conference. It participates in the league’s Zero-Waste Challenge, a series of waste-reduction competitions that engage fans in sustainability, develop best practices, and provide an outlet for friendly environmental competitions. And Sabrina Ionescu, the Ducks’ All America guard, took part in a PAC-12 Team Green promotional 15 second video.

 

Sabrina Ionescu

Sabrina Ionescu, University of Oregon’s 1st team All American guard (Photo credit: Sabrina Ionescu)

 

Baylor University, located in Waco, Texas, has been recycling since 2015, at McLane Stadium, the 45,100-seat home of Bears football.

Notre Dame’s Green-Sports initiatives are mainly focused on waste generated at Notre Dame Stadium, the 80,795-seat cathedral of Fighting Irish football. The Go Irish. Be Green. program features teams of volunteer students circulating through the tailgate lots, distributing blue recycle bags to fans and answering questions about single stream recycling. And they also produced this sustainability-themed video for the 2018 season.

 

 

The big question is where has this video been shown: In stadium? On Notre Dame football broadcasts? To date it has received only 64 views on YouTube.

UConn, through its EcoHusky student group, has hosted women’s and men’s Basketball Green Game Days at Gampel Pavilion over the past several years. Starting in 2017, the university’s Office of Environmental Policy purchased carbon offsets to be able to make the claim that the games were carbon-free. P.A. announcements, video board mentions, and social media posts during the events promoted the greening initiative to fans.

 

¹ In addition to Brogdon, the Hoops₂O team includes Justin Anderson (Atlanta Hawks), Joe Harris (Brooklyn Nets), Garrett Temple (Memphis Grizzlies) and Anthony Tolliver (Minnesota Timberwolves)
² In case you think I’m some sort of March Madness savant, think again. This is the first year in at least a decade in which my brackets weren’t busted by the Sweet 16.

 


 

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Auburn Athletics: Green-Sports Grows In the SEC

The Southeastern Conference (SEC)¹ has been the king of college football for more than a decade. Member schools Alabama, Auburn and Florida have combined to win seven national championships over the past decade. That reputation took a bit of a hit Monday night when Clemson of the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) throttled Alabama, 44-16.

On the Green-Sports front, the SEC has gotten a bit of a late start, but maybe that is starting to change.

GreenSportsBlog took a look at the Green-Sports shoots that are beginning to sprout at Auburn University’s Athletics Department.  

 

It took a Michigan Man to champion sustainability in partnership with Auburn University Athletics.

Mike Kensler, Auburn’s Director of the Office of Sustainability, grew up on the streams and rivers of the Great Lake State, developing a lifelong appreciation of the outdoors.

Education and life experiences helped Mike appreciate the importance of economic, social, and individual wellbeing aspects of sustainability. He earned Bachelors and Masters degrees at the University of Michigan, the latter a sustainability-focused program in the School of Natural Resources.

After stints at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and National Wildlife Foundation, Kensler joined Auburn University— located 110 miles southeast of Birmingham on the plains of eastern Alabama — in 2008, where he worked on water policy and water education issues for three years. He became sustainability director in 2011.

 

Mike Kensler in canoe on 5milecreek

Mike Kensler, canoeing on Five Mile Creek in Alabama (Photo credit: Beth Maynor Young)

 

He arrived at a school where sustainability already enjoyed a high profile.

“A number of sustainability initiatives were already underway, including a minor in sustainability studies. The university President had committed Auburn to be carbon neutral by 2050 as a result of strong student support,” Kensler recalled. “The sustainability office reports to the President’s Chief of Staff,  which signals the importance of sustainability to Auburn University.”

Since then, Auburn has moved forward on a number of green fronts.

“Probably the biggest thing was Auburn’s commitment, in 2016, to only build LEED certified structures, at a minimum silver level,” recounted Kensler. “That was huge.” Another example is Tiger Dining, the school’s food service and a font of sustainable innovation.

Per Kensler, Tiger Dining’s Auburn Foods program “provides food grown by the Auburn family for the Auburn family, including an innovative aquaponics initiative in partnership with the School of Fisheries.” Responsible sourcing, waste minimization — including a ban on polystyrene, more sustainable transportation management and energy efficiency are hallmarks of Tiger Dining’s approach to sustainable management.

 

ATHLETICS JOINS AUBURN’S GREENING PARTY

Soon after Kensler joined the Auburn staff, he found an athletics department already on the sustainability train, and eager to do more.

“Jeff Steele, the Associate Athletics Director for Facilities, was dedicated to efficient operations, green cleaning, and improving recycling at our stadiums and arenas from the get-go,” Kensler recalled. “Auburn joined the Green Sports Alliance under the leadership of then-athletics director Jay Jacobs. He passed the sustainability baton to current AD Allan Greene, who is fully on board.”

The highlight of athletics’ greening initiatives, not surprisingly, takes place at 87,000-seat Jordan-Hare Stadium, home of Auburn Tigers football (Auburn fans also use “War Eagle!” as a battle cry and as a way to greet each other).

 

jordan hare

Auburn’s eagle flies into a full house at Jordan-Hare Stadium (Photo credit: auburn.edu)

 

The annual Green Game features student “Trash Talkers” roaming the tailgate areas, urging fans to recycle, a video on Auburn’s greening programs that runs in-game on the video board, and a Green-Sports focused column from Mike Kensler in the game program.

Beyond the Green Game, athletics’ sustainability initiatives, both current and those on the drawing board, include:

  • An energy efficiency campaign is underway at Auburn Arena, home of Tigers men’s and women’s basketball and women’s gymnastics. The Athletics Department reported $114,000 in annual savings and 1,800 metric tonnes of CO₂ equivalent in carbon savings in 2014 as a result of a variety of efficiency upgrades.
  • Water refilling stations at Jordan-Hare Stadium. “Fans can fill up their empty water bottles,” Kensler noted. “Which is a big deal because it gets really hot there, especially at September and October games.”
  • The installation of LED lighting at Plainsman Park, Auburn’s baseball stadium. Jordan-Hare (2019), the track stadium (2020), and Auburn Arena (2021) are next up.

Recycling at football had been going on since before Kensler arrived, with rates slowly improving (per Kensler, “we’re not near zero-waste…yet”). Composting — essential to getting to zero-waste — has been a challenge, one Auburn’s sustainability director is confident will be surmounted.

“We’ve talked about it for years,” acknowledged Kensler. “Students, faculty, and staff are all interested and Tiger Dining is committed to seeing composting happen. Recently we learned of an option that looks very promising. There are several hurdles to jump, but I’m telling you, COMPOSTING WILL HAPPEN and within the foreseeable future.”

 

AUBURN ATHLETES GO GREEN

Sustainability, already popular with the Auburn student body at large, is now finding advocates among student-athletes.

  • In May 2017, Auburn football players, coaches, and others traveled to the Dominican Republic where they built and distributed water filters and solar light packets to those in need.

 

auburn football 2017

Auburn football players Dontavius Russell and Daniel Carlson drain and assemble the filters before they are inserted into the buckets in the Dominican Republic in 2017 (Photo credit: auburn.edu)

 

  • Track athlete and current Peace Corps volunteer Kensley Defler, who graduated in 2018, was a 2-year intern with the sustainability office. .
  • Helen Ulrich, a sophomore journalism major on the women’s equestrian team^, earned her eco-athlete stripes by writing a story on the anti-plastic straw movement.

“I’m a huge animal lover,” enthused Ulrich. “So when I read a story about a turtle with a straw in its nose, I got angry. Then, when I visited cousins in California, I saw that some restaurants were going strawless. So I got curious. Then I noticed Starbucks was planning to get rid of its straws, I became even more interested. I noticed that our Wellness Kitchen had gone strawless. At first there was a lot anger — that’s because no one explained it. Once they put signage up that communicated that the new policy was enacted to help the environment, the anger vanished pretty much overnight. The equestrian team rallied around the policy immediately — hey, we’re animal lovers! The football players took a little while but they’re coming around.”

 

helen ulrich headshot

Helen Ulrich (Photo credit: Auburn University Athletics)

 

The Mooresville, NC native sees the strawless campaign as a green starting point for athletes and the student body more broadly: “Getting rid of straws can lead us to take on bigger environmental issues,” Ulrich said. “I can see plastic bags being a natural next step and then we can go bigger.”

 

helen ulrich auburn vs. ole miss ritz. mackenzie michaels

Helen Ulrich, aboard Ritz, competes for Auburn vs. Ole Miss (Photo credit: Mackenzie Michaels)

 

AUBURN FANS WOULD LIKELY REACT POSITIVELY TO CLIMATE CHANGE MESSAGING

According to a fascinating, county-by-county study on attitudes about global warming# conducted by the Yale Center on Climate Communication in August, residents of Lee County, Alabama — where Auburn is located — should be open to climate messaging from their beloved Tigers.

Yes, it is true that Lee County residents scored lower than the U.S. average on all 29 questions about global warming#. But those differences were, for the most part, small — or at least smaller than I thought they would be. And, on most questions, more than half of residents had positive attitudes about the existence of global warming and on the need for climate action:

  • 68 percent of Lee County residents think global warming is happening, only 2 percentage points below the U.S. average
  • 55 percent are worried about global warming, 6 points below the U.S. average
  • 83 percent believe the government should fund research into renewable energy sources, 2 points below the U.S. average
  • 63 percent say fossil fuel companies should be required to pay a carbon tax, 5 points below the U.S. average

So far, climate change has not been included in the messaging at Jordan-Hare Stadium during the annual Green Game. But, the attitudes of Lee County residents show that talking climate to fans should not be a major risk for the Auburn Athletics Department.

 

IT’S TIME FOR A GREEN “IRON BOWL”

For those GreenSportsBlog readers who don’t follow college sports, the Iron Bowl — the annual football game between Auburn and Alabama — is like the Yankees—Red Sox rivalry, times about 1,000. Watch “Roll Tide/War Eagle,” ESPN’s documentary on the in-state rivalry between the schools that are separated by 157 miles, and you’ll get the gist.

 

 

So how about channeling some of the intense energy generated by Alabama-Auburn towards a positive end — via a Green Iron Bowl? The 2019 edition will be played at Jordan-Hare on November 30 so there is time to make it happen.

“Auburn University has a Sustainability Policy which states, in part, that sustainability is a core institutional value to be integrated in to all aspects of the University,” Kensler said. “It is important and gratifying that Auburn Athletics, so much the public face of the University, is making tangible and visible progress toward sustainability – doing its part and setting an example for the Auburn family. Adding Green to an always Orange and Blue Iron Bowl would certainly be noticed! War Eagle!”

 

GSB’s Take: Auburn Athletics has demonstrated they are walking-the-green-walk. Now it’s time for the Athletics Department needs to push the Green-Sports envelope further by talking-the-green-talk directly with its fans, including on climate change. It says here that Tigers’ fan reactions will be more positive than expected — if not quite as positive as their reactions to Clemson 44 Alabama 16.

 

¹ The 14 SEC member schools are Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi, Mississippi State, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt
* Auburn’s sports teams are known as both the Tigers and War Eagles
^ Auburn is one of the few Division I schools in the U.S. to have an equestrian program — others include SEC rivals Georiga, South Carolina, and Texas A&M as well as Baylor.
# The Yale Center on Climate Communications study used “global warming” in its questions rather than “climate change”

 


 

 

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