The GSB Interview: Ex-MLBer Chris Dickerson Leads Players for the Planet

Chris Dickerson played major league baseball for five teams in a seven-year career. As impressive as that is — heck, only 18,856 people have played in “The Bigs” since the National League was founded in 1876 — GreenSportsBlog is more interested in Dickerson’s role as a leading Eco-Athlete and his efforts to recruit others to join the climate change fight through Players for the Planet.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Chris, I was so glad find out about you — as an Eco-Athlete and founder of Players for the Planet! When did you become interested in the environment and climate change?

Chris Dickerson: I was the athlete of the family — I played everything; baseball, football, basketball. I noticed some kids my age couldn’t play sports because of asthma. Everyone I grew up with up in Southern California was aware of elements of significant environmental misfortune in the area, from air pollution due to the area’s heavy reliance on cars to water quality to plastic waste on the beaches. And my dad is an avid recycler. I remember he built color-coded bins made of PVC pipe and showed us which bins to toss which materials into. This was before the state required recycling so my dad was an early adapter! So I noticed the environmental irresponsibility of Southern California from a young age but it wasn’t until after college that I really got into it.

 

Chris Dickerson Yankees

Chris Dickerson, in the dugout after hitting a home run for the New York Yankees in 2012… (Photo credit: Getty Images/Hannah Foslien)

 

Chris Dickerson

…And here’s Dickerson in his role as co-founder of Players for the Planet (Photo credit: Players for the Planet)

 

GSB: What prompted the change?

CD: In 2007, I was just starting out in pro ball after my college career at USC and Nevada Reno. Seeing Al Gore’s documentary film, “An Inconvenient Truth,” really was a wake up call and prompted my passion for environmental stewardship. So I started to research climate change. I devoured the 2008 Time Magazine “Green Issue,” read New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman’s pieces on climate change…

GSB: …Really?! Friedman’s writings on climate, from scientific and geopolitical points of view, that inspired me to work on climate change!!

CD: Amazing! His book on climate change, “Hot, Flat & Crowded” was an important influence for me. All of this became building blocks for Players for the Planet.

GSB: How did Players for the Planet come to be?

CD: Back around 2007-2008, I saw two ads that really had an impact on me. One was for Brita — it showed that a plastic water bottle takes 1,000 years to decompose in a landfill. The other was for a refillable water bottle from Sigg, a Swiss company. In 2008, I had been called up to the Cincinnati Reds. We, like every other sports team, used an incredible number of plastic water bottles. So I had Sigg send 50 bottles to the clubhouse…

 

Players for the Planet

 

GSB: How did your teammates react?

CD: I’d say the initial reaction was that it all was a bit silly — they certainly didn’t dive right in. But, after awhile, the guys saw that using the Sigg bottles was more convenient than getting a new plastic bottle several times a day. Convenience became my main selling point, rather than the environment. And so they eventually switched and we were able to cut down on our plastic water bottle waste by 50 percent. An article was written on the Sigg bottles, the Reds and me that caught a lot of people’s attention. ESPN and MLB.com got in on it and then the fans in Cincinnati caught on — there were banners of me and the recycling symbol. Once I saw that kind of response, I felt I needed to step up to the plate and use the platform I had to something positive, something big on the environment and climate.

GSB: What did you do next?

CD: I reached to other baseball players I knew, along with athletes from other sports. Jack Cassel, who was pitching for the Houston Astros at the time, was from Southern California. He really “got it”…

GSB: …Is Jack related to Matt Cassel, the former Patriots backup quarterback who now serves the same role for the Tennessee Titans?

CD: They’re brothers. I knew Matt from USC and he joined us as well, as did a third Cassel brother — Justin. I also engaged two of the biggest stars in baseball stars of this era: Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers and Chase Utley of the Philadelphia Phillies. So that was the beginning of Players for the Planet.

GSB: What did you have those guys do? And what were some of Players for the Planet’s early activities?

CD: Those athletes and more shared my vision, lent their names and offered quotes and other types of support. Our first event was at the 2009 Super Bowl in Tampa…

GSB: Super Bowl XLIII? The one in which the Steelers beat the Cardinals on the Roethlisberger-to-Santonio Holmes last minute TD pass?

CD: That’s the one! So we gave out gift bags made of recycled plastic bottles at the Super Bowl party hosted by Michael Strahan.

GSB: Very high profile…

CD: That was our goal. Back in Cincinnati in 2009, we formed an alliance with the Reds to kick off an E-Waste recycling event. Fans from around the city were invited to drop off their electronic devices that were collecting dust in their garages and attics. The E-Waste would then be handled and recycled in safe fashion. Some of my teammates and would come out to the participating Kroger supermarkets in the area. These became very popular. We would load up DVRs, TVs, stereos, computers, tablets, and cell phones.

 

Chris Dickerson e-waste

Chris Dickerson helps out at a Players for the Planet e-waste recycling drive during his days with the Cincinnati Reds (Photo credit: Chris Dickerson)

 

GSB: How much stuff did you collect and e-recycle?

CD: About 235,000 lbs. worth! It was one of the largest E-waste drives ever done in the area. This continued for seven seasons, even after I left the Reds in 2010 when I was traded to the Brewers. Jay Bruce and Ryan Hannigan took the baton and did great jobs.

GSB: Were you able to build Players for the Planet in Milwaukee?

CD: It wasn’t easy to focus on it because I was only in Milwaukee for part of the 2010 season. Then I went to the Yankees in 2011 and the Baltimore Orioles in 2013. So I was moving around a lot, trying to advance my career on the field, which made it somewhat challenging to build Players for the Planet at that time. That being said, there were some successes. In 2012, we worked with the MLB Players Association to have a Green Carpet at the All-Star Game in Kansas City to highlight the work we and the clubs were doing on recycling. The Royals used that game to feature biodegradable silverware. We also collected empty plastic bottles and cans at the 2013 All-Star Game at Citi Field in New York. On another front, a bunch of the Southern California guys in Players for the Planet organized a beach cleanup in Marina del Rey. They got on paddleboards and picked up all sorts of crap, from tires to traffic cones.

GSB: We’ve covered the ocean waste issue quite a bit in GreenSportsBlog — it’s serious and it’s pathetic. How have you kept Players for the Planet going since you last played in the big leagues in 2014?

CD: It’s been a challenge to keep it going, to build on it, and to find new “keepers of the flame,” that’s for sure. Guys I came in with and who joined me in this effort are retired or will retire soon. So we’ve had to pivot in some ways. We’ve teamed up with OneVillage, a nonprofit that promotes sustainable global development through individual community empowerment in underdeveloped countries. And I’m in the process of building a corporate responsibility sports agency with my business partner, Brian Ingram a former minor league baseball player out of Oregon State. One of our main goals, not surprisingly, is to find athletes concerned with climate. OneVillage is working with us to help find corporations to support this initiative. On another front, we’re working with Nelson Cruz of the Seattle Mariners to get Watly solar powered water de-salinization and filtration systems to the Dominican Republic and other places in the developing world…

GSB: WOW! The Watly sounds incredible and like it can be a real game changer!

CD: It really can be. Access to clean, drinkable water is a real crisis, of course. Watly’s also can provide WiFi and electric power.

GSB: I had no idea.

CD: Amazing, right? Brian went to Italy to see the first demonstration of the Watly and said it was “incredible!” On the same trip, Brian also went to Belgium, where he investigated a potentially groundbreaking urban farming project in which the produce would be dropped by drone into places like Syria and East Africa. We see an application for this approach in the urban food deserts of the U.S. as we don’t have the luxury of growing outwards — we have to look at growing vertically. Also in the U.S., we also are looking to build a fully sustainable little league baseball field.

GSB: What would that look like?

CD: Among other things it will be powered 100 percent by solar, only refillable bottles will be used, and the turf will be organic.

GSB: That is an ambitious agenda, to be sure. Back to your playing days, when you would talk about climate change in the locker room, how did your teammates react? Were there deniers among them?

CD: Oh yeah, definitely. It was a problem — I’d say climate change denial was at a significant level. I found that they really weren’t open to learning. Some guys accepted that there were environmental problems but didn’t connect them to climate change. Truthfully, most just didn’t care one way or the other…

GSB: …That tracks with the U.S. public’s attitude on climate — one of general indifference — although I was heartened by a December poll that showed environment/climate change now ranks as the 4th most important issue; let’s see if that sticks…

CD: …I hope so. But back in the early 2010s, it was hard to turn the naysayers among my teammates into believers about climate change when they would see that teams talk about how green they are but don’t engage the fans in meaningful ways…

GSB: …With notable exceptions in places like Seattle — with the Mariners, Seahawks and Sounders engaging fans in environmental actions — as well as the University of Colorado in Boulder.

CD: Of course; those are great exceptions — we need those kind of programs to quickly become the rule. Also my clubhouse managers would see that haulers taking the recycling from the clubhouse weren’t doing the job properly, primarily just taking the recycling and throwing it in with the regular trash.

GSB: That needs to be brought to light. Now even though you’ve been out of the bigs for a few years now, are you hearing from your friends who are still playing that attitudes are starting to change?

CD: I would love to say yes but the best I can say is that attitudes are probably still the same.

 

 


 

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GSB News and Notes: New Winner of MLB’s Green Glove Award; Former UN Climate Chief Christiana Figueres To Co-Lead Formula E’s Advisory Board; Pollution Stops Play at Delhi Cricket Match

The highs and lows of Green-Sports are reflected in today’s GSB News & Notes: On the high side, MLB’s “Green Glove” award goes to the Seattle Mariners for the first time. And Formula E’s stature on the global sports stage continues to grow as it appoints former UN Climate Chief Christiana Figueres to co-lead its Global Advisory Board. As for a down note, a major cricket match in Delhi between Sri Lanka and India was repeatedly interrupted due to excessive air pollution. 

 

SEATTLE MARINERS WIN “GREEN GLOVE” AWARD, ENDING SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS’ NINE YEAR REIGN AS MLB CLUB WITH HIGHEST WASTE DIVERSION RATE

The Seattle Mariners, a founding member of the Green Sports Alliance, were recently awarded Major League Baseball’s (MLB’s) “Green Glove Award” in recognition of their sustainability efforts at Safeco Field this season, ending the nine year reign of the San Francisco Giants.

 

Safeco Field Ballparks of Baseball

Safeco Field, home of the Seattle Mariners, winners of MLB’s Green Glove Award for 2017 (Photo credit: Ballparks of Baseball)

 

According to a November 28 story on MLB.com by Greg Johns, the Mariners were recognized as the MLB club with the highest rate of waste diversion from landfill:

The M’s, who replaced concourse garbage cans with compost and recycling bins, diverted 96 percent of waste materials from the ballpark in 2017, up from 90 percent a year ago.

And the Mariners sustainability efforts go much deeper than waste diversion. The club:

  • Was the first in MLB to use energy-efficient LED lights.
  • Hired cleaning crews to separate plastics and compostable waste by hand after each game
  • Manages an urban garden which provides vegetables, herbs and radishes to concession stands and restaurants at the ballpark.
  • Work with Eco-Products to utilize compostable serviceware like soft drink, beer and coffee cups, plates, lids, and cutlery at Safeco Field
  • Participated, along with the Seahawks, Sounders and more than 100 other Seattle-based businesses, in the “Strawless in Seattle” September effort. This innovative program, developed by the Lonely Whale Foundation, worked to reduce the use of plastic straws in the fight against ocean pollution.

 

“We are thrilled to present the Seattle Mariners with the 2017 Green Glove Award,” said Paul Hanlon, senior director of ballpark operations and sustainability for Major League Baseball, in a statement. “With its 96 percent conversion rate at the top of the list, the club has done a tremendous job of promoting and instilling sustainability practices and initiatives that will positively impact our environment.”

“We have worked hard over the years to make Safeco Field one of the ‘greenest’ ballparks in pro sports,” said Mariners senior vice president of ballpark operations Trevor Gooby, in a statement. “With our hospitality partner Centerplate, and our founding sustainability partner BASF, we have been able to significantly reduce our impact on the environment.”

 

CHRISTIANA FIGUERES, FORMER UN CLIMATE CHIEF, TO LEAD FORMULA E GLOBAL ADVISORY BOARD

Sam Bird of Great Britain, driving for the DS Virgin team, won the opening race of the 2017-2018 Formula E season in Hong Kong 10 days ago.

Off the race track, the increasingly popular open wheel electric vehicle (EV) street racing circuit added serious climate change chops to its Global Advisory Board when in named former UN climate chief Christiana Figueres as co-leader. She will be joined by Alain Prost, the retired 4-time Formula One world champion from France.

 

Christiana Figueres GreenBiz

Christiana Figueres, new co-leader of Formula E (Photo credit: United Nations)

 

The Formula E Global Advisory Board plays an important role in the growth of the circuit, and more broadly, EV racing and adoption. Per a November 28 article in CleanTechnica by James Ayre, the board advises relevant parties on topics relating to “sustainability, the media, and business.”

Reuters reports that Figueres and Prost will lead a board made up of motor sports and business all-stars, including “Formula E founder Alejandro Agag, chairman of Chinese telecommunications leader SINA Charles Chao, Jaguar Land Rover’s chief marketing officer Gerd Mauser, and former McLaren Formula 1 team boss Martin Whitmarsh. Brazil’s reigning Formula E champion Lucas di Grassi and Swiss private bank Julius Baer’s head of global sponsor[ship] Marco Parroni are also on the board.”

 

I cannot think of a stronger, more important voice to help lead Formula E from post start up to maturity than Christiana Figueres.

A longtime Costa Rican diplomat, Figueres served as executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). She is most well known for her work helping to push 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, signed by nearly 200 countries, across the finish line. She has been a strong, consistent voice behind the global need to rapidly move away from the use of fossil fuels and towards the widespread adoption of EVs and other types of electric-powered mobility. This is, of course, Formula E’s raison d’être.

“In order to meet the objectives set out by the Paris agreement and prevent global temperatures spiralling out of control, we must have a need for speed and react quickly,” Figueres said in a statement. “This unique forum at Formula E will allow us to bring great minds together with the same common goal, speeding-up the transition and use of electric vehicles in everyday life.”

She will help preside over a season that will feature races in three new cities (Santiago, Chile; Sao Paulo, Brazil and Rome), a return to the streets of Brooklyn in early July and a finale in Montreal July 28-29.

 

 

SRI LANKAN CRICKETERS BECOME ILL DUE TO POLLUTION DURING MATCH IN DELHI

My mental picture of cricket, admittedly a sport about which I know next to nothing, includes a gigantic oval field with no foul territory, players dressed in all white, somewhat formal uniforms, and those same players relaxing during a break for a spot of tea.

That vision most certainly does not include, well, vomiting.

Maybe I need a new glasses prescription.

Michael Safi reported in Sunday’s issue of The Guardian, with assistance from Agence France-Presse, that a cricket Test match# in Delhi between India and Sri Lanka “was repeatedly interrupted on Sunday with claims players were ‘continuously vomiting’ due to hazardous pollution levels in the Indian capital.”

Airborne pollution levels 15 times the World Health Organization limits were recorded on the second day of the match at Feroz Shah Kotla Stadium in Delhi on Sunday. Per Safi, “as the haze worsened, many Sri Lankan players returned from lunch wearing face masks before complaining to umpires, who halted play for 20 minutes to consult with team doctors and match officials.”

Announcers said it was the first recorded instance of an international cricket match being halted due to the toxic smog that reaches hazardous levels in northern India during the winter months.

The match resumed but was interrupted twice more as Sri Lankan players Lahiru Gamage and Suranga Lakmal left the field with breathing difficulties.

“We had players coming off the field and vomiting,” Sri Lanka coach Nick Pothas told reporters. “There were oxygen cylinders in the [locker] room. It’s not normal for players to suffer in that way while playing the game…I think it’s the first time that everybody has come across [the vomiting] situation.”

 

A paramedic speaks to Sri Lanka’s Lahiru Gamage after he complained of shortness of breath.
A paramedic speaks to Sri Lanka’s Lahiru Gamage after he complained of shortness of breath (Photo credit: Altaf Qadri/AP)

 

CK Khanna, acting president of India’s cricket board, said the Sri Lankans were making much ado about nothing: “If 20,000 people in the stands did not have problems and the Indian team did not face any issue, I wonder why the Sri Lankan team made a big fuss?” The crowd agreed, showering boos upon Sri Lanka’s batsmen.

 

Sri Lanka’s captain Dinesh Chandimal fields in a mask.
 Sri Lanka’s captain Dinesh Chandimal fields in a mask (Photo credit: Altaf Qadri/AP)

 

The effects of the city’s polluted air were not limited to cricket: Schools were shut and doctors declared a public health emergency in Delhi last month as pollution levels spiked to an unimaginable 40 times the WHO safe limits, which is equivalent to smoking at least 50 cigarettes per day.

Delhi officials have been accused of not preparing for what has become an annual crisis each winter, while the Indian government has downplayed the urgency and health risks associated with the problem.

The city’s extremely poor air quality is the result of a combination of road dust, open fires, vehicle exhaust fumes, industrial emissions and the burning of crop residues in neighbouring states. Indian weather agencies also blame dust storms that originate in the Persian Gulf to the country’s west.

 

# Test cricket is the longest form of of the sport and is considered its highest level. Test matches can last as long as five days.

 


 

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