Dominic Thiem has steadily moved towards the top of the men’s tennis rankings, currently residing at number four, just below the legendary trio of Djokovic, Nadal and Federer. Many tennis observers think that 2019 will be the year Austrian breaks through and wins his first Grand Slam tournament.
If so, casual tennis fans will learn what real aficionados already know — that Thiem is an eco-athlete.
DOMINIC THIEM WRITES A UNIQUE GREEN-SPORTS STORY — ON CAMERA LENSES
If you are not a serious tennis fan you might not be familiar with Dominic Thiem (pronounced TEAM).
You should be, for both on- and off-court reasons.
Thiem is currently the fourth ranked player in the men’s game, trailing only #1 Novak Djokovic, #2 Rafa Nadal, and #3 Roger Federer. And since the three legends above him are between six and twelve years his senior, Thiem is in a very promising spot.
The first part of 2019 has been very good for the 25-year-old Austrian. He won the prestigious BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells, California, beating Federer in the final. And last week, he reached the semifinals of the Mutua Madrid Open, defeating Federer in a terrific quarterfinal before falling to eventual champion Djokovic. Thiem has the all-surface game that make him a threat at the three remaining 2019 grand slam championships, starting in two weeks with the French Open at Paris’ Roland Garros.
Off the court, Thiem has become one of men’s tennis’ foremost eco-athletes, along with world #8 Kevin Anderson. Both have honed in on the plastic ocean waste issue.
Thiem supports the work of 4Ocean, a nonprofit founded by two surfers that removes plastics from the oceans and other waterways. It sustains itself by selling bracelets made from that waste. 4Ocean reports that, in just two years, they and their teams of fishermen and others, have removed over four million pounds of trash from the oceans and coastlines.
Dominic Thiem, the world’s eighth ranked men’s tennis player, sports four bracelets made from ocean waste by 4Oceans (Photo credit: Polygram)
In addition to donning the 4Ocean bracelets, Thiem has used a yellow marker to great effect in publicizing his passion for cleaning up the oceans.
Signing a television camera lens has been a thing for winners of tennis matches for the better part of two decades. The networks almost always give air time to these signatures. Thiem has taken to signing camera lenses around the world with a “Play For the Ocean” message. The image above (Photo credit: Amazon Prime) was taken immediately after he won the championship at Indian Wells.
While we don’t have TV ratings data for either tournament, it’s safe to say that the Play For The Ocean message has reached millions. That number stands to increase dramatically should Thiem make a deep run in Paris.
GSB’s Take: Dominic Thiem’s practice of signing “Play For The Ocean” on a TV camera after winning a match — while seeming like a small, cute thing — is actually a big deal.
Tennis is one of the world’s five most popular spectator sports so having a Top Five player make a clear, positive statement on behalf of environmental action can seep into fan consciousness. By signing “Play For The Ocean” every time he wins a match, Thiem is building frequency for his message. This is crucial for building awareness “Play For The Ocean” among tennis fans, which will ultimately help the message break through.
Hopefully, we’re not that far away from Thiem or another top player writing something like “Price Carbon” or “Act On Climate” on a camera lens after every win.
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Welcome to Day III of GreenSportsBlog’s Earth Week extravaganza!
Click here for Monday’s brainstorm among Green-Sports luminaries to find big, “Moon Shot” ways for sports to impact the climate change fight. And click here for Tuesday’s story about the New York Yankees’ strong climate change statement.
Today we turn to Major League Soccer, which just completed its “Greener Goals Week of Service.”
MLS’ efforts surrounding sustainability earned it the title of No. 1 most responsible football league in the world according to ResponsiBALL, an annual report ranking the most prominent soccer leagues based on actions related to community and environment.
GSB believes MLS is perfectly positioned to lead on Green-Sports. Its fan base is the youngest of the five North American major professional men’s sports leagues. Young people “get green” at far higher percentages than their older counterparts.
We spoke with JoAnn Neale, MLS President and Chief Administrative Officer, about the league’s sustainability efforts, including what’s new this season. Before that, we delved into how Neale came to her unique role as one of the most senior female executives across all major professional sports leagues.
GreenSportsBlog: JoAnn, I have so many things to get to — the history of Major League Soccer and its Greener Goals program, how the league can leverage green more powerfully than it has to this point, where climate change fits into the league’s green messaging. But first, how did you come to run MLS’ greening initiatives?
JoAnn Neale: I grew up on Long Island and started playing soccer when I was five years old. Playing soccer and being an athlete was a big part of my identity. I also always had a dream of being a lawyer and an intention of going into litigation.
GSB: …Saying “I object!” and “May I approach the bench?” always sounded exciting to me! Was it?
JoAnn: While at NYU Law School, I had an internship in a firm’s litigation division and realized it wasn’t for me. The idea of going to court was exciting, but the reality was most cases take years before they get to court and a heavy focus is on research.
JoAnn Neale (Photo credit: Major League Soccer)
GSB: So what did you do?
JoAnn: After law school, I was fortunate to land a job at Latham & Watkins. I did transactional work and realized my love for negotiating and working with clients in a collaborative way. The concept of getting alignment from both parties and overcoming obstacles to have the same end goal was always intriguing. It was really fulfilling work.
GSB: How and when did soccer come into the picture?
JoAnn: While studying for the bar exam in law school during the summer of 1994, my friends and I would take breaks and watch the World Cup games that took place in the USA that year. It was then that the formation of Major League Soccer was announced. I recall thinking it would be interesting to be part of the creation of the league. Ultimately, two lawyers at Latham & Watkins were involved with the founding of MLS. Fast forward a couple years and a friend of mine had gone to work at the league. Two months later, she said there was an opening in the law department and I joined in 1998.
GSB: What did your friends and family say? Going from a big firm to a new soccer league?
JoAnn: People said, “You’re crazy!” and ‘Why would you want to do THAT?!’ But it felt right and it was.
GSB: It must’ve been very exciting being at what was essentially a startup. What was your role in those early days?
JoAnn: The first four-to-six years I primarily did legal work. After that, I expanded into other areas like Human Resources and projects like spearheading a team responsible for all the logistics of moving MLS to our current headquarters in Manhattan.
In 2006, the executive team discussed the need for creating a social responsibility platform. We believed it was important to give back to the communities in which we live and play our games, as well as to our fans. I raised my hand and said I would like to lead the charge in developing the platform. MLS WORKS launched in 2007.
GSB: Congratulations! What is MLS WORKS’ mission?
JoAnn: MLS is dedicated to using soccer as a vehicle for positive social change. Through MLS WORKS, MLS and its clubs seek to enrich the lives of those in need across the United States and Canada.
From executing national programs and legacy projects, to charitable giving campaigns, MLS creates sustainable communities and promotes inclusion at all levels of the game. MLS WORKS has a strategic four-pillar approach to corporate social responsibility.
Soccer For All – This signifies that everyone is welcome to MLS, regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, gender, gender identity, disability, sexual orientation or socioeconomic status.
Youth Enrichment – This includes our work with the U.S. Soccer Foundation to build soccer pitches in inner cities.
Kick Childhood Cancer – The league “goes gold” throughout the month as part of the Kick Childhood Cancer campaign to raise awareness and funds for Children’s Oncology Group.
Greener Goals – The initiative kicks off this week with the Fourth Annual Greener Goals Week of Service leading into Earth Day weekend.
GSB: Not surprisingly, I’d like to hear more about Greener Goals. What kinds of programs are under that heading?
JoAnn: MLS has committed to measure, reduce and offset the league’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and promote healthy, sustainable communities throughout the United States and Canada, and areas in need throughout the rest of the world. Our clubs activate in different ways. Some have been heavily focusing on reducing food waste, others on raising awareness around plastic pollution, others on recycling, etc.
GSB: Can you share some examples?
JoAnn: Of course! On food waste, Sporting Kansas City provides fans with easy-to-implement tips on reducing food waste. Orlando City SC is partnering with the city of Orlando to deliver food waste to an energy/fertilizer plant at Walt Disney World. Seattle Sounders FC use compost from CenturyLink Field to grow vegetables at a nearby farm. On plastic waste, FC Cincinnati…
GSB: …The league’s newest expansion team…
JoAnn: That’s right. The club worked with Newport Aquarium to drive awareness, attention and action around Earth Day. Fans bring single-use plastic bags to the team’s matches and the Newport Aquarium where collections will be taken on-site. On Earth Day, a special event was hosted to demonstrate the impact the bag collection will have on local Cincinnati-area waterways and its wildlife, and at a larger scale in oceans. Students at local schools and after-school programs will help repurpose the bags into useful items, including sleeping mats for the area’s homeless community.
FC Cincinnati’s Emmanuel Ledesma (l) and Greg Garza show off their new reusable bags created using recycled plastic bags at the Newport Aquarium (Photo credit: FC Cincinnati)
On energy, Real Salt Lakehas a 2020-kilowatt (kWh) solar panel system at Rio Tinto Stadium which offsets approximately 73 percent of the organization’s total annual stadium power needs.
GSB: I knew about their solar installation but I didn’t know it offset such a high percentage. That’s great news. The Seattle Sounders recently committed to go carbon neutral. What does that mean exactly?
JoAnn: You’re right. The Sounders are the first professional soccer team in North America to go carbon neutral. The club worked with Seattle-based Sustainable Business Consulting to calculate its greenhouse gas emissions and develop plans to reduce its impacts where possible. For sources unable to be eliminated – such as team travel for matches, scouting and other business – Sounders FC is offsetting the club’s emissions through the Evergreen Carbon Capture (ECC) program of Forterra, a nonprofit that works for regional sustainability. Using the club’s contribution to ECC, Forterra and its partner DIRT Corps are joining with the team and its fans to plant hundreds of trees in a part of the region that needs added tree cover.
GSB: That’s impressive, JoAnn. I know the league is also involved in carbon offsetting as part of Greener Goals. What emissions is MLS offsetting and what kind of offsets did the league purchase?
GSB: …Environmental Science Advisor for the New York Yankees…
JoAnn: …and also Doug Behar, VP of Operations with the Yankees. They shared the offset program the Yanks embarked upon and we said, “MLS has to be involved!” So we started by offsetting emissions, including executive travel, surrounding the MLS All-Star Game. It was fitting that the 2018 All-Star Game was played at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, a venue that is LEED Platinum. In 2018 MLS compensated 5,400 tons of CO2 equivalent associated with hotel accommodations, ground transportation, staff, player, executive and MLS guest travel, and stadium operations as part of MLS All-Star Week and MLS Cup in Atlanta, in addition to player travel during the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs
To date, MLS’ investment has created tangible, constructive impacts for local communities that were generated by the distribution of 4,407 improved cook stoves in rural communities in Kenya. As of October 2018, the use of these cook stoves are estimated to have positively impacted the lives and wellbeing of 15,000 women and children.
Mercedes Benz Stadium, the first LEED Platinum football stadium in the USA, hosted 60 Marietta Middle School students for the stadium’s first sustainability tour in which the students learned about the venue’s greenness. In conjunction with the tour, Atlanta United’s players helped educate students about sustainable food choices, healthy eating and the environmental impact of locally sourced foods, followed by a taste test competition. Here Atlanta United goalkeeper Alec Kann serves up some of the tasty dish he cooked up (Photo credit: Atlanta United)
GSB: That’s important work. How did you communicate the Greener Goals expansion to MLS fans? Did you air PSAs in stadium and/or on TV broadcasts?
JoAnn: Social media was big for us — Facebook and Twitter in particular. Our Greener Goals messaging focuses on what MLS and our clubs are doing in or near the stadiums and in the communities that our teams play. Our Greener Goals PSAs focus on what we’re doing in or near the stadiums from an environmental perspective.
GSB: Really? I think the carbon-offsets-cookstoves project would make for a great PSA. Beyond the offsets, how else has MLS expanded Greener Goals?
JoAnn: All 24 MLS clubs wore special adidas-Parley eco-friendly kits over Earth Day weekend. These innovative uniforms are made with Climalite technology and built of technical yarns created with Parley Ocean Plastic™, made from up-cycled marine plastic waste, as a part of the global adidas x Parley initiative. The collaboration with adidas to support Parley for the Oceans also serves to encourage fans to decrease their use of single-use plastics and reinforcing the importance of changing human attitude and behavior towards plastic pollution.
The Portland Timbers version of the adidas Parley for the Oceans eco-friendly jerseys worn by all MLS players over Earth Day weekend (Photo credit: MLS)
GSB: Love that program — but why only use the Parley uniforms during Earth Week? Couldn’t all teams use Parley unis all the time?
JoAnn: Great question, Lew. We’re exploring that option.
GSB: Good to hear. I have one last question: Does MLS include climate change in its Greener Goals messaging?
JoAnn: Not yet. MLS does not want to get into a political debate on climate change. Rather, we want to focus our efforts on improving lives by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, increasing recycling, and more.
GSB: I think MLS is missing an opportunity by not directly talking about climate change with its fans. As discussed earlier, the demographic groups that make up the MLS fan base — Millennials, Gen-Zers, Hispanics — are also demanding real action on climate. My bet is that MLS fans would reward the league for linking its Greener Goals program to the climate change fight.
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Kunal Merchant occupies a fascinating perch in the Green-Sports world. A member of the Green Sports Alliance board, the Bay Area-based Merchant has a background in business, politics, and social enterprise. And as co-founder of Lotus Advisory with his sister Monisha, Merchant has guided the sustainability efforts on state-of-the-art green stadium and arena projects, from Sacramento’s Golden1 Center — the first LEED Platinum indoor arena in the world — to the nascent Oakland A’s ballpark project.
GreenSportsBlog spoke with Merchant about his work on Green-Sports projects, with the Alliance, and where he sees the movement heading.
GreenSportsBlog: Kunal, I can’t wait to dig into your story which takes place at the intersection of sports, politics, and sustainability. Nothing juicy there…
Kunal Merchant: It has been a fascinating ride to this point, Lew. I came to the sports world from the political side, working as Chief of Staff for then Sacramento Mayor and ex-NBA All Star Kevin Johnson. I served in that role during his first term, between December 2008 and June 2012, which was a dramatic time. The Mayor took office right as the national economy was entering the Great Recession. Sacramento was particularly hard hit by double-digit unemployment and a foreclosure crisis. Morale was low, and right when the town thought it couldn’t get any worse, we found out that our beloved Sacramento Kings – the one and only pro sports team in town – wanted to leave town.
The team had been struggling both on and off the court for years, including several failed attempts to build a new arena to replace what had by then become the oldest and smallest arena in the NBA. The Kings’ ownership felt that their best shot was to start over in a new city, with Seattle being the most likely destination. It was a punch to the gut for Sacramento, and in the Mayor’s office, we knew that how Sacramento responded to this challenge would have implications far beyond sports for the city’s economic and civic identity.
GSB: So how did you go about dealing with the significant headwinds?
Kunal: That’s a topic for a much longer conversation! But, oversimplified, there were three key checkboxes on our “to-do list” to save the team: (1) prove that Sacramento was a viable NBA market; (2) recruit a new ownership group willing to buy the team and keep it in Sacramento; and (3) develop a plan to build and finance a new arena. The arena was arguably the most critical – and difficult item – particularly since, for a market the size of Sacramento, some form of public investment was going to be needed.
Taxpayers were understandably skeptical about putting public money towards a basketball arena. But after studying similar situations around the country, we in the Mayor’s Office concluded that, under the right terms and structure, we could deliver a public-private partnership for a new arena that would be a win for the Kings and for Sacramento. To get there, we needed to generate transformative economic and community benefits, something that was only possible if we used the arena to anchor the broader revitalization of our blighted and long-underperforming downtown core.
In that respect, Sacramento really reminded me of the Denver of my childhood in the 1980s. At that time, Denver was perceived as a classic “flyover city” by people on the coasts. But over several years, the community and city leaders pushed through smart and strategic investments that led to a positive change in the city’s economic and cultural trajectory. Things really took off in the 1990s, in part due to the energy generated by Coors Field, the downtown ballpark built to be the home of our new Major League Baseball team, the Colorado Rockies.
Kunal Merchant, co-founder of Lotus Advisory (Photo credit: Lotus Advisory)
GSB: I remember visiting Denver during the late 1990s and saw how Coors Field had seemingly changed a whole neighborhood. Was the ballpark built by the team, the city or some combination? The reason I ask is that there are many studies showing that public investments in sports venues are not efficient uses of the public’s money. Where do you come down on that question?
Kunal: Great question. Like a stodgy and aging arena, I think the rhetoric around public financing for sports venues is in serious need of an upgrade. There’s way too much dogma on a topic filled with nuance.
In the case of Coors Field, the project was a public-private partnership, where taxpayers made a significant investment. As a local resident who saw that area before and after Coors Field, I would argue that the taxpayers’ investment paid off handsomely in catalyzing a true economic and cultural renaissance that continues to this day.
But the success of Coors Field doesn’t vindicate all forms of public financing. The reality is that every situation is different, and plenty of sports facilities – too many I would argue – receive public funding in amounts and terms that are truly terrible deals for the public. When we were developing the Kings arena deal, we studied up on the good, bad and ugly of prior public subsidy deals. And we were determined that any arena deal we cut with the Kings would protect taxpayers and generate strong economic and community benefits.
That process in Sacramento began by fighting to locate the new arena downtown, and resist temptations by some in town to “play small” and simply refurbish or rebuild at the old arena’s suburban location.
GSB: The old Arco Arena is north of the city, kind of by itself off of I-5.
Kunal: Yes. At the time it was built in the mid-1980s, that building size and location made sense. But by the 2010s, we had different civic imperatives around sustainability and urban planning. Beyond the economic appeal of a downtown location – analysts forecasted $150 million in new annual economic activity each year – we wanted the arena project to reflect the values of a community that cared deeply about the environment. So we set – and ultimately met – incredibly ambitious goals for green design, air quality, water efficiency, energy efficiency, transit, food, waste diversion, and so on.
GSB: What was your role in the project?
Kunal: My role evolved over the course of the project. At the start, I was the Mayor’s Chief of Staff, representing the Mayor and City in almost every facet of our work with the NBA, Kings, City and community to save the team and develop the arena plan. When the NBA voted to keep the team in Sacramento in May 2013, and approve the sale of the Kings to a new ownership group, I moved over to the team side as an executive focused on making sure we followed through on our promises to the community on the arena.
That meant finalizing the public process to approve the deal, negotiating key labor and community benefit agreements, and continuing to engage the community in this truly once-in-a-generation project. It also meant championing what became the most ambitious sustainability agenda of an NBA arena to that date, anchored around achieving status as the first-ever LEED Platinum indoor sports arena.
GSB: That’s quite a transition. How did working for a sports team differ from working in municipal government?
Kunal: Well, it’s safe to say that spending a Tuesday night at an NBA game is a bit more fun than at a City Council meeting! And I used to joke with friends – only half-kidding – that I could get more done chatting with various folks at a Kings game than I could ever do in one month at City Hall. There were obvious advantages to working in a private sector context in terms of speed, agility, and efficiency. But this deal was a true public-private partnership where both bodies were integral. What’s most powerful to me is that my spirit and purpose on this project never changed regardless of what my business card said; from beginning to end, this endeavor was always about doing something really big and historic and transformative for the people of Sacramento. And both the City and Kings wholly embraced that mindset.
GSB: What did you do after the arena took shape?
Kunal: As Opening Day for the Golden 1 Center got closer, I started getting calls from other folks in sports who were impressed by what we’d done in Sacramento and wanted to see if I could help out elsewhere. To his credit, then-Team President Chris Granger was extremely supportive, and I was able to transition from being a full-time employee to a consultant able to take on other work. As part of that transition, I launched Lotus Advisory with my sister Monisha as a strategy and management consulting firm focused on driving positive change at the intersection of business, government and community. Because of my background, I ended up specializing quickly on sports-related projects, while my MIT-educated sister took on high tech clients like Airbnb. In the years since, we’ve been lucky to work with an amazing range of clients in a variety of industries and sectors.
Kunal Merchant touring construction of the Golden 1 Center and the Downtown Commons in 2015 during his time as a Sacramento Kings executive. The $1.5 billion dollar project includes a LEED Platinum NBA arena, hotel, and retail and entertainment district that has been the primary catalyst behind the new economic and cultural renaissance unfolding in Sacramento’s long-struggling downtown core (Photo credit: Lotus Advisory)
GSB: What are some the sports projects on which Lotus Advisory has worked?
In recent years, we’ve done a lot of work in soccer and baseball. I was the Chief Strategist for Nashville’s successful 2017 bid to join Major League Soccer, where we went from being on no one’s radar as a viable soccer city to finishing first in a twelve city race for the next expansion slot. A huge part of our success was powered by the people of Nashville – whose pride in their city is as strong as I’ve ever seen anywhere.
Similarly, I helped lead and advise Sacramento’s bid to join MLS for several years, particularly in shepherding their downtown stadium development plan through the planning, predevelopment and approval processes. The heart and soul of that bid are the supporters of Sacramento Republic, the United Soccer League (USL) Championship¹ club that took the city by storm when it launched in 2014 and has woven itself deeply into the cultural fabric of Sacramento with remarkable speed.
Currently, I’m working closely with the Oakland Athletics on their plans to revitalize the Oakland waterfront with a new privately-financed ballpark district near the Jack London Square area. It’s a really gorgeous project with a strong spirit of sustainability and environmental justice.
GSB: Very cool! What’s the status of Sacramento’s MLS bid? I know they’re looking to get to 28 teams by 2021 or 2022. Cincinnati United began play this month as the league’s 24th club, with Miami and Nashville set to join next year and Austin in ’21. So that means there’s one more slot left in the near term.
Kunal: Sacramento is one of two cities considered to be favorites for the 28th slot. I know that I’m biased, but I don’t think the competition is remotely close. Sacramento’s MLS bid stands alone as arguably the most resilient, mature, and comprehensive MLS bid in league history. Since embarking on the MLS journey in 2014, Republic FC has checked all the boxes time and again: a die-hard fan base, committed corporate support, a fully-approved and transformational downtown stadium plan; and a credible and committed ownership led by a formidable combination of Pittsburgh Penguins owner Ron Burkle and several local business leaders. MLS will be lucky to have Sacramento join its ranks and I’m cautiously optimistic that it will happen soon.
GSB: Good luck! When will the new stadium be ready and what are some of its green features?
Kunal: Obviously the MLS stadium is contingent on entry into the league, but the stadium could likely be ready by either the 2021 or 2022 MLS season. As impactful as the Golden 1 Center is for Sacramento, the MLS stadium for Republic FC will be a game-changer in its own right.
The stadium will be built few blocks away from the Kings arena at a huge 240 acre site called the Sacramento Railyards that, when fully built out, will double the size of downtown Sacramento. The MLS stadium represents one of the first and largest major private investments in the Railyards in several decades, and will catalyze a historic wave of economic and community development. In terms of green features, the stadium will be another model of transit-oriented development, located a block from light rail, and a short distance by foot, bike, scooter, or rideshare from the rest of downtown. Republic FC has a terrific culture around local food and beer, so I’d expect some innovative sourcing strategies there as well.
Artist rendering of proposed Major League Soccer stadium in downtown Sacramento. The project will anchor an estimated $5B economic revitalization effort at Sacramento’s historic Railyards district (Credit: Sacramento Republic FC)
GSB: Turning to another long-running new stadium project, let’s talk about the Oakland A’s.
Kunal: The A’s have a truly visionary plan to revitalize the waterfront near Jack London Square through a new Major League Baseball ballpark. The project will be LEED Gold Certified and reflect a “ballpark within a park” theme, with an intimate 34,000 seat stadium nestled carefully into its urban surroundings. The ballpark is privately-financed and will anchor a new, vibrant waterfront district that will feature a mix of housing, including affordable housing, offices, restaurants, retail, small business space, parks and public gathering spaces. And the team is also showing tremendous leadership by leveraging the ballpark project to address longstanding environmental justice reform issues around air, soil and water quality faced by West Oakland residents for years.
Preliminary artist rendering for the proposed Oakland A’s ballpark near Jack London Square in Oakland. The project will be LEED Gold and reflect the A’s strong commitment to sustainable development and environmental justice (Credit: Oaklandballpark.com)
GSB: Add the A’s new ballpark to my sports bucket list. OK, before we go, let’s talk a bit about your work as a board member of the Green Sports Alliance. How did that come about?
Kunal: I’ve known and been a fan of the Green Sports Alliance since its earliest days, when Alliance leaders reached out to invite Mayor Johnson to the inaugural summit in Portland. The Alliance was hugely helpful in guiding my thinking on the Golden 1 Center, and I worked with the Alliance to help bring the Summit to Sacramento during the Golden1 Center’s inaugural season in 2017. I’ve continued to work closely with the Alliance since then, and at some point it just made sense to take on a more formal role. So, I joined the board last fall with a pretty important first project: co-leading the search for a new Executive Director. It was a fascinating process that yielded a terrific hire: Roger McClendon.
GSB: McClendon comes to the Alliance’s executive director role at a key inflection point in the Green-Sports movement. I like to say Green-Sports 1.0 — the greening of the games — is now almost if not quite a given. It was a necessary and obvious first step. But Green-Sports 2.0 — engaging fans, players and more to take positive environmental action, specifically on climate change — which is where I think is starting now, is a more complicated, heavier lift. What do you think?
Kunal: I totally agree. There are fundamental questions facing the green sports movement and the broader environmentalist community at the moment. The science around climate change grows more dire by the day, with the recent IPCC report advising that humanity has really just a handful of years left to aggressively decarbonize or face catastrophic consequences. So the cost of inaction is escalating. With that as backdrop, the Alliance is asking ourselves: what are we going to do? Our ethos has been to meet people where they are. Which means that if a league, an event, a team is aggressive on climate, we’ll support them. If they’re going slowly…
GSB: …Or not even talking climate at all?
Kunal: …we’re not going to push them too far beyond their comfort zone.
GSB: But doesn’t that imply that it’s ok for sports not to go fast enough? That seems risky at best.
Kunal: Well, it’s tricky. But here is a reason to be optimistic: things are impossible until they’re not. Looking at history, there are many social movements that looked bleak for years, or even decades, right until a period of rapid change that completely upended the status quo. I’m heartened by the younger generations — Millennials and Gen Zers — who will increasingly hold all institutions, including sports teams, accountable for the issue of climate change. The Alliance needs to be ready, and I think we’re taking important steps in that direction. If there’s one thing that I’ve come to appreciate deeply in my career, it’s that, with vision and leadership, sports can be an extraordinary platform for positive change. And on issues of climate, we can’t afford for sports teams, leagues, or fans to sit on the sidelines anymore.
GSB: With some well-timed and positive pushing from organizations like the Alliance, I’ll say. To be continued, Kunal!
¹ The USL Championship is the second-tier of North American professional soccer, one level below MLS.
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In a TGIF GSB News & Notes, we share two positive news stories and one naggingly troubling if still hopeful note.
On the positive side, Kevin Anderson, the world’s fifth ranked men’s tennis player, took on the plastic waste issue in Jon Wertheim’s SI.com much-read mailbag column. And the Seattle Sounders used the term “climate crisis” (Italics my emphasis) when they announced their commitment to going carbon neutral in the season that kicks off on March 2. I’ve never seen a team put the words “climate” and “crisis” together before.
On the flip side, despite many calls for his resignation, Gian-Franco Kasper remains the President of the International Ski Federation (FIS) almost three weeks after he outed himself as a climate change denier. But an effort to generate public pressure to force his resignation, led by Protect Our Winters, shows no signs of slowing down.
KEVIN ANDERSON, WORLD’S 5TH RANKED TENNIS PLAYER, SERVES UP PLASTIC OCEAN WASTE TO SI.COM READERS
I know what you’re thinking: “Wait, who is Kevin Anderson? And how popular is tennis, really?”
Kevin Anderson (Photo credit: Tony O’Brien/Reuters)
The hard-serving, 6′ 8″ Anderson is currently the fifth ranked men’s player in the world¹, having reached the finals of two grand slam tournaments since 2017. You might remember this incredible left-handed shot (Anderson is a righty) after having tumbled to the grass late in his marathon, 6 hour-plus 2018 Wimbledon semifinal vs. John Isner that propelled him to the final.
As to tennis’ popularity, a 2018 WorldAtlas.com study reports that the sport has 1 billion fans globally, enough to make it the fourth most popular sport on the planet, trailing only soccer (#1 at 4 billion fans), cricket (2.5 billion), and field hockey (2 billion). To my knowledge, the only active eco-athlete who be more well known than Anderson is Mesut Özil, the German soccer star who currently plays for Arsenal.
Back to Wertheim’s mailbag.
The first question came from a reader in Toronto who asked, “When is tennis going to stop its environmentally unfriendly use of plastic?”
Instead of answering it himself, Wertheim gave Anderson, “tennis’ green czar” (who knew??), the court.
An excepted version of Anderson’s reply reads this way:
That your question was submitted to Jon Wertheim’s mailbag makes me very pleased to know that tennis fans are also taking the plastics issue seriously.
Reducing plastic pollution — and particularly keeping plastic waste out of the oceans — is one of my biggest passions. In fact, in December I hosted a charity event at home in Florida with a portion of the proceeds benefitting Ocean Conservancy’sTrash Free Seas Alliance. Once your eyes are opened to the plastic pollution problem, it’s hard not to care about the consequences. I hope that tennis players can be leaders in this space to raise awareness and help make the public more mindful of reducing single-use plastics when possible.
As a member of the ATP Player Council, I’ve been sharing my passion for this issue and last November, the ATP developed measures to reduce its negative impact on the environment at the Nitto ATP Finals in London. For the first time ever, players were given reusable bottles for on-court use, staff were given reusable bottles and encouraged to refill them at water stations, and fans were given reusable cups when they purchased drinks at The O2 (Arena). There are many more things that can be done in the future, but I believe this was a great first step in the right direction.
I’m hopeful we can continue to make other changes, such as do away with plastic racquet bags after re-stringing (which I always politely decline or make sure to recycle), put recycling bins at all tournaments for fans to dispose of their rubbish properly (and on the practice courts for players), and most importantly – provide education. If we can get more and more tournaments, players and fans to recognize the issue we have on our hands, and just how dire of a situation it is, we can make more change.
GSB’s Take: So glad to hear Kevin Anderson is leading the anti-plastic ocean waste movement on the ATP Tour. Hopefully he is recruiting others, including his women’s tennis counterparts, to join his effort. And if his interest in plastic waste becomes an on-ramp to a broader commitment to the climate change fight, all the better.
SEATTLE SOUNDERS, MLS’ FIRST CARBON NEUTRAL CLUB, USES “CLIMATE CRISIS” TERM
The Seattle Sounders committed to going carbon neutral starting with the 2019 season — FC Cincinnati visits CenturyLink Field on March 2 to kick off the new campaign — marking them as the first professional soccer team in North America to do so. In a press release announcing the move, the club pledged that their “operations will make no net contribution to atmospheric carbon dioxide, the leading cause of the climate crisis.”
Wait a second.
Did you notice anything special in that press release quote? Because I sure did.
A North American pro sports team, used the term “climate crisis.”
But widen the lens a bit and one sees that most pro teams, including those who have done great green work for years, do not even speak of climate change. At all. Benign terms like “sustainability” and “environmentally responsible” are used much more frequently.
It says here that the Sounders use of climate crisis is at least as big a deal as the team going carbon neutral.
And that’s saying something because the club’s carbon neutral commitment is certainly important and substantive.
One reason is that the Sounders included fan travel to and from games — which represent 28 percent of total emissions — in its calculations. Some teams and leagues that have claimed carbon neutrality have not done so.
Fan travel accounted for 28 percent of the Sounders’ emissions in 2018, trailing only team travel (33 percent) and CenturyLink Field operations (29 percent)
Team management partnered with Seattle-based Sustainable Business Consulting to calculate its greenhouse gas emissions and develop plans to reduce its impacts where possible. For emissions unable to be eliminated – such as team travel for matches, scouting and other business – the Sounders are offsetting their emissions through the Evergreen Carbon Capture (ECC) program of Forterra, a regional nonprofit. Using the club’s contribution to ECC, Forterra and its partner DIRT Corps are joining with the team and fans to plant hundreds of trees in a part of the region that needs added tree cover. This not only reduces CO₂, but enhances air and water quality.
“We’re incredibly excited to announce that our club is officially carbon neutral,” said Sounders Owner Adrian Hanauer. “The Sounders have always been committed to investing in our community, and that includes recognizing the immense responsibility we have as environmental stewards.”
And climate crisis fighters.
Adrian Hanauer, owner of the Seattle Sounders (Photo credit: Seattle Sounders FC)
GSB’s Take: This is a win-win-win Green-Sports story if I ever saw one: Win #1: The Sounders go carbon neutral. Win #2: The club includes fan travel in their emissions calculations. Win #3: Rightfully calling climate change a CRISIS is a big step forward. Kudos to the Sounders for doing so. Will this give other pro teams across all sports the confidence to use the words “climate” and “change” together? Watch this space. Note that I’m starting slowly here and not asking teams to say climate “crisis”. Yet. If you want to let the Sounders know that you appreciate their bold green-sports steps, click here.
CLIMATE DENIER GIAN-FRANCO KASPER REMAINS IN POWER AS HEAD OF INTERNATIONAL SKI FEDERATION;
We close the week with an update on the Gian-Franco Kasper story.
The President of the International Ski Federation (FIS) denied climate change in a February 4 interview, saying, “There is no proof for it. We have snow, in part even a lot of it. I was in Pyeongchang for the Olympiad. We had minus 35 degrees C. Everybody who came to me shivering I welcomed with: welcome to global warming.”
Gian-Franco Kasper, President of FIS (Photo credit: Mark Runnacles, Getty Images)
Protect Our Winters, the nonprofit made up of elite winter sports athletes who advocate on behalf of systemic political solutions to climate change, quickly wrote an open letter calling for Kasper to resign and encouraged its followers to do the same.
As of February 19, over 8,300 letters had arrived in FIS’ in box.
But that’s not all.
Jessie Diggins, who won Olympic gold at Pyeonchang 2018 in cross country skiing, and other elite winter sports athletes like Jamie Anderson, Danny Davis, and Maddie Phaneuf, made strong statements condemning Kasper’s remarks.
Five high-profile North American sports teams and leagues are helping to save lives in Africa while reducing carbon emissions at the same time.
That powerful message was delivered during an All-Star panel discussion at Friday’s first Sports and Climate Change Summit in New York City, hosted by Sport and Sustainability International (SandSI) and the Global Crisis Information Network (GCINET). Guided by SandSI co-founder Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, senior officials from the New York Yankees, the New York Mets, Major League Soccer, NASCAR, and the US Tennis Association, shared how and why they are making life-saving investments in Africa.
The panel that kicked off Friday’s first Sports and Climate Change Summit at New York’s Scandinavia House had a title that many in the audience could not have imagined even two years ago: “North American Sport Invests in Climate Mitigation and Promoting the Sustainable Development Goals in Africa”.
Yet, per moderator Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, co-founder of SandSI, those investments — by the Yankees, Mets, Major League Soccer (MLS), NASCAR, and the USTA — are indeed being made. And they are not only helping to take on climate change, air pollution and several other of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals^, they are saving lives. Thousands of lives. In some of the most needy regions on Earth.
Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, co-founder of SandSI (photo credit: J. Henry Fair)
You may be asking yourself these three questions right about now:
What problems are these North American sports teams and leagues trying to help solve with these investments in Africa?
What types of investments are they making to solve those problems and save lives?
Why are they making these investments?
COOKING WITH INEFFICIENT STOVES IN SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA ADDS TO AIR POLLUTION, DEFORESTATION AND CARBON EMISSIONS
In his presentation preceding the panel discussion, Hershkowitz cited chilling statistic after chilling statistic that laid bare the severity of health problems, borne largely by women and children in Sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere, caused by cooking with inefficient, dirty, primitive stoves:
“The number one cause of death in the world is air pollution.”
“Close to half the deaths from pneumonia of children under age five are caused by household air pollution.”
“Three billion people cook over open flames or with simple stoves powered by unhealthy coal, wood or other forms of biomass.”
“According to the World Health Organization, three to four million people, mostly women and girls die prematurely because of inefficient, dirty stoves.”
Add to these grim metrics the fact that significant deforestation results from scavenging for the wood that is used in the inefficient, old stoves, and you have a recipe for a public health and environmental disaster.
NORTH AMERICAN TEAMS AND LEAGUES QUICKLY RAMP UP TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA BY FUNDING CLEAN, EFFICIENT COOKSTOVES AND AVOIDED DEFORESTATION
How did Major League Soccer, NASCAR, the Mets and Yanks and the USTA decide to get involved in helping to reduce the Sub-Saharan African air pollution problem?
Hershkowitz showed each of them that, by funding efficient cookstoves that emit 30 to 50 percent fewer emissions, they would be creating healthier cooking environments for women and children, extending and saving lives in the process. And, since the cookstoves require far less fuelwood, the teams and leagues are also playing an important role in avoided deforestation.
The clean cookstove initiative is supported by the United Nations. Consequently, these cookstove purchases — which reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, other air pollutants and deforestation — qualify as third party, independently certified carbon offset programs, burnishing the teams’ and leagues’ sustainability credentials.
Hershkowitz began connecting the teams and leagues with private sector firms like The South Pole Group, Eco-Act and Allcot. They do the important grunt work of designing, developing and implementing environmental and climate change mitigation projects on the ground.
Clean burning cookstoves (Photo credit: South Pole Group)
Although the initiative is in its early days — cookstove purchases only began late last year — the results are impressive. Collectively, the benefits of the offsets purchased by the Yankees, Mets, MLS, NASCAR and the USTA include:
Distribution of 7,250 cookstoves for use in cabins and huts
Positive impacts on the lives of 13,000+ women and girls
Avoidance of 39.4 metric tonnes of carbon emissions
Keeping 22.4 metric tonnes of wood from being cut down
The manufacture and maintenance of cookstoves being handled by locals, bringing much-needed economic activity to the region
TEAMS, LEAGUES SEE COOKSTOVES, AVOIDED DEFORESTATION AS “NO-BRAINERS”
When asked why the Yankees are investing in Africa, Doug Behar, the team’s senior VP of operations, said it was a logical next step in the team’s long-standing commitment to sustainability: “We’ve evolved on sustainability over time, seeing that it made sense from a business perspective to measure and reduce our energy usage, and that it made sense to recycle and compost. So we were ready when the cookstove investment opportunity was brought to us. Really, it was a no-brainer as the impact on human life was too big to ignore.”
Doug Behar of the Yankees (Photo credit: New York Yankees)
NASCAR focused their investments on avoided mangrove deforestation projects on the shores of Lake Kariba in Northern Zimbabwe. Catherine Kummer, senior director of NASCAR Green, echoed Behar’s “no-brainer” sentiments. “When something makes sense to management and fans alike, you know you’ve got something,” shared Kummer. “Management got it right away. And the avoided deforestation aspects of our investments matches our fan base’s commitment to the outdoors.”
The Mets’ senior director of ballpark operations, Mike Dohnert, shared a different motivation when Hershkowitz brought the African investment opportunity his way. “I know it sounds cliche, but it was incredibly powerful to be able to explain to my six year-old son how important it is do the right thing,” Dohnert recalled. “I am very lucky that Mets management allows me the freedom to pursue these types of initiatives.”
Switching to tennis, why would its governing body in the United States make investments in Africa? “That’s an easy one — the US Open is an event that draws 800,000 fans from all over the world and tennis is truly a global sport,” offered Lauren Tracy, the USTA’s director of strategic initiatives. The organization funded the sending of 300+ cookstoves to women in Malawi. That purchase helped offset the carbon embedded in the millions of player travel miles to the recently completed US Open.
Major League Soccer, which joined with SandSI and The South Pole Group to advance a big sustainability push at this summer’s All-Star Game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the LEED Platinum home of Atlanta United, also found the global nature of the cookstove program compelling. “Since the All-Star Game pitted MLS’ best vs. Juventus, the perennial champion of Italy’s Serie A and one of the most popular teams in the world, we decided to go ‘glocal’ with our sustainability initiatives,” said JoAnn Neale, the league’s chief administrative and social responsibility officer. “Locally, we undertook a tree planting program in Atlanta. And our investments in 1,450 cookstoves in Kenya represented the global side of the equation.”
Mercedes-Benz Stadium, LEED Platinum home of Atlanta United (Photo credit: Lewis Blaustein)
If five teams and leagues can get the kinds of life-saving and carbon emissions-reduction results detailed above in less than a year, imagine if all of the major pro and college sports leagues in North America rallied around cookstoves, avoided deforestation and other climate change and environmental programs in Sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere in the developing world. This is a huge opportunity for SandSI and the entire Green-Sports movement. Perhaps a team or two could pry their PhD analytics gurus away from their advanced metrics spreadsheets for a minute to calculate the macro public health and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions benefits of a massive Pan-North American sports cookstove/avoided deforestation/clean water initiative.
There was a kind of Bizarro World, up-is-down aspect to the Summit when it came to fan engagement on climate change and the environment:
NASCAR — whose brand image to this observer is decidedly “Red State”/skeptical on climate change — is in fact aggressively connecting with fans on environmental and climate change issues. Why? Because NASCAR fans have indicated that they care about the environment, to hell with the GSB’s stereotypes. “Ten years ago, 50 percent of our fans said they cared about the environment,” Catherine Kummer reported. “Fast forward to our April 2018 survey, and 87 percent of NASCAR fans now believe Earth is going through a period of climate change and 77 percent feel they have a personal responsibility to do something about it. So now we run environmentally-themed TV spots on NASCAR broadcasts.” I do have questions about how to square these results with polling before the 2016 Presidential election that showed NASCAR fans preferred Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton. But that’s a subject for another day. For today, the fact that NASCAR runs green TV spots is a very cool thing.
The 30 second NASCAR Green TV spot
On the other hand, while the Mets and Yankees have done exemplary greening work at Citi Field and Yankee Stadium, including eliminating trash bins and replacing them with recycling and compost bins, they have chosen to communicate their sustainability bona fides to fans in a much quieter fashion* than NASCAR. The clubs have not yet aired green-themed public service announcements on TV or radio. I mean, they play in climate change-is-real, humans-are-the-cause, “Blue State” New York. One would think their fan bases would react positively to such TV ads. What gives? Mike Dohnert acknowledged that, for Mets management, climate change “politics is an issue. They’re still trying to figure this out.” The Mets and Yanks might want to talk to NASCAR.
Kudos to SandSI and GCINET for hosting the first Sports and Climate Change Summit! This needs to be an annual event.
^ The 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are: 1. No Poverty, 2. Zero Hunger, 3. Good Health and Well-Being, 4. Quality Education, 5. Gender Equity, 6. Clean Water and Sanitation, 7. Affordable and Clean Energy, 8. Decent Work and Economic Growth, 9. Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure, 10. Reduced Inequalities, 11. Sustainable Cities and Communities, 12. Responsible Consumption and Production, 13. Climate Action, 14. Life Below Water, 15. Life on Land, 16. Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions, 17. Partnerships for the Goals
* The Mets and Yankees communicate their greening initiatives to fans by posting sustainability information on their websites, leading sustainability-themed tours of the ballparks for high school students and more.
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As our US-based GreenSportsBlog readers head out for the Labor Day weekend, we’re offering up a GSB News & Notes for your end-of-summer reading pleasure. The University of Miami (FL) Hurricanes will open their 2018 football season against LSU in Arlington, TX wearing eco-conscious uniforms from Adidas and Parley for the Oceans. But should the Hurricanes also be taking on climate change, given Miami’s vulnerability to it? About 60 miles southwest of Baton Rouge, the UL-Lafayette is embarking on a journey to host Louisiana’s first Zero-Waste football games. And, MLS’ LA Galaxy and the Stub Hub Center add to the growing number of teams and venues eliminating plastic straws.
UNIVERSITY OF MIAMI HURRICANES DON ECO-FRIENDLY UNIFORMS; WHEN WILL THEY TAKE ON CLIMATE CHANGE?
When the University of Miami Hurricanes take the field Sunday night in their nationally televised season opener against LSU at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX, they will do so wearing new, alternate uniforms made from repurposed and upcycled materials, including plastic ocean waste. The uniforms are the result of a partnership between Miami, Adidas and Parley For The Oceans.
The University of Miami Hurricanes will take the field Sunday at LSU in eco-friendly alternate uniforms, thanks to a partnership with Adidas and Parley for the Oceans (Photo credit: Environmental Leader)
While the Hurricanes are the first American football team to partner with Parley for the Oceans and Adidas, they are following in the footsteps of European club soccer giants Bayern Munich and Real Madrid in wearing the eco-friendly alternate uniforms.
The Real Madrid, Parley for the Oceans-Adidas jersey (Photo credit: Adidas)
More than 70 percent of the special-edition uniform is fashioned from regenerated Econyl yarn (made by Aquafil of Trento, Italy), a raw material transformed from fishing nets and other nylon waste intercepted in marine environments, and from Parley Ocean Plastic, which also comes from waste that was intercepted from beaches and coastal communities. The result is a “durable, yet breathable fabric that is optimal for Adidas performance apparel,” according to a statement from the Hurricanes. Players will also wear cleats and gloves featuring recycled materials. The statement claims the cleats are the first-ever styles of eco-conscious footwear to be debuted on-field for NCAA football competition.
“Our players and staff are excited to wear the new adidas Parley jerseys and gear for our season opener,” Hurricanes coach Mark Richt said in a statement. “We’re also excited that Adidas and Parley are teaming up with UM to help promote sustainability around the world.”
I am happy to see the University of Miami take the Adidas-Parley plunge and to engage on the plastic ocean waste issue. Sports teams engaging on the environment is still too rare so this is a positive.
But (you knew there was going to be a but, right?), from where I sit, climate change is by far the biggest environmental challenge humanity faces — in fact, I’d argue it is the biggest challenge humanity faces, period. Bigger even than the plastic ocean waste issue.
And the Hurricanes are arguably the most logical big time college football program to take on climate change. After all, Miami is one of the world’s most vulnerable cities to the effects of climate change, including sea level rise. So I think UM missed the boat by not tying the Adidas-Parley uniforms to climate change as well as plastic ocean waste.
Maybe next year? What do you think?
UL-LAFAYETTE’S CAJUN FIELD LOOKS TO BECOME FIRST ZERO-WASTE STADIUM IN LOUISIANA
Take I-10 west 56 miles from the LSU campus in Baton Rouge and you arrive at the , University of Louisiana-Lafayette. The Cajuns of the mid-level Sun Belt Conference play in the sizable shadow of perennial national power LSU of the powerful Southeastern Conference (SEC).
But UL-Lafayette is second to none in the Bayou State when it comes to Green-Sports. They are making a concerted effort to host Zero-Waste football games at 36,900 seat Cajun Field, starting with Saturday night’s opening game vs. Grambling.
Cajun Field, home of the greening UL-Lafayette Cajuns (Photo credit: UL-Lafayette)
“This year we’re making the really big leap forward in removing all trash cans from inside Cajun Field and we’re only going to have recycling and compost cans,” Gretchen Vanicor, the director of UL-Lafayette’s Office of Sustainability, told Lafayette’s News15.
The university introduced recycling cans in and around the stadium in 2014. And replacing trash cans with compost cans is part of the school’s plan to get towards Zero-Waste (which means diverting at least 90 percent of waste from landfill), while also saving money.
“The great parts about doing sustainable operations is usually it’s not just better for the environment, it’s better for our economics too,” shared Vanicor, “Diverting food waste from landfill by composting means we pay far less in tipping fees. When we can find those projects that are sustainable economically but also environmentally, then we always go after them.”
The Cajuns are quite serious when it comes to going after Zero-Waste:
Food will be served on biodegradable plates or in reusable containers.
Wooden spoons, forks and knives will replace plastic utensils.
Drinks will be served from either aluminum cans or recyclable plastic cups, and fans will be able to request compostable straws.
Styrofoam cups will be nowhere in sight
And, as UL-Lafayette sustainability coordinator Monica Rowand told Josh Meny of KATC-TV3, “we’re switching this year to eco-craft, compostable paper [to line pizza boxes]”
According to Vanicor, Zero-Waste at football games is only a first step at UL-Lafayette: “We really want to be leaders both in our region and in our state for sustainability and our goal eventually is to get to the point where we’re a zero waste university.”
It seems to me as though LSU can learn from UL-Lafayette, at least in terms of Zero-Waste if not on the football field. Hey, they should play each other but that’s a story for a different column.
STUBHUB CENTER AND LA GALAXY ELIMINATE PLASTIC STRAWS
StubHub Center, the Carson, California home of Major League Soccer’s LA Galaxy and, until 2020, the LA Chargers of the NFL, is now offering paper straws upon request to minimize pollution from plastic straws.
Fans will be provided paper straws upon request, with a limited number of plastic straws still available to serve those with special needs. An estimated 250,000 plastic straws will be kept out of landfills annually due to this new approach at StubHub Center
The initiative, in conjunction with food and beverage provider Levy, as part of the Galaxy’s Protect the Pitch sustainability program, launched last Friday when the team played crosstown rival LAFC to a 1-1 draw. By doing so, StubHub Center became the first soccer-specific stadium in MLS to serve drinks during games without a plastic straw.
LA Galaxy (white) and LAFC battle in their “El Trafico” rivalry game on August 24. That was the first game at StubHub Center to feature paper straws (Photo credit: Corner of the Galaxy)
The policy will also be in effect for all Los Angeles Chargers NFL games at StubHub Center.
“We are proud to continue to increase our sustainability efforts throughout StubHub Center in all of our gameday operations,” said StubHub Center General Manager Katie Pandolfo in a statement. “Protecting our environment is paramount and reducing single-use plastic straws can greatly decrease plastic pollution in our oceans.”
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Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the world’s first LEED certified pro stadium, is playing host to 800 or so people at the eighth Green Sports Alliance Summit, from today through Wednesday. On Sunday, 42,500 mostly fans packed the place for the MLS match between Atlanta United and the Portland Timbers. GreenSportsBlog conducted a small, informal, admittedly unscientific poll among fans before the game to gauge awareness and attitudes about the stadium’s greenness.
The first-of-its-kind scoreboard also encouraged fans to recycle while occasional public address announcements highlighted a variety of the stadium’s green features that resulted in it becoming the first professional stadium to receive LEED Platinum status. Of course, most of the messaging on the scoreboard and on its loudspeakers had to do with the game, the home team and the terrific experience (a mix of the best of the European soccer stadium experience with an authentic Atlanta feel) — which is as it should be.
And it is working.
Atlanta United, in only its second season, has become one of the cornerstone franchises in MLS:
The team made the playoffs in its first season and are in first place in MLS’ Eastern Conference
Thousands of energetic fans, in multiple supporters’ sections, stand, chant and sing throughout the entire 90 minutes.
Every game is a sellout. Either in the stadium’s standard 42,500 seat configuration — like Sunday’s game (the upper deck is closed and draped) — or its full 72,000 seat mode, reserved for the biggest/rivalry matches
All of the above serves as subtext to a question to which I was trying to get some answers: Has Mercedes-Benz Stadium’s consistent yet modest way of communicating its sustainability broken through with its largely youngish fan base? GreenSportsBlog conducted a small, informal survey by talking to a few of them before Sunday’s pulsating 1-1 draw between Atlanta United and Portland Timbers to begin to find out.
Evan and Paige Himebaugh from Kennesaw, about 45 minutes away, chatted with me about soccer and sustainability at Stats Brew Pub, a couple blocks from Mercedes-Benz Stadium. They are brother-and-sister season ticket holders who are helping to make Atlanta United a “thing” in the city’s sporting culture. But neither knew that Mercedes-Benz Stadium’s had achieved LEED Platinum certification. “I had no idea!,” exclaimed Paige, a local soccer coach. “But it is great for Atlanta to be leading on green building.”
Evan and Paige Himebaugh were excited to learn about Mercedes-Benz Stadium’s LEED Platinum status (Photo credit: Lewis Blaustein)
Husband and wife season ticket holders Todd and Terry Barcroft of Atlanta talked and walked with me on their way to the concession stand. Both were well aware of the stadium’s green leadership. “Mercedes-Benz Stadium’s LEED status is really a point of civic pride,” asserted Terry. “And, with ‘Atlanta’s Better Building Challenge‘, people can see that the city is a green building hub.” Todd suggested that stadium management “should incorporate more signage in the concourses” to increase awareness of its sustainable bona fides.
Todd and Terry Barcroft (Photo credit: Lewis Blaustein)
Andre Katompa was rushing to his seat and doing his best to avoid seeing the screens in the concourse showing the Colombia-Poland FIFA World Cup match (“I’m DVRing it!”) when he stopped to talk with me. “I found out about the stadium’s LEED certification on TV — there was a story about it on the sports news, which I watch religiously,” enthused the native of the Democratic Republic of Congo. “It is a great thing that the stadium is helping to fight climate change by reducing energy consumption. And that is great for Atlanta.”
Andre Katompa (Photo credit: Lewis Blaustein)
Up in the press box, I sat next to Atlanta area native Max Marcovitch, who was covering the match for The Oregonian. Max’s mom was his entry point into the Mercedes-Benz Stadium LEED Platinum story. “She knew someone involved with the construction of the building,” shared Marcovitch. “Every time the stadium would come up, mom would remind me, ‘it’s going to be LEED Platinum’ so I was very well aware of its greenness. I don’t think my friends [who are on the younger end of the millennial cohort] would be aware of it, but if they found out, they would think it is very cool.”
I give the folks at Mercedes-Benz Stadium a strong A- grade for the way they communicate the venue’s sustainability story. The scoreboard and public address messaging is just right; frequent enough without being over the top. I loved one subtle touch on the scoreboard: A still photo of the Atlanta skyline, shot from the stadium, with some of its 4,000 solar panels in the foreground.
If the stadium had more sustainability-focused signage in the concourses, I would have given them a solid A. Want to earn an A+? How about an interactive exhibit for fans that tells Mercedes-Bens Stadium’s LEED Platinum story, similar to the museum-style installation# at New York City’s Empire State Building that shares the impact of its energy efficiency retrofit with the 3 million people who visit the building every year?
Finally, if you are a sports fan —green or otherwise — and/or an architecture buff, schedule a trip to Atlanta to take in a game at Mercedes-Benz. I’m sure a Falcons game would be fantastic, but I’d opt for an Atlanta United match. It is an incredible experience.
^ The stunning view of the city skyline from the east end of the stadium and the camera lens-like “oculus” roof are two other “that is so cool!” features of Mercedes-Benz Stadium
# Editor’s Note: Lew Blaustein worked as a marketing and communications consultant on the Empire State Building’s sustainability exhibit in 2009 and 2010
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