Tuesday at the (Very) Interactive 2018 Green Sports Alliance Summit: Climate Change Takes a Starring Role; ESPN Wins Environmental Leadership Award, But Are They Really Leading?

Executive Director Justin Zeulner promised that the 2018 Green Sports Alliance Summit in Atlanta would be “much more interactive than in past years — more workshops than panel discussions.” The Alliance made good on that promise at Tuesday’s full day session, with workshops that were more substantive and less jargon-y than in the past. Here are some of the highlights from Day 1 of the Summit.

 

THOUGHT LEADER WORKSHOP TAKES ON CLIMATE CHANGE AND SPORTS

Climate change, politics, and sports — not often mixed together at the four Alliance Summits I had attended previously — were featured items on the menu at the somewhat wonkish lunch time Thought Leader workshop. Co-led with verve by Colin Tetreault, Senior Sustainability Scholar at Arizona State University and Anne Kelly, Senior Director, Policy at Ceres, the session also featured Matt Ellis, CEO and Founder of Measurabl, Ben Jarrett, North American Sustainability Leader at Kimberly-Clark, Scott Mercer, CEO of Volta Charging, and Kat West of JLL.

 

Colin Tetreault

Colin Tetreault (Photo credit: Arizona State University)

 

Audience members, yours truly included, probed the panel (and the panel probed back) about, among other things, how athletes, teams and leagues can and should talk about climate change. The issue of politics hung over that question.

Mr. Mercer questioned the premise, saying in effect that climate change is not political. There was some pushback, both from Mr. Jarrett and some audience members. Ms. West suggested that emphasizing positive environmental actions and staying out of the politics of climate change is probably the best approach. I volleyed, saying “like it or not, climate change is a political issue and we can’t be afraid of that. Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in baseball was a controversial issue and now he’s a hero. Muhammad Ali’s criticism of the Vietnam War was a controversial issue and now he’s a hero. We don’t have the time to wait for our sports-climate heroes.” That led to more respectful dialogue from a variety of perspectives.

Which was great.

Too often I’ve seen panels — at the Summit and elsewhere — where everyone agrees in a Kumbaya-ish sort of way. I think workshops like this, which featured a healthy and respectful debate, are much more valuable and informative.

On the way to the next workshop, I heard several people saying, “I could’ve stayed for another hour.” I silently seconded that emotion.

 

DOES ESPN DESERVE ITS “ENVIRONMENTAL LEADERSHIP AWARD”

ESPN won the Alliance’s Environmental Leadership Award for 2018 .

In accepting the award, Kevin Martinez, ESPN’s vice president of Corporate Citizenship, showed a video that highlighted impressive environmental achievements at the ESPY Awards, the Winter X Games and the College GameDay studio shows for both football and basketball. And ESPN’s sprawling Bristol, CT headquarters campus has been greening for the better part of a decade, including on-site solar and a strong waste diversion program (62 percent in 2017).

 

Kevin Martinez - March 5, 2013

Kevin Martinez, ESPN’s vice president of corporate citizenship, accepted the Alliance’s Environmental Leadership Award (Photo credit: Rich Arden/ESPN)

 

These accomplishments deserve to be commended.

Just not, it says here, with the Environmental Leadership Award.

I just don’t see leadership from from the Worldwide Leader in Sports in the environmental arena.

That’s because ESPN has not told Green-Sports stories to its massive audiences — 86 million cable subscribers, 115 million monthly espn.com visitors, 2.1 million ESPN The Magazine subscribers, etc.

There have been occasional exceptions: Outside The Linesthe 60 Minutes of ESPN, covered the effect of the polluted waters of Rio on the sailors and rowers at the 2016 Summer Olympics as well as the impact of wildfires in California and of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. The producers are planning to mark the one year anniversary of Hurricane Harvey in August.

But that’s not leadership, at least not in my eyes.

The good news is that it’s not that heavy a lift to get to leadership. Taking some or all of these steps would do the trick:

  • Tell some of the many inspirational, positive, interesting Green-Sports stories out there.
  • Air a “Climate and Sports” series on SportsCenter 
  • Produce an ESPN 30 for 30 or a Nine for IX (women’s sports focused) documentary on an Eco-Athlete
  • Add an Eco-Athlete of the Year Award to the ESPY’s roster

You get the idea.

Now, you’re probably dying to ask me, “So Lew, to whom would you have given the Environmental Leadership Award?”

My vote would’ve gone to another sports media behemoth, Sky Sports of Great Britain, for its Sky Ocean Rescue initiative. According to SkySports.com, it shines a spotlight on “the issues affecting ocean health, finds innovative solutions to the ocean plastic problems and inspires people to make small everyday changes that collectively make a huge difference.” Just last week, the network named modern pentathlete Francesca Summers and para-swimmer Ellen Keane as Sky Sports Scholars for their Sky Ocean Rescue/beach cleanup work. Sky Sports also features Sky Ocean Rescue-related content on its air. And they are partners with the environmentally forward leaning Volvo Ocean Race.

 

Francesca Summers

Francesca Summers and Ellen Keane clean trash from beaches as part of the Sky Ocean Rescue program (Photo credit: Sky Sports)

 

ARTHUR M. BLANK WINS COMMUNITY CHAMPION AWARD

The Alliance’s first annual Community Champion Award, given to a sustainability leader in the Summit’s host city, went to Arthur M. Blank, owner of the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United and builder of Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mr. Blank’s commitment to going the extra mile to make sure the stadium earned LEED Platinum certification was likely well known by many in the audience. My guess is few attendees were aware of his vision to make the stadium an economic and cultural engine for the adjacent West Side neighborhood.

In decline for more than 40 years, the West Side was once home to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and was a nucleus of the civil rights movement. And now, thanks in part to Mr. Blank, the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, the Mercedes-Benz Stadium team, as well as the Atlanta and Georgia governments, that historic neighborhood is starting on the long road back.

 

GSA Arthur Blank-headshot

Arthur M. Blank, a deserving winner of the Green Sports Alliance’s Community Champion Award (Photo credit: Arthur M. Blank Sports and Entertainment)

 


 

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Jon Rose Trades Pro Surfing for Eco-Humanitarianism in “Waves for Water”

Jon Rose, a world-class pro surfer who was nearing the end of his career, was in a personal tailspin—he didn’t have a plan for his post riding-the-waves chapter. With several bits of serendipity, and relying on the traits that brought him near the top of his sport, Rose executed a 180° pivot and become an eco-athlete/humanitarian of the first order by founding and leading “Waves for Water,” a nonprofit that has brought clean drinking water to millions.  A documentary film of the same name is being released on Red Bull TV this  Wednesday, March 22. Here is a review, GSB’s first ever!

 

What do Arthur Ashe, Bill Bradley, Muhammad Ali, Billie Jean King and Jon Rose have in common?

They are among the greatest humanitarian athletes over the past half century or so. You likely know something about the first four: Ashe’s groundbreaking advocacy on South African apartheid and AIDS (in addition to this movie review, I’m going to double as a book reviewer: please, please read Ashe’s autobiography, Days of Grace: A Memoir); Bradley’s work on racial reconciliation and inner city decay while a member of the New York Knicks in the late 60s-early 70s (add A Sense of Where You Are: Bill Bradley at Princeton to your reading list, please); Ali’s world-changing and outspoken support of the civil rights movement and opposition to the Vietnam War; and King’s efforts on behalf of equal rights for women, both in and out of sports, as well as gay rights.

“But who,” you rightly ask, “is Jon Rose and why are you putting him alongside the ‘Mount Rushmore’ of athlete activists?”

As to the “who” part of your question, Rose was a somewhat self-absorbed world class surfer who, as his athletic career was coming to an end, was in a dark place: He didn’t have a clue what to do next.

The simple answer to the “why” goes like this: Rose pivoted to become an eco-humanitarian by deploying a simple, inexpensive filter system that quickly turns dirty water into clean, drinkable water in areas where the latter is in woefully short supply.

But to really understand why Rose warrants inclusion in the athlete activist pantheon, you really must see Waves for Water, a new, fast-moving, 52-minute documentary film that can be viewed exclusively on Red Bull TV starting this Wednesday, March 22—which happens to be World Water Day, an international day coordinated by UN-Water to celebrate access to freshwater.

 

Jon Rose Favela Rob Stauder Red Bull Content Pool

Jon Rose, in Waves for Water, with clean drinking water in a favela in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo credit: Rob Stauder, Red Bull Content Pool)

 

The film shows Rose to be a man who found himself floundering as his surfing career was winding down, then discovered his purpose  without really looking for it on a trip to Sumatra, Indonesia. Using some of the same traits that served him well as a athlete (competitiveness, resourcefulness, persistence in the face of daunting obstacles), Rose turned that purpose into a global nonprofit organization, Waves for Water, that has provided a simple, inexpensive water filtration system, and thus, clean drinking water for millions in four short years. He and his indefatigable team find their way to remote, poverty stricken, water deprived corners of the world, among them Haiti, Indonesia, and Brazil. Often they show up after natural catastrophes such as 2013’s Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.

Jon Rose Carries Container in Philippines w: Carlo Delantar

Jon Rose (l) and Waves for Water’s Carlos Delantar carry a container that will provide clean drinking water to people who desperately need it in the Philippines. (Photo credit: Photo credit: Rob Stauder, Red Bull Content Pool)

 

Waves for Water shows Rose’s metamorphosis to be life saving for millions around the world—and for him as well. Personal, emotional interviews with actors Rosario Dawson and Patricia Arquette, along with those in the international relief world, make Rose’s journey also seem like—and this is really important—something the viewer can envision joining in on, at least in part.  More than a few viewers will, I predict, ask themselves, “Can I emulate Rose?” 

Jon Rose Rosario Dawson Maximilian Haidbauer

Jon Rose with Rosario Dawson in Haiti. (Photo credit: Maximilian Haidbauer)

 

The answer, according to Rose, not surprisingly, is a resounding YES. His nonprofit’s mantra—“Do what you love and help out along the way”—makes his style of on-the-ground humanitarianism sound appealing rather than ascetic. Rose lives that ethos to the max by surfing, driving motorcycles, sailing and trekking around the world—all the while, leading a strategic, measurable quest to end the world water crisis. The film, in not so many words, invites the viewer to join Rose.

And, as more people ride the Waves for Water wave, Rose will cement his status as a humanitarian athlete Hall of Famer. Not that he much cares. Rose just wants to distribute more filters and clean drinking water to more of the millions of people who need it.

Directed by Maximilian HaidbauerWaves For Water will stream On Demand on Red Bull TV, which is distributed digitally across mobile phones, tablets, consoles, OTT (Over The Top content) devices and Smart TVs. To view the trailer, please click HERE.

 


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