The GSB Interview: Jason Twill, a Green Sports Alliance Founding Director, on the Organization’s Birth

The Green-Sports movement is in a transitional phase from its initial 1.0 version — the greening of the games themselves — to its 2.0 incarnation — engaging fans on environmental and climate issues.

The Green Sports Alliance, now eight years old, is also in the midst of change, as it searches for a new executive director to lead the organization firmly into the Green-Sports 2.0 era. That the Alliance is the most established Green-Sports trade association in the world may be taken for granted by many. But for those who were present at its birth, the odds of the GSA reaching its eighth birthday was by no means a certainty back in 2011. An organization dedicated to the Greening of Sports? What did that even mean?

With that in mind, we spoke with Jason Twill, one of the GSA’s Founding Directors and co-author of its bylaws. This long-form interview gets the inside story of how the Alliance came to be, the fascinating route Twill took to be — as Lin Manuel Miranda famously said in Hamilton — in the “Room Where it Happened,” and how the Alliance and other similar organizations around the world can help build a Green-Sports 2.0 world.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Jason, the story of how the Green Sports Alliance came to be is something I’ve been interested in for some time, so thank you for talking with us. Tell us about your background and how you came to be involved with the Green-Sports movement in its embryonic stages.

Jason Twill: Thanks, Lew. It has been quite a circuitous route. Toward the end of high school in Warren, NJ, a New York City suburb, I tended bar in Hoboken, which was a quick train ride away from Greenwich Village. I have this memory of emerging from the depth of the underground like I had crossed some imaginary threshold into this world of excitement — streets buzzing with energy, layered with a diversity of people and cultures that make The Village great and the antithesis of suburbia, which I hated. That’s when my passion to create better cities and communities began, and I have never looked back.

GSB: What came next?

 

Jason Twill

Jason Twill (Photo credit: Jennifer Twill)

 

Jason: I studied art and political economics at Colorado College; and I also had the privilege of studying in Florence, where the piazzas and labyrinthine grid was a very different sort of urban environment. I loved it! I then moved to New York and was interested in pursuing fashion design. Took a construction job to pay the bills while studying at the Fashion Institute of Technology and Parsons School of Design.

GSB: What happened to loving cities and urban architecture?

Jason: I told you it was a circuitous route! I got the fashion bug in Florence. So, back in New York, I spent my days on construction sites and evenings at fashion shows and working with designers. This confluence of construction and design is what ultimately led me back to a passion for architecture. It hit me like a ton of bricks when I was visiting the Getty Center museum in L.A. I found myself looking at the buildings and landscape as art and became set — finally — on becoming an architect.

I applied to Columbia for urban studies and architecture and, while waiting to start, took a summer job in 2001 with architecture firm Mancini Duffy. Their offices were in Tower 2 of the World Trade Center. I was in the building on the morning of 9/11. Escaped by just a hair, along with others from the firm, but I lost a lot of friends that day. So I postponed school and went back to the firm to help them rebuild their practice. I noticed several friends there suffering from post-traumatic stress. Having been through a lot of adversity in my life, I set up an informal 12-step-like program in which we all supported one another to get through the fear and anxiety we were experiencing.

At that time, my co-worker and future wife, Jennifer, gave me a book, “The Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America’s Man-made Landscape,” by Jason Howard Kunstler, a fantastic, non-technical explanation of suburban sprawl in the post-World War II era. It made me reflect on my own experience growing up in the suburbs and how much the built environment shapes our social patterns and behaviors. I literally closed that book and knew what I wanted to do with the rest of my life: Disrupt the real estate sector through ecologically and socially conscious development models. So I pivoted from Columbia to getting a Masters in real estate development and finance at NYU.

 

GEOGRAPHY OF NOWHERE

 

GSB: Did that even exist in the early 2000s?

Jason: Not really. I had to advocate for NYU to introduce things like LEED certification. But there were already a lot of great experts in this space I could learn from outside of school. I essentially earned two masters, with conventional real estate courses at NYU augmented by reading tons of books^ to teach myself these other pathways. Also volunteered to help get the US Green Building Council’s New York City chapter going, worked on some of the first LEED buildings in New York, and then I was fortunate enough to meet Jonathan Rose…

GSB: The legendary New York City real estate developer and sustainability champion…

Jason: Exactly. I wrote him a letter; he invited me to his office for coffee and a talk He’s been a friend, mentor and inspiration ever since. During that time, from 2003-2007, I worked for a couple of smaller private developers, championing sustainable and equitable design. The timing was right; by 2005, the market had shifted and I was getting more traction on things like LEED certification. We also had our first son, Sullivan. He had a series of illnesses and the first case of influenza A in the city in 2007, which scared the hell out of us as new parents. We thought this might have something to do with the post 9/11 air quality in New York, so we decided to move to another city. Austin, Portland, and Seattle were on our radar because of their progressive governance and industry stars.

GSB: Where did you end up?

Jason: We chose Seattle, the epicenter of the green building movement. I was very fortunate to receive an offer from Vulcan Inc. and we relocated in 2007.

GSB: Vulcan Inc. is the business and philanthropic entity founded by Microsoft co-founder, the late Paul G. Allen.

Jason: Yes! The six years I spent at Vulcan were some of the most productive of my career. I became a practitioner of city-making as a senior project manager working on all aspects of Paul Allen’s portfolio. We looked to inspire change in areas he was most passionate about: art, science, music, technology, and sports. I supported Vulcan Real Estate on the delivery of a new community called South Lake Union, an industrial area filled with old warehouses just north of the city’s central business district.

GSB: What did it become?

Jason: Paul originally purchased the land and gifted it to the city so they could create a park. But citizens voted down a tax measure to fund construction and the city handed back the land. Paul pivoted and turned it into a mixed-use, sustainable community. Over time, it emerged as one of the first Innovation Districts in North America, now home to Amazon’s HQ1, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft. At the same time I was working on South Lake Union, I started incubating what would become the Green Sports Alliance. When the financial markets crashed in 2008, things slowed down at Vulcan. My boss, Ray Colliver, got approval from Paul to apportion more of my time to embed sustainability even deeper across Vulcan’s business portfolio. Our office was across the street from CenturyLink Field, home of the NFL’s Seahawks, one of the teams Paul owned…

GSB: …The others being CenturyLink tenants — MLS’ Seattle Sounders — in which Mr. Allen’s estate has an ownership stake, and the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers.

Jason: Ray introduced me to Darryl Benge and Mike McFaul, who ran CenturyLink operations. They were already looking to invest in sustainability measures, so I started to support them in getting some runs on the green scoreboard.

GSB: What kind of things did you help them do?

Jason: We planned and implemented a comprehensive resource conservation plan that included the installation of nearly a megawatt of solar panels on the roof of the adjacent WaMu Theater, EV charging, LED lighting retrofit, waterless urinals, waste strategies, and more. We also started to explore how we could generate fan awareness and impact behavior through strategic branding and messaging. And then this larger dialogue started to occur around green sports.

 

Solar CenturyLink

A solar array tops the roof of the WaMu Theater adjacent to CenturyLink Field, home of Seattle’s Seahawks Sounders (Photo credit: Seattle Seahawks)

 

GSB: How so?

Jason: In 2009, I met Justin Zeulner, who worked for the Trail Blazers. He was doing terrific green stuff there, including getting Moda Center certified as one of the first LEED Gold arenas in the world. I was also introduced to some folks at the WNBA’s Seattle Storm

GSB: …the current WNBA champs!

Jason: …and the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks, and became mates with green-sports pioneer Scott Jenkins, who was managing Safeco Field for the Seattle Mariners.

GSB: Scott’s now the Chairman of the Board of the Green Sports Alliance and General Manager of Atlanta’s LEED Platinum Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Jason: With all these relationships building, we were sharing strategies and partners that could help us ‘green’ the venues, so all the proverbial kindling was there to start a fire, just waiting for the spark. It came when my boss Ray Colliver, who always pushed me take things further, sustainability-wise, with Paul’s teams, handed me a Sports Business Journal issue focused on sustainability. I noted an article by Allen Hershkowitz, then a Senior Scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), leading their sports and entertainment greening platform.

Already a big fan of NRDC’s work, I called him and said, ‘Hi, I’m Jason, I work for Paul G. Allen, who owns a few sports franchises and we want to work with NRDC to drive a bigger agenda for sustainability in sports.’ We had a couple of conversations — he was incredible. I really love the guy and we were exploding with ideas from the start. Allen offered to fly out with his key staff to meet, while my colleague Dune Ives and I started to explore what we could create in this space from Vulcan’s perspective.

GSB: Dune is now executive director of the Lonely Whale Foundation, a group established by actor and activist Adrian Grenier, which is leading initiatives on ocean health and the anti-plastic straw movement.

Jason: Yes, Dune has an unbelievably beautiful mind and is a force of nature in the sustainability movement. We mapped out the mission statement, vision, and objectives for what initially became the Pacific Northwest Green Sports Alliance. Then, on February 1, 2010, using our draft work as the agenda, we hosted a workshop with Allen and his NRDC colleagues. Representatives from five of the region’s pro teams (Portland’s Trail Blazers and Seattle’s Mariners, Seahawks, Sounders and the Storm), as well as officials from the City of Seattle, the Bonneville Environmental Foundation, and Green Building Services joined in.

From this initial group of passionate change makers, The Pacific Northwest Green Sports Alliance was born! The Vancouver Canucks joined shortly thereafter. I became its Chair to help get it going. Pretty quickly, we received interest from teams and venues beyond the region, so we dropped “Pacific Northwest” from the name. We secured a seed money grant from the Bullitt Foundation — an organization led by Dennis Hayes, founder of Earth Day, focused on environmental change in the northwest. This funding was crucial and, along with investments from NRDC, Vulcan, and each of the teams, we hired Martin Tull, a brilliant change-maker from the Portland sustainability community, as the founding executive director. He built the Alliance into a stable, sustainable non-profit organization.

GSB: So you guys basically bootstrapped the Green Sports Alliance off the ground.

Jason: We all had full-time jobs, but fueled by a passion for change, we put the time and energy into making this happen. There isn’t any one founder of the Alliance; we all worked really hard and collaboratively, playing a vital part in its success to this day. Our beginnings are quintessentially captured in this famous Margaret Meade quote:

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

We definitely hit on something and there was a big, public launch at Safeco Field, home of the Mariners in spring 2011. By that time, I had stepped down as chair, handing the reins to Scott Jenkins, already a key figure in the movement. Since then, I’ve served as a Board executive committee member.

It’s important to acknowledge that we did not create the Green-Sports space. There was already a ton of great work and leadership happening around sports and sustainability in North America and globally. We just created a platform to bring all these leaders together to share best practices and accelerate the progress of the Green-Sports movement.

We also wouldn’t be where we are at today without the technical and financial support of the NRDC team led by Allen Hershkowitz, along with terrific scientists and technical experts like Darby Hoover and Alice Henly. With their support we were able to publish documents like the “Game Changer” report that provided case studies highlighting the amazing sustainability work happening across the pro leagues. This helped us grow from the inaugural six founding teams to a roster that includes pretty much all major league teams in North America, plus many college athletics departments and conferences.

 

Jason Twill GSA origins

A gathering of some of the key players in the founding of the Green Sports Alliance, including: FRONT ROW: Scott Jenkins (2nd from left), Dune Ives (3rd from left) and Justin Zeulner (right). MIDDLE ROW: Jason Twill (2nd from right). TOP ROW: Allen Hershkowitz (2nd from left), Martin Tull (right) (Photo credit: Green Sports Alliance)

 

Jason: That growth was also driven by annual GSA summits starting with our inaugural event in Portland in 2011. Martin Tull, working with a local team, the Board, and the NRDC, miraculously put it together in just a few months.

GSB: A Herculean effort! How did it go?

Jason: It was a big hit. Over 200 people came. Ex-NBA All-Star and then-Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson keynoted. People from across North America who were interested or already working in this space attended. They really appreciated a forum on sustainability solely focused on the sports industry. The next year, our Summit in Seattle attracted closer to 400 people and we knew we had hit our stride.

 

KJ at GSA 2011 Dabe Alan

Retired NBA All Star and ex-Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson addressing the first Green Sports Alliance Summit in 2011 in Portland (Photo credit: Dabe Alan)

 

GSB: I went to the third Summit, in Brooklyn in 2013, and even more people came. And the rest, as they say, is history. What is your role as a board member?

Jason: I try to provide big-picture thinking and thought leadership on how to best grow the movement. We started with greening the games and the venues…

GSB: …What I call Green-Sports 1.0. I believe that’s the way it had to be. But we’re past the time to pivot to Green-Sports 2.0, engaging fans — with the important megaphone of the media — to change their environmental behaviors, including as it relates to climate change.

Jason: I agree. Even in those very early days, I would look across at CenturyLink Field and think, ‘for every Seahawks game, we have something like 10 percent of the entire population of Seattle in one room,’ which prompted me to ask, ‘How do we change the hearts and minds of billions of sports fans across the world and tell a new story of sustainability in our time?’

GSB: How is that going?

Jason: Nelson Mandela probably captured it best when he said

Sport has the power to change the world. It had the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. Sport can awaken hope where there was previously only despair.

Now think about channeling that power toward addressing climate change, the defining challenge of our time. We still have a lot of work to do to realize this dream, but the Green Sports Alliance and all of our partner organizations have this opportunity before us if we work together.

GSB: Those include GSA Japan, which launched earlier this year, BASIS in Great Britain, Sports Environment Alliance (SEA) in Australia and New Zealand, along with Sport and Sustainability International (SandSI) in Europe. Is this separation — some might say Balkanization — a good thing when the Green-Sports movement is relatively small?

Jason: Great question. I don’t see this as Balkanization at all. All these organizations are able to respond to their local cultures and contexts. I do see the ability for all of these groups, including Beyond Sport and others, to collaborate for maximum global impact through locally meaningful initiatives. In fact, that is one of the things I want to help foster as a GSA Board Member since I am now living and working in Australia. I am in conversation with a lot of the folks at these other incredible organizations, as many of us in the Alliance are. I think it is in all of our interests to work together, using the power of sports to ensure a safe and sustainable future for all life on our planet.

GSB: I’ll sign for that! What are you doing in Australia?

Jason: Staying true to my passion for cities, I set up Urban Apostles, my own development and consulting business. We specialize in regenerative urbanism and affordable housing models for cities. I like to say we work at the intersection of the sharing economy and art of city making.

GSB: What is regenerative urbanism?

Jason: Regenerative urbanism considers going beyond the ‘sustainable’ paradigm for cities since our current form of urbanization is not doing nearly enough to address issues like climate change and social inequity. For me, it’s a way of conceiving our cities as ‘living systems,’ and planning and developing them in a manner which creates conditions conducive for all life forms to thrive. Imagine a city that responds to the evolutionary needs of all the life within and around it. We look to shift from ‘human-centric’ urbanization models to ‘life-centric’ ones. Earlier this year, I also founded and launched City Makers’ Guild. It’s an education, advocacy, and research group promoting more equitable and inclusive cities.

GSB: Congratulations and good luck with both. And thank you for your important, visionary work that helped give birth to the Green Sports Alliance and is accelerating the move to Green-Sports 2.0.

 

^ Books on green design Twill read during his time at NYU included “Natural Capitalism,” by Amory & Hunter Lovins, with Paul Hawkens. “Ecological Design,” by Sym Van der Ryn and Stuart Cowan. “The Green Real Estate Development Guide,” by William Browning and the Rocky Mountain Institute

 


 

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GreenSportsBlog’s Five-Year Anniversary…A Reflection

When I started GreenSportsBlog back on May 22, 2013, I had no idea what to expect.

I had never blogged before, wasn’t sure if there would be an audience for content about the intersection of Green & Sports, and didn’t know if the movers and shakers of the Green-Sports world would talk to me.

Five years and 512 posts later, I can say happily say there is consistent and growing interest — our 7,000+ monthly readers attest to that. And I have been blessed to be able to interview Green-Sports activists, corporate leaders, eco-athletes, and more. To all, I say a heartfelt thank you — and keep reading and commenting!

To commemorate GSB’s fifth anniversary, I thought you might find it interesting to read about how I came to write about Green-Sports and to see which posts have been the most well-read.

 

HOW I BECAME A GREEN-SPORTS BLOGGER

A lifelong, passionate New York-area sports fan — for those who haven’t read this blog much, the Jets, Knicks, Rutgers, and Yankees are my local favorites, along with North London’s Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League. While at Rutgers, I announced football and basketball while a student at Rutgers on WRSU-FM

 

WRSU Knightline

Yours truly, 2nd from right and mustachioed in an old school Jets jersey, making what must surely have been an astute point on Knightline, the post-game sports talk show on WRSU-FM, the Rutgers student radio station back…a few years (Photo credit: WRSU-FM)

 

I tried to make a go of sportscasting as a professional, but it is a very tough way to make a living. After earning my MBA from NYU’s Stern School of Business, I pivoted to the sports business, where I was fortunate to spend 15 years, starting in the early 1990s through the mid 2000s, working in advertising sales and marketing. Getting paid to go to the World Series, NBA Finals, World Cup and more? How cool was that?!?!

The environment interested me — it was a factor in my voting decisions; I supported the Sierra Club and like organizations. But did my greenness match my sports fandom? Only when it came to the Jets, who wear green. Otherwise, not even close.

Until 9/11.

Working for Sports Illustrated Kids in midtown Manhattan at the time, I was very fortunate personally to not know anyone in the Twin Towers. Still, I felt like I had to do something. This was the Pearl Harbor of my generation and this was my home city.

But what to do?

It wasn’t until about four months after that horrible day that I found my answer.

In “Green Is the New Red, White & Blue,” Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman posited that we in the U.S. were fueling the wars on terrorism that we were fighting (we were already in Afghanistan at the time; the invasion of Iraq was a year or so away) by our insanely profligate energy use. His logic went something like this:

  1. The U.S. represented four percent of the world’s population but 25 percent of its energy usage.
  2. Since 9/11 happened before the fracking-led domestic oil and gas production boom, we had to source a good chunk of our energy from places like Saudi Arabia.
  3. The Saudi royal family siphoned some of that U.S oil revenue to its Wahhabi extremists to ensure they would remain in power.
  4. And those Wahhabists funded the training of 15 of the 19 9/11 attackers.

It was like the compact fluorescent lightbulb went on above my head! Green was going to play a big part in the solutions to geopolitical problems and I would play a small role. So I “greened up” my personal life, buying a hybrid car (becoming a very early adapter; I knew more about how a hybrid worked than the salesman), changing out all my lightbulbs to compact fluorescents, and becoming an almost-vegetarian.

But that wasn’t enough.

I needed to somehow green my work life. This became even more of an imperative the more I learned about climate change.

But how to get a green job? In 2002-2003, most were technical in nature. And, let’s put it this way: You do NOT want me installing solar panels on your roof.

So I thought, “what am I good at?” Sales, marketing and story telling. The trick was how to translate that from the mature sports industry to the nascent world of green business.

I began to network like crazy, joining a gaggle of sustainable business groups in New York. But when I couldn’t find what I call green “job-jobs” for someone with a sales/marketing/communications background, I decided, in September 2005, to take a risk, leaving SI Kids and recreating myself as a sustainability-focused, business development, marketing and communications consultant.

Since then I have helped a wide array of organizations — from Fortune 500 companies to startups to nonprofits — tell their sustainability stories more powerfully, generate new revenue by selling sponsorships to green events, and garner positive media coverage for their sustainability-related accomplishments. Some of my clients whose names you’d recognize include BT (aka British Telecom), Empire State Building, Whole Foods Market and the Wildlife Conservation Society

Then, about three years into my life as a sustainability consultant, in 2008-2009, I began to wonder if there was an intersection of Green and Sports, with the idea being that I would love to marry my two passions.

So I poked around and found out there was a fellow named Dr. Allen Hershkowitz who, working with NRDC, helped the Philadelphia Eagles and minority owner Christina Weiss Lurie make sure the toilet paper at Lincoln Financial Field wasn’t being sourced from eagle habitats. 

What an introduction to Green-Sports!

A year or so I discovered that a small group of pro sports teams from Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver had banded together to form the Green Sports Alliance. Their goal was to share better practices on energy efficiency, waste, and more. This sounded like an organization and a movement — Green-Sports — that was poised to grow. 

And I needed to be a part of it! But again, my question was “how?”

In 2011-12, I did more digging — and noticed that the Alliance was growing well beyond its Pacific Northwest roots, and that the organizers of the London 2012 Olympics made sustainability a key strand of their DNA. 

I figured media organization must be covering this burgeoning Green-Sports field. 

No one was.

So I decided would become that media organization.

And that led to GreenSportsBlog’s birth five years ago, almost to the day.

 

Lew GSA 2

Yours truly, making what what must surely have been an astute point at the 2016 Green Sports Alliance Summit in Houston (Photo credit: Lewis Blaustein)

 

FIVE KEY LESSONS

I’ve learned a ton these last five years — so much so, I could write an entire post just on that topic. But, for purposes of this story, I’ll boil it down to five key lessons that have been imparted to me by you, the readers, based on your comments and which GSB posts have drawn the most traffic:

  1. Allow the People Building the Green-Sports World to Share Their Stories Directly with Readers: Based on reader comments, The GSB Interview is the most popular segment on the blog. Sharing the unfiltered insights, struggles and successes of a wide array of women and men who are responsible for greening the sports world is an honor and a pleasure.
  2. Go Beyond Major League Sports and Mega-Events: Of course, we cover the greening of major pro sports leagues in North America and Europe, as well as of mega events like the Olympics and the FIFA World Cup. But stories like Forest Green Rovers, the fourth tier English soccer club that is the Greenest Team in Sports, and the St. Paul Saints, the minor league baseball team in Minnesota which won the Greenest New Stadium of the Year in 2015, have drawn some of the site’s best traffic numbers.
  3. Write with the Voice of the Sports Fan: From reader comments back in GSB’s early days, it seems that most expected the blog to be written by someone with a cleantech, facilities management and/or “green journalism” background. Many sounded pleased that I brought a different point-of-view, that of a passionate sustainability communicator who is also a big sports fan. Understanding and loving sports — and the people who follow it — was and is important. Especially when one considers, as Allen Hershkowitz is wont to say, that 13 percent of Americans follow science, but 65-70 percent follow sports. And as Nelson Mandela offered, “Sports can change the world!”
  4. Bringing a Sense of Humor to the Table is a Good Thing: Our forays into the satirical have been well received by readers and commenters. The July 2014 story in which I imagined that LeBron James decided to leave Miami to return to Cleveland — not because he wanted to go home, but because he was afraid of climate change’s effects in South Florida — remains the blog’s most read post. In fact, every post in which I’ve included the words “LeBron” and “James” has scored well. That bodes well for this one :). Hey, the climate change fight can be a very hard slog at times, so adding a dollop of humor here and there can’t hurt.

The fifth key lesson is that Green-Sports Needs To Play the “Climate Change Fight” Game…and It Needs to Play to WIN!: Herm Edwards, now the head football coach at Arizona State University, was coaching my New York Jets back in 2002, when he famously ranted that “The great thing about sports is, you play to win the game! Hello?! You play to win the game!!!”

 

Herm Edwards’ 2002 “You play to win the game” rant

 

To me, it’s clear that Green-Sports needs to be playing the “climate change fight” game. But are we? And are we playing to win? Despite some moves in the right direction, it’s clear to me that the Green-Sports world is not there yet.

Hey, I get it: Climate change is political and sports is where people often go to get away from politics. But acknowledging those realities shouldn’t mean we abandon the fight. 

And then there are two other important realities at play here:

  1. Climate change is the most existential threat the world faces
  2. It will take consistent and unyielding passion to generate the political will to turn humanity away from the carbon train wreck we’re hurtling towards.

It says here that tapping into the passion of sports fans and the massive size of the fan base is essential to the climate change fight. I have been heartened by the many GreenSportsBlog readers who have encouraged me to continue to push the Green-Sports world and sports media (#CoverGreenSports) to engage more forthrightly on climate change. I certainly will.

 

MOST READ GREENSPORTSBLOG POSTS

Here is a list of our 10 most read posts over our first five years. Enjoy and please keep reading and sharing GreenSportsBlog!

  1. The REAL Reason LeBron Chose to Leave Miami for Cleveland: Climate Change (July 2014)
  2. The GSB Interview: Mark Teixeira of the NY Yankees; Helping to Rebuild and Green NW Atlanta (February 2016)
  3. Mercedes-Benz Stadium: Super Cool, Super Green Future Home of the Falcons and Atlanta FC (November 2015)
  4. Birds Flying Into Minneapolis’ Glass-Walled US Bank Stadium Not a Good Look with Super Bowl LII Only Two Months Away (December 2017)
  5. Integral Hockey: Rebuilding Broken Hockey Sticks–and Keeping Them Out of the Landfill (October 2015)
  6. How Green is Augusta National Golf Club, Home of The Masters (April 2016)
  7. The GSB Interview: Leilani Münter, Looking to Turn on the Speed and Turn Auto Racing Fans on to a Vegan Diet at Daytona (January 2018)
  8. Forest Green Rovers, Greenest Team in Sports, Earns Promotion Up England’s Football/Soccer Ladder (May 2017)
  9. PyeongChang 2018: How Green will the Winter Olympics Be? A Conversation with Sustainability Manager Hyeona Kim (August 2017)
  10. Green Sports Alliance Calls on Sports Fans To Take “Live Green or Die™” Challenge in Response to Trump Pulling U.S Out of Paris Climate Agreement (June 2017)

 

 


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Super Bowl LII Champion Eagles Have Been Green-Sports Leaders for More than a Decade

The first-time Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles have long been Green-Sports trail blazers. As the City of Brotherly Love gets ready for Thursday’s parade (please stay off the hotel awnings and street light poles, Iggles fans!), GreenSportsBlog is happy to play some of the Eagles’ Greatest Green-Sports Hits.

 

IT ALL STARTED WITH…TOILET PAPER?

As Green Sports Alliance co-founder Dr. Allen Hershkowitz likes to tell it, the impetus for the Eagles’ commitment to sustainability  — and, for that matter, the beginning of the broader sports-greening movement — can be traced back to 2004 and…

…toilet paper?

The second paragraph of “This May Be the Most Radical Idea in All of Professional Sports,” Ian Gordon’s spot-on profile of Hershkowitz in the July/August 2015 issue of Mother Jonescaptures the essence of the story:

“Back in 2004, the Philadelphia Eagles had recently moved into a brand new stadium, Lincoln Financial Field, and wanted to become more environmentally responsible. The team reached out to [Hershkowitz] to talk about paper, one of his areas of expertise. It wasn’t exactly exciting stuff, but Hershkowitz, then a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) with a track record of taking on ambitious projects, had done his homework: The Eagles’ TP supplier was Kimberly-Clark, which was getting wood pulp from forests in the southern Appalachians that were home to, you guessed it, real-life eagles. ‘The people at the Eagles’ stadium were wiping their butts with eagle habitat,’ he recalls. ‘That’s what we call a branding liability.'”

Indeed.

 

CHRISTINA WEISS LURIE LEADS THE EAGLES GREENING EFFORTS

Why did the Eagles want to become more environmentally responsible?

Christina Weiss Lurie, a minority owner of the club since 1994, deserves much of the credit. She spearheaded the Eagles Go Green campaign, coinciding with the opening of “The Linc” in 2003. That groundbreaking initiative has seen the Eagles divert 99 percent of their waste from the landfill and generate 100 percent of their electricity from renewable energy.

 

(player/coach/executive name)

Christina Weiss Lurie, minority owner, Philadelphia Eagles. (Photo credit: Christina Weiss Lurie)

 

In a wide-ranging September 2013 GreenSportsBlog interview, Weiss Lurie shared…

…her inspirations for Go Green:

“In the late 90’s, as we planned what became Lincoln Financial Field, we looked for ways to make a positive statement to the community with the stadium.  And, while it was not designed with sustainability at the forefront, as time went on I started thinking about how we could operate more efficiently and with a smaller carbon footprint.  9/11 inspired us as well — with the idea that we had to do more to wean ourselves off of foreign sources of energy.  We asked the simple question: What can we do? And so, when the stadium opened in 2003 we started the Go Green campaign with something relatively simple–recycling–and things took off from there.”

…how her colleagues in Eagles management didn’t exactly embrace Go Green from the start:

“It was an uphill battle at the beginning, no doubt about it.  We are a business after all and so the costs of greening had to be taken into account at every step of the way. ‘[But] we just persevered!  And, at the same time, we empowered the team employees from top to bottom to take ownership of Go Green.  From the bottom up, we provided incentives for all employees to choose electricity supply from renewable sources for their homes by paying any premiums for green vs. “brown” power.  From the top down, I’ve been fortunate, over the years, to get buy in from our C-level on Go Green, especially our CFO at the time.  The net result of the bottom-up/top-down strategy has been astounding:  Our recycling rates have gone up from 8 percent in 2005 to 99 percent in 2012!”

…how a variety of forward-thinking companies partnered with the club to make Go Green a success:

“We’ve been very lucky with our vendors.  For example, SCA, a Swedish company that has its US headquarters in Philadelphia, is our paper vendor.  They provide us with 100% post consumer recycled paper. Aramark, our food concessionaire, initially was resistant to “greening” our food services operations (composting, organics, etc.) due to cost.  But ultimately they wanted to find solutions and now are bringing their green operations to other facilities!  Going the eco friendly route is a journey and can take time. NRG, our energy provider, built and financed our 11,000 panel solar array at Lincoln Financial Field.  Now we generate 30 percent of our electricity from the panels and also mini wind turbines.”

 

IMG_1937

Solar array, topped by Eagle talon-shaped wind turbines at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. (Photo credit: Lewis Blaustein)

 

GO GREEN DOES NOT REST ON ITS LAURELS 

While repeating as Super Bowl champs is super difficult — the 2004-2005 New England Patriots were the last team to turn that trick — the Eagles, through Go Green, have been consistent Green-Sports winners over the past a decade and a half. Last summer, GreenSportsBlog shared how the Eagles continued that trend through the installation of  Eco-Safe Digesters® at The Linc and their practice facility:

“The Philadelphia Eagles team[ed] up with environmental partner, Delaware-based Waste Masters Solutions (WMS), on the installation of a BioHiTech Global Eco-Safe Digester®, a food waste digester and data analytics platform at Lincoln Financial Field. The unit uses a proprietary bacteria formula to break down pre- and post-consumer food scraps via aerobic digestion and send them through sewer systems with no residual solids…This move builds upon the September 2016 installation of a waste digester at the team’s NovaCare Complex practice facility to help decompose pre-consumer food waste. Since then, more than nine tons of food waste has been decomposed and, thus, diverted from landfills.”

 

BioHiTech Eco-Safe

BioHiTech Global’s Eco-Safe Digesters will be installed Lincoln Financial Field, the home of the Philadelphia Eagles, and will be managed and maintained by Waste Master Solutions. (Photo credit: BioHiTech Global)

 

EAGLE ECO-ATHLETES; CHRIS LONG AND CONNOR BARWIN

The Eagles’ Go Green ethos has made its way to the locker room.

Defensive end Chris Long, who donated his entire 2017 salary of $1 million to educational charities, is also the co-founder of the nonprofit Waterboys. A January 2017 GreenSportsBlog story provides some of the inspiring particulars:

“[After Long’s season ends,] the former first round draft pick from the University of Virginia will turn a good chunk of his offseason attention to Waterboys, the nonprofit he founded to use his platform as a pro football player to affect change by bringing water to drought-ravaged Tanzania and other countries in East Africa…

…Long first visited Tanzania to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. Seeing the poverty and the challenging quality of life—due, in large part, to the water scarcity in the area—were his catalysts for action. That water deficit has reached crisis levels due to a massive prolonged drought that, according to climate scientists, is being exacerbated by climate change.

…Through Waterboys, Long, philanthropist Doug Pitt and a network of 23 current and former NFLers, including ex-Eagle (currently with the Los Angeles Rams) Connor Barwin, donate their own funds and, through social media, raise money from their fans to support the digging of wells by local workers in East Africa.”

 

Chris Long

Eagles defensive end Chris Long, co-founder of Waterboys (Photo credit: WPVI-TV Philadelphia)

 

To date, 31 wells have been funded, with each serving 7,500 people at a cost of $45,000.

Speaking of Connor Barwin, while he was with Philadelphia, the popular linebacker became one of pro sports’ leading eco-athletes. He drove a Tesla, rode his bike to work and, as a volunteer, installed solar panels on the roofs of local homes.

 

GREEN X 2 IN SUPER BOWL LIII?

Given the Eagles Green-Sports leadership, rooting for them to get back to Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta next February is not a heavy lift for this GreenSportsBlogger. And how fitting would it be if, across the sideline, stood the New York Jets, aka Gang Green.

OK, to be completely transparent, the Gang Green moniker has nothing to do with sustainability — rather, it refers to the color of the Jets’ uniforms. But the club does play at MetLife Stadium, a green leader in its own right. And they are, for better and mostly worse, my favorite team. Of course they don’t really have a quarterback, but that’s a story for another day.

Still, I choose to dream big and green. And nothing would be bigger — or greener — than an Eagles-Jets Super Bowl.

But, for now, it’s the Eagles day. So Fly Eagles FLY!

 

 

 


 

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The Best and Worst of Green-Sports, 2017

The Green-Sports world saw some important firsts in 2017: The first UN Dialogue on Sport and Climate Action in Germany, the first Pac-12 Sustainability Conference in Sacramento, and the first LEED Platinum professional sports stadium in the US are but three examples.

Beyond the firsts, eco-athletes, from sailors to snowboarders, used their sizable platforms to promote ocean health and the climate change fight. Some even lobbied members of Congress. 

But in this Age of Trump and with the ascendancy of climate change deniers and do-nothings in the upper reaches of the US Government, the Green-Sports world needed to go much bigger, move much faster.

Against that backdrop, we bring you the BEST AND WORST OF GREEN-SPORTS, 2017.


 

BEST GREEN SPORTS STORY OF 2017

Protect Our Winters (POW) and Winter Sports Athletes

 

POW Athletes at Capitol Credit Forest Woodward

Photo credit: Protect Our Winters

 

The photo above is the perfect visualization as to why Protect Our Winters (POW), the organization of elite winter sports athletes who advocate for substantive action on climate change, is the winner of GSB’s BEST GREEN-SPORTS STORY OF 2017.

You see, the 21 folks captured in front of the US Capitol made up most of the 25-person delegation of active and retired skiers, snowboarders and more, who, along with staffers, descended on Washington this fall to lobby 22 members of Congress and their staffs. Topics included carbon pricing, solar energy and electrifying transportation.

That winter sports athletes are more concerned about climate change than any other group of athletes I can think of makes sense since they can see the negative effects of warming temperatures on their playing fields (i.e. ski slopes, snowboard courses, frozen ponds) in real time.

That they have built POW into the only climate change action advocacy group led by athletes, Olympians and world champions among them, is the amazing thing.

In recent months, GreenSportsBlog interviewed retired Olympic silver medal winning snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler and Olympic cross country skier Andy Newell, about their involvement with POW.

Bleiler takes part in “Hot Planet, Cool Athletes” school assembly programs, which helps  make “climate change engaging, more relatable, and more personal for students.” She spoke at COP21, the global climate conference in Paris in November 2015 that led to the Paris Climate Agreement. Newell helped lead POW’s participation in the People’s Climate March in New York City in April and has written OpEds, including one that ran in USA Today in 2014.

Both were part of the POW 2017 DC fall lobby team; their firsthand experiences — and those of their colleagues — with the effects of climate change are powerful aspects of their presentations to Congress.

Here’s Bleiler: “[I share] my own experiences as a professional snowboarder who’s traveled around the world chasing snow! Reduced snow pack, warmer temperatures and shorter winters all mean a hit to the sports we love, but these changes also impact the economies of all the mountain town communities where I compete and train. This has all been happening in my lifetime…”

Given that the vast majority of the Republican-led Congress, the head of the EPA, as well as the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, are virulently opposed to fighting climate change, POW’s 2017 legislative efforts did not bear immediate fruit.

But, in the climate change fight, POW is all in for a marathon.

It is a race cross country skier Andy Newell has no doubt POW and, well, we — as in the American people — will win: “If we citizens have a big enough cultural and economic shift toward sustainable energy, the President and everyone else in DC has no choice but to follow. We have more power than we think. Senators, House members and the President will continue to hear from the winter sports community.”

Certain House members and Senators will hear from POW in 2018. The group’s main goal for the next year is to, in the words of Lindsay Bourgoine, manager of advocacy and campaigns, “get down and dirty in the midterm elections in November…We have identified ten ‘battleground elections’ where we feel it is really important to elect a climate friendly leader, whether Democrat or Republican.”

Honorable Mention: Land Rover BAR, Great Britain’s Entry in 2017 America’s Cup; Most Sustainable Olympics Bids Ever Earn Paris and LA the 2024 and 2028 Summer Games.

 

GREENEST SPORTS LEAGUE OR EVENT OF 2017

US Open Tennis/US Tennis Association

Formerly titled the Greenest Sports League award, this year the category expanded to include mega-sports events like the Olympics, FIFA World Cup, the Masters, and the US Open. The latter is GSB’s choice for the GREENEST SPORTS LEAGUE OR EVENT OF 2017. 

The Open —which draws over 700,000 fans over two weeks in late August/early September at the USTA’s Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Queens, NY — earned the award not only for its stellar sustainability performance at this year’s tournament but for its decade of green-sports leadership. 

King was there at the beginning of the US Open’s/USTA’s greening efforts in 2008. And she wanted to go BIG.

“Billie…wanted to make the US Open the most environmentally responsible tennis event in the world,” shared Dr. Allen Hershkowitz^, then a scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the nonprofit that would manage the sustainability project. “I told Billie that doing so would take years. ‘Great,’ she said. ‘I’m in. Let’s do it.'”

 

 

Billie Jean and Allen

Billie Jean King and Allen Hershkowitz during the 2008 shooting of the USTA’s “Our Courts May Be Blue But We’re Thinking Green” public service announcements (Photo credit: NRDC)

 

Ten years on, the fruits of King’s and Hershkowitz’ vision can be seen in virtually every nook and cranny of the National Tennis Center. The event:

  • Is zero-waste, meaning 90 percent or more of food waste is diverted from the landfill, thanks to a sophisticated composting and recycling operation
  • Powers itself solely by renewable energy
  • Uses the tournament’s daily draw sheet (schedule of play) to share “eco-tips” with fans
  • Promotes mass transit use and the fans have responded: More than 55 percent arrived by subway, Long Island Railroad or bus, making the US Open the most transit-friendly professional sporting event in the country
  • Collects and recycles over 17,000 tennis ball cans
  • Boasts two LEED certified structures; the two year-old, 8,000 seat Grandstand Court and the upgraded transportation center.

 

Grandstand Court Brian Friedman USTA

The LEED certified Grandstand Court rocked during the dramatic comeback win by Juan Martin del Potro over Dominic Thiem on Labor Day (Photo credit: Brian Friedman/USTA)

 

2018 will bring a big sustainability advance as the new, 10,000 seat Louis Armstrong Stadium will open as the world’s first naturally ventilated stadium with a retractable roof.

Honorable Mention: National Hockey League, Pac-12 Conference, Waste Management Phoenix Open (golf)

 

GREENEST NEW STADIUM OR ARENA OF 2017

Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United F.C.

When Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the new home of the Atlanta Falcons of the NFL and MLS’ Atlanta United F.C., announced in November that it had earned LEED Platinum certification, it became the first pro stadium in the U.S. to achieve such a designation. Just one month later, it won GreenSportsBlog’s GREENEST NEW STADIUM OR ARENA OF 2017.

“We set out to build a venue that would not only exceed expectations, but also push the limits of what was possible in terms of stadium design, fan experience and sustainability,” noted Arthur Blank, owner and chairman of the two teams, at the LEED Platinum announcement. “[Our] goal was to achieve the highest LEED rating because it was the right thing to do for our city and the environment.”

 

 

Mercedes Benz

Mercedes-Benz Stadium (Photo credit: AMB Sports and Entertainment)

 

Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which hosts the College Football Playoff National Championship Game on January 9, and Super Bowl LIII in February 2019, compiled 88 LEED points — blowing by the 80 point threshold needed for Platinum status — in a myriad of ways, including by:

  • Using 47 percent less water than baseline standards due to water-efficient fixtures and conservation infrastructure
  • Storing water in a 1.1 million gallon, underground water vault, providing the area with crucial flood management, as well as an additional 680,000 gallons of water for use in irrigation and the stadium’s cooling tower
  • Installing 4,000 solar panels to power the equivalent of nearly ten Falcons games or 13 Atlanta United matches with clean, renewable energy.
  • Featuring LED lighting that will reduce energy usage by as much as 60 percent
  • Encouraging fans to take MARTA light rail to three nearby stations, resulting in 25-30 percent of fans ditching their cars to go to and from Falcons and United games.

Honorable Mention: Little Caesar’s Arena, Detroit (home of NBA’s Pistons and NHL’s Red Wings), currently seeking LEED certification

 

BEST TEAM ON/GREENEST TEAM OFF FIELD/COURT OF 2017

Golden State Warriors, NBA Champions

The Golden State Warriors cemented their status as the gold standard of the NBA’s current era when they defeated LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, four games to one, to win their second title in the last three seasons. A sustainability leader off the court, the Warriors also earned the BEST TEAM ON/GREENEST TEAM OFF FIELD  award for 2017.

On the court, head coach Steve Kerr seamlessly managed the addition of Kevin Durant to their championship core of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Andre Iguodala. This made the Dubs even more fun to watch and much harder to play against. As a result, Golden State methodically avenged its shocking 2016 Finals loss to the Cavs.

 

KD Steph

Kevin Durant (l) and Steph Curry of the 2017 NBA Champion Golden State Warriors — and winner of GSB’s BEST TEAM ON/GREENEST TEAM OFF FIELD/COURT award (Photo credit: USA Today)

 

This fall, the Warriors started the 2017-18 campaign slowly —for them — they’re “only” 23-6 at this writing. Curry and Green are injured for now. And the Houston Rockets look ready to mount a serious challenge in the West. Despite all that, Golden State is still the team to beat.

Off the court, the Warriors reflect the strong environmental ethos of the Bay Area, earning strong sustainability grades for:

  • Powering their practice facility with solar panels
  • Reducing energy use at Oracle Arena through a smart energy management system
  • Introducing a rainwater recapture system that uses the harvested H₂O to feed the plants and vegetation surrounding the arena.
  • Partnering with a local vendor who turns oils from concessions into bio-diesel,
  • Implementing ORBIO Sc-5000 which utilizes water, salt and electricity to create an eco-friendly cleaning solution
  • Reducing the carbon footprint of, and the waste produced by the food service. In partnership with Levy Restaurants, the club uses compostable cutlery and flatware and composts food waste.

It wasn’t only GreenSportsBlog who noticed the Warriors sustainability efforts: Oracle Arena earned LEED certification from the US Green Building Council in September.

“Ensuring that we have a positive impact on the Oakland/Alameda County community and our environment is extremely important to us” said Krystle von Puschendorf, Sustainability Programs Manager for Oracle Arena, “We are proud to have achieved LEED certification and are dedicated to running an environmentally friendly operation here in Oakland.”

If the Warriors stay at the top of their game on the court, the club will likely be in the running for the 2019 award because it will have moved into the new Chase Center in San Francisco — an arena expected to seek LEED Gold certification.

Given the Warriors incredibly high standards, I am surprised — and a bit disappointed — they’re not going for LEED Platinum. But there’s still time for Golden State to up its green game even further.

 

Chase Arena

Artist’s rendering of Chase Center, future home of the Warriors. Scheduled to open in 2019, the arena seeks LEED Gold certification (Credit: Stok)

 

Honorable Mention: New England Patriots, NFL — the Pats might have won the award but they were hurt by the strong support for climate disaster Donald Trump by owner Robert Kraft; Seattle Sounders, MLS

 

GREEN-SPORTS MISSED OPPORTUNITY OF 2017

Super Bowl LI in Houston

Super Bowl 50, the Greenest Super Bowl of All Time, was played in the Bay Area, one of the most environmentally engaged areas in the country. Super Bowl LI took place in Houston, not exactly a green hotbed. Many would say it is not realistic to expect a Super Bowl taking place in the Oil Capital of the US to be as green as one contested in Northern California.

I agree.

But while it’s one thing to fall short of the Super Bowl 50 standard, it’s quite another thing for the Houston Super Bowl Host Committee to do nothing from a sustainability point of view.

Or, to be fair, almost nothing: The Houston Host Committee did work with NFL Environmental, the Houston Texans, Verizon and local partners to help plant trees, but that seems to be it.

 

Trees for Houston

Trees For Houston and Marathon Oil helped plant 50 new trees at Crespo Elementary in advance of Super Bowl LI (Photo credit: Trees For Houston)

Tree planting is well and good but the Houston Super Bowl LI Host Committee missed a Texas-sized opportunity regarding sustainability.

This is the case especially when one considers that there is a sustainable business infrastructure and a green subculture taking root in the US’ fourth biggest city and in the Lone Star State more broadly:

Honorable mention: Minnesota Vikings and MSFA deciding not to upgrade the glass exterior of US Bank Stadium to reduce its bird kill problem.

 


 

We close with some end-of-year thank-you and a remembrance:

To our guests/interviewees: Your time, commitment and insights are much appreciated. You are helping to green the sports world in important ways. I always come away from GreenSportsBlog interviews feeling inspired.

To our readers: Thank you for making 2017 a year of significant growth: Our subscriber base grew by a third. On Twitter, our retweets and mentions nearly doubled. If you haven’t done so already, please subscribe (it’s FREE!) and comment on the blog. Follow us on Twitter (@GreenSportsBlog) and friend us on Facebook (http://faceboook.com/greensportsblog).

A remembrance: Earlier this month, Ryan Yanoshak, formerly managing director of marketing communications with the Pocono International Raceway, passed away at 42 following a battle with cancer. Ryan played an important role in telling Pocono’s forward-leaning sustainability story. He will be missed.

Looking ahead, I expect the green-sports world will continue to grow in 2018, especially on the green building/venue side. But will meaningful fan engagement programs ramp up? Will we find new eco-athletes who can become the Colin Kaepernicks of green-sports? Will POW’s lobbying efforts help bring more climate change-fighters to Congress? No matter the results, you can be certain that GreenSportsBlog will remain your source for news, features and commentary on the increasingly busy intersection of Green + Sports.

Here’s to a healthy, happy Holiday Season to you and yours!

 

^ Dr. Hershkowitz later served as President of the Green Sports Alliance and is currently founding director of Sport and Sustainability International (SandSI)

 


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Guest Blog: Allen Hershkowitz on Ten Years of Sustainability at the US Open

Today marks the start of the US Open, the annual tennis bacchanal that draws 700,000+ fans to the National Tennis Center in New York over its two week run. Seeing compost and recycling bins throughout the 46.5 acre campus is now second nature for those fans as the US Tennis Association’s (USTA’s) greening efforts, among the most comprehensive in the sports world, are now ten years old. It’s been quite a journey to get to this point and there’s no one better to tell the fascinating history of the US Open’s sustainability program than today’s guest GreenSportsBlogger, Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, the founder and former president of the Green Sports Alliance and a founding director of Sports and Sustainability International (SandSI). 

 

By Dr. Allen Hershkowitz

Ten years ago, in the Fall of 2007, I walked into my office at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and found a note from NRDC’s President: “Allen,” it read, “I met Billie Jean King at a dinner last night. She would like to speak with you. To reach her, please call Pam at …”

 

Billie Jean King wants to speak with me? Seriously? A few calls followed and the request to speak was clarified: The year previous, on August 28, 2006, the US Tennis Association (USTA) National Tennis Center was rededicated as the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center (BJK NTC). Now that the venue bore her name, Billie wanted to assure it was a model for environmental stewardship. She wanted to make the US Open the most environmentally responsible tennis event in the world.

 

We arranged to meet at the BJK NTC shortly after the 2007 US Open. I was ushered into a conference room to await Billie’s arrival, along with Joe Crowley, the USTA’s Director for Operations, and other USTA officials.

 

Billie arrived with her partner Ilana Kloss, Commissioner of World TeamTennis and a world class tennis star in her own right. With the introductions behind us, a partnership was formed between the USTA and NRDC. As Billie requested, our goal was to create the most environmentally intelligent tennis event in the world. I told Billie that doing so would take years. “Great,” she said. “I’m in. Let’s do it.”

 

In 2007, not one recycling bin existed at the NTC. Today, recycling and composting bins abound and ninety percent of all waste is thus diverted from the landfill. More than twenty thousand pounds of uneaten meals are donated to charities, reducing hunger and greenhouse gas emissions. We pioneered recycling the 17,000 tennis ball cans used at the Open. Tennis ball cans are complex products, comprised of four different materials, (three types of plastic and an aluminum lid), making them impossible to recycle, until we figured out how to do so in 2008, while donating the 45,000 used tennis balls to community organizations.

 

Compost bins

Compost bin (foreground) and recycling bin (blue band in the rear) along the plaza at the National Tennis Center. These are two of many such bins dotting the NTC complex that demonstrate the USTA’s commitment to sustainability to the 700,000 fans projected to attend the 2017 US Open. (Photo credit: Lewis Blaustein)

 

In 2007 all of the 2.4 million napkins used at the US Open were made from trees. By 2008, all napkins had at least 90 percent post consumer recycled content, an environmental achievement that protects forest habitat and reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Similarly, the Open’s daily Draw Sheet, tickets, media guides, bathroom tissue and paper towels have at least 30 percent recycled content, while paper use in general has been reduced through electronic options.

 

In the spring of 2008, after agreeing on a logo and a tag line for the US Open’s new environmental program (“Our courts may be blue, but we’re thinking green”), we decided to produce public service announcements (PSAs) to educate fans about environmental stewardship. Billie introduced me to tennis legends Venus Williams and Bob and Mike Bryan, arguably the greatest men’s doubles team of the modern era. Together we produced the first environmental public service announcements ever broadcast at a major sporting event, and it was the first time pro-athletes were engaged for this purpose. Billie, Venus, Bob and Mike all appeared in videos encouraging fans to recycle and buy recycled paper products, use mass transit, and buy organic food. The PSAs are broadcast on the jumbotron at Ashe Stadium to this day. Discussing global warming with Venus Williams is one of the highlights of my career and I like to think that I encouraged her to become the environmentalist that she is today. We also pioneered using the Open’s daily Draw Sheet to share money saving “Eco Tips” each day, and that too is still in use at the Open. And we engaged fans directly: During the 2008 Open sixty volunteers from NRDC spanned the grounds distributing free New York City mass transit MetroCards to fans who answered an impromptu environmental question (“Name one thing you can do to help protect the environment…”).

 

Billie Jean and Allen

Billie Jean King and Allen Hershkowitz during the 2008 shooting of the USTA’s “Our Courts May Be Blue But We’re Thinking Green” public service announcements (Photo credit: NRDC)

 

This week, the US Open Tennis Championships begin anew and the USTA’s greening program has lived up to Billie Jean King’s original vision: The entire event is powered by renewable energy. All energy use is measured, as is waste generation and recycling, paper use, and employee and player travel, and these impacts are converted into measurements of greenhouse gas emissions. Over the past decade the Open has avoided tens of thousands of tons of greenhouse gas emissions. Unavoidable greenhouse gas impacts are offset for the approximately 9,000 people who travel to work at the event, including the 850 players.  Mass transit is promoted and last year more than 55 percent of fans arrived by public transit, making it the most transit friendly professional sporting event in the nation. Cleaning products are Green Seal Certified, paints are zero-VOC, water is conserved, and two LEED Certified structures have been built — the newly constructed Grandstand Stadium and the transportation building — and the new Louis Armstrong Stadium, slated to open at next year’s tournament, is expected to attain LEED designation as well.

 

Grandstand

The 8,000 seat Grandstand stadium at the National Tennis Center (NTC). It opened for play in 2016 as the first LEED Certified stadium at the US Open. (Photo credit: Lewis Blaustein)

 

Since 2009 the US Open’s greening program has been expanded and led at the USTA by Lauren Kittlestad-Tracy, now recognized as one of the most influential environmental leaders in tennis, with support from MIT-trained PE Bina Indelicato, co-founder of eco evolutions and one of the top sustainability experts working in the field.

 

At the time we started the USTA’s greening program, 90 million tons of greenhouse gas pollution was being pumped into the atmosphere each day. Today, that has grown to 110 million tons daily. This past July was the hottest month on record. Given those grim metrics, the USTA’s work — building on Billie Jean King’s noble vision to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and encourage others to do the same — is even more important. All businesses should follow its lead.

 


 

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Allen Hershkowitz Urges US Pro Sports Leagues to Measure, Reduce Carbon Footprint

When Dr. Allen Hershkowitz talks, people across the sports world, green and otherwise, listen. Having created the greening programs at MLB, NBA, NHL, the USTA, and co-founded and served as President of the Green Sports Alliance, it is no exaggeration to say that Hershkowitz is the most consequential environmentalist in the history of North American sports. Hershkowitz is now globalizing his scope of influence as he helps develop Sustainability and Sports International (SandSI). So his recent column that ran Monday, March 20th in Sports Business Journal (SBJ), urging stronger sustainability leadership from the North American professional sports world, and urging the leadership of pro-sports leagues to begin accounting for their carbon footprint, well, to quote Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire, “attention must be paid.” GreenSportsBlog spoke with Hershkowitz about the story, its timing and where we go from here.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Allen, congratulations on your important column for Sports Business Journal (to read it, click HERE). Since you have helped create the Green-Sports movement from the beginning, both at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and at the Green Sports Alliance, and given your leadership role in helping to create the greening programs at MLB, NHL, NASCAR, NBA and the USTA, going public to urge the major sports leagues in North America to measure their carbon footprints in your SBJ column is big. Of course, the NHL has measured its carbon footprint since 2014, so I take it your statement is meant for everyone else. What made you go public now?

Allen Hershkowitz: Well, Lew, I don’t want to be melodramatic, but as a scientist who has devoted his career to studying resource consumption, pollution and sustainability for more than 35 years, I have no choice but to conclude that our planet is facing greater environmental threats than at any time in modern history…

Allen Hershkowitz J. Henry Fair

Allen Hershkowitz (Photo credit: J. Henry Fair)

 

GSB: …But certainly the climate crisis and other environmental calamities aren’t new. So why now? Is this a reaction to the Trump Administration’s rabidly anti-environment, anti-climate initiatives and proposals?

AH:  No, not really. I would’ve written this now even had Hillary Clinton won the 2016 election. The main reason for the timing is that the most recent available information, from global surface temperature—the highest in recorded history—to ocean temperature to ocean acidification to polar ice loss to species loss, clearly shows that the climate crisis and its effects are worsening at an accelerating pace. Projections are such that, if present trends continue, more than one billion people will become climate refugees by 2050…

GSB: …And there are perhaps millions of climate refugees right now. There is peer-reviewed data that ascribes some portion of the severe Syrian drought to climate change. That drought forced many rural Syrians, who could no longer work in agriculture, into the cities, and thus helped ignite the civil war and subsequent refugee tragedy.

AH: Weather extremes are certainly threatening water availability, and food production and that leads to mass dislocations and conflict, as in Syria. And this crisis goes far beyond humans. Species continue to disappear at unprecedented rates, including many that are sports team mascots. Our grandchildren may never get a chance to see tigers or polar bears, except in photographs and documentaries. These problems are happening, and, as I said before, now we know they’re happening at a faster, downright scarier pace than we thought. The climate change-caused death of the Great Barrier Reef off of Australia was expected to happen 30 years from now. It’s happening now. This is what prompted my column now, regardless of who is in the White House.

“Drought, Water, War and Climate Change,” a 5 minute 42 second video from the Yale Climate Connections group, connects the Syrian refugee crisis to climate change.

 

GSB: I get that. But I gotta believe that the utter disregard President Trump, EPA Administrator Pruitt and their team are showing to climate change and the environment more broadly added a bit of urgency. Heck, the second paragraph of your piece goes right after the President’s plans for the EPA:

“If President Trump’s proposed budget is enacted, EPA funding will be reduced by 20% (amended to 31%), to about $6 billion, distinguishing the United States in 2017 as the only industrialized nation on Earth with a national policy committed to reducing the financial and scientific resources needed to address worsening climate change.”

 

AH: Look, I know that what is happening and what is likely to happen in Washington DC in the months to come threatens to undermine so much of the progress we have made collectively on climate and the broader sustainability agenda over the last few decades. It is profoundly disheartening. And I don’t say this as a partisan. I say this as a scientist and as someone who is grounded in reality. And the reality is this: Scott Pruitt, the new administrator of the EPA, has publicly rejected the broad scientific consensus on the human causality of climate change. When he was Attorney General in Oklahoma, Pruitt sued the very agency he is now charged with running on more than a dozen occasions.  His appointment could well undermine the agency’s core air and water protection programs‎, which have enjoyed bipartisan support over the years.

GSB: So how have the commissioners and other high level executives at the leagues—folks with whom you’ve worked for years, whose trust you’ve earned, reacted to your article and to your concerns about the direction of the Administration?

AH: I have always spoken respectfully and factually to my good friends at the leagues. As I didn’t want there to be any surprises, I showed my league contacts an early draft of the SBJ piece.

GSB: What did they think?

AH: Overall, they were positive, and although there were some suggestions to “tone it down,” the basic thrust of the final product was the same as the first draft. Let me put it to you this way: None of my friends at the leagues told me not to publish this.

GSB: That’s good to hear. And what about your thoughts on the Administration? I know you’ve strived hard to stay out of partisan politics and I am sure the leagues appreciate that. But how do you stay neutral on the politics with them?

AH: The leaders of these leagues understand there is just no denying that the current White House and EPA statements on climate change and related subjects have ‎caused consternation in many quarters of the nation, in the scientific community and in capitals around the world. They also understand that this President has started the process of rolling back important fuel efficiency standards and repealing or significantly weakening the Endangered Species Act, which has over the years been a force for rescuing dozens of critters from extinction, including many of the animals that serve as sports team mascots. I am certain the sustainability leaders at all the leagues understand he is misleading the American public on this issue, divisibly and dangerously so.

GSB: That’s good to hear. So how are the leagues reacting to your appeal for carbon footprint accounting?

AH: It’s a process. One reason the leagues, aside from the NHL and Gary Bettman, haven’t been as aggressive on carbon accounting as I would’ve hoped is that the environmental priorities in the US, from a governmental perspective, are relatively weak as compared to, say, Europe. And this was the case before Trump, and even despite the positive strides made by his predecessor.

GSB: That’s interesting…I know that there is a much broader acceptance of climate change in Europe than there is here, and that European governments, in most cases, have stronger, clearer rules on environmental issues than does the US. But do those rules affect sports in Europe?

AH: Absolutely. In many European countries, government agencies regulate sports more aggressively than in the US or Canada. Carbon accounting is an accepted practice there. Thus, the European sports world is already working in an environment, pun intended, where the rules, the norms are clearly more eco-friendly than here in the US. The French Ministry of Sport has been very keen on pushing its Federations (i.e. basketball, swimming, tennis, etc.) to measure their carbon footprint. In fact, 22 sports federations France came together to work towards science-based carbon reduction targets. And some of the major French sports events, starting back in 2007 with the Rugby World Cup and, more recently, the French Open at Roland-Garros and the UEFA EURO 2016, measure their carbon footprint and work towards reductions. France has implemented a platform, Auto Diagnostic Environnemental pour les Responsables d’Evénements,” or ADERE, that allows each organizer to measure roughly their environmental impact and self-discipline themselves to improve from year to year.

GSB: We need to be modeling what the French are doing…

AH: Exactly. And that’s what I am telling the leagues. And, as has been the case for the last decade or more, they listen. Step 1 for the leagues was to acknowledge the reality of human-caused climate change. The NHL, MLB, the NBA all submitted comments to Congress on this issue a number of years ago.

potus

Gary Bettman (l), commissioner of the NHL, the first league to issue a sustainability report. Commissioner Bettman and other sports commissioners have publicly acknowledged climate change.  (Photo credit: TMZ)

 

GSB: What about Roger Goodell and the NFL? They’ve been very quiet on this issue.

AH: They have, but Goodell did state publicly at a Beyond Sport United conference at Yankee Stadium a couple years ago that climate change is real. And Brian France at NASCAR has also publicly acknowledged the importance of this issue. Step 2 was to get sports to measure its energy use. This happened gradually across most North American sports leagues starting in around 2010, taking about 5-6 years. Now is the time for Step 3: to speak about climate change and to measure carbon…

GSB: Because what gets measured gets managed. And what gets managed matters.

AH: Yes! And the leagues are actually in a strong position to speak up and take action. The Scott Pruitts of the world, the James Inhofes of the world…

GSB: …Inhofe being the climate change denying senator from Oklahoma who famously brought a snowball into the senate chamber to demonstrate that climate change isn’t happening. Nice.

Inhofe

US Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) gets ready to throw a snowball fastball in the senate chamber in February, 2015. He brought a snowball into the senate to somehow cast doubt on the reality of climate change. No words. (Photo credit: Huffington Post)

 

AH: Those people can attack science but they can’t attack Major League Baseball, they can’t attack the NHL, they can’t attack NASCAR, whose Chairman of the Board Brian France, has publicly acknowledged the importance of addressing climate change. So now is the time, as I say in the article, for the leagues to calculate carbon emissions, develop a multiyear action plan to reduce carbon emissions, set meaningful, “science-based carbon reduction targets” (at least a 20 percent reduction in the next five to eight years) and aim for net zero carbon emissions from league and team operations, travel, and procurement within the next 20 years, and finally, communicate and inspire fans to do the same.

GSB: Amen! This is exactly what I’ve been urging all along, why I write GreenSportsBlog: To get the powers that be in sports to use their incredible megaphone to drive action on climate among all stakeholders. And that sports, with its ethos of overcoming obstacles, is uniquely well-positioned to do this.

AH: I agree, Lew. And, taking a look back over the last decade or so, the American professional sports world has come a long way. The leagues and many teams have cut energy usage substantially, made their supply chains more sustainable by purchasing recycled products, and they have taken important steps to educate millions of fans. I can’t tell you how proud I am of what we have undertaken together and what the leagues have accomplished in recent years to begin shifting the entire sports culture in a more sustainable, sensible direction. And showing courage by speaking out on what might be a controversial topic today is something sports has done for the last 75+ years. From Jackie Robinson and baseball’s color barrier, to Billie Jean King and equal rights and homophobia, sports has often led culture and politics in the US. It can do so on climate by taking the next step: Measuring carbon and speaking out for positive climate action.


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