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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GreenSportsBlogger to Moderate Panel April 3 at NYU Stern School of Business

Will you be in New York City next Tuesday evening? Interested in Green-Sports? Then come on down to NYU’s Stern School of Business at 6:30 PM ET for an engaging panel discussion on the “Intersection of Sustainability, Sports & Business,” sponsored by the Center for Sustainable Business. As a Stern alum, it will be my pleasure to moderate the event.

 

Next Tuesday evening’s panel discussion at the NYU Stern School of Business on the “Intersection of Sustainability, Sports & Business” comes at an inflection point of sorts for the Green-Sports movement.

It has been quite successful at what I call “Green-Sports 1.0,” the greening of stadia and arenas. LEED certified venues and zero-waste games are more the rule than the exception these days, and that is a very good thing.

Now, we are slowly pivoting to the early days of “Green-Sports 2.0,” in which the sports world engages fans to take positive environmental actions. For this effort to have maximum impact, teams, leagues and the media that cover them must bring environmental messaging beyond the venues. That’s because the vast majority of fans who follow sports do so not by schlepping to the ballpark or arena, but rather via TV, online, mobile, radio, and newspaper sports pages.

And, it seems to me that for version 2.0 to get where it needs to go, the sponsors and advertisers who provide much of the mother’s milk for the sports industry, will have to take a leading role.

With that in mind, I could not imagine a better panel with whom to talk about the passing of the proverbial Green-Sports baton and more:

  • Doug Behar: Senior Vice President of Operations at Yankee Stadium
  • Alicia Chin: Senior Manager, Corporate Social Responsibility, National Hockey League
  • David McKenzie: Director, Corporate Social Responsibility, Anheuser-Busch
  • Will Yandell: Northeast Regional Marketing Manager, Clif Bar & Company

The event, which takes place at Stern’s Tisch Hall (40 West 4th Street, Room 411-413), is FREE (such a deal!) but you do need to register as seating is limited. Click here to do so. Start time is 6:30. I recommend that you arrive early as it is first come, first serve and seats are not guaranteed.

 

Tisch Hall NYU

Lobby of Tisch Hall at NYU’s Stern School of Business, site of next Tuesday evening’s panel discussion on the “Intersection of Sustainability, Sports & Business” (Photo credit: Yelp)

 

Thank you to the panelists and to Stern’s Center for Sustainable Business for hosting the event. I hope to see you there! If you know someone who would be interested in attending, by all means, please forward this post.

 

 


 

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Purpose + Sport: Helping Brands Do Well By Doing Good, Including by Going Green

Neill Duffy has graced the pages of GreenSportsBlog several times, most notably for his work as Sustainability Director of the San Francisco Bay Area Super Bowl 50 Host Committee. Since then, he founded and serves as CEO of Purpose + Sport, a purpose-led marketing and sponsorship agency. Neill is very bullish on the future of top brands investing some of their sports sponsorship and advertising dollars on programs that have a social and/or environmental purpose. Neill and Advisory Board member Tony Ponturo, formerly the VP of media and sponsorships at Anheuser-Busch, talked to GreenSportsBlog about the move to purpose that is underway and how the business of sport is, and isn’t yet, embracing this opportunity.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Neill, what do you mean by your company’s name, Purpose + Sport?

Neill Duffy: Well, using the “+” sign was very intentional. I wanted to connote the notion of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts.

GSB: Kind of like 2 + 2 = 5 and that being the right answer.

ND: Exactly! When you add purpose to sports you get amplified results for all involved.

 

Neill Duffy

Neill Duffy, CEO, Purpose + Sport (Photo credit: Purpose + Sport)

 

GSB: And how did you and Tony connect?

Tony Ponturo: Well, in 2010, the St. Louis Sports Commission and National Sportsmanship Foundation launched the Musial Awards, to honor the athletes, male and female, who exhibit the best in sportsmanship, just like the legendary Cardinals Hall of Fame outfielder from the 1940s-60s, Stan “The Man” Musial. While not a member of the commission at the time, I consulted with them and have remained a fan of their work. Neill and my paths crossed when the National Sportsmanship Foundation asked Neill if he could help take the awards beyond St. Louis to more of a national footprint. They also introduced Neill and I to each other We talked a lot more about socially responsible business and how sports needs to move into this space more aggressively as he was in the process of building Purpose + Sport. So it seemed like a natural fit for me to take on the advisory role earlier, which I did earlier this year.

 

Panturo Tony

Tony Ponturo, Purpose + Sport Advisory Board Member (Photo Credit: Purpose + Sport)

 

GSB: Got it. What a great pairing of expertise. So give our readers the Purpose + Sport elevator pitch…

ND: Happy to. Consumers increasingly expect corporations to stand for something more than just profit…and in turn corporations are responding by embracing purpose as a management philosophy. The business of sport has however been slow to embrace this move and that’s where we come in. We’re all about inspiring the business of sport to do good and do well. We provide purposeful strategic, commercial engagement solutions to sports sponsor, properties and non-profits to help them show up more meaningfully and remain relevant to the fans.

GSB: I guess I buy that, but with a bit of an asterisk. I mean, do consumers really care that the companies from which they buy their sneakers or cars do good?

ND: Absolutely. And the number that do is going up, especially among younger consumers. For example, the 2017 Cone Report found that 78 percent want companies to address important social justice issues and that 87 percent will purchase a product because a company advocated for an issue they cared about and 76 percent will refuse to purchase a company’s products or services upon learning it supported an issue contrary to their beliefs. Corporations are starting to get this. According to the April, 2017 State of Marketing survey from Salesforce.com, about 2/3 of the most successful marketing managers today are “purpose driven.” Companies that make sustainability — in the broadest, “environmental, social and governance” sense of the word — core to their brands really do engender greater brand loyalty among their consumer bases. It’s that simple. The problem, as we see it, is that, until now, sports have lagged the broader market in embracing purpose. In fact, not a single sports team, event or federation makes any list of the most purposeful brands.

GSB: That’s a real shame. What are the reasons, do you think?

ND: Firstly, there is a lot of inertia in the sports business system to continue doing things the way they always have. Why would we want to change something that’s working. Secondly, people have been so caught up of late in chasing the next piece of shiny technology that’s going to enhance the fan experience – the app that tells fans which restroom line is the shortest – that they’ve lost sight of the equal if not greater importance of the message…I’m a great believer in the message being as important if not more important than the medium. But, like I said earlier, that’s changing. Mars, which advertises heavily on sports, recently announced that it is committing $1 billion to a climate-focused messaging campaign. I’ll be surprised if this commitment doesn’t carry through to their sponsorship activation.

GSB: I saw that—it is FANTASTIC. Tony, you were at the center of the sports marketing-sponsorship-advertising nexus for more than two decades at Anheuser-Busch — you were VP of media, sports and entertainment marketing from 1991 to 2008. You ran the Busch Media Group, with 150 people, commanded a $600 million budget, worked with leagues, and teams and the rest. So how come more leading sports sponsors haven’t done the type of thing Mars is doing?

TP: My take is that sports haven’t seen the need just yet — but like Neill is saying, that is changing. One reason they haven’t jumped in may be that most sports fans have been men and, and, this is a generalization, but most male sports fans don’t care that much about a team’s social responsibility profile. They basically care about one thing: wining the game. Women sports fans, on the other hand, are much more socially conscious.

GSB: And since women sports fans, as a cohort, are growing…

TP: …It follows that the number of teams doing good will grow, as will the number of brands sponsoring pro-social programs — no doubt about it. In 2016, I taught at a conference at NYU on “Leadership, Social Responsibility and Sports.” We conducted focus groups there and found that women routinely mentioned a team’s social responsibility profile as being important drivers as to their attitudes about the team and their sponsors. ND: And, given the current US federal government’s hostility to environmental sustainability and other pro social programs, business should step into the breach and take a leadership position on purpose — a big chunk of the public is hungering for this.

GSB:…”Greed is GOOD!” said Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko in Wall Street…

ND: Exactly…that was the ethos back then. Since about 2000, the importance of purpose has been rising in that longitudinal study…People — men and women —are saying in greater numbers that while I need to do well, society also needs to do well. It’s just that sports need to get with the program. We saw something similar in the late adoption of operational sustainability by the teams and leagues which lagged what was happening in the corporate sector by 5-10 years.

GSB: How do you think most fans, male and female, will react purpose-themed sports initiatives.

TP: Fans tend to question “purpose” initiatives at first but, I believe, over the long haul, they’ll get on board.

GSB: So where does Purpose + Sport fit in?

ND: We aim to accelerate the process, deepen the impact and build business for sports sponsors, property owners and non-profits via Purpose-driven programs. We will show them how to bring to life doing good and doing well.

GSB: Can you give some examples?

TP: The Musial Awards are a good place to start. The 2017 version takes place on November 18 with an edited special airing in December. We are helping the Commission increase the awareness and value of the Awards beyond the St. Louis area. Our job is to bring the Awards’ focused, powerful message — that sports has the power to get people to take positive action and that fans and viewers will care — to broadcasters across the country, get them to say “YES!” to airing them. Having a national audience rather than a regional one is so much more appealing to most brands.

 

Musial Award Sign

 

GSB: On the one hand, I imagine that a TV show about athletes who do great things in the community will have broad appeal. On the other, I’m guessing that Stan Musial’s name doesn’t mean much for Gen Xers, Millennials and Gen Zers…

TP: You’re right…People who are under 45 don’t really know Musial, outside of folks in St. Louis. So we’re focusing on making the awards themselves relevant to broadcasters in Atlanta, Los Angeles, New York, and beyond. Right now, there are around ten awards offered, with the big one being the Lifetime Achievement award.

ND: We’ve been able, by showing the value of and interest in “purpose,” to take the awards from St. Louis only to 39 markets. Our aspiration is to eventually find a national broadcaster to see the value in the awards and for national advertisers/sponsors to do so as well.

GSB: Congratulations on getting to 39 markets. It seems to me that, getting a national broadcaster, along with national advertisers and sponsors, to see the value of the Musial Awards tis a logical next step for Purpose + Sport. Good luck. Let’s move over to Green-Sports specifically. At the 2016 Summer Olympics opening ceremonies in Rio, there was a 5-10 minute vignette on climate change. A global audience of an estimated 1 billion people saw this. NEWS FLASH: THE WORLD DIDN’T STOP SPINNING!! But in North American sports, there hasn’t been anything remotely like that at the Super Bowl, College Football Playoff, etc. Why are sports leagues, even those that are greening aggressively like the NHL, loath to talk about it? Loath to run PSA’s on actual broadcasts of actual games?

ND: Wasn’t what Rio 2016 did great?

GSB: LOVED IT!

ND: I haven’t seen any insights around how viewers reacted to this segment but, for me, it made perfect sense. It was very relevant given the importance of the Amazon to global climate. Kudos to the IOC and Rio 2016 for supporting the decision by the creative directors for the ceremony – Fernando Meirelles, Daniela Thomas and Andrucha Waddington – to include this piece on climate in the ceremony. My sense is that the North American pro and college sports leagues take a very tactical approach to the greening of their events and view it more for its operational efficiency / cost reduction benefits than anything else. This mirrors what happened in the business sector more broadly where sustainability started off being about improving efficiencies before evolving to be viewed as a strategic imperative that could be engage customers and other stakeholders for competitive advantage. My view is that the business of sport is beginning to change their view on the role that environmental sustainability should play in their organizations — and that means telling environmental and climate stories to their audiences and fan bases not just being green behind the scenes. Another important part to his story is the role that the television producers play. Many of the producers involved today across all the major broadcasters have been doing what they do for decades. They have a tried and tested format that has worked for them and they are loathe to alter it. They seem to be prepared to remain relevant and up to date when it comes to the technology they adopt but are much less current as to the messages they convey. As fresh eyes and hearts start to infiltrate the ranks of the producers, I think things will start to change.

 

Opening Ceremonies Rio

Aerial view of the climate change vignette during the opening ceremonies of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio (Photo credit: Huffington Post)

 

GSB: Do you think teams and leagues are afraid of the politics of environment/green/climate change?

ND: When I worked with the 34th America’s Cup Event Authority in San Francisco (2013), the words “climate change” were taboo within the organization despite the fact that we had made a legally binding commitment to the City of San Francisco that we would deliver a carbon neutral event. At the time, the leadership of the Event Authority was concerned that any discussion around climate change would be polarizing. Two years on from this event, at the Super Bowl 50 Host Committee, also in the Bay Area, we spoke openly about reducing our impact on climate change. Why were we able to do so? Thanks to bold leadership that celebrated rather than ran from the fact that Bay Area is a place where the acceptance of climate change is a given. It’s interesting to note that despite the Trump Administration’s position on climate change, Americans believe now more so than at any time in history that global warming is as a result of human activity and that the effects have already begun. This should give leagues, teams, athletes and sponsors the confidence to embrace this issue and I think we will as a result start to see more of them…

GSB: A la Mars…

ND: Exactly…We will see more of them openly aligning with the issue – particularly those where there is a direct link between the climate and the sport involved…winter sports, golf, sailing. In fact, Purpose + Sport recently advised a team that are preparing an entry for the 2021 edition of the Volvo Ocean Race on their purpose strategy. We brokered a partnership between the teams and Conservation International around a purpose very closely aligned to climate change and its impact on ocean health. I think this is a sign of things to come.

GSB: I hope and actually believe that you are right.

 


 

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