The GSB Interview: Kunal Merchant of Lotus Advisory, Bringing Green-Sports to Sacramento, Oakland and Beyond

Kunal Merchant occupies a fascinating perch in the Green-Sports world. A member of the Green Sports Alliance board, the Bay Area-based Merchant has a background in business, politics, and social enterprise. And as co-founder of Lotus Advisory with his sister Monisha, Merchant has guided the sustainability efforts on state-of-the-art green stadium and arena projects, from Sacramento’s Golden1 Center — the first LEED Platinum indoor arena in the world — to the nascent Oakland A’s ballpark project.

GreenSportsBlog spoke with Merchant about his work on Green-Sports projects, with the Alliance, and where he sees the movement heading.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Kunal, I can’t wait to dig into your story which takes place at the intersection of sports, politics, and sustainability. Nothing juicy there…

Kunal Merchant: It has been a fascinating ride to this point, Lew. I came to the sports world from the political side, working as Chief of Staff for then Sacramento Mayor and ex-NBA All Star Kevin Johnson. I served in that role during his first term, between December 2008 and June 2012, which was a dramatic time. The Mayor took office right as the national economy was entering the Great Recession. Sacramento was particularly hard hit by double-digit unemployment and a foreclosure crisis. Morale was low, and right when the town thought it couldn’t get any worse, we found out that our beloved Sacramento Kings – the one and only pro sports team in town – wanted to leave town.

The team had been struggling both on and off the court for years, including several failed attempts to build a new arena to replace what had by then become the oldest and smallest arena in the NBA. The Kings’ ownership felt that their best shot was to start over in a new city, with Seattle being the most likely destination. It was a punch to the gut for Sacramento, and in the Mayor’s office, we knew that how Sacramento responded to this challenge would have implications far beyond sports for the city’s economic and civic identity.

GSB: So how did you go about dealing with the significant headwinds?

Kunal: That’s a topic for a much longer conversation! But, oversimplified, there were three key checkboxes on our “to-do list” to save the team: (1) prove that Sacramento was a viable NBA market; (2) recruit a new ownership group willing to buy the team and keep it in Sacramento; and (3) develop a plan to build and finance a new arena. The arena was arguably the most critical – and difficult item – particularly since, for a market the size of Sacramento, some form of public investment was going to be needed.

Taxpayers were understandably skeptical about putting public money towards a basketball arena. But after studying similar situations around the country, we in the Mayor’s Office concluded that, under the right terms and structure, we could deliver a public-private partnership for a new arena that would be a win for the Kings and for Sacramento. To get there, we needed to generate transformative economic and community benefits, something that was only possible if we used the arena to anchor the broader revitalization of our blighted and long-underperforming downtown core.

In that respect, Sacramento really reminded me of the Denver of my childhood in the 1980s. At that time, Denver was perceived as a classic “flyover city” by people on the coasts. But over several years, the community and city leaders pushed through smart and strategic investments that led to a positive change in the city’s economic and cultural trajectory. Things really took off in the 1990s, in part due to the energy generated by Coors Field, the downtown ballpark built to be the home of our new Major League Baseball team, the Colorado Rockies.

 

Kumal Merchant Headshot

Kunal Merchant, co-founder of Lotus Advisory (Photo credit: Lotus Advisory)

 

GSB: I remember visiting Denver during the late 1990s and saw how Coors Field had seemingly changed a whole neighborhood. Was the ballpark built by the team, the city or some combination? The reason I ask is that there are many studies showing that public investments in sports venues are not efficient uses of the public’s money. Where do you come down on that question?

Kunal: Great question. Like a stodgy and aging arena, I think the rhetoric around public financing for sports venues is in serious need of an upgrade. There’s way too much dogma on a topic filled with nuance.

In the case of Coors Field, the project was a public-private partnership, where taxpayers made a significant investment. As a local resident who saw that area before and after Coors Field, I would argue that the taxpayers’ investment paid off handsomely in catalyzing a true economic and cultural renaissance that continues to this day.

But the success of Coors Field doesn’t vindicate all forms of public financing. The reality is that every situation is different, and plenty of sports facilities – too many I would argue – receive public funding in amounts and terms that are truly terrible deals for the public. When we were developing the Kings arena deal, we studied up on the good, bad and ugly of prior public subsidy deals. And we were determined that any arena deal we cut with the Kings would protect taxpayers and generate strong economic and community benefits.

That process in Sacramento began by fighting to locate the new arena downtown, and resist temptations by some in town to “play small” and simply refurbish or rebuild at the old arena’s suburban location.

GSB: The old Arco Arena is north of the city, kind of by itself off of I-5.

Kunal: Yes. At the time it was built in the mid-1980s, that building size and location made sense. But by the 2010s, we had different civic imperatives around sustainability and urban planning. Beyond the economic appeal of a downtown location – analysts forecasted $150 million in new annual economic activity each year – we wanted the arena project to reflect the values of a community that cared deeply about the environment. So we set – and ultimately met – incredibly ambitious goals for green design, air quality, water efficiency, energy efficiency, transit, food, waste diversion, and so on.

GSB: What was your role in the project?

Kunal: My role evolved over the course of the project. At the start, I was the Mayor’s Chief of Staff, representing the Mayor and City in almost every facet of our work with the NBA, Kings, City and community to save the team and develop the arena plan. When the NBA voted to keep the team in Sacramento in May 2013, and approve the sale of the Kings to a new ownership group, I moved over to the team side as an executive focused on making sure we followed through on our promises to the community on the arena.

That meant finalizing the public process to approve the deal, negotiating key labor and community benefit agreements, and continuing to engage the community in this truly once-in-a-generation project. It also meant championing what became the most ambitious sustainability agenda of an NBA arena to that date, anchored around achieving status as the first-ever LEED Platinum indoor sports arena.

GSB: That’s quite a transition. How did working for a sports team differ from working in municipal government?

Kunal: Well, it’s safe to say that spending a Tuesday night at an NBA game is a bit more fun than at a City Council meeting! And I used to joke with friends – only half-kidding – that I could get more done chatting with various folks at a Kings game than I could ever do in one month at City Hall. There were obvious advantages to working in a private sector context in terms of speed, agility, and efficiency. But this deal was a true public-private partnership where both bodies were integral. What’s most powerful to me is that my spirit and purpose on this project never changed regardless of what my business card said; from beginning to end, this endeavor was always about doing something really big and historic and transformative for the people of Sacramento. And both the City and Kings wholly embraced that mindset.

GSB: What did you do after the arena took shape?

Kunal: As Opening Day for the Golden 1 Center got closer, I started getting calls from other folks in sports who were impressed by what we’d done in Sacramento and wanted to see if I could help out elsewhere. To his credit, then-Team President Chris Granger was extremely supportive, and I was able to transition from being a full-time employee to a consultant able to take on other work. As part of that transition, I launched Lotus Advisory with my sister Monisha as a strategy and management consulting firm focused on driving positive change at the intersection of business, government and community. Because of my background, I ended up specializing quickly on sports-related projects, while my MIT-educated sister took on high tech clients like Airbnb. In the years since, we’ve been lucky to work with an amazing range of clients in a variety of industries and sectors.

 

Kumal Merchant at Golden 1 Center

Kunal Merchant touring construction of the Golden 1 Center and the Downtown Commons in 2015 during his time as a Sacramento Kings executive. The $1.5 billion dollar project includes a LEED Platinum NBA arena, hotel, and retail and entertainment district that has been the primary catalyst behind the new economic and cultural renaissance unfolding in Sacramento’s long-struggling downtown core (Photo credit: Lotus Advisory)

 

GSB: What are some the sports projects on which Lotus Advisory has worked?

In recent years, we’ve done a lot of work in soccer and baseball. I was the Chief Strategist for Nashville’s successful 2017 bid to join Major League Soccer, where we went from being on no one’s radar as a viable soccer city to finishing first in a twelve city race for the next expansion slot. A huge part of our success was powered by the people of Nashville – whose pride in their city is as strong as I’ve ever seen anywhere.

Similarly, I helped lead and advise Sacramento’s bid to join MLS for several years, particularly in shepherding their downtown stadium development plan through the planning, predevelopment and approval processes. The heart and soul of that bid are the supporters of Sacramento Republic, the United Soccer League (USL) Championship¹ club that took the city by storm when it launched in 2014 and has woven itself deeply into the cultural fabric of Sacramento with remarkable speed.

Currently, I’m working closely with the Oakland Athletics on their plans to revitalize the Oakland waterfront with a new privately-financed ballpark district near the Jack London Square area. It’s a really gorgeous project with a strong spirit of sustainability and environmental justice.

GSB: Very cool! What’s the status of Sacramento’s MLS bid? I know they’re looking to get to 28 teams by 2021 or 2022. Cincinnati United began play this month as the league’s 24th club, with Miami and Nashville set to join next year and Austin in ’21. So that means there’s one more slot left in the near term.

Kunal: Sacramento is one of two cities considered to be favorites for the 28th slot. I know that I’m biased, but I don’t think the competition is remotely close. Sacramento’s MLS bid stands alone as arguably the most resilient, mature, and comprehensive MLS bid in league history. Since embarking on the MLS journey in 2014, Republic FC has checked all the boxes time and again: a die-hard fan base, committed corporate support, a fully-approved and transformational downtown stadium plan; and a credible and committed ownership led by a formidable combination of Pittsburgh Penguins owner Ron Burkle and several local business leaders. MLS will be lucky to have Sacramento join its ranks and I’m cautiously optimistic that it will happen soon.

GSB: Good luck! When will the new stadium be ready and what are some of its green features? 

Kunal: Obviously the MLS stadium is contingent on entry into the league, but the stadium could likely be ready by either the 2021 or 2022 MLS season. As impactful as the Golden 1 Center is for Sacramento, the MLS stadium for Republic FC will be a game-changer in its own right.

The stadium will be built few blocks away from the Kings arena at a huge 240 acre site called the Sacramento Railyards that, when fully built out, will double the size of downtown Sacramento. The MLS stadium represents one of the first and largest major private investments in the Railyards in several decades, and will catalyze a historic wave of economic and community development. In terms of green features, the stadium will be another model of transit-oriented development, located a block from light rail, and a short distance by foot, bike, scooter, or rideshare from the rest of downtown. Republic FC has a terrific culture around local food and beer, so I’d expect some innovative sourcing strategies there as well.

 

Sacramento Republic MLS Stadium

Artist rendering of proposed Major League Soccer stadium in downtown Sacramento. The project will anchor an estimated $5B economic revitalization effort at Sacramento’s historic Railyards district (Credit: Sacramento Republic FC)

 

GSB: Turning to another long-running new stadium project, let’s talk about the Oakland A’s.

Kunal: The A’s have a truly visionary plan to revitalize the waterfront near Jack London Square through a new Major League Baseball ballpark. The project will be LEED Gold Certified and reflect a “ballpark within a park” theme, with an intimate 34,000 seat stadium nestled carefully into its urban surroundings. The ballpark is privately-financed and will anchor a new, vibrant waterfront district that will feature a mix of housing, including affordable housing, offices, restaurants, retail, small business space, parks and public gathering spaces. And the team is also showing tremendous leadership by leveraging the ballpark project to address longstanding environmental justice reform issues around air, soil and water quality faced by West Oakland residents for years.

 

Oakland Ballpark

Preliminary artist rendering for the proposed Oakland A’s ballpark near Jack London Square in Oakland. The project will be LEED Gold and reflect the A’s strong commitment to sustainable development and environmental justice (Credit: Oaklandballpark.com)

 

GSB: Add the A’s new ballpark to my sports bucket list. OK, before we go, let’s talk a bit about your work as a board member of the Green Sports Alliance. How did that come about?

Kunal: I’ve known and been a fan of the Green Sports Alliance since its earliest days, when Alliance leaders reached out to invite Mayor Johnson to the inaugural summit in Portland. The Alliance was hugely helpful in guiding my thinking on the Golden 1 Center, and I worked with the Alliance to help bring the Summit to Sacramento during the Golden1 Center’s inaugural season in 2017. I’ve continued to work closely with the Alliance since then, and at some point it just made sense to take on a more formal role. So, I joined the board last fall with a pretty important first project: co-leading the search for a new Executive Director. It was a fascinating process that yielded a terrific hire: Roger McClendon.

GSB: McClendon comes to the Alliance’s executive director role at a key inflection point in the Green-Sports movement. I like to say Green-Sports 1.0 — the greening of the games — is now almost if not quite a given. It was a necessary and obvious first step. But Green-Sports 2.0 — engaging fans, players and more to take positive environmental action, specifically on climate change — which is where I think is starting now, is a more complicated, heavier lift. What do you think?

Kunal: I totally agree. There are fundamental questions facing the green sports movement and the broader environmentalist community at the moment. The science around climate change grows more dire by the day, with the recent IPCC report advising that humanity has really just a handful of years left to aggressively decarbonize or face catastrophic consequences. So the cost of inaction is escalating. With that as backdrop, the Alliance is asking ourselves: what are we going to do? Our ethos has been to meet people where they are. Which means that if a league, an event, a team is aggressive on climate, we’ll support them. If they’re going slowly…

GSB: …Or not even talking climate at all?

Kunal: …we’re not going to push them too far beyond their comfort zone.

GSB: But doesn’t that imply that it’s ok for sports not to go fast enough? That seems risky at best.

Kunal: Well, it’s tricky. But here is a reason to be optimistic: things are impossible until they’re not. Looking at history, there are many social movements that looked bleak for years, or even decades, right until a period of rapid change that completely upended the status quo. I’m heartened by the younger generations — Millennials and Gen Zers — who will increasingly hold all institutions, including sports teams, accountable for the issue of climate change. The Alliance needs to be ready, and I think we’re taking important steps in that direction. If there’s one thing that I’ve come to appreciate deeply in my career, it’s that, with vision and leadership, sports can be an extraordinary platform for positive change. And on issues of climate, we can’t afford for sports teams, leagues, or fans to sit on the sidelines anymore.

GSB: With some well-timed and positive pushing from organizations like the Alliance, I’ll say. To be continued, Kunal!

 

¹ The USL Championship is the second-tier of North American professional soccer, one level below MLS.

 


 

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GSB News and Notes: Wind-Powered RVs at Tailgate Parties?; A Green Cactus League Partnership; Errant Golf Balls Add to Pollution of U.S. Waterways

Wind-powered recreational vehicles (RVs) could become a thing at college and pro football games. Arizona State University and the Oakland A’s launch a sustainability partnership at Hohokam Stadium. And golf balls hit into the oceans, lakes and more are a hazard for wildlife and water cleanliness. All in all, it’s a busy mid-week GSB News & Notes column.

 

WIND-POWERED RVs COULD BECOME TAILGATE PARTY STAPLES 

Drop in on the parking area of any SEC or Big Ten college football stadium on the Thursday before a big Saturday game and you will see dozens of RVs, filled with tailgaters, barbecuing, imbibing in adult beverages, playing touch football, watching TV and…promoting wind power?

OK, that last bit about wind power may be a stretch.

Or maybe not. According Michele Boyer, a retired writer and full-time RVer, mini wind turbines are now designed to be able to be mounted atop RVs.

 

RVs Penn State

A village of RVs stretch out to the horizon in the tailgate area before a Penn State University football game in State College, PA. Someday, perhaps soon, a portion of those RVs will sport wind turbines on the roof (Photo credit: visitpennstate.com)

 

Writing in the March 2nd issue of TripSavvy magazine, Boyer reports that Southwest Windpower, a subsidiary of Xzeres, a leader in the small wind turbine (45-80 feet high) market over the last 15 years, has gone even smaller, manufacturing a mini version that mounts on a large boat or RV.

The small size and rapidly declining cost has turned small wind systems into an economically viable option for RV owners, including, of course, those who tailgate. Many are now pairing small wind with small solar panel units to minimize the impacts of the intermittency problem — i.e. the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow.

Solar and wind costs have each dropped dramatically over the last decade, with wind the cheaper option in many cases. “The cost of small wind has gone below five cents per kilowatt hour (kWh), about half the cost of solar power,” noted Boyer. “Installation and initial investment for an RVer are significantly less for a wind generator than for equivalent power-capable solar panels.”

Boyer does point out that, in addition to its intermittency, there are some drawbacks for RVers, including noise and dangers from electrical storms. 

That said, when I attend the Big Ten contest between the University of Iowa and Rutgers (the latter my alma mater) this September in Iowa City, I expect to see a windy, zip code-sized tailgate area, filled with RVs. And maybe a few will be topped by mini-wind turbines.

 

OAKLAND A’S MOVE TOWARDS ZERO-WASTE SPRING TRAINING, THANKS TO PARTNERSHIP WITH ARIZONA STATE

The Oakland A’s and Arizona State University’s School of Sustainability launched a partnership last month to help Hohokam Stadium in Mesa, Arizona move towards zero-waste during the 2019 spring training season. The goals are to increase operational efficiencies and improve the fan experience, all while moving Hohokam towards the 90 percent diversion rate threshold necessary to claim zero-waste status.

The A’s-ASU “Recycle Rally” program looks to build upon a similar program launched during spring training last year by ASU, Arizona Diamondbacks, and Colorado Rockies — the two National League West rivals share the Salt River Fields ballpark at Talking Stick, Arizona.

 

 

Hohokam

Panoramic view of Hohokam Stadium, spring training home of the Oakland A’s in Mesa, AZ (Photo credit: Baseball Pilgrimages)

 

As part of the initiative, a group of 21 ASU students are analyzing Hohokam Stadium’s waste stream and operations to help the 10,500-seat ballpark become more sustainable during the six weeks of spring training. They are putting their detective caps on to find the most innovative, fan-friendly and cost-effective approaches that can increase recycling, reusing and composting. After the A’s ship out at the end of the month to begin the regular season, the students will produce a report that recommends the best ways to approach waste minimization for spring training 2020 and beyond.

“The A’s are proud to call Mesa our home away from home, and we want to do our part to promote sustainability and minimize our environmental impact at Hohokam Stadium,” said A’s president Dave Kaval. “We are excited to team up with Arizona State University on this initiative and learn how to reach our goal of becoming a zero waste facility.”

Colin Tetreault, a senior sustainability scholar with the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, is directing the class of 21 “change agent” students as part of a capstone project. “The School of Sustainability is honored to hit a home run for sustainability and zero waste with the Oakland A’s,” Tetreault said. “This collaboration is an example of how sustainability can drive innovation, reduce costs and overhead, and increase the fan experience.”

 

GOLF BALLS CAUSE ENVIRONMENTAL PROBLEMS IN SOME WATERWAYS

I gave up golf about 20 years ago, in part because too many of my wayward shots found their way into water hazards. My retirement from the links took place before I became passionate about sustainability and climate change, so thoughts about the environmental hazards associated with my inability to keep the little white ball dry did not enter my mind.

My perspective has changed, thanks in part to “How Golf is Polluting Our Oceans,” a recent story by Dalmeet Singh Chawla in Medium. The scale of the problem is bigger than I thought: Per Chawla, one estimate suggests the annual number of golf balls sent to the bottom of waterways could be as high as 300 million in the United States alone.

 

Matthew Savoca

According to esitmates, hundreds of millions of golf balls are hit into the waterways of the U.S. every year (Photo credit: Matthew Savoca)

 

That’s almost one wet golf ball per person in the U.S.

Crazy, no?

From that staggering macro number, Chawla’s story zoomed in to the micro, focusing on the efforts of 18-year-old scuba diver Alex Weber to do something about the problem. Since spring 2016, she has collected around 50,000 golf balls from Carmel Bay, California, not far from the legendary Pebble Beach Golf Links, site of the 2019 U.S. Open in June. 

To keep her beloved beaches pollution-free, she frequently carries out clean-ups to remove microplastics that wash up on the beaches from large ocean swells,” wrote Chawla. “One day in May 2016, Weber and her father decided to go free diving off the coast of their local beach. ‘What we came across was the entire sea floor was covered in golf balls,’ Weber recalls. ‘There were thousands of golf balls in every crack and crevice  —  I immediately felt sick to my stomach.'”

Her concern stemmed mainly from the toxins golf balls release from the bottom of oceans, lakes or bays, and the problems that poses for aquatic life. The solid core of a golf contain zinc oxide and zinc acrylate for enhanced the durability and flexibility. But both compounds are considered toxic in aqueous environments, and have been shown to activate stress responses in fish, algae, and crustaceans. Feeling responsible for cleaning up the mess that humanity created, the Webers continued collecting golf balls whenever they dove. 

Here’s more from Chawla: “Between May 2016 and June 2018, the Webers retrieved 50,000 golf balls in total, equaling around 2.5 tons of debris, roughly equivalent to the weight of a pickup truck. The father-daughter team have now co-authored a scientific paper, recently published in Marine Pollution Bulletin, describing the scope of the problem…Now known as the ‘Plastic Pickup Team,’ Weber and her father go on dives whenever the weather conditions allow, usually about six months out of the year. Sometimes, they spend up to 10 hours collecting golf balls.”

 

Alex Weber

Eighteen-year-old Alex Weber and her dad retrieve thousands of golf balls from Carmel Bay in Northern California (Photo credit: Alex Weber)

 

According to Matthew Savoca, a marine ecologist at Stanford University who co-authored the study with the Webers, around 10 percent of the collected balls were severely worn down. By calculating how much the balls had degraded, the authors predicted that the collected golf balls have given off around 28 kilograms of fragmented synthetic material to the oceans.

 

Robert Beck.png

Golf balls, unearthed from the bottom of the sea, in various stages of degradation (Photo credit: Robert Beck)

 

That said, and despite the Webers’ prodigious underwater efforts, golf balls represent a tiny percentage of the eight million tons of plastic humans dump into the oceans every year. And, as Robert Weiss, professor emeritus of polymer engineering at the University of Connecticut, remarked to Chawla, “the risk of leakage of harmful chemicals from golf balls is relatively low, partly because golf balls degrade slowly underwater.” 

But, per Savoca, in some locales —  in Carmel Bay, for instance  —  golf balls may be the most significant contributor of marine plastic. 

So what to do?

“The solution to our ocean pollution problem is not to take the plastic out but to stop the plastic from going in,” Weber told Chawla.

The researchers, along with the Pebble Beach Company, owner of several golf courses around Carmel Bay, are working with the Monterey National Marine Sanctuary   to identify possible solutions. PBC is already notifying golfers, directly and through caddies  that intentionally hitting balls into the water is prohibited. 

Other possible remedies include adding nets to prevent balls from landing in the water, training people to shoot more accurately (I wouldn’t bet on this one), and the development of biodegradable golf balls. On the latter, Albus Golf’s ecobioball®, biodegrades within 48 hours after hitting water, exposing an inner core consisting of fish food (brilliant, it says here!). Unfortunately, they don’t yet meet the exact requirements to be considered a golf ball by the U.S. Golf Association (USGA).

 

Screen Shot 2019-03-06 at 12.55.10 PM

The biodegradable Ecobioball® from Albus Golf

 

But it’s a start.

 

 


 

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Green-Sports Startups, Part 7: Volta Charging Brings Free EV Charging to Sports Venues

Volta Charging is pioneering free electric vehicle (EV) charging in the U.S. Their business model is to sell video advertising atop charging stations to brands that want to reach high value audiences in high foot-traffic locations. Sports venues, not surprisingly, figure prominently in the San Francisco-based startup’s growth strategy. GreenSportsBlog spoke with Ted Fagenson, Volta Charging’s senior vice president of business development, to gain a deeper understanding of the company’s plans for the sports sector.

 

For Ted Fagenson, the beauty of Volta Charging’s business model is found in its simplicity.

“We make charging simple for EV drivers and host venues,” said the telecom and EV business veteran who now serves as the startup’s VP of business development. “Drivers don’t need to carry a card with an RFID chip. They just pull up, park, plug in and go. It’s convenient and it’s free, for both drivers and hosts! That’s all there is to it.”

 

ted fagenson volta

Ted Fagenson, Volta Charging’s VP of business development (Photo credit: Volta Charging)

 

Getting to this level of simplicity required Volta to do something that’s far from, well, simple: Disrupt the still-emerging public EV charging market.

“Right now, public EV charging companies mainly operate under one of two business models, neither of which are sustainable,” shared Fagenson. “One is to sell the charging stations to parking lot owners, shopping mall managers, retail establishments, sports venues, etc. The drivers then pay the host venues. But do those folks really want to own charging stations? No! Model two is to install the charging stations for free, charge the driver for the electricity and then split the revenue with the host venue. That’s too complicated for all concerned and in the long run, unprofitable.”

It’s not only too complicated; it’s also too costly for the driver.

According to Fagenson, drivers pay between 20-39¢ per kilowatt hour (kWh) at non-Volta public charging venues. That’s about 4 to 5 times as much as the 6-10¢/kWh it costs EV drivers to charge at home overnight.

The result is not surprising: Most EV drivers avoid using public charging stations unless they’re desperate. Per Fagenson, “They charge at home. But many would like the convenience of simple, low cost, daytime charging.”

 

FREE, MEDIA-SUPPORTED PUBLIC EV CHARGING

Future-focused tech entrepreneur, car-lover, and vintage automotive restoration business owner Scott Mercer saw a significant market need — a public EV charging model that makes financial sense for drivers and venues. His idea was to make public EV charging free to drivers by selling video ad units that would run atop the chargers. Host venues get free installation, free chargers, free maintenance, free customer support. Increased dwell time — shoppers staying longer to get a better charge — also benefits malls and other retailers.

 

scott mercer ceo volta charging1

Scott Mercer, founder and CEO of Volta Charging (Photo credit: Volta Charging)

 

So Mercer, who ran a vintage automotive restoration business, sold a restored 1967 Jaguar XKE to fund the beginning of what would become Volta Charging.

The media-supported, charge-EVs-for-free business model quickly attracted the attention of mall and grocery chain executives in states where the EV market is well developed (California, Washington, Oregon, Illinois, etc.).

 

SPORTS VENUES CHARGED UP

Sports stadiums and arenas are a high priority for Volta Charging.

“Stadiums make perfect partners to drive exposure, engagement, and inspiration for fans by showing that EVs are here, and their community is ready to make this change,” Mercer said at last June’s Green Sports Alliance Summit in Atlanta. “Teams benefit from new fan engagement opportunities using the digital screens on the stations, where we dedicate one of the rotating digital sponsorships to their use. This is so much bigger than providing a few plugs for EV driving fans. It is about leveraging the power of stadiums as iconic cultural centerpieces to show the world that clean mobility is here, and it’s for everyone.”

Management at Oakland’s Oracle Arena, home of the NBA champion Golden State Warriors, agreed with Mercer and now has two Volta chargers. Even though the team is moving to San Francisco and the new Chase Center next season, the Volta chargers will remain for fans of the Oakland A’s who play at the adjacent Oakland Alameda County Coliseum. That is expected to be the case until the A’s move to their proposed new stadium in 2023 at the earliest.

Chicago’s United Center, home to the NBA’s Bulls and NHL’s Blackhawks, sports four Volta chargers next to the arena’s entrance.

“Our model works really well for sports venues,” Fagenson said. “Volta chargers are situated close to the stadium or arena entrance so that guarantees high fan foot traffic on game days.”

 

volta united center

Two Volta Charging units outside an entrance to Chicago’s United Center (Photo credit: Volta Charging)

 

VOLTA’S MEDIA—SPONSORSHIP BUSINESS MODEL

The Volta stations on site provide exposure for brands looking to reach fans attending sporting events, concerts, and more. The two sided digital hybrid stations offer 6′ tall LED backlit static ads on one side, and a digital screen on the other. The screens are formatted with a 64 second repeating ad loop, including multiple flips (or images), each of which run for eight seconds. Six of the eight ad placements are reserved for sponsors, Volta uses one for promotional purposes and the eighth is earmarked for the venue host.

Pricing for Volta’s media takes into consideration a number of factors including market, target audience (size, composition, etc.), length of run, and size of the network purchased. Since the company’s revenues are derived from media sales, those buying media on Volta Charging get the halo effect of making EV charging free. Host venues also reap the benefit of providing a value-added, green service to fans on site.

Not surprisingly, EV automakers, including Nissan and Jaguar, have become Volta sponsors. Other categories buying in include Consumer Packaged Goods, Entertainment, Finance, and Technology, among others.

 

EXPANSION IN 2019

As of now Volta Charging’s biggest markets are San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego and Chicago. Boston, Houston, Portland, Seattle, Washington, D.C. and Oahu, are also up and charging.

The venture capital-funded company is poised for significant growth in 2019. New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Dallas and Miami are on deck, with Atlanta, Denver, and Detroit making up the next batch of expansion markets.

“Sports venues are key targets in all of our markets, current and future,” Fagenson said. “There is some complexity to stadiums and arenas as the city owns the parking lot in some cases. So we need to negotiate with multiple parties. In other situations, we work directly with the host venue.”

 

GSB’S Take: Volta Charging’s business model looks like the rare sustainable business win-win-win-win. WIN #1: Free, away-from-home EV charging. WIN #2: Host venues, including stadiums and arenas, receive free EV chargers for their customers/fans, and free advertising. WIN #3: Sponsors get access to their target audiences in a new, exciting medium. WIN #4: Free EV charging means more EV miles driven. While the odds of success for any startup are long, Volta Charging’s “quadruple-win” business model gives it a leg up. Watch this space.

 

 


 

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GSB Eco-Scorecard #5: Catching Up with Green-Sports Leaders on the Field

Since 2013, GreenSportsBlog has told the stories of the great environmental work being done by teams, managers of venues and athletes. But as far as the sports side of the Green-Sports equation was concerned, we really didn’t go there.

Until last September, that is.

It was then that we launched GSB Eco-Scoreboard: Catching Up with Green-Sports Leaders on the Field, an occasional series highlighting recent on-field/court results of the greenest teams and athletes. Why? Because if they do well, their green messages will gain a wider audience.

And if they struggle? Well, those of us engaged in the climate change fight know what struggle is all about. We can relate.

With that in mind, please enjoy our fifth Eco-Scoreboard. 

 

 

JOSH ROSEN, CLIMATE CHANGE-MINDED ROOKIE QB, STARTS HIS NFL JOURNEY IN ARIZONA

“Josh Rosen Impresses Cardinals Brass, Teammates at OTAs”

Some version of this headline blared across media reports about the Arizona Cardinals’ rookie quarterback at his first spring practices, or “Organized Team Activities”.

 

Josh Rosen OTAsa

Rookie QB Josh Rosen at Offseason Team Activities (OTAs) for the Arizona Cardinals (Photo credit: Cards Wire/USA Today)

 

Why does GreenSportsBlog care about Rosen, selected out of UCLA with the 10th pick in the first round of April’s NFL Draft?

Because climate change is a big concern of his, that’s why!

From an in-depth, pre-draft interview on espn.com with Sam Alipour, Rosen declared, “One cause I’ll champion is the environment. It touches everything. I mean, the war in Syria started because of the drought and famine that destabilized the country and led the population to revolt against the government. I know global warming is a partisan issue for some stupid reason, but it touches everything.”

So even though my New York Jets, with the third pick in the draft passed on Rosen to take cross-town rival QB Sam Darnold from USC, you can be sure GSB will be following the Cardinals’ new signal caller.

All of the Rosen reviews I read had the same tone as Sean Wagner-McGough’s, writing for CBSSports.com on May 18:

“The positive reviews came pouring in immediately after [Rosen took the field]. It turns out, Rosen looks very much like a quarterback who never should’ve dropped to No. 10 in last month’s draft.”

“He stepped in the huddle and had a lot of pizzazz,” left tackle D.J. Humphries said. “He didn’t seem like he was choked up at all. Voice didn’t crack none. He wasn’t talking low. He was excited. He was asserting himself into the huddle, and I was pretty excited to see that.”

“Josh looked great today,” coach Steve Wilks said. “Some of his timing and his throws with the quarterback and tight ends I thought were right on point.”

The conventional wisdom is that, while Rosen is deemed to be the most NFL-ready of the five QBs drafted in the first round*, the Cardinals will start veteran QB Sam Bradford, at least to begin the season.

But that conventional wisdom may not be so wise.

Per Jess Root of the Cards Wire blog, Coach Wilks “is open to the idea of Rosen winning the job.”

My take is that Bradford will likely be the opening day starter vs. Washington. But with a long injury history and a precocious, climate change aware QB chomping at the bit, I think the odds are good that Rosen will take the reins at some point this season — and sooner rather than later.

 

 

 

 

SUTTON UNITED AND DARTFORD F.C. FALL SHORT OF PROMOTION

GreenSportsBlog has given a lot of oxygen to England’s Forest Green Rovers, the “Greenest Team in Sports.” Promoted from the fifth to the fourth tier (League Two) of English football after last season — their highest level ever — FGR was able (barely) to avoid relegation and will look to make a move upward next season.

Two other mid-tier English clubs with green in their DNA made runs at promotion this season but both fell short (barely).

Sutton United looked to join Forest Green Rovers in League Two via promotion. They hosted a promotion playoff match vs. Boreham Wood on May 6 at Gander Green Lane, the first football stadium to achieve The Planet Mark™ sustainability certification##. Reducing its carbon footprint by 13.6 percent in 2016 and diverting 88 percent of its waste from landfill helped the club earn the designation.

Unfortunately from the Sutton United perspective, their promotion dream died that day as they fell behind 2-0, got a goal back before conceding again in the 88th minute. A stoppage time goal for the home side was not enough as Boreham Wood prevailed 3-2.

On the same afternoon, Dartford F.C. looked to join the league Sutton United hoped to escape by moving up from the sixth to the fifth tier. To do so, they would have to knock off Braintree Town F.C. in a playoff semifinal.

Like Sutton, Dartford hosted the playoff contest. The 4,100-seat Princes Park, which opened in 2006, is top tier, sustainability-wise: It was the UK’s first sustainable, purpose-built, small-sized stadium, featuring on-site solar panels, energy efficient lighting, a state-of-the-art green roof, and an advanced reclaimed rainwater system.

 

 

Princes Park Green Roof

Princes Park, with its distinctive and state of the art green roof, serves as the home of Dartford F.C. in Kent England (Photo credit: Sustainability in Sport)

 

Like Sutton United, Dartford was unable to close the deal, falling to Braintree Town 1-0 as they let in a second half goal.

So the status will remain quo in the 2018-19 season, league-wise, for Sutton United and Dartford F.C. Both teams have made player moves early in the offseason to prep to make promotion runs when the new campaign starts this summer.

 

ECO-OUTFIELDER STEPHEN PISCOTTY MAKES IMMEDIATE IMPACT UPON RETURN TO BASEBALL POST BEREAVEMENT

GreenSportsBlog first wrote about Stephen Piscotty in January 2017 after learning that the then-Cardinals outfielder had majored in Atmosphere and Energy Engineering at Stanford and is an investor in renewable energy.

Piscotty was coming off of a stellar rookie campaign in 2016 but 2017 proved to be challenging on and off the field.

On the field, Piscotty dealt with two stints on the disabled list with hamstring and groin injuries along with a sophomore slump at the plate. The double whammy led to a brief demotion to the minor leagues.

The off field news was much, much worse as Piscotty’s mother, Gretchen, was diagnosed with ALS^ or Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

Over the winter, Piscotty was traded by the Cardinals to the Oakland A’s, only an hour’s drive from his parents’ home. Both the Cardinals and the A’s acknowledged that Gretchen’s illness was a factor in the trade. Amazing, no?

After winning the A’s starting right fielder job in spring training, the Stanford man got off to a slow start as his mom’s condition worsened. Sadly, Gretchen Piscotty passed away on May 6 at 55, about a year after her diagnosis. Her son took bereavement time before rejoining the A’s as they headed to Boston to play the Red Sox on May 16.

 

Piscotty

Oakland A’s outfielder Stephen Piscotty and his mom Gretchen (Photo credit: People)

 

And, in a kind of “Field of Dreams” moment, Piscotty, in his first at-bat in his first game back, the A’s outfielder slugged a home run over Fenway Park’s famed left field wall, the Green Monster.

 

 

 

 

“It was pure joy,” Piscotty said of his blast in the A’s 5-3 victory over the Red Sox, per sfgate.com. “It’s been an emotional week. I’ve been a little cried out, so I didn’t tear up or anything. It felt real good knowing family was watching and my mom was watching.”

 

 

 * Three QBs were picked ahead of Rosen: Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, the #1 overall pick by the Cleveland Browns, Darnold to the Jets at 3, and Josh Allen, from Wyoming, went to Buffalo at 7. The Baltimore Ravens, with the 32nd and last pick of the first round, chose Louisville’s Lamar Jackson.
^ ALS = Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis

 


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GSB Eco-Scorecard #4: Catching Up with Green-Sports Leaders on the Field

Since 2013, GreenSportsBlog has featured the teams and athletes leading the sports-greening movement. What we haven’t focused on is their work on the field, in the arena, on the track.

So in September, we launched GSB Eco-Scoreboard: Catching Up with Green-Sports Leaders on the Field, an occasional series highlighting recent on-field/court results of the greenest teams and athletes. Why? Because if they do well, their green messages will gain a wider audience.

But what if the eco-athletes struggle?

Hey, I’m a Jets, Knicks and Rutgers sports fan. I — and a gazillion other sports fans — certainly can relate to struggle. And those engaged in the climate change fight know it is a multi-generational slog. 

So the theme of today’s fourth Eco-Scoreboard entry is struggle and overcoming obstacles.

 

STEPHEN PISCOTTY STARTS ANEW WITH OAKLAND A’S, FIGHTS ALS ON BEHALF OF MOM

GreenSportsBlog first wrote about Piscotty last January after we learned that the then-Cardinals outfielder had majored in Atmosphere and Energy Engineering at Stanford and is keenly interested in the investment and climate change fighting possibilities in inherent in renewable energy. That Piscotty was coming off of a stellar rookie campaign in 2016 made the story all the better.

But 2017 proved to be challenging on and off the field.

On the field, Piscotty dealt with two stints on the disabled list with hamstring and groin injuries along with a sophomore slump at the plate. The double whammy led to a brief demotion to Triple-A Memphis in August.

The off field news was much, much worse as Piscotty’s mother, Gretchen, was diagnosed with ALS^ or Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

In our most recent Eco-Scorecard in January, we shared the news that Piscotty had been traded by the Cardinals to the Oakland A’s, only an hour’s drive from his parents’ home. Both the Cardinals and the A’s acknowledged that Gretchen’s illness was a factor in the trade. Amazing, no?

“It says a lot about both organizations,” Piscotty said in a February 23rd interview with Martin Gallegos of The San Jose Mercury News. “Baseball is very important, but sometimes there are other things that may take priority. It’s heartwarming and humbling, and we are so grateful.”

Piscotty is projected to be the A’s starting right fielder in 2018. After a very slow start at the plate in spring training, he rebounded over the past ten days, getting his batting average up to a respectable .269 with 2 home runs. If Piscotty can stay healthy, it says here that he will provide stability and punch to the Oakland lineup, with results resembling his breakout 22 HR, 85 RBI rookie 2016 campaign rather than his difficult 2017 (9 HR, 37 RBI).

Meanwhile, the 27 year-old has decided to set up a donation page along with his family to raise funds for ALS research.

“My mom was on board with it and we felt like getting something started would be a really cool thing,” Piscotty told Gallegos. “It actually came about by one of my mom’s really good friends, who has actually been helping us a tremendous amount at the house. She is going to run a couple races and dedicate those to my mom, so we are just rallying around that to raise funding and awareness and also kind of use my platform to attack it in that sort of way. I’m pretty excited about the support we have gotten already, and we’ll keep going.”

 

 

Piscotty A's

Stephen Piscotty in his new Oakland A’s uniform (Photo credit: Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group)

 

 

More Piscotty: “It’s one of those things that is hard to talk about, but awareness is step one and then the funding. People have to know about it before they are going to donate, and what have you. I think that is the biggest thing. The ice bucket challenge that happened a few years ago was a tremendous thing, and I think there is a jalapeno challenge that is starting to circle around, and hopefully that catches fire too. Things like that day by day and little by little will eventually get us there.”

People looking to contribute to the fund can do so by visiting www.youcaring.com/alstherapydevelopmentinstitute-1101042#mlb-oakland.

 

POW MEMBER AND U.S. CROSS COUNTRY SKIER ANDY NEWELL HOPES PYEONGCHANG 2018 IS HIS LAST OLYMPICS

Cross country skier Andy Newell is a leading member of Protect Our Winters (POW), the group of elite winter sports athletes who advocate for climate action. In the run up to the 2014 Sochi Olympics, Newell co-drafted a letter with fellow Vermonter and climate change fighter Bill McKibben — and founder of 350.org — addressed to world leaders, urging them to sign the Paris Climate Agreement. He helped lead POW’s participation in the People’s Climate March in New York City last April and has lobbied members of Congress of both parties on climate-related legislation.

Qualifying for his fourth Olympics at age 34, Newell took on the high-pressured first leg of the 4×10 km relay. After a decent start — he reached the initial 1.67 km split in 8th place in the 14-team race — Newell struggled, ending up in 12th place with a time of 26 minutes 09.7 seconds, 1.28.8 off the lead. Team USA’s difficulties continued from there as they finished in last, 9 minutes 24 seconds behind the gold medal winners from Norway.

“As expected, it was tough,” Newell told USA Today Network’s Jeff Seidel. “It’s always nerve-wracking to go out first. It’s an honor to lead off the team, but it’s also a high-pressure situation. I went out and did my best. I was dying. I actually barfed my face off at the end of the race. That’s how I know I pushed myself pretty hard.”

 

Andy Newell

Andy Newell (r) and Canada’s Len Valjas scrambling during the first leg 4×10 km cross country ski race at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics (Photo credit: Flying Point Road)

 

Newell hopes PyeongChang is his final Olympics, despite sounding like he wants to give qualifying for Beijing 2022 a go.

Wait, what? He wants to try out for another Olympics and…fail?

Well, when one considers Newell’s team-first, legacy-based ethos, his willingness to see the next generation of U.S cross country skiers beat him out four years from now starts to make some sense.

“The only thing that would make me happier than going to a…fifth Olympics would be that the U.S. team is so strong that a guy like me can’t make it,” said Newell to Seidel.“Hopefully those guys will be crushing it and they will be coming in as medal contenders…I hope that an old guy like me won’t even be able to make the team four years from now.”

 

FOREST GREEN ROVERS STRUGGLING TO AVOID RELEGATION

GreenSportsBlog readers know Forest Green Rovers (FGR) as the Greenest Team in Sports — from its solar powered “Mow-Bots” used to manicure the organic pitch at The New Lawn stadium to all vegan-only concession stands.

FGR took a major step up on the pitch in 2017, earning promotion from the fifth to the fourth tier of English football — the highest rung achieved in the club’s 125-year history. The trick for FGR this season is to stay in the fourth tier and avoid relegation down from whence they came. Their task is clear: finish above the bottom two places in the 24-team league when the campaign ends in May.

Newly-promoted sides often struggle to stay “up” and FGR is no different as they’ve flirted with the “drop zone” all season. But an undefeated February (three wins and a draw) gave the club some breathing room.

Their run of good play continued as the calendar turned to March when super-sub Lee Collins scored in the 81st minute to earn a back-and-forth 3-3 draw at Newport County.

 

Lee Colins

Forest Green Rovers’ Lee Collins (#5) exults after scoring the 81st minute equalizer in their 3-3 draw at Newport County on March 3rd (Photo credit: Forest Green Rovers)

 

The 81st minute came back to bite FGR at home on Saturday as it was Notts County who scored during that 60 second window to earn a 2-1 win, ending Forest Green’s six match unbeaten streak. Still, the club sits in 20th place with 37 points, seven points ahead of the drop zone with 10 matches to play.

But safety is not yet assured as the season moves to its May conclusion and the struggle continues for FGR with two road contests in four days.

First, Forest Green visits first place Accrington Stanley on Saturday. Then its a mid-week battle among two clubs eager to stay afloat when FGR heads to 19th place Crewe Alexander.

 


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GSB Eco-Scorecard #3: Catching Up with Green-Sports Leaders on the Field

Since 2013, GreenSportsBlog has featured the teams and athletes leading the sports-greening movement. What we haven’t focused on is their work on the field.

So in September, we launched GSB Eco-Scoreboard: Catching Up with Green-Sports Leaders on the Field, an occasional series highlighting recent on-field/court results of the greenest teams and athletes. Why? Because if they do well, their green messages will gain a wider audience. And it provides much needed fun, something the climate change/environmental world can use more of.

Here is our third entry.

 

Stephen Piscotty, Oakland A’s

Those who’ve read our first two eco-scorecards and/or our profile of Stephen Piscotty last January will notice that the 26 year-old eco-outfielder is no longer a member of the St. Louis Cardinals.

The Stanford grad — with a degree in Atmosphere and Energy Engineering, Piscotty and a serious interest in solar and smart grid technology — was traded last month by the Cardinals to the Oakland A’s for two minor league prospects.

 

 

Piscotty Charles LeClaire

Eco-athlete Stephen Piscotty was traded from St. Louis to Oakland in December (Photo credit: Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports)

 

On the surface, this looks like a strictly baseball move: After a stellar rookie year in 2016, Piscotty had a rough 2017:  Two stints on the disabled list with hamstring and groin injuries combined with a sophomore slump at the plate led to a brief demotion to Triple-A Memphis in August.

But there is much more to the move to the Bay Area for Piscotty than just baseball.

Piscotty received news over Memorial Day 2017 that his mother, Gretchen, who resides with Stephen’s dad in the Bay Area an hour’s drive from Oakland, had been diagnosed with ALS^ or Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

Cardinals’ president of baseball operations John Mozeliak was quoted in a USA TODAY story by Jorge L. Ortiz at the time of the trade as saying, “There were certainly some opportunities to move [Piscotty] elsewhere, and when you’re looking at how to break a tie, clearly [his mom’s illness] did play into it.’’

St. Louis’ compassionate approach towards Piscotty elicited praise from Billy Beane#, the A’s executive VP of baseball operations: “That’s what makes the Cardinals one of the classiest organizations in sports.”

Amen to that!

Gretchen Piscotty faces a very rough road ahead so it is a great thing that her son will be close by when the A’s are at home. Here’s hoping Stephen Piscotty rebounds with a strong 2018.

 

Vestas 11th Hour Racing In Contention After Three Legs of Volvo Ocean Race

Vestas 11th Hour Racing, the sailing team trying to win the ’round-the-world Volvo Ocean Race (VOR) while being its most sustainable squad, is in the mix after three of the race’s 12 legs.

Led by skipper Charlie Enright and team director Mark Towill, the team is tied for second position in the seven boat field. After winning the first leg from Alicante, Spain to Lisbon, Vestas 11th Hour Racing earned third place in both the second (Lisbon-Cape Town) and third (Cape Town-Melbourne) chapters. The teams left Melbourne to start the fourth leg on January 2 for Hong Kong, with expected arrival on January 15.

 

Leg Zero, Prologue start round the corner on-board Vestas 11th Hour, light breeze downwind. Photo by Martin Keruzore/Volvo Ocean Race. 08 October, 2017

The Vestas 11th Hour Racing team during the first leg of the Volvo Ocean Race in October (Photo credit: Martin Keruzore/Volvo Ocean Race)

 

Perhaps the main reason Enright, Towill & Co. have a solid chance to succeed on and off the water is the unique collaboration taking place between sport, business (Vestas, the largest wind turbine maker in the world) and philanthropy (11th Hour Racing, an organization that promotes ocean health by serving as sustainability consultant to elite sailing teams). The partnership resulted in a set of best-in-class set sustainability initiatives for Vestas 11th Hour Racing, including:

  • The calculation and offsetting of the team’s carbon footprint by tracking emissions related to travel, accommodations, electricity usage, water consumption and waste.
  • Outfitting each team member with a “sustainability kit” containing refillable water bottle, coffee mug, bamboo toothbrushes, and a personal water filter.
  • Eliminating single-use plastics and straws
  • Being ‘plastic negative’ by removing more trash from beach cleanups than they create during the race.  
  • Communicating the team’s vision of a cleaner, healthier environment to fans at race stops via an interactive Exploration Zone and during the race through its website, social media, and the #LeadingSustainability hashtag.

After Hong Kong, the race heads to Guangzhou (China) and back to Hong Kong. Then it’s on to Auckland (New Zealand), Itajaí (Brazil), Newport (Rhode Island, USA), Cardiff (Wales) and Gothenberg (Sweden), before finishing in The Hague (Netherlands) in June.

 

Three Mid-to-Lower Tier English Football Clubs Doing Great Green Things

Three English football (soccer) clubs, which currently reside between the fourth and sixth levels of the “Pro/Semi-Pro Football Pyramid,” (incredibly, there are 24 tiers) have earned our consistent attention by their innovative Green-Sports leadership off the pitch. Let’s see how they’re doing on it.

Forest Green Rovers (League Two*, English football’s fourth tier)

Forest Green Rovers (FGR) is the Greenest Team in Sports — earning that distinction in a myriad of ways, from solar powered “Mow-Bots” used to manicure the organic pitch at The New Lawn stadium to all vegan-only concession stands.

FGR took a major step up on the pitch in 2017, earning promotion from the fifth to the fourth tier of English football — the highest rung achieved in the club’s 125-year history — in a May playoff match at London’s Wembley Stadium. The trick for FGR this season is to stay in the fourth tier and avoid relegation down from whence they came. Their task is clear: finish above the bottom two places in the 24-team league when the campaign ends in May.

It’s been quite a struggle, especially lately: A 2-1 home loss to Wycombe on New Year’s Day, the club’s sixth in seven matches (the other match ended in a draw), put FGR at the bottom of the table/standings just past the season’s halfway point. A quick turnaround was needed and FGR delivered with Saturday’s taut 1-0 home win vs. 13th place Port Vale.

The club’s first win of the new year came courtesy of a goal from the newly acquired Reuben Reid. Per the official match report, the game-winner came in the 61st minute as “Reid picked the ball up 25 yards from goal and thundered a sensational left footed effort into the top corner.” Port Vale had several late chances for an equalizer but FGR held on for the win and the vital three points that went with it.

 

Reuben Reid

Reuben Reid (l) of Forest Green Rovers scored the game-winner in Saturday’s 1-0 home win vs. Port Vale

 

The win moved FGR up two slots to 22nd place, just out of the dreaded “Relegation Zone,” at least for now. Can the lads keep it up? We shall see, starting with Saturday’s tilt at 10th place Swindon Town.

 

Sutton United (National League*, fifth tier)

Just south of Wimbledon resides Sutton United F.C. and its 5,000 seat Gander Green Lane, the first football stadium to achieve The Planet Mark™ sustainability certification##. Reducing its carbon footprint by 13.6 percent in 2016 and diverting 88 percent of its waste from landfill helped the club earn the designation.

On the pitch, Sutton United is threatening to join Forest Green Rovers in the fourth tier next season — that is, if FGR can stay up. The Amber & Chocolates sit in third place in the National League, within shouting distance of second place and a promotion spot. They started the 2018 portion of their campaign just like they ended 2017 — hot — with a 2-1 win at Gateshead.

The sprint to season’s end in May picks up on Saturday when promotion rival Dagenham & Redbridge comes to Gander Green Lane.

 

Dartford F.C. (National League South*, sixth tier)

Dartford Football Club in Kent, 18 miles southeast of London, has always toiled in the middle-lower rungs of the English football pyramid, usually between the fifth and eighth tiers.

But the club’s 4,100-seat Princes Park, which opened in 2006, is definitely top tier, sustainability-wise: It was the UK’s first sustainable, purpose-built, small-sized stadium, featuring on-site solar panels, energy efficient lighting, a state-of-the-art green roof, and an advanced reclaimed rainwater system.

 

 

Princes Park Green Roof

Princes Park, with its distinctive and state of the art green roof, serves as the home of Dartford F.C. in Kent England (Photo credit: Sustainability in Sport)

 

On the pitch, Dartford is having a fine season. Since a loss on December 9, the club has gone unbeaten in its last six matches to move into first place in the sixth tier. First and second place finishers get promoted to the fifth tier.

Only six points separates first to eighth place so the battle for the two promotion slots is tight. Dartford can separate themselves from the pack a bit on Saturday when fourth place Havant & Waterlooville% comes to Princes Park.

 

 

^ ALS = Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis
# Billy Beane is also the metrics-oriented GM who was portrayed by Brad Pitt in the movie Moneyball
* The top six tiers of English football are, from first to sixth: Premier League, Championship, League One, League Two, National League, and National League South/National League North
## Planet Mark is a four year-old British sustainability certification system
Havant & Waterlooville is one of the great team names in sports.

 


 

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