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

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

 

THOUGHT LEADER WORKSHOP TAKES ON CLIMATE CHANGE AND SPORTS

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

 

Colin Tetreault

Colin Tetreault (Photo credit: Arizona State University)

 

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

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

Which was great.

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

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

 

DOES ESPN DESERVE ITS “ENVIRONMENTAL LEADERSHIP AWARD”

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

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

 

Kevin Martinez - March 5, 2013

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

 

These accomplishments deserve to be commended.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You get the idea.

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

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

 

Francesca Summers

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

 

ARTHUR M. BLANK WINS COMMUNITY CHAMPION AWARD

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

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

 

GSA Arthur Blank-headshot

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

 


 

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Let’s Start a Movement to Get the Sports Media to #CoverGreenSports

Longtime readers of GreenSportsBlog know I believe that Green-Sports 1.0 — the greening of stadia and arenas — has been a great success. They also know I believe that Green-Sports 2.0 — engaging the 65-70 percent of humans who are sports fans on environmental issues, including climate change — is the more important yet far heavier lift.

For Green-Sports 2.0 to have a chance of meaningful success, the media — sports and otherwise — needs to do a much better job of sharing the many inspirational Green-Sports stories with its sizable audiences. It says here that the media won’t do so on its own. So we, the GreenSportsBlog community, need to push them. And that starts today with the launch of the #CoverGreenSports hashtag. 

 

 

Since I launched GreenSportsBlog almost five years ago, I’ve found there are two opposing forces in the sports-greening movement:

#1: The sports world is greening rapidly: And that pace has picked up to the point where:

  • LEED certification for stadia and arenas is considered the cost of doing business. In fact, the biggest question is often not IF a venue will go for LEED, but will it go for Platinum or “settle” for Gold,
  • Zero-waste games — to qualify, stadia or arenas must divert 90 percent or more of food waste from the landfill — are increasingly commonplace, as are on-site solar panel installations, electric vehicle (EV) charging stations, and much, much more.

#2: A precious few sports fans know about this: Despite an increased number of fan engagement efforts by a gaggle of teams and leagues recently, I would bet real money on the accuracy of this statement.

Absent any meaningful data on sports fan awareness of Green-Sports initiatives (note to the Green Sports Alliance — a quantitative, projectable study, updated over time, is much needed here) the best I can offer right now is this nugget of anecdotal data:

In early April, I moderated “The Intersection of Sustainability, Sports and Business,” a panel discussion held at the NYU Stern School of Business and hosted by their Center for Sustainable Business. Before turning to the panel, I asked the audience if they knew that Ohio State home football games are zero-waste, that the Super Bowl offsets all of the direct emissions associated game, and more.

 

Zero-Waste 1

Zero-Waste 2

Zero Waste Stations and signage, Lower Level Concourse at Ohio Stadium, home of Ohio State football. The stadium has been Zero-Waste — diverting more than 90% of food waste from landfill — since 2013 (Photo Credit: Lewis Blaustein)

 

Maybe two or three hands moved skyward in response to each question — a tiny number considering there were 50-60 people in the room.

Not good, I thought.

We need to get awareness about Green-Sports waaaaay up among sports fans. How high? Given the existential nature of the climate crisis I would be satisfied with awareness levels similar to the number of people who know that you can save 15 percent or more on car insurance by switching to GEICO!

 

GEICO Ad Age

Awareness of Green-Sports approaching awareness levels of nearly ubiquitous GEICO ads? Now THAT would be surprising…and welcome (Photo credit: Ad Age)

 

The only way we get that close to that exalted neighborhood is through significant sports media coverage of the great, sports-greening advances happening virtually every day in many corners of the sports world.

Not so fast, you say! “TV networks and cable sports outlets like ESPN and Fox Sports want their announcers talking about the games. They don’t want them talking about the environment!”

Of course, the game is the thing during a broadcast, but it’s not the only thing.

Sportscasters often bring up the causes promoted by the league, teams and/or athletes they’re covering. Those mentions are sometimes prompted by a contractual relationship — i.e. when the NFL sponsored Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, the networks that broadcast the games in the U.S. (CBS, Fox, ESPN, and NBC) ran breast cancer-related public service announcements (PSAs). Or sometimes an announcer will organically bring up the cause-related work of a player he/she is covering (I’m making this up: “LeBron James scored 40 points tonight, which means $4,000 is donated to the LeBron James Family Foundation.”)

Environmental issues, especially climate change, need similar oxygen on sports broadcasts, no matter the medium.

But that won’t happen unless the broadcast and cable networks airing sports events, along with the websites, newspapers, and magazines that write about them believe there is an audience for environmentally themed content.

That means green-minded sports fans are going to have let the ESPNs, the CBS Sports’ of the world know that the sports-greening movement is important to them. That also holds true for sports websites like TheRinger.com and SI.com, news websites like npr.com and Slate.com as well as sustainability-focused sites like GreenBiz.com.

Fans should reach out to sportscasters who are active on social media and who are known for speaking about issues beyond the playing field. Bob Ley (@BobLeyESPN), the long-time host of ESPN’s “Outside The Lines,” is Exhibit A. Peter King (@SI_PeterKing), the long time Sports Illustrated NFL writer, and author of the must read MMQB (Monday Morning Quarterback) column on SI.com, is Exhibit B.

Newscasters with an expressed interest in sports (there are a lot of them!) should also be contacted. Mike Pesca (@pescami), host of The Gist podcast — which tackles sports along with other topics — on Slate.com, needs to be in the know about Green-Sports. And Alabama Crimson Tide, Red Sox and Liverpool F.C. fanatic Joe Scarborough (@JoeNBC) should be added to the list. I’m sure you can come up with more.

And that’s where #CoverGreenSports comes in.

When we (and that means YOU!) hear about a Green-Sports story, through this blog or anywhere else, we need to reach out to the folks listed above via social media with the #CoverGreenSports hashtag. Here’s what I mean:

Ex-UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen is expected to be selected in the top 10 in Thursday’s NFL draft. For argument’s sake, let’s say he’s selected by the Buffalo Bills (per my column a couple of weeks back, I hope he ends up with the New York Jets. But I think they’re going to pass on him in favor of Baker Mayfield so Rosen will shuffle off to Buffalo.) Any green-minded Bills fans should reach out to the team and to the local broadcast stations with a tweet that could go something like this: @Josh3Rosen is a member of the @BuffaloBills! How gr8 is THAT!? We have a QB that will lead us to the #SuperBowl and who cares about #climatechange! Please tell Rosen’s green story. #CoverGreenSports

If you’re not a Bills fan, you could still craft a tweet tailored for the national media (ESPN, Fox Sports, etc.): @Josh3Rosen, new @BuffaloBills QB, is also an #ecoathlete. Tell his green story during Bills games — millennials and GenZ viewers will thank you. Don’t be afraid of those opposed; Green-Sports a winner. #CoverGreenSports

And — now this is really important — we also need to give BIG shout outs to those who ARE ALREADY COVERING Green-Sports and who may start to use the #CoverGreenSports hashtag. That is a small club for now but membership is growing slowly but surely. We can be the catalyst that accelerates the growth trend.

I will tweet the #CoverGreenSports hashtag (and use it on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn) whenever appropriate – to “nudge” those who need to cover it or to “fame” those who already, wisely, are. Will you retweet? Are you with me?

Let’s DO THIS!

Of course we can’t just do this willy-nilly; a strategic approach is what’s needed. Since hashtags and connecting with influencers are not my bailiwick, I reached out to someone who lives and breathes strategic influencer outreach.

Andrea Learned (@AndreaLearned) is a Seattle-based, self-described “communications strategist, with deep expertise in influencer relations.” Sustainability is one of her primary beats on Twitter. Andrea has made it a cause to generate interest in urban cycling-for-transportation by promoting the #Bikes4Climate hashtag as part of the broader #Cities4Climate movement.

 

Andrea.Profile.HardiePic

Andrea Learned (Photo credit: Hardie Cobbs)

 

In a free-flowing conversation a few weeks back, Andrea enthusiastically offered these suggestions:

  • “Map out an influencer strategy that goes beyond the tried and true, established ‘influencers’ — in the environmental space, that might mean Leo DiCaprio — to find new up and comers.”
  • “Find social media influencers who are interested in sports and climate. Athletes and non-athletes. Use the community you already know and expand from there. For example, I am always attuned to climate journalists who also happen to be big city bikers. Those writers have the potential to be climate action INFLUENCERS in capital letters “
  • Reach out to them with Green-Sports messaging and #CoverGreenSports and retweet their responses. Love them UP for even mentioning green-sport elements in any of the reporting they do already. “

Suffice to say, while I will be on the lookout for new influencers to move the #CoverGreenSports hashtag, I realize I already am connected to a great group influencers — y’all!

So please help spread the #CoverGreenSports hashtag. I promise you three things:

  1. Doing so will take a minimal amount of time, and
  2. It will be fun, and
  3. Your impact per minute spent has the potential to be massive!

 


 

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