A group of the top U.S. rock climbers who are also concerned about climate change have worked with Protect Our Winters to launch POW Climb, a new division that will focus on engaging the climbing community to join the climate fight.
GreenSportsBlog spoke with elite professional climber Tommy Caldwell to find out how he came to support POW and POW Climb as well as what he hopes will result from his efforts.
“It’s time to give the climbing community a platform to speak up about climate change.”
Protect Our Winters turns passionate outdoor and winter sports enthusiasts of all levels into effective climate advocates. The Alliance is POW’s community of elite athletes (skiers, snowboarders and more), thought leaders and forward-thinking business leaders working to affect systemic political solutions to climate change.
LIFELONG CLIMBER AND ENVIRONMENTALIST SEES THE EFFECTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE
That Northern Colorado native Tommy Caldwell is a world class climber and an up-and-coming climate change fighting eco-athlete would surprise absolutely no one once they learned the outlines of his story.
“I grew up climbing in Rocky Mountain National Park,” Caldwell recounted. “My dad, who taught during the school year, was a mountain guide there. We climbed every weekend. I was climbing in Yosemite when I was three years old. In my teens, I climbed in the Alps and Bolivia. Of course this meant I was in nature all the time and developed a deep passion and appreciation for it.”
Tommy Caldwell of POW Climb ascends the Dawn Wall of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park (Photo credit: Brett Lowell/Red Bull Media House)
Rock climbing globally for more than three decades means Caldwell has experienced the impacts of climate change up close.
“I’ve been climbing in the Argentine part of Patagonia since my early twenties,” Caldwell recalled. “You can’t miss or doubt climate change when you go there over a period time. There’s one incredible mountain, Aguja Poincenot, its east face is accessible only by traversing a glacier. Or, should I say was accessible. Fellow climber Topher Donahue told me the glacier was passable in the 80s and up through part of the 90s. By the time I first visited there in 2003, the glaciers had receded and broken up to the point where crevasses blocked the passage. The beautiful approach from the east is now virtually inaccessible.”
The lower east face of Aguja Poincenot in the Argentine section of Patagonia is now virtually inaccessible to climbers. (Photo credit: Elvis Acevedo)
Sadly, reported Caldwell, the weight of climate change’s impacts is heavier on mountains that are still being climbed: “Now, in some parts of Patagonia, virtually when there’s a good weather window for climbing, someone dies. That’s because the mountains are thawing for the first time since climbers started visiting the area. Rocks loosen and ultimately fall. Death from sporadic rock fall is becoming common. I question weather I should climb in those mountains anymore — hey, I have kids now.”
ON BECOMING A CLIMATE CHANGE FIGHTER AND PART OF POW CLIMB
Patagonia played a key role in Caldwell joining the climate change fight.
“I got into climate activism when I became an Ambassador for Patagonia, a sponsor of mine,” said Caldwell. “Then, as a board member of the Access Fund, the advocacy organization for climbing, I got into lobbying in DC on climate change as well as other issues that are clearly important to climbers. In fact, my Access Fund colleagues and I lobbied, through our ‘Climb The Hill’ initiative, on behalf of the bipartisan Land and Water Conservation Fund Act which became law as part of a bigger bill that was signed by the President on Tuesday.”
Caldwell, who was featured in the must-see “Free Solo,” which won the Academy Award last month for Best Documentary, sees POW Climb as the next step in his climb up the climate change activism mountain, with the next challenge being carbon pricing.
“POW reached out to me a few months ago. I then went to an Alliance athlete training, heard from the scientists, saw their legislative and electoral strategies and I was all in. I’m excited to push on carbon pricing and to help elect candidates who will support it and other climate change fighting actions. Now is the time.”
Happy Friday! In a TGIF GreenSportsBlog News & Notes, we feature a diverse trio of stories:
Russell Martin, currently player-coach for Walsall F.C. in the third tier of English football, recently made waves by announcing he’s switched his political affiliation to the Green Party. “Awesome Planet,” a part of the Xploration Station three-hour block of science-focused television shows airing on FOX stations, recently aired an episode featuring eco-athletes. And Patagonia, the über-green outdoor clothing and gear company, announced it will donate the $10 million it saved as a result of the 2017 Trump/GOP tax cuts to environmental non-profits.
RUSSELL MARTIN TAKES A POLITICAL STAND AS ECO-ATHLETE
Now the player-coach at Walsall F.C., which currently plays in England’s third tier, Martin’s notoriety will likely jump up a notch or two, thanks to his recent announcement that he’s joined the U.K.’s Green Party.
Russell Martin (#4 in blue), in action for Scotland against Germany in 2015 (Photo credit: Matthias Hangst/Bongarts/Getty Images)
“I’ve voted Labour all my life,” Martin told Stuart James in the November 23rd issue of The Guardian. “But knowing…what the [Green] Party represents, I just thought this aligns with my values and morals.”
Those values and morals include water conservation and veganism.
On water, “I used to get peppered at Norwich because I was always saying: ‘Turn the tap off’ when the lads brushed their teeth in the changing room,” Martin related to James.
Regarding his eating habits, Martin shared with James that he’s “been a vegan for four years, plant-based, so that awakens you socially to become a lot more conscious about things. I’ll be honest, that wasn’t for ethical reasons at first, it was purely health. I was struggling with ulcerative colitis and I did a lot of research into diet and what could help. But then when you become involved in that it raises your awareness of the ethical side. You actually look at it and think: ‘This makes sense.’”
Martin put his money where his mouth is when he became part-owner of Erpingham House, the largest vegan restaurant in Great Britain. He also owns an EV and promotes sustainability and environmental awareness to the children who pass through his Russell Martin Foundation, based in his home town of Brighton, which started as a football academy but is now a registered charity.
Russell Martin (Photo credit: Jonny Weeks, The Guardian)
Despite the time and energy that the dual player-coach roles demand, Martin is happy to take on the environment and climate change. “There’s stuff we can’t control – the Brexit madness – but there’s stuff that we can have an influence on and help future generations,” he told James. “I’ve got three young kids and I want it to look as good as possible for them by the time they hit my age.”
GSB’s Take: Russell Martin is one of a small but growing number of athletes who are speaking out on environmental issues, including climate change. He seems unfazed by any potential backlash. Martin told James that he’s “past the point of worrying what others think. It’s not like: ‘Is it going to harm my employment opportunities because of where I vote and what I stand for?’ If it did, I wouldn’t want to work for those people anyway.”
Given Martin’s willingness to speak out on environmental and climate issues, his top level playing pedigree, and his newfound coaching experience, it would not surprise me one bit to see him coaching for Forest Green Rovers, the world’s Greenest Team in Sports. Currently FGR resides in England’s fourth tier, one level below Walsall.
GREEN-SPORTS FEATURED ON FOX NETWORK’S “AWESOME PLANET” SATURDAY MORNING TV SHOW
Surfer Zane Schweitzer’s segment on “Planet Awesome” (5 mins 7 secs)
The Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles also made an appearance, as they were lauded for their leadership role in bringing highly visible solar installations to stadiums.
Awesome Planet draws an average weekly audience of 750,000 viewers.
GSB’s Take: Every survey I’ve seen shows that American 16-23 year-olds, the older half of Gen-Z*, favor substantive action on climate change. Thus it’s not surprising that Awesome Planet would feature athletes and teams who are engaged in the climate change fight and other environmental issues. Concern about climate change polls over 50 percent among all age groups, across the political spectrum, with the exception of the most conservative Republicans. That tells me that programming highlighting eco-athletes targeted to a general audience would go over well. Hint to CBS Sports: How about a Green-Sports segment during the many hours of your Super Bowl LIII pregame coverage?
PATAGONIA TO GIVE ITS ENTIRE TRUMP TAX CUT WINDFALL TO ENVIRONMENTAL CHARITIES
Patagonia said last month that it will donate the $10 million it saved from recent tax cuts to environmental protection groups. In a withering letter, CEO Rose Marcario called the Trump- and GOP-backed tax cuts “irresponsible.” Changes to the corporate tax rate went into effect in 2018, giving corporations a massive boost by dropping their tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent.
Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario (Photo credit: Patagonia)
“Instead of putting the money back into our business, we’re responding by putting $10 million back into the planet,” Marcario wrote in the statement. “Our home planet needs it more than we do.”
The company said the donations would be incremental to its existing “One Percent for the Planet” pledge through which it has donated one percent of its sales each year since 1985 for “preservation and restoration of the natural environment.” According to Forbes, Patagonia revenue topped $750 million in 2017.
According to Ryan Miller, writing in USA Today on November, 29th, the company plans to give the $10 million to “groups committed to protecting air, land and water and finding solutions to the climate crisis.”
GSB’s Take: I yield the floor here to Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard for his take on the tax cut and the Trump administration’s approach to climate change: In a companion statement to CEO Marcario’s, Chouinard said, “Our government continues to ignore the seriousness and causes of the climate crisis. It is pure evil.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.
* Gen-Z is made up of people born from 1995-2012
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The water sports world has been at the forefront of the Sports-Greening movement, drawing attention to the problems of plastic ocean waste, sea level rise, species loss and more. Today’s GSB News & Notes column is water sports-logged as we share stories about a new, environmentally-friendly wetsuit from Patagonia and a commitment from World Sailing to protect the marine environment. Then, we go back on land to give a Green-Sports lesson to New York Jets (aka Gang Green) rookie QB/savior Sam Darnold.
GREEN WETSUITS FROM, NOT SURPRISINGLY, PATAGONIA
Increasing numbers of divers, surfers, triathletes, and more have driven demand for wetsuits to an all-time high.
Most wetsuits available in the market today are made from closed-cell, foam neoprene, a type of synthetic rubber with nitrogen gas bubbles that serve the dual purpose of keeping the body dry and insulating it.”
According to Anjana Athanikar, writing in the July 3 issue of Sustainability Active, foam neoprene is very harmful to the environment: “The material is made from oil and consumes significant energy in the [production] process. The worst part is the material is non-biodegradable.”
Not surprisingly, it is Patagonia who is looking to disrupt the wetsuit market by marketing an eco-friendly product. Its’ Yulex® fabric features 85 percent natural rubber material, replacing a petroleum-based material with a plant-based one. High-stretch exterior and interior linings are made from 55 percent recycled polyester fabric. . The result? Significantly reduced CO₂ emissions from the manufacturing process. And, writes Athanikar, the product wins on performance, as it is “softer and more elastic.”
Green wetsuits from a Patagonia-Yulex partnership (Photo credit: Picture Organic)
Right now, the eco-friendly wetsuit sub-category makes up a tiny fraction of the overall wetsuit market. I suspect that Patagonia’s iconic brand power, combined with the eco-mindedness of a number of elite surfers and triathletes, will start the growth phase for green wetsuits. Once that happens, increased competition and even more growth will follow.
WORLD SAILING LAUNCHES NEW FUND TO PROTECT MARINE ENVIRONMENT
World Sailing, the sport’s governing body, announced it is launching a new fund to support sustainable development in the oceans.
Per a story in Climate Action Programme on July 2, the fund will focus on “three areas of concern: “marine health, youth development, and improving access to the sport.”
The marine health fund looks to build upon some of the great environmental work in the sailing world contributed by the likes Vestas 11th Hour Racing, fifth place finisher in the recently concluded, ’round-the-world 2018 Volvo Ocean Race. It will seek, as mentioned in the Climate Action Programme, to “create more sustainable products within sailing and accelerate the use low-carbon technologies and behaviors. It will also actively improve the health of the ocean environment.”
The trust will be chaired by leading British sailor Dee Caffari, who captained the Turn the Tide on Plastic team to a sixth place result in the Volvo Ocean Race.
“In the past, other sailing charities have been very local and regionalized,” said Gaffari. “The World Sailing Trust has a global reach so we can cover all aspects, all areas and all regions. For the first time, World Sailing can use its reach and connections to make things happen across youth, sustainability and participation sectors and have a bigger impact.”
Dee Caffari, captain of Volvo Ocean Race team Turn on the Plastic and chairwoman of the newly-minted World Sailing fund to protect the marine environment (Photo credit: Sky Sports)
World Sailing represents an estimated 70 million sailors in 145 countries and so is ideally positioned to promote and document sustainable practices in the most remote places. Sailors like Charlie Enright and Mark Towill, skipper and team director of Vestas 11th Hour Racing, have witnessed first-hand the devastating impacts of marine pollution and an increasingly volatile climate.
On ocean waste, Enright related his 2014-2015 Volvo Ocean Race experience in a January interview with GreenSportsBlog, recalling that, “The amount of marine debris we encountered was truly astonishing. We expected to see plenty of ‘leakage’ — all sorts of materials from container ships that would fall into the ocean — and we did. But the old refrigerators, air conditioners and tires we saw floating around in the middle of the ocean — they didn’t fall off of ships. The waste was so thick, it looked like you could walk in some parts of the waters between Malaysia and Indonesia, thanks to the lax dumping regulations.”
Enright and company also experienced the effects of climate change up close: “Because of climate change, icebergs are floating further south from the Arctic regions and further north from the Antarctic.”
Charlie Enright, skipper of Vestas 11th Hour Racing (Photo Credit: Ainhoa Sanchez/Volvo Ocean Race)
While the establishment of the fund is a big plus, World Sailing, it says here, has a mixed reputation on environmental issues. It was the first sporting federation to win an international sustainability standard. On the other hand, Pete Sowrey, the organization’s CEOin the run-up to the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, claimed he was fired for recommending that the sailing events be moved from the photogenic-but-polluted Guanabara Bay.
Andy Hunt, Sowrey’s successor as CEO, is working to set World Sailing’s sustainability ship on a steady course with the new fund. “We have a duty to enhance and protect the sport’s future,” Hunt asserted. “Harnessing the energy of the sailing community and our global network, we can generate wide-spread change across the sport quickly and effectively.”
JETS ROOKIE QB SAM DARNOLD YET TO SEE THE ENVIRONMENTAL BENEFITS OF MASS TRANSIT
Early July is “human interest story” time for the American football media. Training camps don’t open for another two weeks, so there’s no actual football to write about, but fan interest in the NFL is 24-7-365. So this is “fluff time”
Parco reported that New York Jets rookie quarterback/potential savior Sam Darnold revealed that, since moving from Southern California (he grew up there, went to USC), he’s become a Mets rather than Yankees fan (nobody’s perfect^).
Jets rookie QB Sam Darnold, during spring mini camp (Photo credit: Julio Cortez/AP)
The hard-hitting interview also revealed that, among other New York City things, Darnold prefers taxis over subways.
In the big picture, this answer, is of course not a big deal. Darnold doesn’t live in the city — the Jets train in Florham Park and play their home games in E. Rutherford, both in New Jersey — so he’s new to the experience.
But when will the default response from a high profile Big Apple athlete during the climate change era (aka NOW!) be in favor of subways, with the quote being something like this “subways, no doubt, because mass transit is always a much greener way to get around than a taxi.”
^ Hopefully Darnold will be close to perfect on the football field
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Surfers are among the most eco-minded of athletes, with several pro surfers doubling as eco-activists. This makes sense, since surfers see and experience the effects ocean pollution and sea level rise up close. But, what about the sustainability of their sport, specifically the surfboards? It turns out that surfboard manufacturers have not been proactive in terms of making their products environmentally friendly.
That is until Firewire decided to take the lead in providing their eco-athletes with eco-surfboards. To learn more, GSB spoke with Mark Price, a former pro surfer who is CEO of Firewire and the driving force behind their commitment to sustainability.
GreenSportsBlog: Mark, I think our readers are going to love the Firewire story and your story. So let’s get going. How did you get to be the CEO of Firewire?
Mark Price: Thanks Lew, great to chat! Growing up in Durban, South Africa, I’ve been a surfer all my life. I turned pro during high school and kept at it while at university. At that time, two-year compulsory military service was required, either before or after university. I had decided many years prior that the apartheid South African government was not a cause worth fighting for, so I left for the USA in 1979 at the age of 19, heading to Laguna Beach, California while I competed for two years on the world pro surfing circuit. Meanwhile, some friends there had started a surfing apparel brand called Gotcha I retired from pro surfing in 1981 and started working for them…
Mark Price, CEO of Firewire (Photo credit: Firewire)
GSB: What did you do there?
MP: I started in customer service and quickly moved up…And so did Gotcha, growing from $1.5 million in sales in 1981 to $100 million in 1989.
MP: It was! Thing is, despite our success — which was helped by the boom of “surfing culture” — I was burned out. So I got off the hamster wheel. After taking a surfing trip to France in 1989, I came back and resigned. Then I moved to Hawai’i before returning to Gotcha two years later.
GSB: That’s a lot of moving…
MP: You’re right. And, while living the pure surfing lifestyle appealed to me in theory, actually living that life was…kinda boring. I was in my late 20s at the time and I wanted to get back to business. So I went back to Gotcha one more time, trying to be less “work-aholic-y”. But soon thereafter the 1991-92 recession hit and we suffered because of it. Our appeal to the broader, mass market was no longer effective as the surfing culture boom was waning. So I got laid off in ’92.
GSB: What did you do then?
MP: I founded Tavarua Clothing, an apparel company that leveraged the image of the island of the same name in Fiji. That ended up not working out, so I subsequently landed a marketing director position at Rip Curl USA and then I was recruited to be head of global marketing at Reef Sandals.
GSB: So how did you end up at Firewire?
MP: I was at Reef Sandals for about four years when friends who had started Firewire in Burleigh, Australia — about an hour south of Brisbane on the Gold Coast — reached out. I was intrigued because they had a new surfboard technology and I was more interested in surfboards than sandals and apparel. Also the key players at Firewire had a strong entrepreneurial bent. And as mentioned, they were bringing a disruptive surfboard technology to market that was stronger, had increased flex and was much greener than traditional surfboards.
GSB: Talk to us about the Firewire technology…
MP: Great! Now this will get in the weeds a bit but it is important. Firstly, traditional surfboards have a foam core with a wood strip down the middle. Firewire boards are built with the wood around the perimeter, and the lightweight foam core is sandwiched between two thin high-density deck skins. In fact, the technique is called “Sandwich Construction”. The interior foam is very light — while the deck skins have a high compression strength and are used in the aerospace industry — both foams have less toxic chemical properties versus traditional surfboard foam.
GSB: What does the Firewire technology do for the board as a whole?
MP: Taking the wood out of the center and putting it on the perimeter, as well as using the lighter foam, reduces weight and increases the board’s overall flexibility, making it more responsive though turns.
The Slater designs SCI – FI, built by Firewire (Photo credit: Firewire)
GSB: That sounds like a major advance.
MP: It was — and it was an existential threat to traditional surfboard makers…
GSB: How did they react?
MP: As you might think — many of whom launched disinformation campaigns…
GSB: You mean they used “Fake News” and “Alternative Facts”?
MP: You could say that, but the product ultimately proved itself, surfers started to switch, and the business grew organically…
GSB: Did world class surfers start to endorse Firewire?
MP: Yes! Taj Burrow, who was one of the best in the world in the mid 2000s, switched to Firewire in 2006 and his winning percentage went up 40 percent!
Taj Burrow celebrating a victory with his Firewire surfboard (Photo credit: Costa Rica Surfing)
GSB: WOW! So I see how Firewire disrupted surfing technology from a performance point of view, but what about from the environmental aspect?
MP: Great question, Lew. So, first we have to get into a little chemistry. Before Firewire, traditional surfboards were built with polyurethane foam and laminate with polyester resins, both of which are far more toxic than our materials. Our boards are built with expanded polystyrene foam (EPS) and Epoxy bio-resins. Back in 2005, the University of Queensland in Brisbane conducted a study on the Firewire construction and found it emitted 50 times fewer volatile organic compounds (VOCs) than traditional surfboards. That year, we won an environmental award in Europe. Our approach is, #1, our surfing equipment has to meet or exceed existing performance expectations and #2, it must be competitively priced. We met those criteria; sustainability was the green cherry on top.
GSB: Sounds like Firewire is trying to follow in the footsteps of Patagonia!
MP: Oh, we are honored to be mentioned alongside them. One thing Patagonia does is constantly improve on their environmental performance and we strive to do the same. With that in mind, in July 2014 we switched from our regular epoxy resin to a bio-epoxy resin, which means that 100 percent of our production was then Ecoboard certified. No other global surfboard brand has met that standard yet.
GSB: Who manages Ecoboard certification? And how did surfers react to the Ecoboard certification?
MP: Sustainable Surf does a great job of managing the Ecoboard certification. As to the impact of the bio-epoxy resin and Ecoboard certification on surfers, you have to first understand surfing culture. Surfers are super-loyal to their brand of surfboard, so getting folks to switch is challenging. But, over time, we’ve seen more and more surfers ask for boards with Ecoboard certification from their respective brands. Which is great for Firewire as we hope to help tip the market towards less toxic surfboards. In 2014, maybe three percent of surfboards sold around the world were Ecoboard certified. Now, I’d estimate that eco-certified boards represent between 10-20 percent of all boards. We’ve also worked hard on our waste streams and that is about to pay off. By 2020, or maybe even sooner, we expect to be Zero-Landfill at our factory.
GSB: That’s incredible! How are you guys making that happen?
MP: Well, in 2016 we started to upcycle all of our foam dust using a densification process to create durable garden pavers which we donate to schools in Thailand. We’ve also installed them on the grounds of surfing great Kelly Slater’sartificial wave in Lemoore, California. The foam dust had previously gone to landfills. On a related front, in 2016 we engaged with a New Zealand company that developed a process that traps the cool, condensed air conditioner waste water and recycles it back through the unit, reducing our air conditioner power consumption by 40 percent.
GSB: I love it! So does Firewire measure its carbon and water footprints?
MP: Not yet but we are planning to do a Life Cycle Assessment/carbon footprint analysis in the next year or two. In the meantime, we know we are trending in the right direction because our energy bill keeps getting lower per surfboard built, our raw materials are ever greener, and our waste streams are way down. In early 2019, we will start using Re-Rez…
GSB: What’s that?
MP: It’s a really cool product from an innovative Northern California company, Connora Technologies. They take a reformulated epoxy bio-resin, put it in warm vinegar, which un-cures it and allows it to be reused. Aside from the environment benefits, we expect to save over $30,000 in the first year by reusing various consumables at our factory. And then there’s the traction…
GSB: What do you mean by traction? Can you tell I’ve never surfed?
MP: For the uninitiated, there is a traction pad on the rear deck of the board to steady the back foot. Traditionally, the traction pad is made of ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA), another compound that has a toxic, high VOC output. So we switched to an algae-based, foam traction pad in collaboration with BLOOM Foam that has become the #1 seller in many our key surf retailers.
GSB: You guys are going the extra, green mile for sure!
MP: Thanks Lew. That is now baked into Firewire’s DNA. We expect to become the first Fair Trade Certified surfboard factory in early 2019. And we’ve already reduced our waste per board manufactured by 20 times, from 0.4 cubic meters to 0.02.
GSB: This is an incredible story, Mark. We’re glad to share it with the GreenSportsBlog audience but how do you get exposure to, and build awareness with the broader surfing community?
MP: In 2015, surfing legend and 11-time World Champion Kelly Slater became a major shareholder of Firewire. He is an eco-athlete of the first order and brought a tremendous following to us. On the marketing front, we mainly use web-based marketing and social media to reach our target audiences. No TV advertising for us — it doesn’t make sense from an audience perspective. And our efforts are working. Among premium priced surfboards sold through retail surf shops, we are between the #1 and #3 selling board in the market depending on the particular store and/or region.
Surfing legend and major Firewire shareholder Kelly Slater (Photo credit: Esquire)
GSB: With Slater on board, pun intended, and with the eco-innovations you’ve instituted, I have a feeling Firewire will be able to consistently maintain that #1 position.
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The Winter Sports world plays an outsized role in the Green-Sports movement. This makes sense, when one considers climate change is responsible for shortened outdoor pond hockey seasons, canceled ski races, and more. GreenSportsBlog is taking an in-depth look at the intersection of Green & Winter Sports with an occasional series, “Winter Sports Drives Green-Sports.”
Today, we take a different path with “The POWer of Protect Our Winters.” In it, we look at Protect Our Winters, or POW, an amazing organization of elite winter sports athletes, including Andy Newell and Gretchen Bleiler, which advocates for substantive action on climate, especially as it relates to mountain and snow sports.
Protect Our Winters (POW) is, without doubt, one of the most impactful organizations in the Green-Sports world.
It may also be the most important athlete activist group in the world.
The only climate change action advocacy group led by athletes, POW’s Riders Alliance is made up over 100 current and retired professional skiers, snowboarders and more. They give talks on climate change to student groups and take part in climate marches. Most impressively, it says here, POW lobbies members of Congress and other elected officials on climate change-related legislation.
Are there other like groups of activist athletes in other sports? I don’t know of any.
We got a sense of the POW from the athlete point of view in recent interviews with cross country skier Andy Newell and snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler. Today, we are pleased to give you a different perspective — that of the POW staff — as we talk with Lindsay Bourgoine, manager of advocacy and campaigns, and senior brand manager Barbara Weber.
GreenSportsBlog: How did both of you end up at POW?
Lindsay Bourgoine: Well, I come from Maine and grew up outdoors, climbing mountains and skiing — I love downhill and back country. I got into policy end of things and worked in that arena for the Appalachian Mountain Club and the Outdoor Industry Association. I’ve always strived to find opportunities as the intersection of environmental advocacy and the outdoor industry. We have such an incredible opportunity to leverage our impact to better the planet. Once I found out about POW, I fell in love with it. I mean, the impact of our athletes is so authentic and effective.
Lindsay Bourgoine, Protect Our Winters’ manager of advocacy and campaigns for (Photo credit: Protect Our Winters)
Barbara Weber: I’m from Northern Michigan and started skiing when I was three; we got a ton of lake effect snow. At 12, I went to the “dark side,” aka snowboarding. Eventually, I went to Michigan State…
Barbara: Go Sparty! In school I studied advertising. I’m fascinated with what motivates people psychologically. But when I moved to Chicago to pursue a “Big Girl Ad Agency” job, I knew after my first interview that it wasn’t the world I wanted to be in. I found myself working in the local Patagonia shop while I “figured things out” and they really laid the foundation for the path I’d find myself on for the next 10 years.
GSB: What a fantastic turn of events! Patagonia is beyond great.
Barbara: Indeed. I worked for a local Patagonia store in Vail before moving on to a marketing position with Ski.com, essentially selling ski vacations. It was while I was working at that Patagonia store when I first found out about POW. I think that was around 2009-2010.
GSB: You were busy!
Barbara: For sure. While at ski.com, I was also serving a two-year term on a non-profit board in Aspen (where I had relocated) called Spring Board. POW had stuck with me and I had been trying to find an intersection between my personal desire to give back and make an impact for the benefit of our environment, and with my professional career. For three years at Ski.com I pushed to get them involved with POW. After all, there won’t be many ski vacations in the future if we don’t tackle this issue.
GSB: So true…
Barbara: I left ski.com in 2013 and after a bit of travel, a series of fateful events led me to landing my current role with POW when they were based in Los Angeles. I’ve been with POW since June 2014.
GSB: An odd place for something called Protect Our Winters but, OK…So you were at POW in LA…What was it like?
Barbara: It was a lot of work — but the best kind. I found a fire in me that had been waiting to be lit. It felt as if my background and personality were the perfect fit for the position and vice versa. I was fired up. And I’m still fired up. And the funny thing about avoiding the career of advertising per se; is that in a way, it’s exactly what I’m doing. But instead of selling a material item, I’m selling an idea. I’m selling activism.
Part of my job involves working with our incredible group of professional athletes. Getting to know them over the years has been something I’ll always be grateful for. This group is so passionate, so thoughtful, insightful, and genuine. I think from the outside it can be easy to look and them and find ways to be critical, but they really work hard to become knowledgeable about climate change, both from the science and political sides, and leverage their influence as pros to inspire other people to get involved in this fight.
GSB: I sure was inspired talking with Andy Newell and Gretchen Bleiler. These are world class athletes, Olympians…and they’re knowledgeably lobbying members of Congress on climate change? How do they have the time? Where do they get the inspiration?
Barbara: I can’t speak for each Riders Alliance member but, in general, it seems as though winter sports athletes — POW athletes — spend so much time outside, in nature…it’s natural they would appreciate it. I mean, they have an intimate interaction with the outdoors.
GSB: That makes sense, but what motivates them to speak up about climate change? Don’t they worry that being “political” could put their sponsorship relationships at risk?
Barbara: Well, snowboarders, skiers and the rest are already outside the traditional athlete world to a certain extent. There’s a natural rebelliousness to this community, particularly the snowboarders. They’ve found a way to make a living most of us could only dream of, and are often rewarded for thinking unconventionally and for taking risks. So many of them are OK with going outside their comfort zones. What is really great is that POW athletes do their homework on climate and know their stuff. In fact, our athletes who go to Washington often report that members of Congress are slack-jawed at their knowledge and expertise.
GSB: As someone who has presented to Congress on climate issues with Citizens’ Climate Lobby, I can tell you that house members and senators are hard to impress. That holds true with their staffers. So getting a slack-jawed reaction is a big deal. Also a big deal is POW’s Riders Alliance Summit…
Barbara: Absolutely. It’s our biggest event of the year that we do with the athletes. We use it as our opportunity to bring them up to speed on the latest climate science, how to effectively communicate climate facts and information, provide them with social media and public speaking training, and other meaningful ways to engage in advocacy. To me, though, I think one of the biggest takeaways is the sense of community and camaraderie the summit evokes. It’s good for these athletes to see each other in person, commiserate on their experiences, become friends and supporters of each other.
GSB: The camaraderie is so great to hear about, especially given that some of these athletes compete against each other. Now, speaking of lobbying, talk to us about POW’s lobby days on Capitol Hill and elsewhere…
Lindsay: Well, there were 13 POW athletes at our most recent lobbying effort on the Hill a few months back. This was our biggest contingent to date; with partners and staff, we had 25 total. One of our goals this time was to work on forming relationships with Republican lawmakers, which we did by focusing on our passion for, and love of the outdoors. Sometimes, this bill and that endorsement and that policy get in the way. We need to remember we’re all people, and for the most part, we can all connect over our mutual love of the outdoors. Climate change threatens that. So, we went into offices, talked about who we are and what we do, reflected on the changes we see in the field, and then asked how they could help us address the issue. If they asked for more specifics, or if they were more amenable to our cause, we talked about our priority issues: carbon pricing, solar energy, and electrifying transportation.
GSB: …That’s great about meeting with Republicans; otherwise, POW would simply be preaching to the converted…How many members of Congress did you get to meet with this time around?
Lindsay: We met with 22 members, half of whom are part of the bipartisan House Climate Solutions Caucus, which includes an equal number of Republicans and Democrats. Snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler, pro fly fisherman Hilary Hutcheson, as well as our board chair and VP of Aspen Skiing Company, Auden Schendler spoke on behalf of POW. Gretchen talked about how impactful the cancellation of competitions can be, especially on rural mountain towns at the beginning of the season — for example, if Birds of Prey at Beaver Creek (CO) is cancelled, that’s $4-6 million gone from the local economy, just in a weekend. Hilary recounted how her insurance adjuster told her if she kept working as a fly fishing guide outside of Glacier National Park in Montana with the poor air quality from nearby forest fires, he would cancel her policy. She literally couldn’t guide — and earn an income — because the air quality from fire smoke was so dangerous. Climate is impacting her way of life. And Auden spoke about how ski resorts lose money in low snowfall years and the snowball effect on the economy. It was very powerful to speak to this bipartisan group– very uplifting to see lawmakers on both sides of the aisle really listen and come together to educate themselves on these issues and impacts. This hearing was definitely the highlight of the trip.
POW takes Washington by storm: From left to right, Alex Deibold, Kaitlyn Farrington and Gretchen Bleiler on the steps of the Capitol (Photo credit: Forest Woodward)
Hilary Hutcheson, pro fly fisherman (Photo credit: TDN)
Auden Schendler, Aspen Skiing Company (Photo credit: ClimateCon2018)
GSB: I hope the GOPers with whom you spoke vote in a POW-like manner sooner rather than later. Now, one thing I’ve noticed as a Citizens’ Climate Lobby volunteer is that the number of volunteers skyrocketed after Trump’s election. Have you seen something similar at POW? Also has Trump’s election had any effects on the issues POW takes on, the tone and aggressiveness with which it does so, etc.
Lindsay: People can no longer afford to be apathetic as our climate is under attack day after day. Now, more than ever, our community is asking us “how can we help” over and over. Our community is stepping up to the challenge. In a way, this is a silver lining of Trump’s election. Now, does it make it harder when there is an unfriendly administration? Yes. That just means we have to work harder to fight the fights that need to be fought and to get creative to see if there are any places we can potentially work with Republicans. I would say one way the results of Trump’s election is that we are looking opportunistically at actions in state legislatures. There is a ton of progress being made there, especially on carbon pricing in winter sports states like Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington.
GSB: Are there Trump-supporting POW athletes? If so, how is that working out?
Lindsay: I can’t speak to that specifically, but we do have Republican athletes. We have always worked to be bipartisan and if anything, put even more of an effort into that this year in our DC lobbying. We know climate is deeply politicized, but we don’t believe it should be. The Republican party is the only conservative party in the world that denies climate change. We just need to get to a place where it is safe for Republicans to talk about climate. You’d be surprised; many of them understand and agree, they just care about being re-elected, too. It’s tough. Our goal is to elect climate friendly officials, regardless of what party.
Barbara: Well, 2018 being an Olympic year helps POW. It amplifies the visibility of our athletes who end up being part of their Olympic teams. That helps us in the long run when it comes to the platforms they use to speak out against climate change. Additionally, we’ve found politicians tend to geek out when one of our athletes brings an Olympic medal or two to our lobby day meetings. Mainly, though, the Olympics will probably just decrease our productivity those two weeks it takes place, as we’ll be anxiously watching the competitions and supporting our athletes when we should be working! We’ll for sure be having a viewing party or two in the office.
GSB: Sounds like a lot of fun — y’all deserve it! I hope to see NBC Sports feature a POW athlete or two at the Olympics. What are POW’s main goals in 2018?
Lindsay: Our main goal in 2018 is to get down and dirty in the midterm elections in November. POW is working on establishing a 501(c)4, which will allow us to get more engaged in elections as an organization. We have identified ten ‘battleground elections’ where we feel it is really important to elect a climate friendly leader, whether Democrat or Republican — I want to be clear that we are not working to help the Democrats take the House. We will execute all of our programs in those ten areas — whether going into schools for Hot Planet Cool Athletes assemblies to get kids talking about the importance of climate change, or hosting educational events. Our objective is to make people more aware of their role in elections, help them understand the importance of electing climate friendly leaders, and push the conversation in each election to cover climate change.
GSB: We will stay tuned throughout 2018 to see how POW makes out in those 10 races. One last question: What are POW’s expansion plans, if any? Are you looking to move beyond winter sports?
Barbara: We want to engage the broader outdoor industry in POW’s work. This is already happening — we’re signing trail runners, climbers, anglers, guides, and mountain bikers. We’re working to bridge the gap with hunters and find ways to collaborate. The reality is climate change impacts all of us, whether it’s too hot to mountain bike or there’s not enough water in rivers to paddle or to support viable fish habitat.
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Conventional wisdom has it that, given the anti-environmentalist attitudes of the current occupant of the Oval Office, the corporate sector will need to step up, bigly, on behalf of serious action on climate change. With that in mind, GreenSportsBlog will, from time to time, highlight “Green-Sports Corporate All Stars” taking the lead at the intersection of Green + Sports. Today we feature adidas, and its recently launched sneaker made primarily from plastic ocean waste, and Patagonia, the über-Green outdoor sports apparel designer and retailer as it encourages longer life spans for its (and its competitors’) garments.
CORPORATIONS NEED TO STEP UP THEIR CLIMATE CHANGE GAME
The forecast for positive climate change action from the current administration is stormy.
At Tuesday’s sort-of State of the Union, President Trump did not mention climate change. One of his executive orders is designed to eventually allow coal companies to more easily dump waste into streams. Newly installed EPA Administrator, Scott Pruitt, talks longingly about dismantling the very agency he was hired to run and is a climate change skeptic at best.
All is not gloomy on climate in Washington, D.C.—Republican éminences grises James Baker, Hank Paulson, and George Shultz all endorsed, through their newly formed Climate Leadership Council, a revenue-neutral price on carbon; nonprofit Citizens’ Climate Lobby^ continues to press for something similar among members of Congress from both parties, with some modest successes among House Republicans. But with climate change skeptics and deniers in charge of the executive and legislative branches of the federal government, concerted pressure for meaningful, positive climate action will be needed from large corporations that have the heft to force real change, now more than ever.
The news from the corporate sector is mixed. Many have been and are doing great things: from pledging to reduce their carbon footprints and that of their supply chains, to curbing waste, to buying renewable energy and more. But—and this is a huge but—corporations have been much less likely to tout their environmental bona fides to consumers even though they are doing great things. And they have been mute when it comes to lobbying Congress on behalf of action on climate change.
The good news-bad news on the climate for corporate climate action is also the case in the sports world. Many companies involved in sports are doing the right things, sustainability-wise; fewer are engaging their consumers and/or talking about it.
With that in mind, GreenSportsBlog is today launching a new occasional series, “Green-Sports Corporate All Stars,” in which we highlight the corporations that are making positive things happen at the intersection of Green & Sports.
ADIDAS DIVES DEEP TO BRING SNEAKER MADE FROM PLASTIC OCEAN WASTE TO MARKET
“Our ultimate ambition is to eliminate virgin plastic from our supply chain.”
So said Eric Liedtke, adidas Senior Vice President of Brand Marketing, in a November, 2016 press release announcing the launch of the company’s UltraBOOST Uncaged Parleysneaker, made from 95 percent plastic ocean waste.
Talk about thinking—and acting—big!
GreenSportsBlog first got wind that adidas’ plastic ocean waste shoe plans back in July, 2015. It took 16 months for the Herzogenaurach, Germany-based company to turn concept into reality.
The sneakers are made as part of a partnership with Parley for the Oceans, an environmental nonprofit that draws much-needed attention to ocean pollution and waste. Each shoe’s “upper” (the part that goes over the top of the foot) is made from 5 percent recycled polyester and 95 percent waste plastic (plastic bottles, containers, etc.) dredged from the ocean around the Maldives, an archipelago that is existentially threatened by climate change off the southern coast of India. Most of the rest of the sneaker (including the heel, lining, and laces) is also made from recycled material.
adidas UltraBOOST Uncaged Parley sneakers, made from 95 percent ocean waste. (Photo credit: adidas)
Priced at approximately $US220, the Uncaged Parley started slowly—only 7,000 pair were stocked at adidas retail outlets worldwide at launch in November—but the company is ramping up quickly, with audacious goals for this year: “We will make one million pair of [Uncaged Parley] shoes in 2017,” said Liedtke.
And adidas is not limiting its recycled-content vision to shoes.
In the February 1 issue of The Drum, a digital marketing-for-good news source, Tony Connelly reports that adidas brought theSS17 Parley swim collection to market. It features two designs: a wave print that references the source of its fabric, and a Parley inspired graphic. The swimsuits are made from used fishing nets as well as the upcycled ocean plastic waste similar to that used in the sneakers.
Speaking to Swimming World magazine, Tim Janaway, general manager of adidas Heartbeat Sports said: “Created with the ethos ‘from the oceans, for the oceans’, the Parley swim collection represents our dedication to consistently deliver swim products that protect that waters in which we perform.” Currently, 50% percent of the company’s swimwear is made from recycled material; that percentage is clearly going to rise.
Check out this spot that brings home the true power of the adidas-Parley for the Oceans collaboration:
The SS17 Parley Swim Collection ad (1:37)
PATAGONIA ENCOURAGES COLLEGE STUDENTS TO WEAR CLOTHES LONGER
Athletic/outdoor-wear designer and retailer Patagonia is one of the greenest companies in the world.
It is also one of the most radical. Don’t believe me? Here is an excerpt from CEO Rose Marcario’s 2016 year-end letter:
For the sake of Planet Earth, let’s all become radical environmentalists. This sounds like a big leap—but it’s not. All you need is a sewing kit and a set of repair instructions. As individual consumers, the single best thing we can do for the planet is to keep our stuff in use longer. This simple act of extending the life of our garments through proper care and repair reduces the need to buy more over time—thereby avoiding the CO2 emissions, waste output and water usage required to build it.
Why is repair such a radical act? Fixing something we might otherwise throw away is almost inconceivable to many in the heyday of fast fashion and rapidly advancing technology, but the impact is enormous. I tell you this as CEO of a clothing company that, despite a deep commitment to responsible manufacturing, still takes more from the earth than it returns.
Ms. Marcario can’t mean we should wear clothes longer, thus buying less frequently from, say, Patagonia, can she? Oh, yes she can.
You see, Patagonia has embarked on the Worn Wear program which teaches consumers to repair their gear to keep it in action longer, along with providing an easy way to recycle Patagonia garments when they’re beyond repair.
This year, the Patagonia Worn Wear College Tourrepair team is bringing its truck, Delia, to campuses all across the country. The team fixes about 40 garments per day of any brand, free of charge, on a first come, first served basis. They also give quick lessons on how to repair clothes, sell used gear at marked-down prices and screen a short film about the Patagonia ethos, The Stories We Wear.
Images from Patagonia’s Worn Wear College Tour. (Photo credit: Donnie Hedden)