The GSB Interview: Roger McClendon, New Executive Director of the Green Sports Alliance

Roger McClendon was named Executive Director of the Green Sports Alliance on January 15. The former Chief Sustainability Officer of Yum! Brands took a break from the whirlwind of his first six weeks weeks on the job to talk with GreenSportsBlog about his path to the Alliance and his early thoughts on where the organization needs to go.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Congratulations, Roger! I’m sure you’re being pulled in a million directions, so let’s get into it. When did your interest in sustainability and sustainable business begin?

Roger McClendon: Thank you, Lew, for the opportunity to talk to GreenSportsBlog readers. I’m an engineer by academic training and a graduate from the University of Cincinnati. Early in my professional career I studied and worked on automating manufacturing processes in a paper mill using control theory and algorithms to improve production efficiency. I also worked on wastewater treatment and power generation systems. Those projects focused on important questions like how do you reduce waste and improve the process as well as save money?

So it was that mindset that drew me to sustainability, technology, and innovation. Of course this work became the foundation of my environmental sustainability experience and background. And, as time went on, I became interested in the social and governance sides of the sustainability equation as well. Things like diversity, how workers are treated, human trafficking, public policy, shareholder proposals, etc. These are, I think, undervalued aspects of the sustainability world, and was something I pushed in my role as Chief Sustainability Officer at Yum! Brands.

 

roger mcclendon gsa

Roger McClendon, the new executive director of the Green Sports Alliance (Photo credit: Green Sports Alliance)

 

GSB: Speaking of the CSO job, that didn’t exist before you took it on in 2010. How did you come to create it? And how did Yum! Brands management react?

Roger: Sustainability was not really on top management’s radar screen when I brought it to them in 2009-10. But you have to understand David Novak, the founder of the company, which was a spinoff of the restaurant brands KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell from PepsiCo was a passionate values-driven leader. His management style recognized that, by putting people first, profits would follow, not the other way around. Before the Yum! Brands spinoff, I had worked my way up through the engineering ranks at KFC and, in so doing, had seen that prioritizing sustainability would grow profits and drive new business.

So after the spinoff, I saw that the new company had a Corporate Social Responsibility or CSR function but there was a big gap: Sustainability was not included. I saw this as a huge opportunity for the company. I conducted some benchmarking studies internally to see how applying a sustainability lens — efficiency, innovation, environment — could improve our best practices. Then I looked outside the company to see how corporations like GE and P&G were treating sustainability. Eventually, I made a presentation to top management about how sustainability could be a powerful business driver. They loved it! David did ask ‘Why should I make you CSO?’ I said ‘Because I’m already doing the job!’ And that was that.

 

David Novak Yum!

David Novak (Photo credit: Yum! Brands)

 

GSB: Great story! Was there any pushback from management and/or the rank-and-file at Yum! Brands about sustainability? Did some say things like ‘Why are we doing this tree hugger, Berkeley stuff?’

Roger: There was some of that cultural stuff but the broader challenge was that big change is difficult, especially in a penny-profit business like restaurant chains. I mean, we worried about each napkin that we bought. Getting 16, 17 year-old employees and franchisees to implement programs and promotions was always a heavy lift.

GSB: How did you overcome that?

Roger: Well we always looked to show all stakeholders how sustainability aligned with value creation. And we emphasized, especially with millennial and GenZ employees, that we were transforming Yum! Brands into triple bottom line company — People, Planet, Profit. And now the company is well on its way to living those values.

GSB: Aside from the very important transition on corporate values, what were some of Yum! Brands biggest sustainability wins during your tenure as CSO?

Roger: Thanks for asking. We helped drive energy efficiency initiatives that have resulted in an estimated savings of 4.3 megawatt hours (mWh) of electricity globally. Yum! Brands also created Blueline, a sustainable restaurant design, build, operational, and maintenance standard that uses key restaurant-relevant aspects of LEED, paired with proven, actionable solutions in areas such as lighting and optimized hood exhaust and ventilation systems.

These initiatives and more resulted in Yum! Brands being named to the Dow Jones Sustainability North America index in 2017 and 2018. We also earned Top 100 Best Corporate Citizens status by Corporate Responsibility Magazine, also in 2017 and 2018.

GSB: Have any of the major Yum! Brands messaged sustainability to consumers?

Roger: Consumer messaging really has been centered on the local level rather than through national ads. KFC in Australia did a local campaign around its switch to canola oil. That screams sustainability and health without actually saying it. And the folks got it.

GSB: Which is great. I understand you retired from Yum! Brands last spring but you’re way too young to be fully retired. Was Green-Sports and the Alliance on your radar at the time?

Roger: Not really. I mean, I was well aware of the sports greening movement, especially since KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell sponsor all manner of sports. And I’d been at conferences at which folks from the Alliance spoke. So I knew Green-Sports was a growing and good thing but I wasn’t looking at it as a landing spot when I retired from Yum! Brands.

Instead I worked with the Aspire Basketball Foundation in Louisville where my family lives. It teaches life skills, leadership, and personal development to high school students and those in a gap year before college, all through the prism of basketball, which I played at the University of Cincinnati and love. That’s what I was doing when I heard about the opening at the Alliance. I reached out to Scott Jenkins, the Board Chair at the GSA and we talked about the job, how I would be able to magnify the impact of Green-Sports at a high level. I thought, ‘this sounds like a great fit’ so I went for it.

 

roger mcclendon uc hoops

Roger McClendon, while a member of the  University of Cincinnati Bearcats, launches a jump shot over Virginia Tech’s Dell Curry, aka Steph Curry’s dad (Photo credit: University of Cincinnati Athletics)

 

GSB: And you got it!

Roger: I’m very thankful and realize that, as I take this position, I realize I stand on the shoulders of giants who created the Green-Sports movement like Christina Weiss Lurie, minority owner of the Philadelphia Eagles and their Go Green initiative, the late Paul Allen, owner of the Portland Trail Blazers, Seattle Seahawks and Sounders, and an early funder of the GSA, and Allen Hershkowitz, one of the true Green-Sports visionaries.

GSB: Indeed. And, as you take the helm at the Alliance, you do so as the movement is at what I see as a pivot point, from a Green-Sports 1.0 world, in which the focus is on greening the games and venues, to the Green-Sports 2.0 world, in which the emphasis shifts to engaging fans, both those who attend games and those who consume sports via media. I know it’s early days, but with that backdrop, what do you see as the top two or three items on your agenda?

Roger: That’s a great way to frame it, Lew. And you’re right, it’s early days. So my first order of business is engaging the Board, teams and venues, and the media to get a great sense of the state-of-play in Green-Sports. At the same time, I think we need to take a look at what’s next — Green-Sports 2.0 as you call it — and then what comes after that.

GSB: Green-Sports 3.0?

Roger: That’s right.

GSB: What do Green-Sports 2.0 and 3.0 look like to you right now?

Roger: First, it’s important to note that the sports world has done an admirable job on Green-Sports 1.0, greening the venues…

GSB: Thanks certainly go to the Alliance for its part in 1.0.

Roger: I wasn’t here for that work, obviously, but I’ll accept that thanks on behalf of the people who were. The greening of stadiums, arenas, and training centers needs to continue. And then we need to go forward on not only fan engagement, but also on helping our member teams, venues, leagues and more take on environmental and social issues in ways that have measurable impacts. The 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs can serve as great metrics for us.

GSB: Absolutely. Of course seven of the 17 SDGs focus on the environment¹. Going forward, will the Alliance work mainly on helping its members on those seven green SDGs? Or will it look to put as much weight on the social and governance aspects of sustainability, as it does on the environment?

Roger: The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals is one framework that I think the Alliance can leverage with our key stakeholders and determine where we should focus and prioritize. It can help us focus on what has the most material impact to our partners, members, fans, and communities as a whole.

There is a process of engagement, alignment, strategy development and execution planning that the Alliance will facilitate with our partners, members, and other key stakeholders. I anticipate that the Alliance and our partners will focus primarily on social and environmental sustainability issues and less on governance.

GSB: Finally, I want to get your take on climate change. I think it’s fair to say that the sports world at large and the Alliance to this point have, for the most part, stayed away from the topic. How do you want to take it on?

Roger: Well this gets into what problems do we want to help solve. Can we impact things like access to clean drinking water, dealing with drought, wildfires, and more? I say yes and we need to get involved in a strategic, focused way to do that sooner rather than later. But do we need to get into the politics of climate change? I think we should stay away but, at the same time, focus on doing what we can to help venues and teams to reduce their emissions.

GSB: Understood. Thing is, I think it will be much harder to stay away from climate change and the politics surrounding it with the recent introduction in Congress of the Green New Deal proposal. How might the Alliance’s alter its approach to climate change in a Green New Deal world?

Roger: We don’t have to debate climate change as the science is evident. We do have to act as a responsible citizen, business, community, city and country. We need to focus on improving sustainable operations and supply chains as well as partnering and investing in smart city infrastructure and develop social and environmental awareness and engagement movements to engage future generations.

GSB: Sounds good, Roger. I look forward to our future conversations to see the types of Green-Sports 2.0 initiatives the Alliance undertakes under your leadership, particularly on fan engagement and climate change. In the meantime, all the best.

 

¹ Seven SDGs that focus on the environment are Clean Water and Sanitation, Affordable and Clean Energy, Sustainable Cities and Communities, Responsible Consumption and Production, Climate Action, Life Below Water and Life on Land. The rest of the SDGs are: No Poverty, Zero Hunger, Good Health and Well-Being, Quality Education, Gender Equality, Decent Work and Economic Growth, Industry/Innovation/Infrastructure, Reduced Inequality, Peace and Justice, Partnerships to Achieve the Goals

 

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GreenSportsBlog Translated to Japanese; Runs in NikkeiBP

GreenSportsBlog has readers all over the world — thank you, global readers — but our content has not been translated into other languages. Until now, that is. Today, GSB appears in Japanese, in the Nikkei Business Press, or NikkeiBP.

 

NikkeiBP, a 50 year-old subsidiary of Nikkei, Inc., is Japan’s leading online business journal. Thus, it is a great honor that its editors saw fit to run an excerpted version of GreenSportsBlog’s October 2018 story about the passing of Microsoft co-founder, Seattle Seahawks owner, and Green-Sports pioneer Paul Allen in, of course, Japanese.

 

NikkeiBP 1

NikkeiBP 2

Portions of today’s Nikkei BP excerpt of GreenSportsBlog’s October 2018 story about the passing of Paul Allen (Credit: Nikkei BP)

 

A heartfelt arigato — or thank you — goes out to Haruki Sawada, Executive Director of the nascent Green Sports Alliance Japan. He paved the way for the expansion of GreenSportsBlog’s reach, and thus awareness of Green-Sports, to Japan. We look forward to additional GSB content appearing in Nikkei BP.

 


 

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Paul Allen, Co-Founder of Microsoft and a Key Figure in Early Days of Green-Sports Movement, Dies

Paul G. Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, died Monday due to complications from non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. He was 65.

Allen, who owned the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks and the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers, played an important role in the early days of the Green-Sports movement.

 

Paul G. Allen, a creator and visionary of the highest order, died Monday at 65 of complications from non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. He is most well-known for helping to usher in the personal computing age when, along with Bill Gates, he co-founded Microsoft in 1975 at age 22. Allen left the company in 1982 during his first bout with cancer.

 

Paul Allen

Paul G. Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, owner of the Portland Trail Blazers and Seattle Seahawks, and an early Green-Sports pioneer, in 2014. (Photo credit: Béatrice de Géa/The New York Times)

 

SPORTS AND THE ENVIRONMENT PLAYED A BIG ROLE IN ALLEN’S POST-MICROSOFT LIFE

In 1988, Allen purchased the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers. Nine years later, he bought the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks, ensuring that the team, which was at risk of moving to Los Angeles, would remain in the Pacific Northwest. And in 2009 he took a minority stake in the Seattle Sounders of Major League Soccer. The Seahawks won Super Bowl LXVIII in 2014 and the Sounders brought the MLS Soccer Bowl trophy to Seattle in 2016.

 

Paul Allen Super Bowl

Paul Allen held the Vince Lombardi trophy aloft after the Seahawks defeated the Denver Broncos in the 2014 Super Bowl at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey (Photo credit: Ray Stubblebine/Reuters)

 

Allen’s environmental passions were broad and deep. A partial list includes:

  • Curbing elephant poaching
  • Saving coral reefs
  • Supporting the mainstreaming of sustainable seafood
  • Building the plastic-free ocean movement
  • Funding the documentary film “Racing Extinction,” which focused on species preservation
  • Investing in renewable energy
  • Developing some of the first LEED certified buildings in the U.S.

 

PAUL ALLEN AND THE BEGINNINGS OF THE GREEN-SPORTS MOVEMENT

Allen’s environmentalism and innovativeness led him and his company, Vulcan, Inc., to take some significant Green-Sports steps during the early days of his ownership of the Trail Blazers and Seahawks.

“When Paul bought the Trail Blazers in 1988, it was clear the team needed a new arena,” recalled Justin Zeulner, who worked for Allen at Vulcan starting in 1999 and served as Executive Director of the Green Sports Alliance from 2014-2018. “It was important to Paul to show fans, sponsors and the media that Portland was a leader in technology, energy efficiency, and innovation. So when planning for what would become the Moda Center began in 1991-92, he directed the team to design a green building before green building was even a thing!”

Allen felt even more passionate about Seattle — he directed a good chunk of his enormous fortune (estimated at $26.1 billion at his passing) towards transforming the city into a cultural hub. So when the new Seahawks (and later Sounders) stadium, now known as CenturyLink Field, opened in 2002, Allen made sure it was a green leader for that time.

The use of recycled concrete and steel — now an expected feature at most new stadium and arenas — is one example of how Allen and Vulcan paved the Green-Sports way with the new venue. Over the next decade, CenturyLink Field upped its green game, with the installation of solar panels at the stadium and on the roof of the neighboring Event Center, as well as recycling and composting, encouraging bike travel to games, and much more.

 

Solar CenturyLink

A solar array, the largest in the state of Washington, tops the roof of the Event Center adjacent to CenturyLink Field, home of the Seattle Seahawks and Seattle Sounders (Photo credit: Seattle Seahawks)

 

AN IMPORTANT BEHIND-THE-SCENES PLAYER AT THE BIRTH OF THE GREEN SPORTS ALLIANCE

During a brief meeting several years after the Moda Center opened, Allen asked then-Trail Blazers President Larry Miller a simple question: “How do we scale the way we greened the Blazers beyond Portland?”

 

Paul Allen Blazers

Paul Allen, left, at a Portland Trail Blazers game with general manager Neil Olshey in 2016 (Photo credit: Craig Mitchelldyer/Associated Press)

 

That, according to Zeulner, was an important spark that ultimately led to the formation of the Green Sports Alliance. “Sometime after that conversation, Miller grabbed me and my colleague Jason Twill and gave us the task of broadening the Greening of Sports,” Zeulner remembered. “Soon after that, Allen Hershkowitz at Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), who was doing great sustainability work with the Philadelphia Eagles and others, joined our efforts. We engaged the Seattle Mariners and Vancouver Canucks in the discussion with the Blazers, Seahawks and Sounders and that group ultimately became the core of the Pacific Northwest Green Sports Alliance, the precursor to the GSA.”

And once Paul Allen provided a spark, those working at Vulcan knew what to do.

“Working under Paul’s leadership, you couldn’t help but feel you were always held to the highest expectations, no matter what you worked on,” reflected Jason Twill, a Senior Project Manager at Vulcan from 2007 to 2013. “This expectation was not only for our organization, but for how we positively impacted humanity as well. His belief in human potential was infectious and inspired us to seek transformation in areas he was most passionate about and where scaled impact could happen; science, technology, music, art and sports. I know that sounds grandiose but you could feel it. It was an incredibly electrifying place to work. We just knew what he expected of us.”

What did that mean in terms of Green-Sports, which was in its embryonic stages in 2007-2008?

“Investing in green building was just something you did because Paul Allen expected it,” said Twill, now the Director of Urban Apostles, a Sydney, Australia-based consulting services business specializing in urban regenerative development. “Paul’s combined passion for sports and the environment led to a group of staff members within Vulcan and the sports teams to initiate the Green Sports Alliance, in partnership with the NRDC. All we tried to do was take Paul’s early Green-Sports leadership and expand upon it.”

Allen who, dating back to his Microsoft days, preferred to stay largely in the background, played a crucial if “silent partner” role in the Alliance’s early days. He provided financial support, organizational development as well as pro bono labor. The latter took the form of lending the time and efforts of Vulcan executives Zeulner, Twill and 15 or so others to the cause. “Paul’s funding, which amounted to hundreds of thousands of dollars, along with the financial support of the NRDC and other founding partners were critical,” asserted Zeulner. “It allowed the Alliance to get off the ground and ensured that the first two annual Summits, in Portland and Seattle, respectively, were successful.”

Twill summed up Allen’s role in the birth of the Alliance this way: “Simply put, Paul’s commitment to world change, his leadership and his organizations were the launching pad that enabled the Green Sports Alliance to come into existence.”

 


 

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Justin Zeulner Leaves Green Sports Alliance; Group Begins Search for New Executive Director to Take on Green-Sports 2.0

The Green Sports Alliance and Executive Director Justin Zeulner, its Executive Director since 2014, recently parted company. The Portland, OR-based organization will soon begin a search for its next leader. 

 

Justin Zeulner, Executive Director of the Green Sports Alliance since 2014, has left the organization. Prior to leading the Alliance, Zeulner helped build it in its early days while working for three organizations owned by Microsoft co-founder and Green-Sports pioneer Paul Allen: the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers, Vulcan Philanthropy and the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation.

“Since leaving Vulcan Philanthropy/Paul G. Allen Family Foundation in 2014 to lead the Green Sports Alliance, Justin has successfully guided the organization to new heights. The sports greening movement has become a relevant change agent and prevailing force in environmental stewardship, enabling the sports and entertainment industry to create healthier, more sustainable communities where we live and play. As one of the inaugural members of the Green Sports Alliance and innovators of our movement through his earlier career at the Portland Trail Blazers, we cannot thank Justin enough for his efforts, dedication to our mission and service to our members, stakeholders, and the organization,” the Alliance said in a statement.

“It has been both an honor and privilege to work closely with everyone involved in developing the Green Sports Alliance and our global movement,” said Zeulner. “It is with a heavy heart that I leave the organization, but I’m thrilled with the amazing progress we have made, together. I look forward to continuing to work with the entire sports greening family as I enter this new chapter in my life.”

 

Zeulner GSA

Justin Zeulner (Photo credit: Green Sports Alliance)

 

GREEN-SPORTS 2.0 CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES LIE AHEAD FOR NEXT ALLIANCE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

The Alliance said it will soon launch a national search for its next Executive Director.

Whoever takes that job will be doing so as the Sports Greening Movement continues its transition from Green-Sports 1.0 (the greening of the games and the stadia and arenas in which they are played) to Green-Sports 2.0 (engaging sports fans to take positive environmental actions).

In the space of about a decade, Green-Sports 1.0 has become an unqualified success. Thanks in large part to the efforts of the Alliance and of people like Justin Zeulner, LEED certified stadia and arenas, Zero-Waste games, on-site renewables and more have become commonplace.

The next Alliance Executive Director will certainly have a plate full of Green-Sports 2.0 challenges and opportunities.

To my mind, demonstrating to teams, leagues, corporate sponsors and mainstream sports media outlets that sports fans will react positively to environmentally-themed messaging and marketing initiatives needs to be at the top of the list. This goes for fans who attend games as well as the much larger group who consumes sports on TV, online and elsewhere, but not at the stadium or arena.

The good news is that there are reams of publicly available data that show broad public support for renewable energy (“2/3 of Americans give priority to developing alternative energy over fossil fuels”^), climate change (“Most Americans say climate change affects their local community”*), carbon pricing (“Yale poll shows nationwide support for revenue-neutral carbon tax”**) and other green indicators.

 

Yale

Infographic from Yale Center for Climate Change Communications showing widespread support throughout the US for revenue neutral carbon pricing (August 2018)

 

The Alliance must buttress these data by funding quantitative research that would measure fan awareness of, interest in, and engagement with, Green-Sports initiatives. It last invested in such research in 2014. Those results are old news; such studies need to be conducted annually or biannually.

Hey, keeping score is what sports is all about?

But what if, for argument’s sake, the next study shows that awareness of Green-Sports initiatives among fans is low? Wouldn’t that kind of negative result be a disaster for the Green-Sports movement?

No way.

It just would mean that the Alliance — and its global counterparts BASIS (UK), Sport Environment Alliance (Australia) and SandSI (Europe and elsewhere) — are in the early innings of a long Green-Sports 2.0 game.

And this game is certainly a “must-win”.

 

 

^ Pew Research Center, January 2017
* Pew Research Center, May 2018
** Yale Program for Climate Change Communications, August 2018

 


 

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