The GSB Interview: Previewing the 2019 Green Sports Alliance Summit with Executive Director Roger McClendon

Philadelphia is known for its birthplaces.

Independence Hall, site of the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, is the Birthplace of America.

About three and a half miles south sits Lincoln Financial Field. In 2003 the home of the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles arguably became the Birthplace of Green-Sports. It was then that the club, under the leadership of principal owner Jeff Lurie and, in particular, minority owner Christina Weiss Lurie, launched its groundbreaking Go Green initiative.

Fast-forward 15 years and, on June 19-20, “The Linc” will play host to the ninth annual Green Sports Alliance Summit, the first under the direction of new Executive Director Roger McClendon.

With the Summit’s PLAYING FOR THE NEXT GENERATION theme as backdrop, GreenSportsBlog chatted with McClendon about his first four months on the job as well as the new programs and initiatives he and his team have in the incubator for summiteers in Philly. 

GreenSportsBlog: Roger, it’s been four months since you started as Executive Director at the Alliance and we are less than a month out from your first Summit as leader of the organization. We’ll get to that in a minute. But first, could you reflect on your tenure so far?

Roger McClendon: Lew, it’s been an exciting, productive and busy 120 days or so. We took this time to do a lot of listening. Met with our league partners in New York, spoke with teams and venues across North America, finding out what they need and think are the best ways forward. Looped in our corporate partners, board members and other stakeholders to find out if we’re delivering All-Star level value to our nearly 600 members from the pro and collegiate sports worlds.

I was impressed by the energy and ideas generated at the Alliance’s Sports & Sustainability Conference at Arizona State University in January. We most recently partnered with the Portland Trail Blazers organization and completed a successful symposium in April. Internationally, we connected with the UNFCCC, signing on to their exciting new Sports for Climate Action Framework. We’re in the infancy of an engagement with Sport and Sustainability International (SandSI) through our connection with ex-Alliance President Allen Hershkowitz, so that’s exciting too.

 

roger mcclendon suzanne

Roger McClendon (Photo credit: Suzanne McClendon)

 

GSB: That is a whirlwind four months! What have you learned?

Roger: So many things, Lew. #1. Many sports teams and vendors now believe and manage towards a triple bottom line model — people, planet, profit. #2. Teams and venues and leagues seem ready to change. #3. When sports organizations look at environmental impact, it cannot only be from a greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction standpoint. In some cases, cost reduction will take the lead role, based on an owner’s priorities, the fan base. Sometimes, a team will emphasize environmental benefit. It’s really a case-by-case basis thing.

GSB: That makes sense, even if I personally would like to see GHG reductions always be the Green-Sports hero. Widening out the lens a bit, that you’re having these fan engagement questions — what we call Green-Sports 2.0 as compared to Green-Sports 1.0, the greening of the games — represents important progress. What say you?

Roger: As we move forward with fan engagement on the environment, on climate, we have to accept that some sports fans just…don’t…care about it. Sometimes, they simply want to go to the game. What I’ve learned is that we need to listen to fans to get relevant fan/consumer insights. That feedback will show us how to communicate with fans more powerfully on environmental issues so more of them care more about it. It’s not easy and there’s not one answer. The Portland Trail Blazers and LA Kings have done some great work in getting fan feedback and enacting green-themed programs and events.

GSB: If memory serves, the last time the Alliance funded projectable, quantitative fan research was five years ago. It provided valuable insights. Will the Alliance fund new fan research in 2019 or 2020? If not, why not?

Roger: Yes, in the next year or two we plan to go deeper into the research, particularly around stadium owners/operators and what they can do to directly impact their consumers, the fans. We are likely to work with partner organizations and members to gather additional quantitative and qualitative data in years to come. Part of the challenge surrounding fan engagement is the actual measurement component. Some organizations like the Portland Trail Blazers have been tracking it via the Eco Challenge platform and others have been working to develop surveys for fans and season ticket holders about what they see value in and what’s important to them as fans. We hope to push the envelope to create different ways to track what fans are doing at home and in their communities and to determine if there is any correlation to a sports team influence, program, or initiative on the fan’s behavior. Exciting stuff, albeit challenging!

GSB: I look forward to seeing the next round of fan-based research, hopefully in 2020. Last time we talked, you said you were interested in moving to Green-Sports 3.0! What does that mean?

Roger: [LAUGHS] Hey Lew, we’re pushing the Green-Sports envelope here at the Alliance! So Green-Sports 3.0 focuses on WHAT’S NEXT; specifically how sports can help publicize and achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Not all team and league executives know the 17 SDGs exist; even fewer fans are aware. PLAYING FOR THE NEXT GENERATION, the theme for the Summit in Philadelphia, is a nod to Green-Sports 3.0 — how the movement can push the SDGs forward — while also providing us with an opportunity to celebrate the present, and the past, the folks who’ve made a difference over the past 10, 15 years.

As far as the past is concerned, it’s fitting that the Summit is being held at Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Philadelphia Eagles. The team, from owners Jeff and Christina Weiss Lurie on down, have been Green-Sports pioneers since they launched Go Green in 2003 So the Eagles will have a prominent role. In terms of the present, we will of course celebrate our annual award winners, including awarding the USTA, Billie Jean King and Lauren Tracy [the USTA’s director of strategic initiatives] with the 2019 Environmental Leadership Award — the Alliance’s highest honor.

Regarding the future and WHAT’S NEXT, young people will have a big role, in particular students from the many Philadelphia-area colleges and universities and beyond. They will get to see up close how folks in their 20s and 30s are making their marks as practitioners in various corners of the Green-Sports ecosystem. And, we are looking forward to our annual, forward-leaning Women, Sports & the Environment Symposium. This year’s WSE includes Melanie LeGrande with MLB, Jan Greenberg with MLS, Heather Vaughan with Pac-12 Conference, and the aforementioned Lauren Tracy with USTA.

But if we stopped there, that would mean we were running a “same old, same old” type of Summit. And we can’t afford to do that.

So we’re breaking the mold with many of our plenary sessions and panels, taking on topics that we’ve more or less glossed over in past years: Climate action, global income inequality, gender issues, and more.

 

Lincoln Financial Field

Solar panels cover the east wall of Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Philadelphia Eagles and site of the 2019 Green Sports Alliance Summit (Photo credit: Mark Stehle/Invision for NRG/AP Images)

 

GSB: Bravo, Roger! There’s no time to waste. As you know, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said humanity has 12 years — the length of Anaheim Angels star Mike Trout’s contract extension — to decarbonize by 45 percent in order to avoid the most calamitous consequences of climate change. In the interest of full disclosure, I am excited to be moderating a panel discussion called “Sports, Carbon and Climate.” These are the types of discussions that are necessary at Alliance Summits. What other panels and plenary sessions would you like to highlight?

Roger: We’re excited to offer our first ever environmental justice-focused main stage panel “Beyond the Ballpark: The Role of Sports in Environmental Justice Reform” featuring Alliance Board member Kunal Merchant with Lotus Advisory and Mustafa Santiago Ali, Co-Host, Hip Hop Caucus’ “Think 100% – The Coolest Show on Climate Change” and former Senior Vice President of Climate, Environmental Justice & Community Revitalization, Hip Hop Caucus.

Attendees will hear from Federico Addiechi, Head of Sustainability & Diversity at FIFA; Mike Zimmer, President of the Miami Super Bowl LIV Host Committee; and Bill Reed, Principal, Integrative Design and Regenesis. The Thought Leadership Forum is back with an impactful lineup of speakers including Elysa Hammond, VP of Environmental Stewardship at Clif Bar & Company and Jami Leveen, Director of Communications & Strategic Partnerships at Aramark.

Twelve breakout sessions will feature various topics, from the role of sport in resilience and climate preparedness, to speaking science and making climate change and sustainability relevant to fans. Check out the full program lineup on our website here.

 

Mustafa Ali Santiago

Mustafa Santiago Ali (Photo credit: Larry French/Getty Images North America)

 

 

Elysa Hammond

Elysa Hammond, Clif Bar’s vice president of environmental stewardship (Photo credit: Clif Bar)

 

GSB: That’s an impressive, “break the mold” lineup. We interviewed Elysa Hammond of Clif Bar about 18 months ago — she’s terrific. See you in Philadelphia!

 

If you would like to register to attend the Green Sports Alliance Summit in Philadelphia, June 19-20, please click here.

 

 


 

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GSB News and Notes: Eco-QB Josh Rosen Keeps Up Climate Fight; Green Sports Alliance “Plays for Next Generation”; Netherlands’ Get-Paid-to-Bike-to-Work Scheme Spreads

Happy Friday! In our TGIF GSB News & Notes column:

— The trade of quarterback Josh Rosen was one of the biggest stories to come out of last weekend’s NFL Draft. Post-draft, Rosen’s climate and environmental activism somehow became linked to the trade, at least on social media.

— Meanwhile, the UN’s Sports for Climate Action platform received a huge boost when the Green Sports Alliance agreed to sign on.

— And the Netherlands continues its environmental leadership by paying people to ride their bikes to work. 

 

CLIMATE CHANGE COMES UP IN SOCIAL MEDIA DISCUSSION OF JOSH ROSEN TRADE

There were two bizarre aspects to the trade of quarterback Josh Rosen from the Arizona Cardinals to the Miami Dolphins during the second round of last weekend’s NFL Draft in Nashville.

#1 The Arizona Cardinals selected quarterbacks in the first round two years in a row, something that has only happened once before in NFL history¹.

In 2018, the Cardinals moved up in the first round to choose Rosen with the tenth overall pick. Given the high value of that pick, Rosen was seen as the future of the franchise. That future lasted one frazzled season — his surrounding cast was weak, the UCLA product struggled, the team ended up with the worst record in the league, the coaching staff was fired, a new coach was hired, and the new head man professed unabashed love for Kyler Murray, the 2018 Heisman Trophy winning QB from the University of Oklahoma.

As a reward for having the worst record in the NFL, Arizona owned the first overall pick in the draft, and they used it grab Murray.

That meant Rosen had to go and the Dolphins, with one of the worst quarterback situations in the league, were happy to grab him for only a second round draft choice.

#2 Rosen’s interest in climate change and the environment became a rationale for Arizona’s desire to get rid of him.

The Rosen trade went down last Friday, the second day of the three-day draft. This tweet went up on Monday:

 

Screen Shot 2019-04-30 at 2.40.37 PM

 

WQAM is a Miami sports talk radio station.

Rosen’s interest in the environment seemingly plays into one of the main criticisms about him: Too smart for his own good, always questions things, wants to understand the why of everything.

Color me crazy, but all of those critiques sound like strengths.

And how does an interest in the environment have anything to do with the way Rosen actually plays quarterback? I’m sure he is not thinking about the parts-per-million of CO₂ in the atmosphere as he’s about to get clobbered by a posse of hungry and angry defenders.

Back to Twitter.

A couple hours after the first tweet, Rosen was quoted in another, reacting to the media kerfuffle that resulted from his decision to unfollow the Cardinals on Instagram after they drafted Kyler Murray to replace him.

 

JOSH ROSEN 1

 

Parley for the Oceans is a non-profit that partners with adidas to produce apparel and footwear made from plastic ocean waste.

Rosen nailed the idiocy of people getting annoyed that he unfollowed the Cardinals, generating free publicity for Parley’s important work cleaning the oceans at the same time.

While the jury is still out on Rosen as an NFL quarterback — he had a statistically awful rookie season but, as mentioned above, he was stuck in a bad situation, including playing behind a leaky offensive line in Arizona — it is clear he knows his stuff when it comes to climate change.

Here’s a quote from Rosen in the run-up to the draft a little more than a year ago that shows he is an eco-athlete to watch:

One cause I’ll champion is the environment. It touches everything. I mean, the war in Syria started because of the drought and famine that destabilized the country and led the population to revolt against the government. I know global warming is a partisan issue for some stupid reason, but it touches everything.

Being traded to a quarterback-needy team located in sea level rise-threatened South Florida could be a win-win; for the Dolphins and the climate change fight.

 

GSB’s Take: I’m seriously conflicted here.

On the one hand, I love that Rosen is an eco-athlete who actually talks about the environment and climate change in public. If he does well on the field and continues to speak out on climate off of it, that will be a very good and important thing indeed.

On the other hand, I’m a New York Jets diehard. They and the Dolphins are big rivals so cheering for Miami has never been an option. And in last year’s draft, the Jets picked a rookie quarterback of their own in the first round. Sam Darnold of USC showed flashes of potential to be their first franchise signal caller since the days of Joe Willie Namath a (very long) half century ago. So he and Rosen will also be rivals for perhaps the next 10-15 years.

What to do?

I can’t switch from the Jets and Darnold — that’s too ingrained in my DNA. But aside from the two annual Jets-Dolphins matchups, I will pull for Josh Rosen.

 

GREEN SPORTS ALLIANCE ENCOURAGES MEMBERS TO COMMIT TO SPORTS FOR CLIMATE ACTION FRAMEWORK VIA “PLAYING FOR THE NEXT GENERATION”

The Green Sports Alliance marked Earth Week by launching “Playing for the Next Generation,” a campaign designed to encourage its members and partners to commit to the United Nation’s Sports for Climate Action Framework.

The Framework, which the UN kicked off in December, is buttressed by five overarching principles: 

  1. Undertake systematic efforts to promote greater environmental responsibility;
  2. Reduce overall climate impact;
  3. Educate for climate action;
  4. Promote sustainable and responsible consumption;
  5. Advocate for climate action through communication.

Sports for Climate Action’s charter members represent a Who’s Who of sports governing bodies, leagues and events, including the International Olympic Committee, Paris 2024 Summer Olympics, French Tennis Federation (Roland Garros), International Sailing Federation, World Surf League, and Formula E.

Forest Green Rovers, the English League Two football club and, it says here, the greenest team in sports, is also a charter member. And, as reported in GreenSportsBlog on April 23, the New York Yankees became the first North American sports organization to sign a pledge to support Sports for Climate Action.

Yankees Earth Day

The Yankees’ Earth Day-themed pregame ceremony on April 21 commemorated the club’s commitment to operate by the tenets of the UN’s Sports for Climate Action platform. From left to right, it’s Doug Behar, Yankees Director of Operations; Satya Tripathi, UN Assistant Secretary General; Yankees manager Aaron Boone, and Allen Hershkowitz, Environmental Science Advisor to the Yankees (Photo credit: New York Yankees)

Now the Alliance has stepped up to encourage its 500+ members, including MLB, MLS, NBA, NFL and NHL, to commit to the Framework.

“The Alliance recognizes the vital need for the sports industry to address climate change and play a significant role in combatting it,” said Roger McClendon, Executive Director of the Alliance. “By supporting this Framework, sports teams are committing to work collaboratively with peers, sponsors, fans, and other relevant stakeholders to implement the UN’s climate action agenda in sports.”  

GSB’s Take: The UN’s Sports for Climate Action Framework just got a big momentum boost with the addition of the Green Sports Alliance to its roster. The Alliance will no doubt promote support of the Framework to its many members. GSB expects to see 1) Alliance members large and small sign on, and 2) Sports for Climate Action to get a lot of attention at the Alliance’s annual Summit in Philadelphia in June. As for the Framework’s five principles, GSB hopes the Alliance and its members put particular emphasis on #3 (Educate for climate action) and #5 (Advocate for climate action through communication).

DUTCH WORKERS GET PAID FOR COMMUTING TO WORK; NEIGHBORING COUNTRIES GET INTO THE ACT

The Netherlands is a Green-Sports leader.

Ajax (AH-Yax), the country’s top soccer club with 25 first division championships and a contender for the European Champions League title this season, has deployed a Nissan Leaf storage battery at Amsterdam ArenA

But it is at the grassroots level where the country’s Green-Sports leadership really shines through. Consider these two factoids:

  1. There are more bicycles than people in the Netherlands;
  2. Bikes account for almost half of all journeys between home and work in  Amsterdam. 

Yes, the pervasiveness of bike paths makes commuting on two wheels safe. And the country’s flat terrain makes it easy for people to get around on their bikes. But, according to a story by Sean Fleming in weforum.org, the Dutch government gives the public a helpful leg up on to their bikes in the form of tax credits.

Every kilometer cycled to and from work can earn a Dutch citizen up to an extra 22¢US tax-free. And this is no longer unique to the Netherlands: A similar incentive is now available to bike commuters in neighboring Belgium. 

Netherlands

Commuters are paid to ride their bikes to work in the Netherlands (Photo credit: Yves Herman/Reuters)

I know what you’re thinking: “What about the third Low Country, Lew? What about Luxembourg?!”

Not to worry. Luxembourg workers can take advantage of a $340 tax rebate to be used to buy a bicycle.

France, clearly looking to their Low Country counterparts, will enact a cycle-to-work reimbursement program next year.

While Great Britain is trying to figure out how to (Br)exit the EU, their Cycle to Work program mimics their counterparts (for now) on the continent. The UK operates a lease-to-own model allowing employees to get discounted bikes and equipment through their employer.

The employer buys the bike and leases it to the employee. Monthly lease payments are deducted before taxes, resulting in an after-tax savings of 32 percent for most taxpayers. A mileage allowance is also available for British cyclists who use their bikes for business purposes.

What about the USA?

Fleming reports there are “a range of tax breaks aimed at commuters in the US, too, including a $20 per month allowance for cycling expenses. However, the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (aka “The Trump Tax Cuts”) changed all that and cycling costs can no longer be deducted from pre-tax pay, effectively making it a little more expensive for some American cyclists.”

GSB’S Take: GSB is not surprised the Netherlands leads on providing incentives for bike commuting. After all, with much of its coastline lying below sea level, the country has by necessity led the world in developing technologies to fight climate change-caused sea level rise. Sadly we are also not surprised that the Trump Tax Cut law made it less rewarding financially for American cyclists.

¹ The Baltimore (now Indianapolis) Colts selected Ohio State’s Art Schlichter in the first round in the 1982 draft and then chose John Elway out of Stanford with the first overall pick of the 1983 draft.

 


 

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