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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