GSB News and Notes: Unifi Sustainability Partnership with Pac-12 Will Get Air Time; Historic Sports Photos Help Document Climate Change; Chicken Pot Pie Rats Fall Short in Solar Car Race Challenge

We have a chock-full GSB News and Notes column to start your week.

  • Unifi, one of the world’s leading innovators in the manufacture of recycled performance fibers, recently became the Founding Sustainability Partner of Pac-12 Team Green. One important feature of the partnership is that sustainability-themed content will appear on the Pac-12 Networks. 

  • Footage of old cycling races and marathons is being used by researches to document climate change. 

  • And, in a follow up to a June GSB story, the Chicken Pot Pie Rats, a team of three brilliant eighth graders from a middle school in the San Diego area, were unable to win the school’s second straight Junior Solar Sprint (model car race) National Championship due to a technical issue with the solar panels atop their vehicle. 

 

UNIFI TO HELP PAC-12 NETWORKS #COVERGREENSPORTS 

This seemingly ordinary snippet in the Pac-12 Conference’s recent press release announcing its new sustainability partnership with Unifi caught my eye: “Unifi will…work with the Pac-12* and Pac-12 Networks on creating custom content and media assets to feature sustainability programs.”

A partner helping to improve recycling rates at a stadium or arena? That is ordinary in the Green-Sports world these days.

A partner funding sustainability-themed ads or public service announcements (PSAs) on Pac-12 Networks, with its 19 million subscribers^ — that is EXTRAORDINARY!

The announcement that Unifi∞ will help Pac-12 Networks #CoverGreenSports was light on details. A spokesman for the conference said plans for the sustainability content — subject matter, frequency, etc — will be developed over the next couple of months. The ads/PSAs will likely go live in late-September/early-October, as the Pac-12 football season moves into high gear.

 

Unifi Pac-12

Pac-12 and Unifi executives announce their Team Green partnership (Photo credit: Unifi)

 

Long-time readers know that GreenSportsBlog believes the Green-Sports world is transitioning from its 1.0 version (greening the games at the stadium, arena, road race, etc.) to its 2.0 iteration (reaching the far greater number of people who consume sports via TV, phone, internet with sustainability messaging).

Kudos to Unifi, Pac-12 Networks and the Pac-12 for demonstrating much-needed Green-Sports 2.0 leadership. When will more corporations and college and/or pro sports leagues follow Unifi and the Pac-12? Stay tuned.

 

FOOTAGE OF OLD SPORTS EVENTS HELPS SCIENTISTS TRACK CLIMATE CHANGE 

Here’s a new and welcome aspect of the Green-Sports world: Scientists using sports to document climate change.

Marlene Cimons, writing in the July 18th issue of Popular Sciencetells the story of how climate scientist and cycling fan Pieter De Frenne observed changes to the landscape while watching the Tour of Flanders over many years in his native Belgium.

“[De Frenne] noticed startling changes in the trees and shrubs framing many of the cobbled streets that have been part of the course for years,” reported Cimons. “The landscape had morphed from totally bare to lush with greenery.”

Sports events have, of course, been documented in photos, on film and on video for over a century. Cycling and marathons are ideal for documenting climate change: They’re often held at the same time every year, over the same courses.

That is the case with the one-day Tour of Flanders, which was first contested in 1913. The annual cycling road race always takes place on the first Sunday in April. De Frenne — a scientist in the forest and nature lab in Ghent University’s department of the environment — and his colleagues compared images of the same trees and plants on 12 hills along the route between 1980 and 2016.  They discovered that trees surrounding the course are budding earlier.

According to Andy Furniere in the July 23 issue of Flanders Today, “Before 1990, the trees rarely had leaves during the race. But after 1990, the trees – largely magnolia, hawthorn, hornbeam and birch – were full of leaves. The researchers said that the pictorial evidence suggests that the average temperature in these areas has increased by 1.5 degrees Celsius since 1980.”

The impacts are significant: Trees getting their leaves earlier in the year lead to shadows being created for a longer period of time. Some flowers thus don’t get enough sun to bloom which negatively effects insects and birds.

 

Tour of Flanders

AFTER: The April 2018 Tour of Flanders in full flower (Photo credit: Tim DeWaale/Visit Flanders)

 

1990 Tour of Flanders

BEFORE: The April, 1990 Tour of Flanders. Trees are much less lush than in the 2018 edition, which reflects the cooler temperatures of that time (Photo credit: Graham Watson)

 

De Frenne told Cimons that the historical visual documentation of sports events like Tour of Flanders, “can be an invaluable, still underexploited resource for climate change research and other types of biological research.”

 

 

CHICKEN POT PIE RATS START STRONG, FALL VICTIM TO SOLAR PANEL FAILURE AT JUNIOR SOLAR SPRINT CHAMPIONSHIPS

Last month, GreenSportsBlog featured the story of the Chicken Pot Pie Rats, a team of three eighth graders from the Joan MacQueen Middle School in Alpine, CA — about 30 miles east of San Diego — who race model cars powered by small solar panels atop the roofs. The team sought to defend the school’s 2017 Junior Solar Sprint National Championship at the 2018 finals in Atlanta against over 100 teams from all over the United States.

Here’s a report on how the Pie Rats made out from team member Ronan Eddie, his dad Patrick and team volunteer Chris Loarie:

“The Pie Rats recorded the fastest time in the preliminary time trials…and were the number one seed going into the 16-team finals. Before the finals started, we put the car out in the sun and tried to run it and it was not functioning like it normally would — definitely not like it was during local trials and the national time trials in Atlanta. We ran a test with a voltmeter to look at the voltage output and it gave its full voltage. The symptoms of the car’s sluggishness pointed to a problem in the solar panel sill or possibly a problem with the motor.”

“When we were walking back to the classroom after field testing, the light hit the panel just right and we noticed a fine scratch on the cover of the panel. Close inspection revealed that the plastic cover was not scratched. Rather, the actual wafer under the plastic protective cover had a crack in it and that caused the circuit to fail.

“It is a bit hard to swallow that the car made it through many local races and track testing, made a cross country trip in a special plastic box that was put into a foam protective carrying case, and made it through the time trials and recorded an unbelievable time.  Then it was turned over to the race officials for overnight storage and when it was returned, it would not function.”

To be clear, Loarie does not want to imply there was malicious intent on the part of the event organizers. He surmises the damage to the panel was the result of an unfortunate accident.

Despite the disappointment, Loarie sees the bright side: “We know we are creating dominant designs and will use this experience to educate future [Joan MacQueen Middle School] teams.”

 

Chicken Pot Pie Rats 1

Members of the Chicken Pot Pie Rats (from left to right) Josh Handley, Chase Kingston, and Ronan Eddie, along with Josh’s and Ronan’s dads at the 2018 Junior National Sprint Championships in Atlanta (Photo credit: Chicken Pot Pie Rats)

 

 

* The Pac-12 is one of the leading collegiate sports conferences (leagues) in the USA. Its member schools are Arizona, Arizona State, Cal-Berkeley, Colorado-Boulder, Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, UCLA, USC, Utah, Washington, Washington State
^ Pac-12 Networks subscriber data per SNL Kagan, 2018
∞ Unifi, through its REPREVE® brand, has transformed more than 12 billion plastic bottles into recycled fiber for new apparel, footwear, and more

 


 

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Green-Sports Startups: Nube 9 and The Circular Economy

Universally known, global corporations, from BASF to Nike to Tesla, have dipped their toes in the Green-Sports waters. While it makes sense from PR and mission points of view, Green-Sports, for now, represents a small aspect of those companies’ businesses. At the other end of the spectrum are startups for whom Green-Sports is everything, or close to it. GreenSportsBlog is launching an occasional series, Green-Sports Startups. It will focus on these small (for now) companies that see the Greening of Sports as existential to their businesses’ prospects for success. Our first such startup is Nube9, a Seattle-based circular economy company that is committed to making recyclable sports uniforms—and to making them in the U.S.A, from American fabric. We spoke to CEO Ruth True to get the Nube9 story.

 

For Ruth True, it all started on an art trip to China.

“I took a trip in 2008 with a group from the Seattle Art Museum to China. We visited four provinces and seven cities—it was fascinating—but above it all, I could not look past the fact that we rarely saw the sky. In fact, we saw blue sky only half of one day during our two weeks in China. The Chinese had gone from not being able to eat to not being able to breathe, in large part due to the mass consumption in the U.S and elsewhere in the developed world. ”

So Ms. True, a serial entrepreneur who’d worked in the food and catering businesses; came back to Seattle, determined to self-fund something new that would have a positive environmental impact. But what to do?

 

Ruth True Make Good Collective

Ruth True, CEO of Nube9 (Photo credit: Make Good Collective)

 

She went shopping.

With her five kids, four of them girls.

Two answers started to appear—GO LOCAL and NO NEW STUFF.

Ms. True noticed she could find little, in the way of apparel and toys that were made in the U.S, despite searching local shops and big chains like Whole Foods Market. So, in 2009, she opened a little shop and called it Nube Green. She decided on the name Nube because of feeling like a traditional “newbie” in the green/environmental world, but liked the aesthetics of the spelling Nube for her brand. The shop featured only US made and sourced gift and apparel items. This would, she reasoned, reduce carbon emissions and also appeal to folks’ patriotic and help-the-economy impulses. Still, with the massive cost advantages from manufacturing in China and, even more so, in Southeast Asia, people told her it couldn’t be done. And, truth be told, it’s been a struggle. “In our first five years or so, we were able to survive but people had a hard time finding us and the amount of U.S sourced goods was limited.”

But Ms. True was, for the most part, undaunted. And she was about to get a second bolt of green business inspiration, this time from her basketball-playing daughters.

You see, she couldn’t find U.S made girls basketball uniforms. And on top of that, at a Las Vegas youth basketball tournament, Ms. True noticed thousands of kids buying one-time use plastic water bottles, which all ended up in the trash. The LED light bulb went on above her head and she decided to start a company that would work to solve both concerns: She would manufacture basketball uniforms in the U.S. made from recycled plastic bottles.

And so Nube9 was born.

She kept the brand Nube from her store, and added “9” because of the initial estimate that it takes nine plastic water bottles to make one jersey. “I did a ton of research on manufacturers who used recycled product—and settled on Repreve, a company based in North Carolina which makes yarn from recycled bottles. We then found a great knitter, a great seamstress in Los Angeles, conducted more R & D, secured some space in L.A., and off to work we went.”

The Nube9 team developed five of its own recycled poly fabrics but purposefully didn’t patent them. “We want to expand the category,” offered Ms. True. “So we went with an ‘Open Source’ business model.” They started with basketball uniforms, for obvious familial reasons, but by growing their team and responding to the players’ feedback, Nube9 began to refine the product and expand their line to many sports.

Youth sports (i.e. younger than high school) started as Nube9’s key target market. In part, this was due to the dominance of Nike and other big players in the high school sports market. But an even bigger reason was one of influence:

“The idea was to get cool uniforms on the bodies of our youth, the key influencers of popular culture, and create ‘aha moments’ that will spread the word about the unis virally,” said Ms. True. “When the kids try them on, they are blown away by the idea of uniforms being made from plastic water bottles and love the custom look of the jerseys.”

 

Nube9 Hoops Jersey Ruth True

Nube9 basketball uniform made in the U.S. from recycled plastic bottles. (Photo credit: Ruth True)

 

Nube9 has found that, once it gets one team on board, word then spreads among the basketball community about the environmental benefits, competitive pricing, and custom looks and the other teams follow. Or, as Ms. True puts it, “Who wouldn’t want to look great on the court and help save the environment at the same time?” Meanwhile, coaches are bullish on the Nube9 uniforms from an efficacious perspective as they respond to the quality, durability, wicking, and softness of the fabric.

Trying to think two moves ahead, Nube9 recently launched a streetwear line. “This greatly broadens our potential market beyond youth to include daily wear, the yoga world, as well as the growing ‘athleisure’ segment,” Ms. True said. “This is a higher-priced/better margin segment for us, but we’re still managing to stay lower than companies like Lululemon.”

The company is taking a unique, cutting edge, “telling stories through apparel” approach: Per Ms. True, “We took a picture from the New York Times of plastic ocean waste and turned it into a design on our leggings in one day!” And there is a brilliant, powerful social responsibility element embedded in the purchase price: Buy a pair of leggings and fund the work of a climate scientist.

 

3 minute 53 second video tells the Nube9 story

 

2016, Nube9’s first year on the market, saw the company get off to a modest start but they were able to divert 795,000 plastic bottles from the landfill. 2017 finds the company at a tipping point of sorts: sales are conservatively estimated at $1 million, and, according to Ms. True, the company is ready to handle larger orders.

 

Plastic Bottles Ruth True

Crushed plastic bottles, the feedstock for Nube9 sports uniforms, all made in the U.S.A. (Photo credit: Ruth True)

 

And it also has a plan to handle the uniforms’ end-of-life.

The company urges teams to send uniforms, which would otherwise be discarded, back to Nube9. “The closed-loop recycling approach of Nube9 uniforms is critical and we are using companies on the cutting edge of the technology” related Ms. True. “We simply cannot put more micro-fiber into the oceans. Most high schools put old uniforms into storage or, worse, send them to the landfill”.

 

 


 

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