The GSB Interview: Catherine Kummer, Driving Force Behind NASCAR Green

That NASCAR has had a green initiative for ten years surprises some, heartens many and engenders skepticism about green washing from others. GreenSportsBlog has wanted to get the real story on NASCAR Green for several years and so we were pleased to be able to talk with Catherine Kummer, one of its many driving forces.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Catherine, one of the most common questions I get when I tell people I write about the intersection of Green & Sports is “what is NASCAR Green all about? Is it legit?” So I want to get into that with you. First, though, I want to find out how you got to NASCAR Green. Are you a lifelong auto racing fan? An environmentalist from way back?

Catherine Kummer: I love that it’s one of the first questions you get, means folks are paying attention and catching wind of our work. I was not a motorsports fan growing up in Raeford, NC, a small farming community in the southeastern part of the state, near Fayetteville and Fort Bragg. I was fortunate to grow up spending time on the North Carolina coast and unfortunately saw the erosion of the coastline firsthand. In fact, the area just a bit further inland was devastated by Hurricane Matthew and, more recently, Hurricane Florence in September. I was also incredibly fortunate to have amazing parents and siblings. My family has a grocery store, Home Food Market, that has been in our family for over 100 years — I grew up there and my brother runs it now.

GSB: This sounds like a Mayberry type of childhood…

Catherine: It was…and, in addition to amazing vegetables, the store gave me a deeply rooted appreciation for growing local, shopping local and buying local from an early age. Respect for the outdoors and keeping the environment better than we found it is in my DNA. I’ll give you an example. When I was in middle school, I wrote letters about the environment to then-President George H.W. Bush. The White House would send back a signed (aka stamped) photo of the President. I was also reminded by my Dad a few weeks ago that I started an early recycling initiative at my middle school….I wore my reduce, reuse and recycle shirt all the time!

 

Catherine Kummer Recycling at West Hoke Middle School cafe 1993

Catherine (“Katie”) Kummer, then McNeill, in the white shirt on the right, was a young recycling pioneer at her middle school in 1993 (Photo credit: Catherine Kummer)

 

Catherine Kummer with son opening an employee tree planting event in Charlotte, NC.

A more recent photo of Catherine, with her son opening a NASCAR employee tree planting event in Charlotte, N.C. (Photo credit: NASCAR)

 

GSB: So maybe it was destiny that you’d end up working in sustainability. But how did you end up at NASCAR and NASCAR Green specifically?

Catherine: Well I went to UNC Chapel Hill for undergrad…

GSB: You were a “Tar Heel born…”

Catherine: …”And a Tar Heel bred.” That’s right! I was a journalism major and wrote for The Daily Tar HeelI saw a job posting in 2004 at NASCAR in their publishing division. Graduated UNC in May, started at NASCAR in June. I also bleed a bit of gold and black however as I am currently finishing a Masters in Sustainability at Wake Forest University and have been fortunate to also join courses taught by Leith Sharp at Harvard in Sustainability Leadership.

GSB: Were you a NASCAR fan?

Catherine: Not originally. My first project was editing “NASCAR For Dummies” which gave me a deep dive into all things NASCAR, real quick. It was a really amazing job. I grew to respect the sport, what the drivers and team members go through, from the physical challenges to the stress. I love the competitiveness of it and the idea that NASCAR is a tight-knit family, its own ecosystem.

GSB: Talk about how NASCAR Green came about…

Catherine: NASCAR Green launched in 2008. But the idea came a year or two prior, when NASCAR leaders met with Former Vice President Al Gore…

GSB: …During the time of “An Inconvenient Truth”? I can absolutely see the former Vice President talking to an organization, NASCAR, who might seem an unlikely partner in greening. But he is a guy who sees possibilities and so, it sounds, did NASCAR.

Catherine:.. NASCAR had always wanted to influence, educate, and inspire our fans on fuel efficiency, reforestation, sustainability, etc. So after meeting with former Vice President Gore, our key stakeholders brought in Dr. Mike Lynch to be our VP of Green Innovation. Thanks to his leadership, NASCAR Green was built, and I got connected with him soon after.

 

CEO Brian France (L) and former U.S. Vice President Al Gore at the NASCAR Green Summit on 2013Chicago Brian Kersey NASCAR Getty

NASCAR CEO Brian France (L) and former U.S. Vice President Al Gore (R) listen to retired Army General Wesley Clark at the 2013 NASCAR Green Summit in Chicago (Photo credit: Brian Kersey NASCAR/Getty Images)

 

GSB: What was NASCAR Green like at the beginning and what part did you play?

Catherine: Leadership supported us from the beginning, allowing us to pilot new things, even mess up occasionally. The vibe from the top down was “some things will work, some won’t, but we need to always look ten moves ahead and keep the big picture in mind.” Our sport, like all of society has an environmental impact therefore we started and continue to keep our focus on three key areas of environmental impact: waste, emissions and energy.

One of the first things we got involved with is automotive fluid recycling. Safety-Kleen, owned by Clean Harbors, which safely recycles and transports oils, is in every NASCAR garage as well as many team shops. They re-refine the waste oil and put it back to work in various team cars as well as asphalt re-paving initiatives at track. Circular economy from the beginning. We also kicked off an aluminum and PET waste diversion program with tracks which was environmentally and financially beneficial. The tracks do a great job of ensuring they are disposing of waste responsibly inclusive of food and other potential landfill items. Many of the teams in our sport also recycle their race cars. Our leaders and others liked that we were able to drive value to the business and inspiration to the industry, employees and fans.

 

Recycling efforts at NASCAR races

Recycling bins alongside NASCAR tracks are a common sight (Photo credit: NASCAR)

 

GSB: That is really impressive. But I have to ask — how did NASCAR fans react to this green programming? Have you ever gotten negative push-back from them? Implied in the last question — and with my New York City bias likely baked in — is that green programming that might be well received in Boulder or Berkeley might not get such a good reception in places like Talladega, Alabama or Bristol, Tennessee.

Catherine: I have never gotten negative pushback from fans. Not once, other than one fan being upset that they did not have a blue recycling bag for their campground location. I think one reason our fans support NASCAR Green is many are outdoorsmen and women so they understand that protecting our environment is very important. And a number of our corporate sponsors get that our fans, well, get it. They embraced a number of green initiatives. For example working with Goodyear and Champion Tire, we recycle all of our tires through an innovative sponsorship with Liberty Tire Recycling. The tires are recycled and turned into mulch for landscaping and playgrounds as well as used in rubberized asphalt projects…many of the roads on the West Coast are being made with recycled tires as I’m sure you know already!

GSB: What about composting?

Catherine: We’ve tried it at several tracks. Available composting infrastructure is challenging, but we are excited to watch it advance as our tracks are supportive of green initiatives. Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania is one to keep an eye on for sure. They have been an environmental leader for quite some time.

GSB: I know! Their solar array in an old parking area powers the entire facility! Amazing!

 

Solar Farm_8

Solar panels cover an abandoned former parking lot at Pocono Raceway (Photo credit: Pocono Raceway)

 

Catherine: They also have, according to their sustainability report, one of the highest diversion rates and one of their family businesses, Pocono Organics, just broke ground on a new project this summer working with the Rodale Institute, a leader in Regenerative Organics…

GSB: Say more…

Catherine: The result of the partnership is a 55 acre regenerative organics farm across the street from the track that will provide produce for events, “Farm to Track.”

GSB: How cool is THAT?! What are other tracks doing, green-wise?

Catherine: You’ve got to check out www.NASCAR.com/Green for the whole scoop as I’m not sure GSB has enough space for me to properly note all of the work! However to name a few, Indianapolis Motor Speedway now has a nine megawatt solar array across the street on their land. Green Sports Alliance-member Sonoma Raceway in California has solar on-site as well along with Daytona International Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway. These are just solar applications; readers can check the site for more detail on how tracks support the three areas of environmental focus I mentioned earlier; waste, emissions and energy.

GSB: What are the tracks and NASCAR Green doing to minimize carbon emissions?

Catherine: Blended fuels. Sunoco Green E15 specifically which is a 15 percent ethanol blended biofuel used in our top three national series. We’ve now run well over 10 million miles on it. This has helped in reducing emissions by 20 percent per the EPA Renewable Fuel Standard. We’ve also invested in offsetting our carbon emissions, through verified carbon offsets programs globally and our long-standing reforestation efforts with the Arbor Day Foundation and others. Our NASCAR Green Community Tree Recovery Effort is the first of its kind in sports and was launched just this year where with partners such as K&N Engineering and Ford we’ve been able to go into race markets affected by climate-related natural disasters and support those race fans with trees, LED lighting kits and more.

 

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver Matt DiBenidetto supporting our #RaceforTrees Campaign

Monster Energy Cup Series driver Matt DiBenidetto supporting NASCAR’s #RaceforTrees campaign (Photo credit: NASCAR)

 

GSB: Really impressive, Catherine. NASCAR Green has done terrific — and many would say surprising — work on what I call “Green-Sports 1.0,” the greening of the games or, in your case, races. Now let’s turn to “Green-Sports 2.0,” the much more important, in my view, effort to engage fans, especially those who don’t attend races, on the environment, especially on climate change. I understand NASCAR Green has surveyed NASCAR fans on the environment and climate change. What do those results show?

Catherine: We survey fans and non-fans regularly. As of April 2018, we know that more than four out of five NASCAR fans (88 percent) believe the Earth is going through a period of climate change, and three-quarters of them feel a personal responsibility to combat it.

These survey results have given us confidence that our environmental programs and activations with partners, including nationally broadcast television commercials, reach a largely receptive audience.

 

 

GSB: Great commercial, but I notice it doesn’t mention climate change. Why is that? And will future commercials mention it?

Catherine: More than half of our fans believe climate change is real, our work including these television commercials contribute to that belief based on the increases we’ve seen year over year. Their actions as a result are most important. Will they contribute to our digital tree planting tool? Will they better understand their carbon footprint? Will they push our social and digital content….to date, they have and that’s what makes sport and sustainability impactful.

GSB: That’s great! More sports leagues should survey their fans on climate. What are some of your drivers doing NASCAR Green-wise?

Catherine: A lot of our drivers support NASCAR Green and sustainability initiatives. Ryan Newman for example, one of our top Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers and his wife Krissie, have a non-profit called the Rescue Ranch, whose mission is to promote through education, respect for all animals, as well as, agricultural, environmental and wildlife conservation.

GSB: Great to hear. We look forward to hearing more about NASCAR Green innovation in 2019.

 

 


 

Please comment below!
Email us: lew@greensportsblog.com
Friend us on Facebook: http://facebook.com/greensportsblog
Tweet us @GreenSportsBlog
#CoverGreenSports

GSB News and Notes: Soccer Sponsor Carlsberg Beer to Decarbonize by 2030; Pocono Raceway Issues Sustainability Report; College Baseball World Series Fans Turn Previously Non-Recyclable Plastics into Energy

Soccer, auto racing and baseball make up our summer solstice GSB News & Notes column. The Carlsberg Group, a leading sponsor of soccer/football clubs across Europe and elsewhere, is leading on decarbonization as well. The Danish brewing giant has committed to completely eliminate carbon emissions from its factories by 2030. Pocono Raceway becomes the first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series track to issue a sustainability report. And fans visiting TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, NE for the College Baseball World Series have a new way to not only recycle their garbage, but to turn it into energy. 

 

CARLSBERG TO MAKE ZERO CARBON BEER BY 2030

Carlsberg Group of Copenhagen, Denmark, pledged last week to eliminate carbon emissions and halve water usage at its breweries worldwide by 2030, as part of its new Together Towards ZERO (TTZ), sustainability drive. According to a story in Sustainable Brands by Maxine Perella, the world’s fifth largest beer maker also intends to switch to 100 percent renewable electricity for its breweries by 2022 as one of several intermediate goals. Zero tolerance for irresponsible drinking and accidents are non-environmental facets of TTZ.

Carlsberg has a great opportunity to communicate TTZ to consumers through its sports sponsorships, which are concentrated in soccer/football. It is the official beer sponsor of several iconic European club teams as well as national squads, including:

  • Arsenal of the English Premier League—already active in Green-Sports with its solar partner, Octopus Energy.
  • Danish Superliga powerhouse F.C. Copenhagen, arguably, the most successful club in Danish football.
  • UEFA’s European (or Euro) Championships. Euro 2016, contested in France, is generally regarded as one of the most sustainable mega-sports events ever held.
  • National teams of Bulgaria, Denmark, and Serbia.

Carlsberg has set some aggressive targets for TTZ, aligned with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) protocol. By 2022, it expects to achieve 50 percent reduction in brewery carbon emissions and to have eliminated the use of coal at its factories. It is also targeting a 15 percent reduction in Scope 3 (i.e. supply chain) emissions by the same date, working in partnership with 30 suppliers.

Carlsberg’s sustainability director, Simon Hoffmeyer Boas, speaking to Ms. Perella in Sustainable Brands, suggested that meeting the TTZ goals will, “require changes in the way we buy our products, in the way we produce our beer and the machinery we use.” On-site renewables will also play a key role in getting the company “towards zero.”

Carlsberg’s Dali brewery in China, for instance, has installed over 8,000 rooftop solar panels; the energy generated from these panels is meeting roughly 20 percent of the brewery’s electricity needs.

Turning to water, the beer maker is already working to get its H2O-to-beer ratios down. As of 2015, Mr. Boas says the company’s average ratio stood at 3.4 liters of water per liter of beer. The intention is to get down to 2.7 liters by 2022, and then to 1.7 liters by 2030. Those breweries sited in high-risk areas of water scarcity will look to reduce its water-to-beer ratio even further.

 

Carlsberg

Infographic detailing Carlsberg’s Together Towards ZERO program (Courtesy: Carlsberg)

 

As strong as Carlsberg’s decarbonization and water efficiency roadmap appears to be, it is, in the main, a B-to-B effort. If the company is undertaking these sustainability efforts, as it says on its website, in response to “increasing consumer (MY ITALICS) demand for sustainable products in a time of global challenges such as climate change, water scarcity and public health issues,” then it needs to promote TTZ to those consumers. Existing sports sponsorships—and the massive audiences that go with them—give Carlsberg a powerful platform for TTZ-themed TV/mobile ads, signage, promotions, and more. Let’s see if the company chooses to use it.

 

POCONO RACEWAY ISSUES ITS FIRST SUSTAINABILITY REPORT

June 8 is now a red-letter day in NASCAR history.

On that day, Pocono Raceway become the first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race track to release a Sustainability Report touting its sustainability and green efforts. Pocono Raceway President and CEO Brandon Igdalsky, a 2016 GreenSportsBlog interviewee, issued the report just days before the NASCAR XFINITY Series Pocono Green 250 race, won by Kyle Larson.

 

Brandon_Image (002)

Brandon Igdalsky, President and CEO of Pocono Raceway. (Photo credit: Pocono Raceway)

 

“We are very proud to make this report available to the public,” said Igdalsky in a statement. “We had a lot of help from NASCAR Green, the Green Sports Alliance and Penn State among many others and we are grateful for their assistance. This report showcases our diversion efforts as well recycling, food donation and much more as we try to do all we can at Pocono Raceway.”

The report highlights Pocono Raceway’s:

  • Status as the first major sports venue in the country to be powered entirely by solar power. Made up of 39,960 American made, ground mounted thin film photovoltaic modules, the raceway’s three megawatt solar farm covers an area of 25 acres adjacent to the track, and generates enough electricity to fully power the track during events, meeting the increased power demand from NASCAR operations during races.
  • Commitment to diverting 75 percent of all waste generated at the racetrack from landfills by 2018.
  • Partnership with NASCAR Green and Safety-Kleen to collect and process automotive fluids for reuse. In 2016, Safety-Kleen recycled and repurposed 1,040 gallons of waste oil, 199 gallons of cleaning compounds, 270 pounds of absorbent, 150 pounds of used oil filters, and more.

Click here to read the entire sustainability report in PDF form.

 

COLLEGE WORLD SERIES FANS CAN NOW TURN PREVIOUSLY NON-RECYCLABLE PLASTICS INTO ENERGY

Since 1950, Omaha, NE has hosted the College Baseball World Series (CWS). Friends who have been to the 11-day baseball fest tell me it is an exciting, fan-friendly, if under the radar, “bucket list” type of event.

And, given the College World Series’ adoption of a state-of-the-art recycling program that turns plastic waste into energy, I need to move it into the Wimbledon, Notre Dame home football game range on my own personal sports bucket list .

Omaha’s TD Ameritrade Park annually plays host to upwards of 300,000 college baseball fans during 11 mid-to-late June days and nights. Starting this past Saturday and running through June 28, CWS fans have a new way to make sure their garbage does not end up in landfill: The Hefty® EnergyBag™ program.

 

TD Ameritrade

A packed and jammed TD Ameritrade Park, the Omaha, NE home of of the College World Series. (Photo credit: College Baseball 360)

 

Throughout the ballpark, fans will see bright orange Hefty® EnergyBag™ bags from Dow Packaging & Specialty Plastics (“Dow”). If they’re not among the select Omaha households who’ve been using the orange bags since September, they likely don’t realize the bags are the entry point to a unique, four-step, waste management process that will convert previously landfill-bound plastics into energy.

STEP 1: Fans dispose of previously non-recyclable plastics – including chip bags, candy bar wrappers and peanut bags – into bins containing the aforementioned bright orange bags.

STEP 2: Stadium staff and local haulers collect the bright orange bags from regular recycling bins and carts.

STEP 3: A local First Star Recycling facility sorts the bags and sends them to Systech Environmental Corporation. 

STEP 4: Systech Environmental then converts the bags and their contents into energy used to produce cement.

The Hefty® EnergyBag™ program, which launched in Omaha homes last September, recently expanded its rollout from 6,000 to 8,500 households and to TD Ameritrade Park for the CWS. As of June 2017, the program has collected more than 12,000 bags, diverting more than six tons of plastic previously destined for landfills.

 


 

Please comment below!
Email us: lew@greensportsblog.com
Friend us on Facebook: http://facebook.com/greensportsblog
Tweet us: @GreenSportsBlog