The GSB Interview: Anastasia Zotou; Bringing Green-Sports to Greece

So you think building awareness and the impact of Green-Sports is challenging in North America? Try doing so in Greece, a country that continues to be ravaged from the after effects of the 2008 global financial collapse. Yet that’s exactly what Anastasia Zotou is doing with her consulting firm, Zoten. GSB talked to Ms. Zotou about her inspiration, the work she is doing, and what the future for Green-Sports looks like in the country that gave the world the Olympic Games.

 

GreenSportsBlog: The Green-Sports movement started in the largest, wealthiest economies—North America, Great Britain, Germany, France. No surprise there. So I jumped at the opportunity to talk to a woman who is pioneering Green-Sports in Greece. Greece is a relatively small country with a great sporting culture — it of course is the home of the ancient and modern Olympic Games. It also is, arguably, the European Union (EU) member that is suffering the most from the 2008 global financial crisis. So, I figured this would be a unique story for GSB readers. Anastasia; thank you so much for sharing your story with us.

Anastasia Zotou: Thank you, Lew. My story starts in Seattle, where I was born to parents from Greece. I first visited Greece when I was 17—it was a major culture shock. Said I would never go back.

 

Anastasia Zotou Dionisis Nikolopoulos

Anastasia Zotou (Photo credit: Dionisis Nikolopoulos)

 

GSB: Somehow I have a feeling that “never” really didn’t last that long.

AZ: You’re right. I gave Greece another chance, went back when I was 21. I had a much better experience. Came home to finish up my Business Administration studies at Central Washington University with a plan to go into banking. Then I went back to Athens after graduation with no real plan. But I felt like this was the place for me. Learned Greek. Started teaching English. Got married. I started looking into Masters programs before my son was born but wasn’t able to take the entrance exam because I was giving birth on the exact day and time as the exam. It was a little difficult to be there so I waited for next year’s test.

GSB: To get an MBA in Banking?

AZ: No. In Environmental Management and Policy. Turns out I wasn’t passionate about corporate business. Was disgusted with it, tell you the truth. I was outdoorsy and felt — hoped — that sustainable business was something that was going to take off in Greece. I found a remote Masters program on the island of Lesbos…

GSB: The island where many Syrian and other refugees from that part of the world enter Greece…

AZ: That’s right.

GSB: Wow…

AZ: Yeah…It’s a very difficult situation there, obviously. But I did the program remotely — I finished in a little more than two and a half years. Turns out I was much older than most of the Greeks in the program — I was 35 when I started. This was just not done. In fact, I had to deal with that during the application process…

GSB: Meaning “why should I give this spot to you, a 35 year old?”

AZ: Exactly. And I was a mother, which also was unusual. When I was doing research back in 2008 for my dissertation, “Environmental Management Systems,” I would take my one year old son around with me to a mall in Athens where I was conducting surveys. People there were very surprised to see me there with my son.

GSB: That stinks! I’m glad you didn’t let it stop you. What were you surveying at the mall?

AZ: I was trying to find out if the management of the mall and of the stores in the mall were interested in cooperating on environmental management systems — waste management, energy efficiency, water efficiency — that sort of thing. I was able to demonstrate that the ROI was quick. But mall management wouldn’t talk to me at first and most of the store management personnel I talked to were confused, they weren’t really clued in on what environmental management systems meant — some of the younger folks got it but that was it.

GSB: Did that discourage you? I imagine your son was ok with it.

AZ: I wasn’t deterred. I just kept showing up until the people would talk to me. But, as I was finishing the dissertation, the economic crash happened. Sustainability consulting was what I wanted to do — but with the crash and a young family, it was very hard to pursue at that time.

GSB: So what did you do?

AZ: I continued to teach English and started working out of my house on environmental projects to save on office expenses, but it was challenging to stay focused working from home and managing my teaching at the same time. For my family it was and is a struggle, but there are many, many people in Greece who are having an even harder time with the job cuts and salary reductions. I will tell you, almost ten years after the crash, the country is still in a bad, bad situation.

GSB: And that’s the environment in which you wanted to start a new company in a category that didn’t exist? Piece of cake! So how and when did you start your environmental consulting work? And where did Green-Sports come in?

AZ: My initial plan was to work with businesses in sustainability. This was challenging because it’s hard for businesses to invest in sustainability when they can’t keep their doors open nor keep up with expenses. It really was sports that kicked things into another gear. You see, at around that time, I took up running. Which was surprising because I really hated to run!

GSB: Were you an athlete of any stripe?

AZ: I had played soccer and lacrosse when I was young but nothing really once I had gotten to Greece aside from running a bit on a treadmill at home. But, one of the school parents said “why don’t you come to the track?” So I went. And I saw an older man talking to some of the runners at the track. I kept seeing him almost every time I’d go to the track. Finally, I was introduced to Panayiotis Skoulis aka “The Teacher.” Turns out, he had been a runner his whole life and is an amazing, inspirational man. Holds various age group records in Greece in the marathon. In fact, he was the first man in modern times to retrace the route of Pheidippides from Athens to Sparta to Athens (149 miles each way), without a support team in his 50s. In his early 60s, he got Parkinson’s disease and kept running races, including a 50 km race (31 miles) against his doctor’s advice. Anyway, that first day we met, he asked me what my running plan was. Running plan?!?! I had none. So I blurted out I’d like to run a marathon. I didn’t want to run a marathon but, for some reason, those words came out of my mouth! The next day, he came to the track with a training program for me. I was one of the first runners in what would become a 40-person running team that he coaches, including women who had never run before and who are now running races over 60 km in some cases. Every day. For free. He’s now 81 and can’t run anymore but he still coaches us. And I built up to run a marathon — not fast, mind you, but I completed it — the 2013 Athens Marathon.

 

Anastasia Coach

Panayiotis Skoulis, aka “The Teacher,” and Anastasia Zotou (Photo credit: Anastasia Zotou)

 

GSB: What an amazing guy your coach is! Congratulations on your transformation from “running hater” to marathoner. But how does a Green-Sports consulting startup come from this?

AZ: Well, as I was running my first marathon, I noticed how much waste there was along the route. I started playing around with the idea of reducing waste at road races and thought I am going to start a consulting firm to do just that! So about a year ago I finally made the decision to take the risk and open a consulting office in Athens.

GSB: I love that! And you called it Zoten. What does that name mean?

AZ: One of my students suggested I combine my last name, Zotou, and environment. And, voilà, Zoten became our name.

GSB: I like it! So how did you get started?

AZ: ‘The Teacher’ introduced me to athletic clubs who organize races all over Greece. I asked them if they’d be interested in a green race. Just like the store owners at the mall I spoke to for my dissertation, these folks didn’t really get it at first but once I explained the idea of recycling and waste reduction, they began to listen more intently. So we started in 2015 pitching small athletic clubs with maybe 200-500 members. Their races might draw 200 runners to a couple thousand. Our basic proposal included waste management, and environmental awareness of the event itself…

GSB: …You weren’t going into Scope 3 emissions, and getting into the emissions of their supply chains, my guess…

AZ: You’re right. Anything more than the basics would be too much.

GSB: So with all those challenges, have you found some races that would work with you?

AZ: Yes. One thing that has impacted our success has been whether the host cities would cooperate with us. One race will have a great partnership with a city; in another race, the city will neglect or forget to bring recycling bins.

GSB: Yikes!! Talk about some of those clients…

AZ: One was the municipality of Andros Island in collaboration with A.C.C. (Athletic Cultural Club) Telmessos North Makris-Marathon who organized a half marathon there. The municipality was cooperative with us and we were able to work with the local recycling company who provided us with recycling bins and weighed the waste collected after the race was finished. There were about 250 runners, 450 biodegradable cups were used at the water stations, 1600 plastic water bottles were used but we managed to collect over 35 kilos of recyclable waste after the race. This may not sound like a large amount but considering the fact that this had never been done before and we managed to divert this waste from the landfill, we considered it a success.

 

Andros Recycling

Recycling installation and signage from Zoten at the Telmessos North Makris-Marathon (Photo credit: Anastasia Zotou)

 

GSB: Hey you gotta start small. And from small things, come big things.

AZ: Absolutely! Another client was a 10k in the center of Athens organized by the Athenian Runners Club.  In this case the municipality did not bring the appropriate bins to the race as requested. It also took place in the middle of the terrible garbage strike a couple of months ago. That clearly was not ideal for an environmental effort.

GSB: You might say…

AZ: But we press on, so I am currently finishing an assignment with the club on sustainability for the 2017 Pheidippides Race. These projects were pro bono as the concept of sustainable races was new and we needed to prove the concept. As we demonstrate our ability to reduce waste, save energy and save the race organizers money, revenue will follow.

GSB: I am glad you are bullish. Plus it seems to me like you’re working from a “low base” — meaning that environmental consciousness is low in Greece, so the only direction to go is up, it seems.

AV: You’re right. Recycling in Greece is not nearly as advanced as in the US. There’s a lack of sophistication and interest from consumers, companies and governments. But it’s getting better slowly.

GSB: What about composting?

AZ: Races aren’t there yet but there is interest…Composting is part of our next step plan, which also includes better public transportation planning for sports events, more prominent signage and other forms of fan education.

GSB: Does climate change figure into the equation at all with the races, with fan education?

AZ: Not yet.

GSB: Don’t worry; we’re still working on communicating climate change — its challenges and opportunities — through sports here in the States. We’ve got a long way to go. I guess in Greece, you have to crawl before you can walk before you can run, Green-Sports-wise.

AZ: Absolutely. And I am pushing it. Not only in adding to our toolkit for our smaller races, but using our success to attract the bigger races.

GSB: What about going beyond running races to events in stadiums and arenas? I’m thinking Olympiacos F.C., the number one soccer club in the Athens area, and its 32,000+ seat Karaiskaki Stadium and/or AEK Athens, which plays at 69,000 seat Olympic Stadium, would benefit from saving money and being greener.

 

Olympiacos Stadium

Karaiskaki Stadium, home of Olympiacos F.C. in Athens (Photo credit: Olympiacos F.C.)

 

AZ: Soccer and basketball, the two biggest team sports in Greece, are certainly on our radar screen. We would like to use the approach (recycling, waste management) that has been successful with road races in stadiums and arenas. As a startup, a big key to branching out to the stadium/arena sports is connections. That’s why I made the investment to go to Paris a couple of months ago for the Sports and Sustainability International (SandSI) conference. Meeting people in the European Green-Sports world gave me a needed jolt of enthusiasm as well as providing me some contacts at higher levels to expand our business to higher profile events.

 


 

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GreenBiz Runs GreenSportsBlog Interview w/ Allen Hershkowitz on Trump Pull Out of U.S from Paris Agreement

Today’s issue of GreenBiz features last week’s GSB Interview with Dr. Allen Hershkowitz. The Founding Director of Sports and Sustainability International (SandSI) and the founder and former President of the Green Sports Alliance gave his reaction, almost in real time, to President Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Agreement.

 

GreenBiz, the must-read publication for those interested in news from the intersection of business, technology and sustainability, occasionally runs GreenSportsBlog content. Thank you, GreenBiz!

They did so today, posting our June 1 interview with Dr. Allen Hershkowitz in which Hershkowitz gave his take on #Prexit, President Trump’s decision to pull the U.S out of the landmark Paris Climate Agreement.

Click here to link to the GreenBiz story.

And here are links to two other GSB, #Prexit-related statements.

 


 

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President Trump Yanks Yanks Out of Paris Climate Agreement; Sports World Starts to Speak Out

President Trump yesterday announced he was pulling the United States out of the Paris Climate Agreement in a carefully staged White House Rose Garden event. Even before he finished speaking, leaders from the worlds of international and domestic politics—with the notable exceptions of Trump-world and many but not all Congressional Republicans^—business, and science made strongly worded statements of condemnation. Some corners of the sports world—in particular, green-sports groups like Sport and Sustainability International (SandSI) and Protect Our Winters (POW), also spoke out. Here are their statements, GreenSportsBlog’s take and more.

 

STATEMENTS FROM GREEN-SPORTS WORLD ON U.S. PULL OUT FROM PARIS CLIMATE AGREEMENT

 

Sport and Sustainability International (SandSI)

SandSI is a new global organization made up of sports federations, governing bodies and other parties, including individuals, from 6 continents and nearly thirty countries. It is designed to leverage the combined cultural and market influence of sports in support of healthy, sustainable and just communities.

“Sport and Sustainability International (SandSI) stands united with the global sports industry in support of international cooperation to address the serious threat of climate change, as enshrined in the Paris Agreement. SandSI deeply regrets the decision of the United States to withdraw from the Agreement, and will support all sports federations, leagues, teams, venues, and events in re-doubling efforts to mobilize operations, business partners and millions of fans in response to the urgent global threat posed by worsening climate change. SandSI supports united collective action. We urge all members of the global sports industry, and all fans alike to join Sport and Sustainability International’s work to respond to the increasingly dangerous threat that that climate change poses to current and especially future generations.”

 

SandSI Congress

Attendees at the inaugural Sport and Sustainability International Congress in Paris. (Photo credit: Sport and Sustainability International)

 

Sport and Sustainability International founding director Allen Hershkowitz’ gave his take on the U.S. exit to GreenSportsBlog Thursday. Click here to read it.

 

Protect Our Winters (POW)

Protect Our Winters (POW) is the leading climate advocacy group for the winter sports community, led by elite skiers, snowboarders and more. In response to Trump’s decision, POW encouraged their followers to take positive action.

 

Protect Our Winters

 

“Trump Bailed on Paris. What’s Next?”

“Today, Trump bailed on the Paris Agreement. With one over-hyped, fancy announcement, he told the nation he’s taking the United States out of the most monumental global climate agreement. We do not accept inaction on climate change. We are extremely disappointed in this decision.

Here at Protect Our Winters, we try very hard to find a silver lining in everything. We want you to have an opportunity to take positive action on every negative rollback. Fortunately, cities, states, and business leaders across the country have already initiated conversations about setting greenhouse gas reduction targets to mimic what was agreed upon in Paris at COP21. We’re really happy to hear this. And, we need you to call your governor and ask them to join this movement. If our federal government won’t do it, let’s ask our governors and mayors to step up.

As always, we made it easy for you. Enter your information to make the call below; we even wrote you a script. Thanks for helping us take action to move our nation forward, not backward, on climate change.”

 

I AM PRO SNOW

Staying in the winter sports world, I AM PRO SNOW (IAPS) brings together winter sports athletes, businesses, resorts, and mountain communities around the world to help stop climate change and shifting to 100 percent clean, renewable energy.

IAPS is a division of the Climate Reality Project, a group founded by Vice President Al Gore in 2006 to bring together a grass roots network of individuals from around the world to, according to its website, “turn climate change awareness into action” to “solve the greatest challenge of our time.”

FULL DISCLOSURE: I am a Climate Reality Leader, trained by Vice President Gore in 2012 to give presentations of an updated version of the “An Inconvenient Truth” slide show and have done so 30+ times.

IAPS did not put out its own statement on Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Agreement, but the Climate Reality Project put out a long, detailed, call-to-climate-change-fight arms statement. Click here for the link. Al Gore also put out this:

“Removing the United States from the Paris Agreement is a reckless and indefensible action. It undermines America’s standing in the world and threatens to damage humanity’s ability to solve the climate crisis in time. But make no mistake: if President Trump won’t lead, the American people will.

Civic leaders, mayors, governors, CEOs, investors and the majority of the business community will take up this challenge. We are in the middle of a clean energy revolution that no single person or group can stop. President Trump’s decision is profoundly in conflict with what the majority of Americans want from our president; but no matter what he does, we will ensure that our inevitable transition to a clean energy economy continues.”

 

Gore

Al Gore (Photo credit: Climate Reality Project)

 

President Barack Obama

Barack Obama was, without question, the United States’ first Green-Sports president. Obama:

Plus Obama, now 56, still has a smooth, left-handed jump shot.

 

obama-souza

President Obama, driving to the basket during a pickup game with White House staffers at Martha’s Vineyard in August, 2009. (Photo credit: The White House/Pete Souza, official photographer)

 

The first Green-Sports President has largely stayed silent since leaving office. But I guess watching his successor begin the process of unraveling one his administration’s most important accomplishments was too much for Obama to take so he issued this statement:

“A year and a half ago, the world came together in Paris around the first-ever global agreement to set the world on a low-carbon course and protect the world we leave to our children.

It was steady, principled American leadership on the world stage that made that achievement possible. It was bold American ambition that encouraged dozens of other nations to set their sights higher as well. And what made that leadership and ambition possible was America’s private innovation and public investment in growing industries like wind and solar — industries that created some of the fastest new streams of good-paying jobs in recent years, and contributed to the longest streak of job creation in our history.

Simply put, the private sector already chose a low-carbon future. And for the nations that committed themselves to that future, the Paris Agreement opened the floodgates for businesses, scientists, and engineers to unleash high-tech, low-carbon investment and innovation on an unprecedented scale.

The nations that remain in the Paris Agreement will be the nations that reap the benefits in jobs and industries created. I believe the United States of America should be at the front of the pack. But even in the absence of American leadership; even as this Administration joins a small handful of nations that reject the future; I’m confident that our states, cities, and businesses will step up and do even more to lead the way, and help protect for future generations the one planet we’ve got.”

 

GreenSportsBlog

I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiments expressed by SandSI, Allen Hershkowitz in yesterday’s interview, POW, Vice President Gore and President Obama about President Trump’s #AmericaLast decision to pull the U.S out of the Paris Climate Agreement.

As far as the sports world is concerned, I will be interested to see if/when U.S. pro sports leagues/college conferences, teams, owners and athletes speak up on the Paris Exit. I hope I am wrong but I think POW will be the exception and many will stay on the sidelines, citing the desire to stay out of politics. Given the way sports got involved in the North Carolina bathroom bill and other issues, if politics becomes the excuse for staying silent, it would seem to be a disingenuous one. But we shall see; perhaps the leagues and teams will step up. GreenSportsBlog asked the major U.S. pro sports leagues, the USTA and the PAC-12 for comment. So far, the NFL and the PAC-12 declined comment; we’re waiting to hear back from the rest. We will relay any statements we receive to you.

Finally, since this is GreenSportsBlog, I will use a sports analogy to make my our statement:

In the “Global Affairs, Global Emissions and the Global Economy” game, businesses, nonprofits and individuals are the players. In this case of the Paris Climate Agreement, 195 national governments are the referees, steering the action of the game. In this Climate World Cup, the U.S. has the best team (scientists, cleantech innovators, companies, nonprofits). The U.S also is the head referee, a crucial and, in terms of leadership of the 21st century global economy, advantageous position to be in.

At least it was until yesterday.

Now the U.S. has sidelined itself as a referee, joining Syria and Nicaragua on the sidelines.

To be sure, as Vice President Gore, President Obama and many others have said, U.S. companies, governors, and mayors, academics and others will continue to play the game. And, per Allen Hershkowitz, sports federations and governing bodies will do so as well. But having the federal government step away from its important role will hurt the U.S. economically and diplomatically. Thankfully, we’re in the early stages of this crucial global game and most fans in the U.S. (71 percent in one poll) want their country to stay on as referee. My bet? Sooner or later, continued pressure from fans and the players will bring the U.S. federal government back into the game. So keep the pressure on.

 

^ Republican House members who are part of the Climate Solutions Caucus, including Carlos Curbelo (FL) and Patrick Meehan (PA), spoke out strongly against the decision to take the U.S out of the Paris Climate Agreement.

 


 

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The GSB Interview: Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, On President Trump’s Decision to Pull the U.S. Out of the Paris Climate Agreement

The landmark Paris Climate Agreement was signed in December 2015 by 195 countries, including the United States—only Nicaragua and Syria rejected it. The Agreement, per the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) website, links the signatories “into a common cause to undertake ambitious efforts to combat climate change and adapt to its effects, with enhanced support to assist developing countries to do so. As such, it charts a new course in the global climate effort.”

Now we can add the US to the list of countries rejecting the Agreement. What is unique about the United States action is that it was one of the prime architects of the Agreement, so its withdrawal at this stage is unprecedented among all the countries in the world.

GreenSportsBlog reached out to Paris to contact Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, Founding Director of Sports and Sustainability International (SandSI) and the founder and former President of the Green Sports Alliance, to get his reaction.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Allen, thanks for taking the time to talk to us from France. What is your reaction to the reports from leading media outlets that President Trump has decided to pull the United States out of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement?

Allen Hershkowitz: Lew, honestly, my first reaction is more personal than analytical. I am physically nauseous. This is a very bad decision. It undermines so much good work, such incredibly important work. It is indisputably one of the worst environmental decisions ever made by any President in the history of the United States. It makes no sense. There is no basis for this decision in science. There is no basis for this decision economically. And it will weaken the United States internationally in so many ways. This is why diverse leaders from the Pope, to the CEO of Exxon-Mobil to leaders throughout the entire EU and 300 leading corporations have communicated to the President that pulling out of the Paris Agreement would be a mistake. It appears the President of the United States is accommodating a fringe group of climate-denying conspiracy theorists, people who know nothing about climate science, who seem not understand that our global interdependence provides economic value as well and political security, and who think—wrongly—that this move will bring back coal jobs. This is truly a terrible moment in our nation’s history.

 

Allen Hershkowitz J. Henry Fair

Allen Hershkowitz

 

GSB: So you are in France, where you just attended the first Sport and Sustainability International (SandSI) Congress. What do you think the leaders of European sports federations, teams, governing bodies, businesses and the like will think of this move by President Trump? And will they expect to hear from their sports industry counterparts in the United States?

AH: On May 23rd, representatives from 30 countries and six continents — Europe, Asia, Oceania, Africa, and North and South America, joined together at the Sport and Sustainability International [SandSI] Congress in Paris to focus on the threat that climate change poses to sport and the communities in which they are played. The SandSI Congress was convened to help ensure a global shift away from fossil fuels. It reflected an unprecedented unified expression of support by the international sports industry for the Paris Agreement and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It was an event of great consequence for the global environmental movement, going well beyond being merely a sports industry event. I know that they will feel bewilderment, confusion and, in many cases, anger. I know that because I am in touch with many of them daily, indeed I just got of the phone with some of them five minutes ago.

This coming Monday, on World Environment Day, I will be honored to attend a luncheon at Roland Garros hosted by Bernard Giudicelli, President of the French Tennis Federation, with sport and sustainability leaders from throughout Europe. I will no doubt be asked, what is the perspective of the US sports industry on President Trump’s decision. I would like to be able to say the North American sports leagues are outraged by this awful decision, and working with many of them as I do, I am sure that will be the case. But, as we’ve only just heard the news within the last hour or so, I haven’t had a chance to talk with any of my contacts at the leagues in the United States about how they might communicate that to their teams, venues, business partners and fans. But I assume that sports organizations in the United States that have prominent and authentic sustainability programs will express serious concern about this action.

 

SandSI Congress

Attendees at the inaugural Sport and Sustainability International Congress in Paris. (Photo credit: Sport and Sustainability International)

 

GSB: Do you think the NHL, NBA, and the rest will go public with their opposition to President Trump’s decision—assuming, that is, they are, in fact, opposed to it?

AH: I have had the privilege to get to work on environmental issues with all the professional sports leagues in the United States, and scores of teams and venues. All of these organizations take public stands against racism, against gender bias, against homophobia, against domestic violence, in support of our troops and poverty alleviation. Given that climate change is the greatest existential threat to the common future of human civilization, and given that these leagues and their teams have touted their authentic commitment to responsible environmental stewardship for a decade, I don’t expect that they will remain silent about this terrible event. One way or another, I expect them to make their voices heard on this. Remember, sports leagues in the USA express great concern about those who are most disadvantaged in our society. Well, guess what? It is the poor, the most disadvantaged, and communities of color who are going to suffer the worst effects of global climate disruption. They already are. That doesn’t mean that leagues are going to interrupt regularly scheduled broadcasts for a Commissioner’s press conference on the issue, that would surely be unreasonable to expect. But I do expect they will be communicating in some public way with their member organizations, their business partners and their fans that they will continue to advance the goals of the Paris Agreement with or without the US as a formal signatory. I don’t know this for certain because I’ve been in Europe for a while and have not had the chance to connect with the leadership of leagues back home, but these are smart, environmentally committed people and I expect they would speak out about this. I mean, this is an attack on the future of human civilization.

This indefensible action is a stain on American history.

Remember, it is important to note that the majority of the implementation actions of the Paris Agreement will come from non-state actors, from companies and NGOs, not government. This is why the sports industry committing its economic and cultural influence to its implementation regardless of this decision is so urgent…

GSB: …But governments will play an important and crucial role…

 

Screen Shot 2017-06-01 at 4.51.22 PM

Better days: President Obama and former Secretary of State John Kerry at the global COP 21 Climate Conference in Paris in December 2015 at which the Paris Climate Agreement was agreed upon by 195 countries, including the United States. President Trump today pulled the U.S. out of the Agreement. (Photo credit: Business Standard)

 

AH: Absolutely. You know, with the massive cultural and economic influence of the sports industry, it is incumbent upon them—and never more important—to let the world know that this decision is a mistake and that they will continue to advance its agenda.

GSB: To me, if leagues, teams and venues are touting the great green strides they’ve made, how can they NOT speak out against this decision? But something tells me they might not speak out as forcefully on this, on climate, as they would on a different issue…They will, somewhat understandably, use the “we don’t do politics” card.

AH: This is not about politics. Everyone in sports who works with me on environmental issues, and there are lot who do, know very well that I don’t get them involved in politics. You yourself, Lew, have criticized me for this on a number of occasions. But I see it as my role to keep my partners at the leagues out of politics. This may be political for President Trump, there is no other way to explain such an indefensible decision. But for most honest people this about the survival of human civilization as we know it. It is about the survival of ecosystems, a chemically stable atmosphere, species preservation, clean water to drink and about limiting the number of climate refugees. It is about economic progress and international cooperation and so much more. So, it’s from that apolitical lens that I speak and that I would urge the leagues to do the same.

GSB: So I guess it’s timely that the SandSI Congress happened at around the time of the President’s decision…

AH: Well, of course, we had no idea the President would do this when we organized the Congress and chose the date of our event many months ago. I am so proud, as I wrote in a May 29th OpEd in Sports Business Journal, of the fact SandSI hosted top sport and sustainability representatives from six continents and 30 countries, to assert the sports’ world’s support of the Paris Agreement and of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). And, especially outside of the US, the sports world is mobilizing to do exactly that. I even invited my contact at the Vatican to come to the SandSI Congress but it was at the same time as President Trump was visiting Pope Francis. So while they indicated an interest in joining future SandSI events, they couldn’t come to this Paris event. But last October, I attended an Audience with the Pope at the Vatican when he addressed the first Sport at the Service of Humanity conference. He said two key words to the sports industry: “DO MORE.” By pulling the US out of the Paris Climate Agreement, President Trump is not only committing to doing less, he’s guaranteeing we do damage.

GSB: So let’s say some of the leagues and perhaps individual teams do step up and speak out, how should they do so?

AH: Listen, the US sports industry influences billions of dollars of investments, it is as culturally influential a platform as exists in the US. Over 70 percent of Americans oppose this decision so they don’t need to be shy…and they can use every platform—social media, digital media, traditional media, athlete role models—to communicate that climate change matters and that they support implementing the goals of the Paris Agreement. I’m not saying they should interrupt the NBA Finals or the Stanley Cup Finals. But they do need to speak up.

GSB: You know who I would like to talk to? Green-Sports leaders who support(ed) candidate Trump..Like Brian France, the CEO of NASCAR…Or Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots—they legitimately tout the many greening efforts at Gillette Stadium…

AH: I’m not going there in terms of calling anyone out. No one has a monopoly on virtue, but what I will say is that no one in a position of influence should remain silent. And we at SandSI—our member governing bodies from around the world—and also individuals who now can become members—are going to do our part. In fact, this makes our work more important and urgent. Really, we are set up to provide the sports world with a platform to advocate for climate actions that are in line with the Paris Agreement. The Agreement advocates for carbon measurement and reductions, both for the teams and for their supply chains. SandSI advocates for carbon measurement and reductions and offers assistance for those seeking to do so. Our next Congress will be in Zurich in October. But, in the meantime, we are not helpless. The sports world, including I hope all the North American leagues will come together through SandSI and other organizational efforts. Our focus will be on initiatives that align us with the Paris Agreement and UN SDGs. And we will underscore the need for all US sports organizations to push back in support of remaining in the Paris Agreement.

 


 

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The GSB Interview: David Muller, Green-Sports-Corporate Partner Matchmaker

David Muller has successfully shown sports teams, venues, and leagues, as well as corporations large and small, the value of attaching themselves to the Green-Sports Movement. After playing a key role in building the Green Sports Alliance from start up to mature force, Muller went off on his own to increase his impact. We sat down with Muller to get his take on the Movement, where it’s going and what he sees his role as being.

 

GreenSportsBlog: David, how did a kid from Springfield, IL find his way to the epicenter of the Green-Sports Movement?

David Muller: Things certainly didn’t start out that way. Yes, I am from Springfield. Grew up a Bulls fan during the Jordan Years, and of course love the Bears and White Sox too. But I didn’t intend to work in sports at all. I wanted to move west and went to Lewis & Clark College in Portland, OR as a Religious Studies major. Thought I would go the academia route but you know what? Whenever I looked at an academic, they seemed so unhappy—bored, really, and removed from the real world. So I ditched that plan and wandered—worked in education and journalism, taught English in Argentina, then worked in software project management. Over time I came to the conclusion that I needed to work in sustainability in some way, shape or form. Ended up going to the Bainbridge Graduate Institute’s (BGI) Graduate Business School for Sustainability in Seattle. Now part of Presidio Graduate School, I was attracted to it because it embedded sustainability in every aspect of the curriculum with the goal of making the world a better place through business, or “changing business for good” as the motto goes.

GSB: That’s a lofty goal, indeed…

DM: No doubt about it. They really want to change business from the inside out.

GSB: So how did you go from BGI to the Green Sports Alliance?

DM: During my time at BGI, Jason Twill came to speak. He was working at Vulcan

GSB: …Vulcan is Paul Allen’s company, Allen being one of the co-founders of Microsoft.

DM: Correct. Included among Vulcan’s assets at the time were the Seattle Seahawks, Seattle Sounders and the Portland Trail Blazers. Twill worked for Allen at Vulcan and was one of the co-founders of the GSA. He made the point that sports can change the world; that it can be a powerful platform for social change. I got it immediately, being an avid sports fan, having experienced in person and up close the power of sports to be a great unifier. Twill also said, “If you hear someone speak that inspires you, reach out to him/her.” So I took him at his word and did just that. The GSA hadn’t even launched yet, but Jason invited me to a board meeting/workshop. Soon enough I was an intern, there for its birth. And 9 months later, I was the second-ever staffer behind the original Executive Director Martin Tull.

GSB: What was your role there?

DM: I started out as a Jack-of-all-Trades, handling communications, writing blogs, and researching the ‘state of the state’ of the fledgling Green Sports Movement. I developed and managed the webinar program from its inception, focusing on the key identified impact areas of waste, energy, water, purchasing, transportation, and fan engagement, and featuring leading practitioners and successful case studies. We secured some terrific speakers early on, including several GMs and Directors of Operations of major professional sports venues, executives from international corporations like Aramark and Waste Management, as well as leading environmental NGOS and the U.S. EPA—and we quickly built a solid audience.

muller-matt-cohen

David Muller (Photo credit: Matt Cohen)

 

GSB: How many people attend those webinars?

DM: We started with an audience of 20-30; as of the spring 2016, we were getting 150-200 people per webinar. And then I took on generating memberships among teams, venues and leagues.

GSB: How did you do there?

DM: Well, from about 20 members when I came on board in 2011 as Membership Director, the GSA grew to nearly 400 members as of 2016.

GSB: That’s really impressive, David. Congratulations! How much did the memberships go for?

DM: There were two levels: Basic was $500/year and Premier went for $2,500. Premier members got a deeper level of direct support on greening initiatives from myself and other staff, as well as more significant promotion through the GSA website, public communications, and events.

GSB: What kind of services did the GSA offer its members?

DM: As far as the team and venue members were concerned, the we helped them reach their sustainability commitments and goals, whether it be recycling, composting, energy efficiency, etc. We really became sustainability consultants for stadium operators who increasingly were getting the direction from team management that they needed to take smart and fiscally responsible actions to reduce environmental impacts.

GSB: And they weren’t equipped to do so…

DM: Well, we provided the sustainability expertise they needed by reviewing their operations, examining their supply chain, researching available grants and incentives, etc.

GSB: At $500-$2,500 per year, that’s a great bargain!

DM: We thought so. And the spirit of collaboration among GSA members and staff was incredible.

GSB: Can you share a specific example of how you and the GSA worked with a team?

DM: Ah, it’s tough to pick out just one…

GSB: That’s why I ask the tough questions!

DM: OK, I really enjoyed working with the Baltimore Ravens, M&T Bank Stadium and the Maryland Stadium Authority. My key contact was Jeff Provenzano, who at the time was running Stadium Operations at M&T Bank Stadium. When we first met in Baltimore, we spoke for almost three hours about how Jeff and his team, who already helped make the operations more efficient, needed to secure the investments to take their greening program to the next level. It was invigorating, really.

GSB: Did the Ravens buy in?

DM: The Ravens owners challenged the stadium ops team to prove greening measures could save them money. So, Jeff and his team showed them how this could work with a modest investment and a terrific pay off. The entire staff at the stadium was engaged in a massive effort to lower its energy usage. It started off with little things like closing doors when leaving the office, turning lights off, reporting spaces that were being heated/cooled even though no one spent any significant time there (e.g. supply closets). Over several months, they reduced their energy usage by some 40-50%, which translated to an annual savings of ~$500,000—or about the cost of a rookie contract at the time.

GSB: I bet that got their attention.

DM: No doubt about it. Ownership embraced this and agreed to invest some capital in the program. They decided to go for LEED certification for existing buildings, but in order to achieve it, they needed access to a substantial amount of comparison data from other stadiums. In the spirit of collaboration that really defined the GSA at the time, I was able to work with other GSA members and obtain the relevant, sensitive data the crew in Baltimore needed for their LEED application, and they were able to attain Gold status a year or two later.

mt-bank-stadium-balt-sun

M&T Bank Stadium, now the LEED Gold certified home of the Baltimore Ravens, thanks in part to the work of David Muller and the Green Sports Alliance. (Photo credit: Baltimore Sun)

 

GSB: That’s a great story; one that the NFL should’ve told. Turning to the annual GSA Summit; that must also have been part of your responsibilities, no?

DM: Absolutely. The GSA was a very a small team the first few years, so everyone had to pitch in. We only had about three or four months of planning time for the first summit in Portland in 2011. Despite the short lead-time it turned out to be a big success—and we surprisingly turned a meaningful profit, mainly through getting the sports supply chain as sponsors/exhibitors–the Aramarks and Waste Managements of the world.

GSB: Did you manage that as well?

DM: No, sponsorships were mainly the responsibility of Martin Tull at the time, while I handled the memberships and communications.

GSB: As the Summit grew over time, with 700-800 attendees, the responsibilities must’ve grown with it.

DM: No doubt about it. I played a central role in designing the program, securing speakers, writing up session descriptions, coordinating volunteers, that sort of thing. And everyone else on the GSA team was multi-tasking as well. It was lots of work but it was also a lot of fun as we were all mission-driven and riding this rapidly-rising wave of engagement and activity.

muller-chicago-gsa

David Muller (l) presenting University of California, Berkeley with the Pac-12 Zero-Waste Award, at the 2015 Green Sports Alliance Summit in Chicago. (Photo credit: David Muller)

 

GSB: I can imagine. Why did you end up leaving GSA?

DM: Well, over time, in large part because of how many members we brought in while still maintaining a very small staff, the GSA became more focused on PR and storytelling—which they’re good at and is important—while moving away from the consulting, advisory, and operations support work. We simply didn’t have the capacity to continue the same level of service to individual members.

GSB: …Like what you did with the Ravens?

DM: Yes. And that’s what I was most interested in doing. Plus, I was also interested in the health and wellness aspects of sustainability and seeing how sports venues, and everyone who spends time in them, could benefit by focusing on people’s health and wellness within their operations, be it that of staff, fans, the active roster, etc. So, I left GSA last summer and became a sustainability-focused consultant. I’ve worked with small-to-medium sized health and wellness organizations including Green Seal, Delos/International WELL Building Institute (IWBI), and AtmosAir—to help them with market research and also how to compellingly present what they offer to sports venues.

GSB: I gotta believe sports venues and teams want to keep their athletes healthy—and their fans, for that matter. Good niche. Talk about your involvement in Sport and Sustainability International or SandSI.

DM: SandSI is an outgrowth of work I did in Europe in the spring of 2015 with Allen Hershkowitz…

GSB: Then the President of GSA.

DM: Yes. Allen, as well as Alice Henly, who also worked with Allen at the NRDC before coming to the GSA. I had connected in late 2014 with Neil Beecroft, who was the Sustainability Manager of UEFA at the time.

GSB: And, shameless plug, Neil’s a GreenSportsBlog interviewee.

DM: Yes. So in conversation with Neil, we kind of realized that while Europe is ahead of the U.S. in terms of environmental concern and government action, it was behind in Green-Sports. So, we accepted Neil’s invitation to meet with him and other leaders of the European Green-Sports Movement in Lausanne, Switzerland, as well as in Paris and London.

GSB: Lausanne is the capital of European sports, home of the IOC, FIFA and UEFA.

DM: The European sports entities, to a person, said “we need help” with greening. We were excited about sharing the knowledge we had gained over the previous few years, and making the GSA a truly global organization. But the GSA felt, at the time, that there was still a lot more to do in North America, and didn’t see an immediate ROI, so the European work was put on the back burner.

GSB: And, Allen, having left GSA, became one of the prime movers of SandSI.

DM: Yes. It’s still early days but things have really heated up over the past six months or so. I am an Organizing Committee member, and am helping develop the membership program for sports entities as well as corporations and NGOs.

GSB: Aside from the geographic differences, what do you see as the main distinctions between SandSI and GSA?

DM: I’d say the main differentiator is that SandSI takes a broader view of sustainability than the GSA. SandSI takes a “Triple Bottom Line” approach, considering social sustainability and ethics on an equal level with environmental and economic sustainability. The GSA made a strategic decision very early to become experts on the environmental side only, which made good sense at the time as a start-up trying to gain relevance. But I think an environmental-only approach puts a ceiling on what you can accomplish, because legitimate sustainability is comprehensive at its core, and the best environmental policies are always at risk of backsliding or discontinuation if the people responsible for carrying them out aren’t well-taken care of themselves.

GSB: I think that’s smart overall but my fear is that environment, and in particular, climate change, could be de-emphasized—just when the opposite is necessary.

DM: Oh don’t worry, SandSI places great priority on taking on climate change! But I think people often forgot that environmentalism is still ultimately about people, about keeping the environment clean and stable in order for humans to thrive. It’s not about saving the Earth for Earth’s sake (in the geologic timeframe, all of human history is but a blip), it’s about keeping the Earth livable so that our children, grandchildren, and grandchildren’s grandchildren have the opportunity to lead healthy, happy, meaningful lives as well. It is for them, as well as those already suffering from its impacts right now, that we confront climate change with all our resolve and ingenuity.

GSB: Amen!

 

 


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