The GSB Interview: Jason Twill, a Green Sports Alliance Founding Director, on the Organization’s Birth

The Green-Sports movement is in a transitional phase from its initial 1.0 version — the greening of the games themselves — to its 2.0 incarnation — engaging fans on environmental and climate issues.

The Green Sports Alliance, now eight years old, is also in the midst of change, as it searches for a new executive director to lead the organization firmly into the Green-Sports 2.0 era. That the Alliance is the most established Green-Sports trade association in the world may be taken for granted by many. But for those who were present at its birth, the odds of the GSA reaching its eighth birthday was by no means a certainty back in 2011. An organization dedicated to the Greening of Sports? What did that even mean?

With that in mind, we spoke with Jason Twill, one of the GSA’s Founding Directors and co-author of its bylaws. This long-form interview gets the inside story of how the Alliance came to be, the fascinating route Twill took to be — as Lin Manuel Miranda famously said in Hamilton — in the “Room Where it Happened,” and how the Alliance and other similar organizations around the world can help build a Green-Sports 2.0 world.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Jason, the story of how the Green Sports Alliance came to be is something I’ve been interested in for some time, so thank you for talking with us. Tell us about your background and how you came to be involved with the Green-Sports movement in its embryonic stages.

Jason Twill: Thanks, Lew. It has been quite a circuitous route. Toward the end of high school in Warren, NJ, a New York City suburb, I tended bar in Hoboken, which was a quick train ride away from Greenwich Village. I have this memory of emerging from the depth of the underground like I had crossed some imaginary threshold into this world of excitement — streets buzzing with energy, layered with a diversity of people and cultures that make The Village great and the antithesis of suburbia, which I hated. That’s when my passion to create better cities and communities began, and I have never looked back.

GSB: What came next?

 

Jason Twill

Jason Twill (Photo credit: Jennifer Twill)

 

Jason: I studied art and political economics at Colorado College; and I also had the privilege of studying in Florence, where the piazzas and labyrinthine grid was a very different sort of urban environment. I loved it! I then moved to New York and was interested in pursuing fashion design. Took a construction job to pay the bills while studying at the Fashion Institute of Technology and Parsons School of Design.

GSB: What happened to loving cities and urban architecture?

Jason: I told you it was a circuitous route! I got the fashion bug in Florence. So, back in New York, I spent my days on construction sites and evenings at fashion shows and working with designers. This confluence of construction and design is what ultimately led me back to a passion for architecture. It hit me like a ton of bricks when I was visiting the Getty Center museum in L.A. I found myself looking at the buildings and landscape as art and became set — finally — on becoming an architect.

I applied to Columbia for urban studies and architecture and, while waiting to start, took a summer job in 2001 with architecture firm Mancini Duffy. Their offices were in Tower 2 of the World Trade Center. I was in the building on the morning of 9/11. Escaped by just a hair, along with others from the firm, but I lost a lot of friends that day. So I postponed school and went back to the firm to help them rebuild their practice. I noticed several friends there suffering from post-traumatic stress. Having been through a lot of adversity in my life, I set up an informal 12-step-like program in which we all supported one another to get through the fear and anxiety we were experiencing.

At that time, my co-worker and future wife, Jennifer, gave me a book, “The Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America’s Man-made Landscape,” by Jason Howard Kunstler, a fantastic, non-technical explanation of suburban sprawl in the post-World War II era. It made me reflect on my own experience growing up in the suburbs and how much the built environment shapes our social patterns and behaviors. I literally closed that book and knew what I wanted to do with the rest of my life: Disrupt the real estate sector through ecologically and socially conscious development models. So I pivoted from Columbia to getting a Masters in real estate development and finance at NYU.

 

GEOGRAPHY OF NOWHERE

 

GSB: Did that even exist in the early 2000s?

Jason: Not really. I had to advocate for NYU to introduce things like LEED certification. But there were already a lot of great experts in this space I could learn from outside of school. I essentially earned two masters, with conventional real estate courses at NYU augmented by reading tons of books^ to teach myself these other pathways. Also volunteered to help get the US Green Building Council’s New York City chapter going, worked on some of the first LEED buildings in New York, and then I was fortunate enough to meet Jonathan Rose…

GSB: The legendary New York City real estate developer and sustainability champion…

Jason: Exactly. I wrote him a letter; he invited me to his office for coffee and a talk He’s been a friend, mentor and inspiration ever since. During that time, from 2003-2007, I worked for a couple of smaller private developers, championing sustainable and equitable design. The timing was right; by 2005, the market had shifted and I was getting more traction on things like LEED certification. We also had our first son, Sullivan. He had a series of illnesses and the first case of influenza A in the city in 2007, which scared the hell out of us as new parents. We thought this might have something to do with the post 9/11 air quality in New York, so we decided to move to another city. Austin, Portland, and Seattle were on our radar because of their progressive governance and industry stars.

GSB: Where did you end up?

Jason: We chose Seattle, the epicenter of the green building movement. I was very fortunate to receive an offer from Vulcan Inc. and we relocated in 2007.

GSB: Vulcan Inc. is the business and philanthropic entity founded by Microsoft co-founder, the late Paul G. Allen.

Jason: Yes! The six years I spent at Vulcan were some of the most productive of my career. I became a practitioner of city-making as a senior project manager working on all aspects of Paul Allen’s portfolio. We looked to inspire change in areas he was most passionate about: art, science, music, technology, and sports. I supported Vulcan Real Estate on the delivery of a new community called South Lake Union, an industrial area filled with old warehouses just north of the city’s central business district.

GSB: What did it become?

Jason: Paul originally purchased the land and gifted it to the city so they could create a park. But citizens voted down a tax measure to fund construction and the city handed back the land. Paul pivoted and turned it into a mixed-use, sustainable community. Over time, it emerged as one of the first Innovation Districts in North America, now home to Amazon’s HQ1, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft. At the same time I was working on South Lake Union, I started incubating what would become the Green Sports Alliance. When the financial markets crashed in 2008, things slowed down at Vulcan. My boss, Ray Colliver, got approval from Paul to apportion more of my time to embed sustainability even deeper across Vulcan’s business portfolio. Our office was across the street from CenturyLink Field, home of the NFL’s Seahawks, one of the teams Paul owned…

GSB: …The others being CenturyLink tenants — MLS’ Seattle Sounders — in which Mr. Allen’s estate has an ownership stake, and the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers.

Jason: Ray introduced me to Darryl Benge and Mike McFaul, who ran CenturyLink operations. They were already looking to invest in sustainability measures, so I started to support them in getting some runs on the green scoreboard.

GSB: What kind of things did you help them do?

Jason: We planned and implemented a comprehensive resource conservation plan that included the installation of nearly a megawatt of solar panels on the roof of the adjacent WaMu Theater, EV charging, LED lighting retrofit, waterless urinals, waste strategies, and more. We also started to explore how we could generate fan awareness and impact behavior through strategic branding and messaging. And then this larger dialogue started to occur around green sports.

 

Solar CenturyLink

A solar array tops the roof of the WaMu Theater adjacent to CenturyLink Field, home of Seattle’s Seahawks Sounders (Photo credit: Seattle Seahawks)

 

GSB: How so?

Jason: In 2009, I met Justin Zeulner, who worked for the Trail Blazers. He was doing terrific green stuff there, including getting Moda Center certified as one of the first LEED Gold arenas in the world. I was also introduced to some folks at the WNBA’s Seattle Storm

GSB: …the current WNBA champs!

Jason: …and the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks, and became mates with green-sports pioneer Scott Jenkins, who was managing Safeco Field for the Seattle Mariners.

GSB: Scott’s now the Chairman of the Board of the Green Sports Alliance and General Manager of Atlanta’s LEED Platinum Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Jason: With all these relationships building, we were sharing strategies and partners that could help us ‘green’ the venues, so all the proverbial kindling was there to start a fire, just waiting for the spark. It came when my boss Ray Colliver, who always pushed me take things further, sustainability-wise, with Paul’s teams, handed me a Sports Business Journal issue focused on sustainability. I noted an article by Allen Hershkowitz, then a Senior Scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), leading their sports and entertainment greening platform.

Already a big fan of NRDC’s work, I called him and said, ‘Hi, I’m Jason, I work for Paul G. Allen, who owns a few sports franchises and we want to work with NRDC to drive a bigger agenda for sustainability in sports.’ We had a couple of conversations — he was incredible. I really love the guy and we were exploding with ideas from the start. Allen offered to fly out with his key staff to meet, while my colleague Dune Ives and I started to explore what we could create in this space from Vulcan’s perspective.

GSB: Dune is now executive director of the Lonely Whale Foundation, a group established by actor and activist Adrian Grenier, which is leading initiatives on ocean health and the anti-plastic straw movement.

Jason: Yes, Dune has an unbelievably beautiful mind and is a force of nature in the sustainability movement. We mapped out the mission statement, vision, and objectives for what initially became the Pacific Northwest Green Sports Alliance. Then, on February 1, 2010, using our draft work as the agenda, we hosted a workshop with Allen and his NRDC colleagues. Representatives from five of the region’s pro teams (Portland’s Trail Blazers and Seattle’s Mariners, Seahawks, Sounders and the Storm), as well as officials from the City of Seattle, the Bonneville Environmental Foundation, and Green Building Services joined in.

From this initial group of passionate change makers, The Pacific Northwest Green Sports Alliance was born! The Vancouver Canucks joined shortly thereafter. I became its Chair to help get it going. Pretty quickly, we received interest from teams and venues beyond the region, so we dropped “Pacific Northwest” from the name. We secured a seed money grant from the Bullitt Foundation — an organization led by Dennis Hayes, founder of Earth Day, focused on environmental change in the northwest. This funding was crucial and, along with investments from NRDC, Vulcan, and each of the teams, we hired Martin Tull, a brilliant change-maker from the Portland sustainability community, as the founding executive director. He built the Alliance into a stable, sustainable non-profit organization.

GSB: So you guys basically bootstrapped the Green Sports Alliance off the ground.

Jason: We all had full-time jobs, but fueled by a passion for change, we put the time and energy into making this happen. There isn’t any one founder of the Alliance; we all worked really hard and collaboratively, playing a vital part in its success to this day. Our beginnings are quintessentially captured in this famous Margaret Meade quote:

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

We definitely hit on something and there was a big, public launch at Safeco Field, home of the Mariners in spring 2011. By that time, I had stepped down as chair, handing the reins to Scott Jenkins, already a key figure in the movement. Since then, I’ve served as a Board executive committee member.

It’s important to acknowledge that we did not create the Green-Sports space. There was already a ton of great work and leadership happening around sports and sustainability in North America and globally. We just created a platform to bring all these leaders together to share best practices and accelerate the progress of the Green-Sports movement.

We also wouldn’t be where we are at today without the technical and financial support of the NRDC team led by Allen Hershkowitz, along with terrific scientists and technical experts like Darby Hoover and Alice Henly. With their support we were able to publish documents like the “Game Changer” report that provided case studies highlighting the amazing sustainability work happening across the pro leagues. This helped us grow from the inaugural six founding teams to a roster that includes pretty much all major league teams in North America, plus many college athletics departments and conferences.

 

Jason Twill GSA origins

A gathering of some of the key players in the founding of the Green Sports Alliance, including: FRONT ROW: Scott Jenkins (2nd from left), Dune Ives (3rd from left) and Justin Zeulner (right). MIDDLE ROW: Jason Twill (2nd from right). TOP ROW: Allen Hershkowitz (2nd from left), Martin Tull (right) (Photo credit: Green Sports Alliance)

 

Jason: That growth was also driven by annual GSA summits starting with our inaugural event in Portland in 2011. Martin Tull, working with a local team, the Board, and the NRDC, miraculously put it together in just a few months.

GSB: A Herculean effort! How did it go?

Jason: It was a big hit. Over 200 people came. Ex-NBA All-Star and then-Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson keynoted. People from across North America who were interested or already working in this space attended. They really appreciated a forum on sustainability solely focused on the sports industry. The next year, our Summit in Seattle attracted closer to 400 people and we knew we had hit our stride.

 

KJ at GSA 2011 Dabe Alan

Retired NBA All Star and ex-Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson addressing the first Green Sports Alliance Summit in 2011 in Portland (Photo credit: Dabe Alan)

 

GSB: I went to the third Summit, in Brooklyn in 2013, and even more people came. And the rest, as they say, is history. What is your role as a board member?

Jason: I try to provide big-picture thinking and thought leadership on how to best grow the movement. We started with greening the games and the venues…

GSB: …What I call Green-Sports 1.0. I believe that’s the way it had to be. But we’re past the time to pivot to Green-Sports 2.0, engaging fans — with the important megaphone of the media — to change their environmental behaviors, including as it relates to climate change.

Jason: I agree. Even in those very early days, I would look across at CenturyLink Field and think, ‘for every Seahawks game, we have something like 10 percent of the entire population of Seattle in one room,’ which prompted me to ask, ‘How do we change the hearts and minds of billions of sports fans across the world and tell a new story of sustainability in our time?’

GSB: How is that going?

Jason: Nelson Mandela probably captured it best when he said

Sport has the power to change the world. It had the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. Sport can awaken hope where there was previously only despair.

Now think about channeling that power toward addressing climate change, the defining challenge of our time. We still have a lot of work to do to realize this dream, but the Green Sports Alliance and all of our partner organizations have this opportunity before us if we work together.

GSB: Those include GSA Japan, which launched earlier this year, BASIS in Great Britain, Sports Environment Alliance (SEA) in Australia and New Zealand, along with Sport and Sustainability International (SandSI) in Europe. Is this separation — some might say Balkanization — a good thing when the Green-Sports movement is relatively small?

Jason: Great question. I don’t see this as Balkanization at all. All these organizations are able to respond to their local cultures and contexts. I do see the ability for all of these groups, including Beyond Sport and others, to collaborate for maximum global impact through locally meaningful initiatives. In fact, that is one of the things I want to help foster as a GSA Board Member since I am now living and working in Australia. I am in conversation with a lot of the folks at these other incredible organizations, as many of us in the Alliance are. I think it is in all of our interests to work together, using the power of sports to ensure a safe and sustainable future for all life on our planet.

GSB: I’ll sign for that! What are you doing in Australia?

Jason: Staying true to my passion for cities, I set up Urban Apostles, my own development and consulting business. We specialize in regenerative urbanism and affordable housing models for cities. I like to say we work at the intersection of the sharing economy and art of city making.

GSB: What is regenerative urbanism?

Jason: Regenerative urbanism considers going beyond the ‘sustainable’ paradigm for cities since our current form of urbanization is not doing nearly enough to address issues like climate change and social inequity. For me, it’s a way of conceiving our cities as ‘living systems,’ and planning and developing them in a manner which creates conditions conducive for all life forms to thrive. Imagine a city that responds to the evolutionary needs of all the life within and around it. We look to shift from ‘human-centric’ urbanization models to ‘life-centric’ ones. Earlier this year, I also founded and launched City Makers’ Guild. It’s an education, advocacy, and research group promoting more equitable and inclusive cities.

GSB: Congratulations and good luck with both. And thank you for your important, visionary work that helped give birth to the Green Sports Alliance and is accelerating the move to Green-Sports 2.0.

 

^ Books on green design Twill read during his time at NYU included “Natural Capitalism,” by Amory & Hunter Lovins, with Paul Hawkens. “Ecological Design,” by Sym Van der Ryn and Stuart Cowan. “The Green Real Estate Development Guide,” by William Browning and the Rocky Mountain Institute

 


 

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Sports and Climate Change Summit: Yankees, Mets, MLS, NASCAR and USTA Saving Lives in Africa Via Innovative Carbon Offsets Program

Five high-profile North American sports teams and leagues are helping to save lives in Africa while reducing carbon emissions at the same time.

That powerful message was delivered during an All-Star panel discussion at Friday’s first Sports and Climate Change Summit in New York City, hosted by Sport and Sustainability International (SandSI) and the Global Crisis Information Network (GCINET). Guided by SandSI co-founder Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, senior officials from the New York Yankees, the New York Mets, Major League Soccer, NASCAR, and the US Tennis Association, shared how and why they are making life-saving investments in Africa.

 

The panel that kicked off Friday’s first Sports and Climate Change Summit at New York’s Scandinavia House had a title that many in the audience could not have imagined even two years ago: “North American Sport Invests in Climate Mitigation and Promoting the Sustainable Development Goals in Africa”.

Yet, per moderator Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, co-founder of SandSI, those investments — by the Yankees, Mets, Major League Soccer (MLS), NASCAR, and the USTA — are indeed being made. And they are not only helping to take on climate change, air pollution and several other of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals^, they are saving lives. Thousands of lives. In some of the most needy regions on Earth.

 

Allen Hershkowitz J. Henry Fair

Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, co-founder of SandSI (photo credit: J. Henry Fair)

 

You may be asking yourself these three questions right about now:

  1. What problems are these North American sports teams and leagues trying to help solve with these investments in Africa?
  2. What types of investments are they making to solve those problems and save lives?
  3. Why are they making these investments?

 

COOKING WITH INEFFICIENT STOVES IN SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA ADDS TO AIR POLLUTION, DEFORESTATION AND CARBON EMISSIONS

In his presentation preceding the panel discussion, Hershkowitz cited chilling statistic after chilling statistic that laid bare the severity of health problems, borne largely by women and children in Sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere, caused by cooking with inefficient, dirty, primitive stoves:

“The number one cause of death in the world is air pollution.”

“Close to half the deaths from pneumonia of children under age five are caused by household air pollution.”

“Three billion people cook over open flames or with simple stoves powered by unhealthy coal, wood or other forms of biomass.”

“According to the World Health Organization, three to four million people, mostly women and girls die prematurely because of inefficient, dirty stoves.”

Add to these grim metrics the fact that significant deforestation results from scavenging for the wood that is used in the inefficient, old stoves, and you have a recipe for a public health and environmental disaster.

 

NORTH AMERICAN TEAMS AND LEAGUES QUICKLY RAMP UP TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA BY FUNDING CLEAN, EFFICIENT COOKSTOVES AND AVOIDED DEFORESTATION

How did Major League Soccer, NASCAR, the Mets and Yanks and the USTA decide to get involved in helping to reduce the Sub-Saharan African air pollution problem?

Hershkowitz showed each of them that, by funding efficient cookstoves that emit 30 to 50 percent fewer emissions, they would be creating healthier cooking environments for women and children, extending and saving lives in the process. And, since the cookstoves require far less fuelwood, the teams and leagues are also playing an important role in avoided deforestation.

The clean cookstove initiative is supported by the United Nations. Consequently, these cookstove purchases — which reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, other air pollutants and deforestation — qualify as third party, independently certified carbon offset programs, burnishing the teams’ and leagues’ sustainability credentials.

Hershkowitz began connecting the teams and leagues with private sector firms like The South Pole Group, Eco-Act and Allcot. They do the important grunt work of designing, developing and implementing environmental and climate change mitigation projects on the ground.

 

Cookstoves

Clean burning cookstoves (Photo credit: South Pole Group)

 

Although the initiative is in its early days — cookstove purchases only began late last year — the results are impressive. Collectively, the benefits of the offsets purchased by the Yankees, Mets, MLS, NASCAR and the USTA include:

  • Distribution of 7,250 cookstoves for use in cabins and huts
  • Positive impacts on the lives of 13,000+ women and girls
  • Avoidance of 39.4 metric tonnes of carbon emissions
  • Keeping 22.4 metric tonnes of wood from being cut down
  • The manufacture and maintenance of cookstoves being handled by locals, bringing much-needed economic activity to the region

 

TEAMS, LEAGUES SEE COOKSTOVES, AVOIDED DEFORESTATION AS “NO-BRAINERS”

When asked why the Yankees are investing in Africa, Doug Behar, the team’s senior VP of operations, said it was a logical next step in the team’s long-standing commitment to sustainability: “We’ve evolved on sustainability over time, seeing that it made sense from a business perspective to measure and reduce our energy usage, and that it made sense to recycle and compost. So we were ready when the cookstove investment opportunity was brought to us. Really, it was a no-brainer as the impact on human life was too big to ignore.”

 

Doug Behar Profile

Doug Behar of the Yankees (Photo credit: New York Yankees)

 

NASCAR focused their investments on avoided mangrove deforestation projects on the shores of Lake Kariba in Northern Zimbabwe. Catherine Kummer, senior director of NASCAR Green, echoed Behar’s “no-brainer” sentiments. “When something makes sense to management and fans alike, you know you’ve got something,” shared Kummer. “Management got it right away. And the avoided deforestation aspects of our investments matches our fan base’s commitment to the outdoors.”

The Mets’ senior director of ballpark operations, Mike Dohnert, shared a different motivation when Hershkowitz brought the African investment opportunity his way. “I know it sounds cliche, but it was incredibly powerful to be able to explain to my six year-old son how important it is do the right thing,” Dohnert recalled. “I am very lucky that Mets management allows me the freedom to pursue these types of initiatives.”

Switching to tennis, why would its governing body in the United States make investments in Africa? “That’s an easy one — the US Open is an event that draws 800,000 fans from all over the world and tennis is truly a global sport,” offered Lauren Tracy, the USTA’s director of strategic initiatives. The organization funded the sending of 300+ cookstoves to women in Malawi. That purchase helped offset the carbon embedded in the millions of player travel miles to the recently completed US Open.

Major League Soccer, which joined with SandSI and The South Pole Group to advance a big sustainability push at this summer’s All-Star Game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the LEED Platinum home of Atlanta United, also found the global nature of the cookstove program compelling. “Since the All-Star Game pitted MLS’ best vs. Juventus, the perennial champion of Italy’s Serie A and one of the most popular teams in the world, we decided to go ‘glocal’ with our sustainability initiatives,” said JoAnn Neale, the league’s chief administrative and social responsibility officer. “Locally, we undertook a tree planting program in Atlanta. And our investments in 1,450 cookstoves in Kenya represented the global side of the equation.”

 

M-B Stadium 2a

Mercedes-Benz Stadium, LEED Platinum home of Atlanta United (Photo credit: Lewis Blaustein)

 

 

GSB’s Takes:

  • If five teams and leagues can get the kinds of life-saving and carbon emissions-reduction results detailed above in less than a year, imagine if all of the major pro and college sports leagues in North America rallied around cookstoves, avoided deforestation and other climate change and environmental programs in Sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere in the developing world. This is a huge opportunity for SandSI and the entire Green-Sports movement. Perhaps a team or two could pry their PhD analytics gurus away from their advanced metrics spreadsheets for a minute to calculate the macro public health and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions benefits of a massive Pan-North American sports cookstove/avoided deforestation/clean water initiative.
  • There was a kind of Bizarro World, up-is-down aspect to the Summit when it came to fan engagement on climate change and the environment:
    • NASCAR — whose brand image to this observer is decidedly “Red State”/skeptical on climate change — is in fact aggressively connecting with fans on environmental and climate change issues. Why? Because NASCAR fans have indicated that they care about the environment, to hell with the GSB’s stereotypes. “Ten years ago, 50 percent of our fans said they cared about the environment,” Catherine Kummer reported. “Fast forward to our April 2018 survey, and 87 percent of NASCAR fans now believe Earth is going through a period of climate change and 77 percent feel they have a personal responsibility to do something about it. So now we run environmentally-themed TV spots on NASCAR broadcasts.” I do have questions about how to square these results with polling before the 2016 Presidential election that showed NASCAR fans preferred Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton. But that’s a subject for another day. For today, the fact that NASCAR runs green TV spots is a very cool thing.

 

 

The 30 second NASCAR Green TV spot

 

  • On the other hand, while the Mets and Yankees have done exemplary greening work at Citi Field and Yankee Stadium, including eliminating trash bins and replacing them with recycling and compost bins, they have chosen to communicate their sustainability bona fides to fans in a much quieter fashion* than NASCAR. The clubs have not yet aired green-themed public service announcements on TV or radio. I mean, they play in climate change-is-real, humans-are-the-cause, “Blue State” New York. One would think their fan bases would react positively to such TV ads. What gives? Mike Dohnert acknowledged that, for Mets management, climate change “politics is an issue. They’re still trying to figure this out.” The Mets and Yanks might want to talk to NASCAR.
  • Kudos to SandSI and GCINET for hosting the first Sports and Climate Change Summit! This needs to be an annual event. 

 

 

 

^ The 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are: 1. No Poverty, 2. Zero Hunger, 3. Good Health and Well-Being, 4. Quality Education, 5. Gender Equity, 6. Clean Water and Sanitation, 7. Affordable and Clean Energy, 8. Decent Work and Economic Growth, 9. Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure, 10. Reduced Inequalities, 11. Sustainable Cities and Communities, 12. Responsible Consumption and Production, 13. Climate Action, 14. Life Below Water, 15. Life on Land, 16. Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions, 17. Partnerships for the Goals
* The Mets and Yankees communicate their greening initiatives to fans by posting sustainability information on their websites, leading sustainability-themed tours of the ballparks for high school students and more.
 

 

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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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The GSB Interview: Julia Pallé, Formula E Senior Sustainability Consultant and SandSI President

Julia Pallé is a very busy woman.

She is shepherding the growth and direction of the sustainability efforts of Formula E, the fully-electric racing series which is about to start its fifth season. And, as if that is not enough, Ms. Pallé is also President of the fledgling Sport and Sustainability International (SandSI).

GreenSportsBlog spoke to Ms. Pallé about what we can expect from Formula E and SandSI.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Bonjour, Julia. It’s great to chat with you. Senior Sustainability Consultant of Formula E and President of SandSISacre bleu! You sure have a lot going on. Since Formula E preceded SandSI for you, let’s start there. Were you always into cars and motorsports?

Julia Pallé: Well, I grew up in Clermont-Ferrand in France, the town where Michelin is headquartered. I was not so much into motorsports growing up but I loved many other sports. I tried them all: Running, kite surfing, wakeboarding, skiing, dancing…oh, and rugby also. I loved the outdoors and knew I always wanted to be close to nature. From the beginning, my desire was to work in sustainability and make a difference so I studied sustainability management and change management and earned a business degree at the Université of Grenoble.

 

Julia_Palle_2016_HIGH RES

Julia Pallé, Senior Sustainability Consultant for Formula E and President of SandSI (Photo credit: Formula E)

 

GSB: I wish they had those disciplines when I was in school back in the Dark Ages! So how did you put it into practice?

JP: I went to work for Michelin in 2012…

GSB: In your hometown?

JP: Exactly! I worked in the motor sport division…

GSB: Ahhh…that’s where you got your start…

JP: Yes…Implementing sustainability programs.

GSB: How did that go?

JP: It went well. The group had a sustainability plan but the motor sports division wasn’t specific enough. With the support of management, I helped tighten things up. We did a Life Cycle Assessment on our rally racing tires…from materials sourcing to construction to the event to end of life. Thanks to that analysis, management made some significant changes: In terms of materials, we switched to natural rubber, which greatly reduced our environmental impact. And this kind of transition can have tremendous impact on passenger cars.

GSB: Very impressive, Julia. So how did you end up moving to Formula E?

JP: When Formula E began a few years ago, they started to come up with sustainability standards for their tires. Michelin felt it needed to be the standard and so we developed a hybrid tire specifically for Formula E. I wrote part of the the standard so Formula E and I began to know each other and eventually they recruited me to manage their sustainability department.

GSB: That must’ve been quite a change…

JP: Oh yeah. Formula E is based in London so I moved there. And I started traveling around the world for the races. It is a lot of travel but it’s great and important work.

GSB: An all-EV open wheel racing circuit? It is very important work, indeed. Formula E has grown quite a bit in just four seasons…

JP: For sure. For me it has been a great opportunity. I was among the first wave of employees, when we were pretty much a blank slate. Now there are more than 120 employees from 20 different nationalities in our London office. We are now a Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile or FIA certified international championship…

GSB: A la Formula 1?

JP: Yes. We have races now in Africa, Asia, Europe, as well as North and South America. Australia is next.

GSB: That just leaves Antarctica…

JP: Well, we actually brought a Formula E car down to Antarctica to shoot a video. Icebergs were breaking at the time so we had to drive on the icecap. It was incredible. The car was able to drive on an icecap. We also shot a video of a Formula E car racing a cheetah in Africa.

GSB: That is so cool! Who won?

JP: The car, but it was very tight!

 

Formula E vs Cheetah

Formula E car and a cheetah racing in Africa (Photo credit: Motor Trader)

 

GSB: So I would imagine that sustainability would have to be a core part of an EV racing championships DNA. Am I right?

JP: Certainly. From the beginning, Formula E worked to manage our events in a sustainable fashion, to ISO standards. We engage deep into our supply chain to make sure we use sustainable products and services. We recently achieved ISO 20121 certification for the entire championship. Every season, we conduct a Life Cycle Assessment to become more efficient in all aspects of our operations.

GSB: As part of that assessment, does Formula E measure its carbon footprint year to year? If so, how are you doing?

JP: So far it’s been difficult to compare our carbon footprint over time in a meaningful way. That’s because we keep adding races and changing the schedule so we haven’t been able to measure in an apples-to-apples comparison way yet. But we are working on better metrics for sure. For now, we can say we know we are doing the right things, sustainability-wise and the results we do have are positive.

GSB: What is Formula E doing to connect with the communities it visits regarding its sustainability initiatives?

JP: Our goal is to leave a positive legacy in all of our cities. Our Fan Zones and Allianz E-Village allow fans to really interact with the EVs and the drivers…

 

Sustainability comms 4

Signage along the race wall promoting EVs and the Allianz E-Village at July’s Formula E race in Red Hook, Brooklyn (Photo credit: Formula E)

 

GSB: That may be the most powerful green thing you can do: Give fans an up close experience with EVs…

JP: Yes…We have a gaming zone to attract younger fans and a driving zone where fans can get behind the wheel of an EV race car. And we make tickets to the races affordable to appeal to the widest audience possible. Since you are in New York City, you should know that we are working with the New York Earth Day Initiative to promote renewable energy and recycling. And the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) will have a booth. Our drivers are our best ambassadors, spreading the benefits of EVs whenever they can.

 

Booth 1

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) booth at the Formula E event in Red Hook, Brooklyn in July (Photo credit: Formula E)

 

GSB: Plus Formula E races are on city streets…

JP: Yes! We are of the mind that our races themselves will change consumer behaviors. As you say, we are racing EVs on city streets mainly in urban centers. Fans see that and say to themselves “that could be me driving an EV!”

 

Formula E Bklyn

Formula E cars racing through Red Hook, Brooklyn (Photo credit: Formula E)

 

GSB: That’s the best advertising you can have for EVs…How many people attended Formula E races during the season?

JP: Over 360,000 fans have come to Formula E races in season four – which shows the appetite and curiosity of electric cars and electric racing is fast-growing!

GSB: Impressive! And what about reaching audiences beyond the races themselves — Where can fans watch Formula E races on TV and/or online?

JP: We are on cable now. FS1 airs us in the US and you can stream us via their website or app. Similar deals are in place in Europe.

GSB: How have the ratings been in the US and Europe?

JP: We don’t have exact figures for season four just yet, but we are expecting a projected cumulative TV audience of over 300 million.

GSB: What’s next for Formula E? Are you all looking at a stock car series like NASCAR? I have to believe that fans watching EVs race that they could actually buy would even be more powerful.

JP: We wholeheartedly agree! And the timing of your question is spot on. In addition to Formula E’s season 5 [click here to watch a preview video], next season we will also launch our Formula-E Support Series in which drivers will race modified Jaguar I-Pace EV SUVs. It is our intention to showcase EVs that fans can buy right now.

GSB: How do you think the Support Series will do vs. the new Electric GT Series, which will race stock car Teslas? It is scheduled to launch this November in Spain.

JP: It will definitely be interesting to watch its progress but the Jaguar I-PACE eTROPHY is quite different as it showcases technology first tested in Formula E in a modified road car – which is the perfect example of what Formula E is aiming to do within motorsport.

GSB: All in all, the world of EV racing, open wheel-wise and stock car-wise is growing rapidly. You sure are in the place to be right now. And that doesn’t even take into account your work with Sport and Sustainability International or SandSI. How did you get involved and what you are doing there?

JP: The founders of SandSI got in touch with me and invited me to attend the “birth meeting” in Lausanne, Switzerland in November, 2016 and to be a board member. Formula E was happy that I would have a seat at the table in this new organization which was very important. As with most every startup, the structure of SandSI was continuously evolving. I was asked to be a Vice President in September 2017 and then, just three months later I was asked to be President! And this May, at our 2nd Congress, the members elected me to a 4-year term as President. Plus every year, the members can vote to change the structure, change the President, which means I am very accountable. All of this is much better than simply being appointed.

GSB: Absolutely! And it’s great to be speaking to Madame la Presidente! So what is happening with SandSI and what are your goals for your term?

JP: Our focus is global, to ensure that the most sustainable practices are disseminated to sports organizations all over the world and to put sustainability and sports on the agenda of major global organizations like the UN. Our three main priorities are 1. Alignment and strategy surrounding UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), 2. ISO 20121 implementation 3. Monitoring, measuring and reporting. Thus we are working closely with organizations like UNEP and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to ensure sports is well represented in their work.

GSB: Do these organizations get the power of sports…

JP: Many people do; it is our job to make sure the voice of sports is heard loud and clear throughout those organizations.

GSB: There are of course Green-Sports organizations and trade groups throughout the world — the Green Sports Alliance (GSA), mostly in North America and now Japan, BASIS in the UK, Sport Environment Alliance (SEA) in Australia. How will you differentiate SandSI from those groups? And how will you work with them? Is there a need for all of these groups or will there be consolidation?

JP: We see ourselves as a global umbrella organization and we need to have regional peers. SandSI is here to offer practical support to all sporting organization looking to advance sustainability internationally through their sport. Thus we are in dialogue with them. In fact SEA is a founding member of SandSI. We are in touch with the GSA and BASIS to see how we can add value together.

GSB: Good luck sorting all of that out and all the best with the launch of the Formula E Support Series.

 


 

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Ken Belson and The New York Times #CoverGreenSports

About a month ago, GreenSportsBlog launched a new hashtag, #CoverGreenSports. Its goal is to encourage the mainstream media, from sports to green to news, to cover the sports greening movement. Last week, the US “paper of record,” The New York Times and lead NFL writer Ken Belsonstepped up to the #CoverGreenSports plate in a big way, with “Sports Stadiums Help Lead the Way Toward Greener Architecture”

 

The fourth week in May should be a quiet time for the lead NFL reporter at The New York TimesThe draft, which took place in April, is already old news and training camps don’t open until late July. You would think this time of year is when NFL writers should be on vacation.

But last week was a busy one for Ken Belson, proving that there is no such thing as a quiet period for the NFL.

 

Ken Belson NYT

Ken Belson of The New York Times (Photo credit: The New York Times)

 

In fact Belson, working at breakneck pace, had three stories in The Times over a 48 hour period:

  1. “The NFL and Nike Make Room for Fanatics,” detailed how the League expects revenue from merchandise sales to increase by 50 percent by 2030 through a new deal with Fanatics.
  2. In “NFL Anthem Policy Bound to Please Only the NFL,” Belson opined about the NFL’s controversial, just-announced national anthem policy. It was instituted in response to protests by some NFL players in 2016 and 2017, most notably ex-49ers QB Colin Kaepernick, who knelt during the playing of the national anthem. They did so to draw attention to police brutality and other social injustice against African-Americans. But many NFL fans, including President Trump, feel that the kneeling players disrespect the flag. The new policy requires players to stand for the playing of the anthem or stay in the locker room during that time. There was no player input on this decision. Belson’s take: “It’s hard to envision the N.F.L. crafting a policy that satisfies everyone. But one that is likely to satisfy only the 32 owners hardly seems like an enlightened solution.”

But it was his third story that interested me most — and made me smile.

In Sports Stadiums Help Lead the Way Toward Greener Architecture,” Belson gave Times readers a terrific Green-Sports tutorial. 

He kicked off with Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the new home of the city’s NFL and MLS teams and the world’s first LEED Platinum certified stadium. Belson’s main insight is in sync with GreenSportsBlog’s overall ethos: “Green stadiums are shining a light on the complex and critical issue of climate change. Fans disinclined to care about the issue are exposed to things like highly efficient LED lighting or low-flush toilets, and can see that going green is not a hardship, but a choice.”

 

Mercedes-Benz Stadium

Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, the first to win LEED Platinum certification. (Photo credit: Kevin D. Liles for The New York Times)

 

Belson then took readers on a brief trip across the pond — “many of the innovations [in green stadiums-arenas] are being developed in Europe, where laws and regulations governing greenhouse gas emissions are stricter,” — before pivoting back to North America and the National Hockey League.

He lauded the NHL as a green leader among sports leagues for understanding the existential threat the sport faces from climate change and for taking steps to combat it: “The number of ponds that freeze over in winter has fallen dramatically in recent years, making the sport less accessible in countries like Canada, where many children first start playing the game outdoors. Going green is a way to address a long-term threat, not just save money.”

 

Lake Louise hockey

According to a study by McLeman and Robertson, published in The Canadian Geographer, the future of outdoor ice hockey on Lake Louise in Alberta and elsewhere in Canada is at risk due to the effects of climate change (Photo credit: Edmonton Journal)

 

GreenSportsBlog readers are likely familiar with much of this. And the folks quoted in Belson’s piece likely ring a bell.

You probably recognize Scott Jenkins, Mercedes-Benz Stadium’s general manager and the Chairman of the Board of the Green Sports Alliance, as an “evangelist of all things green.” 

 

 

LEED Platinum Certification Event - from right - Rich McKay, Scott Jenkins, Arthur Blank

Scott Jenkins (c), General Manager of Mercedes-Benz Stadium, flanked by Rich McKay (l), President of the Atlanta Falcons and Arthur Blank, at the LEED Platinum announcement event (Photo credit: AMB Sports and Entertainment)

 

And you probably know of Allen Herskhowitz, ex-President of the Alliance and a founder of Sport and Sustainability International (SandSI), which promotes low-carbon strategies for sports teams, leagues and association. He told Belson, “Any single sporting event doesn’t really have a giant ecological footprint, whether it’s a football game or even a season for a team. But the cultural and social platform of sports is almost unparalleled in terms of its ability to reach people.”

Yes, you may recognize Scott and Allen and the many other Green-Sports luminaries who have been featured in our posts these past five years, but the thing is, most humans have no idea who they are and are unaware of the important work they are doing. 

So it is very important that The (NOT failing) New York Times, with its massive reach and prestige, has decided to #CoverGreenSports with Belson’s piece.

Does this foreshadow a trend? 

It should, especially since the millennial and GenZ readers that The Times — and for that matter, almost all media outlets — is desperate to engage, care more deeply about the environment, sustainability and climate change than do their predecessor generational cohorts. 

But it is, methinks, too early to tell. 

One potential brake on an increase in Green-Sports coverage from mainstream media outlets is that the topic crosses many areas — sports, green/environment, business, and politics, to name a few.  That means that no one department claims natural ownership of Green-Sports and so no editor will assign a beat writer to cover it. What is more likely is that the hodgepodge we see now — a rare story by a sports reporter here and another one-off story from a business reporter there — will continue.

Until, that is, a department editor — I don’t care which department — says strongly “Green-Sports is MINE!”

With that in mind, we invite any visionary Green-Sports-minded editors to go through GreenSportsBlog’s archives to find a few hundred compelling story ideas to bring to their readers.

You will be glad you did!


 

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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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