Allen Hershkowitz Urges US Pro Sports Leagues to Measure, Reduce Carbon Footprint

When Dr. Allen Hershkowitz talks, people across the sports world, green and otherwise, listen. Having created the greening programs at MLB, NBA, NHL, the USTA, and co-founded and served as President of the Green Sports Alliance, it is no exaggeration to say that Hershkowitz is the most consequential environmentalist in the history of North American sports. Hershkowitz is now globalizing his scope of influence as he helps develop Sustainability and Sports International (SandSI). So his recent column that ran Monday, March 20th in Sports Business Journal (SBJ), urging stronger sustainability leadership from the North American professional sports world, and urging the leadership of pro-sports leagues to begin accounting for their carbon footprint, well, to quote Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire, “attention must be paid.” GreenSportsBlog spoke with Hershkowitz about the story, its timing and where we go from here.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Allen, congratulations on your important column for Sports Business Journal (to read it, click HERE). Since you have helped create the Green-Sports movement from the beginning, both at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and at the Green Sports Alliance, and given your leadership role in helping to create the greening programs at MLB, NHL, NASCAR, NBA and the USTA, going public to urge the major sports leagues in North America to measure their carbon footprints in your SBJ column is big. Of course, the NHL has measured its carbon footprint since 2014, so I take it your statement is meant for everyone else. What made you go public now?

Allen Hershkowitz: Well, Lew, I don’t want to be melodramatic, but as a scientist who has devoted his career to studying resource consumption, pollution and sustainability for more than 35 years, I have no choice but to conclude that our planet is facing greater environmental threats than at any time in modern history…

Allen Hershkowitz J. Henry Fair

Allen Hershkowitz (Photo credit: J. Henry Fair)

 

GSB: …But certainly the climate crisis and other environmental calamities aren’t new. So why now? Is this a reaction to the Trump Administration’s rabidly anti-environment, anti-climate initiatives and proposals?

AH:  No, not really. I would’ve written this now even had Hillary Clinton won the 2016 election. The main reason for the timing is that the most recent available information, from global surface temperature—the highest in recorded history—to ocean temperature to ocean acidification to polar ice loss to species loss, clearly shows that the climate crisis and its effects are worsening at an accelerating pace. Projections are such that, if present trends continue, more than one billion people will become climate refugees by 2050…

GSB: …And there are perhaps millions of climate refugees right now. There is peer-reviewed data that ascribes some portion of the severe Syrian drought to climate change. That drought forced many rural Syrians, who could no longer work in agriculture, into the cities, and thus helped ignite the civil war and subsequent refugee tragedy.

AH: Weather extremes are certainly threatening water availability, and food production and that leads to mass dislocations and conflict, as in Syria. And this crisis goes far beyond humans. Species continue to disappear at unprecedented rates, including many that are sports team mascots. Our grandchildren may never get a chance to see tigers or polar bears, except in photographs and documentaries. These problems are happening, and, as I said before, now we know they’re happening at a faster, downright scarier pace than we thought. The climate change-caused death of the Great Barrier Reef off of Australia was expected to happen 30 years from now. It’s happening now. This is what prompted my column now, regardless of who is in the White House.

“Drought, Water, War and Climate Change,” a 5 minute 42 second video from the Yale Climate Connections group, connects the Syrian refugee crisis to climate change.

 

GSB: I get that. But I gotta believe that the utter disregard President Trump, EPA Administrator Pruitt and their team are showing to climate change and the environment more broadly added a bit of urgency. Heck, the second paragraph of your piece goes right after the President’s plans for the EPA:

“If President Trump’s proposed budget is enacted, EPA funding will be reduced by 20% (amended to 31%), to about $6 billion, distinguishing the United States in 2017 as the only industrialized nation on Earth with a national policy committed to reducing the financial and scientific resources needed to address worsening climate change.”

 

AH: Look, I know that what is happening and what is likely to happen in Washington DC in the months to come threatens to undermine so much of the progress we have made collectively on climate and the broader sustainability agenda over the last few decades. It is profoundly disheartening. And I don’t say this as a partisan. I say this as a scientist and as someone who is grounded in reality. And the reality is this: Scott Pruitt, the new administrator of the EPA, has publicly rejected the broad scientific consensus on the human causality of climate change. When he was Attorney General in Oklahoma, Pruitt sued the very agency he is now charged with running on more than a dozen occasions.  His appointment could well undermine the agency’s core air and water protection programs‎, which have enjoyed bipartisan support over the years.

GSB: So how have the commissioners and other high level executives at the leagues—folks with whom you’ve worked for years, whose trust you’ve earned, reacted to your article and to your concerns about the direction of the Administration?

AH: I have always spoken respectfully and factually to my good friends at the leagues. As I didn’t want there to be any surprises, I showed my league contacts an early draft of the SBJ piece.

GSB: What did they think?

AH: Overall, they were positive, and although there were some suggestions to “tone it down,” the basic thrust of the final product was the same as the first draft. Let me put it to you this way: None of my friends at the leagues told me not to publish this.

GSB: That’s good to hear. And what about your thoughts on the Administration? I know you’ve strived hard to stay out of partisan politics and I am sure the leagues appreciate that. But how do you stay neutral on the politics with them?

AH: The leaders of these leagues understand there is just no denying that the current White House and EPA statements on climate change and related subjects have ‎caused consternation in many quarters of the nation, in the scientific community and in capitals around the world. They also understand that this President has started the process of rolling back important fuel efficiency standards and repealing or significantly weakening the Endangered Species Act, which has over the years been a force for rescuing dozens of critters from extinction, including many of the animals that serve as sports team mascots. I am certain the sustainability leaders at all the leagues understand he is misleading the American public on this issue, divisibly and dangerously so.

GSB: That’s good to hear. So how are the leagues reacting to your appeal for carbon footprint accounting?

AH: It’s a process. One reason the leagues, aside from the NHL and Gary Bettman, haven’t been as aggressive on carbon accounting as I would’ve hoped is that the environmental priorities in the US, from a governmental perspective, are relatively weak as compared to, say, Europe. And this was the case before Trump, and even despite the positive strides made by his predecessor.

GSB: That’s interesting…I know that there is a much broader acceptance of climate change in Europe than there is here, and that European governments, in most cases, have stronger, clearer rules on environmental issues than does the US. But do those rules affect sports in Europe?

AH: Absolutely. In many European countries, government agencies regulate sports more aggressively than in the US or Canada. Carbon accounting is an accepted practice there. Thus, the European sports world is already working in an environment, pun intended, where the rules, the norms are clearly more eco-friendly than here in the US. The French Ministry of Sport has been very keen on pushing its Federations (i.e. basketball, swimming, tennis, etc.) to measure their carbon footprint. In fact, 22 sports federations France came together to work towards science-based carbon reduction targets. And some of the major French sports events, starting back in 2007 with the Rugby World Cup and, more recently, the French Open at Roland-Garros and the UEFA EURO 2016, measure their carbon footprint and work towards reductions. France has implemented a platform, Auto Diagnostic Environnemental pour les Responsables d’Evénements,” or ADERE, that allows each organizer to measure roughly their environmental impact and self-discipline themselves to improve from year to year.

GSB: We need to be modeling what the French are doing…

AH: Exactly. And that’s what I am telling the leagues. And, as has been the case for the last decade or more, they listen. Step 1 for the leagues was to acknowledge the reality of human-caused climate change. The NHL, MLB, the NBA all submitted comments to Congress on this issue a number of years ago.

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Gary Bettman (l), commissioner of the NHL, the first league to issue a sustainability report. Commissioner Bettman and other sports commissioners have publicly acknowledged climate change.  (Photo credit: TMZ)

 

GSB: What about Roger Goodell and the NFL? They’ve been very quiet on this issue.

AH: They have, but Goodell did state publicly at a Beyond Sport United conference at Yankee Stadium a couple years ago that climate change is real. And Brian France at NASCAR has also publicly acknowledged the importance of this issue. Step 2 was to get sports to measure its energy use. This happened gradually across most North American sports leagues starting in around 2010, taking about 5-6 years. Now is the time for Step 3: to speak about climate change and to measure carbon…

GSB: Because what gets measured gets managed. And what gets managed matters.

AH: Yes! And the leagues are actually in a strong position to speak up and take action. The Scott Pruitts of the world, the James Inhofes of the world…

GSB: …Inhofe being the climate change denying senator from Oklahoma who famously brought a snowball into the senate chamber to demonstrate that climate change isn’t happening. Nice.

Inhofe

US Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) gets ready to throw a snowball fastball in the senate chamber in February, 2015. He brought a snowball into the senate to somehow cast doubt on the reality of climate change. No words. (Photo credit: Huffington Post)

 

AH: Those people can attack science but they can’t attack Major League Baseball, they can’t attack the NHL, they can’t attack NASCAR, whose Chairman of the Board Brian France, has publicly acknowledged the importance of addressing climate change. So now is the time, as I say in the article, for the leagues to calculate carbon emissions, develop a multiyear action plan to reduce carbon emissions, set meaningful, “science-based carbon reduction targets” (at least a 20 percent reduction in the next five to eight years) and aim for net zero carbon emissions from league and team operations, travel, and procurement within the next 20 years, and finally, communicate and inspire fans to do the same.

GSB: Amen! This is exactly what I’ve been urging all along, why I write GreenSportsBlog: To get the powers that be in sports to use their incredible megaphone to drive action on climate among all stakeholders. And that sports, with its ethos of overcoming obstacles, is uniquely well-positioned to do this.

AH: I agree, Lew. And, taking a look back over the last decade or so, the American professional sports world has come a long way. The leagues and many teams have cut energy usage substantially, made their supply chains more sustainable by purchasing recycled products, and they have taken important steps to educate millions of fans. I can’t tell you how proud I am of what we have undertaken together and what the leagues have accomplished in recent years to begin shifting the entire sports culture in a more sustainable, sensible direction. And showing courage by speaking out on what might be a controversial topic today is something sports has done for the last 75+ years. From Jackie Robinson and baseball’s color barrier, to Billie Jean King and equal rights and homophobia, sports has often led culture and politics in the US. It can do so on climate by taking the next step: Measuring carbon and speaking out for positive climate action.


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Green-Sports Corporate All Stars: adidas Launches Shoe Made from Plastic Ocean Waste; Patagonia’s “Worn Wear” College Tour

Conventional wisdom has it that, given the anti-environmentalist attitudes of the current occupant of the Oval Office, the corporate sector will need to step up, bigly, on behalf of serious action on climate change. With that in mind, GreenSportsBlog will, from time to time, highlight “Green-Sports Corporate All Stars” taking the lead at the intersection of Green + Sports. Today we feature adidas, and its recently launched sneaker made primarily from plastic ocean waste, and Patagonia, the über-Green outdoor sports apparel designer and retailer as it encourages longer life spans for its (and its competitors’) garments. 

 

CORPORATIONS NEED TO STEP UP THEIR CLIMATE CHANGE GAME

The forecast for positive climate change action from the current administration is stormy.

At Tuesday’s sort-of State of the Union, President Trump did not mention climate change. One of his executive orders is designed to eventually allow coal companies to more easily dump waste into streams. Newly installed EPA Administrator, Scott Pruitt, talks longingly about dismantling the very agency he was hired to run and is a climate change skeptic at best.

All is not gloomy on climate in Washington, D.C.—Republican éminences grises James Baker, Hank Paulson, and George Shultz all endorsed, through their newly formed Climate Leadership Council, a revenue-neutral price on carbon; nonprofit Citizens’ Climate Lobby^ continues to press for something similar among members of Congress from both parties, with some modest successes among House Republicans. But with climate change skeptics and deniers in charge of the executive and legislative branches of the federal government, concerted pressure for meaningful, positive climate action will be needed from large corporations that have the heft to force real change, now more than ever.

The news from the corporate sector is mixed. Many have been and are doing great things: from pledging to reduce their carbon footprints and that of their supply chains, to curbing waste, to buying renewable energy and more. But—and this is a huge but—corporations have been much less likely to tout their environmental bona fides to consumers even though they are doing great things. And they have been mute when it comes to lobbying Congress on behalf of action on climate change. 

The good news-bad news on the climate for corporate climate action is also the case in the sports world. Many companies involved in sports are doing the right things, sustainability-wise; fewer are engaging their consumers and/or talking about it.

With that in mind, GreenSportsBlog is today launching a new occasional series, “Green-Sports Corporate All Stars,” in which we highlight the corporations that are making positive things happen at the intersection of Green & Sports.

 

ADIDAS DIVES DEEP TO BRING SNEAKER MADE FROM PLASTIC OCEAN WASTE TO MARKET

“Our ultimate ambition is to eliminate virgin plastic from our supply chain.”

So said Eric Liedtke, adidas Senior Vice President of Brand Marketing, in a November, 2016 press release announcing the launch of the company’s UltraBOOST Uncaged Parley sneaker, made from 95 percent plastic ocean waste.

Talk about thinking—and acting—big!

GreenSportsBlog first got wind that adidas’ plastic ocean waste shoe plans back in July, 2015. It took 16 months for the Herzogenaurach, Germany-based company to turn concept into reality.

The sneakers are made as part of a partnership with Parley for the Oceans, an environmental nonprofit that draws much-needed attention to ocean pollution and waste. Each shoe’s “upper” (the part that goes over the top of the foot) is made from 5 percent recycled polyester and 95 percent waste plastic (plastic bottles, containers, etc.) dredged from the ocean around the Maldives, an archipelago that is existentially threatened by climate change off the southern coast of India. Most of the rest of the sneaker (including the heel, lining, and laces) is also made from recycled material. 

adidas

adidas UltraBOOST Uncaged Parley sneakers, made from 95 percent ocean waste. (Photo credit: adidas)

 

Priced at approximately $US220, the Uncaged Parley started slowly—only 7,000 pair were stocked at adidas retail outlets worldwide at launch in November—but the company is ramping up quickly, with audacious goals for this year: “We will make one million pair of [Uncaged Parley] shoes in 2017,” said Liedtke.

And adidas is not limiting its recycled-content vision to shoes.

In the February 1 issue of The Druma digital marketing-for-good news source, Tony Connelly reports that adidas brought the SS17 Parley swim collection to market. It  features two designs: a wave print that references the source of its fabric, and a Parley inspired graphic. The swimsuits are made from used fishing nets as well as the upcycled ocean plastic waste similar to that used in the sneakers. 

Speaking to Swimming World magazine, Tim Janaway, general manager of adidas Heartbeat Sports said: “Created with the ethos ‘from the oceans, for the oceans’, the Parley swim collection represents our dedication to consistently deliver swim products that protect that waters in which we perform.” Currently, 50% percent of the company’s swimwear is made from recycled material; that percentage is clearly going to rise.

Check out this spot that brings home the true power of the adidas-Parley for the Oceans collaboration:

The SS17 Parley Swim Collection ad (1:37)

 

PATAGONIA ENCOURAGES COLLEGE STUDENTS TO WEAR CLOTHES LONGER 

Athletic/outdoor-wear designer and retailer Patagonia is one of the greenest companies in the world.

It is also one of the most radical. Don’t believe me? Here is an excerpt from CEO Rose Marcario’s 2016 year-end letter:

For the sake of Planet Earth, let’s all become radical environmentalists. This sounds like a big leap—but it’s not. All you need is a sewing kit and a set of repair instructions. As individual consumers, the single best thing we can do for the planet is to keep our stuff in use longer. This simple act of extending the life of our garments through proper care and repair reduces the need to buy more over time—thereby avoiding the CO2 emissions, waste output and water usage required to build it.

Why is repair such a radical act? Fixing something we might otherwise throw away is almost inconceivable to many in the heyday of fast fashion and rapidly advancing technology, but the impact is enormous. I tell you this as CEO of a clothing company that, despite a deep commitment to responsible manufacturing, still takes more from the earth than it returns.

Ms. Marcario can’t mean we should wear clothes longer, thus buying less frequently from, say, Patagonia, can she? Oh, yes she can.

You see, Patagonia has embarked on the Worn Wear program which teaches consumers to repair their gear to keep it in action longer, along with providing an easy way to recycle Patagonia garments when they’re beyond repair.

This year, the Patagonia Worn Wear College Tour repair team is bringing its truck, Delia, to campuses all across the country. The team fixes about 40 garments per day of any brand, free of charge, on a first come, first served basis. They also give quick lessons on how to repair clothes, sell used gear at marked-down prices and screen a short film about the Patagonia ethos, The Stories We Wear.  

patagonia-we-wear

patagonia-worn-wear-donnie-hedden

Images from Patagonia’s Worn Wear College Tour. (Photo credit: Donnie Hedden)

 

The Spring 2017 tour started on February 16 at College of Charleston (SC). It’s in the midst of an east coast/New England swing, stopping at Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York City today and at Yale University on Monday.  The tour wraps up at UC Santa Barbara on April 26. Click here for the entire spring Worn Wear College Tour schedule.

 

^ In the interest volunteer my time on behalf of Citizens’ Climate Lobby
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