The Green Sports Alliance today announced ten winners of its 2019 Environmental Innovator awards. The honorees — a wide-ranging group that includes a chef in addition to the more teams, venues and nonprofits one might associate with this award — will be presented with their hardware at the Alliance’s Summit at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia on June 19.
Last week, the Green Sports Alliance announced that the USTA, Lauren Tracy, its director of strategic initiatives, and the legendary Billie Jean King, had won its 2019 Environmental Leader award.
Today, the Portland, Oregon-based Alliance followed that up by recognizing ten organizations with 2019 Environmental Innovator awards. In no particular order, the winners are:
The Center for Sport and Urban Policy (CSUP) at Georgia State University works to enhance public understanding of issues related to sports and environmental sustainability by bridging the gap between academic research and the sports industry. CSUP provided volunteer recruitment services for the Playoff Green program at the 2018 College Football Playoff National Championship Game, where more than 40 students, faculty, and staff served as Green Ambassadors to promote sustainable behavior during the game.
Despite not reaching the NBA Finals, the Milwaukee Bucks had a breakout 2018-19 regular season, securing the league’s best regular season record. The club also moved into the beautiful new Fiserv Forum, which earned LEED Silver certification soon after it opened. And arena management, in conjunction with concessionaire Levy, announced a broad swath of sustainability initiatives, including plans to not offer straws at events and to utilize compostable food packaging. To date, Fiserv Forum has eliminated 370,000 straws and 50 tons of food waste that would have otherwise gone to landfills.
Fiserv Forum, newly-minted LEED Silver certified home of the Milwaukee Bucks (Photo credit: Ty Helbach)
Staying in Milwaukee, Chef Seth VanderLaan, of Delaware North, has made sustainability a focus at Miller Park, home of MLB’s Brewers, since arriving four seasons ago. He regularly speaks at regional events discussing how to source food locally for 45.000 fans and added an on-property biodigester — during its 2018 test phase it diverted over 28,000 lbs. of waste from the landfill. Chef Seth also works with children on their “Roots for the Home Team” farm-to-stadium program and was instrumental in building the on-property gardens at the 18 year-old ballpark, where produce is harvested to serve the team and fans.
Chef Seth VanderLaan (Photo credit: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel/Michael Sears)
During the 2018 football season, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Zero Waste Program diverted more than 91 percent of the 293 tons of waste generated at the stadium and achieved zero waste during 14 of the 17 football game days during the season. The Coliseum, which hosts USC football and the LA Rams of the NFL, until the latter moves into its new home in 2020, uses its zero-waste program and annual Green Game as an engagement platform to educate fans about recycling, composting, and sustainability.
The world-famous LA Coliseum (Photo credit: Neil Leifer)
Sticking with diversion, NC State University’s Zero Waste Wolfpack (ZWW) program has engaged students and fans to reduce waste at athletic events. Since its launch in 2015, the diversion rate inside Carter-Finley Stadium, home of NC State football, has improved from 18 percent to 44 percent in 2018. But ZWW goes beyond football: Last year, more than 18,000 fans at every men’s and women’s soccer match and thousands of fans attending home track and field events were able to recycle, compost, and engage with ZWW volunteers.
Pocono Organics is a 90-acre organic farm located in Long Pond, PA that grows a number of regenerative crops including fruits, vegetables, grains, herbs, potatoes, and greens. When fully operational, the farm will draw power from the 25-acre 3MW solar farm that also powers its sister company, Pocono Raceway. Pocono Organics has developed the first-ever “Farm-to-Track” program with Pocono Raceway. The raceway diverts 75 percent of event-weekend waste and sends its compostable waste to the farm. The farm uses the compost to grow organic foods, which in turn will be served at the raceway.
Representatives from Pocono Organics speak at a news conference last July for the groundbreaking of the company’s 50-acre farm in Long Pond, Pa. (Photo courtesy of Pocono Organics)
The San Francisco Giants’ Oracle Park (formerly AT&T Park) earned LEED Platinum Certification in 2019. The club was able to move up from LEED Gold (achieved in 2014) to Platinum in part by installing or investing in:
LED field lights (55 percent energy reduction)
A new field irrigation system (reduced water usage by more than 50 percent)
Renewable energy credits (offset 50 percent of their energy use)
2019 saw the Seattle Sounders FCcommit to carbon neutrality, becoming the first professional franchise of the five major leagues (MLB, MLS, NBA, NFL and NHL) to do so. The pledge, well-received by fans and the broader community alike, is not a one-off: The club has guaranteed to remain carbon neutral in perpetuity.
The Banff Marathon takes place annually in beautiful Banff National Park in Alberta where it hosts more than 10,000 participants over a series of activities spanning three days. Since the inaugural race in 2014, in partnership with SustainDriven, event organizers have continuously worked to decrease its environmental footprint and mitigate those environmental impacts it cannot eliminate. The green highlight of the 2018 event was its incredible 100 percent waste diversion rate. You read that right: No waste was sent to landfill! A robust education program and “Sustainability Village” that engaged runners, sponsors, volunteers, staff, vendors, media, and spectators certainly helped.
Runners helped the 2018 Banff Marathon achieve a 100 percent waste diversion rate (Photo credit: Banff Marathon)
Last but certainly not least, University of Texas (Austin) Athletics created a strategy for all UT athletic events to achieve zero waste by 2020. They are getting close at their crown jewel, Longhorns football: The athletics department closed in on the 90 percent diversion rate threshold needed to claim zero waste, reaching 76 percent diversion at one home game last season at the 100,000-seat Darrell K. Royal Memorial Stadium. To get there, 900-ish volunteers donated 2,700 hours of time, with their actions reaching more than 600,000 fans. Looking ahead to the 2019 season, GSB predicts that the Longhorns, ranked #6 in the Sporting News preseason poll, will make it to the College Football Playoff semifinals and the athletics department will get to zero waste a year ahead of schedule.
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The 2018 UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report was crystal clear: Humanity has 12 years to decarbonize by 45 percent if we are to have a reasonable chance to avoid the most calamitous effects of climate change. To put that in sports terms, we only have the length of Mike Trout’s recent mega-contract extension with the Anaheim Angels, to make these changes.
Thus it is fitting that climate change will have a much bigger role at the 2019 Green Sports Alliance Summit than any of the organization’s previous annual gatherings. The schedule features three sessions with climate in the title and I am proud to be moderating one of them, “Sports, Carbon and Climate.” Here’s a brief preview.
“Sports, Carbon and Climate” will delve into the best ways for the sports world to go about reducing carbon emissions and thus climate change, while navigating the scientific, political and cultural challenges inherent in sports taking on these fights . Specifically, the panel will discuss how:
Carbon pricing could potentially benefit the sports industry;
Going carbon neutral can help teams and events engage fans to take climate action;
Carbon offset projects, funded by sports teams and leagues, can make a positive impact, as well as their limitations
Our All-Star panel lineup includes:
David Antonioli, CEO, Verra: The nonprofit develops and manages standards and frameworks to vet environmental and sustainable development efforts, build their capacity and enable funding for sustaining and scaling up their benefits. Its Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) Program is the world’s most widely used voluntary greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) reductions program.
Steve Hams, Director of Engagement, Business Climate Leaders (BCL): BCL is an initiative of Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL), a nonpartisan grassroots advocacy group with nearly 120,000 members in over 450 U.S. chapters. It helps American businesses understand and take action in shaping federal climate policy, with a focus on carbon pricing. Specifically, BCL encourages leaders from businesses of all sizes to endorse the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act: the first bicameral, bipartisan carbon pricing bill ever introduced in Congress.
Aileen McManamon, Founder and Managing Partner of 5T Sports: McManamon has been working to promote the United Nations Sports for Climate Action initiative which she co-authored. She works with sports teams and leagues on triple bottom line business operations throughout North America and Europe.
Roger McClendon was named Executive Director of the Green Sports Alliance on January 15. The former Chief Sustainability Officer of Yum! Brands took a break from the whirlwind of his first six weeks weeks on the job to talk with GreenSportsBlog about his path to the Alliance and his early thoughts on where the organization needs to go.
GreenSportsBlog: Congratulations, Roger! I’m sure you’re being pulled in a million directions, so let’s get into it. When did your interest in sustainability and sustainable business begin?
Roger McClendon: Thank you, Lew, for the opportunity to talk to GreenSportsBlog readers. I’m an engineer by academic training and a graduate from the University of Cincinnati. Early in my professional career I studied and worked on automating manufacturing processes in a paper mill using control theory and algorithms to improve production efficiency. I also worked on wastewater treatment and power generation systems. Those projects focused on important questions like how do you reduce waste and improve the process as well as save money?
So it was that mindset that drew me to sustainability, technology, and innovation. Of course this work became the foundation of my environmental sustainability experience and background. And, as time went on, I became interested in the social and governance sides of the sustainability equation as well. Things like diversity, how workers are treated, human trafficking, public policy, shareholder proposals, etc. These are, I think, undervalued aspects of the sustainability world, and was something I pushed in my role as Chief Sustainability Officer at Yum! Brands.
Roger McClendon, the new executive director of the Green Sports Alliance (Photo credit: Green Sports Alliance)
GSB: Speaking of the CSO job, that didn’t exist before you took it on in 2010. How did you come to create it? And how did Yum! Brands management react?
Roger: Sustainability was not really on top management’s radar screen when I brought it to them in 2009-10. But you have to understand David Novak, the founder of the company, which was a spinoff of the restaurant brands KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell from PepsiCo was a passionate values-driven leader. His management style recognized that, by putting people first, profits would follow, not the other way around. Before the Yum! Brands spinoff, I had worked my way up through the engineering ranks at KFC and, in so doing, had seen that prioritizing sustainability would grow profits and drive new business.
So after the spinoff, I saw that the new company had a Corporate Social Responsibility or CSR function but there was a big gap: Sustainability was not included. I saw this as a huge opportunity for the company. I conducted some benchmarking studies internally to see how applying a sustainability lens — efficiency, innovation, environment — could improve our best practices. Then I looked outside the company to see how corporations like GE and P&G were treating sustainability. Eventually, I made a presentation to top management about how sustainability could be a powerful business driver. They loved it! David did ask ‘Why should I make you CSO?’ I said ‘Because I’m already doing the job!’ And that was that.
David Novak (Photo credit: Yum! Brands)
GSB: Great story! Was there any pushback from management and/or the rank-and-file at Yum! Brands about sustainability? Did some say things like ‘Why are we doing this tree hugger, Berkeley stuff?’
Roger: There was some of that cultural stuff but the broader challenge was that big change is difficult, especially in a penny-profit business like restaurant chains. I mean, we worried about each napkin that we bought. Getting 16, 17 year-old employees and franchisees to implement programs and promotions was always a heavy lift.
GSB: How did you overcome that?
Roger: Well we always looked to show all stakeholders how sustainability aligned with value creation. And we emphasized, especially with millennial and GenZ employees, that we were transforming Yum! Brands into triple bottom line company — People, Planet, Profit. And now the company is well on its way to living those values.
GSB: Aside from the very important transition on corporate values, what were some of Yum! Brands biggest sustainability wins during your tenure as CSO?
Roger: Thanks for asking. We helped drive energy efficiency initiatives that have resulted in an estimated savings of 4.3 megawatt hours (mWh) of electricity globally. Yum! Brands also created Blueline, a sustainable restaurant design, build, operational, and maintenance standard that uses key restaurant-relevant aspects of LEED, paired with proven, actionable solutions in areas such as lighting and optimized hood exhaust and ventilation systems.
These initiatives and more resulted in Yum! Brands being named to the Dow Jones Sustainability North America index in 2017 and 2018. We also earned Top 100 Best Corporate Citizens status by Corporate Responsibility Magazine, also in 2017 and 2018.
GSB: Have any of the major Yum! Brands messaged sustainability to consumers?
Roger: Consumer messaging really has been centered on the local level rather than through national ads. KFC in Australia did a local campaign around its switch to canola oil. That screams sustainability and health without actually saying it. And the folks got it.
GSB: Which is great. I understand you retired from Yum! Brands last spring but you’re way too young to be fully retired. Was Green-Sports and the Alliance on your radar at the time?
Roger: Not really. I mean, I was well aware of the sports greening movement, especially since KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell sponsor all manner of sports. And I’d been at conferences at which folks from the Alliance spoke. So I knew Green-Sports was a growing and good thing but I wasn’t looking at it as a landing spot when I retired from Yum! Brands.
Instead I worked with the Aspire Basketball Foundation in Louisville where my family lives. It teaches life skills, leadership, and personal development to high school students and those in a gap year before college, all through the prism of basketball, which I played at the University of Cincinnati and love. That’s what I was doing when I heard about the opening at the Alliance. I reached out to Scott Jenkins, the Board Chair at the GSA and we talked about the job, how I would be able to magnify the impact of Green-Sports at a high level. I thought, ‘this sounds like a great fit’ so I went for it.
Roger McClendon, while a member of the University of Cincinnati Bearcats, launches a jump shot over Virginia Tech’s Dell Curry, aka Steph Curry’s dad (Photo credit: University of Cincinnati Athletics)
GSB: And you got it!
Roger: I’m very thankful and realize that, as I take this position, I realize I stand on the shoulders of giants who created the Green-Sports movement like Christina Weiss Lurie, minority owner of the Philadelphia Eagles and their Go Green initiative, the late Paul Allen, owner of the Portland Trail Blazers, Seattle Seahawks and Sounders, and an early funder of the GSA, and Allen Hershkowitz, one of the true Green-Sports visionaries.
GSB: Indeed. And, as you take the helm at the Alliance, you do so as the movement is at what I see as a pivot point, from a Green-Sports 1.0 world, in which the focus is on greening the games and venues, to the Green-Sports 2.0 world, in which the emphasis shifts to engaging fans, both those who attend games and those who consume sports via media. I know it’s early days, but with that backdrop, what do you see as the top two or three items on your agenda?
Roger: That’s a great way to frame it, Lew. And you’re right, it’s early days. So my first order of business is engaging the Board, teams and venues, and the media to get a great sense of the state-of-play in Green-Sports. At the same time, I think we need to take a look at what’s next — Green-Sports 2.0 as you call it — and then what comes after that.
GSB: Green-Sports 3.0?
Roger: That’s right.
GSB: What do Green-Sports 2.0 and 3.0 look like to you right now?
Roger: First, it’s important to note that the sports world has done an admirable job on Green-Sports 1.0, greening the venues…
GSB: Thanks certainly go to the Alliance for its part in 1.0.
Roger: I wasn’t here for that work, obviously, but I’ll accept that thanks on behalf of the people who were. The greening of stadiums, arenas, and training centers needs to continue. And then we need to go forward on not only fan engagement, but also on helping our member teams, venues, leagues and more take on environmental and social issues in ways that have measurable impacts. The 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs can serve as great metrics for us.
GSB: Absolutely. Of course seven of the 17 SDGs focus on the environment¹. Going forward, will the Alliance work mainly on helping its members on those seven green SDGs? Or will it look to put as much weight on the social and governance aspects of sustainability, as it does on the environment?
Roger: The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals is one framework that I think the Alliance can leverage with our key stakeholders and determine where we should focus and prioritize. It can help us focus on what has the most material impact to our partners, members, fans, and communities as a whole.
There is a process of engagement, alignment, strategy development and execution planning that the Alliance will facilitate with our partners, members, and other key stakeholders. I anticipate that the Alliance and our partners will focus primarily on social and environmental sustainability issues and less on governance.
GSB: Finally, I want to get your take on climate change. I think it’s fair to say that the sports world at large and the Alliance to this point have, for the most part, stayed away from the topic. How do you want to take it on?
Roger: Well this gets into what problems do we want to help solve. Can we impact things like access to clean drinking water, dealing with drought, wildfires, and more? I say yes and we need to get involved in a strategic, focused way to do that sooner rather than later. But do we need to get into the politics of climate change? I think we should stay away but, at the same time, focus on doing what we can to help venues and teams to reduce their emissions.
GSB: Understood. Thing is, I think it will be much harder to stay away from climate change and the politics surrounding it with the recent introduction in Congress of the Green New Deal proposal. How might the Alliance’s alter its approach to climate change in a Green New Deal world?
Roger: We don’t have to debate climate change as the science is evident. We do have to act as a responsible citizen, business, community, city and country. We need to focus on improving sustainable operations and supply chains as well as partnering and investing in smart city infrastructure and develop social and environmental awareness and engagement movements to engage future generations.
GSB: Sounds good, Roger. I look forward to our future conversations to see the types of Green-Sports 2.0 initiatives the Alliance undertakes under your leadership, particularly on fan engagement and climate change. In the meantime, all the best.
¹ Seven SDGs that focus on the environment are Clean Water and Sanitation, Affordable and Clean Energy, Sustainable Cities and Communities, Responsible Consumption and Production, Climate Action, Life Below Water and Life on Land. The rest of the SDGs are: No Poverty, Zero Hunger, Good Health and Well-Being, Quality Education, Gender Equality, Decent Work and Economic Growth, Industry/Innovation/Infrastructure, Reduced Inequality, Peace and Justice, Partnerships to Achieve the Goals
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In a TGIF GSB News & Notes, we share two positive news stories and one naggingly troubling if still hopeful note.
On the positive side, Kevin Anderson, the world’s fifth ranked men’s tennis player, took on the plastic waste issue in Jon Wertheim’s SI.com much-read mailbag column. And the Seattle Sounders used the term “climate crisis” (Italics my emphasis) when they announced their commitment to going carbon neutral in the season that kicks off on March 2. I’ve never seen a team put the words “climate” and “crisis” together before.
On the flip side, despite many calls for his resignation, Gian-Franco Kasper remains the President of the International Ski Federation (FIS) almost three weeks after he outed himself as a climate change denier. But an effort to generate public pressure to force his resignation, led by Protect Our Winters, shows no signs of slowing down.
KEVIN ANDERSON, WORLD’S 5TH RANKED TENNIS PLAYER, SERVES UP PLASTIC OCEAN WASTE TO SI.COM READERS
I know what you’re thinking: “Wait, who is Kevin Anderson? And how popular is tennis, really?”
Kevin Anderson (Photo credit: Tony O’Brien/Reuters)
The hard-serving, 6′ 8″ Anderson is currently the fifth ranked men’s player in the world¹, having reached the finals of two grand slam tournaments since 2017. You might remember this incredible left-handed shot (Anderson is a righty) after having tumbled to the grass late in his marathon, 6 hour-plus 2018 Wimbledon semifinal vs. John Isner that propelled him to the final.
As to tennis’ popularity, a 2018 WorldAtlas.com study reports that the sport has 1 billion fans globally, enough to make it the fourth most popular sport on the planet, trailing only soccer (#1 at 4 billion fans), cricket (2.5 billion), and field hockey (2 billion). To my knowledge, the only active eco-athlete who be more well known than Anderson is Mesut Özil, the German soccer star who currently plays for Arsenal.
Back to Wertheim’s mailbag.
The first question came from a reader in Toronto who asked, “When is tennis going to stop its environmentally unfriendly use of plastic?”
Instead of answering it himself, Wertheim gave Anderson, “tennis’ green czar” (who knew??), the court.
An excepted version of Anderson’s reply reads this way:
That your question was submitted to Jon Wertheim’s mailbag makes me very pleased to know that tennis fans are also taking the plastics issue seriously.
Reducing plastic pollution — and particularly keeping plastic waste out of the oceans — is one of my biggest passions. In fact, in December I hosted a charity event at home in Florida with a portion of the proceeds benefitting Ocean Conservancy’sTrash Free Seas Alliance. Once your eyes are opened to the plastic pollution problem, it’s hard not to care about the consequences. I hope that tennis players can be leaders in this space to raise awareness and help make the public more mindful of reducing single-use plastics when possible.
As a member of the ATP Player Council, I’ve been sharing my passion for this issue and last November, the ATP developed measures to reduce its negative impact on the environment at the Nitto ATP Finals in London. For the first time ever, players were given reusable bottles for on-court use, staff were given reusable bottles and encouraged to refill them at water stations, and fans were given reusable cups when they purchased drinks at The O2 (Arena). There are many more things that can be done in the future, but I believe this was a great first step in the right direction.
I’m hopeful we can continue to make other changes, such as do away with plastic racquet bags after re-stringing (which I always politely decline or make sure to recycle), put recycling bins at all tournaments for fans to dispose of their rubbish properly (and on the practice courts for players), and most importantly – provide education. If we can get more and more tournaments, players and fans to recognize the issue we have on our hands, and just how dire of a situation it is, we can make more change.
GSB’s Take: So glad to hear Kevin Anderson is leading the anti-plastic ocean waste movement on the ATP Tour. Hopefully he is recruiting others, including his women’s tennis counterparts, to join his effort. And if his interest in plastic waste becomes an on-ramp to a broader commitment to the climate change fight, all the better.
SEATTLE SOUNDERS, MLS’ FIRST CARBON NEUTRAL CLUB, USES “CLIMATE CRISIS” TERM
The Seattle Sounders committed to going carbon neutral starting with the 2019 season — FC Cincinnati visits CenturyLink Field on March 2 to kick off the new campaign — marking them as the first professional soccer team in North America to do so. In a press release announcing the move, the club pledged that their “operations will make no net contribution to atmospheric carbon dioxide, the leading cause of the climate crisis.”
Wait a second.
Did you notice anything special in that press release quote? Because I sure did.
A North American pro sports team, used the term “climate crisis.”
But widen the lens a bit and one sees that most pro teams, including those who have done great green work for years, do not even speak of climate change. At all. Benign terms like “sustainability” and “environmentally responsible” are used much more frequently.
It says here that the Sounders use of climate crisis is at least as big a deal as the team going carbon neutral.
And that’s saying something because the club’s carbon neutral commitment is certainly important and substantive.
One reason is that the Sounders included fan travel to and from games — which represent 28 percent of total emissions — in its calculations. Some teams and leagues that have claimed carbon neutrality have not done so.
Fan travel accounted for 28 percent of the Sounders’ emissions in 2018, trailing only team travel (33 percent) and CenturyLink Field operations (29 percent)
Team management partnered with Seattle-based Sustainable Business Consulting to calculate its greenhouse gas emissions and develop plans to reduce its impacts where possible. For emissions unable to be eliminated – such as team travel for matches, scouting and other business – the Sounders are offsetting their emissions through the Evergreen Carbon Capture (ECC) program of Forterra, a regional nonprofit. Using the club’s contribution to ECC, Forterra and its partner DIRT Corps are joining with the team and fans to plant hundreds of trees in a part of the region that needs added tree cover. This not only reduces CO₂, but enhances air and water quality.
“We’re incredibly excited to announce that our club is officially carbon neutral,” said Sounders Owner Adrian Hanauer. “The Sounders have always been committed to investing in our community, and that includes recognizing the immense responsibility we have as environmental stewards.”
And climate crisis fighters.
Adrian Hanauer, owner of the Seattle Sounders (Photo credit: Seattle Sounders FC)
GSB’s Take: This is a win-win-win Green-Sports story if I ever saw one: Win #1: The Sounders go carbon neutral. Win #2: The club includes fan travel in their emissions calculations. Win #3: Rightfully calling climate change a CRISIS is a big step forward. Kudos to the Sounders for doing so. Will this give other pro teams across all sports the confidence to use the words “climate” and “change” together? Watch this space. Note that I’m starting slowly here and not asking teams to say climate “crisis”. Yet. If you want to let the Sounders know that you appreciate their bold green-sports steps, click here.
CLIMATE DENIER GIAN-FRANCO KASPER REMAINS IN POWER AS HEAD OF INTERNATIONAL SKI FEDERATION;
We close the week with an update on the Gian-Franco Kasper story.
The President of the International Ski Federation (FIS) denied climate change in a February 4 interview, saying, “There is no proof for it. We have snow, in part even a lot of it. I was in Pyeongchang for the Olympiad. We had minus 35 degrees C. Everybody who came to me shivering I welcomed with: welcome to global warming.”
Gian-Franco Kasper, President of FIS (Photo credit: Mark Runnacles, Getty Images)
Protect Our Winters, the nonprofit made up of elite winter sports athletes who advocate on behalf of systemic political solutions to climate change, quickly wrote an open letter calling for Kasper to resign and encouraged its followers to do the same.
As of February 19, over 8,300 letters had arrived in FIS’ in box.
But that’s not all.
Jessie Diggins, who won Olympic gold at Pyeonchang 2018 in cross country skiing, and other elite winter sports athletes like Jamie Anderson, Danny Davis, and Maddie Phaneuf, made strong statements condemning Kasper’s remarks.
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 (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.
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…
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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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Paul G. Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, died Monday due to complications from non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. He was 65.
Allen, who owned the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks and the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers, played an important role in the early days of the Green-Sports movement.
Paul G. Allen, a creator and visionary of the highest order, died Monday at 65 of complications from non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. He is most well-known for helping to usher in the personal computing age when, along with Bill Gates, he co-founded Microsoft in 1975 at age 22. Allen left the company in 1982 during his first bout with cancer.
Paul G. Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, owner of the Portland Trail Blazers and Seattle Seahawks, and an early Green-Sports pioneer, in 2014. (Photo credit: Béatrice de Géa/The New York Times)
SPORTS AND THE ENVIRONMENT PLAYED A BIG ROLE IN ALLEN’S POST-MICROSOFT LIFE
Developing some of the first LEED certified buildings in the U.S.
PAUL ALLEN AND THE BEGINNINGS OF THE GREEN-SPORTS MOVEMENT
Allen’s environmentalism and innovativeness led him and his company, Vulcan, Inc., to take some significant Green-Sports steps during the early days of his ownership of the Trail Blazers and Seahawks.
“When Paul bought the Trail Blazers in 1988, it was clear the team needed a new arena,” recalled Justin Zeulner, who worked for Allen at Vulcan starting in 1999 and served as Executive Director of the Green Sports Alliance from 2014-2018. “It was important to Paul to show fans, sponsors and the media that Portland was a leader in technology, energy efficiency, and innovation. So when planning for what would become the Moda Center began in 1991-92, he directed the team to design a green building before green building was even a thing!”
Allen felt even more passionate about Seattle — he directed a good chunk of his enormous fortune (estimated at $26.1 billion at his passing) towards transforming the city into a cultural hub. So when the new Seahawks (and later Sounders) stadium, now known as CenturyLink Field, opened in 2002, Allen made sure it was a green leader for that time.
The use of recycled concrete and steel — now an expected feature at most new stadium and arenas — is one example of how Allen and Vulcan paved the Green-Sports way with the new venue. Over the next decade, CenturyLink Field upped its green game, with the installation of solar panels at the stadium and on the roof of the neighboring Event Center, as well as recycling and composting, encouraging bike travel to games, and much more.
A solar array, the largest in the state of Washington, tops the roof of the Event Center adjacent to CenturyLink Field, home of the Seattle Seahawks and Seattle Sounders (Photo credit: Seattle Seahawks)
AN IMPORTANT BEHIND-THE-SCENES PLAYER AT THE BIRTH OF THE GREEN SPORTS ALLIANCE
During a brief meeting several years after the Moda Center opened, Allen asked then-Trail Blazers President Larry Miller a simple question: “How do we scale the way we greened the Blazers beyond Portland?”
Paul Allen, left, at a Portland Trail Blazers game with general manager Neil Olshey in 2016 (Photo credit: Craig Mitchelldyer/Associated Press)
That, according to Zeulner, was an important spark that ultimately led to the formation of the Green Sports Alliance. “Sometime after that conversation, Miller grabbed me and my colleague Jason Twill and gave us the task of broadening the Greening of Sports,” Zeulner remembered. “Soon after that, Allen Hershkowitz at Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), who was doing great sustainability work with the Philadelphia Eagles and others, joined our efforts. We engaged the Seattle Mariners and Vancouver Canucks in the discussion with the Blazers, Seahawks and Sounders and that group ultimately became the core of the Pacific Northwest Green Sports Alliance, the precursor to the GSA.”
And once Paul Allen provided a spark, those working at Vulcan knew what to do.
“Working under Paul’s leadership, you couldn’t help but feel you were always held to the highest expectations, no matter what you worked on,” reflected Jason Twill, a Senior Project Manager at Vulcan from 2007 to 2013. “This expectation was not only for our organization, but for how we positively impacted humanity as well. His belief in human potential was infectious and inspired us to seek transformation in areas he was most passionate about and where scaled impact could happen; science, technology, music, art and sports. I know that sounds grandiose but you could feel it. It was an incredibly electrifying place to work. We just knew what he expected of us.”
What did that mean in terms of Green-Sports, which was in its embryonic stages in 2007-2008?
“Investing in green building was just something you did because Paul Allen expected it,” said Twill, now the Director of Urban Apostles, a Sydney, Australia-based consulting services business specializing in urban regenerative development. “Paul’s combined passion for sports and the environment led to a group of staff members within Vulcan and the sports teams to initiate the Green Sports Alliance, in partnership with the NRDC. All we tried to do was take Paul’s early Green-Sports leadership and expand upon it.”
Allen who, dating back to his Microsoft days, preferred to stay largely in the background, played a crucial if “silent partner” role in the Alliance’s early days. He provided financial support, organizational development as well as pro bono labor. The latter took the form of lending the time and efforts of Vulcan executives Zeulner, Twill and 15 or so others to the cause. “Paul’s funding, which amounted to hundreds of thousands of dollars, along with the financial support of the NRDC and other founding partners were critical,” asserted Zeulner. “It allowed the Alliance to get off the ground and ensured that the first two annual Summits, in Portland and Seattle, respectively, were successful.”
Twill summed up Allen’s role in the birth of the Alliance this way: “Simply put, Paul’s commitment to world change, his leadership and his organizations were the launching pad that enabled the Green Sports Alliance to come into existence.”
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GreenSportsBlog’s News & Notes is back with Three for Thursday: CenturyLink Field, home of Seattle’s Seahawks and Sounders, built on its already strong green-sports record by sourcing potatoes grown from its own compost. Chicago’s United Center, home of the NBA’s Bulls and the NHL’s Blackhawks, is bringing free electric vehicle (EV) charging to its parking lots. And a golf course near Portland, OR swings and misses on a chance to make a statement on climate change.
POTATOES GROWN FROM COMPOST SOLD AT SEATTLE’S CENTURYLINK FIELD
CenturyLink Field’s reputation as one of the greenest sports venues in the U.S. is well-deserved. From on-site solar to diverting over 97 percent of its waste from landfill this season to its stellar public transit offerings that bring 35 percent of all attendees to and from Seahawks and Sounders games, CenturyLink gets it done. And, this September, the venue went straw-free by taking part in “Strawless in Seattle,” an initiative of the Lonely Whale Foundation.
How could CenturyLink Field top all that?
By changing the way they source potatoes, that’s how!
You see, all of the french fries served at the Seahawks thrilling 41-38 victory over the Houston Texans on October 29 and the Sounders 2-0 thrashing of the Vancouver Whitecaps in the MLS playoff game on November 2 came from Sound Sustainable Farms, which used compost from the stadium’s food waste to grow its produce.
The Seahawks and Sounders are partnering with Cedar Grove Composting, which owns Sound Sustainable Farms, to offer locally sourced, organic and eco-friendly foods.
Cedar Grove collects about 16 tons of compost after every Seahawks game, according to a team statement. That compost served as the growing environment which yielded approximately 6,000 pounds of cut potatoes for the Seahawks-Texans game.
Cedar Grove says it brought its compost to a dormant farm in Redmond, WA earlier this year where the soil was restored for farming. And, voilà, Sound Sustainable Farms was born and CenturyLink Field had french fries made from their own compost.
Potatoes, growing in soil from compost collected at Seattle’s CenturyLink Field, will ultimately become french fries at…CenturyLink Field (Photo credit: Seattle Seahawks)
“This fully integrated, closed-loop cycle takes composting to its highest and best use by returning the finished compost to growing food for local consumption,” said J. Stephan Banchero, III, vice president of Cedar Grove.
UNITED CENTER GETS NEW JUICE FROM VOLTA EV CHARGING
So far this season, both tenants of Chicago’s United Center — the NBA’s Bulls and the NHL’s Blackhawks — can use jolts of energy. The once-legendary Bulls now reside near the Eastern Conference bottom with a 2-9 record. The Blackhawks, winners of three Stanley Cups this decade, are in better shape than their hoops co-tenants but are lumbering along at a “meh” 8-8-2 mark.
But, there is hope.
Volta Charging, the leader in free electric vehicle (EV) charging, recently began deploying EV charging stations near the South and East entrances of the United Center in Chicago, as part of a 10-year agreement with the venue.
Through Volta’s nationwide network of electric vehicle charging stations, the largest indoor arena in the U.S., will offer visitors free charging facilities, supporting the United Center’s mission to reduce its environmental impact.
A Volta charging station. The company recently signed a 10-year deal to deploy similar stations at Chicago’s United Center, home of the NBA’s Bulls and the NHL’s Blackhawks (Photo credit: GreenTech Media)
Four open-access universal charging stations will be installed, operated and maintained at no cost to the United Center or its customers through Volta’s ad-supported network model. The stations will be equipped with digital-hybrid advertising display units that will be placed in prime locations near venue entrances. This will ensure sponsor/advertiser messages reach fans entering and exiting the arena, while facilitating easy access for drivers.
Earlier this year, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel signed an executive order committing the city to work towards the scientific guidelines put forth in the Paris climate agreement, pledging to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 percent by 2025. As city departments work to find ways to reduce emissions, United Center is raising awareness about its own commitment to sustainability through its partnership with Volta.
“With over 2.5 million visitors annually, we are excited to be partnering with Volta to bring its [charging] stations to our arena and provide visitors with a convenient and easy way to charge their vehicles,” said Joe Myra, VP of Business Affairs at the United Center. “Volta’s model aligns perfectly with our plan to work towards sustainability and enables our patrons to take a personal stake in a viable future.”
Since its founding 2010, Volta reports it has delivered over 15 million electric miles, saving 136,000 gallons of gas and offsetting 6.6 million pounds of CO₂ in the process.
WASHINGTON STATE’S BEACON ROCK GOLF COURSE DOESN’T QUITE GET GREEN-SPORTS
Have you seen this photo? It received quite a bit of media attention back in early September.
In the background, you see the Eagle Creek fire, a 31,000-acre blaze burning all the way to the Portland area, about 45 miles away. Even though it was encroaching on the golf course, play went on.
Of course, it must be noted that the Columbia River forms the border between the two states at that point so there was little chance of the fire moving on to the first tee. And, it’s worth mentioning that many golfers have the “play through” ethos, meaning that the elements will not stop them.
I get it.
But what I don’t get are the reactions of the folks who run Beacon Rock Golf Course.
They posted the photo above to Facebook with the caption “Our golfers are committed to finishing the round!” That’s simply callous and tone deaf.
But later on, they posted this more menacing photo with a sober, much more appropriate caption:
Yet, to me, this was an opportunity lost.
If I was asked to write this caption, it would have read something like this:
“View from the Clubhouse. A fire of this magnitude makes us 1) thankful no lives have been lost so far, 2) think of the many people who will be affected for many months, and 3) urge business as well as government leaders in Washington, Oregon and at the federal level to take serious, immediate action on climate change.”
OK, maybe it could be a tad tighter, but you get my drift.
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The Lonely Whale Foundation, co-founded by Adrian Grenier of HBO’s Entourage fame, is working with Seattle’s pro sports teams (Major League Baseball’s Mariners, the NFL’s Seahawks and the Sounders of Major League Soccer) to get fans to keep plastic out of the oceans by dramatically reducing their plastic straw usage.
ADRIAN GRENIER PITCHES STRAWLESS IN SEATTLE PROGRAM
When Adrian Grenier took the mound at Seattle’s Safeco Field on September 1st, he wasn’t an out-of-left-field starting pitching choice for the American League wild card contending Mariners. No, the star of HBO’s Entouragethrew out the first pitch for a different team — The Lonely Whale Foundation, the nonprofit he co-founded in 2015 with film producer Lucy Sumner — to help kickoff (sorry for the mixed sports metaphor there) Strawless in Seattle September, a new phase of their “#StopSucking” campaign.
“We are living during a critical turning point for our ocean, and that’s why I’m excited to celebrate the city of Seattle as a true ocean health leader,” said Grenier. “Alongside Lonely Whale Foundation, Seattle’s citywide commitment demonstrates our collective strength to create measurable impact and address the global ocean plastic pollution crisis. We are starting in Seattle with the plastic straw and see no limits if we combine forces to solve this global issue.”
CenturyLink Field is taking the Strawless in Seattle September baton from Safeco Field and the Mariners. The home of Major League Soccer’s Seattle Sounders and the Seattle Seahawks of the NFL has already switched to 100 percent paper straws — and they are only given out by request. During all September home games, those straws, made by Aardvark Straws, display the Strawless Ocean brand. The Sounders gave out those straws at their game vs. the LA Galaxy this past Sunday and will do so again when the Vancouver Whitecaps come to town on the 27th. The NFL’s Seahawks will go with the Strawless Ocean branding at their lone September home game — this Sunday’s home opener vs. the San Francisco 49ers. From the beginning of October through the end of the 2017 season and beyond, all straws at Seahawks home games, also made by Aardvark, will display the team’s logo.
“Strawless Ocean”-branded paper straws are being given out all September long at Seattle Seahawks and Sounders home games at CenturyLink Field as well as at all Mariners September home contests at Safeco Field (Photo credit: Aardvark Straws)
Strawless in Seattle represents Phase III of Lonely Whale’s #StopSucking campaign. The idea, according to Dune Ives, the nonprofit’s executive director, “is to focus on one city, Seattle, where there already is a strong ‘healthy living’ ethos, to drive a comprehensive, monthlong campaign.” Sports is a key venue for the campaign; entertainment, bars, and restaurants are three others.
Dune Ives, executive director of Lonely Whale Foundation (Photo credit: Lonely Whale Foundation)
Adrian Grenier challenged Russell Wilson, the Seahawks Pro Bowl quarterback, to get involved with Strawless in Seattle and #StopSucking. Wilson accepted and then challenged Seahawks fans (aka “the 12s” — for “12th man”) to do the same.
This builds upon a fun, #StopSucking-themed, celebrity-laden public service announcement (PSA) campaign, also from Lonely Whale Foundation. And ‘Hawks fans will also get into the “talk the strawless talk” act when they visit the #StopSucking photo booth at CenturyLink. I am sure there will be some, shall we say, colorful fan entries, depending on how the games are going.
#StopSucking PSA from the Lonely Whale Foundation is running as part of Strawless in Seattle campaign.
Phase I of the campaign focused on spreading the #StopSucking videos virally. “Sucker Punch,” an earlier humorous video under the #StopSucking umbrella, premiered at February’s South By Southwest (SXSW) festival in Austin, TX. “The ‘super slow motion’ visuals of celebrities from Neil DeGrasse Tyson to Sports Illustrated swimsuit models having their straws slapped out of their mouths by the tail of an ocean creature got a great response at South By Southwest and beyond,” said Ms. Ives.
The 1-minute long “Sucker Punch” video from The Lonely Whale Foundation, which premiered at SXSW this February.
The #StopSucking social media campaign, which constitutes Phase II, is, per Ms. Ives, “going gangbusters.”
It will take much more than the powerful, multi-phase #StopSucking campaign to make a significant dent in the massive, global plastic ocean waste problem. How significant? Americans use 500 million plastic straws every day.
You read that right: we use 500 million plastic straws every day. Right now there are “only” 327 million American humans.
Many of these plastic straws end up in the oceans, polluting the water and harming sea life. If we continue on our current path, plastics in the oceans, of which straws are a small but significant part, will outweigh all fish by 2050.
This is why there are many straw reduction, strawless, and switch-from-plastic-straw efforts. GreenSportsBlog featured one earlier this year, the powerful OneLessStraw campaign from the high school students/sister and brother tandem, Olivia and Carter Ries, co-founders of nonprofit OneMoreGeneration (OMG!)
Ms. Ives welcomes the company: “We have 50 NGO partners globally, all of whom do great, important work. We believe Lonely Whale fills in a key missing element: A powerful umbrella platform, which includes the right social media engagement tools, the right venues and the right celebrities to catalyze and grow the movement.”
As noted earlier, restaurants and bars are key venues for #StopSucking, but sports will always have a primary role. “It is inspiring to see our stadiums and teams taking a leadership position with the Strawless Ocean challenge,” enthused Ms. Ives. “Very few outlets exist that reach and influence so many individuals at one time and through their commitment, our teams are taking steps to significantly reduce their use of single-use plastics by starting first with the straw.”
And Seattle-based teams and athletes are not the only sports figures to join in. Grenier challenged Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson to join the campaign in August and Karlsson accepted. Maybe Lonely Whale should look north of the border for their next campaign.
After all, “Strawless with the (Ottawa) Sens” has a nice ring to it.
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