GSB News and Notes: Wind-Powered RVs at Tailgate Parties?; A Green Cactus League Partnership; Errant Golf Balls Add to Pollution of U.S. Waterways

Wind-powered recreational vehicles (RVs) could become a thing at college and pro football games. Arizona State University and the Oakland A’s launch a sustainability partnership at Hohokam Stadium. And golf balls hit into the oceans, lakes and more are a hazard for wildlife and water cleanliness. All in all, it’s a busy mid-week GSB News & Notes column.

 

WIND-POWERED RVs COULD BECOME TAILGATE PARTY STAPLES 

Drop in on the parking area of any SEC or Big Ten college football stadium on the Thursday before a big Saturday game and you will see dozens of RVs, filled with tailgaters, barbecuing, imbibing in adult beverages, playing touch football, watching TV and…promoting wind power?

OK, that last bit about wind power may be a stretch.

Or maybe not. According Michele Boyer, a retired writer and full-time RVer, mini wind turbines are now designed to be able to be mounted atop RVs.

 

RVs Penn State

A village of RVs stretch out to the horizon in the tailgate area before a Penn State University football game in State College, PA. Someday, perhaps soon, a portion of those RVs will sport wind turbines on the roof (Photo credit: visitpennstate.com)

 

Writing in the March 2nd issue of TripSavvy magazine, Boyer reports that Southwest Windpower, a subsidiary of Xzeres, a leader in the small wind turbine (45-80 feet high) market over the last 15 years, has gone even smaller, manufacturing a mini version that mounts on a large boat or RV.

The small size and rapidly declining cost has turned small wind systems into an economically viable option for RV owners, including, of course, those who tailgate. Many are now pairing small wind with small solar panel units to minimize the impacts of the intermittency problem — i.e. the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow.

Solar and wind costs have each dropped dramatically over the last decade, with wind the cheaper option in many cases. “The cost of small wind has gone below five cents per kilowatt hour (kWh), about half the cost of solar power,” noted Boyer. “Installation and initial investment for an RVer are significantly less for a wind generator than for equivalent power-capable solar panels.”

Boyer does point out that, in addition to its intermittency, there are some drawbacks for RVers, including noise and dangers from electrical storms. 

That said, when I attend the Big Ten contest between the University of Iowa and Rutgers (the latter my alma mater) this September in Iowa City, I expect to see a windy, zip code-sized tailgate area, filled with RVs. And maybe a few will be topped by mini-wind turbines.

 

OAKLAND A’S MOVE TOWARDS ZERO-WASTE SPRING TRAINING, THANKS TO PARTNERSHIP WITH ARIZONA STATE

The Oakland A’s and Arizona State University’s School of Sustainability launched a partnership last month to help Hohokam Stadium in Mesa, Arizona move towards zero-waste during the 2019 spring training season. The goals are to increase operational efficiencies and improve the fan experience, all while moving Hohokam towards the 90 percent diversion rate threshold necessary to claim zero-waste status.

The A’s-ASU “Recycle Rally” program looks to build upon a similar program launched during spring training last year by ASU, Arizona Diamondbacks, and Colorado Rockies — the two National League West rivals share the Salt River Fields ballpark at Talking Stick, Arizona.

 

 

Hohokam

Panoramic view of Hohokam Stadium, spring training home of the Oakland A’s in Mesa, AZ (Photo credit: Baseball Pilgrimages)

 

As part of the initiative, a group of 21 ASU students are analyzing Hohokam Stadium’s waste stream and operations to help the 10,500-seat ballpark become more sustainable during the six weeks of spring training. They are putting their detective caps on to find the most innovative, fan-friendly and cost-effective approaches that can increase recycling, reusing and composting. After the A’s ship out at the end of the month to begin the regular season, the students will produce a report that recommends the best ways to approach waste minimization for spring training 2020 and beyond.

“The A’s are proud to call Mesa our home away from home, and we want to do our part to promote sustainability and minimize our environmental impact at Hohokam Stadium,” said A’s president Dave Kaval. “We are excited to team up with Arizona State University on this initiative and learn how to reach our goal of becoming a zero waste facility.”

Colin Tetreault, a senior sustainability scholar with the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, is directing the class of 21 “change agent” students as part of a capstone project. “The School of Sustainability is honored to hit a home run for sustainability and zero waste with the Oakland A’s,” Tetreault said. “This collaboration is an example of how sustainability can drive innovation, reduce costs and overhead, and increase the fan experience.”

 

GOLF BALLS CAUSE ENVIRONMENTAL PROBLEMS IN SOME WATERWAYS

I gave up golf about 20 years ago, in part because too many of my wayward shots found their way into water hazards. My retirement from the links took place before I became passionate about sustainability and climate change, so thoughts about the environmental hazards associated with my inability to keep the little white ball dry did not enter my mind.

My perspective has changed, thanks in part to “How Golf is Polluting Our Oceans,” a recent story by Dalmeet Singh Chawla in Medium. The scale of the problem is bigger than I thought: Per Chawla, one estimate suggests the annual number of golf balls sent to the bottom of waterways could be as high as 300 million in the United States alone.

 

Matthew Savoca

According to esitmates, hundreds of millions of golf balls are hit into the waterways of the U.S. every year (Photo credit: Matthew Savoca)

 

That’s almost one wet golf ball per person in the U.S.

Crazy, no?

From that staggering macro number, Chawla’s story zoomed in to the micro, focusing on the efforts of 18-year-old scuba diver Alex Weber to do something about the problem. Since spring 2016, she has collected around 50,000 golf balls from Carmel Bay, California, not far from the legendary Pebble Beach Golf Links, site of the 2019 U.S. Open in June. 

To keep her beloved beaches pollution-free, she frequently carries out clean-ups to remove microplastics that wash up on the beaches from large ocean swells,” wrote Chawla. “One day in May 2016, Weber and her father decided to go free diving off the coast of their local beach. ‘What we came across was the entire sea floor was covered in golf balls,’ Weber recalls. ‘There were thousands of golf balls in every crack and crevice  —  I immediately felt sick to my stomach.'”

Her concern stemmed mainly from the toxins golf balls release from the bottom of oceans, lakes or bays, and the problems that poses for aquatic life. The solid core of a golf contain zinc oxide and zinc acrylate for enhanced the durability and flexibility. But both compounds are considered toxic in aqueous environments, and have been shown to activate stress responses in fish, algae, and crustaceans. Feeling responsible for cleaning up the mess that humanity created, the Webers continued collecting golf balls whenever they dove. 

Here’s more from Chawla: “Between May 2016 and June 2018, the Webers retrieved 50,000 golf balls in total, equaling around 2.5 tons of debris, roughly equivalent to the weight of a pickup truck. The father-daughter team have now co-authored a scientific paper, recently published in Marine Pollution Bulletin, describing the scope of the problem…Now known as the ‘Plastic Pickup Team,’ Weber and her father go on dives whenever the weather conditions allow, usually about six months out of the year. Sometimes, they spend up to 10 hours collecting golf balls.”

 

Alex Weber

Eighteen-year-old Alex Weber and her dad retrieve thousands of golf balls from Carmel Bay in Northern California (Photo credit: Alex Weber)

 

According to Matthew Savoca, a marine ecologist at Stanford University who co-authored the study with the Webers, around 10 percent of the collected balls were severely worn down. By calculating how much the balls had degraded, the authors predicted that the collected golf balls have given off around 28 kilograms of fragmented synthetic material to the oceans.

 

Robert Beck.png

Golf balls, unearthed from the bottom of the sea, in various stages of degradation (Photo credit: Robert Beck)

 

That said, and despite the Webers’ prodigious underwater efforts, golf balls represent a tiny percentage of the eight million tons of plastic humans dump into the oceans every year. And, as Robert Weiss, professor emeritus of polymer engineering at the University of Connecticut, remarked to Chawla, “the risk of leakage of harmful chemicals from golf balls is relatively low, partly because golf balls degrade slowly underwater.” 

But, per Savoca, in some locales —  in Carmel Bay, for instance  —  golf balls may be the most significant contributor of marine plastic. 

So what to do?

“The solution to our ocean pollution problem is not to take the plastic out but to stop the plastic from going in,” Weber told Chawla.

The researchers, along with the Pebble Beach Company, owner of several golf courses around Carmel Bay, are working with the Monterey National Marine Sanctuary   to identify possible solutions. PBC is already notifying golfers, directly and through caddies  that intentionally hitting balls into the water is prohibited. 

Other possible remedies include adding nets to prevent balls from landing in the water, training people to shoot more accurately (I wouldn’t bet on this one), and the development of biodegradable golf balls. On the latter, Albus Golf’s ecobioball®, biodegrades within 48 hours after hitting water, exposing an inner core consisting of fish food (brilliant, it says here!). Unfortunately, they don’t yet meet the exact requirements to be considered a golf ball by the U.S. Golf Association (USGA).

 

Screen Shot 2019-03-06 at 12.55.10 PM

The biodegradable Ecobioball® from Albus Golf

 

But it’s a start.

 

 


 

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Auburn Athletics: Green-Sports Grows In the SEC

The Southeastern Conference (SEC)¹ has been the king of college football for more than a decade. Member schools Alabama, Auburn and Florida have combined to win seven national championships over the past decade. That reputation took a bit of a hit Monday night when Clemson of the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) throttled Alabama, 44-16.

On the Green-Sports front, the SEC has gotten a bit of a late start, but maybe that is starting to change.

GreenSportsBlog took a look at the Green-Sports shoots that are beginning to sprout at Auburn University’s Athletics Department.  

 

It took a Michigan Man to champion sustainability in partnership with Auburn University Athletics.

Mike Kensler, Auburn’s Director of the Office of Sustainability, grew up on the streams and rivers of the Great Lake State, developing a lifelong appreciation of the outdoors.

Education and life experiences helped Mike appreciate the importance of economic, social, and individual wellbeing aspects of sustainability. He earned Bachelors and Masters degrees at the University of Michigan, the latter a sustainability-focused program in the School of Natural Resources.

After stints at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and National Wildlife Foundation, Kensler joined Auburn University— located 110 miles southeast of Birmingham on the plains of eastern Alabama — in 2008, where he worked on water policy and water education issues for three years. He became sustainability director in 2011.

 

Mike Kensler in canoe on 5milecreek

Mike Kensler, canoeing on Five Mile Creek in Alabama (Photo credit: Beth Maynor Young)

 

He arrived at a school where sustainability already enjoyed a high profile.

“A number of sustainability initiatives were already underway, including a minor in sustainability studies. The university President had committed Auburn to be carbon neutral by 2050 as a result of strong student support,” Kensler recalled. “The sustainability office reports to the President’s Chief of Staff,  which signals the importance of sustainability to Auburn University.”

Since then, Auburn has moved forward on a number of green fronts.

“Probably the biggest thing was Auburn’s commitment, in 2016, to only build LEED certified structures, at a minimum silver level,” recounted Kensler. “That was huge.” Another example is Tiger Dining, the school’s food service and a font of sustainable innovation.

Per Kensler, Tiger Dining’s Auburn Foods program “provides food grown by the Auburn family for the Auburn family, including an innovative aquaponics initiative in partnership with the School of Fisheries.” Responsible sourcing, waste minimization — including a ban on polystyrene, more sustainable transportation management and energy efficiency are hallmarks of Tiger Dining’s approach to sustainable management.

 

ATHLETICS JOINS AUBURN’S GREENING PARTY

Soon after Kensler joined the Auburn staff, he found an athletics department already on the sustainability train, and eager to do more.

“Jeff Steele, the Associate Athletics Director for Facilities, was dedicated to efficient operations, green cleaning, and improving recycling at our stadiums and arenas from the get-go,” Kensler recalled. “Auburn joined the Green Sports Alliance under the leadership of then-athletics director Jay Jacobs. He passed the sustainability baton to current AD Allan Greene, who is fully on board.”

The highlight of athletics’ greening initiatives, not surprisingly, takes place at 87,000-seat Jordan-Hare Stadium, home of Auburn Tigers football (Auburn fans also use “War Eagle!” as a battle cry and as a way to greet each other).

 

jordan hare

Auburn’s eagle flies into a full house at Jordan-Hare Stadium (Photo credit: auburn.edu)

 

The annual Green Game features student “Trash Talkers” roaming the tailgate areas, urging fans to recycle, a video on Auburn’s greening programs that runs in-game on the video board, and a Green-Sports focused column from Mike Kensler in the game program.

Beyond the Green Game, athletics’ sustainability initiatives, both current and those on the drawing board, include:

  • An energy efficiency campaign is underway at Auburn Arena, home of Tigers men’s and women’s basketball and women’s gymnastics. The Athletics Department reported $114,000 in annual savings and 1,800 metric tonnes of CO₂ equivalent in carbon savings in 2014 as a result of a variety of efficiency upgrades.
  • Water refilling stations at Jordan-Hare Stadium. “Fans can fill up their empty water bottles,” Kensler noted. “Which is a big deal because it gets really hot there, especially at September and October games.”
  • The installation of LED lighting at Plainsman Park, Auburn’s baseball stadium. Jordan-Hare (2019), the track stadium (2020), and Auburn Arena (2021) are next up.

Recycling at football had been going on since before Kensler arrived, with rates slowly improving (per Kensler, “we’re not near zero-waste…yet”). Composting — essential to getting to zero-waste — has been a challenge, one Auburn’s sustainability director is confident will be surmounted.

“We’ve talked about it for years,” acknowledged Kensler. “Students, faculty, and staff are all interested and Tiger Dining is committed to seeing composting happen. Recently we learned of an option that looks very promising. There are several hurdles to jump, but I’m telling you, COMPOSTING WILL HAPPEN and within the foreseeable future.”

 

AUBURN ATHLETES GO GREEN

Sustainability, already popular with the Auburn student body at large, is now finding advocates among student-athletes.

  • In May 2017, Auburn football players, coaches, and others traveled to the Dominican Republic where they built and distributed water filters and solar light packets to those in need.

 

auburn football 2017

Auburn football players Dontavius Russell and Daniel Carlson drain and assemble the filters before they are inserted into the buckets in the Dominican Republic in 2017 (Photo credit: auburn.edu)

 

  • Track athlete and current Peace Corps volunteer Kensley Defler, who graduated in 2018, was a 2-year intern with the sustainability office. .
  • Helen Ulrich, a sophomore journalism major on the women’s equestrian team^, earned her eco-athlete stripes by writing a story on the anti-plastic straw movement.

“I’m a huge animal lover,” enthused Ulrich. “So when I read a story about a turtle with a straw in its nose, I got angry. Then, when I visited cousins in California, I saw that some restaurants were going strawless. So I got curious. Then I noticed Starbucks was planning to get rid of its straws, I became even more interested. I noticed that our Wellness Kitchen had gone strawless. At first there was a lot anger — that’s because no one explained it. Once they put signage up that communicated that the new policy was enacted to help the environment, the anger vanished pretty much overnight. The equestrian team rallied around the policy immediately — hey, we’re animal lovers! The football players took a little while but they’re coming around.”

 

helen ulrich headshot

Helen Ulrich (Photo credit: Auburn University Athletics)

 

The Mooresville, NC native sees the strawless campaign as a green starting point for athletes and the student body more broadly: “Getting rid of straws can lead us to take on bigger environmental issues,” Ulrich said. “I can see plastic bags being a natural next step and then we can go bigger.”

 

helen ulrich auburn vs. ole miss ritz. mackenzie michaels

Helen Ulrich, aboard Ritz, competes for Auburn vs. Ole Miss (Photo credit: Mackenzie Michaels)

 

AUBURN FANS WOULD LIKELY REACT POSITIVELY TO CLIMATE CHANGE MESSAGING

According to a fascinating, county-by-county study on attitudes about global warming# conducted by the Yale Center on Climate Communication in August, residents of Lee County, Alabama — where Auburn is located — should be open to climate messaging from their beloved Tigers.

Yes, it is true that Lee County residents scored lower than the U.S. average on all 29 questions about global warming#. But those differences were, for the most part, small — or at least smaller than I thought they would be. And, on most questions, more than half of residents had positive attitudes about the existence of global warming and on the need for climate action:

  • 68 percent of Lee County residents think global warming is happening, only 2 percentage points below the U.S. average
  • 55 percent are worried about global warming, 6 points below the U.S. average
  • 83 percent believe the government should fund research into renewable energy sources, 2 points below the U.S. average
  • 63 percent say fossil fuel companies should be required to pay a carbon tax, 5 points below the U.S. average

So far, climate change has not been included in the messaging at Jordan-Hare Stadium during the annual Green Game. But, the attitudes of Lee County residents show that talking climate to fans should not be a major risk for the Auburn Athletics Department.

 

IT’S TIME FOR A GREEN “IRON BOWL”

For those GreenSportsBlog readers who don’t follow college sports, the Iron Bowl — the annual football game between Auburn and Alabama — is like the Yankees—Red Sox rivalry, times about 1,000. Watch “Roll Tide/War Eagle,” ESPN’s documentary on the in-state rivalry between the schools that are separated by 157 miles, and you’ll get the gist.

 

 

So how about channeling some of the intense energy generated by Alabama-Auburn towards a positive end — via a Green Iron Bowl? The 2019 edition will be played at Jordan-Hare on November 30 so there is time to make it happen.

“Auburn University has a Sustainability Policy which states, in part, that sustainability is a core institutional value to be integrated in to all aspects of the University,” Kensler said. “It is important and gratifying that Auburn Athletics, so much the public face of the University, is making tangible and visible progress toward sustainability – doing its part and setting an example for the Auburn family. Adding Green to an always Orange and Blue Iron Bowl would certainly be noticed! War Eagle!”

 

GSB’s Take: Auburn Athletics has demonstrated they are walking-the-green-walk. Now it’s time for the Athletics Department needs to push the Green-Sports envelope further by talking-the-green-talk directly with its fans, including on climate change. It says here that Tigers’ fan reactions will be more positive than expected — if not quite as positive as their reactions to Clemson 44 Alabama 16.

 

¹ The 14 SEC member schools are Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi, Mississippi State, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt
* Auburn’s sports teams are known as both the Tigers and War Eagles
^ Auburn is one of the few Division I schools in the U.S. to have an equestrian program — others include SEC rivals Georiga, South Carolina, and Texas A&M as well as Baylor.
# The Yale Center on Climate Communications study used “global warming” in its questions rather than “climate change”

 


 

 

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