GSB Football Preview, Part I: Lauren Lichterman, Helping to Green Texas Athletics

With the American football in full kickoff mode, GreenSportsBlog is taking a look at two teams at different points on the “Green Gridiron” spectrum. Today, we talk with Lauren Lichterman who is helping to jumpstart the greening of The University of Texas at Austin, Department of Intercollegiate Athletics. Later this week, GSB will turn to the greening of Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles, already a sustainability leader.  

 

GreenSportsBlog: Lauren, when I think of Green-Sports leaders in college sports, my mind goes to the Pac-12 — all 12 schools plus the conference itself are members of the Green Sports Alliance — and Big Ten schools like Michigan, Minnesota and Ohio State, which all have been working towards hosting Zero-Waste football games. The Big 12, which basically spans Texas, the Plains states with West Virginia sprinkled in? Not so much, at least not yet. So I’m really glad to talk with you about the greening of The University of Texas. Did you go to Texas? And were you always an environmentalist?

Lauren Lichterman: I grew up in Memphis, Tennessee. Not a very green area, I’ll admit. But we always recycled. So I was an environmentalist. And I loved sports.  So when I did end up going to UT…

GSB: …Hook ’em Horns!

Lauren: Hook ’em Horns! I played intramural basketball, soccer, volleyball, and ultimate frisbee.

GSB: You were BUSY!!!

Lauren: Oh yeah! I thought I would be an international business major, but I started taking sports management courses and loved them. I always saw sports as a powerful forum for teamwork, equality and more.

 

lichterman_lauren_UT

Lauren Lichterman, operations and sustainability consultant at the University of Texas at Austin’s Department of Intercollegiate Athletics (Photo credit: Texas Athletics)

 

GSB: So did you switch to sports management?

Lauren: I did. And I worked in the Athletics Department while I was in school.

GSB: What did you do for them?

Lauren: Anything they needed. After graduation, a position opened up in the facilities and operations department. Since planning, operations, and logistics had become my passion I jumped at the chance. In fact, I got the job offer on graduation day so my timing was quite lucky.

GSB: What was your role at the start?

Lauren: I wore a lot of hats. I handled customer service, fan surveys, ran information tables at football, baseball, volleyball and softball games. It wasn’t glamorous but I loved it!

GSB: How great is that? How and when did sustainability enter the mix?

Lauren: In 2010, which was my first year working full-time, the Office of Sustainability came to Athletics, saying they’d like to start a tailgate recycling program. The Athletic Director at the time, DeLoss Dodds, said “OK, sounds great. What do you need?” I became the main point of contact on the Athletics side for supplies and logistics. Sustainability brought two or three full-time people to the effort. We ended up relying on a lot of student volunteers, which was great.

GSB: What did you and your team do?

Lauren: We roamed the tailgate areas and awarded those that really got it with the Recycler of the Game.

GSB: How did fans react?

Lauren: They really liked it. More and more tailgaters wanted to participate. That kind of reaction led Athletics to get more into greening Longhorns games. And from there, in 2014, our leadership decided that we need to go Zero-Waste.

GSB: From Recycler of the Game to “let’s go Zero-Waste” in four years. Green-Sports moves fast at Texas Athletics!

Lauren: We actually started our Zero-Waste efforts with baseball and softball during the spring of 2014. Both facilities and operations are obviously much smaller than football. Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, home of Texas football, holds about 100,000 people. UT baseball has a capacity of about 7,000 and softball’s capacity is 1,200.

 

UT Baseball

University of Texas baseball stadium, part of the school’s Zero-Waste efforts (Photo credit: Texas Athletics)

 

GSB: Big difference!

Lauren: So baseball and softball became our Zero-Waste pilots. We started with softball, trying to go Zero-Waste for a weekend home stand. Sodexo, our concessions partner, was fantastic.

GSB: How so?

Lauren: Here’s one example. We found out that we couldn’t recycle the plastic bowls that contained nachos and cheese — those were considered contaminated. So Sodexo came to us with a “paper boat” nacho solution…

GSB: …Who’da thunk it? Wasn’t that costly?

Lauren: It wasn’t cost prohibitive — and we thought it would be. It’s a misperception that going Zero-Waste will be super-costly. For example, by using compostable utensils, less trash is being sent to landfills — and sending trash to the landfill is expensive. Most of our local vendors get this.

GSB: I’m glad you mentioned local. Austin is a bit of a green oasis in Texas, right?

Lauren: Oh, it helps being in Austin. In fact, the city is going Zero-Waste, so vendors in town are starting to manage that way.

GSB: Fantastic! So back to softball and baseball…

Lauren: Yes! So we did one weekend of Zero-Waste softball in 2014. In 2015 and 2016, we added one weekend of baseball per season.

GSB: How come only one weekend per season? If you can do it once, why not all the time?

Lauren: I know! It was silly. By 2017, we went for Zero-Waste at both sports for the entire season.

GSB: GreenSportsBlog readers know that, to claim Zero-Waste status, a venue has to divert 90 percent or more of waste from landfill. How did you do?

Lauren: In 2017, baseball was Zero-Waste for the entire season, as they diverted 91 percent of waste from landfill. Softball just missed, attaining an 88 percent diversion rate. 2018 was similar for both.

 

Volunteers Baseball 4-20 2a

A group of UT “Sustainability Squad” volunteers flash the “Hook ‘Em Horns” sign during a 2018 baseball/softball weekend (Photo credit: Texas Athletics)

 

GSB: Kudos to baseball and softball. Have you tried going Zero-Waste at basketball?

Lauren: Basketball is an island of sorts. We’re planning to build a new arena in the next five years or so that would replace the Frank Erwin Center. The site is still being debated. So we’re not going to go for Zero-Waste at Erwin, but we have undertaken some small initiatives like having recycling bins available. We are also recycling at soccer matches and track meets, but we’re not going for Zero-Waste there. It’s a matter of resources.

GSB: Understandable. So let’s go back to the Big Kahuna, football…

Lauren: Ah yes…Football is a fantastic, complicated beast. First, Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium is land locked, with streets on three sides and the rec center on the fourth. So how waste leaves the stadium and where it goes is complicated. When we launched our Zero-Waste effort in 2014, we started to move our volunteers inside the stadium where could better control waste streams…

GSB: …Did that hurt the tailgate recycling program?

Lauren: Not at all. It’s still going strong. By the time we shifted our resources inside, tailgaters already knew what to do, recycling-wise. Back to the stadium, we used to have eight-yard long dumpsters around its perimeter. Fans would just throw waste in, unsorted. We needed to get the waste sorted first, then put into the dumpsters.

GSB: How did you manage that?

Lauren: Well, our former-tailgate-area-but-now-inside-stadium volunteers were deployed to educate fans. That moved the needle a bit, but we didn’t have enough volunteers to monitor 500 bins. Then, we thought, “What if, in addition to educating fans, the volunteers sort the waste?” The last home game of the 2016 season against TCU was our pilot. THAT was what moved the needle!

GSB: The volunteers didn’t mind digging through the waste?

Lauren: We asked them about it ahead of time, and they were good with it. And we have to get to Zero-Waste in football. In the spring of 2016, the campus-wide sustainability master plan was released. It said the entire Austin campus will be Zero-Waste by 2020. So, the pressure was on starting last season. Including the 2017 campaign, we’d have 18 games through the end of 2019 to get to Zero-Waste.

GSB: That’s really not a lot of games.

Lauren: I know! So for the 2017 season, our volunteer team had grown to 60. Most of them were deployed to our sustainability sort squad, with the remainder making up our sustainability spirit squad, directing fans on how to best sort through their waste. We were able to up our game from 38 percent diversion in 2016 to 50 percent by the end of last season.

GSB: That means you have 12 games total between now and the end of the 2019 season to get to 90 percent. Sounds daunting but doable.

Lauren: I agree. We learned a lot last season. Football generates 40 tons of waste per game. Before, we were sorting during and especially after games. But most of our home games are at night and volunteers won’t stay. So we tested sorting on Sunday. No one is in the way. It’s just us. We found Sunday to be the quickest, most-efficient sorting system we’ve ever had.

 

Jim Walker sorting allll the trash

Some of the 40 tons of waste generated at a Texas Longhorns home game  (Photo credit: Texas Athletics)

 

GSB: Did you get lots of Sunday volunteers?

Lauren: You bet. In fact, we sorted through the waste in an hour! So now we’re trying to work out Sunday sorts for all of our 2018 home games. The key is answering this question: Where can we stash the waste overnight? And have enough space to sort it in the morning? After working really hard all summer and collaborating with many different entities on campus, we were able to determine a specific parking lot that would suit all of our needs. So we’re going haul the waste to this parking lot on Saturday, and sort as much of it as we can before the waste disposal companies open up on Monday. This plan should get us halfway to Zero-Waste. Then we also need to work with the cleaning company that scours the seating bowl to sort properly — and that part is now in our contract.

GSB: Assuming the Sunday sort proves successful and the cleaning company steps up, will that get you to Zero-Waste? If not, what else can you do?

Lauren: We would have to take a closer look at the waste stream to see which products that go to landfill have not yet been switched to recyclable or compostable counterparts. If we find products like that, we would need to find a way to incorporate them.

GSB: Have you talked to your counterparts at Zero-Waste success stories like Ohio State and Stanford?

Lauren: Yes and we’ve learned a lot, but their systems and situations are different. Being able to bounce ideas off of them has been very helpful.

GSB: Pivoting beyond Austin, has UT Athletics’ greenness rubbed off on its Big 12 counterparts?

Lauren: Not to the same extent. But we hope that by going Zero-Waste, we will inspire other Big 12 schools to move in that direction.

GSB: Finally, what about getting fans involved in greening beyond their contacts with volunteers?

Lauren: We definitely want to engage fans more. Our social media platform, “Bleed Orange, Live Green” is growing in popularity. And, anecdotally, the feedback has been positive. You know, things like “Glad you’re doing this!” and, regarding the sorting, “Better you than me!” But we need to do more with fans…

GSB: …Two things I’d like to see are 1. Sustainability messaging to fans who follow the Longhorns on TV and online, and 2. Surveys of fans, both attendees and those who follow the team via media, about their attitudes on “Bleed Orange, Live Green”

Lauren: I would like to see those things too! We actually had a meeting with our communications team this summer to figure out how and when would be best to survey our fans about our sustainability initiatives. We want to make sure that the goals we are setting are things that our fans are passionate about as well. Our Athletics’ administration is fully on board with “Bleed Orange, Live Green.” so I think we will start to figure out more ways to support our sustainability program through increasing communications and visibility to our fans like you’ve mentioned.

GSB: Good to hear! Aside from getting to Zero-Waste, what are the next big sustainability initiatives for Texas Athletics? Are renewables on the horizon?

Lauren: Energy efficiency is a big part of the campus Sustainability Master Plan and Athletics will be a part of that. For example, when lighting needs to be replaced, we plan to replace with LEDs. Renewables are coming on campus but it’s been slow so far. That said, renewables are the “next big green thing” for athletics. I can’t give you a timetable just yet. Another big thing for us is water conservation. We are looking at a rainwater retention system to provide water for power washing the stadium

GSB: Lauren, I don’t know how the Longhorns football team will do this season, after an opening day loss at Maryland on Saturday. But I do know this. You will be a very busy woman these next couple of years, starting with Saturday’s home opener vs. Tulsa.

 


 

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GSB News and Notes: Liverpool F.C. Under Fire for New Anti-Environmental Sponsorship Deal ; U of Michigan Football Approaches Zero-Waste; Formula E Revs Up its Promotion of Electric Vehicles

The watchword of today’s News & Notes column is BIG.

Liverpool F.C. has made a BIG mistake by partnering with Tibet Water Resources, a company that is allegedly exploiting the water supply in that region. Michigan Stadium, aka “The BIG House,” holds over 111,000 fans, making it the BIGGEST football stadium in the U.S. It recently diverted 87 percent of waste from landfill, close to the 90 percent level that will allow it to become the BIGGEST Zero-Waste stadium. Formula E, the global, electric vehicle racing circuit, partners with nonprofit The Climate Group to make EVs a much BIGGER percentage of the overall vehicle fleet. 

 

 

LIVERPOOL F.C. BUCKS GREENING-OF-ENGLISH-FOOTBALL TREND BY TAKING SPONSORSHIP CASH FROM TIBET WATER RESOURCES, ENVIRONMENTAL BAD ACTOR

Sustainable Brands, in its October 20 edition, is out with an important piece from Nithin Coca about English Premier League power Liverpool F.C.’s new sponsorship deal with Tibet Water Resources Limited, a company Coca asserts is committing “ongoing human rights and environmental atrocities in the region.”

 

Liverpool FC

Photo credit: Liverpool Echo

 

This is disappointing because English football/soccer has been a beacon of sports greening lately.

Premier League stalwarts Arsenal, Chelsea, and Manchester City have put in place some strong sustainability initiatives, from partnerships with solar companies to installing LED lighting to advanced battery storage capacity. And GreenSportsBlog has written extensively about the great, green strides being made in the lower levels (aka minor leagues) of English soccer/football. Clubs like Forest Green Rovers (aka The Greenest Sports Team in the World), Dartford F.C., and Sutton United are innovating at a rapid pace. But the reach of those smaller clubs and their green good works is, of course, limited.

Liverpool is the opposite of a small club — it is a globally recognized sports brand. Per Forbes, the team is worth $1.49 billion, making it the eighth most valuable soccer club in the world^. According to the club, as of 2014, it had an estimated 580 million fans worldwide, or roughly 8 percent of the world’s population. That’s not the world’s population of soccer fans, but total human beings. How is that possible if England’s population is but 65 million?

Look to soccer-crazed Asia, where Liverpool F.C. enjoys significant support and with that, several lucrative marketing deals with companies like Konami (video games and Malaysia Airlines. And now, Tibet Water Resources, Ltd. has been added to the list.

But, to organizations concerned with the human rights violations and environmental degradations visited upon Tibet by China (note: the Chinese government would differ with this characterization but GreenSportsBlog feels it is largely an accurate one), there is a big problem with this new sponsor.

According to Mr. Coca, “Tibet Water is a Chinese-run company that is, according to [several NGO] groups, exploiting water for financial gain and giving little benefit to local Tibetans, who, instead, are seeing their environment destroyed. Though Tibet Water is just one of dozens [of water companies] operating in the region, it is, so far, the only one to make a deal with a foreign soccer club.”

While the Liverpool deal is a first, what is not unique, according to organizations like the Tibet Society, along with FreeTibet, SumOfUs (a nonprofit that tries to “stop big corporations from behaving badly”), and others, is the exploitation of Tibetan natural resources by Chinese companies. This has been happening since Tibet — more than twice the size of Texas — was invaded by China in 1950 and annexed shortly thereafter.

Tibet’s vast glaciers hold one of the largest reserves of freshwater in the world, the source for many of Asia’s great rivers including the Ganges and Indus, which flow into South Asia; and the Mekong, the lifeblood of Cambodia, Laos and Southern Vietnam. Water development, including bottling, could reduce flows in Tibet and downstream, impacting millions.

Gloria Montgomery, Head of Advocacy at the Tibet Society, told Mr. Coca that, “This deal represents the issue at the very core of the Tibetan struggle: the detrimental effect of the Chinese occupation on Tibetans and the lack of consultation about their land and resources. For 70 years, Tibetans have endured injustice, indignity and discrimination at the hands of the Chinese authorities, as the occupation has resulted in systematic human rights violations against them.”

The Tibet Society, and the aforementioned like-minded organizations have joined in a campaign to get Liverpool F.C. to terminate the Tibet Water deal and thus stand up for environmental and human rights. Sondhya Gupta, a spokesperson for SumOfUs, told Mr. Coca that, “Liverpool really is giving its seal of approval to Tibet Water and saying its business model is normal and legitimate.”

Unfortunately, Liverpool F.C., whose principal owner John Henry also owns the Boston Red Sox (with a much-publicized garden atop the right field roof at Fenway Park), has shown no inclination to scuttle the deal. This despite having issued a strong statement in November 2016 on human rights. In fact, Mr. Coca reports that “the club has resisted opening up a dialogue with both fans and the organizations concerned about this partnership, and did not respond to Sustainable Brands’ requests for comment.” Over 40,000 people have signed a petition asking Liverpool to reconsider this deal (click here to sign), and take human rights and the environment into consideration when deciding partnerships.

Tibet Resources Petition

A portion of the petition asking Liverpool F.C. to drop its sponsorship deal with Tibet Water Resources

 

So far, there has been only silence from the management of the storied club that has captured 18 English top-flight league championships and 7 FA Cups. Somehow, methinks this story will get much bigger before it fades away.

Watch this space.

 

“THE BIG HOUSE” GETS CLOSE TO BIG ZERO-WASTE DESIGNATION

Rutgers — my alma mater! — is a big 23.5 point underdog against the Michigan Wolverines at Michigan Stadium, aka “The Big House.” To have a chance at pulling a humongous upset, the Scarlet Knights will have to be supremely focused. Which means they are unlikely to notice the efforts their hosts are expending to attain Zero-Waste status by diverting at least 90 percent of the waste generated from the game from landfill.

According to a story last month by Kaela Theut writing in The Michigan Daily — the student paper at the University of Michigan — the school’s zero-waste gameday initiative got very close to the zero-waste threshold at their September 9 home opener vs. the University of Cincinnati.

 

Michigan Stadium Evan Aaron Daily

Michigan Stadium, aka The Big House (Photo credit: Evan Aaron, The Michigan Daily)

 

Benjamin Blevins, Director of Communications for Michigan Athletics, told Ms. Theut that, “We were very happy with our efforts [at the Cincinnati game] as we hit 87 percent diversion from landfill. Zero waste is 90 percent, so for our first week attempting this, we were happy to be so close.” Blevins credited the Big House’s operational staff as well as concessions partner Sodexo USA for changing most of their products to compostable options.

Athletics started working on waste diversion in 2015 as part of a university-wide initiative to reduce overall waste going to landfill on campus by 40 percent by 2025.

2016 saw Michigan Athletics begin research into going zero-waste at The Big House in partnership with the University’s Office of Campus Sustainability and Sodexo, testing various compostable products, as well as how to best streamline gameday cleanup and waste-separation operations. With crowds exceeding 111,000, this would a heavy lift.

Heavy lift or not, the initiative is in full swing this season.

New recycling bins, adorned with signs depicting examples of compostable and recyclable products, have been placed around the stadium. Stadium-goers have been heavily encouraged to place their waste into the right area to avoid contaminating the properly sorted recyclables and compost.

At the Air Force and Michigan State home games, diversion rates again came close to the 90 percent level — so far, they’ve averaged 87.6 percent for the season. Why hasn’t the Big House been able to crack the zero-waste threshold? More Blevins: “There are still a few things that would need to change to hit 90 percent. Some of [the] products we offer don’t have compostable or recyclable options so our concessions partner Sodexo is looking into finding those solutions.”

Blevins told Ms. Theut that educating the team’s fan base on how to separate waste properly can also help Michigan get to zero-waste: “There was contamination in our [waste] streams and that comes from people putting items in the wrong bins.” he said.

Fan education efforts include a public service announcement (PSA) that runs during games in-stadium, emails to season ticket holders, social media posts, and the new signage. Event team members are also knowledgeable and help answer fan questions on game days.

It says here that the compostable product solutions will be put into place, and fan education will have taken root in time for Michigan to achieve zero-waste status during the 2018 season. In the meantime, here’s hoping Michigan again matches their impressive 87 percent diversion rate at the Rutgers game on Saturday — and that the Scarlet Knights pull off the Upset of the Year!

 

FORMULA E PARTNERS WITH THE CLIMATE GROUP TO PUSH MAINSTREAMING OF EV’S

FIA Formula E, the electric vehicle racing circuit, recently signed on to become a Global Ambassador of The Climate Group’sEV100 initiative, which helps promote and accelerate the widespread adoption of electric vehicles. The Climate Group is an international nonprofit specializing in bold and high-impact climate and energy initiatives that bring together the world’s leading businesses, states and regional governments.

 

 

Formula E Bird 2nd Steven Tee:LAT Images:FIA Formula E via Getty Images

The 2017 Formula E Qualcomm New York City ePrix in Red Hook, Brooklyn. (Photo credit: Steven Tee/LAT Images/FIA Formula E via Getty Images)

 

EV100 is the only initiative of its kind to actively encourage world-leading companies to commit to the quicker and smoother transition to EVs, helping to deliver on corporate and global sustainability goals, improving air quality and future-proofing operations.

Brands such as HP, Unilever, IKEA Group and Formula E sponsor DHL are already members of EV100, pledging to implement charging schemes in the workplace and swapping current diesel and petrol fleets to fully-electric by 2030.

The Climate Group has also joined the FIA Formula-E Championship as an Official and International Foundation Partner.

“I’m delighted Formula E has joined forces with The Climate Group and the EV100 initiative, as a partner to promote electric and sustainable mobility,” Alejandro Agag, Founder & CEO of FIA Formula E, said in a statement. “Our partnership with The Climate Group is proof that change is already happening and causing a positive shift in attitude towards cleaner transportation. Formula E shows that electric isn’t just the technology of the future – it’s the technology of today. I’m glad to see other leading companies follow suit as part of this new agreement.”

 

^ Ahead of Liverpool, #8 on the “Most Valuable Soccer Clubs of 2017” list, are: 1. Manchester United, 2. Barcelona, 3. Real Madrid, 4. Bayern Munich, 5. Manchester City, 6. Arsenal, and 7. Chelsea. Rounding out the Top 10 after Liverpool are 9. Juventus, and 10. Tottenham Hotspur.

 

 


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