On Friday, GreenSportsBlog broke the news that the Green Sports Alliance had hired Roger McClendon as its new Executive Director. He comes to the Alliance from Yum! Brands (KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and more), where he most recently served as its Chief Sustainability Officer.
Yesterday, the Alliance officially announced the McClendon hire, plus the addition of six new members to the Board. Here are some highlights from the announcement.
In a press release distributed Tuesday, McClendon commented on his new role as Executive Director:
“I am honored for the opportunity to lead the Green Sports Alliance. I look forward to taking the Alliance to the next level and ensuring sports plays a key role in the global sustainability movement, focused on measurable impact,” McClendon said. “Along with our Board, members and staff, we are poised to develop the Alliance’s vision, while leveraging global innovation and strategic partnerships, to improve the social and environmental well-being of future generations.”
Roger McClendon, new Executive Director of the Green Sports Alliance (Photo credit: Green Sports Alliance)
McClendon told Ian Thomas, writing in Tuesday’s Sports BusinessJournal, that one of his first actions as Executive Director will be to embark on a listening tour with Alliance members and partners. His early goals include:
Having the Alliance move beyond working only on “environmental issues, moving to that next level of impact.” McClendon cited the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that not only includes environmental objectives like clean water and sanitation, but also social and economic issues such as eliminating poverty, ensuring quality education and achieving gender equality.
Working with teams to engage fans to take positive environmental actions
Building on the Alliance’s work of the “greening” the games and the venues in which they are played, but also helping to engage sports fans to take positive environmental actions as well.
“We are very excited to have Roger take on this leadership role,” Scott Jenkins, GSA Board Chair and General Manager of Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium said in a statement. “His results-driven track record in sustainability and sports (he was a four-year starter for the University of Cincinnati basketball team) presents a unique opportunity for the Alliance to further innovate, influence and inspire the communities we serve.”
Scott Jenkins, Board Chair of the Green Sports Alliance and GM of Mercedes-Benz Stadium, host of next month’s Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta (Photo credit: Mercedes-Benz Stadium)
Dune Ives, executive director of Lonely Whale Foundation (Photo credit: Lonely Whale Foundation)
Kunal Merchant, Managing Director, Lotus Advisory, a strategic consultancy with a strong sports practice. Prior to Lotus, Merchant was the Mayor’s Chief of Staff for the City of Sacramento, where he played a central role in the development of the acclaimed Golden 1 Center, home of the NBA’s Kings and the world’s first LEED Platinum-certified indoor sports venue.
Jill Savery, Founder and CEO, Bristlecone Strategies, a sustainability advisory and consulting firm. Savery won gold at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics in synchronized swimming.
Jill Savery (Photo credit: Jill Savery)
Cyrus Wadia, former Vice President, Sustainable Business and Innovation, Nike, where he led the company’s sustainability strategy.
Jamie Zaininovich, Deputy Commissioner and Chief Operating Officer, Pac-12 Conference, the first collegiate sports league to become a GSA member
The Alliance sees McClendon as both a visionary and a top-flight manager. He has best-in-class sustainable business and sports chops — pioneering and successful CSO at a high-profile Fortune 500 company and a serious Division I college basketball player. Will McClendon be able to marshal his experience and skills to successfully lead the GSA through the challenging and exciting transition from Green-Sports 1.0 (greening the games) to Green-Sports 2.0 (engaging masses of fans on the environment) and beyond? Time will of course tell the tale but GSB can see why hopes are high in Portland.
Using the power of sports to help link the attainment of UN environmental SDGs to non-environmental SDGs like eliminating poverty and gender equality is an important endeavor — in the end, they’re all related. A cautionary note: Make sure the environment does not get lost in the process.
While not wanting to put too much stock in a press release, two words — “climate” and “change” — were conspicuous by their absence. GSB looks forward to talking with McClendon soon about his plans to take on climate change and much more.
The additions to the Board are a Green-Sports All-Star squad. Dune Ives was present at the birth of the GSA. Jill Savery, like Roger McClendon, is someone who is both a successful sustainability practitioner and an ex-athlete. Elaine Aye brings a veteran strategic sustainability consultant’s perspective. Jamie Zaininovich’s experience with PAC-12 network contracts provides much-needed media business savvy to the GSA. I don’t know Messrs. Merchant and Wadia, but having folks with municipal government and Nike sustainability experience on the Board can only be a good thing.
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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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A-B InBev, the parent company of Anheuser-Busch and America’s biggest sports sponsor, is making a big change to the way it deals with its sports property partners. Incentives for positive on- and/or off-field performance are now being included in their contracts with leagues, teams, events and venues. Will environmental incentives be in the mix?
In “A-B’s Sponsor Shocker,” Lefton wrote that A-B InBev (ABI), America’s biggest sports sponsor, is “instituting incentive clauses within its [sponsorship] deals…offering properties as much as a 30 percent bonus if specific on-field performance and marketing criteria are met or surpassed…ABI is believed to be the first major sponsor to make it a standard part of its sponsorship contracts.”
A challenging and changing landscape for sports, both at stadia and arenas as well as on TV, is providing new leverage for sponsors and is helping to drive this new way of dealing with properties.
Lefton quoted Joao Chueiri, ABI’s vice president for consumer connections and a prime mover behind this new approach, as saying, “The traditional sponsorship model, based on fees and media commitments, does not deliver the best value for us at a time when most leagues and teams are facing challenges with live attendance and TV ratings. We want to evolve the model and encourage fan engagement … with an awareness that each deal is unique.”
Joao Chueiri, ABI’s vice president for consumer connections (Photo credit: Terry Lefton/Sports Business Journal)
Lefton reported that the early partners in new, incentive-laden ABI deals are the Minnesota Timberwolves of the NBA, MLB’s Los Angeles Dodgers, the New Orleans Saints of the NFL and NASCAR: “The stock car circuit opted for earned media, fan engagement/social media measures, while the Dodgers, after a season in which they won the National League pennant, chose on-field performance indicators, including wins and losses.”
Budweiser signage adorns the scoreboard at Target Center in Minneapolis, home of the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves (Photo credit: NBA.com)
Will properties suffer a penalty if they don’t meet the minimum thresholds for incentives?
In a word, no.
Per Lefton, “they won’t get paid less if they fail to meet those targets.” Not surprisingly, every property that has been asked to accept an incentive-laden model has done so.
Chueiri told SBJ that key performance indicators for incentives available under ABI’s new sponsorship model include “attendance, wins/losses and other on-field performance measures, social media and other fan engagement metrics, and brand awareness and consideration among those aware of the sponsorship. The idea is to motivate the property to ensure every fan knows that Budweiser is the official beer.” ABI hopes the incentive program might be the differentiator to make a team, league or event choose it over a competitor.
Environmental performance was not a part of the list of metrics mentioned by Chueiri.
This is not surprising at this early stage. Metrics like wins and losses and social media traffic should be at the top of a list of incentives for a potential ABI sports property partner to hit. These are all “mothers’ milk” for teams and sponsors alike.
But, it says here that, sooner rather than later, environmental performance metrics need to be added to ABI’s list:
ABI has made clear that environmental performance, especially on water-related issues, is a core part of its DNA
The landmark Paris Climate Agreement was signed in December 2015 by 195 countries, including the United States—only Nicaragua and Syria rejected it. The Agreement, per the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) website, links the signatories “into a common cause to undertake ambitious efforts to combat climate change and adapt to its effects, with enhanced support to assist developing countries to do so. As such, it charts a new course in the global climate effort.”
Now we can add the US to the list of countries rejecting the Agreement. What is unique about the United States action is that it was one of the prime architects of the Agreement, so its withdrawal at this stage is unprecedented among all the countries in the world.
GreenSportsBlog reached out to Paris to contact Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, Founding Director of Sports and Sustainability International (SandSI) and the founder and former President of the Green Sports Alliance, to get his reaction.
GreenSportsBlog: Allen, thanks for taking the time to talk to us from France. What is your reaction to the reports from leading media outlets that President Trump has decided to pull the United States out of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement?
Allen Hershkowitz: Lew, honestly, my first reaction is more personal than analytical. I am physically nauseous. This is a very bad decision. It undermines so much good work, such incredibly important work. It is indisputably one of the worst environmental decisions ever made by any President in the history of the United States. It makes no sense. There is no basis for this decision in science. There is no basis for this decision economically. And it will weaken the United States internationally in so many ways. This is why diverse leaders from the Pope, to the CEO of Exxon-Mobil to leaders throughout the entire EU and 300 leading corporations have communicated to the President that pulling out of the Paris Agreement would be a mistake. It appears the President of the United States is accommodating a fringe group of climate-denying conspiracy theorists, people who know nothing about climate science, who seem not understand that our global interdependence provides economic value as well and political security, and who think—wrongly—that this move will bring back coal jobs. This is truly a terrible moment in our nation’s history.
GSB: So you are in France, where you just attended the first Sport and Sustainability International (SandSI) Congress. What do you think the leaders of European sports federations, teams, governing bodies, businesses and the like will think of this move by President Trump? And will they expect to hear from their sports industry counterparts in the United States?
AH: On May 23rd, representatives from 30 countries and six continents — Europe, Asia, Oceania, Africa, and North and South America, joined together at the Sport and Sustainability International [SandSI] Congress in Paris to focus on the threat that climate change poses to sport and the communities in which they are played. The SandSI Congress was convened to help ensure a global shift away from fossil fuels. It reflected an unprecedented unified expression of support by the international sports industry for the Paris Agreement and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It was an event of great consequence for the global environmental movement, going well beyond being merely a sports industry event. I know that they will feel bewilderment, confusion and, in many cases, anger. I know that because I am in touch with many of them daily, indeed I just got of the phone with some of them five minutes ago.
This coming Monday, on World Environment Day, I will be honored to attend a luncheon at Roland Garros hosted by Bernard Giudicelli, President of the French Tennis Federation, with sport and sustainability leaders from throughout Europe. I will no doubt be asked, what is the perspective of the US sports industry on President Trump’s decision. I would like to be able to say the North American sports leagues are outraged by this awful decision, and working with many of them as I do, I am sure that will be the case. But, as we’ve only just heard the news within the last hour or so, I haven’t had a chance to talk with any of my contacts at the leagues in the United States about how they might communicate that to their teams, venues, business partners and fans. But I assume that sports organizations in the United States that have prominent and authentic sustainability programs will express serious concern about this action.
Attendees at the inaugural Sport and Sustainability International Congress in Paris. (Photo credit: Sport and Sustainability International)
GSB: Do you think the NHL, NBA, and the rest will go public with their opposition to President Trump’s decision—assuming, that is, they are, in fact, opposed to it?
AH: I have had the privilege to get to work on environmental issues with all the professional sports leagues in the United States, and scores of teams and venues. All of these organizations take public stands against racism, against gender bias, against homophobia, against domestic violence, in support of our troops and poverty alleviation. Given that climate change is the greatest existential threat to the common future of human civilization, and given that these leagues and their teams have touted their authentic commitment to responsible environmental stewardship for a decade, I don’t expect that they will remain silent about this terrible event. One way or another, I expect them to make their voices heard on this. Remember, sports leagues in the USA express great concern about those who are most disadvantaged in our society. Well, guess what? It is the poor, the most disadvantaged, and communities of color who are going to suffer the worst effects of global climate disruption. They already are. That doesn’t mean that leagues are going to interrupt regularly scheduled broadcasts for a Commissioner’s press conference on the issue, that would surely be unreasonable to expect. But I do expect they will be communicating in some public way with their member organizations, their business partners and their fans that they will continue to advance the goals of the Paris Agreement with or without the US as a formal signatory. I don’t know this for certain because I’ve been in Europe for a while and have not had the chance to connect with the leadership of leagues back home, but these are smart, environmentally committed people and I expect they would speak out about this. I mean, this is an attack on the future of human civilization.
This indefensible action is a stain on American history.
Remember, it is important to note that the majority of the implementation actions of the Paris Agreement will come from non-state actors, from companies and NGOs, not government. This is why the sports industry committing its economic and cultural influence to its implementation regardless of this decision is so urgent…
GSB: …But governments will play an important and crucial role…
Better days: President Obama and former Secretary of State John Kerry at the global COP 21 Climate Conference in Paris in December 2015 at which the Paris Climate Agreement was agreed upon by 195 countries, including the United States. President Trump today pulled the U.S. out of the Agreement. (Photo credit: Business Standard)
AH: Absolutely. You know, with the massive cultural and economic influence of the sports industry, it is incumbent upon them—and never more important—to let the world know that this decision is a mistake and that they will continue to advance its agenda.
GSB: To me, if leagues, teams and venues are touting the great green strides they’ve made, how can they NOT speak out against this decision? But something tells me they might not speak out as forcefully on this, on climate, as they would on a different issue…They will, somewhat understandably, use the “we don’t do politics” card.
AH: This is not about politics. Everyone in sports who works with me on environmental issues, and there are lot who do, know very well that I don’t get them involved in politics. You yourself, Lew, have criticized me for this on a number of occasions. But I see it as my role to keep my partners at the leagues out of politics. This may be political for President Trump, there is no other way to explain such an indefensible decision. But for most honest people this about the survival of human civilization as we know it. It is about the survival of ecosystems, a chemically stable atmosphere, species preservation, clean water to drink and about limiting the number of climate refugees. It is about economic progress and international cooperation and so much more. So, it’s from that apolitical lens that I speak and that I would urge the leagues to do the same.
GSB: So I guess it’s timely that the SandSI Congress happened at around the time of the President’s decision…
AH: Well, of course, we had no idea the President would do this when we organized the Congress and chose the date of our event many months ago. I am so proud, as I wrote in a May 29th OpEd in Sports Business Journal, of the fact SandSI hosted top sport and sustainability representatives from six continents and 30 countries, to assert the sports’ world’s support of the Paris Agreement and of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). And, especially outside of the US, the sports world is mobilizing to do exactly that. I even invited my contact at the Vatican to come to the SandSI Congress but it was at the same time as President Trump was visiting Pope Francis. So while they indicated an interest in joining future SandSI events, they couldn’t come to this Paris event. But last October, I attended an Audience with the Pope at the Vatican when he addressed the first Sport at the Service of Humanityconference. He said two key words to the sports industry: “DO MORE.” By pulling the US out of the Paris Climate Agreement, President Trump is not only committing to doing less, he’s guaranteeing we do damage.
GSB: So let’s say some of the leagues and perhaps individual teams do step up and speak out, how should they do so?
AH: Listen, the US sports industry influences billions of dollars of investments, it is as culturally influential a platform as exists in the US. Over 70 percent of Americans oppose this decision so they don’t need to be shy…and they can use every platform—social media, digital media, traditional media, athlete role models—to communicate that climate change matters and that they support implementing the goals of the Paris Agreement. I’m not saying they should interrupt the NBA Finals or the Stanley Cup Finals. But they do need to speak up.
GSB: You know who I would like to talk to? Green-Sports leaders who support(ed) candidate Trump..Like Brian France, the CEO of NASCAR…Or Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots—they legitimately tout the many greening efforts at Gillette Stadium…
AH: I’m not going there in terms of calling anyone out. No one has a monopoly on virtue, but what I will say is that no one in a position of influence should remain silent. And we at SandSI—our member governing bodies from around the world—and also individuals who now can become members—are going to do our part. In fact, this makes our work more important and urgent. Really, we are set up to provide the sports world with a platform to advocate for climate actions that are in line with the Paris Agreement. The Agreement advocates for carbon measurement and reductions, both for the teams and for their supply chains. SandSI advocates for carbon measurement and reductions and offers assistance for those seeking to do so. Our next Congress will be in Zurich in October. But, in the meantime, we are not helpless. The sports world, including I hope all the North American leagues will come together through SandSI and other organizational efforts. Our focus will be on initiatives that align us with the Paris Agreement and UN SDGs. And we will underscore the need for all US sports organizations to push back in support of remaining in the Paris Agreement.
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