“Sustainability at the 2019 Final Fours” — Part II: Men’s Final Four in Minneapolis

The 2019 NCAA Women’s and Men’s Final Fours both featured Green Teams, squads of volunteers that helped educate fans about environmentally friendly behaviors and to direct them to place their food waste in the proper receptacles. 

Aside from that, the two events were about as different as the host cities, Tampa for the women and Minneapolis for the men.

Wednesday, GreenSportsBlog shared the experiences of Madeleine “Maddy” Orr and her students from Laurentian University in Ontario, Canada as they ventured to Tampa, becoming the first Green Team at a Women’s Final Four.

Today we turn to Minneapolis and the story of how Tiffany Richardson brought her deep Green Team management experience — honed at several Major League Baseball All-Star Games — to the Men’s Final Four at US Bank Stadium.

 

Tiffany Richardson had three key things going for her as she worked to pull together and manage the green team for the 2019 Men’s Final Four in Minneapolis. Richardson:

  1. Was based in the Twin Cities, where she is owner of Elevate Sports Consulting and a former lecturer at the University of Minnesota in the Department of Kinesiology’s Sport Management area and an Educator at the Institute on the Environment (IOE). OK, she moved to Amsterdam about six months before the Final Four, but was able to handle things remotely in a smooth fashion thanks to a strong team back home.
  2. Had successfully managed Green Teams at four Major League Baseball All-Star Games, starting with the 2014 edition at Minneapolis’ Target Field.
  3. Reached out to the Minneapolis local organizing committee about a Green Team two years before the Final Four, giving her the necessary time to sell management on her vision.

Upon meeting Richardson for the first time at a Minneapolis cafe the morning of the semifinals doubleheader, one thing became crystal clear to me: Green team members would execute her vision to the best of their abilities.

 

“I WANTED TO DO IT!”

“My ears perked up as soon as I heard that Minneapolis was going to host the 2019 Men’s Final Four,” Richardson recalled. “They needed to have a sustainability effort and I knew how to make it work. And I wanted to do it! So in early 2017, I got in touch with Kate Mortenson, president of the local organizing committee. She knew my reputation in Green-Sports and asked me to be the sustainability chair. And she gave me a blank canvas on which to create the sustainability programming, which was fantastic.”

 

Tiffany Richardson

Tiffany Richardson (Photo credit: Tiffany Richardson)

 

Richardson consulted with Colin Tetreault, who managed the sustainability effort for the 2017 Men’s Final Four in Phoenix about how best to fill the canvas.

“Colin drove home the point that we needed to establish a sustainability legacy for the Minneapolis Final Four,” said Richardson. “Water was the legacy for Phoenix. We decided to go with mass transit. Our message: Fans don’t need to rent cars; use mass transit.”

A plan was developed to encourage fans coming in to Minneapolis for the tournament to take light rail from the airport to downtown. I saw this firsthand as I attended the tournament. It could not have been more convenient. Fans could easily get to US Bank Stadium via light rail, bus, commuter rail and on foot.

 

IT’S GO (GREEN) TIME

And, while Phoenix didn’t have a Green-Team in 2017 — the NCAA thought it would be too intrusive for fans — Richardson was determined to show the powers that be that this would not be the case in Minneapolis.

“We sent a ‘sizzle video’ of our Green-Team’s work at the 2017 All-Star Game at Marlins Park in Miami to JoAn Scott, the NCAA’s managing director for the Division I men’s basketball championship in the fall,” recounted Richardson. “I told her and her colleagues that the only difference between All-Star and Final Four was innings versus time outs. They LOVED the video! Fast-forward to late 2017-early 2018. We presented our full vision for the Green-Team to JoAnne and her team. They aired their concerns — ‘don’t be disruptive’ and ‘don’t chastise’. We came to a meeting of the minds and the Green-Team was a GO!”

Speaking of GO, Richardson decided to go — as in move —  to Amsterdam in late summer 2018 to pursue an MBA at the University of Amsterdam. She also lectured on Sports Ethics at The Hague University in their International Sport Management department.

Big problem, right?

You don’t know Tiffany Richardson.

“I asked the Minnesota Local Organizing Committee (MLOC) to appoint a top-notch former student, Nicole Petschow, to run things in Minneapolis while I was away, including managing the recruiting of green team members,” Richardson said. “I would be on all conference calls and then would fly in for the Final Four. It worked out really well.”

 

Nicole Petschow

Nicole Petschow (Photo credit: Nicole Petschow)

 

As the calendar turned to 2019, the pace of the Final Four sustainability effort kicked into high gear:

  • A strong recruitment effort netted 70-plus green team members. They came from the University of Minnesota, The University of St. Thomas (another local school), and the University of Louisville.
  • Background checks were conducted in January on all of the volunteers (Richardson: “Security around the Men’s Final Four is much tighter than at the Women’s, a big difference.”)
  • Volunteer training took place in February. Per Richardson, “The volunteers helped out at Minnesota Wild NHL games to get experience and assist in the Wild’s efforts because they have a robust sustainability program themselves.”
  • Richardson and team worked with the MLOC to help the Men’s Final Four earn certification as a sustainable event from the Council for Responsible Sport (level still pending.)

 

GREEN TEAMERS DELIVER SOLID RESULTS

Since this was far from Richardson’s first Green-Team rodeo, she and her leadership team were well prepared heading into the Saturday semifinals at US Bank Stadium.

Still, the massive size of the building posed some challenges.

“This was basketball being played in a football stadium,” Richardson noted. “Instead of 17,000 for hockey or 43,000 for a baseball All-Star Game we had 72,000 fans! Our plans had to be fluid. What if the crowd filed in slowly? What if it rained and everyone wanted to get in early? What if fans loitered near the entrances? We had to be ready for every eventuality and we were.”

 

US Bank Stadium Jeff Thurn

72,711 fans shoehorned into US Bank Stadium for the Men’s Final Four semifinals (Photo credit: Jeff Thurn)

 

When fans started entering the Stadium at 2:45 PM for the 5 PM first game between Auburn and Virginia, the Green-Teamers were there. Unobtrusive and pleasant, they collected plastics and aluminum cans on the concourses. I saw them trudge up and down the very long, steep aisles of the upper deck, taking empty items with a smile — great guest service.

Per Richardson, “Kudos go to students from the University of Minnesota, St. Thomas and The University of Louisville. They brought great energy, never complained and understood this was about the bigger vision — one less bottle in the landfill — and they GOT IT DONE!”

 

Men's Final Four Green Team

2019 Men’s Final Four Green Team in Minneapolis (Photo credit: Tiffany Richardson)

 

Approximately 62 percent of the 144,000 pounds of waste collected over the two nights of the Final Four was diverted, with about half of the diverted waste going to recycling and the other half to compost¹.

Why didn’t they get in the 80-90 percent diversion range?

“We had a few Back-of-House — i.e. kitchen — issues that were beyond our control,” Richardson acknowledged. “I’m confident that the next time US Bank Stadium hosts a mega-event, those problems will have been ironed out and the diversion rates would approach the 90 percent Zero-Waste threshold.”

 

WHAT COULD’VE GONE BETTER/HOW TO MAKE FUTURE FINAL FOURS GREENER

“We had a really great event: The Green Team, folks from US Bank Stadium and the local organizing committee came together beautifully,” Richardson said. “But it could’ve gone much better, with a stronger commitment to fan-facing sustainability by the NCAA and sponsors like Coke.”

According to Richardson, here’s where the NCAA and Coca-Cola, a corporate sponsor with a strong green initiative, missed the mark:

  • Coke failed to promote their World Without Waste sustainability campaign (“They leveraged their new Orange-Vanilla flavor everywhere. World Without Waste? Not so much.”)
  • There were no recycling or compost receptacles on the Fan Fest streets that were closed to traffic
  • The public transit initiative fell a bit short as Richardson’s and company’s request to provide free mass transit rides to fans bearing game tickets was rejected (volunteers and coaches did get that benefit)

How can Men’s Final Fours go greener in the future, starting with the 2020 edition in Atlanta at LEED Platinum Mercedes-Benz Stadium?

“The NCAA needs its own ‘sustainability charter’ for mega-events like the Final Fours and College Football Playoff National Championship, and that charter needs to have some real teeth,” recommended Richardson. “Corporate sponsors need to buy in. Sponsor-funded carbon offsets for every fan, Zero-Waste Games. Students will volunteer in great numbers; they don’t have to worry about that. There can’t be a greenwash; the NCAA can’t use half-measures because they don’t need to. They are the NCAA after all.”

 

 

¹ Actual amounts diverted: RECYCLED: 43,440 lbs.; COMPOST: 42,860 lbs.; DONATED FOOD: 6,427 lbs.

 


 

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The GSB Interview: Ben Shardlow, Sustainability Committee Chair of the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee

The Bay Super Bowl 50 Host Committee held what is widely regarded as the “Greenest Super Bowl Ever” in February, 2016. Unfortunately, sustainability took a step back earlier this year as the Houston Super Bowl Host Committee did very little, green-wise, for Super Bowl LI. Now, the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee gets its shot to move the sustainability ball forward at gleaming US Bank Stadium, the home of the Vikings currently seeking LEED certification that opened in 2016. How will the city and Host Committee fare, green-wise? We spoke with Ben Shardlow, the Chair of the Host Committee’s Sustainability Committee, to find out.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Ben, I had hoped that, when the Bay Area Super Bowl 50 Host Committee hosted the “Greenest Super Bowl Ever” in 2016, all subsequent host committees would follow their lead. Alas that was not the case in Houston this past February as that committee did little to nothing in terms of the environment. Yes, the NFL did its carbon offset programs as they do every year. But for sustainability to “pop” at a Super Bowl, it’s really up to an activist host committee to make that happen. So, with that as preamble, I’m anxious to hear what the Minnesota Super Bowl LII Host Committee has planned for the big game on February 4th sustainability-wise, as well as for the festivities leading up to it. But before that tell our readers how you got to the committee in the first place…

Ben Shardlow: Well, Lew, an urban planner and designer by trade; I’m the Director of Urban Design for the Minneapolis Downtown Council and Downtown Improvement District. Have been with those organizations since 2012. As part of that work, I do a lot of advocacy regarding downtown’s public spaces – tree canopy, Complete Streets, transit investments, things like that.

 

Ben Shardlow

Ben Shardlow, Chair of the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee Sustainability Committee and Director of Urban Design for the Minneapolis Downtown Council and Downtown Improvement District (Photo credit: Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee)

 

GSB: Urban planning and hosting a sustainable Super Bowl? That sounds like a natural fit…so how did you get to the Host Committee?

BS: The Minneapolis Downtown Council and the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee are partners, so a number of my colleagues are serving on committees to support planning work in various roles…

GSB: So you are a volunteer for the Host Committee?

BS: Yes. And as a local guy, I’m really excited to be part of it.

GSB: When did the sustainability effort get started?

BS: I got involved in April 2016, starting with an invitation from Dave Haselman, COO for the Host Committee. I was glad to hear that I wouldn’t be alone in the effort. The Host Committee’s Leadership 52 initiative has placed two vice chairs on all 26 volunteer committees, all of whom are rising leaders from Host Committee sponsors with deep subject matter experience.

GSB: Who are your vice chairs on sustainability?

BS: One is Bridget Dockter, Manager of Policy and Outreach for Xcel Energy. Bridget is an important local leader in renewable energy, playing a key role in staffing Minneapolis’ Clean Energy Partnership which looks to achieve aggressive sustainability goals through constant innovation. And, from the “you couldn’t make this up” file, the other is actually my twin sister! Eliza Clark is Director of Sustainability and Environment for Andersen Corporation, and she’s got great expertise in sustainability issues as broad as LEED, energy efficiency, supply chain issues and pollinator habitat. She’s working with other major Minnesota companies to design and build a true circular economy through the Minnesota Sustainable Growth Coalition. Really cool stuff. So it’s great for me to be able to collaborate and learn from both Eliza and Bridget.

 

Bridget Dockter

Bridget Dockter, Vice Chair of the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee Sustainability Committee and Manager of Policy and Outreach for Xcel Energy (Photo credit: Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee)

 

Eliza Clark

Eliza Clark, Vice Chair of the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee and Director of Sustainability and Environment for Andersen Corporation (Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee)

 

GSB: So, if that’s the volunteer leadership team, how have you worked with the Host Committee staff?

BS: We’re fortunate to have Alex Tittle as our liaison within the Host Committee’s leadership team. He’s VP of Business Connect and Corporate Affairs. What an amazing guy! A decathlete at The Citadel, he was charged with achieving the inclusive workforce goals for construction of US Bank Stadium. Under his leadership, that project significantly exceeded targets in terms of women and minorities.

GSB: The sustainability team certainly seems like it is of championship caliber!

BS: Thanks!

GSB: So what are the pillars of Super Bowl LII’s sustainability efforts?

BS: I see four main strategies:

  1. Super Bowl LII as a showcase for how Minneapolis, Saint Paul, and the broader region are sustainable places to host major events. When we host a big event, like the 2014 MLB All-Star Game at Target Field, sustainability assets are front and center. Our area is set up that way. Both Minneapolis and St. Paul have compact downtowns that are connected by transit. The 2014 opening of the Green Line Light Rail system was a crucial advance. It links downtown Minneapolis to the University of Minnesota to downtown St. Paul to all the area’s sports venues — US Bank Stadium (Vikings), Xcel Energy Center (Wild, NHL), Target Field (Twins, MLB), Target Center (Timberwolves, NBA, Lynx, WNBA), the yet-to-open Allianz Field (Minnesota United, MLS) and CHS Field (Independent League Baseball’s Saints). The airport is close by and connected to downtown Minneapolis by light rail. And our major venues have impressive sustainability credentials, starting with a 4.3 MW solar array at the airport, to the 113,000 square foot green roof on Target Center, to the Minneapolis Convention Center’s renewable energy program to Target Field’s LEED Silver certification for both New Construction and Existing Buildings: Operations and Maintenance, to CHS Field’s substantiated claim as the greenest ballpark in America. With all of that infrastructure in place, we have built in advantages in competing for major events that value sustainability.  All of this puts the region in play for Super Bowls as well as Final Fours and World’s Fairs. US Bank Stadium is under consideration as a venue for the expected joint US-Canada-Mexico bid to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup.
  2. The Legacy Fund. The Host Committee is giving away weekly health and wellness grants over 52 weeks, spread out around the entire state. This program isn’t under our committee’s purview, but we’ve coordinated efforts with them.

GSB: The focus on health and wellness makes sense to me, given the leadership Minnesota has shown with the Mayo Clinic and major health insurers…but where does the environment come in? I harken back to the great green work done by the Bay Area Super Bowl 50 Host Committee. Their Legacy Fund gave millions to several Bay Area environmental nonprofits…Houston, to the best of my knowledge, did nothing at all in this area, with Super Bowl LI. Will the Minnesota Host Committee do something similar to the Bay Area?

BS: I think the answer is yes, especially when you look at the Legacy Fund through the lens of the social aspects of sustainability. We have coordinated with the Minnesota Department of Health to provide grants for capital projects in communities of need. Some of the $2.5 million in grants that have been awarded already indeed have environmental aspects and benefits, with more to come as the project works toward awarding $4 million. For example, our grant to the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe will help their community build a community garden, supplying healthy food in an area where access is lacking. And human health and wellness is, of course, closely linked to environmental health. The Host Committee has also partnered with the NFL, Verizon and Andersen Corporation to fund 14 habitat restoration and urban forestry projects across the state of Minnesota, resulting in the planting of 12,724 trees and 4,000 native species.

 

MN UrbanForestryPosterHorizontal

The Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee, in partnership with the NFL, Verizon and Andersen Windows have planted more than 700 trees as part of their Urban Forestry Initiative for Super Bowl LII (Infographic Credit: Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee)

 

GSB: Got it. OK back to the pillars…#3?

BS: #3 is to be the best local partner we can be for the NFL’s sustainability efforts. A couple of examples to note here:

  • We’re assisting the NFL with expanding their material diversion and recovery program. This has entailed connecting the NFL with local community service organizations on repurposing event materials that would otherwise go into the landfill. Fortunately, our awesome committee members have great connections with local organizations that are already doing that work.
  • Similarly, we’re working with the NFL on other major sustainability events, such as the recent partnership with Verizon for their E-Waste Drive. That event was held a couple of weeks ago at the Minnesota Zoo, and the results blew past events out of the water. The community responded tremendously, donating 42,000 lbs. of electronic waste. The NFL has several well-established programs like these, and we see our role as local resources to support great outcomes.

 

MN EWaste

Minnesota set a “Super Bowl Environmental Program record” for an e-waste recycling event by collecting more than 42,000 pounds of electronic waste. (Photo credit: Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee)

 

GSB: That’s a lot of cell phones and computer monitors! And what’s the 4th pillar?

BS: Our 4th pillar is our collaborative, inclusive committee structure. I know that might sound touchy-feely but it’s substantive. We want to improve over time in the sustainability outcomes we achieve for our major events, and you can’t do that without partnerships and real relationships. Our sustainability committee has representatives from five or six Host Committee sponsors with deep green roots, local government sustainability experts and corporate practitioners. It can be challenging to work this way, but I expect it will be worth it in the end because we’ll learn things we can apply together in the future. Like I said earlier, we’re all volunteers so everyone wants to work on this…

GSB: So it sounds like you have an “Open Source,” startup kind of culture…

BS: Exactly. We’ve collectively come up with way more projects than the group has bandwidth to execute, so I fully expect a long tail of side projects generated by dialogue in our sustainability committee after Super Bowl LII.

 

US Bank Stadium MPR News

US Bank Stadium, site of Super Bowl LII on February 4, 2018 (Photo credit: MPR News)

 

GSB: I’ll be interested to see what those side projects turn out to be. How will fans, both locally and beyond, find out about the sustainability programs? This issue is a big concern of mine. I mean, despite all the great sustainability work done by the Super Bowl 50 Host Committee, a minuscule fraction of people actually were aware of it. Why? Because the Committee, the NFL and CBS, the network that broadcast that game, didn’t promote it. What will the sustainability committee and the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee more broadly due to insure this doesn’t happen again?

BS: I hear you. We certainly are aware of what the folks at Super Bowl 50 were able to accomplish, sustainability-wise and we’ve worked to learn from their example. Fans at the Minnesota Super Bowl will see some of the fruits of our efforts but just what that will turn out to look like is still being determined. Stay tuned as those decisions have to be made in the not-too-distant future. And, remember, our greening efforts are taking place in a region where sustainability and the climate change fight are already deeply embedded. For example, we live and work in a region that just had an all-night, public art shows that highlight both climate change themes and the idea of healthy urban and rural places.

GSB…Sounds like Minnesota and the Twin Cities are set up to host a sustainable Super Bowl. And we will stay tuned for sure on how that sustainability is communicated to  fans at the game and beyond.

 


 

 

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