Sports and Climate Change Summit: Yankees, Mets, MLS, NASCAR and USTA Saving Lives in Africa Via Innovative Carbon Offsets Program

Five high-profile North American sports teams and leagues are helping to save lives in Africa while reducing carbon emissions at the same time.

That powerful message was delivered during an All-Star panel discussion at Friday’s first Sports and Climate Change Summit in New York City, hosted by Sport and Sustainability International (SandSI) and the Global Crisis Information Network (GCINET). Guided by SandSI co-founder Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, senior officials from the New York Yankees, the New York Mets, Major League Soccer, NASCAR, and the US Tennis Association, shared how and why they are making life-saving investments in Africa.

 

The panel that kicked off Friday’s first Sports and Climate Change Summit at New York’s Scandinavia House had a title that many in the audience could not have imagined even two years ago: “North American Sport Invests in Climate Mitigation and Promoting the Sustainable Development Goals in Africa”.

Yet, per moderator Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, co-founder of SandSI, those investments — by the Yankees, Mets, Major League Soccer (MLS), NASCAR, and the USTA — are indeed being made. And they are not only helping to take on climate change, air pollution and several other of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals^, they are saving lives. Thousands of lives. In some of the most needy regions on Earth.

 

Allen Hershkowitz J. Henry Fair

Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, co-founder of SandSI (photo credit: J. Henry Fair)

 

You may be asking yourself these three questions right about now:

  1. What problems are these North American sports teams and leagues trying to help solve with these investments in Africa?
  2. What types of investments are they making to solve those problems and save lives?
  3. Why are they making these investments?

 

COOKING WITH INEFFICIENT STOVES IN SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA ADDS TO AIR POLLUTION, DEFORESTATION AND CARBON EMISSIONS

In his presentation preceding the panel discussion, Hershkowitz cited chilling statistic after chilling statistic that laid bare the severity of health problems, borne largely by women and children in Sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere, caused by cooking with inefficient, dirty, primitive stoves:

“The number one cause of death in the world is air pollution.”

“Close to half the deaths from pneumonia of children under age five are caused by household air pollution.”

“Three billion people cook over open flames or with simple stoves powered by unhealthy coal, wood or other forms of biomass.”

“According to the World Health Organization, three to four million people, mostly women and girls die prematurely because of inefficient, dirty stoves.”

Add to these grim metrics the fact that significant deforestation results from scavenging for the wood that is used in the inefficient, old stoves, and you have a recipe for a public health and environmental disaster.

 

NORTH AMERICAN TEAMS AND LEAGUES QUICKLY RAMP UP TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA BY FUNDING CLEAN, EFFICIENT COOKSTOVES AND AVOIDED DEFORESTATION

How did Major League Soccer, NASCAR, the Mets and Yanks and the USTA decide to get involved in helping to reduce the Sub-Saharan African air pollution problem?

Hershkowitz showed each of them that, by funding efficient cookstoves that emit 30 to 50 percent fewer emissions, they would be creating healthier cooking environments for women and children, extending and saving lives in the process. And, since the cookstoves require far less fuelwood, the teams and leagues are also playing an important role in avoided deforestation.

The clean cookstove initiative is supported by the United Nations. Consequently, these cookstove purchases — which reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, other air pollutants and deforestation — qualify as third party, independently certified carbon offset programs, burnishing the teams’ and leagues’ sustainability credentials.

Hershkowitz began connecting the teams and leagues with private sector firms like The South Pole Group, Eco-Act and Allcot. They do the important grunt work of designing, developing and implementing environmental and climate change mitigation projects on the ground.

 

Cookstoves

Clean burning cookstoves (Photo credit: South Pole Group)

 

Although the initiative is in its early days — cookstove purchases only began late last year — the results are impressive. Collectively, the benefits of the offsets purchased by the Yankees, Mets, MLS, NASCAR and the USTA include:

  • Distribution of 7,250 cookstoves for use in cabins and huts
  • Positive impacts on the lives of 13,000+ women and girls
  • Avoidance of 39.4 metric tonnes of carbon emissions
  • Keeping 22.4 metric tonnes of wood from being cut down
  • The manufacture and maintenance of cookstoves being handled by locals, bringing much-needed economic activity to the region

 

TEAMS, LEAGUES SEE COOKSTOVES, AVOIDED DEFORESTATION AS “NO-BRAINERS”

When asked why the Yankees are investing in Africa, Doug Behar, the team’s senior VP of operations, said it was a logical next step in the team’s long-standing commitment to sustainability: “We’ve evolved on sustainability over time, seeing that it made sense from a business perspective to measure and reduce our energy usage, and that it made sense to recycle and compost. So we were ready when the cookstove investment opportunity was brought to us. Really, it was a no-brainer as the impact on human life was too big to ignore.”

 

Doug Behar Profile

Doug Behar of the Yankees (Photo credit: New York Yankees)

 

NASCAR focused their investments on avoided mangrove deforestation projects on the shores of Lake Kariba in Northern Zimbabwe. Catherine Kummer, senior director of NASCAR Green, echoed Behar’s “no-brainer” sentiments. “When something makes sense to management and fans alike, you know you’ve got something,” shared Kummer. “Management got it right away. And the avoided deforestation aspects of our investments matches our fan base’s commitment to the outdoors.”

The Mets’ senior director of ballpark operations, Mike Dohnert, shared a different motivation when Hershkowitz brought the African investment opportunity his way. “I know it sounds cliche, but it was incredibly powerful to be able to explain to my six year-old son how important it is do the right thing,” Dohnert recalled. “I am very lucky that Mets management allows me the freedom to pursue these types of initiatives.”

Switching to tennis, why would its governing body in the United States make investments in Africa? “That’s an easy one — the US Open is an event that draws 800,000 fans from all over the world and tennis is truly a global sport,” offered Lauren Tracy, the USTA’s director of strategic initiatives. The organization funded the sending of 300+ cookstoves to women in Malawi. That purchase helped offset the carbon embedded in the millions of player travel miles to the recently completed US Open.

Major League Soccer, which joined with SandSI and The South Pole Group to advance a big sustainability push at this summer’s All-Star Game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the LEED Platinum home of Atlanta United, also found the global nature of the cookstove program compelling. “Since the All-Star Game pitted MLS’ best vs. Juventus, the perennial champion of Italy’s Serie A and one of the most popular teams in the world, we decided to go ‘glocal’ with our sustainability initiatives,” said JoAnn Neale, the league’s chief administrative and social responsibility officer. “Locally, we undertook a tree planting program in Atlanta. And our investments in 1,450 cookstoves in Kenya represented the global side of the equation.”

 

M-B Stadium 2a

Mercedes-Benz Stadium, LEED Platinum home of Atlanta United (Photo credit: Lewis Blaustein)

 

 

GSB’s Takes:

  • If five teams and leagues can get the kinds of life-saving and carbon emissions-reduction results detailed above in less than a year, imagine if all of the major pro and college sports leagues in North America rallied around cookstoves, avoided deforestation and other climate change and environmental programs in Sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere in the developing world. This is a huge opportunity for SandSI and the entire Green-Sports movement. Perhaps a team or two could pry their PhD analytics gurus away from their advanced metrics spreadsheets for a minute to calculate the macro public health and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions benefits of a massive Pan-North American sports cookstove/avoided deforestation/clean water initiative.
  • There was a kind of Bizarro World, up-is-down aspect to the Summit when it came to fan engagement on climate change and the environment:
    • NASCAR — whose brand image to this observer is decidedly “Red State”/skeptical on climate change — is in fact aggressively connecting with fans on environmental and climate change issues. Why? Because NASCAR fans have indicated that they care about the environment, to hell with the GSB’s stereotypes. “Ten years ago, 50 percent of our fans said they cared about the environment,” Catherine Kummer reported. “Fast forward to our April 2018 survey, and 87 percent of NASCAR fans now believe Earth is going through a period of climate change and 77 percent feel they have a personal responsibility to do something about it. So now we run environmentally-themed TV spots on NASCAR broadcasts.” I do have questions about how to square these results with polling before the 2016 Presidential election that showed NASCAR fans preferred Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton. But that’s a subject for another day. For today, the fact that NASCAR runs green TV spots is a very cool thing.

 

 

The 30 second NASCAR Green TV spot

 

  • On the other hand, while the Mets and Yankees have done exemplary greening work at Citi Field and Yankee Stadium, including eliminating trash bins and replacing them with recycling and compost bins, they have chosen to communicate their sustainability bona fides to fans in a much quieter fashion* than NASCAR. The clubs have not yet aired green-themed public service announcements on TV or radio. I mean, they play in climate change-is-real, humans-are-the-cause, “Blue State” New York. One would think their fan bases would react positively to such TV ads. What gives? Mike Dohnert acknowledged that, for Mets management, climate change “politics is an issue. They’re still trying to figure this out.” The Mets and Yanks might want to talk to NASCAR.
  • Kudos to SandSI and GCINET for hosting the first Sports and Climate Change Summit! This needs to be an annual event. 

 

 

 

^ The 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are: 1. No Poverty, 2. Zero Hunger, 3. Good Health and Well-Being, 4. Quality Education, 5. Gender Equity, 6. Clean Water and Sanitation, 7. Affordable and Clean Energy, 8. Decent Work and Economic Growth, 9. Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure, 10. Reduced Inequalities, 11. Sustainable Cities and Communities, 12. Responsible Consumption and Production, 13. Climate Action, 14. Life Below Water, 15. Life on Land, 16. Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions, 17. Partnerships for the Goals
* The Mets and Yankees communicate their greening initiatives to fans by posting sustainability information on their websites, leading sustainability-themed tours of the ballparks for high school students and more.
 

 

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GSB News and Notes: New Winner of MLB’s Green Glove Award; Former UN Climate Chief Christiana Figueres To Co-Lead Formula E’s Advisory Board; Pollution Stops Play at Delhi Cricket Match

The highs and lows of Green-Sports are reflected in today’s GSB News & Notes: On the high side, MLB’s “Green Glove” award goes to the Seattle Mariners for the first time. And Formula E’s stature on the global sports stage continues to grow as it appoints former UN Climate Chief Christiana Figueres to co-lead its Global Advisory Board. As for a down note, a major cricket match in Delhi between Sri Lanka and India was repeatedly interrupted due to excessive air pollution. 

 

SEATTLE MARINERS WIN “GREEN GLOVE” AWARD, ENDING SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS’ NINE YEAR REIGN AS MLB CLUB WITH HIGHEST WASTE DIVERSION RATE

The Seattle Mariners, a founding member of the Green Sports Alliance, were recently awarded Major League Baseball’s (MLB’s) “Green Glove Award” in recognition of their sustainability efforts at Safeco Field this season, ending the nine year reign of the San Francisco Giants.

 

Safeco Field Ballparks of Baseball

Safeco Field, home of the Seattle Mariners, winners of MLB’s Green Glove Award for 2017 (Photo credit: Ballparks of Baseball)

 

According to a November 28 story on MLB.com by Greg Johns, the Mariners were recognized as the MLB club with the highest rate of waste diversion from landfill:

The M’s, who replaced concourse garbage cans with compost and recycling bins, diverted 96 percent of waste materials from the ballpark in 2017, up from 90 percent a year ago.

And the Mariners sustainability efforts go much deeper than waste diversion. The club:

  • Was the first in MLB to use energy-efficient LED lights.
  • Hired cleaning crews to separate plastics and compostable waste by hand after each game
  • Manages an urban garden which provides vegetables, herbs and radishes to concession stands and restaurants at the ballpark.
  • Work with Eco-Products to utilize compostable serviceware like soft drink, beer and coffee cups, plates, lids, and cutlery at Safeco Field
  • Participated, along with the Seahawks, Sounders and more than 100 other Seattle-based businesses, in the “Strawless in Seattle” September effort. This innovative program, developed by the Lonely Whale Foundation, worked to reduce the use of plastic straws in the fight against ocean pollution.

 

“We are thrilled to present the Seattle Mariners with the 2017 Green Glove Award,” said Paul Hanlon, senior director of ballpark operations and sustainability for Major League Baseball, in a statement. “With its 96 percent conversion rate at the top of the list, the club has done a tremendous job of promoting and instilling sustainability practices and initiatives that will positively impact our environment.”

“We have worked hard over the years to make Safeco Field one of the ‘greenest’ ballparks in pro sports,” said Mariners senior vice president of ballpark operations Trevor Gooby, in a statement. “With our hospitality partner Centerplate, and our founding sustainability partner BASF, we have been able to significantly reduce our impact on the environment.”

 

CHRISTIANA FIGUERES, FORMER UN CLIMATE CHIEF, TO LEAD FORMULA E GLOBAL ADVISORY BOARD

Sam Bird of Great Britain, driving for the DS Virgin team, won the opening race of the 2017-2018 Formula E season in Hong Kong 10 days ago.

Off the race track, the increasingly popular open wheel electric vehicle (EV) street racing circuit added serious climate change chops to its Global Advisory Board when in named former UN climate chief Christiana Figueres as co-leader. She will be joined by Alain Prost, the retired 4-time Formula One world champion from France.

 

Christiana Figueres GreenBiz

Christiana Figueres, new co-leader of Formula E (Photo credit: United Nations)

 

The Formula E Global Advisory Board plays an important role in the growth of the circuit, and more broadly, EV racing and adoption. Per a November 28 article in CleanTechnica by James Ayre, the board advises relevant parties on topics relating to “sustainability, the media, and business.”

Reuters reports that Figueres and Prost will lead a board made up of motor sports and business all-stars, including “Formula E founder Alejandro Agag, chairman of Chinese telecommunications leader SINA Charles Chao, Jaguar Land Rover’s chief marketing officer Gerd Mauser, and former McLaren Formula 1 team boss Martin Whitmarsh. Brazil’s reigning Formula E champion Lucas di Grassi and Swiss private bank Julius Baer’s head of global sponsor[ship] Marco Parroni are also on the board.”

 

I cannot think of a stronger, more important voice to help lead Formula E from post start up to maturity than Christiana Figueres.

A longtime Costa Rican diplomat, Figueres served as executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). She is most well known for her work helping to push 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, signed by nearly 200 countries, across the finish line. She has been a strong, consistent voice behind the global need to rapidly move away from the use of fossil fuels and towards the widespread adoption of EVs and other types of electric-powered mobility. This is, of course, Formula E’s raison d’être.

“In order to meet the objectives set out by the Paris agreement and prevent global temperatures spiralling out of control, we must have a need for speed and react quickly,” Figueres said in a statement. “This unique forum at Formula E will allow us to bring great minds together with the same common goal, speeding-up the transition and use of electric vehicles in everyday life.”

She will help preside over a season that will feature races in three new cities (Santiago, Chile; Sao Paulo, Brazil and Rome), a return to the streets of Brooklyn in early July and a finale in Montreal July 28-29.

 

 

SRI LANKAN CRICKETERS BECOME ILL DUE TO POLLUTION DURING MATCH IN DELHI

My mental picture of cricket, admittedly a sport about which I know next to nothing, includes a gigantic oval field with no foul territory, players dressed in all white, somewhat formal uniforms, and those same players relaxing during a break for a spot of tea.

That vision most certainly does not include, well, vomiting.

Maybe I need a new glasses prescription.

Michael Safi reported in Sunday’s issue of The Guardian, with assistance from Agence France-Presse, that a cricket Test match# in Delhi between India and Sri Lanka “was repeatedly interrupted on Sunday with claims players were ‘continuously vomiting’ due to hazardous pollution levels in the Indian capital.”

Airborne pollution levels 15 times the World Health Organization limits were recorded on the second day of the match at Feroz Shah Kotla Stadium in Delhi on Sunday. Per Safi, “as the haze worsened, many Sri Lankan players returned from lunch wearing face masks before complaining to umpires, who halted play for 20 minutes to consult with team doctors and match officials.”

Announcers said it was the first recorded instance of an international cricket match being halted due to the toxic smog that reaches hazardous levels in northern India during the winter months.

The match resumed but was interrupted twice more as Sri Lankan players Lahiru Gamage and Suranga Lakmal left the field with breathing difficulties.

“We had players coming off the field and vomiting,” Sri Lanka coach Nick Pothas told reporters. “There were oxygen cylinders in the [locker] room. It’s not normal for players to suffer in that way while playing the game…I think it’s the first time that everybody has come across [the vomiting] situation.”

 

A paramedic speaks to Sri Lanka’s Lahiru Gamage after he complained of shortness of breath.
A paramedic speaks to Sri Lanka’s Lahiru Gamage after he complained of shortness of breath (Photo credit: Altaf Qadri/AP)

 

CK Khanna, acting president of India’s cricket board, said the Sri Lankans were making much ado about nothing: “If 20,000 people in the stands did not have problems and the Indian team did not face any issue, I wonder why the Sri Lankan team made a big fuss?” The crowd agreed, showering boos upon Sri Lanka’s batsmen.

 

Sri Lanka’s captain Dinesh Chandimal fields in a mask.
 Sri Lanka’s captain Dinesh Chandimal fields in a mask (Photo credit: Altaf Qadri/AP)

 

The effects of the city’s polluted air were not limited to cricket: Schools were shut and doctors declared a public health emergency in Delhi last month as pollution levels spiked to an unimaginable 40 times the WHO safe limits, which is equivalent to smoking at least 50 cigarettes per day.

Delhi officials have been accused of not preparing for what has become an annual crisis each winter, while the Indian government has downplayed the urgency and health risks associated with the problem.

The city’s extremely poor air quality is the result of a combination of road dust, open fires, vehicle exhaust fumes, industrial emissions and the burning of crop residues in neighbouring states. Indian weather agencies also blame dust storms that originate in the Persian Gulf to the country’s west.

 

# Test cricket is the longest form of of the sport and is considered its highest level. Test matches can last as long as five days.

 


 

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