Yankees Make Strong Statement on Climate Change on Earth Day

Earth Week 2019 continues on GreenSportsBlog!

The New York Yankees, one of the most iconic sports franchises in the world, are on a roll in 2019 from a climate action perspective.

A Green-Sports leader for more than a decade, the club took its climate change fight to a higher gear in January when they hired Dr. Allen Hershkowitz as the first Environmental Science Advisor in team sports history. And earlier this month, they became the first major North American pro sports team to sign on to the UN Sports for Climate Action Framework. 

Sunday’s Earth Day-themed pregame ceremony at home plate — which highlighted the Yankees’ climate change work directly to fans — was their biggest Green-Sports step to date. 

 

Surreal

That is the only word to describe the experience.

It was a few minutes before the 1:09 PM first pitch of the Yankees’ Easter Sunday matchup against the Kansas City Royals.

Standing a few paces behind home plate at Yankee Stadium, watching a ceremony I could not have imagined when I started GreenSportsBlog almost six years ago.

 

YANKEES TELL FANS THEY’RE FIGHTING CLIMATE CHANGE

At home plate, Yankees manager Aaron Boone had sauntered over from the dugout to join Doug Behar, the Yankees’ Senior Vice President and Director of Ballpark Operations, Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, the club’s Environmental Science Advisor; and Satya Tripathi, Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations.

The dulcet tones of public address announcer Paul Olden voice wafted through Yankee Stadium, telling the crowd that would grow to more than 40,000 that the Yankees had “become the first professional sports team in North America to sign on to the UN Sports for Climate Action Framework.” And that “the framework’s aim is to bring the sports industry’s greenhouse emissions in line with the Paris Climate Change Agreement.” The giant scoreboards beyond the bleachers augmented Olden’s story; fans clapped in a respectful tone.

 

Yankees Earth Day

Sunday’s Earth Day-themed pregame ceremony commemorated the Yankees commitment to operate by the tenets of the UN’s Sports for Climate Action platform. From left to right, it’s Doug Behar, Yankees Director of Operations; Satya Tripathi, UN Assistant Secretary General; Yankees manager Aaron Boone, and Allen Hershkowitz, Environmental Science Advisor to the Yankees (Photo credit: New York Yankees)

 

But don’t let the fans’ measured reaction fool you. This was a watershed moment for the Green-Sports movement.

According to Hershkowitz, “The Yankees on-field climate event with the UN, announcing the team’s support for the UNFCCC’s Climate Action Principles was one of the most influential and important moments not only in the history of the sports greening movement, but in the history of climate action communication.”

And that is why the ceremony seemed so surreal to me.

After all the New York Yankees spoke to their fans — clearly and without any dodgy language — about climate change!

Are you kidding me?

We’re not talking the Seattle Crunchy Granolas! These are the establishment, conservative New York Yankees! 

 

YANKEES SHOW WILLINGNESS TO HELP LEAD A CULTURAL SHIFT ON CLIMATE

At a Yankee Stadium press conference that preceded the ceremony, UN Assistant Secretary General Tripathi clearly laid out the scope of our climate problems: “The planet is unwell, and humanity has 10 to 12 years to make big changes towards decarbonization so we can turn the corner.”

After concurring with Tripathi, Hershkowitz pivoted, making the point that moving the Yankees’ towards zero carbon emissions over the next few years will not be the club’s biggest contribution to the climate change fight: “The emissions from the Yankees’ operations, which total about 14,000 tonnes of CO₂, equivalent per year, are minuscule compared to the world’s annual total of 37 billion tonnes.”

Rather, it will be the power of the Yankees’ brand to influence the culture of sports and business about the need for urgent action on climate change that moves the needle.

“The biggest thing humans must do if we’re going to take on climate change at the needed scale and speed is to change cultural assumptions how we relate to the planet, to the eco-systems that give us air to breathe and water to drink,” Hershkowitz asserted. “That requires a massive cultural shift. The Yankees brand represents an uncompromising commitment to excellence and performance — the team is universally admired for its determination to succeed. It provides a unique platform to make that cultural shift happen. The potential cultural and market impact of an organization with the stature and brand image of the Yankees leading on climate and carbon emissions is incredible.”

The Yankees hope that, once other teams in baseball and across the sports world see them leading on climate, more of them will step up to the plate on climate action.

The organization has been building its climate change-fighting platform for 20 years, largely under the radar of the general public. That pace has accelerated since the move into the current Yankee Stadium in 2009, as the organization:

  • Installed energy efficient lights that were state-of-the-art in 2009, saving 35 percent on energy usage vs. their predecessors. And then, when the technology had improved again a few years later, ownership approved another switch, this time to LEDs. The result? An additional 70 percent energy usage reduction.

 

Yankee Stadium Lights

The two square light fixtures on the far left are examples of the energy efficient LEDs installed by the Yankees (Photo credit: Lewis Blaustein)

 

  • Now diverts 85 percent of total waste from landfill via recycling and composting. Management is working diligently towards getting to 90 percent diversion and Zero-Waste status
  • Measures and reduces its carbon emissions while offsetting the unavoidable environmental impacts they can’t eliminate through the innovative distribution of efficient cookstoves in some of the world’s poorest regions, saving lives in the process.

The offset program warranted an explanation.

“The number one cause of death in the world is air pollution,” said Hershkowitz. “Consider that 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, four million people, mostly women and girls die prematurely every year because of inefficient, dirty stoves. The cookstoves the Yankees purchased and had distributed in Sub-Saharan Africa reduce air pollution from cooking by 35 to 50 percent. As a result of their investment in cookstoves, it is estimated the Yankees organization saved more than 7,000 lives in just the last year, primarily women and children.”

 

Cookstoves

Clean burning cookstoves (Photo credit: South Pole Group)

 

That is one “save statistic” that the great Mariano Rivera would be proud to own.

 

JUST THE BEGINNING

Sunday’s press conference was covered by local mainstream media, including WCBS Newsradio 880 and News 12 — the cable news channel for the Bronx. The Yankees’ own media outlet, the YES Network, sent a reporter. Getting the climate change fighting story out to a mass audience via media — and to the fans through the ceremony — is a crucial start to building the climate change “cultural shift platform” that Hershkowitz described above.

Where will the Yankees go from here?

Will Hershkowitz be talking climate change with John Sterling and/or Suzyn Waldman on the Yankees radio network anytime soon?

That conversation — one I’d pay to hear — is not going to happen in the near future, but Michael Margolis, the Yankees’ Director, Baseball Information and Public Communications, did say, “Sustainability has been and will continue to be a point of emphasis for the Yankees. We plan to increase climate messaging to our fans in the future.”

 

GSB’s Take 

Allen Hershkowitz is spot on: Sunday’s home plate ceremony at Yankee Stadium really was “one of the most … important moments not only in the history of the sports greening movement, but in the history of climate action communication.” It also provided a bit of much needed climate hope for those in the Green-Sports world and beyond.

That hope was tempered somewhat by a brief conversation I had with UN Assistant Secretary General Tripathi at the press conference.

I mentioned that humanity has 12 to 15 years to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half. Tripathi quickly corrected me: “Twelve years is the maximum.” 

That’s the same time span as the new mega-contract Mike Trout signed with the Anaheim Angels.

Think about that for a second.

We have the length of one baseball player’s contract to make the sizable and necessary cultural shifts and behavioral changes on climate to which Hershkowitz referred.

The Yankees know this and that’s why Sunday can only be the beginning of their public facing climate efforts. I look forward to see how the next innings of this most important game play out.

 


 

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Allen Hershkowitz Named New York Yankees Environmental Science Advisor

Dr. Allen Hershkowitz was named by the New York Yankees as its first Environmental Science Advisor yesterday. The longtime NRDC Senior Scientist, ex-President of the Green Sports Alliance and Founding Director of Sport and Sustainability International (SandSI) becomes the first person to hold such a title in team sports history. Already a major advance in the Green-Sports movement, the Yankees’ move has the chance to be a true game changer.

 

The New York Yankees have an almost century-old tradition of firsts: Yankee Stadium, which opened in 1923, was the first three-tiered sports venue in the world. The team was the first to put numbers on players’ uniforms. And the Bronx Bombers are the first and only Major League Baseball club to win five World Series titles in a row (from 1949-53).

Another first took place on Tuesday when the Yankees announced that Dr. Allen Hershkowitz had signed on as the team’s Environmental Science Advisor, a position that’s new to the world of professional sports. His work will also support Major League Soccer’s NYCFC, a joint venture between the Yankees and City Football Group¹, which plays its home games at Yankee Stadium.

“Being appointed as the Yankees’ Environmental Science Advisor is a unique honor and responsibility,” said Hershkowitz, a native New Yorker, offered in a statement. “I applaud the team’s leadership for breaking new ground in the sports industry by being the first team to create this important position.”

 

Allen Hershkowitz J. Henry Fair

Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, the new Environmental Science Advisor with the New York Yankees (Photo credit: J. Henry Fair)

 

It makes perfect sense that the Yankees chose Hershkowitz for this position. He has, over a decades-long career, staked out a unique role as a visionary at the intersection of the environment, science and sports. As Senior Scientist at the NRDC, Hershkowitz showed  leaders across the sports world that leading on the environment made business sense and was the right thing to do. This goes back to his formative Green-Sports work in the mid-2000s with then-Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, the Philadelphia Eagles, and the US Tennis Association, among others. He Co-Founded and served as President of the Green Sports Alliance and is a Founding Director of Sport and Sustainability International (SandSI).

While Hershkowitz is arguable a no-brainer pick, what might shock some people is that the 27-time world champions created the Environmental Science Advisor position in the first place.

But dig a little deeper and the appointment should surprise no one.

That’s because the Yankees have been at the forefront of the Green-Sports movement since they moved into the new Yankee Stadium in 2009, often with Hershkowitz’ counsel as a consultant. Sustainability initiatives include:

  • Diverting 85 percent of waste from landfill by recycling and composting, very close to the 90 percent threshold required to claim Zero-Waste status
  • Innovating on energy efficiency through the introduction of LED lighting and more
  • Measuring, reducing and offsetting the team’s greenhouse gas emissions impacts The latter includes the distribution of thousands of life-saving, high-efficiency cookstoves to women in Africa

 

Cookstoves

The Yankees, through their carbon offset investments, have funded the distribution of life-saving, high-efficiency cookstoves in Africa (Photo credit: South Pole Group)

 

Per a club press release, Hershkowitz will work “to expand existing promotion of responsible environmental stewardship among essential members of the Yankees family, including suppliers, sponsors, fans and the local community.” His primary focus will be on energy use, waste management, water conservation, and food services.

“The Yankees have always been devoted to supporting the best interests of our community, our fans and our players, and we believe effective eco-friendly initiatives are a key element of our interactions,” said Hal Steinbrenner, the Yankees’ principal owner and managing general partner, in a statement. “We have made significant strides throughout the years, and as such, Yankee Stadium is proud to promote a zero-waste economy, and stand as one of the most successful recycling and composting venues in all of sports…We look forward to even more improvement under Allen’s guidance.”

In a statement, John Adams, Founding Director and former President of NRDC, who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2010 for his environmental leadership, emphasized the significance of Hershkowitz’s new position: “This is a very smart move by the Yankees. One of greatest sports organizations in the world has chosen to use its visibility to promote environmental literacy in a critically important way. I congratulate Allen for becoming the Environmental Science Advisor to the Yankees, the most influential team in the history of sports.”

 

GSB’s Take: The mere creation of the Environmental Science Advisor position by the New York Yankees is already an important advance for the sports greening movement. By choosing Hershkowitz for the job, the Yankees — already near the top of the Green-Sports sports standings — have shifted into a higher gear, telling the world that the environment — and environmental science — is integral to its business.

It says here that, for the Yankees’ appointment of Hershkowitz as Environmental Science Advisor to fulfill its promise and become a Green-Sports game-changer, these two things need to happen:

1. Climate change, not spoken of much by the Yankees to this point, must consistently and clearly be communicated as a prime focus of the Yankees’ environmental efforts, and,

2. Engage fans — those who attend games and the larger number who follow the team on TV, online and elsewhere — to take positive environmental actions.

Do those two things and the Yankees and Hershkowitz will have teamed up to become Green-Sports Hall of Famers. Watch this space.

 

¹ City Football Group is led by Sheik Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahayan, a member of the royal family ofAbu Dhabi. In addition to its stake in NYCFC, it owns Manchester City, current champions of the English Premier League, and four other football/soccer clubs around the world.

 


 

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