BEST GREEN SPORTS STORY OF 2017
Protect Our Winters (POW) and Winter Sports Athletes
Photo credit: Protect Our Winters
The photo above is the perfect visualization as to why Protect Our Winters (POW), the organization of elite winter sports athletes who advocate for substantive action on climate change, is the winner of GSB’s BEST GREEN-SPORTS STORY OF 2017.
You see, the 21 folks captured in front of the US Capitol made up most of the 25-person delegation of active and retired skiers, snowboarders and more, who, along with staffers, descended on Washington this fall to lobby 22 members of Congress and their staffs. Topics included carbon pricing, solar energy and electrifying transportation.
That winter sports athletes are more concerned about climate change than any other group of athletes I can think of makes sense since they can see the negative effects of warming temperatures on their playing fields (i.e. ski slopes, snowboard courses, frozen ponds) in real time.
That they have built POW into the only climate change action advocacy group led by athletes, Olympians and world champions among them, is the amazing thing.
In recent months, GreenSportsBlog interviewed retired Olympic silver medal winning snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler and Olympic cross country skier Andy Newell, about their involvement with POW.
Bleiler takes part in “Hot Planet, Cool Athletes” school assembly programs, which helps make “climate change engaging, more relatable, and more personal for students.” She spoke at COP21, the global climate conference in Paris in November 2015 that led to the Paris Climate Agreement. Newell helped lead POW’s participation in the People’s Climate March in New York City in April and has written OpEds, including one that ran in USA Today in 2014.
Both were part of the POW 2017 DC fall lobby team; their firsthand experiences — and those of their colleagues — with the effects of climate change are powerful aspects of their presentations to Congress.
Here’s Bleiler: “[I share] my own experiences as a professional snowboarder who’s traveled around the world chasing snow! Reduced snow pack, warmer temperatures and shorter winters all mean a hit to the sports we love, but these changes also impact the economies of all the mountain town communities where I compete and train. This has all been happening in my lifetime…”
Given that the vast majority of the Republican-led Congress, the head of the EPA, as well as the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, are virulently opposed to fighting climate change, POW’s 2017 legislative efforts did not bear immediate fruit.
But, in the climate change fight, POW is all in for a marathon.
It is a race cross country skier Andy Newell has no doubt POW and, well, we — as in the American people — will win: “If we citizens have a big enough cultural and economic shift toward sustainable energy, the President and everyone else in DC has no choice but to follow. We have more power than we think. Senators, House members and the President will continue to hear from the winter sports community.”
Certain House members and Senators will hear from POW in 2018. The group’s main goal for the next year is to, in the words of Lindsay Bourgoine, manager of advocacy and campaigns, “get down and dirty in the midterm elections in November…We have identified ten ‘battleground elections’ where we feel it is really important to elect a climate friendly leader, whether Democrat or Republican.”
Honorable Mention: Land Rover BAR, Great Britain’s Entry in 2017 America’s Cup; Most Sustainable Olympics Bids Ever Earn Paris and LA the 2024 and 2028 Summer Games.
GREENEST SPORTS LEAGUE OR EVENT OF 2017
Formerly titled the Greenest Sports League award, this year the category expanded to include mega-sports events like the Olympics, FIFA World Cup, the Masters, and the US Open. The latter is GSB’s choice for the GREENEST SPORTS LEAGUE OR EVENT OF 2017.
The Open —which draws over 700,000 fans over two weeks in late August/early September at the USTA’s Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Queens, NY — earned the award not only for its stellar sustainability performance at this year’s tournament but for its decade of green-sports leadership.
King was there at the beginning of the US Open’s/USTA’s greening efforts in 2008. And she wanted to go BIG.
“Billie…wanted to make the US Open the most environmentally responsible tennis event in the world,” shared Dr. Allen Hershkowitz^, then a scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the nonprofit that would manage the sustainability project. “I told Billie that doing so would take years. ‘Great,’ she said. ‘I’m in. Let’s do it.'”
Billie Jean King and Allen Hershkowitz during the 2008 shooting of the USTA’s “Our Courts May Be Blue But We’re Thinking Green” public service announcements (Photo credit: NRDC)
Ten years on, the fruits of King’s and Hershkowitz’ vision can be seen in virtually every nook and cranny of the National Tennis Center. The event:
- Is zero-waste, meaning 90 percent or more of food waste is diverted from the landfill, thanks to a sophisticated composting and recycling operation
- Powers itself solely by renewable energy
- Uses the tournament’s daily draw sheet (schedule of play) to share “eco-tips” with fans
- Promotes mass transit use and the fans have responded: More than 55 percent arrived by subway, Long Island Railroad or bus, making the US Open the most transit-friendly professional sporting event in the country
- Collects and recycles over 17,000 tennis ball cans
- Boasts two LEED certified structures; the two year-old, 8,000 seat Grandstand Court and the upgraded transportation center.
The LEED certified Grandstand Court rocked during the dramatic comeback win by Juan Martin del Potro over Dominic Thiem on Labor Day (Photo credit: Brian Friedman/USTA)
2018 will bring a big sustainability advance as the new, 10,000 seat Louis Armstrong Stadium will open as the world’s first naturally ventilated stadium with a retractable roof.
Honorable Mention: National Hockey League, Pac-12 Conference, Waste Management Phoenix Open (golf)
GREENEST NEW STADIUM OR ARENA OF 2017
Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United F.C.
When Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the new home of the Atlanta Falcons of the NFL and MLS’ Atlanta United F.C., announced in November that it had earned LEED Platinum certification, it became the first pro stadium in the U.S. to achieve such a designation. Just one month later, it won GreenSportsBlog’s GREENEST NEW STADIUM OR ARENA OF 2017.
“We set out to build a venue that would not only exceed expectations, but also push the limits of what was possible in terms of stadium design, fan experience and sustainability,” noted Arthur Blank, owner and chairman of the two teams, at the LEED Platinum announcement. “[Our] goal was to achieve the highest LEED rating because it was the right thing to do for our city and the environment.”
Mercedes-Benz Stadium (Photo credit: AMB Sports and Entertainment)
- Using 47 percent less water than baseline standards due to water-efficient fixtures and conservation infrastructure
- Storing water in a 1.1 million gallon, underground water vault, providing the area with crucial flood management, as well as an additional 680,000 gallons of water for use in irrigation and the stadium’s cooling tower
- Installing 4,000 solar panels to power the equivalent of nearly ten Falcons games or 13 Atlanta United matches with clean, renewable energy.
- Featuring LED lighting that will reduce energy usage by as much as 60 percent
- Encouraging fans to take MARTA light rail to three nearby stations, resulting in 25-30 percent of fans ditching their cars to go to and from Falcons and United games.
Honorable Mention: Little Caesar’s Arena, Detroit (home of NBA’s Pistons and NHL’s Red Wings), currently seeking LEED certification
BEST TEAM ON/GREENEST TEAM OFF FIELD/COURT OF 2017
The Golden State Warriors cemented their status as the gold standard of the NBA’s current era when they defeated LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, four games to one, to win their second title in the last three seasons. A sustainability leader off the court, the Warriors also earned the BEST TEAM ON/GREENEST TEAM OFF FIELD award for 2017.
On the court, head coach Steve Kerr seamlessly managed the addition of Kevin Durant to their championship core of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Andre Iguodala. This made the Dubs even more fun to watch and much harder to play against. As a result, Golden State methodically avenged its shocking 2016 Finals loss to the Cavs.
Kevin Durant (l) and Steph Curry of the 2017 NBA Champion Golden State Warriors — and winner of GSB’s BEST TEAM ON/GREENEST TEAM OFF FIELD/COURT award (Photo credit: USA Today)
This fall, the Warriors started the 2017-18 campaign slowly —for them — they’re “only” 23-6 at this writing. Curry and Green are injured for now. And the Houston Rockets look ready to mount a serious challenge in the West. Despite all that, Golden State is still the team to beat.
Off the court, the Warriors reflect the strong environmental ethos of the Bay Area, earning strong sustainability grades for:
- Powering their practice facility with solar panels
- Reducing energy use at Oracle Arena through a smart energy management system
- Introducing a rainwater recapture system that uses the harvested H₂O to feed the plants and vegetation surrounding the arena.
- Partnering with a local vendor who turns oils from concessions into bio-diesel,
- Implementing ORBIO Sc-5000 which utilizes water, salt and electricity to create an eco-friendly cleaning solution
- Reducing the carbon footprint of, and the waste produced by the food service. In partnership with Levy Restaurants, the club uses compostable cutlery and flatware and composts food waste.
It wasn’t only GreenSportsBlog who noticed the Warriors sustainability efforts: Oracle Arena earned LEED certification from the US Green Building Council in September.
“Ensuring that we have a positive impact on the Oakland/Alameda County community and our environment is extremely important to us” said Krystle von Puschendorf, Sustainability Programs Manager for Oracle Arena, “We are proud to have achieved LEED certification and are dedicated to running an environmentally friendly operation here in Oakland.”
If the Warriors stay at the top of their game on the court, the club will likely be in the running for the 2019 award because it will have moved into the new Chase Center in San Francisco — an arena expected to seek LEED Gold certification.
Given the Warriors incredibly high standards, I am surprised — and a bit disappointed — they’re not going for LEED Platinum. But there’s still time for Golden State to up its green game even further.
Artist’s rendering of Chase Center, future home of the Warriors. Scheduled to open in 2019, the arena seeks LEED Gold certification (Credit: Stok)
Honorable Mention: New England Patriots, NFL — the Pats might have won the award but they were hurt by the strong support for climate disaster Donald Trump by owner Robert Kraft; Seattle Sounders, MLS
GREEN-SPORTS MISSED OPPORTUNITY OF 2017
Super Bowl 50, the Greenest Super Bowl of All Time, was played in the Bay Area, one of the most environmentally engaged areas in the country. Super Bowl LI took place in Houston, not exactly a green hotbed. Many would say it is not realistic to expect a Super Bowl taking place in the Oil Capital of the US to be as green as one contested in Northern California.
But while it’s one thing to fall short of the Super Bowl 50 standard, it’s quite another thing for the Houston Super Bowl Host Committee to do nothing from a sustainability point of view.
Or, to be fair, almost nothing: The Houston Host Committee did work with NFL Environmental, the Houston Texans, Verizon and local partners to help plant trees, but that seems to be it.
Trees For Houston and Marathon Oil helped plant 50 new trees at Crespo Elementary in advance of Super Bowl LI (Photo credit: Trees For Houston)
Tree planting is well and good but the Houston Super Bowl LI Host Committee missed a Texas-sized opportunity regarding sustainability.
This is the case especially when one considers that there is a sustainable business infrastructure and a green subculture taking root in the US’ fourth biggest city and in the Lone Star State more broadly:
- The City of Houston has a longstanding, comprehensive greening initiative, Green Houston.
- EPA ranked Houston the #1 user of Green Power as of October 30, 2017.
- Texas is, by far, the top producer of wind power in the US.
Honorable mention: Minnesota Vikings and MSFA deciding not to upgrade the glass exterior of US Bank Stadium to reduce its bird kill problem.
We close with some end-of-year thank-you and a remembrance:
To our guests/interviewees: Your time, commitment and insights are much appreciated. You are helping to green the sports world in important ways. I always come away from GreenSportsBlog interviews feeling inspired.
To our readers: Thank you for making 2017 a year of significant growth: Our subscriber base grew by a third. On Twitter, our retweets and mentions nearly doubled. If you haven’t done so already, please subscribe (it’s FREE!) and comment on the blog. Follow us on Twitter (@GreenSportsBlog) and friend us on Facebook (http://faceboook.com/greensportsblog).
A remembrance: Earlier this month, Ryan Yanoshak, formerly managing director of marketing communications with the Pocono International Raceway, passed away at 42 following a battle with cancer. Ryan played an important role in telling Pocono’s forward-leaning sustainability story. He will be missed.
Looking ahead, I expect the green-sports world will continue to grow in 2018, especially on the green building/venue side. But will meaningful fan engagement programs ramp up? Will we find new eco-athletes who can become the Colin Kaepernicks of green-sports? Will POW’s lobbying efforts help bring more climate change-fighters to Congress? No matter the results, you can be certain that GreenSportsBlog will remain your source for news, features and commentary on the increasingly busy intersection of Green + Sports.
Here’s to a healthy, happy Holiday Season to you and yours!
^ Dr. Hershkowitz later served as President of the Green Sports Alliance and is currently founding director of Sport and Sustainability International (SandSI)