Eco-athletes became more of a thing in 2018 — and that’s a very good thing.
This statement is not data-based. I haven’t seen data on the number of athletes who engage on environmental issues.
Yet anecdotally, I can say that I spoke to more eco-athletes in 2018 than in any other year since starting GreenSportsBlog in 2013.
Given the dire climate news coming out of recent UN and U.S. government reports, the world needs this year’s eco-athlete “thing” to become a wave in 2019. But that is for another day.
Today, we bring you an eco-athlete-infused BEST AND WORST OF GREEN-SPORTS, 2018.
BEST GREEN-SPORTS STORY OF 2018
Leilani Münter, The “Vegan, Hippy Chick with a Race Car”
There are three great reasons why Leilani Münter, the “vegan, hippy chick with a race car,” is GreenSportsBlog’s Best Green-Sports Story of 2018. Münter…
- Signed A Well-Fed World and TryVeg.com to sponsor her ARCA series car for an eight race campaign
- Earned two top ten finishes
- Sampled vegan Impossible Burgers to 30,000 racing fans (they loved ’em!)
Leilani Münter, GreenSportsBlog’s “Best Green-Sports Story of 2018” (Photo credit: Scott LePage)
Thing is, no one would have blamed Münter if she had decided to give up her career as a driver in NASCAR’s ARCA Presented by Menard developmental series before this year.
Her strong commitment to only work with brands that align with her lifestyle and the issues that animate her — most notably veganism, animal rights and the climate change fight — has limited her ability to secure the sponsors and thus the funding necessary to enter races. In some years, Münter has competed in only one race; in others none at all.
But Münter did not quit, although she came close several times. The Minnesota native kept selling the idea that auto racing fans would react positively to vegan messaging — and food. “Some of the vegan brands I called on said ‘the NASCAR fan is not the right audience for us.’ I said ‘you don’t need to talk to vegans; they’re already converted. You need to talk to people who are not already in your world.’ Auto racing fans fit that definition.”
Her logic and persistence — she pitched sponsorship of a vegan-branded car for six years — paid off in 2018 when two non-profit organizations, A Well-Fed World and TryVeg.com, signed on as her lead sponsors to carry the Vegan Strong message. The deal allowed Münter to run an eight race campaign, which included an eighth place finish at the ARCA race during Daytona 500 week and a ninth place result at Michigan International Speedway.
More importantly, Münter and Vegan Strong teamed up at five of her eight races to fund the sampling of vegan Impossible Burgers in the Fan Zones to 30,000 fans. The fans ate ’em up, literally and figuratively.
“Many fans were skeptical at first and didn’t want to try the Impossible Burgers,” recalled Münter. “But once they did, they loved the taste and texture! And when you tell them it’s better for their health and for the planet, they got more excited.”
Leilani Münter takes a photo of skeptical racing fans trying Impossible Burgers at the Daytona International Speedway Fan Zone in February (Photo credit: Natalka Lindstrom)
I am excited to see what Münter will do for encore to spread her vegan, along with her animal rights and climate change-fighting messages. On the latter, she is a big advocate of electric vehicles — her personal car is a Tesla, powered by solar panels on the roof of her house.
Münter says to expect an announcement about her 2019 plans in early January.
2017: The Athletes of Protect Our Winters (POW)
2016: The Rio “Climate Change” Olympics Opening Ceremony vignette
2015: Pac-12 Conference
2014: Forest Green Rovers
MORE ECO-ATHLETES WHO MADE A DIFFERENCE IN 2018
I’m happy to say that Leilani Münter is not a lone wolf eco-athlete. She is joined by a veritable All-Star squad of sailors, skiers and more who spoke out and/or took action on the environment this year.
Team director Mark Towill and skipper Charlie Enright led the Vestas 11th Hour Racing Crew to a fifth place finish in the ’round-the-world Volvo Ocean Race. Sustainability is a core element of the team’s DNA. They communicated their ethos of a cleaner, healthier environment to thousands of fans at race stops via an interactive Exploration Zone.
Jessie Diggins, who along with teammate Kikkan Randall, won the gold medal in the women’s team sprint freestyle race at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Diggins also found the time to engage on the climate change fight. She supports a revenue neutral carbon fee and dividend program (CF&D), similar to the bill that was recently introduced with bipartisan support in the House of Representatives. Diggins told the New York Times, “Saving winter is something I believe in…and I feel like we’re actually really at risk of losing it.”
U.S. Olympic cross country gold medal winner and carbon pricing advocate Jessie Diggins (Photo credit: New York Daily News)
Arizona Cardinals rookie quarterback Josh Rosen talked climate change in a March interview in ESPN The Magazine: “One cause I’ll champion is the environment. It touches everything. I mean, the war in Syria started because of the drought and famine that destabilized the country and led the population to revolt against the government. I know global warming is a partisan issue for some stupid reason, but it touches everything.”
Sam Martin, punter for the Detroit Lions and an advocate for renewable energy, helped broker a deal that resulted in new solar installations at Ford Field and the club’s nearby Allen Park training facility. North Carolina-based Power Home Solar approached the team through a preexisting partnership with Martin and his Sam Martin Foundation,
Milwaukee Bucks point guard Malcolm Brogdon and four other NBA players announced the launch of Hoops₂O, joining the fight for access to clean water in East Africa. Staying in the Beer Capital of the U.S., Brewers’ pitcher Brent Suter penned an OpEd urging action on climate in Fast Company.
GREENEST NEW STADIUM OR ARENA OF 2018
Audi Field, D.C. United
It took D.C. United a quarter century to build its own, soccer-specific stadium. Audi Field sure looks like it was worth the wait as the 20,000 seat, $500 million stadium earned LEED Gold certification when it opened in July. Five months later, it added another honor by being named GSB’s Greenest New Stadium/Arena of 2018.
Audi Field drew our attention for a number of reasons, including:
- The rooftop solar panel installation that provides roughly one million kilowatt hours of electricity annually, enough to offset nearly one third of the stadium’s electricity usage
- Nearby access to D.C. Metro system’s green line train
- An advanced, energy-efficient building envelope/skin
- A storage vessel that collects rain water underneath the building. When it rains, water drains under the pitch into the vessel where it is slowly released so it doesn’t go into the nearby Anacostia River.
A packed Audi Field during the national anthem on opening night (Photo credit: WTOP/Noah Frank)
Fiserv Forum, the new home of the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks, deserves honorable mention. On track to receive LEED Silver certification, the downtown arena is the world’s first bird-friendly sports and entertainment venue, thanks in part to a collaboration with the American Bird Conservancy.
2017: Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United
2016: Golden1 Center, Sacramento Kings
2015: CHS Field, St. Paul (MN) Saints
2014: Levi’s Stadium, San Francisco 49ers
BEST TEAM ON/GREENEST TEAM OFF FIELD OF 2018
TIE: Philadelphia Eagles, Super Bowl LII Champions and Atlanta United F.C., Major League Soccer’s 2018 Title Winners
The Eagles checked the on-field box for their Best Team On/Greenest Team Off Field Court of 2018 award when they captured the franchise’s first Super Bowl in dramatic fashion, as backup QB Nick Foles outdueled Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, 41-33. Off the field, the Eagles became the first pro sports team to earn ISO 20121 certification for integrating sustainability practices into their management model. Among other things, the team:
- Deployed edgy, humorous billboards that encouraged support for GO GREEN, the Eagles’ long-running fan-facing environmental program on Lincoln Financial Field’s concourses, ramps, and yes, even the restrooms.
- Installed an interactive LED screen at the NovaCare Complex, the team’s practice facility down the street from “The Linc”. “It shows our employees how much energy our solar panels and wind turbines are producing every day, how much we recycle, and more,” said Norman Vossschulte, the Eagles director of fan experience.
And, just before we went to press, the Eagles announced that Lincoln Financial Field earned an upgrade from the US Green Building Council to LEED Gold status — it had qualified for LEED Silver in 2013.
Sustainability-themed signage on display at Lincoln Financial Field (Photo credits: Philadelphia Eagles)
Atlanta United secured its spot on GSB’s Best Team On/Greenest Team Off Field podium by winning the MLS Cup trophy in only its second season of play. The “Five Stripes” knocked off the Portland Timbers 2-0 on Saturday night.
The team’s green cred is also championship caliber. After all, they play at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the world’s first LEED Platinum pro sports stadium, sharing it with the NFL’s Falcons. Stadium management uses its massive, wrap-around scoreboard to share the green story with fans, 73,019 of whom showed for MLS Cup, the largest crowd in league history.
Green messaging greets fans of Atlanta United, the newly-minted MLS Cup champion, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium (Photo credit: Lewis Blaustein)
2017: Golden State Warriors
2016: Cleveland Indians
2015: New England Patriots
2014: Ohio State University
GREEN-SPORTS GREENWASH OF 2018
Eco-Sailor Sir Ben Ainslie Signs Title Sponsor Deal with Fracking and Chemical Company Ineos
Sir Ben Ainslie is the most decorated sailor in Olympics history. As skipper of Land Rover BAR, the British entrant in the 2017 America’s Cup, he also won deserved plaudits for making environmental sustainability, in particular ocean health, a core value of his team.
One thing Sir Ben did not win was the 2017 America’s Cup, despite spending in the neighborhood $135 million over the four-year cycle. By some estimates, it will cost as much as $175 million to mount a legitimate campaign for the 2021 Cup.
So when British fracking^ and chemical company, Ineos, and its founder Jim Ratcliffe, offered Ainslie $153 million to fund the lion’s share of his 2021 Cup quest, Sir Ben had a choice: Take the money and risk being labeled a greenwasher, or keep his good name and his well-earned global reputation as an eco-athlete among fans, competitors, sponsors and more.
He chose Ratcliffe’s fracking money.
Jim Ratcliffe (l), CEO of Ineos, with Sir Ben Ainslie (Photo credit: Toby Melville/Reuters)
Not surprisingly, GreenSportsBlog chose Sir Ben for Green-Sports Greenwash of 2018.
And it wasn’t close for second place.
2017: Super Bowl LI, Houston*
2016: Super Bowl L, Santa Clara, Super Green But (Virtually) No One (Outside of the Green-Sports Ecosystem) Knew About It*
2015: College Athletics Departments That Talk a Good Green Game But Took Koch Brothers Sponsorship Dollars
2014: Sochi Winter Olympics
^ Fracking (also known by its more technical name, hydraulic fracturing) is a process by which large amounts of water and sand, combined with often hazardous chemicals, are injected, at high rates of pressure, into rock formations to fracture surrounding material for the purpose of extracting oil and gas. Its negative environmental and health impacts are legion, many of which would’ve concerned pre-Ineos Sir Ben. These include contamination of groundwater, large volume water use in water-challenged regions, methane pollution which exacerbates climate change, exposure to toxic chemicals, and fracking-induced earthquakes.
* 2017 and 2016 designation was titled “GREEN-SPORTS MISSED OPPORTUNITY OF THE YEAR”