Like many of us, Diana Dehm understands that humanity needs to take significant actions to take on climate change to avert its most severe effects. Unlike most of us, she’s devoted her work life towards that end. The LA-based Green-preneur hosts the Sustainability News and Entertainment Radio Show and is president of Climate and Sports Youth Summits, a series of events that uses sports to engage students from primary grades through high school in climate change education. GreenSportsBlog talked with Ms. Dehm to understand, 1) the motivation behind her climate change-fighting spirit, and 2) what Climate and Sports Youth Summits are all about.
GreenSportsBlog: Diana, there is so much to cover so let’s get right to it. When did you get into the environment, into climate change? And when did you decide to work in this space?
Diana Dehm: Thanks Lew for all you do. You are right there is SO MUCH to discuss! Growing up in California until I was 15, I always had a passion for clean oceans. I’m a diver, sailor and a SUP Surfer or Paddleboarder. Moved to the Boston area at 15, went to Lesley University there, ultimately came back to Southern California. Started out as an environmental health and safety consultant; working for clients like AT&T, NBC, NCR and many more. Companies like those had started to get that sustainability was good for business. Eventually I moved up and became a VP for two large environmental consulting firms.
Diana Dehm (Photo credit: Diana Dehm)
GSB: What did you do for those firms and their Fortune 500 clients?
DD: We provided strategic counsel, environmental, health and safety (EHS) audits, and helped them integrate sustainability and environmental better practices into their businesses. We pushed them beyond mere compliance, demonstrating that doing so would drive social and tangible value for their companies and, in the process, reduce CO? emissions. We worked with companies on their supply chains, helping them to replace high polluting suppliers with companies that worked towards making “zero impact” by emphasizing biodegradability, recycling and more. Then, we would seed these stories into the media.
GSB: That sounds great — can you give us an example?
DD: Sure! GE needed environmental and health training at their NBC studios in the Los Angeles area — this was before they sold NBC to Comcast — and so I led that effort with an awesome team. GE and NBC were great leading the way towards educating their many employees.
GSB: Impressive! Sounds like you were on a great track in the corporate sustainability consulting world. What made you change course and where did that change take you?
DD: 2007-2008 was the game changer. My dad became ill with pancreatic cancer and I contracted a MRSA bacterial infection; was in and out of the hospital for a month.
GSB: Oh no!
DD: That was quite the wake up call! It strengthened my need to do big things for humanity and the planet…and FAST. So I quit my job as a VP/partner and, with the encouragement of several clients, went off on my own.
GSB: What did you do?
DD: I started working on technology innovation and how it connects to sustainability and more…Big Data, City integration, Predictive Technology, Virtual Reality, and Sense Technology…LOVED IT. In 2009, I started Sustainable Business Partnerships. It brought technical innovation and top-flight business thinking to the triple bottom line/CSR world. Some examples: I worked with Hewlett Packard Labs in Palo Alto, and I helped support tech innovation for a city in Southern California for which Hewlett Packard managed IT.
GSB: As a career-shifter and pivot-er, I have to say, you are a role model! But how did this lead to a radio show?
DD: OK…love this story. In 2010 I was visiting family on the east coast…went to dinner with an old friend. After hearing me describe my sustainability work, a friend of that friend said “you should do a radio show about all of this!” “How in the world would I do THAT,” I replied. His calm response? “I manage WSMN-AM 1590, a radio station in Nashua, NH! You can start there!”
GSB: Had you been on the air before?
DD: NEVER! I had NO IDEA WHAT I WAS DOING! Really, no clue. And here I was hosting a one hour show every Tuesday. I really just wanted to create a platform to share the solutions on the planet happening right now. Remember the economy in 2010 wasn’t so great. Thought we needed some inspiration from amazing guests from around the world!
GSB: One hour can be a loooonnng time in radio!
DD: You ain’t kidding, Lew. So like Nike says, I “just did it.” I found myself on the air the following Tuesday as the host for Sustainability News & Entertainment. Flew to New Hampshire to do the shows. It was so much fun interviewing and learning about some of the most sustainable innovations on the planet and how we can connect the dots globally to take action. Interviewed a broad range of folks — sustainability directors, sports executives, green-minded kids, scientists, politicians, musicians, artists, celebrities, the military –my early guests were especially brave. I stay connected to many of them to this day.
GSB: Terrific! Flying east to do the shows? That sounds, well, unsustainable.
DD: You’re right. So in 2010 we built a “Studio in a Box,” a flexible studio, for me..I can travel the world with my studio in a box. It was awesome at COP21 in Paris.
GSB: Amazing. How are you funded?
DD: I’ve self-funded the show because I do like the feeling of being able to work without corporate influence. I do plan to seek outside funding but would only do so if I maintain editorial control. I am convinced sustainability-minded sponsors would benefit greatly by reaching our green-minded global audience that reaches 3 to 5 million.
GSB: HOLY COW! How did you build that kind of audience?
DD: The market was ready and open: when the show started in 2010, there were few green-themed radio shows. The show’s real-world, solutions-based and positive ethos was unique…that’s why our tag line is an open sourced focus on solutions happening on the planet right now.
GSB: Not pie-in-the-sky, though, right?
DD: Nope. Always fact based. But that solutions-based approach really works. The audience grew organically as other stations, including NPR affiliates, started to pick it up. In 2013-14, we pitched the show to major radio stations. Their response? “Too new, different, controversial.”
GSB: Really? I think controversy is what radio station owners want?
DD: You would think. But the economics of the traditional, terrestrial radio business was changing — so I went to the digital world, streaming live shows, podcasting and using social media to reach a global audience of next generation entrepreneurs and innovators. That was clearly for the best as now we are blessed with having that low seven-figure audience.
GSB: Not to be redundant, but Holy COW!
DD: Thank you! It really is amazing. Anyone can listen live anytime, anywhere. I was surprised to learn that the biggest audience segment is in China — interesting to correlate that with how fast China is growing their renewable energy market. Russia and Brazil also contribute significantly; the US is third in audience size.
GSB: What do your listeners learn about?
DD: How people are making a living driving positive human impact while reducing environmental impact. From climate reduction, to zero waste, to water harvesting, to renewable energy – from the race car world to celebrities to musicians to CEO’s.
Now, like I said before, I haven’t made money doing the show so I continue to make my living through sustainability consulting, working with non-profits, corporations and schools.
GSB: Ahhh…schools! So now I see most of the Diana Dehm picture: the radio show, your interest in education. Where does your interest in Green-Sports come in? Did you ever cover Green-Sports on your show?
DD: YES! First of all, I saw the sports-environment-planet connection about 20 years ago but didn’t know what to do with that. But then I went to the first Green Sports Alliance Summit and was hooked. — I’m a sports fan and an athlete so I know the power of sports. I saw the potential connections between sports, solutions-based thinking and innovation. So that’s a part of my consulting work. And, we have done lots of sports-themed radio shows. I love them. I can’t recall the year right now — when we had 10 people — from teams, stadium managers, all talking about what they were doing to green the sports world, and how they were influencing sustainability more broadly. It was GREAT! We’ve done several Super Bowl-focused shows, talked with NFL Green’s Jack Groh and the Green Sports Alliance’s board chairman Scott Jenkins about Zero-Waste Super Bowls. We’ve had Justin Zeulner, Executive Director of the Green Sports Alliance, on our air….
GSB: The trade group for the Green-Sports world…
DD: Exactly. Now, on schools, I love kids, and we’ve had them on our show a lot..They get sustainability and climate change. Back in 2010 while interviewing MIT’s Drew Jones from Climate Interactive, he was telling me about when he was in school at Dartmouth, he and a bunch of his college buddies decided to learn what their trash impact was and decided to carry their trash around with them for a week…well, I thought that idea that needed to be recycled…
GSB: Pun intended…
DD: …So I came up with the Trash On Your Back Challenge, made it up. Drew and I pulled some heavyweights to the table to try it — Rear Navy Admiral Len Hering, the aforementioned Atlanta Falcons GM and GSA Co-Founder Scott Jenkins, Former Senior Policy Counsel at the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, US EPA Matt Bogoshian, Former President/CEO, along with many others. We walked around with our trash on our back for 5 days and learned the hard way that the average person in the US generates 4.4 pounds of trash per day. Carrying that weight around on your back provides an incentive to reduce it…right? It was smelly too, so we end up innovating ways to avoid waste and smell.
The Challenge still goes on today. Thousands of people around the world have taken it, diverting tons of waste from what I call our earthfills – our earth and our oceans.
Diana Dehm, flanked by Scott Jenkins (l) and Matt Bogoshian, is ready to embark on the Trash on Your Back Challenge. (Photo credit: Diana Dehm)
GSB: I can only imagine How low did you go?
DD: Together we were able to knock down the 4.4 pounds of trash per day, down to 0.8 pounds on average. It’s all based on simple choices.
GSB: That’s an incredible reduction! So how did you get from Trash on Your Back to Climate and Sports Youth Summits?
DD: After attending several Green Sports Alliance Summits, I realized there was only one thing they were missing: kids. Kids love sports, of course. After working on student summits for many years, I shared my idea of having a kids module at the Green Sports Alliance Summit with their executive team. They loved the idea and saw great potential impact.
GSB: Who was on your team and what did you end up creating?
DD: I brought in a great team: One of most brilliant, sustainability-minded principals I knew – the former coach, and Co-Founder and CEO of the Green Schools National Network, Jim McGrath and asked him if he would like to start a non-profit focused on harnessing the power of sports to motivate K-12 students and college students to take action on climate change. Thankfully, he said yes and we proceeded to bring two other education superstars from Florida: former Olympic soccer player, teacher, and founder of the How Low Can You Go Net Zero Energy Challenge, Linda Gancitano. And Broward County’s Sustainability Teacher of the Year; Elaine Fiore.
GSB:…Don’t know Jim but I do know Linda and Elaine, interviewed them in fact. LOVE “How Low Can You Go” — sports teams working with schools on a challenge to reduce the schools’ carbon emissions…I can’t imagine two better people for your team.
DD: Indeed, they are the best!
GSB: So what did you all come up with?
DD: We partnered with the NBA’s Miami Heat for our first Climate and Sports Youth Summit, which took place at American Airlines Arena. Students, athletes and celebrities came together for a fast-paced, educational, fun day. Started at 9 AM with the tip off: “Game On For the Planet.” Brought a basketball and started passing it around quickly. Anyone who caught it had to shout out something they would do to protect the planet, reduce carbon emissions, etc. Then we took tours of the American Airlines Arena and were shown the recycling systems, the LED lighting and the other sustainability aspects of the building’s operations. We had students presenting to students, engaging them with games like “Climate Eliminators” and “Recycle Relays” and we took the “Trash On Your Back” zero waste Challenge – and the students left with their own climate action plan along with knowing we are there to support them.
GSB: They must’ve loved it!
DD: For sure. And we taught them, through the “How Low Can You Go Challenge,” how they could help their schools reach Zero Energy. We also asked them for their own ideas. One great one was “Plastic Mermaids” — a symbol of the need to get plastics out of the oceans. The kids brought them to the mayor of Broward County, FL. The Mayor liked it and showed it to the state senate in Tallahassee.
GSB: And then you brought Climate and Sports Youth Summit to the Green Sports Alliance Summit (GSA) in Sacramento in June. What was that like?
DD: Oh it was a big success…It was a two-day program at Golden 1 Center, the LEED Platinum home of the Sacramento Kings, vs. one day in Miami. We had 60 students, mostly from the local area. Day 1 was similar to Miami. On Day 2, the students monitored waste, recycling and composting stations in the arena. There was a scavenger hunt where the students were challenged to go to the various sustainable product and service exhibitors at the GSA Summit and learn about their sustainable innovations and thinking. And then the kids got to do some “trash talking” while manning the trash and recycling receptacles, helping adults learn how to recycle and compost. Afterwards they headed down to the court where they got to feel like an NBA player.
Kids make their presence felt at the 2017 Climate and Sports Youth Summit in Sacramento (Photo credit: Diana Dehm)
GSB: They must’ve eaten that up…
DD: They LOVED IT! former King Doug Christie shared his inspirational story with them, and left the students knowing that they can take action on anything they put their minds to. Calum Worthy of Disney Channel fame presented and was INCREDIBLE! He stayed with the kids for 2-3 hours and communicated, in compelling fashion, that solving climate change is a huge career opportunity for them. Also, the Oregon State student-athletes you wrote about awhile back…
GSB: Sam Lewis and Jesikah Cavanaugh from the Beaver Athlete Sustainability Team (BAST)?
DD: Yes! They shared how, by creating the first student-athlete-run sustainability organization, they are helping Oregon State fans get involved in the greening of their games.
GSB: Did you have corporate sponsors in Sacramento?
DD: Whole Foods Market supported us, giving out healthy food to the kids. And the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) provided funding and built awareness for the program.
GSB: That’s great…So when’s your next Summit?
DD: We’re heading to Boulder, CO, the University of Colorado in December. Hosted by Dave Newport, their Director of Environment. Can’t wait! And 2018 will be bigger and better. Our goal is to obtain funding so we can host 20 summits per year and then grow from there. So sponsors, please join us and support our kid’s futures. I like saying “Love them, educate them, support them, and get out of the way!” – Kids get it and, once given the tools, will take action on climate!