The GSB Interview

The GSB Interview: Seth Schultz of C40 on the Intersection of Green & Sports & URBANIZATION


Did you know that, as of 2008, a record 50 percent of the world’s population lived in urban areas? That percentage is expected to grow to 75 percent by 2050.

If we’re going to reverse the carbon train before it goes over the climate change cliff, cities are going to be where the innovations on clean energy and energy efficiency take root because that’s where the people are/will be.  And sports fans will have a lot to say about this — even if they don’t realize it yet — since roughly 3/4 of humanity identify as sports fans. So sports is where the people are, too.

GSB discussed the implications of, and possibilities inherent in the intersection of Urbanization, Green and Sports with Seth Schultz, the energetic Director of Research at New York City-based C40, a network of the world’s megacities taking action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.


GreenSportsBlog:  Seth, give us a bit of background on C40–what it is, its mission, etc.

Seth Schultz:  Sure thing.  C40 was born in 2006 out of a conversation between then London mayor Ken Livingstone and former President Clinton about how mayors did not have a formalized way of talking to each other on how to deal with climate change.

A consortium of 40 cities (ergo C40, with 20 in the developed world and then 20 in the developing world) soon was established to benchmark where the cities stood on climate change and to share best practices on how to best move forward and achieve sustainable, measurable results.  Since then, we’ve expanded to 66 cities, adding 3 more African cities recently; Dar Es Salaam, Nairobi and Cape Town (US C40 cities are Austin,  Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York, Portland (OR), San Francisco, and Seattle) .

GSB: What is your role with C40?

Seth: I’m the Director of Research.  At first, my job was to help establish benchmarks for our cities in terms of Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHG), access to mass transit, etc.  Once we set the baseline, our job became one of rigorously measuring the results and impacts of our of policies, projects and programs.  Our recently released Climate Action Megacities 2.0 provides a detailed review of those data, which shows that the sharing of best practices is working.

For example, in 2011, a little over half of C40 cities surveyed reported they were introducing LED street lighting (reducing energy consumption up to 60% vs. standard sodium bulbs).  By 2013, more than 90% of respondent cities said they are taking actions to reduce emissions from outdoor lighting.

GSB:  That is a terrific result in such a short period of time.  How does sports figure in to C40’s work?

Seth:  In several ways. First, sports can be looked at as a microcosm of overall urban life.  By that I mean big sports events generally take place in big cities and the chief concerns related to hosting a mega event (transportation/mobility–how do you move lots of people around easily–and safety) are the chief concerns of mayors.

Same thing with the chief environmental concerns–how do you move people around in as energy efficient a manor as possible.  Second, mega sports events (World Cup, Olympics, etc.) can be the driver of infrastructure spending in mega cities.  We work with those cities where possible to help make that infrastructure as green as possible.

GSB:  Can you provide some examples?

Seth: Absolutely!  Let’s look at Rio, the host of the 2016 Summer Olympics, as well as one of the host cities for this summer’s World Cup in Brazil.  Rio Mayor and C40 Chairman Eduardo Paes, made a commitment to radically transform public transit in his city.  A particular emphasis has been on Bus Rapid Transit (BRT, dedicated bus lanes that are free from car traffic), one of the most energy efficient ways of moving large numbers of people around, yet far less costly than building new subways or light rail.

South America has embraced BRT in a big way. Curitiba, Brazil and Bogota, Columbia were early pioneers back in the 60s and, by 2011, every South American C40 city either had or planned a BRT system. And while Rio had already embarked on an ambitious BRT program before winning the Games in 2009, the upcoming Olympics spurred the addition of a fourth BRT line that will open in time for the 2016 Opening Ceremonies. BRT has been a stunning success:  In 2011, 18 percent of public transit trips were taken on BRT.  By 2013, that number had reached 63 percent!


rio transit rio2016
Map of major mass transit lines built/in construction for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, including all 4 BRT lines (Photo Credit: Rio2016)


GSB:  What about beyond Rio?

Seth: Two examples from 2010 come to mind.

The Winter Olympics in Vancouver were just incredible from a sustainable transit point of view.  Between the events in Metro Vancouver and getting to/from events in the mountains at Whistler, the organizing committee and the city of Vancouver developed a comprehensive transit plan that involved getting people out of their cars via increased use of buses, trains, and even bicycles.  Vancouver did such a great job with its transit program during the Olympics that it’s maintained its modal shift since the Olympic Flame was doused.  This means folks are continuing to use mass transit. Which means GHG emissions have stayed lower than expected.

GSB:  Why do you think that is?

Seth:  #1: The new transportation infrastructure was/is strong, #2: Education, as  people were taught how to use the new system, and #3:  The people liked it!

light rail vancouver
The new Olympic Light Rail Line, built for Vancouver’s 2010 Winter Olympics (Photo Credit:


GSB: What was the second 2010 mega sports event?

Seth: The 2010 World Cup in South Africa also saw great advances in energy efficient mobility. Funding for the World Cup helped finish the construction of the GAUTRAIN commuter rail line, built to relieve the traffic congestion in the Johannesburg–Pretoria corridor.

World Cup money also helped Johannesburg, (working with C40, the Clinton Climate Initiative, and the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy), build its BRT system and open it in time for the tournament.  Both GAUTRAIN and BRT have drawn huge ridership and demonstrate what big sports events can do for a city:  Leave a legacy of an energy efficient transportation infrastructure.

GSB: See, that’s why I was a big supporter of New York City’s bid for the 2012 Summer Olympics–an improved transportation infrastructure.  But let’s not go there.  One more thing before we go:  Bike Share!  We’re coming up on its first anniversary in New York City in a couple months. All signs point to it being a runaway success (unless you read the New York Post). Any stats from C40 on Bike Share?

Seth:  Bike Share’s growth has been nothing short of fantastic.  In 2011, 6 C40 cities had Bike Share.  Only two short years later and there were 36 C40 cities with Bike Share!  And that number will continue to grow.

GSB: Seth, thanks so much for your time and for the important work you and the rest of the C40 team is doing to generate sustainable solutions in mega cities that generate positive results.  This conversation tells me that the intersection of Urbanization, Green and Sports is going to be increasingly important in the years to come.

Seth:  Thank you!



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  1. Interesting interview

  2. Thanks, Phyllis! Seth and C40 are doing some very important, if under-publicized work.

  3. […] the additional Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) lines in Rio that are Olympics-related (links here and here). That should be a carbon footprint reducer, […]

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