The Inspirational Power of (Green) Sports: Highlights from Sustainable Innovation in Sport at Paris COP21


How can sports inspire a global movement towards tackling climate change? That was the focus of Monday’s Sustainable Innovation in Sports (SIIS) symposium in Paris. The half-day event was part COP21, the global UN climate change conference. COP21 delegates are working on a deal that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions such that global temperature rise is limited to +2° C vs. pre-industrial levels. Hopes for a deal are high but nothing is certain as the clock ticks towards COP21’s Friday finish. One thing SIIS demonstrated for certain: If a deal is made, sports’ ability to bring people together will play a key role in rallying public support to ensure the deal’s promises are met.

I was fortunate to experience the Inspirational Power Of Sports twice in the past 48 hours, in two different ways.
Sunday saw the type of inspiration that sports fans are used to. Meaning that my team, the New York Jets, won a dramatic heart-thumping, come-from-behind victory.
OK, this was anything but typical: It was over the rival New York Giants (the Jets hadn’t beaten ’em since ’93.) In overtime. In an important game for both. And I was there! In the 2nd row!!!
Fast forward to 8 AM Monday morning New York time/2 PM Paris time and the start of the Sustainable Innovation in Sport symposium at the Stade de France in Paris. Through the miracle of streaming video I was able to view the entire program of panels and speeches. And, while the Jets win was inspiring in traditional sports fan terms, the first event at France’s national stadium since the Paris bombings three weeks ago delivered, with a mix of poetry and policy prescriptions, the Inspirational Power of Sports on a global, save-humanity scale.
The gist from moderators, panelists and speakers alike was: 1. Human behavior change on a massive scale is needed to solve the climate change challenges. 2. This is hugely difficult. 3. Sports is uniquely qualified to “Be The Change” agent on a broad scale. Here are some highlights:

  • “Politics and religion tend to be divisive; sports harmonizes communities like nothing else.” said Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, President, Green Sports Alliance, and panel moderator.
  • Mael Besson, Policy Officer, Sustainable Development of Sport, French Ministry of Cities, Youth and Sport, shared an innovative program that allows small sports organizations to optimize their transport choices, which results in reduced cost, travel time and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
  • Dow, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Official Carbon Partner, has many projects ongoing for carbon reductions for Rio 2016,” reported Dr. Nicoletta Piccolrovazzi, Global Technology & Sustainability Director, Dow Olympic & Sports Solutions, “As important as the programs themselves are, our plans to engage at least 500,000 people in Rio and around Brazil to make smarter environmental choices are just as crucial. We started early with this messaging which allows us to turn a complex topic into something digestible.”


Dr. Nicoletta Piccolrovazzi, Global Technology & Sustainability Director, Dow Olympic & Sports Solutions. (Photo credit: COP21, Dow)


  • Thierry Braillard is impatient when it comes to sports and climate change: “Sport must be more innovative than it has been to this point. It can’t wait for government, whether the issue is clean energy at stadiums, recycling, or less waste. This is acutely important for Paris as we are bidding to host the 2024 Summer Olympics. Our plan is bold and simple: To make all of the Olympic events 100% sustainable.”


  • Tania Braga, Rio 2016’s Sustainability, Diversity and Legacy Head, focused on measurement of behavior change: “We take carbon emissions very seriously. First we calculated what emissions would look like under a ‘Business As Usual’ (BAS) scenario and then have challenged all areas of Rio 2016 operations to realize 18% reductions vs. BAS. Careful planning, use of low carbon materials and fuels with lower emissions are helping to get us there. Keeping the change ‘running’ after the Games are over is crucial so we’ve seeded a program in Rio schools to use Olympic themes to teach climate science. Teachers in every school in Rio will have access to this.”

Tania Braga

Tania Braga; Sustainability, Diversity and Legacy Head, Rio 2016. (Photo Credit: COP21, Rio 2016, Alex Ferro)


  • Involving high profile players in the climate change fight is essential, according to French Basketball Federation President Jean Pierre Siutat: “To change fan behavior, we need ambassadors, in our case players like Tony Parker (San Antonio Spurs) and the French National Team, to talk about climate change.”


  • BT (formerly known as British Telecom) Chief Sustainability Officer Niall Dunne, reflected on the moment he and his team realized the Inspirational Power of Sports could impact the climate change fight–and that BT Sport, its sports TV network in the UK, should play a role: “We had (Tottenham) Spurs-Chelsea (English Premier League Soccer) on our air last Christmas, drawing 1.7 million viewers,” he said. “We said, ‘what if just 10% of those fans actually switched to clean energy, it would be the equivalent to taking 50,000 cars off the road.'” BT Sport decided to go for much more than 10%–it’s 100% they’re after, through 100% Sport (#Go100Percent), the global movement the company launched in partnership with America’s Cup winning sailor Sir Ben Ainslie. It encourages sports teams, athletes and, most importantly fans to switch to electricity generated from 100% non-polluting sources. Per Dunne, “Sport is about giving 100% commitment to your teammates, to fans and to the community. 100% Sport adds a 100% commitment to the planet. BT’s goal for itself is to ‘walk the walk’ by buying 100% of its electricity from clean sources by 2020.”
  • The world’s 3rd largest sports event will take place in France next year and sustainability is central to its DNA. Euro 2016 is the European version of the World Cup and Neil Beecroft, Sustainability Manager of UEFA, the governing body of soccer on the continent, told the symposium, “There will be no private parking spaces at any of the stadia. Our new mobility app will be an Uber-like system for ride sharing, mass transit connections and even bike travel.”

Nell Beecroft

Neil Beecroft, Sustainability Manager of UEFA. (Photo credit: COP21, UEFA)


  • Gretchen Bleiler, the American Olympic medal-winning snowboarder has “seen climate change and its effects up close–it’s effecting all winter sports.” So she decided to take action, joining forces with Protect Our Winters (POW), which, said Bleiler, “believes a social movement is missing from the climate change fight.” She pointed to POW’s Riders Alliance, “a community of the most accomplished professional snow sports athletes in the world, all committed to environmental leadership” as a powerful force to catalyze that movement among the 23 million Americans snow sports participants. Bleiler said she and her POW/Riders Alliance colleagues educate (“through Hot Planet/Cool Athlete presentations at schools”,) advocate (“we lobby Members of Congress annually on climate issues,) and take action (“worked with the White House to promote its Clean Power Plan”).

YET, a plaintive question from an audience member demonstrated that the climate change fight is huge, global, multi-generational and just beginning: “How will the world, with 2 to 3 billion new people expected by 2050, most wanting to consume like Americans and the west, be able to fight climate change?”
Lewis Pugh, the incredible marathon swimmer profiled last week in GreenSportsBlog, took this essential question on: “In 2005, I did a swim in the Arctic Ocean. The water temperature was 3°C. I went back and did the swim this year and it was 7.8°C. So I’ve seen and felt the effects of climate change. Despite this, we cannot afford defeatist thinking. We need to stand up like Mandela, like Pope Francis and take this on positively, resolutely and with vision.”
UEFA’s Beecroft shared his own powerful vision on how his sport, soccer, can take this on: “Getting Lionel Messi and Christiano Ronaldo to sit down together to talk about teaming up on the climate change fight.”
In fact, GreenSportsBlog would not only like to see the Messi-Ronaldo confab, we also urge that the NBA work to arrange a LeBron James-Steph Curry climate change talk and the ATP/WTA to schedule a Roger Federer-Serena Williams climate change chat. Talk about the Inspirational Power of Sports!

Please comment below!
Email us: lew@greensportsblog.com
Tweet us: @GreenSportsBlog


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  1. […] week was a great one for the Green-Sports movement. The power of Green-Sports was on display at the COP21 climate change conference in Paris. And also last week, Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, Co-Founder and […]

  2. […] a successful launch at the historic COP21 Climate Change Conference in Paris in late 2015, Sustainable Innovation in Sport will convene for a second time, bringing […]

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