The 2019 NCAA Women’s and Men’s Final Fours both featured Green Teams, squads of volunteers that helped educate fans about environmentally friendly behaviors and to direct them to place their food waste in the proper receptacles.
Aside from that, the two events were about as different as the host cities, Tampa for the women and Minneapolis for the men.
Wednesday, GreenSportsBlog shared the experiences of Madeleine “Maddy” Orr and her students from Laurentian University in Ontario, Canada as they ventured to Tampa, becoming the first Green Team at a Women’s Final Four.
Today we turn to Minneapolis and the story of how Tiffany Richardson brought her deep Green Team management experience — honed at several Major League Baseball All-Star Games — to the Men’s Final Four at US Bank Stadium.
Tiffany Richardson had three key things going for her as she worked to pull together and manage the green team for the 2019 Men’s Final Four in Minneapolis. Richardson:
- Was based in the Twin Cities, where she is owner of Elevate Sports Consulting and a former lecturer at the University of Minnesota in the Department of Kinesiology’s Sport Management area and an Educator at the Institute on the Environment (IOE). OK, she moved to Amsterdam about six months before the Final Four, but was able to handle things remotely in a smooth fashion thanks to a strong team back home.
- Had successfully managed Green Teams at four Major League Baseball All-Star Games, starting with the 2014 edition at Minneapolis’ Target Field.
- Reached out to the Minneapolis local organizing committee about a Green Team two years before the Final Four, giving her the necessary time to sell management on her vision.
Upon meeting Richardson for the first time at a Minneapolis cafe the morning of the semifinals doubleheader, one thing became crystal clear to me: Green team members would execute her vision to the best of their abilities.
“I WANTED TO DO IT!”
“My ears perked up as soon as I heard that Minneapolis was going to host the 2019 Men’s Final Four,” Richardson recalled. “They needed to have a sustainability effort and I knew how to make it work. And I wanted to do it! So in early 2017, I got in touch with Kate Mortenson, president of the local organizing committee. She knew my reputation in Green-Sports and asked me to be the sustainability chair. And she gave me a blank canvas on which to create the sustainability programming, which was fantastic.”
Tiffany Richardson (Photo credit: Tiffany Richardson)
Richardson consulted with Colin Tetreault, who managed the sustainability effort for the 2017 Men’s Final Four in Phoenix about how best to fill the canvas.
“Colin drove home the point that we needed to establish a sustainability legacy for the Minneapolis Final Four,” said Richardson. “Water was the legacy for Phoenix. We decided to go with mass transit. Our message: Fans don’t need to rent cars; use mass transit.”
A plan was developed to encourage fans coming in to Minneapolis for the tournament to take light rail from the airport to downtown. I saw this firsthand as I attended the tournament. It could not have been more convenient. Fans could easily get to US Bank Stadium via light rail, bus, commuter rail and on foot.
IT’S GO (GREEN) TIME
And, while Phoenix didn’t have a Green-Team in 2017 — the NCAA thought it would be too intrusive for fans — Richardson was determined to show the powers that be that this would not be the case in Minneapolis.
“We sent a ‘sizzle video’ of our Green-Team’s work at the 2017 All-Star Game at Marlins Park in Miami to JoAn Scott, the NCAA’s managing director for the Division I men’s basketball championship in the fall,” recounted Richardson. “I told her and her colleagues that the only difference between All-Star and Final Four was innings versus time outs. They LOVED the video! Fast-forward to late 2017-early 2018. We presented our full vision for the Green-Team to JoAnne and her team. They aired their concerns — ‘don’t be disruptive’ and ‘don’t chastise’. We came to a meeting of the minds and the Green-Team was a GO!”
Speaking of GO, Richardson decided to go — as in move — to Amsterdam in late summer 2018 to pursue an MBA at the University of Amsterdam. She also lectured on Sports Ethics at The Hague University in their International Sport Management department.
Big problem, right?
You don’t know Tiffany Richardson.
“I asked the Minnesota Local Organizing Committee (MLOC) to appoint a top-notch former student, Nicole Petschow, to run things in Minneapolis while I was away, including managing the recruiting of green team members,” Richardson said. “I would be on all conference calls and then would fly in for the Final Four. It worked out really well.”
Nicole Petschow (Photo credit: Nicole Petschow)
As the calendar turned to 2019, the pace of the Final Four sustainability effort kicked into high gear:
- A strong recruitment effort netted 70-plus green team members. They came from the University of Minnesota, The University of St. Thomas (another local school), and the University of Louisville.
- Background checks were conducted in January on all of the volunteers (Richardson: “Security around the Men’s Final Four is much tighter than at the Women’s, a big difference.”)
- Volunteer training took place in February. Per Richardson, “The volunteers helped out at Minnesota Wild NHL games to get experience and assist in the Wild’s efforts because they have a robust sustainability program themselves.”
- Richardson and team worked with the MLOC to help the Men’s Final Four earn certification as a sustainable event from the Council for Responsible Sport (level still pending.)
GREEN TEAMERS DELIVER SOLID RESULTS
Since this was far from Richardson’s first Green-Team rodeo, she and her leadership team were well prepared heading into the Saturday semifinals at US Bank Stadium.
Still, the massive size of the building posed some challenges.
“This was basketball being played in a football stadium,” Richardson noted. “Instead of 17,000 for hockey or 43,000 for a baseball All-Star Game we had 72,000 fans! Our plans had to be fluid. What if the crowd filed in slowly? What if it rained and everyone wanted to get in early? What if fans loitered near the entrances? We had to be ready for every eventuality and we were.”
72,711 fans shoehorned into US Bank Stadium for the Men’s Final Four semifinals (Photo credit: Jeff Thurn)
When fans started entering the Stadium at 2:45 PM for the 5 PM first game between Auburn and Virginia, the Green-Teamers were there. Unobtrusive and pleasant, they collected plastics and aluminum cans on the concourses. I saw them trudge up and down the very long, steep aisles of the upper deck, taking empty items with a smile — great guest service.
Per Richardson, “Kudos go to students from the University of Minnesota, St. Thomas and The University of Louisville. They brought great energy, never complained and understood this was about the bigger vision — one less bottle in the landfill — and they GOT IT DONE!”
2019 Men’s Final Four Green Team in Minneapolis (Photo credit: Tiffany Richardson)
Approximately 62 percent of the 144,000 pounds of waste collected over the two nights of the Final Four was diverted, with about half of the diverted waste going to recycling and the other half to compost¹.
Why didn’t they get in the 80-90 percent diversion range?
“We had a few Back-of-House — i.e. kitchen — issues that were beyond our control,” Richardson acknowledged. “I’m confident that the next time US Bank Stadium hosts a mega-event, those problems will have been ironed out and the diversion rates would approach the 90 percent Zero-Waste threshold.”
WHAT COULD’VE GONE BETTER/HOW TO MAKE FUTURE FINAL FOURS GREENER
“We had a really great event: The Green Team, folks from US Bank Stadium and the local organizing committee came together beautifully,” Richardson said. “But it could’ve gone much better, with a stronger commitment to fan-facing sustainability by the NCAA and sponsors like Coke.”
According to Richardson, here’s where the NCAA and Coca-Cola, a corporate sponsor with a strong green initiative, missed the mark:
- Coke failed to promote their World Without Waste sustainability campaign (“They leveraged their new Orange-Vanilla flavor everywhere. World Without Waste? Not so much.”)
- There were no recycling or compost receptacles on the Fan Fest streets that were closed to traffic
- The public transit initiative fell a bit short as Richardson’s and company’s request to provide free mass transit rides to fans bearing game tickets was rejected (volunteers and coaches did get that benefit)
How can Men’s Final Fours go greener in the future, starting with the 2020 edition in Atlanta at LEED Platinum Mercedes-Benz Stadium?
“The NCAA needs its own ‘sustainability charter’ for mega-events like the Final Fours and College Football Playoff National Championship, and that charter needs to have some real teeth,” recommended Richardson. “Corporate sponsors need to buy in. Sponsor-funded carbon offsets for every fan, Zero-Waste Games. Students will volunteer in great numbers; they don’t have to worry about that. There can’t be a greenwash; the NCAA can’t use half-measures because they don’t need to. They are the NCAA after all.”
¹ Actual amounts diverted: RECYCLED: 43,440 lbs.; COMPOST: 42,860 lbs.; DONATED FOOD: 6,427 lbs.