Special Series

“Twin Cities Rule US Green-Sports” — Part IV: r.Cup Reduces Number of Single Use Plastic Bottles at Sports, Entertainment Venues

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“Which metro area is the Green-Sportsy-est in the US?”

While coastal areas like San Francisco-Oakland-Santa Clara and Seattle might come to mind first, it says here that Minneapolis and St. Paul, smack dab in the heartland of the country, wins the title. In fact, the Twin Cities’ Green-Sportsy-ness runs so deep that we can’t cover it all in one post.

In Part I of our four-part GSB special series, Twin Cities Rule US Green-Sports, we looked at US Bank Stadium (Minnesota Vikings), the University of Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium and CHS Field (Independent baseball’s St. Paul Saints) from a green perspective.

Part II featured Chef David Fhima, who brought clean, healthy, organic food to the Minnesota Timberwolves and Target Center.

Then in Part III we went back to the venues, this time visiting Target Field (Minnesota Twins), Xcel Energy Center (Minnesota Wild/NHL) and Allianz Field (Minnesota United/MLS).

In today’s Part IV finale, we profile Mike Martin, a pioneer in the sustainable concert space. He recently launched r.Cup, a Minneapolis-based startup whose goal is to dramatically reduce the number of single use plastic bottles at concerts and, going forward, sports events.

 

GSB: Mike, before we get to the r.Cup story, before we get to how sports venues can dramatically reduce the number single use plastic bottles, I’d like to understand how you got into the green concert world back before there really was a green concert world.

Mike Martin: This goes back to the 1980s. I was in the investment banking world, selling mortgage backed securities…

GSB: …The “Go-Go 80s”

Mike: You got that right. I mean I was selling to the Trump Organization at that time. Anyway, I was doing well but during that era the Bhopal disaster¹ happened, the Exxon Valdez spill² happened. I realized helping companies like these was not what I was supposed to be doing and wanted to create opportunities for capitalism to have a positive impact on the health of people and the planet.

 

 

Mike Martin (Photo credit: Mike Martin)

 

GSB: So what did you do?

Mike: A friend got the rights to produce the official concert for the 20th Anniversary of Earth Day celebration in 1990. I had formed a concert committee when I was a student at Carroll University in Wisconsin. Based on that “vast experience”, the friend asked me to produce the event. So I left my job and set about managing the concert. It took place at the Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Maryland outside of Washington, D.C. A dozen artists including Ziggy Marley, Indigo Girls and Michael Stipe and Peter Buck of REM performed; over 20,000 people showed up. And these artists formed the core of the Earth Day + 20 rally on the National Mall which drew 500,000 people, and the revenues generated from the concert helped fund the rally.

Anyway, the next day, Jonathan Kraft called. His dad, Robert, was buying the New England Patriots. He wanted to do something positive for Boston and offered up the stadium for free if we would put on a similar concert in 1991 at Foxboro Stadium, the Pats’ home at the time. We produced that event — it aired on MTV, which was a very big deal back then.

We reunited Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr on Earth Day 1993 at the Hollywood Bowl. Broadcast on VH1, it was the “tent pole” (or centerpiece) event that tied in with 30 markets nationally to create that year’s National Earth Day Campaign. It raised money for PETA, Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace.

 

 

Mike Martin presents Paul McCartney and his wife Linda (since deceased) with an Earth Day “Concerts for the Environment” poster in Minneapolis in 1993 (Photo credit: Michael Martin)

 

As part of producing these events, we greened the stadium, from installing the most energy efficient light bulbs available at the time to recycling to managing water usage. At the Earth Day Festivals, we also introduced many of the components still in use today: eco-villages, rewards for taking environmental action, community involvement, the whole thing.

GSB: And thus, basically overnight, you became a purpose-focused concert producer, with green as a major thread! How cool is that?

Mike: Yes, I feel very fortunate to have been able to not only influence the live event industry, reaching millions of people, and in the process, work on creative solutions to some of the world’s biggest environmental problems.

For the last three decades, I’ve acted, mainly behind the scenes, as a catalyst to bring culture and business together to tackle some of the most pressing social issues facing humanity. One of the things I am most known for is, helping to put the concept of global warming on the map for mainstream America. In the 90s, I started reading research papers about climate change and global warming and thought “this is a massive problem.” I decided I had to do something.

I spent a year talking to leading environmentalists and acted as a catalyst to unite the top 20 environmental organizations to create the first national global warming campaign.

So in 1999-2000, in partnership with Ben & Jerry’s and 20 environmental nonprofits, we produced the Ben & Jerry’s Dave Matthews Band One Sweet World Campaign. The concept was: “Eat This Ice Cream and Lose a Ton…..of CO₂”. This was the amount of CO2 each American needed to reduce their emissions according to the Kyoto Protocol. The campaign educated the country on steps individuals could take to reduce their CO₂ emissions.

 

 

Ben & Jerry’s One Sweet Whirled/Dave Matthews Band limited edition ice cream (Photo credit: Ben & Jerry’s)

 

“One Sweet World” become the most successful Ben & Jerry’s launch up to that point. This helped reinforce the company’s commitment to social change, which helped re-invigorate the brand image, even after being sold to Unilever. Dave Matthews Band established its bona fides as a green band.

From there, we realized we were becoming a purpose-driven marketing agency of sorts…

GSB: …Long before purpose-driven was a thing…

Mike: Then it was called “cause marketing.” Well to us, it was the effect or impact that really mattered so in 2008 we changed the name of the company from Music Matters to Effect Partners, with a focus on developing the practice of “Effect Marketing”.

GSB: What were some of Effect Marketing’s highlight projects?

Mike: We helped launch Toyota’s Prius back in 2000. In 2005-6 we developed “Green Notes” for Clif Bar. This program is still in place. We work with cool emerging artists like Ingrid Michaelson, Soja, Michael Franti and Bon Iver, teaching them how to green their tours, while giving them tools to help inspire their fans to take positive social change actions.

In the early 2000’s we started working with Kim and Jack Johnson to help them develop their greening strategies and messaging. In 2008, we worked with Kim and Jack Johnson on creating their “All At Once” sustainability non-profit and tour. We introduced hydration stations to the music industry with the Brita Filter For Good program. And, we’ve worked with brands like Proctor & Gamble, Target and Apple on developing their Effect Marketing strategies and campaigns

GSB: That’s an amazing track record. Billboard magazine called you the “guru of live music greening.”

Mike: That was very kind of them. That’s been our mission from the beginning. Music is the platform to open the hearts and minds of fans and so it is the obvious way to move people along the continuum of awareness to action on environmental and social issues.

Going to back to Foxboro in 1991, we started something that was behind the scenes but also very important: We created a document called the “EnviroRider™” that can be added to the contracts a band signs with a venue or event promoter. You know, bands have production riders and catering riders, so why not have an EnviroRider? Steve Miller was the first artist who asked me to make this for his tour. By using an EnviroRider, bands would have leverage to make sure that their concerts would be as environmentally-friendly as possible. And it works. Venues do what bands want.

What makes me very happy is how many of the items on the EnviroRider that venues, concessionaires and promoters would say they could not do in the 1990’s and 2000’s are now common practice. Composting on site, offsetting emissions, using biodiesel to power generators, bicycle corrals, fan rewards for recycling, eliminating single-use water bottles, local food, organic food.

We’ve been the Sustainability Director for U2 since 2009 when they launched the 360 Tour, still the biggest tour in history. Our goal for them was to dramatically reduce their waste reduction and carbon footprint. We did that in a number of ways, including creating an offset that provides water filters for people in sub-Saharan Africa so they would not use wood for boiling water.

We moved the needle!

GSB: I’ll say! Talk about how you also got into the fight for clean water. 

Mike: This was in 2000-1. As you may know, arsenic run-off from farming is a by-product of the chemicals and pesticides used on our food. It gets into our drinking water supply. I got involved with getting artists to support a campaign against legislation from the Bush 43 administration that would have allowed more arsenic in our water.

That led to advocating for organics and to producing the “Go Organic for Earth Day,” working with 4,500 stores nationally. The result? Sales of organics jumped by up to 25 percent nationally. The other campaign was called ONE (Organic and Natural Experience). With ONE, we took up to 25 companies at a time out on the road to major events and concerts and distributed organic samples and coupons for organic products. Amazingly, we enjoyed up to 10 to 15 percent redemption rates…

GSB: That’s an insane redemption rate. Most successful coupon campaigns get between 1 and 1.5 percent. So an organic-based promotion outdid that by tenfold! When did sports come into your work?

Mike: Well, I never was that far away from it. Of course most of the venues the bands with which we work play at also host sports events. We created a very exciting campaign that ran during the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The USOC and the Dairy Industry Association…

GSB: The Milk Mustache people…

Mike: Them! Anyway they’ve had a long-term partnership, with US Olympians extolling the virtues of milk. But there is increasing awareness and more and more athletes who are adopting plant-based, vegan diets, and who decry the animal cruelty surrounding the dairy industry. So we created an ad that featured vegan Olympians called Switch4Good that refuted some of the pro-dairy claims in milk ads and extolled the virtues of a vegan diet. We ran the ad on NBC, it aired in one market and the Dairy Association complained and so NBC pulled it. But that was okay — we got a ton of publicity, plus we ran the ad on the Oscars broadcast.

 

The Switch for Good ad (60 seconds)

 

GSB: I remember that. Very cool! Now let’s talk r.Cup. How did it begin? 

Mike: To me, after greening live concert events for almost three decades, the environmental Holy Grail has always been waste reduction, especially those single-use plastic cups. We’ve tried fan education, fan incentives, trash goalies, etc. Truth is, most fans don’t really care about taking the time to recycle at concerts or sports events. They just want to enjoy the event!

A great example of this was when Live Nation hired me in 2016 to help them design the optimal way to green their amphitheaters. I was able to take the greening decisions out of the fans’ hands. No plastic, everything was designed to be recycled or composted. I thought we had the solution! But…But there was a big problem: About 80 percent of trash on the ground at a venue does not go to recycling or composting. It goes to landfill. And a lot of that trash was cups. For compostable plastic to work it has to be hand sorted and taken to an industrial composting facility. If not, it contaminates the recycled material.

And so I started to think about how to actually reduce the number of cups that end up on the floor and ultimately go to landfill from big concerts and sports events. We needed to see how we could reduce, reuse…Could we create a rent, refill, return mechanism? Now you can see where the germ of the idea for r.Cup came from.

GSB: Clever! How does it work?

Mike: r.Cup is simple and works amazingly well. You come to the event, buy a beverage of any kind. It’s served in a high quality artist or team branded cup. You pay for the beverage plus a $3 deposit for the cup. Then, if you want another beer or water or whatever, you come back with the same cup and get a refill. At the end of the event, you come to the r.Cup staff and get your $3 back or you can take your up home.

 

 

An r.Cup from the Rolling Stones 2019 No Filter tour (Photo credit: r.Cup)

 

r.Cup provides the cups, handles all the logistics and tracks the positive environmental impact of the program. No waste is generated, venues do not have to clean-up or dispose of trash, saving them money. The concessionaires do not need to buy cups and can make a small fee on each cup kept. Additionally, we are seeing reports of increased per-head sales. I guess if you are holding a cup, you want to fill it up! Ten percent of the company is owned by ocean cleanup non-profits so as r.Cup grows, the plastic waste crisis begins to lessen.

GSB: So r.Cup gets its revenues from the people who keep the cups?

Mike: Exactly. And the cups are dishwasher-safe and recyclable. We’re working on a cup that’s fossil fuel-free. For concert tours, which is where we started in 2017, we sterilize the cups and then move on to the next city. For festivals, we will sterilize and warehouse any cups for next year’s festival.

For  sports teams — we’re dabbling in it this year with a big rollout in 2020 — obviously the cups stay where they are. And sports is a huge opportunity for us. Sports contributes far more in single use plastic waste than the music industry. We’ve been approached by sustainability leadership from all the major sports leagues. And six or seven teams at least, all among the leaders in Green-Sports, have reached out, so you will start seeing r.Cup at sport events in the near future.

GSB: Good to hear. How does sports differ from concerts for r.Cup?

Mike: They’re very different. A major band might tour every couple years. A major league baseball team has 81 home games every season. NBA clubs have 41, and NHL teams have 40. So the deposit for a cup model will not work as well in sports. That’s why we have a “no deposit model” for sports in which we become a cup service. The concessionaire pays us to provide the cups, collect, wash, house and manage the cups as well as providing environmental impact tracking. The cost of the cup service is embedded in the beverage. We collect the cups left behind, wash and sterilize them and put them back into use.

GSB: Let us know how it works out. r.Cup is based in Minneapolis, for my money, the hub of Green-Sports in the USA. Are Twin-Cities teams on your radar? And why do you think the Twin Cities sports teams are so green-minded?

Mike: Yes they are! We are in discussions with several of the local teams and you will be seeing r.Cup at some Twin Cities sports events this year.

The Twin Cities is one of the most aware and progressive communities in the country, so fans expect their teams to reflect their values. The owners of the Twin Cities teams are committed leaders who work hard to provide a positive fan experience. Eliminating tons of toxic plastic waste, creates a positive fan experience, helps the community, increases the bottom line, and, most importantly, it is the right thing to do!

 

¹ The Bhopal disaster was a gas leak incident in December 1984 at the Union Carbide India Limited pesticide plant in Bhopal. It is considered to be the world’s worst industrial disaster as up to an estimate 16,000 people died.
² The Valdez was an oil tanker owned by Exxon that spilled 11 million gallons of crude oil into Alaska’s Prince William Sound in 1989. The oil slick ultimately impacted 1,300 miles of coast line.

 


 

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Chris Long, Adidas Honored for Environmental Work

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