Russia Violates Pledge To Make Sochi The Cleanest Olympics Ever

The Russian government pledged to make the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games the “cleanest ever” when they made their winning pitch to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) back in 2007.  They are not living up to that pledge.

When Russia submitted its bid to host the 2014 Olympic Winter Games at Sochi, many thought that having the winter games at a summer seaside resort city was disastrous notion from an environmental point of view (it will take tremendous amounts of energy to make snow in an environment that could well see temperatures of 50°F and above).


Beach-goer walks by Sochi Olympic Ice Hockey Arena in August (82°F that day).  Many question siting the Olympic Winter Games in a sub-tropical area where winter temperatures can be above 50°F.  (Photo Credit: BusinessInsider)

Despite that environmental concern and others (almost no existing infrastructure in terms of venues which meant a huge amount of new construction), the Russian Olympic Committee made sustainability a key selling point in their bid.  And that pitch worked as Sochi defeated Salzburg, Austria and Pyeonchang, South Korea* (both with better weather from a winter sports point of view and also more of an existing sports infrastructure) to win the Olympics that begin next February 7.

That pledge has been broken, notes the Associated Press.  It reports that Russia has been dumping waste from construction projects associated with the Games.  This breaks the zero waste pledge Russia made in their bid.

In a visit last week to Akhshtyr, just north of Sochi, the AP found “that state-owned Russian Railways is dumping tons of construction waste into a landfill described by authorities (the Russian version of the US Environmental Protection Agency) as illegal”.  Perhaps the most alarming aspect of the AP’s story is that Russian Railways was fined only $3,000 for the violation and the dump wasn’t closed.  A $3,000 fine on a project that cost billions!!  And think about this–Russia’s $51 billion budget for the Olympics contains no provisions for treating construction waste.

Dumping Outside Sochi

A truck unloads construction waste material illegally near Akhshtyr village. This landfill outside Sochi, host of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games, is in the middle of a water protection zone where dumping industrial waste is banned. (Photo Credit: AP/Dmitry Lovetsky)

The biggest controversy in the run-up to the Sochi Olympics has been the anti-gay laws, signed by President Vladimir Putin in June of this year.  My expectation is that NBC will live up to its promise to delve into that issue–and prominently–during its many, many hours of coverage.  I hope that NBC, the network of “Green Is Universal” will also devote some coverage to Russia’s failure to live up to its “Cleanest Games” pledge.

* Pyeongchang eventually won the rights to host the 2018 Olympic Winter Games

Please follow me and GreenSportsBlog on Twitter: @LewieBlau

The GSB Interview: Julianna Barbieri, Co-Founder, Atlantic Cup, Carbon Neutral Sailing Race

When I tell people that the Atlantic Cup is the first-ever carbon neutral sailing race in the US, the typical reaction is a puzzled “wait, the boats are powered by the wind–isn’t that green?”  Turns out the boats need lots of on-board electricity on long haul races like the Atlantic Cup.  GreenSportsBlog spoke with Julianna Barbieri, Co-Founder and Managing Partner of Manuka Sports Event Management, the Newport, RI-based company that manages the Atlantic Cup, about the challenges of running a green, world class sailing race; the state of “clean regattas”, and the greenness of that “other” sailing race, the America’s Cup. (Ed. Note: Lewis Brand Solutions, parent company of GreenSportsBlog, worked as a consultant for the Atlantic Cup in 2011-2012)

GreenSportsBlog:  Julianna, tell us about the Atlantic Cup

Julianna Barbieri:  The Atlantic Cup is an annual offshore sailing race, from Charleston, SC to New York City to Newport, RI.  It’s the only Class 40 race in the US–Class 40s being 40 foot, high tech yachts, manned by 2 people.  It takes place every May–we are preparing for the 4th annual race next spring.  Environmental responsibility has been a central facet of our DNA since the beginning and our 2012 race was certified Carbon Neutral.

Atlantic Cup in NYC

Atlantic Cup Class 40 Yachts race in New York Harbor

GSB: What are the key drivers of the Atlantic Cup’s strong environmental record?

JB: My Co-Founder, Hugh Piggin (a professional sailor from New Zealand), and I have always been environmentalists.  The race’s environmental profile was enhanced when we signed 11th Hour Racing*, dedicated to the goal of “establishing a platform for responsible energy use in sailing”, as our Presenting Sponsor–they’ve been with us since the beginning.  So with our core values and those of our Presenting Sponsors aligned, the Atlantic Cup’s sustainability will certainly have staying power.  This is a clear, important signal to the racers, fans, media and the sponsors.

GSB:  What specifically does it mean for the Atlantic Cup to be Carbon Neutral, to be green?

JB:  Everything we do puts the environment first. For starters, there are no fossil fuels used by the boats during the race.  The boats use a lot of electricity—for electronics, navigational lights, weather routing, satellite guidance, etc.  So all of the boats are retrofitted with a combination of solar panels, fuel cells and/or a hydro generator.

Julianna Barbieri

Julianna Barbieri, Co-Founder and Managing Parter of The Atlantic Cup

GSB: Wow!  How have the sailors reacted to the greening of the Atlantic Cup?

JB: Using alternative energy is something all of our sailors are happy to do as it allows them to carry less fuel when racing, which makes their boat lighter and a lighter boat equals a faster boat. On a micro level, the biggest sustainability-related challenge with our sailors has been with something that sounds small–single use plastic bottles.  All boats have tanks to cover drinking water use but sailors want plastic because it’s so easy.  So we have to work on it. Another component that we talk about a lot with the sailors is not throwing anything overboard. Almost all sailors when offshore throw what they deem to biodegradable overboard, like aluminum cans, glass bottles, and bits of paper. What we now know is that while those items will eventually degrade they will take years, not days and that’s not good for our oceans.  Interestingly there is a new rule, Rule 55, in the racing rules of sailing for 2013 that no sailor shall toss anything overboard.

Now, from a macro point-of-view, sailors need the oceans to be clean to be able to compete.  So, even before the Atlantic Cup, there was a heightened awareness about the environment.  Sadly, not much was being done about it except for an organization called Sailors For The Sea , which certifies “clean regattas”–kind of the LEED certification in the sailing world.

GSB:  Has the Atlantic Cup’s carbon neutrality attracted green-minded sponsors?

JB:  Some sponsors, like 11th Hour Racing and Green Mountain Energy, support us specifically because we are green.  Others, while supporting our mission, sponsor the Atlantic Cup for other reasons, to reach other marketing objectives.

GSB:  What about the fans’ reaction?

JB:  It’s really hard to get a read on the fans.  Most of them follow the race remotely–via our website, Facebook, newsletters.  The good thing is our reach is growing.  In 2012 we had 16 million measured media impressions.  That number grew 75% to 28 million a year later!  Going forward we will reach out to our remote fans to get their take on our green efforts and to get them to help to effect change towards cleaner waterways.

Relatively few are on site at our events on shore.  Those that have attended in person have responded positively to our sustainability messaging.

GSB:  A question about The America’s Cup.  It certainly is, by far, the most well known sailing race in the US.  Have they embraced sustainability?  And has the Atlantic Cup collaborated with them?

JB:  You’re right–The America’s Cup’s reach is far greater than ours.  That’s no surprise–it’s got 100 years of history and is funded to the tune of 9 figures by a billionaire (Oracle CEO and Founder Larry Ellison).  And they are also moving forward in a green way, which is very good for the sport.  One reason is the recently concluded America’s Cup took place in San Francisco and that city has very forward thinking and stringent environmental regulations regarding events.  The other, perhaps bigger reason is they hired Jill Savery to run their sustainability effort.  Prior to the America’s Cup, Jill was the sustainability director for the London 2012 Olympics (Ed. Note: Savery won Olympic Gold at Atlanta 1996 in Synchronized Swimming).  She’s a consummate pro and did a great job with the America’s Cup.  We did talk and compared notes.  Since the Atlantic Cup is an annual race and the America’s Cup takes place every 3 years, we will have two more years of a sustainable track record to share with them before 2016.

GSB:  What can we look forward to from a sustainability perspective for Atlantic Cup 2014?

JB:  In addition to following some of the best offshore sailors in a very competitive event, we will have an environmentally focused event in each city we visit. Last year we screened a documentary film in Newport. In New York we started our Living on the Edge series, which included an excellent panel discussion on sea level rise and it’s affects on coastal communities. So we’re in the planning process now and as soon as the race details become available, we will let you know.

* 11th Hour Racing is a program of the Schmidt Family Foundation’s 11th Hour Project.

Greening Of College Athletics: Ohio State, A Green + Sports Proving Ground

By Elyssa Emrich

Since college campuses are known as the laboratory for new ideas, is there a better place to conduct green sports case studies? Ohio State doesn’t think so. The university believes their Columbus campus is a lab to demonstrate how sustainability and sports can work in harmony.  OSU aims to be a beacon for other university athletic departments and professional sports teams to follow.

Part II of my “Greening of College Athletics” series focuses on every Big Ten school’s biggest rival, the Ohio State Buckeyes (Part I, on the University of Wisconsin, can be found here). The Buckeyes lead the way, both on the field (undefeated and #4 in the country in football) and in terms of greening their sports operations.  Even though I’m a proud Wisconsin Badger, I don’t mind admitting that the Buckeyes are green sports leaders; coincidentally they can be found in the Leaders division of the Big Ten.

Zero-Waste:  The Challenge

Ohio State’s groundbreaking Zero Waste program, commits the university to diverting 90% of waste material from landfill by 2030 (based on a standard set by non-profit Zero Waste International).

The Zero Waste effort kicked off in 2011 with the highest profile venue on campus, venerable Ohio Stadium. Nothing is bigger in Columbus than Buckeyes football and “The Horsehoe” is one of the largest stadiums in the country, with a seating capacity of 103,000.  Turning Ohio Stadium into a Zero Waste facility on Game Day would not be easy: All products in the stadium that fans can touch must be properly disposed in the correct container, either compost, recycling or trash.

The Horseshoe

Ohio Stadium, aka The Horseshoe, on game day, 103,000 strong

The Athletic Department was fully engaged in Zero Waste’s planning and implementation from Day One.  Unlike most universities, Ohio State has a full time Sustainability Coordinator, Corey Hawkey, who acts as a liaison between the OSU’s Energy Services and Sustainability Office and the Athletic Department.


Ohio State decided to implement Ohio Stadium’s Zero Waste’s trash separation/recycling program in a deliberate fashion. They did this by breaking up the stadium by sections, starting with Section D. It may have taken a few tries but another section wasn’t added until Section D was judged to be Zero Waste. After Section D made the grade, a domino effect took place: More sections were added, and as more were added, more fans became interested and rallied behind the initiative.

Composting of food and fiber materials was next. Recycling got them to a ceiling of around 50% diversion and, to get 90%, composting was essential. The main challenge with composting is how easily it can be contaminated. When the Athletic Department made its first attempt there was plastic everywhere in the compost when it arrived at Price Farms (their composting partner). Little things seemed to cause the biggest problems. Tiny materials such as plastic stir sticks and creamer cups were a big nuisance, since they were difficult to find and pick out from the compost. This challenge was tackled by switching to products that eliminated the chance of contamination. Now you will find wooden stir sticks, compostable creamer cups, and bulk condiments at The Horseshoe. Engaging with the concessionaires to help them understand and participate allowed them to produce even better results; for example providing fans with compostable products that are high in fiber such as nacho trays and boxes.


It’s one thing to embark on a Zero Waste initiative; it’s another to know if and how well that initiative is working (or not).  Thus it was essential to set up ways to measure results before the project ever started. Ohio State entered into an innovative partnership with the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections “Greening of Prisons” initiative. Following each home game the university transports their materials to local prisons where the materials are sorted and counted. This provides the university with accurate and timely data.

Winning The Fans Over

The Ohio State Athletic Department knew that, to reach their goals, they’d have to engage and educate their fans from the get-go. This couldn’t be done without help from local high school students they hired to be the face of the Zero Waste initiative. These students are on the frontlines, educating fans as to where and how they should dispose of materials at the waste stations.

Zero Waste II

Signage promoting Zero Waste at Ohio Stadium

Fan participation increased by providing them with simple, accessible information. According to Corey Hawkey, “this is done by having the program be visible the moment fans walk through the gates, then they begin to ask questions. Fans like the idea and they run with it. It grows all by itself.” Zero Waste messaging on the scoreboards and on adds to fan awareness, understanding and participation.

The Results 

In 2012, the Buckeyes had their first ever Zero Waste game (90% diversion!), one of three total.  In 2013, the goal, like that of the football team, is perfection.  On the field, that means winning every game.  In terms of recycling and composting, that means having every home game be a Zero Waste game—a goal that OSU is on track to reach.

While Ohio State likes to beat other teams on the field, they are happy to collaborate with other universities on Zero Waste.  This past week members of Iowa’s athletic department traveled with their team to check the program out. The Hawkeyes put up a good fight on the field and I wouldn’t be surprised if they were to provide some competition to the Buckeyes Zero Waste program soon!


2012 Zero Waste Report:

The GSB Interview: Mara Abbott, World Class Cyclist + Environmentalist

Mara (rhymes with “tiara”) Abbott, 27, is perhaps the quintessential Eco-Athlete. Born and raised and now living in Boulder, CO, Abbott is imbued with the strong environmentalist ethos that is associated with area.  And she’s one of the top ranked road cyclists in the world, winning the 2013 Giro Rossa (think the women’s version of the Tour de France) in Italy.  But these factoids only tell the basics of Abbott’s compelling story, which includes a retirement from cycling at age 26 while dealing with an eating disorder and subsequent return a year later. GreenSportsBlog caught up with Mara about her “un-retirement” and reconciling the challenges of being a world class cyclist and the environmental impacts of her sport.

GreenSportsBlog:  You were at or near the top of women’s road cycling, in your prime, and then retired. What prompted the retirement and your return to the sport? Did environmental concerns play a part in either or both decisions?

Mara Abbott:  There were many factors that led to my retirement, the main one being that I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a world class cyclist. I mean I kind of fell into cycling in college, found out I was good at it and then it just kept building.  But was cycling what I really wanted to be doing?  I had lots of other interests–was an Economics major in college, been passionate about the environment since I was a kid.  And, yet, as I saw how much pollution is created to allow our races to take place (air travel, support teams, transportation to and from the races by fans), I became even more conflicted about what I was doing.  Was that the main reason I retired? No. It was one of them. But the main thing I asked myself was this: “If I’ve got it made–in the sense that I’m at the top of the sport–and I’m not sure this is what I’m doing and I’m not so happy about it–then why am I doing it?” So I quit. And when I quit, I was certain, that was it. I’m done.

GSB:  What made you come back?

MA:  As I said, when I retired that was it. I was going to move on with the next phase of life. And I did that.  I got very involved with the Boulder Environmental Advisory Board and hoped to engage the Boulder cycling community in greening programs.  But, with all this, I found I missed the competition, missed being in the sport.  Even though I wasn’t racing, I was riding most days. So, despite not having reconciled all of the issues that led to me retiring, I decided to come back, this time because I WANTED to, even though I still didn’t have everything figured out.


Mara Abbott, Winner, 2013 Giro Rossa (Photo Credit: Rick Cummings)

GSB:  So what’s different about Version 2.0 of Mara Abbott’s cycling career, especially from a sustainability Point of View?

MA:  Well, I realize that I can’t fix everything about the heavy carbon footprint of women’s road cycling. I am going to do whatever is in my power to do. That includes speaking out on sustainability issues, both in public and one-on-one with other cyclists and with the people who run races, offset my carbon on flights, encourage folks to ride their bikes rather than drive when they can, and anything else I can do in a non-threatening way. Positive steps are important no matter how small, and it is important to not alienate others by being too much of a zealot.

GSB:  Has being back on tour challenged your environmentalism?

MA:  In some ways, yes, because as I said earlier, professional cycling is the opposite of sustainable.  But I came to realize, as I re-establish myself as a professional athlete, that I have a platform from which to influence people about the things I care about—like living in a healthy, sustainable manner.

GSB:  How do you like speaking out in public?

MA: I’m a private person.  I might not come across that way (Ed. Note: She doesn’t!) but I am.  Overcoming that reluctance to open up to people about what’s important to me is very hard. So I have to push myself because sharing my ideas about sustainability and a greener tour is what I have to do.  I just have to power through it.

GSB:  Seems to me that your mentality on the bike—pushing through physical pain and fatigue—can help you with your public speaking.

MA:  Oh, cycling is much easier!

GSB:  Easy for you to say. I bet your experience on the bike will help you behind the mic!  I’ve spoken to several eco-athletes since I started GSB and I struck by how rare they are as a breed.  Do you have any theories as to why?

MA:  I’m not sure I agree with the premise of your question.

GSB:  Really, why? The couple eco-athletes I’ve spoken to said, basically, that they’re so laser-focused on their sport that they have too little time to get involved with any issues, including sustainability.

MA:  I don’t agree.  YES, we’re focused on our jobs, our sport.  But aren’t people in other jobs laser-focused?  We’re no busier than anyone else.  My thing is that there aren’t many eco-evangelists in ANY line of work and that the percentage of eco-athletes to all athletes probably mirrors that of eco-evangelists to the population at large.

GSB:  THAT IS SUCH AN INTERESTING PERSPECTIVE! We need to test the proposition!  Who are some of the other eco-athletes on the women’s cycling tour?

MA:  Well, one eco-cyclist is Ally Stacher, who rides for Specialized-Lululemon. She started her own nutrition bar company in Asheville, NC.

GSB:  The percentage of eco-cyclists just doubled, at least to my knowledge! Turning towards the future, are the 2016 Olympics in Rio in your future?

MA:  I’m going to go for it.  There’s nothing bigger in women’s cycling than the Olympics in terms of accomplishment or as a platform to speak to the things you care about..  There is no such thing as an Olympic Trials for cycling; there are selection criteria and it often comes down to a coach’s selection, so you just have to ride your best for four years!  That’s what I’m going to work towards.  And I will continue to speak out.

GSB:  Good luck!  GSB will be following you on the bike and at the mic!

Update: Who’s Having A Better Season, Gang Green Or The Green Movement

Back in July, I posted a comparison of the prospects for the New York Jets (aka Gang Green) and the Green Movement this fall (probably the first time in human history these two were ever linked in the same sentence).  At that time, the outlook for the Jets was particularly grim and so I argued that the Green Movement’s prospects were brighter than “Gang Groan’s”.  Let’s see where things stand now that the NFL season is about 1/3 complete.


Expectations for the Jets were so low in the preseason that ESPN ranked them 32nd out of all 32 NFL teams.  And that was before beleaguered-but-experienced QB Mark Sanchez suffered a season ending shoulder injury, playing behind backup offensive linemen during a meaningless exhibition game (reckless, dumb move by coach Rex Ryan), thus thrusting rookie Geno Smith into the starting role.  With that backdrop, the Jets 3-3 record has to be considered a pleasant surprise.  The reasons?

Geno Smith

Rookie QB Geno Smith leads Jets to Upset Win at Atlanta on Monday Night Football

  1. Geno Smith:  Yes, he’s wildly inconsistent (13 interceptions so far) but he’s just starting out and that’s par for the rookie course (Andrew Luck’s/RG III’s/Russell Wilson’s precocious 2012 rookie campaigns notwithstanding). Smith has shown that the stage isn’t too big for him, a bigger and more accurate arm than Sanchez (Geno throws a very nice deep ball) and an ability to put bad games behind him.  It’s too early to tell if he’s going to be the franchise QB (he holds on to the ball too long at times, doesn’t read coverages well yet) they so desperately need but it’s also too early to see he can’t be.  He’s been better than I thought.
  2. Nick Folk:  Folk is the Jets kicker who has made every field goal he’s attempted thus far this season, including two long game winning kicks at the final gun (vs. Tampa Bay Week 1, at Atlanta Week 5). If he misses both, the Jets are 1-5 and the whole vibe (and this post) is completely different.
  3. Mike Tanenbaum:  Before the season, the conventional wisdom was that the Jets lousy 2012 and expected-to-be lousier 2013 were the fault of fired General Manager Mike Tanenbaum (John Idzik is the new man).  Tanny guaranteed huge $$ to Sanchez and that turned out to be a big mistake.  He was also killed for being an awful drafter of college players.  But some of the players Tanny drafted who were thought to be so-so or even busts have played positive roles this season, including RB Bilal Powell (2011, 4th round), WR Stephen Hill (2012, 2nd round), LB Demario Davis (2012, 3rd round), and S Antonio Allen (2012, 7th round).  Undrafted free agent TE Jeff Cumberland has turned into a borderline star.  Even the vilified offensive lineman Vlad Ducasse (2010, 2nd round), still a disappointment overall, has made some positive contributions.  So Tanenbaum, in absentia, deserves some credit.

Now 3-3 is all well and good given the expectations, but the Jets are still a long way from the playoffs.  The schedule, just middling so far, gets much tougher the next 3 weeks (New England at home on Sunday, then at Cincinnati, then home to New Orleans).  Can they win one of those 3? Let’s see where things stand after that.


It’s much more difficult to measure the progress (or lack thereof) of the Green Movement since July.  The scoreboard in such a long term, global battle will never be as clear cut as in a short term, win-lose enterprise as a football season.  And, really, the comparison is somewhat silly (Football vs. Saving Humanity As We Know It? C’mon, MAN!) But, hopefully, within the silliness there can be some bits of wisdom revealed. So let’s press on.

The Green Movement, at least in political terms in the US, has put most of its eggs in the Keystone XL Pipeline basket.  The decision to approve or reject the extension of the Pipeline that would carry dirty Canadian tar sands-based oil to Texas refineries still has not been made by the President and the State Department, headed by former Senator John Kerry. President Obama has sent conflicting signals as to his intentions.  Most policy pundits think he will approve it in the end while green activists are hanging their hats on the President’s statement that he won’t approve it if it’s proved that Keystone XL will increase greenhouse gas emissions.  A State Department analysis said that the pipeline would not do so but that study has been vigorously questioned by Keystone opponents, citing serious conflicts of interest on the part of the contractor which conducted much of the study.

Now, many will say that the Keystone decision is symbolic, that if the President turns it down, TransCanada (the company building/operating the pipeline) will re-route it and that the tar sands oil will still be refined and burned.  I’m not sure if that’s true (Where would they go? Canadian First Nation tribes have blocked routes through the west.  Going east and north would be very expensive and make the oil too pricey for export) but even if it is true and even if this is mainly symbolic, SO WHAT? I mean symbols are important and I’d argue that a US President making a statement that, as far as he’s concerned, some types of dirty oil need to stay unburned would be a big deal indeed.  But the jury is still out on Keystone’s approval so it can’t factor into our analysis at this point.

Beyond the political world, there are some lightly reported green victories since July we can report on that could have big implications down the road.  One is that young people (Americans 16-34) are driving far less than before, down 23% in 2009 vs. 2001 per a recent study.  The reasons are varied (economic collapse, advent of social media, increased urbanization) but a concern about the environment is certainly a factor.


More Young People Cycling To-From Work

A small positive note from the intersection of Green + Sports:  Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Connor Barwin has demonstrated his concern about climate change by driving a Tesla and by taking public transit to and from practice and home games.  Hopefully more Eagles–and other athletes–will follow Barwin’s lead.  And if athletes lead (LeBron, we’re waiting!), fans will follow.

Finally, the best story was the news that the stunning decline in the cost of solar panels in the US has accelerated, down 60% vs. 2011!  This has led to a projected 25% growth of solar installations in the US in 2013 vs. 2012.  That stellar growth is expected to continue, with the market doubling in size by 2016.

But, even with that growth, solar still only represents less than 1% of the US energy mix.  The report that coal, the dirtiest energy of all, will replace oil as the world’s #1 energy source by 2020 was certainly depressing to this reporter and exposes the depth of the steep challenge the green movement faces.  And, when one considers that the majority of Americans and Chinese (the world’s largest CO2 emitters), per a Pew study last month, are unconcerned about climate change, you have a situation in which most Americans seem to say a collective “WHATEVER” in response to the biggest challenge the world faces:  SAVING HUMANITY AS WE KNOW IT!!


The preseason prediction here was that the Green Movement would have a better season than Gang Green, in large part because expectations for the Jets were going to be abysmally bad.  Thus, through the first 6 games (16 games overall), the Jets 3-3 record, because it’s better than expected, rates a B-.

As for the Green Movement, the expectations, while low this summer, were not THAT low.  The big win-loss event (symbolic or otherwise), the Keystone XL Pipeline decision, has not been made and so scoring this is difficult–but not impossible.  My take is that the tangible positives detailed above, while important, are small potatoes, compared to the double whammy of 1) coal’s (the dirtiest energy source of all) ascendancy, and 2) the lack of concern among the American and Chinese publics about climate change.  I give the Green Movement a C- grade.

What does this all mean?  Jets fans don’t have to figure out how fill their Sundays, at least for the next few weeks.  And those concerned about climate change have to redouble their efforts to get people to care about this issue on those Sundays–and on any other day that ends in a “Y”.

The GSB Interview: David Epstein, Author Of “The Sports Gene”, On Lack Of Eco-Athletes

David Epstein, Reporter at Pro Publica, until recently, Senior Writer at Sports Illustrated and author of current  New York Times Bestseller ”The Sports Gene”, was one of SI’s writers on its 2007 cover story, “Going, Going, Green” about sports and climate change.  He moderated a panel in August at the GreenSportsAlliance Summit about the lack of “Eco-Athletes”–athletes who speak out about climate change.  GreenSportsBlog spoke with Epstein about EcoAthletes and the Green + Sports intersection.

GreenSportsBlog:  Let’s go back to 2007 and the SI cover story, “Going, Going, Green”.  Was this your first experience writing about climate change?

David Epstein:  It was certainly my first time writing about it in a mainstream media setting.  I had a background in Earth Sciences and was a Geology grad student so I guess that’s why editor Richard Demak put me on the story with Alexander Wolff.

David Epstein II

David Epstein, Reporter at Pro Publica and author of “The Sports Gene”

GSB:  What are your big takeaways from “Going, Going, Green”?

DE:  Well, we worked on the story for months before it ran–it was very thoroughly researched.  It was really the first big story I worked on. I thought it was fair, not at all a polemic.

GSB:  What was the reaction to the article, both within the halls of Time, Inc. and among readers?

DE:  At SI, I believe everyone was happy with it.  As I said we put a lot into it.  I thought the cover (of then Marlins pitcher Dontrelle Willis submerged up to his knees in water at SunLife Stadium) was great and really drew readers into the story.  As far as reader reaction is concerned, I remember it as being mixed, with some folks saying that climate change is a political issue and SI shouldn’t do politics. But this was a very topical issue at the time (“An Inconvenient Truth” had come out months earlier) and one that SI was very comfortable covering.

Going, Going, Green

2007 Sports Illustrated Cover Story on Sports and Climate Change

GSB:  Since then, climate change has waxed and mostly waned as an issue, especially when one talks about the American public’s concern about it.  Not one question was asked about climate change in all 3 2012 Presidential debates plus the one VP debate, for crying out loud!  So maybe it’s not surprising that we haven’t seen many “Eco-Athletes”–athletes who have embraced climate change as an issue.  Why do you think that is the case?

DE: In general, athlete activism has decline overall since the 60s.  There’s just so much more money on the line now than 40, 50 years ago.  Athletes’ images are much more important than back then.  Their handlers and agents have a much more important role.  More livelihoods are at stake.  All this to say that athletes are much less likely to wade into controversial areas than in the past.  Many athletes get involved with apolitical causes like literacy or getting kids active.

Getting athletes to embrace climate change is particularly dicey.  For one, it can be seen as an abstract issue–and so they get counseled by their advisors to do something more tangible.  Remember, many of these athletes are from the inner city and have little experience with nature or the natural world.  And they’re often young, not fully-formed adults in many ways.

Sports Gene

The Sports Gene, NY Times Bestseller, by David Epstein

GSB: So what’s the best route to change the trajectory and to get more eco-athletes?

DE: That’s a tough one.  There’s not one answer but a part of the answer has to be to get to the agents, the gatekeepers to the athletes.  They often bring causes to the attention of their clients.  If you can impress upon an agent that speaking out on climate change will improve their client’s image, then there’s a chance.  It may be easier to get to individual sport athletes rather than team sport guys.  With a team sport athlete you have so much more on your plate, including dealing with teammates and their egos.  Steve Gleason, the former New Orleans Saints player now dealing with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), started driving a truck powered by BioDiesel after Katrina.  He told me he encountered questions in the locker room from some of his teammates, but that some of them became interested.

GSB:  Andrew Ference of the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers is one of the only athletes from the 4 major team sports in North America to actively be out front on the climate change issue.  And he’s not a superstar by any means.  To move the needle among fans, we need to get the LeBron James’, the Peyton Mannings’ to speak up.  How do we make that happen?

DE: It’s not gonna be easy to get to LeBron. LeBron does a lot of charitable work, so I think the challenge is in getting him to feel that the impact of environmental activism is as tangible as, say, programs for kids. Perhaps appealing to an elite athlete with a sense that he/she can be a pioneer among his/her peers by embracing climate change, rather than being simply another athlete with a childhood-exercise charitable cause, would cater to the desire to help but also to shape his/her image. Again, the way to get someone like LeBron engaged is to go through their chief image-keeper, the agent.

GSB:  Well, GSB will continue to pursue LeBron and other Mega-stars (and their agents!) to get them to speak out on climate change.

“League of Denial”: The NFL’s “Inconvenient Truth”

The NFL’s stonewalling of the link between football-related concussions and severe, later-in-life brain damage (and the league’s attacks on the whistleblowers who tried to bring the link to light) was laid bare in PBS’ must-watch Frontline documentary, “League of Denial”.  The documentary, which aired on Tuesday night can be viewed online here (there’s also a book, of the same name, written by ESPN investigative reporters Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Wada). The NFL’s reaction was eerily similar to the reaction of climate deniers and Big Oil/Coal to “An Inconvenient Truth”:  Powerful Business Attacks Whistleblowers (PBAW)! 

When Al Gore’s documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” opened in 2006, Climate Deniers and Big Energy went on offense, big time, to attack Mr. Gore.  They used Red Herring-type distractions (i.e. Gore flies a private plane to speaking gigs!) and patently untrue statements (Climate change is not observed, it’s only the result of computer models!) and shouted them through a Big Money megaphone.  Those faux-arguments (unfortunately still in use today) took attention away from the central fact brought forth in the film (a fact Big Energy was well aware of before the movie came out):  Climate Change is real, is a serious threat to life, human and otherwise, and is largely human caused.

League of Denial

The Deniers and Big Energy could not argue the science so they did anything they could to sow doubt about the reality and severity of Climate Change.  Why?  The real Inconvenient Truth for Big Energy is that for humanity to have a chance to stave off the worst affects of Climate Change, their game (burning their fossil fuel-based assets) has to be lost hopefully sooner if not later.  They don’t want to lose (surprised?).  So they added the Powerful Business Attacks Whistleblowers (PBAW) play to their playbook.

PBAW is not a new play at all.  Big Energy/Climate Change Deniers pulled their PBAW strategies and tactics straight from Big Tobacco and their decades-long efforts to plant a “maybe” answer about the link between cigarette smoking and lung cancer, as well as doubts about the addictive nature of nicotine.  In fact, now we know that Big Tobacco and Big Energy/Climate Change Deniers are often the same individuals–as this Climate Rocks story about a peer-reviewed research study that exposes an Axis of Anti-Science (Big Tobacco, Climate Deniers, the Tea Party and Fox News (are you surprised?)) demonstrates.  Seriously, READ THE CLIMATE ROCKS STORY!!

Climate Denial

Billboard mocking concern about Climate Change, funded by climate change denier, The Heartland Institute

So it was with real sadness (but not surprise) that I watched League Of Denial on Tuesday.  I mean I knew the backstory–that the NFL didn’t want the link between concussions and brain damage to get out and they did some unsavory things to keep the lid on as long as it could.  But the extent to which it used the PBAW playbook in the same way Big Tobacco/Big Energy-Climate Deniers did was stunningly perverse.

  • Former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue went before Congress in 2006 to say that the concussion-brain damage link was a creation of “the media” (Blame A Whistleblower Part I!)
  • The league discredited the physician who discovered, through autopsy analysis, the link between concussions and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE (Blame A Whistleblower Part II!).
  • At a 2009 congressional hearing, current league commissioner Roger Goodell said he didn’t know if there was a real link, that he was waiting for the science (sow doubt but show concern!).

Other ways the league denied the crisis are detailed in this Mother Jones piece.

The idea that the NFL is in a league with Big Tobacco and Big Energy is just sad–there’s no better word.  The NFL knew about the Inconvenient link and should’ve been looking after their players, not solely their business interests.  Of course Big Energy knew about its Inconvenient link and should’ve done the right thing, too.  But I expect more from the NFL–I guess I was wrong to do so.

Tobacco Deniers

Big Tobacco CEOs offer the oath before testifying before Congress, denying addictive nature of nicotine, 1997.

I say this as I grapple with my own football-related Inconvenient Truths.  I mean I LOVE FOOTBALL and have since I got hooked on Joe Namath and the Jets when I was 7 (a long time ago).  Part of what I love is the violent nature of the game but that’s hard to square with the concern I have for players who get paralyzed from spinal cord injury or, as demonstrated by League of Denial, suffer serious brain damage.  Right now, I admit I’m addicted to the game and will watch my alma mater, Rutgers vs. Louisville tonight, and will look in on Giants-Bears (Heck, I’m going to be up with a somewhat lighthearted post soon that updates my July “Who Will Have A Better Season: The Jets or The Green Movement” story). I will think about League of Denial during the games.  Will it lessen my ardor for the game?  Maybe not right away but this is an evolving story.

One thing I can say for sure is that I hope, because the concussion-brain damage link is in the open, the NFL stops the stonewalling for good and does as much as it can to make an inherently brutal game as safe as possible.  They’ve made some good first steps but the game has just started.

The GSB Interview: Val Fishman, VP Corporate Partnerships, Bonneville Environmental Foundation


GreenSportsBlog:  Hi Val.  How did you come to a career in helping businesses, including sports-related enterprises, become more sustainable?

Val Fishman: I started out in media sales (radio) and was very successful. Moved to the world during that boom and did well there too.  But I was bored.  Along the way I got into scuba diving and saw environmental degradation up close and was stunned at how fast it was happening.  So I knew I needed a new direction.  I started that new direction within the radio world, creating an internal sustainability program at ClearChannel in San Francisco.

GSB:  That’s fantastic!  I’m surprised a company with as conservative a reputation as ClearChannel would go for that.

VF:  I let ClearChannel management know that I would stay on only if they let me pilot this program (greening our offices/studios).  They agreed.  We started in 2005 and it was a big success–the employees loved it!  But things changed when Bain Capital bought ClearChannel, and so it was time for me to move on.  Eventually I moved to Portland and heard about a job at BEF where I could work with companies interested in proactively addressing their environmental impact.  I said to myself “this is what I need to be doing”.  And for the last 3 years it’s been extremely rewarding.


Val Fishman, VP Corporate Partnerships, Bonneville Environmental Foundation

GSB:  What does the name “Bonneville Environmental Foundation” mean? It’s a bit confusing.

VF:  It can be, that’s why we are shortening it to BEF. 15 years ago BEF began as an entrepreneurial environmental non-profit initially tasked with fulfilling Bonneville Power’s public purpose work.  Now, we act as a consultant to corporations, associations, foundations and NGOs.  We start with understanding our client’s sustainability goals.  Then we provide environmental solutions (in the areas of energy, carbon, or water) to determine how we can best help meet those goals.  And because we’re a 501-c3, any margin we realize goes back into environmental programs.

GSB:  So you not only help your clients with their environmental programs, your success also leads to additional benefits to the environment!  How cool is that?!?  How did sports come to play a significant role at BEF?

VF:  At least 8 years ago, BEF became a primary resource for Allen Hershkowitz’s sports greening efforts at the NRDC.  Primarily, BEF supplied RECs (Renewable Energy Credits), Water Credits and Carbon Offsets for sports entities seeking a way to balance the environmental impact associated with some of their events.  This blossomed into a consulting role for BEF on high-profile projects, including solar and wind installations at sports stadiums.  When the Green Sports Alliance was started a few years back, it was only natural for BEF to be a Founding Member and to take on a leadership role.


GSB: Speaking of Portland, tell me about BEF’s work with the Portland Trail Blazers.

VF:  The Blazers already were sustainability leaders in the pro sports industry.  Their home (The Rose Garden) was the first arena to achieve LEED Gold certification.  They power their facilities with renewable energy. So they already were on the right path.  In 2011, BEF helped them extend the impact of their sustainability initiatives with engaging, community-based programs that produced meaningful environmental benefits. They became the first professional sports team to balance 100% of their arena’s annual water use through the purchase of Water Restoration Certificates. As a result the Blazers restored 10 million gallons of water to central Oregon’s critically dewatered Middle Deschutes River. We also helped engage fans in their commitment to water conservation with a booth stationed at their annual Green Game.  BEF staff distributed free water faucet aerators to help reduce their water footprint at home.

GSB: What about your work with the NHL and its Gallons For Goals program?

VF: Along the lines of what we do with the Blazers regarding water restoration, the NHL developed Gallons For Goals.  In that program, the NHL Foundation pledged to restore 1,000 gallons of water to the Deschutes River, the Colorado River and others, for each goal scored in league play during the 2011-2012 season.  Since over 6,700 goals were scored during that season, 6.7 million gallons were restored.  The program is entering its third season.

GSB: How did BEF communicate Gallons For Goals to the fans?

VF: BEF helped launch Gallons For Goals by setting up a water sustainability exhibit at the 2012 NHL Winter Classic Spectator Plaza at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia. We managed a contest where entry required fans to pledge to reduce their water usage, distributed faucet aerators and spoke to fans about the NHL’s commitment to freshwater stewardship. Goals and gallons were tallied and tracked on the NHL Green homepage,, another high profile touch point for fans.

GSB: What percentage of BEF’s revenues are sports related?

VF: Well, despite the high profile examples we just spoke about–and others, including co-authorship with NRDC and Green Sports Alliance, of the “Solar Electric Guide for Your Stadium or Arena” and the Ski Green campaign, sports may represent only 1% or so of our revenue.  The good news is we see sports as a major growth area.

GSB: Considering sports-related revenues are only 1% I’d say you are making a significant impact already. Taking a macro view of the Green + Sports intersection, how do think the sports industry is doing overall?

VF: I’d say that the sports industry is behind the broader corporate sector but it’s moving in the right direction.  The Green Sports Alliance has played a major role here in improving the industry’s “green grade.” So far teams have done a great job of understanding and managing their waste streams, including e-waste.  But even with that, the carbon footprint of sports is huge.  60-80% of that footprint is related to transportation to-and-from sports events.  How do we change that? It’s a tremendous challenge, to be sure, but it’s solvable.

GSB:  Could teams add a “Carbon Fee” onto the ticket price and then offset that carbon?

VF:  Absolutely.  We explored this, and quickly learned there is a lot of red tape involved in ticketing, beyond BEF’s ability to solve.

GSB: My bet is that if there’s a way for sponsors to help sports teams mitigate transportation-related carbon footprint, BEF will be in the middle of it. I look forward to hearing more about this in the coming months.

GreenSportsBlog Midwest Report: U of Wisconsin Athletics Moves Up The Green Rankings

By Elyssa Emrich

In honor of my first post for the GreenSportsBlog I feel it is only natural to showcase my Alma Mater, the University of Wisconsin Badgers and its hometown, Madison.

Madison and UW have been national leaders in sports and in environmental stewardship for decades:  The Badgers have 28 National Championships and 2 Heisman Trophy winners to our credit; Madison is well known for being the Birthplace of Earth Day 40+ years ago. That’s a great history, no doubt about it. But that’s the past. Let’s take a look at the intersection of Green + Sports at UW and Madison today.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy spoke in Madison last week to highlight the successes of sustainable local businesses. McCarthy proved herself a savvy administrator by giving a shout out to the Badgers: She proclaimed that if there had been a home football game that weekend she would have dropped everything to stay in Madison longer (I’m biased but there’s no better atmosphere for college football than Camp Randall Stadium). Ms. McCarthy gets that sports galvanizes the passions of Madisonians and folks everywhere else. She was smart to link passion for the Badgers to a talk about generating increased passion for sustainable businesses (happily, Madison is a place where green business has long taken root but it can always do better).  And it is even smarter still that EPA sees the potential broad power of the Green + Sports intersection through the launch of its own green-sports website ( which highlights:

  • Tangible (i.e. food waste reduction) and intangible (i.e. increasing awareness of and action to combat climate change and its effects) benefits of greening sports.
  • Green sports initiatives on campus, including the Green Gameday Challenge, which aims to create fun competition between colleges to help promote waste reduction (hey, ESPN College Football Gameday should get involved with this. GSB will investigate!).
  • How sports’ rivalries can create collaborative greening competitions among pro leagues/teams and college conferences/teams.

In June, the EPA helped organize the third annual Collegiate Sports Sustainability Summit in Atlanta. Big 10 rival Ohio State made news at the Summit with its presentation detailing how The Horseshoe (aka Ohio Stadium) became a Zero Waste facility. While Camp Randall is not yet Zero Waste, Wisconsin is moving aggressively towards a leadership role in the green sports movement.

Camp Randall Elyssa

Camp Randall Stadium, home of the Wisconsin Badgers, where recycling rates have increased 9X since 2008.

This summer UW became a member of the Green Sports Alliance, joining 170 pro and college teams. Recently the Athletic Department teamed up with the Campus Office of Sustainability and WE CONSERVE , a conservation group, to boost recycling at sports events. The Office of Sustainability provides expertise and financial support for green initiatives, while WE Conserve encourages fans to become Waste Eliminators (Be the WE!) in a fun, upbeat manner with student volunteers roaming the tailgate areas on game day.  The results have been nothing short of spectacular:  In 2011, Athletic Department recycling totaled 4,780 lbs.  One year later, thanks to WE CONSERVE, a student group called Rethink (“Wear RED, Think GREEN!”), and Ben Fraser, the Athletic Department’s Director of Guest Services, 43,500 lbs. of material was recycled!

Be The WE

Be the WE Volunteers outside Camp Randall

These efforts should lead to the Badgers’ moving up the rankings in this year’s GameDay Challenge. Last year, Wisconsin ranked #46. Not bad for a first season, but Wisconsin doesn’t do #46! This season, the goal is to break into the top 25 to mimic what the football team has consistently achieved on the field. With that in mind, Wisconsin’s Homecoming contest vs. Northwestern on October 12 will be the school’s first-ever Green Game.

Next on the Athletic Department’s green agenda is adding composting to Camp Randall and the Kohl Center (home of Badgers basketball and hockey), hopefully by 2014. And, the expectation is that Camp Randall and Kohl Center will become Zero Waste in the not-too-distant future, although the time frame is not certain. GSB will report on UW’s progress or lack thereof on these goals.

One thing that is certain: The intersection of Green + Sports at Wisconsin is a busy and vibrant one indeed.