By Lew Blaustein, GreenSportsBlog
Green Sports Alliance Summits past have largely kept climate change in the background.
That changed, hopefully forever, as the climate crisis percolated throughout the two days of the 2019 Summit that ended Thursday afternoon at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.
And, in a Green Sports Alliance Summit main stage first, several speakers went beyond urging the sports world to take on climate change, making the powerful case for leagues, teams and athletes to make the needed connections between social justice and environmental (or climate) justice.
“Climate change is about equity and inclusiveness. The problem affects everyone.”
— Jim Kenney, Mayor of Philadelphia
“Everyone is responsible for climate change. It’s really human change.”
— Jason Twill, Founding Green Sports Alliance Director
“We found that kids in certain Philadelphia zip codes weren’t going outside because of fear of violence, fear of asthma. The best tool to predict health disparities is zip code.”
— Jerome Shabazz, Executive Director, Overbrook Environmental Association
“It’s hard to play basketball, it’s hard to breathe, when the air is polluted. Eighteen percent of Oakland kids have asthma. I’m one of those kids.”
— Nehemiah Vaughn, 19, Youth Ambassador, Green for All
These quotes, and many others like it, were uttered during the first two hours of the ninth Green Sports Alliance Summit. As someone who’s been to six of the last seven summits, I say it’s time for the Green-Sports movement and sports more broadly to take heed of these messages, acknowledge the fear and risks of going bigger and faster on climate as well as environmental-social justice…and go bigger and faster anyway.
IT’S PAST TIME
I get that the sports world would rather go slowly about climate change.
I get that the sports power brokers, from owners to media to sponsors, would, for the most part, avoid anything that smacks of politics.
Thing is, the Green-Sports movement, as well as the rest of humanity, does not have the luxury of time to dance around climate change any longer. The Alliance, at its eight previous summits, often did the climate change-avoidance cha-cha.
Given that humanity only has 12 years or less to decarbonize by 45 percent in order to avoid the most calamitous impacts of climate change, it was past time for the dance to end and the real talk — and then action — to commence.
So it was a much needed and unprecedented start to the 2019 Alliance Summit as presenters at Wednesday morning’s opening session spoke clearly and directly about the climate crisis. In addition to the quotes above, summiteers heard these messages before the first coffee break:
- Eagles President Don Smolenski, in his welcome to the summiteers, noted “We generate more energy from clean sources than any other sports venue in North America. We take managing and reducing our climate impacts seriously.”
- Jason Twill, who followed Smolenski and Mayor Kenney on to the main stage shared, “At the founding meeting of the Green Sports Alliance back in 2010, someone said ‘we are in the first year of the final decade in which we can make a major impact on climate.’ Now we’re at the end of that decade. Sustainable, to which many aspire, is not enough. Even restoring the planet is not enough. We need to get to a regenerative economy.”
- More Twill: “In 2018, we passed ‘Earth Overshoot Day’ — the day when humanity’s demand for ecological resources and services in a given year exceeds what Earth can regenerate in that year — on August 1st. The US passed it on March 15, Canada on March 18. We need to from being ego-centric to eco-centric.”
MOVING FORWARD ON ENVIRONMENTAL INJUSTICE
If the attendees weren’t awake before these talks, surely they were wide eyed afterwards, even without the benefits of caffeine.
And that was a very good thing because “Beyond The Ballpark: The Role of Sports in Environmental Justice Reform” was unlike anything an Alliance Summit had ever offered. Moderator Kunal Merchant, an Alliance board member and the co-founder of Lotus Advisory, led a panel that thoughtfully explored the underreported-on intersection of social justice and environmental (climate) justice.
Merchant, whose firm is consulting on the proposed new waterfront ballpark for the Oakland A’s, shared how environmental remediation and cleanup is central to the plan: “The club will work to clean up the water, soil and waste, with the goal of improving the health and lives of the often marginalized people who have been living with the consequences of the environmental degradation of the area.”
Recently retired former Eagles linebacker Connor Barwin has made building parks and safe spaces to play for kids in at-risk area the focus of his MTWB (Make The World Better) Foundation work — they’re now on their fourth park in Philadelphia. When asked how to get more athletes involved in the climate and social-environmental justice fights, Barwin’s answer was simple: “Corporate sponsors need to ask us!”
Mustafa Santiago Ali, VP of Environmental Justice at the National Wildlife Federation, talked about growing up in West Virginia, across the river from a coal plant. “Some days, we would be playing outside, and when the wind blew in a certain direction, ‘the fog’ would come in,” recalled Santiago Ali. “We didn’t know we were being impacted, but some parts of the region have a 50 percent cancer rate…This is environmental INjustice. We need to get to environmental justice for frontline communities: people of color, indigenous people.”
The showstopper of the panel was the aforementioned Nehemiah Vaughn.
Asthma may have cut short his basketball dreams, but that didn’t stop Vaughn. Far from it. The engaging 19-year old pivoted to music, entering and winning a hip-hop contest by starring in this #FuelChange anthem, promoted by Green For All. Check it out:
Can the Green-Sports movement catalyze this energy and vision displayed in Wednesday morning’s session into meaningful, consistent action ofrom leagues, teams, media, athletes and more?
Watch this space.
MINNEAPOLIS TO HOST 2020 SUMMIT
Thursday morning’s session kicked off with the announcement from Green Sports Alliance Executive Director Roger McClendon that the organization’s 10th annual summit would be held at US Bank Stadium, the LEED Gold home of the Minnesota Vikings.
GreenSportsBlog is ecstatic about this news for two reasons:
- Minneapolis, along with St. Paul, make up the Green-Sports-y-est metro area in the United States. In fact, GSB is in the midst of a four-part series on the Twin Cities’ Green-Sports-y-ness. Click hereand here for the first two parts.
- We urged the Green Sports Alliance to pick Minneapolis just this Tuesday!
PHILLY SUMMIT NEWS & NOTES
Here are a few more nuggets and thoughts on the summit before closing the book on Philadelphia 2019:
- Another first for a GSA Summit: A conversation about carbon pricing and how it would benefit the sports business. Panelist Steve Hams, representing Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL), shared the details of the bipartisan Energy Innovation & Carbon Dividend Act(EICDA) of 2019 bill currently making the rounds in the US House of Representatives.
- It would place a price on carbon ($15/metric ton of carbon in year one and then rising $10/ton/year after that) at the point of extraction (mine, well) or the border. The fees raised would not go to the federal treasury. Rather, they would be paid out as a dividend to households in the form of a monthly direct deposit. It’s progressive: Independent analyses estimate that the lowest 66 percent of American households on the income scale would earn more in dividends than they would pay out in higher prices due to the fees. And it’s revenue neutral in that it doesn’t add to the size of government, which should appeal to conservatives.
- According to Hams, businesses involved in sports, including the small and medium size companies who sell to venues and teams — many of whom were exhibitors at the summit — should love this policy: “Most fans will have more money in their pockets because of this policy, which means more money to spend on tickets. Plus the policy will accelerate the pace of reducing emissions and cleaning up our environment, which will be good for all sports.”
- Full disclosure: The discussion on carbon pricing took place during a panel, “Sports, Carbon, & Climate,” moderated by yours truly. And I am a CCL volunteer.
- Tuesday was Stadium Tour Day. Three venues in four hours. This is only possible in Philadelphia because Lincoln Financial Field (Eagles), Citizens’ Bank Park (Phillies) and Wells Fargo Center (76ers and Flyers) are all in the same complex.
- The Eagles are, by far, the green leader: Massive solar installations on the stadium’s east wall and in the parking lot, LEED Gold, ISO 20121 certified and more.
- The Phillies are doing a lot right: An LED lighting retrofit that has reduced energy use by 25 percent, an advanced water pump and HVAC monitoring system, and a branded “Red Goes Green” program to communicate with fans. But they aren’t measuring their overall carbon footprint yet. A big opportunity missed, it says here, because measuring it would uncover more energy and dollar savings.
- Wells Fargo Center is in the midst of huge renovation — Transformation 2020 — with energy efficiency a part of the mix. That said, I did not get the sense that the environment is central part of the arena’s DNA. Comcast, which owns the facility is not looking to go for LEED certification.
- Substantive discussions on climate ruled the day on Thursday. “The Role of Sport in Civic Engagement & Public Policy,” was a wonkish discussion of how:
- Sports can marshal the favorable market forces in the renewable energy, EV and energy storage sectors
- Brands can engage fans and athletes for a greater purpose, like the climate fight, and,
- The sports world can encourage fans to vote.
- The wonkishness was not surprising given the panel lineup of former Obama administration members. Moderator Cyrus Wadia worked in the Obama White House, as did panelists Kyle Lierman, CEO of When We All Vote (perennial NBA All Star Chris Paul of the Houston Rockets is involved) and Charlie Gay, who worked in 44’s Department of Energy. And while Perfecto (that’s his real name) Sanchez did not work in the Obama Administration, he did do two tours of duty with the Army in Iraq and his company, JourneyOne, helps align corporate mission with employee purpose in order move companies achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
Finally, I came away from the Summit with one big thing from Thursday’s last session, “Speaking Science: Making Climate Change & Sustainability Relevant to Fans.”
Panelist Eric Fine, Project Manager of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, shared these data from a 2018 survey of Americans that divided us into six groups regarding our attitudes on climate. Almost 60 percent are alarmed or concerned. Another 17 percent are cautious with 5 percent disengaged. Another 9 percent are doubtful and only 9 percent are dismissive.
The alarmed/concerned number was higher than I expected, with the doubtful/dismissive number being significantly lower.
So what was that one big thing?
Public attitudes are moving towards the Green-Sports movement so teams, leagues and more have the space now to be bolder than they’ve ever been.
There will be some blow back. There will be instances where “go slow” wins the day. And there will, understandably, be disagreements on what language to use.
But the movement needs push through self-imposed brakes whenever possible and go forward faster and more consistently on climate and environmental-social justice than it has before.
Because 2030 will be here sooner than we think.
But before 2030 comes 2020, so see you in Minneapolis next June.