New Recycling Initiatives with United States Tennis Association’s Lauren Tracy

February 3, 2014

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome to another edition of Green is Good, and we’re so honored to have with us today our friend, Lauren Tracy. She’s the Senior Manager of Strategic Initiatives at the United States Tennis Association. Welcome to Green is Good, Lauren Tracy. LAUREN TRACY: Hi, John. Thank you so much for having me. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Hey, we’re honored to have you on because I know your organization because of you and I know all the great things you’re doing but I want our listeners to learn that today but before we get into sharing all the things green about the United States Tennis Association, I want you to share a little bit about your history, your journey, and how you even came to this great position that you’re in over at the United States USTA. LAUREN TRACY: Oh, well actually, I joined on board at the organization about I think seven years ago and I started in their legal department and I’ve slowly transition over to this role, a project manager role, working on a lot of key initiatives for the organization and of course, one of them is the environment and that’s really how I ended up into working on this initiative. JOHN SHEGERIAN: When you were young and growing up, was this part of your household? Was it a green household or was it something that you started getting interested as a student? When did it start becoming part of your consciousness in terms of the environment and the importance of us all acting sustainably? LAUREN TRACY: It’s always been a part of our household, even growing up. It was very important to my mother, especially with recycling as that came into our neighborhood. She always instilled that in us as kids and as a part of our school. I grew up in the eighties, when it was really becoming a key initiative for a lot of folks to really just be a little more conscious of the environment, be a little more socially responsible so it’s been a part of my life forever really, since I’ve been young. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Got it, and then so now, you’ve been at the USTA for about seven years, you said, and now there is an important and great green initiative that you’re spearheading there. When did it start and how has it evolved over the years? LAUREN TRACY: It started in 2007. Our board of directors really wanted to get the association thinking about how to lessen the impact the U.S. Open had on the environment so from there, we really took their thinking and we really wanted to focus on creating a clarity and transparency around our actions so we teamed up with the Natural Resources Defense Council as well as an outside environmental consultant to really look at how we could approach greening the U.S. Open in a systemic and effective manner so with that, we pulled together key people from across the organization, created a cross functional task force to really see what we can do to help engage our fans, our sponsors, partners, and even the employees to increase their environmental consciousness. JOHN SHEGERIAN: And, so how is that going? What does that look like now? What does fan waste management and recycling look like today? LAUREN TRACY: It’s great. We’ve increased leaps and bounds. We rolled this out formally at the 2008 U.S. Open and at that event, we recycled I think it was like 30,000 bottles and cans so we took that number and fast forward to the 2013 U.S. Open. We’ve made a lot of changes and now we’re recycling almost half-a-million bottles and cans so really, what we’ve done and has been a part of our program was we take different chunks. We have long term and a short term goals and we take different pieces from that strategy and we started launching a pilot program at one U.S. Open. After the U.S. Open, we analyzed what we did well, what we could do better and then we roll it out more formally at the next year’s U.S. Open and that’s what we did for example, with recycling. We learned that we needed to make capital improvements to the site. These are really cool for someone like me. We have chutes on the outside of the stadium to bring waste from the top level of the stadium down to the bins at the ground floor. JOHN SHEGERIAN: No way! That’s cool. LAUREN TRACY: Yeah, it’s pretty cool so we needed to add one for recycling. We also had to purchase about 500 additional bins for recycling throughout the years as the program progressed. JOHN SHEGERIAN: For our listeners out there who just joined, we’ve got Lauren Tracy. She’s the Senior Manager of Strategic Initiatives at the USTA and for our listeners that want to follow along, I’m on their website right now. It’s USOpen.org/green or you can just click on to the green initiatives button so Lauren, let’s talk about innovation. Obviously, you’ve been there for seven years now and you’ve been spearheading this for quite some time and you’re constantly innovating and pushing the envelope. Beyond recycling, can you talk about some of the other innovative ways that you’re proud of what’s going on at the USTA and the green initiatives right now. LAUREN TRACY: What we try to really focus on is creating a full life cycle story for our fans and I think that’s where we can be the most innovative so for example, last year at the 2013 U.S. Open, what we did was we used the waste that fans generated at the 2012 U.S. Open. We were able to turn it into compost and feed the flowers at the 2013 U.S. Open so it was an opportunity there to show fans that what they’re doing actually pays off and actually, we’re able to use their waste in the flower beds in the following year. Another thing that we did was we took the 2011 tennis ball cans and used them to make the lanyards at the 2012 U.S. Open so we try to make this full life cycle so we can have this whole initiative be a little more tangible. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That is so amazing so literally you’re taking the waste from the previous years’ food and you’re making the environment that much more beautiful at the following year’s tournament. LAUREN TRACY: Right, right. JOHN SHEGERIAN: I’m looking at some numbers here, 180 tons of waste you composted or something like that, like some huge number? LAUREN TRACY: Oh yeah, last year we collected just about 200 tons of waste to be composted so we got that from our fans and from our kitchens in the back of the house. There’s a lot of prep that goes into for our suites so we’re able to collect that and at our food concessionaire stands, all of that waste that happens in the back of the house too. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Talk a little bit about the tennis balls again. What actually happens with the balls and the cans? LAUREN TRACY: So, the tennis balls, unfortunately they’re not recyclable. What we do is we try to reuse them the best that we can so we have tennis programs that go on at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center all year round so we use the tennis balls from the U.S. Open at those programs. Also, when the tennis balls have no more life left in them, we’re actually able to donate them to different schools to put on the bottoms of chairs, to nursing homes for people to use on their walkers, and things like that so we try to find new life. We actually are able to have all of the balls reused. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s incredible and we’re not talking about a small number of balls, I assume. That is a lot of balls. LAUREN TRACY: It’s about 70,000 tennis balls. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Seventy-thousand a year you get reused? LAUREN TRACY: Yes. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s incredible. Good for you! That’s really a wow number. LAUREN TRACY: I know. It’s a huge number and we’re really proud that we’re able to at least give a second life to these balls. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s great. So let’s talk about energy a little bit. You’re doing a lot with regards to energy. You have a unique partnership with the NRDC in terms of carbon offsets and also, you work with your energy provider to again, do more innovative things with regards to energy. Can you share with our listeners what you’re doing in those spaces? LAUREN TRACY: Sure. Thanks to the NRDC for this year. They supplied 605 metric tons of carbon offsets to offset the carbon emissions generated from the player travel to the U.S. Open because the U.S. Open is an international event so there’s a lot of flights coming into it for our players and so we want to try to offset all that, the carbon emissions from that travel. We also estimated the fuel use on site, for the energy used on site, and so we incorporated that number into the offsets and thanks to the NRDC for contributing to that for this year and then of course, our energy provider at the 2013 U.S. Open was GDF Suez and so they supplied greening certified with renewable energy certificates to match the electricity consumed. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Let’s talk also about the video that you guys made, the PSA with the NRDC called Impact and what that leads to, a whole other leg of your environmental initiatives. Talk a little bit about Impact and what the messaging was there and all the amazing stuff you’re doing with regards to paper and paper recycling and paper procurement. LAUREN TRACY: Oh yes. We are so proud of that PSA. They did such wonderful work. A citizen group out in California helped produce it and we’re really proud of that piece and it’s on our website if anybody’s interested. Hopefully, go and check it out. It’s only 30 seconds but what we wanted to do is engage our fans in what we’re doing and be in their environmental awareness. We’re very careful about our paper use, with our paper towel dispensers. We’ve included messages on all of those for fans to just be aware of what they’re taking, even if they’re just using paper that’s recycled. Still limit your use because it was a tree at one time so we try to remind our fans there at our paper towel dispensers or napkin dispensers and then in anything that we can use in our marketing collateral, having recycled content even with our tickets. We still give hard tickets to all of our fans and using ticket stock with recycled content. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Thirty percent post-consumer waste. LAUREN TRACY: Right. JOHN SHEGERIAN: And, then also, your napkins are 100% recycled. LAUREN TRACY: Right. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Perfect, and so let’s go back to something you mentioned earlier with regards to your carbon offsets and NRDC. One thing I want our listeners to hear: Like you said, since it’s such an international event and you have people, both fans and players, traveling from around the world, explain again that transportation offset that you were able to achieve and also, because of where you’re located geographically, how so many of the fans actually access the tournament via mass transit. Talk a little bit about how green transportation is for both the players and also the spectators. LAUREN TRACY: Yeah. We’re so lucky for the U.S. Open being located in Flushing and we have the seven train is right there. It’s such an easy way to get in and out of the event so of course, we promote that the best that we can because parking in New York can be difficult. Sixty percent of our fans every year attend the event using mass transit, which is something that we’re really proud of and pleased that we see people doing that and of course, with our players, the best way that we’re able to handle that travel is through the carbon offsets and again, we’re really thankful for the NRDC to partner with us in that regard. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s great, and then in terms of food service, not only do you compost the food and put it back into the flower beds the following year. Talk a little bit about the unique food and serviceware that you have during the tournament. LAUREN TRACY: We work very closely with our food commissioners to get compostable serviceware throughout the entire food village and throughout the entire site. Going back to what I said, our initiatives start as a pilot program. Composting was a pilot program. We started in 2011 and we had it only in the food village, which is basically like a food court, and so after the 2011 U.S. Open, we found that there was several areas that we missed and things we didn’t think about that we needed to make changes for in the following year so for example, the little milk containers at the coffee stand, we didn’t think about those things, that those aren’t typically compostable. Some of the things that the food was being served in at some of the stands, they weren’t exactly what we needed so we were able to work with our food concessionaire early on before the 2012 U.S. Open to really make sure that the correct products were being sourced. JOHN SHEGERIAN: And, they’re locally sourced, right? You were trying to encourage your vendors to locally source all the products. LAUREN TRACY: Right, and our food too being locally sourced so a lot of our produce is from local farms, the seafood, our fish and poultry, same thing, from local farms so that’s something that we’re really proud of too and also, at the end of the event or throughout the event, about 13 tons or around 10 tons of food is donated to the community through City Harvest so we’re really proud of that. JOHN SHEGERIAN: So, Lauren, there’s a huge body of work. Any organization would be proud of any of these one initiatives, food and service ware, paper procurement, transportation, and of course, recycling and composting and carbon offsets. You have now a whole suite of initiatives so talk a little bit about like you said, they start as pilots and then you rescale them. Why do you think this has become so successful and why are you having so much success in this at the USTA and are there any other sports organizations following your lead and other corporations? LAUREN TRACY: I think really at the end of the day, it’s the right thing to do and I think that’s what a lot of organizations want, to make socially responsible decisions. We have some fabulous partners in this initiative and I think that’s really the key to our success. Of course, we’re partnered up with the NRDC. We have a fantastic environmental consultant in Eco Evolution because I myself and my partner, Joe Coralli, he’s Head of Operations at the National Tennis Center, while this is one element of our job, there’s other things that we need to fill our days so having Bina Indelicato from Eco Evolutions to work with us. She’s the one that during the U.S. Open, she is in those dumpsters and looking and making sure that the right things are going into the right dumpsters and she’s really invaluable to our program and I think that’s key. When you have partners who are as dedicated as you are to the initiative, that’s really what helps your entire program and of course, working with the Green Sports Alliance. It’s such an amazing network and we’re really all in this together. We’re really all learning from each other best practices and what worked well for me and what didn’t work well for me and communicating that and that’s really what has led us and helped us lead such a successful program and that’s something that I’m really proud of. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Speaking of we’re all in this together, that is such a perfect and great message. What’s the best way of educating your fans? LAUREN TRACY: I always go back to knowing your fan. The tennis fan is very different than another sports fan so it’s really understanding what is meaningful to them. When we rolled out the program in 2008, we inundated messaging. It was throughout the site and over our loudspeakers and it sort of got lost and a lot of the fans really weren’t listening anymore so what we do is we try to be a little more subtle in our messaging. We include things in the U.S. Open program. We have eco tips from the NRDC in our daily draw sheets. Of course, we have that beautiful PSA that we’re now able to use. Those are things that we’re able to message what we’re doing to our fans to engage them in the initiatives and hopefully follow that so they do the same when they go home but we have amazing fans in the tennis community and a lot of them, they know what they’re supposed to be doing and they know that this is an important initiative, not only for the U.S. Open but for the entire country. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Lauren, we’re down to the last minute or so. Also, what do you do to get your offices green and get your employees all bought into your great green initiatives? LAUREN TRACY: Well, it’s great. We have an employee green committee so they work really hard in just making those simple changes, setting all of our printers and copiers to double sided. They bring in every single year food from a local farm to help promote socially responsible choices, even on that level, which is great. Again, it’s making sure that we make those simple changes. I think we got rid of all of our water coolers so now we just have a water filtration system, which is great so we’re eliminating the use of cups and things that. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Got it, and thank you so much for joining us today. For our listeners out there again, to learn more about the USTA’s great green initiatives, go to USOpen.org. You can click on the green initiatives button and see all the great things Lauren’s been talking about today and Lauren, you are right. We are in this together. Lauren Tracy, you are a sustainability sports leader and truly living proof that green is good.