Wrapping Up the Green Sports Alliance Summit 2015 with Green Sports Alliance’s Dr. Allen Hershkowitz
September 28, 2015
John Shegerian: Welcome to another edition of Green Is Good. This is the Green Sports Alliance edition of Green Is Good radio here in downtown Chicago. Today we are so honored to have with us Allen Hershkowitz. He is the cofounder of the Green Sports Alliance. Welcome to Green Is Good. Allen Hershkowitz: Hey, John. Good to be here. John Shegerian: Years ago – and I can’t even remember how many years ago – you were kind enough to come on this show, Allen. And actually the first time you came on, you talked about the launch of the Green Sports Alliance and what you were doing. For our listeners and viewers who didn’t have the opportunity to hear that show, which still lives online, but I would like you to share a little bit how you created the Green Sports Alliance with your cofounders and how we got here today. Allen Hershkowitz: Well, now I’m President of the Green Sports Alliance, but for 26 years, I was a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council. John Shegerian: Right. Allen Hershkowitz: I joined NRDC at the end of 1987, and actually, I just retired at the end of 2014 to become the President of the Green Sports Alliance, which – as you say – is something that I founded. I founded the organization with a colleague named Jason Twill, who worked for Paul Allen. Paul Allen – the cofounder of Microsoft – owned at the time three professional sports teams: the Seattle Seahawks, the Seattle Sounders and the Portland Trailblazers. When I was at NRDC, I developed a program to green sports and entertainment venues under the premise that we need to instigate a cultural shift in the way people think about the planet. Thirteen percent of Americans follow science, 71 percent follow sports. And actually, back when I started developing this kind of work in 2004, 2003, 2004, as you remember the previous administration – the Bush Administration – was trying to confuse people about climate science. The whole issue of climate change was being politicized. John Shegerian: Right. Allen Hershkowitz: So for me the question was, “How do you break through that noise?” John Shegerian: Right. Allen Hershkowitz: How do you actually counter the bully pulpit of the White House on climate science? And it occurred to me that if we could get the Commissioner of Baseball to say that climate change is real, it would be hard for politicians to attack it. Politicians can attack the EPA, but they can’t attack the Commissioner of Baseball or the Commissioner of Hockey or NASCAR. So through friends I made contact with the Commissioner of Baseball, and I started a program. I launched – with Commissioner Selig – Major League Baseball’s Initiative on Sustainable Ballpark Operations. And this was back in 2005. About 10 years ago. John Shegerian: Yeah. Allen Hershkowitz: And it took us two years to really work the whole program out. John Shegerian: Right. Allen Hershkowitz: And then we announced it. Then we developed a similar program for the National Basketball Association. We developed NBA Green. And then because the NBA shares nine arenas with the NHL, we got invited to work with the National Hockey League, and we developed NHL Green. Then, actually I got a call from Billie Jean King and she heard about what we were doing and she said, “Will you work with us on the US Open?” so we developed a greening program for the US Open Tennis Championships, and then we also started to work with Major League Soccer and the NFL and NASCAR. So now we advise all the professional sports leagues, as well as NASCAR and the USTA. But along the way – in 2009 – I got this call from Paul Allen’s office and he said, “We hear what you’re doing with sports leagues. We have three teams from three leagues. Would you come on out and work with us?” I said, “Well, you have three teams from three leagues. I’m also working with the Seattle Mariners – that’s a fourth team from a fourth league. Why don’t we form some kind of professional sports greening coalition?” and he said, “That sounds like a good idea. Come on out.” So about a year after that conversation – we had many meetings throughout the year – we launched with six teams from six leagues the Green Sports Alliance. John Shegerian: Wow. Allen Hershkowitz: And this was launched in March of 2011, and today the Green Sports Alliance is over 300 teams and venues from 20 leagues in 14 countries. And you and I are speaking right now from Chicago where the Green Sports Alliance is hosting its fifth annual summit. It’s the only international conference – it’s the only conference of any kind in the world focused on sustainability in sports. We have here about 800 attendees – Representatives from Major League Baseball, from the NBA, from the National Football League, from NASCAR, from Major League Soccer, from the National Hockey League. Actually, Commissioner Bettman from the NHL was here yesterday. I hope you got a chance to interview him. If you didn’t, I’ll help you get that set up. John Shegerian: I’ll take a rain check on that one. We didn’t get him yesterday night. Allen Hershkowitz: And the idea is that if we could change the operations at venues, if we could get energy efficiency enacted, if we could get energy efficiency audits, if we could reduce the amount of carbon coming out associated with the professional sports, if we could get professional venues to reduce their water use, if we could get them to develop recycling programs for electronic waste, for food waste, if we could develop food waste composting programs and collect bottles and cans, if we could get them to use smarter chemicals when they do cleaning and, especially, if we can get them to educate fans about environmental stewardship, then we can help instigate a cultural change in the way people think about the planet. And at the same time, when we affect the operations of a venue, we also send a message to the supply chain. John Shegerian: Right. Allen Hershkowitz: So what has happened now over the years, right now all of our members are teams, leagues or venues. But increasingly we have been asked by companies who want to become members of the Green Sports Alliance. ESPN, Kimberly Clark, UPS, BASF, HOK Architectural Firm, Office Depot. I could go on and on. NatureWorks, they want to be members of the Green Sports Alliance. So what we’re doing – the sports industry is a $1.3-trillion industry annually. John Shegerian: Wow. Allen Hershkowitz: Right. And every industry is associated with sports, either as a supplier or a sponsor. The food industry – obviously – the water industry, the transportation industry, the chemical industry, the textile industry, the paper industry – you name it. John Shegerian: The building industry. Allen Hershkowitz: Exactly. So if you can get the sports industry to be sending out environmentally intelligent messages to the supply chain, the supply chain will notice. And it’s not coming from NRDC or Greenpeace. It’s coming from the New York Yankees and the Red Sox or NASCAR, even better, frankly. John Shegerian: Or the heroes of America. Allen Hershkowitz: Exactly. John Shegerian: Brands that influence the next generation and beyond. Allen Hershkowitz: Well, sports spends tens of billions of dollars a year advertising. The commercial market invests tens of billions of dollars a year in advertisements at sports venues and events. Why are they doing that? Obviously, IBM or Toyota or Chevrolet or Wells Fargo are doing this because they think that affiliating with sports will have a market and a cultural influence on the market. John Shegerian: Right. Allen Hershkowitz: Well, why wouldn’t that work for environmental stewardship? John Shegerian: Right. And for our listeners and viewers out there that want to see all the great work you and your colleagues are doing at the Green Sports Alliance, they can go to www.GreenSportsAlliance.org. So we’re here. This is 2015. I’ve been to four out of five of your annual events. I mean, Allen, did you ever dream in 2005, when you started this journey in sports with Bud Selig, that this was how big it would be right now? And even though it’s this big right now, you’re only half a year into your new Presidency. You’re half a year into it. Is this still just the top of the second inning? Allen Hershkowitz: We are very early in the game. John Shegerian: Yeah. Allen Hershkowitz: In fact, I just spent the last month in Europe meeting with the French Ministry of Sport, meeting with the European Soccer Federation – UEFA – meeting with the French Tennis Federation, meeting with the IOC. We have established the Green Sports Alliance in Europe. John Shegerian: Wow. Allen Hershkowitz: We have established a Green Sports Alliance in Australia. We’ve established a Green Sports Alliance in the U.K. We have affiliates. In the U.K., it’s called “BASIS” – the British Association for Sustainable Sport. In Australia, it’s called the “Sports Environment Alliance” because we can’t use the word “green” in Australia because it’s too political. It’s a political party. It’s political jargon. John Shegerian: Got you. Allen Hershkowitz: But basically, we are mobilizing the sports industry around the world on behalf of environmental stewardship. We currently coordinate and collaborate with the largest network of sport industry professionals in the world dedicated to environmental stewardship. John Shegerian: So it’s your thesis then – basically – to take the Green Sports Alliance and continue just to make the tent bigger. Allen Hershkowitz: Well, look, there is a lot of work to be done. There is a lot of work to be done. We have reduced carbon emission by hundreds of millions of pounds. We have set up recycling programs at venues all over the world. We’ve proliferated composting. But there is still a lot of work to be done. Consumer goods packaging, a lot of it is still environmentally ignorant. It’s not recyclable. It’s not compostable. A lot of the cleaning products that are used at sports venues still are toxic and dangerous to use and puts janitors at risk. John Shegerian: Right. Allen Hershkowitz: And also pollutes the environment. John Shegerian: Right. Allen Hershkowitz: A lot of paper products are still not made from recycled content paper. There are still improvements to be made there. Textiles in the sports industry. When you think about apparel, I challenge any of your listeners to walk down any city block for more than 10 minutes before they see some form of sports apparel. John Shegerian: Oh, is this – right. Allen Hershkowitz: Right. And it’s probably going to be shorter than that. John Shegerian: Yeah. Allen Hershkowitz: Whether it’s yoga, a jogging shirt or baseball cap. John Shegerian: It’s the star of society now. Allen Hershkowitz: Right. Well, could you imagine if we changed sports apparel so that it was made in an environmentally intelligent way? Food. The sports industry feeds hundreds of millions of people every year. Well, we just produced and released today a report called “Champions of Game Day Food.” John Shegerian: Right here? Allen Hershkowitz: Right here. Right there. In fact one of your guests I believe you had on the show – Will Witherspoon, a former NFL player. John Shegerian: I did. Yeah. Allen Hershkowitz: Who now runs an environmentally intelligent, grass-fed beef farm. Well, whether you’re a vegetarian or not, we all recognize that people do eat beef, and if they’re going to eat beef, they should eat it in a way. John Shegerian: Shire Gate Farm. Allen Hershkowitz: They should eat it in a way that is not as environmentally damaging. John Shegerian: Right. Allen Hershkowitz: But, in fact, many venues offer vegetarian and vegan options and many venues also offer local and organic options, so we’ve put together a documentation of all those better healthier ecologically intelligent options called “Champions of Game Day Food,” which people can download off of the Green Sports Alliance website for free. John Shegerian: This is downloadable right off of www.GreenSportsAlliance.org. Allen Hershkowitz: Correct. For free. John Shegerian: Wow. Allen Hershkowitz: And there is a lot of information about what the sports industry is doing on that website. Again, if we could change the – if the food industry was a country, it would be the third largest generator of global warming pollution. John Shegerian: Wow. Allen Hershkowitz: And the fact is that the way we produce our food, the way we raise livestock, the way we manage crops and the way we process food is making people sick and it’s undermining the functional integrity of the biosphere. It’s actually making life on Earth more difficult. We have to change the way food is grown and processed. John Shegerian: And also – then – treated after we have extra food. It should not be going into landfills for sure. Allen Hershkowitz: We throw out 100 billion pounds of food waste every year and not even 5 percent of it is recovered for composting. John Shegerian: Come on. Allen Hershkowitz: Right. And a very small fraction of it is recovered for food donations. But here is the good news. The National Hockey League mandates – as a result of their collaboration with us at the Green Sports Alliance – the National Hockey League now mandates that in all of its arenas prepared uneaten food after games must be donated. John Shegerian: Wow. Allen Hershkowitz: Right. So could you imagine if the New York Yankees do it? Actually many Major League Baseball teams do it. More and more food donations are taking place throughout sports and it’s sending a message to other businesses. John Shegerian: So that’s how – really – the GSA gets to move the needle in so many areas of sustainability just like you just outlined with regards to food. Allen Hershkowitz: Absolutely. If the sustainable economy doesn’t exist – and probably there is no one because of your work and your radio show and the work that you do in other areas, you probably know this better than anybody – but if the sustainable economy doesn’t exist, it still has to be built. John Shegerian: Absolutely. Allen Hershkowitz: And it’s going to be built by the private sector. John Shegerian: Absolutely. Allen Hershkowitz: And it’s going to be – I mean, does government have a role to play? Absolutely. Is government stepping up to the plate and playing that role effectively? Absolutely not. In fact, just recently the Supreme Court ruled here in the United States that hazardous mercury emissions and other hazardous pollutants, that the EPA’s regulation of them, they ruled illegal. They’re making it harder. Our House of Representatives and Congress is actually – and again, the GSA is not political so I’m not going get into it. John Shegerian: OK. Allen Hershkowitz: But suffice to say that government is not leading the way on environmental stewardship. John Shegerian: But that void, Allen, leaves – this is still the innovation nation of the world – and that void leaves a tremendous opportunity for the next generation group of young innovators to come in and create solutions for the next billion-dollar project to be made in private industry. Allen Hershkowitz: Right, but we can’t wait for the next generation, we have to do it ourselves right now. John Shegerian: No, you’re right. You’re absolutely right about that. Allen Hershkowitz: The decisions we make now will affect thousands of generations to come after us. John Shegerian: There is no doubt. Allen Hershkowitz: And we have to think of it. I think – I hope – that there will be thousands of generations coming after us. But guess what? Scientists are telling us that if we continue on the path we’re on right now, the temperature of the Earth – if we keep the status quo as it is – the temperature of the Earth will rise six degrees, and if that happens, it will wipe out human life on Earth. John Shegerian: We’re here at – as you say – the fifth annual GSA Annual Convention here in downtown Chicago – and for our listeners that want to learn more about the GSA, they should go to www.GreenSportsAlliance.org – but talk a little bit about why this even has become so important on an annual basis and what can people come and do here now whether you’re a sports team, a vendor, a supplier, any person in the whole ecosystem; why are these events now more important than ever before, and what kind of speakers do you have here, and what kind of workshops do you have here? Allen Hershkowitz: Well, we started with professional sports and now we are working very closely throughout collegiate sports. We work with the Ivy League. The Pac-12 is a member. All schools in the Pac-12, including the Commissioner’s office, are members of the Green Sports Alliance. The Western Collegiate Conference – WCC – is a member of the Green Sports Alliance. The Boy Scouts, which has 693 recreation facilities around the country – including an 80,000-seat stadium in West Virginia – is a member of the Green Sports Alliance. So we’re in colleges. And guess what? We want to go to high schools. We want to go to playgrounds. There are baseball fields or basketball courts in almost every neighborhood. John Shegerian: That’s true. Allen Hershkowitz: Some of those fields are being manicured with chemicals that are not safe. Some of those fields – many of them – do not have recycling infrastructure. The potential to influence the culture and infrastructure of the United States – sports teams are now begging for composting infrastructure because sports teams are forced to throw out food waste that can be composted because their local municipality doesn’t have a composting infrastructure available to them. John Shegerian: Wow. Allen Hershkowitz: Every year, Major League Baseball – because of our work with them they started something called the “Green Glove Award.” What is the most environmentally responsible team? And it’s mostly based on recycling and whatnot, and every year they San Francisco Giants were winning it. Why? Because San Francisco has a wonderful recycling infrastructure. So what baseball did to accommodate that was they now have the Green Glove Award by division recognizing that different regions have different infrastructure. The point is that the New York Yankees let the Mayor of New York know and the New York Mets let the Mayor of New York know that they wanted composting infrastructure in New York because they were spending millions of dollars throwing out food waste that they could instead send to a composter at a much lower rate and a much lower ecological profile so why should they be throwing out money? John Shegerian: Right. Allen Hershkowitz: Same thing with recycling. Right now – you know this better than me – plastic is going for at least $600-$700 a ton. Aluminum is going for even more than that right now. If they throw out aluminum bottles or aluminum cans or plastic bottles or plastic cans, they’re throwing out money. John Shegerian: That’s right. Allen Hershkowitz: And if the infrastructure is not there, and if you get the Red Sox complaining and the Dodgers complaining and the Chicago Cubs complaining and the New York Yankees complaining and the Miami Heat complaining, these are very noticeable members of the business community. They’re not Greenpeace, they’re not NRDC, they’re not Environmental Defense Fund. They’re very mainstream business messengers and they’re saying, “It’s hard enough t make a buck these days and you’re forcing us to throw money out,” because what’s normal in Europe – what’s interesting in developing the Green Sports Alliance in Europe is they chuckle at the fact that we celebrate when we set up recycling programs at our venues because in Europe it’s law. They are required by law to have recycling programs. And when we celebrate our carbon reductions at our venues and we publicized it and we put out case studies, they laugh at that, too, and it’s because they are required by law in Europe to reduce their carbon emissions. Actually, the European Soccer Federation – who I was just with last week and actually have to go back next week – they are putting on 51 games for the Eurocup. The Eurocup is the second largest and most important soccer tournament in the world. There is the World Cup, which is run by FIFA, and then there is the Eurocup and there are 51 games. And you know what they’re doing there? We could never do this here, but they are banning private car parking at all 51 games. John Shegerian: Wow. Allen Hershkowitz: You have to either take public transport or shuttle busses because they want to reduce the carbon emissions associated with the game. John Shegerian: Allen, we’re almost out of time for today – unfortunately – but I want you just to share with our listeners and our viewers your vision for the next five years with the GSA. Allen Hershkowitz: Well, we want to have all professional teams in all professional leagues as members. We want to have all colleges as members. We want to start educating high schoolers. John Shegerian: That’s awesome. Allen Hershkowitz: We want to start getting playgrounds to be environmentally healthy. We want to change food. Basically, we want to change the food that parents are able to serve to their children when they go to a ball game. So many parents are now more and more mindful, especially your listeners. John Shegerian: Right. Allen Hershkowitz: Your listeners are really mindful about food. John Shegerian: Right. Allen Hershkowitz: They don’t want to serve their kids chemically saturated fruit, vegetables or processed breads or grains or trans fats or meats saturated with antibiotics. They want to serve their kids healthy food and they do that at home. John Shegerian: Right. Allen Hershkowitz: But then they go to baseball game or a football game or a hockey game or a NASCAR event and they have few options that are healthy and they’re not happy about that. So changing the food profile. And that’s one of the things that we had here. Today, we had Levy, we had Centerplate, we had Arrowmark, we had the major food vendors here for the announcement of the release of this report and they said that this report is going to change what they’re doing at venues. John Shegerian: I see. And Levy came on the show – actually – thanks to your folks and they were great because they talked about how important it is to continue to upgrade their food quality and not only on a national basis but on a regional basis. Allen Hershkowitz: John, think of what sports has already done. Think of Jesse Owens destroying the Hitlerian/Aryan myth. John Shegerian: Jackie Robinson. Allen Hershkowitz: Think of what Jackie Robinson did with race relations. Think of what Billie Jean King did with gender equality. Think of what Muhammad Ali did with the Vietnam War. John Shegerian: That’s right. Allen Hershkowitz: The conscientious objection. Think of Magic Johnson destigmatizing having AIDS. John Shegerian: That’s right. Allen Hershkowitz: Think of Michael Sam coming out as a gay individual and what he’s done for gay marriage. Sports has already changed the world through prominent athletes coming out, and they continue to do that. And now the sports industry is going to change the world for the environment. And I’ll leave you with this one last piece of information. We are coming out next year – we have already written this report on endangered species. There are 153 professional sports teams. Ninety of them share 50 animals as mascots, and of those 50 animals, 31 – three fifths – are in danger of going extinct in the wild. John Shegerian: Wow. Allen Hershkowitz: So we have commitments. Next year, we are going to be releasing a report called “Mascots at Risk” in collaboration with baseball, basketball, hockey, soccer and football. All professional sports teams are coming together to help promote species preservation because the fact is that more than 11,000 sharks are killed every hour. You heard that right. Every hour. More than 250,000 sharks a day are killed for shark fin soup. An elephant is slaughtered every 20 minutes for its ivory. Ninety-seven percent of all the tigers are gone. Ninety percent of all the lions are gone. These are sports mascots. Tigers, lions, elephants, polar bears, bears, sharks, rays, dolphins, marlins – these are sports mascots. The sports industry could help and wants to help save these species from extinction, so one of the next big initiatives of the Green Sports Alliance is a global initiative, and we are working with our partners in Europe, in Australia, in the U.K., in South America to get global attention to the risks. Do we really want it to be the endgame for the tiger? Do we really want it to be the endgame for the lion or the elephant? John Shegerian: No. Not at all. Allen Hershkowitz: Right. John Shegerian: Allen, thank you again for everything you’re doing. Obviously, you’re an inspirational visionary and it’s just such an honor to have you on the show, it’s such an honor to have you as the President of the GSA and also an honor for me, personally, to have you as my friend. Allen Hershkowitz: Well, let me say this, John. I have been doing this work for a long time, and you know what? I can tell you that there are not a lot of people that do what you do. the platforms that you provide, the way that you get the message out – frankly, when we talk about cultural influence and educating people, you are one of the great environmental educators of our time. John Shegerian: Thank you. Allen Hershkowitz: Your radio show is broadcast around the world, and for you to – I mean, we could be doing this work invisibly if it wasn’t for you, so I can’t thank you enough. John Shegerian: Well, this has been an honor. I’m so glad. Green Is Good wants to be a media partner of GSA. Allen Hershkowitz: You are. John Shegerian: From here on in. Allen Hershkowitz: Right. John Shegerian: Because your work is so incredible and the people that you bring together that are collectively changing the world and making the world a better place. It’s just such an honor to be among them and to be able to share and tell their stories on Green Is Good, so thank you so much. For our listeners out there to learn more about Allen and also all you colleagues and what you’re doing at the Green Sports Alliance go to www.GreenSportsAlliance.org and they can sign up, they can learn, they can sign up for your newsletters, they can download these great reports here, like “Champions of Game Day Food,” and get other information because you’re constantly putting out new information and offering resources for everyone to enjoy and learn from. Allen, you’re my friend, but you really are an inspirational visionary and you’re truly living proof that Green Is Good. I thank you for all you do and I thank you for knowing me from the planet at large because you have made the world a great, great place. Allen Hershkowitz: Well, you’re a brother. Thank you so much. John Shegerian: Thank you. Thank you so much.