The Founding & Future of the Green Sports Alliance with Lendlease’s Jason Twill
October 7, 2015
John Shegerian: This is the Green Sports Alliance edition of Green Is Good here in beautiful downtown Chicago, and we’ve got with us Jason Twill. Jason is a very special guest today because he is the co-founder of the Green Sports Alliance. Welcome to Green Is Good, Jason. Jason Twill: Thank you very much. John Shegerian: So you want to talk – this is a big – this is the first time we’ve had you on the show. Can you share the story of co-founding the Green Sports Alliance? Jason Twill: So I was working for an amazing and innovative firm called “Vulcan Ink” that was founded by Paul G. Allen, who was the co-founder of Microsoft, based in Seattle. Primarily, my background is in real estate development. I was working on a large scale urban development project called “Southlake Union” with Vulcan Real Estate. An anchor tenant of that community is www.Amazon.com. John Shegerian: Great. Jason Twill: And in 2008 when the market took a dive, I had an opportunity to rethink my role a little bit and be in a position to look at other areas of innovation that we could look at in Paul’s portfolio. And Paul is a very visionary leader and has a very deep passion for art, science, museums, culture, sports and music. So he has the Experience Music Project museum, he owns the Seattle Sounders FC, the Seahawks, the Portland Trailblazers, and I had an epiphany one day to kind of walk across the street – our office is right across from CenturyLink Field – introduced myself to Darryl Benge, who was then the Operations Head for CenturyLink Field, and just struck up a conversation about some of the opportunities around sustainability we could look at at the venue as far as renewable energy, energy efficiency. And that team was already thinking about these things. It had looked at some opportunities to change lighting, reduce water footprint. They had a really robust recycling and composting program. In Seattle, they do that. It’s in the culture. It’s in the Kool-Aid there. John Shegerian: Right. Jason Twill: And this kind of dialogue ensued, and we connected with Justin Zeulner, who was at the Trailblazers, and they were getting their facility LEED-certified so it was already this ripe opportunity kind of sitting there. It was fertile. John Shegerian: Right. Jason Twill: People were thinking about opportunities to green venues. And we started a conversation with Scott Jenkins across the street, and he was managing Safeco Field, and as we were conceiving doing a major solar project at CenturyLink Field – almost a megawatt of solar we put up – just sharing how we did that with them and just being more collaborative on the green. Even though we compete on the field, we can collaborate on changing the way we build these stadiums in our cities. John Shegerian: Right. Jason Twill: And about end of 2009 – it was about November or December – my boss who actually led and built – his name was Ray Colliver – built the CenturyLink Field, originally it was Qwest Field when it was built, gave me a copy of a Sports Business Journal and the focus of that was looking at stadiums that were looking at solar renewable energy on stadiums. John Shegerian: Oh. Jason Twill: And in the article I read, there was a guy named Allen Hershkowitz quoted. And I remember when we were talking about collaborating around sustainability in sport, the NRDC – Natural Resource Defense Council – had this kind of sports greening program, and I heard about this guy. But this article kind of was like, “Oh, that’s him. I need to call this guy.” So I kind of Googled him, got the phone number, called him up, introduced myself and said, “I work with this company. We have three sports franchises under Paul Allen’s leadership out here. We’re looking to collaborate around what we can do, go beyond where we are today in sustainability,” and invited him out and he jumped at the opportunity. And on February 1, 2010, we hosted a workshop at CenturyLink Field – actually, in the McCormick Suite. Ironic that we are at McCormick Convention Center today. John Shegerian: That’s great. Jason Twill: And in the weeks prior to that, I worked with some instrumental thinkers on mapping out a mission statement and what the possibilities could be to collaborate with sports teams. And we had five teams. We had the Seattle Storm, female WNBA team. John Shegerian: Right. Jason Twill: The Portland Trailblazers basketball team, NBA. The Seattle Seahawks, NFL team. Seattle Sounders, MLS team. The MLB Safeco, the Seattle Mariners. John Shegerian: Right. Jason Twill: And then about a month afterward, we invited the Vancouver Canucks. So, basically, the Northwest teams in professional sports helped really create this. They seeded a little bit of money. We had a very generous donation from Dennis Hayes and the Bullitt Foundation to seed fund the kind of funding to get like a staff member and get this thing off the ground. Then it was just a lot of roll up the sleeves, volunteer, biweekly calls to kind of start incubating, getting words out. But I think the power of it is the nature of being able to share information across venue operators so the venue operators are really the champions of starting this. So then Darryl Benge, Scott Jenkins, Justin Zeulner communicating with their counterparts at other venues across the country really set a chain of events off that really led to its evolving and growth as it has done over the last few years which has been absolutely astounding to watch. John Shegerian: We are five years into it now – or so. Is this where you expected it to be or has it exceeded your expectations and your vision? Where are we at compared to where you thought we’d be? Jason Twill: I would say it has absolutely exceeded expectations. But I’m not surprised. I think after about eight months of nurturing it, we knew we hit a nerve. John Shegerian: Got you. Jason Twill: And we knew that when we held the first summit in Portland in 2011. John Shegerian: Right. Jason Twill: That we were able to kind of muster together on a shoestring budget and get about 250 people out to Portland with mayors like Kevin Johnson. John Shegerian: Right. Jason Twill: And some pretty amazing leadership in the sports industry. And the conversation and energy of that event – just having an opportunity and a space for people to come to and talk about sustainability specific to the sports industry we knew we hit something and it just – there has been exponential growth since then. John Shegerian: Got you. And how long did you stay with it until you moved on to – your career evolved? Jason Twill: My career has always been a little but separate. So I mentioned onstage this morning, my day job – I’ve been waiting for my day job to align with this so it’s kind of an anomaly. My first love is cities and reimagining cities is kind of my fulltime role with Lendlease. John Shegerian: Got you. Jason Twill: And Lendlease is a 63-year-old firm headquartered and was founded in Australia by an amazing Dutch visionary named Dick Dusseldorp, and we are now led by a visionary CEO named Steve McCann, and we have a very strategic focus on cities, urban regeneration. If you look at sports and entertainment districts as catalysts for kind of changing the way we look at cities. John Shegerian: That is so interesting. Jason Twill: And where the conversation has gone as far as stadiums being out in the suburbs with oceans of parking lots and now really being part of the urban fabric, being downtown, creating walkable vibrant more dense districts and a lot of mixed uses around entertainment, housing, commercial office, retail offerings to really drive the livability for cities. I mean, cities around the world are fighting for capital and talent and the more vitality, livability and distinctiveness – and sports can play a major role in that. John Shegerian: So is that where Lendlease intersects with the Green Sports Alliance? Jason Twill: I think there is potential for that. It’s nascent. That conversation was first had this morning on a panel. John Shegerian: Got you. Jason Twill: Which is why I’m kind of excited about it. John Shegerian: Which is why you’re here. Jason Twill: Yeah. John Shegerian: And so how is it to come back home – so to speak – to the United States to the Green Sports Alliance, which you co-founded, and to be here, see all the amazing panels, see all the people? Jason Twill: It’s fantastic. John Shegerian: Is it just. Jason Twill: So I’m never that far. So I’m on the phone with Allen and Scott twice a week. So I am on the Executive Committee. John Shegerian: Right. Jason Twill: Immediate past Chair of the Board. So I am heavily involved in continuing to see this incubate and evolve. John Shegerian: And push it. You’re still pushing it. Jason Twill: We’re pushing it, and we’re actually expanding beyond the North American boundaries. We have a close friend – Shelia Nguyen – that has just launched the Sports Environment Alliance in Australia. John Shegerian: Wow. Jason Twill: We just had an international summit two days ago. So we have the Green Sports Alliance Europe, the Green Sports Alliance United Kingdom, we’re talking to South America so it’s now becoming a global movement. John Shegerian: This is amazing. Jason Twill: And the power behind it and the – if I think back to the original, the essence of why we wanted to do this, it’s how sports and athletes can really change the dialogue and discourse around the sustainability movement, take it away from politicians, take it away from – I guess – the sustainability practitioners and really get to the broader public on painting the vision for what kind of world we want to have for our children. John Shegerian: Five years into it. You’re the co-founder. Are we still just at the top of the second inning here? Jason Twill: Yeah. I think if you kind of humanize the sustainability movement, I think it has come out of its rambunctious adolescence, but we’re still teenagers trying to figure out what we’re going to be when we grow up. John Shegerian: That’s awesome. Jason Twill: But it’s not a fad. I think we are well aware of that. There are some systemic changes happening around the world, and there are a lot of mindsets being changed around this topic and how we’re going to address it. And there is a lot of strong leadership within government and outside of government to really make change, and I think – I have been thoroughly impressed with the – these are nonconventional relationships from where my career is, meeting people in the sports industry and the type of leaders like Gary Bettman in the NHL and all the commissioners – Bud Selig – and how outspoken and articulate they are at addressing environmental issues within their league and within – they understand the influence they have and they know the responsibility they have, and it has just been so inspiring to see that type of leadership happen. John Shegerian: That’s awesome. Well, thank you for spending time. This has been an honor to interview you here today. Jason Twill: Thank you. John Shegerian: Because Allen came on the show back around 2011 or so or 2012 and started sharing the journey of the Green Sports Alliance, so we have been following it very closely. We are honored to be here today – obviously – to interview so many of your panelists and speakers but even more honored to have you on to share the journey of co-founding to where we are today and some vision of the future. We wish you continued success driving the future of the Green Sports Alliance. Jason Twill: Thank you very much. I am honored to be part of it and you today. John Shegerian: Thank you. And for our listeners and our viewers out there – first – to find Jason he is over at Lendlease. You can find Jason Twill at www.Lendlease.com. Of course to find the Green Sports Alliance, please go to www.GreenSportsAlliance.org. This is John Shegerian and Jason Twill. We are here in downtown Chicago at the Green Sports Alliance edition of Green Is Good. Jason, obviously, you’re making the world a better place and you are truly living proof that Green Is Good. Thank you so much for being with us today. Jason Twill: Thank you very much. John Shegerian: Thank you.