A powerhouse of American collegiate (aka university) sports from the country's heartland. The team trying to bring the America's Cup home to Britain for the first time. One of the most anonymous teams in the NBA. And a fifth division English football team. What could these four seemingly unrelated sports organizations have in common? THE Ohio State University Buckeyes, Land Rover BAR, the Sacramento Kings and Forest Green Rovers are four of the greenest teams on the planet. We want to share the reasons why these squads have earned that designation and why other teams need not be green with envy. Rather, they should emulate the Core (Green) Four, and perhaps beat them at the green-sports game.

OHIO STATE UNIVERSITY BUCKEYES

Ohio State is one of the gold standard programs in college football, winning its eighth national championship in 2015. The 65,000+ student, Columbus-based school also owns 29 other National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) championships, including a title in men's basketball, and multiple banners in swimming (11) as well as women's rowing (3). There's no other way to say it: Ohio State is a college sports powerhouse.

And, while Ohio’s pro loyalties are largely split between Cleveland in the north and Cincinnati in the south, it is Ohio State, in the centrally located capital city of Columbus, that is the closest thing to a unifying force in sports in the state. With more than 106,000 fans filling Ohio Stadium (aka The Horseshoe) at every home football game and with millions following the Buckeyes on TV, radio and online, the impact of Ohio State football is massive.

 

The Horseshoe, home of Ohio State football and, since 2013, its Zero Waste home games. (Photo credit: Lewis Blaustein)

 

Given the huge fan base and audience, the potential impacts of Ohio State’s Zero Waste home football games–the school just completed its 4th straight Zero Waste football season–are also staggering. Zero Waste events are defined as diverting at least 90 percent of waste from the landfill via recycling, composting, or repurposing. The Buckeyes diverted an insanely great 96.35 percent of in-stadium waste in 2015, winning the Big Ten Conference diversion rate championship for the fourth consecutive year. Results for 2016 are not complete but it looks as though OSU football's diversion rates will be similar to last year's.

Ohio Stadium is thought to be the biggest Zero-Waste stadium in the world. And the Schottenstein Center, aka Value City Arena, the 18,000+ seat home of Buckeyes basketball and hockey, which opened in 2000, is getting into the Zero-Waste action, expecting to get there sometime in 2017.

 

Schottenstein Center, home of Ohio State University Basketball (Columbus, OH), will become a Zero Waste facility (diverting at least 90% of waste from landfill) by 2017. (Photo Credit: The Lantern)

 

Indications are Ohio State’s greening efforts are breaking through with fans:

  • Out of 175 people surveyed in 2014, all but 3 thought that Ohio State Athletics has some level of responsibility (slight, some, and strong) to add environmental efforts into their athletics operations. Yes, it's a small sample size, but directionally it's telling.
  • The rest of the campus is taking the green lead from Ohio State football: Diversion rates across the entire university have almost doubled since the pre-Zero Waste football days, rising from 16.1% in FY 2004 t0 30.4% in FY 2015.
  • Food waste, with the help of OSU Zero Waste volunteers, is transported to Price Farms Organic, a composting facility in Delaware, Ohio. The waste is eventually turned into a mulch called Stadium Scarlet (the school's colors are scarlet and gray), which Buckeyes fans, most of whom are landscapers and/or homeowners, purchase for $40 per cubic yard.
  • A 101 kW, 237 panel solar array was installed in 2014 on the Recreational and Physical Activities Center roof, adjacent to The Horseshoe in the Buckeyes’ iconic Block O configuration. It makes for a great aerial scene-setter shot–and a terrific talking point.

 

Solar panel array, in the shape of Ohio State’s “Block O”, atop the roof of the Recreational and Physical Activities Center, in the shadow of The Horseshoe. (Photo credit: Office of Energy and Environment, The Ohio State University)

 

Now, fans of the University of Colorado-Boulder, with its absolutely sterling sustainability record (Zero-Waste, on site solar, state-of-the-art water conservation and restoration programs), will likely take issue with Ohio State being named one of the four greenest sports teams in the world. And they have a point.

The reason OSU gets the nod here is that Columbus is not a sustainability, eco-haven like Boulder. Or Seattle, where denizens of the University of Washington could well be raising collective eyebrows. It is important to note that Ohio State, in a state that voted for Donald J. Trump, who during the campaign called climate change a hoax and who just nominated fossil fuel company ally Scott Pruitt to be head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is in the green-sports leadership conversation with schools in Boulder, CO and Seattle. That is a BIG DEAL!

 

LAND ROVER BAR

Sir Ben Ainslie is the most successful sailor in Olympic history, winning medals at five consecutive Olympics (1996 to 2012), including gold at the last four; he also played a key part in Oracle Team USA’s stirring comeback to capture the 2013 America’s Cup.

While his past is certainly legendary, it is two aspects of the future that animate Ainslie's life these days. Number one is his role as skipper of Land Rover Ben Ainslie Racing (BAR), Britain's entry in the 35th America's Cup, to be contested in Bermuda next May-June. The challenge isn't that big—it's only about bringing the Cup to the UK for the first time ever.

That there's room for anything else on Ainslie's plate these days is astounding, but his will to win is matched with the need to do so with purpose — and his purpose is to use his platform at the top of the sailing world to advocate for clean oceans, the climate change fight and to bring sustainability to the rest of the sailing world.

Ainslie's path to Green-Sports leader was kickstarted after the 2013 America’s Cup when he met Wendy Schmidt of 11th Hour Racing, an organization dedicated to promoting healthy oceans through world-class sailing teams. According to Ainslie, "Wendy instilled in me the responsibility someone like myself in sport has to [build a team] with sustainability as a core principle, a core belief."

 

Sir Ben Ainslie with Wendy Schmidt, co-founder of 11th Hour Racing, Land Rover BAR’s Exclusive Sustainability Partner. (Photo credit: Harry Kenney-Herbert/Land Rover BAR)

 

11th Hour Racing soon became Land Rover BAR's exclusive sustainability partner and, from that point on, the team's environmental efforts have been full speed ahead. A partial list of Land Rover BAR's sustainability initiatives includes:

  • Hiring a sustainability manager, Susie Tomson, to coordinate all greening efforts, including the implementation of aggressive sustainability standards, such as eliminating single-use plastics as a way to promote the elimination of plastic ocean waste.
  • Building its home base in Portsmouth to has achieved BREEAM Excellent (the British equivalent of the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED) status. Per Ainslie, "Probably the neatest thing about the base is the wrap — it makes it look pretty cool and it also helps the building retain heat in the winter and keep cooler in summer. And the sustainability of the base helps show our supporters, our partners, our competitors and also the media — who’ve been quite impressed — that we’re in this for the long haul."

 

An aerial view of Land Rover BAR's home base in Portsmouth, England, with the outer wrap covering the lower left portion of the building. (Photo credit: Shaun Roster)

 

  • Using 100% renewable electricity at the base

 

Solar panels atop the roof at Land Rover BAR’s Portsmouth headquarters, help the building achieve BREEAM Excellent status. (Photo credit: Harry Kenney-Herbert/Land Rover BAR)

 

  • Employing Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) to make its operations as environmentally friendly and smart as possible. It does so by determining how best to use, reuse and dispose of materials from design to end-of-life.
  • Seeking innovative ways to reduce fuel consumption,
  • Engaging with local communities and younger generations on programs that promote biodiversity
  • Meatless Mondays for the team and staff
  • Drafted a sustainability charter for the other America's Cup contestants to adopt

 

SACRAMENTO KINGS

It’s been a long decade+ for Sacramento Kings fans. On the court, the club haven’t made the playoffs since 2004. And the team was under constant threat of relocation from 2006-2013.

That threat ended with the 2013 sale of the Kings to local businessman Vivek Ranadivé. And, despite another poor start this season, Sacramento fans and the community at large can be proud of the leadership the team is displaying in the NBA in the climate change fight through the construction and October 2016 opening of Golden 1 Credit Union Center, the first LEED Platinum arena in the world. Platinum is the highest level of certification awarded by the US Green Building Council, representing the top 3 percent of buildings certified.

At the top of the Kings' green list is the club’s commitment to generate 100% of the building’s electricity from solar power.

And get this–going 100% solar was a response to the fans! In a powerful March 7th Huffington Post Op-Ed, Randivé recalled that, “survey[s] of over 20,000 Sacramentans and countless focus groups, one of the top answers to the question of ‘What do you want Golden 1 Center to be?’ was always the same: To become a model of sustainability. Our fans wanted a state-of-the-art arena that would deliver an unparalleled experience for both fans and the environment.” 

Randive & Company are giving the fans what they asked for. Golden 1 Center will be the first indoor arena in the world to derive 100% of its electricity from solar energy sourced within 50 miles of the arena–the Kings will buy 85% of its electric load from Sacramento Municipal Utility District’s (SMUD) new 10.9-megawatt solar farm; the other 15% will come from solar panels atop the building’s rooftop.

Want more green firsts? Golden 1 Center is the first arena in the world to be both indoor and outdoor. How can that be possible? By featuring five massive hangar doors above the grand entrance that open and allow the arena to use a natural cooling phenomenon in Sacramento – The Delta Breeze – to control the building’s climate efficiently, that's how! 

 

The hangar doors to Golden 1 Center open, letting fans—and the cooling Delta Breeze—into the arena (Photo credit: Amplify)

 

But, wait…there’s more: The Kings’ architectural choices are estimated to keep nearly 2,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually out of the atmosphere – equivalent to emissions from approximately 4 million vehicle miles.

Perhaps even more extraordinary than Golden 1 Center’s green features is Ranadivé’s exemplary forward-looking vision: “Our hope in creating Golden 1 Center was to help drive meaningful change in our community – which includes working to curb climate change and promote renewable energy. Businesses, including large sports franchises, have a core responsibility to help facilitate the world’s clean energy transition so that we can better protect the health and environment of future generations. The 1.2 million people who will pass through our doors each year will see first hand how adopting the best sustainability practices can improve the fan experience.”

FOREST GREEN ROVERS

From a distance Forest Green Rovers F.C. (FGR), with roots dating back to 1889, are like most every other club at the Conference/5th tier level. They play in a quaint, 5,000-ish seat stadium (The New Lawn). They have a small group of hyper local followers. And they're pushing for promotion to League Two and the EFL (as of this writing, about halfway through the season, FGR stands tied for 2nd place, good for a spot in the promotion playoffs if the season ended today, and two points back of Lincoln City for first and a guaranteed spot in League Two next season).

But, when you look closer, you’ll see a club that, on the pitch and especially off, should be a model for all professional sports teams on either side of the pond.

It starts with ownership. Dale VinceOBE, became the club’s major shareholder and Chairman in 2010. He also is the Founder/Owner of Ecotricity, based in nearby Stroud, which is taking on the challenge of reducing up to 80 percent of Great Britain’s carbon footprint. Since 1995, Ecotricity has become a green “triple threat”, dealing with electricity (through wind and solar project development), AND transportation (EV battery chargers at highway rest stops) AND food (in the concept stage on wind powered tractors and other clean farm energy projects). The company is privately held, pays no dividends and so profits are plowed back into the building of more clean energy. Thus, Ecotricity’s motto: Turn (electric) Bills Into (wind) Mills. Al Gore is a fan. It is the largest private sector employer in the area. Ecotrcitiy has serious green cred.

That green cred extends to FGR, which is pioneering the Greening of Football. Along with putting a quality squad on the pitch, the essence of FGR is green...DEEP green:

  • The most revolutionary move was to go Meat Free at the club training table and then at the concessions stands at The New Lawn. You read that right: No meat at the stadium. Veggie burgers only. That must’ve been a DISASTER. Well, in an interview with The Independent in 2014, Vince conceded that, at first, there was “a fan revolt.” But then things turned. Now Vince says “I didn’t give in. [And] now no fan says the veggie burger is worse than a meat burger. They even come up to me and thank me, and say I’ve changed their lives.”
  • While energy efficient LEDs are increasingly the rage at sporting venues vs. the traditional, energy-sucking Metal Halide lights, Vince says LEDs are not energy efficient enough. So they’re looking into lower energy lighting. Does anyone doubt they’ll figure this one out?
  • There are solar panels on the roof and also ground-mounted solar powered carports at The New Lawn. The latter are visible to all fans entering and leaving the stadium, further cementing the greenness of the club among the fan base.

 

The New Lawn, home of Forest Green Rovers F.C., in Nailsworth, England. Concession stands are meatless, solar panels line the roof and the parking lot. (Photo Credit: openbuildings.com)

And the organic pitch is mowed by a solar-powered “Mow-Bot.” I kid you not.

To Vince, sustainability is integral to the club's DNA and its long term viability: "We’re building a football club that’s both environmentally and financially sustainable. We got involved for two reasons – social and environmental. The club is a big part of the local community, with a rich tradition, and it needed rescuing. For us, it was an investment in the local community. Secondly, the club offered an opportunity to take our sustainable message to a new audience – a large and passionate new audience largely unaccustomed to dealing with sustainability issues."

Finally, click here to see a terrific 8-minute video from Collectively, a non-profit that uncovers, shares and scales up “exciting ideas for a future we want to live.” You get an unvarnished, up close view of what fans–both FGR and away supporters–think and feel about this fascinating experiment at the intersection of Green + Sports. Let us know what you think. Meanwhile, I’m ready for a veggie burger!

GreenSportsBlog Post #2
January 10, 2017