PAC-12 Sustainability Conference Highlights (2018)

PAC-12 Sustainability Conference Highlights (2018)

Highlights of the PAC-12 Sustainability Conference held at UC Boulder on July 12th 2018. This podcast episode includes presentations and interviews from:

  • Jamie Zaninovich – PAC-12 Conference Deputy Commissioner and Chief Operating Officer

  • Richard Gerstein - UNIFI Chief Marketing Officer

  • Mary Harvey – Former U.S. Women’s National Team Goalkeeper, Olympic Gold Medalist and FIFA World Cup Champion

  • Jason Richardson – Retired NBA Player and NCAA Champion

  • Paisley Benaza – Ph.D. Student and Communications Strategist at Arizona State University

  • Arielle Gold – Professional Snowboarder and Olympic Bronze Medalist

Consistent with its reputation as the Conference of Champions, the Pac-12 is the first collegiate sports conference to convene a high level symposium focused entirely on integrating sustainability into college athletics and across college campuses.

All of the Pac-12 athletic departments have committed to measuring their environmental performance, developing strategies and goals to reduce their impact, monitoring their progress, and engaging fans and communities in greener practices. The Pac-12 Sustainability Conference signals an elevated approach to enhancing sustainability efforts within collegiate athletics departments, designing new collective initiatives, and sharing best practices to transform college sports into a platform for environmental progress.

Transcript of PAC-12 Sustainability Conference Highlights:

Jamie Zaninovich – PAC-12 Conference Deputy Commissioner and Chief Operating Officer

We're very proud of the thought leadership platform we have at the PAC-12 and I think everybody in this room fits in really well and speaks to what we're trying to do in this space as leaders in the collegiate athletics sustainability movement. I think one other thing that's really exciting about today is the diversity we have in this room. For those of you that will engage with each other throughout the day, we have multimedia rights holders, we have sales teams, we have marketing professionals, we have sustainability industry professionals and of course school reps representing both sustainability offices as well as our athletic departments. It's really a only of its kind event that brings together this diverse group within college athletics and sustainability. So, thank you everyone for participating. We have a great program for you today. I won't get into it in detail, but we hope it will spark a lot of conversation around new ideas and expanding existing ideas in the collegiate sports sustainability space and hopefully extend that throughout this global movement. We really challenged our program committee this year to outpace what we did last year, which was very difficult for those of you that experienced Bill Walton and others at last year's conference. Let's say it was memorable. But I think it's safe to say that they went above and beyond to find an incredible group of speakers and panelists for this year's event.

Today you'll be hearing from professional athletes, former professional athletes, NBA champions, NCAA champions, former and current Olympians, as well as Colorado's own Arielle Gold, who recently brought back a bronze medal from the Olympics in the halfpipe snowboards. And Arielle, as you will learn later today, has now dedicated herself to helping effect climate change which she experienced firsthand in her experiences in the Olympics. So without that, Mary referenced that we have an announcement today. As you might've seen on your way in, or in the backdrop, or on these pillows, or on a free pair of a Repreve branded socks that everyone will get today and are very cool and already flying off the truck. We have a very special announcement today in that we're announcing the formation of PAC-12 Team Green, which is a first of its kind, collegiate athletic sustainability platform which will serve to promote all the phenomenal greening efforts in the PAC-12 and around our campuses. I think it's safe to say this is a historic day, honestly, in collegiate athletics. There's never been a college conference that has embraced a collectively like our schools have a sustainability initiative like this.

While our league office and member institutions have already been executing phenomenal sustainability initiatives for years, PAC-12 Team Green will now allow us to have a collective home and brand all of those efforts, including amplifying them on our own media company, the PAC-12 Network. So, from our PAC-12 zero waste challenge campus recycling competition, to our constant efforts leading sustainability activities at our multiple sports championships, to the formation of our sustainability working group, which is again one of its kind, a working group that's been working for a year which is composed of both the sustainability professional and athletics professional on each of our campuses. We are united now under PAC-12 Team Green to further cement and strengthen our leadership position in sustainability in collegiate athletics. But wait, there's more. As part of the launch of PAC-12 Team Green today, we are also honored, thrilled, so excited to announce our new partnership with Unifi Manufacturing, as the founding sustainability partner for our PAC-12 Team Green platform. Unifi's goals and missions align perfectly with those of PAC-12 Team Green and our conferences. They have led the way in innovation as a leader in the emerging circular economy movement. We are thrilled to welcome them as the first and only founding partner of this new exciting platform, PAC-12 Team Green. As part of this multiyear partnership, and as an official partner of PAC-12 Team Green, Unify will serve as a prominent partner at all PAC-12 championships, will provide funding to all twelve of our campuses to promote zero waste efforts and will work with PAC-12 networks on the creation of custom content to further promote some of the industry leading sustainability efforts being executed on our campuses. 

Richard Gerstein - UNIFI Chief Marketing Officer

So, while universities are playing a big role, surprisingly professional sports are also leading the way on sustainability. In 2015, the Mariners recycled or composted 87 percent of all waste generated at SAFECO Field. In 2005, only 10 years earlier, the rate was 12 percent. Nearly everything used at Safeco Field is recyclable or compostable. They put bins out, replace garbage cans with recycling bins, and cleaning crews hand separate plastic and compostable waste after every game. As a result, they've diverted 2.7 million pounds in 2015 of waste from landfills, and just as importantly saved $125,000 in landfill costs. This can be good for the bottom line as much as it's good for the world. So what if every PAC-12 stadium was landfill free? And Nike's making a difference in professional sports, as all the replica NFL jerseys are made from recycled polyester. And they're doing the same with the NBA replica jerseys as well. But I would, ask why shouldn't that also be true for the PAC-12?

So my hope for today, is that together we can challenge the norms, overcome the obstacles, and set audacious goals. So let's ask, "what if?" What if just one PAC-12 school demonstrated the power of a circular economy and converted it's student apparel to 100 percent recycled polyester fiber. So let's say we converted 415,000 shirts for one school. We would take 5 million bottles out of landfills. We would save enough electricity to power 51 homes for a year. We'd save enough water to provide 630 people with daily drinking water for a year. We would improve the air quality by avoiding 140,000 kg's of CO2 emissions. And the great news is, it doesn't take a $50 million dollar capital project to get it done. However, it all starts with recycling. Unfortunately, we are woefully low as a country and I wish I could tell you that our universities, with all our millennials, do better. But in most cases, they don't. China recycles at more than double our rate, but by asking "what if?"

I truly believe we can make a difference demonstrating the power of the circular economy, and the people in this room have the ability to lead that change. So we have a great day ahead of us. It's all about asking "what if?". So, I encourage you to think beyond the expected, beyond the obvious and set a goal and path towards becoming known, not only as the conference of champions, but as champions of sustainability. So I leave you with a reminder of those that have come before us, from the halls you will all return to at the end of this week, and what they achieved by simply asking, "what if?".

Mary Harvey – Former U.S. Women’s National Team Goalkeeper, Olympic Gold Medalist and FIFA World Cup Champion

Interviewed by Josh Prigge – Founder and CEO of Sustridge

Mary Harvey, tell our listeners a little bit about who you are, a little background on your personal life and what brought you to be doing what you're doing today.

I'm a former athlete. I'm a former member of the US Women's National Soccer Team. I played eight years for the US Women. I'm also a PAC-12 graduate of a couple of schools. So my undergrad was at UC Berkeley, or Cal as we call it in the athletics world. Then I got my MBA at UCLA. But the other thing that is germane to why I do this work, is growing up in northern California. I was quite young, but still old enough to remember the drought of 1977. So, conservation of water was something that I've never forgotten. And that combined with early experiences with recycling that I had due to a neighbor that was actively involved in it. This really shaped me at a very young age around why environmental protection is so important. So fast forward, I chose to get involved in it as a volunteer. I'm the vice chair of the Green Sports Alliance, which is a marriage between sports and environmental protection and a labor of love for all of us. And finally, I've had the incredible opportunity to work as an advisor on sustainability for the successful 2026 World Cup bid to bring the 2026 FIFA World Cup to Canada, Mexico, and the United States.

So, let's talk about a little bit about that marriage of sustainability in sports. Why do you think that's an important issue? How can sports help drive sustainability forward in our society?

Well, lots of lots of ways. Sport has a very special place and it touches people emotionally, so it has a very special place. As a result of that, people convene. So people convene in stadiums and ballparks and on fields. People come together. And when people come together and are connected by the love of something, it's also an opportunity to associate that with other things that are also powers for good to drive change. So, when you look at, either mega sporting events like the Olympics or the World Cup, or collegiate football, or even just local recreational sports, you're convening groups of people together and people who have a shared interest. But also as a byproduct of that, we have an opportunity to talk to them or educate them in a way that's appropriate. Right? They're there to watch sports or enjoy sports, but talk about how we can collectively make a difference. And that's what sports offers the opportunity to do in a fairly effective and an efficient way.

Now, how about sustainability leaders? What can they learn from athletic leaders? What do you think sustainability professionals can learn from professional athletes like yourself? What do you think are some of those similar traits and qualities of sustainability leaders and professional athletes?

Well, I think it's about driving performance. As an alumna of the US women's team, we talked about what drives performance on a daily basis and how do you get there, how do you maximize it, what affects it, and how you achieve it on a sustained basis. So performance is always going to resonate within the athletics community. Translating that into sustainability, there are lots of ways to do that. So, be it metrics where you're looking to perform against diversion rates or whatever the metrics are that you have set for yourself. But also it's an opportunity to look at the financial performance as well. So there's a strong correlation between measures that improve your sustainability performance and savings. There are many opportunities to decrease some of your cost drivers by implementing sustainable practices. But at the same time, we're finding increasingly, that there's also opportunities for driving revenue. So things that were considered waste 10 years ago are now raw materials for another process. So as you look at that, and the opportunities for that. For example, the oils that are used for the fryers in restaurants is now an input for the biodiesel process. So those things all have value. So it's also about capturing value, which drives performance around sustainability.

We've been hearing a lot about waste at a lot of these sessions today. We heard a lot of great examples of these universities leading zero waste and, and also how to communicate the financial payback and the economic opportunities behind a focus on zero waste.

And making it fun. We just heard about tailgating and best practices around diversion rates, and hearing about key learnings. And they said, "Listen, it's got to be fun. It's got to be easy for fans and it's got to be fun." And if you combine those two, people really take to it. The engagement from fans, even though they're not yet in the stadium, is a lot higher.

And it's one of the important points here today, is it's not just about reducing our impact but it's also about the community and building community, engaging the community and also hoping that they take these practices home and those values start to permeate throughout the community. What else have you seen that at the conference today? Any highlights? Any points that you'd like to share with our listeners?

I love the keynote. I thought we started off very strongly with a keynote from the CEO of Unifi around "what if?". Applying "what if?" to sustainability and environmental protection specifically. So, what if we were going to try to bring close loop into all these different things like single use plastics? What if we were trying to eliminate single use plastic items? These are propositions that people have posed and done and achieved, so it is possible. So we look now at, what if we were able to successfully get rid of ocean waste? What if we were able to get rid of single use plastic items? What if? I thought that was a great way to frame it.

I think that that's going to be a fantastic partnership. And having that leadership from the top is just so important. Throughout my career in sustainability, I've learned that leading sustainability in an organization is a lot harder when you don't have that top level leadership. And having Jamie Zaninovich here talking about things that he's obviously passionate about and what he wants to see happen in this conference is exciting. And, and to have that top down support is crucial.

Critical. I'm doing a session at the end of today which is around when it became personal or when it, when this started to matter to a person. I will be up there with Arielle Gold, snowboarder Olympian. We're going to be talking about at what moment did protection of the environment and being more responsible happen for you? I can articulate it growing up in the late 1970's. I learned every drop of water was precious because we didn't have it. So I actually asked Jamie that same question. I'm going to call on him tonight during that session and say, "When did it make an impression on you?" And he has a story. Sure enough, the guy who grew up to be in a position to then make an impact and say, "You know what, PAC-12 is going to be about sustainability. So much so that we're going to have the PAC-12 Green Team." I've never been so proud to be a PAC-12 alumni because from a conference that looks at this as not only the right thing to do, but tremendous opportunity that can be derived from it. So, you can trace that influential person who makes that key decision, you can trace that back to at some point in this case. He had a moment where it started to matter to him, so that when somebody years later walked into his office and says, "Hey, I want to talk to you about sustainability," he's going to listen.

And now numerous positive impacts are coming from that - what happened to him that many years ago. Mary, it was so great to chat with you. Such an incredible insights. Before we let you go, I would love to hear your top highlight in your time working in sustainability and your top highlight from your years as a professional athlete.

The top highlight working in sustainability, I would say was the opportunity to work on the united 2026 bid. Because the bid books were public. We were writing a sustainability strategy that the world would read. It's a promise. Your writing basically a promise when you write a bid book. And so having the opportunity to say "what if?". Right? That whole idea of what if eight years from now we could put on the most sustainable World Cup ever in three countries and transform cities on environmental protection and sustainability. The opportunity to work on something like that was once in a lifetime and now it's about doing it, which is even better.

We saw the last Super bowl did a great job. They had a great diversion rate, a waste diversion rate, and the World Cup being several years out, we're all very much looking forward to. And how about your top professional highlight as a player?

I would say winning the Olympics, to be an American and win a gold medal at the Olympics, it hits you in a very special place. To be part of a group of women who would go on...we were kids back then. We're in our early, late teens, early twenties. To be part of a generation of women who in life since then have gone on to be changemakers in so many other ways. But the genesis of it was even before 1996, which is the 1991 Women's World Cup final. For an American to be an Olympian, and especially Olympic gold medalist, it's unbelievable. As a soccer player, it's about winning the World Cup. And so to be a part of the 1991 Women's World Cup team that won the first Women's World Cup ever, I'll never forget it. And it was a tough final. We got out of there with the win, but it wasn't easy. But look at the change it's invoked. So I'm really proud of having been a part of that. 

Jason Richardson – Retired NBA Player and NCAA Champion

Interviewed by Paisley Benaza – Ph.D. Student and Communications Strategist at Arizona State University

So, Jason, so what does it really feel like when you're that guy and you're on the court and you're actually the spectacle that we're watching?

It's pretty tough at first. When you first get into that arena. You're coming out to the stadiums and it's 20,000 people out there. You're like, "Wait a minute, what did I get myself into?" But at the same time, you're out there to do a job. You practiced all your life for it, you worked all your life for it. Eventually to crowd just starts to fade and all you see out there is your teammates and the other five opponents on the basketball court.

Can you talk to us about that rivalry feeling and does it stick with you?

Pretty sure everybody knows the rivalry does stick with you no matter what, how old you get, how far away you become from it? To this day, I hate Michigan. There's no question about it. Those colors make me sick. Which is crazy because I actually grew up a Michigan fan. I grew up a Michigan fan all my life. We watched the Fab Five when I was younger, the football team won the national championship, the basketball team won the national championship in '89. And when I had opportunity to go to college, my whole family thought I was going to Michigan and the night before I announced Michigan State. Ever since that day I hated Michigan.

So a lot of people in this room are either recruiting for their schools, recruiting students for their programs. What was it about Michigan State for you to make that last minute switch?

I think it started off with coach Izzo. When I was going down there as a sophomore getting recruited on unofficial visits, he felt like a father away from home. And then all the guys on our team we're like brothers away from home. It was just an open family and that made me decide to go to Michigan State.

So the key is family and I think PAC-12, with all our universities and brands, I think that's a theme that is throughout all of our schools. Bleacher Report, which is like an ESPN for online, they did this whole story on the bottled water obsession taking over NBA locker rooms and it was really interesting to read. And you could see here they have superstars and they have all these different brands of water - Fiji, Dasani and sparkling water. So what did you get out of that?

Well, it's actually funny when I read this article. I was a part of the team in Philadelphia where they tracked our water, like we were little kids. It was actually pretty amazing and it forces us to drink water and guys started asking, "Hey, can we have Fiji here? Can we have Smart Water here?" And you started realizing all the bottle of the water that were just coming through the system. It was very interesting seeing this article because now you're seeing your favorite player grabbing these water bottle. As a kid thinking, "Oh, Lebron James is drinking Fiji water." Just imagine how many kids are asking about this water. Now you're getting all these bottles involved that are getting put out there.

If you look at it from a sustainability standpoint, all of the bottles of water are contributing to that plastic trash. How do you think that players could think about sustainability and not just branded water because that's a luxury thing, right?

I think it definitely is a luxury. I think last year over 90 billion gallons of water bottles have been distributed or used, and I think that's the big problem. Players are like, "Oh I'm drinking Fiji, I'm drinking this water." And now it's a branding issue because now you're getting all these bottles out there. I think the more you educate them, I think guys will be more open to doing stuff like recycling and reusing bottles.

So I think that's something that we have to think about and maybe it comes from the universities, where we're educating athletes to become advocates for sustainability in that they don't become these single use bottled water drinkers. The MLB told me that they really were hard pressed to find an athlete to basically take the mantle of sustainability. So maybe it has to start from the universities. Maybe we have to train them younger so that they don't feel like they needed branded designer water. So, any closing thoughts?

I think sustainability is great. Being from the Midwest, we didn't know anything about recycling. We just throw everything out and the garbage man pickup everything, and that was it. Not until 2009, I started learning about it. A teammate, Steve Nash, was very heavily into it with the NBA. We had a thing, I only think the NBA d does it anymore, called Green Week. He taught me a lot about how to be sustainable and stuff like that. And it was great for me. Once I started going to other teams, I started asking questions about it. I got traded to the Orlando Magic and they had this big banner and it was the first NBA arena to be certified LEED. And I asked questions about it like, "What do you know about this?" I was like, "Hey, Steve Nash, he helped me out with this." But I started hearing more about it. Just last year the Sacramento Kings became the first arena in the world to be 100 percent powered by solar panels, which is great. Hopefully we can push more NBA arenas to be LEED certified. 

Mary Harvey - Former U.S. Women’s National Team Goalkeeper, Olympic Gold Medalist and FIFA World Cup Champion

Arielle Gold – Professional Snowboarder and Olympic Bronze Medalist

Mary - Now let's get to the winter sports. Arielle, tell me a little bit about when this got personal for you.

Arielle - So, I'm a professional snowboarder. I'm halfpipe snowboarding, and I grew up actually in Steamboat Springs, which is just a few hours away from here. I spent pretty much my entire childhood doing things outside. I always had a love of the outdoors, in particular snowboarding. And one of the great opportunities that snowboarding has afforded me is the chance to travel around the world, pretty much year round. One of my first big trips that I went on was my first Olympics, which was in Sochi, Russia. I was 17 years old. That was in 2014. And I remember going into that Olympics with obviously very high unrealistic expectations. It's the first Olympics and you want it to be kind of that dream experience. I got there and remember going up to the half pipe for the first day of practice, and it was about 60 degrees Fahrenheit, which is not the best.

Unfortunately our first practice actually ended up getting canceled because the half pipe was so soft that we couldn't even ride it. And the following day we showed up to practice hoping that the conditions were going to be better, once again, it was really warm and they were actually spraying these blue chemicals all over the halfpipe to try and preserve the snow long enough for us to just have a practice session, which is usually about two hours. That didn't necessarily work very well. So, we ended up going into the day of our event having had next to no practice, just kind of winging it and hoping the halfpipe held it together long enough to have a good contest. I unfortunately was doing my second run of practice and doing a trick that I've done hundreds of times, and ended up hitting just kind of this ghost of bump in the flat bottom of the half pipe, which threw me onto my stomach. I ended up dislocating my shoulder and wasn't able to compete. So essentially, that's how my first Olympics ended. Had to have that put back in, go through the whole process of trying to get healthy again, getting home and rehabbing. But one of the biggest takeaways I had from that was obviously seeing those conditions firsthand and realizing that there was something wrong. We were really far up in the mountains. A lot of people actually go up there to back country snowboard, so that was definitely not a year to be doing that.

Mary - So we have these experiences as athletes or as kids. Then we go on to, in your case, life still competing, and in my case life after competing. With this moment you described, how have you taken that experience and brought it forward in things that you say and do with respect to the environment?

Arielle - Well, one of the first things I did when I got home from Sochi, was I started researching what I could possibly do to kind of reduce my own environmental footprint. Obviously I travel all the time, so I know that I have a larger footprint probably than a lot of people do. So I just wanted it to do whatever I could to try and reduce that impact as much as I could. One of the first things I did was start speaking with a group called Protect Our Winters, which was actually founded by a professional snowboarder, Jeremy Jones. So a lot of professional ski and snowboarders are pretty involved. What they do is essentially provide a platform for athletes like myself to use their influence to have a positive impact. So I started out really basic - going and speaking at middle and high schools in the Colorado area, speaking to kids and just kind of trying to raise a little bit of awareness, especially in the next generation, because they are the future.

That's kind of what I did for the past four years is just some of that lower level, just kind of speaking around these schools and just trying to spread the word as much as possible. I'm doing my own duty, trying to recycle and ride my bike as much as I can and kind of doing all of those basic level things that we should all be doing. It should be second nature at this point. Then, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to go back to this past Olympics a few months ago, which was really an exciting experience for me just to kind of have the chance to get a little bit of redemption after the way that the last one went. We were fortunate to have some pretty incredible conditions in Korea, so I had one of the best halfpipes I've ever ridden and was able to come home with a bronze medal. So that was definitely a bit more of the result that I had initially expected. And one of the great things about that, aside from just enjoying that overall experience, is coming home and just having all of these new incredible opportunities arise such as speaking at this conference. I just got an opportunity to speak at a conference in Argentina. Just doing all of these different things that I probably never would have had the chance to do had I not been able to go back and get a little better result. So, just being able to use my platform for something positive is something I've always wanted to do and always respected other athletes for doing.

Mary - If you look closely, everybody's got something. There's something that happened, an experience, something you lived through. And we heard earlier today about when you're talking about engaging athletes or engaging people, it's about getting to know them and finding out what moves them, what drives them, what they're passionate about. And if you can find that anecdote. So, the anecdote that Arielle shared, my anecdote, Jamie's anecdote, whatever the anecdotes that were shared today. If you can tap into that, that's 100 percent authentic. And you will find that when you tap into people's authentic experiences, insecurities about what car they drive or whether or not they're the best ambassador for sustainability - those things start to not matter because that experience is 100 percent authentic and true to them. And you'll find, hopefully, if we can get more athletes to come off the sidelines and start to talk about that, it probably starts with understanding that piece of it. Arielle, what are your thoughts?

Arielle - One of my favorite quotes, and I may butcher it a little bit, was actually one that came up in one of the PowerPoints that I presented to some students at a local school in Colorado. The quote essentially says, "The forest would be a very quiet place if the only birds that sang were those the sang best." So essentially, what that tells me, and hopefully what all of you will get out of that, is that you don't have to know everything about something to be passionate about it. And that's something that I've always been a little bit apprehensive about, especially going into something like sustainability and climate change. So for me, just to have this opportunity to speak to all of you and have the opportunity to share my own personal experience and try and kind of fuel the fire a little bit, is what I'm grateful to have the chance to do here.

Mary - Now, to wrap things up this evening, I'd like to just mention that this sustainability conference is a wrap and the next PAC-12 Sustainability Conference will be on June 25th and 26th of next year at the University of Washington. So go Dogs and we'll see you all next year.