PAC-12 Sustainability Conference and Sustainability in Sports
Today we have a special episode of Sustainable Nation. We're talking sustainability in sports and the PAC-12 Sustainability Conference. 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 and monitoring their progress in engaging fans and communities in greener practices.
The PAC-12 sustainability conference signals in 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. Today we're interviewing two members of the PAC-12 sustainability conference committee, Dave Newport and Jamie Zaninovich.
Jamie Zaninovich - Jamie joined the PAC-12 Conference as Deputy Commissioner and Chief Operating Officer in July of 2014. He's responsible for all aspects of the PAC-12's administrative operations, including television administration, sports management, championships, football bowl relationships, PAC-12 global, compliance and officiating. During his first two years at the PAC-12, Jamie helped guide the conference through unprecedented governance changes, major increases in its international efforts, and continued high level success of its 23 sponsored sports.
Dave Newport - Dave launched the first US college sports sustainability activation with corporate partnership for the Florida Gators when he was the University of Florida's director of sustainability in 2002. Later he became director of the University of Colorado Boulder Environmental Center and founded the nation's first comprehensive NCAA Division One sports sustainability program, Ralphie's Green Stampede. Dave is also secretary of the Green Sports Alliance board of directors, former board secretary of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, an award winning publisher and editor and a former elected county commission board chairman.
Jamie Zaninovich. Welcome to Sustainable Nation. Thank you so much for joining us.
Thanks for having me, Josh. Looking forward to it.
I gave the listeners some background on your professional life but tell us a little bit about your personal life and what led you to be doing the work you're doing today.
College sports has been a passion of mine since my early days in Eugene, Oregon where I was a faculty brat, son of a faculty member who played basketball in college back in the day and used to take me to all the games at the old historic Matt Court and Autzen Stadium in Eugene as a kid. So that's really where my passion for collegiate athletics started, and I was not a good enough to be a collegiate student athlete, so of course, decided to be an administrator instead. That's how it works. I've spent the last 25 years working both on campus and in college athletic conferences starting at Stanford and then Princeton University, and now here at the PAC-12 for the past four years. Like I said, it's a passion of mine as is sustainability, so we're really excited that we're at least making some progress in putting those two things together here at the PAC-12.
And now the PAC-12 Sustainability Conference coming up in July. Really the first sustainability focused conference put on by a collegiate sports conference, the PAC-12. Tell us a little bit about how that came about and what people can expect at this year's PAC-12 Sustainability Conference.
It's really a reflection of our 12 schools who have taken a leadership position in sustainability, and sports sustainability more specifically, in the collegiate space. So when I came to the PAC-12 four years ago, Dave Newport is the sustainability director at Colorado, showed up on our doorstep and said, "Hey, I'm not sure if you knew this, but all 12 of our PAC-12 schools are members of the Green Sports Alliance. That's the only conference in the country that that's the case and you guys should really look at doing something in this space." So, we said, "Yeah, this is interesting." Myself and Gloria Nevarez, who formerly worked at the PAC-12, both have a passion for sustainability having grown up on the west coast. We sort of took Dave's lead. The PAC-12 at that point joined the Green Sports Alliance and started looking at what a plan could be for us to take a leadership position, really reflecting what our schools have already done. So we created an informal working group within our schools of sustainability officers and athletics department reps. They suggested having a first of its kind conference, so we did that last year in Sacramento at the LEED platinum Golden One Arena just ahead of the GSA annual conference, and that went very well. From there we started thinking about do we do this again and what could come next?
So we'll have our second event this year in Boulder, July 12th. It's going to be a great group of on campus athletics reps, sustainability professionals and industry folks. We have some really great panels lined up including two former NBA players, in Jason Richardson and Earl Watson, two former gold medalists, in Arielle Gold who just won gold in snowboarding at the Olympics - he's a Colorado grad. And Mary Harvey, who's a former goalkeeper for the University of California, who's an Olympic gold medalist for the USA. She has also headed up, which is now a successful, 2026 World Cup North America endeavor, and she's heading up their sustainability areas. So, we're going to have some awesome panels. The folks that I mentioned will be augmented by programmers on our campuses that have submitted proposals in the areas of fan engagement, student athlete engagement in sustainability, and it's going to be a full day of great best practice sharing, networking and hopefully a lot of learning to move forward what is an important initiative.
That's very exciting. Jamie, this is bringing together my two greatest passions in life, the environment and sports. So, I love what you guys are doing and really excited to be there on July 12th. Why have these professional athletes and gold medalists speak? What do you think that sustainability professionals or campus leaders can learn from these accomplished athletes?
I think the philosophy of purpose plus sport, and the power of that, has never been more relevant than today with some of the societal challenges that we face. I think those in the sports industry, college or professional, understand that with privilege comes responsibility, right? And if you have the opportunity to make a positive difference, such as those that have had made their living in doing something like sports, then there is a kind of an obligation to find a way to give back. And I think the environment is very front and center. In a lot of respects, it's almost a bulletproof cause and those are sort of hard to find these days. It's one of those causes were there may be some people on the other side, but in general everybody's for a sustainable future. So I think those are the elements that sort of have gotten this into it and I think are there reasons why we're getting at least some attention, still very early days for us, but some attention from folks that want to be involved in it as an endeavor.
At last year's conference you had basketball legend, Bill Walton, speaking at the event. If anybody has seen him speak, Bill is very passionate person. At the conference last year, Bill said, "Sustainability is good policy, good economics, and it's good for all of us." From a chief operating officer perspective, can you tell us why sustainability is good for business in the PAC-12?
I'm very much a believer in this notion of both doing good and doing well. I think for a long time, issues of social based programs, whether it's sustainability or otherwise, have sort of been perceived as cost centers. Right? Here's something you spend money on and you measure it in the value of maybe the positive PR you get. But what I'm learning, and I think we'll have some interesting news around this at our conference, just to tease that a little bit, is the commercial value around this space in sustainability and purpose based sponsorship and engagement more broadly is robust. And so if you could find the right partners that align with your values, you can drive great commercial value to them and to you, whether that's endemic partners that might be specifically involved in sustainability, or just the DNA of some larger corporations that understand that this is important for the future. I think this has never been more relevant. And what we're seeing in our campuses is this is really market driven. There are students coming to our campuses are not saying, "Oh great, there's a recycling banner. Oh cool, we have solar panels." They are saying, "Hey, where are the solar panels? Where are the recycling bins. We expect this. This is our generation speaking." So part of this is really serving that market as well and aligning interest that way.
Absolutely great points. And I think you can kind of see that happening in professional sports. Some of these leagues like the NHL a NASCAR are really stepping out and leading in sustainability. It's pretty clear that they understand the long-term business benefits of sustainability and visible sustainability programs. Is the PAC-12 conference looking towards those professional sports leagues and learning from what they're doing?
I think certainly. I think they've taken the lead with their green platforms. I think we want to learn from what they've done and put it in the appropriate context for collegiate, which is similar yet different. But I think one of the advantages we have, honestly, is we have these great institutions that are leaders in research and thought leadership. And it's really about leveraging the power of our campuses around this because they tend to be where great ideas start. In our case we happen to have 12 elite research institutions all in the western part of the United States, in centers of innovation. We want to align what we do with their DNA. So we see that as a real opportunity,
If anyone is interested in learning more or attending the PAC-12 Sustainability Conference, where can they go check that out?
So just go a PAC-12sustainabilityconference.com or put it in Google and the website will come up. You'll get the full program there. You can register online. We have hotel partnerships in Boulder that are available and we hope to see everybody there. I think this is a really unique space and it's going to be another great conversation. Last year we had an oversubscribed room and Bill wowed them last year. He's a great ambassador. Bill won't be there this year, we're giving them a year off. But we do have some exciting speakers as I mentioned before, and look for a reasonably big announcement in the sustainability space at the conference as well. So I'll tease that up.
That's exciting. Jamie, we like to end the interview with a final five questions. What is one piece of advice you would give sustainability leaders?
Think big and expand who your partners could be.
What are you most excited about right now in the world of sustainability?
I think this notion that we can create a commercially viable platforms that bring together sustainability partners and athletics leagues and teams and schools.
How about a book recommendation? Do you have one book you could recommend for sustainability professionals or other professionals?
Well, this is a little bit off the radar and it's probably been read by most, but Cadillac Desert is one of my favorite books related to sustainability and the history of water in the western US. So that's a must read.
What are some of your favorite resources or tools that you use that really help you in your work?
I think it's just people. I'll go back to finding the right partners. Our best resources are our best thinkers and our best people, and that's why our campuses are so valuable to us. Whether it's student athletes, sustainability professionals, university athletic directors etc.
And finally, we mentioned where people can go to learn about the conference, anywhere else you'd like to send people where they can learn more about you and the work that you're leading the PAC-12,
We have a PAC-12.com website and I'd also encourage people to tune into our PAC-12 networks, which is linked from there. We have a lot of great stuff in terms of what we're involved in, including soon, a link to our sustainability platform.
Jamie, I'm very much looking forward to the conference in July and that big announcement. I think everyone's excited about that now. It's so great to hear about the wonderful things the PAC-12 Conference is leading in sustainability. It's just so important to have that top-level support when committing to sustainability, so it's great to hear from you and hear about your passion. Thank you for making the world a better place, Jamie.
Well, thank you. And thanks to people like yourself and Sustainable Nation for making this publicly available. We really need that contagion to catch on in this area even more to do well this way.
Our next guest is Dave Newport. Dave launched the first US college sports sustainability activation with corporate partnership for the Florida Gators when he was the University of Florida's director of sustainability in 2002. Later he became director of the University of Colorado Boulder Environmental Center and founded the nation's first comprehensive NCAA Division One sports sustainability program, Ralphie's Green Stampede. Dave is also secretary of the Green Sports Alliance board of directors, former board secretary of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, an award winning publisher and editor and a former elected county commission board chairman.
Dave Newport, thank you for joining us. It's great to have you on to chat about the PAC-12 Sustainability Conference, which we'll get to in a second, but first tell us a little bit about you. I gave an introduction on your professional life but tell us a little bit about your personal life and what led you to be doing the work you're doing today.
Well, I guess most people in sustainability come from very diverse backgrounds in terms of their career and their interests, and I'm certainly no exception. I've been a little bit in the environmental arena, one way, shape or form, for a long time. I think personally, what led me to sports sustainability is the inevitable search for leverage. That is, what's the multiplier effect of the work you do? How many people does it affect? How many people can it potentially effect? And of course, sports, there's no bigger platform on the planet then sports. So moving into sustainability in sports was natural from that analytical point of view for me personally and professionally, but like yourself, Josh, I grew up playing sports. I love sports and love sustainability, so let's combine fun with work and boom, here we are. That's what got me here.
That's great. And I understand it all kind of started down in Florida when you were at the University of Florida, director of sustainability, you launched the first US college sports sustainability activation with a corporate partnership for the Florida Gators. Tell us how that came about and how it all started for you.
Yeah, that was cool. It was 2002, and I was getting the sustainability program running on the giant University of Florida campus. Had lot of support and a great president to work with, and one day said, "Hey, let's see what we can do in The Swamp, the Florida field. I mean, there's no bigger icon of American College football, then Florida Field and Florida Gators, and we can make a statement that would be great." I went to see the athletic director, Jeremy Foley, a legendary AD for Florida, and he liked it. He didn't see any downside to it, but what we'll do is due diligence as smart guys do. And so he pulled a lot of people and talked it all through. He said, "Yep, let’s go with it and we're going to reach out to our fanbase well in advance and let them know what's going on." So he put in place a great communications effort. The corporate partner at the time was a petroleum marketer. So talk about our odd bedfellows, but it was a petroleum marketing company that has a series of stores across the Southeast and the Midwest, and as far as Texas, called Kangaroo stores. They had a very progressive CEO who was trying to move basically out of the oil business and into the renewable energy business, believe it or not. So they wanted to do build some stores in the Gainesville area that were the first LEED certified convenience stores in the United States. They put in bio diesel, and things like that.
They were promoting their greenness so it was a good fit. We pitched them and they liked it. We did a pilot on homecoming, at the homecoming banquet, which was huge, and then in the clubs and suites of Florida Field during the homecoming game. I walked around with the AD there and we just visited with the fans, alumni of the Gators, and asked them how they felt about all this stuff. We got 500 comments back and 499 of them were like, this is really cool. The grumpiest comment we got back was from this one old alumni gentlemen who said, "Yeah this is great. How come we haven't been doing this all along?" So that was the worst comment we got back, and after that everything was golden because athletics figured out, hey, there's no downside of this. People intuitively like it and once you get past the inevitable startup problems in implementation and all the operational stuff, which we solved, the fans like it. And so fan engagement is key and has been part of why we've done this right along, is that fan engagement element is very strong.
Sure, that's great. Especially the college level it's mostly young folks and these are the people that are really passionate about the environment and that's great. And then eventually you left and now you're the director of the University of Colorado Boulder Environmental Center. And you founded the nation's first comprehensive NCAA Division One sports sustainability program - Ralphie's Green Stampede. Tell us a little bit about that program.
So, at Florida we started the first zero waste program in the NCAA, and then when we got to Colorado we came first comprehensive one. So we do it in all sports, and it's not just a zero waste, it's zero carbon, zero water, zero net energy in new buildings, no pesticides, local food and a few other things I can't remember. We've got four LEED Platinum athletics facilities, which is half of the number of LEED platinum buildings on the entire campus. And we've got the lion's share, like 90 plus percent, of all of the installed solar on athletics facilities. So, the University of Colorado Athletic Department is the most sustainable department on campus, a fact that bugs the heck out of the environmental science people, but it is what it is. When I got to Colorado and told them both to the Florida story, it got me a meeting with the AD at the time, Mike Bohn. He listened to what I had to say and he said, "Okay, we can do that here." It was about that easy. So I said, "Hey, you know, this was awful easy. How come you said yes so fast."
And this I will carry with me the rest of my career. His response to me was, "Dave, what you don't understand is people don't come here on Saturday for football. They come here for community. And sustainability is all about community. So this will work." I will tell you that that is a lesson in how to engage fans and what is really going on in sports, that I now see everywhere. I checked it out, I worked on it and we've done research on it. And indeed, sports is a bonding moment for our fans. That's why you come. That's why everybody's singing the same songs, wear's the same shirts, looks at the same environments and all that kind of stuff. Because we are communal species and we want to be part of the community. So, that added to my repertoire of ways to approach this thing and leverage that fan engagement we were speaking of.
That's great. And so now we have the PAC-12 Sustainability Conference coming up July 12th and that's going to be at the University of Colorado Boulder, is that right?
Correct, and come on down.
Absolutely. So, tell us about that conference. How did it come about and what can we expect?
From the time when I started working at Florida and then Colorado in sports, many sports organizations have moved into this space, especially at the pro level and increasingly at the college level. I'm seeing the value of: A) Saving money through operational sustainability and B) Engaging your fans through this leadership. However, no athletic conference or sports network has moved into the space of promoting it as sort of a behavior and a lifestyle, as a conference and as a league, until the PAC-12 showed up. And Jamie's great leadership with PAC-12, and Larry Scott the commissioner, I've met with both of them, and Larry is 100 percent behind this because they get everything I just said.
They get the savings, they get the leadership and the fan engagement. And so, they're now talking about this in game. They're talking about it as a conference. They're talking about it as a leadership position, as consistent with the Conference of Champions and other people have taken notice now. So, their leadership is really a game changer in terms of taking it to the next level and using the sports platform to engage fans to be more sustainable at home, work and play. That is the mission. Running a recycling system in your stadium is great. Using that as an influencer to influence those fans that show up for that community every Saturday, as part of being a good fan of their favorite team, to live the life and to embody that as part of their fandom. That's the strategy. That's what the sustainability conference is all about - How do we do our operational stuff better and how do we use it to influence fans?
You guys have some famous accomplished athletes who are going to be there speaking as well. Professional athletes and Olympic athletes. Tell us a little bit about who will be there.
It's a really good group. We have Arielle Gold, a professional snowboarder and one of our students AT UC Boulder, and part of our Protect Our Winters, and is touring the hallways of Capitol Hill and other places to talk about climate change and how it affects our lives and our sports. So she's obviously our millennial target athlete. Mary Harvey, who I have the pleasure of working alongside of the board of the Green Sports Alliance. She is just fabulous in terms of her overall acumen. She's won gold medals, World Cups, she played with Mia Hamm, she's worked for FIFA back in the day and now she's working with the World Cup, a group here for the United States that successfully landed the World Cup bid for North America in 2026. There's some other great athletes as well. Obviously Steve Lavin, a fabulous coach, ESPN commentator and a spokesman for UCLA. Jason Richardson, another NCAA Championship basketball player and retired from the NBA. Last year you may recall we had Bill Walton show up and give us a keynote and some life lessons, and that was entertaining. I think I've missed a couple, but there's obviously more detail at the PAC-12sustainabilityconference.com.
And Jason Richardson retired and left the Golden State Warriors a little bit too early. He kind of missed out on all the fun.
Oh boy, those guys are something else.
So, Dave, some people may not see the connection, but I actually think there's a strong parallel between sports and leading sustainability, having passion and perseverance, cooperation, teamwork, team building and strategy. What do you think sustainability professionals who were leading sustainability can learn from these accomplished professional athletes?
Yeah, I think you said it well, Josh. I think that's exactly right. One of the things that sustainability professionals do is basically giving credit away for everything, and being all about teamwork and not really trying to be a showboat or anything. They're much like hockey players. Where do you hear of an arrogant hockey player? Most of them were like, "Oh man, my team is so great," and all this stuff because they know it's all about teamwork. I think likewise, as you said, in sustainability it's the same thing. We want everyone to be part of it.
And so when you do it inclusively and you bring people together to have a conversation about moving forward sustainably, then you bring in people that wouldn't normally be part of that team, and that's the key. That's how you grow the scope of what you're doing, by getting beyond the usual suspects and getting into folks where this may not be what they get out of bed thinking about every morning. But it's important to them when they have the opportunity to be influential in it. And so allowing for that influence, allowing for people who are doing other things, to be part of this and really bringing them in and getting those ideas, that's how you grow the team. That's how you move towards sustainability. And that is all a process. It is not an end game. Sustainability is not an end game. It's a process. The process is the product. And the process is inclusion and teamwork.
Very well said, Dave. For any of our listeners who would like to attend the PAC-12 Sustainability Conference, where can they go to find out more and to sign up.
So, PAC-12sustainabilityconference.com, or just Google it and it'll take you there. The website is up and running and accepting your reservations. Come on down. We've got all kinds of fun things to do in Boulder on the 11th and 12th of July. And then that weekend, the Grateful Dead are going to be in our stadium playing. So, come for a conference and stay for the concert.
So, what is one piece of advice you would give other sustainability professionals that might help them in their careers?
Don't think of anything. Have other people think about it and have it be their idea.
What are you most excited about right now in the world of sustainability?
How fast it's growing. I'm old, so I've observed the beginning and there was nobody. There was five of us doing this job when I started at Florida back in the nineties, and now I've lost count.
What is one book you would recommend sustainability professionals read?
If you don't read any other book in your entire life? You have to read Natural Capitalism.
Excellent. And we had Hunter Lovins on as a guest a few weeks ago, so everyone can check out that episode of Sustainable Nation. What are some of your favorite resources or tools that really help you in the work that you do?
Being a member of AASHE and using their website and their member community is a daily thing. I'm looking at their email right now. I think AASHE, again, didn't exist when we started. Now it's booming and all the many people that I've never even heard of are now offering information and gaining information through their website, aashe.org.
And finally, where can people go to learn more about you and the work that you're leading at the University of Colorado Boulder, Green Sports Alliance and/or the PAC-12 Sustainability Conference?
I'm on LinkedIn. Let's just go with LinkedIn.