Category Archives: business sustainability

Reflections on Resiliency

Written by Chris Rohner

April 8th, 2018

In April 2018 I got a chance to speak at the The End of the World as We Know It: The Consequences of Extreme Climate Disruption for Business and Democracy, Conference with IGEL at the Wharton School at PENN.  It was a great opportunity to hear an interesting mix of academic and private sector speakers.  From many of the speakers the message was – “change is coming, embrace it, and maybe even benefit from what is happening.” This is a positive message that I try to encourage with my own clients.  I tell them, look at current conditions, this is not the world we lived in 10 years ago!  We need to think and plan differently.

As someone who has worked as a public sector emergency manager and a private sector emergency management/business continuity consultant the goal of my presentation was to introduce my profession to the attendees and participants and make the case that business continuity is an important element of resilience planning.  I also wanted to put some context to the world many communities and businesses are working within – I did this by highlight five “resiliency realities”:

Planning is Critical

The public and private sectors each bring important talents, experience and resources to the table. Coordination and collaboration are key to creating a resilient community and nation. Open dialog needs to start years before the next big event – last minute decision-making does not produce good outcomes.  Many cities have public-private planning coordinators within their Office of Emergency Management – this is a great place to start the conversation.

Personal Preparedness is the Foundation of Resilience

I tell this to anyone that will listen…. Personal preparedness for you and your family is critical – a shelter-in-place plan, a communication plan, a Go-Bag for evacuation (and a pet plan if needed) are the basis for community or business preparedness.  Look for county resources at your local Office of Emergency Management and visit www.ready.gov for straightforward advice and recommendations.

Our Physical Infrastructure is Fragile

Let’s remember that we live in a country with old, fragile and out-of-date infrastructure.  The bridges we need for evacuation are decaying; the schools we need for shelters are old and leak during an average rainstorm. To increasing our resilience, we need to plan smart, think about future climate conditions and rebuild our infrastructure to support our emergency response needs.

Social Justice Raises our Human Resilience

Along with our physical infrastructure the nation must work to increase the resilience of our citizens. We must raise the standard of living for Americans, pay a living wage and seek social equity.  We must have a health systems the promote wellness, fiscal education and financial institutions that help low income people promote savings, public and private organizations that teach and uphold civil discourse – these and many more idea create communities that can better withstand events and recovery more quickly.

Act When the Topic is Hot

And lastly, as we all look to promote the increase in resiliency we need to take every opportunity to push this agenda in public policy and budgeting, and when private companies are impacted.  Unfortunately, these pushes tend to come right after an event has affected the nation – after a hurricane, a wildfire, or earthquake.  While it may see opportunistic – we must seize these times and push the resilience agenda forward.  We know from experience that the public’s attention span is short, and unless action is taken quickly the public’s engagement and interest will fall off, as the news cycle moves forward.

About the Author:

0Chris Rohner is a business continuity program manager for General Dynamics Information Technology (formerly CSRA).  His 25-year background spans emergency management, planning, and response operations, public health, business continuity, community resiliency as well as transportation planning and policy development.  He has extensive experience working with local, city, state and regional government agencies and the private sector to find straightforward solutions to complex problems by focusing on clients’ specific circumstances. In the public sector he has held key management positions with the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), Bureau of Emergency Management; and the New York City Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA).  In the private sector he has worked as a program manager within the community resilience space at Ecology and Environment, Inc. and at CSRA, now General Dynamics Information Technology.

 

Advertisements

Energy Policy Now: An EPA After Scott Pruitt

April 23, 2018

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has come under bipartisan fire for an array of ethical missteps that range from lavish spending on travel to the granting of illegal pay raises for select EPA staffers. Over the past week, staunch Pruitt supporters such as Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman John Barrasso have questioned the transparency with which Pruitt has run his office, and legislators from both sides of the aisle have suggested that Pruitt may not be fit to lead the agency.

Could Pruitt’s tenure at the EPA be coming to an end? And if so, what direction might the embattled agency take under new leadership, such as that of recently confirmed Deputy EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler?

In this special episode of Energy Policy Now, Penn Law energy and environment legal experts Cary Coglianese and Daniel Walters discuss the swirl of possible ethical violations that have led to the Pruitt controversy. They explore what Pruitt’s departure could mean for his efforts—and those of the Trump administration—to deprioritize environmental protection at the EPA and roll back environmental regulations.

The Energy Policy Now podcast, now in its second season, offers insights from Penn experts, industry and policy leaders on the energy industry and its relationship to environment and society.

Celebrating Earth Day 2018

1298814_1280x720

April 22nd, 2018

Elena Rohner, Wharton IGEL Communications Coordinator

On Wednesday, April 18th, a fabulous group of interdisciplinary stakeholders came together on the 8th floor of Jon M. Huntsman hall for a day of knowledge sharing and thought leadership about how business and democracy will be impacted by climate change.  Our panelists ranged from a global manufacturer of consumer products, to a leading global advisory, broking and solutions company, to one of the world’s largest utility providers, to experts in atmospheric and oceanic sciences, to Navy veterans and business continuity consultants.  Margaret Leinen, Director of Scripps Institution of Oceanography, concluded the day on an upbeat note – weaving together all of the key lessons from panelists and leaving the audience with the knowledge that, despite the enormous task in front of us, we have experts at all points of a complex system working to adapt, mitigate and build resilience for a future that often seems daunting.

Nothing changes overnight, nor does it happen in a vacuum.  Continued interdisciplinary collaboration and a systems-oriented approach are critical to making an impact.

Thus, today – the 48th celebration of Earth Day – we would like to thank all of our sponsors and stakeholders at IGEL for their commitment to making this world a better place for everyone and everything.

For more information on our 2018 Conference, visit this page of conference proceedings: https://igel.wharton.upenn.edu/2018-conference/

HAPPY EARTH DAY

Screen Shot 2018-04-21 at 9.46.56 PM

Driving the New Climate Economy: How Companies and Communities Can Thrive in a Changing World

By Lisa Manley, Director, Sustainability Engagement, Mars

April 7th, 2018

There are clear signals that the climate has changed over the past century. Around the world, people are beginning to feel the effects, from increased average and extreme temperatures, to changes in rainfall patterns, to more severe and less predictable storms. At Mars, we source key agricultural materials from countries and communities that are vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. We believe it’s time to take a new approach to addressing this challenge, using our influence and reach to take action that proactively addresses the impacts of climate change within our supply chain and operations. Here are three things our business and others are doing to take action.

Setting Science-Based Targets

 More than 97 percent of actively publishing climate scientists agreehuman activity is extremely likely to be causing the climate-warming trends over the last century. To avoid the worst consequences of climate change, science tells us we should limit global warming to less than the two degree Celsius threshold outlined in the Paris Agreement on climate change. As the saying goes, you can’t manage what you don’t measure. With that in mind, the first thing business should do is trust the science; then align measurable goals and actions around that science.

We looked to the best-available science to guide us in setting our climate goals at Mars. That science says we must reduce the total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions across our value chain by 27 percent by 2025 and by 67 percent by 2050(from 2015 levels). That means not only changing how we operate, but also working with partners and suppliers to transform entire value chains so that the ingredients we need to make our best-loved products, like M&Ms and Uncle Bens, are produced with lower environmental impacts. This isn’t an easy goal to meet. But we know it’s what’s necessary to unlock the systemic changes that are needed to benefit people and the planet.

Committing to Renewable Energy

The second thing business should do is look for the places where we can get the most immediate momentum and leverage that momentum for scale. At Mars, energy use is the major driver of our GHG emissions from direct operations. That’s whywe’re big fans of renewable electricity with a goal to eliminate 100 percent of the GHG emissions from our direct operations by 2040. This goal covers the energy use from about 420 sites in more than 80 countries around the world.

We’re already using or purchasing renewable electricity to cover 100 percent of our operations in Belgium, Lithuania, the United Kingdom and the United States. And in 2018, we plan to add Austria, the Czech Republic, France, Mexico, Poland and Spain to this list.In addition to renewable electricity, renewable thermal energy is an important part of our energy use in our factories. For that reason, we helped launch the Renewable Thermal Collaborative – a coalition for organizations that are committed to scaling up renewable heating and cooling at their facilities and dramatically cutting carbon emissions.

Fostering Executive Engagement and Advocacy

The third imperative for business action is to ensure we are aligning what we say with what we do. We need more vocal business advocates for climate action. We are walking this talk through coalitions such as We Are Still In, a declaration made by 2,700 cross-sector leaders in the U.S. to commit to tackling climate change, ensuring a clean energy future and upholding the Paris Agreement. It also can happen through executive advocacy. For example, our Mars chairman, Stephen Badger, recently authored an op/ed piecein The Washington Post,which makes a strong call to action to global businesses on climate change.

We also need to extend our advocacy to include the seats of power and influence within government. That’s why we engage with groups like the Ceres BICEP(Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy) Network, to bring business leaders’ voices to Capitol Hill and local legislatures on climate action and clean energy.

For global businesses, it is our time to step up and lead on climate action. This is not just the “right thing to do,” but also makes good business sense; investing in sustainable practices today will help us become stronger, more resilient businesses in the future.

 

SEM HeadshotLisa Manley, Senior Director of Partnerships & Engagement, Mars, Incorporated

Lisa is Senior Director of Partnerships and Engagement within the sustainability team at Mars, Incorporated. In this role, she works to build momentum for the company’s Sustainable in a Generation Plan through compelling communications and engagements as well as uncommon collaboration.  She works with the global sustainability team to create and oversee integrated sustainability strategy; set high-level goals and commitments; assess and drive scaled investments; and manage global sustainability partnerships and programs. Priority platforms for engagement include climate action, water stewardship and land use within Mars’ approach to healthy planet; increasing income, respecting human rights and unlocking opportunities for women within Mars’ approach to thriving people; and food safety & security, product & ingredient renovation and responsible marketing within Mars’ approach to nourishing wellbeing.

Lisa has nearly twenty years of experience working to advance sustainable business growth with consumer goods companies such as Mars and The Coca-Cola Company.

Lisa holds a bachelor’s degree in international relations and a master’s degree in higher education administration from the University of Virginia.  Outside of work, she collects photography and enjoys golf, tennis and biking.

Business schools start preparing graduates for a world of climate risks

February 28, 2018

DURHAM, North Carolina

Risks related to climate change are some of the most significant threats facing the global economy, according to the World Economic Forum, which recently released its Global Risks Report 2018.  In a report that scans a spectrum of economic, environmental, geopolitical, societal, and technological risks, extreme weather events, natural disasters, and failure to mitigate climate change took three of the Top 5 risks likely to have an impact on the global economy in the short term.

Business schools are taking notice.  “Virtually every industry will be affected by climate change in the future in some way,” says Daniel Vermeer, PhD, associate professor of the practice at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business.  “Climate change will shift what agricultural products can be grown where.  Extreme weather events will disrupt distribution supply chains more frequently.  Energy and transportation infrastructure will need to be more resilient.  Real estate portfolios need to be reconfigured.  If you’re a business school student today, you need to be thinking ahead about where the future risks are.”

Fuqua is one of 16 business schools collaborating to host an event on March 23-24 called ClimateCAP: The Global MBA Summit on Climate, Capital, & Business.  Its speakers will include executives from JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Nike, Bain & Co., Morgan Stanley, Levi Strauss, KPMG, and other big-name private sector leaders.  The summit will be held on Fuqua’s campus in Durham, NC, but will rotate to another business school in future years.

“This summit is not about politics.  It’s not about policy.  It’s about which businesses and investors will successfully navigate a more turbulent future because they’ve identified these risks and adapted accordingly—and which will be left flat-footed,” adds Vermeer.

Statoil, the Norwegian oil and gas company, is one example of a company that’s not shying away from recognizing the risks on the horizon.  “In Statoil we believe the winners in the energy transition will be the producers that can deliver energy at low cost and low carbon. That is why we work to reduce own emissions, grow in renewables and embed climate in all our decision-making,” says Bjørn Otto Sverdrup, Senior Vice President of Sustainability at Statoil.  Sverdrup will be speaking at the summit and hopes to help MBA students better understand the profound strategic challenges and opportunities climate issues represent for companies.

ClimateCAP is not the only climate-related conference to be hosted at a business school this year.  In February, the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business hosted an innovation summit to bring corporate leaders and entrepreneurs together with faculty, students, and think tank experts to recommend strategies that inspire innovation to tackle climate change.  And in April, the University of Pennsylvania’s prestigious Wharton School will host an event called “The End of the World as We Know It? The Consequences of Extreme Climatic Disruption for Business and Democracy.”

“It is critical that we empower the next generation with strategic knowledge tools in business and sustainability so that they can lead us into a future with fewer climate change challenges,” says Joanne Spigonardo, senior associate director of Wharton’s Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership. “Business schools can be catalysts to innovate those changes so that we can ensure a world of economic and environmental sustainability.”

In 2017, Columbia Business School organized an event on “The Near-Term Impacts of Climate Change on Investors” and Yale School of Management also co-hosted a conference on climate change.

“I have no doubt that we’ll see more of these conversations happening at business schools in the future.” says Vermeer. “The reality is, MBA students can’t afford to ignore the impacts and implications of a changing climate.  There will be winners and losers, and many opportunities to seize competitive advantage.  As current MBAs prepare for their careers, they need to be thinking about how to creatively respond to the strategic, operational, and innovation challenges of climate change that will inevitably grow in coming decades.”

 

Smart City Pioneers: Forging Solutions to Early Challenges

Collaboration between SUEZ, Wharton IGEL and Knowledge@Wharton

February 14th, 2018

Many share the hope that today’s troubled urban centers can be transformed into tomorrow’s smart cities. At a recent conference, “Smart Utilities: A Bridge to Smart Cities of the Future,” co-sponsored by Suez and Wharton’s Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership (IGEL), some early pioneers in this effort shared their experiences and thoughts.

Laying the Groundwork: Philadelphia’s Strategic Approach to Becoming a Smart City

Rather than tackle individual projects piecemeal, as so many cities have done, Philadelphia’s Office of Innovation and Technology (OIT) decided to create a roadmap that would guide and ensure long-term coordination of its wide-ranging projects.

Collect, Crunch, Collaborate: Fresh Approaches to Smart Cities’ Core Functions

Utilities are among those embracing the promise of smart technology by collecting and sharing data with customers. They — and others providing critical services to cities, campuses and industry — are using human and machine intelligence to capitalize on the data pouring in from these smart systems. And they are finding ways to save money by sharing resources and collaborating.

Smart Money: Developing New Funding Mechanisms for Smart Initiatives

Few of the methods traditionally used to finance infrastructure projects are of much help when it comes to funding smart city initiatives. Fortunately, creative new approaches are being pioneered by cities, utilities, investors and businesses across the country.

Read the full report here
SUEZ-2
Screen Shot 2018-02-15 at 11.21.53 AM

A Founder With a Vision: Triple Bottom Line Sustainability at Virgin Group

Co-Authored by Joy De Bach (Virgin Atlantic, Regional Commercial Director, East Region), Gabriela Salas (Virgin Atlantic, Global Sales Executive, East Region), & Karen Titus (Delta Air Lines, National Sales Account Executive, Global Sales)

October 18th, 2017

Being a billionaire has afforded Sir Richard Branson many opportunities in life, but after decades of disrupting some of the world’s biggest industries, his latest passion projects have less to do with flying planes and mobile phones and more to do with saving the world.  As employees of Virgin Atlantic and Delta (Virgin’s partner airline), we were fortunate to be able to see Richard at the Authors@Wharton Speaker Series yesterday, and were once again reminded of what an entrepreneurial spirit and compassion for the environment and human rights can do to change the world.

Having recently experienced the devastation of Irma on his Necker Island residence, climate change literally hit Richard, his family, and his employees with the strength of a hurricane.  But rather than dwell on the negative, he spoke of rebuilding infrastructures throughout the islands to come back better than ever before, and views climate change as ‘one of the great opportunities for this world’, encouraging the business sector and entrepreneurs globally to tackle the issues of global warming.

When asked by host, Professor Adam Grant, what his next venture will be, Sir Richard emphasized that he’s setting his sights on the future, focusing on non-profit initiatives to tackle carbon emissions, global human rights, and creating sustainable fuels, just to name a few.  Now, you might think that a mogul with three airlines in the Virgin portfolio which guzzle fuel crossing oceans and continents and saving the environment shouldn’t necessarily be in the same sentence, however Richard and his Virgin Group are achieving just that.  Just take a look at some highlights from the 2017 Virgin Sustainability Report:

  • 8% reduction on total aircraft emissions from 2015 to 2016
  • Continuation of partnership with LanzaTech to create the world’s first commercially viable, low carbon jet fuel from waste carbon gases
  • Installation of solar energy powering an entire secondary school campus and two water systems in Kenya
  • Review and refresh of Virgin’s Responsible Supplier Policy based on international standards of human rights
  • Announcement of a further investment in efficient aircraft with 12 A350-1000s to become part of our fleet from 2019

Yesterday, we were reminded of what a cool boss we have.  We’ve been fortunate to work for and with a man whose vision and compassion could one day further revolutionize the way people travel, consume energy and communicate, as he’s already done for decades.  For the young entrepreneurs of tomorrow, who were able to see Richard speak, we hope some of them heard his rallying cry and will join him in changing the world.

 

Delta_Virgin

 

18300_wharton_igel_blue_hvddmb

Smart Air, Smart City

By Julie Spitkovsky, Netronix, Inc., September 24th, 2017

Smart Air, Smart Cities.png

Internet of Things (IoT) platform provider Netronix, Inc. and Airthinx Inc. a leader of indoor air quality monitoring, are working together to provide cities around the world with a low cost cloud based solution designed to monitor air quality across schools, universities, hospitals and work spaces. The advantages of cloud based solutions are mapping, tracking, identification of pollutants, measurement of pollutants, data analytics using historical trends, and data mining. Cities stand to benefit from ubiquitous long term monitoring and management of air quality, in real time with instantaneous data available for quick city wide propagation, like geo-mapping incident reports of high pollution areas.

Conventional Methods

Municipalities are hard pressed to find low cost solutions. Conventional methods for collecting indoor air quality data relied heavily on expensive stationary devices. In the United States, for example, the federal government has a network of sensors on towers monitoring particulate matter. The cost of each sensor is $100,000. While in Edinburgh, the city had a single station monitoring PM 2.5 as of 2013. Thus data is collected from only a few instruments but is representative of a broad geographic area.

Interim Solutions

Moving away from conventional methods, many cities are implementing short term initiatives as first steps towards smart city transformation. In 2014, Chicago deployed 50 nodes mounted on lampposts developed with Argonne National Library and the Chicago Department of Innovation and Technology. Barcelona deployed a smart lighting system with embedded air quality sensors that relay information to city agencies and the public as part of their smart city initiative costing in total $230 million. Boston, Los Angeles, and Miami installed park benches equipped with a solar panel that channel electricity via USB ports to charge. Denver in partnership with Google and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) attached mobile sensors to cars throughout a city, collecting 150 million data points over 750 hours of driving time, creating a street level air quality map of the city. Dublin fitted 30 bikes with air sensors measuring carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, smoke, and particulates.

Last year, London attached air quality sensors to ten pigeons to monitor air quality over three days of flights. Louisville gave 300 local residents a sensor that fits on top of their inhaler, tracking locations of inhaler use to help residents manage asthma, collecting 5,400 data points over the 13 months, and identifying hotspots with high inhaler use in order to pinpoint areas with particularly bad air quality.

Philadelphia Transforms

Philadelphia begins the smart city transformation process with its most recent initiative to release open data from city departments. Mayor Kenney also points to ownership and accessibility of light poles and city buildings which can accommodate sensors and wireless access points spread throughout the city. With institutional players like Drexel, Penn, Wharton, CHOP & Comcast, the infrastructure to implement smart city solutions is in place.

Dr. Nasis, founder and CEO of Netronix, Inc. and faculty member of electrical & computer engineering at Drexel, shares insight into the transformation process. “A smart city is a segment of IoT. Many have looked at the smart city as a vertical market on its own, when actually it is a horizontal market with many verticals below it, such as safety, environmental, healthcare, energy, and transportation.”

In the environmental vertical, cities can monitor air quality, water quality and weather. Across the safety vertical, meters already exist that detect gunshots to determine the precise location of the incident helping address crime prevention. Energy, another vertical, can be optimized in street lighting and power plants to keep consumption down. And in the transportation vertical, parking, bus, and traffic can be monitored to enhance quality of life.

‘Many have looked at the smart city as a vertical market on its own, when actually it is a horizontal market with many verticals below it.’

A significant challenge of smart cities is having the tools to address compatibility within and between each vertical. Dr. Nasis cites a “holistic approach, rather than filling in the holes.” The smart parking meter experiment is an IoT solution but also an example of ‘filling in the holes.’ Without an overarching smart city horizontal in place, the initiative did not work. Dr. Nasis concludes, “for a successful smart city, each vertical and the needs of each vertical must be defined, and that requires systemic planning.”

Netronix Ventures, LLC, a subsidiary of Netronix, based out of Philadelphia, aims to start up 100 companies in the next decade using Netronix’s IoT platform. Smart city solutions can be developed in record time, saving 75 percent of the time and costs associated with the development and production of devices and services using conventional methods.

Information Gap

The IoT is about sharing things, interacting, and learning. An information gap leads to a certain kind of decision making. A smart platform creates opportunities to make more informed choices when investing in the city. The smart part is how you collect and make use of the intelligence. By breaking the information gap, the result is a better understanding, more thorough assessment of exposure, heightened awareness, and a complete picture of the data.

Today, the means for large scale and rapid deployment of tens of thousands of devices transforms air quality monitoring and facilitates the collection of quantitative data in any infrastructure. As a direct result of the IoT, a new paradigm emerges in air quality monitoring leading to the much-needed democratization of air quality data. Knowing about the quality of the air you breathe or the water you drink pushes people to take social responsibility.

Financial Feasibility

A significant cost to a smart city transformation is the installation process. 70 percent of city officials say budget constraints are the greatest barrier to adopting smart city solutions. In many cities, a complete overhaul poses a lofty price tag associated with the redesign of buildings and infrastructure. A cloud based solution with deployment of IoT enabled devices eliminates the once costly installation, configuration and calibration associated with industry reference instruments.

Such a significant reduction in overhead and cost per unit lowers the price of the device to a fraction of industrial reference instruments. Cities benefit from investment because there is no need to redesign infrastructure in order to adopt IAQ solutions as part of a widespread smart city plan. One incentive is real time data that anticipates future needs. For example, with built in GPS, the locations of sensors take into account the points in the city with the most exposure to air quality hazards, protecting city dwellers and workers. The data can also be reviewed by a team to determine appropriate next steps. Monitoring air quality becomes financially feasible at room level in any infrastructure.

Smart Sensors

But even with such advancements, few sensors produce reliable enough data to be used in studies or by regulations. In comparison to static monitoring, continuous monitoring enhances high temporal-spatial resolution and variability of air pollution, which so far has been difficult to address. These characteristics, the level of accuracy, precision and identification of microscopic particles in the air, are distinguishing characteristics of air quality monitors in the market. The ability to continuously monitor air quality levels in any infrastructure while preserving the integrity of the measurements, and producing never before seen analytics and information, creates better indoor environments, everywhere in the world.

 

Dr. Vasileios Nasis will be presenting at the Wharton IGEL & SUEZ Conference – Smart Utilities: Bridge to Smart Cities of the Future on September 27.

 

 

Energy Policy Now Podcast: Electric Vehicle Market Trajectory

By John Paul MacDuffie
September 5th, 2017

The electric vehicle market has become the center of attention for the automotive industry, with overwhelming demand for Tesla’s new, more affordable Model 3 EV as just the latest sign of market enthusiasm.  Yet many perennial EV challenges remain, notably high costs and scarce charging infrastructure.  And nationally, support for EV’s has become more fragmented and, quite possibly, politicized.

In the latest episode of the Kleinman Center’s Energy Policy Now podcast, Wharton management professor and automotive expert John Paul MacDuffie offers insights into the EV market’s growth trajectory, and talks about the likelihood of the market reaching a tipping point.  In the process he tells what recent developments, such as recent announcements from France and the UK to ban gas and diesel car sales within a generation, could indicate for global EV market growth.

The Energy Policy Now podcast, now in its second season, offers insights from Penn experts on the energy industry and its relationship to environment and society.

 

Allen Hershkowitz on Ten Years of Sustainability at the US Open

Today marks the start of the US Open, the annual tennis bacchanal that draws 700,000+ fans to the National Tennis Center in New York over its two week run. Seeing compost and recycling bins throughout the 46.5 acre campus is now second nature for those fans as the US Tennis Association’s (USTA’s) greening efforts, among the most comprehensive in the sports world, are now ten years old. It’s been quite a journey to get to this point and there’s no one better to tell the fascinating history of the US Open’s sustainability program than today’s guest GreenSportsBlogger, Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, the founder and former president of the Green Sports Alliance and a founding director of Sports and Sustainability International (SandSI). 

 

By Dr. Allen Hershkowitz

Ten years ago, in the Fall of 2007, I walked into my office at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and found a note from NRDC’s President: “Allen,” it read, “I met Billie Jean King at a dinner last night. She would like to speak with you. To reach her, please call Pam at …”

Billie Jean King wants to speak with me? Seriously? A few calls followed and the request to speak was clarified: The year previous, on August 28, 2006, the US Tennis Association (USTA) National Tennis Center was rededicated as the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center (BJK NTC). Now that the venue bore her name, Billie wanted to assure it was a model for environmental stewardship. She wanted to make the US Open the most environmentally responsible tennis event in the world.

We arranged to meet at the BJK NTC shortly after the 2007 US Open. I was ushered into a conference room to await Billie’s arrival, along with Joe Crowley, the USTA’s Director for Operations, and other USTA officials.

Billie arrived with her partner Ilana Kloss, Commissioner of World TeamTennis and a world class tennis star in her own right. With the introductions behind us, a partnership was formed between the USTA and NRDC. As Billie requested, our goal was to create the most environmentally intelligent tennis event in the world. I told Billie that doing so would take years. “Great,” she said. “I’m in. Let’s do it.”

In 2007, not one recycling bin existed at the NTC. Today, recycling and composting bins abound and ninety percent of all waste is thus diverted from the landfill. More than twenty thousand pounds of uneaten meals are donated to charities, reducing hunger and greenhouse gas emissions. We pioneered recycling the 17,000 tennis ball cans used at the Open. Tennis ball cans are complex products, comprised of four different materials, (three types of plastic and an aluminum lid), making them impossible to recycle, until we figured out how to do so in 2008, while donating the 45,000 used tennis balls to community organizations.

compost-bins.png

Compost bin (foreground) and recycling bin (blue band in the rear) along the plaza at the National Tennis Center. These are two of many such bins dotting the NTC complex that demonstrate the USTA’s commitment to sustainability to the 700,000 fans projected to attend the 2017 US Open. (Photo credit: Lewis Blaustein)

In 2007 all of the 2.4 million napkins used at the US Open were made from trees. By 2008, all napkins had at least 90 percent post consumer recycled content, an environmental achievement that protects forest habitat and reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Similarly, the Open’s daily Draw Sheet, tickets, media guides, bathroom tissue and paper towels have at least 30 percent recycled content, while paper use in general has been reduced through electronic options.

In the spring of 2008, after agreeing on a logo and a tag line for the US Open’s new environmental program (“Our courts may be blue, but we’re thinking green”), we decided to produce public service announcements (PSAs) to educate fans about environmental stewardship. Billie introduced me to tennis legends Venus Williams and Bob and Mike Bryan, arguably the greatest men’s doubles team of the modern era. Together we produced the first environmental public service announcements ever broadcast at a major sporting event, and it was the first time pro-athletes were engaged for this purpose. Billie, Venus, Bob and Mike all appeared in videos encouraging fans to recycle and buy recycled paper products, use mass transit, and buy organic food. The PSAs are broadcast on the jumbotron at Ashe Stadium to this day. Discussing global warming with Venus Williams is one of the highlights of my career and I like to think that I encouraged her to become the environmentalist that she is today. We also pioneered using the Open’s daily Draw Sheet to share money saving “Eco Tips” each day, and that too is still in use at the Open. And we engaged fans directly: During the 2008 Open sixty volunteers from NRDC spanned the grounds distributing free New York City mass transit MetroCards to fans who answered an impromptu environmental question (“Name one thing you can do to help protect the environment…”).

billie-jean-and-allen

Billie Jean King and Allen Hershkowitz during the 2008 shooting of the USTA’s “Our Courts May Be Blue But We’re Thinking Green” public service announcements (Photo credit: NRDC)

This week, the US Open Tennis Championships begin anew and the USTA’s greening program has lived up to Billie Jean King’s original vision: The entire event is powered by renewable energy. All energy use is measured, as is waste generation and recycling, paper use, and employee and player travel, and these impacts are converted into measurements of greenhouse gas emissions. Over the past decade the Open has avoided tens of thousands of tons of greenhouse gas emissions. Unavoidable greenhouse gas impacts are offset for the approximately 9,000 people who travel to work at the event, including the 850 players.  Mass transit is promoted and last year more than 55 percent of fans arrived by public transit, making it the most transit friendly professional sporting event in the nation. Cleaning products are Green Seal Certified, paints are zero-VOC, water is conserved, and two LEED Certified structures have been built — the newly constructed Grandstand Stadium and the transportation building — and the new Louis Armstrong Stadium, slated to open at next year’s tournament, is expected to attain LEED designation as well.

grandstand.png

The 8,000 seat Grandstand stadium at the National Tennis Center (NTC). It opened for play in 2016 as the first LEED Certified stadium at the US Open. (Photo credit: Lewis Blaustein)

Since 2009 the US Open’s greening program has been expanded and led at the USTA by Lauren Kittlestad-Tracy, now recognized as one of the most influential environmental leaders in tennis, with support from MIT-trained PE Bina Indelicato, co-founder of eco evolutions and one of the top sustainability experts working in the field.

At the time we started the USTA’s greening program, 90 million tons of greenhouse gas pollution was being pumped into the atmosphere each day. Today, that has grown to 110 million tons daily. This past July was the hottest month on record. Given those grim metrics, the USTA’s work — building on Billie Jean King’s noble vision to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and encourage others to do the same — is even more important. All businesses should follow its lead.

This piece was originally posted as an op-ed for GreenSportsBlog. That article can be found here.