Della and I just returned from a magical few days in Houston at the Green Sports Alliance Summit. This conference keeps getting better as the years go on, and I love watching our community come together to share ideas, challenges, and solutions, especially in the world of sports.
There is so much to say about our time in Houston, but here were a few of the highlights:
Green Apple Day of Service
We started the conference by “walking the walk” of the summit’s theme of partnership at the Green Apple Day of Service. This year, it was held on the Yes Prep Northside Campus and the partnership provided the campus with a massive makeover that will benefit the kids who attend Yes Prep.
Together, we planted 14 raised garden beds in the front of the campus, where students will be able to watch the seeds they planted grow into plants that they can harvest and eventually eat. We also updated the storage area for their sports equipment, painted, and built an outdoor gym/classroom space.
The day was built on working together and providing for future generations. Della and I will definitely be back for this day of service next year.
Thought Leadership Forum
The partnership theme continued during the Thought Leadership Forum on Tuesday. Joe Khirallah, CEO of Green Bear Group, challenged us to make three connections at the Summit and return next year to talk about how one of those connections turned into some type of partnership. We quickly accepted the challenge!
“The power of partnerships is what it is all about. You don’t have to do it alone.”
Betsy Wilson,Director, Sustainability Communications, UPS
Molly Ray, Environmental Solutions Manager of Office Depot introduced Office Depot’s Green Purchasing Workshops. They were created to help buyers touch, feel, and try green products to show they can be high quality, low cost, and provide practical uses. We also discussed the challenge of moving beyond opinions like, “I like the smell of the chemicals in the non green dry erase markers better.”
Also in the forum was Dave Newport, Director of the Environmental Center at Colorado University Boulder and Kerri Strand, Sustainability Solutions Manager at UPS. They reminded us that small steps can have a big impact. For example, looking only at the shipping practices in the University athletics department, Dave and his team changed the way they shipped materials around campus and around the world to save money and reduce their carbon footprint.
My favorite part of the Thought Leadership Forum, though, was the breakout session where we talked about how to form, nurture, and find success in partnerships. Moral of the session? We’re all in this together.
Women in Sports and Environment Symposium
This is one of the highlights of the Summit for me. Jennifer Regan, one of our favorite people from We Bring It On, Inc., hosted the event and reminded us to own our voices and be willing to challenge our own assumptions. Each speaker had great insights on women, sustainability, and sports across the board:
Jamie Lavine from Aramark
Jamie is working to enhance the experience for fans by bringing together sports, health, sustainability, and food. “We only win some of the time; always keep working to find the right answer.”
Catherine Kummer from NASCAR Green
“People came to watch the race and are walking away with more,” Catherine explained, because of their focus on sustainability. Her advice? Be aggressive and be bold.
Tiffany Richardson from the University of Minnesota
Tiffany focuses on bringing sports, students, and sustainability together (and she’s downright amazing). She explained that everyone has a story to tell and “all we have to do is communicate.”
“If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you.”
Sonya Jury, HOK
Sonya said, “Act responsibly, reject current thinking, embrace change, and ask, ‘what if’?” As a leader at global design and architecture firm, HOK, she uses this thinking not only in their design, but in implementing sustainability. She reminded us all that “being a woman brings diversity and inclusion” to the table.
Elaine Aye, Green Building Service
Elaine gave us the ultimate pep talk. “We are all leaders in one way or another so if you have a goal, don’t give up.” She asked us to be tenacious, persistent, fearless, gracious, and full of laughter.
Tour of the Toyota Center
We couldn’t spend a few days in Houston at a sports-focused conference and not go to the Toyota Center. Home to the Houston Rockets, we got a glimpse into their employee bike sharing and recycling programs, and learned about the e-recycling day that they host. They also filled us in on their green roof system and partnerships with community gardens.
Leagues Leading the Way
This was an impromptu session with Paul Hanlon (MLB), Omar Mitchell (NHL), and Catherine Kummer (NASCAR Green) that was pure gold. We talked about the importance of fan engagement (one of our favorite topics) and athlete involvement in sustainability programs.
“We all need to be singing the same song.”
-Paul Hanlon, MLB
Catherine said “partnerships make it possible” to do what they are doing at the tracks. And Omar reminded us to involve stakeholders and keep their needs in mind. “It’s easy to talk authentically about things you believe in,” he said.
Omar also shared that this year, five players planted trees prior to the NHL draft. As they play in the league, they will always have a memory of their beginning and will get the chance to watch the trees grow alongside their careers.
Minute Maid Park
This was the first year that the GSA Summit was hosted in a sports arena. This year, we created conference bags using old Houston Astros banners. The coolest part was watching attendees hold up and examine their bags as the Astros shared photos of the banners when they were hung in the stadium.
This is what it's all about: Providing true and lasting experiences for people while also reducing our footprint.
Big, big thank you to the Astros for donating the material for the bags and opening up their space for the event!
Onward and Upward
To round out the conference, the legendary Allen Hershkowitz said his final remarks as President of the Green Sports Alliance as he moves onto more international work. He humbly reminded all of us that “there is a lot of work to be done”.
Green Sports Alliance, thank you for another stellar year. I am already looking forward to next year!