He’s listed as one of the 50 most influential people in sports business and he has a message for Australia’s grassroots clubs.
Dr Allen Hershkowitz has been delivering sustainability advice to iconic baseball outfit the New York Yankees for more than a decade and recently brought his message Down Under.
The environmental scientist took time out to speak to Clubbies about working with the MLB, the Australian Open and the big impacts small clubs can have on the environmental front line.
New York Yankees
Last year, in a first for pro sports, the Yankees appointed Hershkowitz as their Environmental Science Advisor. The appointment formalises what the native New Yorker had been doing for years – helping turn Yankee Stadium into a zero-waste economy. It’s that kind of commitment that has seen 85 percent of their waste diverted from landfills.
So what will change? We asked Hershkowitz for his take on the ground-breaking new position.
“The Yankees are a very cautious, responsible organisation so it’s not like they’re just going to bring in an environmentalist they didn’t know. The fact is we have been working together successfully for 10 years on circular economy issues, recycling, waste reduction, energy efficiency, climate impacts, fan education, safe chemicals. But given the latest information coming from the scientific community – and the commitment of the (club’s) leadership and ownership to environmental issues – they decided to create this unique position.
“Once they did that I have to tell you that from my own personal experience that information went around the world really quick. I got about a thousand tweets from places that were sending me tweets in languages where I couldn’t even understand the letters. Overwhelmingly it was a good thing. Other teams have been inspired to replicate what the Yankees have done and I’ve been in contact with more than a dozen teams and leagues that are now contemplating doing the same thing.”
Hershkowitz’s visit coincided with the Australian Open and some of the most destructive fires to grip the nation. Climate change represents an existential threat to the future of Australia’s premier summer sporting events but the American was buoyed after speaking with Matt Nicholas, Head of Major Projects & Sustainability at Tennis Australia.
“This year I think the Australian Open has really enhanced its internal resources committed to sustainability. They have developed a much more robust vision related to this issue and an implementation strategy from on-site energy acquisition and energy efficiency to relationships with their sponsors and vendors as well as fan education.
“I put (Nicholas) in touch with the folks at the US Open, Roland-Garros and Wimbledon and made a number of presentations to his colleagues and also the sponsors so they can understand the emerging sustainability program at the Australian Open.”
Hershkowitz added that the impact of the fires on the Australian Open helped focus global attention on the climate crisis.
“Because frankly I think had the fires not coincided with the Australian Open the world would have paid less attention to what’s going on here.”
Grassroots sporting Clubs
Hershkowitz said while the problems are global the solutions need to be implemented locally.
"There are global conversations, like the Paris Agreement, but at the end of the day the majority of action has to be taken by what is referred to as non-State actors. In the sports context you’re talking about community-based sport organisations. Some of these are professional sports clubs, some are collegiate organisations, some of them are local amateur clubs. Everyone has to do something related to this issue.
Nothing too small to matter
"People need to have the confidence and the courage to know that small things are helpful. In fact as Mother Teresa said we cannot do great things, only small things with great love.
“I’m working literally on individual hot dogs at Yankee Stadium. I’m working on individual straws. I’m working bottle by bottle, can by can. I’m often asked, is it enough? Are we doing enough? Is what the Yankees doing enough? Is what the US Open doing enough? My response is, I really don’t even understand that question. What does enough mean? We are not going to resolve global warming. We are going to have to manage the chemistry in the atmosphere forever. It is going to be an ongoing management issue for humanity in the same way that we are paying attention to gender bias, slavery and racism for centuries.
“These are issues we have to continually manage in a humanitarian way forever. And the same goes for global warming and deforestation and ocean acidification. These issues are still getting worse. Last year we used more oil and coal than the year before. The concentration of carbon in the atmosphere is continuing to rise. What can community clubs do? It implies that somehow or other they are an addition to solving the problem when my position is that they are actually the backbone of implementation.”
Dr Allen Hershkowitz and Matt Nicholas recently spoke at a Sports Environment Alliance (SEA) event. SEA is a supporter of Clubbies.