49ers Join Global Leaders To Talk Climate Change at UN Summit

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The 2017 United Nations Climate Change Conference concluded today in Germany, two weeks after the San Francisco 49ers helped open the gathering of international climate change advocates by participating in the inaugural UN Dialogue on Sport and Climate Action. The gathering of global sports organizations and sustainability experts, held October 30-31 in Bonn, Germany, preceded the global inter-governmental summit formally known as the 23rd session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 23) that ended today. The larger summit was held to advance implementation of the 2015 Paris Agreement to address climate change.

The award-winning 49ers stadium operations team was humbled to be invited to participate in this historic sports industry event on the basis of designing and operating Levi’s Stadium as one of the most environmentally sustainable sports and entertainment venues in the world. Having achieved the unprecedented honor of twice being awarded LEED Gold certification and setting an industry standard for solar power and recycled water usage, the 49ers were one of just 25 organizations to participate in the summit. The gathering was designed to develop collaborative approaches and platforms by which stakeholders at the intersection of sport and climate can contribute to achieving the long-term goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“Meeting with sports venues and organizations from around the world – big and small – really demonstrated that our Levi’s Stadium team is really well positioned to help lead the movement towards a more sustainable future for our industry,” said Pat Rogan, Levi’s Stadium Director of Engineering Operations, who represented the 49ers in Bonn at the UN Dialogue on Sport and Climate Action. “The conference showed us there are many organizations as committed as we are to being environmentally responsible neighbors and that if we all work together, we can be meaningful resources for the rest of the sports industry.

The UN Dialogue on Sports and Climate Action featured two full days of workshops, panel discussions, and keynote speeches focused on leveraging sport and its ability to influence social consciousness. One aim of which was to discuss ways to inspire fans of the sport to adopt some of its more sustainable practices in the areas of energy consumption, water conservation, waste diversion, reducing toxins, enhancing public transportation, stadium design, procurement, and fan and athlete engagement. Group working sessions included collective assessments of the impact on climate change from the sports industry, the risks to sport from climate change and governmental policy decisions, and the expectations on the sports industry to be advocates for climate change. The groups also discussed what individual and collective commitments can be made within the sports industry, what forms of cooperation can be established with relevant entities outside of the sports industry, and how can the sports industry better engage stakeholders to promote broader climate action.

“The working sessions featured real-world situations that gave us the chance to problem solve with our fellow organizations and the UN in a real meaningful way,” said Rogan. “While focusing on the importance of lowering our carbon footprint, we all learned cross-industry best practices for small and large entities that will serve as well back home.

“It was informative to see the importance these organizations place on being green, and not for show. They’re all committed to continuing the momentum of discussions to help all participants be change agents throughout their respective leagues. Along with the Eagles, we certainly saw how can do more to assist the entire NFL in bringing more of these best practices to the forefront.”

Joining the 49ers at the UN Dialogue on Sport and Climate Action were the Green Sports Alliance, the BBC, Burson-Marsteller, the Climate Coalition, Council for Responsible Sport, DFB Bundesliga, Earth2Ocean,  FIFA, FIA, French Ministry of Cities and Sport, Formula E, Forest Green Rovers, Golf Environment Organisation, GORD,  International Labour Organisation, NHL, Philadelphia Eagles, Papua New Guinea Office of Climate Change and Development, Roland Garros, Seattle University, The Football Association, UEFA, VF Corporation, World Rugby, and World Wildlife Foundation.

“Rapidly halting greenhouse gas emissions and achieving a carbon-neutral economy in the next few decades requires a fundamental change from all sectors of the business world, including sports,” said Justin Zeulner, Executive Director of the Green Sport Alliance, who also attended the conference. “And few sectors cross cultural boundaries in the way that sports does. We are honored to be a continued part of these discussions, alongside the UN and a global community of partners, to accelerate our shared mission.”

The primary objective of the COP 23 – attended by heads of state such as French President Emmanuel Macron of France and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, as well as climate change advocates such as California Governor Jerry Brown, UN Special Envoy Michael Bloomberg, and Arnold Schwarzenegger – was to advance the key goals of the Paris Climate Change Agreement. That multi-national accord aims to limit the global average temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius and as close as possible to 1.5 degrees Celsius, and to build greater resilience to climate change.

“Sport is about achieving one’s best. We need to harness this passion to bring about change,” said Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), who presided over the conference. “This trust and engagement provides an opportunity for awareness raising and for moral leadership.”

Coming out of the UN Dialogue on Sports and Climate Action, the UN Climate Change will engage the sports industry to measure and reduce the direct impacts of sports events in alignment with the aims of the Paris Agreement. They will also strive to better understand the specific impact of climate change on sports and leisure activities and enhance public awareness within the industry on how to increase engagement on climate action around the world.

“The UN platform can serve to inspire all of sports,” said Rogan. “They are committed to incorporating the sporting world into their annual meetings on global climate change and that puts the responsibility on all of us to keep improving so we can earn that seat at the table.”

Back in Santa Clara, Rogan and Jim Mercurio, 49ers vice president of stadium operations and general manager of Levi’s Stadium, are taking that challenge head on. Coming out of the UN Climate Change Conference, the 49ers are committing to take the necessary steps that will enable them to sign the UN’s Climate Neutral Now Pledge. In taking the pledge, the 49ers commit to:

  1. Measure and report their greenhouse gas emissions for an agreed-upon period of time
  2. Reduce their greenhouse gas emissions as much as possible
  3. Offset remaining emissions with UN Certified Emission Reductions (CERs)

Additionally, in conjunction with the organization’s bid to serve as a host venue for the 2026 FIFA World Cup which is currently in the midst of its bid process, the 49ers are pursuing the international equivalent of their LEED Gold certifications. The ISO 20121 represents the international standard for event sustainability management systems. The specification is earned when an organization demonstrates that it employs a management system that enables it to reduce its environmental footprint and be more socially responsible all while maintaining financial success.

Commitments like these are being undertaken while the 49ers continue their ongoing efforts to divert a higher percentage of consumer waste away from landfills through recycling and composting. All together these actions are designed to help inspire the growing movement of governments, companies, and individuals taking the lead on proactive actions to mitigate the impact of climate change, a movement that the 49ers are determined to help lead.

By Roger Hacker

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