How Sports Teams Can Share Their Sustainability Story with Green Bear Group’s Joe Khirallah

It starts with a vision, with an idea – Green Bear Group works with some of the biggest names in sports, helping them build and share their sustainability story.

John Shegerian: Welcome to another edition of Green Is Good. This is the Green Sports Alliance edition of Green Is Good, and we are here in beautiful downtown Chicago, and we’ve got Joe Khirallah with us. He is the founder and the owner of the Green Bear Group. Welcome to Green Is Good. Joe Khirallah: It’s a pleasure to be here. That is also one of our taglines, if you look on the back of my card. John Shegerian: Wait a second. Joe Khirallah: “Green is good.” John Shegerian: “Green is good” on the back of this card right here. I love that. This is it. You should be on our show more often. I think we’re going to start making you a regular. So, Joe, before we get talking about the Green Bear Group, talk a little bit about Joe Khirallah. What was your journey leading up to this? Before founding Green Bear Group, were you a greenie from birth or is this something that happened along the way? Joe Khirallah: No. It was an epiphany. I turned 40. I had been in marketing and communications for 20-plus years, and I woke up one day and I said, “OK, this is great. But I’m next to the fire. I need to get in the fire.” John Shegerian: I like that. Joe Khirallah: So I got a couple of colleagues, we founded Green Bear in 2009, and shortly thereafterwards, I met Scott Jenkins from the Seattle Mariners. John Shegerian: And that was it. Joe Khirallah: And that was it. John Shegerian: And you started working with the Mariners? Joe Khirallah: We did. We started working with the Mariners. We helped them get together with BASF, their big sponsor. We helped them create Sustainable Saturdays, their fan engagement program. John Shegerian: Wow. Joe Khirallah: And very shortly afterwards, Scott reached out and put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Do you do any pro bono work?” so naturally we said, “Sure.” The four founders, we’re all huge sports fans. John Shegerian: Got you. Joe Khirallah: We love this space. John Shegerian: Right. Joe Khirallah: And it’s the right thing to do, so we said, “Sure.” So we’ve been with them. We helped them launch back in March in 2011. John Shegerian: That’s the GSA? Joe Khirallah: Yes. John Shegerian: Got you. Joe Khirallah: And we helped them with communications strategy, with PR, with video work, and now I’m an advisor to the board. John Shegerian: Great. So now let’s talk about Green Bear. Joe Khirallah: Sure. John Shegerian: So you’re an entrepreneur – an ecopreneur – by founding Green Bear Group. So you have four partners? Joe Khirallah: Yes. John Shegerian: You’re all in northern California. Joe Khirallah: No, we are virtual. I’ve got one in North Hollywood. Sean is in North Hollywood – our creative director. John Shegerian: OK. Joe Khirallah: I’ve got one in Sausalito – our clean tech director – myself in Redwood City and another partner here in Chicago. John Shegerian: And that is really how companies run now, right? Joe Khirallah: Yes. John Shegerian: They are virtual. You don’t have to all sit under one roof every day at a desk. Joe Khirallah: As long as we’re near high speed internet and an airport…. John Shegerian: The company is up and running. Joe Khirallah: Right. John Shegerian: That’s great. Talk a little bit about the formation. You talked about your first client. Talk about the journey. Where are you now? Joe Khirallah: Sure. Well, for us, it all comes down to three things: connecting people and then building relationships and then helping them tell their stories. John Shegerian: Wow. Joe Khirallah: OK. So that’s how we approach everything is, who do we know, who do they need to work with, help them come together, make sure their values are aligned. We’ll do facilitation to ideate around the strategic objectives of both organizations. Once they’re in line we help them, come up with campaigns to work together and tell those stories to the public. John Shegerian: So you founded this in 2009 – Green Bear? Joe Khirallah: Yes. John Shegerian: And for our listeners and viewers out there, to find Joe and his partners at Green Bear Group, go to www.GreenBearGroup.com. Talk a little bit about the journey. Is the journey a straight line? Have you landed a lot – I mean, the crash came in 2009 and 2010? Joe Khirallah: Right. That’s when we started. Great time to start a new company. John Shegerian: Well, you know, sometimes the contrarians of this world – I mean, right? Joe Khirallah: You know, the way I looked at it was, “OK I feel this in here.” John Shegerian: Yup. Joe Khirallah: I’ve got to act on it now, and yeah sure, it might not be the best time to start a company, but on the other hand it might be because you can only go up in that economy, right? John Shegerian: Right. Great point. Joe Khirallah: And so we were fortunate to meet up with the Mariners and help them get together with BASF, did a lot of work with the Green Sports Alliance over the years and now BASF has become a regular customer over the years. Now we’re helping them with the New York Yankees. John Shegerian: Wow. Joe Khirallah: So talk about a journey going from small market team to the biggest brand in America ostensibly. John Shegerian: Maybe the world in terms of baseball. Joe Khirallah: Certainly the world in terms of baseball. In top two or three. Maybe Manchester United. John Shegerian: Right. Joe Khirallah: New York Yankees. Dallas Cowboys. John Shegerian: Right. Joe Khirallah: Right. John Shegerian: Those three brands. Joe Khirallah: And what we’re helping them do is BASF cares a lot about sustainability and they bring it together into sports in a variety of ways so they want to help tell that story and help the sports teams and venues actually improve what they’re doing. John Shegerian: Wow. Joe Khirallah: Improve their zero waste, which is a big concern of theirs, through a lot of their products that become into compostable bags. Improve compostable packaging. They have a prototype that we helped them come out and advertise – the Compostable Peanut Bag Day in Seattle. So now can’t really divulge what is coming up with the Yankees this year, but it’s a big deal. It will be a huge contest so if any of your viewers are in the New York area, tell them to please check out the Yankees’ site and keep your eyes peeled. John Shegerian: When? When do they check it out? Joe Khirallah: The big launch will be July 17. John Shegerian: After July 17, check out the Yankees’ site. Joe Khirallah: And it’s going to be a contest, Instagram-based. They will be able to win some cool prizes and it will be for a couple months long. John Shegerian: All created by the Green Bear Group. Joe Khirallah: And BASF and the Yankees together with MLBAM, all-around finding the most sustainable Yankees family. John Shegerian: Wow. That’s really cool. Joe Khirallah: It’s really exciting. We’re happy to be there. John Shegerian: And does that Yankees family have to be in New York or it could be anywhere? Joe Khirallah: It can be anywhere because it’s online. John Shegerian: They’ve got fans around the world. Joe Khirallah: They do. Yeah. John Shegerian: Wow. Talk a little bit about your business enterprise. How has it grown over the years? Is it all sports-based, or is it also now way beyond sports? Joe Khirallah: We started with the premise of we wanted to help mitigate climate change. John Shegerian: OK. Joe Khirallah: And then we landed in sports and we love sports so we’re continuing to grow that. We have worked with a variety of teams, and we’re talking to many more right now. In addition, we realized in the last couple of years sustainability isn’t just about the environment – though, it is here. John Shegerian: Right. Joe Khirallah: Even in the Green Sports Alliance, the mission has now expanded broader beyond ecological into social, into health and wellness, into the food. John Shegerian: Absolutely. Joe Khirallah: You’ve talked to some folks about that here. So that is the vision. We have specializations in food, high tech, clean tech and sports and sustainability. John Shegerian: So your business is exploding. Joe Khirallah: Yes. John Shegerian: Wow. Five years. Joe Khirallah: Five years. The first two, slow growth. John Shegerian: That’s right. Joe Khirallah: But sort of a hockey stick. John Shegerian: With the trend in sustainability being there is no going back, the genie is out of the bottle, obviously – as you say – and that has led into better eating, cleaner eating, vegetarianism, veganism. All are part of our lexicon now. How many doors are opened for you in terms of getting good green messaging out to getting sustainable messaging out there, and how do you go about finding business? Does business come to you now because you’ve grown such a great brand at Green Bear Group? Joe Khirallah: Mostly, yes now. John Shegerian: Right. Joe Khirallah: OK. It’s mostly referral now. But what we look at is we look at what is going on – like you said – trends in society. John Shegerian: Yeah. Joe Khirallah: Right now one of the big things in food – in addition to organic – is the whole clean and sustainably sourced but also local. John Shegerian: Yup. Joe Khirallah: To reduce the carbon footprint of having the thing transported. So we’re working with a small company right in Silicon Valley that is a two store farmers market chain, and they deal direct farm to their products so it’s almost farm-to-table. John Shegerian: Right. Joe Khirallah: And so they had a struggle. They were losing – they didn’t understand why they weren’t making profits and they were threatened because one of their big collaborators was Costco across the street. People tend to root shop. John Shegerian: Right. Joe Khirallah: They were closing for a year. So they were afraid no one was going to come to Segona’s anymore. John Shegerian: Whoa. Joe Khirallah: And we helped them for a year-and-a-half, and now the lessons that we’ve taught them – we’ve sort of taught them how to fish and helped them hire a person – so a year-and-a-half later their profits were up and now they’ve even launched a Fruit for Thought program out to corporate. So snacks, healthy snacks for corporate American offices. John Shegerian: Wow, that’s awesome. Joe Khirallah: So it’s just really rewarding. John Shegerian: And when someone hires Green Bear Group you do everything, soup to nuts – advertising, social media, offline analogue media, everything. Joe Khirallah: Yeah. We start with the understanding what are their values and what are the business objectives, so we usually facilitate a planning session upfront. John Shegerian: Right. Joe Khirallah: Then, go into – OK – what are your business goals around this campaign? What do you want to accomplish in the next six months? John Shegerian: Right. Joe Khirallah: Then we will go into defining some creative. Once they choose that, we’ll help execute it or activate it. John Shegerian: And so it could be a brand-new brand or it could be an 80-year-old brand. Joe Khirallah: Right. John Shegerian: You don’t mind. You work with startups and you work with legacy brands. Joe Khirallah: Yeah. Which is interesting because we tend to work a lot with very small companies, like startups and local businesses, and very large companies. John Shegerian: Wow. Joe Khirallah: We have something big at stake and they want to move into sustainability and build that brand or build their awareness that they’re already doing great sustainable work; it’s just people don’t necessarily know about it yet. John Shegerian: Joe, we’re down to a minute-and-a-half. You’re here at GSA again – fifth year. Joe Khirallah: Yeah. John Shegerian: What were you doing here? Were you speaking at this event? Joe Khirallah: Yeah. On Monday, we had the very first ever UPS global leadership council thought leadership forum, and I created the curriculum for that and facilitated; it was a three-hour workshop. John Shegerian: Wow. Joe Khirallah: The reason why that is important is because now the GSA for the first time is bringing corporate members in through this global leadership council so now we can help them more directly influence the supply chain to the sports industry to green that up, and what better way to do that than having them under the tent? John Shegerian: Love it. Joe Khirallah: As Allen said today, “We’re all one team.” John Shegerian: One team. It’s really true. And did you do any other speaking here? Joe Khirallah: No, that was the big one. John Shegerian: That was the big one. Joe Khirallah: Three hours on the – yeah. John Shegerian: Where is next year’s event? Has that been announced yet or not yet? Joe Khirallah: I thought it was going to be announced, but we had to hold off for a little bit. John Shegerian: OK. Got it. This is the biggest and best summit ever. Joe Khirallah: Yes. John Shegerian: Final thoughts to you. Joe Khirallah: OK. Final thoughts are, it is an important problem, it is an urgent situation and at the same time it’s all about sports here, right? John Shegerian: Right. Joe Khirallah: The cultural influence and power of sports. But you don’t work sports, you play sports. John Shegerian: It’s true. Joe Khirallah: So the way we look at it is, we have to take our work seriously but don’t take ourselves too seriously. If you play with it, and you get better ideas through creative playing, you will reach more people, you will touch them in their heart – and that is the way we like to do it. So at the end of the day, we’re doing good and we’re having fun while we’re doing it. John Shegerian: Do good, have fun, change the world. Joe Khirallah: There you go. John Shegerian: I love it. Joe Khirallah: Can I use that? John Shegerian: You can use that. Joe Khirallah: We’ll put that on our next business card. John Shegerian: I’d love it. Joe Khirallah – he is the owner, the founder and one of the four partners of the Green Bear Group. To find Joe and hire his group to help get the word out there on your company or organization, go to www.GreenBearGroup.com, and his tagline is “green is good.” So – man – we are so happy we had Joe on with us today. To find the Green Sports Alliance, go to www.GreenSportsAlliance.org. Joe Khirallah, you are making the world a better place and are truly living proof that Green Is Good. Thank you so much for your time today. Joe Khirallah: My pleasure. It’s an honor to be with you. John Shegerian: Thank you.