The Tortoise & the Hare: A Modern Day Tale of Bringing Sustainability into the World of Sport with David Stubbs
Sustainability in modern day sports is a hot topic, accelerating to hare-like speeds.
October 5, 2015
John Shegerian: Welcome to another edition of Green Is Good. This is the Green Sports Alliance edition of Green Is Good here in beautiful downtown Chicago, and we’ve got David Stubbs with us. He is an Independent Sustainability Expert but he has a unique title to his story today: The Tortoise and the Hare: A Modern Day Tale of Bringing Sustainability into the World of Sport. Welcome to Green Is Good, David Stubbs. David Stubbs: Thank you, John. John Shegerian: You know, David, you are considered a rock star when it comes to sustainability, and we’re going to talk a little bit more about that in a while, but talk a little bit about the uniqueness of the title of today’s show and why you came up with The Tortoise and The Hare: A Modern Day Tale of Bringing Sustainability into the World of Sport. Share a little bit about your journey. David Stubbs: Well, I’m glad you found it an unusual title. It goes right back to the beginning of my career. I’ve always been passionate about the environment and ecology, and that’s what I trained in. John Shegerian: Ah. David Stubbs: And my first sort of professional assignment was studying wild tortoises in the south of France. John Shegerian: No kidding. David Stubbs: Absolutely. So I was effectively exiled into Provence into a little village in the middle of nowhere. At the time, I hardly spoke a word of French so I had to learn the language, learn the local customs and everything, and it was all through a research program to look at the ecology of wild tortoises. John Shegerian: Wow. And what did you study in university? David Stubbs: Botany and Zoology, so it was sort of a natural thing for someone of that ilk to do. John Shegerian: Yes. David Stubbs: I’ve always been passionate about conservation biology, and this was just sort of a dream come true. John Shegerian: And there you were with the turtles outside of Provence. David Stubbs: Yes. These are land tortoises, little creatures that live in the forest amongst the olive groves and woodlands of southern France, which was great. And to this day, there is a conservation project inspired by that research. John Shegerian: That’s so wonderful. David Stubbs: Which is ongoing, and I’m still associated with it. So it has been a long slow process and I think that’s really the emphasis I wanted to sort of bring to this little interview – that it’s about persistence and really starting out with a long-term vision and just keeping going. John Shegerian: And it’s a journey. It’s a journey. David Stubbs: It’s virtually 20 years to the day almost since I started looking at the Olympics. John Shegerian: Wow. David Stubbs: And there’s a big gap between that and the tortoise thing. John Shegerian: Yeah. David Stubbs: But it’s just to show that while nowadays we’re talking about substantiality, and it’s much more mainstream, let’s just remember there’s a bit of history to this and it’s actually a very slow start up. I think having that early vision and just keeping going – there are a lot of knockbacks in the early days and there are not that many believers, but you have to keep going. And now I feel it’s more like the hare bit because it’s running fast and furious. You look at the Green Sports Alliance and the number of companies and teams and members they’ve got and just the way sustainability is now a core part of so many different elements of the sport and major events sector. John Shegerian: Got you. And for our listeners and viewers who want to find you, they can go to www.SustainabilityExperts.net. David Stubbs: Yes. That’s my own personal website. John Shegerian: That’s your personal website. David Stubbs: And, hopefully, they’ll find a few interesting nuggets there and a bit more details of what I’ve done. John Shegerian: Right. Perfect. Now one of the greatest success stories in sustainability and sports was the London 2012 event, which you were the Head of Sustainability, you were in charge of greening it. Can you share that journey? When did you land that position? How many years prior to the event were you working on it? And walk our listeners and viewers through it, because that itself is just a fascinating story. David Stubbs: Right. Well, before I was involved in the Olympics, I actually spent a lot of years working the golf course industry so I was already looking at the environmental management and design and development of golf courses throughout Europe. John Shegerian: Got you. David Stubbs: With the European Tour, European Golf Association, the RNA and that obviously was the sort of grounding I had in sustainability in sport. But halfway through the 1990s – around 1997 thereabouts – I had a call out of the blue from the British Olympic Association saying that they were looking for someone with environmental expertise to help them understand the direction things were going in for the Olympic movement because they were thinking – just thinking – about possibly bidding for the Olympic Games in 2012. So this was 15 or so years prior to the games. John Shegerian: Wow. David Stubbs: This was before we even had a bid. So I went to a number of IOC conferences on sport and the environment, and we also set up a working group in London looking at what would be the environmental issues and aspects of bringing the games to London. So all of this was going on four or five years before we actually formally announced our intention to bid. John Shegerian: Wow. David Stubbs: And, as part of that, in 2000, I secluded myself – if you like – took a mini sabbatical and went down to Australia and joined the environment team in the Sydney Olympics and spent a couple of months working with the guys on the ground and that was the first time really getting my hands dirty in the field on greening an event. It was a massive learning experience John Shegerian: Wow. So you started really training yourself. David Stubbs: Yeah that was the idea. John Shegerian: That was real smart. David Stubbs: Sort of pull yourself up by your bootstraps because there was no one else out there doing it so you have to sort of figure it out yourself. John Shegerian: Right. Breaking new ground. David Stubbs: Yeah. John Shegerian: Wow. So you did the Australian Olympics. David Stubbs: Yeah. John Shegerian: And then talk a little bit about what happened after that was over. David Stubbs: Well, shortly after that – because that was 2000. John Shegerian: Yeah. David Stubbs: The early part of that decade the British Government finally decided we would bid for the games – that was in 2003. John Shegerian: OK. David Stubbs: So at that point I joined the bid team. I moved over from my golfing world straight into the London 2012 bid team, and what we knew was that this was going to be a tight race. We were up against Paris, New York, Moscow and Madrid – five great global brand cities. John Shegerian: Right. David Stubbs: And we wanted to win this thing. John Shegerian: Sure. David Stubbs: Now, most of our citizens and the media did not expect us to win, but we thought differently and the Mayor of London at the time – Ken Livingston – had a great vision about how the games could be a catalyst for revitalizing a very underdeveloped and deprived part of East London. So the whole notion of sustainability and urban regeneration was core to our proposition. John Shegerian: How big was the team working on it? David Stubbs: Not a big team. It was never more than about 100 people. John Shegerian: Really? It’s that small of a group of great people. David Stubbs: Yeah. John Shegerian: Committed people. David Stubbs: Obviously, a lot of partners and support from government, from the mayor’s office and from commercial companies and we rallied together a great coalition of NGOs, of green groups and sustainability experts who helped us flesh out a vision of how our games could deliver sustainability. And it’s not easy to do that. In 2003, 2004, looking ahead eight or nine years to when the games are going to be, trying to imagine what would be a good practice or best practice at the time. John Shegerian: Right. David Stubbs: It’s really difficult so sometimes you’re future casting things that are not going to work and other things are probably going to be way off the pace by then. John Shegerian: Right. David Stubbs: So it’s not easy. But one thing was clear – the core mission vision of the bid was to deliver sustainable games. John Shegerian: Wow. So when did the bid go in? When did the bid go in for consideration? David Stubbs: Well, formally, the process started late 2003, but the bid book goes in in November 2004, the evaluation commission came around the following spring, decision day, sixth of July 2005 in Singapore. I’ll tell you, I was there, and that was the best party I have ever been to afterwards. John Shegerian: Wow. I didn’t realize that. So decision day, literally, that is the day you find out. Right there. David Stubbs: And it’s a fork in your life because there was a final round choice of Paris or London, and you’re standing there watching this President of the IOC fumbling with an envelope, picking out a name. John Shegerian: And the name is going to change so many people’s lives and potentially cities and the history of the city forever. David Stubbs: If it had gone the other way, then my career in the Olympics would have finished at that point. John Shegerian: Wow. David Stubbs: As it was, it went London’s way and so then the work had to start. John Shegerian: Now we’re six years prior? David Stubbs: Seven actually. John Shegerian: Seven. David Stubbs: That sounds a lot – to deliver the scale of a generation, build a team from scratch. John Shegerian: Wow. David Stubbs: The thing is you’re not an established organization. An organizing committee doesn’t exist, and in seven years, it’s got to go from a micro enterprise to a major corporation, and then within six months of the games, you’ve got to disband so it is an incredible change journey. And all the way through that, you’ve got to keep that drumbeat of “we’re doing sustainability, we’re going to make it an integral part of how we go about bringing management systems and things.” John Shegerian: So you went from a team of 100 on the pre-bid to then now, after July sixth of 2006, how many people were part of the team preparing for the Olympics? David Stubbs: Well, most of the bid team went their separate ways. There was about 40 people who started the whole thing and it became about 8,000 seven years later. John Shegerian: Wow. And sustainability was a core theme throughout everything that happened. David Stubbs: One of the key aspects of that – I think – and uniquely as so far in Olympic history, I managed to stay the course from the bid all the way through the organization phase so there wasn’t a day I missed. Normally, the bid teams don’t tend to have somebody who carries on the sustainability thing straight into the organization. John Shegerian: Right. David Stubbs: So being there at day one was a great position because everyone who joined – any director of any function – I would meet them and they would know that – “possession is nine-tenths of the law we say.” John Shegerian: That’s right. David Stubbs: And sustainability was in possession from day one. John Shegerian: Right. David Stubbs: So we had that opportunity to really build it into the structures and processes and the whole mindset of people delivering the games, and for us, that was the core of it. John Shegerian: If you just joined us now, we’ve got David Stubbs. He is an Independent Sustainability Expert. You can find David at www.SustainabilityExperts.net. This is the Green Sports Alliance of Green Is Good. To learn more about the Green Sports Alliance, please go to www.GreenSportsAlliance.org. You can learn a lot about everything that is going on in the greening of the sports world. So talk a little bit about now that it’s three years or so in the rearview mirror, talk about some of the greatest wins that you got in terms of sustainability that you were able to showcase to the world from London 2012. David Stubbs: Well, the obvious one is the Olympic Park, and that was the centerpiece of the whole project. This was the piece of land – something like 500 or 600 acres of land – which was just derelict and underdeveloped. It was contaminated, polluted. John Shegerian: Right. David Stubbs: In a right mess. And that has been transformed, and now we have the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, which is open to the public. You’ve got the sports venues, which are now in full-time ownership and proper use. The Olympic Village is now transformed into a residential neighborhood. John Shegerian: Unbelievable. David Stubbs: There is more housing and commercial development going on, but at the core of it, you’ve got this amazing green park. So that is the sort of physical manifestation of the legacy, but the bit I’d like to talk about, actually – something that perhaps is not so physically tangible, but I think has actually been as important – has been the knowledge legacy and the processes that we develop. So we had to set about figuring out how to put sustainability into event management. As a consequence of that, the International Standards Organization issued an event sustainability management system standard – ISO 2012-1. Now, that might sound like a rather dry number, but it is a process, which is the first certifiable sustainability management system standard in the world, which is applicable to the events sector. And more and more organizations and venues around the world are adopting that standard and that gives them a blueprint for how to introduce sustainability properly into their organizational management. So while we had to sort of figure it out for London, we’ve effectively left a blueprint for people to follow, and I’m really proud of that. John Shegerian: That’s really wonderful. That’s really wonderful because inspiring others and also giving them a plan to achieve sustainability success in whatever they’re trying to green is a huge win unto itself – as you say. David Stubbs: We didn’t get everything right by any means, and I think one of the things I’m proud of also is the learning legacy program that we developed, and we’ve put out loads of case studies and reports and documents, which showed our progress through and some of the things that we found challenging and what we had to overcome and what we didn’t quite succeed on. I think that’s important because sustainability is not something you just get right and have done and then walk away from. You’re always trying to improve. John Shegerian: It’s a journey. David Stubbs: Yeah. John Shegerian: How many people were actually on your core sustainability team leading up to the 2012 Olympics? David Stubbs: Obviously, we started with one – which was me – and gradually, others came along and by game time we had a permanent staff of 20 people and 15 volunteers. John Shegerian: Wow. David Stubbs: Pretty small core. But beyond that, we had a network of – shall we say – a mini industry of professional sustainability people and other organizations and stakeholders who supported and helped us. John Shegerian: Wow. David Stubbs: It’s also – though – getting it into the mindset of your colleagues. Wherever they’re doing catering, logistics, waste management ceremonies, torch relay, whatever, you need those people to come up to the mark and do their bit. John Shegerian: Wow. David Stubbs: So we were sort of orchestrating the program but there were others who were delivering on the ground the transport, the material. John Shegerian: Were buildings that you had to build for the Olympics, did they have to be LEED certified as part of the process as well? David Stubbs: Well, in the U.K., a system called “BREEAM” which is “building research establishment environmental assessment method.” John Shegerian: Right. David Stubbs: So that is a sort of LEED-equivalent, and there was that, which was used for the sports venues. But we had lots of temporary venues. One of the things about London was the majority of – we had more temporary structures than probably any games previously. Now, that is a different sort of dynamic, and one of the things we started off early in the process was figuring out what is the carbon footprint of the games going to be? Now, until you’ve actually done the games, you don’t know actually what it is, but then no one is really interested afterwards, so we said, “Well, let’s look at carbon footprinting as an impact assessment tool rather than a reporting tool,” and that enabled us to identify what it might be, but also where are the big hitters? Where are the areas where we could perhaps make the most difference in reducing our carbon footprint? So we used this carbon tool to help us refine our procurement decisions, our design, the material specifications and that – for me – was really key and that’s one of the things we’re going to be talking about later today at the summit. John Shegerian: Talk a little bit about that. You’re here today at the Green Sports Alliance. When did you get introduced to the Green Sports Alliance, and how long have you been working with it, and what are you going to be talking about today? David Stubbs: Well, I’ve been aware of GSA for a few years, but they’re not that old so it hasn’t been that long. John Shegerian: Right. David Stubbs: It is my first time over here to participate in the summit, but I’m working with Dow – which is one of the Olympic’s top partners. John Shegerian: Sure. David Stubbs: And they have been developing a carbon mitigation program, which didn’t really start in London because they had only just joined the Olympic program in London so their initiative started in Sochi, and they’re doing it in Rio and future host cities, but what we have learned from the way we did it in London was the importance – first of all – of mapping out and measuring the anticipated footprint. So we know the scope of what we’re talking about to begin with and then you’ve really got to focus on how can we minimize those impacts, and then what are the most meaningful ways of mitigating these impacts. John Shegerian: Got you. David Stubbs: And we didn’t just want to do conventional offsetting – which a lot of people talk about still – but one of the profound things that our Chief Executive said is, “If you’re going to spend dollars” – or pounds, in our case – “on offsetting and taking money away from improving the games to some far flung part of the world, it’s not really what our stakeholders want.” John Shegerian: Right. David Stubbs: “If we’re going to do something that is beneficial to the environment and so on, let’s do it locally in our hometown where people can actually see and appreciate what it’s about.” So finding mechanisms which are meaningful in the local context is a key part of it, and I think that’s one of the areas which Dow is picking up on and is particularly keen to do. John Shegerian: Going back to the London Olympics, talk a little bit about your two or three biggest barriers that you had to push through during the process. David Stubbs: I suppose one of the big ones is this whole perception around “Oh, sustainability is going to cost you more.” It’s changing. It’s changing into uncomfortable territory. And when I look back on it, and I think the organizing committee was effectively a $3-billion business through attracting more sponsors to the table and through cost savings and our procurement sustainable sourcing process and resource efficiencies, we netted about $150 millions’ worth of savings and revenue. Now, if we had not had that, the organizing committee would have spent $100 million more and they would have had $50 million of revenue less. John Shegerian: Right. David Stubbs: Now, that is 5 percent, if you turnover. That is a big hit. John Shegerian: That’s a big hit. David Stubbs: And the actual cost of doing our program, of my team and the consultants around, it was about $15 million so we netted a tenfold benefit for the organizing committee. John Shegerian: Isn’t that interesting? You turned the old adage that “green costs more” right on its head and you showed a 10x on what you had to spend. David Stubbs: Yeah. Now, I don’t think people really appreciate that. John Shegerian: That’s fascinating and very important, though. David Stubbs: It is really important, and that is something I do want people to understand because I’ve been listening to the debates over the last few days and it’s this constant refrain of “we don’t have a budget for this,” “it’s going to cost” and so on. If you really want to do this – and it means the leadership has to be committed and you have to have a clear vision about it. John Shegerian: Right. David Stubbs: The best example I’ve heard so far is Disney because it started right in the founding father of Disney and it’s been something which has made sense to their model. John Shegerian: Right. David Stubbs: To be fair, most sports organizations and venues and clubs have only discovered sustainability recently. John Shegerian: You’re right. David Stubbs: So they’ve got to get a new sort of mindset in here and this is where the barrier is. This is the problem – getting people to think differently and realize that if you’re going to do this, you’ve got to do it properly. You can’t just dip your toe in the shallow end. You’ve got to jump in the deep end and do it properly. But if you are prepared to do that, you can recognize some really big savings and big advantages. John Shegerian: David, we’re down to the last couple minutes. Talk a little bit about your professional life after the Olympics and what you’re doing with www.SustainabilityExperts.net, and what opportunities have you had come your way to continue to make the world a better place? David Stubbs: Well, one thing for certain is I didn’t want to sort of go into a big corporate career. I’m very much me. John Shegerian: Right. David Stubbs: And you can’t imagine nine years on the Olympic project – fully intense, great experience, a little bit exhausting – so wanted to just be me. Obviously, I’ve had many decades of work now in this field so it was a natural progress to work as an independent consultant and help the IOC – the International Olympic Committee – and future host cities, really sort of the transfer of knowledge but in a personal way. So I do a lot of work with the IOC and through them to cities like Rio and Tokyo and also with their Evaluation Commission looking at bidding cities and assessing their sustainability programs. John Shegerian: Do other sports teams around the world or leagues reach out to you and say, “Help us become greener” or “Help us become more sustainable”? David Stubbs: Yes. But not actually just sport. I’ve had a couple of fascinating projects. One of which via an American company who had got to work with a Saudi university, and we were looking at sustainable waste management for the Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca. John Shegerian: Wow. David Stubbs: And there you’ve got. John Shegerian: That’s fascinating. David Stubbs: Fascinating thing. Millions of people go every year to a place, which is very constrained in space, and there is a lot of waste to deal with and it gets in the way and it’s unsafe but understanding how you might deal with that, and some of the principles of sustainable event management we developed in London were potentially applicable to that so that was a great one. John Shegerian: All sorts of interesting stuff – then – is coming your way. David Stubbs: Absolutely. John Shegerian: Cool. David Stubbs: So, busy. John Shegerian: Right. David Stubbs: Always interested in new challenges because it’s always fascinating what people are dealing with. And trying to turn the experience we’ve had in London into other applications. John Shegerian: Well, I wish you luck today in your speaking engagement. And for our listeners and our viewers who want to learn more about David or hire David to help green their venue or green their sports team or green their business, you can go to www.SustainabilityExperts.net. David Stubbs, you are really making the world a better place and are truly living proof that Green Is Good. Thank you so much for being with us today. David Stubbs: Pleasure, John. Thank you. John Shegerian: Thank you so much.