Soccer & the Environment: Blog Action Day 2009

Today is Blog Action Day 2009, a global event that mobilizes bloggers around the world to focus on an issue that impacts everyone, Climate Change. In honor of the theme I asked Chicago Red Stars defender Natalie Spilger to tell us a little more about her organization, GreenLaces, and how she is working with professional athletes to raise environmental awareness. Hopefully all of us in the soccer community can follow her lead and make some small changes to make a big difference.

Hi Natalie, congrats on the success you’re having on and off the field. What exactly is GreenLaces?

Natalie: GreenLaces is an environmental nonprofit that fuses athletics with the environment.  GreenLaces activates the global athletic community (including fans) to improve our planet by inspiring personal action, connecting environmental stewards and educating our youth.

How many professional athletes, specifically soccer players, have made environmental commitments?

Natalie: Our numbers are rough, because we are always finding out about athletes that have joined our movement, but I would say that we have over 500 professional and Olympic athletes. Notable athletes are the NFL’s Dhani Jones and Joey Porter, Softball’s Cat Osterman and many WPS players.   Hope Solo was even in Glamour Magazine last April representing us. From the men’s side, Alecko Escandarian and a few other MLS guys are supportive. You can check out our athletes here.

From a non-professional level, we have a lot of involvement as well. Just this month, on October 10th, all of the top business schools in Europe got together in Madrid and Jeremy Melul from IE hosted a “GreenLaces Cup” soccer tournament.  Really cool.

Why do you think athletics, or soccer specifically, can be a vehicle to help the environment?

Natalie: Well, athletics is key to solving the pressing issue of climate change.  For one, athletics, especially soccer, is a timeless social unifier that connects cultures and countries across the globe.  On top of that, athletes are celebrated icons locally and globally.  We can leverage their iconic power to go beyond advertising their sponsors to start advocating their environmental values.

Secondly, athletes know how to team up, set goals and reach victories.  These valuable traits can go extremely far in working together for a greater cause.

Lastly, athletes need a clean planet to perform.  We need green, grassy fields, nutritious foods, clean water and clean air to reach our optimum performance.  So it is imperative as athletes that we help keep our planet healthy.

How can someone get involved if they want to show their support?

Natalie: That is a GREAT question with an incredibly easy answer. People can join the “GreenLaces Movement” by …

You’ll get a number associated with your promise that acts as your “roster” number for our international “green team.”  The laces are our uniform. :). If people want to go beyond joining the movement, they can sponsor eco-education for under-served youth.  A $25 donation goes a long way, providing an inspiring visit from a pro-athlete, GreenLaces and eco-education for one person.

What promises have you made so far? What are some other common promises if someone is looking for simple ways they can start making a difference?

Natalie: I make mini-promises every day, but my main promise is to never use another plastic water bottle again (GreenLaces’ Promise numero uno).  This is HUGE for athletes because we need to hydrate, and we can consciously chose a “green” option of bringing our re-usable bottles.  People do not realize how bad plastic really is.  It is not even really recycled – it is “downcycled.”  This means that it can only be recycled a certain number of times before it loses it strength and ends up in the trash.  Plastic is BAD. More recently I have decided to avoid lids and straws (meaningless plastic things).  More importantly Abe, what is YOUR promise going to be?  🙂

Abe: Good question Natalie, here goes: GreenLaces Promise # 739 (right after Joey Porter)

I, Abe Geiger, promise to:
1) turn off the water when I brush my teeth
2) refill my nalgene bottle instead of buying bottled water
3) switch to paperless billing

Ok you got my promise, now as soon as you’re healthy again I want to see your iSoccer Level.  Deal?

Natalie: You got it. Should be fun!

Thanks again for talking with me Natalie. Best of luck with GreenLaces and the upcoming season. It’s great to see you leveraging the influence of sports to make a positive impact.