“GreenLaces is a movement. It is an opportunity for elite athletes to promote environmental stewardship and conservation through their own behavior. . . . If you care about the environment and want to make a difference without having to compromise your training, this is one small way to do something positive with your athletic success.”
– Lowell Bailey, Captain of Team GreenLaces: Vancouver 2010
Natalie Spilger is a professional soccer player for the Chicago Red Stars. A graduate from Stanford University where she captained the women’s soccer team, she received her BS in Civil and Environmental Engineering and a Masters in Construction Engineering and Management. After working for awhile as an Energy Engineer for EMCOR Energy Services, she had a realization.
“After countless hours of counting lightbulbs and “greening” a building’s operations and lighting systems, I decided this was not the way I wanted to improve our planet,” said Spilger, “I wanted to green people, not buildings.” So in March of 2008 GreenLaces was launched.
GreenLaces is a movement which hopes to bring athletes together for a common cause – preserving the environment. It provides a simple process:
1. Make a promise to the planet, which is published on their website.
2. Receive and wear the Green Laces (100%-post-consumer-recycled) to show support of the movement, as a reminder of your own personal promise, and to help spread the word.
U.S. Biathlete Lowell Bailey is one of two captains for Team GreenLaces Vancouver 2010, the other captain being Brian Martin of the U.S. Luge Team. In his role as captain, Bailey’s job is to recruit as many of his peers as possible.
“I was approached by my friend Lyndsay Holley who knew Natalie Spilger, the GreenLaces founder,” explains Bailey, on how he got involved with the organization, “Lyndsay knew that I had an Environmental Studies degree and that I was interested in Environmental advocacy. GreenLaces was a perfect fit as it presented a realistic way to promote Environmental awareness while maintaining my full-time commitment to biathlon and the Vancouver Games.”
Team GreenLaces: a group of Olympic athletes who have made the commitment to use their status and publicity to further the movement.
Just several months after GreenLaces was started in 2008, Team GreenLaces at the Beijing Olympics had 50 athletes from 7 countries on their roster, enough to garner a fair share of media attention. For the upcoming Vancouver Olympics the organization has the goal of enlisting over 100 athletes from over 5 different countries.
As an added incentive for spreading the word, GreenLaces will reward the athlete who is most successful at recruiting other athletes to the cause by offsetting their carbon footprint to and from the Vancouver games.
Bailey describes his personal involvement and the simplicity of the program as follows:
“The first step is to commit to a personal environmental promise – something as simple as turning the lights off when you leave a room or re-using grocery bags. I chose to set my thermostats lower and turn off appliances like TV’s, Stereo’s, and Laptops when not in use. The second step is to promote the GreenLaces movement through wearing green laces in competition shoes. I know, I know – not realistic for ski sports! For those sports without visible laces, athletes can choose to wear the GreenLaces logo on their uniform or carry and use a GreenLaces metal water bottle.”
The affect of the movement is described on the GreenLaces website as “Athlete ICE”.
Inspire Personal Action
Connect and Unite
Educate Through Athletics
One of the athletes Bailey recruited for Team was USBA teammate Haley Johnson.
“I am definitely interested in bringing environmental awareness and responsibility more to the forefront of sports, whether it is within biathlon, in Lake Placid or at the Olympic Games,” Johnson said, of her desire to get involved with the movement.
Johnson can speak directly to the way her commitment to join GreenLaces “inspired personal action”.
“For myself, I knew I was interested, but I needed a bit of a nudge from those around me to act. The main goal of Green Laces is to inspire individuals to take personal action to improve the environment, very much in the same vain of being the change you want to see in the world,” said Johnson, “My promise to the environment is to help a local elementary class in Lake Placid learn about recycling, climate change and doing their part. It will be a challenge, but I am excited to help out.”
USBA teammates Laura Spector, Lanny Barnes, and Traci Barnes are also on board.
Laura Spector speaks to the “Connect and Unite” effect by saying, “It’s a cause that links athletes over something that is critical to our sport and our future. As role models, we need to alert people around us with a symbol that stands out and gets people talking.”
Spector also speaks to the “Educate through Athletics” piece of the movement.
“Sometimes it’s hard for an individual to make a difference, but when you have solidarity, you can make a real impact. As Olympic athletes we are already role models whose sports are dependent upon environmental conditions, so I think people are more likely to listen to what we have to say.”
Johnson encourages other athletes to get involved not only because of the inspiring effect it has had on her own commitment to help the planet, but also because the Vancouver Organizing Committee has made some a real effort to reduce the Games’carbon footprint.
“They’ve shown it’s possible to create a socially and environmentally responsible Games,” said Johnson,“I think Vancouver has done an excellent job at setting a new standard for environmental and social sustainability and I am honored to be a part of it.”
Do you have to be an athlete to take part? No, but the organization wants to target athletes for a number of reasons. First of all, athletes can be anybody: young or old, rich or poor, any nationality or race. Also, athletes are icons: both at the community level and at the elite level athletes have the power to inspire, set an example, and advertise their causes. By getting involved with GreenLaces, Spilger hopes that athletes will start thinking more about advertising for the planet than they do their own personal sponsorships. Lastly, athletes need a healthy planet: air quality, water quality, nutrition of food, and weather are all very important to athletes and are all directly impacted by the health of the planet.
On their website, GreenLaces has a “Get Involved” page devoted to “Greening your Game”. The page is still a work in progress, but soon will have tips for everyone from kids to adults, from college to pro-athletes, who want tips on how to participate in their sport while being more conscious of the planet. They also have a link for those who would like to start their own club or chapter, a link for athletes who would like to sponsor a youth, and also a link where you can request a high-profile athlete as a speaker.
Founder Natalie Spilger and the birth of GreenLaces
While still a player on the Chicago Red Stars soccer team, Natalie Spilger is also the current CEO of GreenLaces. Her motivation for getting personally involved in environmental issues did not happen until after college, when she was traveling overseas. She was horrified to see the kind of environmental damage that had been done in the poorer areas of the world, due to the overuse of plastics and pacacking, and simultaneous underuse of recycling and waste management.
“I went to Morocco and saw fields of what looked like crows, only to find out that it was black plastic bags blowing around with the wind after becoming stuck in the arid shrubs. And it was not just seeing the trash that was sad, it was the smell of it as well. In the outskirts of Marrakesh, there is no trash collection service, so the people will BURN it. The smell was awful. I continued to be exposed to environmental issues after traveling to Guatemala and witnessing their massive landfills.”
But Spilger was fortunate enough in her travels to also see that when a group of people believe in a common cause, things can be done to stop the damage to the environment.
“Luckily, some of my more recent travels have exposed me to hopeful solutions,” said Spilger, “In Uppsala, Sweden there is a process that burns all of the trash, cleans the airborne chemicals released and generates both heat and electricity for the local community. It was truly amazing to see.”
Spilger further explains her reason for founding GreenLaces:
“At the 2007 Green Building Expo in Chicago, I had two important moments. First, I started to realize how many people I could reach and inspire through a social construct that I was very familiar with: athletics. Secondly, I had a moment where I felt so proud to be an environmental steward, that I wanted to outwardly express this to the world. At that time, there was no symbolic way to do so. GreenLaces was born out of that combination.”
Spector exemplifies one of the goals of the GreenLaces movement when she says, “Now that I’ve made my promise and read those of other athletes, I am more aware of adhering to not only mine but others as well.”
Examples of Promises found on the GreenLaces website:
#1003 Nikki Garcia San Francisco, Ca
GreenLaces Promise #1003
“I promise to always use a re-useable grocery bag. If I don’t bring one with me, I’m carrying my stuff home in hand. ”
#957 Johann Lau San Francisco, Ca
GreenLaces Promise #957
“I promise to bring my own coffee mug into the office so I don’t have to use paper cups anymore.”
#325 New Zealand Football Ferns
GreenLaces Promise #325
“New Zealand Football Ferns- National Women’s Team Promises to the Planet: 1. to recycle our drink bottles on tour and when possible use reusable drink bottles in New Zealand for all practices and games. 2. to turn off all electricity when not in our hotel rooms on tour. 3. to carpool to training and games when possible. 4. to limit water use for showers and brushing teeth. 5. to clean up all strapping tape and electrical tape off the pitches. 6. to use the profile of the national women’s team to get others to pledge their PROMISE TO THE PLANET”
#781 Juan Jose Altamirano
GreenLaces Promise #781
“I, Juanjo Altamirano, promise to stop using non rechargable batteries.”
#639 John Miller
GreenLaces Promise #639
“I, John Miller, promise to never again buy bottled water again unless it is an absolute emergency. I will only bring water to soccer training in a reusable container and I will promote the same behavior of every player I coach.”
GreenLaces Promise #339
“I promise to eat meat only once a week.”
#34 Lora Jacobsen
GreenLaces Promise #34
“I, Lora Jacobsen, promise to get rid of all of my products with harmful chemicals and replace them with green ones.”
#321 Chris Bartle
GreenLaces Promise #321
“I promise to help green all the homes my company sells.”
#260 Frida Ostberg
GreenLaces Promise #260
“I, Frida, promise to eat more organic and local food.”