MLB player and Parley AIR pledger Chris Dickerson co-founded Players for the Planet to merge environmentalism with athletics
“Sport is a great unifier, transcending political, cultural, religious and socioeconomic barriers.”
On MLB Opening Day (March 29), all 30 Major League Baseball teams began play for the 2018 season. Millions of spectators will now flock to stadiums around the country to watch, cheer, jeer, purchase souvenirs and consume and dispose of food and beverage in vast quantities.
More people attend MLB games than NFL, NHL and NBA games combined. Last year, the MLB season total attendance hit 72,670,423 (the first dip below 73 million since 2000). That’s an average of 30,042 people over 2,419 dates — a lot of spectators connected by a shared interest.
Sports are universally uniting. No other industry has the same power to emotionally connect and rally diverse masses around common goals and traditions. Athletes are therefore the perfect ambassadors for change, and their playing fields are the perfect venues for inspiring it. There are signs of progress, like the first “Zero Waste” Big Game with Super Bowl LII. The goal was to keep 90 percent of all waste generated on Super Bowl Sunday out of landfills. The remaining 10 percent would be sent to waste-to-energy incineration plants. Far from perfect, but a giant statement for where we're heading. To meet the commitment, 60 tons of waste had to be sorted for recycling, composting or reuse.
The campaign required the collaboration of many and the kind of infrastructural support that has yet to become status quo. As always, there is room for improvement.
Chris Dickerson, a former Baltimore Oriole, has been advocating for change since his early dugout days. He remembers first noticing the appalling amount of waste a team can produce over the course of an inning — and then multiplying that by the amount of waste produced by spectators in the stands.
The Southern California native is equally passionate about the oceans. Summers were spent at the beach and in the waves. He says family trips to the Florida Keys, aquarium visits and snorkeling adventures instilled a sense of wonder at the life beneath the surface. Observing sea creatures up close imparted valuable lessons on the importance of these fragile, interconnected ecosystems. Today he’s committed to protecting them.
As a co-founder of Players for the Planet, Chris is dedicated to empowering fellow athletes to channel their influence into eco-consciousness in ways that inspire the present and future of sports toward environmental stewardship. The Parley AIR pledger shares his perspective and goals below:
“I think one of the greatest and most unfortunate trends today is that people think that their efforts won’t be enough.”
Why baseball? Was the MLB always your goal?
Professional baseball, surprisingly, was not in my plans, nor was it on my radar growing up. I knew I wanted to be a professional athlete (as stated in my 7th grade yearbook), but baseball was not at the top of my list. I excelled at football, basketball and soccer. Although I loved and excelled at baseball, it was just something I did in the spring so I could be around my friends. In fact, every summer, as a short stint on the All-Star team, I would quit baseball because hockey season was starting in the fall.
A major knee injury in high school prevented me from continuing to play football, so I dedicated all my efforts to becoming a better baseball player. Once that happened, I started to see my efforts come to fruition on the field. It soon resulted in attention from major Division 1 colleges and universities. Once I saw those coming in, I knew that would be my next goal.
Was there a specific moment or experience that changed the way you see our world, or more specifically, your role within the interconnected global ecosystem?
I’m fortunate to have grown up in California, one of the world’s most biodiverse places. Growing up, learning about the interconnectivity of all ecosystems gave me a good base for understanding the importance of how we affect the balance in nature... and — living in a city of 12 million people — of how we interact with nature and the effects of our irresponsibility concerning natural resources, pollution and waste. As a young athlete, I remember kids with asthma missing practice because of air quality. Friends becoming ill from water quality caused by toxic runoff from factories, refineries and coastal developments. When surfing or at the beach, I would find myself marveling at the amount of trash left behind by beach goers and how easily it makes its way into the water...
The real perspective shift came when I was sick over the holidays and stayed in on New Years Eve, 2007. I sat on the couch and watched movies all night and one of those films happened to be Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. That documentary changed everything for me and stretched my perspective from my own region to our global impacts. That is when I truly learned the vast consequences that lay before us if we don’t make a conscious effort to change.
What’s the mission of Players for the Planet?
We are dedicating our resources and the talents of the professional athletes who support our mission to educate all involved in youth, amateur and professional sports on how best to adopt environmental practices that will preserve the playing fields, and change the stadiums for the millions of fans that enjoy playing and watching sports.
'Professional athlete' isn't exactly synonymous with 'environmentalist activist'. But it could be. Why focus on the world of sports? What can athletes bring to the movement?
We as athletes can leverage the cultural and market influence of sports to promote healthy, sustainable communities where we live and play. The professional sports industry includes some of the world’s most iconic, inspirational and uniting organizations. In a cultural shift of historic proportions, the industry is now using its influence to advance ecological stewardship. North America’s professional leagues, teams and venues have collectively saved millions of dollars by shifting to more efficient, healthy and ecologically intelligent operations. At the same time, the sports greening movement has brought important environmental messages to millions of fans worldwide.
What's next for the organization?
Players for the Planet is currently collaborating on a campaign called We Are One Village that channels the inspirational and uniting qualities of professional sports and athletes into a gamified experience, where athletic feats on the playing field convert directly to pledges for renewable and regenerative resources to be provided here in the U.S. in our communities, and globally as well.
Sport is a great unifier, transcending political, cultural, religious and socioeconomic barriers. It also wields a uniquely powerful influence, both cultural and economic, that provides much-needed leadership in sustainable practices and, in so doing, promotes a nonpolitical public commitment to environmental protection.
"There are things that cannot be rebuilt. We cannot rebuild the amazon rainforest, we cannot rebuild the polar ice caps, or the Great Barrier Reef or the thousands of species that are being destroyed from massive biodiversity loss. There is no technology that can bring them back. We need stronger commitments to stewardship, the will to act collectively, research, more efficient consumption, and investments in clean energy and material innovation.."
Where can the industry do better?
Professional sports, in itself, is one of the most wasteful industries in the country...across the board, just by the way the four major American sports and their venues generate trash in the millions of tons. The industry’s growing embrace of energy efficiency, renewable energy, recycling, water conservation, safer chemicals and healthier food is educating millions of fans about the importance of protecting the environment and natural resources on which we all depend. Through their leadership on the field, court or rink, professional and collegiate sports—and their sponsors—are showing their many fans practical, cost-effective solutions to some of our planet's most dire ecological issues.
How can the spectators and fans participate?
This is where the educational component is vital. It’s important for people to know how simple it is, and often all they need is a roadmap on how to participate. This can be done on such a small scale that everyone is capable of, given their level of commitment. I think one of the greatest and most unfortunate trends today is that people think their efforts won’t be enough. People ask, “well what difference can one person make, me committing to this isn’t going to affect anything or solve the whole problem.” We don’t have to be athletes or celebrities to make a real difference. The most important thing we can do is use our personal power and our rolodexes to transform our businesses or institutions. We have enormous power together to multiply all of our talents, all of our energy, resources and influence to solve this problem.
We Are One Village speaks to the real power of anybody who buys anything; purchasing power is a driving force in our economy and thereby in governmental policy. One Village is partnering with some of the largest or most forward-thinking manufacturers of consumer products, whereby a percentage of each purchase flows to projects that provide renewable and sustainable resources globally. We want everyone to really see the impact they can have, and so we are building the platform to have real-time, trackable statistics on global impact. It will go live on green.org this spring.
What keeps you motivated to act?
My motivation has been and always will be where I came from and my experiences growing up in such a diverse ecological landscape. I’ve witnessed the effects of overcrowding and development, of ocean and waterway pollution, of air pollution. These things alone in my own city are my main motivators. It gives me great hope to see organizations like Patagonia, NRDC, 5 Gyres continuing to fight, educate and be beacons for corporate responsibility efforts.
Where do you see the most promising signs of progress?
With the rapid rate of innovation, we are able to issue and observe technologies and efforts from all around the globe. Solar isn’t exactly where we thought it would be 10 years ago, but innovations in electric vehicles, batteries and energy efficiency provide hope that we are capable of clean energy at a price and scale that billions can afford, provided we have the will and that we can put a price on carbon. This is the first time in history we will have to collectively respond to an environmental threat of this scale that we brought upon ourselves, to act on it before its full consequences are felt, and to act on behalf of an entire generation that has yet to be born.
Who is your ocean hero?
Anna Cummins and Marcus Eriksen. Their studies on the five gyres are some of the most eye-opening revelations in the current state of global irresponsibly. They have given scope and an intimate look at one of the world’s greatest problems, plastic pollution and the effect it has on our oceans.
Which sea creature is your spirit animal?
I’d say the blue whale but it’s far too majestic and grand to be my spirit animal. Dolphin would be way too easy...I’m going to go with the Emperor penguin.
Avoid. Intercept. Redesign.
Ways to lighten your footprint on a finite planet this baseball season:
A million plastic bottles are bought globally every minute. Always carry a reusable water alternative.
Check your venue’s policies on bringing outside food and drink into the stadium. Some venues prohibit metal and glass bottles. Plan ahead so your favorites don't get confiscated.
Carpool or take public transportation to practices and games to reduce carbon emissions.
If your home stadium provides receptacles for compost and recycling, use them. If they could do better, let the management know.
Purchase a reusable cup and ask for refills, rather than accumulating single-use trash throughout the game.
Incorporate waste-free practices at home and in the workplace, and explain your choices to your teammates, coworkers, families and friends.