When OL Reign kick off their first Challenge Cup match this Friday, a lot more than a pre-match pep talk will take place in their locker room. The team will be rolling out several changes in the hope of becoming one of the most sustainable clubs in America.
As the dance music gets players hyped for their first match in front of home fans since 2019, signage on the walls will continue to remind them of the changes they’re hoping to tackle off and on the pitch: reducing their carbon footprint.
Most clubs in America have some kind of environmental sustainability effort, but it’s often focused on one or two aspects in their control. The Sounders are measuring and taking steps to offset their carbon footprint, for example. Instead of one initiative, however, OL Reign is trying to tackle the issue on a holistic level by looking at the everyday products they use, the merchandise they sell, and the food they eat.
Focusing on The Products They Use
A lot of these changes were inspired by OL Reign captain Lauren Barnes. While she’s been on a sustainability journey for nearly a decade, it was actually last year’s Challenge Cup that inspired Barnes to spark larger changes within the organization.
“Because of protocols for COVID, there was a lot of plastic utensils cups, plates, anything you could think of [at the Challenge Cup]. Obviously, safety first, but we were able to get some companies to come in and sponsor us and be able to limit the plastic within that few months,” Barnes shared in a conversation during Nos Audietis’ 2021 YachtCollege virtual event.
Working with OL Reign Associate GM Santiago Gallo, Barnes was able to calculate her carbon footprint during the 2020 Challenge Cup — and extrapolate these findings to estimate the club’s overall carbon footprint and the number of trees that would need to be planted to offset their impact. Barnes and Gallo brought those findings back to their OL Reign teammates and surveyed players on what other items they could address beyond plates and silverware. A lot of conversations came back to food, water, and locker room necessities.
Starting with the locker room, the club partnered with Tacoma-based A Drop in the Ocean to refill their shampoos, conditioners and body washes. They also invested in reusable towels to replace paper towels and are looking into eco-friendly laundry detergent for their laundry system. This work does more than reduce the team’s waste from single-use plastic. Everything is purchased in bulk to reduce the amount of packaging discarded by the club.
“We took a poll: where do we use the most single-waste plastic? Everything in the locker room, and obviously shampoo and conditioner, was one. You’ve got like 32 girls — and we’ve got single days, double days, triple days — so we’re definitely in the showers quite a bit going through those plastic shampoo bottles,” Barnes shared.
COVID protocols also require each player to bring their own water bottles for training. To avoid any players relying on disposable plastic bottled water, the team partnered with Everybody Water, a boxed-water brand that comes in 100% recyclable packaging and contains water from a community system.
Players Are Leading the Way
While it started with outreach to three companies in Utah during the Challenge Cup, Barnes is now expanding her reach through a partnership with 20 companies. Last week, she launched M.A.D Travel Kits, short for “Make a Difference,” which are eco-friendly travel kits filled with everyday products that are useful for professional women’s soccer players, such as protein powder, reusable utensils, reusable water bottles, toothpaste, and deodorant.
Team captain @laurenkb31 is behind the creation of eco-friendly ‘Make A Difference’ travel kits for NWSL players featuring sustainable brands.— OL Reign (@OLReign) April 7, 2021
Read more: https://t.co/RA8QFbF0jj pic.twitter.com/xuX1MxBYQB
To develop the M.A.D. Travel Kits, Barnes first surveyed her teammates on the items they bring most often when they travel. She then started to reach out to companies who had products that matched and whose mission aligned with her vision for sustainability.
“I think almost every company that I talked to off the bat was a yes. It was really cool that people shared the same vision and wanted to support me. And speaking to all of these companies and the people behind the products just make it that much more special.”
These kits were first distributed to her teammates at OL Reign, and Barnes has already received a lot of questions about sharing the M.A.D. Travel Kits more widely. She’s a bit busy with her other full-time job as a professional soccer player, but Barnes welcomes any advice on how to bring the kits to the masses.
“I’ve already had fans ask them about them, and players in the league as well. I think it is definitely something that should just be a priority — like, when you come in each season to get your jerseys and all of that, why not have something like this sustainability kit for you?” Barnes has a vision of her kits making it to the World Cup and Olympics some day, as well.
Barnes isn’t the only OL Reign player with a sustainable product line. Reign fans are probably already familiar with Jasmyne Spencer’s sustainable clothing brand, Jas it Up, which launched in 2017 with the goal of having a positive impact on the environment and society.
“I started to loop in my passion for the environment and switch to eco-friendly materials, and I never really envisioned it being an apparel company,” Spencer shared with Ride of the Valkyries earlier this year. “That idea manifested from the fact that I felt I could really start to reach more people and educate more people by expanding the brand.”
Spencer uses manufacturing practices and materials that are better for the earth, as well as ensuring that the work is being done under ethical conditions and with fair wages.
“I don’t really view Jas It Up as a business or even an apparel company,” Spencer shared in the same conversation with Ride of the Valkyries. “It’s just an extension of myself and gives me a greater reach to educate people and bring joy to their life. Just try and inspire them to do a little bit better for themselves and everybody else they’re around.”
Making More Sustainable Products
When OL Reign unveil their new jerseys this week, their hope is that fans are going to flock to their online store and the Team Store at Cheney Stadium this weekend to buy them. While it might not be noticeable for the fans who pick up a jersey, that process is getting overhauled to be more sustainable as well.
let’s just say we have saved the best for last :) https://t.co/0lJeIofOzD— Bethany Balcer (@bethanybalcer) April 8, 2021
OL Reign is transitioning to completely recyclable or compostable packaging for their retail goods. At the Cheney Stadium Team Store, OL Reign will use 100% recycled paper bags. Any merchandise that’s shipped will be placed in 100% recyclable poly mailers — AKA those lightweight, sturdy bags designed to ship light and less fragile items — and new compostable packing tissue and packing stickers will be used.
The club is also implementing direct-to-garment printing, which will avoid the use of harsh chemicals, instead using a vinegar base when applying graphics to apparel items.
A Sustainable Food Approach
Six years ago, Barnes made the decision to switch to a vegan diet. In addition to seeing nutritional benefits from this move, the OL Reign defender also began to understand the impacts this decision had on the environment. Since then, a number of her teammates and other professional athletes have made the switch. OL Reign is following the players’ lead and providing up to 40% vegan meals during training.
OL Reign also purchased reusable plates, cups, and silverware for the locker room, and as Barnes shared, the club has also taken its bulk approach to the food purchasing world. “We have refillable food as well. We buy in bulk and then we have these little containers on the wall. We’ve been using that to limit food waste, because you just get what you need and it’s refillable, which is really cool.”
Measuring Their Impact
Barnes is hoping she’ll be able to calculate the impact of the M.A.D. Travel Kits during the regular season, and OL Reign is committed to measuring the impact of the club’s sustainability efforts and looking into more ways to make positive changes, as well. OL Reign is considering a community garden to offset any of the team’s carbon footprint, for example.
“We have a girls academy here in Tacoma, too, where we want to get them involved with soccer, but also other things as well, such as sustainability,” Barnes shared with Club Eleven magazine.
The organization also partnered with locally owned businesses to establish sustainability metrics and is working to create a formal sustainability plan, which would fold into the club’s social impact plan.
Barnes is still pursuing her first priority with OL Reign, which is to win the title that’s eluded her since joining the club in 2013. “I just want to win,” Barnes told Club Eleven. “I’ve been to two finals now, and four playoffs and haven’t won anything. I’ve had all the experiences. So I’ve also come to a point where there’s just no more bullshit for me. I really want to win.”
That will be goal number one when OL Reign step onto the field in 2021, but they’ll also be playing for a bigger vision — to leave their community in a better place.
“Our team has a huge platform that if used in the right way, can create change to make a sustainable world and positively impact our planet,” shared Gallo. “For us, it’s what we do on the pitch and outside it, and part of it is making a better world for all our stakeholders and future generations so they are able to enjoy the sport we love, like we are doing right now.”