Greening the Greens

Rico Tesio is COO of Blue Strike Environmental, which interfaces with fans at trash stations, but does most of its work behind the scenes of big events.

It’s June 10, and practice rounds for the U.S. Open have begun. Fans are wearing shorts and sandals on this hot day, but Rico Tesio is wearing pants and heavy work boots – appropriate for the staging area that resembles a construction zone. Beyond some metal barricades, there are two-by-fours stacked high, rows of parked tractors and golf carts, a heap of pallets and a crew unloading flowers from a Swenson & Silacci van.

From the decor to the construction materials, fenced yards like this will support the four-day event – then it will all go away. One side effect: an immense amount of waste.

Tesio, COO of Blue Strike Environmental, points at rolls of gray carpet, remnants of 200,000-plus square feet that are spread out on temporary walkways and floors in Pebble Beach for the week. “We are helping them to divert all of that from the landfill,” he says.

Blue Strike will have a dozen staff members on site throughout the tournament attending to trash cans, helping fans toss recyclables and compostables accordingly, leaving trash bins for just actual trash. (The carpet will go to the California Carpet Stewardship Program, managed by CalRecycle.)

The Monterey Peninsula is accustomed to pop-up events that entail construction of miniature cities, only to be dismantled after a few days, or races that involve lots of throwaway products. But the U.S. Open is on a different scale, with more structures and more people (more than 250,000 are expected).

“That’s the impact they’re minimizing,” Tesio says.

The U.S. Open in 2018 in Shinnecock Hills on Long Island, New York, generated almost 1,100 tons of waste; of that, 60 percent, or about 660 tons – more than the weight of six blue whales – was diverted. (The industry standard for “zero waste” is 90-percent diversion or higher.)

Blue Strike is a business that splintered from nonprofit The Offset Project, which for a decade managed zero-waste targets at local events. Blue Strike formed in order to scale up, and now handles trash diversion at events like Cali Roots and the AT&T Pro-Am – as well as beyond Monterey County.

“It was so successful, we decided to expand nationally,” says Blue Strike CEO Kristin Cushman, who also founded The Offset Project, then launched Blue Strike in 2017. (A disclosure: Cushman is the spouse of Weekly Publisher Erik Cushman.)

Growth has happened fast: “We’ve tripled our income in the last 12 months as we’ve expanded,” Cushman says.

Some events are limited by local infrastructure; for instance, Blue Strike looked into a PGA tour event in New Orleans, but would have to truck recyclables. (Monterey Regional Waste Management District can process compostable goods.)

Alex Baxter, sustainability program manager at Blue Strike, sees sporting events as a unique chance to engage fans. “This is not typically part of golf culture,” he says. “Maybe it’s an imprint, and they think about it next time they’re at a Starbucks or they go to dispose.”

Tesio says he’ll try to fit in a few minutes of simply being a golf fan this weekend. “This is the game’s greatest stage,” he says. “And it allows us to raise awareness on that same stage.”

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