When the pandemic hit, I watched as so many sustainable initiatives were abandoned. No more reusable bags at the grocery store, refill stations were closed, and even I doubled down on the disposable hand wipes for a while. But Lauren Barnes, National Women's Soccer League champion and environmental activist, didn't let the pandemic stop her determination to reduce her team's plastic waste footprint. Instead of throwing up her hands, she contacted sustainable brands that helped her team transition to zero waste products safely. Here's how and why she did it.
Sustainable products in the pandemic bubble
Rebecca: How were you able to make your pandemic bubble more sustainable?
Lauren: I made this effort with my club team OL Reign in the NWSL pandemic bubble to be more sustainable. It's no secret that sports have a heavy carbon footprint and use a lot of single-use plastic. As I mentioned in the [Kickin' Back with Jeff Kassouf] podcast - I saw an opportunity to create change right in my backyard. Due to Covid-19, we had strict protocols to follow in our bubble (for very good reasons) but unfortunately lead to a great deal of single-use plastic. With the help of my former colleague at the time Santiago Gallo (now our wonderful GM), the support of our club, and the backing of our owners we decided to try and make OL sustainable in our bubble (and for the future).
Rebecca: What were the sustainable products you used?
Lauren: We couldn't have done it without three amazing companies that supported my mission;
I just want to simply start out by educating teams on environmental issues: How changing habits can lead to a bigger, more sustainable future.
Rebecca: How did the rest of the team like these sustainable products? Was it challenging to get your teammates to use them, especially mid-pandemic?
Lauren: I have done other interviews about our mission to be a sustainable team in the Challenge Cup Bubble and as I reflect, my answer is always the same. I was taken back and even more motivated because of these incredible women. They were all so involved and wanted to learn more and be more sustainable. I think seeing this first hand opened my eyes that it could be much bigger than just the OL Reign. It was very fulfilling.
Rebecca: Are you involved in any sustainability-minded organizations you’d like your fans to know about?
Lauren: I'm in the middle of an amazing project. I have designed an eco-friendly kit for travel in sport. It is still in the early forms of production but I am SO excited about it. We can revisit this question when we are ready to launch 🙂 But yes, I can name a few that I love; Goodwell Co., Toms Coffee, Lunchskins*, Dental Lace* and so many more.
The environmental issues
Rebecca: How did you become interested in sustainability?
Lauren: I was born and raised in Southern California and had an intense love for the ocean at an early age. I became a vegetarian in college and once I became pro really focused more on a plant-based diet with my teammate Elli Reed. I initially took this path for my own health and animal welfare. As I continued to educate myself, six years down the road, I realized what an impact a simple lifestyle change could have on the planet. It then blossomed into so much more - living a more sustainable lifestyle brings me so much fulfillment. I'm far from perfect but I love learning and sharing my sustainable journey with others.
Rebecca: What are the environmental issues you’re most concerned about and why?
Lauren: I think the most evident on social media/news is the single-use plastic crisis. It is very concerning. Look around the grocery store you can see how single-use plastic is everywhere. A material that has a lifespan of forever is considered unusable to most in minutes. I believe plastic is a global problem that is affecting our oceans and ecosystems every day and it's only getting worse. It's being found in the water we drink and the air we breathe. Literally everywhere.
The other more sensitive global issue is climate change. It’s concerning because:
- It’s threatening all life on earth
- It’s destroying billions of years of evolutionary advancement. The complex ecosystems we have now can not be replicated.
- We are bringing the most incredible flora and fauna to extinction for money.
- It’s concerning how advanced we are as a species but we aren’t able to come together and do something as simple as agree on any action to reduce harm to the environment. Since the beginning of global environmental summits, no large steps have been made and it can be argued that there is less cooperation than ever in the global field.
Also, we have the technology (solar, wind farms, hydro, plastic alternatives, agricultural practices) to make a serious change for the better but our leaders choose to not take them.
Playing soccer in Sweden
Rebecca: I see you played in Sweden recently. I’m originally from Sweden, and I notice when I’m there that there’s a lot less plastic waste and most cups and plates are reusable. Have your travels influenced your thoughts on sustainability?
Lauren: I think my travel has made a huge impact on my thoughts around sustainability. I think in Sweden and especially where I was living, Kristianstad, they were very sustainable. The use of renewable energy and biking was so amazing to see. It's always fun to see what other cultures do for the environment. I love learning this way, continue to grow and adapt.
Advice for young soccer players
Rebecca: I’m a soccer mom. I spend a lot of time talking about soccer with my friend Kassie Gray at Female Footballers about female athletes on mental mindset skills. She’s seeing a lot of young players struggle with loneliness and depression right now due to the Covid lockdowns. A question we both have is, What advice would you give young soccer players who aren’t able to play with their friends and teams during this hard time?
Lauren: I can totally relate to them and they are not alone. It has been an extremely challenging year. I think using this time we have at home to good use. Find new hobbies or get back to old ones that slipped away in the hustle and bustle of life. Work on your sport in a new and creative way; I've taken up tennis ball juggling and working on my right foot (I’m 100% left footed). The thing that has stood out to me most during the pandemic is sticking to some type of routine. It has been huge for my mental health!
About Lauren Barnes
Lauren Barnes (also known as Lu) is a National Women's Soccer League champion and Reign FC original, having played for the club since 2013. She was recognized as NWSL Defender of the Year in 2016. Follow Lauren on Instagram.