It might be strange to think that the highlight of Natalie Spilger’s soccer season was the knowledge that Marian Dalmy and Ella Masar no longer keep the water running when they brush their teeth.
“Marian will come up to me and say, ‘Nat, I hate the sound of brushing my teeth. It’s driving me crazy, but I made this promise and I have to turn off the water.' ”
Being the highlight of Spilger’s season is stretching the truth of course. But turning off the water, and the promise to do so, is all part of Spilger’s unwavering devotion to a more environmentally sound planet. It is that devotion which led to her founding greenlaces.org in 2008 and more recently, to her being named WPS Citi Sportswoman of the Year.
“I feel like anyone that changes one kid’s life or inspired one deserves it," said Spilger of the only WPS award voted on strictly by the players. "So it was pretty cool that the girls thought of me and thought I was deserving,” Spilger will be presented the award at halftime of the WPS Championship on Sunday at Pioneer Stadium in Hayward, Calif.
It all started during Spilger’s four-year interlude from soccer that spanned her college career and the launch of WPS where she has played two seasons for the Chicago Red Stars. She was working as an energy engineer and was at a conference in, of all places, Chicago. And there it hit her.
“I don’t just want green buildings I want green people,” she remembers thinking. “And I remembered being able to inspire people through athletics.”
Spilger, now 28, wanted to make a visual statement but did not want it to be too over the top. And thus the green laces were born. It was her sister-in-law that suggested everyone receiving a pair of green laces—shoelaces produced from recycled material—make an environmentally sound promise.
“I threw down my life savings for a bunch of recycled plastic shoelaces,” she said with a touch of nervousness about the whole thing more than two years later. Thus the birth of a phenomenon that has taken Spilger to the U.N. where she and other athletes were honored and gave speeches, plus the White House where she hobnobbed with the upper class.
Greenlaces.org presently contains a database of nearly 3,000 “promises to the planet.” The first promise was made by Spilger.
She says that being a soccer player has worked to her benefit on two fronts. Her profile gives her access to the community at large. And when she approaches other athletes, “I’m a peer. When I go and talk to them about this it’s not someone from the business world preaching to them, it’s one of their peers.”
On the down side, the intensity of the season can sometimes take too much time away from greenlaces. “I think I look a lot more tired in the off-season because I pull all-nighters. I really want to make strides with the organization as best I can.”
Once soccer is over Spilger intends to devote herself full time to the greenlaces project. Although she currently makes her WPS salary stretch out over 12 months, the long term goal is to enable greenlaces to bring on a full-time staff.
In the short term Spilger already sees some results. She is delighted when school teachers tell her that grade school kids are constantly reminding them to shut the lights when they leave a classroom.
“They’ll tell me they’re not sure if the kids learned anything else all year, but they learned to turn off the lights when they leave the room.”
In the long term the temptations of society are out there and not everyone is going to environmentally conscious all the time. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some easy ways to pitch in with little to no effort whatsoever.
“The easiest thing from an active thing you can do twice a year,” Spilger said. “When the summer comes turn your thermostat to a temperature where you’re not wearing sweaters in the house. And when the winter hits turn the thermostat down enough that if you wear a sweater In your house you’ll be comfortable.”
Personally she added, “On a daily action side I’m obsessed with giving up plastic. I try not to use straws or lids and I definitely never drink out of a plastic water bottle.”
All in a lifetime of work.
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