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CCRI student helps NFL maximize resources as director of its Environmental Program
Aug. 9, 2013
No matter how busy Jack Groh might be, he always makes time to sharpen his saw.
Metaphorically speaking, anyway; he’s no lumberjack, although it wouldn’t come as a surprise to hear this man of many talents say that he’s given that a try. By sharpening his saw, Groh refers to a piece of advice found in the famed “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” by Steven Covey.
“No matter what your job is, you should always be making your tools better – your intellectual tools, your physical tools. If you’re not sharpening the saw, you’re not serious about your job,” said Groh.
Groh has been taking classes both in person and online at the Community College of Rhode Island for the past three years. Driven by curiosity and the intrinsic pleasure he gets from achievement, Groh is definitely serious about his job – which, these days, is the director of the NFL’s Environmental Program.
The position is one that Groh built from the ground up. After a successful career as a radio and television journalist that took him from his home state Massachusetts to the West Coast, Groh and his wife, Susan, whom he met in Washington state, moved to Rhode Island to start their family.
When their daughter was born, Groh was working grueling hours anchoring the morning and noon news for ABC6. Susan had already started a new chapter as a freelance writer and communications consultant, and Groh decided to join her. The pair was soon hired by a now defunct local firm to do PR consulting, and eventually developed a reputation for their experience in the realm of environmental consulting.
“We did some work for the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management on their recycling project. Obviously, other than infrastructure, communications is the largest part of recycling initiatives – getting people involved. So we learned all the ins and outs of solid waste management while we were doing that. Then, another project came along with a water purification company, and another with the U.S. Department of Energy. Pretty soon, we were known as ‘the environmental people,’” said Groh.
So when word came in 1993 that the NFL was looking for an environmental consultant to institute a recycling program at the Georgia Dome for the next year’s Super Bowl, Groh and an Atlanta-based business partner snapped up the contract. After working on that project for a year, Groh knew that he’d stumbled on an area that was ripe for expansion.
“We did a literature search that first year to look for best practices [in recycling at events]. We found that there were no best practices! Other than [some studies on] the Olympics, there was virtually no literature. So we basically got to work on setting up a program from scratch,” he said.
Groh made use of his plentiful curiosity and his propensity for quick study as he learned how to set up a solid waste management program for one of the world’s premiere sporting events.
He noted that those early years were a lot of trial and error, pairing his business partner’s background in environmental law with his own background in environmental communications. “It was tough,” he admitted. “I would say the first project wasn’t very successful except for the fact that we learned what not to do.”
For Groh, that pursuit of knowledge is always paramount, no matter what the task. On the cutting edge of stadium recycling programs, he and the NFL moved through refining their process, going from separating recyclables out of refuse containers at the waste management site to understanding that they needed separation at the source – the stadium itself.
Groh said that event managers, who always have their eyes trained on the Super Bowl as an example for good business practices, began to take notice. Recycling programs were popping up in stadiums and at events around the country, and the NFL was unquestionably on the cutting edge of that movement.
Over the course of more than 20 years with the NFL, Groh has guided the league in an expanded range of programs, all underscored by the notion that they make better business practices. Maximizing resources and creating less waste, Groh argues, isn’t just about the environmental impact, but an opportunity to be more efficient, ultimately growing the league’s bottom line.
This philosophy has led to advances in how the NFL manages its prepared foods, mitigating wastes by creating donation programs to local social service organizations; recycling miles of fabric used for banners and fence wrap as repurposed consumer products including high-fashion gowns; carbon offset and urban forestry initiatives, whereby the league plants thousands of trees in Super Bowl host communities; and Super Kids, a new program that selects local schools to hold used book and sports equipment drives to benefit less fortunate schools in the area.
With all of this going on, Groh still manages to give back to his community here at home. A political hopeful, he ran as an independent for state Senate in Warwick’s District 30 last year, and is gearing up to make another run this year. He and his wife have “always felt a responsibility to do things to make our community better,” he said, noting that in addition to running for office, he has been involved in coaching soccer, leading Cub Scouts, and fundraising for the local schools that their children have attended.
CCRI itself is a bit of a family affair for Groh. His youngest son, James, is living at home and taking part-time classes at the college after completing his GED® credential here. Groh described James as a nontraditional student who needed to take time off from Warwick Vets because of illness, and said that his family has found the college to be precisely the supportive environment that they were looking for to help James find his path to success. “I’m really impressed with the college and what they can do for a person,” Groh said.
For his part, Groh has used his own time at CCRI to learn Spanish and update his computer skills – again, sharpening the saw. Citing the increasing prevalence of Spanish throughout the country, Groh said that learning Spanish at CCRI has helped him to do his job better and more seamlessly as he continues to travel for work to various facilities around the country.
The computer classes, as well as media history and business leadership courses, have helped him to stay on top of the skills he needs to understand the complex research involved in environmental consulting. And while his schedule is nothing if not jam-packed, he said he’s found the faculty at CCRI to be understanding of his needs. “I tend to do more online classes because of my travel schedule,” he said.
“I’ve always had a desire to learn more,” he added, summing up his dedication to lifelong learning. “Either on my own or in a classroom setting. And CCRI is great because it provides some structure for that learning. The classes I’ve taken here have helped out tremendously with job skills, especially today. Things tend to move very fast now.”