Suter leads by example to protect environment

September 26th, 2022

MILWAUKEE -- remembers “a lot of side eye and a lot of weird looks” when he started putting his dinner in his own eco-friendly silicone container instead of the Styrofoam takeout boxes that were ubiquitous in Minor League clubhouses in 2013.

“I was noticing in the Minor Leagues, ‘Man, I’m using a lot of plastic and a lot of Styrofoam, and I hate that,’” Suter said. “What can I do to be better?”

A decade later, Suter is still looking for ways, as he puts it, “to do my part.”

For the third straight year, the left-handed reliever is the Brewers’ nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award, which is given annually to a player who best represents the game of baseball through extraordinary character, community involvement, philanthropy and positive contributions -- both on and off the field. It is named for the Pittsburgh Pirates star who died in a plane crash on New Year’s Eve 1972 while on a humanitarian mission to earthquake-stricken Nicaragua.

For years, Suter has been MLB’s leading environmental activist.

“Really a lot of my focus now is on big-scale policy changes,” Suter said. “The climate bill that recently passed Congress has a lot of good stuff for that. A lot of good target reductions for CO2 emissions and a lot of good ways to get there. That’s really encouraging to me.

“A lot of my teammates have bought in, too, and that’s encouraging. But ultimately, this is tiny compared to the big-scale changes. That’s what I have my eye on.”

Suter has been speaking publicly about his climate activism since 2019, but his involvement goes back farther. He became connected with Players for the Planet, a nonprofit founded by former big leaguers Chris Dickerson and Jack Cassel that hosts cleanup events around the world. When they hosted a tree planting initiative in Milwaukee in May, Nationals slugger Nelson Cruz joined a group of Brewers players and staff led by Suter.

Suter also has been a clubhouse leader in the Brewers’ recent partnership with Racine, Wis.-based SC Johnson to recycle the plastic cups used by fans at the stadium -- the total was 1.3 million the year before the program launched in 2020 -- into bottles used for the company’s Scrubbing Bubbles cleaner, marking the first time that a U.S. pro sports team linked a waste stream to a specific product. That partnership has continued to grow:

• In April 2022, the team announced the intention to form the Brewers Sustainability Council, an effort by Suter and founding partner SC Johnson to create an advisory board to review, discuss and implement best sustainability practices at American Family Field.

• The Brewers, SC Johnson and Earth Echo teamed up to launch Waste-Free Crew, a sustainability education and awareness initiative for participating students in grades 4-6 in southeastern Wisconsin.

• In August 2022, the Brewers and SC Johnson hosted a Sports X Business Teaming Up for Sustainability panel that brought in local universities and sustainability-focused community organizations. Players for the Planet co-founder Chris Dickerson and Suter were part of the event.

• For the 2022 season, SC Johnson and the Brewers provided all players with aluminum refillable water bottles and installed refill stations at the stadium to reduce the prevalence of single-use plastic. Suter canvassed the clubhouse for feedback before choosing the design.

“He wanted to make sure people actually used them,” said teammate Eric Lauer. “I think he just makes you a little more conscious. I can’t say I’ve made major changes yet, but I’m more conscious of throwing away something properly, or using a reusable water bottle if I can. Little things like that.

“His commitment to the cause is impressive. He’s just an impressive guy. He’s a special kind of guy.”

Long before his formal involvement in climate activism, Suter had quietly been trying to minimize his own footprint for years, starting with small steps like reusable food containers and water bottles. He began eating less meat after learning about the impact animal farming has on the environment. In 2017, he had solar panels installed on his home.

He’s especially excited about the potential for the Brewers Sustainability Council.

“That could be attractive to other franchises, like, ‘Hey here are the changes we’re making with player input, front-office input, fan input.’ The SC Johnson partnership has been great,” Suter said. “That’s the big picture. Then, in here, our clubhouse operations people have been great. We’ve got refillable water stations everywhere, we have eco-friendly to-go plates. It’s more costly, but the Brewers have been willing to do that.”

It’s been three years in a row that the club recognized his efforts by nominating him for the Clemente Award. Suter called that association with one of the great philanthropists in Major League history “surreal.”

“It’s definitely the best honor of my career,” he said. “I don’t feel worthy, you know what I mean? I don’t feel worthy to be mentioned with his name and everything he did. But I’m trying to do my best to make the world a better place. I’m trying to be like him.”