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Sustainable game days: How colleges can green sports programs

New report highlights successful efforts at campuses across the country
University Business, October 2013

What’s one way to please students, engage an entire campus community, and save money all while helping protect the environment?

The answer is greening sports programs, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in its new report, “Collegiate Game Changers.”

“Students are really passionate about the environment and addressing environmental challenges, and sports programs are beginning to build initiatives to be part of the solution to those challenges,” says study author Alice Henly, coordinator of college sports greening at the NRDC. “That is a tremendous opportunity because we know students, fans, and alumni networks live and breathe sports. When universities build sports greening programs, the impact they can have on a community is tremendous because their venues are so large.”

The report highlights successful efforts at campuses across the country, including:

  • Solar arrays at 10 Arizona State University sports facilities.
  • Wind turbines that supply 30 percent of the power to North Texas University’s football stadium and nearby buildings.
  • The switch to all compostable or recyclable concession packaging at the University of Washington’s Husky Stadium.

Institutional leaders can best implement a sports greening program by tapping into the knowledge base of a campus and getting various stakeholders involved, Henly says.

“There are few campuses out there that have actively engaged many of these groups, and that’s a missed opportunity,” she says, adding that input from across campus is very accessible.

And, she says, employees are already invested in the performance of the campus, and all are under the same campus leadership, encouraging them to move forward in one direction. At The Ohio State University, for example, the athletics department has, over the last two years, dramatically increased its waste divergence rate from landfills, which was foundational for the school’s ongoing zero-waste initiatives.

“It helps to demonstrate how valuable engaging stakeholders are for the expedited success of an initiative,” says Henly.

Perhaps the most difficult recommendation for institutions to implement will be effective data management, since athletics departments have a diverse range of facilities. But the payoff is important. Being able to track energy savings, which translates to cost savings, can really promote the greening program.