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Alice Henly’s Blog

College Sports Score Big by Saving Resources

Alice Henly

Posted August 26, 2013

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Screen shot 2013-08-26 at 7.09.31 AM.pngAs college campuses prepare for the new school year and the college football season kicks off, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)  has released a new report profiling sustainability efforts at collegiate sports departments.

Over 200 college sports programs across the U.S., including leaders from the Ivy League, the Big Ten, the Pac-12, and the SEC athletics conferences are now prioritizing greener practices such as installing solar panels, promoting energy efficiency and water conservation upgrades, recycling and composting.

College athletics and recreation programs are developing high-performance buildings and practices that help mitigate climate change, protect ecosystems, and conserve resources. In doing so, they are sending a powerful message to campus communities and college sports fans across the country. After all, at many universities sports are central to campus identity. Millions of students and sports fans live and breathe college athletics. So when campus sports adopt greener practices, people notice.

North Texas Fans Cheering.jpg

Collegiate Game Changers, produced by NRDC in collaboration with the Green Sports Alliance and the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), documents for the first time the breadth of sustainability measures underway at college sports departments nationwide.  The report highlights thirty schools with sports greening programs that incorporate innovative approaches to managing energy, water, waste and purchasing. 

The greening enhancements at colleges throughout the United States indicate that students are increasingly concerned about climate change and the many other urgent environmental challenges we face. And the science makes it clear that they are right to be. Climate change is transforming the way we play sports. From longer droughts and record heat waves to more severe storms, climate change is impacting playing fields nationwide.

Photo Courtesy of The Ohio State University

Greener college sports programs help shift discussions of climate change to broader conversations about the future of our energy, food, and medical systems. (For example, more than 25% of all modern drugs originally come from rainforests, yet we have been destroying more than one acre of tropical forests per second for the past 20 years.) Sports programs can't fix our urgent environmental problems by themselves, but by taking action, universities are bringing awareness about practical solutions to the mainstream.

“Let’s face it. America is a nation of sports fanatics, and for all of us who eat, sleep, and breathe sports, environmental stewardship should be a top priority,” said Missy Franklin, four-time Olympic gold medalist and student athlete at the University of California at Berkeley, who authored the report’s afterword. “As this report shows, collegiate sports programs are recognizing this and taking control of their own sustainability.”

Photo Courtesy of ASUNRDC’s new report provides guidance for sports departments, students and staff interested in adopting sustainability strategies. It outlines ways that sports greening programs can help create a healthier workout environment, cut costs, bring in new sponsors, build a stronger brand, and appeal to incoming students who increasingly care about sustainability. Collegiate Game Changers is a follow up to NRDC’s first Game Changer report, published in 2012, which featured the leaders in professional sports greening.

Report findings include:

  • At least 216 collegiate sports departments have installed recycling infrastructure throughout their sports facilities.
  • At least 146 collegiate sports departments have invested in more energy-efficient practices by upgrading their lighting and controls.
  • At least 116 collegiate sports departments have upgraded to water-efficient fixtures.
  • At least 88 collegiate sports departments have pursued LEED green building design certifications, with at least 24 certified sports venues to date.
  • At least 23 collegiate sports departments have installed onsite solar energy production systems.

The report includes 10 detailed case studies featuring the University of Colorado Boulder, University of North Texas, The Ohio State University, University of Florida, Arizona State University, University of Oregon, University of Minnesota, the University of Arizona, University of Washington, and Yale University.  Below are some examples of their innovative practices:

Energy & Green Building

  • SolarArizona State University has installed solar arrays at 10 different sports facilities that together generate approximately 7.5 megawatt hours of electricity each year, the most of any college athletics department in the nation.
  • Wind – In 2011, North Texas University built the first LEED Platinum certified sports venue in the United States, which gets 30 percent of its power from three 121-foot-tall wind turbines next to the stadium (avoiding 323 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually).
  • Green Building – The University of Colorado Boulder’s new Recreation Center will exceed LEED Platinum building standards and approach net-zero energy use, even with two energy-intensive indoor pools and a hockey rink.
  • Energy Efficiency – The University of Minnesota saves over $410,000 annually (and avoids 5.5 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions) across eight athletic facilities due to energy conservation measures. Yale University is saving more than $100,000 each year across their athletics facilities as a result of energy efficiency upgrades.  


  •  “Zero Waste”The Ohio State University’s Ohio Stadium, with 105,000 seats, is the largest venue in the country to achieve over 90 percent diversion of waste from landfill (reaching a top game diversion rate of 98.2 percent). 
  • Food Donation – The University of Oregon Athletics Department donates an average of 9,300 pounds of unused concession food to a local charity each football season. Oregon Athletics also donates 267,839 pounds of food each spring football game. 
  • Supply Chain – The University of Washington switched concession packaging at Husky Stadium to serviceware that is compostable or recyclable and removed all garbage bins to help increase waste diversion.


  • Plumbing Efficiency – The University of Arizona’s LEED Platinum certified Recreation Center features high-efficiency plumbing that reduced water use by 48 percent.
  • Turf Efficiency – The University of Texas saves three million gallons of water each year through  their artificial stadium turf installation.
  • Irrigation – The University of Florida’s LEED Platinum certified Heavener Football Complex features an irrigation system and native plants that decrease water demand by 50 percent.

Columbia Shoes.jpgNRDC’s report also emphasizes the cultural impact that these initiatives have on millions of students who are now composting more frequently, riding bikes to the stadium, and cheering under LED lights and solar panel rooftops. In fact, it is often the students who are leading sports greening efforts on campuses nationwide.

“By engaging students in putting environmental solutions into action, collegiate sports has the potential to empower and inspire our future leaders to build a more sustainable society,” said Robin Harris, executive director of the Ivy League, who wrote the report’s foreword.

Download the complete report at: Read the report coverage at USA Today. Learn more about the NRDC Sports Project at and@NRDCGreenSports

Photos courtesy of the University of Colorado Boulder, North Texas University, The Ohio State University, Arizona State University, and Columbia University respectively.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit

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