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Sustainable Sports: Colleges Go Green

By Sharon Chen
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With college football season fast approaching, thousands of fans will gather in stadiums across the country to cheer on their teams. Universities are taking advantage of student interest in sports and the large crowds attending games to make sustainability come alive. The University of Colorado at Boulder (CU-Boulder) is leading the way in green athletics, and CU-Boulder students and fans will be able to see sustainability at work the next time they support their team.

CU-Boulder launched the NCAA’s first Division I zero waste program in 2008, which means that the university’s stadium diverts ninety percent of its waste from landfills. Recycling and composting bins have taken the place of trash cans, which are no longer available at the stadium. Vendors have switched all their packaging to recyclable, compostable, and refillable materials. Additionally, the university does not use chemical pesticides and fertilizers on turf, and purchases carbon offsets. In January 2016, the university will have completed a thermally-controlled net zero energy football practice facility, powered by 45,500 square feet of solar panels. 

Universities have taken note of CU-Boulder’s leadership in green athletics, and are following suit. In 2014, Ohio State University diverted 95% of its stadium waste, and the University of Florida’s athletic program is the first in the nation to achieve carbon neutrality. As CU-Boulder’s Environmental Center Director, Dave Newport, states:  “The power of sports to influence fans’ behavior is profound.” These green sports programs are an important way for universities to reach and teach sustainability to thousands of people at a time.  


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Nationwide, more than 460,000 college-student athletes compete across 23 sports annually. All those games draw a lot of spectators, a fact that CU-Boulder Environmental Center director Dave Newport is keenly aware of. “The power of sports to influence fans’ behavior is profound,” he says, and is one reason he’s worked to extend university-wide green initiatives into the athletic department.

Newport says that CU-Boulder athletics “gets its house in order” by maintaining the university’s 90-percent waste-diversion rate at every game, avoiding chemical pesticides and fertilizers on turf, and purchasing carbon offsets. A thermally controlled net-zero-energy football practice facility (“basically a power plant,” Newport says) will be completed in January 2016, powered by 45,500 square feet of solar panels.

Newport likes to point out that the green practices of the athletics department and the university as a whole are a natural reflection of the surrounding community. Boulder residents complete nearly two-thirds of their trips by foot, bike, or bus, and the city plans to reach an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. “The people here demand a commitment to sustainability,” he says. “If we don’t show up on this issue, we’re naked.”

CU-Boulder launched the NCAA’s first Division I zero-waste program in 2008, which means that Folsom Field, the university’s football stadium, diverts 90 percent of its waste from landfill through recycling and composting. To accomplish this, food vendors switched “virtually all” of their stadium packaging, such as food trays, wrappers, and cups, to recyclable, compostable, or refillable materials. The stadium no longer has trash containers available to the public. Instead, student volunteers monitor recycling and composting stations to help fans sort their waste.

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