Suppliers > Field and Grounds Maintenance

Maintaining the quality and safety of a professional sports playing field and outdoor areas is an important element of facility operations. Upkeep of these landscapes can require significant amounts of water, fertilizer, and pest control.  Pesticides and fertilizers can cause a variety of harmful impacts on public health and the environment.

However, there are many ways to reduce outdoor water use and find alternatives to harmful products. For more information about water-efficient landscaping, visit the Landscaping section of this guide. Consider consulting with your sports departments’/institution’s suppliers to determine if there are more water-efficient and less toxic alternatives to the products that you are currently using on your field.

Reducing your sports facilities’ use of pesticides and fertilizers can also save money. Consider adopting the principles of integrated pest management (IPM) outlined below, to prevent infestations before they start.

REDUCING PESTICIDES AND FERTILIZERS CAN SAVE MONEY

It is possible to have healthy, great-looking plants and grass while minimizing the use of harmful pesticides and fertilizers. Minimizing the use of these chemicals means that your department doesn’t need to purchase them as often, saving time and money.

Many schools across the country have adopted integrated pest management (IPM) techniques to reduce child exposure to harmful pesticides. In Montgomery County, Maryland, for example, the school district reduced the number of pesticide applications from 5,000 in 1985 to zero in 1989 using IPM techniques. This reduction yielded an annual savings of $1800 per school. Monroe County schools in Indiana reduced their pest management costs by over $13,000 per year through IPM.

PESTICIDES

Consider asking your current pest control suppliers to become certified under the Green Shield Certified Program, which certifies environmentally preferable pest control companies. For more information on Green Shield, contact ipmworks@ipminstitute.org.

Sample landscaping contract language.
Sample integrated pest management contract language.

INTEGRATED PEST MANAGEMENT

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is an approach to pest management that incorporates aspects of a facility’s operation to help reduce the need for pesticides. IPM means preventing infestations before they start, and using pesticides only when necessary. There are various approaches that your sports departments can adopt to decrease its reliance on chemical-based pest control. Consider the steps below, and consult the additional resources at the end of this section for more information.

  • Use native plants, trees, and grasses
  • Fill cracks in walls and pavement
  • Keep vegetation at least one foot away from structures
  • Clean food-contaminated dishes right away
  • Clean garbage cans often
  • Keep compost bins properly maintained

Consult the resources below for more information on IPM:

PESTICIDE PRODUCT SPECIFICATIONS

There is a wide range of pesticide chemicals, and most of them are potentially harmful to public health and the environment. The best strategy is to reduce the amount of pesticides your sports department uses. Still, there are some pesticides that are less harmful than others. Consider avoiding pesticides that are classified as carcinogens, reproductive or developmental toxins, endocrine disruptors, or neurotoxins.

EPA categorizes pesticide products by toxicity on a scale of I – IV, with the lowest numerals indicating the most toxic products. Consider buying products that are categorized as III or IV, and avoid those that are categorized as I or II. Categories III and IV are labeled with the word “Caution,” while Category II products carry the label “Warning,” and Category I products are labeled “Danger.”

SAMPLE LETTER TO CURRENT SUPPLIERS

Dear _______,

[Our Department] has initiated an effort to improve our environmental performance in all aspects of our operations. We would like to meet with you to discuss these objectives in more detail. We would also like to discuss ways to cost-effectively switch to less-toxic products within the next few years.

We would like to reduce as much as possible the harmful effects on the environment and public health that are associated with our operations, and we would like to speak with you to ensure that the products we are purchasing do not contribute to these problems. In particular, we would like to talk with you about Green Shield certification, a program that certifies environmentally preferable pest control companies.

Please call me at your earliest convenience so that we can organize a meeting to pursue this discussion.

FERTILIZERS

Consider consulting with your sports departments’ current suppliers to determine if there are less harmful alternatives to the fertilizer products that you are currently using.

Minimizing the use of fertilizers is also important and can save your sports departments or institution money. Review the tips and resources below to learn more about reducing your sports departments’ use of fertilizer.

FERTILIZER USE REDUCTION TIPS

  • Plant native vegetation species
  • Use compost instead of chemical fertilizers
  • Plant low-maintenance vegetation
  • Do not use more fertilizer than is recommended on the label
  • Consult with your suppliers and groundskeepers concerning grass mixtures and plants that will thrive in your area with minimal fertilizer

SAMPLE LETTER TO CURRENT SUPPLIERS

Dear _______,

[Our Department] has initiated an effort to improve our environmental performance in all aspects of our operations. We would like to meet with you to discuss these objectives in more detail. We would also like to discuss ways to cost-effectively switch to less harmful products as soon as possible.

We would like to reduce as much as possible the harmful effects on the environment and public health that are associated with our operations, and we would like to speak with you to ensure that the products we are purchasing do not contribute to these problems.

Please call me at your earliest convenience so that we can organize a meeting to pursue this discussion.

*HELPS EARN AASHE STARS POINTS*

Using environmentally intelligent grounds management systems for your sports facilities can help your institution earn points within the “Grounds” subcategory of AASHE’s Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS). It can directly contribute to earning 2 points for the credit “OP 10: Landscape Management.” Work with sustainability and facilities staff on your campus to support any institutional efforts to attain or improve your institution’s STARS rating. Use the STARS 2.0 Technical Manual to learn more.

PUBLIC HEALTH & ENVIRONMENTAL BENEFITS

Pesticides and fertilizers can harm public health and the environment. Many pesticides contain potentially toxic chemicals that can cause negative health effects such as cancer and neurological and reproductive disorders. In addition, pesticides can migrate into lakes and streams as they are swept away when it rains.

Fertilizers contain phosphorous and nitrogen compounds, important nutrients that aid plant growth. Unfortunately, too much of these compounds is a bad thing, especially in aquatic environments. When aquatic environments are loaded with nitrogen and phosphorous, algae in the water grows at a rapid pace. When this algae decomposes, it causes a significant drop in oxygen concentrations, killing fish and other aquatic organisms. This process is called eutrophication. By reducing your sports departments’ use of pesticides and fertilizers, and by buying less toxic products, you help to reduce these risks.

COLLEGIATE SPORTS CASE STUDY: CU-BOULDER

Years of planning by the Environmental Center and the facilities management grounds crew led the University of Colorado Boulder to implement a pesticide-free, organic fertilizer management system for all campus turf, including most sports and recreation fields. Starting in 2011, CU-Boulder began to spray “compost tea,” a biologically active organic liquid fertilizer, through the campus-wide sprinkler system. This addition to CU-Boulder’s turf maintenance program allowed the school to maintain campus aesthetics while reducing the use of pesticides. The first phase of the pesticide reduction program cut the use of herbicides on turf areas in 2011 by 45 percent compared with 2009, and by 93 percent by the end of 2012.

The benefits of using this organic fertilizer and pest management system on campus sports fields include improved drainage, higher oxygen levels, and less compaction. These benefits lead to faster recovery after intensive use, which means the fields can be used more often with fewer adverse impacts to the quality and density of the turf.

“Compost tea acts as a catalyst for bacterial and microbial agents to increase and diversify, thereby reducing the need for chemical fertilizers,” says Edward von Bleichert of Facilities Management, lead coordinator of Ralphie’s Green Stampede. “The benefit of compost tea is that it helps to speed Mother Nature along by providing added beneficial microbes, nematodes, bacteria, and fungi, which help to break down existing soil organics for plant absorption.”

The use of compost tea provides financial as well as practical benefits, according to Jason DePaepe, assistant athletics director of facilities and manager of Folsom Field. “As with any sand-based sports turf, Folsom Field presents challenges in maintaining good levels of organic matter,” says DePaepe. “The use of compost tea allows us to fine-tune microbial and bacterial levels without the need for manual applications of other types of fertilizers. It’s an effective tool that saves us time and money. A real win-win.”

Learn more by reading the full University of Colorado Boulder case study in the NRDC Collegiate Game Changers report.

The Basics of CU-Boulder’s Turf Management System

Organic Compost Tea:

  • CU-Boulder invested roughly $30,000 to install seven 250-gallon brewing tanks across campus.
  • A total of 70 pounds (10 pounds per tank) of premium vermicompost (compost from worm bins) is brewed to yield 1,750 gallons of compost tea, which is then applied over roughly 70 acres.
  • The “tea” is injected directly into irrigation mainlines to avoid the need for manual boom or backpack sprayers.
  • Compost tea is applied during an eight-hour irrigation window, four to six times per growing season, or roughly once every month.

Other Natural Fertilizers:

  • CU-Boulder injects fish emulsion, seaweed extract, and humic acids on recreation sports fields using the irrigation system (“fertigation”).
  • Up to 14 tons of dry organic fertilizer are applied five times each year.

System Features :

  • Three weather stations covering multiple campuses help monitor weather patterns to maximize resource efficiency.
  • 18 soil moisture sensors throughout the campus monitor moisture content, soil temperature, and salinity to help track and verify baseline watering needs.
  • Pump station monitoring software helps track resource use.
  • All components are tied into the central irrigation computer system to integrate tracking of resource use across all operations.

Benefits to Folsom Field:

  • The system allows for easier manipulation of microbial and bacterial levels in sand-based sports turf.
  • Use of the irrigation system reduces the need for manual applications of fertilizers.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

Green Shield Certified Program
Beyond Pesticides
Case Studies: Schools Save Money With Integrated Pest Management
Fact Sheets for individual pesticides
Pesticide Alternatives
EPA Environmentally Preferable Purchasing
EPA – Pesticides
EPA – Fact sheets on specific pesticides
Pesticide Action Network
Pesticide Education Center
Food and Agriculture Organization on fertilizer pollution
EPA – Water Quality
US Department of Agriculture – Water Quality Information Center
National Institute of Health – ToxNet
Environmental Benefits and Cost Savings Calculator for Purchasers
EPA – Pesticide Product Information System
Pennsylvania Integrated Pest Management
New York State IPM for Buildings
USDA CSREES Program – Pesticides