Where To Start > Tips For Getting Started

Improving the sustainability of your operations takes time. This guide contains a range of suggestions and tools to help improve your athletics and recreation departments’ environmental performance, but the most important thing is to simply get started. By implementing some of the ideas in this guide you can gradually improve operations and build support for additional improvements.

Looking for basic information about how to use this guide first? Check out the “Get Started” page.

Tips For Building A Successful Sports Greening Program

The below list includes some recommendations for laying the groundwork for an effective sports greening program. These are based on NRDC’s 2013 “Collegiate Game Changers” report featuring ten in-depth case studies (and twenty “snapshots”) on leading collegiate sports greening programs from across  the United States.

  • Establish a sustainability committee of interested staff and students from within the athletics department, recreation department, and campus sustainability department.
  • Engage leadership from senior administration, including leadership from athletics, recreation, and sustainability departments, as early as possible.
  • Partner with relevant departments across campus (e.g. from facilities and transportation), as well as with vendors and community experts.
  • Seek out campus-based experts and learn from green initiatives at other colleges.
  • Identify campus-wide sustainability goals, standards, and ongoing programs. Evaluate opportunities to collaborate and build upon existing greening initiatives.
  • Identify available technical resources on campus, within the region, and nationally (both free and for hire).
  • Identify subsidy opportunities at the local, state and federal level. These can be substantial.
  • Identify potential sponsors, including vendors and alumni, and bring them into the planning process early.
  • Set regular meetings for all interested parties. Publicize meetings to student groups, sports teams, and all related staff.
  • Conduct a sports department-wide audit to track waste generation and use of energy, water, and paper across all sports facilities, and monitor data carefully.
  • Write a sports greening mission statement and set goals. Make sure this mission statement is congruent with campus-wide sustainability goals.
  • Create a list of greening ideas, both short- and long-term. Prioritize initiatives based on return-on-investment, ecological urgency, feasibility, sponsor support, and student/fan interest.
  • Integrate student coursework and/or senior projects into the goal-setting and implementation process wherever possible.
  • Establish a tracking system for measuring savings, progress, and setbacks.
  • Translate successes into easily understandable outreach for students, staff, fans, sponsors, and other stakeholders.

Although there is no single road map for collegiate sports greening, the lessons from NRDC’s report case studies offer a number of insights. They document strategies that have helped collegiate sports departments advance environmental initiatives, engage a wide range of campus resources to support their efforts, and establish plans for implementing broader greening work.

Ideas For Initial Projects

Once you’ve begun mapping out your sports greening program, here are some implementation ideas to get started:

  1. Recycle More – find ways to cut waste, put a recycling bin next to every trash can, train staff, and/or start a Green Team

  2. Reduce Water Use – retrofit bathrooms with low-flow plumbing fixtures, consider waterless urinals, cut down on water used for irrigation

  3. Use Less and Better Paper – find ways to cut down on paper use, double-side copying, reduce the distribution of paper-based media guides and buy recycled content paper

  4. Donate Food – collect unused food for donation to local shelters

  5. Switch to Green Cleaning Products – in the laundry and bathrooms

  6. Choose Green Energy – switch to renewable energy with your provider, install solar panels, and/or buy carbon offsets for energy use

  7. Involve Your Supply Chain – ask your food vendors to work with you on environmentally preferable food and serviceware options and work with other vendors and sponsors on greening other aspects of sports operations

  8. Reuse Materials – prioritize reusable products like cloth banners, utensils and other serviceware; provide water fountains or refilling stations for refilling water bottles

  9. Start a Department-Wide Composting Program – ideally for students, staff and fans

  10. Update Lightbulbs and Fixtures – use CFLs or LEDs to cut your energy costs

  11. Involve Fans in Your Environmental Program – put greener tips on your website, produce environmental Public Service Announcements to show in-game, offer a fan transportation offset program, etc.

  12. Offset Travel Emissions – purchase carbon offsets and support renewable energy projects

General Recommendations To Consider


Consider testing new efforts on a small scale first (such as at a single game or in a specific venue) to demonstrate feasibility, gather feedback, build confidence, and gain stronger support. Then develop plans to roll out greening initiatives on a larger scale (such as throughout a season of competition or across several facilities).


Start with cost-saving environmental initiatives to help garner athletics department and institutional support. Improved efficiency means less waste, which often translates into cost savings as well as energy, water, and other resource savings. Meet with facilities and operations managers to identify “low hanging fruit” upgrades, some of which may already have been implemented in other campus buildings.

A sports greening program that begins with financially sound environmental initiatives—such as upgrading to more efficient lighting fixtures, double-siding paper copies, printing less frequently, or installing water efficient fixtures and appliances—will help the program gain momentum by cutting costs and help attract interest for other greening opportunities.

If possible, minimize infrastructure upgrade costs by purchasing new products (such as LED lights) in bulk for multiple facilities. Keep track of savings and publicize them to staff and the administration to encourage lasting behavior change. For example, record decreases in copier paper orders, calculate the money saved, and congratulate staff for their achievement.


Goods and services supplied in the marketplace are created using infrastructure that has been built up over many decades. This infrastructure often includes environmentally harmful production practices, and it may be supported by environmentally harmful subsidies, regulations, and vendor relationships that can make it difficult to implement change.

Some environmental initiatives, such as energy efficiency audits, educational signs about conservation, and paper reduction measures, can progress quickly. But other adjustments, such as changing energy-consuming technologies, measuring impacts, shifting to postconsumer recycled-content paper products, procuring compostable serviceware, developing a recycling-based waste management system, and providing ecologically preferable food service, can take a few years to implement.

This should not deter you from taking the small steps needed to make gradual progress. Give athletics and recreation department staff and partners the time they need to make these adjustments. Let the initiative unfold as slowly as needed to maintain staff comfort and proper training and to respect existing vendor commitments and budgetary restrictions.

Frame greening goals as aspirational, and focus on gradual, continuous improvement to relieve concerns staff may have about achieving campus-wide sustainability commitments in a short time frame. This will help assure the longevity, stability, and buy-in of the greening program. Moreover, longer-range planning allows athletics and recreation departments to consider investing in capital improvements that will save money over time.


Greening means reviewing your operations and procurement with an eye toward reducing environmental impacts. It is an iterative, ongoing process. Greening means more than following a checklist, although checklists can be useful.

Greening also means integrating environmental criteria into ongoing decisions about operations and the procurement of products and services. Where possible, integrate environmental criteria into purchasing policies, vendor contracts, and organizational reporting. Frame greening goals as aspirational, to encourage ongoing improvement.

Greening is a continuously evolving endeavor because more efficient, environmentally preferable products and services enter the market all the time. If you aren’t able to find the product or service that meets your environmental needs, keep looking, and let your vendors know what you want; chances are that the product will be available before long.

Educating staff, students, fans, vendors, and partners is also an ongoing process. By visualizing greening as a journey, you can celebrate accomplishments along the way and create a flexible initiative that responds to changes in institutional priorities and takes advantage of innovations in the marketplace.