A successful sports greening program requires support from university/college leadership and diverse departments across campus. In order to engage partners from within athletics, recreation and sustainability, among other departments on your campus, it’s important to understand how sports greening initiatives align with their interests. The following advice helps make the case for the value of sports greening for sustainability and for sports.
Why Sustainability Should Team Up With Sports
Athletic and recreation facilities are often the centerpieces of college campuses, where students come together and school spirit is built. Consequently, college sports can serve as a valuable messenger promoting environmental stewardship. Moreover, as the “doorstep of the university,” athletics often has the greatest influence among campus departments on the visibility, culture, and brand recognition of a college or university outside the campus gates.
Collegiate athletics not only offers environmental programs high visibility, but collegiate recreation also offers many everyday sustainability touchpoints as a significant means of participation, awareness and engagement. Of all facilities on campus, athletic venues and recreation centers welcome the broadest cross-section—and the highest percentage—of students. More than 75 percent of college students participate in recreation department programs, according to a study by NIRSA: Leaders in Collegiate Recreation. There are also an estimated 5.5 million club sport athletes, who participate in non varsity intercollegiate competition on campuses all over the country. Approximately 453,300 varsity athletes represent 1,096 schools across the three NCAA divisions nationwide. Collegiate athletic events frequently draw tens of thousands of fans.
Collegiate sports offer an opportunity to bring sustainability into mainstream campus culture. Sport transcends political, social, cultural, and socioeconomic divides. It can also transcend campus cliques based on majors, classes, extracurricular interests, or Greek society.
Loyalty to sports teams is one of the few things tens of thousands of students can agree on. And this trend is true beyond campuses: Only 13 percent of Americans say they follow science, while 63 percent identify themselves as sports fans. By modeling sustainable practices to thousands of students and fans, college sports hold the potential to help sustainability cross departmental boundaries and social divides to become part of daily campus life.
Why Sports Should Team Up With Sustainability
College sports greening programs provide many benefits for athletics and recreation departments alongside advancing campus sustainability. They can help reduce operations costs, provide a healthier workout environment to promote athlete performance, attract new sponsors and donors, enhance the athletics brand, increase fan loyalty, bolster interdepartmental collaboration, foster community ties, and provide an important informal format for sustainability education. Collegiate sports greening holds the potential to transcend departmental divides on campuses.
These programs also help coaches and admissions departments recruit students who are looking for robust campus-wide sustainability programs. High-performance sports facilities designed to green building standards can help give athletics departments a competitive edge during recruiting.
Collegiate sports venues across the country are becoming champions of the sports greening movement. Collegiate athletic departments (comprising intercollegiate varsity sports) and recreation departments (encompassing club and intramural sports and gym facilities) are adopting environmentally intelligent operations and procurement policies in response to student demand, campus sustainability commitments, and bottom-line business practices modeled by professional sports venues. In doing so, college sports greening programs reduce emissions of global warming pollution, protect habitat, save energy and water, reach millions of fans with environmental messages, and train future business leaders in environmental stewardship.
How To Engage Athletics and Recreation
The following strategy suggestions are directed toward sustainability-focused students and staff interested in developing greening collaborations with athletics and recreation departments.
Before approaching athletics or recreation staff, do your homework. Understand the systems already in place and be prepared to build the case for sports greening. Below are some suggested questions to investigate. This information will help you understand the athletics and recreation departments’ motivations, objectives, and interests.
- What are the operational issues most important to the sports department? What are the primary building management objectives in the short and medium term? Use the answers to these questions to align your greening goals with the department’s existing priorities.
- What greener efforts are already in place at sports facilities? Inventory existing green procurement practices, resource-efficient equipment, green building features or certifications, green outreach, and other sustainability efforts accomplished by athletics. Start by congratulating staff on their accomplishments to date.
- Who funds the athletics and recreation departments? This might be a source of funding for greening efforts. Who pays the departments’ utility bills? This will indicate who is most interested in auditing energy and water use in sports facilities.
- Does the athletics department have sponsors and an outside concessionaire? If so, who are they and how might they be brought into the greening program? Existing sponsors and vendors may have environmental commitments or green product lines. They are also a potential source of funding for environmental projects.
- Who are the typical users and maintenance staff for each sports facility? When was each facility built or most recently upgraded, and what types of technologies does each have? This will inform opportunities for infrastructure upgrades or renovations.
- Are there any prominent student-athlete or public concerns about air or water quality in the region or at any of the sports facilities? This may provide an opportunity to improve athlete health and performance with an indoor environmental quality assessment and upgrade.
Build The Case
Communicate the value of sports greening as a means of meeting the athletics and recreation departments’ existing objectives. These departments will devote staff time and resources to greening work only when their leadership understands the value of greening.
Build a strong case for sports greening by identifying the many benefits it can provide for athletics and recreation, the sustainability office and the campus as a whole. Consider which benefits are the most appealing when engaging each division of the departments, and prioritize accordingly.
For example, sports greening can help:
- save money on facility operations
- attract new sponsors
- expand existing sponsorships
- build greater fan loyalty
- enhance student-athlete health and performance with higher-performance buildings
- attract new donors
- strengthen alumni connections
- bolster community ties to potentially increase ticket sales
- offer a strong platform for environmental education
- strengthen interdepartmental ties, including with faculty
- achieve campus-wide sustainability goals
- boost the athletics and recreation departments’ brand
- boost the institutions’ brand
Offer Solutions, Opportunities & Support
Sustainability can be a confusing term. Provide athletics and recreation staff with concrete sports greening project examples, including the ones in this Greening Advisor. Point to successful initiatives at similar peer institutions. Present a menu of greening opportunities for athletics and recreation to choose from. Indicate available resources and partners on and off campus for successful implementation. Help identify the assets these partners can provide for sports greening work, including funding, expertise, infrastructure, project legitimacy, and outreach support. Don’t assume athletics and recreation staff will have the time or resources to run a new greening program. Offer ongoing staff support or help recruit student interns and volunteers.
Identify athletics and recreation staff members and/or student-athletes who demonstrate a personal interest in protecting the environment. They may have additional insight into opportunities for sports department greening work. Reach out to a variety of people, such as administrative staff, coaches, athletes, marketing and development staff, and custodial and grounds staff. Approach these potential “champions” by applauding their current green initiatives and then suggesting additional greening opportunities.
Help Strategize on Funding, and Identify Possible Sponsors
Help athletics and recreation align with campus-wide sustainability commitments, and identify any available campus funds for sports greening initiatives (such as a university president’s sustainability fund). Investigate whether there are accessible local, state, or federal subsidies for renewable energy or other athletics greening work. Assist athletics and recreation in identifying new or existing sponsors with commitments that may align with a sports greening program. Help investigate payback periods for infrastructure upgrades, and encourage athletics and recreation to set aside any savings on utility bills for further green investments.