Environmental initiatives can improve brand image and provide a point of market differentiation, which is increasingly important to incoming recruits and prospective students. Campuses have long relied on sports achievements to help define and promote their institutional identity.
Increasingly, environmental stewardship is also becoming part of a college or university’s brand. Sports greening can integrate sustainability into some of the institution’s strongest marketing and communications platforms.
Consistent branding, communicating the program’s mission, and publicizing successes can help attract program supporters and partners. Consider establishing a program name, logo, and perhaps a mission statement at the outset of your program.
Ensure that initiatives are effectively and accurately publicized (it’s okay to exhibit pride in your achievements, but don’t overstate your successes) and use positive, authentic messages that appeal to your audience.
Several collegiate athletics departments have programs in place that help enhance their brand, helping to attract students and sponsors. Here are a few examples:
Brand enhancement is one reason the University of Arizona is advancing sports greening. “As the country pivots toward sustainability, going green also enhances the UA’s reputation,” explained then-director of the UA Office of Sustainability, Joe Abraham, in 2011. “For example, the UA was recently listed as one of the Princeton Review’s Top Green Schools. This recognition is valuable for recruiting students.” To learn more, read the full case study in the NRDC Collegiate Game Changers report.
“The sustainability program has been a brand enhancer,” says Karen Baebler, assistant athletics director for sport operations and chair of the Huskies’ sustainability committee at the University of Washington. “It has opened up opportunities with sponsors who may have had no interest in partnering with athletics before.” For example, Cedar Grove, the largest composting company in the Northwest, is a sponsor of Husky Athletics. It has sponsored many sports events and has its logo on the university’s “Go Green” shirts. To learn more, read the full case study in the NRDC Collegiate Game Changers report.
The University of Colorado Boulder’s athletics-focused sustainability efforts and “Ralphie’s Green Stampede” sports greening brand gave the school an entry point to new sponsors. CU-Boulder Athletics branded their “zero waste” effort “Ralphie’s Green Stampede” to market the program to potential corporate sponsors and it worked: White Wave Foods, Boulder Toyota, Eco-Products Inc., and the stadium concessionaire, Centerplate, all signed on. To learn more, read the full case study in the NRDC Collegiate Game Changers report.
The University of Florida Athletic Association partnered with We Are Neutral to create “Neutral Gator,” a program created to help reduce the carbon footprint of Gator Athletics via a local offsets program. It also helps raise awareness across the Gator community about the importance of mitigating climate change with carbon emissions abatement. Over time, the program has grown to encompass all of the Gator Athletic Association’s environmental outreach and it is now the predominant brand for sports greening at UF. Neutral Gator co-founder Jacob Cravey says, “UF, Gator Athletics, and Neutral Gator are proud of the program’s presence in the community and the meaningful impact of the brand within the university communities that they work in. They are proud of how the program has been able to link carbon offset activities directly to community development. From a marketing standpoint, the goal has always been to strengthen the brand of the University of Florida as a leader in athletics, sustainability, and community involvement.” To learn more, read the full case study in the NRDC Collegiate Game Changers report.
Yale University found that branding builds awareness of Yale Athletics’ “Bulldog Sustainability” program successes and encourages the community to support the program. Branding also helps attract program partners. During the fall of 2009, a student team assembled to create a clear branding and strategic communications plan for Bulldog Sustainability. “One of the main goals of this plan was to use sports greening to foster a culture of sustainability at Yale,” says Mary Beth Barham, Bulldog Sustainability research assistant, varsity field hockey player and environmental studies major. To learn more, read the full case study in the NRDC Collegiate Game Changers report.