Why Be Green > Strengthening Community Ties

Collegiate sports greening programs can serve as models for local stewardship, improve community relations, and strengthen alumni connections. Greening initiatives can often provide a visible and interactive opportunity for fans to engage with teams right in their community. Campuses and teams can promote the benefits of environmental initiatives and align their green program with existing community-based projects. Your institution can also work with community programs to provide hands-on learning materials for the local community, teaching them about the importance of environmental stewardship. These initiatives give teams and student-athletes the opportunity to combine community engagement and environmental benefit.

Greening initiatives can provide opportunities for fans to interact with teams in their community. Fan engagement can be as basic as incorporating visible and well-marked recycling bins at a stadium, inviting community participation in green events (such as sports gear donation drives), or featuring ongoing displays at a sports facility. Public service announcements or other broadcast initiatives featuring environmental content can also yield great fan response.

Some athletics and recreation departments (and professional leagues and teams) have modified their websites and social media outreach to engage fans in their greening initiatives. Some communities coordinate sports greening initiatives with community goals and information-sharing. Build a culture of sustainability at sports events. Use simple, consistent signage to highlight environmental initiatives, direct fans to recycling bins, etc., and integrate that messaging with other fan education initiatives (e.g., posters, public address announcements, videos).


According to several collegiate athletics departments, their greening programs have helped them benefit, engage and give back to both the campus community and local community.  Here are a few examples:

According to the University of Colorado Boulder, a commitment to sustainability can strengthen the bond between a university and the public. “Greening our athletic facilities offers an opportunity to build greater fan loyalty and enhance support for our athletics department and the campus more broadly,” says the director of the University of Colorado Boulder’s Environmental Center, Dave Newport. “We want to increase fan engagement through outreach during the sports events and increased community partnerships, such as community gardens fertilized with stadium compost.” To learn more, read the full case study in the NRDC Collegiate Game Changers report.

“A campus-wide commitment to sustainability that includes our sports programs increases the University of Arizona’s visibility and reputation. As a result, we think we’ll increase student and staff pride, alumni and donor engagement, fan loyalty, and even connect with businesses and corporations that share our goal of reducing our environmental footprint,” says Joe Abraham, former director of the UA Office of Sustainability. To learn more, read the full case study in the NRDC Collegiate Game Changers report.

In 2010, Washington State University launched a “Crimson Revolution” campaign. The campaign highlights the WSU Recreation Center’s sustainability efforts and encourages students to pledge to adopt greener behaviors.“The Crimson Revolution is aimed at changing behavior and positively impacting our community,” says Hatch. “We had students lining up to give their ‘green pledge’ at a back-to-school celebration… everything from pledging to buy local, walking to school, and riding a bike more often to considering fair-trade purchases.” To learn more, read the full feature in the NRDC Collegiate Game Changers report.

“Apogee Stadium’s position within the campus provides a unique opportunity to become a visible symbol of environmental responsibility as well as an educational tool for students, patrons, and the broader community,” say Lauren Helixon, assistant director of University of North Texas Sustainability. These benefits are in line with North Texas Athletics’ mission statement, which includes a goal of benefiting the community through public service, education, and outreach activities that reflect positively on the university and promote good will in the community. In fact, the stadium and wind turbines are located at one of the busiest intersections in the country. The stadium’s prominent LEED Platinum plaque and turbines are visible to an estimated 24,000 drivers daily. “New people see the green features and stop in all the time to find out about them,” says Athletics Director Rick Villarreal. To learn more, read the full case study in the NRDC Collegiate Game Changers report.

“The University of Florida has embraced a unique model for creating carbon offsets that focuses on community building by creating economic opportunities for those in need and providing education on sustainable practices,” says Jacob Cravey, founder of Earth Givers Inc., which helped create the “Neutral Gator” program. The program helps raise awareness across the Gator community about the importance of mitigating climate change with carbon emissions abatement. “UF, Gator Athletics, and Earth Givers 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,” says Cravey. “They are proud of how the program has been able to link carbon offset activities directly to community development.” To learn more, read the full case study in the NRDC Collegiate Game Changers report.

According to Bob Beals, associate athletics department director for facilities, greening efforts at the University of Oregon’s athletic facilities result from an ethos of sustainability that exists in Eugene (the university’s host community) and the state of Oregon. “It reflects the community that we live in,” he says. “In Eugene and Lane County, more sustainable operations are the standard. It’s what people expect. People living in our community want to do the right thing from an environmental perspective. Oregon Athletics strives to reflect long-held values of the university, community, and state,” Beals adds. “We believe that intercollegiate athletics can help set examples for more sustainable practices for university students and the community.” To learn more, read the full case study in the NRDC Collegiate Game Changers report.

Barbara Chesler, senior associate athletics director and lead staff liaison for “Bulldog Sustainability” at Yale University, emphasizes that the reach of Yale Athletics allows the sports greening program to enhance the school’s athletic facilities while engaging the community. “Building off the Bulldog Sustainability efforts implemented since its creation in 2008, the Yale athletics department has proven that it can improve its own facilities, while also helping to change the behavior of community members,” says Chesler. “The mission of Bulldog Sustainability is to cultivate a culture of sustainability in Yale Athletics. We do that by integrating environmental values into internal operations and sporting events.” To learn more, read the full case study in the NRDC Collegiate Game Changers report.


Several professional leagues and teams have programs in place that benefit, engage and give back to the local community.  Here are a few examples:

In 2011, at NRDC’s instigation, Major League Soccer launched a long-term partnership with BEF on their Solar 4R Schools project and will install a solar panel at a school in the market of the MLS Champion by Earth Day 2012. This program is a great opportunity for promoting the benefits of renewable energy by providing hands-on learning materials for students and the local community as well as a small solar array. The League also purchased verified carbon offsets and renewable energy credits from Bonneville Environmental Foundation (BEF) to offset in full the travel of 27,000 fans and for stadium operations for MLS Cup 2011 in LA. To learn more, read the full case study in the NRDC Game Changer report.

In 2011, Petco Park and the San Diego Padres began a partnership with local group Buster Biofuels to collect all used cooking oils and greases from the stadium to be recycled into biodiesel fuel for school busses in the San Dieguito Union School District, reducing bus emissions by 78%. To learn more, read the full feature in the NRDC Game Changer report.

In 2009 the Orlando Magic partnered with NBA Toyota Project Rebound and “No Fault” to resurface two community basketball courts using recycled tires. This is part of an ongoing initiative including dozens of hands-on community service projects hosted by NBA, WNBA, and NBA Development League teams, including court refurbishments, the creation of Reading & Learning Centers, and other Legacy Projects providing youth safe places to live, learn, or play. To learn more, read the full case study in the NRDC Game Changer report.

The National Hockey League’s Gallons for Goals program pledged to restore 1,000 gallons of water to a critically dewatered river for each goal scored during the 2011-12 regular season, through Bonneville Environmental Foundation’s Water Restoration Certificates. To learn more, read the full case study in the NRDC Game Changer report.

More than 60 professional sports teams from MLB, the NBA, the NHL, and the NFL have participated in Rock and Wrap it Up’s food donation program since 2003. All 30 NHL teams have committed to work with nonprofit Rock and Wrap it Up to pack up all prepared but unsold concession food on game nights for redistribution to local places of need. Over the course of the initiative’s first full season, NHL Clubs provided 163,000 meals to people in need and diverted 105 tons of food from landfills and incinerators across North America. For this food diversion program, the EPA honored the Boston Bruins with the Environmental Merit Award, and four NHL clubs in New York area (Region 2) and four NHL clubs in the MidWest (Region 5) with the Environmental Quality Award, the EPA’s highest recognition awarded to the public for environmental protection.