Why Be Green > Student & Athlete Interest

Campuses have long relied on sports achievements to help define and promote their institutional identity. In response to growing student and community interest, 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 communications and marketing platforms, while modeling a more sustainable lifestyle to the greatest mix of students across campus.

Of all facilities on campus, athletic venues and recreation centers welcome the broadest cross-section—and the highest percentage—of students.

  • Over 75 percent of college students participate in recreation department programs, according to a study by NIRSA: Leaders in Collegiate Recreation.
  • An estimated 5.5 million club sport athletes, who participate in non-varsity intercollegiate competition on campuses nationwide.
  • Approximately 453,300 varsity athletes represent 1,096 schools across the three NCAA divisions across the U.S.
  • Collegiate athletic events frequently draw tens of thousands of fans, students and nonstudents alike.

Students are often key motivators of environmental progress on campus. As the case studies in NRDC’s “Collegiate Game Changers” report illustrate, collegiate sports greening efforts have often been spurred by student demand in combination with institutional leadership that prioritizes sustainability. Students are increasingly interested in environmental studies and sustainability in business.

  • According to a Princeton Review survey, 62 percent of 14,125 prospective students representing all 50 states said that a college’s environmental commitments would “strongly” or “very much” contribute to their assessment of the school.
  • A 2012 survey conducted by UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute found that 26.5 percent of entering students (from 283 institutions surveyed) reported feeling it is “essential” or “very important” to help clean up the environment.
  • Close to 40 percent of first-year students believe it is “very important” or “essential” to adopt green practices to protect the environment.
  • To address growing student demand, in 2009, the Princeton Review launched a new guide, “The Princeton Review’s Guide to Green Colleges,” that profiles the green efforts of hundreds of colleges and universities. The 2013 edition of the guide features 322 institutions which they consider to “demonstrate a strong commitment to sustainability.”

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Campus greening programs, including collegiate sports greening initiatives, can help coaches and admissions departments recruit students who are looking for robust sustainability programs. High-performance sports facilities designed to green building standards can also help give athletics departments a competitive edge during recruiting. Green building practices and operations improve indoor air quality (and water quality in pools), among other benefits, and help advance athlete health and wellbeing.

Sports greening programs can also provide students with professional development and leadership opportunities, enabling them to put their sustainability coursework into practice.


>> The football complex demonstrates the commitment of students, faculty, administration, and staff from many departments at the University of Florida to preserving the environment, says Bahar Armaghani, assistant director of the university’s Facilities, Planning, and Construction Division, which houses UF’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program.

“Green buildings are not exclusively concerned with saving money through more efficient technology,” she explains. “They are also investments for the well-being of people and the environment. Since we spend over 90 percent of our time indoors, we need to provide a healthy indoor environment for people. It’s a great achievement for the Gators.”

To learn more, read the full case study in the NRDC Collegiate Game Changers report.

>> Colleges compete for the best athletic talent in many different ways. Offering healthier, high-performance facilities is one way to entice potential athletes by providing them with a venue that can improve their game. Arizona State University’s LEED Gold Weatherup Center was designed to help players excel as well as attract new talent. The athletics department believes that the center gives ASU a competitive edge during recruiting.

“The spaces, materials, and overall design create a competitive edge for recruitment of top national athletes,” says Krista Shepherd, vice president of the Phoenix-based architecture firm Gould Evans. “Given that the players and coaches spend a significant amount of time each day there, it was important to create comfortable spaces filled with natural light to serve as their home away from home.”    

To learn more, read the full case study in the NRDC Collegiate Game Changers report.

>> Prospective varsity athletes have expressed enthusiasm and admiration for the University of Pennsylvania’s Athletics EcoReps program. As the program evolves, it could potentially be used as a recruiting edge for attracting a well rounded student athletes. One example of a successful recruiting tool has been Penn’s ultraviolet (UV) pool disinfection system, installed by Penn’s Department of Intercollegiate Athletics and Recreation in 2011. The UV system has reduced the concentration of chlorine in their pools by approximately 50 percent.

“It has dramatically improved the air and water quality and directly benefits the health of our athletes,” says says Dan Schupsky, assistant swim coach and pool facilities manager. “We’ve seen a marked decline in respiratory health issues among our swimmers since decreasing the chlorine concentration. It directly benefits our varsity athletes’ ability to train at a high aerobic level as healthier athletes allows for more consistent training and better results in the long-term. So it’s no surprise the UV system is a great draw during recruiting—parents and athletes ask about the indoor air and water quality of our facility all the time.”  

To learn more, read the full feature in the NRDC Collegiate Game Changers report.

>> “There is tremendous student interest in cultivating the ‘go green’ spirit,” says Kathleen Hatch, director of Washington State University’s recreation department. “Because it is an institutional arm that reaches 85 to 95 percent of WSU students, the recreation department is a great place to model different practices.” The department started a Wellbeing Program in 2006 to promote the critical role that a healthy environment plays in individual health. According to Erin Carroll, wellbeing coordinator at WSU, “In the same way that student interest in health and fitness has driven the recreation center development boom of the past 20 years, a growing concern among students about environmental wellbeing is now having a direct influence on how these facilities are run.” To learn more, read the full feature in the NRDC Collegiate Game Changers report.