New Report: College Sports Tackling Sustainability

Over 200 College Sports Programs Score Big by Cutting Energy, Water, Waste and Costs

NEW YORK (August 26, 2013) – As college campuses prepare for the new school year, a new report by the Natural Resources Defense Council examines the innovative sustainability efforts at collegiate sports departments across the country. Over 200 college sports programs, including leaders from the Big Ten, Pac-12, Ivy League, and SEC athletics conferences, are now prioritizing greener practices such as installing solar panels, undergoing energy efficiency audits and water conservation upgrades, and collecting recycling and composting at games. 

“College athletics and recreation programs are leading the sustainability charge,” says Alice Henly, coordinator of NRDC’s collegiate sports work and author of the report. “They’re developing high-performance, high-efficiency buildings and practices that help mitigate climate change and conserve resources.  And these greener initiatives are engaging the broader college community.  Students, staff, and fans are all participating.”

Collegiate Game Changers, produced by the Natural Resources Defense Council in collaboration with the Green Sports Alliance and the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, documents for the first time the breadth of sustainability measures underway at collegiate sports departments all across the country.  It features 10 case studies of college sports programs employing more sustainable techniques to manage their energy, water, waste and purchasing. The findings provide a roadmap for sports departments, students and staff interested in adopting sustainability strategies.  And the report documents the bottom-line benefits of greening and the role of sports in transforming sustainability measures on college campuses. It is a follow-up to NRDC’s influential 2012 report, Game Changer, which featured the leaders in professional sports greening.

Report findings include:

  • At least 216 collegiate sports departments have installed recycling infrastructure throughout their sports facilities.
  • At least 146 collegiate sports departments have invested in more energy efficient practices by upgrading their lighting and controls.
  • At least 116 collegiate sports departments have upgraded to water efficient fixtures.
  • At least 88 collegiate sports departments have pursued LEED green building design certifications, with at least 24 certified sports venues to date.
  • At least 23 collegiate sports departments have installed onsite solar energy production systems.

“Let’s face it. America is a nation of sports fanatics, and for all of us who eat, sleep, and breathe sports, environmental stewardship should be a top priority,” said Missy Franklin, four-time Olympic gold medalist and student athlete at the University of California at Berkley, who authored the report’s afterword. “As this report shows, collegiate sports programs are recognizing this and taking control of their own sustainability.”

Thirty schools are highlighted in the report for their leadership in sports greening. The 10 detailed case studies feature the University of Colorado Boulder, University of North Texas, The Ohio State University, University of Florida, Arizona State University, University of Oregon, University of Minnesota, the University of Arizona, University of Washington, and Yale University.  A selection of their innovative practices follows:

Energy & Green Building

  • SolarArizona State University has installed solar arrays at 10 different sports facilities that together generate approximately 7.5 megawatt hours of electricity each year, the most of any college athletics department in the nation.
  • Wind – In 2011, North Texas University built the first LEED Platinum certified sports venue in the United States, which gets 30 percent of its power from three 121-foot-tall wind turbines next to the stadium (avoiding 323 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually).
  • Green Building – The University of Colorado Boulder’s new Recreation Center will exceed LEED Platinum building standards and approach net-zero energy use, even with two energy-intensive indoor pools and a hockey rink.
  • Energy Efficiency – The University of Minnesota saves over $410,000 annually (and 5.5 million pounds of carbon dioxide) across eight athletic facilities thanks to energy conservation measures. Yale University is saving more than $100,000 each year across their athletics facilities with energy efficiency upgrades.  


  •  “Zero Waste”The Ohio State University’s Ohio Stadium, with 105,000 seats, is the largest venue in the country to achieve over 90 percent diversion of waste from landfill (reaching a top diversion rate of 98.2 percent). 
  • Food Donation – The University of Oregon Athletics Department donates an average of 9,300 pounds of unused concession food to a local charity each football season. Oregon Athletics also donates 267,839 pounds of food each spring football game.
  • Supply Chain – The University of Washington switched concession packaging at Husky Stadium to either compostable or recyclable and removed all garbage bins to help increase waste diversion.


  • Plumbing Efficiency – The University of Arizona’s LEED Platinum certified Recreation Center features high-efficiency plumbing that reduced water use by 48 percent.
  • Turf Efficiency – The University of Texas saves three million gallons of water each year thanks to their artificial stadium turf.
  • Irrigation – The University of Florida’s LEED Platinum certified Heavener Football Complex features an irrigation system and native plants that decrease water demand by 50 percent.

The report also emphasizes the cultural impact of these initiatives on millions of students, who are now composting more frequently, riding bikes to the stadium, and cheering under LED lights and solar panel rooftops. In fact, it is often the students who are leading sports greening efforts on campuses nationwide.

“By engaging students in putting environmental solutions into action, collegiate sports has the potential to empower and inspire our future leaders to build a more sustainable society” said Robin Harris, executive director of the Ivy League, who wrote the report’s foreword.

“The single most important thing we can do to address the urgent ecological challenges we face is change cultural expectations and attitudes about how we relate to the planet. The greening of collegiate sports illuminates the cultural shift taking place among students and staff alike that reflects a deepening and active commitment to protecting the Earth,” says Allen Hershkowitz, director of the NRDC Sports Project. “If politicians always have their fingers up to test the wind, then the greening of college sports is changing the wind.” 

The complete report is available online from NRDC at: