About a year ago, BT, one of the leading cell service providers in Great Britain, and its BT Sport television network, launched 100% Sport, an initiative that encourages the British sports world and fans alike to commit to environmentally-friendly behavior changes. GreenSportsBlog was contracted by BT/BT Sport to write a series of articles on various aspects of the Green-Sports Movement for its website. Here is the first, an interview with Dave Newport, Director of the University of Colorado's Environmental Center on how the school's Green-Sports leadership is engaging fans and corporate sponsors alike.

Lew Blaustein is the founder and Editor-In-Chief of GreenSportsBlog, the source for news and commentary since 2013 on the increasingly busy intersection of Green + Sports. Lew is based in New York City.

For UK sports fans who don’t follow US sports much, big time college (university in Britain) football and basketball can be a bit of a mystery. Know this: it is a massively popular and unique cultural phenomenon.

How popular? Aside from NFL games and the final game of the compelling baseball World Series, the most highly rated 2016 televised sports event in the US was the college football national championship. More money is bet on March Madness, the month-long college basketball championship tournament, than on the Super Bowl. The biggest stadiums in the country are on campus (University of Michigan’s “Big House” in Ann Arbor holds over 112,000. And they sell out.)

How unique is the cultural phenomenon? Big time college athletics does not exist anywhere else in the world. And in some precincts of the US, the intensity of fan interest in college sports dwarfs that of professional sports. In fact, if you want to see passion, loyalty and community stateside that is akin to an English Premier League game, go to a big time college football or basketball game (click here for a clever 2015 article in The Guardian on how fans of various college football teams should go about picking a European football/soccer club).

Given its popularity and cultural importance, it is a very good thing that college sport is also playing a leading role in the Green-Sports movement. From Zero-Waste games to energy efficiency, from on site solar at athletics facilities to Green-Sports corporate partnerships, college athletics is at the forefront.

There are at least three powerful reasons for this:

  1. Strong support for the climate change fight among students
  2. Skyrocketing interest and participation in sustainability education.
  3. Perhaps most importantly, the incredible sense of community surrounding college sports.

UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO LEADING IN GREEN-SPORTS THROUGH COMMUNITY

To Dave Newport, Director of the University of Colorado Boulder (CU) Environmental Center, community is the driving force for both the passion of college sports and for the growth of green-sports on campus. And he should know, as Newport is a Founding Father of collegiate green-sports dating back to the Zero Waste program he helped institute while at the University of Florida back in 2002-2003.

Upon his move to Boulder in 2006, where he joined the nation’s oldest Environmental Center (founded in 1970), Newport pitched green-sports to then Athletic Director Mike Bohn (now in the same position at the University of Cincinnati). He was surprised when Bohn enthusiastically embraced his idea to green CU sports. He was even more surprised when the AD cited Cultural Anthropology as the reason for his support.

“Mike said ‘People come to a game for community, not football. Humans have evolved over thousands and thousands of years, with the natural tendency for community hotwired in our DNA. Community is more important than winning. And green enhances community.’ An Athletic Director said that!” enthused Newport, “I was dumbstruck! Green-sport serves our DNA. Who knew?!”

CU’s greening initiatives started in 2008, with recycling and composting at their core. Fans were surveyed; the reaction was both strongly positive and fearful (“you’re not going to stop greening, are you?”). So Newport and CU’s new AD, Rick George (also a green genius) fed the community-craving portion of the DNA of the CU fan base by embedding green in the fabric of the Athletics Department.

And they continued to listen to fans—a study was done with Pepsi that delved into what makes fans want to recycle more. “What we found was fascinating,” offered Newport, “Fans who recycled at home recycled at a 55-60 percent rate when they are at the game. The non-home recyclers recycled at over 80 percent at the game. Why? Those folks said ‘We see what you do here and we want to be a part of the team.’” Those non-home recyclers improved their home recycling rates by 10-15 percent.

According to Newport, research also shows CU fans are more prone to buy tickets, have a better view of the university and are more forgiving of any off-field social problems of the school’s teams, all because of the sustainability’s authenticity and congruence with fan values.

CU ATHLETICS TAKES ON RENEWABLES, WATER

There is a lot more to CU’s sustainability efforts than recycling and composting.

Athletic Director Rick George gave the green light to the building of a LEED Platinum (pending) indoor practice facility for the football team, with solar panels on the roof. This follows on the already approved LEED Platinum basketball facility and the LEED Platinum Recreation Center.

And now they’re setting they’re sights on Zero Water.

“While the catastrophic drought in California is well known, we also are in the midst of a drought here in the Mountain West. So, funded by our sponsors Wells Fargo and Kohler, ($1.1 million combined, over five years), we’re activating Water For The West, an initiative that restores water flows into the Colorado River (restoring irrigation ditches, micro irrigation, pulling out water-consuming exotic species). Likewise, with the support of Kohler we are also installing low-flow, high efficiency water infrastructure in low income homes in Boulder.”

GOING GREEN MAKES BUSINESS SENSE FOR CU, SPONSORS

Going green is making green for CU. BASFWhite Wave and Pepsi are also green sponsors of the Buffaloes. Learfield Sports, the sponsorship and marketing firm who handles CU Athletics, along with 100+ other schools, has taken notice. Brandon Leinbach, CU’s Learfield rep, is a Top 10 producer because of sustainability sales, delivering ~$500,000 in annual green-sports sponsorship revenue.

CU and Newport have spread the Green-Sports gospel to the rest of the schools in the PAC-12 Conference. All twelve schools are members of the Green Sports Alliance. PAC-12 rivals Arizona, Arizona State, Stanford, USC and UCLA have joined CU with similar Water For The West programs. And Green-Sports is hardly limited to PAC-12 schools. “Auburn, Ohio State, Florida, Purdue, Texas, Wake Forest, and many other brand name schools are all doing great, green things,” said Newport.

And, while Great Britain doesn’t have big time university sports, recreational sports are big on campus. Newport visited several UK universities in 2015 and saw there is a greening movement afoot. “Even though we’re talking about a smaller enterprise—recreation centers rather than massive stadiums and arenas—the same principles of community that Mike Bohn imparted to me back in 2006 apply in Great Britain. Students playing soccer or cricket in university clubs are making friendships and memories that will last a lifetime. They want to make those memories in an environment reflects their values—and sustainability certainly does.”

GreenSportsBlog Post #1
November 23, 2016