Greening Big Ten Athletics: Purdue University, Taking The Hard Road

By Elyssa Emrich

The Purdue University (West Lafayette, IN) Boilermakers face a huge rebuilding task in Big Ten football, after a very difficult first year for Coach Darrell Hazell.

The Purdue Office of University Sustainability (OUS), along with the Athletics Department, took on a challenge of a different sort, starting in 2012—and that was building a recycling program that started with the tailgating areas at Ross-Ade Stadium (capacity: 62,500). Most athletic departments choose to start within the stadium, where they can control the materials that come into the building as well as what is sold at concessions stands. It is difficult, if not impossible to control what is brought into the tailgating areas.

Purdue decided to go from “outside in”, in large part due to the support of a grant from Alcoa Foundation (Alcoa is the world leader in aluminum manufacturing). The grant was part of the Action to Accelerate Recycling commitment by Alcoa Foundation to the Clinton Global Initiative. Ross-Ade Stadium doesn’t sell beverages in aluminum cans but tailgaters do bring in many aluminum cans, thus the recycling effort started in the tailgating area.

The goal of the Action to Accelerate Recycling commitment was to increase recycling rates. Grant funding mainly went to recycling bags, t-shirts, scholarships, a communications and advertising package, and two small vehicles that help pick-up and transport the recycling from the tailgate areas.

The tailgate areas are vast (over 120 acres and 1.5 miles corner-to-corner) and fans decorate the ground with all types of waste, some of it recyclable, some not. OUS and the Athletic Department could not do it alone. Purdue Sports Properties (PSP), Physical Facilities, and student volunteers all made key contributions to the recycling program’s success. PSP is an affiliate of Learfield Sports, a leader in collegiate sports marketing and sponsorship sales and management. PSP handles those functions for the Purdue Athletics Department.

PSP understood early on that the Greening of Purdue Athletics could attract corporate sponsors. Michael Gulich, Director of OUS, meets frequently with a PSP representative to discuss non-traditional, green-themed sponsorship programs that could be promoted via traditional methods such as stadium signage, web banners, program ads, and scholarship presentations. Since the initiation of the program, PSP and OUS have been seeking corporate sponsors for the recycling and landfill bins.

The recycling program will expand inside Ross-Ade Stadium this season, which means PSP will have even more green inventory to sell. Stadium activities for the 2014 season include a compost pilot in the new South End Zone (SEZ) area supported by NatureWorks, Eco-Products, and Heritage Bag Company.

Ross-Ade

Panoramic view of a packed Ross-Ade Stadium, home of the Purdue University Boilermakers. Purdue is adding in-stadium recycling and a composting pilot this season to its already successful tailgate area recycling efforts. (Photo Credit: College Gridirons)

 

The Athletics Department sees benefits beyond increased revenue and improved brand image from participation in the Ross-Ade Stadium Tailgate Area recycling program.  Speedy post-game cleanup is one. For example, the Purdue golf course is used for tailgating and it has to be ready for play early Sunday after a Saturday night game. Having this initiative in place is crucial to a smooth transition from parking to driving (and chipping and putting).

The Black & Gold & Green Tailgate Team (aka student volunteers) is instrumental to the recycling program’s success. Volunteers are given a pass to the football game, a t-shirt, and lunch. Two, $1,000 scholarships were awarded in 2012 to volunteers who won a “How To Improve The Recycling Program” essay contest. The Honors Program got involved in 2013 (there is a co-curricular requirement for the freshman class), which drove growth of the recycling program from 30 volunteers in 2012 to over 200 in 2013. Another change in 2013 was to have the volunteers hand out bags to tailgaters at the tailgate area gates instead of roaming the tailgate area to hand out the bags. These measures led to an increase in the average diversion rate from 11.6% in 2012 to 31% in 2013. Adding inside-the-stadium recycling and the composting pilot are expected to drive diversion rates even higher in 2014.

Hopefully, for Purdue fans’ sakes, the Boilermakers’ on-field fortunes will improve as rapidly as did the tailgate-area recycling program. Purdue does have two highly coveted, young quarterbacks to build around. So the future of Purdue football is certainly greener and brighter.

 

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