Green College Sports

College Sports Leading Way on Zero-Waste/Carbon Neutrality


The 2014 college football season kicks off a week from today (YES!!!) and the biggest news will no doubt be the brand new 4-team playoff system at the FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision) level. Also meriting significant attention is the news that the Zero-Waste Movement (i.e. diverting 90% or more of waste from landfill via recycling and composting) is gaining real traction at stadia and arenas across the country.

We take a look at three schools moving towards the Zero-Waste route this season.


It’s not surprising college sports is taking a leadership role in hosting Zero-Waste (defined as diverting at least 90% of waste from landfill) sports events. Going Zero-Waste provides major collegiate athletics programs with:

  • A high-profile way to show key stakeholders that sustainability is an integral part of the university’s DNA.
  • Opportunities for idealistic, environmentally-active students to get directly involved at the grass roots level
  • Potential for new, green sponsorships and thus, incremental revenue.

Over 100,000 fans will cheer the Ohio State University Buckeyes on towards a possible National Championship (although the loss of starting QB Braxton Miller for the season might dampen that enthusiasm) this fall at each of 7 home games inside Ohio Stadium, aka the Big Horseshoe, in Columbus*. For the 2nd straight season, Ohio Stadium will be Zero Waste, as last year’s home games averaged an astounding 90.5 percent+ diversion rate, with the high watermark being a 98.5 percent diversion rate versus Wisconsin.

If one takes out the anomaly of a 56 percent diversion rate at the Iowa game (not all materials were  able to be captured and sent to the recycling facility for recovery due to the Columbus Marathon), the 2013 diversion rate average skyrockets to 97.28 percent.

A big reason Ohio Stadium is the biggest stadium in the country to achieve zero waste is OSU’s partnership with the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC), which provides labor to help with the sorting and reporting on game days.


zero waste osu
Banner promoting “Zero Waste at Ohio Stadium”. The scarlet in the circular logo indicates the percentage of waste on game day that’s recycled, the gray represents the percentage that’s composted and the small area in white represents the percentage (less than 10%) that goes to landfill. (Photo Credit: The Ohio State University).


ODRC and the OSU student-led Green Geam helped produce the most impressive statistic of all at Ohio State: In 2010, before the Zero-Waste program was implemented, Buckeyes’ home games sent 59.8 tons of trash to landfill. In 2013, the number was down to 5.8 tons.


The University of Colorado started with Zero-Waste football games in 2008, a couple of years before Ohio State went the Zero-Waste route. Hey, it’s Boulder after all, so that’s not a big surprise. Still, to make Zero-Waste work smoothly at Folsom Field (capacity: 50,000) has taken real teamwork: Athletics, Centerplate (food concessionaire), Facilities Management, and the CU Environmental Center are the stars of Colorado’s Zero-Waste football games. And it’s more than football–the men’s basketball team went Zero-Waste in 2014. In both cases, corporations see the positive branding value associated with Zero-Waste: White Wave Foods has been a Zero-Waste football sponsor and BASF got behind the Zero-Waste basketball program. This is a case of “Making Green ($) From Going Green.”


When you think of the Florida Gators, you likely think of Tim Tebow, The Swamp, Steve Spurrier chucking his visor, and winning football national championships. Or, maybe you’re hoops oriented and you’re reminded of the great back-to-back NCAA men’s basketball championship teams in 2006-2007, featuring Joakim Noah, Al Horford and Corey Brewer. Now, you should add Zero-Waste and Carbon Neutrality to the list.

The Athletic Department (aka the University Athletic Association or UAA) is working with two sustainability-themed on campus organizations, Neutral Gator and Sustainable UF on some very audacious goals; namely to make the entire university Zero-Waste next year and Carbon Neutral by 2025!  That athletics is an integral part of this effort makes perfect sense as there is nothing bigger/more high profile at the Gainesville campus than the Gators.


Screen Shot 2014-08-21 at 8.01.02 AM
T-shirt from Neutral Gator, urging the University of Florida Gators and their fans to leave “Footprints on Your Competitors, Not the Environment.” (Photo Credit: University of Florida Athletic Association)


Gators Football is leading the way towards attaining the university-wide Zero-Waste goal as composting was introduced to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium last season. The Gator Green Team chipped in by increasing staff to assist fans and eliminate any contamination in the waste stream leaving the stadium.

Neutral Gator is taking charge of the carbon-neutrality-by-2025 effort by funding and implementing carbon reduction projects local to the Gainesville area. Those projects generate carbon offsets, which are then applied toward the carbon footprint of the Gators athletics season. Neutral Gator’s efforts led to the country’s first Carbon Neutral football season (2008) and first Carbon Neutral athletics department (2009) in NCAA history.


* Your trusted correspondent will observe The Horseshoe’s Zero-Waste efforts first-hand at the Rutgers-OSU contest on October 18.



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  1. Interesting question whether college sports evoke a greater emotional response such that doing good, has a greater benefit than say doing good in professional sports. People may be more cynical of professional sports, as it has become more about the money. Players leaving for higher salaries and the big tv contracts. Not that college sports haven’t become commercially But who doesn’t watch March Madness because the kids are playing with their hearts. So there is already a strong emotional response. Any thoughts about whether college sports will evoke an even greater emotional response from fans than the actions of pro sports? I have been thinking more and more about the concept of doing well, by doing good.

  2. Thanks for the comment. To me, the advantage of college vs. pro sports in terms of the potential for greening lies in the idealism and activism of a portion of a college’s/university’s student body. While there are plenty of college students who say a collective “whatever” to getting involved in a cause, there are also plenty who express their passions from the 1st day they arrive on campus. Green/sustainability is one of those things that motivates a cadre of students on virtually every campus.. That’s why you see “Green Teams” made up of student volunteers helping to make State U.’s football games go Zero-Waste. You likely won’t soon see that at a Browns game. Now, if the college sports world can show real sponsorship dollars result from Zero-Waste games, you’ll see pro sports figure out how to follow suit (the Mariners in Seattle are going that route already.)

  3. Seems as if activism starts for the young and wanes as one gets older? Will all those soccer kids propel professional soccer? Was there more interest in the World Cup? Hopefully, some that spirit will stick in the new generation as they age. If so, all those green college kids may seek out green professional sports teams.

  4. […] has detailed how the University of Florida is a leader in the greening of its football games. One would think that Jeremy Foley, the Gators’ […]

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