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Duke Athletics Hosts Climate Commitment Football Game


Increasingly, US college and university athletics departments, as well as environmentally-active student-athletes are taking steps to encourage climate action. Over the next several months, GSB will highlight some of these initiatives. Today, our focus is Durham, North Carolina, home of  Duke University. The athletics department, Sustainable Duke, with important contributions from the Duke Sustainable Athletics Group, partnered to host the first-ever Climate Commitment Game on November 2nd, when the Blue Devils football squad hosted Wake Forest. 


The Climate Commitment Game highlighted a variety of environmentally-friendly actions the athletics department took as part of the Duke University Climate Commitment. It also is expected to serve as a pilot program for more ambitious sustainable sports operations and programming going forward. 

Duke Athletics’ work on the environment goes back almost a decade with the 2014 launch of its Zero Waste Initiative. Between 2014 and 2019, the program diverted 70 percent of waste generated from home football games with an 80 percent average diversion rate during the 2019 season. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic led to a halt in sustainability efforts at Duke football games.

That pause ended as sustainable game day programming resumed this fall, with November 2nd’s Climate Commitment Game being the season’s centerpiece. It featured:

  1. The addition of composting to the Blue Devils’ “Leave it in the Bowl” initiative that already included recycling as well as efficient waste-stream sorting by Duke’s sustainability team.
  2. On-field/on-scoreboard sustainability-themed trivia games
  3. Student volunteers arrayed throughout the stadium, driving fan participation in composting and recycling, as well as sharing information about other Duke athletics sustainability initiatives.

Duke softball star and EcoAthletes Champion Deja Davis was one of those volunteers. She was pleased the way the Climate Commitment Game turned out.

“I think the main accomplishment of the Duke Climate Game was building awareness about being more sustainable with waste,” offered Davis. “Having volunteers help fans sort through it helped educate individuals as to what they can compost and recycle. It was great to see people come back and know where where their paper cup or food waste should go, so fans were learning throughout the game. The on-field trivia game also seemed to be well received.”

Duke softball star and EcoAthletes Champion Deja Davis (l) and Marinel Ubaldo were stationed to help attendees sort their waste into trash, recycling, and compost at Duke’s Climate Commitment (football) Game on November 2 (Photo credit: Deja Davis).


The collaboration between Duke Athletics and Sustainable Duke got its start this spring with the launch of the Duke Sustainable Athletics Group. Led by a pair of seniors and EcoAthletes Champions — field hockey forward Alayna Burns and football cornerback Brandon Hersh — this climate-minded cohort of student-athletes is dedicated to leading on-campus sustainability-inspired action, including waste reduction programs, promoting climate action, and more.

The “Devils Doing Good Shoe Drive” kicked things off as the group worked directly with the athletics operations staff to collect 591 pairs of unwanted shoes. Of those, 308 were recycled at a local Nike store via Nike Grind , the long-standing program from the Swoosh that repurposes end-of-life shoes into various new materials, including running tracks. The others were donated to Fleet Feet Durham via the MOORE Foundation Group, which distributes shoes to developing countries while funding conservation and agricultural projects in Ghana in the process. The group plans to continue the shoe drive every semester. Blue, Live Green Field Hockey Game.

Then this past summer, Burns and Hersh, with the support of Duke Athletics, attended the Green Sports Alliance Summit in Seattle, where they learned about athletic facility best-practices, and how athletes and sports organizations can do more to lead climate action.

“I learned how powerful the sports platform is for driving societal change,” noted Burns. “Duke Athletics is recognizing the opportunity we have to raise awareness and lead action. Our Duke Climate Commitment Game [is one example] and our evolving long-term plans are so exciting. The future looks bright, green, and blue here for Duke!”

Alayna Burns (#33) and her Duke field hockey teammates celebrate a goal (Photo credit: Duke Athletics)


Now let’s fast-forward to this fall’s football season, one that has been mostly successful so far as Duke is bowl eligible going into Saturday’s game at arch rival North Carolina. Last Thursday night, Hersh was naturally laser focused on the Wake Forest game. He was happy with the result as Duke knocked off the Demon Deacons 24-21 with game-winning field goal at the buzzer to raise its record to 6-3. And he was also excited about the Climate Commitment Game.

“It’s great to be a part of a world-class university and athletic department that recognizes that there is a substantial opportunity for sports to lead the way in promoting sustainability,” Hersh shared. “With the platform and reach of sports, at both Duke and across the country, we can make a difference by making our operations more sustainable and encouraging fans and partners to do the same. The Climate Commitment Game here at Duke is an important step in the right direction”.

Brandon Hersh at pre-season practice this summer (Photo credit: Duke Athletics)

GSB’s Take: The Climate Commitment football Game is a strong, high profile early step that shows the potential power of Duke Athletics – Sustainable Duke – Duke Sustainable Athletics Group collaborations. Congratulations to EcoAthletes Champions Alayna Burns, Brandon Hersh, and Deja Davis, along with the other climate-minded Duke student-athletes who are driving climate action at Duke.

Here’s hoping that there is a cadre of younger Duke student-athletes to take the #ClimateComeback baton from seniors Burns and Hersh, along with grad student Davis, to take the impact of the Duke Sustainable Athletics Group to the next level. That could include leading climate-focused fan engagement programs, creating and promoting a ‘Green Blue Devils’ scorecard that would publicly track how the athletics department is doing on a variety of environmental metrics, and more.

Finally, good luck to Burns and her Duke field hockey teammates as they start their NCAA tournament journey this weekend. Same goes for Hersh and the football team in their match up against the hated Tar Heels.


Photo at top: Duke players celebrate the Blue Devils’ last second 24-21 win over Wake Forest at the Climate Commitment Game on November 2 (Photo credit: Duke Athletics)


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