Special Series

Greening The Big Ten: U of Wisconsin Athletics Moves Up The Green Rankings


By Elyssa Emrich

In honor of my first post for the GreenSportsBlog I feel it is only natural to showcase my Alma Mater, the University of Wisconsin Badgers and its hometown, Madison.

Both have been national leaders in sports and in environmental stewardship for decades:  The Badgers have 28 National Championships and 2 Heisman Trophy winners to our credit; Madison is well known for being the Birthplace of Earth Day 40+ years ago. That’s a great history, no doubt about it. But that’s the past. Let’s take a look at the intersection of Green & Sports at UW and Madison today.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy spoke in Madison last week to highlight the successes of sustainable local businesses. McCarthy proved herself a savvy administrator by giving a shout out to the Badgers: She proclaimed that if there had been a home football game that weekend she would have dropped everything to stay in Madison longer (I’m biased but there’s no better atmosphere for college football than Camp Randall Stadium).

Ms. McCarthy gets that sports galvanizes the passions of Madisonians and folks everywhere else. She was smart to link passion for the Badgers to a talk about generating increased passion for sustainable businesses (happily, Madison is a place where green business has long taken root but it can always do better).  And it is even smarter still that EPA sees the potential broad power of the Green + Sports intersection through the launch of its own green-sports website (http://www2.epa.gov/green-sports) which highlights:

  • Tangible (i.e. food waste reduction) and intangible (i.e. increasing awareness of and action to combat climate change and its effects) benefits of greening sports.
  • Green sports initiatives on campus, including the Green Gameday Challenge, which aims to create fun competition between colleges to help promote waste reduction (hey, ESPN College Football Gameday should get involved with this. GSB will investigate!).
  • How sports’ rivalries can create collaborative greening competitions among pro leagues/teams and college conferences/teams.

In June, the EPA helped organize the third annual Collegiate Sports Sustainability Summit in Atlanta. Big 10 rival Ohio State made news at the Summit with its presentation detailing how The Horseshoe (aka Ohio Stadium) became a Zero Waste facility. While Camp Randall is not yet Zero Waste, Wisconsin is moving aggressively towards a leadership role in the green sports movement.

Camp Randall Elyssa
Camp Randall Stadium, home of the Wisconsin Badgers, where recycling rates have increased by 900 percent since 2008 (Photo credit: University of Wisconsin)


This summer UW became a member of the Green Sports Alliance, joining 170 pro and college teams. Recently the Athletic Department teamed up with the Campus Office of Sustainability and WE CONSERVE , a conservation group, to boost recycling at sports events.

The Office of Sustainability provides expertise and financial support for green initiatives, while WE Conserve encourages fans to become Waste Eliminators (Be the WE!) in a fun, upbeat manner with student volunteers roaming the tailgate areas on game day.  The results have been nothing short of spectacular:  In 2011, Athletic Department recycling totaled 4,780 lbs.  One year later, thanks to WE CONSERVE, a student group called Rethink (“Wear RED, Think GREEN!”), and Ben Fraser, the Athletic Department’s Director of Guest Services, 43,500 lbs. of material was recycled!

Be The WE
Be the WE Volunteers outside Camp Randall Stadium (Photo credit: Elyssa Emrich)


These efforts should lead to the Badgers’ moving up the rankings in this year’s GameDay Challenge. Last year, Wisconsin ranked #46. Not bad for a first season, but Wisconsin doesn’t do #46! This season, the goal is to break into the top 25 to mimic what the football team has consistently achieved on the field.

With that in mind, Wisconsin’s Homecoming contest vs. Northwestern on October 12 will be the school’s first-ever Green Game.Next on the Athletic Department’s green agenda is adding composting to Camp Randall and the Kohl Center (home of Badgers basketball and hockey), hopefully by 2014. And, the expectation is that Camp Randall and Kohl Center will become Zero Waste in the not-too-distant future, although the time frame is not certain. GSB will report on UW’s progress or lack thereof on these goals.

One thing that is certain: The intersection of Green + Sports at Wisconsin is a busy and vibrant one indeed.


Andrew Winston, Author “Green To Gold”

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  1. Welcome, Elyssa, to GSB! I hope Camp Randall Stadium starts composting and becomes Zero Waste in 2014, just in time for the Badgers to exact revenge on Ohio State for Saturday’s loss in Columbus.

  2. […] at the Big 10 schools we’ve investigated thus far (check out our earlier GSB posts to see what Wisconsin–my alma mater, Ohio State, Michigan and Minnesota have been up to). Penn State is looking to […]

  3. […] biggest rival, the Ohio State Buckeyes (Part I, on the University of Wisconsin, can be found here). The Buckeyes lead the way, both on the field (undefeated and #4 in the country in football) and […]

  4. […] departments on this list that have made a big point of greening their games, like Minnesota and Wisconsin, for their thoughts on the Koch deal. Green groups on those campuses will also be contacted. So […]

  5. […] that in mind, you have athletics and sustainability departments at schools like Minnesota and Wisconsin promoting their greening efforts–which are legit, btw–among students, fans, and other […]

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