Green College Sports

Penn State: A Green Nittany Lion Roars In Happy Valley


By Elyssa Emrich

The intersection of green and college sports is starting to lead some successful results, especially 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 take the Green-Sports model further than its Big 10 rivals by adding philanthropy and technology to the mix.


Making Life Better Through Green-Sports

Penn State’s motto is “Make Life Better” and with the guidance of the Office of Physical Plant (OPP), the Penn State Athletics Department is helping to do just that by adopting a wide range of green initiatives that benefit the environment, campus life and multiple causes.  The OPP took a different approach to greening sports than the other Big 10 schools we’ve looked at to date:  Penn State/OPP began their recycling efforts around the perimeter of Beaver Stadium (the football stadium in Happy Valley that holds over 100,000 people) unlike other Big 10 Athletic Departments, whose initial focus has been inside the stadium.

Green-Sports Pioneers

In 1995, Al Matyasovsky, the OPP’s Supervisor of Central Support Services, took over the Penn State recycling program and set it on a strategic course to be one of the best in the country. Reuse, recycling, and composting were the main tactics. Mr. Matyasovsky wasn’t satisfied with the level of support from the public when it came to recycling, so one day in the late 90s, while driving around collecting garbage from recycling bins, he came with the idea of selling advertisements on the sides of trash bins, especially at large-audience events such as Nittany Lions football games.

The funds received from these ads were donated to United Way charities as chosen by Nittany Lions fans. Almost 300 Central Pennsylvania Boy and Girl Scouts volunteered to go through the tailgate areas with the bins, collecting around $7,000 a season in United Way donations.

In 2007, Penn State students got their hands dirty by taking over the tailgate-area-recyling program from the scouts.  In Year 1, S.T.A.T.E.R.S (Students Taking Action to Engage Recycling) doubled the amount of waste collected and  the amount of donations to United Way vs. the year before.

In addition to the charitable contributions, the increase in recycling (and diversion from landfill) from the tailgate areas saves Penn State significant amounts of money.  Why? Because parking lot cleanup costs a lot.  Less waste hauled to landfill means the university pays far less in labor/overtime costs.

As a result of S.T.A.T.E.R.S efforts, after-game parking lot cleanup costs have dropped by 40 percent.

Satisfied with their efforts in the parking area, OPP moved its focus inside the stadium. In 2012, Judd Michael, Professor of Sustainable Enterprises, started an effort to go zero-waste in the suites at Beaver Stadium. Every game reached at least a 92 percent diversion rate with one game making it to 99 percent! This template will be used to roll out zero-waste in the rest of the stadium in the next coming years.

Beyond recycling, the Athletics Department has also entered the Green Building arena (pun intended).  Pegula Ice Arena, the new home of Nittany Lions hockey is going after LEED Gold certification. The facility plans on reaching this standard through minimizing water usage by being connected to the campus-chilled water system. Thus, a separate chiller building is not necessary for the ice arena. The ventilation system will also be more efficient by implementing automation through sensors that measure the amount of carbon dioxide in the air. The more people in the building, means more CO2 in the air, which will cause the ventilation system to run more.  Fewer people in the building will mean less CO2 and less ventilation needed.


Pegula Ice Arena
Pegula Ice Arena, home of Penn State Hockey, opened this season and is expected to receive LEED Certification (level TBD) (Photo Credit:


OPP Gets Creative: Trash To Treasure, Friday Night Lights Out! and ReDi Index

The OPP encourages each Penn State department, including Athletics, to take advantage of its recycling resources. They provide free use of waste bins for any event on campus. Because of this willingness to provide the appropriate recycling tools, education about how to use them, an aggressive publicity campaign, and with the enthusiastic support of volunteer Green Teams, Penn State was able to reach a 64% diversion rate across campus in 2012-2013, among the best in the Big 10.

Trash to Treasure is a signature event that makes good on the strategy. The student body donates items during their move out at the end of the spring semester to the United Way. In turn The United Way hosts a large yard sale. This event has proven to be a win-win-win situation as it educates students about reuse, raises donations for the United Way, and keeps items out of the landfills (to the tune of 190 tons in 2013). Athletics pitches in by offering up Beaver Stadium as the venue for donation collection.


Trash To Treasure
Signage for Trash To Treasure, the initiative, hosted at Beaver Stadium, that encourages Penn State students to donate items before moving out for the summer.

Going green can definitely build and appetite and what student won’t “go green” for pizza? Every Friday night students, in exchange for pizza, venture through each building on campus to turn off any lights that may have been left on before the weekend. Voilà, Friday Night Lights Out! was born!

Finally, a new software tool developed by Mr. Matyasovsky, ReDi (Response Diversion) Index, also has helped Penn State achieve its strong diversion rates. It helps facilities managers “analyze what they’re doing with their waste, and will let them know how well they are doing.” This will lead to better waste management decision making by facilities managers .  OPP is working to bring the ReDi Index to facilities beyond Penn State.

A quick look at the 2014 football schedule shows that Penn State does not play Wisconsin, unless both make it to the Big 10 Championship.  If that happens, I’m confident the Badgers would school the Nittany Lions on the field. When it comes to greening, I think Wisconsin can learn some lessons from the S.T.A.T.E.R.S in Happy Valley.



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