You don’t need GreenSportsBlog to tell you that Stanford University is one of the most highly rated academic institutions in the world. You may well be aware that the Cardinal own 128 national championships across all sports, making it one of the most successful collegiate athletics programs in the US. But you may not know that the Stanford was an early Green-Sports adopter and has become one of the leading lights of the college sports greening movement.
GREENING STANFORD ATHLETICS
I never understood why Stanford’s mascot is a tree that runs around football fields and other sports venues. They’re known as the Stanford Cardinal, not the Stanford Oaks, after all.
But, after talking with Stanford sustainability and athletics department leaders, the tree; symbol of life, absorber of CO2, makes perfect sense for the Palo Alto, CA university. You see, while the school’s colors are cardinal red and white, the athletics department is a leader at the intersection of Green & Sports.
Moira Hafer, Sustainability Specialist in the Department of Sustainability and Energy Management, has had a front row seat for the greening of Stanford sports, as well for the greening of the rest of the university for the better part of a decade. A Stanford grad with an Environmental Science major, Ms. Hafer returned to the sustainability department on “The Farm” after a stint at an energy efficiency-focused nonprofit. She sits in the Office of Sustainability, whose main role is to steer the university’s vision on sustainability. Moira helps it do so in two ways: by 1. Raising awareness among all stakeholders on campus about sustainability, and 2. Managing campus-wide sustainability programs—for example, making office buildings more efficient.
Moira Hafer, Sustainability Specialist in the Department of Sustainability and Energy Management at Stanford University (Photo credit: Stanford University)
The Office of Sustainability initiated its partnership with Athletics in 2012, although the latter had undertaken some initiatives on its own as far back as 2009. “The joint effort made sense on a lot of levels,” offered Ms. Hafer, “Stanford had become a member of the Green Sports Alliance in 2012, as had the entire PAC-12. Sports is obviously very high profile and the Athletics Department has a significant facilities and carbon footprint.”
According to Jamie Breslin, Senior Associate Athletics Director for Facilities, Operations and Events, “We’ve seen a tremendous acceleration in terms of greening initiatives since I got here four years ago.” Examples include:
- A 636 kW rooftop solar panel array went live this March at Maples Pavilion, home to Stanford men’s and women’s basketball. This is on top of the university’s new 72 mW solar farm in Southern California that is now providing more than 50 percent of the university’s electricity needs, including athletics’.
A close up view of the Stanford solar farm in Southern California (Photo credit Linda Cicero)
- In addition to Maples, five athletics facilities were retrofitted since 2015 for energy efficiency, including Stanford Stadium (home of Stanford football) and Avery Aquatics Center.
- Some Athletics servers were moved from the Arrillaga Family Sports Center to the university’s central data center, resulting in significant electricity and chilled water savings.
- All new facilities construction on campus, including athletics buildings, is done to LEED Gold standards even though the university is not pursuing LEED certification.
- LED lighting systems have recently been installed at Maples, Avery Aquatics Center and the new recreation center. LED floodlights now illuminate Sunken Diamond, home to Stanford baseball.
- A state-of-the art HVAC system that heats and cools the rec center is a constant source of amazement for athletes and other visitors.
The epochal four year California drought not surprisingly moved water usage efficiency up the Sustainability-Athletics partnership priorities list. “The Stanford Water Efficiency Group looked across all facets of the university for significant water savings,” said Ms. Hafer, “Athletics looked to reduce water usage by 30 percent starting in April, 2014. It got there by November, 2014. The water usage reduction now stands at 37 percent.”
Golf helped lead the way to water efficiency, with course superintendents reducing irrigated acres on the Stanford course by 20 percent through the use of new, weather-based irrigation techniques and the latest high-efficiency sprinklers. “Overall water usage at the golf facility has been lowered by 25 percent,” reported Mr. Breslin.
GETTING FANS INTO THE GREENING GAME
In a February, 2016 interview with Kathleen J. Sullivan of Stanford News, Bernard Muir, the Jaquish & Kenninger Director of Athletics at the university, demonstrated that he “gets it” when “it” means fan engagement: “Every time we host an event, whether it is a practice, a contest, a clinic or a camp, we have the opportunity to demonstrate our department’s commitment to sustainability. Last year, we hosted nearly 500 events on campus. We have an audience of millions.”
A good chunk of that audience tailgates at home football games. Emily McLaughlin, Director of Marketing at Stanford Athletics, shared that “We support Green Tailgating to our fans by encouraging tailgaters to use compostable cups and flatware or rent trash, recycling and compostable bins, and promoting alternative forms of green transit and in greater numbers. We mainly do this though our email and website communication. Anyone who purchases or reserves a tailgate space online or over the phone receives an email confirmation, which includes resources for greening tailgates. We also send a Gameday email to all ticket buyers promoting alternative transportation and before the Game Day Challenge game, we had a section dedicated solely to sustainability, encouraging fans to compost and recycle, among other things.”
Ms.Hafer added, “Waste reduction is our biggest fan sustainability touch-point because fans generate tons of waste. So we had to ramp up our waste diversion infrastructure, increasing the number of recycling bins, and adding composting and compostable service-ware to the mix. Many of our fans have bought in.”
Men’s and women’s basketball got into the act in February with the Game Day Basketball Challenge sponsored by RecycleMania. Pac-12 schools competed on recycling and waste minimization efforts. At one designated men’s and one women’s contest, Stanford student volunteers educated fans at all of the waste stations about how to properly sort waste into recycling and compost bins. They also collected in-person pledges to support ReycleMania’s mission.
Stanford University student volunteers outside a basketball game (Photo credit: Sophie Christel)
During halftime, Stanford showed its 2015 parody video, “All About No Waste,” a student parody of the hit song “All About That Bass,” that showed Stanford students how to recycle and compost.
“All About No Waste” parody video (3:12)
STANFORD ATHLETES ARE ALL IN FOR GREEN
Athletes have embraced the Greening of Stanford Sports with gusto, with a student-athlete group called Stanford Carbon Offsets to Reduce Emissions or SCORE, launching in 2015. The group conducted research to determine the carbon emissions generated by Stanford varsity student-athlete travel and then won a grant to help fund the offsetting of said emissions. A Sustainability in Athletics internship program was launched to drum up further support for Green-Sports initiatives among athletes.
Mr. Breslin said, with some amazement in his voice, that “Our 900 or so student-athletes are very energetic about sustainability. They often come up to me to talk about how we can do better in terms of our flight offsets, about recycling. A group of them pressed for and got a meeting with Director of Athletics Muir to discuss how we can do better.”
Recycling and composting is one thing (actually, two); linking greening actions by fans to climate change is another. “The good news is climate change mitigation is a major focus university-wide and if we can get even more buy-in from Athletics fans and other stakeholders, it will really help keep the momentum going” said Ms. Hafer.
Solar provider SunPower and Energy Upgrade California are already sponsors of Stanford Athletics but, there’s great room for growth of green sports sponsorships. According to Adam Requarth, Stanford’s Assistant Athletic Director, Corporate Sponsorships, “the Athletics Department sees the Greening of Stanford Sports as a way to attract new, sustainability-focused, corporate sponsors.”
The one thing that, to my eyes, is missing from the aggressive, comprehensive approach to Stanford’s Athletics-Sustainability team has taken regarding Green-Sports, is the relative lack of targets, especially in terms carbon emissions reductions. What gets measured gets managed and what gets managed matters. The Sustainability-Athletics team certainly get this so I would expect a healthy sustainability measurement increase sooner rather than later.
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