Oregon State Student Athletes Represent Best of Green-Sports with BAST Program

Cadres of green-minded students and the growing popularity of sustainability as an academic discipline are just two reasons why there is a growing intersection of Green & Sports on campuses across the country. But while athletics and sustainability departments have driven the green-sports bus, student-athletes have taken a back seat to this point. At least, that is, until Oregon State University’s Samantha (“Sam”) Lewis, a cross-country/track runner, and Jesikah Cavanaugh, a swimmer, decided they, along with three other student-athletes wanted to accelerate the greening of OSU sports. GreenSportsBlog talked recently with Sam and Jesikah to get their takes on how they came to take on leading roles in the birth of the Beaver Athlete Sustainability Team (BAST), what it has accomplished so far and where they think it will go from here.

 

If you wanted to draw up two characters to be green-sports student athlete pioneers, you would have conjured Sam Lewis and Jesikah Cavanaugh. They helped create the Beaver Athlete Sustainability Team or BAST at Oregon State University in Corvallis.

Both are life-long environmentalists.

Sam, a runner who grew up in Boulder, CO, told GreenSportsBlog that “sustainability was embedded in my life from an early age. We composted, recycled, rode bikes and snowshoed.” Oregon State was a natural choice due to her “love of the outdoors and of running in the rain.” I get her first love but running in the rain? Not so much.

 

Sam Lewis

Sam Lewis, Oregon State Class of ’17, founding member of BAST, and member of the cross-country/track team  (Photo credit: Oregon State University Athletics)

 

Jesikah’s lifelong appreciation of the environment was nurtured in Anchorage, AK, where, she reports, “everything is clean.” A swimmer by the age of four, Jess says she was inspired by her older, faster sister Meghan. Recruited by Division III schools in Colorado and Pittsburgh, PA, Jesikah applied to OSU almost as an afterthought: “My dad went to Oregon State and I didn’t want to go there. But I was interested in environmental engineering and I liked that their program was tied to chemical engineering rather than civil, as was the case at most schools. I ultimately want to work on water remediation—cleaning and restoration—so that link with chemical engineering was a key reason I ended up in Corvallis.”

 

Jesikah Cavanaugh OSU BAST

Jesikah Cavanaugh, Oregon State Class of ’17, founding member of BAST, and member of the swim team  (Photo credit: Oregon State Athletics)

 

Both overcame serious obstacles in their sports.

Sam, who ran the 6K in cross-country, “suffered lots of injuries,” including a stress fracture in her back during her sophomore year. “It was so frustrating. I was recruited to be a Division I runner at a Pac-12 school and I couldn’t even walk my dog,” shared Sam, “It took a couple of years to be able to compete again, but the work it took to come back was so worth it—it was the best feeling ever.” And the women’s cross-country and track team has faced its own challenges. “The sport was dropped at Oregon State in 1988, rebooted in 2004, so we have been playing catch up against some of the best teams in the country,” explained Sam. But, reflecting her grit, the cross-country squad was able to finish a respectable 12th in the powerful, 35-team West region last year, an improvement of seven places from 2015.

Jes was not offered a swimming scholarship. No problem. She walked on to the Oregon State swim team as a freshman, swimming the 100- and 200-meter butterfly. Her consistent performances (“I never missed a meet!”) earned her a scholarship by her junior year.

With passion for the environment and grit, all that was needed for Sam and Jes to enter the green-sports fray was a cause.

 

The cause turned out to be recycling bins.

You see, Sam was the women’s cross country/track team’s representative on something called the OSU Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), which exists to make the student-athlete experience the best in can possibly be. Per Sam, “It’s not like there was talk of sustainability or climate change at SAAC. I simply asked about getting recycling bins in our locker room. Runners drink tons of chocolate milk so there were empty bottles all over the place and no bins in which to put them. I couldn’t believe that so I had to say something. THAT got discussion going — folks from other sports spoke up about recycling and other environmental issues.”

Associate Athletic Director Kimya Massey saw there was a group of sustainability-minded student-athletes in SAAC, introduced Sam to Jesikah, and suggested they form a green-themed subgroup. He believed a student run group would be unique, gain immediate credibility and could garner broad student and fan interest.

And so in the spring of 2016, the Beaver Athlete Sustainability Team or BAST was born with Sam, Jesikah and 6-8 other student-athletes forming the rest of the initial team. Jesikah said the initial support provided by the Athletic Department was crucial: “They were great from the beginning, allowing us the freedom to create our own initiatives and the opportunity to create change.”

Also per Jesikah, the spring 2016 semester saw the nascent BAST group act in a deliberate, strategic and determined fashion, to “define our three organizing pillars.”

 

Those pillars are as powerful as they are simple.

  1. Encourage and implement sustainable ideas within the athletic department
  2. Educate our fellow student-athletes about sustainability and environmental issues
  3. Work to engage with the rest of campus and the broader Corvallis community

With the pillars in place, Sam, Jesikah and the team knew they had to pivot from planning into action and events.

They staffed an Earth Day booth to let the campus know BAST existed and to learn the community’s view of athletics’ waste and its impacts on the environment. But the group’s big launch took place last fall at Reser Stadium, the home of Oregon State football.

“Tons of ‘stuff’ is given away for free at football games as promotional items,” offered Sam. “Things like pom-poms. Most people use them once; they get thrown out and go right to the landfill. We worked with the marketing team at the athletic department — we brought them in early on and they’ve been super supportive — to run a tabling effort at the Cal (Berkeley) game at which fans would return their pom-poms. Of the 750 pom-poms that were given out, about 500 were collected by BAST members. They were used again at one of Jes’ swim meets this spring.” At the Arizona game, BAST was able to collect about half of the LED light sticks that were given out. Fan engagement was the main goal at one OSU men’s basketball game and one women’s contest as BAST members manned a recycling-education table on the main concourse of Gill Coliseum.

 

OSU Pom Poms

Sam Lewis (l), Jesikah Cavanaugh (front) and the BAST team managed the “Return Pom Pom” effort at select Oregon State home football games in 2016. (Photo credit: OSU Campus Recycling)

 

But it may have been OSU baseball where BAST made its biggest first year impact. Per Sam, “The athletic department provided several clear recycling bins to Goss Stadium and BAST staffed the games to maximize the number of fans who recycled. The clear bins made it easy for fans to see what and how much was going in. This helped increase the amount recycled at the ‘clear bin’ games by a significant amount.”

 

OSU Baseball Recycling

Jesikah Cavanaugh (r), along with teammate Alice Ochs and assistant swim coach Michael Wong collect the clear recycling receptacles from an Oregon State home baseball game (Photo credit: Oregon State Athletics)

 

BAST was honored for its efforts when the Green Sports Alliance recognized the group as its Innovator of the Year at its June summit in Sacramento.

Sam and Jesikah were a bit lonely at the summit, as well as at the first Pac-12 Sustainability Conference, as they were the only student-athletes to attend. “Athletic directors, facilities managers and sustainability departments are all very into it,” noted Sam. “We showed that student-athletes can drive action and interest in sustainability. Hopefully, more groups like BAST will take off at other schools.”

 

Sam Bill Walton jesikah

Sam Lewis (l), Bill Walton, member of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, and Jesikah Cavanaugh at the first Pac-12 Sustainability Conference in June. (Photo credit: Sam Lewis)

 

BAST will have to grow without Sam’s and Jesikah’s day-to-day leadership as both graduated in May; Sam with an Exercise and Sports Science (aka Kinesiology) degree and Jesikah as an Environmental Engineering major. But both plan to keep tabs on BAST and also to figure out how to further amplify the voice student-athletes have at the intersection of Green & Sports.

Sam landed at the University of Idaho to work as a graduate assistant with the track team there — she hopes to help student-athletes at the Moscow, ID school start their own version of BAST. Jesikah, who will be in Portland for at least the next six months, working at an internship with Clean Water Services, is bullish on BAST’s future: “The group is in great hands with Marie Guelich (women’s basketball), Sam McKinnon (women’s cross country and track) and Mimi Grosselius women’s rowing) taking the reins.”

The new leadership team is expected to make climate change a bigger focus of BAST’s agenda by, per Jesikah, “measuring and reducing the carbon footprint of OSU athletics, showing a BAST video on the scoreboard at Reser Stadium, and, on a micro-level, bringing composting to the athletic training tables


 

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Looking Back at the First PAC-12 Sustainability Conference

The Pac-12 Conference is a leader on the field and court — member schools UCLA and Stanford are at the top of the “total NCAA championships won” list. And, the conference also leads in Green-Sports: It is the first conference to have all of its schools become members of the Green Sports Alliance. And, in late June, it became the first conference to host a sustainability conference. GreenSportsBlog spoke with University of Colorado Athletic Director Rick George, Dave Newport, the University of Colorado Environmental Center Director, and Pac-12 Deputy Commissioner Jamie Zaininovich, to get a sense of why green sports are important—and how the Pac-12’s leadership can influence all of college sports.

 

For basketball fans, Hall of Famer and announcer Bill Walton’s enthusiastic, stentorian tones are instantly recognizable. But, in late June, instead of intoning, slowly and dramatically, about, “the incredible three point genius of Steph Curry,” Walton talked Green-Sports at the first Pac-12 Sustainability Conference: “[Sustainability is] good policy, good economics, and it’s good for all of us! What more can you ask for?…The Pac-12, the Conference of Champions, we’re leading the charge forward.”

The genesis of the recent Pac-12 Sustainability Conference came from University of Colorado Athletic Director Rick George. “We are the first NCAA Power 5* league to join the Green Sports Alliance,” said George. “So it seemed fitting to me that we be the first Power 5 league to host a sustainability conference.”

 

Rick George UofC Ath

Rick George, University of Colorado Athletics Director (Photo credit: University of Colorado Athletics)

 

According to Dave Newport, the University of Colorado Environmental Center Director, “Rick George’s main goal was to create a forum at which the 12 schools could help each other raise our ‘Green Games’.”

Jamie Zaninovich, Deputy Commissioner and Chief Operating Officer of the Pac-12, thought more broadly, looking to host a conference that would “bring together athletics professionals, sustainability professionals, rights holders, and marketers from both inside and outside (my italics) the Pac-12 to have productive conversations on further integrating sustainability into intercollegiate athletics.”

 

NCAA: WCC Staff Headshots

Jamie Zaininovich, Pac-12 Deputy Commissioner and Chief Operating Officer (Photo credit: Pac-12 Conference)

 

With those goals in mind, Newport, his colleague at USC Halli Bovia, and sports and sustainability staffers at the 10 other Pac-12 schools created an ad-hoc “sustainability conference planning group” to put things in motion.

While George initially offered to host the event in Boulder, it quickly became apparent to the planning group that attaching the Pac-12 Sustainability Conference to the June, 2017 Green Sports Alliance Summit in Sacramento made the most sense. “Sacramento, right in the Pac-12’s backyard — the league office is in San Francisco — is a great location for our member schools, so costs would be kept low,” said Newport. “Plus it would be easier to draw people from non-Pac-12 schools since they’d already be out there for the GSA. And the late June timing was right.”

 

Bill Walton Poster

Poster for the Pac-12 Sustainability Conference, designed and created by Bill Walton (Credit: Pac-12 Conference and Bill Walton)

 

Over 150 people registered — the Pac-12 expected about 100 — small enough, per Newport, “so people could really learn from each other,” yet big enough to generate buzz and energy. Interest was not limited to the Pac-12. Attendees included an NCAA senior executive — more Newport: who was “very interested in figuring out how to seamlessly weave sustainability in to the 92 championships they administer” — as well as representatives from the Big 12, Big Ten and SEC schools.

As for what was discussed, perhaps not surprisingly, Sustainability Sponsorships (how to raise money for green-themed initiatives) and Engaging Fans (to be sustainable at home, work, and play) were the two subject areas that bubbled to the top of the conference agenda.

 

Sustainability Sponsorships

Seth Matlins, Executive Vice President of Branded Impact at IMG/IMG College, the sports marketing and sponsorship sales firm for six Pac-12 schools#, dug into the aspects of sustainability that should appeal to sponsors of college sports. Matlins holds that fans tell the story: “87% of [college sports fans] believe business should place equal weight on societal issues and business issues. 68% want the US to lead global efforts to slow climate change,” he said, citing the College Sports Fans over-index.

Colorado’s sports marketing and sustainability teams presented a case study highlighting Ralphie’s Green Stampedethe green-sports sponsorship platform that has yielded fruitful partnerships with BASF, Eco-Products, Pepsi, Wells Fargo, White Wave and others.

 

Fan Engagement

“CU Boulder and the Green Sports Alliance hosted a “Think Camp for Fan Engagement” last fall to develop a ‘Fan Engagement for Sustainability Playbook’,” said Newport. “We rolled out the skeleton at the GSA Summit and it was very well received, the evaluations were through the roof.”

 

dn.mug.2014.grin.gsa

Dave Newport, University of Colorado Environmental Center Director (Photo credit: University of Colorado)

 

The Playbook walks users (sports marketers, school sustainability professionals and more) through the steps needed to create and measure effective sustainable behavior change campaigns. And it connects fans with their teams’ sustainability initiatives and encourages them to participate in sustainable actions both in and out of the stadium.

After quick tutorials on how to 1) choose sustainability topics and 2) develop effective campaigns, attendees worked with their school groups to follow steps laid out by the Playbook and plan their own fan engagement-sustainability campaigns. Many focused on getting fans to properly recycle and/or compost in stadium and while tailgating.

Colorado Athletic Director George has no doubts that fans will enjoy engaging with green-themed initiatives from their favorite Pac-12 school: “Green/sustainability is a natural connector between the schools and the various communities we serve. Everyone wants a cleaner, healthier environment, after all. So people get this.”

But for fans to get it, they have to know about it. 

And they will.

“Pac-12 Networks covered the conference and produced a video that is being aired throughout the summer,” shared Zaninovich. “We’ve also included coverage of our schools’ sustainability work on various Pac-12 Networks live broadcasts, including football games.”

 

What’s Next?

The Pac-12 Sustainability Working Group was born at the conference. Made up of representatives from each of the league’s 12 athletic departments and from each school’s sustainability office, the team will work to ensure that the conference keeps pushing the green envelope on sponsorships, fan engagement, and overall awareness of the league’s sustainability advancements. This is a big deal.

“Hard as it may be to believe, before the Sustainability Conference, many sustainability people didn’t know the athletic directors,” noted Newport. “The Conference helped and the Working Group will help, too. We walked in as 12 schools; we walked out as one Athletic Conference, committed to growing the impact of sustainable college sports.”

Will there be a 2018 PAC-12 Sustainability Conference? And will other Power Five Conferences follow the Pac-12’s lead?

Atlanta is likely to host the next Green Sports Alliance Summit, not exactly a good geographic fit for a conference whose easternmost school is in Boulder, CO. But there are Pac-12 Athletic Directors meetings to which a Sustainability Conference could be attached.

Given the enthusiasm and initiatives coming out of the first Pac-12 Sustainability Conference, I doubt it will be the last.

 

* “Power 5” are the biggest, most powerful NCAA sports leagues/conferences. They include the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and the Southeastern Conference (SEC)
^ In addition to Colorado, the PAC-12 schools are Arizona, Arizona State, Cal-Berkeley, Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, UCLA, USC, Utah, Washington, and Washington State.
# Arizona, Cal-Berkeley, Oregon, UCLA, Washington, and Washington State are the IMG schools. Learfield, IMG’s main competitor, handles Colorado, Oregon State, Stanford and Utah.

 


 

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