Monica Rowand is one of the brightest, young stars in the Green-Sports world as she helps to lead the University of Louisiana’s (Lafayette) athletic department’s burgeoning sustainability efforts.
Despite Monica’s youth, her story is rich and deep, so much so that we’re dividing the interview into two parts. In yesterday’s Part I delved into her lifelong love affair with sports, her discovery of Green-Sports at UCLA and her work with Dave Newport and University of Colorado-Boulder’s powerhouse Green-Sports program.
In today’s Part II, we move with Monica to 1,200 miles to the southeast to Lafayette, LA to find out what she and the University of Louisiana’s sustainability department are doing to green the Ragin’ Cajuns athletics department.
To read Part I, click here
GSB: So what did you do after you got your MBA?
Monica: After graduating CU-Boulder in May 2017, I really wanted to stay in sustainable sports and would go anywhere to do it. My dad sort of became my agent and sent me the job listing at University of Louisiana in Lafayette for a sustainability coordinator — who turned out to be ME!
Monica Rowand (Photo credit: Monica Rowand)
GSB: I’m not surprised! I know you haven’t been in Lafayette long but I wonder what differences you’ve noticed between your new home, about 135 miles west of New Orleans, and Boulder — aside, of course, from the humidity. My guess is it’s a more complex comparison than the stereotypical Red State Lafayette and crunchy-granola-y Blue State Boulder.
Monica: Well, it is very early days for me here. But to compare the two, my observation is that the pride of place here is more powerful than it is in Boulder — and it’s strong there. But you can feel the pride people have for Lafayette. And that extends to athletics — the connection the community has to UL athletics is greater than it is in Boulder and CU is in the Pac-12, a Power 5 conference, and UL is in the less prominent Sun Belt Conference.
GSB: What a great atmosphere to be a part of. Was the sustainability department already involved in Green-Sports before you got to Lafayette?
Monica: Not in the way I was accustomed to from CU. During the interview process, I was blunt about wanting to build an award-winning Green-Sports platform and that we would use it to build the profile and impact of sustainability for the entire campus. Sustainability director Gretchen Vanicor, who would become my boss, agreed.
GSB: Was it a hard sell?
Monica: I thought I’d have a harder time, to be honest with you. But, like I said, Gretchen was on board during my interview process and then, once I started, the athletics department bought in almost immediately.
Interestingly, Learfield won the right to market UL Athletics a few months before I started. Soon after I started, I told our Learfield rep about what we did with Ralphie’s Green Stampede, the sustainability initiative at CU-Boulder Athletics and said I’d like to build something like that with the Ragin’ Cajuns.
GSB: But with CU, the Green-Sports infrastructure was in place…
Monica: You’re right, Lew. It’s definitely a slower build here in Lafayette. Our goal is to be Zero-Waste in football and then all sports and on campus.
GSB: What’s the time frame?
Monica: Not clear yet. But we only started recycling at Cajun Field and in the parking lots in 2014. Of course there’s no way we’re going to get to Zero-Waste unless we can compost. I asked Gretchen about it and she said “let’s go for it”. Which was incredible on her part. I started at UL in June and we kicked off our composting efforts just last month at our home football games.
GSB: That is very fast…
Monica: I know!! And composting at UL is not easy, as it turns out.
GSB: Why not?
Monica: The main problem was there is nowhere in the entire state of Louisiana to send commercial-scale organic waste to be composted. But we found a solution — composting on our own, at the Cade Experimental Farm. Which was phenomenal. But then there were permitting issues to get it hauled to the farm.
GSB: Really? What are those?
Monica: Well, without getting too much in the weeds here, the compost operations in Louisiana are traditionally only for things like agricultural byproducts and yard waste. We worked with the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry to create a plan that allows for a maximum 15 percent of our compost pile to be made up of food and compostable service ware from football games.
We need to prove to them that our “cocktail” of compostable plastic straws, plates, paper and such, is pure enough to not hinder the decomposition process. It’s now a Living Lab project for the University and we hope it will lead to greater post-consumer compost efforts in the state. We’ve already been contacted by festivals, food prep companies, and restaurants who have been looking for somewhere to send their compost!
GSB: No composting in the state so you decide to do it in house – BRILLIANT! For how long have the Ragin’ Cajuns been using compostable cutlery and flatware?
Monica: We just started that this season — again Gretchen, and thankfully our food service provider Sodexo, bought in immediately. We also have Zero Waste Goalies help fans during the game and then go sort through our compost bags to remove any contamination.
GSB: Who are the Zero Waste Goalies?
Monica: A mix of student volunteers, some Americorps volunteers and staff. Also we donate unused food through Second Harvest to local groups who can use it. And, since they can’t be recycled in our single stream system, we collect plastic bags and film separately and take them to a local grocery store.
GSB: Do you have results for diversion rates for the early season games?
Monica: Not yet, but based on the cubic feet of our bins I estimate we diverted about 50 percent of waste from inside the stadium. That will change because we measure diversion by weight and not size – but I’ll keep you posted. Our goal for the season is to achieve an average 65 percent total diversion.
GSB: Are you going to do the same thing with basketball?
Monica: Basketball is different. The team plays in the Cajundome which is not owned by the university. So we don’t have control of the venue and thus what we can do there is limited, at least for the time being. We will be looking at it, though. Baseball is next.
GSB: You must be thrilled with that!
Monica: I am indeed. It’s very big here. We’re not sure about the compost piece yet with baseball but definitely will increase recycling. Soccer is also something we will look at, as well as other Olympic sports. One great thing is that our office sits under the office of the university president, so sustainability has a seat at the table for athletics and beyond.
GSB: Going beyond waste, what is UL Athletics looking to do, if anything, regarding on-site renewables, energy efficiency, and more?
Monica: Great question. Once we get to where we want to be on waste diversion, we are going to take on transportation next. My goal is to build a mini-Boulder on clean transportation. We want to improve our bus system by creating a loop that will dramatically cut down car miles driven on campus. Bike share is already here; car ride sharing is on the drawing board. On energy, UL is at the leading edge of research on renewables. Ten percent of the campus’ electricity already comes from solar; we have a 1.1 megawatt (mW) solar farm tied directly into our grid about one mile from the stadium.
GSB: That’s great to hear. With all the work going on in Athletics and campus wide on waste, transportation and energy, how is the sustainability department connecting that to climate change?
Monica: We haven’t yet. Pride of place, a healthy environment, conservation and quality of life? Absolutely. We’re staying away from climate change right now.
GSB: Why do you think that is, what do you think will change it and when might that happen? Not to put any pressure on you, of course.
Monica: Climate change is a more difficult topic to grasp and sometimes hard to draw the connection in a few words or sentences. Behavior change 101 is to know your audience. We have to make tangible connections we know our audience has.
It relates back to what I said about the strong Ragin’ Cajun fan identity.
South Louisianans, like no other place I’ve lived – and I’ve lived in some gorgeous states – have a uniquely strong connection with their geography and environment. Take fishing for example. Whether it is for economic or recreation purposes, people here are in touch with the ecosystems that provide that opportunity. Things that harm that, say water pollution or salt water intrusion, are issues of concern.
In the case of zero waste and compost, yes, it is a means for reducing atmospheric methane emissions from landfills, the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that lead to climate change, but closer to home for people in South Louisiana, is the concept of “Cajuns Don’t Waste”. Some of the biggest local culinary traditions were created based on that concept – using every part of the pig at a boucherie, mixing smaller quantities of ingredients together for dishes like gumbo and jambalaya. Food in particular is a valuable resource that should not just be mindlessly discarded, but milked for all it’s got to offer. In the case of compost, we want to keep the nutrients from our organic waste in play by collecting, composting, and spreading the resulting soil back on our farms and gardens.
GSB: That is terrific, and well said, Monica. The thing is, especially in light of the new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, the threat from climate change is more pressing, more immediate than even previously thought, with potentially catastrophic consequences appearing by 2040.
So I get the basic conundrum: Folks in Ragin’ Cajun territory may not be ready for climate change messaging but the clock is ticking. Think about it this way: The UL Class of 2040 is being born now. So bringing climate change messaging to this audience ain’t gonna be easy. Far from it. But I know you are up for the challenge – that’s why UL is lucky to have you. You, Gretchen and company can do this! I look forward to keeping this conversation going.