Ohio State worked with food vendors to switch from plastic to fiber nacho trays because plastic couldn’t be recycled with cheese stuck to it, said Corey Hawkey, the university’s sustainability coordinator. They also switched to wax paper to wrap hot dogs instead of aluminum foil, and got rid of paper cups with plastic lids, substituting plastic souvenir cups to be taken home.
Ohio State is among at least 200 schools that are trying to make their athletic programs greener. The interest across the country was on display last week at the first Green Sports Alliance Summit in Brooklyn.
Six hundred representatives from college and professional athletic organizations discussed ways to take chemicals out of lawn care, equip huge stadiums with low-flush toilets, treat wastewater on site and use it to irrigate the grounds, and reduce energy bills with wind turbines and solar panels.
“We’re doing it to show it can be done,” said Jay Kasey, Ohio State’s senior vice president for administration and planning. “We want to get students and get faculty involved in our most visible activity, seven home football games a year.
“We felt that if we could do this in football stadiums, we’ll learn a lot of techniques we can use across campus,” Kasey said. “If you can do it there, you can do it anywhere.”
As part of the summit, the Natural Resources Defense Council released a report, “Collegiate Game Changers: How Campus Sport Is Going Green.” It followed a similar report last year, “Game Changer: How the Sports Industry Is Saving the Environment.” Both describe how American sports have moved toward greater energy efficiency since 2007.
Sports have a long way to go before all franchises and institutions can be credited with dramatically shrinking the mountains of pollution they generate. But Alice Henly, a resource specialist and coordinator of college sports at Natural Resources Defense Council, said the summit is proof that the ball is rolling in the right direction.
“All sports and all major events have large environmental footprints — football, basketball, tennis, race car driving,” Henly said. “What’s valuable about the sports industry is it brings unique cultural, economic and social influence and visibility. There is this tremendous opportunity . . . to bring people together and encourage them to be environmental stewards.”
The sports arena is a huge stage. Forty-three million people attended NCAA football games in 2005, according to a
working paper by the International Association of Sports Economists and the North American Association of Sports Economists. More than 100 million fans attended NCAA basketball events, along with professional football and baseball games that year.