The University of Arizona has been nationally recognized for its leadership in sustainability after incorporating green initiatives into its varsity and campus recreation sports facilities, events and programs.
The Natural Resources Defense Council, or NRDC, released its Collegiate Game Changer report Aug. 26 at the Green Sports Alliance Summit in New York City. The report includes in-depth case studies of 10 leading universities, including the UA.
"The University of Arizona has been recognized several times over the past few years as a leader in sustainability in higher education," said Joe Abraham, director of the UA Office of Sustainability.
"By working with Intercollegiate Athletics, Campus Recreation and all the UA units and programs that support their facilities, and events, we're extending our campus goals to the tens of thousands of fans already engaging with the University through UA sports.”
The online report also includes results of the largest survey to date of green initiatives associated with college sports events and facilities in the U.S. The survey was administered by the UA Office of Sustainability with the support of the NRDC, the Green Sports Alliance, the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education and NIRSA: Leaders in Collegiate Recreation.
The survey yielded responses from 148 colleges and universities, most of them in the U.S., and reveals steps that higher education institutions are taking to be more sustainable in areas including alternative transportation, composting, energy efficiency, green building design, recycling, renewable energy and water efficiency, among others.
"It's the best snapshot to date of all the various programs," said Abraham, who said that the study was designed to "figure out who's doing what, and figure out what they're doing in terms of incorporating sustainability into sports and recreation."
Abraham said the survey results help advance sustainability efforts and best practices in collegiate and professional sports facilities, events and programs by incorporating and building upon initiatives that the UA has undertaken to "green" its sports and recreation programs.
The Student Recreation Center earned LEED platinum certification from the U.S. Green building Council, which maintains nationally accepted standards for green building and design. Platinum is the highest LEED rating a building can achieve, and the UA's recreation center was the first facility of its kind in the nation to earn the platinum rating.
"Facilities like the Student Recreation Center can become a showcase for positive change," said Lynn Zwaagstra, director of Campus Recreation.
"Numerous UA departments collaborate to assist with design efforts to create every efficiency possible. Students have a tremendous interest in actions that positively impact the environment and often generate creative and innovative ideas," Zwaagstra added. "They take pride in assisting by recycling and using the water bottle fill stations instead of purchasing plastic water bottles."
In addition, students have partnered with UA Facilities Management at home football games to institute recycling programs and engage fans in sustainable practices. In 2011, collaborators diverted more than 25 tons of recyclables from the landfill at six home games, and they hope to do much more with the continued cooperation of UA fans.
"Arizona Athletics is proud to partner with our campus sustainability team and is excited to help advance best practices nationally through the Green Sports Alliance," said Greg Byrne, UA athletics director. "We know that taking care of the environment is a passion for our fan base and our campus and we are excited to pursue all options that enhance the recycling efforts and a healthier lifestyle."
Zwaagstra also noted that the UA's Office of Sustainability "plays an integral role in all university sustainability efforts. Through their education, outreach and grant program, we all become more knowledge and better able to assist in the collective goal of greening facilities."
The UA Office of Sustainability also is conducting original research that will advance new standards for assessing and reducing the environmental footprint of large events at the UA, and elsewhere around the world.
Said Abraham: "We're using the 2012 and 2013 UA Homecoming weekends to develop a comprehensive 'cradle-to-grave' framework for assessing and reduce the environmental footprint of so-called mega events with several tens of thousands of attendees. We plan to publish our research next year so the transferable framework can be applied elsewhere."
The assessment has been led by graduate and undergraduate student researchers in the Office of Sustainability with support from Abraham and professors from the College of Engineering and Eller College of Management.
"We have so many fans," Abraham added, "that through these efforts we are able to have a positive impact in the larger community. And we have fun with it, too."