For the first time since joining the PAC-12 in 2011 the Colorado Buffaloes are competitive in the league. With their current conference record of 6-1 the Buffs are performing better than they have in over a decade. Even when the Buffs were trailing in the rankings, they were leading the pack in green sports. CU Boulder had one of the first major collegiate sports sustainability initiatives in the country, and the athletics department has embraced this aspect of their identity.
The greening process began in 2008 when Dale Newport, head of CU’s Environmental Center, reached out to then athletic director Mike Bohn about a zero-waste stadium initiative. Bohn’s reply was immediate and enthusiastic, to Newport, this was a surprise. Bohn already knew what Newport would soon learn — that the athletic department is uniquely positioned to act as a force for effective green action.
Ralphie’s Green Stampede started with the zero-waste stadium initiative which removed virtually all disposables from the stadium in favor of recyclable and compostable materials. The success of the program made way for the spread of eco-friendly behavior in the athletics department. From the athletic facilities on CU campus, which are certified LEED Platinum, to the waste- and car-free tailgate, presented by Ball, the athletics department has become a beacon of sustainability within the school and on the national stage.
Today, many of CU Boulder’s most aggressive environmental efforts are being run through the athletics department to take advantage of the particular motivation and influence unique to sports. Athletes of all kinds are concerned about what climate change means for the future of the world — and the future of their favorite sports. Athletics facilities have a lot of potential for sustainable improvements that can reduce their impact. Most importantly, sports teams have fans.
Fans are a key asset to any team. In turn, sports teams all over the world have massive influence over their fans, as evidenced by the huge salaries athletes can make promoting products. CU athletics and organizations across the world are taking advantage of their influence to induce climate-friendly behavior changes in their fan bases.
Ralphie’s Green Stampede doesn’t stop when the game ends. The fans who filled the stadium —and the recycling bins — disperse and take their team identity home with them. Changing that team identity to include sustainable practices has significant implications for the spread of green behavior.
The latest addition to the CU athletics sustainability roster is the Water for the West program which aims to reduce water use in order to keep the Colorado River flowing all the way to the ocean, providing vital ecosystem services along the way. The Buffs ask fans to pledge to reduce water consumption at home in order to make CU athletics a net-zero water user. In addition to fans making changes in their lives, the pledges to conserve water each put 1000 gallons of water into the Colorado via Change the Course.
When CU Boulder athletics began going green they were among the first in the nation, but they are not alone anymore. Across the country teams, stadiums, and athletic departments have been finding ways to minimize their impact and offset their effects.
In 2010 the Green Sports Alliance was founded to help teams and their fans go green. This year the White House announced national “Green Sports Day” and brought leaders from around the country together to discuss the projects underway all across the county. Support for green sports is a national and international trend that has been on the rise.
While the NHL is pursuing Greener Rinks, Protect Our Winters is organizing the outdoor sports community, and the PAC 12 is putting together a sustainability summit, CU continues to seek out new ways to make sports — and sports fans — a little bit greener.