The University of North Carolina has a championship history on the field of play, and the athletic department is making strides to become champions of sustainability as well.
The UNC Office of Waste, Reduction and Recycling (OWRR) recently undertook a study to understand the sustainability efforts being made at Carolina’s athletic facilities. How environmentally friendly is Carolina athletics, and what can be done better? How well does the athletic department mesh with campus-wide sustainability efforts? The Carolina athletics department concentrated their efforts in six specific areas: energy, water, recycling, transportation, purchasing and service. What the study found was that Carolina athletics is taking meaningful steps toward sustainability in line with the greater campus.
“It was a pleasant surprise,” said BJ Tipton, solid waste program manager at the OWRR. “A lot more happens than we realize.”
For example, Carolina in 2009 outlined a strategy to become carbon-neutral by 2050. Several Tar Heel athletics facilities have reduced energy usage by installing LED light bulbs. Five years ago, Kenan Stadium switched from several light standards around the facility to two banks of LED lights atop the Pope Box and the press box, respectively.
Most of the energy used on campus goes toward heating, ventilating and cooling. To help conserve energy, doors are kept closed and building temperatures are monitored closely. Many facilities are also monitored via the Energy Management Control System, a computerized dashboard that allows facilities staff to keep an eye on steam, water and power usage and respond quickly to aberrations.
Between Kenan Stadium, Fetzer Field, Boshamer Stadium, Anderson Stadium, Navy Fields, Finley Golf Course, Finley Fields and Hooker Intramural Fields, Carolina has many outdoor athletic sites that require irrigation. In the last six years, the university has moved to non-potable water for watering fields and a great majority of the campus facilities use reclaimed water for both irrigation and flushing toilets. Some fields even capture rainwater and runoff for irrigation use. The reclaimed water system is both environmentally friendly and more fiscally responsible as it reduces demand on Chapel Hill drinking water.
Many of the sustainability efforts being undertaken at Carolina are ‘passive’ exercises, or things that fans might not notice, like the lighting or irrigation changes. But at least one
aspect of sustainability in recent years is certainly ‘active’: recycling. In the last ten years alone, recycling bins have become more prominent at games, and fans are being encouraged to recycle at tailgates with the ‘Rameses Recycles’ program. “‘Rameses Recycles’ is where we have the deepest fan engagement,” said Natalia Posthill, OWRR recycling coordinator. “People are expecting it when they come to the games.”
Club sports athletes hand out bags for recycling at tailgates, which are then collected. There are Coca-Cola branded recycling bins at Kenan Stadium, and the OWRR chooses a Rameses Recycling Tailgating Fan of the Week when they find someone who is recycling correctly. After football games, campus ROTC members clean the stands and sort recyclables as well. “The first run we do with our cleaning crew is to pick up any recyclables that people leave in their seats,” said Richie Grimsley, assistant director of athletic facility planning and management.
Recycling has become such an ingrained part of Carolina football that fans often ask for bags ahead of time as they pack tailgate kits for several games in advance. “We try to make it as convenient as possible,” Posthill said.
In addition to recycling, composting is emerging as a facet of the the Carolina athletic sustainability effort. Presently, some vendors and the Blue Zone kitchen separate food waste for composting. In the future, there could conceivably come a time when Carolina football has a zero-waste policy a la Ohio State and UNC-Charlotte. That is, there are recycling bins and compost bins, and everything available at games (including packaging, cups, etc.) would fit in one bin or the other. Food waste is composted for use in potted plants on campus, for example, and recycled materials could potentially be reused for other purposes. “You could be sitting on something recycled,” Tipton said.
It’s particularly important for recycling and sustainability efforts to be visible at athletic events, as they draw fans (and opponents’ fans) to campus from other areas. “We bring the most people to campus consistently,” said Grimsley. “It’s important that we’re a player in this.”
Carolina wants to put its best foot forward and set an example, so mirroring efforts on campus at athletic sites is critical. “It’s helpful for our peers to see a cohesion between events on campus and athletic department events,” Posthill said.
“From a visitor’s perspective, we’re all one university,” added Tipton.
The campus is making a considered effort to update transportation, phasing out less fuel-efficient vehicles for E85 buses and motor pool vehicles. Conference expansion necessitates air travel to and from athletic events, but the university employs fuel-efficient vehicles for local events and for transportation to and from airports. Utility vehicles for use on campus are being transitioned to electric as well.
Carolina’s sustainability efforts extend to purchasing as well. You may recall that in two recent seasons the men’s basketball team wore Nike Hyper Elite uniforms, made from recycled plastic bottles. These uniforms may be just the beginning of a sustainability movement in athletic wear.
Off the field, many of the supplies Carolina purchases come from recyclable materials, including paper, napkins and toilet paper. Groundskeepers at Boshamer Stadium use natural and organic fertilizers and hybrid lawnmowers.
The service efforts undertaken by Carolina athletics teams often benefit both the community and the environment. For example, many of the teams collect and donate gently used clothing for donation, as well as toiletries from road trips, or tennis shoes and equipment. The field hockey team collects sunscreen for the Inter-Faith Council Community House.
Carolina’s sustainability efforts extend from the greater campus throughout the athletic department, and the changes being made benefit the university community and beyond. As technology enables more reduction of waste, reuse of materials and resources and recycling, Carolina’s efforts will continue to adapt and evolve. “We’re always looking for ways to do things better,” Tipton said.
Carolina athletics have made small changes year to year that may look incremental, but when viewed with the benefit of hindsight, it’s clear that those small yearly shifts are making change on a much larger scale. If, as it is often said, athletics are the ‘front porch’ of the university, then surely there is a recycling bin in the driveway, a compost bin out back, and the front yard is irrigated with reclaimed water.
“If we can do small steps each year just to improve on the program, each year, we can bite off another little piece to get closer to our goal,” Grimsley said. “We’ve just taken small steps every year, but when you look back at the whole picture and everything we’ve done, we have made a big stride by taking smaller steps.”