By Marta Lawrence
With football season in full swing, tailgaters around the country will pull into parking lots every weekend, hoist their red plastic cups, open a bag of chips and unwrap a package of hot dogs.
Higher education institutions and other sports organizations around the country, including the Chick-fil-A Bowl, have begun to embrace green game-day initiatives.
That’s all fun, but the waste created by thousands of hungry and celebrating fans can have a dramatic environmental impact (and that isn’t even counting the footprint for lighting the stadium, flushing the toilets and making fans comfortable).
Higher education institutions and other sports organizations around the country have begun to embrace green game-day initiatives. In fact, changing the culture of college football could be so impactful that the Environmental Protection Agency now sponsors the The Game Day Challenge, a friendly competition for colleges and universities to promote waste reduction at their football games.
Recognizing the environmental consequence of hosting a major bowl game, the Chick-fil-A Bowl has made a concerted effort to make sustainability a priority and promote green initiatives to its partner colleges and universities. In an alliance last year with Coca-Cola Recycling LLC, Waste Management, a sustainability consultant and the Georgia World Congress Center Authority, the Chick-fil-A Bowl instituted a recycling program that featured nearly 700 beverage-container recycling bins positioned throughout the facility and tailgating lots at the Georgia Dome. Specially marked recycling bags were distributed to and collected from tailgaters.
Those efforts resulted in almost 12 tons of the total waste material generated on game day being diverted from landfills, saving about 359 gallons of oil and 24,850 gallons of water.
The Chick-fil-A Bowl also was committed to several year-round efforts, such as switching print projects to Forest Stewardship Council-certified paper, using renewable energy to power the Georgia Dome on game day and a partnership with Home Depot to provide fans with coupons for complimentary compact fluorescent light bulbs,
In additional to all of those efforts, the group recently hosted a forum on sustainability issues in college athletics.
Gary Stokan, Chick-fil-A Bowl president and chief executive officer, said it was important for his organization to provide an opportunity to share best practices and promote environmental responsibility.
“There was such a level of collaboration that speaks to the NCAA and its member institutions in such a meaningful way on an important subject,” he said. “That’s what was exciting − to see the collaboration, to hear the questions, to see the interest in working together and hear some new ideas exposed.”
Stokan said the summit supports his organization’s mission to “be the leader in our industry in charitable and scholarship donation to our community.”
Twelve universities − including Auburn, Boise State, Clemson, Emory, Florida State, Georgia, Georgia State, Georgia Tech, Kennesaw State, LSU, Ole Miss and North Carolina − participated in the event.
“The one thing this conference did for everybody is that it allowed us to share information and collaborate about what works and what doesn’t work,” said Jamil Northcutt, associate athletic director for internal operations at Ole Miss. “The goal is the be industry leaders and for people to do something that is going to help our environment.”
Northcutt presented at the summit on his university’s recycling program and how Ole Miss has used humor and its coach to promote the initiative to fans.
“I really liked the Ole Miss Crunch Time video,” said Florida State Director of Campus Sustainability Elizabeth Swiman. “They use their coach and I think that’s a really strong message, saying the coach supports this. People really believe in the coach and so I’d love to have something like that here.”
Stokan said, “It was a great collaboration of facilities, universities, sponsors and us to really talk through issues and relay best practices.”
Chick-fil-A plans a similar summit next year and hopes to include resource booths where participants can learn more about sustainable products offered by Chick-fil-A partners.
Swiman, who plans to bring someone from her athletics staff next year, commended the combination of facilities and athletics representatives.
“Working with athletics at any university is something we all need to learn to do better,” she said. “Having them there to share their side, I think, was really insightful.”
Ole Miss’ Northcutt said the opportunity to compare notes is especially valuable.
“Obviously you have a group of colleagues that are doing this type of thing and now you have someone to call on to ask, ‘OK, how are you doing this? How can we get started?’ and they can help you,” said Northcutt.
Swiman said it is important for bowl games and athletics departments to address the environmental impact of their events. “Overall I think it was really great,” she said of the Chick-fil-A Bowl. “I really commend their efforts to bring us all together and talk about this. They brought the right people together, and I really hope that they continue it and we can have some more in-depth conversation about it.”