Students Spotlight Sustainability in NC State Sports

These days it’s not enough to win on the sports field.

Over the past decade, many professional and collegiate sporting teams, organizations and events have launched robust sustainability initiatives that build efficiency, minimize environmental impact and engage fans. That includes NC State’s Wolfpack, as students learned during two recent sports and sustainability events on campus.

sports sustainability
Student volunteers from the Wolfpack Environmental Student Association collect recycling from fans during a Feb. 12 Wolfpack women’s basketball game at Reynolds Coliseum.

At a February women’s basketball game, the Wolfpack Environmental Student Association (WESA) partnered with NC State Athletics on a sustainability-themed fan experience including exhibits, half time activities, recycling efforts and carbon offsets of fan travel to and from the game. Fittingly, the newly-renovated Reynolds Coliseum hosted the game, providing an opportunity for fans to learn about sustainability features of the renovation.

WESA also hosted a February student event on sustainability in NC State sports, featuring panelists from the university’s wellness, athletics, recycling and sustainability programs.

“We felt like our university was doing some pretty amazing things and were amazed that more people and students didn’t know about them,” said WESA co-president Allie Dinwiddie. “In planning this panel, we wanted to make the sustainability efforts in sports and wellness programs more transparent.”

Dr. Jonathan Casper, an associate professor in the Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management, studies sustainability in sporting organizations and has been part of a multi-year partnership to advance sustainability in NC State Athletics.

“We’re looking at ways to reduce environmental impact and reach the general public,” Casper said. “Sustainability provides a lot of value to the fan experience and engages new audiences.”

So far, NC State sports sustainability efforts have included sustainability emphases at soccer and football games, faculty research on air quality in football tailgating lots, Athletics facilities pursuing national certification for sustainability, indoor air quality enhancements in facilities and energy and water saving programs.

Perhaps the most visible sustainability initiative is WE Recycle, a football tailgating recycling program that was started by a student in 2003 and has become a model for other universities.

Composting was made available at the 2014 and 2015 Kay Yow Spring Football Games and is now offered at all home football games.

Building on WE Recycle’s success, NC State’s Waste Reduction and Recycling started Carter-Finley Composts in Carter-Finley Stadium in 2014. The effort expanded to a pilot program during the 2015 football season and became a stadium-wide initiative in the 2016 season. Both the recycling and composting programs are made possible by campus and community volunteers.

“I have students and community members who volunteer for our program and the only reason they come is because of sustainability. They want to volunteer and do something with their time that helps the planet,” said Lani St. Hill, outreach coordinator for NC State’s Waste Reduction and Recycling.

Like sustainability, sports connect people, St. Hill said. And that’s why fan engagement is a high priority for the Wolfpack’s sustainability programs.

“We have the opportunity to lead by example,” said James Greenwell, NC State’s senior associate athletics director for strategic resource allocation and risk management. “[During home football games], there are 57,000 people in our classroom. There’s a lot of opportunity. We can show that you can come to the ball game and have fun and be sustainable at the same time.”

Sustainability also extends to NC State’s wellness initiatives and recreational facilities, such as the new Carmichael Recreation Center addition and renovation project that will intentionally integrate sustainability.

“Things that are good for one’s health can also be good for natural resources and saving money,” said Shannon DuPree, University Recreation’s wellness specialist.

Additional opportunities to integrate sustainability are being identified, and leaders such as sustainability program coordinator Liz Bowen hope sustainability momentum continues growing.

“There’s always something we can do,” she said. “We can help lead the way.”