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Student Group Spotlight: Athletics Sustainability Committee

By Renee Wellman and Hannah Anderson

What do athletics have to do with the environment?

Many people have never thought about sustainability and sports. However, spectator sports also use significant amounts of money and resources, and generate lots of waste.  Sports can provide a unique platform to address these issues with their ability to unite people from different backgrounds who may not usually be interested in sustainability.

How did ASC get started?

A couple years ago, the Office of Sustainability reached out to a couple student athletes to brainstorm ways to reduce the environmental footprint of athletic teams and facilities. As a result, members of Northwestern’s cross country team ran with the effort  and began helping with a campus-wide shoe drive  Within the last year, students-athletes from Men’s and Women’s Soccer, Women’s Golf, Lacrosse, Volleyball, Baseball, and Fencing have stepped up to form the Athletics Sustainability Committee.During the past winter quarter, ASC  gained approval as an official student group.

What has the group accomplished so far?

As a part of our Green Games initiative, we volunteered at two basketball games to collect recyclable materials and increase awareness about environmental issues. We also coordinated a two-week shoe and clothing drive within the athletics department this April to support the Evanston School Children’s Clothing Association and Connections for the Homeless. These events complement our regular efforts to increase the number of recycling bins in athletic locker rooms, recycle food packaging used by student athletes, and turn off the lights around athletics facilities.

What current projects is ASC working on?

We are working with Pura Playa through a company called TerraCycle to recycle items, such as Solo cups at football tailgates, that cannot usually be recycled. We hope to implement this at next fall’s football tailgates. Additionally, we are looking forward to sending volunteers to Soldier Field to support their efforts to minimize plastic and energy waste at games.

Who is part of the group?

We currently have representatives from seven of the school’s varsity sports teams, but we are excited to work with club and intramural athletes, too. All students who are fans of athletics and recreation or interested in environmental issues are welcome.

Do other schools have similar initiatives?

Schools in the Big Ten are taking the offensive in sustainability initiatives across college athletics. Ohio State’s has a “zero waste” program, which has allowed them to divert 98 percent of waste from football games through recycling and composting, all in a stadium twice as large as Ryan Field.  Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium became the first football stadium in the country to earn LEED certification. Energy conservation measures in eight of Minnesota’s athletics facilities save the University $412,000 in energy costs every year. For more information view this report from the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Green Sports Alliance.

What do you hope ASC will accomplish over the next few years?

First, we hope to establish a working group with athletics administrators and students to regularly discuss these issues and make larger changes throughout athletics facilities. For example, we want to have an official “zero waste” program that will consistently track our improvements toward no landfill waste at football and basketball games. We also hope to collaborate with professional Chicago sports teams and other Big Ten schools to make competitions greener and raise awareness beyond Northwestern’s campus.

ACS meets once per month on Wednesday evenings. For more information email northwesternasc@gmail.com.

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