Penn State officials are hoping to achieve a lofty goal this football season at Beaver Stadium. It’s the first step in a sustainability initiative to reduce the environmental impact of sporting events at University Park.
For the upcoming football season, University leaders are hoping to achieve a 100-percent landfill diversion rate within the suite sections of Beaver Stadium — meaning, to recycle or compost all items that can be reused or otherwise saved from a landfill.
Judd Michael is a faculty member in the College of Agricultural Sciences and has worked with officials from The Sustainability Institute and intercollegiate athletics for more than a year; Athletics created a 13-person green team comprising staff members in early 2013. Together, they’ve created a program in which fans watching from the suites have appropriate recycling and composting options readily available, with Green Drop Recycling Stations located within the President’s and Governmental Affairs suites that capture potential trash and lower the waste stream.
Michael received a grant from The Sustainability Institute in 2013 to look at ways to make Penn State’s Intercollegiate Athletics more sustainable. As part of the grant, he began working with the Green Sports Alliance, and said that beginning in the suites section seemed more reasonable since creating a program for the entire stadium “seemed too big to tackle right away.” With then-President Rodney Erickson’s support, Michael and his team decided to turn the two suites into showcases for the zero-waste and sustainability efforts.
It doesn’t have an official name, but Michael and his team call it the “Athletics Zero Waste Initiative,” and it fits within the University-wide model of sustainability, he said.
“My program could not work without the support of the Office of Physical Plant, Hospitality, Athletics and the Office of University Development,” Michael said. “They all have played key roles in getting to zero-waste, and this is a great example of how collaboration on campus can lead to more sustainable outcomes that also save money and resources.”
The program achieved a 97-percent diversion rate for the 2013 season; the percentage greatly increased as the season progressed, with more than 500 fans in the two suites generating only 1.2 pounds of trash for the last two home games. Then, earlier this year, the Blue-White game marked a true zero-waste event with a diversion rate of 100 percent. Now, the goal is to keep that momentum going, and Michael and other officials are confident that can happen.
One reason why the program has been successful is that fans have embraced the concept, Michael said. Last year at his pre-game tailgates, Erickson announced the previous game’s diversion rate, and Michael said fans showed great interest in the percentage and regularly made comments about how they wanted to do better in each subsequent game.
“Fans in the suites would approach me or the student volunteers and ask questions about the bio-based products used in utensils, cups, etc. and are amazed at what is now made from plants instead of petroleum,” Michael said. “We also see some fans reminding others to put their recyclables into the proper bin instead of throwing them away.”
This initiative in the suites is a first step. Officials are hoping to learn from this experience and expand the program to all of Beaver Stadium and other athletic venues on campus, with Michael saying Pegula Ice Arena should boast a similarly impressive recycling/composting program this season.
Sustainability isn’t a new concept for Penn State, which recently received one of the top facilities honors in the country, APPA’s 2014 Sustainability Award; APPA is the professional association of educational facilities in the United States, Canada and abroad. And in 2006, Medlar Field at Lubrano Park became the nation’s first LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Certified baseball stadium in the country, an achievement that industry magazine BioCycle spotlighted last year.
To read the full Penn State report, click here and scroll to Page 75. Penn State’s women’s soccer coach Erica Walsh and associate athletic director Mark Bodenschatz provided quotes, and the report also stated that all of Penn State’s sports facilities have been using environmentally preferable cleaning products and processes since 2008.
There’s also information on Pegula Ice Arena, the University’s new ice hockey rink that consumes 18 percent less energy than an average campus building; Penn State anticipates that Pegula Ice Arena will achieve LEED Gold Certification.
Many college and professional teams have similar programs with the goal of achieving zero-waste, Michael said, and he’s learned from visiting such facilities at the University of Colorado and the NBA’s Portland Trailblazers. Some schools, such as Arizona State and Oregon University, are ahead of Penn State with stadium recycling; and although Ohio State is also slightly ahead, Michael thinks Penn State can match the Buckeyes this year with the continued improvement of recycling in Beaver Stadium.
He said that some keys are making recycling easy for fans and that there needs to be marketing and signage that’s very clear and understandable, and that volunteers need to be present to educate fans on the sustainable culture that’s now permeating Penn State athletic events. It also helps to have vendors who make available items that are either recyclable or compostable, Michael said.
He referenced professional teams, such as the Pittsburgh Pirates, Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Eagles as other examples of large athletic venues that use sustainable operations as a way of saving money on expenses and also adding revenue through corporate partners.
Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in AlumnInsider, the Penn State Alumni Association's monthly member e-newsletter, and is the fourth story in a four-part series on sustainability at Penn State.