Green Athletics Conference encourages sustainability in sports

Students and employees gathered at the University of Miami’s Schwartz Center on Nov. 7 for the annual Green Athletics Conference. The event brought speakers onto campus who shared their experiences and taught attendees how to increase sustainability in collegiate athletics.

This year, the speakers were Jeff King, vice president of facilities at the Miami Marlins stadium, and Dave Newport, director of the environmental center at the University of Colorado Boulder. In their speeches, they both shed light on the recent strides in sustainability initiatives.

Here in Miami, Jeff King has been working to transform the way the Marlins do business. The baseball team has significantly lowered its waste production and now recycles a high percentage of its output. Since 2013, the Marlins have consistently had the lowest waste production of any team in the eastern conference, and ranked sixth among all MLB teams in recycling efforts.

But King said the Marlins are not stopping there.

“Just over a year ago we had a change of ownership,” said King. “The previous owner did not care much about our green efforts. We are in the midst of a whole bunch of marketing and rebranding to really begin to promote sustainability.”

The Marlins’ upcoming changes include implementing a waste processing mechanism, which would aim to transform Marlins Park stadium into a zero-waste facility. King also has plans to convert all stadium lights to more energy-efficient LED lights.

“This will not just be a great start for the Marlins, but for Miami as well,” King said.

However, King also described the problems that his team has faced in their mission to make athletics more sustainable.

“One of our challenges is that our population in South Florida really hasn’t adopted the culture of recycling yet,” he said.

At the University of Colorado Boulder, the athletics department found a way to incorporate a culture of sustainability and environmentalism into its fanbase’s identity. Speaker Dave Newton explained that “the whole idea is to norm sustainability as a part of our fandom.”

The football games and tailgates at UCB are zero-waste, glass-free and car-free events. During the games, announcements educate fans about ways to improve the environment, not just at the game but at home as well. Newton said this method has proved highly effective throughout the university’s community.

“We have a fan engagement initiative,” said Newton. “By stimulating people with the idea that being a Buff fan means sustainability is shown at home, work and play, these behaviors in our community have soared.”

Many of the conference attendees said they left the event with a better understanding of the intersections between sports and sustainability.

“It was great hearing from both the Marlins and Boulder, who are clearly both ahead in what they are doing,” said Iva Earley, a UM athletics employee and a graduate student studying sports administration. “We really need to follow their example and model it in our own athletics program.”

UM plans on joining the Green Sports Alliance, a coalition of professional sports teams and universities with the goal of promoting sustainable practices at sports stadiums and facilities.

Freshman Wyatt Kopelman, who volunteers for UM’s green athletics program, said he believes that every sports fan must play a part in promoting sustainability efforts across campus.

“We need to get students involved who are passionate about sustainability,” he said. “It doesn’t just matter in sports but in every aspect of our campus. Change all starts with us.”