December 14, 2009

Bulldog Sustainability Making Environmental Strides within Athletics Department

Yale Athletics pursues more sustainable operations.

NEW HAVEN, Conn. - Even prior to the foundation of Yale's Office of Sustainability in 2005, the university held a place at the forefront of American universities when it came to environmental awareness. The Athletics Department, however, while still adhering to university environmental policies, was largely independent of the Office of Sustainability until last fall, when the two Yale departments, with the help of an anonymous donor who approached Yale with the idea of making the Athletics Department more sustainable, came together to found Bulldog Sustainability. Now one and a half years old, the program's stated mission is to "create a model of sustainable collegiate athletics that is measurable, transferable, and adaptable."

Since its foundation, student involvement has been an important element of Bulldog Sustainability.

"One of goals is to facilitate environmentally friendly behavior without inconveniencing any student-athletes," said Matthew Thurston, a student at the Forestry School and research assistant at the Office of Sustainability who also works for Bulldog Sustainability. As such, student-athletes were involved from an early stage. Shortly after the establishment of Bulldog Sustainability, a committee featuring representatives from various varsity teams was created to both gather ideas on how to improve the sustainability of the athletics department and to establish a better idea of exactly how great the environmental impact of each team was. Additionally, three students-women's rower Alice Henly, men's club rugby player Sam Teicher and graduate student Matt Bloem-were hired by the Office of Sustainability to work with several members of the athletics department on the Bulldog Sustainability effort. As its efforts grow over the next year, Bulldog Sustainability plans to elicit involvement from all students who use the Athletics Department's facilities, whether they are varsity athletes or simply casual users of the gym's fitness center.

In its first year, Bulldog Sustainability concentrated primarily on research and data collection. Looking to the practices of college athletics programs and professional teams around the country, the project team tried to identify ideas from around the country to incorporate into Yale's plans. Surveys of athletes and gym users were also taken in order to identify areas of concern.

"The first year of the Sustainable Athletics Project was focused more on understanding athletics as a system," said Thurston. "The Athletics Department is an unusually complex organization, both in terms of infrastructure and user groups."

In its sustainability efforts, Yale hopes to be a model for other universities around the country, and it has wasted no time in trying to do that. In January, Yale presented its sustainability plan at the annual NCAA Convention, and it is currently compiling reports to the NCAA and the Ivy Council detailing its sustainability practices.

"We hope to use these reports next semester to develop a model for other NCAA institutions," said Henly.

While the efforts of Bulldog Sustainability in its first year were focused on research, several significant changes have already been enacted within the athletics department. According to Bloem, the "most innovative and visible change the Department has implemented to date" has been the installation of IPod and cell phone chargers into cardio machines in Payne Whitney Gymnasium's Israel Fitness Center. Thanks to a device developed by Associate Professor of Engineering Hur Koser in conjunction with undergrad Henrique Rocha ‘09 and featured on the local NBC news as well as in the Yale Daily News. The device functions by turning mechanical energy created by the user of the machine into electricity, meaning that students can now save energy by charging their electronics while at the gym.

The real impact of Bulldog Sustainability thus far has not been made by breakthrough innovations, however, but rather a series of simple changes. Teicher pointed to the reduction of paper use and the encouragement of e-mail and online paperwork in the day-to-day operations of the athletics department as the most influential change to date.

"Limiting paper use is a subtle change," he said. "But it has a huge impact on the environment while also saving money, which is another positive when trying to convince people to change their habits."

Practices have been changed in all aspects of the athletics department, from maintenance to office work to the purchase of materials. Yale fields now mulch 80% of their waste, and the athletics department has committed itself to a more efficient use of pesticides for their care. Similarly, organic fertilizers are now used at the Gilder Boathouse, a change that did not increase costs for the university. Yale also plans to switch from plastic cups to more recyclable paper models on the sidelines during games and practices.

Additionally, Yale has incorporated its sustainability efforts into the renovation and construction of facilities. During the renovation of Ingalls Rink, waterless urinals were installed in the bathrooms, and, similarly, motion sensors and energy-efficient hand dryers were installed in multiple athletics facilities in an effort to save energy. The "greening" of existing facilities is a trend that the athletics department plans to continue in the years to come as well, as several new ideas are already on the table. The installation of solar panels on Coxe Cage was proposed last year, and a study of Payne Whitney Gymnasium indicated that energy use in the facility could be reduced by 45% by retrofitting the first and second floors. A study on the feasibility of solar-powered hot water in Payne Whitney is also underway.

In the near future, Bulldog Sustainability hopes to make its presence on campus more well-known by launching a series of communications efforts, which are, according to Henly, "focused on involving all students, staff, alums and the greater Yale public in the effort of living more sustainably, whether by creating less waste or using less energy." The program experienced great success in its ability to raise awareness within the Athletics Department last year, and it hopes that it can create awareness among other Yale students and employees as well.

"I think that the biggest impact last year was the level of awareness we raised amongst the staff of the Athletics Department," said Thurston. "By the end of the year, people were beginning to come to us with new ideas about reducing the environmental impact of athletics." By identifying and marking locations within athletic facilities that are sustainable, Bulldog Sustainability hopes to raise its profile to an even larger audience.

Compiled by Trey Chandler '11, Yale Sports Publicity

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