Folsom Stadium holds up to 50,000 spectators. Coors Events Center holds over 11,000. In both places here at the University of Colorado Boulder (CU-Boulder), a passionate community gathers together to watch their team play and, hopefully, win.
It has long been known the power that sports have for advertising. The Super Bowl’s iconic commercials demonstrate the lengths that companies will go to promote their product or brand. As fans choose one side to support on the field, companies jump in to endorse a certain team or the sport itself. Whether consciously or subliminally, sports and sports teams become associated with brands and behaviors. Why else do we pair pizza and beer with watching football?
This is the power of sports, but not its full potential.
During home football and basketball games here at CU-Boulder, Ralphie’s Green Stampede, named for the CU-Boulder mascot, sets up zero-waste stations in Folsom, the football stadium, or Coors, the basketball arena, with zero-waste goalies at each station. At these stations, fans are directed to properly dispose of their waste in either a recycle or compost bin. Since spectators cannot bring non-recyclable or non-compostable materials into the venue, and because food and beverage vendors are required to use recyclable, refillable, and compostable items, the result is a zero-waste event. Almost everything that is thrown out during a game at Folsom and Coors never reaches a landfill, but is recycled or composted instead.
Sports sustainability does not end with responsible stadium practices. A lot has been done operationally to improve CU-Boulder’s footprint. With its Water for the West initiative, CU Athletics will balance its water use by funding restorative projects in the Colorado River basin. In the Bring your Bottle Back to Life initiative, the bottles recycled at home games are manufactured into shirts, shirts that are then thrown back to fans whenever a touchdown or three-point shot is scored.
Less visible improvements have also been made. Since 2013, all campus turf and sports fields have been managed without the use of chemicals or pesticides, which saves time and money while improving both the turf and players’ health. Smart financial management has allowed Athletics to invest in solar power and purchase carbon offsets, making the entire program carbon neutral. Not to mention that all new sports facilities, including some already built, are expected to be LEED Platinum certified. All of this progress can be drawn upon to inspire change in fans’ behavior. Promoting the Water for the West initiative encourages fans to reduce water use at home, while the Bring your Bottle Back to Life initiative promotes the benefits of recycling. CU-Boulder is demonstrating that sustainability is rewarding, which is why Ralphie’s Green Stampede asks fans to make small pledges towards being sustainable. Results show that the more that fans are aware of Ralphie’s Green Stampede and CU-Boulder’s steps toward sustainability, the more likely they are to make similar choices at home, work, and in play.
In essence, modeling ideal behavior in the realm of sports can potentially lead to a transfer of those behaviors to fans’ everyday lives.
This means that it is possible for social norms to be changed for the better by using sports. Instead of endorsing soda or chips, Ralphie’s Green Stampede promotes sustainable behavior. This creates the demand for sustainable options in society, and demand leads to change. And when there is enough public demand, some company or government will take on the role to supply said demand. After all, Ralphie’s Green Stampede demonstrates that sustainability is not only socially desirable and environmentally responsible, but economically advantageous too.
This is the significance of next generation fan engagement, and CU-Boulder is among the pioneers. So the next time you are at a football game or just sitting on your couch at home, join your fellow Buffs and take a step towards living more sustainably.