by Marissa Rosen
Collegiate athletics programs can provide experiential learning and engage a broad audience, thus serving as a particularly attractive educational vehicle. Athletic teams and their events can build a school’s community, appeal to donors, strengthen alumni connections, attract prospective students, and generate school pride. They can also send a message of environmental sustainability.
Wharton’s Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership (Wharton IGEL) sponsored last Tuesday’s official kick-off dinner for the University of Pennsylvania’s Athletics Eco-Reps program. Thirteen founding Varsity athletes, along with coaches and supporting staff, have been strategizing since last fall to reduce their teams’ environmental impact, addressing water and energy conservation issues, recycling rates, fan engagement, and responsible sourcing. Penn’s unique program is part of the Ivy League Conference’s collaboration with the Natural Resources Defense Council Green Sports group and the Green Sports Alliance.
This seemingly small institutional movement within the Ivy League will have benefits far beyond the university campus. The sports industry in the U.S. is a $425 Billion business; few sectors reach a similar level of cultural and economic influence. The chemical, auto, textile, plastics, and food industries, to name a few, are all huge players in the sports sector. This means that a move towards environmental stewardship in the sports industry will be reflected in its supply chain through purchasing power.
And the community created through Penn’s Athletics Eco-Reps program extends well beyond varsity athletes. According to Dan Schupsky, Assistant Coach for the swimming and diving program, who launched the Athletics Eco-Reps program and organized last week’s event, Penn has “over two times as many recreational athletes as varsity athletes. Those recreational facilities are open to families and kids programs, too.” The Penn and Ivy League partnerships with the NRDC and Green Sports Alliance will, without a doubt, positively influence a broad range of stakeholders’ behavior change, and give rise to greater educational opportunities.
Since 2004, NRDC Green Sports has been the principal advisor to all U.S. professional sports leagues, using scientific expertise to reduce waste, improve public health and uncover cost savings. The event’s Keynote speaker Alice Henly, Coordinator of NRDC’s Collegiate Sports Greening Project, said she is “hoping to advise athletics and recreation departments on enhancing their environmental performance,” while building on the momentum already set by institutions such as Penn’s Green Campus Partnership’s Eco-Reps program.
The University of Pennsylvania’s Green Campus Partnership has been home to one of the nation’s largest Eco-Reps programs since 2009. Originating in the College Houses, the program has now expanded to Greek chapter houses and the Hillel community building, making Athletics the fourth program under this umbrella. Eco-Reps Coordinator Julian Goresko adds “Penn’s Athletics Eco-Reps demonstrated the opportunities for sustainability and sports partnerships. The event with NRDC is just a starting point for a conversation we hope will go much deeper.”