In Gainesville, Florida, there’s a “swamp” that is a Platinum LEED green site. The Swamp is the longtime nickname for the University of Florida Gators’ football stadium, whose official name is the Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. And while Gators fans take football seriously, the University of Florida (UF) takes sustainability just as seriously.
The Swamp earned a LEED Platinum certification in 2009 for the impressive renovation job done as part of the construction of UF’s James W. Heavener Football Complex. It was the first U.S. athletic facility to receive the highest LEED accolade, which honored the building’s accomplishments for reducing energy and water consumption, utilizing eco-friendly materials and introducing innovative indoor & exterior designs.
UF’s football team ranks as a leader in carbon neutrality. The Gators hosted the first carbon-neutral NCAA football game, had the first carbon-neutral football season and are a driving force in America’s first carbon-neutral athletic department.
Every swamp needs a little water, and a little less water is needed in The Swamp following its renovations. New waterless urinals, dual-flush toilets, water-saving showerheads, and sensors for faucets, lowered water usage by over 40%–one urinal alone saves 40,000 gallons per year! Planting all native foliage and installing non-evaporating sprinklers, coupled with 100% of reclaimed water getting repurposed for irrigation, cut in half the amount of water needed for landscaping.
A 100% switch to LED exterior lighting reduced energy consumption as did improving HVAC efficiency by incorporating environmentally smart materials–like insulation and low-e-glazing on glass–were instrumental in reducing energy consumption. Applying EnergyStar reflective coatings to the roofs and utilizing light-colored concrete pavement in the plaza areas served to control temperatures, and consequently, lessened the need for electricity. Overall, the stadium’s energy savings surpassed state and national standard requirements by 35%.
The focus on sustainability can also be seen in the building process. The majority of the complex’s raw materials came from within 500 miles. Two-thirds of the construction waste was diverted from landfills which reduced carbon emissions and 53% of the wood used was Forest Stewardship Council-certified. Over a third of the Heavener Complex’s construction materials contained recycled content, including 99% of the reinforcing steel. Finally, the flooring is composed of approximately 30% recycled rubber.
The Complex’s furniture also features recycled material, without containing harmful volatile organic compounds (VOC) sand. In fact, all of the interior materials such as carpet, composite wood, paint, sealant, and adhesives, have no or very low VOCs, which creates a healthier environment for everyone inside the stadium and other Heavener facilities. Furthermore, MREV13 filters remove 98% of air pollutants entering the building while carbon dioxide monitors, situated in high-occupancy rooms, deliver fresh air if high carbon dioxide levels are detected.
In 2006, UF’s then-president Bernard Machen, a founding signatory of the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, pledged that UF would be carbon neutral by 2025. The University and the University Athletic Association (UAA) have worked together to reach this goal primarily by reducing carbon emissions and offsetting carbon emissions.
Simple steps inside the stadium make recycling easy for fans–garbage cans conveniently are paired with recycling bins and signs and photos show fans which can is the right one to use. The UAA also put together a “Put it in the right can, Gator fan” marketing campaign to educate fans about the recycling program.
Every item sold inside the stadium is designated as either compostable or recyclable. This includes all products at concession stands such as cans, bottles and souvenir cups.
Paper products, utensils, straws, and food waste, conversely, are compostable. These compostable items get turned into a nutrient-rich soil additive on site. In its first year, 2013, the Athletic Department’s Zero Waste Campaign achieved a nearly 80% landfill diversion rate at the football season’s final home game. Additionally, the leftover food from the boosters’ stadium boxes and vending now is donated within the community, helping to reduce waste and hunger around Gainesville.
Since 2008, Neutral Gator, another UAA-associated program, has initiated numerous environmental-oriented projects, especially ones supporting local communities. Natural Resources Defense Council research revealed that Neutral Gator, in its first five years, offset more than 10,000 tons of carbon through initiatives like installing or exchanging 63,000 CFL light bulbs locally. The initiative also provided low-income energy retrofits for free to 250 families, and planted 18,000+ native pines on local conservation lands. These programs also saved low-income Gainesville families over $3.5 million in utility costs.
The football team, as well as other Gator sports squads, regularly host Green Games to make their fans more knowledgeable about the university’s sustainability efforts and what people can do on their own – because improving the environment truly is a team effort.