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Home Field: Stanford Stadium, Palo Alto, CA

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The tree stands tall at Stanford University. While its sports team’s name is the Cardinal, the school mascot is an El Palo Alto Redwood tree. With trees being so significant to the school, it makes sense that the university prioritizes preserving them and the environment overall. The Princeton Review recognized its commitment with its highest possible green rating score. 

Photo Courtesy Stanford Athletics Media Center

Stanford Athletics also has been concerned with sustainability. Stanford Stadium’s recycling program was launched in 2004 and expanded to include recycling bins at the soccer, softball, and baseball fields. In 2009, the athletic department received a CalRecycle grant to help place bins at their facilities and increase public awareness. 

The athletic department partnered with Stanford’s Office of Sustainability in 2012 to start a workgroup and joined the nationwide Green Sports Alliance in 2013. Early “green” initiatives included creating a custom compost mixture, using green cleaning products, and finding funding to offset air travel emissions in the 2015 season.

Another example of the university’s sustainability efforts is the recycling program’s growth from collecting just over 3,000 pounds in its first year to 25 tons in the 2014 football season. The Green Sports Alliance showcased Stanford Stadium as a stop on its 2014 Stadium Tours circuit, while placed the university second that year for stadium sustainability among the top-25 ranked football programs. 

Compost bins debuted at Stanford Stadium in 2016, leading to the diversion rate doubling from the prior season, including reaching its all-time football Game Day Zero Waste Challenge diversion rate of 31%.

“Waste reduction is our biggest fan sustainability touch-point because fans generate tons of waste,” said Moira Hafer, a sustainability specialist in Stanford’s Department of Sustainability and Energy Management. “So we had to ramp up our waste diversion infrastructure, increasing the number of recycling bins, and adding composting and compostable service-ware to the mix.”

The Cardinal won Pac-12’s “Most Improved” honors for the 2017 Zero Waste Challenge, a year that saw a student-led food recovery program at football games collect 2,777 lbs of food to donate. Stanford kept improving by hitting a 43% diversion rate in 2018. Helping to achieve this mark was the 16% diversion rate from the tailgating lots, a difficult spot to collect recyclables. 

In 2017, it added 12 new sets of dumpsters to the tailgating area. Additionally, student interns and volunteers distributed recycling flyers and bags to fans. “Tailgate Kits,” packed with recycling instructions and color-coded bags, were introduced. Emily McLaughlin, director of Marketing at Stanford Athletics, explained that “we support Green Tailgating to our fans by encouraging tailgaters to use compostable cups and flatware or rent trash, recycling and compostable bins, and promoting alternative forms of green transit and in greater numbers.” 

Photo Courtesy Stanford Athletics Media Center

The tailgating area also benefited from replacing diesel light towers with more eco-friendly solar-powered lights. The school set up LED lighting in the Sunken Diamond baseball field, Avery Aquatics Center, Arrillaga Family Sports Center, and Maples Pavilion. Installing better HVAC systems helped drop energy consumption at Stanford Stadium, Avery Aquatic Center, Burnham Pavilion, the Arrillaga Center for Sports and Recreation, and the Maples Pavilion, which features a 636 kW solar array on its roof.  

Maples was also the site for impressive recycling, particularly at the women’s basketball games. By adding composting, Maples’ diversion rate jumped from 6% in 2015 to 28% in 2016, followed by an all-time high of 68% at the 2017 women’s basketball Game Day Challenge.

Water conservation is especially vital in California, which experienced a drought during the 2010s. Stanford Athletics cut water consumption by nearly 40% from 2014 to 2017, including saving 6.7 million gallons of domestic and 15 million gallons of lake water from 2014–15 to the 2015–16 season.

Improving irrigation systems and sprinkler heads lowered water usage by 20% at the Stanford Golf Course and installed four high-efficiency water fountains in the Arrillaga Family Sports Center, resulting in 50,000 fewer water bottles used each year. 

Engagement is another strength of Stanford’s sustainability initiative. An “All About No Waste” video, parodying the hit tune “All About That Bass,” was shown during games to demonstrate recycling and composting. Stanford Athletics does outreach through emails sent to season and single-game ticket holders, providing fans with recycling information, and getting basketball players to encourage fans to get involved. 

For its efforts, Stanford won the Fan and Athlete/Player Engagement Awards for the Zero Waste Challenge. The recognition doubled Stanford’s resolve to raise awareness about ecological issues. This year the university is opening a program focusing on climate and sustainability, its first new school in 70 years.


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