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Innovation

Home Field: The University of Utah’s Athletic Department Gets A Gold Star

Utah Stadium News

Over the past decade, athletics and sustainability have been linked at the University of Utah. It was in 2011 that Utah joined the prestigious Pac-12 Athletic Conference. That year, Utah also joined the Pac-12 schools’ environmentally-focused trade organization, the Green Sports Alliance.  

In 2011, the University also brought home a Bronze distinction from the Sustainability Tracking Assessment & Rating System (STARS) of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.

This rating motivated the University of Utah into ramping up its environmental efforts. Nearly a decade later it has earned a Gold STARS score, with the Athletic Department playing a big role in this advancement. 

During the 2011 season, the Recycle Rice-Eccles program at Utah’s football stadium grew from about a dozen to 300 student volunteers. Among those spearheading this change was student volunteer Seth Crossley, who explained that “volunteers would be the best way to bring awareness to recycling.” Green t-shirts and free game admission helped to attract more student volunteers while giveaways and drawings helped to attract fans’ interest by making recycling fun. As a group, they managed to amass more than 35 tons of recycled materials that football season with a nearly 25% rate of diversion from landfills. 

Photo Courtesy Utah Stadium News

Another student-spurred innovation was using bikes to collect recyclables around the tailgate lots at football games, which also helped raise awareness about sustainability. Initially, three bikes were deployed – but the number has doubled over the years with RecycBike Brigade. The cargo bikes gather up aluminum, plastic, and glass for recycling. Members of Utah’s track team and its championship ski team volunteered in 2019 for the Brigade, and fans enjoyed getting to meet these athletes, which in turn, helped to engage people in the recycling process. 

Football games are a prime focus for tackling recycling because football, along with men’s basketball and gymnastics, are the events at Utah that create the most waste.

The Pac-12 launched its Zero Waste Challenge games in football and basketball in 2012 as a way to raise conservation awareness and spark action to help conserve water and reduce pollution and waste.

Utah won the Fan Engagement Award for the 2017 Challenge. For this year’s Zero Waste Football Game Challenge, Utah fans were urged to bring their own empty water bottles as a way to cut down on plastic use and water waste. 

Through the University’s partnership with the Utah Transit Authority (UTA), fans can use their game tickets to get a free UTA ride to sporting events on campus. It’s estimated 140,000 fans each year choose to use this public transportation option instead of driving their cars. This season, Utah also instituted a paperless ticket system for football games, and other events, which decreases paper use and waste. 

Sustainable changes are also in progress with the buildings and infrastructure of the Athletic Department. As part of the Green Sports Alliance, the Utah Athletics Department is dedicated to following energy-efficient and sustainable practices for its new buildings. This commitment is highlighted in the Jon M. and Karen Huntsman Basketball Facility, which opened in 2017.  It’s the first Utah athletic building to be awarded a LEED Gold Certification.

Photo Courtesy Utah Stadium News

The facility, according to project designer Jeremy Krug, “was designed to integrate the University’s mission of sustainability as a core principle.” The structure is composed of nearly 25% recycled materials and over 10% of the materials came from within 500 miles of the university, which cuts down on transportation-created pollution.

Builders also were able to divert almost 85% of on-site construction waste from landfills. The stormwater management system was designed to decrease water runoff caused by major rainstorms. Lighter materials were used on the roof, which also holds a terrace and garden. These choices act to lower the urban heat island effect as well as decrease sun reflection, which can harm surrounding wildlife habitats.

All of the interior and exterior light fixtures are LEDs, and the exterior fixtures are positioned to minimize light pollution, increase nighttime visibility, and lessen the impact on surrounding environments. This type of lighting saves nearly 150,000 kWh annually, and Utah Athletics has achieved more energy savings by installing LED lighting in the tennis center, the soccer field, the gymnastics center, and other facilities. Additionally, the Huntsman’s windows, insulation, and HVAC systems further reduce energy waste. 

The just-completed renovations for Rice-Eccles Stadium were done to meet LEED Silver standards, and help the university reach its carbon-neutral goals by 2050. The upgrades 

include a hot water heating system and a well-water cooled heat pump chiller.

The Eccles Football Center, which opened several years ago, already received a Silver LEED. Hosting a sports medicine complex, conditioning center, and practice fields, the building features energy-efficient windows and insulation, along with a superior air quality filtering system.  

“We are thrilled that Athletics shares our vision to create a more sustainable campus,” said Utah’s recently-retired Deputy Chief Sustainability Officer Myron Willson. “They understand that our environments not only impact the ecosystems around us, but also the health and wellness of the student-athletes and staff that occupy the facility every day.”

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