The University of Oregon has a long history of being sustainably green – and not just because green is their school color.
The school started a recycling program in 1971. UO students launched a zero-waste campaign in 1991, and the University developed a comprehensive environmental policy in 1997.
Oregon’s Athletic Department has been a key player in the University’s sustainability program. “Oregon Athletics is committed to playing a leadership role in the university’s greening efforts,” asserted Athletics Director Rob Mullens. In 2010, Oregon’s Athletic Department formed a Sustainability Committee to “foster awareness and minimize our environmental impact” and was among Green Sports Alliance’s earliest intercollegiate athletic members when it joined in 2012.
Oregon Athletics’ sustainability efforts go back to the 1990s when it started donating unsold concession food to a local food bank. This program expanded with a food drive where fans brought cans of food as their “admission tickets” to the football team’s annual spring football game. Over the years, hundreds of thousands of pounds of food have been donated to local food banks. Oregon’s football stadium, Autzen Stadium, started recycling paper, cardboard, and beverage containers in 2004. “Liquid Beverage Recovery Containers” were installed inside the stadium, which allowed fans to empty their bottles, cups, and cans before discarding them into recycling bins; they also helped to increase fan awareness about recycling. In 2011, a three-bin collection system – recycling, composting, and landfill – was introduced to simplify the process for fans. It helped boost the number of containers collected, from 43,000 in 2011 to 80,000 in 2012, and the composting and recycling rate from 20% to 60%.
A recycling program was also developed for those who tailgate, which happens indoors and outdoors in Oregon. On game days, the Moshofsky Sports Center transforms into an “indoor tailgating experience,” complete with the three-bin collection containers. Meanwhile, Oregon’s Green Team members distribute colored-coded bags out in the parking lots, which tailgaters use to deposit their empty glass, aluminum, and plastic beverage containers. The volunteers later retrieve the bags and help in the sorting process. This program’s success is exemplified by the jump in the stadium’s diversion rate from 19% in 2008 to 48% in 2012.
Autzen Stadium’s food vendors are also involved in the recycling campaign. The cooking oil used at concession stands gets recycled into biodiesel and used as low-carbon diesel fuel. Oregon asked food vendors and concessionaires to replace their service ware with compostable materials. In 2018, the Athletic Department and the UO Business School’s Sports Product Management program teamed up on an endeavor that upcycled excess athletic uniforms into fan gear. This repurposing project benefited the environment (jerseys were re-used rather than winding up in landfills) and the University (a portion of the proceeds go back to the SPM program).
Every season, the Oregon Ducks’ biggest football game is the “civil war” against their intrastate rivals, Oregon State. The 2015 game, played at Autzen Stadium, achieved historic ecological significance when it became the first collegiate football game to receive a gold certification from the Council for Responsible Sports. UO earned this accolade for its impressive achievements in CRS’s five standards: planning and communications, procurement, access and equity, resource management, and community legacy.
Autzen Stadium’s CRS gold joins the ones earned by Hayward Field, the University’s historic track and field stadium. Hayward Field has probably made the most significant impact on the Athletic Department’s sustainability initiative. In 2008 and 2012, the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials were held there and staged in an environmentally responsible way.
The 2008 Trials received the International Olympic Committee’s Sport and Environment Award, while its CRS gold certification was for the 2012 event.
“At the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Trials for track and field, we moved our community’s – and I think the U.S. Olympic Committee’s -expectations on sustainability from an event check-box to an approach that was integrated throughout all aspects of the event, from operations, marketing, and fan education and engagement to the athlete experience,” said Ethan Nelson, the sustainability committee chair for the 2012 Trials.
At these events, an integrated energy plan decreased the need for mobile generators, helping to lower overall energy. Recycling aluminum cans, paper products, and plastic contributed to a 68% waste reduction rate in 2008 and 78% in 2012. Over 79% of the plywood was reclaimed after the Trials. Similarly, recently renovated Hayward Field, salvaged materials were utilized in the new facility. A particularly creative eco-endeavors was the “TrackTown Power Station,” which let fans generate battery power by riding a spin bike (in 2008) and running in a human hamster wheel (in 2012).
The Matthew Knight Arena, the current home to Oregon’s basketball, volleyball, and gymnastic teams, opened in 2011 and delivered OU Athletics its first Gold LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. The arena earned this honor for its energy efficiency, water conservation, and eco-friendly building strategy.
The Oregon Athletic Department’s sustainability initiative has had projects that touch community members, humans, and other living creatures. Money generated from bottle recycling has gone to support high school band programs, and to volunteer for recycling duty has been fundraising for local groups too. In 2014, Oregon Athletics helped organize “Mud Stains for Floodplains,” a tree and shrub-planting volunteer event to help restore a four-acre parcel on Mount Pisgah outside of Eugene, Oregon. The University also installed nesting platforms on three 100-ft. lighting poles (one each at Autzen Stadium, Hayward Field, and the football practice fields) for osprey hawks who return each spring to the exact locations to mate.
“Oregon Athletics strives to reflect long-held values of the university, community, and state,” stated former UO associate athletics department director for facilities Bob Beals. “We believe that intercollegiate athletics can help set examples for more sustainable practices for university students and the community.