New Research Shows Collegiate Athletic Departments Playing Catch-up on Sustainability

Embargoed until 12:01am EST Thurs, July 30, 2009

Contact: Seann Sweeney, Resource Center Manager
Phone: (970) 817-0986
Email: seann.sweeney@aashe.org

New Research Shows Collegiate Athletic Departments Playing Catch-up on Sustainability

The 2009 Collegiate Athletic Department Sustainability Survey Report (pdf) shows that while sustainability efforts appear to be growing within collegiate athletics, commitment to sustainability is lower among athletic departments than compared to their institutions as a whole and to professional sports teams.

The survey of collegiate athletic departments, which was released today by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), found that almost 75 percent of respondents expect the emphasis on environmental programs in the Athletic Department to increase in the future. However, while nearly three out of four athletic departments reported that sustainability initiatives are a “very high” or “high” priority for their institution as a whole, less than half (44 percent) of respondents said that sustainability was a very high or high priority for the athletic departments themselves.

Likewise, a similar survey of professional sports teams seems to indicate greater dedication to sustainability across a range of questions. For example, 56 percent of professional teams said key decision makers have a "strongly positive" perception of implementing environmental initiatives compared to only 33 percent of collegiate athletic departments. In another example, 47 percent of professional teams are currently measuring or planning to measure their greenhouse gas emissions while only 9 percent of collegiate athletic departments are doing so or planning to do so.

Additional findings of the survey include:

  • Just under 10 percent of collegiate athletic departments have developed a formal sustainability plan with short and long term objectives. Another 15 percent are actively considering developing such a plan.
  • Energy efficiency/conservation and recycling are receiving the most emphasis within athletic department environmental initiatives. Natural/local food appears to be receiving the least emphasis.
  • A majority of athletic departments are not currently measuring the greenhouse gas emissions associated with any aspect of their operations.
  • Seven percent of athletic departments have formed a departmental green team and another 15 percent are planning to do so.
  • A representative from the athletics department is serving on an institution-wide sustainability committee at over 40 percent of the institutions covered by the survey.
  • Almost 80 percent of respondents did not know if their institution had signed the American College & University Presidents' Climate Commitment.

"Through their high visibility and close connection with fans, collegiate athletic departments have an incredible opportunity to move the ball forward on sustainability," said the author Mark McSherry, who conducted the survey as part of a graduate course offered through the Harvard University Extension. "It's still early in the game and there are encouraging signs that Athletic Departments are rising to the challenge of tackling sustainability issues."

The survey was distributed to the 119 athletic departments at National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly known as Division 1A) universities. 97 institutions - 81.5 percent - responded to the survey.

About AASHE
The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) is an association of colleges and universities in the U.S. and Canada that are working to create a sustainable future. Its mission is to empower higher education to lead the sustainability transformation. AASHE does this by providing resources, professional development, and a network of support to enable institutions of higher education to model and advance sustainability in everything they do, from governance and operations to education and research.