December 3, 2008

Cornell Athletics Works to Limit Carbon Footprint

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This is the second article in a series analyzing how various aspects of campus life impact Cornell’s commitment to sustainability.

When Cornell’s Athletic Department decided to coordinate the scheduling of the men’s and women’s squash teams so they could travel together, were they doing it to reduce their carbon footprint, or were they doing it to limit their travel expenses? The Athletic Department does not see the two as mutually exclusive. In fact, more often than not, the two are complementary –– what is environmentally sustainable is fiscally responsible.
Andy Noel, director of the athletic department, discussed how his department is trying to adhere to the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment that President David Skorton signed in 2007 by making the Athletic Department more sustainable. But many of their initiatives are also being done to limit costs.
“Just having an eye to not being wasteful,” Noel said. “It’s a constant sensitivity when budgets are tight.”
Noel and the Athletic Department are constantly looking for ways to reduce waste and excess, thereby limiting expenses as well.
In an attempt to reduce the consumption of paper, the Athletic Department is looking into combining media guides. In the past, there were media guides for men and women’s sports teams, but now there is discussion about making one for both teams.
Noel described how the Athletic Department had been looking for ways to reduce waste and be more sustainable even before Skorton signed the Climate Commitment because it was a method of saving money.
“Now we have a heightened sensitivity to that,” Noel said about the change in attitude since the Climate Commitment, which commits the University to developing a plan to curb carbon emissions.
During his entire tenure he has looked for ways to avoid waste, but with the recent sustainability trend that has gripped the campus, he and his department are more aware of where they can save and the two-pronged effect many of their money saving-endeavors have.
In addition to conjoining men’s and women’s team travel, the Athletic Department has begun to schedule team competition and games more strategically. Given the current economy, team travel is one of the Athletic Department’s steepest areas of expense. The cost of gas, busing or flying, lodging and other accommodations have wrung athletic departments around the country financially dry. Cornell is trying to organize team schedules to minimize travel and expenses as much as possible. If a team leaves for a game or competition over the weekend, the Athletic Department will try and schedule an additional game or competition for that same weekend. That way the department does not have to waste money on a separate trip back out to the same region.
Michael Walsh grad, student trustee and a member of the president’s Climate Commitment Implementation Committee, said it was important for the Athletic Department to be aware of some of the environmental impact of their actions, such as in the area of team travel.
“[The Athletic Department] needs to continuously be cognizant about the decisions that they make,” Walsh said. “Just be aware of what you’re doing so if you see an opportunity to lessen your impact, you can take that opportunity,” Walsh said.
To illustrate some additional steps that the Athletic Department could make, he mentioned actions taken by the Middlebury College and the University of Florida athletic departments.
At Middlebury College, every team coach has a secondary responsibility. While many of them become assistant coaches to other teams, when Erin Quinn, athletic director, hired a new Nordic ski coach, she decided to appoint him as the department’s environmental sustainability coordinator. With this position, every aspect of the athletic department’s operation is looked at through an “environmental lens,” according to the Middlebury College Student Weekly.
The University of Florida tried to take action to offset some of their unavoidable greenhouse gas emissions. After the football game between the University of Florida and Florida State University, the University of Florida along with the Florida Forestry Association and Environmental Defense, are planning on managing 18 acres of land to maintain and upkeep it as a pine plantation forest for ten years. These actions they believe are sufficient to offset the carbon emissions from the football game, according to the University of Florida News.
Walsh believes that awareness of the importance of sustainability is crucial at this point. While the Athletic Department does use a lot of energy Lynah Rink, lighting the courts or fields for practice and washing team uniforms, Walsh said that a lot of the potential ways they can limit energy use such as in their facilities and buildings are not endeavors strictly isolated and relegated to the Athletic Department. He stressed that all units of the University need to work together to take steps to lessen their environmental impact.
Kerry Quinn ’10 is on the rowing team and is part of the Red Key Society, an honors society for varsity athletes. He participated in the event Deciding Neutrality, which brought student leaders together to discuss how Cornell could achieve climate neutrality. Quinn took some of the information that he learned from the event back to the other athletic team leaders at the next Red Key Society meeting.
“The best way is a ground up approach,” Quinn said citing different examples such as turning off lights, closing doors and not leaving windows open. He believes that one of the best ways to limit the energy consumption of Cornell athletics is for each team individually to be aware of the different sustainable actions they can take.
“Little things for right now will add up,” Quinn said.
While the Athletic Department does look for different ways to be more sustainable, not every possible course of action is a viable one. The main criterion for the Athletic Department to undertake a sustainable initiative is its feasibility. Many of the changes that the department has undergone have been fiscally feasible –– the changes represent a financial saving.
Associate Athletic Director Steve Erber noted that while the Athletic Department is doing many things and is trying very hard to be sustainable, there are certain things that they are not willing to do.
For instance, Erber mentioned one possible sustainable initiative would be to remove Cornell from the Ivy League division, and put it in a new division comprised only of nearby schools.
“I don’t think there’s any talk of any radical change,” Erber said. “It would change the whole nature of Cornell University.”
Measures like these, while they would be sustainable on an environmental and economic level, would be detrimental in other capacities, Erber said.
One major change was the conversion of Schoellkopf Field from a grass to an artificial surface. While this was a costly renovation, Erber noted that it is a worthwhile and sustainable one as well. Upkeep on an artificial surface is much easier, meaning the Athletic Department does not have to spend money or expend energy on its maintenance.
With the campus-wide sustainable initiatives and the current economic crisis putting a financial strain on the Athletic Department, Noel said that the department would continue to get more thoughtful and more creative in thinking of ways to be both financially sustainable and financially responsible.