U of M green initiative receives national attention

New energy study forces athletic department to think sustainably smart


By Charles Hallman

Staff Writer


A new report cites University of Minnesota Athletics “as a leader in sustainability and energy efficiency.” Collegiate Game Changes: How Campus Sport is Going Green, a report by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Green Sports Alliance and the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education points out that over 200 college sports programs, including U-M are prioritizing “green practices” such as holding energy efficiency audits and water conservation upgrades.

The NRDC report also used statistics from a University of Arizona survey this year submitted by 148 institutions: 216 collegiate sports departments installed recycling infrastructure in their facilities; 146 have invested in more energy-efficient practices; Stadium 2weband 122 uses greener cleaning products. It further stated that the report is “not a comprehensive list of all U.S. collegiate sports sustainability initiatives, nor does it rank sports greening programs.”

Minnesota is one of 10 detailed case studies featured in the report that points out how these sports programs “employing more sustainable techniques to manage their energy, water, waste and purchasing.” The athletics department began providing recycling bins inside on-campus facilities in 1998, and stepped up its sustainability efforts in 2003 as the school began construction of its new football stadium.

“We’ve been working hard on all of our sustainability platforms for the last couple of years,” noted Jeff Seifriz, the school’s athletics facilities director last week in a MSR phone interview. As a result, the stadium “has become a catalyst for broader greening efforts across U-M’s athletic facilities” since it opened in 2009, states the NRDC report. After an energy recommissioning study of eight existing athletic facilities in 2010, Minnesota has saved over $412,000 in utility costs.

“When we can save money, it is always the right thing to do,” explained Seifriz. Gopher athletics “pay for all of our utilities — steam, electric, water, gas. We pay the University back for what we use.”

• Williams Arena once used approximately $287,000 worth of energy per year. Now by only running fans when the building is being used, and installing a new direct digital control system, nearly $61,000 or over 21 percent of its annual energy costs was saved.

• Bierman Building, which houses coaches’ offices, academic counseling, and other offices, saved $67,000, more than 24 percent of its formerly annual $284,000 energy costs.

• Ridder Arena (hockey) and Baseline Tennis Center saved $48,000 or close to 17 percent of the annual energy costs, which once totaled $284,000.

• Gibson-Nagurski Football Complex once used approximately $152,000 worth of energy: it now saves over $8,000 in annual energy costs.

 Jeff Seifriz Photos courtesy of the  University of MN
Jeff Seifriz
Photos courtesy of the
University of MN

And although the Minnesota football stadium is less than five years old, “We quickly found out that there’s a lot of improvements to make,” continued Seifriz, who said that $131,000 was saved, especially when it was discovered that energy was being wasted in the concession stands especially when the venue is not in use.

“There are no events between December and April in the concession stands in the main concourse,” Seifriz pointed out. “There are a lot of examples like that the energy [management office] helped identify.

“We have a great relationship with energy management and the Office of Sustainability,” Seifriz continued in response to the energy study, which he noted forced U-M athletics officials to be “a lot smarter” in regards to energy consumption. “You have a big room and there are 350 people in it, you can get a lot of fresh air. [But] if it’s the middle of winter and it’s only 10 people in there, you don’t need that much fresh air to come in…[and] heat it up — that’s energy wasting.”

As a result because of technological advances, “You can set a room temperature based on the number of occupants in there and have it run according to the amount of fresh air that comes in to make it comfortable for people,” said Seifriz.

U-M “[is] really focused on using green cleaning [products]” at all major athletic facilities, he added. “It’s totally green products that won’t hurt the environment and go right down the drain. It’s safe for the Mississippi River, etc.”

Seifriz also announced that beginning this school year, a “zero waste” program, which aims for 90 percent or more of all waste at the football stadium either being recycled, composted or reused is now in place: Ohio State is the only other Big Ten school with such a program, he pointed out.

“It took Ohio State about two-and-a-half years to hit that goal. We’re pretty confident that we can do it here in the first year, but it might take a year or two to do that. Are the cups you drink soda in composable or recyclable? It can be either/or, but the key is to make sure that they are not true waste,” said Seifriz.

Energy savings either can be immediate or “take a longer time” to be fully realized, he concluded. “But it’s the right thing to do…”


The complete NRDC report is available online at www.nrdc.org/sports/collegiate-game-changers

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.


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