Game Day Green: Sustainability in College Football

If you’re anything like me, the holiday season is a time for relaxation, family, food, and of course football! If you turned on the television during the New Year’s Day weekend, I’m sure you found yourself with a choice of many different college football games to watch. Personally, I tuned in to watch the University of Wisconsin Badgers win the Cotton Bowl and reflected back to a fall semester full of tailgating and “jumping around” at Camp Randall stadium.

Seeing a sea of red at Camp Randall is a great experience – a collective group of 80,000+ fans gathered to cheer on their beloved Badgers. But as we approached today’s National Championship Game, I got to thinking about the large numbers of Badger enthusiasts at Camp Randall combined with the number of fans attending over 40 different bowl games this postseason, and it made me start to wonder, ”What is being done to manage all the waste from thousands of people gathered in one place? And how do these colleges make their football stadiums more sustainable?”

Camp Randall
My view of Camp Randall from the student section. Look at all of the red! (photo by Arielle Mensch)

Turns out, football stadiums have a lot of sustainability efforts going on! The challenge is pretty daunting: imagine if each of those 80,000+ fans at Camp Randall have a hot dog and soda. That’s a whole lot of hot dog wrappers, plastic bottles, and napkins! In fact, after just one game in 2014, nearly 12 tons of waste was generated at Camp Randall stadium.1 In addition to food and food product waste, a stadium also requires copious amounts of energy and water to operate. Without concentrated efforts in recycling and sustainability, a college stadium can quickly become an environmentalist’s worst nightmare.

Luckily, Wisconsin (along with many other college stadiums across the country) has made a concentrated effort to recycle and reduce its water and energy consumption. These efforts include increasing recycling efforts of food, paper, and food containers. Nearly half of the 12 tons of waste generated per game at Camp Randall stadium is now recycled, composted, or donated to local food banks. Furthermore, recycled products are also being used for napkins and carrying trays. To reduce the stadium’s energy consumption, compact fluorescents and LEDs are now used for lighting, scoreboards, and video screens throughout Camp Randall and many other stadiums. These technologies require much less energy than traditional lighting devices.2

Camp Randall’s LED scoreboard as the fans get ready to jump around! (photo by Arielle Mensch)

Beyond Camp Randall in Wisconsin, the College Football Playoff also has sustainability on its mind. It is practicing a number of different sustainability initiatives that it hopes others in the college football community will adopt. Today’s national title game in Tampa, Florida, will be supported by a sustainability initiative, Playoff Green. The initiative has five main goals:3

  1. Divert waste by recycling, composting, and reusing at the stadium and other event venues throughout the community.
  2. Donate unserved food from concession stands.
  3. Reuse and repurpose building materials, office supplies, and décor.
  4. Source renewable energy certificates to power the stadium.
  5. Host the Playoff Green Campus Challenge to provide a chance for students (K-8) to “green” their campuses and earn prizes.

As you can see from these plans, creating a sustainability conscience in the college football community requires both actively promoting sustainability in current stadiums and educating future generations and the general public. In addition to working with children, Tampa will partner with local nonprofit organizations for donating unused materials, while also working with a local food bank to manage leftover food.

play green
Play green! (image modified from wikimedia and feraliminal)

By engaging the local community and following similar initiatives in 2016, the College Football National Championship game in Glendale, Arizona was able to divert 91% of waste generated (meaning that less than 10% ended up in landfills).3 A pretty impressive feat that Tampa hopes to continue this year!

Much like football, sustainability is a team effort. Universities, athletic conferences, the College Football Playoff, and the people that make up these organizations are just a few pieces of a much bigger puzzle. Having support from government agencies also helps to encourage green practices and promote sustainability efforts. For example, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is advocating for increasing sustainability in sports. Their current efforts include advising on ways to make stadiums “greener,” recognizing conferences and teams who have made advances in sustainability, and hosting challenges for students to design innovative and sustainable infrastructures.4

The EPA has also initiated a friendly competition amongst college football teams and athletic conferences to host the GameDay Challenge.5 This competition is aimed at reducing and recycling waste generated at home football games. They have prize categories for organic reduction, greenhouse gas reduction, recycling rates, waste minimization, and waste diversion. Although arguably everyone wins by even participating in this program, the official “winners” are those that are able to divert 90% or more of waste from landfills. These programs are placed on the “Zero Waste Wall of Fame.” The winners from 2015 include Colorado State University, Duke University, Eastern Washington University, Ohio State University, Ohio University, University of California Davis, University of Rochester, and the CSN’s very own University of Minnesota!6 For a complete list of honorable mentions and previous winners click here.

College campuses, the College Football Playoff organizers, and the EPA are all working together to promote awareness and make college football better for the environment. We football fans are another important piece of the puzzle. By minimizing our own waste, taking advantage of the recycling and composting efforts at our stadiums, and educating others about the importance of sustainability, we can help reduce the impact of the sport and stadiums on our environment. Regardless of your school colors, we can all cheer for sustainability: “Go Green!”



  1. Beyond the Game: An Inside Look at Camp Randall Sustainability Initiatives [website] Retrieved from
  2. Wisconsin Athletics Recycling and Sustainability Initiatives [website] August 21, 2015. Retrieved from
  3. Playoff Green Sustainability Initiative Will Benefit Tampa Bay Community Long After the College Football Playoff National Championship [website] October 17, 2016. Retrieved from
  4. Green Sports: for Colleges and Universities [website] July 19 2016. Retrieved from
  5. Gameday Recycling Challenge [website] Retrieved from
  6. Wall of Fame List [website] Retrieved from