Middlebury Athletics Adopts Green Mission

June 8, 2009

By Andrew Gardner
Head Coach, Men's & Women's Nordic Skiing

When the Middlebury College men's lacrosse team closed out their season recently, after a great run that saw them reach the NCAA semifinals, it was no surprise to see several of the seniors receive end-of-the-year honors.

Among them was Skyler Hopkins of Easton, Md., who was named All-New England and honorable mention All-American. Hopkins, a midfielder, finished his career with 77 goals and 36 assists for 113 points in 58 games. In addition to his athletic accomplishments, Hopkins was also one of many athletes to adopt Middlebury's greater green mission: He helped convince his team to purchase renewable energy credits through wind power, to offset their carbon footprint.

"The need to look at all aspects of sustainability in sport came out when we replaced the football surface last summer," said Erin Quinn, director of athletics, about the athletic department's green leanings. "There were a number of concerns raised about the properties of that surface and through a comprehensive inquiry involving facilities, (Dean of Environmental Affairs) Nan Jenks-Jay's office and a committee on sustainability in athletics, we determined that it was, indeed, our best option. It has pushed us to be more conscious on all levels of what we do."

In addition to my role as nordic ski coach, I'm serving as the liaison between athletics and the environmental offices on campus. The College's Environmental Council, along with the coaches, pieced together this mission for green athletics:

In considering Middlebury's athletic and environmental goals, the department of athletics, through its intramural, club and varsity programs as well as through its physical facilities and interactions with the general public, works to promote a sustainable culture in all of sport.

The mission has been taken up by individual athletes and teams at Middlebury. The women's lacrosse team captains also purchased carbon offsets, while the volleyball team reported more conscientious purchasing, and the ski and crew teams enjoyed a reduction in travel costs through waste vegetable oil vehicle conversion and a reduced fleet. Similarly, owing to a league-wide push to combine travel, the men's and women's basketball teams have merged most of their schedules, reducing their travel needs. They will now arrive at games in the same bus and play consecutive games against the same opponents.

Even intramural sports benefited from a greener outlook. Bob Smith, director of intramurals, purchased the needed replacement equipment for the 2008-09 season from the sustainable Fair-Trade Sports company (Fairtradesports.com). This was a small purchasing move with great impact on the culture of sport at Middlebury, given the large number of participants in the intramural program.

Cultural shift and conflict is a huge part of the movement for change. In early April, the athletic department with the help of an Environmental Council grant, brought athletic professionals to campus for a panel discussion to address that conflict. The panel, entitled "Jocks and Treehuggers," focused on the inevitable conflicts that arise in making sport sustainable. Natalie Spilger, a starting soccer player for the professional Chicago Red Stars, pointed out that it is small steps forward that will improve the culture. "When you just do small things that become routine," she said, "people forget that there was a time when they didn't happen. So if it is recycling, or traveling less, or being conscious of what equipment you buy-if you keep at it, it will take over and become routine."

That phenomenon is taking hold as teams do more each year with recycling, sustainable purchasing policies, and other steps, all designed to help the College toward its greater goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2016.