Chicago students engage fans to help sports stadiums go green

“If Chicago’s sports teams prioritize sustainability, then we believe that fans and consumers will follow suit.”

By Tamar Honig

Students are stepping up to the plate to make sports teams and stadiums throughout Chicago greener as part of the Sustainable Chicago Sports Project. This environmental conservation effort aims to identify and implement the best sustainability practices at each stadium and with each team in Chicago’s sports industry. It is led by the Green Chicago Restaurant Coalition, the City of Chicago, and the University of Chicago.

Sabina Shaikh, leader of the project’s research branch and director of UChicago’s Environment, Agriculture and Food Working Group, explained several of the initiative’s objectives.

“The first [objective] is to understand the landscape of sustainable practices within the sports community nationwide, which will be accomplished through research and data collection by students in environmental studies, public policy, economics, and the Green Economics and Sports Business RSOs,” Shaikh said.

Furthermore, the project will engage fans, sports teams, and venues with a campaign using the hashtag #greenchisports, on social media and in public transit stations.

“The second aim of the project is to engage fans through CTA signage on sports sustainability and a large-scale social media campaign in April,” Shaikh explained.

Shaikh also oversees the University’s research and data analysis as instructor for the Sustainable Chicago Sports Practicum, a two-quarter course in environmental studies and public policy. Fourth-year Matthew Solomon, a former student in the practicum course, notes the potential influence of the sports industry in environmental efforts.

“The sports industry plays a huge role in addressing societal issues and setting social priorities,” Solomon said. “If Chicago’s sports teams prioritize sustainability, then we believe that fans and consumers will follow suit, bringing environmentally friendly practices home.”

First-year Adam Biesman, another student of the practicum and leader of the data collection team, commented on changes that have already been implemented thanks to the efforts of those involved with the project.

“We have already seen a lot of LED light bulbs [replacements for stadium lighting] and an increase in recycling efforts…. Over the next few weeks, we plan on returning sustainability recommendations to the venues for their future implementation,” Biesman said.

Shaikh emphasized the unique power of sports to effectuate positive change.

“The reach of sports extends to TV, radio, Internet, and social media, and is far greater worldwide,” she said. “It brings diverse groups together to root for a common cause and engenders a sense of community. Human well-being depends on a healthy environment and even small advances in the sports community can make a huge impact both in conservation and in awareness.”