Greening Athletics Beyond the Playing Field

The green trend — and not of the lush playing field kind — is here to stay. In fact, by many market estimates, the green trend is the most influential movement our country has seen in decades. As more and more projects incorporate sustainable elements into the design and construction process, the industry is realizing that green design can be accomplished — even in collegiate athletic facilities.

Green building refers to design and construction practices that meet specific standards, mitigating much of the negative impact of buildings on their occupants and their environment. One determination of a building’s green elements is a rating scale developed by the U.S. Green Building Council called the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Green Building Rating System. Projects are reviewed by the USGBC for their green design and construction elements. Everything from incorporating bicycle racks to using energy-efficient heating and cooling systems can be eligible for LEED points. Basic LEED certification requires 26 points; a project can receive as many as 69 points at the highest certification level.

LEED certification has been used on a variety of campus buildings since the program’s inception in 1998. Universities often have received state and federal funding for green building, and more and more universities are requiring that new on-campus buildings meet specific green design criteria. Recently, these requirements have begun to impact collegiate athletic facilities as well.

Arizona State University
A new basketball practice facility at Arizona State University is required to meet green design specifications, according Dawn Rogers, the University’s senior associate athletic director.

“Arizona State University is committed to sustainability, and the Weatherup Center will honor that commitment by becoming one of a few athletic facilities in the nation to become LEED certified,” said Rogers. “We hope to show that building with sustainability in mind — when you have a creative and talented design team in place — can be achieved with very little additional cost.”

To achieve LEED certification, Arizona State is working with architects at HOK Sport and Gould Evans to incorporate a variety of green design elements into the Weatherup Center basketball practice facility. Focusing on natural light, landscape, and water use reduction, among many other elements, the project is aiming to achieve LEED Silver certification.

Arizona’s governor has mandated that all newly constructed buildings in Arizona attain 15 percent of their energy from a renewable energy source. As such, one of the building’s signature elements will be extensive use of photovoltaics to capture the energy of the hot desert sun. Additionally, a vast majority of the interior finishes to be used in the building will be regionally extracted and produced materials or materials with a high percentage of recycled content.

“Practicing green design in the sports world provides more benefits than just an environmental impact,” said Nate Appleman, an HOK Sport architect who is working with Arizona State on its training facility. “Green design also improves productivity and reduces a building’s operational costs. And in the collegiate sports market, where every dollar counts, that’s important.”

University of Connecticut

HOK Sport also designed the country’s first LEED Silver certified collegiate athletic building — a football training facility at the University of Connecticut, which opened in 2006. The green design efforts of that building were less than one percent of the overall cost of the building, and it is estimated they will pay for themselves in no more than 10 years.

“While a training facility seems to be more of a natural fit for achieving LEED certification, the principles can also be transferred to collegiate stadiums, ballparks, and arenas as well,” said Appleman.

University of Minnesota
For instance, the HOK Sport-designed TCF Bank Stadium, a new, $248M on-campus football stadium at the University of Minnesota slated to open next fall, is also being designed to achieve LEED certification. The project incorporates design elements in each of the LEED program’s five categories.

  • Sustainable site. The stadium’s site is a redeveloped brownfield site with contaminated soil. That soil will be remediated, which will earn a LEED point. The design and construction team also has a policy in place to prevent construction activity pollution of the surrounding water and air. Additionally, the stadium will have access to public transportation.
  • Energy and atmosphere. The building will meet energy performance requirements of ASHRAE 90.1 for energy efficiency.
  • Materials and resources. Space will be provided for storage and collection of recyclables. During construction, as much as 50 percent of construction waste will be diverted from landfills. At least 10 percent of materials used in construction must be extracted and produced regionally, and at least 10 percent of construction materials must be made of recycled content.
  • Indoor environmental quality. The building will be smoke free, and the design and construction team has in place an indoor air quality construction management plan.
  • Innovation in design. The design and construction team includes at least one LEED-accredited professional.
While each of these three projects mentioned were new buildings, the USGBC also has a program in place to evaluate existing buildings — something of high interest in the collegiate sports market where new construction is the exception to the norm and facility managers and athletic directors are looking to get the most out of their aging facilities.

LEED for Existing Facilities
The LEED Existing Building (LEED-EB) program provides a path for facility owners and operators to extend green building initiatives into everyday operations and maintenance practices of the facility. Based on actual building performance rather than the building’s design, LEED-EB reduces operating costs and promotes a healthy, productive indoor environment. It measures exterior maintenance programs, water and energy efficiency, use of environmentally friendly products, indoor environmental quality, and effectiveness of recycling programs.

Because it provides a facility manager with a performance benchmark, LEED-EB evaluates the building at various points in its lifecycle to ensure the building is still performing on an environmentally friendly level. This allows facility managers to operate their buildings efficiently and effectively as well, Appleman said.

“You can’t pick up a newspaper today without seeing something about the environment or ‘going green,’” Appleman said. “The movement is upon us, especially in the collegiate environment. It’s really a cost effective solution, and it’s the right thing to do.”

Stephanie Graham, sustainability coordinator for HOK Sport (, a 15-year authority in sustainable design, enhances the firm’s culture and leadership of environmental sensitivity. She, along with the firm’s staff of 40 LEED-accredited professionals, works with HOK’s clients and design teams to find responsible solutions to sustainable design challenges.