At last Saturday's football game between Wisconsin and Fresno State at Madison's Camp Randall stadium, an unusual announcement echoed over the P.A. system during a break in the action. This Wisconsin football season, the announcer said, will be carbon-neutral
. That is, all the carbon emissions generated on game day will be canceled out elsewhere.
This is a tall order. Camp Randall holds over 80,000 fans, and games sell out regularly. The University of Wisconsin Athletic Department has partnered with Madison Gas and Electric to work on several environmental initiatives this season, including the purchase of carbon credits, to offset the carbon emissions from activities on game day.
"By far and away, the biggest impact is transportation," said Pat Walsh, a UW-Madison professor of biological systems engineering. With so many people coming to Madison from all over the state and country, he said, their travel emissions will have a "huge footprint."
Walsh, along with other researchers in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, estimated the season footprint based on fan activities, such as travel and hotel stays, as well as game day operations like concessions production and electricity use. They modeled their calculations after the University of Florida, whose athletic program had the country's first carbon-neutral season.
The UW researchers found that a Wisconsin football season generates 8,100 tons of carbon dioxide. To offset these emissions, the athletic department will purchase carbon credits from the Chicago Climate Exchange
, which will invest the revenue from the sale of credits in activities that will reduce atmospheric greenhouse gases. As part of the program, the athletic department has also started emphasizing recycling more and using less electricity. The Badgers will be the first team in the Big Ten conference to have a carbon-neutral season.
This isn't the first time Camp Randall has been eco-friendly. For the 2008 season, the Homecoming game was carbon-neutral, promoting the message "Wear Red, Think Green." Walsh said that student athletes were instrumental in coming up with such ideas to make sporting events more sustainable.
"The student athletes are really the ones that brought this up to [the athletic department]," he said, mentioning members of the women's crew team who encouraged the athletic department to consider their environmental behavior. He said other athletes have also begun to focus more on recycling plastic materials and bottles.
Meanwhile, cancelling out carbon emissions isn't the only goal of this season. According to Walsh, another important part of this project is increasing fan awareness of environmental issues. While he said that the amount of carbon emissions might not be 100 percent accurate due to all the variables that go into the estimate, the visibility of this program will hopefully make fans consider their environmental impact.
Walsh said this project will be beneficial "as long as people realize that driving their car has an impact and it's not just big power plants causing it." Not only will people realize are we causing it, he said, but that we also have a role in fixing it.
Photo: Emily Jones