Adding a touch of green to the blue and gold

The UBC Thunderbirds are not just about blue and gold anymore, they’re adopting a bit of green too.

UBC Athletics & Recreation asked some of the university’s top sustainability researchers to measure the overall environmental footprint of its facilities and programs, and devise a tool to track progress.

Led by PhD student Matt Dolf of UBC’s Centre for Sport and Sustainability, the Life Cycle Assessment measured the impact of Thunderbird teams, venues and events on climate change, human health, water withdrawal, resource depletion and ecosystem quality. The first university to conduct this type of comprehensive analysis, UBC developed the tool for sport and athletic organizers to continually track their impact.

The results? The annual carbon footprint of the TBirds is 8,300 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents, roughly the same as the greenhouse gases emitted by 2,600 return flights to London, UK. At 72 per cent, facilities were the largest climate change contributor, followed by travel of both athletes and spectators at 24 per cent.  Food, office, waste, communication, and accommodation made up the remaining four per cent.

But the study went beyond the carbon footprint to examine four other environmental factors–human health, water withdrawal, resource depletion and ecosystem quality–generating a more comprehensive assessment. For example, food services at Athletics & Recreation venues had a larger water footprint than travel.

Dolf, who developed the International Olympic Committee supported Sustainable Sport and Event Toolkit, was asked to perform the assessment after he conducted a pilot study measuring the carbon footprint of a UBC Thunderbirds men’s basketball game. Athletics & Recreation was eager to learn more about the overall impact of its 20+ sports venues, 23 varsity teams, and the 200 events it hosts annually.

Recommendations to minimize the TBirds’ footprint include promoting biking or public transit to attend varsity games and recreational community activities, lighting and mechanical retrofits, and education initiatives for staff and participants. Athletics & Recreation has also hired two interns to extend the research and help implement sustainability solutions.

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