Before its renovation in 2002, the grass Varsity Field just outside the Fairfield University Quad was browning and unused. Today the grass of what is now Lessing Field stands out as a bright green beacon in the forefront of the campus after a lengthy renovation.

Although the improvements on Lessing, which is used for soccer and lacrosse, and the other campus fields helped make the campus greener color wise, they may not be helping the University’s initiatives to “go green” and become more environmentally friendly. With large amounts of pesticides dumped on the fields, big facilities built before the time of environmental concern and teams traveling around the Northeast and beyond in buses, the Fairfield athletic department is walking a fine line between environmental friendliness and damage.

“To be perfectly honest, we have not developed any programs on our own [to help the environment], nor would I say have many athletic departments,” said Gene Doris, the Fairfield athletic director. But Doris added that he hopes that will change in the future and ensured that everything that the athletic department does everything in its power to be environmentally friendly.

“We certainly do our best with the campus-wide initiatives and many of our student-athletes are committed to ‘green,’ Doris said. “More and more [changes] are coming. We are following the University’s lead in that area.”

Building for the Future As Fairfield begins to plan for the future state of the campus, it is also looking at what it can to do preserve the environment, while also improving the lives of those who live and work at the University. One way to do that is to ensure that new buildings are environmentally friendly, while updating older facilities to meet today’s standards.

“Many of our facilities were built before the age of environmental concern,” Doris said. “Alumni Hall [basketball gym] would be a perfect example. Keeping utilities running in that building is the prime concern.”

“But, Walsh [the athletic center] was built with environmental concerns in mind. For example, office lights are on a censor and heating is done by zone,” Doris added.

Juice Energy Inc, is a company that provides “sophisticated energy risk management with greenhouse gas (GHG) solutions for commercial and industrial companies,” according to its Web site. The company recently sponsored a study of all the teams in the NCAA basketball tournament, to research what its athletic departments do to be more environmentally conservative.

Since their debut over a year ago, Juice has received positive response regarding their growing involvement in schools and universities.

“We like to take a proactive role-we speak with students and administrators and discuss what they can do more of,” said Kevin Berkemeyer, environmental analyst at Juice in a press release. “We do a lot of client based research customized to their needs and accomplishments.”

The study showed that many universities are making strides in the environmental awareness region, but few have made an impact in its athletic departments. At the University of Connecticut, the first-ever LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)-approved athletic facility was built in Sept. 2007, the new football complex and training center.

“We are proud to be a leader as our University strives to meet environmentally-sustainable goals,” said UConn Athletic Director Jeff Hathaway in a press release.

LEED certification is an extensive process that many new developers strive to achieve, which includes enviro-friendly lighting, plumbing and heating.

At Fairfield, there are currently no LEED-approved buildings, but according to the “Red to Green Guide,” the University is dedicated to building future facilities using the LEED guidelines.

College athletes themselves are also doing their part in raising environmental activism around the country, using their position of power to promote the cause.

The Middlebury College men’s lacrosse team looked at its carbon-footprint, the effect that a person has on the environment, and realized that its travel schedule by bus has a negative impact, according to a recent Sports Illustrated article on the environment.

To offset that impact, the team began raising money and hopes to eventually convince the college to purchase hybrid buses.

Doris said that the athletic department would be open to using environmentally friendly buses.

“We certainly would consider it,” he said. “The University contracts bus service, currently through Dattco. We would not object to clauses in the RFP (request for proposal) requiring environmentally friendly buses (at least some percentage) knowing that many companies do not have the ability to supply all of our needs in that area.”

Pesticides Pose Risk to Health and the Environment Along with making improvements in the environmental friendliness of both old and new buildings, many universities and health organizations are beginning to look at the impact of dangerous pesticides on athletes’ health.

According to Doris, the athletic department at Fairfield relies on the Campus Operations Department to ensure that all environmental standards are met. Although Campus Operations oversees the management of all fields and facilities on campus, the University does out source the actual maintenance to Championship Turf Services, a Harwinton, Conn. based company, for a fee of $250,000.

Michael Flowers, the company’s president, said that “during the season we’re pretty much there [at Fairfield] everyday,” to maintain the fields and that all environmental laws are followed regarding pesticide usage.

The University uses fungicides and weed sprays as little as possible, but fields like Lessing requires more pesticide, because it is a “sand-modified field,” according to Flowers.

Fairfield has not used nitrogen-based pesticides, which are more hazardous to health and the environment since 2000, and now uses “enviro-friendly pest-management and biological controls on lawns and fields,” according to the University’s “From Red to Green” handbook.

The risk to athletes who are over-exposed to pesticides due to the amount of time spent on fields does exist, whether the pesticide is nitrogen-based or not, according to a study by the U.S.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The report states, “the health effects of the pesticide depends on the type of pesticide … to determine risk, one must consider both the toxicity or hazard of the pesticide and the likelihood of exposure.” Some pesticides can affect the nervous system, irritate the skin or eyes, be carcinogenic or affect the hormone system. For athletes who spend a lot of time on the ground and exposed to the chemicals, it can be dangerous, according to a 2001 American Alliance for Health article.

“Given the significant amount of time athletes and coaches spend using athletic facilities (and the manner in which they use them), schools should take precautions to ensure that pesticides are used safely around such facilities,” the article states. “After all, any pesticide will be toxic to some degree.”

The risk of pesticides, especially to children, has caused the Conn. state legislature to pass a bill to ban all pesticide use on elementary and middle school’s athletic fields by 2009. The city of Greenwich, Conn. has decided to institute the ban as of April 13, by passing a bill prior to this year’s annual application of pesticides, according to a Greenwich Time article.

Some colleges are experimenting with different strategies other than pesticide use, At Cascadia College in Washington state, goats have been used to clear the fields of brush, instead of chemicals, according to a Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce article. Meanwhile, at Princeton, two students created a company that uses worms to fertilize, and their product could be put into use on the athletic fields soon, according to a Princeton press release.

Doris said that as of now the University is satisfied with its pesticide plans, but said that it will watch out for different methods of treating the fields.

Using Stature to Sell the Green Movement As a prominent part of the campus community, the athletic department has a unique opportunity to educate and spread the message of “going green.”

At Duke University, the basketball team hosted an environmental awareness game against North Carolina State, at which the Duke student section wore green t-shirts instead of the normal blue as part of a campus-wide initiative to “Bleed Blue, Go Green,” according to a Duke press release. The initiative called for students and fans to carpool to the games and recycle while at the arena, on campus and at home.

Fairfield Director of Athletic Marketing Roy Brown said that while the University has never hosted a similar event, it has plans to in the near future.

“We are going to seek out an environmental group that will assist us in having an Earth Day game or “Green” game next season during soccer or basketball,” Brown said. As of now the athletic department does not have a specific marketing plan directed towards helping the environment, but would promote a specific event or “allow an organization to bring awareness at any of our athletic events to help [the environment].”

For now, Fairfield fans in the can try and follow in the footsteps of the Cameron Crazies at Duke and make the Red Sea just a little bit greener on their own.

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