Sarah Buente

With over 240,000 buildings spread across 4,100 higher education institutions, colleges and universities have an enormous opportunity to integrate green building as a key component in sustainability planning. The benefits these buildings offer are vast—green building at the collegiate level impacts student health, school operational costs and the environment. In addition, high-performing green schools produce high-performing, eco-conscious students who are capable of driving global market transformation.

Colleges and universities across the world are turning towards LEED certification as a framework for their sustainable futures—with more than 3,050 higher education projects certified to-date. In celebration of the upcoming NCAA basketball tournament, let's take a look at three collegiate athletic venues with distinct sustainability stories!  

Stadium spotlight

TCF Bank Stadium — University of Minnesota

Home to the University of Minnesota's football team, the 50,805-seat stadium became the first LEED certified collegiate or professional football facility in the U.S., when it was awarded LEED Silver certification for New Construction in 2009. What establishes it as an industry model for green building design at the collegiate level and sets it apart from other university buildings, is the stadium's unique history and story of resiliency. The stadium sits on the site of a former brownfield development that once contained an old railroad yard and wood treatment facility system that used creosote, a highly combustible carcinogen.

Sustainability features at the stadium include a storm water management system that can handle a 100-year storm event. The system allows rain water to be captured, harvested, filtered and drained into the Mississippi River. The university hopes to further bolster these initiative by eventually establishing a zero waste program for their athletic venues.

The University recognizes the importance green building can play in sustainability planning: “Gopher Athletics’ more sustainable practices reduce waste and pollution, minimize operating costs, and create healthier environments for fans, athletes, and employees... Gopher Athletics communicates to thousands of fans the institution’s core value of sustainability and demonstrates how the institution is incorporating more sustainable practices into facility operations.”

Apogee Stadium — University of North Texas 

The home of the University of North Texas football program, Apogee Stadium is the first newly constructed LEED Platinum college football stadium in the country. The stadium's energy efficiency initiatives are one-of-a-kind—a pivotal component of the stadium's design was three community-scale wind turbines that provide wind energy to the stadium. These turbines can provide approximately half a million kilowatt hours per year, eliminating the emission of 323 metric tons of COannually and helping reduce energy costs by roughly 25%. Additional sustainable features include preserving or restoring more than 50% of the site with native landscaping. 

UNT President V. Lane Rawlins outlined the benefits green buildings offer the university: "By building in this manner, the sustainable features of the buildings pay for themselves through their efficiencies within eight years. Plus, environmentally responsible buildings mean healthier buildings with better air quality."

California Memorial Stadium — University of California at Berkeley

Modeled after the coliseum, the 72,000-seat stadium was originally constructed in 1923 as a memorial to the fallen heroes of World War I—and serves as the home to the University of California at Berkeley's football team. The historic status of the stadium isn't the only thing that makes the venue unique, however. The stadium also straddles an active volcano fault, making renovation an extremely delicate issue.

In 2014, the stadium was awarded LEED Gold for LEED BD+C: New Construction after a renovation and upgrade project achieved both a historic preservation and major seismic retrofit, while still upgrading the facility to modern standards. To accomplish this, the bowl of the stadium was partially gutted, while the historic outer perimeter wall was preserved through an extensive bracing system. This allowed the stadium to be safe from the after effects of an earthquake, preserve its iconic history and provide the necessary amenities of a modern facility. 

California Memorial Stadium is a landmark example of adaptive reuse. The university system's commitment to LEED is also extensive—as of November 2014, the University of California system boasted 189 LEED certifications. 

Additional resources

Interested in finding out more about LEED in college sports and higher education? Check out these additional resources:

  • Discover if your college has any LEED certified stadiums or arenas by visiting our college sports Pinterest board.
  • Learn more about sustainable initiatives at universities across the country! Read The Princeton Review's Guide to 332 Green Colleges: 2014 Edition, which profiles 332 institutions of higher education in the United States and Canada that demonstrate notable commitments to sustainability in their academic offerings, campus infrastructure, activities and career preparation. This book is the only free, comprehensive, annually updated guide to green colleges.