Be the Example


Photo courtesy of Alan Brandt of SOU.

Because new buildings and renovations are currently trending for campus recreation facilities, they are the perfect examples to display and teach the growing need for sustainable practices.

There are many actions you can begin taking to make an impact on sustainability and educate your campus community in the process. One of the most common and easily attainable features your rec center can implement is encouraging alternative travel methods, other than personal vehicles.

“We added bike racks and public transportation bus stops near our building,” said Matt McGregor, the associate vice president for wellness and auxiliary services at Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia. “We also started a bike share program about five years ago and have increased our fleet to 40 bikes that are available to students to rent, free of charge, for a month at a time.”

At Southern Oregon University (SOU), campus recreation also encourages alternate transportation through the use of a vestibule inside the entrance of the facility that houses a skateboard rack for up to 10 boards. “There are at least three to four skateboards there each day,” said Hugues Lecomte, the director of Campus Recreation at SOU. “Also, placing the rack indoors protects boards from the elements and adds a level of security.”

While you may think of most sustainable features taking place within the walls of the rec center, not to be overlooked is landscaping — a feature that will not only support sustainability but can also save your department time and money in the long run.

“The rec center design definitely included low water plants and minimal landscaping,” said Drew Gilliland, the director of facilities, management, planning and sustainability at SOU. “To maintain a landscape, you have to mow, hire people, water, etc., and incorporating more hard surfaces requires minimal effort.”

Longwood University also utilized hardscapes — hard landscape materials like wood, stone and concrete as opposed to horticultural elements — in their sustainability efforts, landing them a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) gold certification. Other features include:

  • 28% recycled materials were used in the construction of the facility.
  • Design incorporates natural light to reduce lighting needs.
  • 98% of all construction waste was either reclaimed or recycled.
  • 50% of products used during construction were from within 500 miles of campus.
  • Low water usage through low water plants, hardscapes instead of landscape areas, waterless urinals and low flow shower heads.
  • Energy efficient HVAC system.

To educate patrons on sustainability efforts, and as part of the LEED certification, Longwood utilizes roughly 15 signs throughout the building that explain the sustainable practices that went into designing the Health and Fitness Center. “Incorporating education opportunities into your programs and facilities is a great way to help students understand why we do these sustainable practices,” said McGregor.

Also LEED gold certified, the Student Recreation Center at SOU worked with Sink Combs Dethlefs to feature many of the same sustainable features as Longwood. A few additional features include paperless bathroom and locker rooms, and the use of solar panels through True South Solar.


Solar panels on the SOU Student Recreation Center roof.

“We received a lot of clear days out of the year,” said Lecomte. “From July 2018 to June 2019, 67.7 megawatts per-hour were generated by solar panels, the equivalent of planting 2,641 trees.”

To highlight the sustainable features in the facility, SOU sends out a PDF each year displaying facts — such as the stats from the solar panels, or water bottles filled from water fountains — to the campus community to show the impact. Lecomte elaborated it’s all about the buy-in.

“We are needing to go further, to be an example and be first for sustainability,” he said. “Through regular meetings and keeping an eye on trends, we have control over what footprint we see being done, and the contribution can be small, but the buy-in from patrons can be great.”

To gain that buy-in from patrons, most often it takes a team. SOU chose their architect team because they have experience working with similar rec centers, and they came to the table prepared with a number of LEED strategies. “It’s critical when picking an architect that they have a history of LEED deign with the type of facility you’re building,” said Gilliland. “If a firm says they’re LEED certified, they better know how to apply that to your type of facility.”

McGregor also emphasized the need for teamwork but in the form of partnerships on campus, especially if pursuing LEED certification is currently not an option. “Pursuing LEED is going to be a university decision and probably outside of the scope of campus recreation professionals, but embracing sustainable practices in your programs and operations can be easily added,” he said. “My suggestion would be to find campus partners such as dining, facility operations, etc. and develop programs and practices that can be supported by the campus as a whole.”   

Overall, whether your facility is LEED certified, pursuing certification or just looking to incorporate more sustainable features, the end goal is not only to have efficient, cost-saving green buildings, but rather to educate how each person can make a difference and minimize their environmental impact. It’s time to be the example on your campus.

Brittany is an editor at Peake Media. Reach her at

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