University of Michigan Gymnast and Student Helps Blue Go Green


The high bar may be SNRE student and gymnast Ian Makowske’s specialty, but he’ll also be raising the sustainability bar at this year’s NCAA Men’s Gymnastics Championship. Thanks to the work of Ian and others involved in planning, the 2014 NCAA Men’s Gymnastics Championship was the first ever zero-waste event of this kind. The event took place on April 10-12 at the University of Michigan’s Crisler Center.

The effort to make this year’s championship a zero-waste event stemmed from the work of many dedicated individuals hoping to improve the University of Michigan’s environmental impact.  The initial plan originated when U of M athletics had a desire to make sure their objectives were specific, measurable, achievable and compatible to their overall goals and plans.  The SMAC Objectives were objectives set by members of the Athletic Department to be achieved each year. This initiative was carried out by those involved in the planning of the 2014 NCAA Championships including University Sports Information, Events and Operations, and Facilities. 

The discussion of a zero-waste NCAA Men’s Gymnastics Championship started after the zero waste men’s soccer game took place this past fall. Damon Grosz (Crisler’s Facility Manager), Paul Dunlop (South Campus’ Facilities Manager), Alma Davila-Tora (Event Manager at Crisler), Julia Winfield (Student Sustainability Initiative Board Member), Keyana Thompson-Shaw (Michigan Student-Athletes for Sustainability President) and Ian Makowske (Men’s Gymnastics Program Assistant, School of Natural Resources and Environment and Ross dual-degree MBA/MS student, and alumnus Michigan student-athlete) sat down to discuss if an event similar to the zero-waste men’s soccer game would be possible at the Crisler Center for the NCAA Men’s Gymnastics Championship.

In order to make this zero-waste event happen, everyone involved had their work cut out for them.  They began coordinating with food service provider Sodexo to help find recyclable and compostable materials to use in concession stands.  Together, they selected food items that could be pre-packaged with recyclable products and substituted any disposable serving ware with those made from recyclable or compostable materials.  They also eliminated disposable sugar packets and cream cups with containers in bulk to remove paper and plastic waste. Sodexo has ensured that these changes will result in a 90 percent landfill diversion for all concessions that guests come into contact with. They have also partnered with Sports Information to come up with a way to reduce paper waste from results that are traditionally have been printed after every gymnastics rotation.  At the NCAA Men’s Gymnastics Championships they will now be using iPads to display the results and scores in real-time and emailing the paper results to the coaches. 

The zero-waste men’s soccer game provided those involved in planning with many insights into how to make this event successful.  One of those major insights was the importance of education in hosting these events in order to ensure that the recyclable and compostable materials are properly sorted and contamination of the compost does not occur. To account for this, Keyana Thompson-Shaw and Ian Makowske have worked tirelessly to recruit as many volunteers as possible to stand near waste disposal sites and aid the public in properly disposing of their waste.  Keyana created signage to help the volunteers, in addition to “cheat sheets” to verse them on what goes where and why this zero-waste event is so important.  The volunteer response University-wide has been immense.

While the process of making this zero-waste event happen has been arduous, it has been a very rewarding experience for those involved.  According to Makowske, a student in the Behavior, Education and Communication track at SNRE, it has been great to put his SNRE education into real life practice. “It has been both challenging and rewarding to apply a lot of what we learn at SNRE to an actual real-world event,” said Makowske. Makowske added that the combination of providing for the needs of Sodexo, the risk of eliminating well-selling concessions, working with Sports Information and NCAA coaches for paperless results, and all of the other factors that have gone into the making of this event have really made this a fantastic learning experience.

Additionally, as an SNRE student, Ian described how challenging yet rewarding it has been to actually talk this through with people who have different values and things they want to get out of this championship. “It has been an eye-opening experience to see the negotiations and do my best to help out. Furthermore, regardless of whether I’m wearing my 'Michigan Gymnastics' t-shirt or my 'SNREd' t-shirt, I completely understand the differing objectives and values of the involved parties; it’s been a great experience”, added Ian.

This coordination between those with different values is exactly what makes this zero-waste event so significant.  The institution of sustainability at University of Michigan athletics is a large stage and it provides the opportunity to relay that message to people who may not otherwise be receiving it.  Other universities are also working to making sustainability a priority in their athletic events and their work has been useful as an example of the success of zero-waste athletic events.  Ohio State University has already successfully reached the 90 percent diversion of landfill materials in their football stadium for the past two seasons, and have also contracted with Iberdrola Renewables LLC, the owner of Blue Creek Wind Farm, to meet approximately 25 percent of the campus’ current electricity need.  The success of OSU has served as a great model for those planning the Crisler Center event, and will serve as further motivation for the University of Michigan to truly be the leaders and best on the national “green sports” playing field.

University of Michigan Gymnast and Student Helps Blue Go Green