When I arrived at Penn State in August of 2012 for business school orientation, I felt out of place and without any real direction. Making a change at that point in my life was imperative, and earning an MBA would certainly make me more competitive in the job market. But the idea of stepping this far out of my comfort zone did not sit well with me. In fact, I can still vividly remember sitting in the business building auditorium during the first week of orientation, thinking to myself, “If I just walk out the door right now and drive home, I will only lose my deposit.”
Luckily, I toughed it out and graduated on schedule with experiences and knowledge that I never would have gained had I listened to myself that day in the auditorium. One such experience was my graduate assistantship during the fall semester of my second year of school. Beyond (happily) ending my seven and a half week stint bartending, the opportunity ultimately led me down the path I am on now.
My primary responsibilities in the assistantship involved attending every Penn State home football game during the 2013 season as a part of the Penn State Mobius Initiative. The overarching goal of the project is to close the waste loop and make Penn State a totally zero-waste campus. This included a goal of diverting all landfill waste from Beaver Stadium, the university’s 107,000 seat football facility, by the 2016 football season. As a lifelong Penn State football fan, this was not a tall ask of me, especially since I would be spending the majority of the games in the President’s and Governor’s hospitality suites promoting the project, interacting with game attendees, and privy to all the Penn State Creamery Ice Cream I could eat.
My experience ultimately catalyzed by desire to work with golf facilities to be more self-sustaining. As far as I see it, there are two major issues that need to be covered when it comes to any project where the goal is ultimately to divert 100% of all waste from the landfill. One of these is not necessarily more important than the other. I believe that both are integral and need to be executed in order to meet that “zero-waste” goal.
The educational aspect of such an endeavor is crucial. By ensuring receptacles are well placed in easy-to-access areas, with the proper signage indicating what item should be placed in that particular receptacle, you are increasing the chances of your project’s success. Furthermore, by putting receptacles in higher-traffic areas, you bring more awareness to what you are trying to accomplish.
An example for on-course recycling at your club would be to not only have recycling bins on each tee, but to also have a bank of receptacles outside the pro-shop and at one or two cross-over areas where multiple “green-to-tee” paths intersect. Beside aiding in the afore mentioned benefits of creating awareness and knowledge, the bank of receptacles also eases the burden of the smaller bins on the teeing grounds. And your maintenance staff will thank you for that!
With the project in the suites at the stadium, we were lucky because there are two exits in the President’s box, and only one in the Governor’s suite. Therefore, it was an easy choice to place receptacles inside each door. In addition, we had one or two representatives at each bank assisting and engaging people in conversation to help promote the initiative.
Proper signage is not only necessary for the promotion of the project. Being able to clearly show members and guests which items should be thrown in which canister makes them feel as though they are directly involved and automatically become invested in the outcome. This also encourages a quicker transition when incorporating a new behavior into someone’s waste disposal habits. Simply put, the easier you make it for someone to get that plastic bottle into the “plastics” canister as opposed to the “trash” can, the more likely they are to continue that habit and encourage others to follow suit.
Clearly the educational component of this project is significant. However, what good is having all of this signage and well-placed receptacles if you don’t have control of what is ultimately being thrown out at your club?
Luckily, clubs tend to be their own eco-systems when it comes to waste disposal. Of course, you will inevitably have the handful of folks who sneak food and drink onto the course with them in their golf bags. But that can of Bud Light which Jim Bob hid in his golf bag is still an aluminum can when it is finished, and it just as easily can be tossed into the recycling bin as the can purchased from the “halfway house”.
I am not condoning smuggling beer onto the course; however this does lead me to my second point. You have the ability to ensure that the products you are purchasing for your club, notably for the food and beverage components of the facility, are all either reusable, recyclable or compostable. Offering reusable water bottles adorned with the club logo for members (and even as a “tee gift” for guests) to refill at on-course water coolers is both cost-effective and reduces the amount of waste your club goes through.
Another example of how your club’s inputs can be optimized to foster the success of your waste-reduction is to look at your “to-go” containers. Many clubs utilize plastic food containers which can be recycled. However, the emissions that go into recycling that plastic container may cause more harm than good. Further, most plastic containers can only be recycled once, condemning a once recycled container to the landfill at the end of its useful life.
Other clubs use the less-expensive polystyrene containers and cups. While some factions argue that polystyrene is recyclable, many of these factions can be closely tied to the manufacturer of these products. Generally speaking, these items are expensive to recycle and therefore will likely just end up in a landfill. Luckily, there are viable alternatives.
One of those alternatives I discovered while working in Beaver Stadium. I was introduced to cups, bowls, plates and flatware made from bagasse, which is a by-product of the sugar manufacturing process. Similar products use other plant-based materials such as corn, which means they can be composted along with your food waste, grass clippings and the like. While the upfront costs for these products may be a bit higher than the polystyrene or plastic options, the long-term cost savings from reducing or eliminating tipping fees for garbage pick-up in conjunction with incorporating the used product ultimately into your course’s maintenance practices outweigh that initial hit to the pocketbook.
Golf clubs provide the perfect venue for creating a self-sustaining business. By closing the waste loop at your club, you increase the value of membership because you are planning for the future life of your club. In addition, the progressive mindset this portrays paints a positive picture in the eyes of non-golfers, opening up the potential for that previous naysayer to take up the game.
Travis Lesser is an Entrepreneurship Instructor at Penn State University, and is also the Owner and Founder of Spring Mill Solutions.