Track and field team champions sustainable efforts within athletics

Ashley Tysiac, Sports Writer

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Photo by Camryn Mickan
Student-athlete India Appleton, who works as the outreach coordinator for the Office of Sustainability for UNC Asheville, on the campus track before practice.

A new partnership between the UNC Asheville track and field team and the Office of Sustainability looks to promote sustainable behaviors within the athletic department.

Thanks to the proactive efforts of coaches and athletes, the track and field team created a dialogue and began to adopt new behaviors and strategies to become more environmentally conscious and aware as part of a university that champions sustainability.

“This is the exact opportunity I’ve been waiting for to infiltrate athletics, to have a coach who cares and a student who is knowledgeable,” said Jackie Hamstead, UNCA interim co-director of sustainability. “It’s such a great opportunity.”

Improving athletic sustainability first crossed the mind of UNCA Assistant Track and Field Coach J.P. Kimbrough last fall when he listened to a sustainability presentation at a new employee onboarding meeting. Hamstead and fellow Interim Co-Director of Sustainability Alison Ormsby educated the meeting attendees about the various environmental projects around campus and UNCA’s status as a leader in sustainability among other universities.

Kimbrough reached out to Hamstead and Ormsby following the presentation and said he inquired about starting a dialogue about implementing new environmental strategies within the track and field program.

“It’s not that much harder to be so much more impactful,” Kimbrough said. “In fact, I would actually argue that it’s easy to do, but it’s also easy not to do.”

India Appleton, a junior on the track and field team and outreach coordinator for the Office of Sustainability, helped kickstart this effort as a key connection between the team and the sustainability department.

“There’s a lot of room for growth and improvement,” Appleton said.

Over the course of several Zoom meetings, Kimbrough and Appleton discussed with Hamstead and Ormsby strategies and projects the team could implement to become more environmentally conscious at practices, competitions and everyday life.

“It merged into this thing (trying to) rebrand ourselves, trying to be the most sustainable team on campus and then use that as a platform to teach others and spread that message,” Kimbrough said.

The group outlined main areas of improvement that the track and field team could focus on: recycling, waste management and environmental education. Within those areas of focus, they outlined and implemented specific projects to relate to the issues at hand.

Appleton and Kimbrough first determined waste reduction as an area of priority for the team. From boxed lunches to plastic water bottles, the track and field team produces much waste when out at competitions. So, Appleton helped set up a waste management system in which the team collects recycling, compost and trash in three separate containers to cut down on the amount of trash created.

Though the team gradually continues to fully adapt to the new system, Kimbrough said the waste management initiative has already made an impact on how the team travels and operates at meets.

“That’s one of the biggest things, just trying to rethink the way we move in and out of facilities,” Kimbrough said.

Appleton and Kimbrough also said the track and field team plans to address waste management at practice at the UNCA track and field facility. Currently, the track facility only houses one recycling bin, but after communication with athletic facilities management, the track and field team and sustainability office plan to see more recycling containers installed around the facility in the near future.

Besides implementing new sustainable systems, the group has created educational opportunities for track and field athletes to learn more about UNCA’s sustainable campus. Appleton mapped out a team fun run set for April 3 to coincide with UNCA’s Greenfest. Team members will run to different locations around campus – coined sustainability spots – and learn about their important environmental functions at the university. Locations include the Sam Millar building and The Woods apartments – both sustainable buildings on campus – to name a few.

Following the run, Appleton said the team will congregate back at the track facility to have an open discussion about ways they want to continue becoming more environmentally friendly as a team.

Appleton said she hopes the run will allow athletes to better educate themselves on what makes their school a leader in sustainability.

“I think it will be good to see which programs work, which incentive systems work,” Appleton said.

Outside of the waste programs, recycling bins and the fun run, the group of sustainable experts, coaches and athletes hope to continue creating other environmental projects for the future. It is a partnership that members of both the Office of Sustainability and the track and field team said will help connect the athletic department to the rest of campus.

“It’s also bridged athletics to other departments,” Hamstead said. “Athletics can feel super isolated sometimes. But Coach Kimbrough and India are partnering with the office of sustainability and they’re getting people out to these Green fest events that wouldn’t normally attend where they’re meeting other parts of campus. I think that’s a huge benefit too.”

But Kimbrough, Appleton and Hamstead said they do not want sustainability efforts to stop with the track and field program. Kimbrough said he pictures an ideal future in which all teams within the UNCA athletic department adopt sustainable practices, becoming a leader in environmental issues among collegiate athletic departments.

“If we’re doing it and all of the other programs and teams around us are not, then we’re still going to be the worst. We’re not creating any momentum,” Kimbrough said. “The real accomplishment I think is when we set a standard and say ‘this is how we can operate’ and then it starts to spread.”

Based on data and audits conducted by the Office of Sustainability, the Sherrill Center, Kimmel Arena and Justice Center produce some of the most waste of all the buildings on campus. However, Hamstead said making the athletic department cleaner and more environmentally friendly continues as a work in progress, beginning with efforts started by track and field.

“They’re not leaders in that field yet, but we’re working on it,” Hamstead said.

As the largest program within the athletic department, Appleton said it is only fit for the team to lead the way for the rest of the department to become more sustainable.

“Especially since we’re the biggest team on campus – we have almost 80 athletes – we should be the ones that are leading this dialogue,” Appleton said. “Our team has the greatest impact on the athletic department in terms of numbers.”

Impacts of the partnership could potentially reach the community level as well. Not only will improvements help athletic department sustainability, but Appleton said it will also create a respected reputation among members of the Asheville community.

“It is really important for athletics to solidify its place in the city of Asheville as a sustainability leader because when the majority of people that interact with UNC Asheville, it’s usually through basketball or other sports,” Appleton said. “It’s people from the community coming to these games, so if they see there’s recycling and compost bins at the games and they know exactly what to put in there, it sticks in their minds.”

With initiatives already put in place and future projects set in stone, Appleton said members of the new track and field and Office of Sustainability partnership look to make a lasting impact on UNCA athletics and create a new normal for sustainability within the department.

“I think that if we show that we are doing something really well, it’ll make other teams want to do that as well or be the best in that aspect,” Appleton said.