Establishing Environmentally Friendly Practices for State Associations

(Presentation Made 7/6/08 to the National Federation of State High School Associations)

John E. Roberts, Executive Director
Michigan High School Athletic Association, Inc.


I am pleased to see people interested in this topic, and pleased to have the opportunity to address it with you.  After decades of making presentations on litigation and legislation or philosophy and history or controversies and crises, this is a welcomed change of pace.  But ultimately, this topic may be as important as any I have addressed before because it deals with saving resources – the limited resources of our associations and of their member schools and of the constituents of those member schools, as well as the limited resources of our precious planet, which is really just a fragile spacecraft circling the sun without a sustaining umbilical cord to replenish its limited resources.

Gas prices have increased more than 35 percent since I first suggested this topic to the National Federation staff last fall, giving this topic more relevance, if not urgency as we now hear predictions of $5 and $6 per gallon as the national average within the next 12 to 24 months.  But this session is about more than saving gas.  I hope we can discover that many different practices and policies that save energy also save money – not always, for example, recycled paper can be more expensive, and some energy savings require initial capital costs that take years to recover; but often there is an immediate positive connection between improving the environment and improving the bottom line.

Today’s session is intended to be interactive.  We have four general topic areas about which I’ll offer introductory ideas before you gather to raise more and better ideas at your tables.  To be kind to the environment, there is only a single-page handout.  On one side you will find a grid to help you take notes – first from my introductory comments, then from your table discussions, and then finally from the table reports.  The back side of this one-page handout has a list of resources for you to check out and consider as you build your own environmentally friendly policy guide for your state association office or your school or your home.

I.  Internal Operations

A. Reducing energy consumption in our internal operations can reach unexpected levels by establishing a comprehensive “Operations and Maintenance Plan” that describes daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, semi-annual and annual checkups and cleanings that improve the efficiency of the motors, pumps, machines, equipment and building shell.  A plan of average quality worked with average diligence can reduce energy consumption 10 to 20 percent, and reduce energy costs by 20 percent or more.  The O & M Plan will consider these general areas:

  • Building Envelope/Shell – For example, insulation and caulking.  Making our office buildings as airtight as possible is good for the environment, and will save us money.  There are nonprofits in most communities that will give your building an energy audit and see where your inefficiencies may be and recommend low-cost solutions.

  • HVAC – For example, automatic settings on our heating, ventilation and air conditioning will save money as we protect the environment, as will lower temperature settings in the winter and higher settings in the summer. 

A large part of any O & M Plan will focus on keeping heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment functioning efficiently.  New equipment that is purchased to replace older, less energy efficient equipment may take some time to amortize our investments; but in one, two or three years can provide the double win of lower energy use and lower operating costs.

  • Water Management – For example, efficiency in restroom fixtures and yard irrigation, or landscaping that requires no watering.

  • Lighting – Lighting accounts for almost a third of the electrical use in most offices, and we can reduce that use through better use of natural daylight, occupant sensors, timers and photo cells, group relamping and delamping.  The switch from T-12 to T-8 fluorescent bulbs reduces energy consumption 27 percent, but the capital outlay to change ballast types means several years to recoup the initial investment.

  • Electronics – There are projections that we can cut our computer energy use by 70 percent by putting our computers in sleep mode during our time away from offices, including meetings, breaks and lunch hours.  The jury is out, however, if turning computers off at night and rebooting in the morning has any positive net effects on energy consumption; and that practice can interfere with off-hours IT maintenance.

We recently set our two big copiers to go into “sleep mode” when not operated for 90 minutes.  It is estimated this will reduce their overall energy consumption by 50 percent.

Combination printers/copiers/scanners/faxes use less energy than three or four separate machines for the separate functions.  Power strips with multiple sockets (e.g., “smart strip”) will reduce energy consumption compared to using separate wall sockets for separate needs.  Laptops use one-third the energy of typical desktop computers.

  • Miscellaneous – The worst energy pigs in a typical office include space heaters, vending machines and water coolers.  If you can’t do without these devices, then at least they should be EnergyStar certified.  Vending machines and water coolers should not operate 24/7; and when they are operating, we should disconnect any illumination.

Staff automobiles are another consideration.  The one I’ve driven the past two years gets 50 percent better mileage than the previous.  This saved more than 330 gallons of gas per year.  Perhaps our priorities for staff cars must be [1] safety, [2] fuel efficiencies, and [3] creature comforts.

Having a well thought out and followed Operations and Maintenance Plan for our office building and all of its equipment will save energy and money.  Seek employee input for ideas, and provide employee education.  The MHSAA’s energy savings target for all these kinds of internal office operations in 2008-09 is $24,000.

Taking advantage of Michigan’s Green Schools Initiative, the Hartland Consolidated School District located between Detroit and Lansing has reduced its annual electrical consumption from four million kilowatt hours to one million kilowatt hours.  With a capital outlay of only $1,500, the district saved $115,000 last year through a series of changed habits:  such as closing the blinds at night, turning out the lights in vending machines, recycling drawing paper and placing draft guards along the bottoms of doors.

B. Here now are some initial thoughts regarding the reuse or recycling of products in our internal operations:

  • Paper – Seventy percent of solid waste in a typical office is paper, and most of that waste can be recycled, separating color from white, copy paper from other paper, paper from envelopes, newspapers from magazines. 

At the MHSAA we receive a quarterly report from the company that picks up our recycling, and we have learned that our recycling efforts amount to 2.7 tons in an average year, saving 45 trees, 243 cubic feet of landfill, 19,000 gallons of water, and avoiding 160 pounds of air pollution. 

On the one hand, this is something to be proud of.  On the other hand, it suggests we use too much paper and should be reducing its use first and recycling it as the backup plan.  So we have discontinued receiving four daily newspapers at the MHSAA, and no longer watch them stack up for recycling.  We now receive our daily news at the office online.  More on that topic comes later.

As is typical of the “over 40” generation, I print out too much email and too much from the Web.  I want the document in my hand.  To ease my conscience a little, I’ve started using the waste from the fax machine (cover sheets, solicitations, etc.) in the paper drawer of my printer.

By the way, if you use recycled paper, you will use 90 percent less water and 50 percent less energy than non-recycled paper.  The less white that “white” paper is, the more environmentally friendly it’s likely to be (avoid chlorine bleached paper).  However, the cost to purchase recycled paper sometimes exceeds the cost of other paper, which will present us with a small moral dilemma.

  • Bottles and Cans – One person in our office takes all of ours as a community fundraiser – a double win for our community.

  • Cups – Because our community does not provide for Styrofoam recycling, a year ago the MHSAA office changed from Styrofoam cups to paper cups for visitors and from Styrofoam cups to washable cups for staff.

  • Batteries – There are opportunities in many communities to recycle separately for alkalines, buttons, cell phone batteries and rechargeable batteries.

  • Electronics – If we can’t find another nonprofit organization that can use our castoffs, we take these items to the recycling center in our communities:  computers, monitors, printers, inkjet cartridges and toner cartridges.

C.  Rethinking our office operations may reduce our energy use further.  For example, alternative schedules, like the four-day work week and closing down offices entirely for three days, have the potential for many energy savings and financial economies for both the organization and its staff (especially long-distance commuters).  Many Michigan schools do this in the summer and some Michigan schools do it in the winter; and while the potential for school districts to save energy and costs is greater than the state association office, there still is some potential for us to think about.

Rethinking to the point of alternative sources of energy is not inconceivable; but even if we can’t convert our offices to solar energy, some offices (not ours) can take advantage of passive solar energy by opening blinds on the south side of the building during the winter, and closing those blinds during the afternoon summer heat.  Offices located in northern climates in the shade of trees (like ours) may find that closing blinds in the winter is the smarter energy choice, avoiding heat loss.

It may seem far-fetched to consider wind power for our offices, but only a few blocks from here, ten small business owners in the U Street neighborhood of Washington, D.C. have signed three-year deals with the nonprofit Latino Economic Development Corporation to convert to 100 percent wind power.  If it can be done in Washington, D.C., it can be done in most of our communities as well.  If we think differently.

II.  Constituent Communication (Mailings & Meetings)

Business Week reported in May that the phrase “paperless office” entered the business lexicon through an article entitled “The Office of the Future” which appeared in that publication published 33 years ago in May.  The phrase “paperless office” was coined by George Pate, the legendary head of Xerox.  His vision was half right, but the dream of a workplace where technology would eliminate the need for printed documents remains just a dream.  Indeed, some of the very machinery that makes paper theoretically obsolete has helped us to make it all the more ubiquitous.  The decision to print has gotten much closer to the owner of the document and has resulted in more, rather than less, printed paper.  In 1975, the average U.S. office worker used 62 pounds of paper a year.  By 1999, that figure peaked at 143 pounds, but in 2006, it was still at 127 pounds.

Now, three decades after the dream of the paperless office, the environmental and financial imperatives to reduce paper use are more real.  Last year, U.S. companies printed 1.5 trillion pages, a 95,000 mile high stack of paper, or the equivalent of 15 to 20 million trees.  In the typical office, for every dollar spent on printing documents, companies incur another six dollars in handling and distribution, according to Xerox.  So a focus on how we reduce paper consumption in our constituent communications is important.

A. All of our association offices are moving toward electronic communications, and some have moved past downloadable forms to electronically interactive forms and responses that avoid paper at both ends of the communication, sender and receiver.

Many states are well ahead of Michigan in online publications.  Georgia and Rhode Island, for example, send their monthly publications to us electronically.  However, our experience has been that online publications of this nature are less frequently and less thoroughly read, at least by those 40 years of age and older; so we’re moving more slowly, but inevitably, toward online-only publications.

For now, our Bulletin will continue to be both online and in print, but we have reduced the number of pages, the size and the quality of the paper, the number of issues each year, and the length of the mailing list.  This year we will reduce the number of printed copies of our Bulletin from 120,000 copies annually to less than 20,000 annually, and we will reduce the number of printed pages from almost ten million in a year to less than one million annually.  The impact on our annual budget is $40,000-$50,000.  The impact on our environment?  Priceless!

Sometimes mailings seem to be unavoidable.  In those cases, make them as environmentally friendly as possible.  For example:

  • Make the mailings as small as possible;

  • Print on both sides of pages;

  • Use mailing labels rather than envelopes;

  • Avoid inks that use heavy metals (use soy-based or vegetable ink when possible);

  • Avoid coated papers.

B. When we think about communications, we must consider meetings as well as mailings.  Reducing miles traveled is as important as reducing paper used.  Again, many state high school associations are way ahead of Michigan with online meetings

We did our first online rules meeting for coaches and officials this spring for track & field; and this fall we will have the online option for volleyball and soccer.  In the winter we’ll have the option for basketball, ice hockey and wrestling; and this spring (and thereafter), every sport will have the online option for rules meetings for coaches and officials.  We will still offer face-to-face meetings, but 75 percent or  fewer times and places.

Here are some amazing statistics from the Track & Field Rules Meetings we did online this spring.  There were 1,150 coaches and officials who, at their convenience over several months, viewed the online meeting.  They reported an average round-trip not taken to a meeting site was 82.8 miles, or a total of 95,551 miles; in other words, almost four times around the earth at the Equator.  And that’s just one sport!  Imagine if we had made online rules meetings available in all sports.  We could have saved a trip to the moon and back!

In just track & field, if cars averaged 27 miles per gallon, we saved 3,500 gallons of gas for our planet.  At the time, gasoline was $3.67 per gallon, so we saved $13,000 for our constituents.  For just one sport!

Now we must ask ourselves, how many other types of meetings can convert to an online option or online only presentation, without significant loss in effectiveness?

III.  Tournaments

If our major program, our major product, is tournaments, then we need to look in that area for major environmental impact and savings. 

In Michigan, for example, we’re talking about seeding tournaments, and varying from strict geographical pairings.  However, we know that some seeding plans will cause more travel and cost our schools more money; so we are making this move rather cautiously.  Some seeding plans can be anti-environment, and more expensive for schools.

On the other hand, we are experimenting this year with a new idea in Volleyball and Basketball District Tournaments.  Departing from more than a century of tradition, beginning this year we will direct in some cases and allow in other cases that one site not host all of the District games.  Instead, the team on the top line of each bracket could have the privilege of hosting rather than having both teams travel to a third site.  This will reduce travel for one team altogether, and it could also increase attendance and revenue.

Another thing we can do at our tournaments is to require that our licensed vendors use recyclable containers and not use plastic bags.  We could cause our vendors of t-shirts and merchandise to use domestic suppliers, closer to home, to reduce the cost to our environment of the long-distance transportation for these items to our events.

You will likely think of dozens more environmentally friendly ideas for your tournaments during your discussions.

IV.  Policies (Rules & Regulations)

What state association policies come into play when we are trying to reduce our negative impact on limited resources and a fragile environment?

How about contest limitations?  Fewer games equals less travel, equals less use of resources (and of course, less expense of our programs).  Some states have gone to across-the-board reductions in the number of contests, including Mississippi recently with a ten percent reduction.

Many states adhere to travel limitations.  Shorter trips equals less use of resources (and, again, less expense of our programs).  Many states, especially in the Midwest, limit interstate travel.  It might be the number of miles round-trip or the number of times in a season that a school could exceed the limit.

Without getting political today, we might also do some rethinking here.  Simply in the context of energy savings and environmental impact, does it make sense that our schools participate in national-scope tournaments?

During World War II, when gas was rationed, the MHSAA eliminated state tournaments.  Our tournaments were at the District level only, in order to save a precious resource, gasoline.  With gas shortages today, or at least spiking gas prices, thinking more local for tournaments, might that be necessary again?

In any event, doesn’t it make sense to rethink policies and reduce the length of travel and the number of contests?

What other policies are prime candidates for rethinking if, along with safety and competitive equity and expense, we put environmental impact on the list of criteria we consider before adopting policies and procedures in our states?


There was an avalanche in Alaska on April 16 of this year that knocked out the transmission lines for Juneau’s low-cost hydroelectric power.  This compelled the community to move quickly to energy efficient light bulbs and there was a run on clothes pins for drying clothes.  Neon signs were turned off and vending machines were unplugged.  Energy use declined 30 percent in no time at all.  “Turn off, turn down and unplug” became the most popular phrases in Juneau, Alaska, because the alternative sources of energy to that community were four to five times as expensive as the hydroelectric power.

When drought gripped Brazil in 2001 and interfered with its cheap energy source, overnight there was an almost 12 percent reduction in energy use.  Because people had to do it. 

If we must reduce, recycle/reuse and rethink, we will do it.  But the better approach is to reduce, reuse and recycle, and rethink before we need to.  The better approach is to do it now.

My use of resources in Michigan affects you, and your use of our limited resources in other places affects me.  On behalf of Michigan and our shared planet, thank you for giving leadership to this topic in your state association and school district.

WEB SITES (National Capital Institute) (Utne Reader) (Carbon Offset Comparison Shopping) (EnergyStar) (Urban Options and Northern Options) (Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy) (Mobile phone recycling) (Athletic shoe recycling) (Environmental Grantmakers Association)


Stirring It Up:  How to Make Money and Save the World – Gary Hirshberg (Hyperion) 2008

We Are the New Radicals:  A Manifesto for Reinventing Yourself and Saving the World – Julia Moulden (McGraw Hill) 2008

Blessed Unrest:  How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw it Coming – Paul Hawken (Viking) 2007

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle:  A Year of Food Life – Barbara Kingsolver (Harper Perennial) 2007

The World Without Us – Alan Weisman (St. Martin’s Press) 2007

Green Is Gold:  Business Talking to Business About the Environmental Revolution - Patrick Carson and Julia Moulden (Harper Business) 1991