These types of water bottle refill stations can prevent the use of thousands of disposable water bottles every year. (GW Housing)
Small changes can add up to a big impact on campus
Hundreds of student-athletes across 27 sports at The George Washington University call the Charles E. Smith Center home. With so much foot traffic, the potential for sustainable practice is colossal. The Smith Center achieved LEED Gold Certification for the first time in 2012. Even since then, however, student-athletes have noted opportunities for improvement, especially with water usage. I was fortunate to take part in two initiatives as an athlete on the Men’s Rowing team.
The Men’s and Women’s Rowing teams, totaling more than 70 student athletes, spend their winter months training on indoor rowing machines in the auxiliary gym of the Smith Center. There is one particular water fountain outside this auxiliary gym that receives an incredibly high amount of use, especially during the early mornings. Until recently, this water fountain was considered a “normal” water fountain. Puddles would quickly form under the fountain, and long lines would form behind it, a detriment during time-sensitive situations that are training sessions.
The Spring 2019 semester brought about change to the Smith Center, with the installation of two Elkay water bottle filler fountains, one in the lobby of the Smith Center and another in the aforementioned “rowing corner” by the auxiliary gym. These fountains are designed to create as little water waste as possible and displays an active count for the amount of plastic water bottles saved by using a reusable bottle. Since their installation in January 2019, the lobby and rowing water fountains have saved 10,109 and 7,011 bottles, respectively.
I presented the idea of the water bottle fountains during my April 2018 interview to represent my team on the Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC). I was certainly not the first person in the athletics department to bring forward the idea, but as someone in a position to enact change, I took the chance to call attention to the issue. Not only would these fountains allow athletes to fill their bottles more swiftly, but less water would spill, and the use of reusable bottles would be encouraged. Through persistent and healthy dialogue between student-athletes, their SAAC representatives, administration, and facilities staff, we were able to bring about change and install the new and improved water bottle fountains.
Another way that the Men’s and Women’s Rowing teams have prioritized sustainability is through a simple habit adjustment, transitioning from paper towels to reusable cloth towels. After every training session on the indoor rowing machines, we sanitize the machine’s handle, seat, and track, as well as any sweat that has accumulated on the ground. Until this school year, we would use paper towels to sanitize, since they were readily available. However, in Fall 2018, one rower proposed the idea to switch to cloth towels. That night, our assistant coach purchased a package of these cloth towels, and we started using them the next day. Assuming that each of the 70 rowers had been using one paper towel sheet after six morning training sessions per week, we can confidently state that the implementation of cloth towels has saved (at least) 420 paper towel sheets every week.
At a Division 1 athletics facility, something as simple as water is crucial to athletic performance. In the day-to-day hustle and bustle of a student-athlete and supporting cast, it can become easy to overlook the need to find solutions for issues that are right in front of our very eyes. All it took in this case was the collaboration of well-intentioned individuals. In addition, the implementation of towels to clean the rowing machines was nothing more than a vocalized suggestion and a one-time purchase to create long-lasting effects for the earth.