When working with athletics , the concept of sustainability is a foreign idea to most people in the “green” movement. How can one judge how sustainable a sport can be to an area like a university? One way is to examine the space a team uses and how it is treated and maintained.
The idea of freshly cut green grass and perfectly manicured dirt is a fading memory when it comes to professional and collegiate athletics.

This is especially true at Central Connecticut State University, where two natural grass fields have just been changed over to FieldTurf. The Blue Devils baseball and softball teams will now be playing on a synthetic surface after two seasons of construction and constant road games.

Central Connecticut State University is not new to the FieldTurf idea. CCSU installed the synthetic on its football field in September 200. As an early adopter of FieldTurf, the university learned of the surface’s advantages before most universities started adopting it. Along with the athletic upsides of FieldTurf, Central learned about the monetary benefits as well.

The cost of maintenance for a grass field becomes astronomical in comparison on some synthetic surfaces. The main synthetic surface found today is called FieldTurf. FieldTurf combines the safety and look of real grass and cuts the cost of mowing, fertilizing and watering out of the budget.

The average yearly maintenance cost for the upkeep of a natural grass field exceeds 50,000 dollars [PDF]. This is in comparison to the 5,000 dollars that is needed to maintain a synthetic surface. Over the expected life of a heavily used FieldTurf area (8-10 years according to the FieldTurf company), maintenance cost for natural grass could reach over a half of a million dollars. That half of a million dollars can cover the cost of the materials and labor needed to transform a natural grass complex over to FieldTurf.

While many proponents of the field upgrades at CCSU cited large costs as a reason not to move forward, the athletic department was able to display similar numbers, showing less cost in the long term.

“There was a good debate and good concern and I think the merits of it outweighed the lack of not doing it,” Athletic Director Dr. Paul Resetarits explains in a video interview.
There are many more reasons CCSU moved off of the grass and in the direction of FieldTurf.

One reason the natural grass was ditched, were the environmental issues that surround the constant necessary maintenance of grass. To maintain a college-caliber baseball field, the grass needs to be fertilized multiple times a year, mowed weekly and watered everyday. “In terms of the goodness for the environment, we are not pouring hundreds of fertilizers and nitrogen into the ground, that then goes into the run-off and finally into the underground river that runs through campus,” verifies Resetatits.

In a 2007 assessment of the use of rubber-based athletic surfaces, the state of Connecticut Department of Public Health determined that there are no environmental and personal health risks corresponding with the use of FieldTurf after many residents feared that the surface would contain hazardous materials.

The department found that “Sources of exposure unrelated to artificial turf fields are likely more important than the turf fields for many chemicals.” This means that the average person was exposed to more hazardous chemicals in everyday life situations than they are while utilizing at rubber-based synthetic field.

On top of not finding any health or environmental risk in the materials used to create FieldTurf, the state believed that there were no reasons evident for the banning of FieldTurf surfaces. These results were also found by assessments in Norway, Sweden, New Jersey and California according to the report.

While sustainability usually concentrates on the environment and the effect something has on it, in the case of FieldTurf and CCSU, there are very few drawbacks when looking at it through the scope of environment and sustainability. The surface requires less maintenance than its natural counterpart, including the lack of fertilizer and water needed during maintenance. FieldTurf also drains any rainwater and recycles it through the campus.
Sustainability also has to do with the relative costs that come along with making a decision. The minimal yearly costs more than make up or the higher upfront costs to transform an area for installation. If the school looks at Arute Field as an example of how efficient a synthetic field can be, the assessment reports suggest officials will be thrilled with the results they get out of both the baseball and softball fields in the future. After nine years, Arute Field remains playable with no signs of wear and tear. On a field with half the use, it is possible to see a 15-18 year life instead of 8-10 as estimated with the school’s football facility.

The only place CCSU feels it can go from here is forward with the third phase of the plan and move the schools soccer pitch to the FieldTurf surface as well, making the school’s athletic complex 100-percent grass free and completely eliminate the use of fertilizer, sprinkler systems and lawnmowers and use the extra maintenance fees towards beautifying the rest of campus.