Voluntary Environmental Programs: Helping Golf Courses in More Ways than One

TROY, NY – Preliminary findings from a study of golf course businesses throughout the United States reveal that golf courses which participate in voluntary environmental programs (VEPs) experience a variety of benefits. Results of the study also demonstrate that VEP benefits vary by region and club type, and that the extent of benefit largely depends on both resource investments and support from upper management. 

The findings are preliminary results released by Audubon International from a study examining the return on investment and associated benefits experienced by golf courses which participate in voluntary environmental programs. The study was conducted by Greener Futures Consulting, LLC and Audubon International, and was supported in part by a 2015 grant from the United States Golf Association (USGA). The full report will be released later this year.

The findings also corroborate challenges that limit widespread adoption of environmental programs and practices in the golf industry. While the study sought to analyze financial benefit to courses, the survey found that over 55% of respondents are not motivated by financial return and that reaching high standards requires some investment.

For nearly thirty years, voluntary environmental programs have operated in the golf industry as a means to promote beneficial environmental management and sustainable practices. While many golf course facilities have adopted VEPs, overall participation rates within the golf industry remain relatively low—an estimated 13-15% of the roughly 15,000 golf facilities in the U.S. are enrolled. The survey of over 450 golf superintendents across the United States provides researchers with valuable information on the motivations, barriers to, and benefits of VEP adoption, including the following:

  • VEPs are highly effective to improve the environmental performance of golf course managers
  • 95% of respondents have experienced a benefit through participation in a program
  • Over 55% are not motivated by cost-saving, and many have indicated that reaching high standards for environmental practice requires some investment
  • VEPs breed innovation and generate creative solutions to the care and stewardship of a course, which in turn, creates value for the property
  • Nearly 60% of participants experience an increase in personal job satisfaction

“As we look at the various voluntary environmental programs available to golf course owners and operators and the ways to increase participation, information from research such as this helps to steer a more productive, industry-wide conversation about what works,” states Joe Madeira, Director of Advancement for Audubon International. “We all need to have a better handle on what models help improve environmental performance of facilities who commit to raising the level of their environmental practices.”

Voluntary environmental programs (VEPs), specifically those with some type of third-party verification, certification, or oversight, are increasingly available to industries seeking independent review and confirmation of best practices. VEP’s offer rigorous independent review outside the traditional “command-and-control” regulatory regime.

“There’s been quite a bit of similar research conducted on this topic in other industries,” according to lead researcher on the project, Kevin A. Fletcher, Ph.D. of Greener Futures Consulting LLC. “Reliance on a comprehensive literature review of similar analyses to develop the survey ultimately generated useful and significant results, and the final report should provide additional insights for professionals throughout the industry.”

The full research analysis will be produced in a final report to become available later this year.

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