The 2015 Super Bowl provided a powerful platform that showcased sustainability. The game at the University of Phoenix stadium was lit by LEDs, and powered by both wind and solar energy. Carbon emissions were offset by renewable energy credits and recycling efforts permeated the entire event. This included donating uneaten food and an e-waste recycling program. The NFL also donates tons of materials that would otherwise be discarded and they run an urban forestry tree planting program.
These efforts are meant to reduce the Super Bowl’s hefty environmental impact. The 2012 Super Bowl in Indianapolis used around 15,000 megawatt-hours of electricity. That is enough energy to power about 1,400 US homes for a year. The 2013 Super Bowl in New Orleans generated about 3.8 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions, which is equivalent to the annual tailpipe emissions of 400 cars.
There is a massive environmental burden associated with all major sporting events. While critics rightly say that the Super Bowl event is an “energy guzzling, carbon emitting, waste generating machine,” they overlook the positive steps that are being taken to reduce the game’s environmental impact. Even more importantly they ignore the public relations bonanza that the event affords.
“It’s not so much about how much of the problem do you create; it’s about how much of the problem are you willing to take responsibility for,” said Jack Groh, director of the NFL Environmental Program.
Both the Seahawks the Patriots are engaging a range of sustainability initiatives to reduce their carbon load. However, it is important to understand that sustainability in football is not only something that is showcased at the Super Bowl. The stadiums of many teams are becoming more sustainable. What is happening in football is part of a clear trend towards lower carbon sporting events. This emanates from a powerful value proposition where reduced environmental impacts generate cost savings.
The 2014 Superbowl, which up to then was the greenest ever, has been eclipsed by this year’s event. As the nation’s largest sporting event it is fitting that the Super Bowl is striving to be a sustainability leader. With one million people coming to the host city for the event, 120 million American television viewers and an international audience that is growing by 7 percent every year, the Super Bowl is an unparallelled opportunity to communicate the value of sustainability.
It is not only the scope of the Super Bowl’s reach but who it reaches that make this event so powerful. The Super Bowl succeeds in reaching a particular demographic that may be less receptive to science driven assessments.
The co-founder of the Green Sports Alliance, Allen Hershkowitz, who is also a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council explained it this way: “I always say, 13 percent of Americans follow science. Sixty-three percent of Americans follow sports.”
Green Sports Alliance Executive Director Martin Tull added, the Super Bowl is “an amazing opportunity” to reach people you otherwise wouldn’t.
“When you have teams you respect and admire, when sports teams start to talk about why sustainability is cool, it can inspire millions of people in a way that other organizations can’t,” Tull said.
The Super Bowl is an important venue to help the public to buy into a low carbon future. Popular support is essential if we are to succeed in making society wide changes to stave off some of the worst impacts of climate change.
Katy Perry’s half time show may have generated considerable buzz but so have renewables, energy efficiency and recycling. Super Bowl XLIX was not only a win for the New England Patriots, it was a victory for sustainability.