Green Super Bowl

Allen Hershkowitz, Senior Scientist, NYC and throughout the world

In his most recent State of the Union Address President Obama declared that “Climate change is a fact.” While inside the beltway that declaration might have been viewed as a bold pronouncement, a tossing down of the gauntlet to the climate deniers who so heavily influence politicians, it is worth noting that ten years ago the professional sports industry began to implement changes focused on combating climate change. The sports industry took on that issue publicly and, as this Super Bowl attests, it continues to do so today.

When it comes to ecological stewardship, and addressing climate change in particular, it is informative to note the divide between the business leaders running the multi-billion dollar culture-shaping sports industry, and the irresponsible behavior of many politicians who often behave like wholly owned subsidiaries of the polluting industries.

This year’s Super Bowl poignantly demonstrates the gap between partisan climate deniers and our business culture at large. The Super Bowl, which will be held this weekend at MetLife stadium in East Rutherford New Jersey, is a global exhibition of the types of ecological actions we all should emulate to address climate change.

The single most important thing we can do to address our many ecological problems is change cultural attitudes and expectations about how we should relate to the planet. This is why the adoption of ecologically intelligent operations and messaging by the Super Bowl holds so much promise. The genius of those who are using the Super Bowl to popularize our collective need to act to solve our ecological problems is its alignment of ecological messaging with mainstream social values.

The Super Bowl is a trusted and widely embraced community engagement. As evidenced by how much money businesses are willing to spend on affiliating with the event, the Super Bowl provides an emotionally safe, non-partisan space that allows people learn, to change their minds and behavior. The Super Bowl’s green messaging builds on where people are at, regardless of political or economic affiliation. And this year’s event, perhaps more than any other Super Bowl before it, provides powerful examples of how small actions can ripple out and make big changes happen. Both the Broncos and the Seahawks have long ago adopted programs focused on responsible environmental stewardship, which you can read about here and here. And MetLife Stadium is itself among the greenest football stadiums in the United States, which earned it the Natural Resources Defense Council’s highest sports “Game Changer” greening award in 2013 and the U.S. EPA’s “Greenest Stadium Award” in 2009.

It is worth noting that in global terms, the ecological impacts of MetLife Stadium are relatively small. Even the solar array on MetLife Stadium is small, less than half a megawatt. But its market message is large. So is the fact that the Super Bowl will be powered by renewable energy, and the mobile generators needed for the event will use bio-diesel fuel. Carbon offsets have been purchased for the week’s worth of NFL events related to the game, and while the stadium generates less than 725 tons of waste each year, a third of it is recycled and almost 200 tons of its food waste is composted. The transportation impacts of the Super Bowl would have been large—transportation being the largest impact at all pro-football games—but the NFL’s event organizers have responsibly put in place a transit plan that will see up to 80 percent of all attendees at MetLife Stadium arriving by mass transit.

Even though the stadium’s absolute ecological impacts are relatively small, the stadium’s owners have been using their venue’s visibility in a big way to educate the region about our collective need to address climate change and other ecological pressures. In a state like New Jersey, where the Governor has been irresponsibly bowing to narrow political pressure in denying the contribution that climate change has made to extreme weather events like Hurricane Sandy, MetLife Stadium’s embrace of renewable energy and energy efficiency is an implicit rebuke of climate change deniers. It is a powerful statement.

That MetLife Stadium and the Super Bowl have been advancing environmental initiatives even though the event’s relative contribution to global ecological pressures is small underscores the essential strategic fact that all people must understand: There is no one single great thing we can do the solve our ecological problems. There is no one single great law we can adopt, or one single great business practice we can embrace to solve our diverse and urgent ecological problems. Small changes can lead to big effects, so we must do much more than impose carbon controls on power plants and enhance national auto fuel efficiency standards, however essential these initiatives are. Reducing the threats posed by climate change requires many, many initiatives. Global carbon emissions will be meaningfully reduced not by one big action, but by shifting billions of ecologically ignorant decisions to billions of ecologically intelligent decisions, from installing small scale renewable energy arrays like those on MetLife Stadium to promoting local recycling and energy efficiency initiatives, to launching local composting and regional water conservation initiatives. No action is too small to matter. That is what the detailed greening of this Super Bowl is teaching us.

It is also profoundly important to note is that the motivation underlying the NFL’s use of the Super Bowl to educate millions of fans and businesses about the need to address ecological pressures is not being driven by the almighty dollar. Instead, the greening of the Super Bowl represents the NFL’s recognition that we are facing urgent ecological issues that can no longer be ignored or stymied by economic or political self-interest.

So why is the greening of the Super Bowl so important? Because a lot more people will be paying attention to the Super Bowl than tuned in to President Obama’s State of the Union speech. And when people stand and cheer at the game, when they deposit their beer bottles in a recycling bin and send their food off to be composted, we won’t have any idea about which side of the political aisle they’re on.

Photo Credit: Green Super Bowl/shutterstock