Green Lessons From Super Bowl XLV

Each year the NFL implements many environmental projects at the host city. Photo: National Football League

The National Football League has been investing in environmental programs for 17 years, and there’s a reason for that, according to Jack Groh, director of the NFL Environmental Program.

“We’re just part of the operation, not public relations,” he says. “At the NFL, it’s always been more ‘walk the walk’ than ‘talk the talk.’ We want to maximize the environmental friendliness and not worry so much about having a ‘green image.’”

For the Super Bowl each year, the NFL works directly with the host city to prepare projects designed to address the immediate environmental impacts of the big game.

The footprint of an event that size can be devastating. “Any large event has a few measurable impacts,” Groh says. “Solid waste is obviously huge, so is transportation and emissions related to energy use. Water usage and a few other things are important, but those are the big three.”

That’s why many of the projects that the NFL undertakes during the Super Bowl relate to solid waste, transportation and greenhouse gas emissions. Here’s a rundown of what the NFL is doing this year in North Texas, and how you can contribute in your own community.

Solid Waste Management and Recycling

Groh doesn’t have quantitative figures on recycling, but he does say that between 20 percent and 30 percent of the waste stream from the 2007 Super Bowl in Miami was diverted from landfills.

This year will be no different with numerous recycling programs at the major event venues, including Cowboys Stadium and the Super Bowl stadium compound, media center and headquarters offices.

Groh remains seemingly downhearted that he didn’t have figures on the NFL recycling efforts. “Don’t ever let the perfect become an enemy of the good. If you push the envelope and do the maximum that’s possible, then you’re doing fine – even if you can’t quantify it,” he says.

In Your Neighborhood

Recycling is one of the simplest ways you can help the environment. While you won’t have nearly as much waste as the Super Bowl, it’s still important to remember the three Rs. Recycling not only keeps waste out of the landfill, but it also creates a profitable market for recycled goods and helps curb the depletion of natural resources.

Most communities throughout the U.S. have access to some type of recycling program whether it’s through curbside collection or strategic drop-off sites. Take advantage of the government programs in your city.

A volunteer helps at the North Texas Food Bank, one of two food banks that will be accepting donations from Super Bowl events. Photo: North Texas Food Bank

Prepared Food Recovery

The NFL expects to recover thousands of pounds of prepared food from both sanctioned and non-sanctioned Super Bowl events. The food, along with any canned or packaged items, will then be donated to the North Texas Food Bank and the Tarrant Area Food Bank where it will be distributed to shelters, community kitchens and churches throughout the area.

William Daniels, food sourcing manager for the North Texas Food Bank, says the two food banks will split donations based on proximity. Prepared foods will go directly to agencies and packaged food will come back to the food bank for normal distribution.

“It’s so great that the NFL thought enough of the communities that they come into to also support the systems that are in place,” he says.

In Your Home

Food banks are always looking for donations, but many don’t accept prepared food for health-code purposes. Still, you can always donate the leftover bags of chips, jars of salsa and other nonperishable items for your Super Bowl party. But you can keep the donating spirit alive well after the Super Bowl, too. Daniels puts it quite plainly, “Support the food bank! All the time, support the food bank!”

Daniels suggested volunteering at a local food bank, or “If they want to do something to really keep the momentum going, set up a virtual food drive.” A virtual food drive, where people donate money instead of food, actually goes further. According to Daniels, the average person can buy a canned good for around 75 cents, but the food bank can get the same item for as little as 25 cents. “We can do more with the money than an individual can,” he says.

Materials Donation

Groh says the NFL has been reusing and repurposing items from the Super Bowl for almost 14 years. Leftover materials like decorations, office supplies and equipment used during Super Bowl XLV will be collected by the Salvation Army and distributed to local nonprofits in the North Texas area.

“Last year we came up with the best solution we’ve ever had,” Groh says. “We had six miles of fabric used as fence covering that we sent to New Orleans where they repurposed it into shower curtains, messenger bags and other things, and a portion of the proceeds went to fund youth programs in the community.”

The NFL will be copying this program again this year for the North Texas community.

“It’s about trying to find the highest potential use, the most beneficial use for the material,” Groh says.

For Your Local Scene

Think about all of the decorations you bought for a Super Bowl party, or take an inventory of objects in your closets and garage. Many things can be donated to local organizations like Goodwill or the Salvation Army. Just make sure items are in fairly good condition – not broken, soiled or unusable.

Sports Equipment and Book Donation Project

More than 100 schools in North Texas were able to donate books, sports equipment, board games and school supplies for children in need. (Stock Photo)

Items were collected by the Salvation Army in Arlington on Jan. 20; they will be inventoried, sorted and then distributed to schools and youth programs.

On Your Home Turf

Of course, it’s pretty simple to gather gently-used sporting goods and books to take to any local charity or organization that will distribute the items in the community, but there are other ways to help.

Books for Kids allows you to donate books – or money – to programs that will help low-income and at-risk preschool-aged children. The organization creates libraries, donates books and partners with literacy programs.

Dick’s Sporting Goods runs a sponsorship and donation program, which affects more than 1 million young athletes and gives coach’s equipment kits to youth sports organizations. You have to create an account on the website, and then wait about three months for a response, but if you have a lot of equipment, it might be a good way to give back.

Climate Change Initiatives

Super Bowl XLV will play host to a variety of climate change initiatives, including renewable energy.

Groh says there are two main ways to “green” energy at big events. One is to directly source renewable energy from a facility, but this is less common. “It’s more common to go to the same facility and purchase credits, which means money is invested in creating new renewable energy,” Groh says.

He also stresses that whichever method is implemented, the net positive effect is the same. Virtually all major events and facilities during Super Bowl XLV will be part of this renewable energy credit system.

Another thrust of the climate change initiative involves planting trees, which offset carbon pollution. Just 30 trees can absorb the CO2 generated by the average person. In partnership with the U.S. Forest Services and the Texas Forest Service, the NFL will help plant thousands of trees throughout North Texas.

Although statistics won’t be available until next year, Groh says the NFL and the U.S. Forest Service will begin tracking the environmental benefits of all the planted trees.

“Local cities will report to the Forest Service the growth rate and how many trees still survive. They will then take those numbers and make calculations about the benefits like pollution absorption, how much carbon is locked up and the heat island effects,” he explains.

Brand new this year, biofuels will also be used as part of the climate change initiatives. These clean-burning biodegradable, and nontoxic fuels will be used for transportation, including several hundred buses and field generators wherever possible.

Each year the NFL plants thousands of trees as part of its Super Bowl environmental projects. (Stock Photo)

In Your Community

Tree planting is a major focus at Super Bowl XLV, and it’s one of the easiest things to implement in your community. Just plant a tree!

You can also, visit the Arbor Day Foundation to see different ways to help plant trees; you can make a simple donation, join the foundation, send a Give-a-Tree card or honor your loved ones with a Tree in Memory.

If you live in Washington, D.C. or surrounding areas, look into the Casey Trees Community Tree Planting Program. Individuals or groups can come together to propose a site for new trees. If the applicants are accepted, a Lead Citizen Forester will help develop a planting plan and maintenance schedule as well as be on-site for the planting with all the required tools and trees – all at no cost.

As far as biofuels are concerned, it might be a little harder to implement this in your community. Many biofuel companies focus mainly on the larger industrial sector, but a new product called BioHeat lets homeowners tap into the biofuel market to heat their homes. The company uses recycled cooking oil as well as soybean, cotton seed and sunflower seed oil to blend fuel that can be used by domestic consumers.

However you choose the emulate the environmental efforts of the NFL, remember that a little bit goes a long way.