One football team will wake up Feb. 5, the day after Super Bowl XLI in Miami, in a bad mood. But Jack Groh, director of the National Football League’s environmental program, will be all smiles regardless of who wins.
Groh is spearheading the NFL's third go at offsetting greenhouse gas emissions created during the big game at Dolphin Stadium. A green Super Bowl? Yes, and more events like it keep popping up.
The green-events list includes the Indy 500, Fifa World Cup and 2006 Olympics in Turin, Italy. There is enough demand for green events that the United Nations Environmental Program recently held a conference on sports and the environment where participants discussed topics ranging from the impact of building design and how to harvest rainwater to methods of trash disposal.
This year, the NFL is buying certificates that will offset the amount of carbon generated through electricity use at the game. This effort, combined with the planting of hundreds of native tree seedlings, aim to make the event carbon neutral, meaning it will have a minimal effect on the environment. "Carbon mitigation: that to me is where the excitement, the challenge and the opportunity are," says Groh.
This is the 14th year the NFL has hosted a Super Bowl with green elements linked to the festivities, like recycling souvenirs and providing food banks with uneaten food. But this is the first time the organization is going another step further and buying certificates to offset carbon emissions.
The NFL started its environmental initiatives in a bid to identify and then address the environmental impacts of the Super Bowl. At the time, a top executive of the organization said the group should be doing something on the environment because of its size and scope.
As a result, the Super Bowl has gone beyond just being an annual game, and it is now looked to as an example of how to incorporate green aspects into sporting events.
Before the event, the NFL worked with Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, a facility of the U.S. Department of Energy, to calculate how much carbon will be emitted during the football game. That excluded carbon emissions created through transportation to the host city. Groh and others then decided how many trees they will need to plant and how many renewable energy certificates they would need to buy.
The renewable energy certificates, supplied by a company called Sterling Planet, are created when electricity is generated using renewable resources instead of fossil fuels. A business seeking green power can either buy renewable power directly, or couple power from a traditional utility with the certificate to offset the use of fossil fuels. In this way, a body like the NFL does not have to find a new energy supplier, but can instead use its current provider and buy certificates to ensure an investment in green power.
Add to that the hundreds of trees the NFL will plant ahead of the Super Bowl, and Groh says the event actually becomes carbon negative. He says there are minimal emissions created through the process of tree planting because plants are bought at local nurseries and do not require excess water because there are native species.
"This is not going to solve the problem (of global warming), but I don't think they're claiming it does," says Alexander E. Farrell, an assistant professor at University of California, Berkeley, who studies energy systems. "This is a good start."
The NFL is not the only American event to undertake green initiatives. In 2007, all IndyCar Series cars will run 100 percent on fuel-grade ethanol. From 1996 to 2005, Indy cars ran on 100 percent methanol, a fuel created from natural gas. Ethanol does not cause a difference in the cars' speed or horsepower, and the vehicles improve their gas mileage.
According to Phil Casey, Indy Racing League senior technical directors, the adoption of ethanol has been "a seamless transition."
Sporting events abroad have had to accelerate the "green" aspects of their events because they occur in countries where the Kyoto Protocol is in effect. Kyoto is the international treaty that places limits on carbon emissions and thus inaugurated an emissions trading market.
The most-recent World Cup in Germany was the first climate neutral soccer contest of its kind, and the amount of greenhouse gases saved at the event more than compensated for emissions generated at the tournament. Gas emissions would have been 114,000 tons or carbon dioxide, but instead came in at 92,000 tons. Organizers said carbon offset measures, which included cutting electricity use and buying carbon credits, amounted to 100,000 tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.
In Turin for the 2006 Winter Olympics, organizers offset close to 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions and are still working to offset the other 30 percent. The event also managed its waste more effectively by planning ahead: In 2000, an average of 20 percent of waste was recycled, but by 2005, that climbed to more than 33 percent.
Sporting events are thus becoming fertile testing grounds for new environmental practices, and the events leave lasting examples of how events can change their practices for the better.
Take Miami for example. In 1995, when it last hosted a Super Bowl, Dolphin Stadium installed an onsite cardboard baler to take care of the material that had been going straight into the trash. Now Dolphin Stadium bales and sells the cardboard after every event, and pockets the cash.
It doesn't amount to millions of dollars year, it’s closer to $25,000, but Groh says this is an important example of how sporting events can reduce both their environmental impact and overall costs.