The Nature Conservancy logo. Protecting nature. Preserving life.Football (soccer to us Americans) has been called the beautiful game. But is it also the world’s green game?

The answer is debatable.

Soccer is played the world over. One of the beautiful aspects is that it can be played almost anywhere, anytime. The only piece of equipment you really need for a pick-up game is a ball. And even that — from urban areas in India to rural areas of South America — is often improvised in a pinch.

The game doesn’t need an indoor court. It doesn’t need a giant slab of ice to be kept at the perfect temperature. The uniforms don’t require special padding or helmets. It doesn’t need acres and acres of manicured green lawns.

But on the other end of the spectrum, there are the giant state-of-the-art soccer stadiums, the high-powered lights for night games, soccer stars like David Beckham racking up more than 250,000 miles flown in one year, and the biggest soccer event of all: the World Cup.

According to the Feasibility Study for a Carbon Neutral 2010 FIFA World Cup, commissioned jointly by the South African and Norwegian governments, this year’s World Cup is set to have the biggest carbon footprint of any to date: 2.75 million tons of carbon dioxide. That’s nine times higher than the World Cup in Germany in 2006 and more than twice as high as the Beijing Olympics, according to The Telegraph.

And it’s not that South Africa hasn’t been making efforts to green the games. The 2010 Local Organising Committee, Department of Water and Environmental Affairs and World Cup host cities launched the national Greening 2010 framework, and all signed a pledge to support green goal initiatives aimed at reducing the environmental footprint of the World Cup.

Initiatives include the placement of 1,200 garbage and recycling bins in major airports, host cities planting thousands of trees and using wind energy to light city landmarks.

But perhaps one of the most visible efforts will be Nike’s team jerseys, which are made from recycled plastic bottles found in landfills. These jerseys require 30 percent less energy to produce than traditional jerseys, and will be worn by soccer stars on teams from nine countries, including the United States, Brazil and Portugal.

So why is the carbon footprint for the event so high? The study cites the geography of South Africa as the main culprit of the high carbon footprint. In fact, 1.85 tons of carbon dioxide will come just from fans traveling across oceans and to and from the 64 matches spread across nine host cities in the 25th largest country in the world.

As of early April, 119,000 tickets had been sold to Americans, who at the time were the leading foreign ticket buyers. That’s thousands of people making the more than 7,000-mile trek from the United States to South Africa. No wonder the carbon footprint is sky-high.

So what can you do? Well, if you’re like many Americans, you don’t really watch soccer and will get on with your daily lives. But if you appreciate watching the beautiful game — especially if you live somewhere where many of your neighbors will be tuning in — try watching it together. It’s more fun —and it can save energy.

In fact, the English Football Association ran advertisements in England in 2008 encouraging fans to watch the country’s number one sport in pubs and to carpool to games.

Given that at least 250 million people watched the Italy vs. France 2006 World Cup final (although FIFA claims it was more than 700 million), a few million people deciding to share a screen could save a lot of energy.

So, enjoy watching what may be the least-green version of a fairly green sport with a few friends. And don’t forget to recycle those beer bottles.

Text by Margaret Southern, Cool Green Science Blog

World Cup: The beautiful (green?) game
With just a ball, it can played by anyone anywhere, but is football (soccer) really green? The 2010 FIFA World Cup is on track to have the biggest carbon footpr