Many cleats will be tearing up the turf when the Packers and Steelers face off at Cowboy Stadium for Super Bowl XLV, but how big of a footprint does the big game leave on the environment?

Arlington, Texas, officials are estimating more than 200,000 visitors will converge upon the Dallas-Forth Worth metroplex area for the week leading up to the main event. Taking into account all the energy used to keep the scores of blazing lamps lighting up the field, the extensive water usage for restroom facilities, and transportation emissions, the Super Bowl and its related festivities are estimated to generate 500 tons of carbon dioxide pollution, according to a 2004 study.

For the past six years, since Jacksonville’s Super Bowl, the league has worked toward offsetting its environmental footprint through carbon mitigation strategies.

Green venue

The setting of this year’s game, Cowboy Stadium, is arguably the greenest in the NFL, being the first sports venue accepted into the EPA’s National Environmental Performance Track program. Completed in 2009, Cowboy Stadium was built with heavy emphasis on conservation. The stadium has ambitious targeted goals of reducing solid waste by 25 percent, energy use by 20 percent and water consumption by 1 million gallons annually. Additional green credentials of the stadium include its “use of native trees and plants, purchases of some renewable energy, and use of recycled plastic in seats and the playing field.”

Renewable energy credits and trees

Jack Groh, who has been at the helm of the NFL’s environmental program since 1994, has worked toward tackling much of the Super Bowl’s overwhelming ecological impact.

“When coming up with solutions, we try to look at the best possible arrangement for each individual host city,” Groh says.

As in previous years, RECs (renewable energy credits) are being used to green the power at many of the NFL’s venues including the NFL Experience Football Theme Park, the NFL Super Bowl headquarters hotel, the Super Bowl Media Center hotel and the team hotels for the AFC and the NFC. All RECs are being supplied by Just Energy and are generated by wind turbines provided locally in Texas.

But undoubtedly, the crowning achievement of this year’s Super Bowl environmental initiatives has been the Super Grow XLV program — a partnership in conjunction with the Texas Trees Foundation and the Texas Forest Service that planted more than 6,500 trees in a dozen communities throughout north Texas, the biggest effort in Super Bowl history.

“This is a long-term investment in the Super Bowl brand,” Groh says. “Anyone can write a check in 30 seconds. It’s like that saying, ‘If you give a man a fish, you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish and you have fed him for a lifetime.’ If you want to make a lasting impression, you work toward forming these common interests in the community. We bring as many people to the table.”

“These projects are designed, wherever possible, to leave a tangible benefit to the local host communities,” adds Betsy Orton, director of development and marketing of the Texas Trees Foundation.

Impact of the NFL’s green activism

Groh also notes that the NFL’s stewardship efforts make a lasting impact on communal attitudes. Many of the activists who helped plant the hundreds of trees agreed with that sentiment, believing these green actions will reverberate for years to come.

“The Super Grow [project] is a testament that the people in north Texas are passionate and active in creating incremental changes here in the metroplex that will endure for generations,” says Chowgene Koay, an Arlington local who participated in the tree plantings. “In time, as the plantings develop into a mature forest, so will Dallas-Fort Worth in their openness to environmental action.”

Arlington’s congressional representative, Joe Barton, has not been very receptive to environmental initiatives. “We don’t have an icecap in Texas,” the congressman said in 2009 in response to concerns about climate change.

“Environmentalism can be a tough issue in north Texas,” says Brandon Cade, a student from North Central Texas College. “From my observation, the people of the region and companies are continuing to make an attempt to be more efficient in all that they do in saving the environment. I believe this was a great step taken by the NFL and it's great to know they care about the environment that we live in and understand what long term damage the Super Bowl can cause to the environment if steps like this are not taken.”

Colin Beavan, acclaimed for his yearlong attempt to live a zero-waste lifestyle, applauded the NFL’s efforts to offset the impact of the Super Bowl but thought it could go even further in its environmental advocacy.

"Understanding that your activities have a negative impact on the environment and trying to help mitigate that by doing something that has a positive impact is, of course, a worthwhile step,” Beavan says.

“But imagine what an effect it would have if the Super Bowl instead used a short amount of its air time to appeal to the American people to come together across the political aisle to support the building of a renewable energy system that would create jobs, end reliance on foreign oil and help stop climate change."

See also:

Can recycling

With Super Bowl XLV, NFL becomes bigger fan of environmental awareness
Cowboy Stadium's emphasis on conservation, along with NFL tree planting program, aim to make Mother Nature the real winner at the big game.