Super Bowl XLIX: Super bad for the environment?

Like any event its size, the Super Bowl requires a huge amount of power. But with LED lights, energy-efficient stadiums, and renewables, the National Football League is trying to rein in its carbon footprint.

Jeff Chiu/AP
Seattle Seahawks middle linebacker Brock Coyle pumps up the crowd during the second half of the NFC championship NFL football game against the Green Bay Packers in Seattle. The Seahawks take on the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl on Sunday.

At 6:30 EST Sunday, millions of Americans will flip on their HDTVs to watch athletes compete under stadium-sized lights and mammoth video screens for some 60,000 fans in 1.7 million square feet of climate-controlled space.  

It’s called the Super Bowl, and it uses a lot of power.

In 2012, the game in Indianapolis used around 15,000 megawatt-hours of electricity. The next year's Super Bowl, in the New Orleans' SuperDome, pumped out 3.8 million pounds of carbon dioxide (even though the power went out in the middle of the game). And that’s not even counting the jet fuel and gasoline guzzled to get players, media, and countless fans to the event.

But that’s not to say the beloved game has to be an environmental menace. The National Football League is working to address its mammoth energy and environmental impacts by kicking off green initiatives – from planting trees to installing solar panels to purchasing renewable energy offsets.

“Any large activity has the potential to generate a significant amount of waste … and use of lot of resources,” Jack Groh, the director of the NFL environmental program, told the International Business Times. By working to minimize the environmental toll through renewable energy and community engagement, he says, “we turn what could be a negative impact on the community into a positive impact.”

Individual stadiums are also mitigating their environmental impacts.

University of Phoenix Stadium, where the New England Patriots will take on the Seattle Seahawks Sunday, features recently-installed LED lights that slash the amount of energy needed to illuminate the arena by 75 percent, according to the US Energy Information Administration. The cooler-burning LEDs will also cut air-conditioning costs by 30 percent.

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The Seahawks and the Patriots are eco-friendly in their own right as well. Both have stadiums equipped with solar panels; and combined, the two stadiums have a solar capacity of 1,800 kilowatts, according to Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, a solar industry trade group.

The Seahawks’ CenturyLink Field alone gets 30 percent of its electricity from solar, and the Patriots – who hail from Massachusetts, one of the country’s most energy-efficient states – say they’re going green, too.

“Since the construction of Gillette Stadium, we have focused on long-term sustainability and energy efficiency as we try to not only be good corporate citizens, but leave behind a healthy environment for our children and grandchildren,” said Jim Nolan, New England Patriots senior vice president of operations, finance and administration.

It’s all part of a broader trend across major league sports to cut back on the massive events’ carbon footprints. From the World Series to the Olympics, the world’s biggest events are under increasing pressure to use efficient lights, cut back on heating, and increase efficiency. And efficiency and sustainability are increasingly attractive in economic terms as well.

“There is a value proposition in sustainability," Stephanie Katsaros, principal and sustainability strategist at Chicago-based environmental consulting firm BrightBeat, told the Monitor in July. "You use less energy, you’re paying for less energy.”

Leading the charge for sustainability and efficiency is the National Hockey League, whose energy needs are uniquely intensive given the icy nature of the sport. The league released its first sustainability report in July, which estimated the NHL’s carbon footprint: 530,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases a year, or roughly the yearly emissions of 111,000 cars, according to EPA’s emissions calculator.

And while massive, stadium-scale events burn through power, watching the Super Bowl at home might actually save electricity.

How is it possible that millions of fans watching on TV could save electricity?

The answer is that you’re probably not watching the Super Bowl alone. Die-hard Patriots and Seahawks fans will save electricity by “TV-pooling” with kindred spirits, gathering with others around a smaller number of TVs, according to Opower, a cloud-computing company that works with utilities. Viewers are also intently focused on the game, meaning they don’t have time to use electricity for cleaning, cooking, or other household tasks.

“All those TVs illuminated during the Super Bowl are actually a force for dramatically lower overall energy consumption,” writes Barry Fisher in a blog post for Opower.

The company analyzed data from 145,000 US households during the 2012 Super Bowl, and found that during the game residential electricity usage dipped 5 percent below typical levels.

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