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The 'greenest' Super Bowl? State Farm Stadium falls short

“Green Week” kicked off Saturday with a massive clean-up operation at the Salt River and continues this week with material upcycling and habitat restoration events.

GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee is vowing to curb waste at unprecedented levels at Super Bowl events and to promote sustainable practices around Arizona.

“Green Week” kicked off Saturday with a massive clean-up operation at the Salt River and continues this week with material upcycling and habitat restoration events.

“The goal is to have the greenest Super Bowl, but also to create a lasting legacy,” said Jay Parry, CEO of the committee.

That will be tough in Arizona.

Some positive signs and some room for improvement

The reality is the Super Bowl – with its accompanying flights, traffic pollution and waste -- naturally imposes a large carbon footprint.

Regarding waste, the City of Phoenix, in partnership with the Super Bowl Committee, set an ambitious goal to divert 92% of waste from landfills during Super Bowl Week fan events in Phoenix. By comparison, the Super Bowl fan village in 2015 diverted 73% of waste.

“Our goal is to lead the way and show people it is possible,” said Jeff Whitlock, Zero Waste Analyst for the City of Phoenix.

Regarding energy use, the Phoenix Convention Center “will receive renewable energy sourced from wind and solar resources” from APS during fan events, a utility spokesperson said.

“It’s really about partnering with different entities to make sure they’re upping their practices,” Parry said.

However, one reason Arizona may not be able to boast of having the “greenest Super Bowl” is because State Farm Stadium falls short in several categories involving sustainability practices compared to other NFL venues.

NFL wants energy audits of stadiums

Yes, the last Super Bowl here in 2015 was the first to feature high performance LED stadium lights. But as the stadium takes center stage in 2023, it lacks solar panels and aggressive waste diversion measures -- steps many NFL stadium operators have incorporated in recent years.

A spokesperson for State Farm Stadium declined an interview, citing the NFL’s current occupancy of the stadium. They referred questions by 12News to the NFL.

A spokesperson for the NFL’s environmental arm, NFL Green, said he encourages franchises to voluntarily adopt sustainability measures and conduct energy audits.

“At some point, we are going to have a comprehensive report of all the stadiums,” said Jack Groh, Director of NFL Green.

Three NFL franchises -- Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Seattle -- have committed to audits of their stadium’s CO2 impact and waste output, according to Groh.

“We hope to have 6-8 teams on board in the next two years,” Groh said.

"If a sports franchise is serious about going green, it will conduct an inventory that shows energy use, emissions output, and the pollution impact of fan travel to games," said Seth Wynes, a climate change and sports researcher at Concordia University.

“If you’re trying to lose weight, you want to count your calories. The exact same thing applies here. If you want to get serious about cutting carbon pollution, then you should probably know where most of it is coming from,” Wynes said.

The most eco-friendly NFL stadiums

The publication 24/7 Wall Street ranks the 49ers, Eagles, Bears, Ravens and Falcons as having the most eco-friendly stadiums with robust recycling and composting, renewable energy use, EV charging stations, local food sourcing, and easy access to public transportation.

State Farm Stadium ranked in the bottom half of the study.

Large amounts of electricity are needed to power game days and other events. According to Bleacher Report, a particularly egregious example of energy consumption is Cowboys Stadium which uses more electricity on gameday than the country of Liberia.

The location of a stadium can also dramatically impact the amount of emissions created by hundreds of thousands of fans driving to and from games each season.

“Fan transportation to and from an event can generate thousands of tons of GHG emissions a year and represent the single largest negative environmental impact of a stadium,” according to a report by Waste Management.

One step State Farm Stadium has implemented to cut down on waste is to deploy workers to “double-pick” trash in the stadium after games, sorting recyclable paper trash from the rest, Groh said. Many stadiums incorporate additional measures that allow fans to dispose of compost, trash and plastic separately.

“I know they’ve (State Farm Stadium operators) requested information regarding plastic diversion, but I don’t think they’ve taken that up yet,” Groh said.

The Atlanta Hawks arena was recently honored as setting a global standard for starting a 90% waste diversion program for all events.

Why doesn’t State Farm Stadium have solar panels?

ADT Solar highlights ten NFL stadiums that have installed solar panels to offset carbon energy use. With the exception of San Francisco and Seattle, the stadiums are on the east side of the country.

The Valley of the Sun would seem to be an exceptional candidate for football stadium solar panels. Wynes said professional sports not only have an obligation to reduce CO2 emissions, they have a unique opportunity to display sustainable practices for the world.

“There absolutely is a role to be played by either leagues, teams or athletes stepping up and signaling that this issue really is important,” Wynes said.

Chase Field, the home of the Arizona Diamondbacks, installed 336 solar panels a decade ago.

Groh emphasized it’s up to individual NFL franchises to initiate such measures.

“We are just now bringing the teams on board through a regular series of online meetings and we’re talking about those specific issues,” Groh said.

Renewable energy certificates and carbon credits

Another measure seen in professional sports is the purchase of “green energy certificates” (RECs) and carbon credits.

The Houston Texans announced earlier this month it would buy carbon credits to offset the footprint of their flights to other cities beginning next season.

The NFL purchases RECs are equivalent to the energy usage total of events.

Purchasing RECs helps provide funding to boost green energy capacity throughout the country, Groh said. The NFL buys RECs on the open market through Bonneville Environmental Foundation.

The expense is relatively small. A typical Super Bowl costs around $5,000 worth of RECs, Groh said.

“Buying carbon offsets is problematic. It substitutes failure to reduce your own emissions,” said Wynes.

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