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NFL Moves to Make Super Bowl Greener

It'll be a cleaner, greener Super Bowl come February. To help offset greenhouse-gas emissions from the game, the NFL is planting thousands of trees in Arizona forests blackened by wildfires. The league will coordinate the donation of thousands of pounds of unserved food from Super Bowl events to local soup kitchens and homeless shelters. And it will power University of Phoenix Stadium and the adjacent NFL theme park with clean energy sources, from New Mexico wind turbines to California geothermal plants.


But while the NFL receives praise from its environmental partners and public agencies, some say the league isn't doing enough. Even the man leading the NFL's green efforts admits that the environmental impact of the Super Bowl is much greater than originally estimated. In the age of Al (Nobel Prize winner Al Gore) and with global-warming worries at a fevered pitch, the NFL is taking visible measures to shrink its carbon footprint during the week of Super Bowl XLII. "If creating a mess is part of our business plan, then cleaning it up needs to be part of the model as well," said Jack Groh, director of the NFL Environmental Program. "Greenhouse gas obviously causes damage to the environment, and we need to be responsible."


The reforestation effort offsets many times over the 350 tons of greenhouse gas produced by the NFL's 3,000- vehicle ground-transportation fleet. But the program, in its 15th year, fails to account for air travel by NFL staff, teams and the thousands of fans flying into the Valley during Super Bowl week. Nor does it consider carbon emissions produced by vehicles driven by fans as they travel to and from dozens of Super Bowl events scattered around the Valley.


Energy consumed by those parties, some of which will be held in such large venues as a Mesa aircraft museum or Scottsdale Civic Center Plaza, also has not been included in the calculations.


Emissions at 30,000 feet

Experts say pollution from commercial airliners and private jets, especially those traveling long distances, is significant because of where those emissions are discharged. "When you get above 30,000 feet, it has greatest effects on upper atmospheres. It'd be nice (for the NFL) to do something with air travel," said Gary Deason, acting director for Northern Arizona University's Center for Sustainable Environments. "At the same time, it's certainly a lot better than not doing anything. They're certainly raising (environmental) awareness by having their efforts advertised." During Super Bowl week, Jan. 27-Feb.3, Salt River Project will supply clean energy to the Glendale stadium, the adjacent NFL theme park and some hotels through its EarthWise Energy Program.

NFL Moves to Make Super Bowl Greener

The Valley's largest energy provider hopes to use the game's platform to inform residents and business owners that the green program is available to them as well, said Lori Singleton, SRP's manager of sustainability initiatives and technologies. The program charges an extra fee to help build environmentally friendly energy projects, such as solar plants. When those plants produce more power, they reduce the need for energy generated by burning fossil fuels.


"It's only a few days' worth of energy in the scheme of our everyday use," Singleton said, "but it has a huge impact in terms of educating visitors to the Valley and local residents of the importance of using clean, renewable energy and the impact it can make."


A work in progress

The NFL computed its carbon footprint with help from Princeton University researchers, the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Forest Service. Energy use from hotels, resorts, other NFL facilities near University of Phoenix Stadium and the Super Bowl Media Center, at the Phoenix Convention Center for a week, were not considered in the NFL's studies, Groh said.


That's because the Feb. 3 game is taking place during Arizona's busy season, when hotel rooms and convention centers likely would have been filled anyway, he said.


The program clearly is a work in progress.


The NFL has toned down its green rhetoric, shifting away from calling the event "carbon-neutral," a catch phrase that has generated controversy recently in environmental circles. And the NFL's carbon-footprint figure will have to be adjusted up for future bowls as the league refines its methodology for calculating the game's impact, Groh said. Still, the NFL is questioning whether it should bear all of the responsibility. Should NFL teams and football fans pay carbon credits when they fly to the Super Bowl? Should fans pay an environmental fee when they rent a car? "We're trying to determine where the line is drawn between the organization managing the event and the individual when it comes to offsetting their emissions," Groh said. "We're trying to figure out at what point does this become someone else's responsibility?"


EarthLab.com and the EarthLab Foundation will be participating in numerous events at this year's Super Bowl including partnering with John Travolta, for his Super Bowl Bash - the Saturday Spectacular (www.saturdaynightspectacular.com); Carmen Elektra's party, (www.leatherandlaces.com), and Lawrence Taylor's Golf Tournament.

 
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