Reducing The Super Bowl’s Environmental Impact

rockymountain-instituteEditor’s Note: EarthTechling is proud to repost this article courtesy of Rocky Mountain Institute. Author credit goes to Peter Bronski.

Super Bowl Sunday ranks number one for American TV viewership, rates as one of the top five days for pizza consumption in the U.S., and ranks eighth for beer consumption. But here’s a surprising stat where it ranks far down the list: energy consumption.

Fans that watch together save energy together

While the game itself has a sizeable energy impact (more on that shortly), for the millions of Americans watching from the comfort of their TV sets at home, it’s another story. Last year, more than 111 million Americans tuned in, making the 2012 Super Bowl the most-watched television event in U.S. history. According to data from General Electric, Americans consumed 11 million kWh of electricity watching the event. That may sound like a large number, but actually, all that football-watching actually reduced energy consumption.

Opower analyzed the energy use patterns of 145,000 households on Super Bowl Sunday and compared it to any given Sunday last winter. The results were … intriguing. On the West Coast, energy use during the game dipped to five percent below similar Sundays (and at times, reached 7.7 percent below), and remained 3.7 percent below average even hours after the game. On the East Coast, the during-game energy dip averaged 3.8 percent over the course of the game.

Gillette Stadium

image via Gillette Stadium

Why? TV pooling. With people focused only on watching the game, and communally congregating at friends’ and family members’ houses, most TVs, ovens, and other appliances were turned off. The corresponding reduction in the nation’s game day energy bill amounted to no small piece of change: $3.1 million.

That’s all well and good, but what about the impact of the game itself?

Geaux Green with a dose of Faux Green

Last year’s Super Bowl—for which the NFL purchased 1.5 million kWh of renewable energy credits (RECs)—was declared the “greenest on record.” This year, Super Bowl XLVII is hoping to take that torch. But as you’ll see, when the New York Times asked, “Is there a green side to the Super Bowl?“, it turns out the answer is a resoundingly wishy-washy “sort of.”

For sure, there are plenty of feel good projects associated with the big game. Hike for KaTreeNa will plant some 7,000 trees throughout host city New Orleans. Second Harvest Food Bank will collect excess prepared foods from some 50 Super Bowl-related events and funnel them to area soup kitchens and shelters. The Green Project will take used materials from the Super Bowl, such as temporary carpeting, and sell them back into the community diverting them from landfills. And another initiative aims to install 80,000 energy-efficient light bulbs for free in residences throughout the Big Easy.

I don’t want to be a Negative Nelly, and I do want to give credit where it’s due, but many of these have the feel of green vanity projects with good PR value for the NFL. Admittedly, some divert what would otherwise be waste toward useful streams, and some will benefit the greater community of New Orleans, but they have little to do with fundamentally reducing the impact—especially the sizeable energy impact—of America’s most-watched sporting event.

Like last year, there are again energy credits, this time carbon offset projects instead of RECs. In particular, a landfill gas collection project in TX, methane capture project on a dairy farm in MI, and forest conservation project in CA—all certified via Climate Action Reserve—will offset 3.8 million pounds of CO2 emissions associated with the Superdome, convention center, team hotels, and travel for coaches, players, cheerleaders, and other team support staff.

The Super Bowl’s Host Committee, Entergy Corporation (the local utility), and the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions are partnering to implement such efforts under the banner of Geaux Green. But, to me at least, it has the decided feel of Faux Green.

I can’t help thinking that such offsets take the tone of “forgive me Father for I have sinned,” with a dose of atonement. The offsets are a penance to “buy” one’s energy consumption sins away. If we assume two pounds of CO2 per kWh of electricity generated from coal, then Super Bowl XLVII’s 3.8 million pounds of carbon would equate to 1.9 million kWh of offsets, some 400,000 more than last year’s 1.5 million kWh of RECs. But wouldn’t a more effective approach be to invest in energy efficiency first—reducing absolute emissions—and then purchase offsets for the remainder?

Rocky Mountain Institute is an independent, entrepreneurial, nonprofit, 501(c)(3) think-and-do tank. Co-founded in 1982 by Amory Lovins, who remains an active thought leader as Chairman and Chief Scientist, the Colorado-based organization now has approximately 75 full-time staff, an annual budget of nearly $12 million, and a global reputation. RMI excels in radical resource efficiency, especially via integrative design. We drive progress chiefly by transforming design, identifying and busting barriers, and spreading innovation.

1 Comment

  • Reply February 4, 2013

    And this year’s Super Bowl saw even less energy used then previous years because, well… because of the 30 min. blackout that occurred at the Superdome during the game. Hey, every kilowatt saved is a kilowatt earned (or something like that).

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