What if we told you that an annual event that draws over 100 million attendees and viewers also leaves a minimal carbon footprint?

It sounds too good to be true in a world where bigger usually means less sustainable, but when it comes to the Super Bowl there is a lot more going on than just tickets, touchdowns, and trophies.

This is what we found after doing a little digging…

On May 16th, 2017 the Super Bowl’s “golden shovel” was passed from the HSBHC (Houston Super Bowl Host Committee) to MSBHC (Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee) Sustainability Chair, Ben Shardlow. This moment is part of a long-standing tradition in which the previous Super Bowl host donates a tree and passes the symbolic shovel to the upcoming host.

This year, this symbolic gesture not only kicked off the upcoming Super Bowl LII (52) urban forestry events but also symbolized the NFL’s growing commitment to making their Super Bowls as green as possible — something that they have improved upon for nearly the last 20 years.

Sustainability and the NFL

NFL footballs

According to NFL Environmental Director Jack Groh, “The NFL is committed to leaving a positive legacy in Super Bowl host cities, and a core component of this effort is sustainability.”

Those aren’t just pretty words.

The proof is in the NFL’s Super Bowl Environmental Program – a partnership between the NFL, the current Super Bowl Host Committee, and Verizon. The NFL Environmental Program develops a series of initiatives to minimize the impact of Super Bowl activities on the local and global environment.

According to the NFL, here are a few key initiatives that the Super Bowl Environmental Program focuses on in order to increase sustainability:

Solid Waste Management and Recycling

Comprehensive solid waste management is implemented at all major Super Bowl facilities including the stadium, NFL Experience, Media Centers, and area hotels. Effective waste management and recycling efforts significantly reduce the amount of waste that goes to landfills.

Prepared Food Recovery

Extra prepared food from Super Bowl events is collected for donation. Food recovered through these efforts goes directly to soup kitchens, shelters and other local organizations that provide meals to people in need.

Material Donations

Decorative materials, building materials, office supplies and other reusable items are recovered and donated to local nonprofit organizations.

Sports Equipment and Book Donation Project

The Super Kids-Super Sharing sports equipment and book donation project asks students to bring usable items to their schools in the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl. These items are collected and donated to schools and youth organizations throughout the local area. The Super Kids-Super Sharing project transfers tens of thousands of items each year to a child in need.

Greenhouse Gas Reduction/Renewable Energy

The NFL uses renewable energy credits (REC) to offset all energy used at major Super Bowl venues. As part of the NFL’s reforestation efforts, several thousands of seedlings are planted each year in the Super Bowl host community. Through an innovative partnership with US Forest Service/USDA, the NFL annually tracks the environmental benefits of the trees it has planted. Focusing on these initiatives reduces the overall environmental impact of the Super Bowl and all Super Bowl related events.

While the NFL does their part, the Super Bowl host cities and stadiums do theirs. Let’s take a look at how a Super Bowl becomes a Sustain-a-Bowl, specifically Super Bowl L (50). The importance stressed on sustainability might just surprise you.

The Reigning Sustain-a-Bowl Champ

Levi's Stadium

Many past Super Bowls have made efforts to be environmentally and sustainably conscious but Super Bowl L (50) raised the bar to where it should be.

Here are 6 ways that San Francisco’s Levi’s® Stadium drove their Super Bowl through the “green” zone:

1. LEED Gold Certification

From the moment that the gates of Levi’s® Stadium opened in August of 2014, it became the first professional football stadium in the U.S. to have achieved LEED Gold certification via the United States Green Building Council.

LEED certification is a globally recognized symbol of sustainability achievement but a gold LEED certification means that Levi’s® Stadium is exceptionally sustainable and has joined the ranks of other famous gold rated structures such as the Empire State Building.

To create transparency and involvement with its visitors/guests, Levi’s® Stadium even offers a real-time dashboard display featuring current energy measurements, water and air monitors, and other dynamic green features as the building operates daily.

2. Location

The actual site on which the stadium was built is sustainable in itself. The stadium location includes accessible public transportation and a bike path in an effort to lower greenhouse gases.

3. Self-Generated

Levi’s Stadium utilizes PV-electricity generated from its 3 NRG Energy solar-paneled pedestrian bridges. This is in addition to its solar-paneled roof deck (NRG Solar Terrace). In total there are 1,186 solar panels generating 375 kW of power. This is all the renewable energy that the stadium needs to function on game days.

4. Reclamation

An amazing 100% of all wood used to build the Citrix Owners Suites is reclaimed. The wood is local and came from an airplane hangar at Moffett Field in Mountain View, CA. The stadium is also using recycled and reclaimed building products in other areas wherever possible.

5. Reusing Water

To maximize the water they use, Levi’s Stadium utilizes reclaimed water for both potable (safe to drink) and non-potable (not for drinking) uses. An example would be the reuse of the water used in the irrigation of the football field.

6. All That Food

In addition to keeping all menus farm-to-table and focused on food from local suppliers, Levi’s Stadium also composts excess and recycles all viable materials possible.

We know how the NFL is working toward increasing their sustainability and we know that past host stadiums have gone above and beyond to do their part. We also know that the U.S. Bank Stadium believes it’s ready to put Minnesota in the world’s largest entertainment spotlight with this year’s Super Bowl LII.

But can the U.S. Bank Stadium make their Super Bowl a “Sustain-a-Bowl”?

The Sustain-a-Bowl Championship Challenger

US Bank Stadium

According to the U.S. Bank Stadium website, the stadium is “aiming to reduce its carbon footprint in all areas of operations including but not limited to: water reduction, waste reduction/diversion, energy efficiency, sustainable purchasing, and alternative transportation promotion. U.S. Bank Stadium aims to become a zero-waste facility, where 90% of all waste is either compostable or recyclable. ”

Here are 6 environmentally conscious efforts that the fans attending Super Bowl LII at the U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, MN will probably notice (even if they don’t realize that they are sustainable):

1. Recycling Bins Everywhere

Leading up to the Sunday of Super Bowl LII, a total of 2,100 recycling bins will have been placed strategically around U.S. Bank Stadium.

To maximize their recycling efforts, the stadium partnered with Recycle Across America in order to make sure that all signage was aimed at reducing confusion and simplifying the process for patrons. These clearly marked bins will ensure that the 66,655 fans and all stadium employees will have no problem deciphering where their waste belongs.

2. No Stadium Parking

Fans expecting to park their cars in a huge lot may be surprised to find that the U.S. Bank Stadium only has 200 parking spaces – and these spaces are just for the players.

The only public access to the stadium comes from public transportation via the city’s intricate network of pedestrian skyways, the Metro Transit system (this brings 30% of Vikings fans to games on average), or existing city parking (32,000 parking spaces within a 20-minute walk to the stadium).

3. LED Lighting

The bright and maneuverable LED lighting used in the U.S. Bank Stadium will be noticed, but the fans might not realize that these LEDs are using less energy in the same way that LED bulbs do in their homes. According to U.S. Bank Stadium, after the installation of their LED sports lighting, their total energy usage for lighting was reduced by 26%.

4. Heat

In Minneapolis, the average winter temperature is 23.7 degrees Fahrenheit. While that is cold, it’s something that fans at Super Bowl LII won’t have to concern themselves with thanks to a few sustainable designs from the folks at HKS. The people paying the heating bill for Sunday will also be happy since HKS found ways to reduce energy usage by 16%. They did this using heat recovery, air handling units, ventilation, and the use of high-efficiency motors. 

5. Water

The stadium is equipped with low flow fixtures that minimize the amount of water used for each flush. These mechanical systems are closely monitored to ensure maximum efficiency.

Pretty important details when you have 66,655 houseguests.

Rainwater running off of the U.S. Bank Stadium’s special translucent EFTE (ethylene tetrafluoroethylene) roof is diverted into a retention system under the east side parking lot. From there the rainwater is slowly released into a system that recharges the groundwater supply. And one more note – this system also eliminates the pumping of water into the city’s sewer system.

6. Food Waste

In its first year of operations, U.S. bank Stadium produced nearly 1,000 tons of food waste (that’s over 9 million hot dogs). To make sure that their leftovers are going to good use, U.S. Bank Stadium started a composting program aimed at diverting as much waste as possible.

U.S. Bank Stadium’s sustainability doesn’t start or stop, with the Super Bowl. Here are some other U.S. Bank Stadium sustainable facts:

  • Within a single year, paper consumption dropped 68%. This means that roughly 80,000 sheets of paper weren’t used.
  • The copy paper used in the U.S. Bank Stadium Administrative offices is 100% post-consumer.
  • U.S. Bank Stadium was the first stadium to receive a Bike Friendly Business certification. There are over 180 bike racks.
  • Within a single year, 135 tons of waste was recycled (or approximately 1,260,000 hot dogs).
  • On November 20, 2017, U.S. Bank Stadium joined the ranks of San Francisco’s Levi’s® Stadium by becoming LEED Gold certified. 
  • The Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee funded 14 habitat restoration and urban forestry projects across the state of Minnesota through its partnerships with the NFL, Verizon, and Andersen Corporation. These partnerships resulted in the planting of 12,724 trees and 4,000 native species.
  • The MSBHC is assisting the NFL with expanding their material diversion and recovery program. This connects the NFL with local community service organizations as a way to repurpose otherwise discarded event materials.
  • The MSBHC just partnered with the NFL and Verizon for their E-Waste Drive. The drive was held at the Minnesota Zoo and turned out to be the biggest yet as 42,000 lbs. of electronic waste were donated.

So who will win the 2018 Sustain-a-Bowl?

In a side-by-side comparison, it looks as though Super Bowl L and Super Bowl LII are evenly matched. We can say this for sure, regardless of who becomes the 2018 Sustain-a-Bowl Champ; the world is winning with a little help from a focus on sustainability brought to us by good old American Football.