Environmental Impact of Super Bowls on Host Cities
ALEX CHADWICK, host:
This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
And I'm Madeleine Brand. The Super Bowl is coming this weekend, and it'll hundreds of thousands of spectators to the host city of Detroit. They'll swill beer from plastic cups, wave oversized styrofoam fingers and, of course, watch the game.
At the same time, environmentalists will be watching them. Scientists are studying the long-term environmental consequences of these mammoth sporting events.
Detroit Public Radio's Celeste Headlee reports.
Ms. CELESTE HEADLEE (Reporter, Detroit Public Radio): For over a decade, the National Football League has made an effort to address the environmental impact of the Super Bowl. Jack Groh is the director of the league's environmental program.
Mr. JACK GROW (Director of Environmental Program, NFL): The initial push for it actually came from outside the NFL. It came from a local community group in Anaheim, California 14 years ago. Somebody approached the league and said, what are you guys doing about recycling at the Super Bowl, and the answer was, nothing. What should we do?
Ms. HEADLEE: What the NFL eventually did was develop a program for recycling trash, reusing food and planting trees, but even so, no one knows if these programs are really doing enough. Some experts say we need to know what the actual impact of the Super Bowl is, or any major event like the World Series or the Olympics, if for no other reason that to assure ourselves that the lasting effects are minimal.
To move toward an understanding, scientists say they need models. They need to calculate the effects of increased travel, extra energy use, or spikes in trash and sewage, and Mark Bain of Cornell University's Center for the Environment says those models are rare or nonexistent.
Mr. MARK BAIN (Director, Cornell University Center for the Environment and Natural Resources): Just the accounting part's new. Then to go and say, the goal is to compensate the environment for the cost of a particular activity, that's a major step further.
Ms. HEADLEE: One thing scientists think they know, though, is how many trees it takes to offset the extra carbon released because of the Super Bowl. In Detroit, that number was about 1,500 trees.
Ms. REBECCA SALMINEN WITT (Director, The Greening of Detroit): White oak, red oak and oh, burr oak, and pin oak. A few...
Ms. HEADLEE: Rebecca Salminen Witt is director of a group called The Greening of Detroit. She's pointing to dozens of spindly six inch seedlings. Whit and about 65 volunteers planted the tiny trees in an island in the middle of the Detroit River last fall in cooperation with the NFL. Whitt says she thinks the science behind the NFL's tree planting program is sound.
Ms. WITT: The way a tree sequesters carbon is by adding fiber. Every minute that that's growing, that's taking carbon from the air to make that tree fiber, and so from the minute that you plant it, you're doing a benefit for the environment.
Ms. HEADLEE: There's some argument in the scientific community over the long-term advantages of planting trees to absorb carbon, but Martin Kushler from the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy says the real value of the NFL's program is its high visibility.
Mr. MARTIN KUSHLER (Utilities Program Director, American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy): The amount of carbon that's emitted in connection with the events of the Super Bowl is quite small relative to the total annual carbon emissions just from the US, let alone globally. So the significance is not in the specific carbon that's addressed through these trees. The significance is does it have educational value and does it inspire others to take action that then greatly multiplies the effect?
Ms. HEADLEE: Tree planting is just one aspect of the NFL's environmental program. The league also expects to recover anywhere from 25,000 to 50,000 pounds of prepared food over Super Bowl weekend and deliver it to local churches, shelters and food banks.
In Tampa, Florida, they had 90 tons of sand used to create an artificial beachscape at the corporate hospitality tent. Hillsboro County used it to resurface all of their playgrounds.
Jack Groh of the NFL says the key ingredient in any effort of this kind is keeping the costs down.
Mr. GROH: So if I go in and say, we've got this great environmental idea, you know, it's only going to cost an extra $3,000, and you've got to hire 20 new people, and we have to buy a lot of equipment to do it, but it's a great idea and, and I think it's fabulous, that's pretty much the end of that meeting.
Ms. HEADLEE: Experts say programs like this will become more common in the years ahead. The International Olympic Committee is requiring officials in China to determine the environmental impact of the Beijing games, and soon, other organizations may follow suit.
For NPR News, I'm Celeste Headlee in Detroit.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.