COMMENTARY: Footballs Grow on Trees

This Year’s Superbowl will be the Greenest Yet

Volunteers plant trees donated by the NFL at the Museum of Science and Industry in Tampa, Florida.© Museum of Science and Industry

Thoughts of Superbowl showdowns rarely involve carbon footprints, but the National Football League takes its green impact seriously. In fact, the league has its own Environmental Program that’s dedicated to planting trees, offsetting emissions and reducing the food, packaging and decoration waste from game-day itself. This year’s Superbowl XLIII is Sunday, February 1, at 6 p.m., between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Arizona Cardinals at the Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. It will mark the first time the Cardinals have ever made it to the Superbowl, but the fifth year that the NFL has undertaken "urban forestry" as part of its green initiative. That means they launched a dozen different tree-planting projects in the Tampa Bay area leading up to the big game, from individual trees planted along downtown streets to more than 400 native trees planted along the grounds of the Pinellas County Extension.

The Museum of Science and Industry in Tampa keeps a blog called The Longleaf tracking the campus" urban forest restoration, and over 80 volunteers at the school celebrated Florida Arbor Day on January 13 by planting 120 trees donated, in part, by the NFL. On January 17, the NFL spread more Florida Arbor Day cheer when it chose the Florida city of Dunedin as the site to plant 86 more trees in its efforts to offset the Superbowl’s greenhouse gas emissions. What’s particularly noteworthy about this year’s NFL tree planting is that for the first time they are using a monitoring program developed by the U.S. Forest Service, with support from the Florida Division of Forestry, to track the actual greenhouse gas impact of the trees they’re planting each year.

Watching the Waste

Of course, tree-planting alone is not enough. The actual game-day comes with a lot of requisite waste—much of it in the form of food and food packaging, but also in all the decorations and related fan memorabilia, much of which would traditionally be torn down and tossed aside.

So the NFL Environmental Program includes food recovery at the stadium, donating decorations and building materials to local nonprofits, using renewable energy on game day, collecting books and sports equipment for local kids and buying carbon offsets for players and officials travelling to the game.

And you thought it was all about the commercials

BRITA BELLI is the editor of E.