I often joke that if the U.S. were to ever have a legitimate shot at switching to the metric system like the rest of the world, the NFL would have to convert from yards to meters first. The cultural power that sports have -- not just in the U.S., but worldwide -- makes them a sought-after vehicle for social change.
That's exactly why the green movement in American sports is so important: Sports set the example, assimilation follows. As it happens, the green movement is about to get a massive boost from America's biggest sporting event: the Super Bowl. We don't even need to get into the global warming argument to determine whether a clean and green Super Bowl is good for society. We know three things about this event: it uses a lot of electricity, it produces a lot of garbage, and it would be better for everyone if it did less of both.
Look no further than last year's Super Bowl for evidence of my first point. An estimated 108 million people watched the power go out at the Superdome in 2013, an embarrassing snafu that isn't that surprising given the shape of our aging energy infrastructure and the gargantuan amount of electricity these games require.
Public Service Electric and Gas, the New Jersey utility running the show at MetLife Stadium, estimates the game will use as much as 20 megawatts of electricity to power lights, scoreboard, communications, and even the kitchens. Put another way, the Super Bowl will require the equivalent of powering up 16,000 homes for the day.
But it could have been worse. MetLife Stadium has been working on its efficiency, driving down energy consumption 16.21% in 2011 and scraping another 1.75% off that low in 2012. Organizers have brought in generators that run on recycled cooking oil for some of the events outside the stadium. And, thanks to NRG Energy (NYSE:NRG), it's even got a fancy multicolored solar ring on its roof that can generate 350,000-kilowatt hours of electricity every year. As the Energy Information Administration has pointed out, this is not the only sports stadium incorporating solar into its energy operations.
Take out the papers and the trash
Saving energy is crucial at an event like this, but so is diverting trash from the landfill. Fortunately, the good folks at MetLife Stadium know this well. In 2013, the facility composted 195 tons of food waste, and Super Bowl XLVIII marks the first time any food will be composted at all after the league's championship game. Recycling tonnage in the parking lots grew from 152 tons in 2012 to 188 tons in 2013. On top of that, stadium recycling hit 33% in 2012, up from 29% in 2011. All of which helped drive down total trash collection from 775 tons in 2012 to 718 tons in 2013.
Some of the success of MetLife's landfill diversion work is due to pulling recyclable materials from the trash stream, but some of it is because fans are participating in the movement, making use of additional composting and recycling bins.
Back at home
In 2012, aluminum can recycling in the U.S. hit a 20-year high, but it's still off its 1992 peak. Similarly, the average amount of electricity we consume is also falling, to levels last seen in 2001.
But the potential for even greater change remains, and that's why this Super Bowl is so important. It's not just the visibility of the clean and green initiatives; it's establishing these efforts as the new normal in sports that counts. The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that Americans can cut energy consumption by 29% by 2030 using existing technologies and promoting energy efficient policies. All we have to do is make like our favorite sports teams and implement them.