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Zero-Waste Super Bowl?

Updated: May 1, 2020

Last night I posted this article from Fast Company announcing Super Bowl LII will be zero-waste on my Instagram account, and the response surprised me. Many of my followers were skeptical that this could be done at an event of this magnitude.

While I can understand why people doubt that this undertaking will be successful, what they may not realize is that a sustainability movement has been underway in the sports world for the last 8 years. Spearheading this shift is the Green Sports Alliance, whose goal is to "leverage the cultural and market influence of sports to promote healthy, sustainable communities where people live and play." This announcement by the NFL is a major stepping stone on the path towards bringing sustainability mainstream, both on and off the playing field.

Sustainability and sporting events may seem like an oxymoron, but 25 years ago, Jack Groh asked the NFL to put recycling bins around the Georgia Dome for Super Bowl XXVIII. It may seem like a no-brainer these days, but at the time it was a revolutionary idea. Jack continued working with the NFL, eventually becoming the Director of the NFL Environmental Program, and pushed the institution to embrace sustainability initiatives ever so slowly. The road ahead is long, but Jack must have a huge (but exhausted!) smile on his face this week with the announcement of this zero-waste initiative.

While people may doubt the ability of the Super Bowl to achieve a zero-waste goal, I am confident they can be successful. How do I know this? During the first half of my career, I worked in international sports for major events. One of my responsibilities was managing 8,000 volunteers for Super Bowl XXXVII, which was where I met Jack. The NFL and a Super Bowl Host Committee couldn't make a public statement as ambitious as this if they don’t have their ducks in a row. It will take money, volunteers, and super sharp contractors, but it can happen! This announcement is the public face of a massive educational and logistical waste management effort taking place behind the scenes in Minneapolis. The Fast Company article is an example of how the NFL is unfolding a PR campaign during Super Bowl week to set up expectations with the crowd so they are aware of (and excited to participate in!) what will be asked of them during the Big Game.

The NFL, U.S. Bank Stadium, the Super Bowl Host Committee (Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority), Aramark, PepsiCo and Jack should all be applauded for this groundbreaking effort and for challenging themselves to take on a zero-waste initiative of this size and scope. It will be an incredible learning experience for those on the ground. This type of sustainability leadership puts other sporting events and venues on notice because these types of efforts are what we must undertake to combat the global waste crisis and plastic pollution.

Are you throwing a Super Bowl Party of your own on Sunday? Have you thought about how you could make your event more environmentally friendly? Let us know!

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