When the Ravens and 49ers face off Sunday in Super Bowl XLVII, it will be in a city—and stadium—that have spent more than six years battling back from natural and ecological disaster.
So it's no surprise that New Orleans aims to set a new mark for environmental sustainability in its ninth turn at hosting the NFL's marquee event, reflecting a broader green movement that is changing the look of stadiums and attitudes throughout the sports world.
"It's a wonderful platform to bring people together to think about how our actions as individuals matter, and what we can do about climate change," says Patty Riddlebarger, director of corporate social responsibility for the Gulf Coast energy company Entergy. She has chaired the New Orleans Host Committee's environmental effort over the past two years.
Riddlebarger notes that much of the world holds a lingering image of the Superdome far different from the renovated stadium that will showcase the game. After a $336 million restoration, the "refuge of last resort" for 30,000 people during Hurricane Katrina in August 2005 is now buttressed with protective and energy-saving features. The stadium's outer wall is a specially designed double barrier system with improved insulation and rainwater control. The Mercedes-Benz Superdome, as it is now known, is ringed with 26,000 LED lights, covering two million square feet and supported by five miles of copper wiring, but which draw only ten kilowatts of electricity—as much as a small home. The stadium stands as an example for "not just rebuilding what was there before, but making it more environmentally sound," Riddlebarger says.
Entergy will donate carbon credits—investments in projects that capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere—to offset the estimated 3.8 million pounds of emissions expected to be generated due to energy use at the Super Bowl venues. New Orleans' Second Harvest Food Bank will recover unused food items from all Super Bowl events to donate to those in need. And two nonprofits, the Green Project and REPurposingNola, will reclaim Super Bowl banners, displays, and other promotional items to be recycled into souvenir items such as tote bags, wallets, and shower curtains.
The Host Committee organized a Super Bowl Saturday day of service focused on continuing restoration. New Orleans is one of the most deforested cities in the United States, having lost 100,000 trees to Katrina's wind and standing saltwater. The urban forestry initiative Hike for KaTreena will mark the planting of its 20,000th tree on Saturday—7,000 of them planted or given away in a drive organized around the game (a Super Bowl tree-planting record). And since Saturday is World Wetlands Day, local students will join a coastal restoration project in Bayou Sauvage Wildlife Refuge coordinated with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, whose administrator, Lisa Jackson, is a New Orleans native.
The effort around this year's Super Bowl is part of a larger movement around green games and green stadiums, featuring solar panels, wind turbines, efficient lighting, recycling, and innovative water-management systems. Allen Hershkowitz of the Natural Resources Defense Council, which has been working for years with U.S. professional sports teams, believes that the influence of sports gives such partnerships "the potential to become one of the most important collaborations in the history of the environmental movement."
"Sports is the ultimate cultural unifier and if you want to change the world, you don't emphasize how different you are from everyone else," he wrote recently in his NRDC blog about the report, "Game Changer: How the Sports Industry is Saving the Environment." "We need to bond through our common connections."
—Marianne Lavelle, Amy Sinatra Ayres, and Jeff Barker
This story is part of a special series that explores energy issues. For more, visit The Great Energy Challenge.