It’s fall which means one of the most popular sports in the country is back: football. We’re talking about American football, not soccer. The National Football League (NFL) garners over 16 million viewers on TV and digitally and over 18 million attendees and generated over $11.9 billion in revenue in the 2022 season. From the stadium itself to the parking lot tailgate, fans may forget about the environmental impact as they focus on the excitement of the game. What is the environmental impact of the NFL and what are they doing about it?
Carbon Emissions and Travel
One of the most significant environmental impacts of the NFL is the extensive travel involved in the league's operations. With 32 teams located across the country, players, coaches, and staff frequently travel across the country for games, practices, and promotional events. This results in substantial carbon emissions from air travel and bus transportation.
Stadium Energy Consumption
NFL stadiums are colossal structures that consume vast amounts of energy. Lighting, heating, cooling, and various electronic systems are constantly in use during games and events. While many stadiums have made strides in energy efficiency by installing LED lighting, optimizing HVAC systems, and implementing renewable energy sources like solar panels, there's still room for improvement.
Waste Management and Recycling
The NFL generates a significant amount of waste during games, including food containers, beverage cups, and promotional materials. Historically, a substantial portion of this waste ended up in landfills. However, many teams and stadiums are now prioritizing waste reduction and recycling efforts.
Water Usage and Conservation
Water is another critical environmental concern for the NFL, as stadiums require vast amounts for field maintenance, restroom facilities, and concessions. The league and several teams have begun exploring ways to reduce water consumption through innovative landscaping, rainwater harvesting, and efficient plumbing systems.
NFL Green is one program that promotes sustainability initiatives like donating unserved food to local food banks, partnering with community greening projects, donating fabric, waste management, and hosting E-Waste events. Furthermore, the NFL purchases renewable energy certificates (RECs) to ensure renewable energy use at event facilities.
Each stadium is different and therefore has different emissions associated with it. Whether that be energy use type by region, local capacity for waste diversion, or other efforts that are locally specific. Lumen Field is one of the more sustainable stadiums, fitting as it’s located in one of the most sustainable cities in the U.S., Seattle, WA. One contributing factor is the public utility, Seattle City Light, which has been carbon neutral (the first electric company in the country to do so) since 2005. Using hydroelectric as its primary source of energy has allowed the city as a whole to reduce its carbon footprint.
What else is Lumen Field doing?
- Divert roughly 90% of waste from the landfill through recycling, composting, and donations.
- Partner with local farmers ranchers, fishing companies, bakers, and more who use ethical and sustainable practices.
- 100% of the field replacement project in 2019 was diverted from the landfill through recycling and repurposing of materials.
- In 2023, First and Goal Inc. and Levy introduced reusable cups in WAMU Theater (part of the Lumen Field facilities).
While this is just one of the 30 stadiums in the country, Lumen Field is making efforts to provide more sustainable events.
Capturing a large audience in the U.S., it’s important to hold these organizations accountable for their environmental impact. While the NFL promotes sustainability initiatives, there is still work to do, much like many other sporting organizations in the country and the world. Facilities like Lumen Field are helping lead the way as they show it’s possible, so next time you’re headed to a game, try and pay attention to the facilities and what you can do to help promote environmentally friendly practices.