by Felix Davey
As sporting spectacles go, it doesn’t get much bigger than the Super Bowl: the showpiece final of the American football season, as famous for its blockbuster half time shows as its breathtaking touchdowns.
2019’s final was contested between the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Rams. The Patriots lifted the trophy, but the real winner of Super Bowl LIII was surely the arena where it was held: the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
The stadium showed an audience of over 98 million (in the US alone) that it was possible to combine outstanding sustainability with eye catching design.
The home of the Atlanta Falcons was the first stadium in the world to win Platinum certification for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) from the United States Green Building Council, and you can see why.
With 4,000 rooftop solar panels and energy efficient LED lighting throughout (including the world’s largest LED lighting scoreboard), it uses 29% less energy than the average stadium.
That’s a pretty huge saving, when you consider that, in 2014, The New York Times claimed “all of Liberia can produce less than one third as much electricity as the Dallas Cowboys football stadium consumes at peak times”. This figure is estimated and caveated, but as a comparison, it does seem astonishing.
Moving across the Atlantic and switching from oval balls to round ones, Amsterdam’s Ajax might play in red and white, but their stadium is proudly green.
The innovative Johann Cruijff Arena runs on solar power, with energy captured by 4,200 solar panels and stored in 148 electric car batteries. During games, this energy is used to power the stadium. At other times, it can contribute power to the national grid: the batteries store enough electricity to supply 7,000 homes for an hour.
In the UK, you have to go down to the lower tiers to find the clubs that are leading the field for sustainability, despite the fact that budgets are much tighter outside the Premier League.
Bristol is well-known for its eco-credentials, being chosen as the European Green Capital of 2015. A year later, in 2016, Bristol City renovated their stadium Ashton Gate and installed 460 solar panels on the roof: a move that was predicted to reduce the club’s carbon emissions by 20%, as well as cutting its energy costs by £150,000 over 20 years.
League Two’s Forest Green Rovers have been described as “the greenest club in the world” by football governing body FIFA.
This is the latest step towards sustainability by the Gloucestershire club, owned by renewable energy entrepreneur Dale Vince. It claims to be 100% powered by renwable energy, some of which is generated by the 170 solar panels on the stadium roof.
Not everyone is cheering from the sidelines. Football undoubtedly has a massive environmental impact. Carbon emissions from air travel are rising faster than the already alarming predictions, and fans are flying seriously long distances to follow their teams.
Some also point out that sports clubs are claiming to be making their stadiums greener, while continuing to receive sponsorship from companies that are reliant on fossil fuels.
It won’t have escaped your notice that the Mercedes-Benz Stadium is sponsored by a car manufacturer (whose carbon emissions actually increased in 2018). In London, the football club Arsenal has publicised the introduction of a 3MW battery storage system at their stadium to reduce carbon emissions: a stadium that is sponsored by the airline Emirates.
But even though it won’t be showing the red card to carbon emissions any time soon, sport does have a platform to shine a floodlight on climate change.
If the thousands of fans sitting inside a solar powered stadium and the millions watching at home can see that renewable technology – far from being a substitute – is high quality and high performance, then that is surely worth supporting.