Super Bowl LI

This weekend, thousands of people have arrived in Houston to attend one of the biggest national events of the year: the Super Bowl. Like most big sporting events, the Super Bowl inevitably has a large environmental impact – consider the millions of passenger-miles fans fly and drive to attend, the massive quantities of food and beverages consumed, the similarly massive quantities of waste sent to landfills and recycling centers, the electricity powering lights and air conditioning in the stadium, even the resources used to film the commercials and run television broadcasting equipment, just to name a few consumptive activities.

One estimate pegged the total carbon dioxide emissions from the 2010 Super Bowl in Miami at 310,000 lbs. The site gave no justification or references for this number, and my intuition suggests it might be an underestimate, but it still serves as an eye-opening metric for the true impact of the event. This year, NRG Energy is purchasing Renewable Energy Certificates to ensure that all of the energy supplying NRG Stadium and the George R. Brown Convention Center for the event comes from clean sources, an action which may begin to make a dent in the huge environmental impacts of the event.

However, I want to examine the event on a much smaller scale: my own personal impact due to the Super Bowl. Since the event itself is far out of my influence, and it was going to happen whether or not I watched (and let’s be real, the probability of me watching any of the actual football game is close to zero), I won’t include any of the impacts of the event as a whole (those listed at the beginning of the post). Instead, I’ll focus on my direct actions during the weekend that were related to the Super Bowl: transportation, watching the game, and eating game-day food.

Transportation: On Saturday night, we took the light rail downtown to explore Super Bowl festivities at Discovery Green. At an average of 0.36 lbs CO2 per passenger-mile and a round-trip distance of 6.6 miles from Rice University to Central Square (the station downtown), this contributed not even 2.5 lbs CO2 to my footprint. I won’t count the carbon associated with the lights, concerts, additional security personnel, etc. downtown because (1) the event was going to happen whether or not I attended, and (2) the term “attending” is already a stretch, as we only took one lap around the green through the crowds before leaving, and didn’t even participate in any of the festivities.

Watching the game: There’s always a “watch party” in my dorm at Rice, where someone sets up the game on a projector (Panasonic PT-LB60U producing 3,200 ANSI lumens with a 220 W bulb) in the commons, set up like in the picture below. Three and a half hours of projection for the game amounts to 0.77 kWh of electricity, or 0.33 kg CO2 eq (from the average Rice electricity mix carbon weighting factor from last week). Dividing this by the approximately 100 people who came to the commons to watch, I estimate my viewing of the Super Bowl results in about 3.3 g (0.007 lbs) CO2eq emissions.


Game-day food: The servery always provides an abundance of game-day food during dinner for the Super Bowl. This year, I had a plate of fried pickles with ranch for dipping, nachos, celery sticks, and cherry tomatoes. The calculations below are rough estimates of the associated carbon emissions, which sum to just over 19 lbs CO2 eq for the meal.

  • Friend pickles = 0.03 lbs CO2 eq (~30 g, 0.21 g CO2eq/g for general vegetables at Rice, doubled to account for pickling and frying processes)
  • Ranch dressing = 18.7 lbs CO2 eq (59 kg CO2e/AUD for dressings; 1 AUD = 0.72 USD on June 1, 2016; Hidden Valley Ranch $3.50/24 oz)
  • Tortilla chips = 0.08 lbs CO2 eq (~15 g, 2 g CO2eq/g bagged potato chips, as approximation)
  • Celery sticks = 0.001 lbs CO2 eq (~15 g, 0.21 g CO2eq/g for general vegetables at Rice)
  • Cherry tomatoes = 0.35 lbs CO2eq (three ~16 g tomatoes, 3 g CO2eq/g tomato)


In sum, my total impact from transportation, watching the game, and eating game-day food is just about 22 lbs CO2eq.

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