For the past 22 years, sports agent Leigh Steinberg has been hosting a swanky Super Bowl party, commemorating football's big day with a VIP affair. This year, for the first time, the party incorporated a handful of green initiatives -- carbon neutrality, green furnishings, an e-waste drop-off zone, local and organic food, an eco-friendly "swag bag" and more.
The party was held at Phoenix's Desert Botanical Garden -- whose "commitment to the community is to advance excellence in education, research, exhibition, and conservation of desert plants of the world with emphasis on the Southwestern United States" -- and the event benefited the Environmental Fund for Arizona (EFA), a coalition whose members collectively tackle every environmental issue facing Arizona. Still, the Super Bowl is a "greenhouse gastravaganza", and no big-time party comes off without some excess, waste and more mess than when it started. To debate the relative merits (and demerits) of the party, TreeHugger squared off against itself for some polemic point/counterpoint.
Point: The Super Bowl is one of the most-watched, most-hyped events in popular culture -- almost 100 million people watched it this year alone! -- and is going to continue to be so for years and years to come. There is no stopping the Super Bowl, nor parties related to it; events like this show that you can have a good time while leaving a smaller footprint behind. We should support it, and other events like it.
Counterpoint: We can't support something that is so wreckless with its use of the concept of "green." We have to be careful about anointing things as "green," especially on such a large stage -- if a bunch of people see this as the pinnacle of "green," they'll get the wrong idea about what it takes to really be green. It's the whole "buy your way to sustainability" myth; you can't just buy up a bunch of green stuff at an otherwise ungreen event and call it good. Sustainability is a lifestyle, not a party theme.
Point: They made some really concerted efforts to make the party green: carbon offsets with Green Mountain Energy Company, using InterfaceFLOR's carbon-neutral Cool Carpet, partnering with Electronic Recyclers International (ERI) to create an e-waste drop-off zone (ERI accepted used electronics, such as cell phones and laptops, and this part of the event was also free and open to the public), serving local food from local restaurants and organic wine and beer.
The guests dined on completely biodegradable dishware, including eco-friendly plates, bowls, napkins, cups and utensils. All unconsumed, perishable food was donated to Waste Not, a local nonprofit organization that provides food to more than 80 agencies serving low-income populations in Arizona. Partially consumed food waste was composted on-site at the Garden to avoid the pollution associated with transporting the waste off-site.
To eliminate the use of individual plastic water bottles at the event, O Premium Waters provided water cooler stations instead. And, as a thank you gift and lasting reminder of the party's green message, attendees received an eco-friendly "swag bag" provided by Salt River Project, that featured natural, organic, local or low-impact products from Clif Bar, Skinny Soaps, Salt River Project, Skincare for Athletes, Russell + Hazel, Prickly Pear Tea, Eco Golf, FRS Energy Drink and Kuumba Made. All of these things are light years beyond the eco-consideration that most of the attendants probably give to anything.
Counterpoint: The event's press release also says that the "first-of-its kind Super Bowl event will be fully sustainable," which is a total fallacy. A "fully sustainable" Super Bowl party: the contradiction in terms ranks right up there with "jumbo shrimp." Seriously, though, just because you pile a bunch of green materials together and throw a party doesn't mean it's a "sustainable" and especially a "fully sustainable" party. That's really irresponsible marketing, and it would be irresponsible of TreeHugger to let them slide. And what's up with the swag bag? If they were really in to throwing a green party, the swag bag would have been one of the first things to go.
Point: This is considered one of the Super Bowl's top parties; it's the longest-running social event at Super Bowl -- 22 years! -- and annually hosts between 1,500-2,500 guests, including: athletes, celebrities, professional sports team owners, Fortune 500 CEOs, business and community leaders.
Counterpoint: There is nothing green about gathering 2,500 people in the desert. All the locally-sourced catered food and carbon offsets in the world can't make up for the huge footprint that comes from getting all those people there and having a fancy party.
Point: The event was a fundraiser for the EFA, which is pretty neat. The Botanical Gardens -- chosen for its participation in the Salt River Project's EarthWise Energy Program, which allows the Garden to use renewable energy to meet 100 percent of its electricity needs -- is an excellent facility offering education about desert plant life and why it should be protected. The Super Bowl is a hook that presents a great opportunity to raise awareness. This party isn't promoting the Super Bowl; it is linking up to an event that reaches more Americans than any other.
Counterpoint: Raising funds for EFA is great, as is supporting growth in renewable energy, but you don't need to throw a huge party if that's the intent; just ask all the high-profile people who would have come to the party to get out their checkbooks instead. And if raising awareness was really the point of all this, Steinberg should have worked out a way to run an ad during the game; they would have reached 90-plus million people instead of the 2,500 at the party. The Super Bowl is a great platform to reach lots of people, but they missed the boat, if that really was their goal. Either way, it's just lip service and a way to make excuses for the party.
Point: This party represents positive incremental change; it might not be perfect, but nothing is, and we aren't going to encourage more parties like this to happen with a bunch of finger-shaking and negative, snarky coverage. Given the proper support, from this year on, each party will be greener and greener
Counterpoint: This party didn't make enough worthwhile efforts to call itself "green." And while we're waiting years and years for the party to really go green, there are pressing environmental issues that require more attention. The big names and high profile of those involved would be better served working toward meaningful environmental change, rather than eating sushi and collecting swag bags. And the hyperbolic marketing for the event, with all that "fully sustainable" mumbo-jumbo, only serves to wreck whatever green credibility they could have created.