SBJ/January 26 - February 1, 2004/Facilities

NFL keeps Super Bowl reuser-friendly through its Environmental Program

The NFL brought in 90,000 tons of sand to create a beach-themed corporate hospitality village in a parking lot at the Super Bowl in Tampa two years ago. But when the big game was over, the beach had to go.

That's where the NFL Environmental Program stepped in and found an appropriate beneficiary. It's an initiative that focuses on leaving Super Bowl communities in better shape than before the league takes over those towns to stage its biggest show.

"We called the Hillsborough County Parks and Recreation Department, and they just happened to be in the process of renovating its playgrounds and they could use the sand. All it took was a front-end loader and a couple of trucks to haul it away," said Jack Groh, the program's director.

Groh and his wife, Susan, own Groh Associates, a communications, public relations and consulting firm in Warwick, R.I. They have experience working with clients who want to use ecologically friendly operations. For six months a year, they work for the NFL.

The NFL program is in its 12th year after starting a pilot test with stadium recycling in 1993, when the Super Bowl was at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. It has expanded beyond recycling to include donation of construction and office materials, food recovery and schools' donating used sports equipment and books for the Boys and Girls Clubs.

This year, Houston-area students responded in record fashion for the sports equipment and book drive, Groh said. Twenty-one schools participated, the largest number in the four years the NFL Environmental Program has undertaken the drive.

The increase reflects a more aggressive approach by Susan Groh, excitement from the Super Bowl's return to Houston after a 30-year absence and the idea of having children affiliated in some way with the game, Jack Groh said.

In a new twist this year, the NFL is incorporating smaller donations from office workers at the Super Bowl headquarters hotels, collecting unused supplies for the United Way, Groh said.

At Reliant Park, the NFL is coordinating recycling efforts with Waste Management and Aramark, the concessionaire and facility services manager for the entire complex. The 195 suites at Reliant Stadium will have white cardboard boxes adorned with the Super Bowl logos to collect aluminum and plastic containers.

Last year in San Diego, donated materials were valued at $130,000, Groh said, which included decorative materials from Super Bowl parties, building and office supplies, and an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 pounds of food remaining from Qualcomm Stadium's luxury suites and Super Bowl-affiliated functions.

Besides protecting the environment, the program has a cost-efficiency component, Groh said.

"If you took that 20 tons of food and threw it in the trash, it costs $200 a ton to haul that away plus the dumping fees, so you're quickly talking about a couple thousand dollars," he said. "But it costs practically nothing to pack it all up and donate it to a church or shelter."

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