NFL Goes Green

Super Bowl LI banners and other leftovers get a new life in NFL recycling program

Super Bowl LI 'leftovers' get a new life in NFL recycling program

Super Bowl materials that are part of recycling program
Super Bowl LI banners will serve a new purpose in and around Houston through a material recovery program sponsored by the NFL. Courtesy photo
Sarah-Jayne Smith and Ahshia Berry picking up post-consumer Super Bowl material from NRG Stadium
Magpies and Peacocks founders Sarah-Jayne Smith and Ahshia Berry plan to recycle the Super Bowl material into fashion pieces and art. Courtesy photo
Super Bowl materials that are part of recycling program
Houston banners will get a new life as recycled art. Courtesy photo
Super Bowl materials that are part of recycling program
Banners, flags and other lightweight fabrics are some of the materials available to local non-profits for reuse. Courtesy photo
Super Bowl materials that are part of recycling program
Groh believes the program sends out a strong environmental message of letting someone re-use supplies rather than have them sit in the attic or be thrown away.  Courtesy photo
Super Bowl materials that are part of recycling program
Sarah-Jayne Smith and Ahshia Berry picking up post-consumer Super Bowl material from NRG Stadium
Super Bowl materials that are part of recycling program
Super Bowl materials that are part of recycling program
Super Bowl materials that are part of recycling program

Even though the reins have officially been handed over to Minnesota to host Super Bowl LII, Houston is still on the mind of NFL officials.

“We want people to be glad we came to the community. Not just because of the football game, but because of the resources we have for the community,” Jack Groh, director of the NFL Environmental Program, says. “So, we do this because it’s the right thing to do.”

That "right thing" Groh is talking about is making sure the league invests in Houston by finding ways to transform the material used around the city to promote and organize the big game.  From the banners displayed at NRG Stadium to the turf laid down for Super Bowl Live at Discovery Green, it will all serve a new purpose in and around Houston, in large part through material recovery, a branch of the NFL’s Environmental Program.

Habitat for Humanity, the Houston Food Bank and Magpies and Peacocks are among the local non-profits who are the direct recipients of these materials.

“We’ll be getting some of the mesh perimeter fencing used for crowd control, the jersey fabric on the inside of the stadium, bike covers, shopping bags, street banners, anything that can be used to make products from and that our designers can upcycle into their art,” Sarah-Jayne Smith, founder of Magpies and Peacocks, says.  The organization has several programs designed to nurture emerging artists and allow them to create new products by increasing the value of old ones.

That’s one of the reasons Ahshia Berry, who works with Smith, says Magpies and Peacocks was the perfect fit for the NFL.

“We told them who we might work with and what kind of projects we do. Once they were comfortable knowing we were doing the right things by it, they needed to know we were a 501c3,” Berry says. “We’re happy we were on their radar. And we let them know how sustainable Houston can grow to be.”

And sustainability is what Groh says the NFL’s Environmental Program is all about. It began 25 years ago when the league implemented a stadium recycling program for Super Bowl XXVIII at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.  According to Groh, the NFL was the first sports league to do this. Prepared food and material recovery programs followed, along with urban forest redevelopment and renewable energy.

This year, 10 projects were completed in Houston, including the Super Kids Super Sharing event, managed by Groh’s wife, Susan, at the Houston Texans YMCA.

“We recruit 100 or more schools in each Super Bowl city to collect supplies. In Houston, the kids brought in 23,000 items to donate,” Jack Groh says. “Then we invite low income schools to shop for the items they need.”

Strong environmental message

Groh believes it gets out a strong environmental idea of letting someone reuse supplies rather than have them sit in the attic or be thrown away. It’s also part of a message that helped Houston make history not only on the field this Super Bowl, but behind the scenes.

“We had the most successful material recovery program in the history of the Super Bowl, and it happened here in Houston,” Groh says. “I attribute that to two things. On the NFL side, we had staff and contractors working hard, and we had a tremendous partnership with the City of Houston’s Reuse Warehouse.”

Groh says Reuse picked up materials and made it available to non-profits. For example, the Houston Food Bank recovered 6,000 pounds of office supplies, which will be given to local teachers in 18 different communities around Houston. Turf carpeting went to local animal shelters. Magnificat Houses, Houston ISD and Keep Houston Beautiful also recovered materials.

Plans are already in the works to partner with Minnesota for projects as it prepares to host the next Super Bowl.  

Host cities have participated in the programs since the environmental department’s inception more than two decades ago. It’s a concept that now includes the Pro Bowl and NFL Draft.

“Sports is a great neutral territory when it comes to getting this message across,” Smith says. “It affects all age groups and all nationalities. Sports is a perfect way of getting a short version of our story out to a large amount of people. We’re lucky that the NFL can facilitate that for us.”

And the league says, it’s happy to do it. In fact, Houston’s diversity, cooperation and warm atmosphere is what Groh says he enjoyed most about working with area non-profits.

“I don’t know if it’s a Houston thing, a Texas thing or a Southern thing, but people were always willing to step up and say, ‘I could help you with that,’ ” Groh says. “It just seems an awful lot of people were willing to help out a stranger or a friend.”

Permanent green legacy

For more information about the NFL Environmental Program, Groh admits you might have to do some digging online through the league’s website. Groh says what they do isn’t as widely publicized because he’d rather spend money lightening the environmental load than on advertising.

“We want to leave some type of permanent green legacy in every community we visit. People say, ‘Don’t you wish you got more attention?’,” Groh says. “Well, no. I’m here asking, ‘How much good can we do?’”

Groh hopes to have the final total of recovered materials in Houston within a couple weeks.