Students learning to make a sustainability difference at the Super Bowl

Marchella Verdi and Peter Boger
February 19, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — If you were one of the nearly 101 million Americans who watched the Super Bowl this month, what were you thinking about on the big day? Enjoying your favorite player or team? How good was Maroon 5’s halftime show? Chowing down on some guacamole and chips?

You probably were not thinking about the fact that a game that lasts only four hours required months of intensive planning behind the scenes, from resolving logistics of transporting players and fans, to addressing questions of public safety. And even if those issues crossed your mind, you might not have realized just how much energy the NFL also puts into thinking about another issue: sustainability.

The NFL Environmental Program works to make NFL events and facilities more sustainable and eco-friendly, not just in their operations but also in their community engagement. According to the National Football League website, the environmental program “has five main initiatives: solid waste management, material reuse, food recovery, sorts equipment and book donations, and greenhouse gas reduction.” 

This year, Penn State’s Sustainability Institute partnered with the NFL Environmental Program and PepsiCo to learn about the how they incorporate sustainability into large-scale events and how to bring similar sustainability efforts to Penn State Athletics. SI Associate Director for Student Engagement Doug Goodstein represented Penn State in Atlanta at both the Super Bowl and related sustainability-related initiatives like the Super Kids-Super Sharing project. This partnership built on an earlier Penn State partnership with the NFL Environmental Program at the College Football Championship in January.

“We are really making a difference and it’s only the beginning,” explained Goodstein. 

Prior to the Super Bowl, the NFL Environmental Program co-hosts the Super Kids-Super Sharing Sports Equipment and Book Donation project. This year’s project received over 40,000 donations of gently used sporting equipment, books and school supplies from students in the weeks prior to the Super Bowl. These donations are then provided at a festive celebration to other students in need. All involved get to visit the stadium and spend a fun day with NFL athletes while sharing sporting gear — providing an opportunity for local students and families, from all economic backgrounds, to be involved in the excitement of playing a sport. 

“At the end of the day it’s not about where the sports gear comes from that kids wear; it’s about giving them a way to do the things they love,” Goodstein noted.

Goodstein attended Super Kids-Super Sharing in Atlanta in order to determine how Penn State could implement a similar event. Working in partnership with Penn State Athletics, Goodstein is helping bring a pilot project for sporting equipment donation and youth engagement with Penn State players to the Blue and White Weekend in spring of 2020. The Sustainability Institute sees this as a way both to humanize Nittany Lion athletes and to spark interest in sports for kids who otherwise lack opportunities to play.

The NFL Environmental Program works with Super Bowl host communities on sustainability in other ways. Prior to the game, NFL players and league executives plant gardens in the community. After the game, the NFL works closely with local nonprofit organizations, food banks and shelters to donate leftover prepared food and any reusable materials, such as décor and office supplies. Penn State’s Sustainability Institute is examining how some of these programs could also be replicated in State College.

New course on sustainable athletic event planning

Penn State students will be able to be involved in these initiatives, too, thanks to a new class being developed on sustainable athletic event planning. The 3-credit course will be offered this March and is designed to bring together students of all majors to create different elements of a sustainable environment. Looking to support the work of the NFL Environmental Program, this class will embrace the idea that big events can capture society’s imagination and motivate change. Students will have the opportunity to attend NFL-sponsored events, such as the NFL draft in April and next year’s College Football Playoffs and the Super Bowl. 

Students interested in learning more about the course should contact Goodstein at

  • Some of the thousands of donations of sporting goods, books, and school supplies at Super Kids-Super Sharing

    Through the Super Kids-Super Sharing Event ahead of the Super Bowl, students in the Atlanta area made more than 40,000 donations of gently used sporting goods, books, and school supplies to help children in need. Both donors and recipients celebrated with NFL players in an event Penn State hopes to emulate at the 2020 Blue and White Weekend.

    IMAGE: Doug Goodstein
Last Updated February 21, 2019