Skip to Content

Sustainability News

ASU Sustainability News grist School of Sustainability News

February 23, 2009

ARIZONA’S BIGGEST SPORTING EVENT CHIPS AWAY AT ECOLOGICAL IMPACTS

By Tara Alatorre, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism

The golf course has gotten a little greener at the FBR Open in Scottsdale thanks to a two-year-old policy enacted to establish and encourage recycling. As a result, the nearly half a million fans at this year’s event, Jan. 29 - Feb. 1, had just as much fun as in previous years, but left behind a smaller percentage of trash destined for the landfill.

The Thunderbirds, who host the annual event, paired up with Waste Management in 2007 to start a recycling initiative for one of the biggest golfing events in the nation.  The goal was to recycle 25 percent of the waste collected.  The initiative included adding marked recycling receptacles, and encouraging fans to take personal responsibility to recycle, according to a press release from Rob Myers, FBR Open Media Relations Director.

The FBR Open, meanwhile, partnered with the Leonardo Academy, a non-profit organization dedicated to advancing sustainability, to reduce their ecological footprint, Myers said in an interview.

“The last two years we have been committed to going green,” Myers said.

Although the 2009 FBR Open results have not been calculated yet, last year Waste Management hauled away a staggering 277 tons of trash, but was able to recycle 37 percent. This estimated to be the equivalent of saving 1,200 mature trees, or enough energy to power 100 homes for one year. The Leonardo Academy reported that the initiative avoided almost 1,000 pounds of landfill methane gas, a strong contributor to global warming, according to a FBR press release.

Among all the action on the golf course, however, the recycling message may be getting muffled. Nickki Pflibsen, a 26-year-old golf instructor who attended the FBR Open this year, said she saw a lot of unmarked Waste Management containers and green garbage bags on the course, but she did not notice anyone coordinating recycling efforts or any signs reminding fans to recycle their waste.  Pflibsen said she threw her recyclable plastic cups in the trash bins without noticing if they were recycling receptacles. “Now that I think about it I don’t think they [the waste bins she used] were specifically for recycling,” Pflibsen said.

The push to go green for large sporting events has gained favor in recent years. For the 2009 Super Bowl, the NFL took initiatives to reduce environmental impacts from the 72,500 fans who gathered at the Raymond James Stadium in Tampa Bay. Going beyond recycling, the NFL strategies included purchases of renewable energy, use of biodegradable disposable material, donations of leftover food, and planting of trees to offset carbon emissions, according to the Super Bowl XLIII website.

Nevertheless, the FBR Open had almost seven times as many people as the Super Bowl, and a lot more waste to manage. And while the PGA Tour has not taken an official stance on developing environmental standards similar to that of the NFL, Myers said, the FBR Open and the TPC Scottsdale Golf Course have.

TPC Scottsdale, where the FBR Open is played, has been a “Certified Cooperative Sanctuary of Audubon International” for 12 years. This non-profit group — not affiliated with National Audubon Society — focuses on reducing the environmental impact of golf courses through education and awareness. Audubon International certifies golf courses that demonstrate environmental planning, wildlife and habitat management, integrated pest management, water conservation, and water quality management.

The Scottsdale golf course was the first in Arizona to receive the award, according to their website.  Tiffany Nelson, Media Relations of TPC Scottsdale, said the course recycles waste and has other standards. “We are very protective of wildlife and environment on the course,” Nelson said. “We also recycle our own water and it goes back into our lakes.” TPC uses 360 million gallons of water a year for both courses in Scottsdale.

Drew Annan, an official steward of the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program for Golf Courses, said in an interview that there are no specific standards “per se” to receive the certification. The goal is to move forward with water reduction efforts through incorporating landscaping that is natural to the environment. Courses that are awarded certification, typically achieve a 15 percent reduction in water usage, he said.  “There is a big push to make golf managers more responsible with their day to day operations,” Annan said.  “It’s about establishing thresholds through monitoring.”