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With New NBA Finals Format Comes a Higher Carbon Cost

3p Contributor | Thursday November 7th, 2013 | 2 Comments

NBA Finals

[Image credit: Adam Pieniazek, Flickr]

By Andrew Horton-Hall

Last month, the NBA’s Board of Governors decided unanimously to revert back to a 2-2-1-1-1 format, meaning the team with the better record will be have home court advantage for games 1, 2, 5 and 7 of a seven-game series. The change, which comes after two decades of a 2-3-2 format, will take place beginning with the 2014 NBA Finals.

The new format equates to more travel and a more significant carbon footprint, emitting several tons of CO₂e into the atmosphere. If the NBA Finals go to seven games under the new format, it means that both teams combined will require nine flights to and from each city. Previously, a seven game series would require just five flights.

In the NBA, each team charters a 54-seat luxury Airbus 319 jetliner or a similar private jet for travel to and from games throughout the course of an 82-game season. On these chartered jets, teams can relax in plush leather seats that rotate for high altitude card games.

The teams may be able to afford to travel in luxury, but can the planet afford the hidden cost of carbon emissions?

Using a carbon calculator that is compliant with ISO 14064-1, Greenhouse Gas Protocol Scope 3, and The Climate Registry, it was determined that the hidden cost for the new NBA Finals format is significant, particularly for long distance travel.

The worst-case scenario for carbon emissions would be another classic matchup between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics. It is approximately 2,604 miles between Logan International Airport and Los Angeles International Airport, and if the Lakers and Celtics both used the NBA standard issue Airbus 319 (chartered through the league’s relationship with Delta Air Lines), each flight would emit approximately 4.07 tons (8154.3 pounds) of CO₂e into the atmosphere.

If the hypothetical series went the distance (seven games), it would mean a total of 36.69 tons (73,389 pounds) of CO₂e would be emitted into the atmosphere by both teams. The format change would mean an additional 16.31 tons (32,617 pounds) of CO₂e would be emitted. This measurement doesn’t account for the members of the national media covering the series, the sports agents and family members traveling with the players, or corporate parties flying to each city.

Let’s put these numbers into perspective. A single bus could drive from Boston to Los Angeles 24 times and still not meet the level of carbon output that an additional four flights would create. A Toyota Prius could travel across the country 28 times before meeting that level.

The good news is that these two teams won’t be meeting in the NBA Finals again any time soon, as Boston is in the beginning of a rebuilding process. What’s even better news is that the NBA is taking steps to offset their carbon footprint.

Through the league’s Green Initiative, the NBA has an established relationship with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) to reduce its environmental impact. With the help of the NRDC, the NBA pledged this year to offset ten million pounds of CO2. If the NBA acts upon the pledge, the amount offset would be the equivalent of approximately 136 seven-game series between the Lakers and Celtics.

Andrew Horton-Hall is the Founder + CEO of Granola Communications, a ecological marketing communications practice based in Somerville, Mass. Granola Communications works with organizations to align their brands with the ecological considerations of consumers. More information on Granola Communications can be found here


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  • Dave Shires

    As much as I love talking about carbon footprints, this is a terrible example to point to. Criticizing this is going to go over like a ton of …er… coal.

    • Emily

      I don’t understand why this is so terrible to criticize? Also, I didn’t read a ton of criticism there – just a statement of facts. The NBA is changing the format of their finals and that has a large impact on their carbon emissions. They are also attempting to offset those emissions. Two things I did not know/had not thought about previously.