The Times They Are A-Changin’: Super Bowl Sustainability Messaging

I’ll admit, my favorite part of Super Bowl Sunday is the food, the beer, and the commercials. And the more I watched the commercials last night the more I started to realize that there was something different about the commercials this year. And before you try to guess what I'm going to say, yes, Cardi B and Steve Carrell partnering up for Pepsi was a real highlight and so was Harrison Ford's uncontrollable, sausage-loving dog who went rogue with an Alexa device - but not what I’m talking about.

I’m talking about the sustainability and environmentally focused messaging. There were ads showcasing wind power, electric vehicles, hybrid vehicles, organic products, and clean drinking water. It’s easy to be pessimistic and say that these big companies are just greenwashing but frankly, I’m glad they’ve decided that sustainability is profitable. It's a moment I've been waiting for. Renewable energy is cheaper than coal in many parts of the country, and big corporations and even utility companies are starting to notice.

In some commercials, the messaging couldn’t be missed. Like the Budweiser commercial showing the dalmatian riding on a cart pulled by the classic Clydesdales through a valley of wind turbines that featured Bob Dylan’s beautiful protest song “Blowin’ in the Wind.” (Side note: watching that commercial feels like an advertising executive looked inside my head and thought hmm... what can make Hannah even remotely likely to drink our beers? Ahh, yes, let’s start with a cute dog, add in some majestic horses, some rolling hills with her favorite accessories - wind turbines - and oh, what’s that song that gives her goosebumps every time she hears it? Unbelievable.)

Budweiser and their parent company, Anheuser-Busch InBev, were undeniably the stars of the commercial show last night, with three separate ads that were environmentally themed and showcased a sustainability message. My favorite, the “Blowin' in the Wind” ad, ended by letting the viewer know that their beer is now brewed with wind power. Just how much of their operations are powered by wind power they didn’t specify, but I’m sure it’s part of the plan they announced in 2017 to power 100 percent of the electricity for their brewing and vertical operations from renewable sources by 2025.

Anheuser-Busch InBev didn’t stop their wind power push with just one commercial. A donation from Anheuser-Busch InBev allowed the host city of the game, Atlanta, to be powered by 100 percent wind energy during the whole week of Super Bowl LIII. The game met another sustainability milestone - it was the first-ever zero-waste Super Bowl. The zero-waste undertaking, Rush2Recycle, was a partnership between the NFL, the U.S. Bank Stadium, the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, food service provider Aramark, and PepsiCo and had a goal for about 90 percent of the waste to be either recycled or composted and the remaining non-recyclable plastics would be sent to a local waste-to-energy incinerator. The changes must have been evident inside the stadium, with paid student ambassadors posed at recycling/composting/waste bins to educate attendees and food distributed in compostable bags, nacho trays, and draft beer cups.

I have to also mention the focus on electric vehicles in the Super Bowl last night because seeing the Audi commercial actually made me cheer. Audi announced last night that one third of all new Audi cars will be electric by 2025 and their ad showcased the Audi e-tron lineup - an electric SUV, sedan, and GT that are all in the works. It was a fun, futuristic, and hilarious ad and I’m glad that there is now another luxury electric car option other than Tesla - hopefully this will create some fun competition and technology developments. Of course, the electric car revolution has to pair with a renewable power revolution, otherwise it won't be as impactful, but that's a conversation for another day. Another exciting commercial came from Toyota as they announced a new hybrid RAV4. The RAV4 is one of Toyota’s most popular models and could offer a great hybrid solution to people who need a little more space for gear or kids than the Prius offers.

The overarching message last night? Sustainability and social responsibility sells. Companies have realized that people are willing to pay a premium for products from companies that are giving back and taking care of the people and places around them. Super Bowl ads are some of the most expensive, coveted seconds you can purchase on TV and this year, more than any before, companies decided that a message of responsibility would help them make the most out of that time slot. I say, let's keep it coming. The more that the idea of protecting our planet and being environmentally responsible can become mainstream, the better. In the words of one of my favorite singers, “the times they are a-changin’.”

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