How Green Are Your Brackets?

on April 04, 2013 at 8:30 AM

The 2013 NCAA Tournament has been full of upsets, but heading into the first weekend of April, the greenest pick is still standing.

Looking for the best ways to make the smallest impact on the environment may not be the first thing that typically comes to mind during March Madness.

However, with man-made carbon dioxide emissions the primary source of rising greenhouse gases concentrations in the atmosphere, my team at Booz Allen Hamilton thought the carbon footprint of one of America’s most popular sporting events could help raise awareness of the issue. More importantly, we wanted to demonstrate the tools available to help governments, companies, universities and non-governmental organizations make important decisions about their energy use and how their actions, however big or small, affect the environment.

This year, as fans made their picks before the first tip-off of the tournament, we released an interactive tool that allows those fans to calculate the carbon footprint of their favorite teams and bracket picks. Booz Allen’s interactive Carbon Footprint Analysis website provides college basketball fans with an interesting approach to filling out their brackets. Users can see – in real-time – how their different picks alter the total carbon footprint of the tournament.

To produce the data behind the tool, we borrowed elements of the Life Cycle Analysis approach, an industry-accepted technique that assesses cradle-to-grave environmental impacts and helps translate that information into relative, understandable terms. In this case, inputs included estimates of the size of each team’s fan base, where the teams would play and whether teams and their fans would need to fly or could take ground transportation. The footprint for each of the 68 men’s teams and 64 women’s teams was then calculated as though that team and its fans traveled through the entire tournament to the national championship game. We incorporated the greenhouse gas emissions associated with their travel, including what it took to extract and process the petroleum, the manufacturing of the vehicles and the burning of the fuel, varying from buses to planes.

Diehard fans and water cooler bracket strategists aren’t likely to change their picks based upon an instantaneous view of which potential champion will bring the lowest tournament carbon footprint. But executives charged with the growth and health of their company – watching fuel costs skyrocket, or deciding how new construction or infrastructure investments might affect the environment – could find benefit in a real-time, system-wide model to see how different choices might impact carbon emissions and costs.

A systems approach to assessing these environmental impacts brings order to what can often look like chaos, taking countless and seemingly unconnected threads of disparate data and translating them into the type of accessible and actionable information organizations need to make good decisions about the environmental consequences of their actions. This works for our clients. For example, energy companies have used LCA to understand which processes involved in the extraction of oil or natural cause the greatest greenhouse gas emissions, helping them be best positioned to respond to potential new regulations.

As their teams get knocked out of the running for the championship, environmentally-aware college basketball fans may consider rooting for the teams with the lowest remaining carbon dioxide emissions – Louisville’s men’s team and Connecticut’s women’s team – to take it all in the 2013 National Championship. But even if these two teams become champions, the tournament will still generate a carbon footprint of more than 286,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions in just two and half weeks of play. That amount is equivalent to a year’s worth of driving for 60,000 cars or powering over 15,000 homes for an entire year.

Executives want to make decisions based on the best information available. Whether it’s deciding which upset to pick, or the effect of business decisions on the environment, it is data that drive the best decisions, and Life Cycle Analysis can provide the right insights to help.

Gary Rahl is a senior vice president and leads Booz Allen Hamilton’s energy business.