Sporting events compete for green trophy

By Alec Mackenzie, The CA magazine

14 January 2015

The CA magazine looks at how the big sporting events are winning on sustainability.

Major sporting events attract the world's attention. They are big business these days, and cities and countries compete fiercely to host competitions like the Olympics, the Commonwealth Games and the FIFA World Cup.

These events are also increasingly judged by their sustainability, and the way their environmental impact is reported has valuable lessons for enterprises generally.

Glasgow 2014's green credentials 

Lord Smith of Kelvin KT CA was chairman of Glasgow 2014, the organisation set up to host the 2014 Commonwealth Games. He declared, ahead of the Games: "Sustainability is at the core of all our decisions and not an added extra or bolted-on strategy; it is about making positive and lasting changes in the way we use natural and human resources to improve quality of life for all; now and in the future."

One CA responsible for ensuring the green credentials of the event was Heather Donald, a member of the ICAS Sustainability Committee, who worked in a dual capacity as financial analyst and an environment and sustainability co-ordinator at the games. Her team's biggest achievement was helping Glasgow 2014 become the first Commonwealth Games to secure a much-desired ISO 20121 accreditation, the international standard for Sustainable Event Management. ISO 20121 sets out a framework for reducing costs, carbon emissions and waste, managing the biodiversity of venues and achieving a diverse and inclusive workforce.

Heather says: "It was similar to going through a big financial audit process, where it was important to show to the Commonwealth Games Federation and all the partners that we worked with that we were running the event in as sustainable way as possible. ISO 20121 is about making sure all your policies and procedures have included sustainability across the overall management structure."

To this end Heather implemented a number of measures right across the Games, paying particular attention to supply chain operation. She explains: "They say getting sustainability right is getting procurement right, so you have to be working with the right suppliers from the outset. For the purchase of goods, services, and sponsorship, all our contracts above a certain financial value formed part of a sustainable procurement policy. Over 70 per cent of our contracts were awarded to Scottish companies and that's important for regional sourcing, taking a best value, best quality on a buy local first approach."

It's also worth noting that in an effort to produce low to zero waste at Glasgow 2014, every single contractor providing food at any of the venues was required to use compostable packing.

This innovative idea was borrowed from the London 2012 Summer Olympics. Glasgow also procured more than 222,000 pieces of furniture, fixtures and fittings from London 2012 – on the principle that "reuse" is even better than "recycle" – for use in its athletes' village.

The 'greenest' World Cup? 

Sustainability was also cited as a core value for the World Cup 2014 in Brazil. Its stated aim was to present "the greenest World Cup ever". As FIFA estimated that the event generated an estimated 2.7 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, it was important to report the impact and the ways in which it was mitigated and offset. Professor Carol Adams CA, of Monash University,

Melbourne, and a director with strategic and environmental consultancy Integrated Horizons, is also a member of the Sustainability Committee. She has taken a critical look at FIFA's approach to reporting the impact of the World Cup. FIFA used the Greenhouse Gas Protocol Corporate Standard to report its carbon impact. By adopting a standard approach it should be possible to compare different sporting events.

As Professor Adams explains, however: "There is an issue regarding what you put into your report and what you leave out. Measuring the impact of spectators travelling to the event from their home countries, for example, makes FIFA's own impact look comparatively small."

FIFA committed to reporting more than the minimum, including indirect emissions such as the impact of fans travelling to and from the World Cup, which made up an estimated 98 per cent of the total emissions. That apparently comprehensive approach, Professor Adams argues, can distract from those areas that are under FIFA's control.

One category that was excluded from the report was any emissions associated with permanent infrastructure – although the construction and demolition of temporary facilities was included – because permanent constructions were deemed a matter for the host city or country. Professor Adams comments: "It seems that FIFA is hiding behind data and carbon offsets, and lacks a strategy to make a real impact."

As Professor Adams points out, the "embodied carbon" associated with infrastructure can be significant. For the London 2012 Olympics, for example, the use of low carbon mixes, and designing structures using less material, were important criteria. Also crucial were using existing infrastructure wherever possible and ensuring that new facilities continue to be used rather than joining the many sporting "white elephants" around the world.

At Glasgow 2014, Scotland's national stadium Hampden Park was transformed into an IAAF-approved athletics track using a revolutionary solution to raise the surface by almost two metres. The approach is being termed the 'Glasgow solution' in athletics circles, with widespread interest in its use for converting other venues for world-class events.

Reporting on sustainability 

It's worth focusing on reporting sustainability issues, Professor Adams argues, because it helps to drive corporate behaviour. She says: "A major sporting event involves a whole city, even a whole country. It is an opportunity to think about, for example, transport infrastructure. So, for example, what criteria were used to select the city? Carbon offsets are less relevant than the long-term impact." She adds that "integrated reporting" can be a more powerful tool than "environmental reporting". As Professor Adams says: "Sustainability and environmental reporting focuses on the impact the business has on the environment and on society.

That is important, but integrated reporting is also about the value that sustainability creates for the business itself. Sustainability is presented as not just a cost to the business, so you can get more buy-in for change. Accountants have been a stumbling block, preventing this happening [integrating sustainability into organisational practices] sooner. We need to alter ideas about what accountancy is." Heather is also an advocate of change: "Some corporates do produce sustainability reports but it's not an industry- wide practice yet.

We have to understand that sustainability is important to everybody in finance functions, maybe critically in terms of how to quantify running your operation." Reflecting on Glasgow 2014, as well as introducing green initiatives commonly associated with the concept of sustainability, Heather is keen to stress that positive social sustainability is also one of the games' key legacies. "It's been great to see local people given the skills to do this event very successfully," she says.

"We've shown we can do this on a world scale and a lot of that experience has been retained within the city. It was fantastic to be part of such a dynamic organisation and an event that really helps Glasgow. I feel very privileged to have done it."

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  • Sustainability
  • CA Magazine

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