How green is the Fifa World Cup?

— Pratima H

Big Sports events across the atlas are finally scoring high on a kick that has evaded many goal keepers so far. It only makes all the more sense and impact for the big cheese of games to acknowledge and squeeze in some tough sustainability goals. Specially as the scale and following of these gigantic events, not to mention the ripple effects of logistics as well as viewership, do make a big dent on environment.

Like, the last Olympic stadium, claimed by the organizers as “the most sustainable Olympic Stadium ever built”, iterated that the bar on environment is being raised in as many areas and at levels possible.

The 2012 London Olympics aimed for new sustainability goals encompassing many new tracks from waste reduction by viewers, transportation to the venues, materials, vehicles, packaging and even rainwater harvesting for washrooms as well as efforts on the flowers used for the games.
On the hardware side, the new lightweight stadium structure design there replaced virgin steel, with two thirds of the steel used in the stadium’s entire roof being recycled. Clearly the architect had some weight behind his words when he labeled this as the lowest carbon footprint stadium of fifa2that scale with its roofing truss being piled from unwanted gas pipelines from a North Sea oil project and use of steel cable instead of girders, saving about 1,000 tons of steel. It also chipped away construction costs by some half a million quid and used a tenth of steel corresponding to the Beijing games preceding it.

Talking of another green pitch, stadiums for Super Bowl like MetLife have also started posting good record-breakers on use of solar panels or use of compost food scraps, skipping polystyrene foam containers, excess food donations, encouraging EV charged parkings, recycling efforts, or saving lots of waste kitchen oil and converting it into biofuel or as simple as donating leftover concessions to neighbourhood soup kitchens and shelters. MetLife Stadium n East Rutherford, N.J., since 2010, partnered with the EPA and has been in news for composting some 200 tons of food in 2013 alone. In fact, post separation and processing, the compost can also fertilize the stadium.

In 2012 Indianapolis Super Bowl, accomplishments report included 2,888 trees planted, 1,402,681 pounds of CO2 emissions reduced, 2,555,754 gallons of water saved, 46,000 pounds of prepared food recovered by Second Helpings, tones of food collected for composting and 49,185 pounds of electronics collected for recycling by Recycle Force. This also includes a massive reforestation effort to offset the emissions produced by NFL vehicle ground-transportation fleet.

As to Super Bowl’s continuing use of green spoons, it has been speculated that NFL has kept its thrust on planting thousands of trees in Arizona forests besides areas like powering University of Phoenix Stadium, or adjacent NFL theme park with options as varied as clean energy sources, New Mexico wind turbines and even California geothermal plants. What’s remarkable and reassuring is to hear people leading the NFL’s green bench confessing forthrightly that the environmental impact of the Super Bowl is much greater than originally estimated.

“If creating a mess is part of our business plan, then cleaning it up needs to be part of the model as well,” Jack Groh, director of the NFL Environmental Program was quoted in a news report. “Greenhouse gas obviously causes damage to the environment, and we need to be responsible.”

Fast forward to today, we are gearing up for another high-stake pilgrimage for football worshippers about to start a day. Brazil 2014 brings forth construction of 12 modern stadiums, and 73 sporting facilities in Brazil and national teams from the 208 Member Associations this time.

The temperature has started going northwards as we find certification labels falling in for Castelao, touted FIFA World Cup’s first-environmentally-friendly stadium and other Brazil 2014 stadiums viz. Maracana, the Beira-Rio stadium etc. It would be heartening to see efforts beyond construction and renovation of all the stadiums on the lines of environmental certifications like- moving towards more brass tacks side of goals like use of eco-friendly lighting, better water management, rain-water-friendly roofs over arena, solar energy power plants, more sustainable forms of public transport and more.

fifa4FIFA organizers are avowedly working towards many factors simultaneously with the pressure of balancing two sides at such a massive scale. For instance, many stadiums in Brazil are planning to achieve LEED certification for green buildings, with additional facets like installation of solar panels on their roofs, better handling of waste, promotion of recycling at all venues, and measurement/reporting of carbon footprint during tournaments being taken under fold.

What matters is more action and less marketing ink, more healthy competition between various events and less one-upmanship if the quintessence of sustainability has to be honored. Any average event of these proportions leads to unthinkable resources being invested not only towards the core events but around the peripheral pipelines of organization, pre-event arrangements, ticket viewership, travel, building infrastructure, city design, power usage, food consumption, water requirements and so on.

It is no doubt a big challenge to juggle both the successful management of a high-flier event and the flip side of resource wastage that is incidental and equally humongous. But that’s precisely why even a small iota of progress would have big cascading effects on that rare environment adrenaline.

If operations and the future management of these installations is made possible in a sustainable yet balanced way, and actual impact is squeezed out of these highly-trumpeted green marathons, then many such enormously-sized feats can borrow inspiration ahead. This will help participants and fans come close to some rare green medals. For now, nice to see the world chanting Ole Ola to the rhythm of sustainability.
More than that, an objective and honest stance will go a long way in dissing both street-graffiti-level protests to high-end environment activist circle-criticisms. Trumpeting that an event is carbon-friendly or carbon-neutral is such a ridiculous level of greenwash that no one is going to hear it, forget buying it.

So event organisers might try the other route of being transparent and realistic. Remember how many areas comfortably slide into oversight while organizers do the carbon-bean-counting. One has to take everything into ambit, from power use at hotels, resorts, facilities near the main venue to all the airline emissions and travel footprint to even the posterity-fate of all the infrastructure and bling that is put up for a dazzling fest.
Redefining methodology for calculating any game’s impact is crucial, as experts advise, and many even suggest that organizers or players should pay carbon credits for flying or some sort of environment toll.

But is offsetting an emission better or is pre-empting it wiser? The ball, as it turns out, is in your court now.


Not-so Green By The Way

  • Travelling within Brazil can leave a carbon footprint of as many as half a million passenger cars driving around for a complete year.

  • Are we cognizant of the scale and corporate greed that can be part of the big football Mecca and can lead to massive violations 481196913passing right under our nose? Don’t we remember the 2010 episode of a Florida stadium which as an ESPN report revealed, had more than 75 per cent food vendors violating the regulations? Think of insects inside a frozen yoghurt or milkshake, and you get the drift. Managing health violations at a super-large scale like FIFA is a different game altogether.

  • How does spending about $325 million in the Amazon ecosystem ensure that there are no untoward effects on an ecologically sensitive region which could vulnerable for cascading effects in future too. Or are Amazon rainforests used to all the neglect and exploitation by arrogant corporates and cock-eyed capitalists already?

  • Who will account for all the air travel (and hence the fuel guzzled and carbon spewed) that goes into organizing, prep-work flying, and administering an event of this scale, not to mention the incessant deluge of game tourists, sponsors and teams?

  • Brazil transport side could mean some 2.72 million metric tons of greenhouse gases as reported in The Nation. All thanks to internal travel in Brazil during the World Cup alone.

  • Estimated at around $3 Billion+  spending, many argue that it could have been used for better things in an impoverished Brazil.

  • Has the Brazil government devised ways or plans to sustain the expenses done now so that this does not turn out to be an utterly-wasteful expenditure and at the same time does not disrupt the environment brazenly while we move on to some other city for the next World Cup? An open-air prison, did someone say?

  • If all is good and smooth as FIFA PR mills are saying, then why so many Brazilians insisted on suspending the airing of government advertisements because they alleged these ads as “absurdly divorced from reality.”

  • Interesting graph: In 2008 as per a Datafolha poll, just the year after Brazil was picked as World Cup host, 79% of respondents came on the support slice, this year the number changed to 55% of respondents who rather stand on the side that the big fest will bring more harm than good to Brazilians.

  • If the Cup is indeed all inclusive and good for the denizens too, why do we spot banners like ‘ FIFA go home,” doodled on some pavement of Copacabana, a popular beachfront neighborhood.


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