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Green Shoots

Sport is increasingly adopting environmentally sustainable practices. Tom Walker looks at how sport can be used to promote environmental awareness and social and economic development.

by Tom Walker, Leisure Media | Published in Sports Management 2014 issue 4
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The London 2012 Games created an entirely new, modern district in East London / PIC: ©www.shutterstock/ Ron Ellis
The London 2012 Games created an entirely new, modern district in East London/ PIC: ©www.shutterstock/ Ron Ellis

Major sporting events have shown their potential to be catalysts for the creation of sustainable, healthy environments and economies. The London 2012 Olympic Games changed the landscape of a previously dilapidated part of the capital, creating a brand new environmentally-friendly neighbourhood in east London with world class leisure facilities, 2,800 new homes and an urban park.

This year’s FIFA World Cup in Brazil was widely credited as the “greenest” in history. Crucially, the tournament provided an impetus for positive change beyond the competition, as the Brazilian public embraced initiatives such as the Green Passport – published and distributed to all fans – and its message of adopting ecologically-friendly practices in everyday life. As a direct result of the change in public attitudes and the widened environmental awareness facilitated by the World Cup, the Brazilian government passed a new waste management law to better regulate recycling in the country.

It’s not only major events, however, which can deliver lasting, positive change to their surroundings. The spaces needed for sport have an impact on the natural world. Stadium construction projects, venue operations and even the building and running of local sport pitches change landscapes and have an impact on habitats. Those responsible for building and operating sport infrastructure have an opportunity to make a positive impact on their environments and communities.

According to Russell Seymour, chair of the British Association for Sustainable Sport (BASIS), interest in making venues more sustainable has increased rapidly in the past decade. He says, however, that there remains fragmentation in the way green issues are approached. “There are now a number of professional clubs and venues which have really embraced the idea of being environmentally friendly – and the same goes for community sport,” Seymour says. “It's still, however, a case of having great but isolated examples of good practice. Even within venues it's sometimes a case of picking and choosing certain aspects of environmentally-friendly operations, while ignoring others.”

GREEN DESIGNS
When sustainability is incorporated at the very core of stadium development, the end results can be impressive. In 2007 the city of Incheon in South Korea was selected to host the 2014 Asian Games and was faced with a need to build a main stadium for the event. From the outset, the Incheon City Government made sustainability a primary requirement. It wanted a venue that would deliver a memorable games but also provide a lasting legacy for the city.

Architects Populous took up the challenge and came up with the innovative design solution of having only one permanent stand. Rather than building a 60,000-capacity stadium and then shrinking it down to 30,000 for the legacy mode, Populous came up with a vision of creating a multi-purpose, 30,000-capacity stadium and adding 30,000 temporary seats for the Asian Games. Perhaps the most revolutionary aspect of the stadium is that the entire added capacity was on one side of the playing field – meaning that in legacy mode the venue will be reduced down to a single sided-grandstand. The temporary East stand will be removed and replaced by community parkland which will be contoured around the football pitch.

Sarah Ciuffetelli, communications manager at Populous’ Brisbane office, says the design offers a number of advantages when it comes to delivering a sustainable legacy. “Firstly, the design financially reduced the building by two-thirds, meaning there are substantial savings in operational and maintenance costs. The management only has to deal with one permanent stand and the maintenance costs were cut in half once the temporary stands were gone. The space created by removing the temporary seating also allows these areas to be used for other things – in Incheon’s case, a green community park.

“Secondly, from a fan experience perspective, only having one permanent stand meant we were able to move the field of play right up to the action on the western side and to site the permanent seats in the optimal position for sport.”

As well as the sustainable design, the Incheon stadium boasts impressive energy-saving solutions which offer direct savings to the venue’s operator, Incheon Main Stadium Department (IMSD). The main energy-generating infrastructure is the solar panels which have been installed on the roof of the West stand. 238kW panels generate power for the internal lighting, while 135kW solar panels generate power to heat water for the shower rooms. In addition, rainwater is harvested and used for the irrigation of the parkland. IMSD expects to save around US$600,000 a year in energy costs as a result.

ADVOCACY LEADS TO ACTION
While green stadium design will ensure sustainability at new venues, improving environmental practices at existing stadiums is an ongoing challenge. Re-evaluating procedures and upgrading hardware is paramount – not least due to constant technological advances in the field of energy-saving – but in most cases, significant cost savings and notable environmental benefits can be achieved without large-scale investments or infrastructural changes. One of the ways to ensure success is advocacy and the involvement of all stakeholders and staff.

Great examples
A great example of this is English Premier League club Arsenal FC, which achieved great results by concentrating on one single aspect of its operations – waste. By the end of the 2011-12 season, events waste at the club’s Emirates Stadium in north London was approximately eight tonnes per day – of which only around 25 per cent was recycled. The club set itself a target of recycling 50 per cent of its refuse, while making savings in its waste handling operations.

The club involved a number of stakeholders in the process, including catering, cleaning and waste contractors. Following consultations, it was decided that separating organic waste would have the greatest impact and a number of simple yet effective steps were taken to achieve it. Food waste bins were put into all the kitchens throughout the 60,000-capacity stadium’s concourses and all catering and cleaning staff were instructed regarding the new system. To encourage participation, the club enrolled the help of the Arsenal In The Community department to spread the word about what was required of those delivering and handling the waste.

Through effective employee engagement, raising awareness and management there was a dramatic increase in recycling rates. By the end of the 2012-13 season the club was recycling a remarkable 78 per cent of its total waste – surpassing all expectations and targets. There was also a notable reduction in waste removal and processing costs.

Another example of gaining results through advocacy is the success of the National Hockey League (NHL) in the US. Since 2010, the league has coordinated and focused all environmental efforts by its 30 clubs under one umbrella. The impressive results achieved in the past four years were revealed in the recent 2014 NHL Sustainability Report – the first document of its kind produced by a major sports league in North America.

A marquee figure of the report – and in all likelihood a sporting first – is the disclosure of the league’s overall, collective carbon footprint. This takes into account league and club business activities and travel for 182 game days, 1,230 regular-season games, more than 60 play-off contests and nearly two million miles of team air travel per season. The total footprint is approximately 530,000 metric tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year, with the league referencing the 23 million metric tons emitted annually from the single largest coal power plant in the US by way of comparison.

The motive behind putting a figure on total carbon spend is best explained by Allen Hershkowitz, the head of sports programmes at the US-based Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). Hershkowitz describes the work achieved by the NHL as remarkable and adds that having such a concrete figure will help future green initiatives, as it can be used as a tool to inspire fans and partners to commit to environmental stewardship.

“The 2014 NHL Sustainability Report is arguably the most important statement about the environment ever issued by a professional sports league,” Hershkowitz says. “The report's focus on controlling fossil-fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions is a mainstream wake-up call that climate disruption poses an existential threat to everything we hold dear, including sports and recreation.”

COMMUNITY MATTERS
While initiatives by large-scale venues and sports organisations can make significant differences to the environment, it’s also important to highlight what can be achieved at community level. At a time when public funding is scarce and energy costs are rising, amateur clubs and grassroots operators are increasingly looking to reduce outlays to a minimum. Poppleton Tigers, a community club in York, UK, undertook a study to appraise the most practical renewable energy solutions for its clubhouse in terms of energy savings and environmental benefits. Wind turbines, solar panels and biomass heating were all assessed and following the study the club decided to invest in the creation of wind-powered energy. The chosen product, an Evance R9000 5kW turbine, now generates 10,000kWh per year – saving the club £1,300. As an added plus, the wind turbine acts as a marketing tool – a visual demonstration of the club’s commitment to sustainable energy.

Val Duggan, secretary of Poppleton Tigers, says the turbine has made a big difference. “We wanted a renewable energy source to both save CO2 emissions and help with the ever increasing energy bills,” Duggan says. “The turbine was installed with financial support from the Community Sustainable Energy Programme and the FA. We all get a buzz seeing it turning, knowing we’re producing green energy and saving more than four tonnes of carbon emissions annually. We’ve got 25 active teams, so have around 750 visitors a week of all ages. The turbine provides a fantastic sustainable energy learning resource for all of them.”

For Seymour, this is a great example of what can be achieved at grassroots level if clubs can create conviction and a desire to do the right thing among members.

“If you have individuals who are passionate about the environment and sustainability, they’ll often create and drive the efforts through the first stages,” he says. “There also has to be a business case behind any measures – if something isn’t viable then it’s obvious it won’t get done. Ultimately though, to make an environmental pledge or action work and for it to achieve its targets, there also has to be a philosophy behind it.

“If people within an organisation buy into the idea they’re doing the right thing, rather than something they ‘have to do’, it’s much more likely to get results.”

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