In early October 2009, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) conducted its 121st Session in Copenhagen. Among its most important decisions was the selection of the site of the 2016 Olympic Games, choosing Rio de Janeiro over Chicago, Madrid, and Tokyo.
Two months later, Copenhagen played host to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, bringing together many of the world’s most important political leaders whose agenda included finding ways to minimize the impact of global warming and greenhouse-gas emissions.
Two important meetings in the Danish capital, two months apart. Related? Seemingly not, but in reality, they are inextricably tied.
It is increasingly clear that sport organisations cannot deny or avoid the importance of the preservation of the environment when public authorities and non-governmental organisations use the visibility of major sport events to transmit powerful messages about sustainability and conservation.
Environmental issues occupy an increasingly important role in the sports world, and in the future, the convergence is likely to become more significant for sport organisations that conduct events, as well as for cities that host them. In part, this is based upon the reliance on public funds to provide the financial resources necessary to conduct major events, as well as the prevalence of “Green” political parties in Europe and elsewhere. Without question, there is significant environmental impact in staging events, including consumption of resources that impact air and water quality.
The Olympic perspective on “going green”
The IOC has provided leadership and commitment for almost two decades, defining the environment as the third dimension of Olympism, along with sport and culture. In 1994, the Olympic Charter was amended to recognize the critical importance of the environment and sustainable development, and one year later, it established a Sport and Environment Commission to monitor and guide the effort. Simultaneously, it encouraged National Olympic Committees to do likewise.
The bidding procedure for Olympic Games – Summer, Winter, and Youth – also has been modified during this time frame to reflect the importance of environmental issues. For applicant cities in the first phase, there is a section of the bid document that must address “Environmental Conditions and Impact,” asking cities to assess the environmental impact of hosting the Games, as well as to provide detail about current environmental initiatives and projects.
For cities selected to participate in the “candidate” phase, one of the themes is “Environment and Meteorology,” in which cities are asked to provide considerable detail on environmental management systems, assessment of environmental impact of construction projects, and integration of environmental protection systems into various vendor and supplier contracts.
While it is difficult to pinpoint with precision the first major event which incorporated green initiatives as a critical element in both event bidding and organisation, the Sydney Olympic Games is a primary example of successful integration of sport and social consciousness. The Australian Olympic Committee presented a compelling plan to reclaim a toxic wasteland outside the city as the main site of Olympic competition, and this strategy provided a competitive advantage over other bidding cities. The Games served as the catalyst in regenerating the Homebush Bay area, by providing park land, residential areas, and a major center for sport and recreational activity.
Although the Sydney Games were less than ten years ago, there has been remarkable progress in articulating and highlighting environmental sustainability on many fronts.
Clear trends in the bidding process
Event rights holders, at all levels, are requesting formalized and binding commitments in bid documents from prospective host cities, demonstrating evidence of environmental consciousness. The level of sophistication and complexity varies widely at this time, but there are some clear trends emerging:
- Bid committees are providing creative solutions which reflect and reinforce public policy in their city, region, or country.
- Bids that provide environmental solutions that transcend the timeframe of the event are highly preferred.
- There is considerable transfer of knowledge among host cities that has provided impetus to innovation and technological advancement.
- Because of the high visibility of major events, it is possible to encourage adoption of new standards, regulations, or codes in host cities, regions, or countries that otherwise might not occur.
- The youth audience is an increasingly important target market for events at all levels, and sustainable environmental practices are widely supported by young constituencies worldwide.
Corporate sponsors are realising the benefits
Corporate sponsors can participate and derive benefit in events that are environmentally-friendly, showing social responsibility while simultaneously promoting their product or service. Being perceived as a “good corporate citizen” is highly desirable and can enhance the value of their investment. Sponsors are becoming more focused, as evidenced by the following:
- There is increasingly direct sponsor linkage with projects that are environmentally sound and show concern for the welfare of the community.
- Connectivity to spectators and fans through participatory activities is highly valued.
- Benefit to sponsors can be extended well beyond the event itself, providing residual impact.
- Opportunities to channel resources to education, particularly to youth and young adults, are mutually beneficial to the event, its spectators, and to the sponsor.
Coca-Cola, the longest continuous sponsor of the Olympic Games, has put forward an ambitious programme of activity for the Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver. Significantly, it was created after extensive consultation with World Wildlife Fund – Canada and the David Suzuki Foundation, and it sets goals of 100% collection of all PET (PolyEthylene Terephthalate, or clear polyester) containers in the Olympic Village and the venues during the Games, as well as 100% reduction in Olympic carbon emissions. This effort establishes a high degree of social responsibility which is expected to resonate with its target markets.
London 2012’s successful “green” integration
The London Olympic Games have embarked upon an ambitious and wide-ranging environmental programme which is likely to serve as a model for international sport organisations, bid cities, and event hosts. The organising committee put sustainability at the heart of its bid, using the tagline “One Planet 2012”, which was derived from the World Wildlife Fund/BioRegional programme called “One Planet Living”.
London’s vision focuses on five main areas throughout the various phases of the Games, from it successful bid in 2005 to the competition in 2012, including the following:
- Initiatives that address issues of climate change
- Policies that provide reduction of waste
- Enhancement of biodiversity
- Promotion of inclusion of persons of all races, religions, and cultures
- Encouragement of healthy lifestyles characterized by regular physical activity
The emphasis on environmental sustainability will undoubtedly be more critical in the years to come, and the heightened levels of accountability for sport organisations and events mirrors the increased level of interest and urgency that has emerged in political contexts worldwide. Technical advice and individualized programmes that meet specific community needs will have high value, and sparked by the ambitious programmes in Vancouver and London, the bar will be raised considerably. The crossover of expertise from the political world to the sport world will necessitate innovative, technical solutions that will, undoubtedly, increase the value and influence of sport.