It is a year of huge sporting events – Euro 2016, the Rio Olympics, Wimbledon and the 2016 Open Championships, to name a few.
Along with the excitement and anticipation surrounding these events comes a serious waste issue. This week we brought together nine experts to debate how to improve sport's environmental footprint. Here’s what we learned.
1. Tackling food waste
When you look at the footprints of sporting events, food is a significant part of the impact
These are the words of Ronan Leyden, head of sustainable places at Bioregional, who spent four years on site in the run-up to the London 2012 Olympics advising on sustainable construction and waste management.
Tackling food waste is critical to improving sporting events’ environmental performance. This means preventing waste from the outset through initiatives such as menu design and smaller portions, and dealing effectively with the waste that is created.
According to Leyden, London 2012 faced big challenges with cross-contamination (people putting non-degradable items in with the food waste), highlighting the importance of consumer messaging and behaviour change.
2. Maybe we shouldn’t sell burgers in the first place
Patrick Hermon, director of UK/EU operations at eTool, believes it’s key to consider issues such as food waste in relation to other environmental impacts and prioritise them accordingly:
To attend a sporting event will typically consume 2-6kg CO2. This jumps up by 2kg or so if you drive 20km to get there, and another 2kg if you eat a burger. If that burger is composted you could save a few grams, which is great, but the bigger picture is that there are other areas that require more attention, such as selling the burger in the first place
3. Designing out waste
Russell Seymour, founder and chair of the British Association for Sustainable Sport, highlighted a fundamental issue about the failure to integrate sustainability at sports venues:
Often the sustainability team ... is there to ‘tidy up’ after the mess has been made. Clearly this leads to a question around integrating sustainability into the whole business but unless you are starting from a clean sheet (such as the Olympic Games or Euro 2016) you are dealing with years of legacy
The panel offered examples of ways in which sports venues have managed to integrate sustainability more holistically, from recycled signage at Euro 2016 to minimised branding on items that could be used at future events.
4. It’s about involving everyone
From city authorities to businesses, sport’s waste problem needs the involvement of many organisations. It is, for example, crucial the host cities of sporting events have the infrastructure and capacity to cope with the additional waste volumes they receive, said David Stubbs, who led the sustainability programme of the London 2012 Olympics. “If [they don’t] you would be recycling in a vacuum,” he added.
At the Rio Games, Tania Braga, Rio 2016’s head of sustainability, says they are working closely with local co-operatives (including Recicla Rio and Febracom), which have been hired to oversee the recycling logistics. Members of these co-ops will be present at the Games to educate spectators about the importance of recycling and, in addition to being paid for their services, they will receive the profits from selling on the materials that can be recycled.
5. Forget sustainability lectures
The last thing fans want at a football match is a half-time ad telling them to recycle or to switch to low energy lightbulbs, said Rachael Smith, purpose director at Fuse Sport and Entertainment.
Stubbs agreed, pointing out that the London 2012 team was aware they should avoid giving spectators “a sustainability lecture” while they were trying to enjoy themselves, so they looked at ways to embed sustainability throughout visitors’ time at the Games, from travel arrangements to natural landscaping.
Nick Roberts, a sustainability consultant who developed the first student sport engagement programme in association with the University of Gloucestershire, said that while sports fans might not want to see an advert for switching the lights off, athletes have the ability to inspire amateur athletes to change their behaviour if there is a potential performance benefit:
Does Mo Farah really eat Quorn? Has he inspired other long distance runners to switch away from red meat? Do those amateurs care that there is an environmental saving from this [as long as] they think their half marathon times are improving?
6. Building to last ... or to dismantle
A sports venue needs to be designed with the end goal in mind, said Hermon:
If the event is likely to be temporary the stadium needs to be designed with deconstruction in mind so that the materials can be re-used directly on other building projects. If it is permanent the stadium needs to be able to adapt to future demand increases/decreases so that it is never more viable to knock down and rebuild
Braga added that having the designs of the post-event building available at the outset can maximise material re-use. The Rio Games team, for example, has designed the Future Arena with the four state schools that will receive the materials after the arena is dismantled.
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