Football’s World Cup is about to start again, hosted this time by twelve stadiums in Russia. Like any mega-event, there will be environmental impacts from transport, accommodation, broadcasting, and custom-built infrastructure to cope with extreme but short-term demands.

Football’s World Cup is about to start again, hosted this time by twelve stadiums in Russia. Like any mega-event, there will be environmental impacts from transport, accommodation, broadcasting, and custom-built infrastructure to cope with extreme but short-term demands.

For people who work towards sustainability goals, it’s an important concern. So, let’s celebrate the mega-events that prove their legacies hold more opportunities than threats.

Olympic Games, London 2012

London literally set the standard for sustainable events: it was the catalyst for ISO 20121:2012, the standard for event sustainability management systems. The organising committee, the Olympic Delivery Authority, and some event sites were certified to the new standard, which helped to ensure greener choices were made in, for example, transport, construction techniques, and choices of materials. The social legacy is mixed, but at least facilities like the aquatics centre are still being used.

FIFA World Cup, Brazil 2014

Brazil’s Local Organising Committee required all the tournament’s direct greenhouse gas emissions to be offset through the Clean Development Mechanism, funding emission reduction projects. That was around 545,000 tons of carbon equivalent, or 220,000 Brazilians’ emissions for a year. They also promoted social development with locally-sourced equipment, as well as the Football for Hope festival aiming to improve the lives and prospects of young people around the world.

Eurovision Song Contest, Vienna 2015

Other Eurovision hosts, like Malmo and Copenhagen, have tried to use the event to drive sustainable development, but Vienna decided to use existing infrastructure, bringing together transport planning, utilities management, and behavioural leadership to control and minimise environmental impacts. Its ridiculously comprehensive sustainability report documents some impressive achievements, like reusing or recycling almost all stage material, running on 100% renewable electricity, and the average visitor at the event venues producing just 74g of non-recyclable waste.

Most food or drink was served in reusable containers, and visitors were encouraged to put their recyclable waste into the right bins. Image: Reuters/L. Foeger

Strategies for sustainability

To achieve sustainability targets, every mega-event needs to carefully tailor its approach to make sure it is right for its time and place, but here are some guidelines:

  • Implement an event sustainability management system that complies with ISO 20121. A structured and effective approach brings credibility with regulators, business partners, and the industry (the same way that compliance with standards like ISO 14001 does).
  • Use event sites with certified high energy or environmental performance. Venues with low energy use and low water consumption reduce costs and emissions.
  • Engage the local community: Co-operating with different community groups as well as planners, developers, and service providers will make sure the organisers have support where they need it. This is highlighted by the example of what happens when the local community is not involved: city bids for Olympic games being rejected by the public, as has happened in Innsbruck, Hamburg, and Budapest.Sustainable Mega Events