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

Both client and provider must invest in a long-term relationship to truly harness the potential of timely and specialist support.

While environmental requirements on companies – due diligence, transparency and performance progress – have increased over the last decade, environmental team sizes have rarely recovered from the contraction experienced during the recession. Beyond the sheer weight of the environmental workload, CR managers are increasingly finding that the diversity of skills needed to satisfy the requirements is rare to find contained solely within one team. Outsourcing some or all of the environmental functions is becoming more popular. But to be truly effective, long-term relationships are needed.

The sole “environment manager” within large corporates in the late 1990s – often tasked with an array of activities including health and safety, supply chain management, environmental management, social impact management, communications (if the company engaged in this), quality and community giving – began to be replaced in the early 2000s by a larger team, with more specialised roles.

Even so, the increasing external reporting requirements on large corporates – including the various rankings and the need to produce a complete CR report each year – effectively shut down progress on performance for around three months each year unless data collection and copywriting was outsourced, as well as verification. CDP, DJSI, FTSE4Good and GRI amongst others led to a fundamental shift by connecting the investment and fund bodies with environmental performance data. As reporting requirements became stringent – and a clearer picture of ‘best practice’ more prescribed – some companies struggled to keep up with the new imperatives, now with the additional impetus of potential investor sanctions. Additionally, stand-alone research pieces were commonly commissioned from consultancies, often focussed on a defined issue affecting strategy and frequently inspired by the latest ranking requirements.

Compliance and due diligence obligations also increased over this period, led initially by regulatory pressures and financial penalties, particularly in the US. Overall, outsourced support in this period tended to be piecemeal, with providers called on occasionally on a task-by-task-basis and changed frequently, without investment in a long-term relationship or a deep understanding of the company culture.

As reporting requirements became stringent – and a clearer picture of ‘best practice’ more prescribed – some companies struggled to keep up with the new imperatives,

The economic turmoil of the past decade saw environmental teams cut and a retrenchment in Government policy globally on green issues – but emerging from this came incentives for companies to promote their environmental and social credentials directly – particularly to a new generation more interested in social value, hungry for transparency and well acquainted with the new tools with which that need could be satisfied.

What does this mean for today and the future? Certainly, we can expect that the need for transparency will continue to play a stronger role in environmental progress than compliance alone. For a generation well-schooled in sustainability matters and sceptical of regulatory effectiveness, environmental performance inherently includes aspects of social value, well-being, and value chain impacts.

The skill sets required to deliver this change are becoming more complex requiring a mixture of change management, data analysis, strategic insight, in-depth and targeted two way communications, and operational management. The reporting calendar is still a huge influence, meaning different skills sets continue to be emphasised at different times of the year.

Outsourced environmental teams can provide the right kind of technical support for the time of the year, and give a pool of specialist skills to be dipped in to when necessary. To truly harness the power of an outsourced team – to truly have a ‘team’ – the provider needs to be able to invest in a long-term relationship with the client and become well-versed in the company culture, with their own internal network. Only then can they work semiautonomously, and ensure their work becomes business-as-usual within the client company rather than the dreaded report-gathering-dust-on-a-shelf.

Conclusion

Outsourcing isn’t for everyone and shouldn’t be seen as a panacea to achieve higher rankings scores and deliver better results – the outsourced parties still need to work within the bounds of the strategic direction that can ultimately only be set by the company. If a company is willing to invest in a long-term relationship and truly immerses the provider within the day-today running, an outsourced team can become an invaluable pool of insight and workforce in the face of shifting priorities and constrained resources.