Is World Cup fever giving our planet a headache?


The FIFA World Cup in the biggest single-sport competition across the globe, taking years of planning and more often than not, massive infrastructure changes across the host nation. In return for their efforts, hosts see substantial economic benefits such as profits from tourism, hospitality, and retail boosting local economies.  The overall impact and sustainable development is more difficult to track than economics and although every 4 years FIFA certainly make this part of their plan, just how sustainable will Russia 2018 turn out to be?

The FIFA World Cup is a great opportunity to promote a responsible attitude towards the environment.  FIFA has previously demonstrated its commitment to sustainability and environmental protection, with their first efforts to address environmental impact for the 2006 World Cup in Germany, where plans for reducing carbon footprints were launched.

The 2014 World Cup in Brazil was named “Copa Verde” - the Green World Cup, but was also heavily criticized for being environmentally unsustainable.  Brazil’s underdeveloped transport system meant that the smooth running of the Cup was reliant on extensive use of private vehicles, creating a massive carbon footprint, which meant their sustainability efforts on green building certifications, recycling and water conservation went a bit by the wayside.

Its clear improvements need to be made and this year FIFA set the following goals as part of their Sustainability Strategy;

  • Ensure efficient FWC-related energy and carbon management
  • Minimise the environmental impact of FWC-related transport
  • Ensure the compliance of FWC stadia with green-building standards

Carbon Offsetting

Emphasised by the case study of Brazil 2014, Carbon footprint needs to be a key sustainability consideration with any major sporting event and with FIFA being the first sporting body to sign up to the UN’s Climate Neutral Now scheme, targeting emissions neutrality by 2050, good intentions are in the air!

For the 2018 Russian event, FIFA estimated that “during preparation for this year’s tournament and throughout its duration, 2.17m tonnes of greenhouse gas emission will be emitted, down from 2.72m tonnes as recorded in Brazil”.

With air travel expected to account for 57% of the event’s total emissions, for each ticket holder opting into the initiative on its website, FIFA will offset 2.9 tonnes of carbon dioxide, estimated to cover the emissions associated with an average ticket holder travelling to Russia from abroad.  This is the first time an initiative of this kind has been implemented and will go some way to help FIFA meet their sustainability goals, as it strives to align itself with the Paris Agreement.

Unlike Brazil, Russia does have a robust public transportation system and are using this to their advantage to help reduce the carbon footprint; fans have been invited to use the public transport system for free when travelling to and from the host cities of the competition. The Russian Railway have scheduled additional trains to carry passengers between the 11 host cities and are making it easy for fans to book online for free via a website.  The 2017 Confederations Cup proved to be a good opportunity to practice a dry run, with approximately 63,000 tickets being successfully claimed by fans.


Sustainable Stadia

Russia is famously not one for renewable energy, with just 3.6% of electricity in the country coming from renewable sources last year.  So, no one was really surprised to hear that no investment was made into renewable systems such as solar PV and that none of the 12 stadia being used for the tournament has onsite renewable installations.  

Despite their disregard for renewable energy, all of the venues have undergone a standards certification process for sustainable buildings, either through the new Russian certification or through the BREEAM international certification.  Each venue has been designed to minimise the need for artificial lighting by allowing as much natural daylight in as possible and rainwater harvesting systems have been installed at the stadia in Saransk, Kaliningrad and Rostov-on-Don. Controversy remains though as Russian activist’s protest that some stadia have been built at the expense of the natural environment; the Kaliningrad Stadium has reportedly been built on top of one of the area's last wetlands.

The most sustainable venues for sporting events like the World Cup will be the ones that are well used for years to come, avoiding the “White Elephant” scenarios of South Africa and Brazil who are still struggling to manage World Cup stadia from 2010 and 2014.  Four cities in Brazil have underused stadia such as the Mare Garrincha in Brasilia, which recently drew only 400 spectators to a match. FIFA reports that efforts have been made to ensure the stadia are well used in the future and don’t become forgotten about constructions after the World Cup has passed.   Building their stadia in line with green standards reduces their impact on the environment but also determines their future use, so we should see well-utilised venues for years to come.  However, we still await an explanation as to how FIFA will measure this goal.  Will we ever know how their long-term sustainability aims regarding the built environment are met?

Although FIFA continues to make improvements and move in the right direction, the environmental agenda at the World Cup continues to play second fiddle in favour of political and economic opportunities.  Looking ahead to the 2022 Qatar World Cup it’s clear more needs to be done by FIFA, in partnership with relevant local governments, to capitalise on opportunities to incorporate sustainability into every aspect of its decision-making.

P.S It’s coming home!

Ruth Prescott - Associate Director *no longer works for the company*

I have a First Class Honours Degree in BSc Environmental Biogeoscience and 4 years consultancy experience with Hyder Consulting. I joined the Mattinson Partnership team in 2011 to head up our environment desk and now support our Director David with the management and growth of our recruitment teams in London and Glasgow.

I kicked off my consultancy career with 2 years on the London 2012 Olympic site working as the Enabling Works CEEQUAL assessor, before signing up for a secondment to Crossrail. I also had an EIA coordination role, coordinating technical inputs from the environmental disciplines that I now recruit for; Ecology, Air Quality, Acoustics, Archaeology and Contaminated Land. My key achievements in consultancy were winning Hyder’s Graduate of the Year award and flying to visit colleagues in Australia as part of my prize.

As an active member of the Butterfly Conservation and the South London Botanical Institute, I’m passionate about nature. I love travelling to new places and experiencing different environments and, my ultimate favourite thing is scuba diving. I completed the London Marathon in 2015 and try to keep up with the running, but that’s really so I can enjoy as many of London’s culinary delights as possible!

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