Striving for World Cup “green” goals
This year's wildly anticipated 19th Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA; Zurich, Switzerland) World Cup – set to begin in South Africa on June 11 – marks the first time that an African nation will host this premier international soccer tournament. During the month-long event, the national teams of 32 countries will compete in nine host cities, with half a million fans expected to attend from all corners of the globe.
Organizers hope that the hefty carbon price tag of this mega-event – an estimated 2.75 million metric tons of emissions – can be lowered by “green” activities, such as planting thousands of trees, conducting waste reduction, water conservation, and recycling campaigns, improving public transportation, and educating the public about environmental sustainability.
The greening of the FIFA World Cup made headlines during the 2006 tournament, when host country Germany was applauded for achieving carbon-neutral status for the first time in the history of the event. The “Green Goal” initiative in Germany included the use of rainwater tanks, reusable cups in public areas, combination tickets to encourage public transport, and eco-electricity, to lessen the environmental impact of one of the most popular sporting events in the world. Excess carbon emissions from the German event (estimated to be around 90 000 metric tons, according to a press release issued by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, and Nuclear Safety [Berlin]) were offset by financial contributions to environmental projects in South Africa and India.
South African organizers face an even bigger challenge: according to a 2009 study – Feasibility study for a carbon neutral 2010 FIFA World Cup – this year's World Cup will have “the largest carbon footprint of any major event with a goal to be ‘climate-neutral’, in large part because South Africa relies primarily on coal-generated electricity. The study estimates that the event will directly produce over 896 000 metric tons of carbon emissions – more than eight times as much as the German 2006 World Cup – with an additional 1 857 000 metric tons produced as a result of international travel, due to the long journeys teams and fans must make to reach the southern tip of Africa.
Despite some criticism, Lorraine Gerrans, Manager for Green Goal 2010 for the City of Cape Town, explains that her organization has made progress. “As Green Goal 2010 is the first program of its kind in Cape Town and South Africa. It is, in effect, generating the baseline data for future greening programs in Cape Town; this is why much importance is placed on our environmental monitoring, measuring, and reporting framework for the World Cup.”
Many are choosing to help. More than half of the qualifying countries have committed or pledged to offset emissions traveling to and from South Africa, and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP; Nairobi, Kenya) is encouraging fans to offset their emissions as well.
UNEP, with funding from the Global Environment Facility (GEF; Washington, DC), will help install solar-powered and energy-efficient street lamps, traffic lights, and billboards in several South African cities. And GEF's “Green Passport” will provide visitors with tips on how to travel sustainably. Monique Barbut, Chairperson and CEO of the GEF, says, “The World Cup represents a great opportunity to showcase innovative ways to reduce our carbon footprint, through sustainable transport and other energy-efficient projects that will have lasting impacts for the South African people, long after the last goal is scored. International initiatives like the Green Passport program are an important step toward generating clean and efficient energy choices across Africa and the developing world.”
Corporations are making voluntary efforts as well. Nike recently announced that the nine participating national teams that it sponsors will be wearing the most environmentally friendly jerseys in the history of soccer. Each jersey is made entirely from recycled polyester, produced from recycled plastic bottles – a move that prevented almost 13 million plastic bottles from entering landfill sites in Japan and Taiwan. Meanwhile, the Coca-Cola Company, in partnership with FIFA and the South African Department of Education, expanded a recycling education program to 200 schools nationwide and awarded 20 000 World Cup tickets to the winners of a competition to collect bottles and cans.
“The FIFA World Cup has worldwide acclaim and credibility”, continues Gerrans. “If such a tournament truly commits to sustainability, fundamentally shifts its founding philosophy, and communicates this in an effective manner that appeals to its participants and global audience, people will take notice. The transferral of environmental consciousness would grow cumulatively as sustainability principles become the norm. This is the intention behind Green Goal, and our program represents a positive step forward for the mainstreaming of ‘green’ principles and the furthering of sustainable progress in South Africa.”