Sports promoting sustainable development
Numerous sports organisations have introduced measures to promote sustainable development and to measure, manage and mitigate climate impact. The London 2012 Olympic Summer Games truly moved the dial and have been hailed as the most sustainable Games in history. The ambitious London 2012 sustainability program included measuring the carbon footprint over the entire project term, implementing a waste strategy to achieve zero Games-time waste to landfill and delivering a public transport Games. In 2016, following a significant carbon footprint reduction programme at the FIFA World Cup 2014, FIFA became the first international sports organisation to join the UN initiative “Climate Neutral Now.” The UEFA Euro 2016 Championships saw the delivery of a comprehensive sustainability programme that will serve as a model for future Euro events. Several other sports have followed suit, including equestrian and sailing. The International Equestrian Federation established a sustainability policy already in 2014 while World Sailing set up a Sustainability Commission and created the role of a Sustainability Programme Manager as recently as in March 2017. In winter sport, FIS and the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) are just two international winter sport federations to have issued Green Guides to help their organisers consider sustainability in event organisation. These guidelines present checklists, examples and links in areas such as transportation, waste and management, procurement and social inclusion. As part of Agenda 2020, the IOC adopted a new sustainability strategy in December 2016. This strategy will push the boundaries within the IOC itself, within the Games, and within the Olympic movement including the international federations and the national Olympic committees. Concerning the Games, the IOC yields contractual power to push the organisers of the upcoming Olympics.
Threat to the business
Undeniably, climate change is the greatest environmental concern for mountain communities, and a number of ski resorts have chosen to tackle it head on. Some have implemented comprehensive sustainability programmes featuring fleets of hybrid or electric ski buses and low-energy snow-making systems. Others focus on providing environment-friendly transport to and from the resort (known as the main source of emissions in ski sports!), reducing and recycling waste, and managing their supply chain. A number of labelling schemes, such as French Flocon Vert, have emerged to communicate these efforts to the consumers to enable informed decision-making. At the national level, the US National Ski Areas Association established its environmental charter called Sustainable Slopes in 2000 which has grown year-on-year. One of the leading US resort companies, Vail Resorts, just announced an aggressive sustainability commitment called “Epic Promise for a Zero Footprint” that commits it to zero net operating footprint by 2030. Major initiatives have been driven by other ski industry businesses, too, such as Patagonia that is known as the conscience of the outdoor industry, forsaking profits to do the right thing. An example of leadership by a ski event organiser is the resort of Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows that hosted the first carbon neutral FIS Ski World Cup event in history. Its event footprint ‒ measured at 400 metric tons of carbon dioxide – will be offset over 16 years by a local solar installation providing clean power to lifts and facilities at Squaw Valley. In equally innovative fashion, the upcoming FIS Alpine World Ski Championships 2019 in Åre, Sweden, together with the 2019 Biathlon World Championships in neighbouring Östersund, have joined forces with local and regional governments, transport and energy services providers to stage the first ever fossil-fuel free championships.
Power of sport and people
The greatest opportunity for sports to impact change, however, is likely its role in helping rally public support. Through the power to touch people emotionally, sport is uniquely qualified to act as a change agent. Behavioural change is what the COP 21 goals need most. Behavioural change through sport comes about through events and athletes serving as role models for enthusiastic fans. Especially the star athlete ambassadors have the capacity to directly inspire their fans. Protect Our Winters (POW), a US-based advocacy organisation with operations in half a dozen countries, operates on this premise. Its POWRiders Alliance empowers snow sport athletes to lead by example, speak up for their beliefs and help create a social movement to combat climate change. Sport and Sustainability International is another recently established advocacy organisation that works to establish sustainability as a key business principle throughout the global sports industry. In the final analysis, however, positive change may depend on the global skiers themselves to demand that ski resorts, snow sport businesses and sport organisations engage in progressive, sustainable operational practices and contribute to changing climate policy. So, the ball is in our very own court – let’s all work together to keep winters cool and the powder deep!