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Sustainable development

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Sustainable development combatting the impact of climate change in snow sports
Pristine winter landscapes. Snow-capped mountains shining in the sun. Adrenaline from the perfect turn. Snow sports deliver great joy. Add the fresh air and other benefits of the outdoors and we have a recipe that draws millions to the mountains every winter. Not only is skiing the favourite pastime of many, snow sports are also a multi-billion Euro industry. A business that is presently under a severe threat.
Snow sports vulnerability
Climate change is one of the main global challenges. Scientists worldwide agree that the earth is becoming warmer, and that this change is man-made. More climate variation is expected in the future, including higher average temperatures, more dramatic weather and less natural snow cover. Among outdoor sports, snow sports are the most vulnerable due to their reliance on climate and the environment. Although variable across geographies, the long-term impact of global warming is projected to be significant. To an extent, the consequences for snow sports can be managed with the help of modern technologies and green innovations in snowmaking, snow storage and snow management. Meanwhile, it is critical that the snow sports industry plays a leading role in ensuring that future generations may continue to enjoy the great joy of snow sports.
FIS as a pioneer
In international sports, the Albertville 1992 Olympic Games are seen as the first major event that raised attention to the topic of sustainable development. Two years later, the 1994 Lillehammer Games are remembered as the first “Green Games.” That same year, the IOC inserted the environment as the third pillar of the Olympic Movement, alongside sport and culture. The International Ski Federation (FIS) was among the pioneers within the Olympic movement to ensure that proper care for the environment is part of its regulations. As early as 1994, it adopted the so-called “Mainau Manifesto.” This resolution was developed based on the Green Charter of the Mainau Island and supports the aims of sustainable development and the protection of nature and the environment for the benefit of humankind. It followed the calls of the Rio Earth Summit 1992 and, in 1998, resulted in FIS issuing environmental guidelines for the bidders of the FIS World Championships. These guidelines assign the organisers the responsibility to care for the environment as “the essential basis for the sustainability of the ski sport.”
What is sustainable sport?
The word sustainability is derived from the Latin sustinere that can mean “maintain” or “endure”. More recently, sustainability has come to denote human sustainability on planet Earth. The best-known definition of sustainable development is that of the 1987 Brundtland Commission, which defines it as development that “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” The current concept of sustainability extends beyond environmental considerations to include economic and social dimensions, also known as “planet”, “people” and “profit”. Someone even quipped that “sustainability is a triathlon: if you want to be a winner, you need to be good at all three disciplines.” The International Academy of Sports Science and Technology (AISTS) suggests that “sport is sustainable when it meets the needs of today’s sports community while contributing to the improvement of future sport opportunities for all and the improvement of the integrity of the natural and social environment on which it depends.” A sustainable sport event therefore manages to balance social equity, environmental integrity and economic efficiency.
Sustainability on the sports agenda
Recently, the importance of sustainability as a sports topic has dramatically grown. At the extraordinary IOC Session in Monaco in December 2014, sustainability became one of the three areas of focus – alongside credibility and youth – of the IOC’s new strategic roadmap, the Olympic Agenda 2020. The potential of sports to contribute to sustainable development has also been recognised by the United Nations. Sport was integrated in the 2030 UN Agenda for Sustainable Development and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted in 2015. They represent the first time that 193 countries agreed to a set of goals for steering global development. The IOC’s Olympic Agenda 2020 highlights the potential of sport to help achieve 11 of the SDGs. Fighting climate change and adapting to its impacts is one of the key UN SDGs. The Paris Climate Conference (COP 21) in December 2015 was a tipping point in terms of emission reduction. There, the world achieved a binding agreement to keep global warming below the threshold of 2 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels. The agreement holds great promise for the world community to walk the talk on a global scale.
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!
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