Sport and the Environment

By Falt, Eric | Environmental Health Perspectives, May 2006 | Go to article overview

Sport and the Environment


Falt, Eric, Environmental Health Perspectives


Pick up any newspaper or magazine these days and there will most likely be a prominent story about the environment and its relation to human health, well-being, or economic security. It seems that environmental sensitivity is moving from the fringe to center stage. No better confirmation can be found for this than the adoption of sustainability principles by major businesses. Bracketing those articles on the environment are full-page advertisements by energy companies and car manufacturers declaring their environmental credentials. "What's good for the environment is good for the bottom line" is an increasingly common sentiment in the business community.

That quote could be attributable to any number of a new breed of environmentally conscious chief executive officers. In fact it is from Jack Groh, environment program director for the National Football League (NFL Enterprises 2006). The NFL is, of course, among United States' most successful and high-profile corporate entities. Known both for its hard-nosed business acumen off the field, as well as the hard-hitting action on it, the NFL is one of a growing list of converts from the world of sport to a school of thought that incorporates environmental responsibility into the business model.

Increasingly, organizers of major environmental events are factoring the environment into their planning--and their publicity. According to the NFL (Anderson 2006), this year's Super Bowl was carbon-neutral for the second year running. A tree planting campaign, in partnership with local groups such as the Boy Scouts, was designed to offset an anticipated 260 tons of carbon emissions generated by the event. Across the Atlantic, in the city of Torino, Italy, a similar initiative to reduce and offset carbon emissions featured as part of a rift of environmental components that formed an integral part of the XX Olympic Winter Games.

Teaming up with the world of sport has long been a priority for the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Tasked by the UN General Assembly to "provide leadership and encourage partnership in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing and enabling nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations" (UNEP 2006), UNEP formed an alliance with the Olympic Movement back in 1994. As a member of the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) Commission on Sport and the Environment, UNEP advises the IOC Executive Board on environment-related policy and, increasingly, works with bidding cities to refine the environmental component of their bids, monitor how well they have followed through on commitments, and help them raise environmental awareness during the events themselves (UNEP 2004).

The Torino Winter Olympics is probably the best example yet of a sport-environment collaboration that UNEP feels has significant promise in helping to further embed green principles throughout society. The organizing committee's sustainability report (TOROC 2006b) demonstrates a detailed understanding of the environmental implications of staging a large-scale sporting event. It also shows the organizers' commitment to integrating the principles of sustainability into all aspects of planning the Games. As well as the Heritage Climate Torino (HECTOR) project for making the games climate neutral (TOROC 2006a), the organizers implemented green procurement policies, reduced energy and water consumption, and monitored a wide range of environmental indicators, such as air quality and waste production.

It can be argued that such initiatives are like a drop in the ocean. However, there are two important points to consider. First, the axiom "think globally, act locally" is the kernel of environmental thinking. It is the opposite of throwing up your hands, saying "What's the point?," and waiting for others to take the lead. It is the spirit that led Rachel Carson to stand up to the combined power of government and industry.

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