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|environmental awareness and sports
Since time immemorial, people have entertained themselves with sports. Sports are emblematic of health, with the best matches played by athletes in peak physical form. But ironically, even as sports promote health, they can also degrade the environment upon which good health depends. Whether played or watched, athletic endeavors have the potential to produce huge environmental "footprints" in terms of their use and abuse of natural resources. Ski slopes, for instance, disrupt fragile alpine ecosystems, while snowmobiles spew exhaust fumes into the air. Golf courses sprawl across the land, and consume large amounts of pesticides and water, while parking lots for stadiums and arenas produce vast paved surfaces. And major sports events use energy, emit greenhouse gases, and produce voluminous trash. The 2006 Super Bowl in Detroit produced 500 tons of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (from transportation and utility usage), while the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens produced half a million tons in two weeks roughly comparable to what a city of 1 million people would emit over a similar period. Each match during the 2006 World Cup this summer will use up to 3 million kilowatt hours of energy (similar to the annual consumption of 700 European households), and produce an estimated 5 10 tons of trash.
These impacts have spawned an environmental movement with two broad goals: to reduce the ecological footprint of sports activities, and to exploit the popularity of sports to raise environmental awareness in general. "But sports are also heavily impacted by degraded environments, and that's important to an athlete who can't run on smog days, or to those in the golf industry who get told they can't build a new course because bad practices have tarred their image. So, sports create opportunities to produce leaders for better environmental practice."
The sports sustainability movement now encompasses numerous environmental groups, businesses, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). The UN Environment Programme (UNEP), a veteran influential player in this arena, was among the first to get involved. In 1994, UNEP created a Sports and Environment Program, and charged it with promoting environmental awareness through sports as well as the design of sustainable sports facilities and equipment.
Currently headed by Eric Falt, UNEP's director of communications and public information in Nairobi, Kenya, the program has fostered numerous initiatives. In 1994, the Centennial Olympic Congress of Paris established the environment as a "third pillar" of the Olympic charter, along with sport and culture. In a pivotal milestone, UNEP teamed with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 1995 to host the first World Conference on Sport and Environment, held in Lausanne, Switzerland. Participants there created a Sport and Environment commission within the IOC. The latest world conference, held in Nairobi in November 2005, yielded the Nairobi Declaration on Sport, Peace, and Environment, which calls upon the IOC and national Olympic committees to act as leaders in promoting environmental sustainability through sports.
UNEP has also organized three meetings of the Global Forum for Sport and Environment (G ForSE) since 2001, in which sports stakeholders in and beyond the Olympic Movement review their contributions to sustainable development. At the July 2005 Sports Summit for the Environment, a G ForSE meeting held in Aichi, Japan, participants signed the Joint Declaration on Sports and the Environment, in which they pledged to help address environmental problems and create a sustainable world society through sports.
UNEP has also worked with the IOC to develop an "Agenda 21" for the Olympic Movement based on environmental sustainability guidelines created by delegates at the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development. By adopting its own Agenda 21, the IOC committed itself to encouraging sustainability among its member nations and sports governing bodies. This agenda is being used by several National Olympic Committees for sustainable development work at the national level.
NGOs working in this area include the Global Sports Alliance (GSA), based in Tokyo. The GSA, which is supported by UNEP, partners with numerous sports groups including the IOC to help create an environmentally aware sports culture. GSA members try to spread environmental awareness in part by sending "ecoflags" to schools and sports dubs, which these organizations fly during games to affirm ecological commitments. The GSA also sponsors several projects and, with UNEP, the G ForSE. [For more information on the GSA, see "EHPnet: Global Sports Alliance," Nike Air Max 2016 p. A279 this issue.]
Greening of the Olympics
The 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, are now viewed as the first attempt to create a "green" Olympic Games. Local activists in Lillehammer successfully forced the country's Olympic Organizing Committee (OOC) to make changes based on environmental concerns. Because of their actions, a speed skating rink was redesigned to avoid impacts to a nearby bird sanctuary, and officials agreed to an environmental plan emphasizing renewable building materials and energy efficient heating and lighting for facilities, trash recycling, and arena designs that harmonize with the local landscape.
Since Lillehammer, the IOC has tried to make the Olympics a showcase for environmental sustainability. With the 1999 adoption of the Nike Air Max 2016 Clearance Olympic Movement's Agenda 21, any country that wants to host the Olympics has to produce a strategic environmental assessment to accompany its bid. David Crawford, a Winnipeg, Canada based sustainability advisor to OOCs, says these assessments must describe environmental commitments around energy use, water consumption, waste generation, and sustainable building construction, in addition to social commitments to include local communities in the planning process. "If you look at who won the last three Olympic bids Beijing in 2008, Vancouver in 2010, and London in 2012 you see environmental assessments played a major strategic role in that success," he says.
Intent and implementation aren't one and the same, however. Despite successful bids, some host cities have found their Olympic sustainability obligations hard to meet. The Athens Games, for instance, are widely viewed as an environmental failure, particularly with respect to sustainable construction and green energy. Despite Athens' commitment to use 100% renewable energy during the Games, almost all the energy expended there ultimately came from nonrenewable sources.
Beijing could also have trouble meeting its environmental obligations. The city's air quality ranks among the world's worst indeed, the highest nitrogen dioxide levels in any city are found there. Exposure to Beijing's air can therefore irritate and damage the respiratory tract, posing an obvious hazard to competing athletes. To prepare its Olympic bid, Beijing promised to achieve 230 "blue sky" days per year, meaning days when air quality is "good or moderate." To achieve this, the city ordered the Shougang Corporation, a major steel maker, to move its coal fired smelters and some 120,000 employee to a small island in neighboring Hebel province. City officials also imposed tighter auto emissions standards two years ahead of national implementation. These measures have produced some success: Beijing's air quality has improved, and the city claims it achieved 234 blue sky days in 2005. But air quality in January 2006 was the worst in six years, with only nine blue sky days reported.
The IOC's choice of Beijing underscores the notion that environmental sustainability while important isn't a deal breaker for host city selection. "Let's not kid ourselves," Crawford says. "The Olympic Movement is global, the Games can't always be held in the same continents. Beijing's air quality is bad, so the Chinese are using the Olympics for a public environmental education campaign. They are keenly aware they have a problem; the Olympics can be a positive catalyst for change."
As for the Torino Winter Olympics, a full picture of its environmental performance is now emerging. Falt acknowledges some problems at Torino: for instance, bobsledding created environmental and sustainability challenges, he says. The bobsled track, which Falt describes as a "huge fridge in the mountains," has a coolant system containing 48 tons of ammonia that could harm wildlife and human health if leaked. What's more, the track's annual maintenance cost of up to US$1.1 million will likely exceed visitor generated revenue. On a more positive note, in a press release dated 1 March 2006, UNEP executive director Klaus Topfer commended Torino for building skating rinks and other facilities in the city center to promote continued use. He also lauded efforts to limit erosion and runoff from ski slopes, and the use of Nike Air Max 2016 Shoes renewable materials and energy efficient systems in building construction.
The Carbon Counting Game
Two of the environmental programs employed by Torino's OOC are particularly notable. One is its use of the European Union's Eco Management and Audit System, through which registered organizations in Europe evaluate, report on, and improve their environmental performance. Twenty nine Olympic sites in Torino, including training facilities and buildings in the Olympic village, were built by companies registered with the system. The other notable program is Heritage Climate Torino, which strives to offset the estimated 300,000 tons of greenhouse gases released during the two week event. According to Ugo Pretato, the Torino OOC head of environmental programs, the Regional Public Administration in Piedmont (the Italian province of which Torino is the capital) allocated approximately US$6 million for carbon credits linked to several greenhouse gas mitigation projects, including a reforestation project in Mexico, renewable energy projects in India and Sri Lanka, and an energy efficiency scheme in Eritrea. "The expectation is that Heritage Climate Torino will become more developed over time," says Pretato. "We hope our example will be followed by other big sports events in the future."
Offsetting carbon emissions from spectator events is a noble gesture, but also one that's new and untested. An obvious question concerns the amounts of greenhouse gases that events like the Olympics actually produce. Quantifying them is no easy task, says Mark Bain, director of Cornell University's Nike Air Max 2016 Shoes Center for the Environment. "Do you count the extra flights, hotel stays, and changes in personal habits?" he asks. "It's not just the spatial boundaries you have to consider, it's also the downstream and upstream consequences to the carbon cycle. I think lots of organizations want to say they're making up for their environmental effects, but most haven't fully considered what this actually means."
For his part, Pretato says the Torino OOC counts all transportation to and from the Olympics, including air travel, in addition to energy consumption by all Torino venues and stadiums. Data collection is still ongoing, he says. National Football League (NFL) also plays the carbon counting game. Seeking to offset the greenhouse gas emissions of Super Bowl XL, played 5 February 2006 in Detroit, the NFL consulted with scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratories and Princeton University, who concluded that an acre planted with 250 native Michigan trees would absorb 75 tons of carbon over the trees' life span. The NFL ultimately planted 2,500 trees over 10 acres in Michigan to offset the Super Bowl's carbon emissions, a number that Jack Groh, director of the NFL Environment Program, says far exceeded what was necessary to mitigate the game's climate impact. Climate neutrality is just one aspect of the World Cup's extensive environmental agenda, however. As described in Green Goal: Environmental Goals for the FIFA 2006 Warm Cup, published by the Institute for Applied Ecology in Berlin, additional objectives are found in the areas of water use, recycling, energy efficiency, and traffic mitigation. World Cup organizers and The Coca Cola Company have agreed to use recyclable cups at the event. And rain will be channeled into storage systems designed to provide water for cleaning playing surfaces and parking lots, in addition to toiletry needs. Indeed, organizers plan to save as much as 10,000 cubic meters of drinking water by installing the latest in water free urinals.
Major sports events like the Olympics, the Super Bowl, and the World Cup generate large environmental footprints over short durations. But what of the day to day sports played by billions of ordinary people? Many are environmentally benign. But others do have potentially serious environmental consequences. Here are some examples.
Skiing: A Slippery Slope
Skiing a sport whose very existence is in some places threatened by global warming can produce substantial environmental impacts. Ski slopes disrupt the natural landscape, sometimes harmfully so, according to Ryan Bidwell, executive director of Colorado Wild, a Durango based environmental group. "Downhill ski terrain typically gets carved into ecologically sensitive high alpine environments," he explains. "And these areas have short growing seasons, so they aren't quick to recover." Trail building contributes to erosion because it removes trees and shrubs that anchor soils. Other negative impacts come from snow making, which could become more prevalent in some areas because of global warming. Snow making diverts natural waters, altering the normal flows of rivers and streams that supply the necessary water, and resulting in dry stream beds, effects on irrigation, and consequences for species that depend on stream flow.
Some streams in Colorado and other western states are contaminated with acids and metals such as cadmium, copper, lead, and zinc a legacy of the region's mining industry. Snow made from these sources might contaminate otherwise pristine areas, Bidwell says. In one high profile case, owners of the Arizona Snowbowl Ski Resort will soon make snow from treated wastewater. Their announcement of doing so drew a sustained outcry from the local Navajo population, which views the surrounding San Francisco Peaks as a sacred natural shrine. District Court judge Paul Rosenblatt in January 2006, clearing the way for wastewater snow making to begin. Snowbowl officials say the wastewater poses no health risks, but caution skiers against eating the snow, which according to the resort's website contains residues from "animals, litter, boots, saliva, petroleum products, etc."
Another key issue concerns the ongoing expansion of western ski resorts on public lands. In these cases, resorts expand until they buttress private land boundaries, attracting the development of multimillion dollar homes built by those who can pay for residential slopeside access. Construction of these homes in delicate high alpine areas brings numerous problems, however, including erosion, air emissions, impacts to endangered species, and water withdrawals. resorts have endorsed the National Ski Areas Association's Sustainable Slopes Initiative, a collection of environmental best practices for ski owners and operators that was adopted in June 2000. The initiative promotes 21 principles in areas such as planning design, water and energy use, recycling, air quality, and forest management. A total of 71 resorts also participate in "Keep Winter Cool," an initiative sponsored by the National Ski Areas Association and the Natural Resources Defense Council that promotes energy efficiency in ski operations and also supports anti climate change legislation.
While notable, these initiatives have critics who counter that they don't go far enough. Bidwell, for instance, blasts the Sustainable Slopes Initiative, suggesting it does little to address secondary impacts from land development and the destructive consequences of snow making, which he says pose the greatest environmental damage from skiing. "The charter has no accountability and no system to document whether resorts follow through on any of their proposals," he adds.
To counter these perceived gaps, the Ski Area Citizens' Coalition, also based in Durango, produces an annual "Ski Areas Environmental Scorecard," which grades 77 resorts on their performance in areas such as energy efficiency, reduced habitat impacts, and efforts to expand operations within existing area boundaries. In the 2005/2006 scorecard, the coalition reported that only 50% of resorts supported legislation to combat climate change. Just 21% used alternative fuels such as biodiesel, 31% used wind or solar power, and 60% supported mass transit programs.