Does the 2014 World Cup Score in Sustainability?

In the heat of FIFA World Cup fever, we want to blow the whistle on the action for a moment to ask: how sustainable is the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil? FIFA has dedicated multiple efforts to ensure an environmentally beneficial outcome. We take a look at what they have implemented along with the controversies:


Initiatives Upping the Eco Meter

Solar Powered Stadiums

The final match of the World Cup to be played in the Estádio do Maracanã will make history as being the first solar powered World Cup final match. Both the Arena Pernambuco and the Estádio do Maracanã have been kitted out with solar panels, expected to generate clean electricity for at least the next 25 years. Estadio Maracana’s solar power is expected to power an average of 240 homes and Arena Pernambuco an average of 600 homes. Besides these two stadiums, all other match venues meet the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification.

Football for the Planet

Football for the Planet is FIFA’s environmental programme which ensures that environmental impacts as a result of the tournament are kept at a minimum. The programme also focuses on raising awareness of environmental problems. For this World Cup, their strategy included carbon offsetting, sustainable stadiums, and better waste management in the stadiums.

Carbon Offsetting Programme

FIFA and the LOC have estimated the carbon footprint of the tournament. Through the Carbon Offsetting Programme, they have set a number of carbon offsetting projects in place, with the aim of nullifying the carbon emissions expended as a result of the event.

Green Passport

Through a partnership with the United Nationals Environment Program (UNEP), the World Cup organising committee created a ‘Green Passport’ site and app. The app gives travellers and locals tips on how to make the most of the World Cup with sustainability in mind. The campaign surrounding the ‘Green Passport’ also focuses on training the tourism sector on incorporating an environmentally friendly approach to their businesses.

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Good Food

Another focus falling under the World Cup sustainability projects has been the drive to sell organic and family farmed food products in kiosks during the tournament.

Outside Input – Paddy Power’s Rainforest Stunt

While the world’s eyes are on a single game in the world cup, lasting 90 minutes, an area the size of 122 football pitches is being chopped down in the Amazon. This shocking statistic was released by environmental campaigning organisation Greenpeace. Besides FIFA getting involved with the Purus Project which contributes towards the preservation of rain forests, UK betting company Paddy Power took it upon themselves to generate awareness. They cleverly did this with a mischievous Amazon rainforest stunt. They posted a photo which made it seem as if they had cut down trees in the rainforest to cheer on England in the World Cup, simply to spark conversation on the topic of deforestation. As expected, they were met with outrage and the press quickly caught on. They unveiled the truth about the image – that it was computer generated – and directed the attention to Greenpeace’s movement to protect the Amazon rainforest.

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The above initiatives may sound like they are paving a golden road to a sustainable World Cup, but have not come without raising eyebrows:

Carbon Emissions

In light of the statistics, FIFA’s aim of offsetting carbon emissions seems rather optimistic. According to Brazil's Environment Minister, Izabella Teixeira, at a press conference in May, the country had already offset 115 000 tonnes of carbon through carbon credits from companies who got a ‘green seal’ as a World Cup sponsor. Yet, when considering the impact of the travel and accommodation expenditure of athletes, staff and audience along with the carbon impact of broadcasting, the total estimated emissions stand at 1.4 million tons. Will the projects set up by FIFA through the Carbon Offsetting Programme be able to cover this gap? ‘Carbon neutral’ is a vague term that shouldn’t be flaunted by media releases without careful calculations.

Social Injustice

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Instead of making headlines for being the ‘Green Cup’, plenty of media coverage concerning the Brazilian World Cup has been dedicated to social injustice. Brazilians are up in arms about the steep bill for the World Cup, the country faces serious corruption allegations and their public services including health, education and transportation need drastic improvements. Where does this leave environmental concerns?Indeed, not very high on local Brazilian’s to-do lists. FIFA has, however, launched social programmes in the communities where matches will be held. They also support young people in less privileged environments through their Football for Hope initiative. The difference these efforts are making has, unfortunately for them, been drowned out by the public’s outcry for long term social justice.

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Despite FIFA mascot Fuleco the armadillo’s popularity with the public, the effectiveness of promoting the conservation of the armadillo is being questioned. FIFA put Fuleco onto the task of being a "driver behind environmental awareness", yet there was no clear guideline as to how exactly his efforts would ensure better conservation for his species or their habitat. Felipe P Melo, co-author of a popular article criticising FIFA and the Brazilian government for not making a bigger environmental plea through Fuleco, does feel that it’s not too late however. He says if Fuleco can get a simple conservation message across (perhaps on his t-shirt) and reach out more effectively to its targeted younger audience through television broadcasting, he can still make an impact on conservation efforts. Amidst the controversies, it’s undeniable that FIFA has put more focus on the environment during this World Cup than for any previous ones. It may well be far from a perfect sustainable strategy, but we do hope that the lessons learned during this World Cup will have an impact on the environmental decisions made for upcoming tournaments. However, with their less than stellar reputation, it might not be an easy feat for FIFA to gain the trust of the majority. Are you following the World Cup? What are your thoughts about the sustainable initiatives put in place for this year’s tournament? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.