During the summer of 2012 I was one of the lucky, if undeserving, torch bearers for the London Olympics. The fact that a UN bureaucrat was given such an honour owes much to the growing importance of the environment in sport worldwide.
Since 1994, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) has been working ever closer with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to raise the 'green' bar of the summer and winter Olympics and Paralympics to ever higher levels. London itself clinched the bid and the right to host the 2012 Olympics for a variety of reasons, yet its sustainability package and commitment to an environmentally friendly event was a key factor behind its success.
Indeed, London in many ways took sustainability standards to a new level, providing fresh avenues in which many other sports organisers can build and evolve. The main stadium was light and lowcarbon, built in part from old, reclaimed gas pipes. London committed to a 'Zero Waste Olympics' and, in the end, recycled or reused 98 per cent of materials during the demolition phase and 99 per cent in the construction phase.
London 2012 was the first major sporting event to measure its carbon footprint across the entire project and met significant emissions reductions, not least through the deployment of temporary, reusable structures. The reclamation of an old, supercontaminated site with the soil cleaned in situ, rather than shipped away to landfill, was another notable achievement.
The journey to London is a journey that began in many ways with the Lillehammer winter Olympics, hosted by Norway in 1994, where sustainability first took centre stage. The Lillehammer Games set new standards for mega-sports events, including the design of energy-saving stadiums. It ensured that future sports events would be required to include environmental measures as part of their basic mandates.
The summer Olympics held in Sydney, Australia in 2000 further took up the environmental baton after the development of the first environmental guidelines for such events. It is not only the Olympics where the environmental imperative has been gaining ground. In recent years UNEP has formed partnerships and worked with, for example, motorcycle sports body FIM, the Rugby World Cup and cricket's Indian Premier League. This year the FIA, the governing body of motorsports including Formula One, has reached out to UNEP as part of its determination to bring the environment into the organisation of its events.
The technological advances being made in Formula One, including lightweight vehicles and electric engines, are also of interest to UNEP. Cynics may imagine these smack of 'greenwashing' - of paying 'green lip service' - but sports bodies are recognising and seeing the green writing on the wall. Firstly, society as a whole is demanding higher standards of environmental responsibility in both the developed and, increasingly, the developing world.
Sporting events may individually have environmental footprints far smaller than the countries in which they are taking place but their ability to influence millions of spectators and build public awareness is manifest. Meanwhile, the potential for applying innovation to, for example, low-emission stadium design, to the way the events are run to maximise the use of public transport, sustainably sourced construction materials or the greening of supply chains among firms supplying goods and services, make them ideal pioneers in the environmental space.
In some cases - one thinks of the 2006 Fifa World Cup hosted by Germany or the 2008 Beijing Olympics - governments have used such sporting events to catalyse change within wider society. Germany used the 2006 tournament to fast-track investments in clean energy, retrofitting renewable energy into many of the host city grounds in order to showcase its potential. The country in 2013 is a renewable energy powerhouse and on one day this year generated half of its electricity via rooftop solar.
Beijing took the opportunity and the available investment of the 2008 Games to fast-track a vast and rapid expansion of its subway system and bus networks - a legacy still being enjoyed by residents and visitors in Beijing today. Brazil, the host of the 2014 Fifa World Cup and the 2016 summer Olympics and Paralympics, is using both events to pilot developments it wishes to see widely taken up across Brazilian business.
One of the outcomes of the Rio+20 summit of 2012, a major landmark event in which governments and heads of state defined new pathways towards a sustainable century, was an agreement to boost corporate sustainability reporting. Since the famous Rio Earth Summit of 1992, some 25 per cent of large
While most sporting events have relatively small carbon footprints, their ability to influence is manifest. Nick Nuttall, a director at the United Nations Environment Programme in Kenya, explains how sport can play a frontline role in the fight for a greener future.
The UN Environment Programme now carries out post-Olympic surveys on environmental targets, and found that Beijing had done well in some areas but still had air quality issues The installation of solar panels at German soccer grounds like SC Freiburg's Mage Solar Stadium has been encouraged since the 2006 Fifa World Cup