Monday, July 14, 2014

World Cup 2014: An Environmental Postmortem

The World Cup is over and Germany has emerged victorious, but just how environmentally sustainable was the FIFA sporting event in Brazil?

Some are hailing the 2014 World Cup as the greenest ever. Simon Trace, CEO of Practical Action, is among those that are lauding the green accomplishments of the World Cup in Brazil. He cited the unparalleled use of solar energy saying, "the organisers and FIFA are to be congratulated for making a considerable financial investment and making this the greenest World Cup in history." 

Brazil generated more renewable energy than any other World cup before. The investment in green power is helping to grow the nation's renewable energy sector which employs a total of 894,000 people.

Sponsor Companies

The Brazil World Cup was sponsored by global solar company, manufacturer Yingli Green. Adidas, FIFA's longest-serving sponsor, has revealed plans to remove 99 percent of Polyfluorinated Chemicals (PFCs) from its products by 2017.

Sustainability Strategy

FIFA spent $20 million to make the 2014 World Cup in Brazil the first with a comprehensive sustainability strategy. These efforts include green stadiums, waste management, community support, reducing and offsetting carbon emissions, renewable energy, climate change and capacity development.

According to FIFA, the strategy will build on environmental programs at previous FIFA tournaments. It employed international standards such as ISO 26000 and the Global Reporting Initiative, alongside the Brazilian government’s development policies.


Brazil's World Cup stadiums were built based on the “green building” criteria. FIFA’s access to the Brazilian Development Bank’s line of credit — FIFA’s funding source for World Cup stadiums — was conditional on a sustainable construction certification standard.

Four of Brazil's World Cup stadiums have a combined total of 5.4 MW of solar electricity capacity. These include Belo Horizonte’s Estadio Mineirão (1.4 MW), Brasilia’s Estádio Nacional Mané Garrincha (2.5 MW), Pernambuco’s Itaipava Arena (1.4 MW), and Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana (500 kW). 

The Arena de São Paulo uses GrassMaster technology, manufactured by Desso, to create a sustainable, hybrid, playing surface.

The 2014 World Cup is not the first to build greener stadiums. The 2010 World Cup in South Africa featured the Nelson Mandela Stadium, designed and built using sustainable materials such as fiberglass and reinforced concrete. The stadium itself was powered entirely by a nearby wind farm.

However, the stadiums built for the Brazil World Cup are not entirely green. For example, most of the materials for the stadium in Amazonia had to be shipped, and a sizeable part of it was shipped all the way from Portugal.


Perhaps the biggest environmental impacts in Brazil come from the decimation of the countries rainforests which are often referred to as the lungs of the planet. Thirty years of satellite images show how forests are being depleted in Brazil. Although this is a trend that predates the 2014 World Cup, building roads, stadiums and infrastructure in certainly did not help.

However one of the carbon offset projects (the Purus Project), contributes to the preservation of 36,000 hectares of pristine rain forest from deforestation.

Carbon Offsetting

FIFA's portfolio of carbon offsetting projects for the 2014 World Cup both offset carbon and raise awareness. They include emissions resulting from the travel and accommodation of all staff, officials, teams, volunteers and guests as well as emissions resulting from venues, stadiums, offices and TV production.

The portfolio of low-carbon projects in Brazil was selected together with non-profit carbon management programme BP Target Neutral. Each project went through a rigorous tender process and adheres to the standards set by the International Carbon Reduction and Offsetting Alliance (ICROA), with the final selection being made by an independent panel of environmental NGOs. Beyond the positive environmental impacts, these projects also have social and economic benefits for many local Brazilian communities.

FIFA and the LOC also launched a campaign calling on fans to participate in a contest, designed to help offset the carbon emissions resulting from their travel to the event. In total, FIFA will compensate 331,000 tonnes of CO2 (251,000 of its own emissions and 80,000 from the fans who participated in the free contest) through four certified low-carbon development projects spread across Brazil.


Flying in teams, trainers, equipment, World Cup personnel and around half a million fans generates a vast amount of emissions. Travel accounts for 50.6 percent of FIFA's World Cup emissions. Although FIFA and the UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) have set up a 'Green Passport', which advised fans on how to minimize their environmental impact and carbon footprint.


According to FIFA's own study of the carbon footprint from setting up and running its broadcast television operation, the biggest contributor (60 percent) is international flights for staff members. The other 40 percent comes from all the trucks needed to transport cables, cameras and furniture, and the energy required to operate all of the electronics.

All told, FIFA’s TV operations will contribute 24,670 tons of CO2 to the atmosphere – the same impact of burning 2.8 million gallons of gas, or 13,250 tons of coal.

A spike in energy use occurs as millions of people turn on their TVs to watch a match.


Social and environmental factors like mandatory green building certification for their stadiums, are compulsory elements of the FIFA World Cup bidding process. It remains to be seen how this will play out in terms of the carbon footprint for the forthcoming World Cups in Russia (2018) and Qatar (2022).

The exact socio-environmental impacts of Brazil's World Cup has yet to be tallied, based on Brazil’s location and its continental size, CO2 emissions will almost certainly eclipse the previous World Cup in South Africa. FIFA has estimated that the 2014 Brazil World Cup will emit 2.72 million tCO2 compared to 1.65 million tCO2 that resulted from the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

FIFA's estimates its carbon footprint for staging the tournament’s matches, including electricity needed for stadiums, fan festivals, banquets, concession stands, training sites, travel for ticket holders, and team hotels amount to 2.72 million tons of CO2 equivalent. This is the equivalent of 306 million gallons of gasoline or burning 1.46 million tons of coal.

According to an Ernst & Young study, the 2014 World Cup carbon footprint represents an eight-fold increase in CO2 equivalent over the previous World Cup in Germany.

There is a troubling trend of increasing carbon footprints associated with the largest sporting event. With 3 billion viewers, the World Cup truly has global reach, however, to earn its title of the "beautiful game," more will have to be done to minimize emissions.

Related Articles
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Video - World Cup 2014: Sustainability Training for Stadium Management
Video - World Cup 2014: Green Stadiums
Graphic - World Cup Energy and CO2
Infographic - Brazil World Cup 2014

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