From Rio de Janeiro to Kyoto to Copenhagen, global summits that have met with the goal of establishing a blueprint for future sustainable development and environmentally conscious practices in manufacturing and other human activities have largely failed. These conventions have done little more than bring temporary attention from the global community and its constituent states toward the issues of climate change and sustainability. The ever-elusive and all-encompassing agreement that would be an international standard to be applied to every country and every industry has been and seemingly will continue to be a pipe dream.

However, new and innovative methods to achieve these goals are sprouting up all over the world, ranging from small, grassroots movements to large, national or international practices or events. Entities beyond the state have shown remarkable willingness and ambition to implement environmentally conscious and strategically sustainable practices in the global marketplace. Hopefully, these trends will continue, and growing global awareness over issues like environmental degradation and climate change will translate into both public and private sector initiatives that have the cumulative capacity to produce a positive dialectic between present and future generations of global citizens and the planet they inhabit.

This year, the two biggest international sporting events are taking place: the World Cup and the Olympics. The Sochi Olympics have already begun to make negative headlines for extremely unsustainable methods in the construction of event infrastructure. Issues like controversial government-backed contracts to large companies and investors, inhumane treatment of migrant workers, destruction of formally protected forests, pollution of wetlands, and lack of structurally sound infrastructure have surfaced, painting an example of how not to go about putting on an international sporting event.

The Sochi Olympics are clearly taking advantage of all the financial and political benefits that go along with hosting such a massive international sporting event while simultaneously having absolutely no awareness of the environmental and social consequences that will be evident long into the future.

2014 will also bring the FIFA World Cup to the international community, set to take place in the soccer rich nation of Brazil. Brazil has had – and still has – its fair share of environmental degradation and poor management, as the Amazon rain forest alongside other natural treasures and resources of the country have been mismanaged or destroyed. Clearly wishing to move on from this history, Brazil has approached the World Cup not only as a means to grow its domestic economy and international financial reach but also utilize the event as a “unique platform to raise awareness and highlight selected social and environmental concerns on a global scale”.

FIFA, the international governing body for soccer, the Brazilian government, and various domestic entities involved in the event have admitted that “the FIFA World Cup is the biggest single-event sporting competition in the world, and its impact on society and the environment is indisputable. Staging such a world-class event requires careful consideration of all aspects to ensure a balanced approach and sustainable outcome”.

What’s particularly impressive here is the sense of mind to incorporate sustainability and environmental awareness/protection at the beginning of the planning stages for the event. Understanding the size and influence of the World Cup, Brazil (and its Local Organizing Committee), and FIFA independently decided to have this event be a model of what can be done and arguably what should continue to be done to manage similar sporting events but also navigate a wide range of other public human activities. In the sustainability strategy document produced by FIFA and the LOC, the vision for sustainable practices in almost all aspects of the event are as impressive as they are progressive.

According to the document, the 2014 FIFA World Cup will be an event in which “the importance of sustainability is acknowledged by the organizers and event stakeholders; where organizers and stakeholders have taken concrete steps to make the event more sustainable; where sustainability initiatives linked to the event inspire other initiatives to be pursued and implemented in Brazil and abroad; and where the outcome serves as a benchmark for sustainability for future FIFA World Cups and other large sporting events.”

FIFA and the LOC have also wisely chosen to integrate the principles they feel will be most important for the sustainability of the event with both domestic and international vested interests and a keen awareness of Brazilian politics and social issues. The World Cup will mesh economic growth and sustainable development with consideration of continuing that growth and sustainability into the future. Resting on the principles of accountability, ethics and anticorruption, transparency, respect for stakeholder interests, respect for the rule of law, collaboration, long-term approaches, and leverage, the World Cup will be of great benefit to Brazil and all stakeholders in such a manner that ensures profitability but also legacy.

One such way that this is being achieved is the alignment of World Cup planning and sustainability initiatives with presidential directives in the host nation. There are 13 directives that outline the Brazilian government’s policy agenda for the growth and betterment of the entire nation, and the FIFA World Cup Sustainability Strategy has aligned itself so as to contribute to the achievement of many of those directives. For example, directive four of the 13 directives states that the government will “defend the environment and guarantee sustainable development.” In response, “The aim of FIFA and the LOC to minimize and reduce the negative impacts of the FIFA World Cup on the environment is in line with the government’s efforts to defend the environment and promote sustainability.”

Furthermore, in line with directive six and seven to improve working conditions and improve vocational ability and access, “through specially designed capacity building programs for a number of groups involved in the World Cup, FIFA and the LOC will support their pursuance of long-term employment… The Ministry of Sports and the Ministry of Labour estimate that the World Cup will generate 710,000 jobs. Of these, it is expected that 330,000 will be permanent jobs, while 390,000 will be temporary positions.”  In addition, the 12 host cities of the World Cup “are investing considerably more in public transportation than would be the case without the FIFA World Cup. These investments will positively impact on the quality of life of citizens, thereby leaving a lasting legacy.”

Social issues ranging from community involvement and development to human rights and labor practices are also being addressed as sustainability issues by the FIFA World Cup Sustainability Strategy, but the inclusion of environmental concerns and organizational governance provide great promise towards institutionalizing the positives that are being implemented within this formal strategy. Specifically, FIFA and the LOC will “integrate guiding principles into FIFA World Cup management and governance structures (accountability transparency, ethical behavior, international norms of behavior and human rights…) as well as actively promoting a social, environmental and economic legacy… FIFA and the LOC will work to reduce the negative environmental impact of preparing and staging the FIFA World Cup, focusing on waste, water, energy, transportation, procurement and climate change, and use the event to raise awareness about the environment”. The event will be used to promote environmental protection in Brazil, offset carbon emissions, and promote sustainable consumption and energy production.

After the event is over, FIFA and the LOC will jointly produce a comprehensive sustainability report with the oversight of the Global Reporting Initiative. This document will, without a doubt, serve as an example as well as a precedent for future events of this magnitude and smaller. Yet, the fact that there already is and has been a formal Sustainability Strategy that has dictated almost all-important aspects surrounding the social, economic, political, infrastructural, and environmental areas of the World Cup is a grand achievement in and of itself. Although nothing is written in stone, socially and legally speaking, this upcoming World Cup in Brazil will set a precedent that will institutionalize reasonable sustainable practices to take place at least in future World Cups and at most during events and multinational and national projects across the globe.

The failure of the international community in combating climate change and promoting sustainable development and green growth surely does not reveal a stalemate. Instead, this failure provides room for an untold number of successes that will come from sources both expected and unexpected. Ultimately, it is in the hands of everyone to live, consume, work, grow, and build sustainably. The 2014 World Cup in Brazil, therefore, is much more than an international sporting competition –  it is a fantastic example of what can be accomplished by the willing and informed. What’s more, it’s a revelation that the destiny of human civilization and its relationship to this planet is not only a product of high-level government summits but also the result of ideas and choices made by all people and organizations. Initiatives made by FIFA and Brazil are proof that change is possible yet dependent on how we as global citizens approach and manage the growth of the marketplace, along with our consciousness and ambition as people.

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Bryce Rafferty



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