From Rio de Janeiro to Kyoto to Copenhagen, global summits with the goal of achieving a standard for future sustainable development and environmentally conscious practices have largely failed. These conventions have done little more than temporarily shift attention from the global community towards the issues of climate change and sustainability. The ever-elusive and all-encompassing agreement 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 are sprouting up all over the world, ranging from small grassroots movements to international practices and 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 the infrastructure that will be used to put on the games this winter. 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 a lack of structurally sound infrastructure have surfaced frequently enough to give an example of how not to put on an international sporting event.

2014 will also bring the FIFA World Cup, and as most of you know, it’s set to take place in the soccer-rich nation of Brazil. Brazil has had its fair share of environmental degradation and poor management, but seems ready to move on from this history. Brazil has approached the World Cup not only as a means to grow its domestic economy and international reach but has also utilized the event as a “unique platform to raise awareness and highlight selected social and environmental concerns on a global scale”.

The international governing body for soccer, FIFA, 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 is the vision to incorporate sustainability and environmental awareness and 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 while also navigating 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 in an event where “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 integrated the principles they feel will be most important for the sustainability of the event with both domestic and international vested interests and have shown a keen awareness of Brazilian politics and social issues. The World Cup will try to harness the economic growth and sustainable development occurring as a result of the event for continued growth and sustainability. Resting on the principles of accountability, ethics, 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 not only profitability but also legacy.

One 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 directives 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.” What’s more, 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 the quality of life of citizens, thereby leaving a lasting legacy”.

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 of the important aspects surrounding the social, economic, political, infrastructural, and environmental areas of the World Cup event 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 in future World Cups and other multinational and national projects across the globe. Utilizing such a grand event to promote sustainability, environmental protection, and economic growth sets a good precedent.

The failure of states thus far in combating climate change and promoting sustainable development 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 everyone’s responsibility to live 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.


Bryce Rafferty

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