The 2014 edition of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow is over half way through now and the excitement keeps rising. Athletes, from countries formerly part of the British Empire, have performed extraordinarily well in various disciplines. But how will this games perform against that of London 2012 in terms of it’s sustainability?
Only a few days ago, the world’s fastest man Usain Bolt joined the line-up of stars increasing the fever around the event. He will be competing for Jamaica in the 4x100m relay race. The home nations have also done very well on the medals table with already over 120 so far.
Listening to the reports and interviews of the athletes I have been struck by the references to; and, comparison with the London 2012 Olympics. This has been on several levels: the feeling of winning; the response of the crowd; and, the facilities for example.
One of the other aspects that need to be asked in the same manner is the sustainability record e.g. how sustainable is seafood eaten at Glasgow is compared to London 2012. In this blog I would like to highlight some of the ways that this should be a standard demand that we ask of the organisers of sports mega-events, more-so those in which the UK organises or actively participates in.
So what did we learn from the London 2012 Olympics?
First, we learnt that in order to achieve the kind of sustainability track record that London 2012 achieved, there must be an early acceptance by organisers that stakeholders like WWF-UK have a role to play in the planning process.
As a result, together with Bioregional, we supported the drawing up of the sustainability strategy that was used to direct purchasing, building of venues and living quarters, use of water, waste disposal, supply of food, energy and the eventual legacy of the event among other things.
Second, the Olympics taught us that it is important that concerted efforts are applied to ensure that partners associated with the sports mega-event also subscribe to the same sustainability values. This is critical because the challenges that nature faces require more than token shows of sustainability. Big companies are an integral part of the solution and must make changes like the rest of society. Mega sporting events are a good place to drive this. London 2012 fell short in this regard but Glasgow and other events must not.
Third, London 2012 taught us that there must be a commitment to demonstrate that the sustainability targets are monitored and where possible publicity given to an ethos of care and concern for the natural environment. For the Olympics, as a result of the 1992 Rio conference, the International Sport Federation and National Olympics Committees made an earth pledge which obligated the International Olympics Committee (IOC) to complement the actions of governments to protect the environment. All mega sporting events must similarly commit to such a pledge. Proving full commitment should include going public about the progress towards sustainability and sharing that commitment with participants and fans as well.
Lastly, in this blog I would like to point out that London 2012 sought to ensure that the legacy of the Games reflected well on the sustainability front. That meant thinking about the socioeconomic and environmental benefits of the Olympic Village. Examples of what this may mean include restoration of sites for biodiversity, ensuring sustainable transport options in new development areas, increasing green spaces, waterways, woodlands, and wildlife habitats.
The challenge for Glasgow
As Glasgow prepares to wrap up in another few days’ time the big sustainability questions remain. Will the organisers demonstrate beyond any measure of doubt that the lessons from London 2012 have been learnt and applied? What, if any, collaboration has been used to make the Games sustainable? How about the sustainability credentials of the partners supporting the Games? Would the Games have spoken, in any way, for nature? And what should we expect the legacy of the Glasgow Commonwealth Games to do for the environment?
If not successful on these criteria, one would hope that Glasgow will be a positive learning experience for what we all should demand from mega sporting event organisers- more action on sustainability measures.
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