The GSB Interview: Neil Beecroft, Reporting on UEFA’s Euro 2016’s Sustainability Scorecard

UEFA, the governing body of European soccer, set high sustainability targets for the EURO 2016 (the biggest event in soccer aside from the FIFA World Cup) championships in France. How did they make out? Neil Beecroft, UEFA EURO 2016’s Sustainability Project Leader, was so keen to tell the event’s story that he took a break from a hiking trip through Colombia to talk with GreenSportsBlog.

 

GreenSportsBlog: First of all, Neil, thank you for taking time away from your vacation to talk with us.

Neil Beecroft: Greetings from Cartagena, Colombia! It is my pleasure!

GSB: Since you’re on holiday, let’s cut to the chase: If I recall correctly, you divided the environmental sustainability elements into four priorities: 1. Public Transport/Mobility, 2. Waste Management, 3. Energy and Water Optimization, and 4. Responsible sourcing. How did EURO 2016 make out vs. its sustainability targets?

NB: Well, that’s a big question. For those with the time and interest, you can read our sustainability report (click HERE for link). For those who don’t, the short answer is we did well for the most part in meeting our stiff targets, with some lessons learned mixed in. Despite the tournament growing from 31 matches for EURO 2012 in Poland and Ukraine to 51 matches in France this year as the number of teams increased from 16 to 24, in many cases, we actually reduced our overall environmental impact vs. 2012. I’m confident in saying we set an ambitious sustainability standard for mega-sports events. Hopefully future Olympics, World Cups, Euros and more, will replicate some of our initiatives—I expect that most will, by the way. Now, let’s look specifically at each environmental sustainability priority for EURO 2016. On Public Transport/Mobility, one area in which we were not successful was on “Combi Tickets”…

euro2016-sust-report

The EURO 2016 post-event Sustainability Report can be read here.

 

GSB: By Combi Tickets, you mean that a fan could use his or her EURO 2016 match ticket as a train or bus ticket, right? How come you weren’t able to make that happen?

NB: France was different than Austria and Switzerland, which co-hosted EURO 2008, and Poland and Ukraine, which jointly hosted the event in 2012. Combi Tickets were made available on an international basis in 2008 then in 2012 on city-by-city basis. In France for 2016, negotiations with state, host cities and public transport providers didn’t succeed in the end. On the other hand, we had in and towards France 300,000 additional available public transport seats (international and local, combined), which meant fans benefited from an increased and extensive mass transport capacity.

GSB: EURO 2020 is going to break the mold by being hosted in mega cities across Europe rather than in one or two countries, as has always been the case. Will Combi Tickets be a part of that much more spread out tournament?

NB: It’s still too early to know for sure but I do believe that there will be negotiations between the host cities and UEFA. We could study the InterRail system for instance for discounted train tickets. Beyond trains, we also tried to develop a carpooling and ride sharing infrastructure, as well as “Hop On, Hop Off” buses for the future. We could’ve done better, gotten more traction, but it was a good start.

neil-beecroft

Neil Beecroft, Sustainability Project Leader for UEFA’s EURO 2016 (Photo credit: COP21 Paris)

 

GSB: How did EURO 2016 fare in terms of offsetting carbon emissions from flights?

NB: Here we did well. All 24 teams decided, on a voluntary basis, to offset their flight-based emissions. UEFA offset all of its flight-related emissions as well…

GSB: What kind of offsets did UEFA use?

NB: We developed renewable energy projects in New Caledonia. Additionally, all UEFA official travel within 4.5 hours of the tournament had to be done by train. As for fans, there was an eco-calculator, which allowed them to determine their emissions and offset them if they so chose.

GSB: Do you have data on how many fans chose to offset their travel to-from France?

NB: Even though fans could win 10 tickets to the EURO 2016 Final, participation to the offsetting was lower than expected, in part because offsetting is new to many people and can be a bit complex. This is something to improve upon in 2020 for sure by integrating opt-in solutions directly within the ticketing purchasing system.

GSB: I would think improving on transportation related emissions in 2020, when the tournament will be continent-wide, vs. 2016 in which the tournament was played in one country, will be a challenge. But technology and willpower will no doubt improve over the next four years so challenges like this can be surmounted. Let’s turn to Waste Management. How did EURO 2016 make out?

NB: Overall, we reduced the volume of waste at the games vs. 2012, again despite playing 20 more games. We saved significantly on packaging, paper use and signage.

GSB: What about recycling?

NB: For recycling, our target was a 50 percent rate. And, while we did more than double the 18 percent recycling rate achieved in Poland and Ukraine, our 38 percent just didn’t quite make it.

GSB: What caused the shortfall?

NB: A combination of lack of local recycling infrastructure and expertise in some of the 10 French cities in which the tournament was played and expense.

GSB: Was composting in the mix?

NB: Yes. Within stadium kitchens, 12 tonnes (T) of organic waste and cooking oil were segregated for composting. Stadiums did not offer fans a compost bin as they went with a dual bin system; recycling and trash. Fan-generated organic waste was sorted out by stadium staff after the event.

GSB: Adding a composting bin for fans to dispose of organic waste—something for EURO 2020 to strongly consider…

NB: For sure. Back to 2016, our caterer followed a strict sustainability policy within its central kitchen and reached a 66 percent recycling rate which included segregation such as organic (47T), oil (2T), glass (4,5T), etc. In addition, we focused a lot of attention on redistributing unused food and were able to divert over 10 tonnes, including 50,000 sandwiches. For instance in Marseille, food donations went directly to refugees, which was a big deal.

GSB: That’s more than a big deal. Now let’s look at Priority #3, Energy and Water Use Optimization…

NB: A big factor in energy usage at a mega event like EURO 2016 was backup generation capability. Mega sports events often experience energy usage spikes and thus use backup generators to ensure the lights do not cut out in case of unexpected events such as storms…

GSB And these generators are often very energy intense, very dirty, right?

NB: Exactly. At EURO 2016, we used state-of-the-art generators that saved 30,000 liters of fuel vs. 2012, again despite many more games being played. On non-match days, we shut down unnecessary Media Centres since the evolution of technology now enables media to work remotely.

GSB: I imagine that the stadiums in France are more technologically advanced than those of Poland and Ukraine such that energy usage would be significantly less than in 2012…

NB: Actually Poland’s and Ukraine’s stadium infrastructure was more advanced than expected so there was no big advantage for France in 2016. The weather, on the other hand, did favor France, as it was cooler than projected, which resulted in lower energy consumption.

GSB: I remember it being cool during the tournament. What was the on-site solar situation like?

NB: Seven of the ten stadiums had some sort of on-site renewable presence such as micro-wind, or geothermal. In the South of France—for example, in Nice and Bordeaux—solar predominated, in the parking lots and on roofs. In the north, the emphasis was on water harvesting. Three of the ten stadiums also purchased Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) and/or carbon offsets. The target for 2020 is 50 percent of the stadiums.

nouveau-stade-de-bordeaux

Nouveau Stade de Bordeaux, with solar panels on the roof and in the parking areas, hosted several EURO 2016 matches. (Photo credit: Iwan Baan/Architect Magazine)

 

GSB: You mentioned water briefly. Talk more about how EURO 2016 managed water consumption.

NB: Thanks to MTD Pure Water, a water management company expert at working with mega events, our water usage was optimized. The company proposed solutions aimed at monitoring and minimizing water use, such as timed OW valves for drinking water taps. There were some initiatives that we didn’t undertake. We looked at pumping water from the canal next to the Stade de France, site of the final, for the stadium’s water supply as well as using rain-harvesting systems on the hospitality tents. But both used more energy: the first to pump the water, and the second to install the harvesting systems, so we declined.

GSB: Some of the best actions are the ones you don’t take. Let’s look at the last of the four priorities; Responsible Sourcing.

NB: We did well in many aspects. 2.5 million tickets were printed on FSC paper, as were the 100,000 media and other accreditations. Even more important, an addendum was put into all supplier contracts that they and their supply chain should adhere to UN Global Compact Principles. Our catering company had a sustainability policy so they adhered to sustainability standards. And Kuoni, our accommodations management company, challenged hotels that housed the teams and sponsors for instance on sustainability measures, both environmental and social, including strong child labor protections.

GSB: Did all of the suppliers sign the addendum?

NB: Yes, but it was a challenge to monitor all of them. For 2020 we need to up our game in terms of supplier and supply chain compliance on environmental, labor, corruption and human rights standards.

GSB: So it sounds like, overall, UEFA and EURO 2016 made good sustainability progress vs. 2012. How do you see the big picture?

NB: In terms of overall carbon assessment, the biggest source of emissions for EURO 2016 was new stadium construction…

GSB:…Really? I would’ve thought that fan transportation would be the #1 emissions source. That is certainly the case in the US.

NB: Not in Europe. Mass transit plays a bigger role and the public transport system is efficient, travel distances are shorter, vehicles are more efficient and UEFA shuts down public parking at the stadiums.

GSB: WHOA!!! There was no public parking in stadium parking lots? How did the fans react to that?

NB: Positively, which is probably a surprise to an American reader. But in Europe, we have more comprehensive mass transit systems that are used by a bigger percentage of the people. Since EURO 2016 drew a good percentage of fans from other EU countries, most were happy to use mass transit to get to one of the ten city centers. Local municipalities then developed local mass transit to get fans from the train stations, airports and city centers to the stadiums and back.

GSB: We need to import that system, that pro-mass transit attitude to the states!

NB: Well, I’ll leave that to you, Lew. Back to our biggest source of emissions, stadium construction: The good news is that EURO 2020 is being contested in major cities across the continent in stadiums that, for the most part, already exist.

GSB: Finally, how did UEFA and EURO 2016 communicate its sustainability initiatives to the fans?

NB: Fans were encouraged when purchasing their tickets online to offset their carbon emissions via our eco-calculator. Only a small number did so; this has to improve for 2020.

GSB: That would be great for attendees but I’m more interested in how you’re communicating sustainability to the biggest cohort of fans—the millions watching in Europe and around the world. I mean, the 2016 Super Bowl (Super Bowl 50) was the greenest ever by far. Yet, aside from some folks in the San Francisco Bay Area where the game was held, virtually no one knew about the sustainability aspects of the event. A huge opportunity missed

NB: Yes, this is something we must do better at going forward. As said, we did air videos—”Celebrate Football” and “Respect“—promoting notably diversity, but in terms of environmental sustainability, we can do more at EURO 2020.

 

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