Mega Events

World Cup’s Green Scorecard: Two Up, One Down


The 2014 FIFA World Cup has been a major success by most quantitative (TV ratings, goals) and qualitative (excitement, Americans discussing the offside rule) metrics .

OK, if you’re from England, Italy or Spain, you might disagree. And, if you’re the shoulder of Chiellini, the Italian fellow bitten by Luis Suarez of Uruguay, you’d most certainly disagree. And, if you’re one of the folks protesting that much of the $11 billion Brazil spent on the World Cup did not go to, you know, the people, you’d disagree as well. But, as far as on the pitch, the World Cup has been a huge winner with 2+ weeks to go.

As far as the greenness of this World Cup goes, three recent articles demonstrate that that scorecard is rather mixed.


On the plus side, the US Green Building Council (USGBC) announced last week that 5 of the 12 World Cup stadiums in Brazil achieved LEED certification, including the legendary Maracanã in Rio, which will host the championship match on July 13. The Maracanã, host of the 1950 championship match, underwent a substantial renovation which “pushed the boundaries of sustainable innovation, including features such as photovoltaic panels on the roof and rainwater reservoirs.” That led to a Silver LEED designation from the USGBC, not bad for a 60+ year old stadium.

The other LEED-certified stadiums for the 2014 FIFA World Cup were all new or recently constructed facilities: Castelao Arena in Fortaleza (LEED Certified), Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador (LEED Silver), Arena da Amazônia in Manaus (LEED Silver, amazing, as Manaus is in a remote inland section, and so stadium materials had to be transported by boat) and Arena Multiuso in Recife (LEED Silver).

manaus samba foot

Arena da Amazônia in Manaus, built for the 2014 World Cup in remote area of Brazil deep in the Amazon rainforest. Many Brazilians protested the building of a costly stadium in an area that won’t be able to support it after the tournament is over. Despite its LEED Silver certification, is it truly sustainable? (Photo Credit: Samba Foot)


To attain LEED status, the builders and stadium operators had to show real results…and they did: Per USGBC, Castelao Arena netted a 67.6% reduction in drinkable water consumption, a 12.7% reduction in annual energy consumption and a 97% diversion of waste was diverted from landfill. Arena Fonte Nova, meanwhile, used 20% of its building materials made from recycled content and purchased 35% of its power from renewable sources like solar and wind.

Also on the plus side of the ledger, Honeywell Green Jet Fuel is powering up to 200 commercial flights during the tournament.  The fuel was made from inedible corn oil and used cooking oil (how cool is THAT?!?!). Each flight will use a blend of Honeywell Green Jet Fuel with petroleum-based jet fuel. It is estimated that  this biofuel will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 185 metric tonnes of CO2 over the course of the World Cup, as compared to petroleum based fuels.

On the down side, Scientific American came out with a piece last week, entitled “Brazil World Cup Fails to Score Environmental Goals”, that, not surprisingly, takes a much broader–and dimmer–view of the sustainability (or lack thereof) of this mega event than does the USGBC. It goes far beyond the greenness of the stadiums (praised, btw) to take into account the carbon emissions associated with traversing the massive country…

“FIFA’s emissions offset plan and green design features were legitimate accomplishments. The problem…is that FIFA laid out a green agenda that was largely restricted to the 12 stadiums across the country where the games will be played. Everything else – from the air travel emissions to reliance on gas-fueled taxis for airport transfer and movement around cities in the absence of a well-functioning public transportation system – runs counter to even the most traditional sustainability criteria.” 

Issues of social injustice (i.e. gazillions of $$ spent on stadiums, very little going to improved education and infrastructure as was promised in the original bid) were also brought to the fore. Dr. Graeme Hayes, a professor of politics and sociology at Aston University in England, doubts whether mega events like the World Cup and the Olympics, even with the best of intentions, can produce the kind of long-term societal benefits that would meet a broader definition of sustainability.

One  example of many in Brazil is the aforementioned LEED Certified stadium in Manaus. Per Scientific American, it “features the latest in energy-efficient heating and cooling systems. But plans for powering the stadium completely with solar energy had to be abandoned amid construction delays. Meanwhile irked Brazilians question the cost – $300 million – of building an enormous stadium in a remote city that may never again see such a large event.”

Going forward, building LEED Certified venues is not going to be enough to declare a mega-event sustainable. Many eyes are now focused on the organizers of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, which is 1) combatting charges of corruption in winning the bid, 2) putting together an event that will be played in 120+ degree heat (no way the stadiums will be green–they were talking about–and evidently now moving away from–building air conditioned outdoor stadiums!), and 3) facing a major human rights disaster as many of the workers building the stadiums are living (and some are dying) in squalid, indentured servitude conditions. Some feel that FIFA will ultimately take the World Cup away from Qatar, but that would mean FIFA would need to find an integrity and a backbone it has heretofore lacked.
One thing for sure: Qatar 2022, however it turns out, will turn out to be an anomaly. Organizers of future mega-events will have to attempt be sustainable in the broadest sense of the word in order to be seen as legitimate–or the protests in Brazil will seem tame.



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  1. […] World Cup’s Green Scorecard: Two Up, One Down […]

  2. […] Recife’s stadium featured a massive solar installation, but several stadia were built in remote locations, most notably the one in Manaus. When one adds in the concerns about the lack of promised […]

  3. […] covered the greenness (or lack thereof) of the World Cup here and […]

  4. […] What about the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, you may ask—why isn’t it in the comparison set? While there were some strong […]

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