Theme: Green Sports
In a bid to help sports organisations become more sustainable, the IOC is publishing a selection of guides demonstrating how they can move from ad-hoc projects to integrated sustainability
-Sustainability issues such as climate change, economic inequality and social injustice are “pressing concerns” for the sports community, says the International Olympic Committee (IOC), both in its management of day-to-day affairs and its “responsibility” towards young people and future generations.
With the publication of its sustainability strategy in late-2016 and the recently-unveiled Sustainability Essentials guide (from which the above paragraph was taken an paraphrased), the IOC has become unequivocal in its stance that both itself as an organisation, and the wider sporting industry, must be leading lights in sustainable practice due to its high profile and status.
Earlier this year at the Sustainable Innovation in Sport Conference in Amsterdam, the governing body’s head of sustainability, Michelle Lemaitre, cemented that position by “making a wish” – “for sport to step up and be the leading industry in sustainability”.
It’s true that for many organisations in the sports industry sustainability is just not a priority. But as it has become a key focus for the IOC (as demonstrated by its inclusion as one of the three strategic priorities of the body’s Agenda 2020 vision), it’s inevitable that related organisations will have to follow that director of travel.
The scope of the IOC’s own sustainability strategy is large, with several strategic intentions around five areas: infrastructure and natural sites; sourcing and resource management; mobility; workforce; and climate (see below).
Acknowledging that National Olympic Committees, International Federations and other sports organisations may feel overwhelmed when trying to follow that ambitious blueprint, Lemaitre and the rest of the sustainability team – Marie Sallois, the director of corporate development, brand and sustainability, and sustainability manager, Julie Duffus – decided to launch a suite of guides designed to offer practical advice, starting with Sustainability Essentials.
Positioned as an entry-level guide, Sustainability Essentials covers topics like the benefits of sustainability (including cost savings, reputation, legal compliance), defining strategies, engaging with stakeholders, and setting objectives and targets.
But the key message of the document is that sports organisations need to approach sustainability in an integrated way – not by developing individual projects, but by incorporating sustainable practice as a process used throughout the whole company.
The guide tips its cap to sports organisation that are “already actively engaged in individual aspects of sustainability”, highlighting environmentally-focused “greening” initiatives and social responsibility projects benefiting the “wider community”.
“True sustainability, however,” the guide states, “goes much further than individual projects. It is about looking closely at what you do as an organisation, the way you interact with society at large, and ensuring you have appropriate governance structures, policies and processes in place that will secure your long-term future for the benefit of your organisation, society and environment.”
Lemaitre suggested that to see her wish come true, the sports industry had to ask itself a question: “How can sport move from ad-hoc initiatives and projects – that are great, but are done in isolation – to really integrated sustainability across our operations?”
The truth is, it’s about understanding and perception. David Stubbs, who has worked on the sustainability programmes for the London 2012 Olympics, UEFA Euro 2016 and the World Economic Forum in Davos, says that there’s an “awareness gap to bridge”.
“Not many people understand sustainability as a way of working,” he tells SSJ. “A lot of them think they’re being sustainable by recycling or changing light bulbs or working on some environmental project. All that is fine, but it’s only part of the story. The key part is really understanding what effect your activities are having on the environment, the local community and people more broadly – and then, what decisions you’re making by taking all of those factors into account.”
It’s noteworthy that within the guide the IOC makes a point of trying to demonstrate the difference between truly integrated sustainability and corporate social responsibility (CSR). The guide notes that the two are often used “interchangeably”, with sports organisations struggling to distinguish between the two.
Sustainability, says the IOC, “encapsulates a long-term and future-facing purpose” with a sharp focus on making sure any actions are done without “diminishing the quality of life” for future generations. CSR, in contrast, is about doing good things as an organisation, but “do not tackle the underlying issue”.
By Matthew Campelli, sportsustainabilityjournal.com