Why should organisers of Olympic Festivals care about the sustainability of their events? What benefits can the incorporation of sustainability measures bring and what does it mean for the organisational strategy of the events? What can organisers do concretely to make their events enviromentally, economically and socially sustainable? And ready to adapt to future challenges? This chapter aims to find answers to all these questions and more.

Why to care about the sustainability of your event?

 A sustainable event is one designed, organised and implemented in a way that minimises potential negative impacts and leaves a beneficial legacy for the host community and all involved. Source: Local Governments for Sustainability 

  • Since the end of 2014, the Olympic movement is driven forward by the Olympic Agenda 2020. Sustainability of events and other Olympic movement initiatives are integral elements of this strategy.
  • Making events sustainable should be considered an important opportunity, not a burden.
  • Applying sustainability measures to an event’s organisation is a win-win situation for all parties.
    • Possible costs savings for organisers
    • Possible additional incentives for public authorities
    • Positive image building for all parties involved – important element from a CSR perspective (public authorities, sponsors)
    • Sponsors can promote their products (e.g. podium or main gate made from renewable materials)
    • Positive buzz around the event – important aspect for negotiations with stakeholders regarding the organisation of future editions of the event
  • Olympic Festivals can also be an opportunity to do “good through sport” in general. Having sustainability of the event in mind from the outset can trigger a profound reflection followed by action with a wider societal impact.

Lahti 2017 FIS Nordic World Ski Championships

  • Environmental sustainability issues were very present in the media, and many political leaders talked about sustainability issues in relation to the Championship.
  • To raise awareness of environmental sustainability issues among general public, organisers had a mobile app developed which measured visitors’ environmental footprint when coming to the event.
  • Olympic Festivals have the potential to promote positive role models to young generations.
  • Sport events such as Olympic Festivals can also be used as a means to initiate positive change and development (legacy for future generations) - e.g. trigger a debate about concrete means for climate protection, initiate positive social inclusion through the use of local workforce, products and suppliers.  

Strategic approach

Sustainability in the DNA of Olympic Festivals

  • Sustainability needs to be inscribed in the DNA of the event, be part of its strategy and vision.
  • Sustainability as such needs to be endorsed at the very beginning of the organisational process and remain high on the agenda until its very end.
  • Implementing sustainability measures and changing the mind-set in general is a step by step process, not everything can be done 100% from the beginning. Therefore also the suggested actions and tools in this chapter reflect the necessity of a gradual approach.
  • “It’s not enough to do things just right, because anyone who organises an event is an emotions broker and much more than just a service provider.”

    Stefania Demetz, CEO FIS World Cup Gardena

    If possible, enter into cooperation with a specialised external organisation/institution (such as the Innovation Fund Sitra in Finland), which can help you identify the right actions and put together an appropriate programme.
  • Do not forget that the sustainability of an event is also about visitors’ and stakeholders’ experience, and this experience includes the emotions experienced by everyone involved. 

Commitment by key stakeholders

  • Engagement of all main stakeholders in the process is crucial.
  • When negotiating with possible host cities and sponsors/partners, include sustainability-related matters in the discussion and start well in time. Keep in mind that it may take time to “convert” everybody to the “sustainability mind-set”.

Cortina 2021 Foundation (organising committee of the FIS Alpine Ski Championships 2021)

The Foundation Statutes (Article 3) include an important commitment to the underling ethical values, sustainability and legacy of the event.
“The Foundation therefore commits itself, from now on, to safeguard the sporting and cultural values of the city of Cortina d’Ampezzo, respecting its history, its consolidated environmental value and its established sporting tradition, and to make sure – as far as possible – that its partners operate consistently with these values.”

  •  If possible, try to formalise stakeholders’ commitment to sustainability by including it in the respective contracts and agreements, and by engaging them in concrete activities and/or proposing them an activation including (environmental) sustainability elements.

Communications perspective

In addition to the general benefits for the community and the environment, organising a sustainable sport event can bring about important communications and marketing benefits for all stakeholders.
Source: RightHub

  • Sustainability considerations have to be in the DNA of the Olympic Festivals’ communications as well. For more information, see the Communication chapter. 
  • Communication about sustainability initiatives and measures can contribute to enhancing the positive narrative about the event. It should be pro-active in pointing out the positive aspects and, if possible, it should start already before the event.
  • The positive narrative and stories can also help to mitigate any possible negative coverage of the event and any of its aspects. 

Basic steps of a strategic approach

  1. Identify the main elements of the event that can be addressed in terms of sustainability
  2. Set priorities and objectives
  3. Develop concrete action plan for the implementation of sustainability measures
  4. Monitor and evaluate

Monitoring and evaluating the performance

  • It is important to set realistic quantitative targets (e.g. X% renewable energy, X% renewable materials etc.). It is better to select less targets than too many to make sure that it is realistic to attain them.
  • To understand the (wider) impact of the events and the outcomes of the sustainability measures, in-depth (preferably external) evaluation both during and after the event is crucial.
  • The results of the evaluation process are crucial also internally to ensure that the leadership of your organisation provides continuous and long-term support to the initiative beyond the 4-year election cycle.   
  • A good way to do it is to go through a certification process. This needs to be decided and kept in mind as early as during the planning process.
    • EcoCompass Event certificate (Finland) – provides systematic approach for creating objectives, documenting, monitoring results, comparing the results, and continually developing work in the area of environmental sustainability
    • Eco-Lighthouse certification scheme (Norway)
    • Environmental diploma for events (The Swedish Environmental Base)  
    • Sustainability in event management (British Standards Institute)
    • ISO International Standard, ISO 20121:2012 -  Event sustainability management systems (the IOC now requires all host city organizing committees to be certified to ISO 20121 at least three years before their Games)
  • An example of a fully-fledged evaluation report on sustainability and social responsibility of a large sport event is the UEFA Euro 2016 post-event report

Sustainability in Practice

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