Sustainability in Sport: It’s Time to Even the Score

Author: Achim Geiger

Jun 19, 2024 Sustainability

The UEFA EURO 2024 is set to be more sustainable than any European Championship before. But how sustainable can such a major event truly be?

An accompanying scientific study shall provide clear answers. DEKRA’s sustainability experts are involved with an ex-post climate study.
The European Men’s Football Championship in Germany – UEFA EURO 2024 – will attract several million spectators to stadiums and fan zones from June 14 to July 14. An event of this magnitude has enormous appeal beyond the world of sport. To ensure that the positive image is not tarnished, it is important for decision-makers in sports organizations and politics to create transparency regarding the environmental impact. “The largest proportion of greenhouse gas emissions at major events is usually attributable to mobility, mostly to spectators traveling to and from the event,” explains Moritz Weißleder from DEKRA Assurance Services. The Product Manager for Sustainability in Sport & Events has been responsible for a number of greenhouse gas balances before – including for football clubs in the German national league and for ski race organizers. The expert is now setting his sights on the UEFA EURO 2024: According to the organizers, this European Championship is going to be more sustainable than ever before.
UEFA EURO 2024 to set standards in terms of sustainability
In fact, the UEFA EURO 2024 is likely to set new standards in several respects. First off, it bids farewell to the claim of climate neutrality, which works by offsetting CO2 elsewhere. Instead, it is placing its bets on climate responsibility. The idea is to put an appropriate price on unavoidable emissions and calculate a climate budget that can later be invested in effective long-term climate protection measures in the sports sector. But how climate-friendly can a European Championship really be? Official studies have been providing precise answers for several years. The reference for the UEFA EURO 2024 is a concept and feasibility study presented by the Freiburg-based Oeko-Institut in October 2022. The study, which was commissioned by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, contains a comprehensive and differentiated assessment of the greenhouse gas emissions that can be expected in transport, energy, catering, organization, and use of materials.
Scientists document the European Championships’ GHG emissions
In the study, the Oeko-Institut calculated total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of up to 490,000 tons of CO2 equivalents, which would be significantly below the result of EURO 2016 in France, but above that of EURO 20/21, which was subject to considerable visitor number restrictions due to coronavirus. The common denominator of the last studies: They were prepared before the respective European Championships and formed the basis for the assessments in terms of sustainability. However, running studies before the event has a catch: It does not determine in retrospect how large the CO2 footprint actually was. The people responsible for the UEFA EURO 2024 are now breaking new ground with scientific monitoring of the event.
DEKRA’s sustainability experts are in demand for the climate study
Funded by the Federal Ministry of the Interior and Community, an 18-month joint project, launched on July 1, 2023 by Bielefeld University and the German Sport University Cologne, will examine the social, economic, and ecological sustainability of the UEFA EURO 2024. The core of the evaluation study is a before-and-after analysis in order to systematically analyze the sustainability effects. The life cycle assessment experts from DEKRA Assurance Services are also involved. Their task is to carry out an ex-post climate study to determine the European Championship’s overall CO2 footprint, for example. However, this includes not only the emissions in the stadiums, but also the emissions in the vicinity of the ten European Championship venues. The so-called host cities set up their own infrastructure for their fan miles with stands, tents, stages, and other facilities. For example, in order to assess the respective ecological impact, the exact energy consumption must be determined. Another relevant factor is the food and beverages sold.
A reliable result can only be determined with exact emissions data
“The Oeko-Institut study is inevitably based on certain assumptions,” reports Moritz Weißleder. At the time the study was published, it was not yet clear which teams would qualify for the championship. International fans are another variable. If more fans arrive from other European countries than assumed, or if their length of stay is extended if the tournament progresses accordingly, this can lead to noticeable changes in estimates, and thus to additional emissions. The advantage of the DEKRA experts’ ex-post study is obvious: The calculated greenhouse gas emissions are based on more reliable data than the pre-study. Meaning that the determination of the financial resources to be spent on effective GHG emissions as part of climate responsibility is likely to be much more accurate – and probably also fairer. Moritz Weißleder and his team of five now have their work cut out for them. The first reports will be produced during the tournament. Once all the necessary data is available after the final match, they will complete the final report for Bielefeld University. The plan is to submit the report at the end of September.