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Essay: FIFA’s Environmental Efforts: Positive Impacts from the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

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  • Published: 22 February 2023*
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The FIFA World Cup, the infamous soccer event held and celebrated every four years, is the globe’s largest sporting event. Each World Cup is situated in a different country than the previous, and the 2014 World Cup returned to the home of soccer— Brazil.  With the privilege of hosting a World Cup comes the need for the construction of countless state-of-the-art stadiums, as well as preparations for hosting thousands of soccer-crazed fans through housing and transportation. Preparations can cause significant dents in a nation’s economy, but an aspect of World Cup preparations that has recently been brought to light— especially in Brazil— is its environmental friendliness. Building stadiums displaced millions, and harmed a great amount of Brazil’s prided biodiversity. However there was no significant neglection of potential negative environmental effects of preparation; efforts to increase environmental efficiency were made, such as plans for transportation, carbon emissions, renewable energy, recycling, and human and community rights. While the efforts made to minimize environmental damage were not entirely successful, this was a step in the right direction. The plans FIFA and Brazil made showcased an awareness for the environment that had not been expressed before a World Cup before, and set precedent for similar, improved efforts in the future.

FIFA’s endeavors to create an event that was as environmentally friendly as possible cannot be neglected. Meticulous planning was made in the lead up to the tournament, and important dialogue and action took place. For the first time in the history, FIFA put together a comprehensive sustainability strategy according to the GRI reporting guidelines as well as the ISO 26000 standard for social responsibility before the World Cup. FIFA not only tracked carbon emissions (as was done at past tournaments), but also conducted their own full carbon footprint analysis and identified the emissions they were responsible with more precision. In terms of new initiatives, they implemented a six-day training course on sustainability for stadium operators (FIFA). Environmentally, the impact of the World Cup is indisputable. FIFA stressed that their objective was to limit their effects to the greatest extent that they possibly could. A new program, called Football for the Planet, was created by FIFA in 2013, and serves as a display of its commitment to reduce the environmental impact and to spread awareness on the topic. Environmental protection measures honed in on waste management, transportation, and carbon offsetting. For the first time, recycling was promoted in stadiums. What FIFA primarily focused on in its efforts to lower carbon consumption was four major low-carbon projects: the Surui project, the Purus project, the Ceramics project, and the Itacoatiara project. Each of these projects followed the standards set by the International Carbon Reduction and Offsetting Alliance (FIFA). There were countless positive environmental impacts due to these projects, and local Brazilian communities also reaped socioeconomic benefits as a result. The Surui project aimed to halt deforestation in an area under pressure in an indigenous territory in Surui, an area in the Rondonia State. The objective of the project is to reduce the pressure on the forest by using traditional knowledge with new technology by developing alternative sources of income for the indigenous people, like ecotourism and sustainable agriculture for non-timber forest products and other agricultural crops. The Purus project aimed to prevent the deforestation of approximately 35,000 hectares of rainforest. Working with 18 communities living along the Purus River, the project conserved tropical rainforest by offering financial support in return for cooperation to prevent further deforestation. The Ceramic project’s main objective was to reduce the pressure on native forests by changing the source to power the ceramic factory kilns from native wood to a mix of wood residues from dedicated renewable plantations. The Itacoatiara project was located in the small town of Itacoatiara in the Brazilian Amazonas region, and it supplied the 80,000 inhabitants with eco-friendly power (FIFA). The local population benefits from lower energy prices and a more stable energy supply. Each of these projects spearheaded by FIFA, along with the other efforts for which FIFA was responsible, show that the prospect of a genuinely environmentally friendly mega-event is not a lost cause.

There were some successes in the preparations and actions taken by FIFA, as stated earlier. The federal government made available one million dollars for the host cities to deal with the waste generated in the Fan Fests (large festivals filled with fans watching World Cup games on a large screen), stadiums, and their surrounding areas. However, some cities did not have a recycling plan in time to obtain the financing. According to the environment ministry, over 700 workers were hired out of an estimated 800,000 urban waste pickers nationwide. In the city of São Paulo alone, workers collected approximately 22 tons of waste, 90 percent of which were aluminum beverage cans which would eventually be sold to recyclers at $2.80 per pound (Spatuzza). Resource efficiency and renewable energy were also aspects of the event that FIFA officials kept in their priorities. According to an agreement between FIFA and the Brazilian government, all 12 stadiums built and refurbished for the World Cup acquired LEED certification, including the legendary Maracanã Stadium in Rio de Janeiro (FIFA). The U.S. Green Building Council recorded that in some stadiums, 20 percent of construction material was recycled, up to 90 percent of total residues from the construction were recycled, water consumption was reduced 67 percent, and yearly electricity usage was cut by 13 percent (Spatuzza). Stadiums in Recife, Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte, and Brasilia installed solar photovoltaic panels, which have continued to be used after the World Cup. Some stadiums, however, reduced sustainability measures like solar panels, due to a lack a of time resulting in a rush to complete the construction of the stadium. Urban transport and mobility were also points of focus for FIFA; of the 50 transportation project objectives (requiring initial investments of 5.4 billion dollars), only 38 remained, and seven more were added, with smaller impacts. Total investment was trimmed down to 3.6 billion dollars. Amongst the 45 updated projects, 17 were in road expansions around the stadiums (Spatuzza). Even though permanent Bus Rapid Transit systems as well as two monorail links were projected, not all were finished within the time frame they were supposed to finish before the World Cup. With funds coming from the federal government, these programs have been the strongest lasting sustainable pieces of the World Cup in Brazil, because they improve the low-quality public transit commonly found in Brazilian cities. The organizers of the World Cup also stated that 2.5 billion dollars was invested to expand airports in the 12 host cities, in order to be more suitable for the many traveling fans. FIFA estimated that the World Cup and its preparations would result in a total of 27.5 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent released into the atmosphere, mainly from international trips (50 percent) and domestic trips (33 percent). The venues accounted for under 10 percent of emissions, and accomodations accounted for 6 percent (Spatuzza). The Brazilian federal government put into place a carbon dioxide certificate donation program from private companies, which caused the offsetting of 394 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. FIFA planned to directly offset 274,000 tons, which they claimed they would be directly responsible for. 79,000 tons of emissions from fans were projected, and FIFA planned to purchase carbon credits in Clean Development Mechanisms projects in Brazil (Cashman). The Ethos Institute conducted a study, which revealed that the level of transparency was low in all 12 host cities regarding human and community rights. The study assessed 90 indicators that measured access to governments’ budget information, community relations, and communications with the local public, and received scores from 0 to 100. Two cities received scores of around 50 (average), and the other 10 cities were rated poorly, scoring below 20 (Spatuzza). Cities and states did not offer complete information or budgetary details to the public. This failure to achieve transparency frustrated the public and raised tension.

Despite so much planning and preparation, there were significant shortcomings with the World Cup form an eco-friendly perspective. A significant planning mistake was made by organizers when it was decided that the 24 games played during the group stage of the tournament would be held in locations all over the large country of Brazil without regards to efficiency. From the perspective or organizers, it is clear that their intent was to satisfy Brazilians, who by in large religiously follow soccer, and have matches all over the country. As a result, many teams had to take long flights across the country to play their games; Croatia and the United States had to travel over 3,100 miles just for their first three games (Constantine). Since the players had to travel so much, so did the staff, media, and supporters. The excessive traveling that took place caused a large portion of the carbon footprint of the World Cup. The negative environmental impacts that came with hosting the World Cup came back to haunt the nation during the tournament. Many parts of the country, including the highly populated regions around Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, experienced extremely high temperatures as well as record drought. These dangerous conditions were most likely caused or worsened by the effects of climate change. Reservoirs dried up, which was harrowing to Brazil due to its reliance on hydroelectric power (70 percent of its electricity comes from hydroelectric power), and there were even blackouts at times, because of the extra demand that the event placed on the national grid. Water was also rationed for months in certain communities because of these reservoirs with record lows, and authorities had to utilize billions of dollars in order to subsidies emergency power generation from gas and coal plants. These failures are part of the reason that the World Cup was regarded as a national shame by many citizens. Other hidden failures of FIFA’s “green plan” included the effects endured by residents of Rio’s favela slums, who were evicted at the cost of the 500 million dollar renovation of Brazil’s legendary Maracanã Stadium. 5,000 squatters were forced to set up a camp near the stadium to protest the city’s lack of affordable housing and displacement of citizens (Constatine). Another issue was that although the new stadiums were beautifully built with LEED certification, many of them were situated in areas so remote that they would most likely never be used again, which left many citizens unhappy with the over 300 million dollars spent on each one (Spanne). What Brazil was left with after the World Cup was many stadiums that were essentially useless, some empty promises, and a whole nation furious with the wastefulness with resources. Social programs did benefit many, but their messages failed to be conveyed to millions who would have been aided and educated by them. Brazil 2014 was not a failure, but it certainly had its environmental downsides to it.

The FIFA World Cup in Brazil offered simply a small glimpse at what a truly eco-friendly mega-event would resemble. The organization as well as FIFA’s transparency of their objectives is a step in the right direction in terms of creating a sustainable World Cup in the future. FIFA presented numerous goals which they planned on reaching, although not all were completed. Their ideas to limit and track carbon emissions, educate locals, and make transportation smoother, should be acknowledged, but there were several areas in which they could seek significant improvement. The areas of failure in 2014 are key pieces that need to be taken care of in the coming FIFA events. The displacement of citizens, excessive transportation, and negligence for certain communities limited the success of FIFA’s campaign. During a time of political turmoil, the 2014 World Cup managed to bring temporary joy to a nation of soccer-loving fanatics, but also temporarily hid some issues at hand; pBrazil, a nation that prides itself on its ecological prowess, suffered in that department. With economic issues also at hand, the timing for the nation to host this enormous event, could not have been worse. Brazil 2014 is a learning opportunity for nations of the future who will have to handle the grueling task of hosting the World Cup. Qatar will host the next World Cup during the winter of 2022, and they will certainly be picking pieces of Brazil’s “green plan” to apply to their upcoming endeavor.

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