Conference logbook pt. 2: steering towards sustainability

By Inga Galstian, EOA editor

Little seems as relevant as climate change and its consequences at the present time. Humanity finds itself in the midst of a so-called “triple planetary crisis”. It is not without reason that researchers call attention to the urgency of tackling this crisis and governments, institutions and politicians sit down to slowly initiate the necessary measures to act.

At the EOA Congress Frankfurt in November 2022, NOA delegates and experts spoke about current challenges of the Olympic Movement. The second session of the conference turned towards sustainability in sports and at National Olympic Academies. As part of the Conference Logbook series, we have previously featured the first session on “politics & peace”. With her presentation “Olympic Movement and Sustainability”, Jana Janotova gave food for thought on how to incorporate sustainability strategies into the operations of the Olympic Movement, and Bianca Quardokous provided a concrete example in her presentation about the Sustainability Strategy of the German Olympic Sports Confederation (DOSB).

Check out the other Conference logbook parts

Jana Janotova is a member of the Sustainability and Active Society Commission of the European Olympic Committee, International Relations Manager of the Czech Olympic Committee and member of the Development and Cooperation Commission of the EOA. Both in her academic background and in her current work and engagement, her focus lies on sustainability and international cooperation.

First, Janotova methodically introduced the term sustainability by describing it as the art of creating a harmonious balance between nature, society and the economy. This art, however, constantly evolves and changes, reflecting the further aspect that sustainability thrives on innovation and continuity. The overarching international framework are the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Some of these goals, especially SDG 4 Quality Education, are congruent with the missions of National Olympic Academies.

From the perspective of profit-oriented companies, there is a concept that serves as a support for risk assessment: ESC, Environmental, Social, Corporate Governance. How can these concepts and foundations of sustainability be applied to the IOC and the Olympic Movement?

With the following quote on the IOC’s first approach to a sustainability strategy, Janotova pointed to its risk-assessing nature, through “striving to minimise negative impact”, but at the same time to the influential nature of sport:

“When making decisions, we ensure feasibility and we seek to maximise positive impact and minimise negative impact in the social, economic and environmental spheres”

– IOC Sustainability Strategy, 2016, updated 2017

Afterwards, the Czech expert spoke about the enormous impact, with a focus on sports organisations. The world we live in is facing huge challenges, also called the “triple planetary crisis”, which include climate change, loss of biodiversity and pollution. People’s lives and health depend on a functioning environment/ecosystem, and Janotova highlighted the direct impact on sport by giving illustrative examples.

Organised sport and the Olympic movement contribute to increased CO2 emissions mainly through transport by air, through the use of plastic for merchandise and sporting goods, through events that cause more plastic waste and by operating the sporting facilities, such as the ice stadium.

However, another challenge is of socio-economic nature. Social justice, with very good reason, is gaining in importance, also for organisations. Living standards and attitudes are changing ever dramatically. The pandemic, war, increased energy prices, rising obesity and digitalisation add immensely to the changing times. As a result, various stakeholders in sport are adjusting their expectations, and organisations now have to position themselves and represent more than just the values associated with sport. They have to work with sponsors who are compatible with the value proposition. Even political associations like the UN declared clean environment to be a human right.

In an ever-changing sports landscape, there are many opportunities but also duties/responsibilities for sports organisations to contribute to overcoming the climate crisis and to adapt through transformation. Thus, the IOC makes the following strategic statement, which should also have a long-term sustainable effect and which Janotova found decisive:

„True sustainability 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 the environment.”

– IOC Sustainability Essentials, Introduction

Then, the presenter drew attention to exemplary opportunities for the IOC and the Olympic Movement to contribute. The IOC has already made efforts in the past and many other sports federations, whether international or national, are moving towards a sustainability strategy. For example, an Erasmus+ funded project called “As Sustainable as Possible” has been running over the last few years, with Janotova and Quardokus leading the project. The aim of this project was to further develop the sustainability strategies and measures of the NOCs of Denmark, Finland and Germany, and to support the NOC of Slovakia, Czech Republic and Hungary as mentees in creating a sustainability strategy by learning from each other and from experts in the field.

So how can the EOA and NOAs act “as sustainable as possible”? Other than being a part of the problem, it is nevertheless possible to create a direct impact, especially to address unsustainable practices and set the focus on education. Janotova mentioned some examples and stressed the relevance of a sustainability strategy also for National Olympic Academies and passed on to Bianca Quardokus.

Bianca Quardokus is Sustainability Manager at the German Olympic Sports Confederation (DOSB) and worked there since 2009, starting as an officer in the department “Sports Facilities, Environment and Sustainability”.

She began by explaining the general structure and work of the DOSB. She also underlined the relevance of sustainability and of such strategy of the DOSB, which is founded in its statutes. This strategy resulted from a multitude of meetings and institutions.

The strategy is divided into three spheres of responsibility: sustainability goals, fields of action and measures. The sustainability goals consist of promoting environmental protection, reducing resource consumption, enhancing sustainable communication, improving sustainable catering and procurement, and developing organisations. To achieve these goals, the DOSB sets out courses of action and measures.

In 2019, the DOSB calculated its climate footprint and found that a large part, 80% in particular, was due to mobility. As a solution to the problem, Quardokus suggested avoiding domestic flights, introducing job tickets, which are incentives to use public transport, and job bike leasing. 

The DOSB and its partner organisations make use of a tool called “Green Champions” which attempts to make sport events as sustainable as possible. The tool is financially supported by the Federal Ministry for Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMUV), developed by the German Sport University Cologne and the Eco-Institute, and published by the DOSB and the BMUV. Responding to the great success, they developed a website. It is aimed at sports event organisations and provides concrete tips, strategies, and checklists for the organisation of sustainable events. With a filter function, users can enter more precise data on the event to be held and thus narrow down the results. The tool also serves NOAs, who can make immediate use of it.

Quardokus concluded her presentation by re-emphasising the relevance of the issue and encouraging a mindset shift. There are numerous opportunities to take immediate action and make a difference for the better. Sports organisations can make a positive contribution to sustainability, especially on the social level.

Finally, a small panel of questions took place, asking, for instance, whether sports institutions should be obliged to provide an annual sustainability report. Quardokus outlined the cost and time involved in preparing such a report and contrasted it with immediate action. Projects such as ASAP or the Green Champions Platform can provide support and assistance to NOCs as well as NOAs and other organisations in order to work out courses of action and concrete plans.

The EOA and the NOAs were inspired by the impulse-giving presentations and will work on the implementation of the topic in their agendas.

For further questions or comments, feel free to get in touch with the lecturers.

Jana Janotova
EOC Sustainability & Active Society Commission

Bianca Quardokus
German Olympic Sports Confederation (DOSB)

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