Skip to main content

How green is the 2014 World Cup?

<p>This year&#39;s tournament just brought a world of pain to Brazilian soccer fans. But can its environmental and social legacy be a win?</p>

Brazil suffered possibly the most devastating World Cup defeat Tuesday since 1950, as Germany pummeled the home team 7-1. As for the sustainability legacy of Brazil's World Cup, however, the jury is still out.

Fraught with protests for the past year, the FIFA tournament has been criticized for its lack of transparency, corruption and levels of spending considered incompatible with the developing nation's needs in basic services.

Such controversies have overshadowed the sustainability actions undertaken by FIFA and Brazilian leaders, which include plans to buy carbon credits to offset the 27.5 million tons of greenhouse gases expected to be emitted since Brazil was chosen as the host country seven years ago.


There has been rancorous criticism of local and federal governments for spending up to $3.6 billion on stadiums. That's in contrast to unfulfilled promised urban mobility works, as well as failure to improve public health and education. Then there was the alleged brutal removal of 200,000 city dwellers to make room for infrastructure to welcome some 3.5 million foreign and Brazilian tourists.

The lack of transparency of the $13.6 billion being spent on infrastructure and security for the games is a key sticking point. According to the Ethos Institute, a corporate watchdog body, as few as two of the 12 host cities had local liaison programs for the tournament. On the positive side, some cities started to implement community interaction after Ethos discussed its research.

 Panoramic view of São Paulo Fan Fest during the Uruguay/Colombia game

“We managed to strike a productive dialogue with public administrators during the whole process,” said Ana Lúcia de Souza, who oversaw the study. 

Several of the 50 promised urban mobility infrastructure projects weren't ready in time. One calamitous example is the express highway connection to the Belo Horizonte airport, still being built by private construction company Cowan. An unfinished fly-over bridge fell on top of a bus and two trucks, killing two and injuring 10.

The death of workers and the discovery of slave labor in some projects tarnished both Brazil and FIFA. Eight workers died building the 68,000-seat São Paulo Arena and one worker was killed while building the unfinished monorail link that the state government had promised to deliver to help fans get around.

Fernando Beltrame, CEO of Eccaplan, a sustainable event consulting firm, said: “The distances that soccer teams and their delegations have had to travel, plus the trips of their supporters, are huge." He calculated that the 23 German squad members alone — who together traveled 149,000 miles to and from five host cities — generated 25 tons of CO2 equivalent.

Eccaplan was hired to offset the emission of the FanFest in São Paulo — a special arena set up by FIFA, city administrators and World Cup sponsors to allow fans to watch the matches on a giant 800 square-foot screen. Set in the heart of São Paulo, it can hold 25,000 people at a time. Beltrame calculated that over the 22 days of games, the event would emit around 197 tons of CO2 from all activities there, including people coming to and from the temporary venue and garbage not recycled.

But São Paulo was the only one of the 12 host cities that opted for offsetting GHGs at the Fan Fest events.

The debate over the sustainability of the World Cup and its legacy spilled over to other issues, generating a greater debate in the Brazilian media, social networks and within NGOs. One example was the initiative by the Brazilian government to stage an awareness campaign against sexual exploitation and racial and sexual discrimination.Solar panels at the Mineirão Stadium in Belo Horizonte City

Perhaps to the surprise of critics, some voices in the media have called the event well organized, even the best World Cup in history. Such a perception, although not lacking in skepticism, has added a hint of optimism to the vision of the tournament's legacy.

One example was the deep debate raised about waste management in Brazil as images of Japanese supporters collecting their own trash after a match spread rapidly over international TVs and social networks.

To Aerton Paiva, a sustainability consultant at Gestão Origami, a business sustainability firm, the direct contact between Brazilian and foreign fans brought the main benefit.

“Because of our historic low self-esteem about our achievements, one of the biggest gains was to prove to ourselves that we can assume and meet commitments," he told GreenBiz. “Though I know that sustainability is a deep change that happens over generations, I believe that this generation may change faster since they will remember the Japanese taking care of their own rubbish and other little things."

Since 2006 in Germany, FIFA has included environmental impact reduction as a World Cup goal. Brazil wants to do better than South Africa in 2010 and Germany in 2006. It's institutionalized in contracts for 2018 and 2022.

Waste collector in the crowd at the São Paulo Fan FestHere are the main sustainability actions of the 2014 World Cup:


“We felt excluded [when the press aired images of the Japanese fans] because this is what we do every day," said Lúcia da Silva, a garbage collector at the São Paulo Fan Fest. Along with other 126 workers from six waste recycling cooperatives in the city, she is being paid $23 a day to collect cans, cups and other residue to sell to recycling companies.

The federal government made available $1 million for the host cities to deal with the waste generated in the Fan Fests, in stadiums and their surrounding areas. Some cities didn't have a recycling plan in time to obtain the financing.

In all, according to the environment ministry, over 700 workers were hired out of an estimated 800,000 urban waste pickers nationwide. In São Paulo alone, so far workers have collected 22 tons, 90 percent of which were aluminum beverage cans which will be sold to recyclers at $2.80 per pound.

Resource efficiency and renewable energy

According to an agreement between FIFA and the Brazilian government, all 12 stadiums built and refurbished for the World Cup would seek LEED certification. So far, six have been certified, including the 74-year old Maracanã Stadium in Rio de Janeiro.

According to the U.S. Green Building Council, 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 is projected to be cut by 13 percent.

Stadiums in Belo Horizonte, Rio de Janeiro, Recife and Brasilia installed solar photovoltaic panels, which will be used after the World Cups. Some stadiums, however, reduced the scope of the sustainability measures such as solar panels due to lack of time.

Urban transport and mobility

Of the 50 transportation project goals (initial investments of $5.4 billion), only 38 remained, to which were added seven more, with smaller positive impacts. Total investment was cut to $3.6 billion. Of the total 45 updated projects, 17 were in road expansions around the stadiums.

Although permanent Bus Rapid Transit systems and two monorail links were projected, not all were finished in time for the World Cup. With financing from the federal government, these initiatives perhaps will be the strongest lasting sustainable legacies of the World Cup because they will improve the low-quality public transport services found in Brazilian cities. The World Cup organizers also say $2.5 billion is being invested to expand airports in the 12 host cities.

In Salvador in the north of the country, Brazilian bank Itaú and the city council set up a bike-sharing program for the event, including a 600-bike parking in the city's stadium. In the southern city of Curitiba, electric vehicles were tested, but far from an earlier announced plan to build a taxi fleet using the technology.

Carbon emissions

According to FIFA's estimates, the World Cup and its preparations will result in a total of 27.5 million tons of CO2 equivalent released into the atmosphere. The greenhouse gases emitted will come mainly from international trips (50 percent) and domestic trips (33 percent).

The venues will account for just under 10 percent of emissions, with accommodations around 6 percent. FIFA included only temporary venues and events directly related to the World Cup and preparations since 2013.

The Brazilian federal government set up a CO2 certificate donation program from private companies, which resulted in offsetting of 394 tons of CO2 equivalent.

FIFA said it will directly offset 247,000 tons, for which it says it is directly responsible. For an additional 79,000 tons of emissions by fans, FIFA will buy carbon credits in Clean Development Mechanisms projects in Brazil.


Reporting, accountability and human and community rights

According to a study by the Ethos Institute, the general level of transparency was low in all 12 host cities. The study appraised 90 indicators that measured access to governments' budget information, communications with the local public and community relations, then gave scores from zero to 100.

In terms of transparency, only two cities were considered "average" with scores of around 50. The other 10 cities scored below 20 and were rated "very bad."

The cities and states failed to offer complete information or budgetary expenditures to the public. In addition, they fell short of fully publishing contracts or social and environmental impact reports. The lack of transparency raised social tension. According to activists, some 150,000 to 170,000 people are being displaced to make room for both the World Cup and the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympics.

On the other hand, FIFA said that the World Cup created 700,000 jobs, over 300,000 of which are permanent, and that with the federal government, it has distributed cheap 30,000 match tickets to low-income families and indigenous groups.

On a lighter note, the environment ministry built kiosks near stadiums where local organic food producers could offer their produce, as way to strengthen Brazil's family agriculture program.

Top image of the new Maracanã Stadium in Rio de Janeiro by Filipe Frazao via Shutterstock.

More on this topic