Feature03 Apr 2022

Delivering sustainable events: energy management


Sustainable energy management (© Christel Saneh)

An important component of the World Athletics Sustainability Strategy that was unveiled in 2020 is to embed sustainability principles into all the events we own, such as our World Athletics Series events, and all the events that we sanction, such as the Wanda Diamond League, the World Athletics Continental Tour, the World Athletics Indoor Tour, the World Athletics Cross Country Tour, the Combined Events Tour and the Race Walking Tour.

To do this, we've developed two tools: a Sustainable Events Management System (SEMS), which provides best practice guidance for organisers to incorporate into their event planning and implementation and a tiered Athletics for a Better World sustainable event standard, a scalable, global standard - a scorecard of sorts - that includes a set of expectations based upon the SEMS guidance which will measure an event's level of achievement in sustainable practice.

To help organisers, we’re providing a reference series of stories that address 12 key areas of sustainable event planning and delivery. Each of the stories will be updated regularly to highlight some of the freshest ideas and innovations in sustainable event planning.

This article looks at energy management, a key element of an event’s sustainable delivery plan strategy.

Note to race and event organisers: do you have some positive examples to share? Let us know and we’ll include them here.

Last updated: 4 April 2022

First: what is a sustainable event? 

Simply put, it's an event that aims to minimise to the lowest possible degree the negative impacts that the event has on the environment. That's done by reducing the event's consumption of resources while also leaving a positive social, environmental and economic legacy for the community hosting the event.

Achieving carbon neutrality in an event means balancing the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere with the amount that is absorbed or removed.

World Athletics recognises that the sport of athletics, particularly through the delivery of its events, produces a significant carbon footprint. However, through the sport and its events, athletics also has an opportunity to embrace, utilise and showcase innovative technology to achieve carbon neutrality by encouraging carbon mitigation in priority areas of energy and resource consumption, travel and transport, food and beverage and waste management.

Power and the LEGO hierarchy

Athletics events the world over have been striving for greater sustainability in their event delivery. The challenge is multi-layered and complex. In particular, around the production of power. It is impossible to run any large-scale organised event without energy to power machinery, lighting, transport, audio and visual equipment.

But the generation of energy is still predominantly from non-renewable, fossil fuel sources which contribute to global carbon emissions. Which, in turn, contribute to global warming and climate change. 

World Athletics is committed to operating to a high level of energy efficiency, reducing the carbon content of the energy provision to ensure as low a carbon footprint as possible from its operations and has set a target to be carbon neutral by 2030.

A significant portion of carbon emissions is from energy provision at events. Recognising that World Athletics do not own stadiums, engaging and collaborating with host cities, venues, Local Organising Committees and suppliers on sustainability goals is paramount to achieving carbon reductions.

Sustainable event delivery must include an approach to energy management to reduce carbon emissions and where possible, eliminate energy requirements through better design and efficiency. Event organisers are encouraged to work towards de-carbonising their energy sources, by switching away from fossil fuels to clean energy such as solar, biofuels and renewables. 

Finally, for any unavoidable carbon emissions, ways to offset remaining emissions through a suitable programme need to be implemented. These include tree-planting or seagrass plantations, for example. 

The model works through a “LEGO” energy hierarchy of reducing carbon emissions. That means:

1. Be LEAN – by eliminating unnecessary energy needs of the event overlay design, for example, by minimising the need for HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning). You should also aim to reduce total energy consumption by ensuring staff, volunteers and contractors turn off equipment when not in use.

2. Be EFFICIENT - through provision of temporary power, organisers work with contractors to design efficient provision and ensure that all equipment is energy efficient. Using LED lighting is one example.

3. Be GREEN - de-carbonise the energy provision by choosing the power generation type, permanent or temporary with the best/lowest carbon footprint. Some examples:

  •  using grid connections wherever possible with renewable energy for mains or grid power
  •  for temporary power use, choosing biofuels, solar-hybrid or hydrogen fuel cells
  •  considering energy storage to maximise use of solar power

4. Then OFFSET the remaining emissions by calculating the remaining carbon emissions and selecting a relevant offset programme. Monitoring will also include the total energy demand across the event to drive continual improvement and lessons learned for future events.

The 2022 Commonwealth Games example

This template is being replicated across the sporting landscape with organisers of major events, both for elite athletes and mass participation, choosing a greener pathway.

This includes the Commonwealth Games, taking place on 28 July to 8 August this year in Birmingham. The multi-sport event will feature over 5000 athletes from 72 nations competing in 20 sports and is one of the biggest events taking place in the world in 2022.

As with the Summer Olympics, athletics will be a focal point of the Games and will take place at the city’s Alexander Stadium. It is a venue that is steeped in athletics history and will also host Diamond League athletics for the 10th occasion in May. The Commonwealth Games is also where some of athletics’ legendary names such as Olympic champions Don Quarrie of Jamaica, Great Britain’s Sally Gunnell and Australian Steve Hooker won their first gold medals at international level.

It has always been a high-energy occasion, both in the athletics stadium and in the wider operation of the event. But, this year, organisers have committed to hosting the most sustainable Commonwealth Games ever, including a pledge of carbon neutrality and a focus on improving air quality. 

In following a LEGO-style model, they too will deploy event protocols to eliminate and reduce carbon emissions. And where they cannot practically be eliminated, they will offset through planting 2022 acres of new forest. They have also committed to clearing 22 miles of surrounding canals in the city of rubbish, including harmful plastics in entering waterways.

Internally, the organisers are more mindful than ever before over energy use. Renewable energy such as from solar panels are being used and encouraging the event workforce to turn off lights and appliances when they are not needed. 

The organisers will also use electric vehicles and the Queen Elizabeth II Baton Relay – the Commonwealth Games’ version of the Olympic torch relay – will see carbon-neutral travel and accommodation in place. The vast crowds that will descend on the event will gain entry with e-tickets only and each ticket will include free public transport to incentivize cleaner travel.

In terms of equipment and materials, organisers have pledged to rent rather than buy wherever possible and will donate items no longer required post-Games to charities for re-use and re-purpose. 

Food is another area in which events can create a large carbon footprint. But for Birmingham 2022, organisers will use food from local suppliers, use biodegradable food packaging, provide free water refills, reduce food waste and encourage plant-based options as better choices for the environment. 

In the intensity of a major championship, gold, silver and bronze will be on the minds of every athlete. But more than ever before, athletes, officials and spectators will be equally mindful of being green at these Commonwealth Games.

The Cardiff Half Marathon example

In the mass participation world, the Cardiff Half Marathon is one of the Europe’s premier events, with over 20,000 runners annually.  For the 2016 edition, the event was given global status, hosting the World Half Marathon Championships ahead of the mass runners. 

At the sharp end of the race, there was a Kenyan double with Geoffrey Kamworor winning the men’s race and Peres Jechirchir the women’s.  So, it is an event that has long had a reputation for being brilliantly organised. But now, it is carving out a new reputation as a sustainability leader.

Gareth Ludkin, Production Manager at Run4Wales, the event organisers says: “Sustainability, climate justice and environmental protection have always been topics of concern for us as a company and many of us as individuals. However, in a busy event calendar we have not always created enough space to deal with these issues in as much depth as we would have liked. 

“Although we improved our approach to recycling and the way in which we use materials over many year - bringing our recycling rate up to 95% - we hadn’t spent much time looking at the issue more holistically. 

“In 2019 we developed our first environmental policy and green action plan to assess our impact as a company and look at ways we can limit our level of harm. In the same year we held a sustainability conference for partners and sports event industry professionals to start sharing ideas and collaborate. 

“At the start of 2020 other mass participation sports organisers across the UK were also doing a lot of the same thinking and we came together to form an MSO Sustainability group to start tackling some of these issues.” 

The pandemic slowed their sustainability planning, but it is an area they have reactivated as a priority. 

“Our work in this area actually started back in 2017-18 with Cardiff University researchers helping us to understand our biggest event impact, for example transport and travel emissions. This helped us build a picture of where the majority of our CO2 emissions were coming from. 2020 was our year to reach a solid baseline figure across all our environmental impact areas. 

“We have delayed this until 2022 so that we can develop a much more detailed view of our impact with as much solid data as possible from a completed series of events across the year. Our baseline figures for 2022 should reflect some of the positive impacts we have implemented as a business and event so far.”

Energy management is a large feature of some of the fundamental changes they have made. 

“We have moved towards hybrid battery units were possible, and the use of biodiesel over diesel,” Ludkin continued. 

“We’re also plugging more power in via mains, leaving diesel generators as a last resort. We are also matching our generators to the actual kilowatts requirements rather than expected or estimated requirements and introducing more monitoring so that we better understand our peak and average kilowatts power usage. It’s incumbent on everyone: sponsors, suppliers and staff to be as exact as possible when considering how much power we require.”

He admits some changes have not always been easy to implement and it can be a significant education exercise. 

“There’s always more to be done to educate everyone on why we make certain decisions and what benefit these decisions and runners’ choices will have on the planet. For example, removing goody bags and looking to reduce the number of t-shirts produced is something which needs to be communicated carefully. 

“It has been great to challenge suppliers to improve the way they do things, bring things to site and choose materials. We have always chosen local companies as a rule but as we start to go for more sustainable choices we often have to look further, meaning local suppliers have to think again about what they are offering and the way they are doing it.” 

In the long-term, they have lofty ambitions beyond carbon zero. “Run 4 Wales is committed to a 2030 net zero emissions reduction target, based on a 2022 baseline with the aim of being a climate positive events company by 2040.” A half marathon is a big undertaking for everyone, but in Cardiff, the organisers are willing to go the extra mile for the environment.”

Chris Broadbent and Bob Ramsak for World Athletics