World Cup Shoots for Greener Games

Stefan Lovgren in Dortmund, Germany
for National Geographic News
June 13, 2006
Organizers of soccer's World Cup finals, which began here in Germany
last Friday, hope the games will score an important goal for the

From promoting public transportation to using rainwater to water the soccer fields, they hope to offset the environmental damage caused by millions of visiting soccer fans.

"We are confident that this will be the greenest World Cup ever," said Thomas Hackbarth, a spokesperson for the games.

(See a National Geographic magazine feature on the World Cup.)

The transportation, construction, and maintenance of the 12 World Cup stadiums, as well as the presence of 3.2 million spectators, are expected to generate more than 110,000 tons (100,000 metric tons) of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases.

Most scientists say carbon dioxide, emitted by the burning of fossil fuels, is the main cause of global warming.

Cup organizers aim to offset all carbon dioxide emissions by financing climate projects, including the planting of forests in far-away places such as India and South Africa. Forests soak up carbon as they grow.

"We aim to neutralize all effects of World Cup travel, the construction of the stadiums, and the hotel overnights, including [the] heating of water," Hackbarth said.

Taking the Train

FIFA, the world soccer governing body, does not have specific guidelines for environmental practices, unlike the Olympic Games.

In 1994 the International Olympic Committee established "green" criteria for its games together with the United Nations Environmental Program.

"For the World Cup we have modeled ourselves on the Olympics," said Christian Hothfeld, an environmental scientist and the deputy director of the Berlin-based Ö-ko Institut, which has consulted on environmental issues for the World Cup.

But the environmental practices adopted at stadiums are voluntary, since the stadiums are privately owned and only rented by FIFA for the World Cup.

Organizers are heavily promoting public transportation as part of a program it calls "Green Goal."

Fans buying tickets for matches in the 12 World Cup venues can use them to travel for free on trains and buses on match days.

The estimated 6,000 journalists covering the event are given monthlong rail passes.

"We aim to have every second fan come to the games by public transport," Hackbarth said.

So far, that goal has been surpassed. For the opening game between Germany and Costa Rica, 40,000 of the 66,000 fans traveled by public transportation.

But littering could be a big problem. At the stadiums drinking cups are reusable and recyclable, and German bratwursts are served without plates.

But with thousands of fans congregating in the city centers before and after the games, public squares and streets have been virtually blanketed by beer cans and other trash in the first few days of the tournament.

Watering the Fields

All energy for the World Cup is derived from renewable sources, including hydroelectric plants in Switzerland.

Three large solar-power facilities have been built in Dortmund, Kaiserslautern, and Nürnberg (see a map of Germany).

Overall, the amount of solar power produced for the World Cup is two and a half times greater than that produced for the Sydney Olympics in 2000.

One of the biggest issues is water use. The 1.4 million cubic feet (40,000 cubic meters) of water used to water the soccer fields during the games is equivalent to the monthly water use of 12,000 single-person households.

Several stadiums will be watered from a new rainwater-harvesting system.

Four huge tanks collecting rainwater were built for the World Cup. The largest, at Berlin's Olympiastadion, is about 70 feet (21 meters) wide and 35 feet (10.6 meters) deep, making it one of the largest water cisterns in Europe.

A number of stadiums have installed dry urinals, which operate entirely without water.

Parking lots have been surfaced with latticed mats made from recycled plastics, which have been filled with soil and sand, allowing grass to grow on top.

"This way, rain water can seep into the ground naturally," Hackbarth said.

Hothfeld, the environmental scientist, says a mega-event like the World Cup can never be perfectly green.

"But we hope to make it as environmentally friendly as possible," he said.

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