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Gareth Hughes: Green My World Cup

Editor’s Note: an abrogated version of this article was published in the NZ Herald yesterday.

Green My World Cup

by Gareth Hughes

The Rugby World Cup will be the biggest international event to come to New Zealand ever and our best chance in a generation to brand ourselves on the world stage as clean and green. But will we actually mean it this time?

The Rugby World Cup is a big deal. I would challenge greens, even those who detest rugby, that this is their best opportunity to advance goals for the creation of sustainable infrastructure and a green future. Equally, rugby fans should consider the impact that an event of this size and importance has on more than just who wins the cup.

The Rugby World Cup is the third biggest international sporting event globally, just behind the Olympics and Soccer World Cup. The scale is unprecedented in New Zealand history and so are the opportunities. Economic estimates have put the financial gain to New Zealand at $1.15 billion – and it is less than 1000 days away.

With the prestige of being awarded hosting rights, also comes huge potential risks and losses. It is the next best opportunity to invest in much needed infrastructure as well as our best chance since Lord of the Rings to show off our country on such a worldwide scale, for the 44 days that the tournament runs. The marketing experts are salivating at the potential, but it is more than goldmine for only product placements and commercial marketing: it’s our chance to tell the story of who we are, and who we are set to become, to the world.

Imagine what it is likely to look like. An estimated 60-70,000 visitors are expected to fly to New Zealand for the cup. Quite a few will be conscious of their environmental footprint travelling to New Zealand. A return trip from the UK to New Zealand emits 7.6 tonnes of carbon dioxide – about the same as the per capita emissions of a Swedish citizen over a year – on just one trip! Many of these travellers will be flying into Auckland from the U.K and will be paying a distance-based environmental impact duty of around $NZ 240.

Many will choose to offset the emissions caused by their flight and many will be looking to the New Zealand Government to reassure them that we’re serious about our response to climate change. We may have to make a special bid in climate change terms to get people to travel here. Without doubt climate change campaigners will draw attention to their carbon costs.

Travellers will arrive at Auckland International Airport keen to get into the city. They’ll find they can’t simply catch a train to town but instead they’ll have to pile into a bus or mini van and then experience Auckland’s notorious motorway. They’ll discover all of New Zealand’s transport systems are still heavily car-reliant, with hardly any public transport options in the towns and none at all in smaller centres. They’ll figure out our priorities by noticing all the roadwork’s going on. They’ll find new roads and motorways being built in Auckland and Wellington. They’ll ask about the suburban trains, and find one tiny train line still serves the whole of Auckland and it still runs on dirty-old diesel power.

Visitors will arrive in New Zealand, only to find that nobody, not even the major electricity or oil companies are paying a price on carbon. Who knows if we’ll still be debating an Emissions Trading System versus a carbon tax in the last year of the first Kyoto commitment period, or even still entertaining the ramblings of a Minister out-side Cabinet who is a raging climate-changephobe. It’ll be easy to wager money that the fifty percent of emissions coming from agriculture won’t be included in reduction targets and our emissions won’t be anywhere near our Kyoto obligations or what the science is saying is necessary.

Whether visitors stay in a hotel, motel or rented holiday homes they’ll are likely to be confronted by cold, damp accommodation. The Canadian rugby supporters will wonder why they are shivering in a much warmer climate and the Australians will wonder why in a bloody cold country we still don’t have any insulation in our homes. They’ll find the hot water is still largely heated through antiquated immersion heater systems and there’s no such thing as double-glazing in most of the country, and only few solar hot water heating systems. The light bulbs will mostly be the old-fashioned wasteful incandescent ones that the Government phased-out the phase-out of.

Piling into the refurbished Rugby World Cup stadium in Mt Eden they’ll grab a temporary seat and look around and find it has been expanded on a shoestring budget, with no recycling and with no consideration given to its carbon footprint. The stadium is still powered partly by dirty coal power from the national grid and the food inside is greasy, artificial and definitely over-priced. The souvenirs are all made in China by people who work in terrible conditions and while the official programme will look great and glossy but will be printed on toxic paper with nasty chemical inks.

The visitors are stunned that in 2011 they’ve arrived in a country where people are still wasting energy, driving their cars too much and too often, and who try and make excuses about their huge ecological footprint. They’ll feel cheated by the marketing slogans when they find their expectation of ‘Clean and Green New Zealand’ shattered. The Rugby World Cup shows up New Zealand as an international environmental embarrassment to an increasing environmentally conscious global public. Like China and human rights, we’ll look like a sham and it can potentially tarnish the discussion around the hosting of the Cup. The lingering hangover from such exposure could taint our waters for years to come. Tourism employs one in ten Kiwis and we earn more foreign exchange dollars from tourism than from dairy or meat exports – over $7 billion a year. We can’t afford to put that reputation at risk, especially in a recession.

It’s only a scenario but every day that rugby fans and greens leave it up to the ‘powers at be’ it comes closer to reality.

However, we still have close to 1000 days to kick-off we can still turn the World Cup into a showcase, and stand proudly on the world stage. So who in New Zealand is thinking about ‘sustainability’ and ‘rugby’ in the same sentence and are there any plans to do deal with these important risks? The apparent answer is ‘hardly anyone and not really’. A Rugby World Cup 2011 Government Coordination Office has been established within the Ministry of Economic Development to act as a single point of contact for all matters relating to the RWC and to provide some coordination and leaderships to the government’s involvement in the tournament. Sustainability is absent from their objectives and publications and it is a glaring omission.

An environmental sustainability strategy for the Cup is being developed by the Ministry for the Environment but I’m concerned that they only point to the $4.6 million LOVENZ programme to see 600 recycling bins around New Zealand as their only practical example in their recent newsletter and on their website. I hate to rubbish the recycling bin initiative because it is good and needed, but it is hardly thinking big or outlining a compelling vision of a green Rugby World Cup. This is ‘Sustainability 101’ stuff and should be done anyway – really it should have been done more than a decade ago but worst of all it has recently been trashed by the National Government who are eliminating funding to the project in the 2009/10 Budget. Tourism New Zealand’s December 2007 International Visitor Satisfaction Research showed that overall, visitors felt that recycling facilities were essential, with 79 per cent of respondents saying they expected such facilities at tourism activities – it is tremendously short-sighted to have them conspicuously absent especially while hosting a major international sports tournament.

Looking at the experience visitors are going to get it is clear leading up to the Cup we’ve dropped the ball on sustainability.

Despite heart-wrenchingly beating us twice at Cardiff and Twickenham and sending us home from two World Cups in disgrace, we can learn from the French and their hosting of the 2007 Cup. The French proactively undertook a carbon audit of the tournament beforehand estimating it would generate emissions at 570,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (about the same amount produce by Western Samoa annually) and encouraged fans to reduce it through public transport, recycling and most visibly 2,600 square metres of solar panels installed on the roof of the Saint Etienne stadium. Pitch watering systems used recycled water and some fair trade snacks were on sale for fans. Luckily for the French 84% of the extra emissions generated came from transport and they had realistic public transport options available like the ultra-fast TGV train between cities and the metropolitan subway system linking stadiums.

Let’s learn from the French and out-green their effort. Let’s look at how the stadium is being built and of what; let’s look at the total carbon costs of hosting the tournament and reduce it where possible; and let’s look at the experience rugby fans will receive at games. Organising the tournament is a massive undertaking, for all New Zealanders, and if we are going to take sustainability seriously we can’t forget any aspect. Rugby fans and environmentalists need to ask are the souvenirs fair trade? What are they being made of, and where? Who are the official sponsors of the Cup and what’s their environmental track record?

The biggest piece of new building underway is the refurbishment of Eden Park. A Green World Cup stadium we can all be proud of means making sure the stadium is using sustainable building materials that aren’t toxic, high in embedded carbon, or come from tropical forest destruction. It should use as little resources and energy in production as possible and as less as possible over its entire lifetime. The refurbished stadium needs to recycle its water internally, for the turf with plenty of recycling options available. All the appliances inside need to be the most energy efficient in their range, including the stadium lights. Like the Saint Etienne stadium, Mt Eden could produce its own power from roof-top solar panels. A modern, sustainable cheap-to-run national stadium would make a great World Cup legacy.

A strategy needs to be developed how to get teams and fans around for the games – not just a congestion mitigation strategy for our already crowded roads, but a sustainable transport strategy. We’d be crazy not to take the opportunity of hosting the Cup to invest in infrastructure projects that benefit both the short and long-term. The do-nothing answer is to put them all on planes, cars and buses which provides no long term benefit to Kiwis but which will drastically increase the Cup’s direct impact on climate change, and traffic congestion. Will the story by overseas journalists be about transport problems - congestion on Auckland’s motorways and our state highways? Will the obligatory fireworks from the Auckland Harbour Bridge actually draw attention to our greatest example of myopic transport infrastructure – a bridge built too small, with no rail, walking or cycling access - that struggles with the pressure of vehicles, where trucks may be banned from the clip-ons in ten years?

If we really took the opportunity we could invest in our transport infrastructure to get people around faster, more comfortably, and with less oil. With the wild fluctuations of price and imminent peaking of oil it makes sense to invest in a resilient low-carbon transport system for our own interests – the World Cup can provide the impetus. Projects like electrifying Auckland’s rail network and extending a line to the Airport and underground to Mt Eden; a light rail network for Wellington City linking the Railway Station and hospital; and better public transport networks – be it better buses or car sharing systems in the provinces. Is all this achievable within 1000 days? Possibly, but it depends on the urgency and will, which at current levels renders them all impossible.

We need to look after the fans’ bellies too. We need to make sure the food on sale at games is local, affordable and safe. That means GE-free and preferably organic. I’m not crazy enough to suggest only organic tofu-hotdogs with cous-cous and mungbean salad. It is amazing that a bread-basket like New Zealand still imports around 40 percent of our food – at the Cup let’s promote our local fare. It’s a wonderful opportunity to show off our world-class food and wine – why just serve the same old greasy chips and pies? Let’s also follow through the logic – why serve delicious food in plastic, unrecyclable containers – why not mandate all the packaging at the games to be recyclable or biodegradable?

We need to be holding our officials in Ministry for Economic Development and the NZRFU to account and make sure they are actively looking at international best practice and planning the greenest World Cup within our means.

We also need to pressure the Government to start making a reality of ‘Clean and Green New Zealand’. Unfortunately, the signals coming out of the beehive seem stridently anti-sustainability. The previous government’s initiatives – an Emissions Trading Scheme, $1 billion for insulating cold damp homes, the biofuels law, energy efficient light bulbs, the renewable electricity preference, Buy Kiwi Made, LOVENZ are all scrapped, unfunded or on hold. It is a mistake to think that environmental initiatives are bad for the economy. Work around a Green New Deal and especially President Obama’s language around green jobs shows that sustainability can be a boon for the environment and the economy.

The Cup is going to be the biggest event ever hosted by New Zealand and facing uncertain economic times we don’t have a better opportunity to add to the long term health and resilience of the economy. The Cup gives us the urgency to invest in infrastructure and build jobs. Barcelona used the 1992 Olympics to expand its airport, transform its waterfront, and increase its transport infrastructure and came away with a huge profile to became one of the most popular European tourist destinations. The worst tragedy would be waking up the day after the cup finishes with a mess to clean up and nothing to show for the party.

New Zealanders need to start having a conversation about a Green World Cup and making a reality of the marketing slogans. We won the rights to host the World Cup by creating a compelling ‘audience of 4 million’ argument and it’s up to the 4 million of us to take notice and ‘own the Cup’. The environmental movement needs to grasp its best chance in a generation to make massive progress using the national game as a catalyst. Our Green World Cup in a more sustainable Aotearoa has everything going for it: more jobs, a more resilient dynamic economy, a stronger more truthful ‘clean green’ brand, healthier cities and communities, clean energy, a fast and efficient public transport network and most importantly to our pride in a successful Cup hosting. There’s no way we’ll be sustainable by 2011 – but we can make prodigious and inspiring headway. The only thing holding us back is a lack of will and vision.


© Scoop Media

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