Presentation by Mr. Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) , for the 5th World Conference on Sport and Environment, Turin, Italy 2 December 2003


There is growing realization within the United Nations that sports and the sports industry have a major role to play in promoting the UN goals of a common future of peace, dignity and prosperity.

The UN General Assembly has just adopted a resolution calling on governments, sports associations, civil society and the private sector to work together in partnership to promote the achievement of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. It also declared 2005 the International Year for Sport and Physical Education as a means to promote education, health, development and peace.

This resolution comes very shortly after the release of the report of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Sport for Development and Peace. This was established to examine practical ways in which sport can contribute to achieving the Millennium Development Goals. It has helped to place sport firmly on the sustainable development agenda.


UNEP’s long and fruitful engagement with the world of sport was also reinforced this year, with the adoption by the UNEP Governing Council of a long-term sport and environment strategy. The strategy is designed to strengthen and formalize UNEP’s engagement with the many players in the world of sport and to further explore the links between sport and environment—an area we feel still needs a lot more emphasis.

The UNEP Sport and Environment Strategy has three core objectives:

1. to promote the integration of environmental considerations in sports

2. to use the popularity of sports to promote environmental awareness, and

3. to promote the development of environmentally friendly sports facilities and the manufacture of environmentally friendly sports goods.

UNEP’s partnership with the Olympic Movement is central to that strategy, and is an example from which UNEP is working to extend partnerships with other major organizations such as FIFA.


Sport’s role is both symbolic and concrete in sustainable development. It represents principles—such as cooperation, tolerance and respect—that lie at the core of UN values and provide the foundation for a better future. It is also an industry with unparalleled global reach and power. Major events such as the Olympics or the soccer World Cup are watched around the world, while companies such as Nike, Reebok and Adidas are household names the world over.

For example, it is estimated that sport-related turnover in the United Kingdom equals that of the automotive and food industries. Everyone from the fittest athlete to the fattest couch potato can be seen wearing running shoes and track suits! Globally, sport-related turnover amounts to three per cent of world total economic activity. The International Olympic Commission alone earns almost $2 billion from sponsorship and TV rights.

It is this cross-cutting, cross cultural nature of sport that makes it such a potentially important influence for good—or for bad. The way sports events are run, the way sporting goods companies do business, and the way sports stars conduct themselves on and off the field can have profound effects far beyond the financial bottom line.

I think one of the best things about the adoption of the environment by the Olympic Movement is the power it has for broader change.

Perhaps the most significant development of recent years has been the adoption of the environment as the third pillar of Olympism, and the success of the Sydney Olympics as an environmental showcase. Even the most sceptical observers gave Sydney’s efforts to stage an environmentally sound games a grudging thumbs up.

The principle behind Sydney’s planning for the 2000 Games was to incorporate sustainability as a foundation of its preparations, not as an afterthought. The fact that Sydney succeeded has, in effect, moved the goalposts for all future major sporting events. The environment is always going to be a major part of any future bids.

The Olympics is such a major event. The competition between cities to host the event is intense. Those cities now have to include environmental sustainability as a cornerstone of their bids.

This in itself raises the awareness of everybody involved, which of course involves local government planners, architects, construction companies and so on. These entities are thus sensitized to environmental issues.

Hopefully this has a knock-on effect. Especially when other people involved in planning, construction and organisation—not just of sporting events, but generally—see that incorporating environmental sustainability into major projects is affordable, cost-effective and beneficial to all concerned, investors as well as the community.

In this way the Olympics acts as a beacon for environmentalism, just as the Olympic torch travelling the world is a beacon for universal brotherhood, peace and harmony.


Because of this kind of leadership, the link between sport and environment is becoming more and more prominent. Organizations and companies are increasingly embracing the principles of environmental sustainability in their planning and their reporting.

Which brings me to my main point today.

I think we have gone beyond the question of why we need to incorporate environmental values, the principles of sustainability, into the business of sport. At forums like this, at planning meetings, and in boardrooms, we need to look increasingly at the how.

How do we make sure that commitment to the environment is not just a public relations exercise? How do we incorporate environmental care into all our planning processes, taking into account the full life-cycle of a product, the total environmental footprint of an event? How do we generate less waste? How can we consume less resources? These are just some of the questions that need to become second nature, in the same way as questions like ‘how can we cut costs’, ‘how can we maximize profit’, already are.

Asking questions is easy. Finding answers is not. I understand from Athens that, despite the best intentions, in some areas environmental considerations have had to take a back seat in favour of the push to meet deadlines and budget targets.


Everything we do has an environmental impact. For example: keeping community playing fields green means spreading pesticides and herbicides and using millions of litres of water a year. Swimming pools use chlorine gas to treat the water, while the changing rooms are mopped down with bleach. Major sporting events generate massive amounts of waste. A typical baseball or football game in the United States contributes up to 50,000 polystyrene cups alone to local landfills. It is estimated that the average spectator generates 2 kilograms of food and beverage waste, much of which can be recycled.

There are also examples of how organizations and companies are minimizing waste and incorporating environmental principles into their activities. Sydney itself set an example, from whose many lessons we can all learn. Many sports bodies have introduced environmental guidelines, codes of conduct and environmental criteria for event hosts. Most major golf bodies have been particularly active. Ski resort operators, mountain biking groups, sports facility architects, parks and recreation departments and major sporting goods manufacturers like Nike, Mizuno and Patagonia are among a growing number of proponents of greater sustainability.

These are the leaders who we need to follow. For example, Adidas and Mizuno are following the principles of environmental management set out in the International Standards Organization’s ISO 14001 rules. Nike is committed to cutting greenhouse gas emissions across its operations worldwide. It also has its ‘Re-Use A Shoe’ programme, where old shoes are recycled to create new products like basketball and tennis courts and athletics tracks. This innovative way of addressing the implications of our throwaway culture is an excellent example of life-cycle thinking. Examples like these serve as inspiration to anyone wanting to contribute to a sustainable future.


Let us be in no doubt that we all need to act together for a sustainable future. The environment is coming under increasing pressure. Just from the sporting perspective, it is having an increasing impact.

Snow sports and climate change

Global warming is not a prognosis for the future; it is an accelerating process today. We live in a warming world. Evidence is growing all the time that most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities. The 1990s were the warmest decade ever

In the Arctic temperatures have risen 3 to 4 degrees. Arctic ice has disappeared at a rate of about 3 per cent each decade since the 1970s. Scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, USA announced recently that Arctic sea ice had reached a record low since satellite measurements started 24 years ago.

In Kenya, the Diamond Couloir, a famous ice climb on Mount Kenya that attracts mountaineers from round the world, has melted.

A study that UNEP is launching today says that many low altitude ski resorts face economic hardship and even ruin as a result of global warming. Experts at the University of Zurich say that the levels of snow falling in lower lying mountain areas will become increasingly unpredictable and unreliable over the coming decades.

The report’s author, Rolf Bürki, who will join me at a press conference later this morning, says that there are problems with snow reliability in all resorts in lower and middle altitudes. In 30 to 50 years, resorts that have no access to regions higher than 2,000 to 2,500 metres will have major problems being economically viable.”

Air pollution and asthma

Another report published in the British medical journal The Lancet points out that in California, in communities with the worst air quality, the most athletic children are three times more likely to get asthma than their peers who do not exercise. Considering that sport is supposed to be a healthy activity, that is a sad statistic.

Outdoor sports and the ozone layer

A survey released earlier this month by the Global Sports Alliance, another of UNEP’s sport and environment partners, indicated that many people involved in recreational sports are being forced to modify their sporting activities. Many are using higher factor sun creams and wearing long-sleeved shirts because they perceive that they have a higher chance of sunburn and skin cancer due to the depletion of the Earth’s ozone layer.

Marine pollution

People are becoming more aware of the disease risk to recreational users of the coastal environment. Surfers in the UK have formed a group ‘Surfers Against Sewage’ to campaign for clean, safe recreational waters, free from sewage effluents, toxic chemicals and nuclear waste.

Campaigns and governments in many areas of the world are now monitoring beach and sea conditions and publishing information on water quality.


I have already mentioned UNEP’s sport and environment strategy and its core objectives of introducing environmental sustainability into sport, and using sport to raise awareness.

I would also like to highlight some other UNEP products and initiatives that I think will benefit our efforts today, and in the future, to incorporate environmental sustainability into sport events and products.

I mentioned the life-cycle approach. UNEP’s life-cycle initiative is one of a number of products available from the sustainable production and consumption branch of UNEP’s Paris-based Division of Technology, Industry and Economics. I encourage you all to find out more about their work on our web site Producing goods and services that use less resources and create less waste is central to sustainability.

Other programmes that UNEP is involved include the Global Reporting Initiative and the UN Secretary-General’s Global Compact, both meaningful mechanisms where industry can become more involved in environmental accountability. The more members these initiatives have, the more influence they will be able to bring to bear.

Finally I would like to draw your attention to a UNEP publication: Sustainable Sport Management: Running an Environmentally, Socially and Economically Responsible Organization, by David Chernushenko, from which I gleaned a number of examples for today’s presentation. Accessible and authoritative, it tackles the issues that we are discussing here today, including providing concrete examples and case studies of companies and sports organizations that have already set off on the path to sustainability.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Sport is about teamwork and cooperation. By working together we can incorporate environmental sustainability into all our actions, all our businesses, all our planning. This is not a luxury. It is a necessity. We all—individuals, corporations and organizations—have a responsibility for the kind of future we want our children to inherit. Let’s make it one where children the world over can grow up with a clean and healthy environment, in an atmosphere of peace and mutual respect, where everyone has an opportunity to work and play.

Thank you.


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