A Green World (Cup) – offsets and multi-modal travel

A recent BBC article has critiqued Qatar 2022’s sustainability claims and as emissions have said to have gone up 3 times more than originally reported then questions have been raised, and solutions suggested for a greener tournament by external consultants, academics and experts.

At FGA we are sustainability consultants; our work spans aviation, sustainable mobility, fuels and sport. We work on the energy transition on a societal level and applied business level, and find it helpful to bring discussion and debate to unearth facts, opinions and misconceptions. We noticed some points in the article and have a few thoughts:

Offsetting means paying for an external project to reduce or sometimes absorb the emissions a country, organisation or person is emitting. But some argue in many cases they simply don’t work as intended, as, for example, it can be hard to ensure a forest stays standing or be sure a renewable power plant would not have been built even without the investment. Environmentalists are therefore concerned offsets can act as a “dangerous distraction” from what’s really needed – cutting emissions

There are many experts and investors that do believe offsets work. For them to work we mean that they are bankable projects, so commercially viable, as well as reduce or sequest carbon and especially the ones around biodiversity, rewilding, some reforestation but not just planting trees alone, and renewable fuels. With sustainable aviation fuels, however, they can also be classed as ‘insets’ so it’s not “paying for an external project to reduce or sometimes absorb the emissions a country, organisation or person is emitting” but in these cases you are creating a process to make sure what you used is using lower carbon and carbon sequestering material which is in or from your own supply chain. Some fuels can even be made from extracting carbon from the air called efuels but these ones are a bit more future thinking right now.

We started our work as researchers and were granted by Booking.com alongside the University of Amsterdam back in 2018 to raise awareness for sustainable travel.FGA began later working on developing frameworks and alignment further in accordance with the Sustainable Development Goals and Science Based Targets, who accept sustainable aviation fuels or alternative fuels as they can also be called. The long term thinking is that new energy, including aviation fuels,  become regenerative or circular. 

However, there is no real taking away from the fact that when major events happen it generally is asking a lot of people to fly. Train alternatives definitely do need to be worked into solutions which we are working on amongst all the multi-modal solutions; and organisations like Formula E work with governments on infrastructure projects, communication, EV adoption as well as work on travel consolidation and Science Base Targets in general.

Julia Pallé, Formula E Sustainability Director, recently commenting “Air travel is the biggest challenge we are facing to keep the world under 1.5 degrees. There are no silver bullets yet as this industry is researching and transitioning however one interesting solution to explore is SAF enabling a direct plug and play replacement for kerosene”.

Formula E are number 1 in the new ESG sustainability index in sport so looking to them for leadership is a good idea. UEFA’s President Aleksander Čeferin said they would not use the polycentric tournament model again like was in place for EURO 2020 and since UEFA have made considerable efforts to become more sustainable and promote sustainability further including putting out a new job vacancy for not just a Mobility Manager, as previous times, but for a Smart Mobility and Aviation Specialist so step-by-step things do move forward to a greener tournament. An original project called Life TACKLE came with the support of UEFA in 2018/19, where FGA Sports consultant Sarah Wilkin worked on reporting and facilitated one of the first sustainability workshops in football in the U.K. this February at St George’s Park.

FGA Sports have worked to rearrange routes, tournaments and host cities and have seen that it is possible to reduce emissions by over 30% by doing so, so it is definitely a tool that can be part of a carbon reduction plan, when working with a Data Scientist. On another note we found that in grassroots football that the Birmingham County FA catchment area was creating 2.4 million travel movements and so now plans to consolidate these are underway.

“It’s going to be an iterative process. It’s not easy also due to the politics in very large organisations so there are a few things to navigate, then there is the budget to pay for all the solutions and the consultancy work. How do you convince the CFO it is worth it and commercially sound? Something our team always thinks about.” Says, Sarah Wilkin of FGA Sports.

Save today, Play tomorrow is a football-centric sustainability program working to ensure grassroots football is consolidating travel, amongst other commitments. Grassroots spans 11 million people in the U.K.  so Save Today, Play Tomorrow encourages a bottom up approach to carbon reduction. It’s worth checking their recently award winning initiative and joining forces to sustain the game. 

Read more articles from us such as ‘Turning resistance in to flow‘, ‘Bridging the say/do gap‘, ‘How do we market climate change?‘ and an op-ed we did with The Sustainability Report called ‘Turning football’s attention towards sustainable travel‘.

FGA & FGA Sports works on low carbon solutions across sports with a travel focus.

Contact sarah@flygreenalliance.org to discuss cross-sector work in travel, fuels and football sustainability initiatives which we see are getting the job done.

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