Brazil’s Maracanã Gets $393 Million Green Makeover

by Liza Booth

The Brazil team celebrates after winning last year's Confederation Cup - the World Cup dry run. Photo: FIFA/Getty Images

The Brazil team celebrates after winning last year’s Confederation Cup – the World Cup dry run. Photo: FIFA/Getty Images

But the football-mad country is struggling to meet its pledge to make this year’s World Cup the greenest ever, reports LIZA BOOTH from Rio de Janeiro.

On June 12, 32 teams of the world’s best players will gather in Brazil for what the country is calling “the World Cup of World Cups”. Six hundred thousand fans and armies of media and officials from all over the globe will fly in to celebrate it. But amongst the preparations for the party, has Brazil forgotten its pledge to make this World Cup the greenest ever?

It was always a tall order – meeting an environmental agenda as well as building stadia and transport infrastructures, much of it from scratch. And all of this in a country with limited sustainability experience. The organisers set up a series of task-forces to ensure federal, state and corporate stakeholders worked together to deliver on the promise. And they had the country behind them: a 2011 poll for the world football authority (FIFA) found 90 per cent of Brazilians thought it was “vital”. So why – ask sustainability professionals – have they failed to make more of an impact?

In Rio de Janeiro on February 6, FIFA showed off gleaming solar panels, intelligent lighting systems and rainwater pitch irrigation to the world’s press – the Maracana, the most famous football stadium in the world with a sustainability make-over costing $393 million (€286 million).

“This is our most comprehensive, our most integrated strategy, and also our biggest ever investment in this area,” says Federico Addiechi, FIFA’s Head of Corporate Social Responsibility. “We are struggling all the time to make these things a reality… because we want a better future, we want to protect our planet.”


But despite the passionate rhetoric, the organisation predicts the tournament will still pump 2.72 million tons of greenhouse gases (GHGs) into the air by the end of the competition – a third more than the last World Cup held in South Africa in 2010. Eighty-one per cent of those heat-trapping gases will be generated by transport for supporters. International flights will bring the fans to Brazil in June and July, and domestic flights will transport them between stadiums in a country where there is no viable public transport alternative. Travel agents estimate that travelling the 2,800km from Rio to see a match in Manaus, for example, would take two days on bus or four days by boat.

International observers are watching with interest. Philippe Pernstich is a Consultant Advisor at the UK’s Carbon Trust. He says the so-called mega-events which attract international visitors can never claim to be “Low Carbon”. The task is to find strategies to minimise the factors that can be controlled. “Brazil has a disadvantage of geography with its size, but electing for 12 distant venues [rather than a possible minimum of six] and building of six new stadia is not ideal from an environmental perspective. Likewise the organisers could have opted to hold all group matches in a single region, which would have reduced fans’ travel. Commercial factors have over-ridden the environmental.”

Brazil’s passion for football is clearly centerstage here. But there is as much at stake in the financial performance as that of star players Neymar or Fred. Brazil’s impressive growth when it won the bid has since dramatically slowed, and last summer’s street protests showed the simmering resentment at the rising cost to the public purse, while hospitals and schools remain woefully under-funded.

The Brazilian government is spending an estimated $14 billion (€10.3 billion) preparing for the World Cup. It’s banking on returns close to EY’s calculations of $71 billion (€52 billion) in direct and indirect investment, although some analysts doubt the figure will be so high. Ministers say by spreading the tournament across the country they can help redistribute wealth and business opportunities, and create around 120,000 new jobs.


But with around three months until the opening ceremony, London 2012’s former Head of Sustainability, Dan Epstein, says the organisers have missed the boat on more ambitious environmental projects which could make the legacy of this event as impressive as the party such as new strategies for sewage, reducing the carbon density of developments, and waste management schemes.

“It’s too late. They’ve had seven years to think about it, but implementation should have begun two years ago. We’ve been saying you need to plan to deliver real change, we’ve planned strategies, given ideas: but they’ve not really been taken on and developed.

“We say, don’t look at the London Olympics, the city is too different. Look at South Africa in 2010 – they’re more similar climatically and culturally. They were very effective with their supply chain for ethical consumption. They showed how the tournament can lead to long-term changes for the better.”

That Brazil 2014’s carbon footprint isn’t higher still is thanks to the country’s existing clean energy matrix, which relies heavily on hydroelectricity and lower carbon liquid fuels, and that has undoubtedly helped with intracity transport and the electricity used by accommodation as well as the big events.


As with all carbon footprint calculations, the devil is in the detail of what’s being excluded. In line with previous World Cup measurements, stadia construction projects and transport infrastructure are off the list. Concrete carries a heavy carbon load: 410 kg/m3 (based on the standard use of 14 per cent cement). Six new stadia have been built from scratch, the others have had extensive renovations to come up to FIFA standard. None of them have released carbon footprint measurements for the work.

The Arena da Amazonia stadium in the jungle city of Manaus is often singled out for criticism: an over-sized and high-carbon density project with no viable legacy. The 43,000 seater – which is yet to be completed – will only host four matches during the World Cup. Afterwards its energy load will be used by a local football club that usually attracts a crowd of 600. The $205 million (€150 million) design – similar to Beijing’s Bird Nest stadium – has required 6,700 tonnes of smelted steel to be imported from Portugal, and the extraweight cranes to lift the metal to be flown in from China and the US.


Others have fared better. The city of Belo Horizonte used a public-private partnership with the Minas Arena group and $274 million (€200 million) to renovate the Mineirao stadium with enough green credentials to vie for LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification. According to City Hall, they recycled everything from seats to other stadia and the pitch to a local social project. All construction debris was re-used as street paving, and they only used certified wood and water-based paints. A scheme to give grants to local businesses who also make environmental changes has also been set up.

Marcelo Viana is the Environment Supervisor for the stadium, and oversaw the green alteration plan. He says the extra investment of up to 10 per cent of building costs wasn’t a hard sell to the stakeholders:

“It’s worth it because we will make that investment back in just three years through savings in electricity and water. And at the same time we can make such a big positive impact inside the stadium and with the message the public takes home with them. We had to take the opportunity.”

FIFA never made any formal sustainability requirements on Brazil, so there is nothing to hold them to, but Federico Addeichi says he is “very happy” with their achievements.

To Dan Epstein that means the governing body has been too “hands-off ” and should have pushed harder for action. He believes the football authorities do not want to be associated with any factors that add to budgets, largely public money. His UK-based consultancy Useful Simple has run a series of workshops for officials for the 12 host cities.

“The Brazilian organisers are highly intelligent, they recognise best practice. But the issue is that they don’t hold onto power in these projects. They devolve responsibility to layers of contractors to deliver. The contractors have the skills, but not the motivation to innovate or develop sustainable ideas if they’re not built into the procurement process.


And what of the sponsors? Yingli Solar is the major environmental partner. The global leader in the production of photovoltaic cells, has provided the 15,000 solar panels which have been installed on the roof of the Maracana stadium – providing a third of the stadium’s energy needs. Vice President of Global Marketing, Judy Tzeng Lee says sponsors have a “critically important role” to work with FIFA and host countries on sustainability.

“Yingli partnered with FIFA to raise solar energy awareness and promote sustainability to a mainstream, global audience. It is our responsibility to bring this message to the world.

“In countries like Brazil, which contain beautiful, fragile ecosystems, it is critical to carefully manage events so that their environmental impact is minimal. By prioritizing sustainability and pushing for the world to pay more attention to sustainability, we can help raise the profile of these issues on the global stage.”

After the 64 matches have been played – the last goal scored, the last cheer or commiseration given, FIFA has pledged to fund projects to off-set the final GHG emissions figure, guaranteeing this competition will ultimately be carbonneutral. In April, cleantech operators will have their chance to bid for a slice of the investment, estimated around €1.9 million ($2.6 million). Details have yet to be released, but the selected projects are likely to be in the wind energy and hydro-electric sectors, as well as reforestation plans.

“We have learned lessons,” admits Federico Addiechi. “The sooner you start on work on these issues, the easier, the cheaper, the more impactful they are. In the future, we will integrate more sustainability requirements into the bidding process. We want to do more, but I’m very positive about it – we are on the right track.