Green mobility and clean water in the spotlight at the World Rowing Championships

Green mobility and clean water in the spotlight at the World Rowing Championships

Organisers of the 2019 event are using the natural protected landscape in Linz-Ottensheim to raise awareness around a number of sustainable initiatives

The World Rowing Championships head to the green, mountainous nation of Austria this year, and will be staged in the surrounds of a protected landscape, home to more than 100 species of birds and fish.

In fact, the Linz-Ottensheim amphitheatre on the Danube River is one of only a handful of natural, non-artificial regatta venues on World Rowing’s international circuit, and organisers are looking to keep it that way by reducing waste, promoting ecological mobility and communicating on sustainability to all those who attend this year’s competition, which runs from 25 August to 1 September.

The framework for these sustainability efforts has been developed in close consultation with the Austrian Ministry of Environmental Affairs, with the championships poised to become one of the first sporting events to carry the eco-label for the ministry’s ‘Green Event’ programme. This means adhering to a number of requirements designed to keep the event’s ecological footprint as small as possible, and covering areas such as transport, hospitality, waste management and communication. For a small event organiser with only one full-time member of staff, that is no easy task.  

Green mobility

“The guidelines are separated into must-haves and recommended points,” says Liliane Pretterhofer, the aforementioned staff member, who has been overseeing the development and implementation of each of the sustainability measures over the last two-and-a-half years. “And regarding mobility, the must-have is to encourage spectators to arrive by public transportation.”

Since they couldn’t afford to arrange bespoke travel for fans, the organisers worked with regional authorities to achieve this requirement, extending the bus service to make it easier to reach the venue for the finals (usually the buses would only run every two hours at weekends). Pretterhofer’s team is also running a shuttle service to take athletes from Linz to Ottensheim – a town with a population of just 5,000, and no hotels – and have partnered with an energy supplier, Energie AG, who will provide a fleet of e-cars for World Rowing members for the duration of the event.

New approach to waste management

The venue hosted a test event in June 2018, which not only gave the athletes a taste of the course and an opportunity to provide feedback, but allowed organisers to test their operations and trial the sustainability measures. In fact, the lessons learned from their system of waste management at that meeting led to a new approach this time around.

“It didn’t work,” says Pretterhofer, who admits that encouraging an international audience to separate organic, plastic, paper and other waste was over-ambitious. “This time, we are reducing possibilities in the hope that it makes our waste separation system more transparent. I think there were just too many choices last year.”

For 2019, paper containers will be placed in areas where there will be a lot of paper waste, but everywhere else the waste will be divided only between plastic and other recycling. The waste will then be transported to a biogas plant where it will be transformed into clean energy and fertiliser.

On the hospitality side, the catering team will prioritise waste reduction, with reusable dishes and water bottles provided to athletes and volunteers. Spectators will eat organic meals from bamboo plates and drink from reusable cups with a deposit on them, which they can also refill from a number of water sources around the venue.

“We’re trying to communicate our sustainability message in the way we host the event, by encouraging athletes and spectators to refill their water bottles, reduce waste and separate waste,” adds Pretterhofer.  

A sustainable legacy for rowing

A key aspect of the bid to host the championships in Linz-Ottensheim was to develop the sport in the region, and ensure that it becomes a regular stop on the international calendar.

After the hosting rights were awarded in 2015, construction began on a new National Training Centre, which will be used after the event as a venue not just for competitions, but also national and international training camps – with squads from China and Ukraine already taking advantage of the facilities. For the championships, the centre will provide one of the two grandstands that flank the finish line, and is fully accessible to physically impaired people. 

In addition to regional government and local suppliers, the organisers have been working closely with World Rowing (FISA), which has established a reputation as one of the leading sports federations when it comes to sustainability. In 2018, FISA became the first global sports body to pledge to protect UNESCO natural and mixed World Heritage sites, and also announced the winner of its first-ever Sustainability Award as part of an on-going commitment to promoting environmental sustainability. In fact, World Rowing has been taking a leadership position with regard to the application of environmentally-sustainable practices in the use and management of water since forging a strategic alliance with the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) in 2011.

According to Pretterhofer, representatives from the WWF will be in attendance at the World Championships in another nod to the organisers’ sustainability credentials. “The WWF wants to use our event to promote the start of their ‘Clean Water Month’ initiative, which raises awareness through September – because rowing is a sport that is really dependent on clean water,” she explains. 

With the World Championships taking place within a beautiful protected landscape, and putting an emphasis on e-mobility and waste reduction, it seems like a natural fit. 

Which other sports organisations are promoting environmental sustainability at their events? Let us know in the comments below.

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