Prioritising sustainability objectives can be complex for a major sporting event, but, with the support of World Business Council guidelines, the UCI may have the answer
With 17 overarching goals, 169 targets and 247 indicators, the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) can be a complex framework to align with, particularly if your core organisational function has so many moving parts, like coordinating a major sporting event.
But, through the World Business Council’s Sustainable Development Goal Sector Roadmaps Guidelines, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) may have found the answer.
And it needed one. The 2023 UCI Cycling World Championships, the first ‘Super Worlds,’ featured a mix of UCI World Championships (13 in total), terrains and stakeholders. Creating a sustainability plan for this diverse event, which included road racing, velodrome events, park-based BMX freestyling, mountain biking in Glentress Forest and para-cycling, required clear focus.
According to Ben Barrett, the UCI’s sustainability consultant, the guidelines provide a “process” to identify specific sub-targets of the SDGs and filter through “literally hundreds of potential options” to prioritise what is most important.
Alongside the 2023 UCI Cycling Worlds organising committee, the UCI, and several key partners, including Glasgow City Council, UK Sport, British Cycling and VisitScotland, Barrett used guidelines to connect key SDGs with the event’s strategy by creating a sustainability framework.
This involved developing an ‘Impact Index’ that considered indicators related to environmental, social and economic issues specific to the event’s location. Importantly, the process highlighted how environmental issues, like climate change, are interconnected with social and economic situations. The index will be rolled out again for the next Super Worlds in 2027, being hosted in Haute-Savoie, France.
One of the social indicators, for example, focused on how the event was promoting access to financially disadvantaged areas. Actions included providing reduced ticket prices for disadvantaged people, making sure logistics like transport didn’t present any barriers, collaborating with social organisations to reach target audiences and designing event information that could be found offline for those without access to the internet.
More broadly, the UCI Sustainability Impact Tracker, powered by 261PI and Global Climate Initiatives (GCI), has two main parts. First, an SDG Calculator offers a consistent framework for cycling stakeholders to align with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It assesses current stakeholder actions and sets a baseline for shaping future sustainability programmes, covering governance, social impact and environmental considerations. The second part is the carbon calculator, allowing cycling stakeholders to assess greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and develop a targeted plan for reduction.
Climate action, of course, is a key area of focus for the UCI as practically all its event disciplines face threats no matter which region they are hosted in. As part of its sustainability report, published in October, the federation produced its climate transition plan to anticipate those risks and prepare for them.
In terms of mitigation, the UCI’s organisational carbon emissions stabilised in 2022 following the couple of years disrupted by COVID-19, offering a clearer picture of the specific actions that need to be implemented to achieve the governing body’s target of reducing its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 50% by 2030. Teams will be required to do the same to renew their license in 2030.
From a climate adaptation point of view, the UCI will directly support regions facing the brunt of the challenge. By 2025, it will develop the Climate Action Training and Sustainability Guidelines to be more applicable to the specific circumstances of national federations from emerging countries. UCI World Cycling Centre satellites across the world will also be supported to embed Climate Action and information on sustainable development within their training programmes.
“The impacts of climate change will not be experienced equally, and the stories from riders and federations being most impacted need to be told,” says Tony Mitchell, UCI Cycling for All & Sustainable Cycling Commission president. “By giving a platform for these stories, we can help everyone in the cycling family connect with the impacts of our decisions and actions on other people worldwide.”
Storytelling will involve a strategy where cycling ambassadors participate in advocacy campaigns, emphasising climate action, environmental issues and social justice. Additionally, a sustainability ranking system for UCI teams, expected to take effect in 2026 and resembling SailGP’s Impact League, will be a key part of the narrative.
Barrett sees the Impact League as evidence that fostering competition in innovation can enhance fan and supplier engagement. While the UCI’s interpretation is still evolving, it is likely to emulate SailGP’s model, allowing teams to pursue their priorities across the entire spectrum of UN Sustainable Development Goals, similar to the Impact Index introduced at the 2023 UCI Cycling World Championships.
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