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The Big Interview: FIFA on sustainability

Federico Addiechi, FIFA's Head of Corporate Social Responsibility, will be chairing a discussion at the Beyond Sport Summit on how technological advancements can help sustainability in sport. Ahead of this discussion, Addiechi spoke to Sport Industry Group about CSR strategy within world football’s governing body, and the recently disbanded anti-racism taskforce…

What does your role at FIFA encompass?

I’m the head of the sustainability and diversity department, which used to be the CSR department. I’ve been here at FIFA for 13 years and the role of my team and our work is to help to find a balance between the economic, social and environmental aspects of everything we do at FIFA. Not just at FIFA headquarters but also at our events.

We advise FIFA’s leadership and support the different divisions within FIFA to integrate sustainability into their management operations. We are also responsible for developing the sustainability strategy for FIFA and for the FIFA World Cups.

You have been there for 13 years, were you the first person at FIFA responsible for CSR or sustainability – when did FIFA first have someone dedicated to this role?

Yes, I was the first person in that department. 2005 was the International Year of Sport and Physical Education with the UN and there was a call for sports organisations to embrace the concept of using sport as a tool for social development.

We were, at the time, the first international sports organisation that took that call really seriously, and the first steps were the creation of a committee on social responsibility, the creation of a CSR department and of course the allocation of financial resources to develop it.

Over time our understanding of the matter evolved from CSR into sustainability; the initial focus in 2005 was on social aspects but then in 2006 with the World Cup in Germany the environmental aspects started playing an important role as well and then everything evolved into a more comprehensive approach to sustainability.

Now it has grown into a team with seven people based here in Zurich at the headquarters and then special teams who are located in the host countries where the World Cups take place and who also work hand in hand with us to develop the innovative strategies for those events.

The 2014 FIFA World Cup was the first time FIFA implemented a comprehensive sustainable strategy; why didn’t you have one for earlier editions of the FIFA World Cup?

Your question may give the impression that we were somehow late with the creation of a sustainability strategy, or that we realised that there was a need for a sustainability strategy much later than anybody else. The truth, however, is that we were the first international sports federation to have such a comprehensive strategy, and although it was first applied in 2014 the actual development started in 2010. That doesn’t mean, however, that we didn’t do anything until 2014.

The previous event had initiatives and activities that were linked both to the social and environmental spheres as far back as 2006, and even before that, in 2002 and in 1998, there were social and environmental initiatives linked to the FIFA World Cup, but with the creation of the Sustainability Department in 2005 and the evolution of the sector as well – and we actually led that evolution – it was only in 2010 that we decided to use international standards to develop this strategy.

When we speak of a comprehensive strategy, it’s one that is based on international standards of sustainable event management, on social responsibility such as the international standard for social responsibility (ISO 26000), the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) and standards for green building certification. These are things that were not very developed and not used by the world of sport. We were the first ones and very much pioneers in this type of integration.

Of all your achievements, could you pick out one or two things that you are most proud of?

One of the biggest things from 2010 to 2014 was that we took a coordinated and comprehensive approach to sustainability. We looked at all possible issues as a first step and then, through what is called a materiality analysis, we selected the most salient issues. Not just for us, but also for our stakeholders. To tackle issues that were out of our comfort zone, for example carbon emissions of ticket holders or green building certifications of stadiums or accessibility of stadiums were a few of the issues we considered and integrated as new elements into the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Things that we are proud to have integrated, so of course we considered them for future World Cups and we set benchmarks for things that are now considered to be standard in the sport industry. We are very proud of that.

We always have to focus limited resources, both financial and human, on where FIFA and the local organising committee can have the greatest possible impact.

Looking back to 2014, was there anything you wish could have gone better if you had more resources?

In our field there is always room for improvement. For the first time we created a GRI report, a sustainability report under the GRI framework. In that report you can’t just talk about what you did right, you also look at things that weren’t as good as you intended. That was an additional element of transparency that we wanted to embrace from the very beginning.

There has been some external criticism of FIFA’s handling of certain issues, for example the stadium construction workers or discrimination in football with connection to that event. Nevertheless I’m very happy with how things went at the time. I think both FIFA and the local organising committee did a great job in successfully implementing most of the initiatives within our action plan and we learned a lot from the experience in Brazil, and that is helping us in the implementation for our strategies in Russia, Qatar and future events.

What new initiatives will you be implementing for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia?

We started working with the local organising committee in Russia in 2013, which was one and a half years earlier than in Brazil which gives us more time. We also have more experience and a bigger team in place both here in Zurich and in Moscow.

Our sustainability strategy now encompasses a few more elements. The main topics are now focused on health and safety, decent work and capacity building, inclusivity and equality, social development, healthy living and sport legacy. In the environmental area, there are green building standards for stadiums, transport, cargo and waste energy management, risk mitigation and biodiversity. In the economic domain, we are focusing on ethical business practices and local economic development.

So a few of the things that were seen as voluntary measures for the World Cup in Brazil were translated into mandatory requirements for the next World Cup.

What can you tell us about the conversation you will be chairing at the Beyond Sport Summit on the subject of innovation, how has technology helped you create a more sustainable event or organisation?

From an environmental point of view for instance, technological advancements have helped us reduce our impact on the climate. In Brazil we used more fuel-efficient vehicles, and if I remember correctly 24% of the fuel used was ethanol which has lower carbon emissions; then technical innovations in using recycled PET for garments and footwear items gave us an additional push for our PET-recycling programme. Those helped us to reduce the environmental impact of the FIFA World Cup.

As an example from the social perspective, the use of technology such as mobile technology in education or health issues definitely has an impact on the organisations we support permanently through our flagship initiative, the Football For Hope programme.

So through those innovations in technology we are able to support this kind of work even more, and when they are all put together these innovations definitely add a lot of value to society. It will be very interesting to talk to other people at the Beyond Sport Summit and share best practices in this subject area.

How much do you use external support to help your sustainable programmes? Where are the areas that you need external expertise?

We definitely cooperate with expert organisations and individuals that support us with the implementation of our sustainable strategies. From the first stakeholder process to develop the strategy right down to the moment where we implement some specific initiatives as part of our action plan. We have to rely on external stakeholders for all of those processes.

How can your commercial sponsors help with your sustainability efforts?

They provide much needed financial support but also in some cases act as core cooperators in implications of various sustainable initiatives. Plus they also have expert knowledge within their own companies where they often have more development than what we have at FIFA. For example, a new topic has been added to article three of our statutes, which is the respect and promotion of human rights in our sphere of influence – this being a new topic in the world of sport, there is much more experience available at the level of our large private companies such as the ones who are sponsors of FIFA. Therefore, their experience is very helpful to us.

How often do you exchange ideas and best practice with other sport and event organisers?

We try to learn from other sports organisations and major events, not just sports but major events and try to exchange ideas about innovative sustainable solutions. In the world of sport, we manage and organise the largest single-sport event on Earth so we have a responsibility in many cases to pioneer certain standards and certain work but we definitely learn from others as well.

We share our expertise, we very much believe that whatever experience and knowledge we have from our events, both positive and negative, can help others and we believe in this approach to share these experiences with anyone in the world of sport who is interested in it. That is our way of contributing towards pushing the sustainability agenda forward in the world of sport. We are committed to doing so. We do this directly through other football organisations or through the IOC case studies that they are currently being developed for international federations.

Do you believe a good CSR or sustainability programme is important both for society but also to bring commercial success?

I believe that, in the first place, sustainability is important for the organisation itself. We believe that operating sustainably is how events and organisations should operate, and the more sustainable the better. A modern and professional organisation must definitely be a sustainable organisation.

Of course if you are modern, professional and sustainable the success is not just for the organisation and its stakeholders, but also society at large.

How important is sustainability to the FIFA president’s agenda?

The FIFA president is committed to positive change to football and to our organisation to restore FIFA’s reputation. He has stated many times that he wants football to be at centre of FIFA and he believes that to do so the problems within and around the game need to be tackled firmly and with responsibility. To that aim, sustainability is definitely important.

He has also identified a few areas where he believes FIFA and football can contribute towards improving the lives of millions of people around the globe, and one clear testimony of that is his initiative to create a human rights advisory board to help FIFA improve its work in this field and to ensure there is respect for workers’ rights in line with article three of our statutes on human rights.

FIFA announced that it has disbanded its anti-racism taskforce declaring that the job is complete, this was met with some negative feedback – do you want to comment on those remarks that say you have not done enough?

Anyone who says that FIFA does not do enough based on the fact that the task force is no longer operating – and by the way it ceased to operate two years ago, not last week – disregards two very important elements. First of all, a task force by its very definition is a temporary group and its role was to deliver a set of recommendations to the FIFA administration, which it did at the end of 2014, and those recommendations are now being put into practice. Secondly, they should take a closer look at the vast range of initiatives that FIFA is implementing to promote diversity and fight discrimination in football.

If you follow what has been going on in the qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup, the mechanism, which is a result of the task force, to monitor and provide evidence in case of discriminatory incidents at the qualifiers is working well. There are also a number of initiatives that go beyond the recommendations of the task force. One of the main reasons the task force was created was to have an exchange with certain individuals to step up the fight. This stakeholder engagement process continues with various members of the task force as well as with external expert organisations who continue to support us in the fight against discrimination.

Therefore, if we want to be fair about reporting on FIFA’s work in the fight against discrimination, I think diminishing it to the fact that the task force is no longer in operation is very reductive and definitely not fair.

So the fact that that formal taskforce no longer operates doesn’t mean that we are not contacting anyone, that we are not implementing a vast range of initiatives to fight discrimination or that FIFA is not committed to promote diversity in football.

Is there one piece of top advice that can you give to our audience of industry professionals to embrace a sustainable approach to their business?

If we can try to summarise sustainable development, it is about making sure that future generations  have the same opportunities that we have today. This definition for sustainable development was defined by the United Nations Brundlandt report back in 1987.

If we in the football industry all take this definition seriously, then we have to ensure that what we do today is not harmful to people or our planet. And that is across all aspects including the economic, social and environmental areas; they each need to be a factor in all of our decisions.

At the beginning it takes time to implement this into how a traditional business works, but once it is part of your management system and once it has embraced a sustainable business approach, it will be very beneficial for our industry but also for our society and our planet in general.

 

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