Mega Events, Sports and Sustainability with Michigan State University's Dr. Eva Kassens-Noor

This episode originally aired on October 6, 2015 on Green is Good Radio. Today on GreenIsGood: How can mega events like the Olympics and the World Cup improve their sustainability and reduce their carbon footprint?

November 18, 2015

By: John Shegerian, http://www.greenisgoodradio.com/

This episode originally aired on October 6, 2015 on Green is Good Radio. 

Today on GreenIsGood: How can mega events like the Olympics and the World Cup improve their sustainability and reduce their carbon footprint?
 

John Shegerian: Welcome back to Green Is Good. This is the Green Sports Alliance edition of Green Is Good here in beautiful downtown Chicago, and we are so honored to have with us today Professor Eva Kassens-Noor. She is going to be talking about climate in sports. Welcome to Green Is Good.

Eva Kassens-Noor: Thank you.

John Shegerian: You know, Eva, you are the Assistant Professor at Michigan State in Urban Transportation Planning in the School of Planning, Design and Construction.

Eva Kassens-Noor: That’s right.

John Shegerian: Plus, you’ve also been named-

Eva Kassens-Noor: I’m also joint appointed in the global urban studies program.

John Shegerian: Wow. So that is a mouthful, but you are doing a lot of great stuff there.

Eva Kassens-Noor: Thank you.

John Shegerian: And you are here today at the Green Sports Alliance to talk about climate and sports and the interrelationship. And you have a website, if people want to find you, called www.MegaEventPlanning.org. So today you are here at the Green Sports Alliance. Before we get talking about sports and climate, talk a little bit about you. Talk a little bit about Eva Kassens-Noor. Talk a little bit about your journey. Was this something that you grew up with? Were you green in your household or is something you learned about in college? Where did you get this excitement and energy about sustainability?

Eva Kassens-Noor: Well, I was born and raised in Germany.

John Shegerian: OK.

Eva Kassens-Noor: And then my mental consciousness in sustainability is a very strong part with which you are getting raised there. Recycling came very early in our household. I think at one point we had six or seven trashcans. It was quite daunting. Then, besides that, I always loved sports so as I was getting older and joining different leagues, I had the chance to go to the Atlanta 1996 Olympics.

John Shegerian: Really?

Eva Kassens-Noor: Yes.

John Shegerian: And so what happened there?

Eva Kassens-Noor: Well, I had a fantastic time - of course - seeing athletes compete and all with in the background thinking about, “OK, what can the city do to sustain this excitement or sustain more than just an Olympic Games? What can this mega event be a beacon for?”

John Shegerian: Right. Got you. So how did that evolve to where you are today?

Eva Kassens-Noor: Well, then I wanted to become a professor at one point. I think I was 21 when I figured out there is more to being a teacher, moving on to professor and becoming independent, setting your own research agenda and all I had to do - so a friend of mine say - or let’s say an advisor said, “All you have to do is get good grades,” so I was trying to do that and ultimately ended up now being a professor focusing on mega event planning and sustainability.

John Shegerian: That’s wonderful. And so when did you learn about the Green Sports Alliance?

Eva Kassens-Noor: It was basically in conversations that I had with Dow about mega events in general.

John Shegerian: Got you.

Eva Kassens-Noor: They started asking - because also I teach sustainability and climate resilient cities classes so I am primarily working on urban planning.

John Shegerian: OK.

Eva Kassens-Noor: And they said, “How would you be interested in joining us for a panel at the summit?” and I said yes.

John Shegerian: Perfect. And so what are you going to be talking about at the panel?

Eva Kassens-Noor: We will be discussing in which ways mega events can incorporate sustainability and we’ll focus on carbon so we’re looking at carbon reduction. We will be asking challenging questions whether there will ever be an option to have a carbon neutral event. If so, when would that be? Is that possible at all, and if so, how? And we’ll be talking about it from different perspectives. So my perspective will be from academia looking at what has been published to date so far, how have these mega events like Olympic Games or World Cups managed to incorporate sustainability, or if they have done that at all.

John Shegerian: Right.

Eva Kassens-Noor: The big question.

John Shegerian: Talk a little bit about your students at Michigan State. Are they on fire for green? Is the generation behind you really all excited about sustainability and green?

Eva Kassens-Noor: So the students at Michigan State - those who take the class - they are bleeding green.

John Shegerian: That’s wonderful.

Eva Kassens-Noor: They really want to learn, and they want to move forward, and they’re very, very excited. They are great students.

John Shegerian: So there is a big sustainability movement underfoot with the next generation, with the millennials.

Eva Kassens-Noor: Yes.

John Shegerian: Got you.

John Shegerian: So do you see - from an academia standpoint, is reduction of carbon footprint one of the ways that we could green mega events? Is it proven to work, and do you believe we are moving towards carbon neutrality at mega events?

Eva Kassens-Noor: I think we have a really long way to go to get there.

John Shegerian: OK.

Eva Kassens-Noor: That being said, I think it’s incrementally moving towards it. I think David’s interview before London was one of the really big steps forward to bring in carbon reductions. And the first thing you need to do is measure it. How bad is it? Then start incorporating how can we chip away from it and not just looking at the event in itself but rather the legacy. For example,, if you build a construction of course that has tremendous impact on the environment and on carbon emissions, so where do you start? That is kind of the big question.

John Shegerian: So from what you know now and what you do with regards to climate and sports and mega events, do you work with organizations like Dow and other large corporations on helping to green mega events, and then you also teach - at Michigan State - students on how to become the next leaders at these corporations, or what is actually - speak a little bit about your interrelationship on both the academia side and then also with regards to actually implementation.

Eva Kassens-Noor: I am by trade an urban planner, which means we do a lot of adaptive work.

John Shegerian: Right.

Eva Kassens-Noor: We like to work with communities. So from an academic standpoint, it is kind of the research that drives our implementation so we spend a lot of time working in our academic circles theorizing about what might be possible and then bringing that knowledge into practice and that is always the challenge with implementation.

John Shegerian: Got you.

Eva Kassens-Noor: And Dow was honestly the first corporation I have worked with or am starting to work with so I have not had that experience. For example, I have research grants with the Michigan Department of Transportation and new look at assessing transit agencies across Michigan. So these types of things we do, but it is more research grant approach versus with Dow it’s more “OK, let’s work together and go to these summits and move the agenda forward.”

John Shegerian: How are your big events and your arenas doing in Michigan? Are they already becoming green, or are you working with them to become greener or do they have a longer way to go?

Eva Kassens-Noor: They are starting to. I think Michigan State in particular has a really strong focus on sustainability so basically every email you probably get from Michigan State has the line “go green” so it’s really a large movement at the university.

John Shegerian: Right.

Eva Kassens-Noor: So the students are trying to then bring it out into the communities of Michigan. It’s kind of the trickledown effect that we do.

John Shegerian: Got you. When you see what’s going on here at the Green Sports Alliance, and also with regards to sports as a whole and this greening of sports, how do you feel in terms of big venues? How hard is it to manage carbon mitigation, and is it going to become a more and more specific profession for others to follow into and just work specifically on that?

Eva Kassens-Noor: I think it’s a tremendous challenge. The bigger the events are the more carbon emission you’ll have especially in terms of international travel - the transport pieces. So I look at it holistically.

John Shegerian: I see. From a macro perspective.

Eva Kassens-Noor: That’s right.

John Shegerian: I got you.

Eva Kassens-Noor: That’s right. Or thinking about even the trickle effect of complexity in understanding greenhouse gas emissions. So, for example, in Brazil, for the 2016 Olympics, they’re building a bus rapid transit line and the idea was to get cars off the road and have busses then on the road replacing them.

John Shegerian: Right.

Eva Kassens-Noor: Well, now, the moment you put in a bus rapid transit line you’re constructing it, you’re displacing residents and they then have to take the bus to come back in where previously they were walking. So it’s all these complexities, these trickledown effects that make it so hard to actually measure carbon.

John Shegerian: That’s fascinating. So you don’t get to look at it with sort of tunnel vision and just look at the finished product and say, “Oh, isn’t this nice; this is saving us all this carbon.” You look at it from - like you said - a holistic and macro perspective of everything that even had to happen for that to happen.

Eva Kassens-Noor: That’s right.

John Shegerian: Wow.

Eva Kassens-Noor: Or, for example, the moment you are driving these BRT lines through the Tijuca Forest, you had to deforest large parts, which then you are erasing a sink for carbon. So it’s really the big picture that we’re looking at.

John Shegerian: Got you. Any final thoughts? We’re down to the last two minutes. Any final thoughts for our listeners and viewers with regards to climate and sports and mega event planning?

Eva Kassens-Noor: I think what would be really important is understanding your own contribution to this.

John Shegerian: OK.

Eva Kassens-Noor: So every time you go to sports or cheer your children on at the small soccer game, think about how you get there and what it means if you would take public transport instead of your own car. So, basically, starting with oneself and trying to understand how much carbon am I emitting and is there a way by which I can reduce it?

John Shegerian: Got you. Those are great words and we thank you for joining us today. To learn more about the Green Sports Alliance, please go to www.GreenSportsAlliance.org. You have been listening to John Shegerian and Professor Eva Kassens-Noor talking about climate and sports and to find Eva, you can either go to Michigan State, and if you don’t want to go to Michigan State, you can go to www.MegaEventPlanning.org and find her there. You know, you’re making the world a better place. We are very thankful for that.

Eva Kassens-Noor: I am, too.

John Shegerian: And you are truly living proof that Green Is Good. Thank you so much for joining us Eva.

Eva Kassens-Noor: Thank you.

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