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How green is cycling?

15 November 2012

Environmental impact assessment methods should be integrated into the planning of major sporting events using projections of visitor numbers and forecast travel patterns, according to academics from Cardiff University.

Ahead of the 100th edition of the Tour de France taking place in 2013, three leading academics from Cardiff University have published a report into the environmental and economic impacts of the largest annual sporting event in the world.

The report sets out policy recommendations stemming from an analysis of surveys conducted with over 1,400 spectators at the 2007 Tour de France Grand Depart in London and Kent, which the authors hope will help inform the planning of future major sporting events.

The findings show that although the total economic impact of the Grand Depart on the UK in 2007 was estimated to be almost £150m, this must be considered alongside the events' significant environmental impact.

In total, the 'ecological footprint' - the land area required to support the resource demands and consumption patterns of spectators - of the 2007 Grand Depart was estimated to be 57,990 global hectares. This footprint is equivalent to almost 143 times the area of London's Olympic Park. The main contributor was travel, with the average spectator travelling 734 kilometres to watch the event. The total footprint generated by the average spectator was 2.2 times more than had they not attended the event.

The report recommends that appraisals of major events need to give greater attention to the environmental as well as their economic impacts, and that environmental impact assessment methods such as the 'ecological footprint' should be integrated into the organisation of such events from the planning stages.

The authors of the report are Dr Andrea Collins, affiliate of the Sustainable Places Research Institute from the School of Planning and Geography, Prof Max Munday and Dr Annette Roberts from Cardiff University's Business School.

Dr Collins commented: "Organisers need to be better informed about the local and global environmental impacts that can result from staging a major sport event. Our study of the Tour de France has demonstrated that although events can result in large economic benefits they can also generate significant environmental impacts. These impacts need to be identified from the outset so that practical steps can be taken during the planning stages to reduce them as far as possible. Organisers could also use this environmental information to communicate how successful they have been in reducing the negative impacts associated with the event.

"Major sport events are often used to raise our awareness of particular issues such as the health benefits of physical activity. However their value as a vehicle for raising public awareness of environmental issues and encouraging spectators to take small but significant changes has yet to be realised."

Prof Munday commented: "We need to better understand the environmental implications of major events, and how these effects relate to more conventional economic benefits – the Tour de France provided a useful lens through which to study this problem.

"Our research showed that it is possible to measure selected environmental impacts and that this type of evaluation will help organisers of high-profile sporting events to reduce negative impacts over time. Through including environmental impact assessments in the planning stages they will be able to identify those spectator behaviours which have the largest/greatest impact and put measures in place to reduce these, for example by providing more sustainable travel options."

'The Environmental Impacts of Major Cycling Events: Reflections on the UK Stages of the Tour de France' will be distributed to the Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) which currently owns and organises the Tour de France, amongst other organisations involved in organising major sporting events in the UK and beyond.

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