Will Birmingham’s Commonwealth Games leave a sustainable, carbon-neutral legacy?

The Birmingham Commonwealth Games have been a huge success for the city and the region. They’ve not only been a place where sporting excellence has been on display, they’ve also showcased the city to a global audience. People in the UK and beyond have seen aspects of the city, its heritage, its built environment and its exciting culture for the first time and have maybe been inspired to visit or invest.

Another much-heralded aspect of the games has been its commitment to not only staging sustainable games but also leaving a carbon-neutral legacy for the future. This has always been a bold, but crucial ambition for not only the organisers of these games but for future events.

The Birmingham Commonwealth Games sought to raise the bar of what’s possible when it comes to sustainability while showcasing ways in which large-scale events can be held in a more carbon-conscious future.


The promise

The organisers of the Birmingham games were clear from the beginning that sustainability would be an organising principle of their plans. They set out seven key pillars that form the foundation of Birmingham 2022’s sustainability pledge. As well as looking at aspects of inclusion, accessibility and human rights, the pledges also include key environmental elements such as carbon and air quality, conservation and circular economy principles.

The ambition to create a Carbon Neutral Legacy has meant taking responsibility for the climate impact of the games in a credible and holistic way. This has meant looking at how emissions can be offset by additional credible carbon credits from the voluntary carbon market, and also how carbon emissions can be reduced across key emission hotspots.

One strategy for offsetting carbon that cannot be reduced, has been the creation of a new 2,022-acre Commonwealth Forest across the Midlands region. This is being created in partnership with Severn Trent who are encouraging landowners and farmers across the region to get Involved. Of course, offsetting carbon doesn’t happen overnight. It will take approximately 35 years to do this but nevertheless, it’s an important initiative and a good example of the forward-thinking that is taking place.

As well as the Commonwealth Forest, Severn Trent has also planted 72 tennis-court-sized Tiny Forests in urban areas, linked to each of the 72 nations who participated in the games. Earthwatch Europe, the environmental charity pioneering the Tiny Forest movement in the UK, is supporting Severn Trent in the delivery of the Tiny Forests, which will potentially attract over 500 animal and plant species within the first three years of planting.

During the games, the organisers worked in partnership with the University of Birmingham to understand how they impacted air quality. Sensors were sited at the University of Birmingham Alexander Stadium and Edgbaston Cricket Ground. It will be interesting to see the results of this when they are made available.


A Targeted Approach

The games organisers took a targeted approach to reduce their carbon footprint by focusing on areas where emissions were at their highest, such as transport, energy and food. All tickets for events included free public transport to encourage people out of their cars. This has anecdotally driven an uptick in public transport use across the region, and it’s hoped this will continue after the games.

Caterers were encouraged to carbon label their foods making clear the environmental impact of producing particular products. Suppliers were  encouraged to use local seasonal food. There’s also been a big focus on waste, with biodegradable food packaging and different bins available for different packaging and other waste to enable recycling.

A minimal waste and circular economy approach has been used across the games, with organisers setting out a zero waste to landfill ambition. Single-use plastics were minimised across the games, with several initiatives to explore assets after the games.

Assessing the sustainability and legacy of the Commonwealth Games can only be done after the event. A final report on the Games sustainability will be published in November 2022. The learning from this will inspire further post-games initiatives and provide a blueprint for future organisers.


A one-off event or a lasting legacy?

Now the games have ended everyone will be looking toward its legacy. While large-scale sporting events in the past have paid varying degrees of attention to their environmental impact, Birmingham 2022 has raised the bar.

By embedding sustainability into its planning and decision-making process they have shown what’s possible. Positive aspects such as supporting local producers and providing better access to public transport provide a broader blueprint for the city’s future.

A true assessment of the legacy of the Commonwealth Games on the city and the region will only come with time, but as an example of how to organise a large-scale sporting and cultural event in carbon-conscious times, Birmingham 2022 has already set the standard.


Moving Forward

Birmingham has done a fantastic job in hosting the games, and the colour, vibrancy and spectacle of the events will live long in the memory.

‘Forward’ has long been the slogan for Birmingham and it has certainly taken a leap forward in perceptions of the city across the world. Its carbon neutral legacy is admirable and will hopefully inspire many other big event organisers to follow the example.

As proud Brummies, we at Woodbourne Group also have great ambitions for the city and look to drive it forward.

From Curzon Wharf, the world’s first mixed use carbon neutral development to Woodbourne Ventures, our new pre-seed accelerator fund to attract the most talented and visionary entrepreneurs in the city, we are fully invested in Birmingham and champion all its achievements.