Restart of the IOF Environment and Sustainability Commission

The IOF Environment and Sustainability Commission has two new members; Stefano Bisoffi, Italy, who is the new Chairperson, and Andrei Yakauleu from Belarus.

The IOF Environment and Sustainability Commission has three main goals:

a) to provide Federations and Clubs with easy-to-use guides on the management of environmental issues in the organisation of orienteering events and to raise the awareness of orienteers;

b) to develop initiatives on the mitigation of the impact of orienteering on climate change, however limited that impact may be already, and

c) to make our commitments to a healthy environment known to society, public authorities and sponsors as a distinctive feature of our sport.

Guidelines will be developed on the relationships with other stakeholders (land owners, hunters, civil society organisations), on the safeguard of vegetation, fauna and delicate environments and on the management of materials at event sites in order to minimise waste and maximise reuse and recycling. The guidelines will be complemented by practical tools, such as checklists, in order to facilitate their application.

The new chairperson Stefano Bisoffi describes the ideas within the commission:

As for climate, we have both a responsibility and a direct interest: forests, that are the main sites for our sport, are particularly susceptible to climate change: increasing temperatures make trees more susceptible to pests and diseases, facilitate forest fires and provoke extreme meteorological events. But climate is a hot issue on a global scale; there is a broad scientific consensus on the drastic measures that humanity should undertake in a dramatically short time span to avoid the risk of reaching a point-of-no-return. The demonstrations and school strikes of teenagers in many parts of the world should sound as a wake-up call to all of us.

Orienteering is probably one of the most climate-friendly sports, as we have no big infrastructures, we do not clear forests, we leave our competition grounds almost in the same conditions as before the races. But we would be foolish to deny that we have a critical spot: transport, that is, the often long trips that athletes undertake to reach the competition sites. We cannot expect a solution overnight, but I think that developing a roadmap of continuous improvement to reduce or mitigate the impact of travels is necessary for us to be credible.

It is also the intention of the Commission to recommend the IOF Council to join the “Sports for Climate Action” initiative launched by the International Olympic Committee and the UNFCCC during the COP 24 climate conference in Katovice, December 2018. The goal of the initiative is to create a partnership between the different sports communities in order to raise climate awareness and stimulate virtuous actions among global citizens.

The third main goal of the Commission, in collaboration with the IOF Office, is to draw inspiration and materials from the initiatives outlined before to produce texts, videos, case studies, interviews to make our commitments towards a healthy environment visible and widely known, in order to promote the image of orienteering as a sport “at one with nature”. We believe that this would not only attract more people to the practice of competitive or recreational orienteering, but also facilitate fruitful relationships with public authorities and socially conscious sponsors.

The first concrete output will be a “policy document” on sustainability. A valuable document was already produced by the Commission during the previous term; we plan to update it and propose its adoption to the IOF Council.

Why do you think this commission is important for the IOF as organisation?
– In marketing it is a well known principle that you need three things for success: you must have a good product; you must be able to demonstrate its quality and you must communicate it. We have the product (orienteering) and we know its values; but sometimes we take them for granted and this leads to either an underestimation of the need for a systematic approach to environmental issues (hence the guidelines) or to a misunderstandings (exaggeration) of the impact of orienteering on the environment by other stakeholders.

– The Commission’s ambition is to help the IOF, its members and the whole orienteering world to “connect the dots”, providing a systematic approach and a common framework to tackle environmental aspects. That’s why we have focused on a realistic set of goals. They are probably not very ambitious, but we believe that they are achievable in the short to middle term.

Describe your personal interest in environmental and sustainability.

– When I started University, I chose to study Forestry because my dream, at that time, was to find a job in some mountain district in the Alps and live “at one with nature”. I had not discovered orienteering, at that time, as the sport arrived in Italy later than in other European countries, but I embraced it as soon as I got in touch with it. As often happens, the professional life brought me on a different course, to become a scientist in tree breeding, focused on poplars, that are the main national source of industrial timber in Italy, but, unfortunately, they are flood-plains trees: no mountains.

– But my concern with environmental issues remained central and, later in my career, I coordinated a project for the development of certification of SFM (sustainable forest management) of poplar culture, that led to the development of certification under both the FSC and PEFC schemes. And now, although retired, I am still collaborating with expert groups that are developing foresight studies on the way to organise and direct scientific organisations in Europe to facilitate transitions to environment- and climate-friendly food and farming systems.

– Of course, a healthy environment is the foundation of a healthy society and the interconnections with food safety and nutrition, population growth, urbanisation, migrations are very strong. The very concept of sustainability includes the social and economic dimensions; the 17 “Sustainable Development Goals” of the UN 2030 Agenda are a clear demonstration of the multiple facets of sustainability.

Fascinating and scary at the same time
– It is an area of work that is fascinating and scary at the same time; fascinating, because you get to appreciate the complexities at a global scale; scary because the “window” of opportunity to keep the world between safe “planetary boundaries” is narrow indeed.