Feature

Croke Park continues to shine on sustainability front

June 27 2024

Croke Park’s reputation as a sustainable sports venue is second to none and one that it is keen to uphold as it continues to push the boundaries.

Croke Park continues to shine on sustainability front

Those that work at the Dublin stadium hold sustainability as one of their core values, and by making it part of their culture, it has made the venue one of the world’s leading players.

Croke Park became a zero-waste stadium in 2014, six years ahead of schedule, with 100% of waste being recycled, reused or recovered.

It was then the first stadium in Ireland and the UK to secure both ISO 14001 and ISO 20121 environmental standards. The venue’s team did not slow down; before long, Croke Park became the first in the world to obtain certification to the newest International Environmental Standard, ISO 14001:2015.

50 Mile Menu

One of the most impactful recent innovations is the award-winning 50 Mile Menu. It was born out of a realisation that one of Croke Park’s biggest culprits for energy usage was the transportation of food.

The catering team was tasked with devising a menu of food options that could be sourced from as close as possible to the stadium.

Given that Dublin is on the coast, the job wasn’t without its challenges as half of the 50-mile radius was in the sea.

Another difficulty was finding suppliers that would be able to cater for large matchday crowds but just 10 months later, two seasonal menus had been created with 70% of all ingredients coming from within 50 miles and 85% of all ingredients sourced from the island of Ireland.

“One of the biggest sustainability benefits of the 50 Mile Menu is the carbon footprint,” Croke Park Head of Venue Business Marie Smyth tells Global Sustainable Sport.

“We are working on that at the moment. Within our menus, we are going to be putting the carbon footprint of each option up there so that’s the second part of this project.

“What we are going to be able to do is use a green, orange, and red light system where people can see which items are more sustainable and they can make the choice based on that.

“That’s the next step. We have developed it – we just have to roll it out now.”

The traffic light labelling system is devised by Croke Park’s on-site catering partners Aramark and is called Foodprint.

Foodprint generates a score taking into consideration the environmental impact of each ingredient. The score measures the impact of agriculture, processing, packaging and transport.

Within the colours, the scale ranges from A to E with A being “very low carbon Foodprint” and E being a “very high carbon Foodprint”.

Each of the local suppliers have been selected for their quality, standards, traceability, authenticity, and of course produce.

Some ingredients even come from Croke Park’s own farm in North County Dublin which was initially bought in 2018 for the sole purpose of growing turf for pitch quality and control.

However, it has allowed the stadium to explore new sustainability initiatives, growing its own fruit and herbs for its menus.

Change of culture

One of the reasons for Croke Park’s success in sustainability is the synergy of its team around the subject.

A concerted effort was made in 2023 to devolve sustainability objectives to each department of the stadium’s operations.

By doing this, each department could then identify its own sustainability goals which was hoped to encourage more staff members to take responsibility for the actions of themselves and their department.

The change has proved to be hugely impactful and is now second nature to staff.

“It is part of our ethos now, it’s like a second language in the stadium that we are focused on sustainability so any project that we take on or anything that we are trying to build on always has that narrative of sustainability around it,” Smyth says.

“For example, when we built a new handball centre we were then left with the old one and the footprint of that.

“So rather than just copy that over and make a car park we have now made water harvesting part of our plan so going forward we will be able to have 900,000 litres of water available to us to irrigate the pitch at any one time.

“That forward thinking has become a key part of the way we operate.”

Cooperation is key

While Croke Park considers itself a leader in sustainability, it is keen for others to catch up.

The venue is also willing to share its information and ideas.

Following its win for Best Product Innovation at TheStadiumBusiness Awards this year for the 50 Mile Menu, the Crusaders rugby union team made contact to collaborate.

As a result, the New Zealand side is due to be hosted at Croke Park in the coming weeks as it is eager to improve its operations in the sustainability sector.

“It is great to be a leader in sustainability, but you want to see that be shared because climate change is happening so to help other people achieve in their stadiums or business seems logical to us,” Smyth said.

The drive at Croke Park is not stopping as the team is constantly thinking of new ways it can be a positive influence on the environment and the community.

There is no step too small either, with the installation of nesting boxes for bats and bug hotels coming too. There is a strong belief that there is not just one quick fix that can be done, but lots of smaller changes that also need to be achieved.

One future initiative that Smyth is particularly excited about, however, is the installation of solar panels at the 60-acre turf farm in the Naul.

They are due to take up around 35 acres so will not diminish the turf growth and it is due to be a 10 to 12 megawatt facility.

Technology has improved greatly in recent years which is driving further environmental advancements and is therefore something that Croke Park is keen to keep on top of.

LED screens have proven to be highly efficient in terms of saving energy and are due to be another key step in the future of Croke Park’s sustainability success.

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