13. März 2012

“Climate protection has to become a topic on every individual’s and corporate entity’s agenda.”

ClimatePartner is celebrating its fifth year anniversary these days. Reason enough to interview George Kazantzopoulos about the current developments. Kazantzopoulos is CEO of GLOBAL CHALLENGES, a Greek consultancy with a broad focus on sustainability and CSR, and has been partner of ClimatePartner for more than five years now. Kazantzopoulos is member of the International Olympic Committee’s Environment Commission and the Environment and Sustainability Officer of the World Rowing Confederation (FISA).

Question: In 2011, the Athens Classic Marathon has been climate friendly for six years in a row with ClimatePartner, e.g. that participants could offset their carbon emissions caused by their travel to the event. Do you think it’s possible to transfer this concept to other international sport events – even to the Olympic Games?

Kazantzopoulos: The Athens Classic Marathon is one of the most climate friendly events in the sports world, and is acknowledged by the United Nations Environment Program. Offsetting the emissions of the participants in a major sports event, whose most important environmental impact is international flights emissions, is becoming common practice in several cases.

Since the Torino winter Olympic Games in 2006, where ClimatePartner presented its activities within the context of an event organized by the Torino Region, all Olympic Games and the majority of Olympic Games bidding cities are carefully considering the carbon footprint of the organization and hosting of the event. In certain cases successful projects have been developed in order to achieve climate neutrality. The London Games are an example, while Rio de Janeiro is aiming to use the development of a project associated with its Olympic Games not only as an offsetting project but also a significant boost to the local labor market.

George Katzantzopoulos with ClimatePartner flag in Antartica

Q: Why should especially sports organizations consider climate protection?

K: Organizing and hosting sport and other social/cultural events has at times considerable environmental impacts, with transportation being a key parameter to that. On the other hand we must not “infuse” a sense of guilt to all those sport fans around the world who use the opportunity to travel either as athletes or as spectators. Taking this into consideration, a sport event organizer must ensure that the event as such minimizes its environmental impact by endorsing best sustainable practices in all aspects of the events while giving participants and spectators the opportunity to contribute personally in the fight against climate change by offsetting their direct emissions caused by flights, local transportation and lodging.

Q: You met Moritz Lehmkuhl, founder and CEO of ClimatePartner, in 2005. Some months after this, ECOLIFE – an environment fair in Athens – as well as the Athens Classic Marathon claimed their climate friendliness for the first time. Why were you so enthusiastic about climate neutral events right from the beginning?

K: I met Moritz in Torino when we were both invited to address the first climate neutral event just before the Olympic Games there. I was fascinated by the idea of engaging event organizers in climate protection since they could contribute hands on by offsetting the unavoidable emissions of the event and in the same time raise awareness amongst the participants of the event. Moritz’s approach was also very persuasive and inspiring.

George Katzantzopoulos with Nobel Peace Price Winner Wangari Muta Maathai in Nairobi

Q: In Greece, you and ClimatePartner can claim several successes. Besides the Athens Classic Marathon, we have accomplished the worldwide first climate neutral cooperative extra virgin olive oil and are proceeding with climate neutral wines. What is your personal favorite?

K: I think that climate neutrality can be an unbeatable value added to all agricultural products that already are of high quality. Their major markets consist not only of well informed consumers who look for the best quality, but also for an exemplary corporate environmental performance.

I can only say that I tend to consume more olive oil than wine in my daily life. Regardless of any preference, I would like to add that calculating an agricultural product’s carbon footprint is a tool which enables the producer to understand the impact of the product and to take the appropriate mitigation measures in order to make its production more environmentally friendly in all the phases of the product development. Finally, a more environmentally friendly grown product is a healthier product for the end consumer.

Q: Bad economical news has unfortunately been dominating the headlines on Greece during the past months. Which effect does the current economic situation have on your personal daily business?

K: The fact is that amongst Greeks there is a certainty that we can tackle all these obligatory measures to secure and justify our common European future. The recent recession has definitely impacted companies’ priorities. Thus, service provision like climate protection and environmental management is not a top priority at the moment. Despite that, companies exporting Greek products, especially of the primary sector are seeking opportunities to differentiate their products relative to their competition and are still looking for carbon footprinting and climate neutrality services.

George Katzantzopoulos with the Brazilian lyricist and novelist Paolo Cuehlo

Q: Climate Protection is a relatively new field. Generally speaking, which measures have to be taken to secure success in the long run?

K: Climate protection has to become a topic on every individual’s and corporate entity’s agenda.

Q: So, what are your next projects? Which new ideas do you have in mind?

K: In 2012, we will expand our joint ventures with ClimatePartner by providing climate protection services for the hotel industry. Tourism is one of the pillars of our economy. Climate neutrality for hotels can become a significant competitive advantage as well as a tool to contribute to a phenomenon that impacts tourism industry as a whole. Promoting climate protection initiatives in the agricultural industry in Greece is another key target. It is also worthwhile mentioning that GLOBAL CHALLENGES is entering the field of cultivating and exporting high quality organic plants and herbs for pharmaceutical use by major European companies.

For more information about the Athens Classic Marathon green records click here.