Greenpeace Conducts Own Study to Challenge FIS’ Claims on ‘Climate Positive’ Status

Julia Schneemann | | Industry NewsIndustry News
Official press photo by Greenpeace. The sign reads, “FIS: No winter fairy tale. Stop Greenwashing!” | Picture: supplied by Greenpeace

Greenpeace published a study in late May this year that called out claims by the International Ski & Snowboard Federation’ FIS’ of being ‘climate positive’ as nothing more than ‘greenwashing.’ The study was conducted by German consultant ‘Mission Zero’ and called into question several of the claims made by FIS in the past months.

The key points Greenpeace and the study criticize are:

  • The lack of transparency by FIS
  • The use of climate offsets to bring themselves into climate-positive territory
  • The underestimation of CO2 emissions by spectators
Mission Zero tried to re-create this FIS emissions calculator but failed to get the same low emissions as FIS did, using current spectator numbers from four large World Cup events. | Picture: Mission Zero

The study, which was published in full in German, suggests that FIS has been grossly understating the CO2 emission from its events. To verify the plausibility of the FIS Events Emissions Estimations Executive Summary, Mission Zero replicated the FIS calculation tool. After their own analysis, the authors suggest that four of the 34 Alpine World Cup events alone account for 85% of the CO2 emission declared by FIS. This finding puts serious doubt on the legitimacy of the claim by FIS that all Alpine World Cup events together account for a mere 12,752 tons of CO2 or 22% of the total 57,965 tons for all FIS disciplines.

“FIS is telling winter fairy tales, when they claim that they protect the climate or that they are climate positive. The reality is that professional teams and spectators are sent across the globe to participate in these events. FIS under president Eliasch is in fact fuelling the climate crisis and destroying its own basis of existence. White winters will be a thing of the past at this rate.”
Ursula Bittner, Science Expert Greenpeace Austria

Mission Zero awards the FIS report a total plausibility score of 8%.

Mission Zero
Mission Zero awarded the FIS study a plausibility score of only 8%. | Picture: Greenpeace

FIS has repeatedly come under fire not just by Greenpeace but also by snowsport athletes about not doing enough to minimize CO2 emissions. A letter signed by 500 athletes, active and retired skiers, boarders, and other invested parties, called for more action from FIS to minimize emissions. The letter called for a streamlining of events to minimize transatlantic travel and a later start of the FIS Alpine World Cup competition season.

When the FIS Alpine race calendar for 23/24 was released, many were disappointed, as the schedule for the next season still calls for athletes to travel back and forth between Europe and the U.S. during the season, and the start of the season was only moved by 1-2 weeks, which many consider still too early in the year.

Mikaela and Kilde
Mikaela Shiffrin and Aleksander Aamodt Kilde, who both signed the athlete petition to FIS. | Picture: Mike Dawsy Instagram

Norway’s Aleksander Aamodt Kilde said in an interview with European sports TV station Eurosport:

“I think it is bad for the environment, and we should really pay more attention to it. We can see that they [FIS] push through what they think is best to make money.”

His comments were also supported by Norway’s Alpine head coach Claus Ryste, who added, “We can’t continue like this.”

Johan Eliasch
FIS CEO Johan Eliasch. | Picture: FIS Ski Website

FIS claims it operates as a ‘Climate Positive’ organization but relies heavily on so-called ‘Climate Offset Credits’ to achieve this status. These offsets are by Cool Earth, which coincidentally was founded and co-chaired by FIS president Johan Eliasch. There is no publicly available information on the specifics of these offsets, which claim to invest in rainforests, let alone the amount FIS contributes to this program.

Both the FIS study and the Mission Zero study leave room for debate, and both can be accused of being biased. There are some curious assumptions made by both institutions, such as that Aerials is considered the largest CO2 event due to the highest spectator numbers. If you have attended an Aerials World Cup, you can attest that spectator numbers are a tiny fraction of an Alpine event.

Another assumption that is hard to verify is the number of people who travel internationally simply for these events. Since this is a crucial metric for Mission Zero’s much higher CO2 emission, having an independent party verify how many participants travel solely to spectate this sport would give a much higher level of confidence in the actual emission.

As with every disagreement in life: the truth is always somewhere in the middle. Unfortunately, FIS is not helping their case by keeping the information flow murky and not listening to demands made by their athletes. Indeed, many other sporting events contribute a significantly higher CO2 emission if you are counting spectator travel, such as tennis or soccer, or emissions like car racing. Some sports require purpose-built facilities that cannot be used by thousands of other people concurrently, unlike ski racing, which uses existing infrastructure. Regarding sports competitions, ski racing is not the most environmentally unfriendly sport. But in this day and age, any sports organization should ask themselves what they can do to be more environmentally friendly and work to the best of their ability to minimize their carbon footprint.

FIS seems to forget that the demands by Greenpeace and athletes are not to be climate positive or neutral but rather to follow to take some simple steps to reduce its footprint:

1. Transparent and traceable reporting of CO2 emissions.
2. Putting an end to carbon offsetting.
3. Implementation of an effective plan to reduce CO2 emissions.
4. Adaptation of the winter season to weather conditions and a later start to the season.
5. Redesigning the race calendar to minimize the need for travel.

These demands aim to promote transparency, prioritize emission reduction over offsetting, and address the environmental impact of winter sports events.

While it is easy to target skiing, as it has the reputation of being an elite sport rather than a mass sport, Greenpeace is not calling for an end of ski and snowboard racing. Greenpeace is merely asking FIS to show some accountability and transparency rather than hiding behind ‘greenwashing’ initiatives like carbon offsets and an emissions study that is hard to re-create even by experts like Mission Zero.

FIS is unfortunately not helping advance the sport in the public’s eye if it wants to claim climate-neutral or even positive attributes, yet obscures numbers and facts and continuously fails to listen to demands made by its athletes. You do not have to be climate neutral to be an acceptable sport. I am sure F1 motor racing is not concerned with that. But you cannot have your cake and eat it, too, and that appears to be precisely what FIS is trying to achieve. President Eliasch needs to start listening to the people who make up FIS: the athletes and coaches, and support staff, as well as the spectators, fans, and supporters, rather than trying to obscure facts and ignoring relatively simple demands that would help make the sport more environmentally friendly.

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