As the Netherlands’ largest stadium, the Amsterdam ArenA is home to the internationally renowned football club Ajax, and hosts some of the country’s most visited entertainment events. Averaging close to two million visitors per year, it is a large consumer of resources, such as food, water and energy. These resources can be conceptualized as flows: they flow from and to the ArenA, passing a great many societal actors along the way. Thus, the ArenA is a hub connecting many different flows, which together enable the proper functioning of the venue.
In its corporate strategy, the ArenA acknowledges the environmental impact it has, and seeks to harmonize its responsibility as a business to deliver profit to its shareholders with the responsibility to societal stakeholders to engage in environmentally and socially sound practices. The ArenA has set the ambitious goal to obtain and sustain a leadership role in environmental sustainability and cutting-edge technologies, and has – under the banner of the Innovation ArenA – launched an open call for innovative ideas to make this vision a reality. This call was picked up by the Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions (AMS), who invited us to take on this challenge.
Working towards solutions
As part of the ‘Academic Consultancy Training’ course at Wageningen University, we – an interdisciplinary team of five students with backgrounds in environmental management, environmental sciences and leisure, tourism and environment – set to aid the Amsterdam ArenA in the formation of possible measures to shape its sustainability policy. Our group focuses on the stadium’s food cycle, and helps the ArenA to develop feasible solutions to lower its environmental impact while securing long-term profitability, leadership role and visitor experience. The main research question of our study is: What is the most feasible solution for the ArenA to close and optimize its food cycle, and what impacts does this solution have?
We have identified six main phases in the ArenA’s food cycle (see figure 1 below), which comprise (1) production, (2) processing and packaging, (3) retail, (4) consumption, (5) waste disposal and (6) waste treatment. Transport is visualized as an arrow – a factor connecting all phases in the cycle. The arrow between treatment and production is dotted, since there currently is little reuse of food waste for the production of new food. Lastly, the picture of the ArenA in the background shows which phases take place within the stadium.
There are two measures that can be taken to increase the sustainability of the food cycle. First, one can lessen the environmental impact of the food cycle by means of optimisation. An example of this is decreasing the amount of food waste by creating a better match of supply and demand within the ArenA. However, such measures only lower the pace of environmental degradation, and do not tackle the fundamental problems that make the ArenA’s food cycle unsustainable. In our view, the real problem lies in the linear design of the food supply chain. Here, valuable nutrients are extracted from the earth to produce food, but are – at the end of the food cycle – not returned to food producers to grow new food. The result is a vicious cycle of nutrient extraction, within which nutrients are ultimately wasted or geographically displaced from their original source.
Thus, we come to the second measure: creating a circular supply chain. The underlying thought is that waste does not exist: food consists of nutrients (e.g. nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus), which can be cycled infinitely – at least in theory. Such a chain can be created by connecting the treatment of organic waste with the production of new food, where the nutrients recovered in the treatment process are reintroduced at the production stage.
Realizing these changes in the ArenA’s food cycle is difficult. As seen in figure 1, only the stages ‘retail’, ‘consumption’ and ‘waste disposal’ occur within the walls of the ArenA. However, much of the environmental impact lies in food production, processing and treatment of organic ‘waste’, which take place outside the walls of the ArenA. For the ArenA, it is difficult to incite food producers to alter their practices due to the inelastic and opaque nature of the current global food production system, characterised by a set of well-organised food production monoliths that are entrenched in powerful positions within the supply chain. For this reason, we need to consider both types of measures in making the food cycle more sustainable. We have come up with the following two types of solutions, which we will further assess on their feasibility and effectiveness in the weeks to come.
Solution #1: Creating a sustainable offer
This type of solution entails offering more green, local and seasonal food products in the ArenA: products that have a lower environmental impact. Particularly, we are looking at local sourcing, which can tackle multiple issues. Localising food production makes it easier to close the cycle, as the production and waste treatment stages become less distant. Furthermore, by shortening the distance between producers and consumers of food, the chain becomes more transparent, and environmental impacts of consumption can be easier assessed. Similarly, by reducing the amount of food miles, the carbon footprint – and thus the environmental impact – of transport is lowered. Lastly, more local production of food can also result in more local employment opportunities.
Solution #2: Raising visitor awareness
Another solution that our group is contemplating is related to informing the visitors at the stadium. Through games and other forms of entertainment, the ArenA can contribute to visitors’ awareness and stimulate green behavior. Herein lies the potential to tailor solutions to individual visitor profiles. In this way, the visitor experience is enhanced. An example of this is using virtual reality to show visitors the impact of different steps of the food cycle. This will ideally change their behavior in general, a positive impact that extends beyond the borders of the stadium.
Ultimately, we hope that our proposed solutions contribute to the realisation of a more sustainable food cycle for the ArenA, and broadening the ArenA’s horizon when considering sustainability issues.