Sustainability at the heart of Croke Park

The state of the art handball centre currently being built at Croke Park won’t just be a new home for the sport, but also swifts, a bird species now amber-listed in Ireland due to their declining numbers.

Incorporated into the brickwork of the handball centre will be ‘swift boxes’ that will provide breeding grounds for these birds.

Why are Croke Park going out of their way to help the humble swift?

It’s all to do with sustainability which is at heart of how the stadium conducts its business on a day to day basis.

Croke Park is an iconic stadium at the heart of the GAA and the stadium’s sustainability team is dedicated to identifying ways of using that position to become a positive example. The four main areas of sustainable engagement for Croke Park are energy management, energy waste, bio-diversity and, especially given the stadium’s urban location, local community.

However, Míde Ní Shúilleabháin, Croke Park Sustainability Officer, emphasises that, “Sustainability is part of everything we do. It’s not a case of doing your normal business and then just having sustainability on the side. It’s involved in all of our decision-making.”

For Croke Park, sustainability is not only about addressing the energy and waste impact associated with hosting over a million match-goers every year; the stadium wants to use its status as the third-largest stadium in Europe and symbolic heart of the GAA to become an example in terms of policy, practice and innovation.

Croke Park was the very first stadium in the world to obtain certification to the newest international Environmental Standard ISO 14001:2015 and was the first stadium in Ireland and Britain to secure both ISO14001 and ISO 20121 standards.

Since 2014, 0% of the waste generated by the stadium goes to landfill, a feat achieved through the hard work and commitment of the stadium’s sustainability team. This team, composed of representatives of the stadium’s facilities, maintenance, services and cleaning teams as well as members of the GAA Museum and the Croke Park Conference Centre, monitors waste practices to such a degree that after every match-day they follow the stadium rubbish out to sorting centre to make sure that the stadium is effectively segregating and managing its waste.

Members of the Croke Park staff clean the Hill 16 end after a match in Croke Park.

Every year, Croke Park’s Environmental, Sustainability and Safety Management Group (ESSMG), which meets on a monthly basis, sets out an ambitious set of environmental and sustainability targets it wants to achieve.

A big focus this year was eliminating single use plastics in the stadium as much as possible.

There are now no plastic straws in the stadiums bars and restaurants, match-day cutlery is now made of wood rather than plastic, and all the tea and coffee cups are made from a vegetable plastic that’s fully compostable and biodegradable.

“Identifying areas where we can reduce or phase out single-use plastics is hugely important to the stadium,” says Ní Shúilleabháin.

“The impact of irresponsible plastic production and use has really been brought home by research that shows that by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the sea.

 “Community and society have always been at the heart of the GAA and it’s these values of the GAA that have encouraged Croke Park to put sustainability at the top of our agenda.”

A large stadium like Croke Park uses a lot of water and electricity but the stadium’s sustainability team is constantly striving to eliminate any waste of either.

Both water and electricity are metered and monitored carefully, and the stadium has begun an LED-upgrade of stadium lighting.

“That Croke Park, as home of the GAA, is a symbol of community involvement has really helped us get people on board in our sustainability mission and to earn Croke Park recognition across Europe as a leader in stadium sustainability”, said Ní Shúilleabháin

When it comes to sustainability Croke Park is leading by example, and the hope would be that others will follow.