Managing Sustainable Global Events: Sustainability Practices of Expo 2020

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Yehia, Samih
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The British University in Dubai (BUiD)
There has been increasing international interest in the impact of hosting mega-events and the sustainability and legacy considerations during the Event Life Cycle (ELC). This research aims to understand the sustainability practices that a host city should adopt along with the legacy considerations. Hosting a sustainable mega-event requires attaching equal importance to the three pillars of sustainable development (economic, social, and environmental). However, focussing on these three pillars without having an extended legacy plan will lead to high spending on a short-term event. The empirical research for this thesis focusses on assessing Dubai’s sustainability practices in different sectors, and evaluates how they contribute to the creation of a long-lasting, positive legacy in achieving the target to design and implement a sustainable mega-event. The concept of the sustainable mega-event is growing with the global development of this type of events. Many developing countries have emerged as new players in this industry, which previously was confined to developed countries. Sustainability is a challenging concept for developing countries in general, as event design and implementation have to find a balance between development and sustainability. Hosting a mega-event brings many opportunities to the host city as well as many less desirable consequences. For this thesis, the research question concerns how a developing country can host a sustainable mega-event, formulate a legacy plan as part of the sustainability plan, and still create a long-lasting legacy. The extensive literature on sports events, mega-events and specifically Expo 2020 is reviewed, with the aim of creating a sustainability framework and identifying the success factors of sustainability. Three case studies are reported for the sectors intended to contribute to the sustainable hosting of Expo 2020: ‘Construction’, ‘Utilities,’ and ‘Mobility.’ The case study data are based on semi-structured interviews, field observations, and analysis of secondary documents. A sample of twenty-eight interviewees was selected from different sectors and authority levels, based on their contribution to the overall sustainability plans of Expo 2020 and the sector in which they worked. The interview topics addressed include the understanding of sustainability pillars in the mega-event, the drivers of sustainability, the changes happening in those sectors after Expo 2020 preparations began, and other potential pillars. The analysis of the data identified two success factors that should be considered when managing sustainable mega-events: ‘design’ and ‘leadership’. Moreover, it was demonstrated that a substantive and proactive legacy plan can contribute to the overall sustainability of the event, especially in the social and economic pillars. Results related to the three pillars and the legacy plan demonstrated an example of the potential contribution that developing countries could make when hosting megaevents which are designed and implemented within the Dubai framework of sustainability and legacy. This research contributes to an understanding of sustainability and legacy when hosting a mega-event in a developing country, based on a holistic framework for managing sustainability pillars and executing the set plan for legacy. The framework is grounded on the equal prioritization of the sustainability pillars, a leadership commitment, project designs that respect those pillars, and an on-going development plan that uses the mega-event as one of multiple mega-projects. Sustainability and legacy considerations should complement each other. In conclusion, the findings of this research inform scholars and practitioners that mega-events should act as a catalyst for behavioural change, and not be used exclusively as a catalyst for development. The researcher recommends that a further study on the same case study should be conducted after the completion of Expo 2020 in order to discover the actual legacy and sustainability outcomes from the plans set in the preparation phase. In addition, the sustainability framework can be tested in other developing countries and compared with Expo 2020 in order to discover the extent to which similar plans can lead to the same outcomes.
sustainability practices, Expo 2020, mega-event, sustainable global events, United Arab Emirates (UAE)