Sports going green! As so many people are interested in sports, it can play a leading role in promoting and supporting sustainability. Influencers, consumers and regulators will be the driving forces behind this trend. Nothing less than a neutral sustainability footprint should be the target!
Sports can play leading role in sustainability
Emission, waste, plastics, CO2, green, the environment! I can go on for a while. You know what it is all about. It appears like a lot of today’s discussions are centering around these subjects. Corporate and social responsibility have become ever more important. Rightfully so! Our resources and environment are two main pillars for a healthy and sustainable future. Sports can play an important role in this perspective, as many people can be reached by it. Hence it can set an important example.
The world of sports is getting into action
Why do I strongly believe (and support) this statement? Well, pretty easy! Something has to be done and the sense of urgency is increasing every day as climate change appears to accelerate. Industries that will not listen to this call will increasingly come under public scrutiny and likely lose out in the end. I believe the world of sports is unlikely to adopt a sit and wait strategy. There are several important forces which are pushing it into action:
1. Influencers are speaking out
The list of celebrities voicing their concerns on the sutainability of our planet is ever growing. Coldplay stating that it will not tour the globe until it can guarantee such an event will be carbon neutral. Lewis Hamilton raising concerns on a sustainable environment. The list is endless. Although the number of ‘mainstream sports’ athletes speaking out is still limited, this will no doubt increase. Many lesser known ones, particularly those ones active in ‘nature’ sports are aleready doing this.
Why is this important? Because role models are being listened to. Repetition pays! If the message is communicated over and over again, people will pay attention. As so many people are interested in sports, sports can play an important role in awareness of the problem. No doubt, sports influencers will be used to speak on how sustainability can be improved
2. Consumers are starting to change their behaviour
Consumers are increasingly becoming aware of sustainability issues such as accelerated heating of the earth and depletion of resources. As a consequence they will change their behaviour. Moreover, they also will require the products and services they use to be climate friendly and sustainable. As suppliers are likely to listen to this call, we may expect further changes. Obviously, the sports and entertainment industry will be frontrunners, as so many people are involved
3. Regulatory changes
As we all know an ever increasing number of governments has commited to become carbon neutral by 2050. This is partly the result of increasing frustration of citizens. It will affect many people and industries, including the world of sports. It should therefore be no surprise that sports federations will become more active in regulating their members to reduce their ecological footprint. Some of them have already started doing this, setting an example. What to think of Formula One? You wouldn’t expect it, but it is this organisation that wants to set a benchmark for the sporting world by pledging that all GP’s will be carbon and sustainability neutral by 2025!
“The intention is to wipe out the carbon footprint by developing synthetic fuel, and making logistics and travel as efficient as possible while ensuring offices, facilities and factories are powered by renewable energy and eliminating single use plastic. Anything that cannot be eliminated will be offset”Formula 1
Also the World Sailing Federation is leading by example. It has been the first sports federation that received the important international sustainability standard. This standard covers all parts of event management, from caterers and lighting to stage building and participating teams. The strategy includes plans to abolish single use plastics during its events by 2020 and to reduce carbon emissions by 50 percent over the next six years.
In any case federations and regulators have to and will take the lead in implementing change. More federations will follow and best practices should quickly result inimproved sustainability.
Many venues and events are already taking measures
The good news is that many stadiums and events are already pro-actively taking measures. It is very encouraging that many stadium owners and event organizers make sustainability a key ingredient in their product offering. No doubt with the change in sentiment, others will follow suit. Best practices can help in speeding up this change. There is plenty of low hanging fruit that can be grabbed easily. Below we give some examples of what certain stadiums and events have already done to improve their ecological footprint. This listing is by no means complete (both in terms of solutions and in terms of venues/events). However, it gives an insight in what can be done.
- The Johan Cruijff Arena is a climate neutral stadium. It is powered by 4200 solar panels and a wind turbine. Rainwater is re-used to water the field. Residual heat is used for defrosting the field in winter. It has a great energy storage system using second life car batteries. Seats are largely recycled.
- Forest Green Rovers is probably the greenest club you can imagine and a true leader in its field. In everything the club does, it thinks sustainability. Hence it was the first carbon neutral football club around. An organic pitch irrigated with rainwater, green energy, biodiversity and vegan food are just a few examples of what this club is doing. The new stadium will be made of wood and hence will be recycable etc etc. As the underlying video shows, the club sets an example for its fans, whilst also outsourcing its knowledge to other clubs.
- Another landmark is the Mercedes Benz stadium in Atlanta, one of the most sustainable in the world. LED lighting reducing energy usage by as much as 60%, water conservation, using local food and a recycling program and active mobility are just a few features of what this stadium has to offer.
Also interesting to read: The top 10 features of future stadiums
- The Golden 1 Center of the Sacramento Kings is one of the world’s greenest facilities, which amongst others meets 100% of its power needs. It also adopts the circular economy. After the construction of the stadium was completed in late 2016, 95 percent of construction waste was diverted from landfill. Moreover, 99 percent of demolition materials were recycled.
- Sustainability also plays an important role in events such as the superbowl, Olympics and World Cup football. These events are big polluters. However, all of them are taking measures to become sustainability and climate neutral. The video below shows what they do to make these events more sustainable.
Most of the initiatives above can be put in the following categories:
- Venue: Infrastructure, sustainable energy choices, water, efficient lighting and offsets to mitigate energy emissions.
- Freight: Fuel efficient trucking, supply chain management for bulk shipments
- Waste: Electronic ticketing ,team app at game time to follow the game, recycling and composting programs
- Food: Source local, consider packaging, composting
One major problem remains: transportation!
All nice and well, as the pie chart suggests there is still one huge problem that needs to be addressed, travel and tranportation!
The most important problem and biggest challenge remains the transportation of fans and athletes, teams etc. 80- 85 percent of CO2 emissions related to major sporting events are caused by long-distance and local travel as well as accommodation of guests.
Ofcourse you can argue that this is not the responsibility of sports but more so of the consumers. However this is not entirely true! Without events, no travel! Hence I would argue there is a shared responsibility here. Increasingly event organisers are trying to become climate neutral. This can be done in different ways:
Change local travel habits….
- Encourage alternative transport: Encourage public transportation, car pooling, train traveling, cycling and electric transportation. For example stadiums could build a carbon offset into the purchase of a parking pass or offer incentives for carpooling
- Change infrastructure: Car traveling and carbon emissions can be reduced. By adjusting the infrastructure towards stadiums, venues and events, car traveling and carbon emissions can be reduced. Some stadiums like the Mercedes Benz stadium are setting the right example; fans can easily walk to the event through new pedestrian-friendly walking paths that allow connectivity between communities. A bicycle valet programme operates on event days, and the available electric vehicle charging stations can charge up to 48 cars simultaneously. The US Open for Tennis is a great example of successful mass transit, with 60% of attendees travelling by subway and railroad in New York to reach the US Open every August.
- Change location and limit parking spots: Build new multipurpose stadiums in or near city centers with very limited parking space. This will not only lead to better utilisation levels of these stadiums, it also will reduce carbon emission as people will use alternative transportation means
What about international travel?
As far as international travel is concerned, there is a much bigger problem. Certainly huge mega events where fans travel by plane, there is a huge problem. The main solution being used here is the system of carbon offsets (see video below) or credits with which someone can compensate carbon emissions. Buying carbon credits means investing in emission reduction projects around the world – projects that require financing in order to take place. These projects cover areas like forestry and conservation, renewable energy and waste to energy.
You get the message, I suppose. The polluter is paying here! Obviously this is not the ultimate solution. However, as long as international travel produces carbon, it is a way out for the time being.
Concluding, there are a lot of good sustainability initiatives in the world of sports. Simultaneously, there are still many stadiums, events and clubs which are not actively involved. Sports have a public responsibility, as so many people are drawn to it. Federations should play an even more active role in ‘ecolising’ their sports. They have a special role to play in promoting and supporting sustainability. Through leading by example, they can increase awareness with fan and participants. Especially GenZ does not expect anything less. This would not only improve the ecological footprint but also strengthen the image and position of sports within society. Hence a win-win opportunity!