“Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand,” so said Nelson Mandela in 2000.
It still holds true today. Footballers Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are the second and third most followed accounts on Instagram, behind only the social media platform’s own account. And closer to home England’s World Cup 2022 quarter-final game against France was the single most watched television broadcast in the UK last year with 21.3m viewers.
In an increasingly noisy media landscape, sport cuts through to the masses with unique moments and personalities that bring people together for a shared experience. It grabs our collective attention.
In relative terms, the sports industry’s impact on the climate is quite minimal compared with construction, energy, agriculture and even fashion. But its influence is enormous, it has huge audiences and fanbases. It has the capacity to lead the way on social change and normalise new methods, which is critical as we transition to a more sustainable and climate-friendly future.
However, while there is more to be done, some sports are beginning to take action. Here are the top 12 brilliant examples of sport reducing their carbon footprints and acting more sustainably.
1. Forest Green Rovers
Taking up the mantle for the most sustainable football team in the world (and kicking off our list) is Forest Green Rovers. The famously vegan football club and team plays in League One of the English Football League (EFL) and is committed to running as sustainably as possible.
Headed up by Dale Vince, the founder of the green energy supplier, Ecotricity, the chairman takes his values of sustainability to his football club. From avoiding plane travel between matches to a completely plant-based canteen for players and staff, Vince runs his club proudly and competently.
It’s not just a marketing gimmick, Forest Green Rovers have been – excuse the pun – a breath of fresh air in the Football League as they have proven their sustainable model is an effective one. Vince took over the club in 2010 and since then has transformed Forest Green Rovers into the EFL’s most sustainable club.
2. Extreme E Racing
Lewis Hamilton is never shy in speaking up for causes and minorities if he feels they need some light shed on them. The seven-time Formula 1 world champion uses his platform for good and by backing his own Extreme E off-road racing team, he is making yet another.
Extreme E races take place purely to raise awareness of the social and environmental challenges we face with the impact, highlight the ability of electric vehicles and look to persuade more people to drive them and reduce global CO2 emissions in the process.
3. Virtual sports and F1
Professional sport has gone virtual in a big way with the advancement of simulation technology. Today the world’s best racing drivers can compete virtually on world-class tracks safely from their homes. With a simulation rig, we can avoid burning massive amounts of fuel that would otherwise be used racing on the tarmac.
Simulators are even helping Formula 1 teams reduce their impact as their drivers can put in the virtual hours without using any fuel before taking to the track. We can also use simulation technology in other sports to get better and reduce our impact. Even golf courses are going virtual and the more you play at home, the fewer resources go into keeping a golf course in top shape.
4. The Commonwealth Games
When Birmingham was granted the honour of hosting the 2022 Commonwealth Games, the midlands city seized the opportunity to make a difference. Rather than leaving a legacy of disrepair and decay, Birmingham vowed to use the games as a way to recharge and renovate the city.
The Commonwealth Games host created a carbon-neutral event using a reduction-first approach which included tickets including access to public transport, a dedicated journey planner to maximise each visitor’s route and the reuse of existing venues rather than building new ones.
5. Vegan rugby – The Green Gazelles
The stereotypical image of a rugby player is a burly athlete who perhaps chews down on red meat every day of the week to get their protein intake. But, bucking that common trope and proving that saving the planet can apply to us all are vegan rugby club, The Green Gazelles.
The club is looking to spread the word that you can still perform at a high level while eating a plant-based diet. Not stopping at just their diet, the Gazelles also play in a kit made from recycled plastic and use environmentally-friendly boots and equipment.
6. Philadelphia Eagles’ sustainable stadium
American football follows an intense schedule as the season is played over a few short months. Given the size of the United States, and the gruelling turnaround NFL teams face, many franchises may find it difficult to justify loading up their giant players into a bus for days at a time to get from one game to another.
Of course, they could do better but that doesn’t mean NFL teams can’t still make a difference. For example, the Philadelphia Eagles have one of the most sustainable sports stadiums in the world.
The Lincoln Financial Field boasts 11,000 solar panels, generating the majority of its energy, while the rest is bought from suppliers using renewable energy. Furthermore, less than 1% of the waste generated by the Eagles ends up in landfill.
7. Eight Ash Green
Although it may seem that cricket is already a fairly sustainable sport, the truth is that it can take a lot of energy to maintain the pitch. Grass must be kept short, which requires energy from mowers, while in the summer months care and attention are given to ensure the pitch remains green.
Despite the challenges, green-thinking cricket club Eight Ash Green worked hard to overcome them and become the first carbon-neutral cricket club in the world in 2013. Ten years later and the club is still working hard to lower its carbon footprint, committing itself to become Carbon Net Zero by 2030.
8. British Canoeing – The Big Paddle Cleanup
Plastic is quickly becoming the scourge of the planet, but in truth it always was, we just didn’t understand it until it began clogging up our waterways and oceans. With so many environmental challenges facing us, it can be difficult to keep track of them all which is why organisations like British Canoeing raising awareness of plastic pollution is so important.
Known as The Big Paddle Cleanup, British Canoeing is encouraging paddlers to clear their local waterways of plastic debris and junk with 1,200 taking part in the 2022 edition.
9. Vegan Runners UK
Fiona Oakes, co-founder of Vegan Runners
Running is one of the most accessible sports in the world, all you need is a pair of trainers and some appropriate clothes and you can be on your way. Vegan Runners UK looks to bring that accessible sport up a level by creating running events that encourage vegans to take up running. Runners of all abilities are welcome and the aim is to show that a vegan diet can provide the nutrition you need for an active lifestyle.
10. The Green Blue from the Royal Yachting Association
Since 2005, the Royal Yachting Association (RYA) has been part of a joint environmental programme with British Marine. Known as The Green Blue, the mission behind the movement is to promote a sustainable leisure marine sector in the UK.
The initiative aims to educate yacht and marine transport owners about environmentally friendly ways to maintain, equip and operate their boats. From advice about protecting marine wildlife and electric boating to water pollution prevention and conservation, The Green Blue is working hard to transform the UK’s waterways into a healthier place.
Founded in 2019, SailGP is renowned the world over for hosting a season of multiple grands prix in countries around the world. Featuring high-performance F50 foiling catamarans, SailGP is as famous for its competitive sailing fleet and its efforts to be the most sustainable and purpose-driven global sports and entertainment platform.
SailGP believes strongly that sport has the power to change the world and have created a fitting championship brand that rewards sustainability above performance, while retaining its competitive spirit to remain powered by nature while preserving the planet.
12. ÖTILLÖ Swimrun
In 2011, the ÖTILLÖ Swimrun World Championship was established in Sweden, a country known for its natural beauty and for having the most islands in the world. In essence though, the popular and pioneering triathlon spearheads sustainability and sport, being one of the most attended multi-sport/triathlon series than anywhere else.
Championing sustainability, ÖTILLÖ merges nature with time, as participants alternate runs and swims along a natural course that weaves between islands, land and lakes. Feeling strongly about preserving the clean status of their waterways, the organisers ask participants to respectively pick rubbish out of the water and use recycled water bottles. With their competition medals and statues made of recycled wood, there are strict rules in place to uphold ÖTILLÖ’s dedication to nature and sustainability. Racers will even be disqualified for littering either intentionally or by accident.
A Sporting Chance
Sports, clubs, athletes and organisations are doing more to help raise climate change awareness and reduce the carbon footprints of their various activities. While the goal of carbon neutrality is challenging, sport can help us get to the finish line.
by Annie Button