Sustainability in the Sports Industry

If you’re in the sports business, then it’s time to become more eco-friendly and implement a robust strategy for sports industry sustainability.

To give you some perspective on the importance of sustainability in the sports industry we consider the carbon footprint of the 2010 South Africa World Cup, the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, and the 2016 Rio Olympics together. These three global sporting events generated the equivalent of burning 11 billion pounds of coal, releasing a total of 10.05 million tonnes of CO2e.

With this in mind, in Europe, the Green Sports Alliance have brought large football organizations together to push for environmentally friendly ways to enjoy these games. Their main goal is to find innovative solutions to enhance the environmental and sustainability performance of sports.

Yet, this push for sustainability in sports must be reflected around the world, and across sport disciplines.

It’s predicted that by 2050, roughly 30-50 practices will be canceled due to extreme heat and poor air quality. And so it’s in the best interest of the sporting industry that green changes are made now. And that change starts here, with this Green Business Bureau sports industry sustainability guide. Our aim is to allow our kids and grandkids to experience the sports that most of us all love today.

In this article, we highlight 5 main ways the sports industry can implement a more sustainable design. From acting as an influential platform to communicate green solutions and promote sustainability, to reducing waste and lowering the carbon footprint of sporting events, there are numerous opportunities to implement sustainability in the sporting industry.

Sport industry sustainability initiatives

Sport stadiums, international sporting events, and the selling of sporting merchandise all come with a heavy environmental cost. The 5 tips given in this article look to mitigate these costs by offering effective, actionable, and sustainable solutions.

Tip #1: Reduce the environmental footprint of sporting facilities and headquarters

Most sports teams have dedicated facilities where they operate and practice. These facilities can have a detrimental effect on the environment.

For instance, professional stadiums not only destroy habitats but harm the environment even after they’re built. E.g. SoFi Stadium, the largest NFL stadium, covers about 3.1 million square feet, with about 40,000 cubic yards of concrete put into the project. Hence, we’re witnessing immense environmental destruction caused by facilities that hold a high carbon footprint burden. Also, take a moment to consider the construction process which institutes the use of large construction vehicles, and demands mass amounts of raw materials.

Below we’ve detailed some simple ways sporting teams can reduce the environmental footprint of their facilities:

  • Share facilities to maximize the amount of time they’re in productive use. This will reduce demand for new facilities.
  • Look for LEED certification schemes to implement a green building design.
  • Support conservation and carbon offset projects to mitigate the ecological and climate damage caused by the sporting facilities.
  • Introduce nature into sports facilities where possible, e.g. implement green roof and wall infrastructure.
  • Install renewable energy technology – such as solar panels – throughout the facilities.

Tip #2: Create sustainable operations to support sporting events and training

The environmental footprint of operations within sporting facilities also needs to be considered. And with this in mind, below we’ve listed a few simple tips for making practices and games more sustainable:

  • Use energy-efficient lighting systems for night games and practices.
  • Go solar. The top of stadiums (and other sport buildings) are great places to put solar panels. This will lower your energy bill and save you money.
  • Buy energy-efficient maintenance equipment to support sustainable field management.
  • Optimize food and waste management by practicing good inventory management.
  • Add a sufficient number of labeled recycle bins in every field and stadium.
  • Offer composting bins in areas where food is served.
  • Look to eliminate plastic. For instance, replace bottled water with a plentiful supply of water fountains and reusable bottles.
  • Conserve water with low-pressure faucets and water-saving showers in bathrooms and locker rooms.
  • Minimize printing by going digital. E.g. provide digital tickets for sporting fans.

Tip #3: Reduce the carbon footprint associated with sport-related travel

Sports teams need to get to practices and games. This travel can be excessive, and in most cases travel is by bus or air, and both are large emitters of carbon causing climate change.

Look to schedule games more strategically. Many sports teams in America travel back and forth across the country in just a few days, meaning a copious amount of fuel is burnt which releases CO2 into the atmosphere. Team games should be better organized and scheduled to reduce travel. Instead of hopping on planes and flying across the country for each game, teams should play every other team in that area before moving further afield.

When travel is necessary, encourage team members to commute to games and practices using more sustainable forms of transport. For instance, use public transport, car share, employ shuttle buses, and encourage team members to walk or cycle to games if this doesn’t interfere with their training plan.

You could also get your team involved with Earth Day, where they can help plant trees or support other conservation or carbon offset practices. This will encourage players to take control and lower their personal carbon footprint.

Tip #4: Retail and merchandise sales

Many professional sporting teams sell merchandise such as t-shirts, mugs, socks, and even model toys of sporting players. To be sustainable, such teams need to understand their distributors as well as their manufacturers to make sure only environmentally-sound procedures are being utilized.

To illustrate this point, let’s consider the selling of clothing merchandise. Brands such as Patagonia, Organic Basics, and Pact use recycled materials to make new and creative sportswear. Another brand, Allbirds, creates shoes that are made from FSC-certified eucalyptus tree fibers, responsibly sourced wool, and sugar cane. Look to collaborate with ethical brands as such to create sustainable clothing merchandise.

For instance, Adidas and the National Hockey League have created all-star jerseys from upcycled and repurposed materials to push for sustainability. Many programs and teams should follow in their footsteps and create team jerseys from upcycled materials.

Tip #5: Promote sustainability (communicate the issues along with the solutions)

Sport connects people and communities through the creation of hero figures. These figures are strong influencers and form positive relationships with the general public. With this in mind, sport acts as a powerful platform to promote sustainability, to communicate the environmental issues we face along with the solutions to mitigate these issues.

Hence, the sporting industry offers a gaping opportunity to spread the message around the importance of sustainability through the sheer number of people that sports reach daily. By simply making a few changes to advocate sustainability, people will feel more inclined to be sustainable and support green practices.

On this note, sporting teams should also be selective with what businesses they work with for in-game advertisements. Companies with a strong green mission should be prioritized over those without such a mission. This will promote sustainable practice through in-game advertisements.

Create a robust sustainability program and get certified for your efforts

The 5 tips given in this article will design a robust sustainability program for sporting teams. Yet, sustainability doesn’t stop here. These tips will form the foundation of your green program which you can build on by implementing more green initiatives to create a thorough and robust sustainability strategy.

Once you’ve signed up for the Green Business Bureau (GBB) you gain access to our EcoAssessment and EcoPlanner, which host a plethora of green initiatives you can order by cost and effort. These initiatives will cover all operational areas, from toilet facilities to cafes and snack bars. Once more, you can gain certification for your efforts with GBB’s online clickable green seal of approval, which will showcase your commitment to sustainability.

Click here to learn more about GBB and how to get started!

CJ is currently pursuing an undergraduate business degree, with a minor in entrepreneurship at the University of Connecticut. He enjoys learning, problem-solving, business, teaching others, and sustainability. In his free time, he enjoys playing basketball, being outside in nature, having fun, and making people laugh.

Leave a Reply