Climate change is severely impacting sport in various ways. Sport infrastructure is being damaged by drought and flooding, violent storms, and coastal erosion.
Unseasonal rainfall and warmer winters are forcing cancellations and changes in timing of events. Higher temperatures are leading to an increase in injuries to players and therefore creating a sub-standard fan experience.
Two main contributors to these issues are carbon emissions and the disposal of waste, which is why this article is focusing on four sports organizations that are implementing initiatives and programs to operate at carbon neutral and zero waste.
The Forest Green Rovers
Based in Gloucestershire, England, the Forest Green Rovers are a lower division football club. Despite being a small club, they have had a big impact on the environment and the sports industry.
Implementing solar panels, electric car charging points, water recycling, an electric lawnmower, an organic pitch, and an entirely vegan menu for players and fans are some of the sustainability measures the football club has introduced into their operations.
Forest Green Rovers are the only club to have Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS) accreditation. Since the 2011/2012 season, the carbon footprint of Forest Green Rover spectators has decreased by 42%. Many fans have also replicated their team’s green vision by making more eco-conscience decisions and living more sustainable lifestyles.
The Seattle Kraken
In 2020, the NHL’s newest expansion franchise the Seattle Kraken announced a partnership with Amazon to build the “Climate Pledge Arena” and commit to carbon-neutral operations and events. The arena is named after a vision to move to a responsible place for the planet rather than a name of a big corporation.
Compared to the common use of natural gas, this stadium will be powered exclusively by renewable energy including on and off site solar.
The Climate Pledge Arena has committed to fully offsetting the carbon emissions of all events and related transportation by fans, sports teams and entertainers. By using rainwater, refrigerants with zero greenhouse gas emissions, and electric Zambonis, the teams will be playing on the “greenest” ice in the world.
Along with their in-stadium initiatives, the Seattle Kraken coordinates the largest effort of fan engagement with climate issues of any NHL team.
The Helsinki International Horse Show
Each year the Helsinki International Horse Show welcomes 50,000 horse lovers that are eager to meet and watch the world’s best horse riders. Organizers had to consider all touchpoints of attendees to implement a zero waste program at their event in 2019.
Digital solutions such as e-tickets and a website were used to eliminate printed hand programs, starting lists, and official/rider bulletins. Water stations and a bring your own bottle policy were established to get rid of the use of plastic cups. After the event, the organizers stored materials for future use or donated unwanted ones. In addition to addressing human waste, they also used horse manure to generate energy for the event.
The Waste Management Phoenix Open
The Waste Management Phoenix Open is the largest verified zero waste event in the world. The annual tournament attracts some 500,000 spectators. It has received certification from the Golf Environment Organization Foundation and Council for Responsible Sport.
In 2018, the tournament achieved 100% landfill diversion through recycling, composting, donation, reuse and waste-to-energy initiatives. Along with the event’s waste management program, organizers have tried to reduce its water consumption.
Their work restored 75 million gallons of water to the Verde River and captured around 6,353 gallons of greywater for reuse. With so many attendees at their tournament, the Waste Management Phoenix Open uses their event as an opportunity to educate their spectators. Through fun games and interactive messaging, the organizers show attendees how zero waste can positively impact their lives.
All four of these organizations have implemented different sustainability initiatives, but one similarity across all four cases is the emphasis on fan engagement. Some executives of sports teams are hesitant to engage in environmental initiatives due to the perceived uncertainty of how their fans will respond.
However, Brian McCullough, associate professor of sport management at Texas A&M University, conducted research on the importance of sustainability efforts to sports fans. His research found that, contradicting sports executives’ beliefs, fans are actually receptive to sustainability initiatives and will make efforts to reduce the events’ and their individual environmental footprint.
Another conclusion found was that teams can benefit financially from investing in environmental initiatives as they will deepen connections between the organization and certain segments of fans.
Sports organizations must take action now. Currently, there are strides being made in the sports industry in terms of integrating sustainability, however, we need more organizations to follow the lead of these four organizations outlined and get in the race of protecting our planet.