Sustainability in Sports: Exploring 5 Impactful Case Studies By Anna Cantwell

In the world of sports, sustainability is becoming increasingly prominent. From stadiums and events to brands, athletes, and fans, the industry is embracing practices that foster positive change towards a greener and more socially responsible future. The following case studies highlight the best practices in sustainability within the sports sector. These real-world examples demonstrate how sports entities are actively making significant strides towards a more environmentally conscious and socially impactful landscape.

1. Stadiums & Venues

Sports stadiums and venues have a significant environmental impact due to energy consumption, waste generation, and water usage. However, many stadiums are adopting sustainable practices to mitigate these impacts such as the Amsterdam ArenA, home of the football club Ajax:

  • Powered by more than 4,200 solar panels and one wind turbine
  • Energy-generating escalator
  • Energy storage system powered by second-life batteries from used electric vehicles which also distributes energy to the surrounding neighbourhood when needed
  • Rainwater from the stadium roof is collected and re-used to water the grass field
  • Residual heat is used to keep frost off the playing field
  • Fans are encouraged to reduce their travel emissions by using active mobility, electric vehicles or trains, every visitor is entitled to discounts on train tickets
  • Car park offers free charging points

2. Event Management

The management of sports events can have a substantial environmental footprint. However, event organisers are increasingly adopting sustainable practices to minimise their impact, one example is the Tokyo Olympic Games:

  • Venues – Only eight new competition venues were built from scratch, many had been retrofitted and another 10 venues were temporary structures
  • Olympic torch – Produced using aluminium waste from temporary housing built in the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake and the t-shirts and trousers worn by torchbearers were made from recycled plastic bottles collected by Coca-Cola
  • Medals – Metals salvaged from nearly 79,000 tonnes of smartphones and other electronic equipment donated by the Japanese public were used to make the 5,000 Olympic and Paralympic medals
  • Equipment – Hired rather than bought, for example, 65,000 computers, tablets and electrical appliances, 19,000 office desks, chairs and other fixtures were rented for the Games
  • Carbon neutral – Through offsetting the direct and indirect emissions associated with the Games through various measures, such as renewable energy procurement, energy-efficient infrastructure, and carbon offset projects
  • Gender – Tokyo 2020 is the first gender-balanced Olympic Games, with 49% of the athletes taking part female and 51 % male and 12 additional women were appointed to the Games Executive Board, boosting female representation from 20% to 42%

3. Sports Apparel & Equipment

The production and disposal of sports apparel and equipment can have adverse environmental and social impacts. However, many sports brands are incorporating sustainability into their products, an example of this is golf balls which when they wind up anywhere other than a hole run the risk of becoming litter and polluting, as they are typically made from plastic surrounding a rubber core. Fortunately, several companies are now making biodegradable golf balls out of materials like cornstarch and wood. There’s even one company that has fish food in the center of its wooden golf balls, in case the ball winds up in a pond.

4. Sports for Social & Environmental Causes

The sports industry has a unique platform to raise awareness and promote positive change for social and environmental causes. Athletes, teams, and organisations often leverage their influence to support sustainability initiatives and drive positive impact. Some examples of this include:

5. Fan Engagement & Education

Engaging fans in sustainability initiatives can have a significant impact on creating a more sustainable sports industry. Many sports organisations are implementing fan engagement programs that promote eco-friendly behaviours and educate fans about sustainability issues. For instance, the World Surf League (WSL) and its WSL One Ocean initiative whose mission is to inspire, educate, and empower ocean protection, starting with the global surf community.

If would you like to learn more about how you can achieve sustainability in the sports sector, reach out to our Senior Consultant Imogen Player.

For more information

Anna Cantwell
Consultant Researcher
anna@actionsustainability.com

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