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Sustainability in Sports

Even sports affect our sustainability efforts.

Artwork by Tanishk Katalkar


People all throughout the world can be inspired, united, and made happy by sports. However, it is important to consider how sports affect the environment. The sports business leaves a big environmental imprint, from the daily operations of sporting facilities to massive events like the Olympics. The sports sector is currently under pressure to embrace more environmentally friendly practices due to the looming fear of climate change and the need for sustainable practices. We will discuss the prospects and difficulties for sustainability in the sports business in this article, as well as the steps that stakeholders are taking to ensure a more sustainable future.

Impact of sports and sports equipment on the environment


The air industry is one of the biggest offenders when it comes to the detrimental environmental impact of travel. Unfortunately, because flight costs do not take environmental impact into account, many consumers are unaware of the harm that flying causes to the environment. Flight emissions may linger in the atmosphere for centuries, causing chemical reactions and other atmospheric effects that contribute to global warming.

Athletes who choose to travel closer to home most frequently choose to use a motor vehicle. The majority of amateur athletes commute by car to and from practices and competitions; while some teams even travel seven days a week. With this level of travel, cars alone are responsible for about 21% of the nitrogen oxide emissions, a contributor to pollution. traffic also adds to the problem because the typical person spends about 42 hours per year in traffic.

Travel-related pollutants harm the environment both immediately and over time by releasing a variety of gases and solid materials that contribute to global warming. In order to undo these harms, activists have concentrated on encouraging environmentally friendly decisions like carpooling and cutting back on pointless travel. These adjustments can be made in private, professional, and large-scale sporting contexts. Although it is necessary, transportation is one of the main causes of environmental pollution.

Resources Used by Facilities

Sporting facilities can either invest in the actual space or in its upkeep, which uses resources differently. The construction of these areas, whether it be a stadium or an outdoor field, uses a lot of resources. Building and other forms of creation require land, and the sporting sector uses a tremendous amount of it. In 2015, there were 9.1 million km2 of golf courses in Canada. This land could be used for more beneficial purposes, such as farming, wind farms, housing, parks, and open spaces.

A significant amount of resources are needed for facility maintenance in addition to land use. Arenas and stadiums used for sports are frequently rebuilt or renovated to maintain modern technology and offer top-notch amenities. As raw materials rather than recycled ones are used, more of Earth's resources are extracted as a result.

The upkeep of outdoor facilities also encourages environmental destruction. The maintenance of grassy areas, such as baseball diamonds, golf courses, and soccer fields, requires enormous amounts of water. Due to the physical and environmental stress that sports fields experience, water is required to maintain them (Sports Field Management, n.d.). It is advised to water the grass once or twice a week with about 1-2 inches of water (Sports Field Management, n.d.). This might not seem like much, but when you consider how many there are and how big the spaces are, it adds up to a huge volume of water.

Herbicides and pesticides are also employed in some jurisdictions to maintain ideal grass conditions. Due to the excessive use of these dangerous chemicals on golf courses, this effect is well known (DecodingScience, 2019). These problems are present not only in sports but also in our everyday activities and lives. Because they require land and natural resources to support the growth of the human population, urbanisation and industrialization have a negative impact on our planet.

Equipment and Apparel Production

Since cotton is a plant that requires a lot of water to grow, the fashion industry is the second-largest water consumer in the world (McFall-Johnsen, 2020). To make one cotton t-shirt, about 700 gallons of water are required, which is equal to drinking eight cups of water per day for three and a half years.

The problems with clothing manufacturing also apply to the production of athletic wear. Sport-specific clothing, like jerseys, not only need materials for production but also its manufacturing and distribution cause fossil fuel emissions. You can imagine the impact their fabrication creates if you take into account the number of teams in professional sports leagues and the variety of jerseys each team has. You might also take into account collegiate and amateur sports, which would more than double this effect.

Examples of environmental initiatives in the sport industry

Sustainable stadiums

Many teams and sports organisations are making investments in environmentally friendly stadium planning and development. An example of a LEED Platinum-certified building is the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia, which uses LED lighting, solar panels, and rainwater collection systems to conserve energy.

Zero-waste events

Zero-waste programmes are being used at certain sporting events to reduce waste. For instance, the Seattle Mariners have started a programme at T-Mobile Park to do rid of single-use plastics and compost all food waste.

Eco-friendly transportation

Sports organisations encourage supporters to use environmentally friendly modes of transportation such as electric vehicle charging stations, public transit partnerships, and bike-sharing programmes. To encourage spectators to take public transportation to events, the Green Sports Alliance has worked with several significant cities.

Renewable energy

Renewable energy sources are increasingly being used by sporting facilities to power their operations. For instance, the Hard Rock Stadium, home of the Miami Dolphins, has 16,000 solar panels that can produce enough electricity to run 1,000 homes.

Sustainable supply chains

Teams and organisations in the sports industry are collaborating with vendors to guarantee that the products and resources they use are obtained responsibly. In order to promote sustainable practises throughout their supply chains, including the utilisation of recycled content in clothing and equipment, the NBA has joined the Green Sports Alliance.

Whos in charge of driving sustainability in sports

The promotion of sustainability in sports is not the responsibility of a single entity or organisation. Instead, it is a team effort that includes numerous stakeholders from both inside and beyond the sports sector. These stakeholders are:

Sports organizations and teams: The promotion of sustainability in sports is crucial, and major sports organisations like the International Olympic Committee, FIFA, and the NBA, as well as specific teams and franchises, play a key part. They can establish sustainability objectives, put sustainability practises into place, and motivate their followers and communities to take more environmentally responsible actions.

Athletes: Athletes have a powerful platform and can utilise it to advocate for sustainability and promote public awareness. Many athletes have publicly spoken their opinions on environmental concerns, such as the need to reduce plastic waste and support renewable energy.

Fans and communities: Promoting sustainability in sports is important for both communities and sports enthusiasts. They can encourage green initiatives, demand sustainable practices from sports leagues and teams, and model sustainable behaviour themselves.

Government and regulatory bodies: Government and regulatory agencies can encourage sustainability in sports by implementing laws and rules that reward environmentally friendly behaviour. For instance, some towns have green building regulations in place that mandate new sports facilities adhere to specific environmental requirements.

Environmental organizations: Environmental organizations can work with sports organizations and teams to promote sustainable practices and provide guidance on how to reduce their environmental impact.

In short, promoting sustainability in sports is a collaborative effort that involves various stakeholders working together towards a common goal.

In recent years, the sports industry has made significant strides towards sustainability, recognizing the importance of protecting the environment and reducing its carbon footprint. Through sustainable stadium design, zero-waste initiatives, eco-friendly transportation options, renewable energy sources, and sustainable supply chains, sports organizations and teams are taking meaningful action towards a more sustainable future. These efforts not only benefit the environment but also promote social and economic benefits, including community engagement and cost savings. However, there is still much work to be done, and it will require continued collaboration and innovation from all stakeholders in the sports industry. By working together, we can create a future where sports and sustainability go hand in hand, inspiring and entertaining while protecting our planet for generations to come.

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