Innovation That Matters

The race to sporting sustainability

Sustainable Source

Sport has an enormous platform to encourage sustainable change, yet is also a key contributor to climate change – how can sport become greener?

1. Venues

Large sports venues typically have big environmental footprints. This includes the energy required to power them, the water used for the toilets and pitch sprinkler systems, and the waste produced by the many catering facilities for hungry fans. Moreover, large facilities are often built from unsustainable materials – notably vast quantities of concrete.

But sporting organisations are becoming more mindful of sustainability when designing new venues. Strasbourg’s planned Stade de la Meinau football stadium, will minimise demolitions and use upcycled aircraft parts as a construction material. 

2. Equipment

Many sports—such as skiing and snowboarding—require the use of specialist equipment. Winter sports equipment is often made from petroleum-derived plastics. But, innovators are busy addressing this problem. At Springwise, we have spotted skis made from sustainable algae biotechnology, and high-tech ski goggles made from bioplastic.

Even sports with less equipment have an impact. A study by MIT found that a typical pair of trainers generates 30 pounds (13.6 kilogrammes) of carbon dioxide emissions over its lifecycle. We are therefore seeing innovations focused on more sustainable footwear. This includes sustainable running shoes made out of algae, and trainers with soles made from carbon emissions

3. Merchandise

Merchandise is an important revenue source for sports organisations, and the global licensed sports merchandise market reached $30 Billion in 2020. Replica football shirts are a good example of this, with teams releasing multiple new shirts every season. These shirts are often made from fossil-fuel-based polyester. Polyester shirts have a much bigger carbon footprint than cotton equivalents – although sports brands are increasingly using recycled polyester.

Some teams are bucking the trend. Premier League football club Brentford recently announced they would keep the same 2021 kit for the 2022-23 season, saving fans money and improving sustainability. And, the ‘greenest football club in the world’, Forest Green Rovers have launched a kit made from coffee bean waste.

4. Events

Big international sporting events result in significant carbon emissions. The estimated carbon footprint of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics was 2.3 million metric tonnes of CO2 – roughly equal to the annual emissions of half a million cars. To offset this, the organisers collected large quantities of carbon credits from cap-and-trade markets.

But the Tokyo Olympics bred innovation when it comes to sporting sustainability. The 18,000 beds manufactured for the athletes were made from recycled cardboard, and were donated to national organisations at the end of the games instead of going to landfill. 

5. Participation 

While organised sport undoubtedly has challenges to overcome, participation in sport has many health benefits. And a recent meta-study found that increasing physical activity leads to more awareness of the environment and sustainability.

Participation in sport is therefore crucial for both human and environmental health, and sporting inclusivity is a message that sports brands are working to amplify. For example Adidas this year launched an ad campaign that encourages women in the UAE to swim with a unique ‘swimming pool billboard’.

Beyond encouraging people to be more active, sport has a broader advocacy role. Organisations such as Goal Click, are using sport as a way to bring people together for positive change. 

To say ahead of the curve, subscribe to our bi-weekly curation of the latest green innovations.

Words: Matthew Hempstead