A Sustainability Series in Sport: Game 1

The global impact of climate change is well documented but its correlation with sport is less so. Despite this lack of media coverage, there is no doubt that sport will be hindered by our changing climate. In England, 23 of the 92 Football League clubs face partial or total flooding by 2050. This is but one example of the impact of climate change on sport, and for those in the industry, it is clear to see that the risks of the climate crisis are an in-house emergency.

On the other side of the coin, sport is also a significant contributor to the climate crisis: the industry’s carbon footprint is equivalent to that of Tunisia or Angola. As such, sports and the environment are symbiotically linked. Each one is in a constant tussle with the other; every audience impacts its environment, and vice versa.

Hence, it is surprising to see that a collective environmental effort in sport is yet to emerge. Nevertheless, individual stakeholders are developing solutions to environmental questions.

This series will offer a glimpse into some of these solutions, as the industry adapts to its new challenges.

The importance of the Stadium

For many sports teams, carbon neutrality is now a primary aim. Part of this push towards carbon neutrality must involve the carbon footprint of a club’s facilities being immensely reduced. In particular, this relates to the club’s stadium. The effect of a stadium on its local environment goes beyond the building itself. Due to the club’s significance and involvement in local communities, local businesses and residents are affected daily by the stadium’s existence.

Furthermore, the stadium is the epicentre of the organisation. It is a piece of infrastructure that does not change, as players and staff come and go. Therefore, its structure provides a message. The stadium is able to exemplify the organisation’s core beliefs, as it is the only long-term concrete structure. As every club is gradually called on to provide detail on how it is fighting the climate crisis, the stadium can be their first point of call. For many clubs, it will become the face of their environmental ventures.

These environmental efforts are epitomised by English Football League 2 side Forest Green Rovers. Whilst recently making headlines after the announcement of footballer and environmental activist Hector Bellerin’s stake in the organisation, it is the case that they have been leading the environmental charge in sport for many years. In fact, the Rovers were the first franchise certified by the United Nations as a carbon-neutral football club. In everything they do, sustainability is embraced.

Dale Vince, their Chairman, is owner of green energy company Ecotricity. Their home stadium is powered by 100% green energy, whilst their completely organic pitch is cut by a solar-powered lawn mower and is watered only with rainwater. Furthermore, electric car charging ports are dotted around the stadium. Notably, only vegan food has been served on match-day since 2015, which demonstrates their progressive nature.

However, the club are aiming to go one step further, with their new 5,000 capacity Eco Park stadium being given final approval in August 2020. To be made entirely of wood, it has already been dubbed the greenest football stadium ever built. As a result, whenever the club performs well, the media attention they will receive will act to enhance their eco-message.

In addition to Forest Green Rovers, there are a multitude of clubs making environmental pushes, aiming to gain LEED certification for their buildings. The U.S. Green Building Council uses six criteria to grant different levels of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification for buildings. The criteria include:

  • The building’s location.
  • Treatment of the building site.
  • Water usage.
  • Energy usage.
  • Materials used in construction.
  • The treatment of people in the building.

Buildings are then awarded either a silver, gold or platinum certificate level based on their environmental awareness. In the US, the Golden 1 Center, the home of the NBA Sacramento Kings, was the first LEED platinum-certified indoor stadium. In the NFL, the home of the Atlanta Falcons, the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, is also LEED platinum certified.

The Mercedes Benz Stadium, home of the Atlanta Falcons. Photo by Birmingham Photographer

However, the NHL was the first league to commit to sustainability in the US. The Xcel Energy Center, home to NHL team Minnesota Wild, was the first arena in the country to earn LEED for Existing Buildings. In Canada, NHL team the Edmonton Oilers have recently moved into their new environmentally friendly stadium, Rogers Place. The LEED Silver-certified arena is situated in the city’s pedestrian corridor, within walking distance to seven light rail stops. Design of the arena allows in natural light, while heat recovery ventilation and a highly insulated building envelope keep occupants comfortable on freezing winter nights.

All of these stadiums are part of a greater trend to build with sustainability in mind. In many of these cities, there are expectations amongst fans that these clubs do so. Sport has so much influence on the general public that showing leadership in sustainability has numerous benefits amongst followers. Additionally, from a business perspective, such pushes make a lot of sense: opportunities for partnerships with other brands only increase as a result.