Sports Consulting Newsletter #7 - Sports and Sustainability
17 February 2020
In the famous words of Bill Shankly, legendary Liverpool FC coach during the 70s, “Football is not a matter of life and death. I can assure you, it’s much more important than that.”
Athletes and supporters worldwide consider their favourite sport as being more than a “matter of life and death”. And so is climate change, the effects of which are disrupting the global population and the world as we know it in far-reaching ways.
Nowadays, many sports organizations and fans would agree that sport has an impact on the environment and climate change, being a net contributor to the production of greenhouse gas emissions.
Specifically, as put forward by the UN Environment Programme, “building and managing a sports facility and operating an event uses energy and can contribute to air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and waste generation, as well as to ozone-layer depletion, habitat and biodiversity loss, soil erosion and water pollution.”1
This means that the key players of the sports industry have an important responsibility to limit their impact on climate change and other sustainability issues.
As illustrated further, the main actors of the sport industry may resolve this impending problem by being part of the solution itself, i.e. mitigating its own impacts, inspiring change among peers, partner organizations and fans.
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A global sports and climate change framework
Almost one year ago, during the COP24 conference which was held in Poland, the UN unveiled its Sports for Climate Action Framework. In December 2018, 17 of the world’s most renowned sport representatives (i.e., athletes, clubs, federations and leagues) joined the race for climate action by co-signing this initiative, with the objective of meeting the scale and the difficulty of the Paris Agreement’s challenge – i.e., maintaining the global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius2.
The Sports for Climate Action Framework was co-developed by the UN and the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The initiative is a true call to arms addressed to the sporting community. Since its launch, it has developed a specific climate action agenda for sports, adhering on a set of five principles to get on the right track to reach the net zero emission economy agreed on in Paris.
The rationale behind the launch of this initiative is that, sport – in light of its global appeal and its tremendous reach – represents one of the most powerful factors to drive mass behavior and urgency for action3.
Figure 1 - Overview of the Sports for Climate Action Principles Sources: Sports for Climate Action Framework, UN
Indeed, the Sports for Climate Action Framework provides sports organizations with a dedicated forum where they can pursue climate action in a consistent and supportive way, enhancing mutual learning opportunities, fostering best practices and lessons learned as well as creating innovative tools. Since its launch, 80 sports organizations have joined the Framework so far4.
Figure 2 - Signatories of the Sports for Climate Action Framework (not exhaustive).
Sources: Sports for Climate Action Framework, UN
In the words of Prince Albert II of Monaco, IOC Member and Chair of the IOC Sustainability and Legacy Commission, “at a time of unprecedented momentum in the crucial global fight against climate change, the sports community is proving, once again, that its power extends well beyond the field of play”.
Beyond the field of play, Nike, for example, one of the world's largest designers and manufacturers of sport apparel, signed the Framework in June 2019, committing to “team up with peers and partners across sectors to do what’s right for the planet and the future of sport.”5 Since then, Nike has committed to source 100% of its electricity from renewable energy, and has created an open-source circular design guide to assist designers all over the world to create sustainable products.
Sports facilities and sustainability
Another area beyond the field of play is that of sports facilities and sports events.
Indeed, to implement real and tangible measures for addressing climate change, building on the grounds of the positive successes of London 2012 and Rio 2016, 14 International Sports Federations (IFs) and the Organizing Committees for the next three Olympic Games editions of Tokyo 2020, Beijing 2022 and Paris 2024 have joined the Sports for Climate Action Framework.
After having joined the Framework, the Organizing committee of Tokyo 2020 has showed to be on the right track as in November 2019 it has obtained the ISO 20121 certification, an international standard that certifies the sustainability of an event, created by the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO)6. Thanks to sound planning, the Tokyo 2020 event is positioned to play a pivotal role for the integration of sustainability into global sport events, acting as a model for games to come.
Figure 3 - Overview of Tokyo 2020 Sustainability Plan (not exhaustive)
Sources: The Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, November, 2018
Concrete key steps and final thoughts
Since its creation, sports organizations and key stakeholders worldwide are invited to join the Sports for Climate Action Framework’s principles, regardless of their current sustainability policies and modus operandi.
For those organizations and key stakeholders that have joined the Framework, the UN and the IOC have identified three key steps within the Sports for Climate Action Framework to take concrete action to tackle climate change: Measure and understand, Take action, Educate and inspire7.
It is indeed essential that, as a first step, each organization or stakeholder gather precise quantitative data on the level of greenhouse gas emissions produced by its activities, projects or events in order to understand what contributes the most to the global carbon footprint. The data on carbon footprint calculations will enable each organization or stakeholder to clearly prioritize and identify, as a second step, which actions should either be avoided, reduced, substituted and/or compensated. Ultimately, actions undertaken should be reported as lessons learned to demonstrate credibility on sustainability efforts, to share knowledge and to celebrate successes. As a third step, sports organizations and stakeholders have the ultimate responsibility to communicate to their broad audiences their climate action efforts and strategies as a way to encourage them to join the race for climate action themselves8.
As highlighted by the UN and the IOC, “credibility comes from being seen to take the matter seriously and taking demonstrable steps to implement relevant measures”9.
Given its ability to inspire, motivate and excite, sport can be a pivotal vehicle for showcasing concrete measures and tools to encourage positive actions towards climate change, addressing the world’s business leaders, policy decision makers and society in general.
1 The Green Sports Movement, Knowledge@Wharton, Wharton University of Pennsylvania
2 UN News, December 2018
5 Noel Kinder, Nike’s Chief Sustainability Officer, https://news.nike.com/news/un-climate-change-fashion-industry-charter
7 UN and IOC, Sustainability Essentials, A series of practical guides for the Olympic Movement, 2018
8 See above
9 See above
Giulia Bruni Roccia
Eleonore Moreau Gentien