Climate Action

2016: A tipping point for the sports movement?

2016 has been a very exciting year for the sports industry, with the quadrennial UEFA European Championship and Rio Olympic Games running alongside many other major sports events that take place globally every year

  • 04 January 2017
  • Websolutions

PRESS RELEASE - London, UK –  4 January 2017 - 2016 has been a very exciting year for the sports industry, with the quadrennial UEFA European Championship and Rio Olympic Games running alongside many other major sports events that take place globally every year.  Vast progress has also been made in terms of bringing the environment to the forefront of the global sporting stage, notably through the Rio Olympics Opening Ceremony, leading us to ask the question: has 2016 led to a tipping point in the sports movement?

Climate Action recently welcomed – during a webinar – a panel of sustainability experts to discuss this interesting question. The panel, led by Climate Action consultant Claire Poole, consisted of David Stubbs, Sustainability Consultant and Head of Sustainability of London 2012, Jill Savery, Olympian and former Head of Sustainability for the America Cup Event Authority, and Tim Trefzner, Sustainability Manager of the Georgia World Congress Centre Authority, who each utilised their own vast experience and knowledge to discuss the current state of sustainability in sport and offered ideas for further development.

A tipping point?

The webinar started with an introductory reflection on the title question by each panel member. The general consensus was that, although there has been great progress in recent years, we have not yet reached a ‘tipping point’. All, however, agreed that momentum behind the sustainability in sport movement has grown steadily, and expressed hope that it will be reached in the near future if we continue to put sustainability first. 

David pointed to the Lillehammer 1994 Winter Games, and the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games as the first major sport events that brought sustainability to the attention of the world, and discussed “the fantastic power of the Olympic brand and sport generally to motivate and inspire”. He went on to describe measures taken by the London 2012 Olympic team, believing their commitment to sustainability was the key component in winning the bid from the IOC in the first place, and expressed praise for the Rio 2016 team for taking it even further.

Jill then moved on to discussing important developments in the sector, including the Global Reporting Initiative which created a standard for event organisers, the IOC Agenda 2020 which includes 2 out of 40 recommendations for future Olympics that directly reference sustainability, and the huge membership growth of the Green Sports Alliance. She also cited the America’s Cup Team Land Rover BAR as an example of one of the first professional sports teams to embed sustainability wholeheartedly into its practices, and expressed the importance of sport being integrated into the Sustainable Development Goals.

Areas of improvement

Although all panellists praised recent developments in the sector, they also identified a number of problems that must be resolved before we can reach the so-called tipping point. Tim, referencing a recent survey concluding that many venue managers do not know how to go beyond basic sustainability requirements, pointed to the lack of data, shared knowledge and a globally agreed methodology to deliver sustainable sports events and venues. He outlined the challenge of measuring and baselining standards for events of vastly different sizes and purposes, and discussed what he believes is the current disconnect between sustainability and marketing teams. All panellists agreed that once a global baseline is researched and completed and all areas of the industry are able to work together, steps can be taken to make sustainability mandatory.

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Factors for success

In response to an audience question asking for advice on how to initiate a sustainability strategy, David outlined two critical factors for success: full commitment from project leaders and early planning, whilst Jill suggested familiarising yourself with other successful strategies and engaging directly with stakeholders. All three panellists urged sustainability pioneers to be courageous, and to build upon basic steps gradually, with Tim adding that transparency – admitting to mistakes and committing to improve – is crucial to maintain fan support during the process.

Tim also went on to offer examples of his own innovative work on the operations side of venue management, including planting 75 trees in honour of the 75th celebration of March Madness, and working with a local NGO to teach sewing skills to refugees to repurpose event banners into bags.

Responding to a second audience question about what he believes will galvanise sustainable action in the sport sector, David said: “I’d love to see the day where decision makers in sport have a sustainability background.” He further explained his belief that a tipping point will be reached when sport leaders both support and fully understand sustainability, and expressed his hope for the education and understanding of future generations. Tim added that athletes themselves showing their support for the movement will be key in gaining momentum, whilst Jill pointed to the role of the local fans and community in encouraging stadiums and events to modernise.

The Business Case

The final round of discussion attempted to answer the question: what are the incentives for businesses to take sustainable action? Jill made the important point that the sport sector must take the environment into account to keep up with the changing requirements of businesses and to drive sponsorship and partnerships, whilst Tim focused on the issue of recruitment and retainment of employees, arguing that millennials increasingly look towards businesses to solve the world’s issues.

David offered his own experience as proof of business success, as he described the US $150 million dollars the London 2012 team saved by taking sustainable measures – approximately 5% of the total budget. He argued that, although many think acting sustainably costs more, long-term this is definitely not the case. He ended his comments with the motivating statement: “If you do it properly – from the outset and with good leadership – you can make a very powerful business case.”

Sustainable Innovation in Sport

In conclusion, all of our sustainability experts agreed that we have not yet reached a tipping point for the sustainable sport movement. Progress has been made, but there is much more to be done. In response, Climate Action introduce the Sustainable Innovation in Sport forum – a two day event which will take place in Munich on February 22nd -23rd 2017. The high-level meeting will bring together stakeholders in the global sports sphere, to discuss the unique opportunity that the realm of sport offers the climate change effort, with the aim of driving momentum and creating the necessary platforms and partnerships to establish a truly sustainable sport sector.

We must utilise the vast reach and cooperative nature of sport as a driver of change. Click here to find out more and be part of the solution.