The important role of sports in environmental sustainability

Joey van Kuilenburg, Founder @ Victoryz
November 15, 2017

Julian Wildner, Unsplash

What does sports make you think about? The important but silent role of sports in environmental sustainability

When we think about sports we usually think about athletes, teams, sports fields, competitions, trophies and that’s about it. Sports is a strong social movement and an industry with huge influence over millions or even billions of fans worldwide. Athletes are role models within the society and through the influence that they exert, they act as ambassadors on behalf of the things that they stand for.

Did you ever think about sports as a factor for environmental change? It is, and the contribution that the world of sports is bringing to the environment is not to be overlooked!

Sports, through its strong power of influence and examples of good practice, is a tool used by the UN in achieving of the UN Development goals. UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) is also working closely together with the International Olympic Committee. Concern for taking account of environmental requirements in the process of organizing important sport events such as the olympic games came strongly to surface more than 20 years ago. In 1994 the trend was set at the Lillehammer Winter Olympics, for which the Organizing Committee was awarded by UNEP for introducing environmental standards not used in the previous editions. Following this, in 2001, the organizers of the Summer Olympics in Sydney were also honored with the Global 500 Award for organizing the greenest games ever.

Taking the example of the more recent olympics, environmental concerns played an important role in the organization of the Rio games. On top of the energy efficiency and low carbon goals, 100% certified wood was used and the fish and seafood served came from certified sources. Local companies were involved in waste recycling, setting a good example for other companies in the industry and creating employment in the area.

Increasing attention is also given to making training and competing centers more sustainable. For example, the stadium located in the AAMI Park in Melbourne embodies a number of environmental features among which a bio frame whose construction used 50% less steel than would otherwise have been used, a fully integrated waste management and recycling system and bike storage facility and access to public transportation.

Worldwide, the number of stadiums powered by solar energy is increasing. Here’s a look at top 50 solar stadiums and sport venuesWorldwide, North America is the largest solar sports superpower. In Europe, the countries with the largest solar powered venues are the Netherlands and Germany counting 8 and 3 venues respectively, followed by France and the UK, with 1 each.Looking at the type of sports where investment in solar powered energy sources is more active, your thoughts are confirmed, because the rich commercial sports are at the top of the list. Football is leading the way with 22 solar venues, followed by American football and baseball with 8, respectively 5 locations.

Between 2010 and and 2015, 80% of all venues were installed with solar panels, with 2014 and 2015 as peak years. 2016 and 2017 went a bit slower, but there is hope that that the benefits brought by solar energy will serve as an influencing factor in future decisions. In Europe, the Netherlands is the leader holding 8 out of the top 15 locations powered by solar energy, with its number 1 TT circuit in Assen powered by 21.000 solar panels.

The number of sustainable sport clubs is also increasing. In the UK for example, many sport clubs introduced sustainability measures in their practices. This not only benefits the environment by setting examples of good practice but it also helps clubs reduce their costs. Hemyock Football Club is one of the clubs which took the sustainability path. The club uses a range of green technologies to reduce carbon emissions and save on energy bills, with expected electricity savings of at least 60% per year across the lifetime of their sustainability project.

Athletes are also a huge part of sustainability in sports. They are followed by millions of fans who adopt their practices and eat, wear and do what their idols do. Through their strong connection with people, athletes can raise awareness about how everybody can make small changes to live environmentally friendly and sustainable. For example, in her sustainability path, snowboarder Leanne Pelosi, decided to eat 95% less meat, used public transportation and her bike and supported local businesses. Her aim for 2017 is to build her eco friendly, 0 energy cabin.

All the above stories show how much the environment benefits from conscious use of resources in sports. But giving means receiving. Having a healthy, clean, environment where they can train will definitely improve the performance of athletes and ultimately, the satisfaction of their millions of fans.


Read more about sports and the environment on:

UN, sport and the Environment, Leveraging the popularity of sport to promote environmental awareness and sustainable development

About UNEP, Sport and the Environment

UNEP and the International Olympic Committee

Sport and environmental sustainability

Top 50 Solar Stadiums & Sports Venues

Top female athletes share their environmental goals for 2017

What are other clubs doing?



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