Earth Day seeking sustainability improvements in sport

May 16 2024

Earth Day has identified the sporting industry as a key area to target in the fight against the climate crisis, but why is this?

Earth Day seeking sustainability improvements in sport

Everything that goes into sport, from travel by athletes and fans to supply chains for merchandise and equipment, contributes to an alarming carbon footprint. For example, a single National Football League (NFL) game produces around 40 tonnes of rubbish.

Over the course of the full season, the league accumulates approximately 20,230 tonnes of waste which is the equivalent to around 107 times the weight of every single NFL player combined.

As a result, Earth Day is looking to deepen its relationship with the sports community to inspire environmental action year-round.

“So many sports communities rely on a clean and healthy environment to participate in the activities they love, from ski mountains to surf beaches to your neighbours playing pickup games in the park,” Earth Day National Campaign Manager Evan Raskin tells Global Sustainable Sport.

“We see this as a huge opportunity for engagement in the environmental movement.

“Working more closely with sports leagues is a key part of my strategy as we prepare for Earth Day 2025; the goal is for the sports industry to be well-positioned to make a meaningful impact on Earth Day, and ensure that the actions they take are not motivated by greenwashing.”

Earth Day National Campaign Manager Evan Raskin

Earth Day National Campaign Manager Evan Raskin

Ensuring sustainable operations take place has become essential across the sporting world, but this has come with the danger of some organisations putting more resources into appearing environmentally friendly than actually being so.

Earth Day takes place on April 22 every year and the organisers are insistent that those who participate see it not just as a single day, but as a movement.

It aims to serve as a catalyst for greater environmental action throughout the whole year.

“For institutional stakeholders, whether you’re a government or a sports franchise, your participation in Earth Day must extend beyond celebratory words on April 22 to be considered impactful,” Raskin says.

“Earth Day is like a pre-game press conference: it’s time to show how you’ve prepared for this moment through sustainable practices taken so far, and the ideal moment to show the public how you plan to win the game by announcing new measures that your institution is committed to. The fans are counting on you to deliver, and EDO is here to ensure you get results.”

Stepping up to the plate

This year’s edition sparked initiatives from a multitude of sporting organisations, including World Rugby.

The governing body launched Rugby for Nature which sought to highlight the importance of nature to the game. It did this by empowering rugby communities around the world to safeguard the natural environment and biodiversity within and around rugby facilities.

World Rugby was also joined by the likes of Badminton England, Major League Baseball, AS Roma, the Special Olympics and more.

Perhaps the most promising development of Earth Day this year was the conversations that took place with the Paris 2024 Olympic Games Organising Committee.

“Collaborating with the Paris Olympics has been a rewarding experience for us,” Raskin says.

“The Olympics have been not only receptive but proactive in their approach to sustainability, and we have been especially impressed by how Paris has handled their approach to the 2024 Games’ environmental integrity so far. They won’t settle for second-best in terms of mitigating environmental impact; they’re aiming to shatter the existing records of sustainability at the Olympics, and raise the bar for how all future Games should be planned.”

“Earth Day is like a pre-game press conference: it’s time to show how you’ve prepared for this moment through sustainable practices taken so far." Earth Day National Campaign Manager Evan Raskin

Raskin continues: “We recently sat down with IOC’s’ Director of Sustainability Marie Sallois and Georgina Grenon, Director of Environmental Excellence, Paris Olympics 2024, who showed us how this year’s games will be going for gold in sustainability. They’re focused on reducing transport emissions, reusing facilities to eliminate unnecessary development, and plan to cut the use of single use plastics by half compared to previous Games, among other goals.”

A number of ambitious aims have been put in place for the Games, which are set to be the first in France’s capital for 100 years.

There is an overall goal of cutting the use of single-use plastic in catering by half compared to previous editions of the event. This will result in half of the estimated 18 million beverage servings being dished out without any single-use plastics, and no disposable tableware will be used at the Olympic Village restaurant.

A focus has also been placed on fan travel between venues as a key way to reduce Paris 2024’s environmental impact.

All of the competition areas are claimed to be accessible by public transport, which will run more frequently compared to similar periods in previous years.

In addition, more than 400km of cycle paths are being added along with 20,000 secured parking slots for bicycles in a bid to encourage cycling as a form of transport.

Raskin believes that Paris 2024’s actions are a step in the right direction and hopes others follow suit, beginning with waste audits.

“Event organisers seeking sustainable improvements should begin with waste audits of their events to assess the amount and type of waste generated,” he said.

“With this knowledge, a venue can choose to procure more sustainable serviceware, create new waste management infrastructure to effectively respond to its needs, work with food/beverage/merchandise vendors to eliminate unnecessary plastics, and recruit volunteers or staff to strengthen the zero-waste process from start to finish.”

A team effort

Sport often prides itself on being able to unite people no matter their creed or culture.

For Earth Day, its task is to aid organisations towards bettering their environmental impact, with at least this year and the next aimed at not only reducing carbon footprints within sport, but also utilising it to help other industries.

“Clearly, the sports industry has a responsibility to improve, but they are not alone in this endeavour,” concludes Raskin.

“Sports are a key unifying factor for communities globally, creating a shared identity that encourages cooperation among fans. Sport franchises and athletes serve as role models, who can lead by example to encourage sustainable practices and volunteer participation from those who look up to them. Fans want to contribute to the success of their team, and when the team’s goal is sustainability, then the community will do their part to win the game.”

Images: NASA on Unsplash/Arnaud Mesureur on Unsplash

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