Feature

Green Sports Day 2023: How can sport raise awareness of climate change?

September 28 2023

Green Sports Day is marking its 8th edition on 6th October this year. But how will it bring the global sports community together—and how effective are dedicated days for driving action on the climate crisis?

Green Sports Day 2023: How can sport raise awareness of climate change?

Green Sports Day and Green Sports Alliance

Green Sports Day has a distinguished history. On October 6th 2016, when welcoming the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins to the White House to celebrate their victory in the Stanley Cup, President Barack Obama acknowledged the work of the green sports movement and declared October 6th to be the very first Green Sports Day.

On the same day, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy announced a set of new actions to use sport to tackle climate change.

Green Sports Day is an initiative of the Green Sports Alliance, which was founded in 2010. The Alliance uses ‘the cultural & market influence of sports to promote healthy, sustainable communities’.

The Alliance is open to teams, leagues, conferences, venues, government agencies, athletes, and fans, and runs events, hosts an annual summit, and provides resources for community. It is now made up of almost 400 members, covering 15 leagues and 14 countries.

Since the first Green Sports Day in 2016, the Green Sports Alliance has been trying to maintain the event’s momentum.

In 2020, Roger McClendon, executive director of the Green Sports Alliance, said that the team’s vision for Green Sports Day is “to grow in reach and influence every year and eventually become a key moment in time for our industry and movement to highlight leadership and encourage even more ambitious action.”

Accomplishments so far

The aim of Green Sports Day is to bring the global sports community together to “increase awareness of climate change and sustainability”, and to encourage everyone to act on climate issues.

The day encourages people across the world to make a commitment to climate action, activate their own communities, and use the #GreenSportsDay hashtag to signal their participation.

The Green Sports Alliance Foundation says that “on Green Sports Day, we celebrate the remarkable progress of the global sports community. We commend the many climate commitments already in progress and we acknowledge the necessary action that must be taken to create a more sustainable, just, and resilient future.”

Since 2016 the day has engaged fans across the world.

Last year’s event gathered over 100 partners in the US, reached 14 million followers across social media accounts, and hosted a green lighting event that saw 105 stadiums across the US lit up in green, including the Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle, the Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, and the Target Center in Minneapolis.

While it originated in the US, sports stakeholders in other countries have also taken part.

In Canada in 2021, Dr. Madeleine Orr worked with the Canadian government and elite athletes including Emilie Fournel and Philippe Marquis to host a half-day summit on the 6th October, which aimed to accelerate the conversation on climate action and sustainable sports in Canada.

In 2023, the Green Sports Alliance team are hoping to reach even wider audiences. Sports stakeholders are being encouraged to share climate action commitments and activate their communities through events such as volunteer days, local park clean-ups, and hosting ‘green’ games. Anyone taking part is encouraged to share their stories on social media using the #GreenSportsDay hashtag.

Challenges

It’s clear that, since 2016, Green Sports Day has helped to raise awareness of climate issues among the sports community, particularly in North America. But are one-day events and celebrations an effective way of taking action for the planet?

There are many positive examples of dedicated days, weekends, or months raising awareness of sustainability issues.

For example, this year saw the first-ever Green Football Weekend in February, in which 80 professional football clubs in the UK helped engage fans on climate issues through ‘greener’ match days and a competition in which fans made climate-specific pledges. Green Football Weekend reached up to 30 million fans, including 39,000 on social media, and accrued 63,370 climate pledges.

Meanwhile, sport-specific examples, such as this month’s Go Green Game at Edgbaston, have shown how one-off ‘green’ days or events can lead to longer-term changes to factors like travel, stadium lighting and energy, and even fan behaviour.

‘Green’ sports days and events can draw on sport’s profile to drive sustainability messages wider. However, it’s crucial that these events translate their messages into concrete change.

As the Green Sports Alliance has shown, 81% of sports fans express concern about the environment, while 58% expect teams and leagues to use environmentally-friendly practices.

To be truly effective, awareness-raising days must build on this fan engagement to ensure that it leads to concrete change—whether that be to stadium policies, team travel, or fan behaviour at home.

While volunteer days, one-off ‘green’ games, and park clean-ups are positive, real change will only happen once the sports community comes together to make these actions the new normal.

Meanwhile, it’s also important to acknowledge the global reach of the sports industry. As Global Sustainable Sport has shown, sport’s reach is vast, with an estimated 4 billion fans across the world. As Green Sports Day develops, engaging fans in countries beyond the US and Canada will make its message even more impactful.

As Green Sports Day marks its 8th edition next week, it will draw on sports’ strengths under many of the Pillars of Sustainability, including Profile, People, Partnerships, and Participation, and aim to achieve action for the Planet. But more people will need to commit to genuine change if we are to create a truly green sports industry.

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