GSBS Report highlights progress and challenges of sustainable practices in sport

December 14 2022

The new Global Sustainability Benchmark in Sports (GSBS) Report 2022 has highlighted a series of key areas for improvement in the sports industry as the sector sharpens its focus on sustainable strategies.

GSBS Report highlights progress and challenges of sustainable practices in sport

GSBS is an independent not-for-profit organisation that uses a science-driven, data-based approach to measure the sustainability performance of sporting organisations across the world.

It uses its own GSBS Reporting Framework, which is based on international standards and performance indicators, and is updated year on year, to award professional sports organisations a GSBS Sustainability Performance Rating.

The rating assesses four pillars: Environmental, Social, Government and Corporate. Each year, GSBS invites organisations to report data for each of these categories, providing specialised support and guidance to help them to do so.

Where organisations do not submit data themselves, GSBS generates ratings based on publicly available information. Critically, the annual GSBS Sustainability Performance Rating comes at no cost to the organisations involved. The hope is that this will “lower barriers for all organisations no matter what stage of their sustainability journey they are on,” as outlined in this year’s GSBS Report.

Accountability and transparency

This data-driven, supportive approach aims to encourage not only a focus on sustainability, but also accountability and transparency through consistent data reporting.

During the 2022 cycle, over 300 organisations were actively invited to report data. In all, 51 organisations were evaluated – up from 41 in 2021.

The average performance rating of organisations across all pillars in 2022 was 43 out of 100, up from 35 out of 100 last year. These trends suggest a positive direction in both the number of organisations reporting data and in terms of their overall performance.

The sports organisations assessed fell into eight categories, led by the football industry (49%), followed by basketball (19%), motor sports (10%), American football (8%), baseball (6%), contact sports (4%), tennis (2%) and ice hockey (2%). Of the 51 organisations assessed, 36 are clubs, franchises or teams, while 15 are associations, leagues or competitions. No single events were included, and 31 of the organisations were in Europe, with the remaining 20 in North America.

State of sustainability

In all, the coverage provided a snapshot of the state of sustainability in sport across Europe and North America. While the average sustainability performance in Europe was 55 out of 100 in 2022 – up from 44 out of 100 in 2021 – the average performance in North America remained steady at 24 out of 100 in both years. However, the report pointed out that the disclosure of sustainability data in North America is on average far more limited than in Europe, which can contribute to lower scores.

The success stories of the report, however, showed how clear and consistent data reporting can lead to positive long-term change. The top 10 organisations, all of whom received a rating of over 70 out of 100, spanned teams, leagues, and competitions in motorsports and football: Formula E, Borussia Dortmund, Juventus Turin, Extreme E, VfL Wolfsburg, LaLiga, Dorna, Werder Bremen, UEFA and Manchester City.

Formula E, in particular, performed well across the board. A newcomer to the report, the organisation came top of the leaderboard with a rating of 80 out of 100, and also won four of the five additional GSBS Awards for Best Total Performance, Best Corporate Performance, Best Environmental Performance and Best Governance Performance.

Formula E was the first organisation to reach the 80 rating threshold, and the report commended their “seriousness and consistency” in approaching the issue of sustainability. In particular, the report highlighted their full scope emissions reporting, ISO certifications, comprehensive risk assessment practice, and emphasis on senior executive training as standout areas that demonstrate their commitment to sustainability.

Jamie Reigle, Chief Executive Officer, Formula E, stated:

“Setting the global standard for sustainability in sport has been a core characteristic of Formula E since we began in 2014. We welcome the top ranking by GSBS as recognition for the dedication of our employees, teams and partners. We also acknowledge the efforts and achievements in sustainability by other major sports organisations around the world and welcome that progress. Together, we have the potential to engage billions of fans in the mission to combat climate change and make a positive difference to the lives of future generations.”

Areas for improvement

The top 10 organisations showed positive sustainable practices across all four pillars, but considering the results in full also suggested many areas for improvement.

Under the Corporate pillar, the report argues that the results show “a clear trend towards a more professional approach”. Forty-three per cent of organisations assessed had a dedicated employee or department addressing sustainability, while 19 out of 51 organisations directly addressed the UN Sustainable Development Goals. This is an improvement on 2021, when 24% of organisations addressed such targets.

Under the Environment pillar, the report highlighted the need for improved reporting on GHG emissions. Only 35% of organisations had data available on their carbon emissions, while 14% had data on business travel. Beyond emissions, 35% had data on energy use; 16% on waste and waste reduction; and one-quarter had knowledge of their water consumption.

While there is a clear need for improved reporting, the highest-performing organisations provided examples of best practice, including reporting full scope 1, 2 and 3 GHG emission data; offsetting unavoidable GHG emissions; having their own renewable energy systems; and providing data on energy, water, paper and waste.

When considering the Social pillar, the 2022 report found that 31% of organisations were actively training their employees on sustainability-related topics. However, only 12% had data on gender, age and ethnicity of their employees, and only 22% had data on the gender pay gap, up only slightly from 19.5% in 2021. The average gender pay gap across the organisations was 35.5%.

However, once more, the top-performing organisations provided clear examples of best practice. The top 10 demonstrated policies such as paying fair wages and providing paid maternity leave, while others had additional policies in place. Borussia Dortmund, for example, offers mental health and depression support for professional athletes, while Werder Bremen institutes employee environmental training.

Governance is the final pillar assessed by the report – and the findings revealed the importance of top-down sustainability practices.

One positive finding though was that almost all of the organisations surveyed were active in the charitable sector. However, beyond this, the industry average of women on the board remained relatively low at 11%, down from 12% in 2021. Less than half of the organisations had a code of conduct, while 27% were signatories to the Climate Action Framework. Critically, only 39% had a sustainability report or sustainability data publicly available.

Key findings

Overall, the findings of the 2022 report highlighted some progress from 2021, but also demonstrate room for improvement across all four pillars.

It is worth considering which large organisations were absent – the International Olympic Committee, for example, was not assessed. The report findings also emphasised the need for high-quality data, consistent reporting and transparency. Without good data to assess, it is impossible to accurately track progress in sustainable practice and policy.

Meanwhile, examples of best practice drawn from the high-performing organisations can provide models for positive change: from plant-based, low-carbon stadium food at Borussia Dortmund, to environmental supplier assessment at VfL Wolfsburg, to the positive legacy left in host cities by Formula E.

The GSBS Report 2022 provides encouragement and guidance for any sports organisation looking to improve its sustainability practices.

As the year draws to a close and thoughts turn to the 2023 reporting cycle, GSBS hopes to continue to increase the number of organisations involved and to encourage transparent and consistent data reporting. The trends are largely positive, but the journey to ensuring lasting change has only just begun.

Read moreBethany White

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