How sustainable is English cricket?

October 05 2023

Ahead of the Cricket World Cup 2023 and with an estimated 2.5 billion fans across the globe, cricket is one of the world’s most popular sports—but it is also one of the most threatened by climate change. As heatwaves, droughts, and floods impact both the professional and grassroots game, how is cricket in England addressing sustainability?

How sustainable is English cricket?

Cricket in England

Professional cricket in England and Wales is overseen by the governing body, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), and includes eighteen professional men’s clubs and thirty-six women’s teams. Major grounds include Lord’s, the Kia Oval, Emirates Old Trafford, and Edgbaston.

The game is also popular at grassroots and recreational level: there are 5,500 recreational clubs in England and Wales, and up to 2.6 million people across the country were estimated to have played cricket in 2022.

Cricket is a sport with a long history and a wide reach, but it is also increasingly facing the effects of climate change. A 2018 report claimed that, of all major pitch sports, cricket will be the hardest hit. The game itself relies on good conditions, and heavy rain or intense heat can cause major disruptions.

While warmer countries like India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka are especially vulnerable to extreme weather, cricket in England is also affected.

Wetter winters and heavier summer rain are a particular problem: in 2016, Storm Desmond affected over 50 community clubs in England. The ECB has now set aside £2.5m a year to help recreational clubs deal with the effects of flooding.

But heatwaves are also a problem. A 2019 report found that more and more games may need to be postponed or rearranged to avoid heat stress, and recommended that cricket authorities follow Cricket Australia in implementing guidance for extreme heat.

In the face of these growing risks, how are cricket clubs, venues, and England’s governing body addressing their own role in the climate crisis? Is cricket in England becoming more sustainable?

Planet: Plans to protect the environment

Over the past year, many of England’s major clubs and venues have announced sustainability strategies and commitments.

In September, MCC announced its Net Zero Carbon Strategy ahead of England’s one-day international match against New Zealand at Lord’s. Developed with the Net Zero Group, the strategy includes an aim for the club to become net zero by 2040.

MCC’s Sustainability and Accessibility Manager Stuart Dunlop said: ‘Whilst, as a Club, we have already made a lot of progress in terms of decarbonisation, this strategy is necessary and vital for us to determine an exact blueprint of the steps required to reach our net zero targets.’

Meanwhile, earlier in the month, Edgbaston hosted its first Go Green Game, and has also published a Sustainability Policy.

Surrey County Cricket Club and the Kia Oval have also pledged to reach net zero by 2030 and to reduce total CO2e emissions by the end of 2024, while Emirates Old Trafford launched a sustainability pledge in August.

With clubs and venues teaming up to set clear targets, it seems that many of England’s most well-known names in cricket are finally addressing their own impact on the environment.

‘Cricket will be one of the sports most affected by climate change, so as cricket clubs and as a sector, we have to do something,’ says Lydia Carrington, Sustainability Manager at Edgbaston.

Many of the strategies have been developed in line with local targets and international standards. MCC and Surrey County Cricket Club are among the signatories to the UN’s Sport for Climate Action Framework, while the MCC’s sustainability plan has been developed in line with the Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi). Edgbaston’s net zero by 2030 target was set in line with Birmingham City Council’s climate plans.

Plans for reducing emissions include reducing energy consumption, installing solar panels and ground source heat pumps, introducing waste management, recycling and composting systems, and banning single-use plastic.

Some clubs have also introduced biodiversity initiatives: two stands at Lord’s feature green walls with bird and bat boxes, while an Eco Roof Garden has been installed at Emirates Old Trafford.

Some of the clubs have already seen progress towards goals: MCC have already sent no waste to landfill since 2010,  have had 100% renewable energy since 2016, and use of sustainable modes of transport to Lord’s has increased from 47% in 2010 to 89% in 2022. In total, greenhouse gas emissions have decreased by 81% over the past twelve years.

Edgbaston has seen a 33% reduction in waste since 2019, and saved an estimated 21,348kWh of electricity in the first year following the installation of LED lighting.

County cricket clubs have also developed sustainability plans. Gloucestershire Cricket Club was the first in the UK to sign up for the UN’s Race to Zero initiative, and has said that their ambition is to become ‘the most environmentally considerate and sustainable cricket venue in the country’.

Awareness of sustainability is also growing at recreational and grassroots level. Last year, Fillongley CC in Warwickshire was awarded the ECB’s first Tackling Climate Change award at the Grassroots Cricket Awards, recognising its tree-planting and habit management initiatives. The club has also signed up for the UNFCCC’s Sports for Climate Action Framework and has plans to install solar panels on its roof.

While there is growing action among clubs, the sport’s governing body, the ECB, is still developing its own sustainability strategy. It is expected to publish a new plan later this year.

The ECB has focused its efforts so far on supporting recreational clubs through a £5m Maintenance Fund, which finances environmental initiatives. The ECB has stated that ‘our approach has focused on improving energy efficiency, reducing our carbon footprint and adapting to more extreme weather.’

Tracking progress

While there is plenty of ambition, the full impact of cricket’s sustainability strategies is yet to be seen.

Over coming months and years, it’ll be critical for clubs and venues to continue to gather data, report on their progress, and be transparent about how they intend to reach their ‘net zero’ targets.

In particular, what’s covered and reported under each ‘scope’ of emissions can vary between organisations. For example, while MCC’s sustainability strategy addresses scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions, it doesn’t yet include spectator transport under scope 3.

The club plans to include full scope 3 reporting by the end of next year.

No other major club or venue has yet published detailed breakdown of their carbon footprint baseline and how they intend to improve it. These details are critical if English cricket is to meet its ambitions in line with the UN’s 2030 timeline.

Meanwhile, it’s not clear how much clubs and venues will rely on offsetting to meet their emissions targets.

Offsetting has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years, with climate scientists, experts, and journalists calling into question the effectiveness of the practice.

MCC has stated that it will use offsets to reach its net zero by 2030 target. It’s not clear how much other clubs and venues will use offsetting in their strategies, but cricket clubs using the practice will need to be clear about how they choose their offsetting projects, and how much impact this will have towards decarbonisation.

People and Participation: Connecting with the community

While much of the focus of cricket’s sustainability strategies has been on reducing environmental harm, cricket in England also has a track record of social sustainability: engaging local communities, driving participation in sport, and partnering with other organisations.

Many organisations run social and community initiatives, including through separate foundations, and have reported on their reach and impact.

For example, MCC and Lord’s have published ESG reports breaking down their ESG goals. Initiatives include creating a girls’ cricket hub, launching the MCC Women’s Day to celebrate the women’s game, delivering PE lessons to children in local schools, and running overseas projects helping refugees access the sport.

Surrey County CC publishes an annual EDI action plan and an annual impact report, including data on its coaching and volunteer programmes and its community work.

The ECB have also published its own EDI plan, which focuses on empowerment, building diverse teams, developing inclusive environments, and leading with accountability.

However, much of the community and social sustainability work is reported on separately to clubs’ environmental plans. With such reach and connection to local communities, integrating environmental education and awareness into social programmes could help cricket clubs to connect their environmental ambitions with their social commitments.

Profile: Raising the stakes

There have been some recent examples of cricket connecting its community with its environmental sustainability plans.

In September, Edgbaston hosted its first ever Go Green Game, which was intended both as a way to gather baseline environmental data and to engage its community in sustainability issues.

The game was envisioned as a way to gather data, test new environmental initiatives, and build on the sustainability work the venue was already doing. The team focused particularly on spectator travel, waste and recycling, and power. A trial last year had found that 79% of the venue’s emissions were caused by staff and spectator travel.

On the day, National Express West Midlands offered free transport to spectators, and shuttle buses to the venue from Birmingham New Street station were also provided for free. The venue introduced better signage and more bins based on a waste audit, and the stadium was powered by 100% locally-sourced solar, wind and hydro power.

The day made headlines as the first sustainable international match day, and is a sign of the increased relevance and importance of sustainability for sports fans.

Importantly, the event drew on Edgbaston’s profile and role in the community to kickstart long-term change. ‘It’s not a one-off event: we’re not doing it to say we’ve done it,’ says Carrington. ‘We’re going to use the day as a case study to build on and keep improving.’

Over coming months, the team at Edgbaston will analyse the data gathered on the day and use it to inform a longer-term sustainability strategy.

‘By calculating a baseline, we’ll know how to improve,’ says Carrington. ‘By collecting that accurate data, we can put plans into place for next year, and that can only keep getting better.’

Edgbaston is not the only venue to have used the profile and reach of cricket to connect with fans. MCC used its England vs New Zealand one-day international last month as an opportunity to launch its new Fan Footprint Calculator, which encourages fans to measure and reduce their own emissions. The club has also worked with cricketers including Pat Cummins and Eoin Morgan to raise the profile of its sustainability plans.

These initiatives show how, by bringing all pillars of sustainability together, cricket clubs can strengthen progress towards their environmental targets. Engaging fans and the community is critical.

‘All sports need to keep pushing spectators to make their own behavioural changes while also showing that they’re reducing their own emissions,’ Carrington says. ‘It all comes back to education and engagement—whether it’s with staff, spectators or players.’

A sustainable future

It’s clear that awareness of sustainability is growing in English cricket, from grassroots level up to the ECB. Match days like the Go Green Game, the launch of MCC’s Net Zero Strategy, and the ECB’s emphasis on supporting grassroots clubs to tackle climate change show a shift towards action.

But, while awareness is growing, there’s still a long way to go. Many clubs have only recently implemented sustainability strategies, while only MCC have published a concrete carbon reduction plan. Social and governance policies are often separate from environmental goals, and the ECB are yet to publish official sustainability guidance to cover recreational and grassroots clubs.

High-profile match days like the Go Green Game are an effective tool for raising awareness, but true change will only come if clubs translate these one-off events into consistent, transparent data gathering, reporting, and targeted changes.

Given the threats facing cricket across the world, particularly in warmer countries, cricket clubs in other countries are also beginning to address their role in the climate crisis. Connecting with and learning from the international community could also help English cricket address its impacts.

As we move closer to 2030, building on the momentum from this summer will be critical if cricket is to change the future of the game—and of the planet.

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