Global Sustainable Sport – Reflections on one year of sustainable sport
One year ago this week Global Sustainable Sport launched its global platform and weekly newsletter, setting out to help improve awareness, knowledge-sharing and education around sport and sustainability, covering all of the latest developments across the globe.
Twelve months on, GSS has published over 110 features, 250 news editorials and 400 hundred plus press releases on all aspects of sport and sustainability, ranging from environmental issues like climate change, to social issues like gender equality, to participation issues like getting kids active through to governance issues like ESG risk.
In that time, GSS has established a global audience of over 15,000 unique individuals interested in sport and sustainability from all sectors of the sports industry.
In a year that saw record-breaking levels of heat and a renewed focus on the urgency of the climate crisis, the world of sport is starting to take its role and responsibility in sustainability more seriously and recognising it has an important role to play in communicating that messages to its global fan base of over 4 billion sports fans.
So, what were some of the highlights of 2023 for GSS —and who is leading the way in sport and sustainability?
Global Sustainable Sport features in 2023
Of the features, editorials and press releases that were read in the last year, the ongoing struggle between Protect our Winters, winter athletes and FIS, the international governing body for skiing and snowboarding, was the most read story of 2023, followed by a feature on Liverpool Football Club from the UK and a general feature on ‘How Sustainable is Sport?’.
Most read articles on Global Sustainable Sport in 2023
The Seven Sustainable Pillars of Sport
Sport sustainability includes a broad range of topics and issues, and GSS has developed a framework, with academic and practitioner support, that tries to capture sport’s the true sustainable value. This framework is called the seven Sustainable Pillars of Sport and is described by 7 Ps: Partnerships, Participation, People, Planet, Power, Profile and Prosperity.
The Sustainable Pillars of Sport created a framework that GSS could use to compare and contrast the different activities of sport organisations across the world through the broad lens of sustainability.
Major themes under the Partnership pillar included stakeholder engagement and sponsor activity; Participation covered physical activity, coaching and education; People included gender equality, human rights, and community; Planet included biodiversity, the ocean, carbon, and climate change; Power covered cybersecurity, ESG litigation risk, reputational risk, safeguarding, and sports governance; Profile included fan engagement and athlete advocacy; and Prosperity included economic impact, sustainable tourism and commercial contracts.
Articles covered the breadth and depth of the sports industry with features on international and national federations, major football clubs down to grassroots cricket foundations, global sport cities to national stadiums, the Olympic Games to trail running and mass participation, global sport sponsors to start-up technology & innovation companies, and academic research to major conferences.
Sports & clubs
Over 50 major sports were featured throughout the news from football and motor racing through to paddle and pickleball.
GSS took an in-depth look into several sports, including motorsport, golf, cricket, and marine sports, as well as exploring the development and challenges facing women’s sport at both grassroots and professional levels.
Major clubs play a prominent role in promoting sustainability, particularly those with a global reach like Liverpool FC and Borussia Dortmund. Sustainability is a strong topic at many smaller clubs like Bristol City or county associations like Birmingham County FA, who are addressing issues like carbon emissions, fan travel, sponsorship and governance. Coverage of Deloitte’s Football Money League also showed how progress on sustainability commitments varies hugely among the world’s top football clubs.
In other sports, Formula E’s Envision Racing spoke to GSS about their first Formula E title and fight against climate change, as well as their role at this year’s COP28. Meanwhile, GSS covered the Dubai-based cricket team Desert Vipers’ achievement of becoming the first cricket team in the world to fully measure and publish its carbon footprint.
Tournaments, events & venues
When the GSS news service launched in December 2022, all eyes were on the 2022 FIFA Men’s World Cup in Dubai, which drew criticism for its claim that it was the first to be ‘fully carbon neutral’. GSS covered the tournament’s claims, finding a need for clearer carbon accounting and transparency on offsets.
Other major sporting events covered included Paris 2024 and its claim to be ‘the most sustainable Olympic Games ever’; plans for the FIFA Women’s World Cup, which was held in Australia and New Zealand in July, and coverage of the event’s impact and legacy programmes; and plans for EURO 2024, which will be held next year in Germany.
At the start of 2023 two major events featured on the news: the 2023 FISU World Winter University Games, which were held in Lake Placid in January and featured a project called “Save Winter”, and the launch of The Ocean Race’s ‘Race to Save the Ocean’ programme, which involved participating teams gathering vital scientific data throughout the race that could be used to study the health of the ocean.
Stories from Scandinavia highlighted how sports events and venues were focusing on building a more sustainable future, challenging the norms of the past. The Director of the Oslo Bislett Games told GSS how the event has transformed from being the ‘oil games’ to the ‘eco-lighthouse games’, while Sport Event Denmark outlined how event host cities were using sport to drive sustainability.
Venues also played an important role. As Croke Park, Ireland’s historic stadium, marked fifteen years of sustainability work, GSS explored how they’ve paved the way for sustainability standards for large venues, while in June Silverstone Circuit spoke to GSS about its plans to reduce its carbon footprint.
Governing bodies, federations, & the Olympic Movement
National and international governing bodies continued to work on promoting sustainability last year, and GSS highlighted the progress—and gaps—in their work.
International federations like the International Biathlon Union, International Floorball Federation, International Table Tennis Federation, World Athletics, World Sailing, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) are all leading the way amongst the international organisations. Meanwhile, the International Ski and Snowboard Federation (FIS) faced challenges from its athletes on its sustainability efforts, when an open letter signed by over 400 hundred athletes was sent to its president. GSS covered FIS’s claims and response, highlighting how winter sports is increasingly threatened by the warming climate and can have a unique role to play in fighting the climate crisis.
National federations like the Lawn Tennis Association, Skateboard GB, and British Triathlon all spoke to GSS about their sustainability strategies, including environmental work and their social programmes.
GSS also covered developments in the Olympic movement, including analysis on International Women’s Day and the launch of the Australian Olympic Committee’s Climate Action Plan.
Initiatives, non-profits, businesses, and science
Partnerships and collaboration are an important part of ensuring a sustainable sports industry, and initiatives and programmes from across the world demonstrated this last year.
GSS highlighted work from non-profit initiatives including Spirit of Football’s One Ball, One World programme, Olympic athlete Theresa Zabell’s work to save the oceans with Foundacion Ecomar, Pledgeball’s plans to leverage the power of fans, and the Save the Waves Foundation’s inaugural summit.
Community projects across the world promoted physical activity, education, and awareness: GSS spoke to four women set to row the Atlantic to raise awareness of women’s sport, later featured in the Telegraph; highlighted the Carbon Literacy Project’s new sports toolkit; covered the launch of an innovative community programme in Ireland; and spoke to the founder of a coaching programme improving physical activity in schools in the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Other industry initiatives showed the power of coming together for action, including the Sustainable Marine Alliance, World Environment Day, Green Sports Day, Green Football Weekend, the ASAP Project, and the Sustainable Motorsport Index.
In Africa we focused on the great work that different organisations are doing through sport in their local communities. YaliSports Africa in Cameron, Cricket2Nurture in Uganda, Africaid Whizzkids United in South Africa and Ghana and Skateboard GB in Tanzania.
Agencies and businesses tackling sport sustainability also had important stories to tell: Carbon Jacked spoke to GSS about how to ‘bring sustainability to life’, while E-Nano, a technology start-up, explained how it can use cutting-edge technology to improve sports pitches and reduce environmental impacts.
GSS also explored the scientific research that underpins the sport world’s sustainability efforts, exploring how sporting events can effect ecosystems and how science can inform the marine sports industry. In November, GSS spoke to researcher Cathy Hobbs, whose research is supported by Global Sustainable Sport’s Academic Programme, about her work with SailGP to explore the effect of sound pollution on marine wildlife.
News & events from a growing industry
The sport sustainability world continued to grow in 2023, reflected by conferences and events that explored topics ranging from sustainable development to technology and start-ups.
GSS reported on a conference marking the centenary of the Lahti Ski Games, which discussed the challenges facing winter sports, as well as the 7th Commonwealth Debate on Sport and Sustainable Development, TEAMS Europe, the BBC Green Sport Awards and Sport Positive in London, the SPOT in Lausanne, Future of Sport in Paris, the UEFA Circular Economy Conference in Nyon, the Global Sports Cities Index in Shanghai and COP28 in Dubai.
Meanwhile, GSS also launched its own Educational programme, crowdfunding to provide free places, as well as its Global Sustainable Sports Survey and Champions Programme, which aims to help sports stakeholders across the world become a “Champion of Sustainability”.
The Global Sustainable Sports Survey is highlighting the different stages that sports organisations have reached in the development of their sustainable strategies. Currently less than 25% of all respondents are active in all 7 Sustainable Pillars of sport, showing the scale of work that needs to be done to help all sport organisations develop a fully sustainable programme. The survey, which is free, aims to provide guidance to sports organisations as to where they are in their sustainability journey, with the Champions of Sustainability Programme designed to help them continue that journey while connected in to the GSS network.
Key themes from 2023
With over 110 features, 250 news editorials, and 400 press releases covered by GSS’s news service in the last year, it’s clear that the world of sport is growing its focus on sustainability, addressing major issues, and beginning to develop roadmaps for real change.
GSS’s Sustainability Challenges series highlighted some key challenges for the industry, including the impact of climate change on events, cybersecurity, safeguarding, anti-doping, fan engagement, and reputational and litigation risks.
The wider range of features shows that other issues are also at the forefront of the industry.
As coverage of Sport Positive in October revealed, issues like sponsorship and emissions reductions remain major challenges.
Winter and marine sports, which have closer connections to the natural environment, have often led the charge in taking meaningful environmental action, and will need to continue to find ways to protect their sport and reduce its impacts.
Major clubs, events, and leagues are beginning to develop sustainability strategies, but while some are well-developed, others lack detail and clear targets. Meanwhile, as a GSS investigation revealed in May, only a small fraction of the industry are engaged with the UNFCCC’s Sports for Climate Action Framework.
But the growing number of partnerships, collaborations, and initiatives shows how stakeholders from all corners of the industry—from teams to federations to cities to sponsors to media—can work together to help develop consistent, meaningful change.
With the world over halfway between the landmark 2019 Paris Agreement and the 2030 goals, sport has a serious challenge ahead if it is to make serious change. But with the energy and commitment of the industry increasingly focused on sustainability, the game isn’t over yet, and sport can play a major role in developing a more sustainable future.
We would like to thank everyone that has supported GSS in 2023 and we look forward to working with you again in 2024, driving sustainability through sport and creating a better future for sport and the planet.