The Lawn Tennis Association is on a mission to embed sustainability in tennis

July 07 2023

The Lawn Tennis Association has governed tennis in Britain for over one hundred years. But now, as the climate crisis looms, the LTA is also leading the charge in the fight for a sustainable future.

The Lawn Tennis Association is on a mission to embed sustainability in tennis

As the national governing body for tennis in the UK, the LTA is responsible for growing and developing grassroots and elite sport across the country. Its vision is ‘tennis opened up’: making tennis a sport that is relevant, accessible, welcoming, and enjoyable for all. Through this work, the LTA already has a long track record in social sustainability.

But as tennis becomes increasingly threatened by climate change, national bodies like the LTA also have a critical role to play in embedding environmental sustainability into the culture of the sport.

In June 2022 the LTA published its first-ever environmental sustainability plan. One year on, how much progress has it made?

Tennis and the environment

Like all sports, particularly those played outdoors, tennis is feeling the impacts of climate change.

‘We know the climate crisis is going to have an impact on our sport,’ says Jack Baker, Head of Public Policy at LTA.

Extreme weather events, especially soaring temperatures in the summer months, threaten both elite events and the grassroots game. Heatwaves and excess rainfall make maintaining grass courts increasingly difficult, while athletes are at increased risk of heat injury and heatstroke.

Some researchers have predicted that, if the world continues at its current level of fossil fuel consumption, temperatures at Wimbledon could reach an average maximum temperature of 30 degrees celsius by 2050, while the Australian Open could soar to 39 degrees.

There have already been cases of athletes suffering from heatstroke and being forced to retire from matches, including incidents at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

Climate protestors have also targeted tennis: last year, the French Open was interrupted by a protestor tying themselves to the net, while another protestor set their arm alight during a Laver Cup match last year.

Leading bodies in tennis are waking up to the need for organisations to address their own impact. All four of the Grand Slam tournaments have joined the UNFCCC Sports for Climate Action Framework.

With their oversight of both professional and grassroots sport, and their connections to communities, national governing bodies like the Lawn Tennis Association have a big part to play.

People, participation, power, and profit: promoting access, inclusion, and transparency

Before it published its first Environmental Sustainability Plan, the LTA had already developed other key strands of sustainability.

As the national governing body, the LTA has huge reach. There are 12,000 LTA-registered venues in the UK, 6,000 accredited coaches, and 25,000 tennis volunteers. The LTA estimates that 29 million fans follow tennis every year, while 7 million people play themselves.

The organisation has a particular focus on driving participation, and has a strong track record of improving access. In 2022, the LTA reported that more than 2 million adults in Great Britain play tennis every month.

Its initiatives target a wide range of groups to make sure that everyone has equal access to the game. Initiatives include the LTA Youth Start programme, LTA Youth Schools, and LTA Serves, which reaches young people in underserved communities.

Meanwhile, the Open Court Programme promotes opportunities for disabled people to get involved in tennis, and the She Rallies ambition focuses on improving women’s participation and visibility.

Beyond its participation programmes, in 2021 the LTA has also published an Inclusion Strategy, which sits within its wider vision of ‘tennis opened up’. The strategy sets out 25 commitments and 46 concrete actions to promote diversity and inclusion. The strategy has already made some positive progress.

The LTA also focuses on transparency and good governance. The organisation publishes an annual finance and governance report, which includes a breakdown of the group’s revenue and expenditure, and details of the board. The LTA has also reported on its gender pay gap.

The Environmental Sustainability Plan: how does it fit in?

A focus on social and governance sustainability has been underlying the LTA’s strategy for several years, covering many of the seven sustainable pillars of sport. Last year, the organisation launched the final piece of the strategy.

‘We felt that the environmental side was what we needed to address next,’ says Baker.

The LTA had already made a public commitment to environmental responsibility. The organisation was one of the first to sign up for the UNFCCC Sports for Climate Action Framework and the Race to Zero in November 2021, publicly committing to halving emissions by 2030 and achieving net zero by 2040.

The organisation had also already measured their carbon footprint, introduced some environmental initiatives, and introduced energy-saving measures at their National Tennis Centre.

Until launching the Environmental Sustainability Plan last June, however, the LTA had not publicly set any concrete environmental targets.

The published plan lays out three priority environmental themes—climate action, resource efficiency, and natural environment—and four impact areas: embedding sustainability, facilities and operations, events and competitions, and promoting and supporting sustainability.

The plan sets goals linked to each impact area. These include achieving net zero carbon emissions from operations and events by 2030; switching all electricity to renewables; eliminating all single-use or short-life materials; and eliminating use of fossil fuel power generators by the end of this year.

Other goals include achieving ISO 20121 certification; switching to ethical or sustainable investment portfolios; and replacing the entire fleet of tournament vehicles with electric models.

Importantly, the plan makes use of the organisation’s existing social programmes to advocate for sustainability more widely. Concrete goals include offering sustainability training to 100% of LTA-accredited coaches and providing best practice guidance for venues.

One of the plan’s strengths is its clarity on the role that the LTA plays in the wider tennis world. The organisation has identified its three ‘areas of responsibility’—as an organisation, as an event owner and operator, and as a national governing body—and carefully thought through how it can implement and influence sustainability in each role.  Thinking about sustainability in this way has helped the organisation to tease out where it can make the most impact.

‘As an event organiser we have an impact, but as a national governing body we can have a much bigger impact engaging and supporting people to take action,’ says Baker.

There is also a clear timeline. During 2022-23, the organisation will develop a detailed implementation plan, before putting this plan into action from 2024-26. The final phase, from 2027-30, will be shaped by developments in the first.

Crucially, the LTA have focused on embedding sustainability across the organisation at all levels.

‘Our focus especially for the first phase has been around starting to really embed sustainability across the business,’ says Baker. ‘Every colleague will start to think about it as part of their role, and not as work that happens in a silo.’

Achievements one year on

So, one year later, what progress has the LTA made?

The organisation has begun to embed sustainability for the long term. It has set up an internal working group, is rolling out colleague training, and is developing a sourcing code to engage with suppliers.

In its own facilities, the LTA have implemented energy-saving measures like minimising heat loss and using energy efficient lighting, and have are developing ways to promote biodiversity around each site.

The LTA has also made changes at its events. At the Queen’s Club Championships last month, the organisation worked with partners to re-use material from last year, introduce reusable cups, label low-carbon options, and source food locally.

Across all the summer’s major events, the organisation estimate that they have saved over 200,000 single-use cups and 23,000 single-use plastic bottles. 46 hybrid vehicles were used as part of the player transport fleet, and 39,000 litres of fossil-free HVO fuel were used in temporary power generators, reducing the generators’ greenhouse gas emissions by 90%.

Partnerships have also formed a big part of the plan’s first year. In May, the organisation announced a partnership with Pledgeball. Through the LTA Pledgeball League, players at each venue will be able to make individual pledges for carbon reduction and compete to make the most savings.

Reflections for the future

In the twelve months since the plan was published, the LTA have found that fans and athletes alike want to play their part. ‘People are receptive,’ Baker says.

The organisation has also experienced the power of collaboration. ‘Collaboration is really important, and thinking about how we can work together as a sports sector,’ says Baker. ‘There are challenges that we all have to deal with, and there’s a lot we can learn from others.’

A clear example of this is the need to reduce Scope 3 emissions. Without change across the sector, these are notoriously difficult to identify and reduce. ‘This is a challenge across sport, and again it comes back to how we can work together with partners and key suppliers to find new ways of working.’

The LTA’s work also has wider lessons for the sports sector.

Bodies like the LTA play many roles. By being aware of this, the LTA have identified precisely how they can make the biggest impact. This means that know exactly how they can cover ground under all the seven sustainable pillars.

The LTA has also shown how existing strengths in social sustainability and transparency around governance and finance can pave the way for strong environmental programmes. By building on existing partnerships, social programmes, and transparency, the LTA is developing a sustainability strategy that is genuinely comprehensive.

Finally, the consistent emphasis on embedding cultural change means that positive change will be deeply rooted and long-lasting.

Like so many other sports, tennis is facing an uncertain future in the face of the climate crisis. But the LTA has shown how governing bodies, building on all their strengths and reach, can act now to protect it.

Read moreBethany White

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