Feature

Wimbledon battles for match point with sustainability focus

July 04 2024

Wimbledon: the embodiment of the English summer, with the lush grass courts, strawberries and cream and, of course, tennis.

Wimbledon battles for match point with sustainability focus

It is this idyllic vision of the Championships that has inspired years of focus on biodiversity, sustainability, and attempting to be as green as the playing surface on centre court. 

This week saw the first batch of matches take place, featuring some of tennis’ brightest stars. 

The iconic tennis tournament also allowed for some of the organisers’ latest sustainability initiatives to be on show, as well as the All England Lawn Tennis Club’s (AELTC) dedication to enhancing biodiversity and reducing its impact on the environment.

“Wimbledon has three core purposes: to maintain the Championships at the pinnacle of sport, to support and foster tennis, and to be a force for good,” Sustainability Manager Hattie Park tells Global Sustainable Sport. 

“Climate and biodiversity are so closely interlinked: you need to address them both. I think that’s just always been an integral part of Wimbledon."

“To be an advocate for positive impact on the environment forms neatly within that whole framework. For us, having a positive impact means focusing our efforts on four interconnected areas. These include bringing emissions from our operations to net zero by 2030, delivering a net gain on biodiversity, and being much more efficient with resources.”

Park says that the fourth area, and perhaps the one which can have the biggest impact, is using Wimbledon’s platform to influence and inspire wider action.

Inspiration is a catalyst for creating strategies and looking for new ways to interweave sustainable practices. The sustainability team’s inspiration can be attributed to Wimbledon itself. The event’s English country garden aesthetic aligns perfectly with the need to maintain and improve the natural habitats that flourish across the iconic tennis landmark.

“Climate and biodiversity are so closely interlinked: you need to address them both. I think that’s just always been an integral part of Wimbledon – preserving what we have, protecting what we have and then improving it,” says Park.

General view of the TSR building roof ahead of The Championships 2024. Held at The All England Lawn Tennis Club, Wimbledon. Credit: AELTC/Chloe Knott.

General view of the TSR building roof ahead of The Championships 2024. Held at The All England Lawn Tennis Club, Wimbledon. Credit: AELTC/Chloe Knott.

“We ask, how can we improve habitats around the Grounds? Or when we are installing a new building, can we add a green roof or a green wall, or enhance planting around it? For example, we recently completed work on the Indoor Tennis Centre, which is just across the road from the main site. All of the planting and the nature improvements that we’ve put in around that building are just wonderful.”

Biodiversity is celebrated across the Grounds. No.1 Court’s Living Wall enhances the environment and is planted with flowering plants to encourage pollinators, Centre Court itself is covered in Boston Ivy and there are a number of smaller living walls and roofs across the site. A wildflower bank has been incorporated at the Aorangi practice courts. Raynes Park, the official practice venue for the Championships in 2024 that is located off-site, includes a pond, wildlife meadows and 180 new trees.

Additionally, over 600 trees propagated from acorns collected from veteran oak trees in the AELTC Wimbledon Park have been donated and are being planted across the local London boroughs of Merton and Wandsworth.

Beehives feature at the Community Tennis Centre in Raynes Park, while a Centre Court-themed ‘bug hotel’ is located at Wimbledon Park, visible to the famous queue, where tennis fans line-up for hours to attend the sport’s most prestigious Grand Slam. Bird boxes are positioned around the Grounds to provide a home for nesting birds, with the overarching goal to increase biodiversity by at least 10% through the Wimbledon Park Project.

“We can help people make that connection between healthy, resilient, natural ecosystems and an enjoyable experience,” says Park.

Centre Court Bug Hotel,  Wimbledon Park Queue The Championships 2022. Held at The All England Lawn Tennis Club, Wimbledon. Credit: AELTC/Andrew Baker.

Centre Court Bug Hotel, Wimbledon Park Queue The Championships 2022. Held at The All England Lawn Tennis Club, Wimbledon. Credit: AELTC/Andrew Baker.

Elsewhere, ongoing initiatives have aided Wimbledon’s ambition of reducing its environmental impact. The AELTC utilises 100% renewable electricity to power the Grounds and has some 750 square metres of solar photovoltaic installations across its sites. Gas cooking has also been removed from several kitchens in advance of The Championships 2024. Since 2019, gas usage has been reduced by 25% and electricity by 14%.

LED lights illuminate Centre Court and No.1 Court when the roof is closed, and organisers have also eliminated generator use by introducing mains power to the Parkland site adjacent to the main Grounds. Where this is unavailable, solar generators are used.

Partnerships for good

The Championships present the largest single annual catering operation in Europe, meaning a focus has been placed on the sustainability of food and drink, including the strawberries that are synonymous with Wimbledon.

These strawberries will be served in biodegradable food containers made from seaweed, created by Earthshot Prize winner Notpla. Most food offerings have been sourced from within the British Isles, and Wimbledon’s Food Provenance Maps showcases where ingredients have come from. Guests will also be able to learn the carbon weighting of their food choices, thanks to a visible scale and further information highlighted via a QR code.

Working with partner evian, which acts as the official water of the Championships, a refill solution was piloted last year with players, enabling them to refill with evian natural mineral water on-court and at designated player areas. Expanding on the success of this scheme, evian is this year offering a refill option for spectators. There are also multiple tap water stations across the Grounds for people to refill their bottles for free.

“It’s about giving people options. You can of course fill up for free at a tap or if you prefer to drink evian, you can buy unlimited refills of evian from special evian water dispensers around the Grounds,” explains Park.

Continued work with partners and sponsors is important, particularly when it comes to ecological and social responsibility. It is a major topic in the sporting industry, because at the end of the day, events and organisations are still businesses, even when some fans may not be happy with certain partnerships.

Iga Swiatek (POL) serves during a training session at the Aorangi Practice Courts ahead of The Championships 2024. Held at The All England Lawn Tennis Club, Wimbledon. Credit: AELTC/Chloe Knott.

Iga Swiatek (POL) serves during a training session at the Aorangi Practice Courts ahead of The Championships 2024. Held at The All England Lawn Tennis Club, Wimbledon. Credit: AELTC/Chloe Knott.

“I think it has to be a two-way thing. I think you need to work with partners that share the same aspirations as you do,” comments Park, adding: “Sometimes it might be us pushing a partner, other times it might be a partner pushing us.”

A close relationship with attendees is also a key cog in the sustainability machine. Wimbledon encourages visitors to arrive using public transport, which it says is typical for 80% of the audience. This year, ‘The Championships Journey Planner’ was launched, highlighting sustainable options for travelling to and from the event.

Half of the fleet used to transport players to and from the Grounds are lower emission plug-in hybrid vehicles, while cyclists are welcomed to cycle hubs in two car parks with dedicated parking. Bike maintenance teams are also on-hand in the morning and evening to help any cyclists that may have a flat tyre or a loose chain.

The Wimbledon Foundation

This year marks 10 years of the Wimbledon Foundation, the official charity of the AELTC and the Championships.

Since its inception in 2014, the Wimbledon Foundation has donated £20m to local, national and international charities that support a number of initiatives, inspire the next generation through sport and build healthy communities.

Across the last decade, it has supported 382 charitable organisations, reached nine million people, and awarded 977 grants and donations. Additionally, it has seen 142,000 items donated including plants, tennis balls, clothing and towels. Some £1.5m has been invested in the Championships’ community of Merton and Wandsworth, while a further £275,000 has been invested in supporting local residents affected by the cost-of-living crisis in the UK.

Solar panels on the Media Pavilion roof ahead of The Championships 2024. Held at The All England Lawn Tennis Club, Wimbledon. Credit: AELTC/Chloe Knott

Solar panels on the Media Pavilion roof ahead of The Championships 2024. Held at The All England Lawn Tennis Club, Wimbledon. Credit: AELTC/Chloe Knott

The Wimbledon Foundation has partnered with WaterAid since 2017, helping to bring clean water to communities around the world. It also established a relationship with the British Red Cross in 2020, with an annual donation of £150,000 to the charity’s Disaster Fund that helps provide rapid relief to those affected by emergencies in the UK and abroad.

Of course, social causes are not restricted to supporting charities – initiatives are also aimed at encouraging young people to take up the sport of tennis. The Wimbledon Junior Tennis Initiative works with state primary schools in the local area during the academic year, introducing 5,300 children to tennis.

Enjoying the view

Park believes that while a lot of work has been put into improving Wimbledon’s sustainability, there is still a lot to do. However, sustainability is an evolving topic and sometimes, it’s about enjoying what has been achieved so far – even if it means standing on top of a building, admiring the teams’ efforts.

“My favourite building – perhaps not the most immediately glamorous building on site – is called the Technology Services Room (TSR). It was designed and constructed in such a way it can be dismantled, to retain the resources used in its construction,” explains Park.

“It’s got a timber frame, natural ventilation and fewer internal finishes. It has solar PVs, a green roof, solar light tubes, and the furniture inside is all refurbished.

“It’s a challenge we’ve all got to rise to. It’s about bravery and this is where the sporting mindset comes in, isn’t it? They seem like unattainable goals, but you don’t give up in sport.”

“I love standing on the roof of the Media Pavilion because, not only do you have a beautiful view of the Grounds (and the lovely TSR of course), you can look across to Wimbledon Park and envisage the future of the Championships in a parkland setting. I can see that over there we’ll have ground source heat pumps, we’ll bring about a significant gain in biodiversity, and create a new public park.”

Collaboration, innovation and knowledge sharing is key to all that Wimbledon has achieved so far, but it is also paramount to what can be done in the future.

“Often the narrative around climate and biodiversity is ‘this is a problem and it’s really difficult’. But the solutions are there – we have to go faster but the benefits that this transformation will bring are for us all,” says Park.

“I wouldn’t want anyone to think that we’ve done it all. We know we’ve still got a lot more to do but this is too important not to talk about. We can’t wait until everything is done and then start talking about it, we’ve got to go out there with all of our imperfections – and hopefully a lot of beautiful perfections – on show.

“It’s a challenge we’ve all got to rise to. It’s about bravery and this is where the sporting mindset comes in, isn’t it? They seem like unattainable goals, but you don’t give up in sport.”

Main Image: Grigor Dimitrov (BUL) practises ahead of The Championships 2024. Held at The All England Lawn Tennis Club, Wimbledon. Credit: AELTC/Chloe Knott.

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