“Sacrifice as a narrative needs to change.”
The urgent need to tackle the climate crisis head on hardly required a catalyst, but events across the last two weeks have provided a stark reminder to the sports industry that time is fast running out.
The cancellation of the Imola Grand Prix, owing to severe flooding in the region, was shortly followed by reports that the world is set to surpass the 1.5C global warming threshold as early as 2027.
That sense of urgency was the genesis behind our latest webinar. Hosted by Dom Santini – Sustainability Manager, CSM, we were joined by Hattie Parks – Sustainability Manager at Wimbledon, Roger McClendon – Executive Director, Green Sports Alliance, Rory MacFadyen – Co-Founder , Reflo and Tom Hammond – ESG in Sport Lead, Deloitte UK, to discuss how stakeholders in sport can take meaningful climate action today.
Sustainability without sacrifice
The first step? Changing the narrative around climate action; a point elucidated by Rory in his opening remarks: “Sacrifice as a narrative needs to change… making sustainable choices should just be seen as a different way of doing things.”
Despite its global influence, though, sport remains behind the curve. Yet, within every problem lies an opportunity, and as Tom notes, sports organizations willing to take a risk – Forest Green Rovers, for instance – “can be a catalyst for change.”
That big picture thinking was echoed by Roger, who spoke of sport’s potential to act as a ‘galvanizing force in spotlighting what is a problem for all of humanity.”
Every job is a climate job
Innovation is at the heart of Reflo’s approach to creating sustainable activewear, and Rory spoke to the need for brands to rethink their business model in order to take meaningful climate action.
At present, most of the sustainability focused initiatives from the incumbent sportswear brands are barely scratching the surface; ‘they do a small amount but talk about it a lot.”
Real change comes from reimagining your production cycle and supply chain, flipping the script from a focus on minimising your environmental imprint to creating a positive impact in every single decision you make.
Be that diverting excess food to local communities or deploying reusable equipment at sporting events, the message was clear: every job is a climate job when it comes to creating a resource-efficient economy.
Partnerships for the planet
Partnerships have a central role to play in climate action. According to Nielsen Sports, as many as 1 in 5 major partnerships in sport now have environmental sustainability at their core. A positive step, on paper, but how do we ensure these equate to meaningful change?
For Hattie, longevity is key, with a “quality over quantity” approach employed by Wimbledon. Each partner must meet certain entry criteria aligned to The Championship’s own sustainability goals, and from there impact opportunities are identified. Jaguar, for instance, supplies the tournament with a fleet entirely constituted of its electric vehicles.
There remains a lot of white noise, though – the result of what Tom Hammond labelled “the pressure to do something.” For Tom, those who are doing it the best are the organizations who have invested in building an “emissions profile.” Equipped with a deep dive into where a company’s carbon footprint is coming from allows for a targeted and collaborative approach between rights holder and brand to tackle the source of greatest impact.
Formula E and DHL is one example, collaborating to reduce the impact of the series’ largest source of pollution, its freight travel. Aramco and F1, meanwhile, are working together to produce a sustainable ‘drop-in fuel’ for F1 cars by 2026.
The session ended on the slightly thornier topic of degrowth. Does sport need to scale back in order to reduce its impact?
Or perhaps there is another way of looking at it. Instead of scaling back, why not, Roger suggests, focus on “investing in innovative technology that minimizes our impact?” Virtual stadiums, for instance, or taking your event to the fan, as Wimbledon did by building a pop-up Hill in Brooklyn.
It was a neat way to finish, with the conversation moving full circle. Degrowth need not be equated with sacrifice, nor framed up in terms of loss of revenue or reach. Instead, treat it as an opportunity to chart a new course and reimagine the future of sport.