How the Sports Industry is Playing Ball with the Planet

By Kelly Green

With a summer of sport ahead, we're taking a closer look at the progression of sustainability during live sporting events in some of our favourite sports.


An historic underdog when it comes to live sporting events making a slow but sensational comeback - the planet.  From the destruction of habitats to make way for stadiums; to the use of single-use plastics and pollution, live sporting events can unfortunately have a huge impact on the environment. But during this year’s Six Nations, visitors to Twickenham Stadium were served drinks in reusable eco cups; plastic straws were replaced with paper alternatives; and the stadium itself was lit using energy-efficient LED lights to help reduce this impact.

“Sporting events have a very unique set of challenges, which can vary depending on the sport in question,” explains our Head of Consultancy Simon Evans. “Generally speaking, you have a large number of people moving to a venue that is only used for a relatively short amount of time.  To get people to and from the stadium in an efficient and safe manner is critical and once inside there are the obvious impacts of the products you sell, from food to merchandise; the efficient use of key resources in the arena (waste, water, energy); and the welfare considerations of the often many thousands of employees and visitors.”

As more and more industries shift their attention towards sustainability, the sport industry is playing its part too. Here are some of the main sustainability developments of some of our top sports:


It’s the quintessential British summer sporting event, and now Wimbledon organisers are also taking steps to reduce the environmental impact of the renowned tennis tournament. Ahead of last year's event, the AELTC announced it would be implementing several changes for 2018, including a ban on plastic straws (after some 400,000 were used the previous year); the introduction of 10 electric vehicles into the courtesy car fleet for the first time, and increasing the number of free water refill points to 87 around the grounds, as well as 21 water fountains - marking a 93% increase in water points since 2014.

"Sustainability is an important and necessary area of focus, particularly for major events," Wimbledon chief executive Richard Lewis told Sky Sports last year. "We have put in place a sustainability vision which is to sustain the running of the club, and the championships in a way that minimises the impact on our environment."

For 2019, organisers took further measures to prioritise sustainability through the running of the championships, focusing efforts across four themes: energy, transport, food and drink, and waste. In June 2019, Wimbledon signed up to the United Nations’ Sports for Climate Action Framework, in recognition of the critical need for sport to play its part in helping to implement the Paris Agreement and accelerate the change needed to achieve climate neutrality. 

For this year's Championships, 4-500 fewer plastic bags will be used having been removed from the player racket stringing operation.  Two living walls have also been installed on the side of No.1 Cpirt to increase biodiversity of the Grounds, and this year the Sustainability at Wimbledon space - “Wimbledon 2030” - was launched in the Southern Village, aiming to inspire visitors with a positive vision of a sustainable future and showcase the ongoing work of the AELTC in this area.

In 2018, no waste from The Championships went to landfill, and so this year, to increase the proportion of waste entering recycling bins, new, more clearly branded bins have been introduced to help visitors dispose of their waste correctly and avoid contamination of recyclable materials. Anything that cannot be recycled undergoes an energy recovery process to produce electricity for the National Grid, while used tennis balls are collected and resold for £1, with proceeds going to the Wimbledon Foundation. Remaining balls are graded and then donated to schools and a range of other organisations.

The number of free water refill points and fountains has been increased to 100 this year, with the Wimbledon App will providing visitors with information on their closest refill point. 


For the 2019 Virgin Money London Marathon, organisers London Marathon Events (LME) announced a number of new initiatives to combat waste generated by the event - which is notorious for strewn plastic water bottles and sachets and discarded clothes. 

LME has established a team within the company to develop new environmental initiatives and practices and also commissioned a full review of its sustainability practices, including a rigorous audit of the recycling chain and waste management processes, committing to ensuring zero waste to landfill by December 2020.

Initiatives being trialled this year include a unique closed loop recycling project for plastic bottles in Tower Hamlets, Greenwich, Southwark and Canary Wharf. Bottles used in these boroughs will be collected and returned directly to a bottle reprocessing plant, where they will be recycled into new bottles. Bottles used in other boroughs will still be recycled but not through a closed loop system.

While plastic bottles will still be very much in use at the event, there will be a reduced number of drink stations on the route and a reduction of more than 215,000 plastic bottles on the course, compared to 2018.  Drop zones are being introduced across the course for runners to drop their bottles in a bid to help speed up the clean-up process and ensure every bottle is recycled. All plastic bottles will also be 100% recyclable and all Lucozade Sport bottles used will be made from 100% recycled plastic – a first for the brand - while all Buxton bottles will be made from 50% recycled plastic – a UK first.

700 runners will also trial new bottle belts made from 90% recycled materials, in an initiative that will also monitor how much water a runner uses. Encouraging runners to carry their own water has the potential to radically change how hydration is provided at mass participation running events. The bottle belts will be collected for cleaning and reuse post-event.

There will also be the largest ever trial of Ooho seaweed edible and biodegradable capsules –  Lucozade Sport will be provided in more than 30,000 edible Ooho seaweed capsules at the Lucozade Sport station at Mile 23.  Meanwhile, three Lucozade Sport stations will use compostable cups rather than bottles. The cups will be collected and composted at a plant in Bedford.

Hugh Brasher, event director for LME, says: “We are passionate about the concept of Eliminate, Reduce, Reuse and Recycle and fully committed to reducing our environmental impact. We believe we run the best mass participation events in the world and we want to match that by leading the world in mass participation event sustainability.

“Working closely with our partners and local authorities, we have developed some truly innovative initiatives and plans to make this year’s Virgin Money London Marathon the most sustainable ever. This challenge is huge as we are looking at sustainability across a myriad of factors: just some of the areas we are currently working on include reducing CO2 emissions, transportation of runners (both internationally and within the UK), a reduction in the use of generators and plastics together with more local procurement of event infrastructure.

“We know our participants share our passion and want us to take action. It is a huge challenge as we must balance providing proper runner welfare with reducing our environmental impact. We can’t achieve everything in one event, in one year, but the changes and the trials we’re introducing for this year have the potential to change how mass participation events are delivered in future. Everyone can make a difference: our participants, spectators, contractors, volunteers and staff.”


Twickenham Stadium, the Home of England Rugby, is the largest dedicated Rugby Union venue in the world, seating an impressive 82,000 spectators. From banning plastic straws, to replacing over a thousand internal lights last year with energy-saving LED, the RFU is working to reduce its impact on the planet. “The stadium has a sustainable event management system accredited to ISO 20121 and has held this since 2013,” explains RFU Venue Director Mark Lynch. “We recognise that the stadium and its associated events and activities have an impact on the environment, the economy and the community, and are committed to identifying and minimising any negative impacts. 

"The stadium has maintained zero waste to landfill for the last 5 years and recycled just over 60% of our waste in the 2016/17 season,” he says. “Since we introduced our eco cup back in August 2014 [fans pay £1 for a reusable plastic cup on top of the price of the drink, the cup can then be returned and the £1 redeemed] this has significantly reduced our use of single-use plastics by as much as two tonnes a match, or by approximately 30 tonnes per year over an average season. It has also saved over 9 million single-use plastic cups from landfill [which would fill Twickenham Stadium 1.7 times]. In this time over two million eco cups have been taken home for reuse.

“We are also one of very few stadia in Europe that prepares and cooks 95% of all food sold on site for both major event days and for Conference and Event business,” he adds.


Eco-Age has been working with Wembley and the FA, the English Football Association, to develop its sustainability strategy and support it in building an Event Sustainability Management System, or ESMS, aligned to the ISO 20121 international standard, which it is hoping to achieve this year. 

Sarah Smith, The FA Group’s Soft Services Contract Manager and lead on sustainability, says: “We assessed which sustainability issues are most important to the business and our stakeholders last year, especially with regard to the events at Wembley Stadium, and identified the following as priorities for us to address here at Wembley: Energy & Water, Waste, Food, Transport, Procurement & Commercial Partnerships, Community, Wellbeing, Training and Culture, Diversity and Inclusion, Health and Safety. We already had teams working to manage our Diversity and Inclusion and Health and Safety programmes at The FA Group, but last year we established our internal sustainability team, FAST, to tackle the other environmental and social priorities.

“Sustainability has been a key issue for The FA Group since the new Wembley Stadium opened its doors in 2007. We completed the first ever carbon footprint of an event at Wembley back then and have since made some great achievements, from turning the Stadium into a zero waste to landfill venue since 2010, to installing solar panels at St George’s Park in 2015.

“Thinking about our achievements over the last year, I’m extremely proud of some of the initiatives we were able to implement; from switching to a green energy tariff, giving soil from our pitch renovation a second life at local parks in Brent and providing all of our employees with reusable bottles and cups, to providing more than 27,000 event tickets to community groups, upskilling local residents with hospitality experience and developing an employee wellbeing programme to enhance the health and happiness of our people.”


Image Credit: Lord's Cricket Ground


As an inaugural member of BASIS, the British Association for Sustainable Sport, and the first UK sports venue to employ a full-time Sustainability Manager back in 2009, Lord’s Cricket Ground takes sustainability seriously. Lord’s operates using 100% wind-generated electricity, reducing its annual carbon footprint from utilities by 80%. Spectators are encouraged to bring their own refillable bottles to top-up at one of the 25 water fountains around the ground, and last year Lord’s introduced a reusable cup deposit return system - offering ‘minimally branded’ cups to encourage returns.  This is one way Lord’s has helped to reduce the amount of single-use plastic given to spectators, as well as removing plastic straws and plastic bags, and selling water in aluminium cans rather than bottles.

Lord’s also recycles as much waste as possible, and takes measures to reduce food waste.  While unused, edible food is donated to the local community; waste food that cannot be used for human consumption is used to produce ‘bio-gas’ and soil improver for agriculture.


Earlier this week, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) released a new guide in partnership with the International Union for Conservation for Nature, which outlines how the careful planning, location, and design of new sports venues and facilities can help to avoid potential negative impacts on nature, and can even contribute to its conservation - as seen during the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, when the development of the London Olympic Park was designed to support the regeneration of east London, with innovative solutions developed to create natural habitats for bird and bat species within the park.

In October 2018, 18 months after publishing its Sustainability Strategy, the IOC released its Sustainability report, tracking its progress towards achieving the 18 sustainability objectives set for the 2020 Games, which include the design and construction of Olympic House (the new IOC headquarters building) to be certified according to nationally and internationally recognised sustainability standards.  “The universality and global appeal of sport means that the IOC and the Olympic Movement have a special responsibility to promote a sustainable future for our world,” said IOC President Thomas Bach at the time.

“The IOC is strongly committed to ensuring that the Olympic Movement embeds sustainability principles across its operations, and becomes a driving force for sustainable development,” says Marie Sallois, IOC Director for Sustainability. “By partnering with global sustainability leaders, such as IUCN, we aim to provide the sports community with access to the best available knowledge to achieve this.”

In another sustainable move, the gold, silver and bronze medals that will be awarded to athletes at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics will be made by extracting precious metals from electronic waste such as discarded smartphones and consumer electronics. The Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee will manufacture approximately 5,000 gold, silver and bronze medals for the Olympic and Paralympic Games and are aiming for 100% recycled content through a collection project launched across Japan in April 2017.

So while the venues and organisations implement measures at a club and national level,  spectators attending sporting events can also play a role in encouraging more sustainable practices.  “Sport has an incredible power to inspire people, and so is a great way to educate and get people involved," says  Simon.  "Through our work with the FA and Wembley Stadium we have undertaken many initiatives that harness the enthusiasm of staff and spectators to drive change - from the FA’s scheme to employ young adults from the local area at match days to train and build a career; to reducing plastic use across the stadium such as banning plastic straws, installing water fountains and switching to reusable England flags with a recyclable pole.

“Ultimately spectators have the power to drive change, demand that their venues and major events are doing everything they can to run an experience that provides an incredible sporting spectacle as well as consider the impacts on people and planet.”


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How the Sports Industry is Playing Ball with the Planet