7 Sustainable Sports Activists

With all the sporting events happening at the moment, we’ve been wondering which sportspeople are doing their bit for a planet. Jasper Baines investigates…

With the boom of social media in recent years, the celebrity of the famous has only continued to proliferate. Arguably the main beneficiaries of this, alongside reality TV stars and pop singers, are sportspeople, latter-day cult figures who dominate the coveted social media lists. The most followed Instagram and personal Facebook account belongs to Cristiano Ronaldo, while Neymar and Lionel Messi fill spaces in the top ten. Clearly, sporting figures have the clout to engage their global audience on the importance of humanistic issues, and they undoubtedly do! But which sportspeople are at the vanguard of sustainable movements? Dive in and find out which people from the sporting world are doing great things to make our world more sustainable:

Serena Williams

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Arguably the greatest tennis player of all time, if not the greatest athlete, Serena Williams has dominated tennis over the last twenty years with an electric blend of power and finesse. Her record speaks for itself: 31 Grand Slam finals, 23 of those wins; both open era records. 20 years at the pinnacle of tennis, with her first victory in 1999 at just 17 years old. Even now at 37, she is still at the top of her game, having recently powered into the Wimbledon final, all while balancing motherhood and entrepreneurship.

As if this wasn’t enough, Williams has also taken her success outside of the court and into the world of sustainability. Her first independent clothing line, Serena, is derived entirely from vegan, cruelty-free and US sourced products that are designed to both empower and last. Williams has long been an advocate of a plant-based diet and has invested in entrepreneurial plant-based start-ups to reduce our collective overconsumption of meat. Serena Ventures, a fund started by Williams, also recently invested in Al Gore’s private equity fund which seeks to back eco-friendly start-ups.

If you’re keeping up with Serena at Wimbledon, make sure you check out our handy guide on How to Enjoy a Sustainable Wimbledon.

Kelly Slater

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Another contender for the most dominant sportsperson of all time, Kelly Slater continues to professionally surf at the mindboggling age of 47. He has won 11 world titles over a 19-year period, with 55 event victories.

Over the years, Slater has watched with alarm as our oceans have become increasingly choked by plastic and has therefore long been committed to sustainability. This led to him founding Outerknown, a sustainable clothing brand over 5 years ago. Throughout its business model, Outerknown, with Slater at its helm, seeks to protect natural resources, empower the people crafting its clothes and inspire change within the clothing industry. To realise this aim, Outerknown has released Econyl trunks, organic cotton T-shirts and shirts with buttons made from recycled plastic. Originally a menswear brand, Outerknown is expanding to include clothes for women.

Slater is also a long-term advocate of healthy, locally sourced and plant-based diet, which both connects us with the natural environment and keeps our minds and bodies fresh. On ya Kelly.


Nico Rosberg

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When you think of sustainability, the sound of screeching tires is probably not the first thing that pops into your head. However, in 2016 Formula One champion Nico Rosberg swapped the grid for a myriad of environmental projects and initiatives. He recently launched The GreenTech Festival, which encouraged the sharing of environmentally friendly technologies and the realising of potential eco initiatives. Featuring start-ups, corporations, activists, organically sourced food and great music, plans are already in place for more similar events.

Rosberg has also explored a variety of other eco ventures. For example, he has invested in Formula E, an electronic racing championship, which many believe will irrevocably change Formula 1 for the better. Rosberg is also interested in a number of other green ventures, such as updating his home to make it more sustainable, and investing in Lyftwhich seeks to place itself as an alternative, sustainable car lift service.

Billie Jean King

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Billie Jean King’s legacy is so vast, it’s almost impossible to list fully. From how she transformed female tennis into a lucrative, multi-million-pound industry to her ceaseless campaigning for social justice; her philanthropy, sporting prowess and activism has enshrined her as an American national icon.

It is important to note that she has also brought her characteristic verve to the world of sustainability. Winner of the 2019 Green Sports Alliance Environmental Leader Award, which recognises ‘extraordinary leadership’ in sustainability and environmental stewardship; King has been consistently supporting green initiatives in the last 20 years. In 2008, King launched the USTA’s green plan with Allen Hershkowitz, which has revolutionised the environmental sustainability of the US open and other USTA projects in a plethora of ways. For example, the project has reduced US Open greenhouse gas emissions by more than 100,000 metric tonnes, achieved a 97% waste diversion rate, and sent 700 tons of food waste to composting centres.

The leadership of King has been exemplary in the sports greening movement, and we hope that she continues to show the way in progressive projects in the future!

Lewis Pugh

Lewis Pugh is a long-distance, endurance swimmer who has made it his personal mission to protect the world’s oceans. The only man to have completed a long distance swim in every ocean in the world, Pugh combines the stories of his incredibly difficult feats with the alarming retreat of glacial ice, the proliferation of plastic waste and the marked decrease in marine biodiversity, with a uniquely urgent sense of pathos. Pugh always swims following the Channel Swimming Rules (only in speedos, a cap and goggles), whether that be in the North Pole or the glacial lakes of the Himalayas, which always draws acclaim and amazement.

Pugh’s most notable achievement would arguably be his role the creation of the largest marine reserve in the world in the Ross Sea off Antarctica, which ensured the continued survival of one of the last pristine ocean wildernesses. Pugh continues to fight for the seas, with more cold-water swims planned to grow the reserve to 7 million square km by 2020. Pugh’s attention-grabbing swims have made him one of the most influential figures in marine conservation. We all hope that the brilliantly named “speedo diplomat” keeps swimming for our oceans!

The Greens

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A team of sportspeople on our list here; the Dubai based ‘The Greens’ are a group of Saudi women who have combined their passion for sport with their concern for the environment. To that end, they have organised educational environmental protection campaigns, in which they attempt to increase awareness of the threat posed by single-use plastic, by engaging with audiences at matchdays and at talks throughout Saudi Arabia and Dubai. The Greens often lead stadium cleans after matches or litter picks in parks and beaches, with the collected plastic used to form an art installation which is designed to highlight the urgent threat posed by single use plastic.

Having recently taken part at the Global Goals World Cup, the Greens hope to continue inspiring Saudi communities to engage with both sport and the environment in the future.

Gretchen Bleiler

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Following the trend of extreme sportspersons, we have another all-star action sportsperson – Gretchen Bleiler. A successful snowboarder who won 6 gold medals during her career, and a silver medal at the Winter Olympics, Bleiler has been a strong female presence in extreme sports for a significant period of time and has combined this with her passion for the great outdoors to further the agenda of sustainability.

Bleiler currently sits on the board of Protect Our Winters, a non-profit founded in 2007 to channel the passion that people like Bleiler have for the outdoors into sustainability. With Protect Our Winters, Bleiler has educated over 45,000 students on the importance of winters on the ecosystem and on winter sports.

Bleiler has also invested in the design of a reusable multipurpose bottle.

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