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Sport shines a light on sustainability

The sports industry has an opportunity to become a global leader in sustainability and must rise to the challenge, the Sustainable Innovation in Sport Conference 2018, heard this week.

Across two days of fascinating presentations and panel discussions, the event at the Johan Cruijff ArenA in Amsterdam heard how sustainable initiatives are transforming venues as diverse as Wembley, Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia and F1 motor racing circuits in the US and Spain.

Michelle Lemaître, the International Olympic Committee’s head of sustainability kicked off proceedings with a keynote speech in which she said she had a wish and two questions.

The wish is for sport to step up and be the leading industry in sustainability. The two questions are how to do this. How do we move from ad hoc initiatives and projects that are great, but that are done in isolation to a really integrated strategy across our operations?

The third one is how can events like this play a more active role? Going from networking, which is terrific to more engagement and action.

When you think of what sport is and the amount of people and organisations it touches, and most importantly the appeal that it has, I can’t think of many other industries that have that opportunity to be able to talk, to be able to show the way in regards to sustainability.

The conference heard that sustainability is creeping up the agenda and becoming a more and more important issue, especially with the younger generation.

NormanVosschulte, the Philadelphia Eagles’ director of fan experience told a panel session:

What I hear at a lot of colleges and universities in the US is that the students are very, very interested in sustainability and it is becoming part of their lives. There’s a lot of hope.

I think the sports team and the sports fan of the future will want a sports team or an event like the Olympic Games to be sustainable. They’ll expect it.

I think if you’re not you’re going to be behind the 8 ball. I think in the next 10-15 years you’d better be engaging your fans because they’ll be expecting it. I’m excited. Engage the fans before they engage you.

The Philadelphia Eagles stage 25 events a year at Lincoln Financial Field and 2.5 million visitors. Vossschulte outlines some of the sustainable initiatives in place at the venue. He said:

We have 11,000 solar panels in the parking lot, one of the largest solar power plants of any stadium in the world, and we produce 4MW, about 40% of our own energy with that. We have wind turbines fixed to the top of the stadium.

We’re working with partners on how to organically engage fans with sustainability.

He said the Eagles sort recycling themselves because of cross contamination. He added:

When you do the recycling yourselves you can make more money. We used to send it to be automatically sorted. We used to get $75 a ton for aluminium and then we thought what if we baled our aluminium separately, and we found out we could get up to $1,500 a ton for it. We now bale our own aluminium and we’re making good money out of it.

Sarah Smith, facilities manager and sustainability lead for the FA told the conference that the organisation had defined sustainability “as the need to be efficient in the present and ensure that we protect the needs of future generations.” She said:

Our strategy started in 2016 when the FA wanted to make Wembley and St George’s Park world leading inspirational venues.

We are a zero to landfill waste site and have been since 2010. We have three main waste streams – mixed recycling, general waste and food waste. We are on 65% for event day recycling. The soil from our pitch renovations all goes to local parks.

We are committed to achieving ISO20121 and we hope to achieve it by October this year.

She said the FA’s energy bill in 2017 was £3.5 million and although some savings have already been made, it was looking to reduce those costs by a further 10-15%.

Solar panels at St George’s park provide 80% of the centre’s energy needs on a sunny day and 10% on other days.

Athletes engage

SIS 2018 also heard how professional athletes are engaging with sustainability issues, with motorcycling sports leading the way.

Edgar Farrera, director of sustainability at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas said Moto GP makes a world champion available to promote sustainability issues.

They made Valentino Rossi available to us – a nine time world champion – He came out and he signed gear, he signed hats, he signed shirts.

The circuit also has 10 million bees on site making honey which is given away to visiting fans.

Meanwhile, Bluewater, a world leading drinking water technologies innovator, announced a $1 million Challenge For Drinking Water Innovation at the conference.

Bluewater President Anders Jacobson called on over 120 sports sector movers and shakers at the conference to turn words into action by harnessing existing solutions to solve the issues of delivering sustainable drinking water to fans at sports stadiums and other events. He said:

While many sporting federations, associations and individual clubs have moved their sustainability visions forward we need to fast-track the discussion forward to concrete action harnessing existing solutions that can help stop the plague of single-use plastics.

Noting Bluewater already today is providing drinking water from non-potable sources that are helping cities like Cape Town deal with water scarcity issues, Jacobson said Bluewater was launching its urban drinking water challenge to encourage water entrepreneurs globally to come up with tomorrow’s solutions.

Image: Michelle Lemaître delivers the keynote address.