Sport - how to reduce its environmental impact

Published: 13 Jul 2020

Joe Cooke, professional cricketer for Glamorgan County Cricket Club, shows six steps individuals and clubs can take to reduce sport's environmental impact.

By Joe Cooke
Cricketer and Friends of the Earth Cymru volunteer

Sport is back! Well, some of it at least. 


I felt lost without it, and I’m sure I’m not alone! What else brings everyone together like sport? What other subject can lock you into an hour-long conversation about something as insignificant as the current scrummaging technique of Wales' rugby teams?!

Yes, sport does provide millions (probably billions) of people around the world with enjoyment, entertainment, friendship and confidence. We must not forget  the economic impact either. Last year, Two Circles, a sport consultancy company, reported that sport contributed £11.8bn to the UK economy. 

But what about our planet? Everything humans do, no matter how small, influences the environment we live in.

Sport is no exception. As Andrea Collins, lecturer and researcher in Geography and planning at Cardiff University, explains: 

The environmental impact of sporting events is becoming increasingly hard to ignore. Amid the climate crisis, event organisers, sponsors, spectators and participants need to act now to reduce the impact that they have on the environment to ensure sports leave a positive legacy for our future generations. 

How does going to watch your favourite football team or playing rugby for your local club on a Saturday afternoon have such an impact on the planet?


1. Think about how you travel 

I know that I’m not the only one that will confess to travelling miles to watch or play sport. Travel due to sporting events amounts to a lot; Andrea Collins discovered that travel to and from Wales vs Scotland in the Six nations 2006, released 325 tonnes of carbon equivalent emissions to the atmosphere. That’s the same as the amount omitted by 138 homes for a whole year! At this same event 63% of the spectators travelled by car or plane.

To decrease emissions, organisations need to encourage less car and plane travel to sporting events. For instance, clubs could offer discounted tickets or membership if spectators or players travel together, on a train or bus, or even more discount if they walk or cycle.

As individuals we can make our own choices so next time youre off to play sport, think can I?

  • Walk or cycle (good exercise as well) 

  • Use public transport 

  • Ask a friend for a lift-share (split the petrol money and you’ll save a few quid as well)! 

Travel isn’t the only way sport is dominating our planet. 


2. Adopt reusables 

Big sporting events attract thousands of people. 50,000 plus people in one place for a few hourseach buying food and drink in take away containers. That’s a lot of stuff in the bins afterwards. We are all so wasteful, but at a sports stadium, that might be when we are at our worst. Plastic containers are the biggest issue.

Friends of the Earth estimates that in the 2017/18 season 6 million single use plastic beer cups were used in the Premier League alone!

There are now so many alternatives to single use plastic packaging, whether it be a compostable container or ideally a reusable item.

It's great to see Uplands Rubgy Club ditching the plastic.

Other clubs need to follow suit.


As individuals we can do our bit too:  

  • Carry a reusable water bottle 

  • Use your own coffee cup. 

  • Take your own picnic instead of buying food at a game  

  • Lobby sports teams to make these changes -  send your football club an email telling them they should change to reusable items. If enough of us do this they will have to listen!

If you are involved with a sports stadium or local club and want to reduce the waste your club produces, please contact [email protected]


3. Switch to a green energy supplier 

It goes without saying a tremendous amount of energy is used at one sporting event; the flood lights, the buildings, the TV screens, I could go on and on. Even at smaller sports clubs, if you power your clubhouse most of the day and night, you will use a lot more energy than an average home, and, of course, spend more money. Sport England reports that sport clubs spend on average 30% of their running costs on energy, equating to around £10,000 per sports club per year on electricity alone.

A quick and easy thing we can all do is change our electricity supplier to a company that invests in renewables. Find out what companies are best for you and the planet here. Or how about buying some solar panels or a wind turbine? In the long run, you will save money as well! There are many case studies of clubs saving money and the planet. Here is a link to some of the many examples in the UK.


4. Don’t use chemicals and cut down on ground maintenance 

Sports pitches and stadiums take up a vast amount of land, especially certain sports such as golf. This land could be forest or woodland area and absorb carbon dioxide, so we need to minimise the negative effects of using it. Fertilisers, pesticides and weed killers pollute the environment and can end up in our water supply, affecting ecosystems. There is no need to use them, natural alternatives are available, for example Kodaikanal Golf Course in India is one of the few golf courses to be fully organic, meaning they don’t use chemicals in ground maintenance. In turn, the course uses less water in an area suffering from regular water shortages.

Could a local golf course become the first organic golf course in Wales?

In the off season, let the grass on your pitch grow long whatever the sport, and your pitch will be more efficient as a carbon sink.

Or if there is an area of your ground that is unused, why not stop cutting it back and leave it to nature? 



5. Think about your food and drink 

As we are now all aware, everything we buy has a carbon footprint. The food and drink you buy at a sports game are no different. As the Independent reports, the biggest way to reduce your carbon footprint is to eat less meat. So why not get rid of your beef burger you sell at the ground and switch for a plant-based alternative?

Forest Green rovers became the first football club to become fully vegan in 2015 and despite fans being apprehensive at first, crowds have not reduced and they’re now embracing the change. Also, making sure you buy local produce and where possible buying in season will also decrease your food and drink carbon footprint.

As individuals we can: 

  • Cut down on meat consumption, try the vegetarian option. 

  • Buy food grown in the UK where possible.

6. Change to an ethical bank 

Lastly, let’s look at Banks. Investment in the fossil fuel industry is fuelling the climate crisis.

If your sports club is still using a bank that invests in these companies, consider switching to one of the growing number of banks that do not. View a list of ethical banks here. 

So, what about Wales? Despite the Principality stadium leading this change in becoming the UK’s first sustainable sports stadium in 2010, there is more we can do. So, let’s all do our bit to keep Wales a world leader in sustainability.   

If you are involved with any sports stadium or local club in Wales please get in touch to find out ways you can lessen the environmental impact. Email [email protected]. 

Or stay tuned for more blogs about how to become a greener player, spectator or sports club. 


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