Sport & sustainability
Serving up the perfect partnership
Over the past few years, Department22 has been exploring ways to make the food industry more sustainable and adhering to circular economy principles. We focused on food because, on the face of it - there’s an obvious link between our food systems and the health of the planet. The two are deeply intertwined and critical for our long-term survival. Therefore, food is a seemingly worthy sector on which to focus our energy and expertise. Sport, on the other hand, is less easy to make a connection with sustainability.
This summer, there seems to have been a push from the sports industry to reference its wider impact on society and talk about sustainability. I have been enjoying some of the major sporting events which have graced our screens this summer: the Women's World Cup, Men’s Cricket World Cup and Wimbledon to name a few.
Wimbledon made the headlines in June with the tournament’s new policy to remove the transparent plastic bags from players’ newly-strung rackets. Those who watch tennis will be familiar with what this looks like: a player pulls a new racket from their bag, holds it out for one of the ball boys or girls to pull the bag off, scrunch it up and rush to the nearest bin. Wimbledon says the new policy will prevent 4,500 single-use plastic bags being used.
Wimbledon faced some backlash on social media - 4,500 is a tiny drop in the ocean when it comes to reducing plastic waste - but the real impact is the removal of this small, seemingly harmless, ‘throw-away routine’, which is watched by millions of people around the world. Whether Wimbledon realised it or not, this will have a far greater impact than simply talking about the amount of plastic saved.
During a 90-second changeover in the men’s semi-final at Wimbledon this year, one of the commentators talked about the new ‘sustainability area’ at the Championships which highlighted numerous ways the All England Club are trying to improve their sustainability credentials, including the world premiere of Evian’s 100% recycled water bottle and an interactive quiz about Wimbledon’s British sourced-food. Given the context of the match, Roger Federer facing arch-rival Rafael Nadal, this connection should have seemed off-topic, but strangely it didn't.
The climate agenda is creeping to the forefront of many businesses, and the sports industry is improving its credentials too. Many sports clubs now boast that they are running stadiums on renewable sources of energy and every sport, from cricket to golf, is introducing some kind of reusable scheme for drinking cups. On a bigger level, sport is also educating and influencing its global audience on climate change.
It may seem that the escapism and excitement of sport, along with its fierce spirit of competition, could conflict with the more caring and conservationist traits associated with sustainability and environmentalism. But we are seeing a surge in efforts from the sports industry to harness these traits and use the spirit of competition and excitement to turn the tide against climate change.
In June this year, all four of the major tennis Grand Slams committed for the first time to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change - Sports for Climate Action - aiming to use sport to influence climate awareness. This is great news as it means that sustainability will be increasingly discussed in sports and it will not be out of the ordinary for a commentator to mention climate change in the same breath as remarking on the beauty of a Federer backhand…
By Thomas Leech