Sustainability in Sport

Red Flags: Sustainability challenges for the sports industry

Tereza Rydlova

Tereza Rydlova

08 Aug, 2023

Sustainability in Sport

Sports have an undeniable impact on society, bringing people together and inspiring greatness. As the world faces growing environmental challenges, the sports industry must take a proactive stance in promoting sustainability. In this blog, we will explore the significance of sustainability in sports and the initiatives that can be taken to minimise the ecological footprint.

“Climate change is one of the most pressing issues of our times. Sport plays an important role as part of the solution.”

- The UN, 2022

Consumers have been pushing brands to decarbonise their operations across a wide range of industries - retail, travel, events, and gaming are just a few of the sectors. Now even traditionally loyal sports fans are also raising their voices and calling their teams out for being climate unfriendly. Last year the BBC published an article

challenging Fifa’s carbon-neutral claims

; and we certainly remember the uproar just this past Spring when various news outlets reported on the carbon-intensive

travel habits

of leading football teams. 

Some leagues and teams have been quicker to change their habits - and to bring their fans along on the journey. Envision Racing has put climate change front and centre with the

Race Against Climate Change

The UN

Sports for Climate Action Framework

calls upon sports organisations and their stakeholders to participate in a novel climate action movement for sports. The primary objective of this initiative is to provide support and guidance to sports actors in their efforts to contribute to global climate change goals.

The framework is designed to accomplish two main goals:

1. Establishing a clear trajectory for the global sports community to combat climate change. This involves making commitments and forming partnerships based on verified standards. It includes activities such as measuring, reducing, and reporting greenhouse gas emissions in alignment with the Paris Agreement's well below 2-degree scenario, which is more important than ever as, in 2023, temperatures had almost reached 1.5-degree above pre-industrial temperatures. 

2. Utilising sports as a unifying tool to foster solidarity and bring together people worldwide for collective climate action.

Through participation in the initiative, all signatories will become official participants in the

Race to Zero

campaign. This global effort aims to mobilise leadership and backing from businesses, cities, regions, and investors in pursuit of a healthy, resilient, and zero-carbon recovery. The campaign's overarching goals include mitigating future threats, generating quality job opportunities, and fostering inclusive and sustainable growth.

An analysis of the UN Sport for Climate Action initiative's membership reveals that approximately 270 sports stakeholders are currently part of the initiative.

The diagram below illustrates that the current signatories to the Sport for Climate Action initiative constitute less than 0.1% of the entire sports industry. Among the signatories, Sports Leagues, Teams, and Clubs form the largest group, with slightly over 100 members, but they represent just 0.1%. On the other hand, Sports Federations have the highest percentage of members, with 80 representatives accounting for 0.5% of the total sports federation.

A table displaying the percentage of estimated and actual signatories of the Climate Action Framework. It shows Federations (0.53%), Hosts (0.10%), Events (0.08%), Leagues/Teams (0.10%), and Suppliers (0.07%). In total, less than 0.1% of the sports industry are signatories to the initiative..


UNFCCC/Global Sustainable Sport

Following the Sports for Climate Action Framework, the IUCN has launched the

Sports for Nature Framework

, which calls upon sports organisations and their stakeholders to participate in a novel climate action movement for sports. This initiative has been signed by over 20 organisations, including International Olympic Committee - and these organisations pledge to adhere to four key principles that will safeguard nature:

1. Protect nature and avoid damage to natural habitats and species; 

2. Restore and regenerate nature wherever possible; 

3. Understand and reduce risks to nature in your supply chains; and 

4. Educate and inspire positive action for nature across and beyond sport.


Sports events, from local tournaments to international championships, can leave behind a considerable environmental footprint. The extensive use of energy, water, and resources for stadium operations, transportation, and spectator amenities contributes to carbon emissions, waste generation, and habitat destruction. Additionally, improper waste management can lead to pollution of water bodies and landscapes.

An infographic showing "On average, an individual sports participant yearly produces approximately 844 kg of CO2" accompanied by a 3D asset displaying scales

Compared to other industries, such as fashion for example, the impact of supply chain and sustainability issues in sports are not as widely-known and are complex and difficult to measure - however, it is recognised that unsustainable activities in sports have been contributing to climate change.

To combat the environmental impact, sports organisations should be taking steps, big and small, to embrace their sustainable journey. This applies across the whole field - from football to motorsport.

1. Sustainable Venue Design

To tackle the environmental impact, sports organisations are increasingly embracing sustainable venue and track design. From constructing energy-efficient stadiums to utilising renewable energy sources like solar panels and wind turbines, these initiatives reduce carbon emissions and promote renewable energy adoption. Moreover, modern stadium designs emphasise water conservation through rainwater harvesting systems and smart irrigation technologies.

The FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ has achieved impressive sustainable stadium standards. Not only have the stadiums met the FIFA requirement of sustainable design and build certification since 2012, but they have also obtained certification for sustainable construction management and operations. The organisers' permanent offices in Qatar have likewise received sustainable operations certification. Through these sustainability standards, the organisers have successfully reduced resource usage and minimised harmful environmental effects during the construction and operation of tournament sites. As a result, they are creating a positive long-term impact on the region.

Only 17% of sporting venues in MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL, NCAA, AHL, NLL, IFL, and MLR are tracking carbon emissions

2. Eco-Friendly Transportation

One of the main challenges in sports sustainability is managing transportation-related emissions. Frequent travel for teams, officials, and fans can lead to a significant carbon footprint.

An infographic showing that "85% of emissions generated by major sporting events are attributed to fan travel and accommodation"

To address this, some sports leagues encourage the use of public transport for fans and promote carpooling initiatives. Additionally, virtual or regional events can be organized to reduce long-distance travel. 

This is known to be an issue in the motorsport industry, Formula 1 especially, where fans are putting pressure on the organisation to create a more sustainable racing calendar. The FIA​ (Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile) has taken the initiative to move towards greater calendar regionalisation, reducing logistical burdens and making the 2024 season more sustainable.

3. Waste Management

The vast amount of waste generated during sports events demands efficient waste management strategies. Minimising single-use plastics and adopting recycling programs can significantly reduce the environmental impact. Several sports teams and venues have already committed to zero-waste initiatives, diverting waste away from landfills and incineration.

The game’s organisers say the average NFL game generates 80,000 pounds of trash, and that can double during the Super Bowl. That is why one of the organisations aiming to mitigate the environmental impact of its major events is NFL. By having NFL Green in place, the organisation, amongst other initiatives, ensures recycling and Solid Waste Management at events such as Super Bowl.

4. Sustainable Event Planning

Sports events are complex undertakings that require meticulous planning. By integrating sustainability into event planning, organizers can make a positive difference. This can include sourcing locally-produced and organic food for concessions, ensuring water stations are available for refilling bottles, and using eco-friendly promotional materials.

The Formula 1 French Grand Prix’s commitment is based on continuous improvement aimed at reducing the consumption of raw materials, favouring the use of biofuel-based energy sources, the use of sustainable materials and the elimination of single-use plastics. The French Grand Prix has also developed an innovative mobility plan that significantly reduces the carbon footprint of spectator travel. Finally, the members of the French Grand Prix organisation have shown a strong commitment to social responsibility. That is why the FIA recognises the environmental performance and commitment to an ambitious sustainable development approach of the Formula 1® Grand Prix de France and crowns it with the highest level of environmental certification.

An image of Alexander Albon, Williams Racing FW44 - French Grand Prix

5. Engaging Athletes and Fans

With billions of global fans, 3.5 billion people following football and 2.5 billion people following cricket, the sports sector holds significant potential to drive momentum towards climate action. Athletes, positioned at the very heart of sports, are embracing the responsibility to lead this charge.

Athletes can use their platform to raise awareness about environmental issues and inspire positive change.

Sports organisations can involve fans through educational campaigns, encouraging them to adopt sustainable practices in their daily lives. By fostering a culture of environmental consciousness, sports can inspire a global movement towards sustainability.

Envision Racing

, known as the 'greenest team on the grid' proudly announced achieving a significant milestone by receiving over 150,000 climate-positive pledges through their Race Against Climate Change™ (RACC) initiative. This remarkable feat reflects their dedication to combating climate change and encourages individuals to take action in the fight against environmental challenges.

The leading British Formula E team has launched the consumer-facing aspect of the RACC initiative, known as the Sustainable Chain. This initiative empowers fans and their communities to take green pledges and drive climate action, particularly in the aftermath of the UN's COP26 climate conference in Glasgow. 

The Sustainable Chain campaign tasks fans with taking one of ten pledges to help save the planet. Via Envision Racing’s website, fans calculate their carbon footprint and then watch it diminish as they introduce green lifestyle changes. These include:  

  • Swapping to an electric vehicle 

  • Commuting by bike or public transport to work 

  • Sourcing local food 

  • Switching to a renewable energy supplier 

  • Making energy efficiency improvements at home 

  • Flying less 

  • Installing solar panels 

  • Reducing meat consumption 

  • Cutting down on water usage and producing less waste  

Through a partnership with


, Envision Racing is planting a mangrove tree in Madagascar for every pledge made. So far, the initiative has achieved an impressive milestone with 150,000 pledges made, and an equivalent number of trees planted. Incredibly, these collective actions have successfully prevented over 38 million kilograms of dangerous carbon dioxide emissions from entering the atmosphere, contributing significantly to the battle against climate change.

An infographic displaying that 150000 mangrove trees were planted

6. Partnerships and Sponsorships

Sustainability can also be fostered through strategic partnerships and sponsorships. Aligning with eco-conscious brands and organisations can amplify the message of sustainability and promote eco-friendly practices throughout the sports industry. Brands can also take this opportunity to showcase their commitment to environmental responsibility.

In recent years, there has been a lot of focus on utilising

nature-based solutions

to mitigate the effects of and adapt to climate change. The UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has even suggested that the implementation of nature-based solutions could contribute to achieving up to 37% of the necessary emission reductions.

Businesses in the sports industry can begin sustainable reform by offsetting carbon emissions effortlessly through reforestation, regenerative agriculture, and ecosystem restoration. Lead the way in sustainability, enhance your brand's eco-image, and make a lasting impact on the planet.

By partnering with Earthly, sports organisations can start their sustainable journey (this is not a race!), and make an impact at their own pace, while inspiring their fans and others in the industry to contribute to the ecological development of sport.