Green pitch: How sport is becoming more eco-friendly


Englands final Test match against Pakistan this month had all the aspects normally associated with a cricket game. But as the television cameras panned over the Western Terrace at Headingley, one thing was conspicuous by its absence.

Beer snakes have become a familiar sight at cricket matches. As the day wears on and the thirsty crowd get through the pints, empty plastic cups are grouped together and eventually formed into a long, winding “snake” which is held proudly aloft.

But there is a very good reason for their disappearance: they are a small yet very visible part of sports attempt to go green.

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Sustainability, renewable energy, recycling and environmental responsibility may not sound like terms which would necessarily be associated with sport. Yet, gradually they are working their way into the thoughts of sports governing bodies, organisations, venues, teams and participants.

“Weve seen a sea-change, a sort of wake-up moment across the board in all sections of society,” says Julian Kirby, a campaigner for Friends of the Earth. Sport is one of the sectors who have accepted the call to arms with enthusiasm.

“Sustainability is one of the most significant issues facing decision-makers and opinion leaders in sport as they prepare for the future,” noted Uefa president Aleksander Ceferin in the football governing bodys report, Playing for Our Planet, in May.

With total global sports revenue estimated by Uefa to be worth $500-600bn (£374-448bn) annually, there is plenty to be gained from the industrys actions.

“The sports industry is uniquely positioned to leverage its cultural and market influence to advance social and ecological stewardship at an unprecedented scale,” say environmental group the Green Sports Alliance.

German club Wolfsburg are a leading light for sustainability issues in sport (Source: Getty)

Clubs such as Wolfsburg are at the forefront of the movement. The German Bundesliga side use 100 per cent green electricity, recycled paper, motion detectors instead of continuous lighting, water their training ground from a nearby canal and give fans bags made of recycled compostable paper rather than plastic.

While most of the sports industry is some way behind Wolfsburg, there is a front on which many are fighting: reducing plastic usage.

Earlier this month the International Olympic Association and seven major sporting bodies announced plans to eradicate single-use plastics.

Closer to home, the Premier League has committed to phasing out single-use plastics within two years, Wimbledon has banned plastic straws and cricket clubs like Yorkshire, Lancashire and Surrey have followed suit. Meanwhile, Dublins Croke Park has even introduced vegetable-based plastics to serve their hot drinks in.

Plastic is a good place to start for sports organisations. Its a relatively simple way of helping the environment and has the added bonus of being cost-effective and improving efficiency.

VB Series - Australia v Pakistan
Deposit schemes at cricket matches are a simple way of reducing plastic usage (Source: Getty)

A simple cup deposit scheme, like the one which saw the end of the beer snake at Headingley, not only reduces the amount of plastic but also saves money and the staff hours usually required to clean up.

“Ive been an environmental campaigner for the best part of two decades and Ive never seen anything like the level of public concern and energy over an issue as were seeing now with plastics,” says Kirby. “Im nothing other than thrilled to see the sporting world step up to help end plastic pollution.”

The executive secretary of UN Climate Change, Patricia Espinosa, has applauded the “farsighted, exciting climate action” being undertaken in the sports sector, but there is a lot more that can still be done.

Its about looking at everything, right down to the smallest details, according to Kirby. Clubs reducing nylon in sports kit, Wimbledon serving strawberries in reusable punnets and venues using paint without plastic in it are examples of other ways to improve the environmental footprint.

Plastic is a first step but, with a global platform, sport can always do more to have an influence on other environmental issues. After all, the stakes are high, as the Green Sports Alliance says: “The collective actions of our industry may be the game-changer that helps us to survive our epic environmental challenges.”



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