The next big goal for sport? Environmental sustainability.

Tackling ESG in sports isn’t just the right thing to do. It can also create a competitive advantage. Hannah Mansour, Director of Innovation and Sustainability at Re_Set, makes the business case for prioritising environmental sustainability in the sports sector.

This article is part of our Game On - Sport for Social Impact series.


While sport has existed in some form for the last 3,000 years (and been monetised for almost as long), climate change could radically affect how, where and when games are played in the future.  


Not only could heatwaves, toxic smoke and air pollution impact athlete performance and their ability to compete, but the resulting extreme weather conditions have the potential to impact the industry in an existential way over the next 30 years: 


         – One quarter of England’s 92 professional league football grounds will be at risk from flooding every season 


         – One in three British golf courses will face damage from rising sea levels 


         – Half of former Winter Olympics host cities will no longer be able to offer safe and reliable conditions for snow sports


         – Cricket test matches will become impossible in increasingly drought-stressed India and South Africa 


This level of disruption will have a hugeimpact on the sports industry’s bottom line. The sports industry (including apparel, equipment, and health and fitness spending) generates as much as US$700 billion annually – or 1% of global GDP. When we consider that sponsorship, broadcasting deals and ticket sales are all also affected by climate change, there’s a huge financial impact of doing nothing.



Of course, sport is not a passive victim of climate change. Through the impact of its venues, events, supply chains, travel, and waste, it’s a contributor, too. Indeed, a recent study estimates that the carbon emissions from the global sports sector are equivalent to those of Spain. 


There are movements underway to drive change, like the UN sport for climate action framework, which calls on signatories to reach net-zero by 2040. Yet signing up to the framework, which was launched in 2016 to supercharge systemic thinking across the sector, is no guarantee that an organisation has implemented policies and plans to achieve their commitments. While sustainability is rising up the priority list, tackling environmental impact still faces challenges.  


Perhaps the biggest challenge of all is that  investment is hard to come by. Funding for environmental sustainability in the sport sector must compete with athlete development, infrastructure design, build and maintenance, event management and more. In some sports, including football, there are even rules in place that limit spending – known as financial fair play.  



So how can sports put environmental sustainability at the heart of their strategy to drive competitive advantage and deliver new commercial value? The answer lies in creating the business case for change. That’s because, not only does a focus on sustainability reduce operational risk – it also presents a host of strategic opportunities.  


In terms of the former, implementing operational and resource efficiency across energy, waste and water can mitigate ‘the cost of inaction’ connected to new regulation, price rises and cancellations. It can also help organisations avoid increased energy prices and limited availability of products – both of which impact profitability. 


In terms of strategic opportunities, addressing key social, inclusion and community issues can improve productivity and employee engagement across the business. Meanwhile, investing in a climate strategy aligned with key stakeholder priorities and international standards, will strengthen the relationship with or attract new athletes, fans, sponsors, and governing bodies.  


In turn, this will maintain brand reputation and ensure loyalty from a new generation of fans who are placing a greater onus on businesses and brands to take charge. 


So, how should an organisation get started?

  1.   Act now, not later 
  2.   Make it a board-level priority 
  3.   Be purpose-led, identify your material issues and build the business case for change
  4.   Leverage partnerships – with sponsors, local authorities, TV networks etc.  
  5.   Embrace innovation  



Sport touches people in a unique way. From Marcus Rashford’s free school meals drive, to Arsenal’s recent ‘No More Red’ campaign, it has proven itself to be a strong voice in socio-political conversations. As David Goldblatt, Chair of Football for the Future says: “In a world where cynicism towards politics is rife, sport retains a kind of strange authenticity.” 


The sector clearly has an integral role to play in driving positive change. If environmental sustainability in the sport sector is approached as an opportunity to think creatively and for the long-term, it could future-proof organisations against a myriad of disruption, inspire wider change, and create a sustainable future for us all.



to join the ‘Game on’ working group,  alongside other leaders committed to delivering social impact through sport, apply to become a member of meaningful business here.



Related Posts

This website uses cookies to improve the user experience. For more information view our Privacy Policy

Privacy policy
Become A Member