What is the Future of Sustainability in Sports & Sponsorships?

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What is the Future of Sustainability in Sports & Sponsorships?

A new stadium in Atlanta, Georgia is pursuing several sustainability certifications. Source: USGBC.org

22 July 2021 – by Eric Koons

The focus of sports has long been on competition, show, and profit. Little emphasis has been placed on the impacts surrounding these events. Luckily, the recent increased focus on sustainability. This can be seen in industries across the board, has also permeated into the world of sports. From professional football team Juventus FC releasing yearly sustainability reports to the Tokyo 2021 Olympic Games working to be carbon neutral, there are many clear examples of how the sports industry embraces environmental sustainability.

Carbon Neutral Sport Events

The Tokyo 2021 Olympics represent a key example of this transition. The Olympic Games are historically one of the largest fossil fuel emitting sports events. This is mainly due to the sheer number of people that participate and attend. To reduce the carbon footprint of the Tokyo 2021 Olympics, several initiatives have been put into place. These include a carbon offset programme, electric vehicles, the use of recycled materials, etc. And based on current projections, it is anticipated that the Tokyo Olympics will be carbon neutral. If a sports event of this size can achieve net-zero emissions, then so can every other sport.

Sustainability in Sporting Events

 The greening of sports can be seen in multiples ways – from sustainable facilities to net-zero carbon emissions targets to sponsorships by environmentally conscious brands.

Environmental Sustainability of Sports Facilities

The professional English football team, Forest Green Rovers, is leading the way for environmentally friendly stadiums. Their purpose-built stadium is wholly constructed out of wood, powered by 100% renewable energy, and serves fully vegan food on game days. Although these facilities were not cheap investments, they have already started to pay dividends. FIFA dubbed the team as the most sustainable soccer club, which has garnered new media attention for the team, ultimately helping them grow their fanbase, attract players, and get further sponsorships.

The new stadium for the Forest Green Rovers
The Forest Green Rovers’ new wooden stadium. Source: Soccerbible.com

Net-Zero Emissions Targets in Sport Organizations

Formula One (F1), the world’s leading motorsport series, has pledged to be carbon neutral by 2030. Coming from a sport based on combustion engine cars, this is a big deal. Transportation accounts for 21% of global carbon emissions. The F1 circuit announced a variety of programs to help meet this goal. These include requiring race engines to be powered by 10% biofuel by 2021, eliminating all single-use plastics, and requiring teams to use only renewable energy in their operations. The F1’s focus on sustainability is an example for other sports to follow.

Greening Sponsorship

Octopus Energy is one of the leading green energy companies in the UK and holds a 7.5% market share. They are also sponsors for the Arsenal Football Club and have helped the club install solar panels throughout their stadium. Additionally, Octopus Energy provides benefits and savings for Arsenal fans, which ultimately increases public awareness of renewable energy, improves the green image of Arsenal, and provides more sales for Octopus Energy.

Arsenal has installed a battery system to store excess solar energy produced at their stadium.
Arsenal football club has installed a new battery storage system that stores enough power to run the Emirates stadium for 90 minutes. Source: Arsenal.com

Financial and Environmental Value to Greening Sport Events

This sustainability trend is beneficial for several reasons. Two of the most notable are financial opportunity and positive environmental impact.

In terms of financials, sports organizations focusing on sustainability are sought after by company sponsors looking to improve their environmental image. The previous example of Octopus Energy and Arsenal highlights this. Moreover, it showed how both parties saw financial and reputational gains from the partnership.

Sport Governing Bodies Must Look to Environmental Sustainability

On a larger scale, this transition is not only beneficial but a necessity. A vast majority of scientists agree that the world is warming due to human influence. If we continued to do nothing, this temperature change could spiral out of control, causing countless knock-on effects down the line. These increasing temperatures can make it harder and even unsafe to play sports. Environmental sustainability must be at the forefront of planning.

Sustainability in Sports: Tokyo 2021 and Heat

For example, the Tokyo Olympic committee is seriously concerned about the heat during the events. The British Association for Sustainable Sport released a report, “Rings of Fire,” where they discussed how heat could impact the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. One of the most powerful comments in the report states that

“the mean annual temperature in Tokyo, the capital city and host of the 2021 Olympics, has increased by 2.86°C since 1900, more than three times as fast as the world’s average.” And “As Olympic stars, their coaches, and heat experts explain in this report, intense heat and high levels of humidity are a threat to athletes at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.”

Annual temperature change in Tokyo from 1900 to 2020.
Source: Rings of Fire

What Does the Future of Sports Sponsorship Look Like in Asia?

There are significant opportunities for green sponsorships to grow globally and Asia will likely be one of the leading markets for this growth. This hinges on two points – population and demand.

Asia is by far the most populous region globally, and many Asian countries have seen significant development within the last twenty years. This means that for many sports, the Asian market is still largely untapped. And demand for environmental sustainability to mitigate the environmental impact of their sporting events is also increasing in the region. Several Asian countries have released net-zero goals and others have signed the Paris Agreement.

Asian Sports Events and the Environmental Impact of Politics

Combined, this creates a market where the consumer base and sports organizations are looking for sponsors and a social and political climate that is demanding higher environmental sustainability standards.

Opportunity for Companies and Sports Organizations

We expect that green sponsorship and the growing sustainability of sports will play a valuable role in the coming decades. It helps climate policy, corporate spending, and public image come together to support a combined goal that benefits all parties involved. Additionally, it creates a unique cycle that increases public awareness, increases public demand, and ultimately increases spending. The opportunity for both sport organizations and private companies is available now, which may not be the case as the Asian market becomes more saturated in the coming decades.

renewable energy, Paris Agreement, Tokyo 2021, Tokyo Olympics, Tokyo Carbon Offset Programme, carbon offset, green sports

by Eric Koons

Eric is a passionate environmental advocate that believes renewable energy is a key piece in meeting the world’s growing energy demands. He received an environmental science degree from the University of California and has worked to promote environmentally and socially sustainable practices since. Eric’s expertise extends across the environmental field, yet he maintains a strong focus on renewable energy. His work has been featured by leading environmental organizations, such as World Resources Institute and Hitachi ABB Power Grids.

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