Sport: Making the shutdown socially and environmentally positive

Over the past few days and weeks, we have seen an unprecedented shutdown of sports across the world. Can we emerge from this situation stronger, more sustainable and more resilient than before?

As a fan sat at home during a time when our TVs are usually filled a plethora of sports, it leaves me wondering what the teams and federations are doing to cope. We read how teams and stadia are donating food to local charities, while the F1 teams are reapplying their engineering specialism from cars, to care, building components for much needed ventilators. Athletes are posting fitness tips to help keep the nation physically and mentally fit, or calling isolated fans just to check-in.

No sports fan will be surprised at the quick responses by the industry to help their local communities and the wider country during this time of need, despite the postponement of matches and events resulting in significant losses of income. But while the industry is doing so much to help others, how can it use this newly found downtime to its advantage?

Prior to the Covid19 outbreak, we were focused on Greta’s message of impending climate catastrophe if we didn’t take immediate action. Our focus at Earth to Ocean was around soaring carbon emissions and the associated impact from a warming climate. This was certainly seen as one of the biggest threats to humanity and an imperative to achieve net zero emissions. We hadn’t spotted a global virus on the horizon.

However, these threats still exist and meeting the UK climate-targets, or the UN Sustainable Development Goals cannot be pushed back any further. The current situation postpones our carbon plans and does not make the situation any brighter.

With that said, the air-quality on cities across the world has been significantly improved since the shutdowns, while near-zero motorboat traffic on the Venice canals has led to clearer water and the return of wildlife. This is a clear demonstration of the changes that need to be made to reduce our impact on our local environment and the planet resulting from our behaviour and the built environment. A 100% switch to electric vehicles in cities would make a seismic difference to air-quality and therefore our own health and wellbeing – if that wasn’t clear before, it certainly is now.

Personal air travel has decreased to emergency repatriation only and we have realised how effective video conferencing is in communicating with our colleagues. We are left wondering whether we need to be jumping on flights to a meeting or whether we can save that travel time for friends and family and do the job in a virtual forum.

There is a debate rumbling along, pushed by those who care little for the environment and more about profit, who want to see the return of single use plastics for bags, cups, etc blaming the spread of the virus on these. Single use plastic undoubtedly has a significant role to play in some areas of health and hygiene but not for applications it wasn’t designed for, where there is no value in the product or material which escapes into the wider environment. I have been sharply aware, trying not to go to shops, the benefit of reusable products. I would also far rather bring my own bag back into my house rather than a box or bag I have no idea where it has been.

As oil prices continue to plummet, fossil fuels and virgin plastics will become cheaper and challenge the progress that we made switching to renewables, de-carbonising transport and avoiding single use plastics.

This unexpected break provides the perfect opportunity to give important issues, such as the need to curb carbon emissions, the time they deserve. Where could we end up, what could the reset button produce?

Now is the perfect time, in sports, the post-season analysis is usually restricted to allow time for staff holidays before returning for pre-season training/development. But in the current climate, we could be looking at how can sport can help build resilient communities or how we can deliver net zero carbon emissions before we are faced with a new global disaster.

We don’t really know what major sporting events will look like in the future. But rest assured, taking a long look at the global roadshow will happen and a new focus on building local capacity to delivering major events will happen. Sport has the power to drive change and using sport as the platform for delivering social and environmental change will continue to grow.

Use the time for virtual workshops, e-training, wider awareness and engagement to develop strategies and identify ways to deliver and communicate the short and long-term sustainability plan, both internally and to the community of fans.

If, as an industry, we can continue to use this time in a socially and environmentally positive way, hopefully, everyone can emerge from this situation stronger, more sustainable and more resilient than before.


Earth to Ocean recently supported World Athletics develop their sustainability strategy published on World Health Day and focuses on delivery a cleaner, greener, more equitable world. Link to the strategy here.

#climateaction #sport #sustainability #resilientcommunities #ISO20121