In recent years, the concept of environmental sustainability has gained substantial traction across various industries, and the world of sports is no exception. Environmental sustainability within the sports sector refers to the integration of eco-friendly practices, resource conservation, and responsible management of waste and carbon emissions. As sports events draw massive audiences and involve substantial resource consumption, they have the potential to significantly impact the environment. However, an increasing awareness of these ecological consequences has prompted the sports industry to rethink its practices and embrace sustainability as a fundamental principle.

Environmental Impact of Sport

As Globalisation continues to transform the sporting world, the strain of sports events continues to increase on the environment. Considering the sports industry is responsible for approximately 350 million tonnes of C02 per year, it’s worth examining what’s behind the staggering footprint of the industry.

The construction and maintenance of sports facilities, such as stadiums and arenas, demand vast quantities of materials like concrete, steel, and plastics, for instance, the 2016 Rio Olympics led to deforestation and water pollution from construction projects. Additionally, the production of sports equipment, apparel, and promotional merchandise involves resource-intensive processes. The apparel and footwear industries alone generate the equivalent of 3,990 million metric tonnes of Carbon Dioxide.

Sporting events generate substantial amounts of waste due to disposable items like food containers, cups, and promotional materials. Single-use plastics contribute significantly to the waste stream, it is estimated that major sporting events can generate up to 750,000 plastic bottles apiece.

The transportation of athletes, fans, staff, and equipment to and from sporting events results in significant carbon emissions. As sport becomes more global and events become more accessible this will continue to increase if authorities do not look to address this challenge.

Factors Driving the Shift Towards Sustainability

Growing concerns about climate change, pollution, and resource depletion have heightened public awareness of environmental issues. This awareness has prompted individuals to demand sustainable practices in all aspects of life, including sports. In recent studies from the UK, almost half of 18 to 24-year-olds chose environmental issues as one of the nation’s three most pressing concerns, as these are the next generation of sports audiences and participants it is clear that sports will need to shift to sustainable practices.

Media coverage has played a role in spotlighting the environmental impacts of sports events, leading to increased scrutiny and pressure for change, consequently, many organisations are aligning their branding with sustainability to avoid a negative public image and to increase their corporate social responsibility. Regulations and policies have contributed greatly to the shift towards sustainability, promoting sustainability as a must rather than an option.


Sky Sports launched ‘Game Zero’ in 2021 which saw Tottenham Hotspur’s fixture against Chelsea become the world’s first net zero carbon major football match.

The Paris Agreement, a global effort to combat climate change, has influenced countries to adopt policies that target carbon reduction. Sports events aligning with these goals are recognised for their contributions.

ISO 20121 provides an international framework for event management, including sports events. It guides organisers in minimising environmental impacts, enhancing social responsibility, and improving economic performance.

 The Role of Technology and Innovation

Smart technologies have led to the birth of smart stadiums which enable stadium managers to monitor and control energy usage, lighting, heating, and cooling systems in real time. This optimisation leads to more efficient resource consumption and lower operational costs. Innovations in sustainable construction materials, designs and practices contribute to the development of environmentally friendly sports facilities. Green building certifications like LEED encourage the adoption of energy-efficient and eco-conscious construction methods.

Digital technology such as ticketing systems and cashless payment solutions have reduced paper waste and streamlined ticketing operations to be less labor intensive. Additionally, innovations in waste separation, recycling, and composting technologies improve waste management at sports events. Automated systems help divert waste from landfills, promoting circular economy practices.


The Allianz Arena in Munich is leading the way in sustainable IoT technology, the stadium uses solar panels and geothermal energy to generate power as well as a smart lighting system that adjusts based on the level of natural light.

English Football Lague club Forest Green is leading the way in terms of sustainable construction. The club has plans approved for ‘Eco Park’, which will be made almost entirely out of wood and renewable building material.

Engaging Fans and Fostering a Sustainable Culture

Engaging fans and fostering a culture of sustainability has played a crucial role in driving the sports industry towards more eco-friendly practices. Engaging fans allows sports organisations to educate their audiences about environmental issues and the impact of the industry on the planet. Through campaigns, events, and social media, fans can learn about the environmental footprint of sports and how their support can contribute to positive change.

Fostering a culture of sustainability within sports organisations creates a ripple effect. When sustainability becomes ingrained in the organisations values and decision-making processes, it influences policies, operations, and interactions with fans. Fans often look up to athletes as role models. When athletes champion sustainability and showcase eco-friendly practices in their personal lives and careers, it resonates with their fans and encourages them to follow suit..


Since 2015, Adidas has been working with Parley for the Oceans to clean up the oceans and collect marine debris for recycling. In 2020, through this campaign, Adidas manufactured 15 million pairs of sports shoes from plastic waste.

Serena Williams, the former tennis superstar has launched her first independent clothing line on the market. The brand “Serena” is based on Vegan, pollution-free products made in the USA, Serena Williams is also investing heavily in further sustainable start-ups that want to reduce the overconsumption of meat.

Future Prospects

The ongoing shift towards sustainability in the sports industry holds promising prospects for the future. With a strong emphasis on sustainability, the industry is poised to witness increasingly innovative technologies that reduce resource consumption, enhance the energy efficiency, and minimise waste. This commitment also sets an example for other sectors, demonstrating that large-scale events can coexist with responsible resource management.

By Integrating sustainability into sports, awareness about environmental issues and solutions will be raised among fans, athletes, and stakeholders. The rising demand for sustainable experiences creates opportunities for sports organisations to gain a competitive edge and attract a broader audience. Additionally, this shift encourages global collaboration, fostering partnerships to address global environmental challenges and amplify the industry’s influence beyond its borders.

Future Challenges

While the transition towards sustainability in the sports industry offers promising prospects, it is not without its challenges. Economic considerations pose a hurdle, as implementing sustainable practices may entail initial costs for technology adoption, infrastructure upgrades, and training-especially for smaller organisations striving to balance sustainability with financial feasibility. Retrofitting existing stadiums and venues for sustainability standards presents complexities, requiring a delicate balance between preserving historical structures and embracing modern eco-friendly designs.

Encouraging behavioural change among fans, athletes, and staff proves challenging due to deeply ingrained habits and a natural resistance to change. Sporting events are steeped in tradition, and deviations from the familiar can elicit apprehensions. Overcoming this inertia requires clear communication of the benefits of sustainable behaviours, showcasing successful examples, and appealing to shared values. Incentives, rewards, and campaigns that foster sense of community can motivate stakeholders to embrace eco-friendly practises.

 How Can a Shift Towards Sustainability Benefit KSA?

A shift towards environmental sustainability in the sports industry holds substantial benefits for Saudi Arabia. This transition aligns with nation’s vision 2030 initiative, promoting economic diversification and reduced dependence on oil. Embracing sustainability would enhance Saudi Arabia’s global reputation, attracting eco-conscious tourists and event attendees, thereby supporting its tourism and event hosting goals. By adopting eco-friendly technologies and practises in sports facilities and events, Saudi Arabia can achieve resource efficiency, cost savings, and contribute to climate change mitigation efforts.

Promoting sustainability in sports will also raise awareness among citizens, empowering them to become environmental stewards and contributing to a more responsible and conscious society. The nation’s commitment can also attract investment, innovation, and participation in global initiatives, showcasing Saudi Arabia’s dedication to a sustainable future while leaving a positive legacy for generations to come.

Saudi Arabia is aiming to push sustainability as part of vision 2030 which has sustainability as a core principle. A key example of this is the NEOM project which is being built as an incubator for cutting edge technology with sustainability as a founding principle. Among the 14 core ideological concepts around which NEOM is being envisioned, sports are one of them. One of the key partnerships NEOM has struck is the long-term sponsorship agreement of the Mercedes-Benz EQ Formula E team, demonstrating their commitment to sustainable and innovative technology.

Author:  Global 13

Experts in sports, entertainment, tourism and culture strategy.