Shaping an eco-friendly sports culture

A bidirectional relationship between sport and nature is paving the way to a more sustainable world, writes Rebecca Borg.

The motorsport industry is one of many examples of how sport can impact the natural world. Race cars produce exhaust gases, yield heat and generate loud noise - all of which significantly impact the environment. More subtle examples include the natural materials used to produce uniforms, the fossil fuels generated from spectators travelling to and from sports stadiums and the methods used in the production of sporting equipment.

Alternatively, there’s ways in which nature can impact sport, for example, severe weather conditions like flooding that could destroy a sports oval. This correlation between nature and sport is what Dr Greg Dingle, a Lecturer in Sport Management and an associate of the Centre for Sport and Social Impact at La Trobe University defines as a “bidirectional relationship”.

“For most people, the intersection between sport and environmental sustainability is not an obvious one. The sporting world has the potential to create a negative impact on nature and vice versa, both directly and indirectly.”

Dr Dingle has been collaborating with Dr Cheryl Mallen, an associate professor from the Department of Sport Management at Brock University, to critically examine the correlation between sport and environmental sustainability as editors for the book, Sport and Environmental Sustainability published by Routledge.

“The idea of the book was to give graduate researchers and tenured academics a sense of what research exists surrounding environmental impacts on sports, education for sustainability, and a whole range of other areas,” Dr Dingle says.

“It also identifies research that’s missing, so hopefully over the next few years we'll see graduate researchers developing research projects that build upon the gaps we've highlighted.”

“Maintaining an eco-friendly sports culture will help prolong the existence of organic supplies,” says Dr Mallen. “Safeguarding the natural environment through sport helps ensure natural resources are available for use by sporting participants today and into the future.”

Today, with more emphasis placed on preventing climate change, the sporting world has implemented some sustainable measures to shape a more eco-friendly sector. Dr Dingle says ethical, financial, reputational and environmental factors have played a role in initiating this change, but also agrees more can be done to further improve sustainability in sport.

“If you're going to achieve a sustainable sports sector, sports organisations and governments need to incorporate systems thinking into their strategic planning and operations. Once you minimise the impacts of your business on the natural environment, then you can harness some of those systems to minimise the risks the environment might present to your organisation.”