Sustainability reaches the world of sport

#social transformation

Doing sport is one of people's main resolutions every beginning of the year. However, do you know, for example, how much pollution a Marathon creates? And a major sporting event like the football world cup? Some sports activities can also damage the environment and you should know about this to keep their effects to a minimum. Bet on sustainable sport!

Sustainable sport seeks to reduce the sport's ecological footprint on the environment.

Mountaineers have been complaining about this for a long time, and now the latest information from the Nepalese government shows how right they are: the overcrowding of the Everest climb has turned the biggest of the 14 eight thousands into the highest rubbish dump in the world. The countless expeditions that climb this rock and snow colossus each season generate so much rubbish that in 2019 11 tons of abandoned sports equipment and litter was removed from the mountain and its surrounding area.


Far from Everest, the major sporting events — like the Olympic Games and the Football World Cup — leave a deep environmental footprint that is difficult to erase, with the almost always hurried construction of infrastructures — stadiums, sports halls, complexes, etc. — and the environmental impact of the spectators. According to the estimates of three researchers (Andrea Collins, Calvin Jones y Max Munday) from the University of Cardiff (Wales), during these events, this impact is seven times higher than normal, as journeys, the creation of rubbish and the consumption of energy, food and water all spiral.

For example, in the London marathon in 2019 runners left behind 350,000 plastic bottles scattered along the city's roads, according to the company Veolia UK, responsible for cleaning the route. These big events also contaminate the air as happens in motorcycling, Formula 1 and the Dakar Rally, for example. This last competition, in which more than 340 vehicles and 3,500 people take part, damages the dunes of the deserts it crosses and generates, according to Open Democracy, 100 tons of waste.


We can all do our bit to do sustainable sport and organise environmentally friendly competitions. Here are some recommendations to follow:

 As an organisation

  • Make sure all the applicable environmental requirements and standards are met.
  • Facilitate waste separation for participants, collect all the rubbish generated during the event and take it to the place the authorities indicate.
  • Promote the saving of energy and water, and the use of re-usable receptacles like refillable bottles, fabric bags, wooden cutlery, etc.
  • Inform participants that they cannot disturb animals or deviate from the paths.

 As an athlete

  • Put your waste in a waste bin. If there isn't one nearby, carry it with you in your backpack or in your hand until you find one.
  • Avoid routes through sensitive ecosystems and don't take short-cuts through crops whether you are on foot, bicycle or horseback.
  • Don't waste water, purchase only the equipment you need and don't buy single-use plastics and disposable materials.
  • If you are riding a bicycle, use ecological glues to mend punctures and avoid skidding. If you are climbing, minimise your use of magnesium.
How much CO2 do major sporting events generate?

 SEE INFOGRAPHIC: How much CO2 Nota do major sporting events generate? [PDF] External link, opens in new window.


Some of the biggest competitions in the world are making changes and turning themselves into sustainable sporting events. Here are some examples according to the United Nations' Environmental Programme (UNEP):

  • Olympic Games: the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has undertaken to eradicate single-use plastics at its headquarters, at the Olympic Museum and at all its events.
  • Volvo Ocean Race: one of the yachts taking part in this round-the-world regatta — the Turn the Tide on Plastic — also compiles information on the microplastics in the ocean.
  • Major League Soccer (MLS): the clubs of the US football league celebrated Earth Day playing with shirts made from ocean plastics.
  • Indian Premier League (IPL): the cricket stadium Chinnaswamy in the Indian city of Bangalore has implemented a zero waste policy for its spectators.
  • Twickenham Stadium: the legendary home of English rugby has made a commitment to sustainable sport with a deposit and return system for beverages sold at matches.


Certain world sports equipment manufacturers like Patagonia, Lily Lotus, Adidas and The North Face, among others, have joined the sustainable sport movement with clothing, footwear and groundbreaking articles made with recycled plastic, natural fibres like organic cotton or without waterproofing chemicals like perfluorocarbons (PFCs).

There are also international labels like Bluesign and GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) that certify the sustainability of sports clothing, and others like the FWF (Fair Wear Foundation) that keep watch over the working conditions of the workers employed in making this clothing.

 Iberdrola and sustainable mobility