When it comes to fighting climate change, large sporting events have struggled to win any prizes. Fans travelling to just one European Cup match this year are estimated to have generated nearly 5,600 tonnes of CO2.

In numbers ... the carbon footprint of the UEFA European Cup 2016
Image: Life Tackle

Next year’s football tournament may be even more polluting with matches played all across the continent, instead of in just one host nation, to celebrate the competition’s 60th anniversary. But that is all about to change as sporting authorities act to reduce their carbon footprint.

UEFA already provides an app to help fans offset the carbon impact of the tournament. And football clubs across the world are taking action to reduce emissions and recycle waste. Here are four sports aiming to become more sustainable.

1. Tokyo’s 2020 green Olympics

Under the banner “Be better, together” the organizing committee of the 2020 Olympics in Japan set out from the start to make them the most sustainable games ever. The athletes’ village will be built from locally sourced wood and the event vehicles powered by hydrogen fuel cells.

Image: Tokyo 2020

The electricity will come from renewable sources, including onsite solar generation, and 99% of everything used during the event will be recycled. Apart from drinking water, all the water used at the games will either be rainwater or recycled.

2. Showjumping gets extra horsepower

This year’s Helsinki International Horse Show was horse powered in more senses than one. As part of a range of zero-waste measures, Finland’s biggest indoor sporting event was entirely powered by electricity generated from horse manure.

Image: Helsinki International Horse Show

Over 135 tonnes of manure collected from competing horses was used to generate 150 megawatt hours of electricity. Fortum HorsePower, the company behind the scheme, collects manure from 4,300 horses across Finland to generate sustainable energy for local grids.

3. Sustainable football

Amsterdam’s Johan Cruijff stadium, home to Ajax, found a sustainable way to replace its 53,000 seats. Most were sold as souvenirs or recycled and their replacements are made from 100% recycled plastic – 10% of it recovered from the oceans.

In Pontedera, Italy, the stadium has seats made using recycled plastic from the town’s own waste, contributing to a circular economy.

Meanwhile, English League Two leaders Forest Green Rovers have been named the World’s Greenest Football Club by world governing body FIFA, and won a UN climate award.

Forest Green Rovers’ new stadium will be built from sustainable local timber.
Image: Ecotricity

The club’s ground is powered by solar panels and features electric car-charging points, water recycling, an electric lawnmower, an organic pitch, and an entirely vegan menu for players and fans. They now have plans for a new stadium built entirely from sustainable local timber.

Circular economy

What is a circular economy?

The global population is expected to reach close to 9 billion people by 2030 – inclusive of 3 billion new middle-class consumers.This places unprecedented pressure on natural resources to meet future consumer demand.

A circular economy is an industrial system that is restorative or regenerative by intention and design. It replaces the end-of-life concept with restoration, shifts towards the use of renewable energy, eliminates the use of toxic chemicals and aims for the elimination of waste through the superior design of materials, products, systems and business models.

Nothing that is made in a circular economy becomes waste, moving away from our current linear ‘take-make-dispose’ economy. The circular economy’s potential for innovation, job creation and economic development is huge: estimates indicate a trillion-dollar opportunity.

The World Economic Forum has collaborated with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation for a number of years to accelerate the Circular Economy transition through Project MainStream - a CEO-led initiative that helps to scale business driven circular economy innovations.

Join our project, part of the World Economic Forum’s Shaping the Future of Environment and Natural Resource Security System Initiative, by contacting us to become a member or partner.

4. Super Bowl goes zero waste

Last year’s Super Bowl, the culmination of America’s NFL tournament, had a new scoreline which measured not points scored on the field but how much of the waste generated by the game was recycled.

Image: Pepsico

All food served to fans during the game at the Minnesota Vikings’ US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis came in compostable containers. Waste that could not be recycled was sent to a trash-to-energy plant to generate steam to heat buildings in downtown Minneapolis.

Since last year’s Super Bowl game, the stadium has composted a further 160 tonnes of waste and is using smart technology to maintain its zero-waste status, reducing its CO2 emissions over the same period by 231 tonnes.