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Leaders in sport: The most influential environmentalists in the world

Copyrights: Flickr: kris krüg

Leaders in sport: The most influential environmentalists in the world

On the first morning of the Sustainability in Sport Conference, Allen Hershkowitz urges the sports sector to use its influence to promote environmental change.

The key to addressing sustainability issues is to change the way people relate to their environment. That was the view expressed by Allen Hershkowitz, the founder of Sport and Sustainability International, on the first morning of the Sustainable Innovation in Sport Conference in Munich.

This is not an easy task. In the US, 47% of the population doesn’t believe in evolution. In this context, it isn’t easy to get them to act on environmental issues. And it is becoming harder. If you can’t feed your children, you are unlikely to prioritise recycling.

But sport has an important role. Whereas only 16% of the US population follow science, 81% follow sports. It is one of the few large platforms which can influence behaviour. The government can be influential, but is often mistrusted. Art and music have their place, but no platform is as influential as sport. The sport and sustainability sector are the most influential environmentalists in the world

Many are leading the way. What organisations such as Roland Garros, UEFA and the IOC have done in sustainability is incredible and their events have huge visibility. We have entered a new stage of environmentalism and the sport and sustainability movement is at the forefront.

But there are three major challenges:

  1. Agility. Progress can be slow. Sports federations tend to be large with rigid structures, and ecological issues evolve. As an example, carbon profiling was introduced in Rio in 1992. It only began to be used in around 2005 and is still underdeveloped. The only major US league to use carbon profiling is the NHL. There are diverse economic, technological and cultural barriers to sustainability. To overcome these, organisations need to be agile, adapting more quickly to changing circumstances.
  2. Implementing the Paris Agreement. Trillions of dollars have been invested in clean energy. These deal with fuel, transport and other issues. Environmental concerns don’t only focus on climate change but also toxic chemicals, waste reduction and other issues. How can sport be agile enough to deal with both the constraints of the international framework and the variety of issues which need addressing?
  3. Collaboration. A number of colleagues have been talking about pulling together sports organisations around the world to collaborate. We have to come together. However, sports organisations operate in a highly competitive sports environment. They have their own needs and requirements. There are times when one organisation is unwilling to participate in a development programme because of a competitor’s involvement.

Hershkowitz’s comments highlight the potential of sport to address the biggest challenges of our time. However, they also highlight some of the barriers preventing sport from reaching its full potential. The future of the planet is at stake, and if leaders in sport are to play an effective role, they need to be flexible to changing circumstances and leave their egos behind, working together to form a collective response.


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Wednesday, February 22, 2017 - 12:40