Earlier this year we made our way to Melbourne with friends to watch a football game, but before we left I did some research to understand what I was allowed to take into the stadium in terms of food and drink and reusable containers (for example no glass). I ended up discovering that the MCG is one of the most sustainable stadiums in the world and when it comes to managing waste they are now diverting 83% of waste away from landfill. You can check out my Facebook post below for more detail on all that, and also the Nine News video under it.

My research also lead me to discover the Sports Environment Alliance (SEA) which was exciting for me as a sports enthusiast and environmentalist. It’s long been on my mind that sports participation and sports events can be environmentally damaging and wasteful. Why do we damage the places and environments that bring us so much wellness? With no planet, there is no play.

I decided to get in touch with SEA to learn more about what they do and how we can encourage the sports organisations that we’re all involved in to do more for the world with less footprint. Alex Wylde, SEA’s Membership and Community Coordinator, agreed to speak to me. Thanks Alex!

What does your role at SEA involve?

In this role, I focus on attracting new members to SEA, providing support to our current members to help them reduce their environmental footprint, and enhancing SEA’s engagement and impact at community level. There are incredible eco-stories in our sporting community and we want to share them all.

How did SEA come about? How is it funded? What are your aims?

SEA is one of three member-based sports sustainability organisations in the world – the other two are based in North America and Europe.  In 2015, our Executive Director Dr. Sheila Nguyen and Chairman Malcolm Speed AO founded SEA, but the effort was being made since 2008 to get it moving along.  Both Sheila and Malcolm worked in sport and saw that the places where we played were not being valued as much as the sports which play upon them, so they initiated our leadership organisation.

We are a charity organisation, funded primarily by the generous support of our members and partners.

Our aim is to empower the Australasian sporting community to reduce its environmental footprint. SEA’s main mission is to grow the voice of the environment by borrowing the influence, reach, and power of the sport community and to support their journeys in minimising their ecological footprint- no one is perfect, and everyone has a starting point whether it is at the front or back of the pack, we all have ground to gain towards our clean future.  We don’t spend time judging a member’s starting point, we spend time on helping them work towards lightening their footprint.

Why should sports players and lovers care about the environment? How do environmental issues impact sport?

Sport and the environment are intrinsically linked: sport can only flourish in a healthy environment. Heatwaves and drought are placing considerable stress on our summer sports. At the elite level we have seen cricketers and tennis players compete in extreme, dangerous heat, putting their health at risk. Last summer, the Australian Tennis Open had to enact a new extreme heat policy due to this reason.

In already dry parts of our region, persistent water scarcity puts extreme pressure on grass roots sports clubs which are often integral components of the community. Without adequate water inputs, ovals become too dry and cracked to safely play on, forcing community clubs to forfeit matches or travel considerable distances to play in neighbouring towns. Alpine sports are at incredible risk of climate change, with already short snow seasons predicted to become even shorter in the future.

People who love and care about sports should think about how they play, watch and consume sport and how they treat their environment. An unhealthy environment puts the future of sports in jeopardy.

How can grassroots sports clubs reduce waste from the canteen and still raise money?

There are many simple steps grassroots clubs can take in order to reduce waste from their canteen and it need not be a costly exercise. Firstly, it is important to understand your waste and the major areas for improvement. Providing well labelled recycle bins is an easy first step, as is eliminating single use items made of materials which last forever (e.g., plastic bags, straws, etc.). If your canteen prepares their own food, consider composting food scraps to help divert waste from landfill.

Clubs can also consider moving away from supplying plastic water bottles and instead selling reusable bottles and having a refill station. We have heard stories from community clubs who have done just this with great environmental and financial impact. Club canteens can also consider changing their suppliers, preferencing those with minimal or sustainable packaging.

What other tips do you have for grassroots sports clubs to reduce their waste and other environmental impacts?

Along with waste from the canteen, sporting clubs can evaluate their energy footprint.  Older facilities often use outdated, inefficient lighting and air conditioning systems. Installing efficient LED lighting is a cost-effective way to reduce energy usage while also saving money in the long term. Upgrading heating and cooling systems will also save energy and money over time.  For those clubs in environmentally conscientious communities, they can consider installing solar panels and buying only clean energy (energy generated from clean sources- wind, sun, hydro). While some actions have an initial cost outlay, the long term environmental and financial benefits are significant.

We would recommend that clubs speak to their local council about ways to reduce their environmental footprint. Also, there may be state and federal grants available for community club upgrades.  Lastly, community clubs reach so many people, and they can use their platform to educate their players, volunteers, officials, and families about climate change and encourage ecologically positive behaviours, such as carpooling, water and energy conservation, recycling, and elimination of waste.

Why should a club become a SEA member, what are the benefits for a club and how much does it cost?

SEA is an ever-growing family of elite and grassroots sports clubs, sporting organisations, schools and local governments who are committed to reducing their impacts on the environment. By joining SEA, your club will gain access to a wealth of knowledge and learnings from our vast network who are leading the sports sustainability movement. SEA has also developed a large range of member resources to give your club all it needs to succeed on its journey. As a SEA member, you receive access to all of our events including the annual #SEASummit, along with access to archived webinars, presentations and newsletters.  The membership fee is dependent on the size of your club – but as our mission is to grow the family of change makers so they can lend their voice to the planet, membership fees are very reasonable.  We would welcome all queries and would warmly welcome new members to the family.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

If your club or organisation is interested in supporting the #SEAChange or joining the SEA family, please contact me at community@sportsenvironmentalliance.org.

I hope this blog post gets people thinking about the impacts of climate change on every facet of our life, including sport, and I hope it encourages sports clubs to work on reducing their environmental impact. Please share it with the ports organisations you are connected with.

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