Last year, we examined Glastonbury Festival’s positive practices to highlight the organiser’s efforts to throw a sustainable event. Now, from the grassy fields of Pilton to the grass courts at Wimbledon, let’s take a look at how well another British institution, The Championships, Wimbledon, performs in the same endeavour.
To begin with, some history. The origins of The Championships, Wimbledon (commonly known simply as “Wimbledon”), date back to 1877, well before the true risks of climate change were understood. Created by The England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC), the first competition began in a then outer suburb of London. Twenty-one amateurs showed up to compete in the Gentlemen’s Singles tournament, the only event available at the time. Each contestant paid an entrance fee of one pound, one shilling, with the winner set to take home a 25-guinea trophy.
Since its inception, Wimbledon has grown to be one of the largest sporting events in the world, with over 500,000 people expected to attend across the two weeks of competition. This level of growth has come with a considerable increase in the event’s carbon footprint.
Since 2009, the AELTC has been focusing more on its environmental impact and enlisted the help of sustainability consultants to measure and reduce it. In 2018, they signed up for the UN’s Sports for Climate Action Framework, the same year it was launched at COP24.
In February 2020, the Club announced its goal to reach net zero by 2030 for both Wimbledon and the wider business, alongside other goals to achieve zero-waste status and achieve a biodiversity net gain.
“We believe that the AELTC and The Championships have a meaningful role to play in helping to protect the environment, today and for the future,” commented AELTC Chief Executive Sally Bolton OBE.
“Changes to our climate are accelerating, and we have a responsibility to play our part, mitigating our own impacts, ensuring we have a climate resilient estate for the future and using our influence to support this important cause.”
Along with this announcement came a set of commitments to lead the organization through to 2030. But, are the AELTC’s ambitions and approach worthy of a grand slam, or might they have dropped the ball?
Let’s begin with energy. Electricity for the tournament is supplied by zero-carbon renewable electricity from external suppliers, along with generated electricity from on-site solar panels.
To reduce usage, the organisers have also implemented a range of measures, including replacing conventional lighting with higher-efficiency LED versions around the estate, using electric lawnmowers and horticulture equipment, and temporarily closing off unused areas of the estate.
The AELTC plan to generate even more renewable electricity on-site, replace generators with renewable-powered alternatives, and maximise the energy efficiency of buildings, equipment, and appliances.
But, while electricity procurement and usage are a step in the right direction, Wimbledon still utilises a large amount of natural gas to heat buildings, produce hot water, and cook. The organisers have stated they’re looking for ways to “reduce dependence on gas”, either through general efficiency gains or by using alternate methods entirely.
Energy pledges made in 2023:
- Continue to buy renewable electricity and build decarbonisation plans into its longer-term estate development projects
- Balance emissions associated with AELTC staff, players and official flights by contributing to carbon compensation schemes validated to ICROA-approved standard
- Remove the need for generators by connecting a renewable electricity supply to power Championship facilities in Wimbledon Park
- Introduce new processes for building temporary Championship structures, with off-site construction and flat-pack transportation leading to reduced deliveries, lower mileage and emissions
Over the course of two weeks, 500,000 guests are expected to attend the event. This number doesn’t consider staff or players also commuting to the tournament, of which there are over 2,500 staff members and 128 players.
An estimate from the Eco Experts stated that 91.3% (33,461 tonnes of CO2e) of the total tournament’s emissions came from the transportation of fans, players, officials, media, and staff to the site. To put this into context, the UK’s emissions were around 7 tCO2e per person, per year in 2019.
Approximately 60% of these travel emissions come from air travel alone, which accounted for 20,122 tonnes. It seems unfair to overly criticise the organisers on this aspect. An event of this scale with an international player base and audience will inevitably rack up a large footprint due to travel.
Nevertheless, for the first time, the AELTC has purchased carbon offsets to cover the entire footprint of player and staff transport and claims it will continue to do so in future.
In order to help combat their direct on-site transportation emissions, organisers operate 20 fully electric Jaguar iPace vehicles for official transport. It aims to have a fully electric fleet by 2030. This year, they will be using electric buggies to transport guests during the Championships and year-round are using electric maintenance buggies.
Wimbledon is the largest single annual sporting catering operation carried out in Europe. For perspective, some fascinating food & drink related facts & figures from 2019 include:
- 18,061 servings of fish and chips
- 276,291 glasses of Pimm’s
- 64,703 ice cream portions/sticks
- 191,930 portions of strawberries
- 234,416 meals served throughout
This aspect of the event’s carbon footprint has countless opportunities to implement sustainable practices. Especially since these are more visible to consumers.
With this in mind, the organisers of the 2021 tournament reduced single-use plastic waste by providing reusable cups for cold drinks. In 2022, they’ve doubled down on this by doing the same for hot drinks. A £1 deposit is now required for attendees’ first drink purchase and will be refunded when cups are returned. Additionally, they have increased the number of water refill points available around the grounds in public and private areas, encouraging customers to use their own reusable bottles.
However, one point of contention is the use of single-use plastic water bottles from Evian, the official supplier of water since 2008. City to Sea, an environmental organization on a mission to stop plastic pollution, estimates that Evian produces over six million bottles a day. This means that during Wimbledon’s 2-week run, evian will produce 84 million bottles that will end up as waste (this number isn’t directly related to Wimbledon’s use alone).
However, for transparency (excuse the pun) while Evian bottles are “single-use”, the bottles (except for the cap and label) are made from PET (polyethene terephthalate), which is 100% recyclable if disposed of correctly. Of course, it’s still better to use refillable/reusable bottles.
To combat waste and encourage recycling at the 2022 event, evian has introduced a recycling reward scheme within the grounds and around Wimbledon town centre with Reward4Waste.
As part of the scheme, unique QR codes can be found on recycling bins across the grounds and in the Wimbledon town centre. By scanning the QR code and then their Evian packaging, attendees will be entered into a draw, giving them the chance to win two finals tickets to Wimbledon in 2023.
Another important, but less visible, aspect is how the organisers source the food and drink for the tournament. According to Wimbledon’s food charter, to reduce overall emissions, no ingredients arrived at The Championships by airfreight, instead relying on national providers.
Lastly, strawberries, so synonymous with Wimbledon (and responsible for 191,930 servings in 2019), are being served in environmentally friendly cardboard-based trays for the first time, in line with efforts to remove all single-use plastic from the grounds.
With so much food and drink consumed during the tournament, another opportunity for sustainable implementation is how the organisers deal with waste.
The AELTC claim that none of the day-to-day business or championship waste goes to landfill. Instead, recyclable materials are separated from non-recyclable waste and the remaining waste is incinerated to generate electricity for the national grid.
The organisers plan to continue increasing the amount of catering consumables (such as packaging or containers) which can be recycled. This will result in a greater proportion of recycled waste compared to incinerated waste.
Food waste, on the other hand, is collected to produce high-quality fertiliser for agricultural and horticulture purposes.
Since 2019, Wimbledon has hired ‘Eco Champions’ to support its recycling efforts. The stewards are positioned near recycling bins and encourage visitors to properly dispose of their waste.
Waste efficiency pledges in 2023:
- Further promote reuse culture by introducing a reusable, refillable bottle for use by players during the Championships
- Increase recycling of catering consumables
- Build in sustainable design requirements to estate development projects for example encouraging the use of recycled and recyclable materials for construction as well as design for disassembly
- Collect racket strings for recycling
An area often forgotten about when discussing environmental sustainability is biodiversity gains, which increase the abundance and diversity of plant and animal species appropriate to local ecology.
The AELTC is also taking proactive steps in this area by introducing a living wall on No.1 Court that includes flowering plant species to encourage pollinators. They intend to increase the number of living walls and roofs around the estate and to enhance local biodiversity by regenerating the estate. They will achieve this by committing to delivering a 10% biodiversity net gain by 2030.
Biodiversity pledges in 2023:
- Conduct a baseline survey of its site ecology
- Set a target for an appropriate enhancement of local biodiversity
- Widen trials of peat-free compost to enable Wimbledon to go peat-free in future
- Increase plants in indoor spaces as well as outdoor
Inspiring wider action
Alongside those enjoying the competition in person, many more people tune in to watch remotely. In 2021, the BBC’s coverage of Wimbledon attracted a cumulative average audience of 15.5 million across 43.5 hours of coverage, that’s just one broadcaster.
That’s a considerable influence that Wimbledon has to amplify the benefits of its sustainable approach and encourage and support wider action beyond their reach.
For the 2022 tournament, the organisers introduced “Environment Positive Every Day” which encourages visitors to be “environment positive champions”. They hope to share guidance about environment-positive actions everyone can take by communicating online and around the grounds.
To encourage participation, everyone who posts about their environment’s positive actions on social media with the #GreenAtWimbledon tag will be entered into a draw to win an outfit and gift bag from the Wimbledon Shop.
Looking to the future, the AELTC plans to introduce the importance of the environment, climate change and sustainability into their learning programmes delivered to UK and international schoolchildren by the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum and Wimbledon Foundation.
They also plan to help guests understand their own carbon footprint in relation to their visit to Wimbledon through digital platforms, hoping to raise awareness for alternate methods of transport. While continuing to “explore opportunities” with media and commercial partners for how to best provide education for a sustainable future.
Helping to bring the risks of climate change into clearer and relatable focus, the AELTC worked with the MetOffice to put together a predictive weather forecast of what visitors may expect at Wimbledon’s 2059 tournament.
The organisers will also continue working with UN Sport for Climate Action Framework on further delivering on its five principles:
- Undertake systematic efforts to promote greater environmental responsibility
- Reduce overall climate impact
- Educate for climate action
- Promote sustainable and responsible consumption
- Advocate for climate action through communication
Wider action pledges in 2023:
- Collaborate with its partners and stakeholders on a variety of initiatives
- Participating in and supporting local community environmental initiatives through The Wimbledon Foundation and its community programme
- Continue the guest-facing theme ‘Environment Positive Every Day’ encouraging everyone to take action to build a community of Environment Positive Champions
- Holding a panel discussion during The Championships to discuss the role of sport in championing climate action
It is fair to say that the AELTC is making efforts to implement sustainable practices around the Championship, with plans to grow and develop these in the future.
It is, however, unfortunate that they have so little control over the overall footprint when it comes to visitor travel. Given the challenges of hosting a global event in a specific location, other than encouraging more streaming or other much slower methods of travel, there’s little they can do to alleviate the issues.
The good news is that there are steps being made into more efficient air travel, with Boeing testing out new technologies on its ecoDemonstrator program and the UK Government set to deliver the world’s first net-zero transatlantic flight.
The AELTC has made progress in tackling emissions from their power generation, supply chain, waste management, and biodiversity, but there’s still room for improvement.
Whilst it’s not quite game, set, and match, Wimbledon definitely seems to have its eye on the ball.
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