Author: Rok Šinkovc | Read time: 9 min
As we visit the website of his company, the following words slowly start to appear: “It’s time to start talking about sport and … It’s time to start talking about sustainability and sport.” True, almost everyone is talking about sport, but there is a lot less conversation about sustainability. What about sustainable development in and around sport? Patrick Haslett, Managing Partner at Impact 3 Zero and a former professional rugby player, is undoubtedly an expert when it comes to bringing the two together.
It must take quite a bit of courage to open an agency in Ireland whose primary activity is sustainability in sports, which is what Patrick Haslett and his business partner did a year ago when they founded their niche company Impact 3 Zero. According to Haslett, they have never regretted their decision as it has allowed them to tackle numerous professional challenges while increasing awareness of the importance of sustainability in sports and of the challenges for sports events organisers, rights holders, sponsors as well as athletes themselves. They have several successful activations behind them, and as for the future, only the sky is the limit.
SPORTO: The tagline of your niche agency is “It’s time to start talking about sustainability and sport”. Where do we begin?
PATRICK HASLETT: The conversation has begun and is gathering momentum. Across the globe, pioneers in the space are inspiring clubs, federations and governing bodies to support climate action and other key sustainable development objectives. Key sources, including BASIS, Sport Positive, Green Sports Blog, UN’s Sports for Climate Action and many others, give a glimpse of the breadth and scope of this work. Impact 3 Zero is trying to kickstart the conversation in Ireland – a sports mad country – and develop this into a wider European context. It’s a hugely positive space.
How determined have been sports rights holders in the recent years when it comes to sustainability? Is there enough education and awareness among them?
Over the past two years, rightsholders could be forgiven for focusing their attention on the battle against Covid-19. Lockdowns have impacted schedules and live attendance, and many have endured considerable financial and organisational challenges. But rights holders now, particularly in the aftermath of the Glasgow Climate Change Conference COP26, held in November of last year, are becoming increasingly aware of the necessity to create a sustainable future – one that supports the needs of future generations. The first step is, of course, to understand the meaning of sustainability and how it can be pursued. Effective climate action is critical, but this is just part of the wider social and community ‘big picture’.
Rights holders now, particularly in the aftermath of the Glasgow Climate Change Conference COP26, are becoming increasingly aware of the necessity to create a sustainable future.
Internal buy-in and cooperation with different stakeholders could be key. How can established sports organisations connect more deeply with their fans and partners to promote sustainability?
That is a big question. Taking this back to the ‘big picture’’ perspective, established (and less so) sports organisations can map their sustainability strategy to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals 2030 (SDGs). These 17 SDGs were adopted by all UN Member States in 2015 and provide a shared blueprint for peace, health and prosperity for people and the planet. Both now and into the future. If you’re not aware of them, take a look. The goals cover a range of critical objectives, such as pursuing gender equality, improving education and fighting the climate crisis. Through positioning itself as a catalyst and platform for positive change, sport can align itself with the aims, values and activities of all who share this goal. The opportunities are vast – better supported communities, stronger partnerships and increased fan loyalty to name but a few – and are only limited by our imagination.
Through positioning itself as a catalyst and platform for positive change, sport can align itself with the aims, values and activities of all who share this goal.
Sports are by their nature more or less environmentally friendly. Is that why some of them are more limited in their environmental efforts?
Yes, of course. While some sports are played almost exclusively indoors, many depend on the natural environment for their ‘playing field’. This relationship demands healthy respect. Sports that enjoy the biggest connection with the environment – like water and winter sports – are among the most active and vociferous around their environmental responsibilities. The negative impacts of the climate crisis, and the ability of future generations to enjoy those sports, have led to greater awareness of, and appreciation for, what actions need to be taken. The marine environment is affected not only by global warming (ocean acidification) but also the global plastics crisis. World Sailing is playing a leading role in addressing both issues through its sustainability strategy. Similarly, winter sports face an existential challenge, given the impact of the climate crisis. The FIS is also focused on leading change for its member federations and participants. Committing to the UN Sport for Climate Action’s ‘Race to Zero’ targets, the FIS is pursuing definitive goals and actions as a matter of urgency.
Six months ago, Sky Sports partnered with London clubs Tottenham and Chelsea to help organise ‘Game Zero’, the world’s first elite net zero carbon football match. What is your perspective of this collaboration between the big players, the leading media platform and Premier League clubs?
Like many, I thought ‘Game Zero’ was a well-timed initiative – bringing Spurs and Chelsea fans in the climate crisis conversation and extending this to the wider Sky Sports’ viewership. Premier League clubs are already driving sustainable environmental activity with considerable impact. The ‘Sport Positive League’ reviews all 20 clubs across a range of criteria, with Spurs and Liverpool claiming joint first place in this year’s results. But sport’s superpower, and football’s especially, is its ability to inspire fans around climate friendly actions and behaviours. In this way, highlighting Game Zero’s environmentally positive actions was a valuable start in amplifying the messages. For example, on matchday, everything at Tottenham Hotspur was powered by 100% renewable energy, fans were asked to walk or use electric transport (36,000 and 225,000 miles estimated), stadium food was sustainably sourced (94% more vegetarian and plant-based meals sold), biodiesel powered coaches helped lower team travel emissions by over 80%, and Sky made a 70% reduction in emissions from its production crew for the match. I hope it’s the first of many such football matches and replicated across other sports and countries.
Impact 3 Zero is also active in horse racing in Ireland. How would you describe sustainability challenges in niche sports?
I must point out that horse racing in Ireland is anything but ‘niche’ as the industry is worth €2 billion per year to the Ireland’s economy. Each sport will naturally present differing challenges, depending on its field of play, demographics, location, culture, etc. That said, the essential challenge of pursuing true sustainability – social progress, economic activity and environmental responsibility – is consistent. While the application of the key principles may differ in scope or substance, the challenge for all sports remains the same. Positive social and community benefits should be maximised, while the environmental impact should be kept at a minimum. It’s a simple but effective analogy. The key point for all sports – big and small – is just to make a start. The greatest journeys all start with the first step. That could mean something as simple as each sport opening its doors to its community. Engaging local schools. Thinking how the sport can produce less waste. Changing to renewable energy. Using electric vehicles. Committing to employ local people and support local business. Supporting biodiversity. And so on. Once people start thinking in this way, they will see and shape transformative innovations.
How can we distinguish true sustainability in sport from ‘greenwashing’, which is now becoming more common?
Sports organisations that choose to act sustainably, particularly in tandem with accepted science, should feel they can communicate their journey with honesty and integrity. No one expects perfection from the start. Be wary, though, of overstating achievements – increased public awareness heightens the risk of ‘greenwashing’ claims. In Ireland, the emergence of the inaugural ‘Greenwashing Awards’, a collection of parody awards announced online in February 2022, serves as a warning. This is especially so for those fossil fuel-based brands involved with sport (e.g., major vehicle and fuel retailers in Ireland were highlighted in the above, A/N). If these companies promote anything other than genuine sustainable activity and strategy, there is a good chance this will be called out.
Sports organisations that choose to act sustainably, particularly in tandem with accepted science, should feel they can communicate their journey with honesty and integrity. No one expects perfection from the start.
How do you see the role of highest-level competitions, such as the Olympic Games or the leading world championships?
We absolutely do need sustainability criteria to sit at the heart of all organisational and event planning. That is the ideal scenario. So, it’s heartening to see the likes of Germany’s Bundesliga embed mandatory sustainability criteria for the licensing of its top 36 clubs. The world’s biggest events, like the Olympics and FIFA World Cup, have been criticised for the negative environmental impact of their showpiece events. As Beijing 2022 has shown, at times the outcome doesn’t appear to support the ‘legacy’ narrative. Definitive targets are now being pursued (e.g., hosts of the Olympic Games after 2030 must ensure ‘climate positivity’), but data and outcomes will be scrutinised to greater degree. The rules of the game are changing.
The interview was first published in the SPORTO Magazine No. 16 (March 2022).