We’re increasingly aware of the impact humans are having on the natural world: climate change, extreme and unpredictable weather, and the pervasive spread of plastic waste in our water and green spaces being just a part of this. As a fan of outdoor swimming, I can attest to the abundance of plastic shopping bags and other waste in our lakes, rivers and oceans. Sport and recreation doesn’t escape this impact, as evidenced most recently by the Climate Coalition’s report, Game Changer: How climate change is affecting sports in the UK.
So what about the business incentive for sustainability?
This was a theme that ran throughout the BASIS conference. Examples from across sectors, from the BBC to Forest Green Rovers to World Sailing, reiterated the holistic benefits of practicing sustainability. Because in the long run, sustainable business is efficient business.
When we frame decisions within a consideration of their environmental impact, such as switching off the lights or recycling our waste, it’s easy to feel like our individual contribution is so small as to be pointless. But from a business perspective, particularly with our sector’s funding climate, the direct impact of these decisions is much greater.
How much can you save by seeking energy efficiencies, like using energy efficient lighting and turning off equipment that isn’t being used? What about the impact of printing less, saving paper and reducing your printing costs. And what about the time and money saved by ditching trains and hotels in favour of using technology to hold meetings remotely? British sport has put a lot of focus on marginal gains in the performance realm, and this is another area where the same approach could pay dividends.
At the BASIS conference we spoke about some of the environmental goals of sustainability; keeping warming to less than 2º below pre-industrial levels and becoming carbon neutral within this generation. And we also returned repeatedly to the business case for sustainable practice. Niclas Svenningsen from the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change highlighted the role of sport in delivering the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals; and Lord Deben, Chairman of the UK's independent Committee on Climate Change, pointed out that even in the unlikely event that the experts turn out to be wrong about climate change, we have little to lose from improving our ways of working.
This need not go to extremes — you can’t work in the dark, you can’t avoid printing completely, and there are still times when it’s beneficial to meet face to face. But in the long run, taking the sustainable approach to running your organisation has the potential to have a huge impact. Building sustainable thinking into your planning can contribute to more robust and efficient delivery of your goals and reduce wasted resource. The “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” mantra doesn’t just have environmental benefits.