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Several members of the Ecosphere+ team attended the Sustainability Innovation in Sport Conference run by Climate Action Programme in February 2017 to speak with people about sustainability and sport. Ecosphere+ is working on innovative ways of integrating forest carbon assets into a wider sustainability approach for sports organisations and how they are a tangible way to connect fans. This blog was originally written for the Climate Action website.

Sport may be one of the greatest unifiers of people on this planet. Maybe you play a sport (or multiple sports) yourself, maybe you are a recreational adventurer, maybe you spend a lot of time on the sideline supporting a family member, or maybe your involvement ends at being a sofa-supporter. But it’s hard to imagine a person alive who hasn’t lived through the highs and lows of being emotionally invested in some sort of sport.

Sport’s external presence is naturally built on engagement with people, and especially with fans. Millions of people look up to sportspeople as role models for their accomplishments, their example, and their leadership. And so sport has an unparalleled potential to inspire, engage, and educate.

The population of this planet is growing, and sport participation and involvement will grow along with it. We are in a race to transition our economies to be more sustainable and less carbon intensive, and success will require participation across the board. This represents risks and opportunities for sports.

Our love of sport can have negative impacts on the world around us. Beyond any local environmental issues which may arise from stadiums including their footprint, energy use, food supply-chains and waste management, events have large carbon footprints that need mitigating, but even more than that, air travel and fan transport cause a massive amount of unavoidable emissions. The energy transition will take years; our climate does not have years to wait; and in our ever-connected world, global travel to show support for our favourite teams is only going to increase. Unless something radical changes and we all start virtually attending sporting events (a sad day for sports!), then the sports industry will continue to have a significant climate impact no matter how efficient we strive to make it.

Here is an opportunity for sports to leave not just a legacy of physical achievement, but a societal one too. Many sports organisations and representatives already work to motivate people and improve their daily lives. But we know sports can also do this for the planet. Through a responsible sustainability and climate strategy sports organisations, teams and personalities can be a force for good and have a positive impact that far outweighs any negative environmental footprint.  This opportunity is virtually unparelled in any other industry.

A successful climate strategy for the sports industry should ideally involve addressing both event and transport emissions, and within this, reducing direct emissions where possible and mitigating unavoidable ones. Today, there are several examples of sports events and organisations taking action on their direct emissions: many stadiums are switching to renewable energy, or have introduced innovative waste minimisation and recycling schemes and sustainable menus. The recent Olympic Games and the 2016 Euro in France have all invested in carbon offsets, with some going completely carbon-neutral, and the NHL is offsetting its operational emissions, including from arena power and team travel. But with sport the driving force bringing people to their feet, to the streets, and to these events, we believe it also has a responsibility to inspire them to stand up and take accountability for the impacts associated with their own participation.

And what if you could do this by protecting threatened forests, through supporting projects that transform livelihoods and preserve ecosystems in stunning and exotic locations around the world?

Quite a legacy to leave for the future.

Forests are the world’s most valuable climate asset, photosynthesis the cheapest and most readily available climate ‘technology’. Yet forests are being destroyed every day at a terrifying rate.

At Ecosphere+, our focus is on reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the land-use sector through halting deforestation and the degradation of forests. We know this is critical to meeting the Paris climate targets; alongside the transition to lower-carbon energy, it offers the most cost-effective near-term solution to the climate crisis. We also believe that harnessing the power of nature offers a great opportunity to engage and educate the public, especially sports fans, many of whom have a passion for the great outdoors. We work with sports teams, organisations, and associations to find natural solutions to their climate impacts, help them market to, engage, and educate fans and players on climate change, and connect them to our incredible projects around the world.

Those who are committed to taking responsibility for their climate impact have the power to change the game by investing in forest carbon assets to offset their unavoidable emissions as part of an integrated sustainability and climate change strategy. With growing public focus on climate change and carbon emissions, and especially those of air travel, creating a mechanism to empower fans and players to take climate action is an amazing opportunity for sports to secure the future and have an outsized positive impact.