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Eating an elephant and our sustainability strategy

As we launch Every Move, our strategic lead for environmental sustainability tells us how we got here and why the strategy is so vital.

16th May 2024

by Denise Ludlam
Strategic lead for environmental sustainability, Sport England

As someone that has worked on the sustainability agenda since the 1990s but is new to the sports sector, I was heartened to learn from our sector consultation on environmental sustainability that 82% of the sector want to do more for the environment and climate change.

Understandably, it’s often difficult to know what to do to help as there seem to be so many different things to consider.

Should I fit solar panels? Do I recycle enough? Where’s the best place to plant a wildflower meadow? What meals should I cook to eat less meat?

These are just some of the questions which crop up when we start talking about becoming more sustainable.

Some actions are hard to do like switching to low-carbon travel, some are expensive such as installing solar panels and some just don’t sit right with some of us such as avoiding meat altogether.

I’d like to say that I have tackled all these things and live a sustainable life – but I haven’t!

A walker walks along a trail in the woods, away from the camera

Instead, I understand how hard it can be when faced with conflicting priorities and a ‘to-do’ list that is never complete.

It’s so easy to feel overwhelmed!

Desmond Tutu once said “there is only one way to eat an elephant: a bit at a time” and I think that doing our bit for the environment is like eating an elephant.

Because when faced with a complex problem in my life (whether at work or my personal life), I remind myself just to take a couple of bites.

These then turn into small changes that end up leading to bigger results.

Coming up with Every Move

This approach is not so different from the concept of ‘marginal gains’, developed by British Cycling, and that we use in Every Move – Sport England’s sustainability strategy that we launched today.

Every Move sets out what we’re going to do to ‘get our own house in order’ and how we plan to work with and support the sector to become more sustainable.

The strategy is ambitious - the list of things to tackle doesn’t feel so much like one elephant but more like a herd!

We want to ensure the switch to a more sustainable sports sector is a ‘fair transition’ – one that reduces inequalities while promoting inclusion and participation.

We want to support the sector to reduce emissions, particularly from transport and facilities.

We also aim to support the circular economy in sport developing schemes for sharing, reusing, repairing and recycling to ensure materials and products exist for as long as possible.

I understand how hard it can be when faced with conflicting priorities and a ‘to-do’ list that is never complete. It’s so easy to feel overwhelmed!

Looking after our natural environment is another key focus for us, reducing waste, microplastics and improving air-quality as well as increasing biodiversity.

The final important area is to build resilience to a climate that will continue to change so we can adapt our sports and activities to cope with changing conditions.

This all may look like a lot, but fortunately we are not alone.

There are already some great examples of working together.

Take the recently formed ‘Clean Water Alliance’ – a coalition of seven water-based sports organisations who want to tackle poor water quality in our natural world to achieve healthy and nature-rich blue spaces across the UK for everyone to enjoy.

This is only one example but across the country there are many clubs and organisations that are already nibbling away the big elephant of sustainability and if we all work together, we’ll make our way through the whole herd.

So how will we help?

We will continue to build the resources available to help clubs and organisations, recognising that many clubs are small and run by volunteers and few have someone dedicated to improving sustainability.

We’re pleased to be funding initiatives which benefit sustainability and activity and we’re working with other sectors to ensure joined up thinking, because while we may not be experts in wildlife and biodiversity, we know people who are!

We also know that across the country so many actions are already being taken and we want to share the wonderful things you do, big and small.

Still not sure what to do?

Don’t have a sustainability strategy? No worries.

We can all start taking action. We can all take small bites.

For instance, make sure the next thing you buy has some green credentials, because whether it’s made from recycled material or from a supplier that uses renewable energy, it all makes a difference.

Choose coconut fibre pan scrubs and a refillable washing up liquid in the kitchen – it’s a visible message to others to take action.

Make sure there are bike racks and electric vehicle charging points at your facilities, and if you’re planning bigger changes to your site then make them sustainable by following the ideas and suggestions on our website and on Buddle.

So, remember the elephant! Don’t try to eat it all at once.

Find out more about Every Move

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