How sustainable is Wimbledon 2019?

With the summer's biggest tennis event set to draw to a close on Sunday (14 July), edie explores whether the Wimbledon organisers have aced their sustainability efforts in the face of the 'Climate Emergency'.

How sustainable is Wimbledon 2019?

An average of 39

Over the past fortnight, more than 470,000 people have flocked to see big-name tennis players strut their stuff at England’s world-famous grand slam tournament. But for all the benefits the event has for the local and national economy, and in promoting the sport, it carries a sizeable environmental footprint.

The organisers of Wimbledon first enlisted the help of a consultancy to minimise the event’s environmental footprint in 2009 and last year undertook a further full review of its business practices across the areas of energy, transport waste and food and drink. To support the review, The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club signed up to the UN’s Sports for Climate Action Framework, which aims to accelerate progress towards the Paris Agreement’s trajectories and, ultimately, climate neutrality.

In light of these moves, this round-up explores exactly what actions the Club is taking to spur the transition towards a low-carbon, resource efficient economy through its flagship Championship and beyond. Is the ball really in its court, or has it wasted its shot?

Energy: Low-carbon transition, set and match?

2019 will be the first time that Wimbledon has run on 100% renewable electricity, after the Club signed a new supply contract with E.ON. This electricity is used not just to power the venue, but to charge the Club’s fleet of fully electric lawn mowers and visitor transport buggies.

However, the Club is yet to publish any information regarding low-carbon heating, cooling and cooking at the event.

Cooling is a particular concern for the environmental impact of Centre Court, which is fitted with nine chiller units designed for cooling air at scale. This network of chillers pumps eight litres of chilled air for every person attending into the bowl every second when the court’s roof is in use. Typically, this works out at 143,000 litres of air per second.

On cooking, Wimbledon serves up a huge amount of hot food and drink every year but does not disclose how much energy this process uses – or where it comes from. Last year’s tournament involved the cooking of 23,600 pizzas, 4,235 portions of pasta and 17,170 portions of fish and chips, as well as the brewing of 307,277 cups of tea and coffee.

Wimbledon does not publicly publish data regarding its Scope 2 (direct, energy-related) emissions. 

Transport: Acing decarbonisation?

With an average of 39,000 people travelling to Wimbledon each day of the Championship, transport is a key factor in the event’s carbon footprint.

The Club has invested in extensive behaviour change communications schemes in this space in recent years and, as a result, 80% of all visitor journeys this year are predicted to be undertaken using public transport. The body estimates that a significant proportion of the remainder of the journeys are taken either by walking or cycling and, to help boost this proportion further, has invested in bike parking facilities at its network of car parks.

For those that do travel by taxi, Wimbledon has this year implemented a “no idling” policy outside the grounds – a measure that also applies to the courtesy cars used to transport players and VIP guests. Moreover, it is now offering players and VIPs the chance to ride in one of 10 fully electric Jaguar i-Pace vehicles as part of a commercial partnership with the carmaker. However, it is yet to implement the “no idling” policy for the general public.

Wimbledon does not publicly publish data regarding its Scope 3 (indirect) emissions from transport.

Food and drink: Serving up sustainability?

Would Wimbledon even be Wimbledon without strawberries and cream? The majority of people that visit the event seem to think not, with more than 166,00 portions being sold last year. Other statistics that highlight the size of the tournament’s food footprint include the consumption of 21,917 bottles of champagne, 303,277 glasses of Pimm’s, 76,603 ice creams and 72,142 sandwiches in 2018.

Indeed, the Club believes that Wimbledon is the largest single annual catering operation in Europe. In order to minimise the negative environmental and social impact of this food, Wimbledon last year implemented a Food Charter for the first time. It has four key requirements for suppliers and caterers: that products are sourced responsibly and ethically; that long-term relationships should be forged and maintained; that seasonal ingredients are prioritised and that local produce is showcased. The specifics of each of these pillars, however, are not published.

On food waste, Wimbledon has partnered with food redistribution platform City Harvest, which sends all kinds of in-date food directly to charities and other community organisations across London. City Harvest’s network consists of 300 organisations, including soup kitchens, children’s programs, centres for the elderly and refuges for women experiencing domestic violence.

All kitchen waste that is not suitable for redistribution is sent for anaerobic digestion, where it is turned into compost for agricultural and horticultural companies. On the downside, this process has not yet been set up for post-consumer food waste.

Waste: Drawing a line under landfill?

In 2018, the Club achieved zero-waste-to-landfill status for the Championships for the first time, laying the foundations for it to increase the proportion of waste entering recycling bins in the first instance for 2019. The body’s main work in this area this year has been an investment into new, larger and more clearly branded recycling bins, aimed at minimising contamination by helping visitors to segregate their waste correctly. It has also introduced coffee cup recycling bins for the first time.

Another key focus for Wimbledon has been to minimise the number of non-recyclable or single-use catering products handed out. The Club banned plastic straws from the Championships in 2018, for example, and has installed more than 100 free tap water refill points across the grounds. For items that it doesn’t believe can be eliminated, The Club is working to source more recycled content. This year was the first that all water bottles used for players, drinking cups for visitors and plastic cutlery were made using 100% recycled content.

Away from dry recyclables, one of Wimbledon’s other most sizeable waste streams is tennis balls. More than 53,000 are used annually during the two-week duration of the grand slam. In order to divert the balls from landfill, Wimbledon sells them for £1 each (more for signed balls) and donates the proceeds to its own charitable Foundation. Any unsold balls are inspected and graded for quality before being donated to schools and community organisations.

Waste which is not able to be recycled, reused, anaerobically digested or donated is sent to an energy from waste facility, where it is incinerated to produce electricity for the National Grid. The facility is fitted with energy recovery technology to minimise energy waste.

As with the other categories, Wimbledon does not publicly publish its waste figures. 

Sarah George

Comments (1)

  1. Ian Byrne says:

    Almost any event that attracts large numbers of the public will have a larger carbon footprint than if those same members of the public stayed at home and watched it on TV. However, event managers can – and must – make sure that food & goods they sell have a lower impact than if all those TV-watchers consumed similar produce (so should ensure efficient cooking of pizzas and locally sourced strawberries as far as possible in SW19). Avoiding idling is a small step, but if it leads to behaviour change by taxi drivers elsewhere, may have a larger impact. In the end, there’s always a narrow line between genuinely trying to do the right thing and greenwash.
    It’s interesting that the article doesn’t mention BS ISO 20121 "sustainable events management" which might have helped Wimbledon out.

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie