How sustainable is Wimbledon 2022?
We’re now halfway through this summer’s biggest tennis event. Here, edie explores whether Wimbledon’s organisers have aced their environmental sustainability efforts for 2022.
The past five days have seen some of the world’s best tennis on display in Wimbledon. The likes of Emma Raducanu, Andy Murray and Gabrine Muguruza have been knocked out, while Brits Heather Watson and Cameron Norrie are progressing with big names like Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Iga Swiatek.
With up to 500,000 people set to attend Wimbledon 2022, the event will doubtless have a sizeable environmental footprint.
The organisers of Wimbledon – the All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club (AELTC) – first enlisted the help of sustainability consultants to measure and reduce the environmental footprint of the event back in 2009. In 2018, a further review of business practices across the themes of energy, transport, waste and food and drink was conducted, as the AELTC signed up to the UN’s Sports for Climate Action Framework.
This review informed a sweeping set of environmental commitments through to 2030, unveiled in February 2020. Pledges included net-zero emissions from operations, zero-waste status and achieving biodiversity net-gain. Wimbledon didn’t go ahead in 2020, making the 2021 Championships the first since the commitments were made, and 2022 the second.
Visitors to the Championships this year will have noticed several new features designed to ‘green’ the tournament, including the introduction of reusable cups for hot drinks, living walls and a bug hotel. Indeed, the overarching theme for the Championships this year is “Environment Positive, Every Day”.
But is the AELTC serving up a truly ambitious and impactful sustainability approach in the main, or have they made one too many double faults?
All images: Wimbledon/AELTC
Wimbledon has used 100% renewable electricity since 2019, with the AELTC procuring electricity for the venue and its vehicle charging needs using a tariff-based supply contract. For 2022, rooftop solar has been added for the first time, complementing this procurement.
It does, however, still use natural gas – although emissions relating to gas use by the AELTC were 18% lower in 2020-21 than two years prior, according to its emissions report. Gas will be phased out by 2030.
Energy efficiency is a big focus for the organisers. New for 2022 are digital systems that monitor and control energy consumption across the AELTC’s estate. These will build on previous work to “mothball” parts of the estate to minimise wasted energy and to install LED lighting.
In 2022, the AELTC will add new decarbonisation plans to its estate development schedule.
All major sporting events will see a significant proportion of their emissions accounted for by players, staff and fans travelling to and from matches.
The AELTC reports that flights taken to and from Wimbledon generated 1,595 tonnes of CO2e in 2020-21, representing 21% of its total emissions. Road fuel used for official Championship transportation generated a further 166 tonnes of CO2e. Emissions levels for fan travel have not yet been disclosed.
On flights, the AELTC has, for the first time, purchased carbon offsets to cover the entire footprint. It has stated that it will continue to do so in future and has not set out measures to reduce flights.
Regarding road transport, Wimbledon operated 10 fully-electric Jaguar iPace vehicles for official transport in 2021 and has expended this fleet for 2022. It is targeting a fully electric fleet by 2030.
On fan transport and transport around the grounds, petrol buggies have been phased out for 2022 and replaced with electric alternatives. Fans are being encouraged to walk, cycle or use public transport where possible. Pre-pandemic, some 80% of staff and fan journeys were made using public or active transport, and the AELTC is hoping to post similar success for 2022.
Food and drink
Wimbledon is the largest single annual sporting catering operation in Europe. This makes food, drink and packaging a key sustainability focus, especially given that changes here are perhaps the most visible to fans.
Food is now served in plastic-free, fibre-based containers which Wimbledon is working to make recyclable. In line with UK law, plastic straws and drinks stirrers are not on offer.
Wimbledon switched to reusable cups for all cold drinks in 2021 and made the same move for hot drinks in 2022. A £1 deposit is applied to attendees’ first drink purchase and returned when cups are replaced. Cups state: “I live at Wimbledon”. The AELTC is also encouraging people to bring reusable water bottles for refilling, accepting all clear bottles and all opaque bottles under 500ml and adding new maps to water refill points.
Nonetheless, some environmental groups are pressing the AELTC to go one step further, ending the sale of plastic water bottles and the use of single-use bottles by players and staff. Danone-owned evian has been the event’s official supplier of water for several years and City to Sea has pointed out that, in one fortnight, evian reportedly produces six million plastic water bottles. Friends of the Earth has taken a similar line of argument.
It bears noting that evian is running a deposit-return scheme for its plastic bottles at the grounds to discourage littering and landfill. Attendees will be able to scan a QR code on any recycling bin at the grounds, and then the bottle or can, to prove they have returned the packaging for recycling. Everyone who scans will be entered into a draw to win a pair of tickets to the Wimbledon 2023 finals. Data collected at Wimbledon will help evian design similar schemes for future large events.
On food and drink sourcing, which is perhaps less obvious to attendees, menus have been designed to feature as many British ingredients and products as possible, in a bid to reduce transport-related emissions and to showcase the work of local SMEs. There are now plant-based options on all menus, as well as low-carbon options which are labelled as such. The AELTC does not disclose food-related emissions.
Almost 192,000 portions of strawberries are sold at each tournament – an iconic and vegan-friendly treat. A more innovative move taken by Wimbledon on procurement is that it has worked with Vodafone to improve sustainability in its strawberry supply chain. Vodafone installed Internet of Things (IoT) sensors at Hugh Lowe Farms to provide farmers with information about soil and crop health, efficient water use and avoiding the over-use of fertiliser and pesticides. It also added a tracker to each load of strawberries bound for Wimbledon, providing feedback on temperature and vibrations, to help reduce waste.
All food waste generated at The Championships are collected for anaerobic digestion to produce fertiliser.
The AELTC introduced its first living wall in 2019, on the No.1 Court. It incorporated flowering plant species alongside grasses, in a bid to attract pollinators, serving as a sister project to a wildflower bank behind the player practice courts. With biodiversity having risen rapidly up the sustainability agenda over the past few years, Wimbledon is now going further and developing an overarching strategy.
A baseline survey of site ecology is being conducted this year and will inform an “appropriate” target to enhance local biodiversity and the creation of a woodland scheme. The target should ultimately result in “regeneration” for the estate.
In the absence of this target, the AELTC is already pressing ahead with projects that should improve nature locally. These include adding more living walls and roofs, phasing out peat-based compost and planting oak and other trees.
The AELTC is also supporting the 23-acre Wimbledon Park Project, which will see 1,500 new trees planted and Wimbledon Park Lake restored as well as the creation of 39 new grass tennis courts, on what is currently a golf course. It is targeting a 10% biodiversity net-gain there, but some residents are sceptical about whether the project will cause more harm than good to local environmental and social sustainability. If the project runs to time, the project could be completed by 2030.
Wimbledon does not publicly publish its waste and recycling figures but the AELTC claims that achieved zero-waste-to-landfill status for the Championships and wider operations in 2018, and has maintained this ever since. Recyclables and food waste are separated from general waste, and general waste is sent to be burned and generate energy from waste.
This article has already covered waste from food, drinks and packaging. Other initiatives in place during The Championships include turning garden waste into mulch; a return and reuse scheme for staff uniforms; the use of refurbished furniture; the collection of used racket strings to make plastic ticket desks and the sale of used balls to generate proceeds for charity.
Aside from the waste generated during the Championships, one of the AELTC’s big challenges is tackling waste from building construction, upgrades and demolition. The organisation has, for the first time, erected a building this year that is designed for disassembly and can be reassembled elsewhere or have its components recycled.
More broadly, Wimbledon has a 95% diversion rate from landfill for construction and demolition. Organisers are exploring the procurement of building materials including timber and recycled materials and these commitments will be formalised in a new set of design requirements for developers by 2023.
It has often been said that, no matter how big the environmental impact of a sporting event is, a far greater impact can be generated by changing the attitudes and behaviours of key stakeholder groups.
The ‘Environment Positive, Every Day’ theme was added for 2022, in a bid to help visitors understand how to minimise the impact of their visit and to become ‘Champions’ for sustainability in their daily lives. Communications are posted online and across the grounds. To incentivise participation in the theme, everyone who posts on social media with the #GreenAtWimbledon tag enters a draw to win an outfit and gift bag.
The AELTC hosted a panel discussion event on environmental issues (pictured) on Thursday (30 June), including government representatives, sportspeople and environmental professionals. Also in attendance were representatives from charities, businesses, climate science and the Duke of Cambridge’s Earthshot Prize.
The theme and event feed into the AELTC’s position as a signatory to the UN Sport for Climate Action Framework. This initiative provides sports organisations with a forum for sharing learnings, developing new tools and collaborating on shared issues such as engaging fans.
The AELTC has also worked with the Met Office to showcase how rising global temperatures and poor international and national adaptation efforts could impact how the Championships are run. Its website shows a weather broadcast for July 2059, detailing high temperatures of 40C. The broadcast explains how attendees will need to take extra precautions to avoid dehydration and how players would need longer breaks during play.
So, do you think Wimbledon is leading on sustainability, or did it fail to make it past the qualifiers? Let us know your opinion in the comments.