With Rugby World Cup action, the returning Champion’s League and the heroics of the England cricket team all splashed across TV screens; sports fans are in for a treat this autumn. But the smorgasbord of sport comes at a price for the planet, with hordes of oval ball fanatics making the 11,781 mile journey to New Zealand by air, while closer to home, footie fans have been racking up the air miles with trips to Germany to watch Arsenal take on Borussia Dortmund and Chelsea’s demolition of Bayer Leverkusen. A return trip from London to New Zealand results in around 7.6 tonnes of carbon dioxide, which roughly equates to the per capita emissions of a Swedish citizen for an entire year. Even when travelling within the UK, an over-reliance on cars to get from park to pitch is making the already problematic levels of air pollution worse. And with everything from transport to power and half-time pies included, the average Premier League football match racks up an estimated 820 tonnes of carbon.
If, as an armchair fan, that’s left you feeling smug, then you too need to have a little rethink. Just one hour spent glued to the box produces a whopping 54kg of CO2, while that steak you ate from a tray on your knees? That just upped your carbon footprint by 7.5kg and that’s before we get to the processed snacks, the pints of beer and the polyester Manchester City strip you’ve donned. If this litany of eco-misery feels like a bit of a mood killer, well, it's supposed to be. Happily though, it doesn’t have to stay that way, as with a few tweaks, watching the sport you love can become a more planet-friendly pastime. Whether you’re getting up early for England’s World Cup clash with Georgia, or gearing up for Arsenal’s match with Blackburn Rovers; here’s how to enjoy it while keeping it green.
If you’re cheering on your team at a home game
Travel to and from games is the biggest polluter as far as individual fans are concerned, so the easiest way to reduce your carbon footprint is to take the train or bus to and from games. If you’re a Londoner, there’s absolutely no excuse for taking the car, as nearly all the major grounds are within walking distance of a tube stop. Away from the capital, buses and trains run close to most of the bigger stadiums, so using public transport is entirely possible. Country dwellers with limited access to trains and buses should consider pooling resources with fellow fans and car-sharing to games. If you own an electric car, you can take advantage of Ecotricity’s new network of electric car charging points, powered by the company’s 54 windmills and solar farms, which stretches from London to Birmingham and Bristol, along the M4 and M42. Welcome Break service stations on the M25, M1, M40 and M5 also have electric car charging points operated by Ecotricity.
While sartorial matters rarely play a large part in the thinking of the average fan, they deserve to be considered – not least because most shirts, shorts and scarves are made from polyester; an oil by-product. If you’re a supporter of Arsenal, Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester United, Juventus, Athletico Madrid, Barcelona, Inter Milan or Celtic – congratulations. Your team strip is part of Nike’s Considered Design range (www.nike.com), which means it’s made from recycled plastic bottles. Don’t trade it in too soon though – over 30kg of waste clothing per person ends up in landfill every year, while plastic of any sort takes around 500 years to break down, so try and resist the allure of the new away kit. Fans of other football clubs have no such luck, so try and limit your sartorial support to team scarves. While most of what you’ll find in the team shop will be made of the same old polyester as the rest of the kit, if you head to cashmere specialists, Savile Rogue (www.savile-rogue.com), you’ll find British-made, traditionally produced wool scarves in the colours of just about every team imaginable. Not only are they super-soft and long wearing, they’re also far better for the planet than the alternative. Rugby fans will have more trouble finding branded kit that’s green enough to pass muster, but if you’re not too bothered about the logo, try Maine New England, which stocks rugby shirts in a variety of colours all made in Fairtrade workshops. Better still, they’re ultra-affordable, with prices starting at around £35 and are available from Debenhams (www.debenhams.com).
If you’re travelling to an away game
According to travel website, Seat 61 (www.seat61.com), it takes between 32 and 40 days to reach New Zealand by train or boat, so unless you’re a super-organised sort of person, it’s unlikely that you’ll make it any other way than by air. Unfortunately, this means an enormous amount of carbon, and while you can attempt to offset it with one of the more reputable schemes such as the one run by NGO, Converging World (www.theconvergingworld.org), it’s not a perfect solution. There are a couple of other things you can try such as flying by the most direct route possible, since take-offs and landings use the most fuel; choosing day flights to minimise the disruption caused by night flights and making economy your class of choice because less space for passengers equates to more passengers per plane, which means fewer emissions per person. Nevertheless, even when you do offset or minimise your emissions another way, it’s still worth remembering that aviation accounts for between four and nine per cent of all carbon emissions, so if you can avoid it, don’t fly. Football and cricket fans travelling to European games can, on the other hand, make the most of the continent’s excellent rail infrastructure. A trip to Dortmund, for example, can cost as little as £43 one way by train and takes around four hours – not much longer than the air equivalent once you’ve factored in time spent getting to the airport and waiting around for your flight to leave. See Seat 61 for more information.
Before you head off, unplug any electrical appliances that don't need to run while you're gone. Appliances with LEDs or lights that run even when the device is off drain power and will leave you facing a hefty bill as a welcome home gift. Stop wastage in its tracks by putting appliances on a power strip and turning it off before you leave the house. If you don't have a power strip, just unplug the appliance from the wall. In the summer, turn off heating or air conditioning completely, while in winter – especially if you live in a house with old or exposed pipes – leave the heating on, but turned down to a minimum. Lastly, don’t forget to stop your subscriptions – there is a limit to how many yellowing old copies of the Guardian you can reuse.
Once you’ve arrived, take advantage of the regular shuttle buses laid on by most clubs from the city centre to the ground, or take the metro. In New Zealand, distances between venues is a bit longer but don’t be tempted to take the plane – there are plenty of green alternatives such as the Intercity Coachline (www.intercity.nz), which is both affordable and easy to use. In addition, the New Zealand National Coach and Bus company is offering a Rugby Pass, which include a range of 10 pre-planned itineraries for rugby games throughout the country during the world cup, and also includes group sight seeing tours. It’s also worth making sure the hotel you choose is an eco-friendly one with a good sustainability policy. If you’re heading Down Under, check out the Green Hotel Association (www.greenhotels.com), which lists hotels across the country that are taking steps to green up their practices. Within Europe, try the Green Traveller website (www.greentraveller.co.uk), which only includes accommodation that meets their tough sustainability criteria.
If you’re watching it on TV
Two things up the carbon footprint of watching sport on TV and they are the food you choose to consume and the amount of build-up and punditry you watch. Most games (cricket apart) last for 80 or 90 minutes with an additional hour of sporty chit chat and bad gags tagged on. Entertaining as watching Jamie Redknapp holding forth or seeing Sonny Bill Williams warm up can be, this extra hour of TV time adds an extra 54kg of CO2 to your tally. Keep it down by switching on as the game starts and turning off as soon as the post-match interviews are done. For extra eco points, turn off the TV during half-time and use a little of the spare power to make a cup of organic tea instead. If that sounds too finicky for you, consider switching to a green energy supplier such as Ecotricity (www.ecotricity.co.uk) or Good Energy (www.goodenergy.co.uk). As the main carbon footprint linked to electricity is down to its being generated by fossil-fuelled power stations, you can cut this down dramatically by choosing renewable energy such as solar or wind. It might cost a little more but it really works for the planet.
The other major bugbear – food – is also the one that’s most easily solved. Any sort of meat will have a higher carbon footprint, thanks to the unrivalled methane gas producing ability of most domestic farm animals. Processed food too, with its chemical additives and intricate production, generates a hefty amount of carbon with just one sausage roll averaging around 34g of CO2. Give the sports fan’s traditional snack of choice - the pie - a green-over by making it yourself from organic, locally sourced meat, which cuts down on food miles and on processing to boot. Use Fairtrade spices for flavouring and organic flour, butter and milk to make the pastry. Pies.co.uk has a wealth of information and all the recipes you could possibly need. For nibbles, check out Greenol.co.uk, which offers organic, Fairtrade crisps in every flavour under the sun, while Able and Cole (www.ableandcole.co.uk) does a small but satisfying range of organic and Fairtrade nuts, crackers and biscuits. For beers that don’t cost the earth (in any sense), head to Vinceremos (www.vinceremos.co.uk), which has organic wine, beer and spirits galore. Of course anyone getting up early to watch the rugby probably won’t be in the mood for a pint and a pie. With eco-friendly breakfast food the order of the day, take a look at Hindon Organic Farm’s (www.exmoororganicmeat.co.uk) array of homemade sausages and bacon. Not only is the farm one of Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s food heroes, it’s also Soil Association certified. Serve up your bangers with some organic, wholemeal toast and wash it down with a cup of Clipper’s Fairtrade, organic tea. That beats mass-produced half-time fare any day of the week.
Eco-sportswear: what to wear and how to buy it
From shoes to shirts and everything in between, Robert Phillips takes a closer look at the eco sports gear on offer
Five of the best...green menswear
Eco-friendly womenswear is topping the fashion charts and, says Robert Phillips, menswear isn’t far behind
Sustainability and football: why the beautiful game is getting a green makeover
In the second part of our sport and environment mini-series, Ruth Styles reports on the efforts some football clubs are making to turn the sport into an eco-friendly one, although there's still plenty to do
Surfing: a greener way to get fit?
Bidding farewell to summer doesn’t mean turning your back on outdoor sports, says Phoebe Doyle. When it comes to surfing, autumn’s where it’s at
Ten of the best...ways to boost your fitness outside
From Nordic walking to tai chi, George Blacksell rounds up ten great ways to take your workout into the great outdoors