How Wimbledons sustainability mission is impacting change on sports globally


(LONDON) — Hattie Park, the sustainability manager at the All England Club where the Championships at Wimbledon are held every year, walks around the bucolic 42-acre tennis grounds with a sense of pride combined with a sense of purpose.

Sustainability might be something that takes a back seat to the 700 tennis matches played by the best in the world as millions of people watch around the globe, but to Park, that is almost exactly the point.

“Wimbledon is essentially played in an English garden,” Park told ABC News during a visit this spring. “If we want to continue playing tennis and enjoying outdoor sport, whether it’s at the elite level that you have at Wimbledon or at the grassroots level, we’ve simply got to ensure that we have a resilient environment to carry out that sport.”

Park’s job is a big one. She wants to find a balance between the environment, natural resources and human needs — constantly pushing for fundamental and foundational change without disrupting the aura and tradition that Wimbledon brings to the table.

A study conducted by Cardiff University in the United Kingdom in 2017 found that the average person who attends a sporting event generates a footprint seven times greater than someone going about their normal, everyday activity. That’s primarily due to increased travel both to and from the event, but also food and drink consumption and the energy and resources required to produce them — all problems Park is well acquainted with.

“People can often be incredibly resistant to altering their patterns so the biggest challenge, for me, is just the time things can take to activate change,” said Park. “During The Championships, you can usually make a quick tweak here and there quickly to help meet our sustainability goals but something like decarbonizing our entire site, that’s just going to take time because there’s an awful lot of planning that needs to go into it. It’s easy for me to say ‘this is what we need to do’ but the reality of doing it involves an awful lot of programming and investment plans before implementation.”

One of the areas that Wimbledon has put a lot of immediate focus on is through their food-and-drink program across The Championships and throughout the year-round operation of the site.

“Last year we were pleased to be able to highlight dishes with a low carbon weighting across a wide variety of menus available to the public, members and competitors,” Wimbledon officials told ABC News. “The low carbon options on our menus are indicated with an ‘A’ – very low carbon – or a ‘B’ – low carbon — and are calculated based on how much carbon is produced per 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) of meals.”

“To encourage the circular culture of reuse, this year will see the continuation of a £1 deposit applied to the purchase of a first drink,” Wimbledon officials said. “Guests are given the option to redeem this deposit or place their cup in a charity return point — in doing so donating the entire deposit to The Wimbledon Foundation.”

This scheme, which was instituted several years ago, has already become a resounding success. The reusable cup deposit initiative raised £139,102 ($178,000) in 2023 with loftier goals ahead for Park and Wimbledon’s sustainability mission.

“What I try to demonstrate in a holistic way is that there is something that every single one of us can do to be part of the solution to help the environment. Ultimately, we want to build a community of environment-positive champions and get everyone involved,” said Park.

While schemes like this are effective short-term solutions, Wimbledon has loftier goals down the line for later this decade and beyond by focusing on what they have identified as the “four pillars” of their sustainability program — operational emissions, resource efficiency, biodiversity gain and inspiring wider actions.

By 2030, Wimbledon plans to reduce their emissions to “net zero,” becoming completely resource efficient by generating as little waste as possible while increasing the proportion of recycled content as well as the amount of materials reused and, finally, pushing for a net gain in biodiversity by protecting habitats and ecology across their landholdings while also increasing the abundance and diversity of plant and animal species.

“While we aim to exemplify best practice through our day to day actions and decisions, we believe it is equally important to work together with partners and stakeholders to use our collective platforms so that we can amplify the benefits of a sustainable approach, using our influence to reach beyond our boundaries through partnership, leadership, and collaboration with other major events and bodies in the sports industry and beyond,” Wimbledon officials said.

For Park, this doesn’t just mean setting an example at The Championships for the two weeks they are staged, but a complete and holistic year-round, long-term commitment.

“We are absolutely not just showing up and doing it for The Championships,” said Park. “We have an aim to have a positive impact on the environment and, arguably, using our influence to inspire wider action is the biggest thing that we can do as a huge global sporting event because we just reach so many people.”

From a broader perspective, sporting events have good reason to become more sustainable as governments, particularly in the West, are increasingly passing environmentally-friendly legislation related to sustainability meaning that, at least in some parts of the world, non-compliance may no longer be an option.

“[Sporting events] can potentially reduce costs and better attract funds and sponsors, leading to bigger revenue streams and better economic outcomes,” according to INSEAD. “Displaying commitment towards positive environmental and social change could ensure long-term viability and resilience in a highly competitive field. To this end, high-profile international sporting events are the perfect platform [and] companies can use these global showcases with millions of viewers to drive positive change.”

The task ahead of Park may seem daunting but, for her, it is just about starting somewhere — anywhere — and making sure she affects long-lasting and positive change, the first flutter of wings in a sustainability butterfly effect.

“You’ve got to break it down into manageable chunks,” Park said. “What we have to do is take action behind the scenes for the things that people can’t see in terms of how we operate our estate but also make it visible when you come to Wimbledon so that we can involve the guests in this environment-positive journey. We’ve got to mitigate our impacts, but we also need to adapt and be ready for whatever is thrown at us.”

Copyright © 2024, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.