Sustainability Report Research Review (Volume 2)

Sustainability Report Research Review (Volume 2)

Esports sustainability, heat-related risk and renewable energy are the focus of this edition of the Research Review

Following the positive response from the first Sport Ecology Group Research Review via the Sustainability Report, we are pleased to provide the second edition as part of our efforts to pull back the barriers to accessing academic research.

While we introduced these research reviews and ourselves as the Sport Ecology Group in the first edition, I will quickly summarise again: these serve as a brief summary of interesting and recent academic research that touch upon anything sport and sustainability. 

If you are interested in more academic research in this area, please consider our freely accessible database of academic research with quick, jargon-less summaries of the publications. If depth on this research or access to the original publications is of interest to you, feel free to contact any of us individually. We are happy to help!

Sufficiently reintroduced: let us present some wonderful sport ecology papers which have been published recently.

1. Climate impacts in sport: extreme heat as a climate hazard and adaptation options by Mallen, Dingle, and McRoberts

If you ask someone for one of their concerns regarding climate change, chances are they will say “heat.” Many are already feeling the impacts of increased heat today. So, what is the industry doing at the moment to mitigate these risks? This paper considers how current managers in university sport perceive and manage heat-related concerns for athletes and the facilities where sport takes place.

Heat is a slow-onset risk that many managers will respond to in small, incremental adaptations rather than wholesale changes in one swoop. Ratings for the average concern for heat shown by participants suggest that some are potentially under-prioritising concern for it in comparison to the impact it may have. For many of the participants in the study, heat risks are a relatively recent concern to which they are responding for the first time.

Athletes were already reporting issues of dehydration, heat stroke/exhaustion, and muscle cramping. Synthetic turf fields were reported to be of much higher concern for heat than natural turf fields. 

Current adaptation strategies included: hot weather plans to engage risk reduction if certain thresholds are exceeded, increased hydration and rest breaks, athlete cooling strategies (e.g., ice, cold towels, misting, fans, lightweight clothing), rescheduling events for cooler parts of the day, and even cancelling or postponing matches. There was also some discussion of heat management trainings and even heat index apps to monitor conditions.

Beyond doubt, heat is going to become a routine feature in the future of sport. We will have to adapt in how we play and organise sport to ensure safety and enjoyment. Perhaps the lessons from this study will aid those who are seeking advice as the mercury rises? 

2. Renewable energy source diffusion in professional sport facilities by Wanless, Seifried, and Kellison

Installing solar panels seems to be an easy response to the question “how can we reduce our climate impact?” Similarly to recycling, it is a quick concept to grasp with regard to sustainability. As stadiums are big consumers of energy, it is worthwhile to examine trends for how renewable energy systems are spreading in this industry. 

Using 175 sport stadiums of the major men’s professional sport leagues in the United States and Canada, this study sought to uncover the speed of – and factors determining – adoption of renewable energy systems.

This study predicts that by 2061, there will be “full” adoption of renewable energy systems in these sport stadiums. Important to note is that this date varies when examining the individual types of renewable energy systems examined: solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, and biofuels. Not all stadiums will make use of the same systems depending upon the stadium’s own unique potential for energy production.

Among the factors which would predict adoption of renewable energy systems, the strongest influence came from newly built stadiums being eight times more likely to adopt such systems compared to older stadiums. In comparison to ballparks, arenas, and race tracks, stadiums were two and a half times more likely to adopt. Interestingly, political leanings and competition did not predict adoption, but being in Canada compared to the United States was helpful.

This makes sense as new stadiums have an easier time integrating such technologies into their design as opposed to older stadiums not being compatible with technologies they could not predict for at the time of construction. As much as we would prefer to see renewable energy systems in all of our stadiums, this is a process that will take time. The good news is, we are already well on our way.

3. Do we need esports ecology? Comparisons of environmental impacts between traditional sport and esports by Ross and Fisackerly

As part of this series, I would like to always offer research that differs from traditional empirical studies where we ask questions, go collect data, and then draw conclusions. This paper is conceptual in nature: it considers an idea and analyses it with already given information to formulate new understandings. We are just thinking really hard. It is all still backed by peer-review, so you can be sure these ideas stand up to rigour.

Given the impressive growth of esport, it is only right to consider its environmental impact much like we are doing with more “traditional” sport. With this environmental focus, my colleague, who is an esport expert, and I asked ourselves if esports are truly different than traditional sport?

The definition used for esport is very narrow for the purposes of this paper: competitive, professional tournaments, and largely just those held in person in stadiums and arenas. It is acknowledged that esport is a much larger system including people who play at home or online casually. But, this is the same as reducing the “traditional” sport industry to just professional sport as opposed to people who jog occasionally.

The conclusions were that these esport events are largely similar to traditional sport with respect to the environment. They consume many of the same resources to host, create the same wastes, are exposed to climate risks all the same, and may adapt to climate all the same.

The differences come in when you consider esport more broadly or the capacity for remote competition that traditional sport cannot adopt (imagine two football teams playing the same match – or two 100-metre sprinters racing each other – but in different stadiums at the same time). Remote play reduces environmental impact and risk from travel but also creates two sites of exposure rather than the one in traditional sport. There is more to come on this by expanding the definition and considering equipment turnover in esport, but for now we have a start.

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