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Environmental Sustainability in Sport and Physical Activity Consultation

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Consultation Findings – Executive Summary

Following the launch of our Environmental Sustainability Plan, Sport Wales wanted to better understand from the sport and physical activity sector what is needed to accelerate action on environmental sustainability.  We undertook a collaborative piece of work with Sport England and sportscotland to gather insight on current actions, challenges and support needed. 

The consultation was carried out by the Useful Group who held interviews and focus groups with a range of organisations and developed an online survey for grassroots clubs. 

The summary below sets out what we heard from you about what you’re already doing, the environmental impacts and challenges that you’re grappling with and the barriers to taking action.  We will continue to work in collaboration with partners through the Sport Environment and Climate Coalition to directly respond to some of the challenges identified through the consultation.  One example of this is ‘The Resource Hub’ which brings together the most up-to-date knowledge on sports sustainability with practical documents and resources that can support you to take action. 

We are grateful to all those who took part in the consultation and will look forward to working with you on this agenda in the coming months and years. 

Sport Wales' logo, Sport England's logo, sportscotland's logo and useful project's logo

Why this consultation matters

Extreme weather events and the energy crisis are already affecting all parts of society in Great Britain, and increasing awareness about the need for accelerated action to tackle climate change is becoming more widespread globally and locally.

Sport England, sportscotland and Sport Wales are acutely aware that the sports and physical activity sector will be impacted by climate change and environmental quality (affecting people’s ability to participate), as well as having an impact on the environment. We acknowledge we have considerable scope, opportunity, and obligation to create positive change.  However, there is no shared understanding of the problem across our sector, how to get started, and where the sector can have the greatest impact. This consultation is a first step in addressing this.

Sport England will use the findings from this consultation to develop a strategy for how it can support and influence the grassroots sports and physical activity sector to accelerate action on environmental sustainability.  Sport Wales (who already has a sustainability strategy, the Sport Wales Environmental Sustainability Plan) and sportscotland will use the findings and insight to inform and prioritise the actions they take to support sports clubs/groups/organisations.


The consultation was undertaken from April-May 2023 utilising a combination of quantitative and qualitative approaches to understand current challenges, action, opportunities and support needed.

•An online survey, targeted at grassroots clubs/organisations/groups, had 475 responses from across GB and 76 different sports.

•19 online interviews were held with a range of leaders from within the Sports Councils, system partners / umbrella bodies, and governing bodies. 

•6 online focus groups took place, with a total of 161 people attending from governing bodies and system partners / umbrella bodies, Local Authorities, and the owners and operators of the places and spaces where physical activity happens.

The consultation was undertaken by Useful Projects (a sustainability consultancy, Social Enterprise and B Corp), supported by Right Formula and EcoIMPACT SPORTS. 


There is increasing public awareness about climate change, and this was reflected in the consultation.  The consultation has revealed the sports and physical activity sector already has good levels of knowledge about environmental impacts and how it will affect clubs/organisations/groups, and plenty of ambition to tackle the issues. 82% of survey respondents said they want their organisation to be ambitious on environmental sustainability.

Whilst 62% of survey respondents said they have implemented some sort of environmental  action; we believe this was particularly high because the survey was likely completed by the most engaged in the sector.  During the interviews and focus groups, stakeholders generally felt that minimal action is being taken by grassroots clubs/groups, but that some NGBs have started.

It appears that the ability to take action is inhibited by lack of money and capacity to implement changes - in a sector that is heavily reliant on volunteers and is cash-constrained.

Some parts of the sector have been taking action to manage environmental impacts for many years, particularly sports that interface with water (either water quality, flooding or drought).  Improving energy efficiency of buildings, communications to influence participant behaviours (e.g. the way they travel), and reuse/recycling initiatives were also commonly reported actions.

The survey revealed that organisations that own their own facilities tended to have implemented more actions than those that don’t.  This is likely to be because they have more control over the facility and its operations. Clubs/organisations with more money have also tended to have actioned more.

Nearly a quarter of survey respondents said they have assessed their impacts and put in place a formal Environmental Sustainability Policy, Action Plan or Strategy – but we are conscious that people that responded to a survey about environmental sustainability are likely to be more engaged with the agenda.

25% of survey respondents said they have never tried to access sustainability advice. For those that have, they go to a wide range of sources for this, which could be viewed as being inefficient and could also lead to mixed messaging.  Sports clubs tend to go to governing bodies for advice, or seek expertise within their membership. Community organisations said they tend to go to their local authority or another local sport or physical activity organisation for advice, highlighting the importance of local networks within a geographical area. 

Governing bodies tend to go to consultancies/charities, and the Sports Councils.  These are important considerations for the support needed. The question for the Sports Councils, is, how can they influence the improvement of this?

We asked about the drivers for action.  56% of survey respondents said moral and ethical reasons are the strongest reasons, closely followed by long term business resilience planning and saving money.

A graph detailing survey responses on reasons for the organisation’s level of environmental sustainability ambition. Moral/ethical environmental responsibility reasons (56%), Long term business resilience planning (e.g., protecting sports facilities) (49%), Saving money (44%), Members/stakeholder expectation (39%), funding/investment requirement (33%), Other (11%), Not sure (5%)

Source: Useful Group Survey November 2023

Survey respondents were asked what they see as the key environmental opportunities for their organisation, as a free form answer.  The most popular responses were related to:

  • Energy and carbon
  • Travel
  • Waste reduction and recycling

This aligns with the key impacts sports and physical activity organisations/groups said they are having on the environment and are therefore key areas for support to be provided.

Through the consultation, we have gathered several best practice case studies from organisations and groups who have taken action, which can be shared with the wider sector to help accelerate progress.