Sport is enjoyed by millions of participants, spectators and fans all over the world, from grassroots to the elite level. Not only does it boost our health and wellbeing, and bring joy and escapism to our lives, it connects communities, and delivers huge social and economic value.
But, while some industries get a lot of the spotlight in relation to sustainability — the food, travel and fashion industries, for instance — others fly quietly under the radar; sport being one of them. With the devastating effects of climate change, however, it’s become an ever-growing focus within the sector.
The global sports sector is thought to be responsible for approximately 350 million tonnes of CO2e. Although, measuring the environmental impact of sport events and stadiums can be complex – especially as events span multiple industries, from travel and accommodation, to food and beverage, to merchandise and infrastructure.
The world of sport is making bolder moves to adapt and respond to the climate crisis (the Paris 2024 Olympics has set the ambitious target of becoming “the Greenest Games Ever”), while nurturing solutions to the many sustainability challenges it faces. Over time, event promoters and organisers are increasingly incorporating green initiatives and sustainability principles into their plans, while some events have been moved away from protected areas.
Stadiums and arenas play a huge role, seeing millions of visitors and users every year. Global architecture firm Populous is behind the design of many of the world’s biggest sporting venues and event spaces.
The company has been at the forefront of sustainable design globally for almost four decades, and have worked on a range of iconic, world-famous venues, from the London Stadium to Sydney’s Accor Stadium, to the Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle.
With their work on the London Stadium — where many incredible memories were made during the hosting of the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games — Populous pioneered a sustainable design approach and environmental legacy that has ensured a bright, long-term future for the stadium, which now serves primarily as the home of Premier League club West Ham United.
By measuring and tracking the environmental impact of their work, Populous is committed to reducing reliance on non-renewable resources, to support a cleaner environment, and aims to deliver zero carbon projects by 2030.
The company accounts for both operational carbon — the amount of carbon emitted during the operational phase of a project — and embodied carbon, the amount of carbon emitted in producing materials needed for construction.
ITN Business spoke to David Jarratt, EMEA Head of Sustainable Design at Populous, as part of our Sustainable Solutions Towards Net Zero programme.
“The key things are the carbon that we use, both in the materials, as well as the energy that’s used. In addition to that, the indoor environment quality, and understanding how athletes use the space and how they can get the most out of it.”
“This whole stadium, with a similar size to the Bird’s Nest in Beijing, uses 25% less steel. So, that’s quite an incredible feat,” he explains.
More than a decade after the stadium was built, new features continue to be added — including over 6,000 square metres of solar panels; turning sunlight into electricity and driving up efficiency.
The London Stadium’s CEO, Graham Gilmore understands the importance of innovating and evolving, in order to reduce emissions:
“We are currently on target in 2023 to be using 15% less electricity than we were in 2022, so with the help of companies like Populous, it’s vitally important that this stadium achieves those targets.”
“For the people of Stratford to see the change in their environment, with a stadium that I like to class as the jewel in the crown, it’s important that the stadium embraces everything that’s available — be it the LED lighting, the solar panels; be it energy efficiency.”
The employment of cutting-edge technology and reducing the amount of non-sustainable materials used has been at the heart of Populous’ work for many years — including their involvement in the award-winning Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle, where the 20,000 ton roof was lifted up to allow construction of a world-class facility below for concerts, ice-hockey, and women’s basketball — while doubling its capacity.
The Climate Pledge Arena is powered entirely by renewable energy, while Amazon donated their naming rights to the Global Climate Pledge commitment.
At Racing Strasbourg in France, they’re re-utilising three quarters of the stadium, saving thousands of tonnes of carbon. For its new main stand, the rear panels that provide protection from sun and rain have been constructed from parts of upcycled Airbus A340 aircraft.
Dr Russell Seymour, chair of British Association of Sustainable Sport (BASIS), and a leading expert on sustainability in sport, says taking an innovative, proactive approach is key.
“Sporting venues have a big impact; they bring together so many aspects of society. They bring together energy use, travel, food and hospitality… all sorts of things come together to put on a sporting event. So, there’s huge potential to actually look at those impacts, assess what we’re doing and then try to reduce.”
“2030 is an aspirational target that we need to set,” says David at Populous. “We need a goal to work towards, we need to benchmark what we’re consuming at the moment. We can’t improve what we can’t measure, ourselves. So, we’re starting small, we’re starting with the things that we know: office energy, electricity and gas, and our travel emissions.”
As part of their ongoing commitments, Populous is a signatory to Architects Declare Australia, Architects Declare UK, and the AIA 2030 Commitment. The buildings and events they create are often the centrepiece of wider community districts, meaning their role in climate action is unique. Environmentally responsive design, energy performance, sustainable materials selection and technological integration are foundational elements to their design approach.
Venues that Populous has created environmentally sustainable design solutions for, include:
- Accor Stadium, Sydney (1999)
- Nationals Park, Washington D.C. (2008)
- London Olympics Stadium (2012)
- Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle (2021)
- The Stade de la Meinau in Strasbourg (2025).
Our upcoming programme
Sport: The Business Game will delve into the thriving ecosystem surrounding the sports industry, focusing on the key players who supply, support, and enable sports activities globally.
From equipment manufacturers to technology innovators and logistics providers, and through case study led features the programme will highlight the network of organisations driving the business of sports forward.
We will explore how these entities facilitate sports events and infrastructure, ensuring smooth operations and accessibility. With a spotlight on innovation, diversity, sustainability, and community impact, we will demonstrate the pivotal role these organisations play in shaping the future of sports.