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Sports and sustainability – a controversy?

Being active is important for physical and mental health. It enhances the mood, well-being, and energy levels; it supports the cognitive function by helping to reduce stress or other mental issues. And at a time when it is unable to participate in normal social activities amid the COVID-19 pandemic, continuing to exercise in a safe way becomes an even more important issue (NHS; The Commonwealth). With over 15 million people only in Germany practicing sports regularly, the sports industry has a great impact to positively influence athletes behavior. It is therefore no wonder that sustainability in sport has reached public interest (BMU). 

Certain types of sports can have a major effect on damaging the surrounding nature. Waste, additional traffic and noisefor example at sports events can have negative effects on people and nature. Yet, when hiking, climbing, canoeing, diving or horse riding, the experience of nature as such plays an important role in addition to just being active physically. So how can we practice outdoor sports in a safe way – for us and nature? 

The way to start and end a work-out can have a major impact on the environment: Driving to the gym produces significantly more CO2 than taking the bus or bike to get there; or using the park around the corner and staying close to home. Outdoor sports usually are more resource-efficient with little or no equipment and energy spent on heating and electricity (AKTIV.BLOG). However, many gyms have implemented sustainable sports equipment such as exercise mats made of 100 percent organic cotton, recycled neoprene suits or pollutant-free nitrile rubber with a long lifespan (The bird’s new nest). Gyms such as the Berlin-based Green Gym rely on resource efficiency, green electricity, and recycling. For example, they use energy-generating bikes made from fishing nets, and reusable bottles instead of plastic bottles. Other fitness studios fully move outside or offer live streams to do workouts from home (Men’s Health; Urban Sports Club). 

At sports events, sustainably designed stadiums, and attractive offers for the use of environmentally friendly means of transport can help to reduce CO2 emissions. Intelligent concepts and possibilities of digitization can prevent flyers, paper plates and cups from generating immense amounts of rubbish and endangering biological diversity. Overall, major sporting events can help to set standards with appropriate measures – not only to limit the negative environmental impacts, but also to be a role model for national or smaller events. For example, the German Football Federation and the Oeko-Institut jointly developed a comprehensive sustainability concept for the 2024 European Football Championship that includes a waste concept that relies on reusable dishes, free water, a recycling concept, and the consistent avoidance of plastic (Oeko-Institut). 


Sustainable measurements have also been developed at marathons, half marathons, and smaller runs. Instead of the conventional plastic cups, an English startup has developed edible water balls for the athlete´s water supply: The membrane of the balls is made from 100 percent seaweed, which – unlike the conventionally used plastic cups – rots within 4 to 6 weeks; another advantage of these water balls is the production that causes five times less CO2 than a PET bottle (Men’s Health). 

Physical fitness not only has a significantly positive effect on our physical, but also mental health and thus plays and important part in a sustainable lifestyle. Our body offers all the resources to be able to interact successfully with the environment. And while we thrive to act environmentally friendly, dealing with our very own habitat in a sustainable way means ensuring that our body remains healthy and functional now and in the distant future. Doing sport regularly can strengthen the heart and immune system and prevent diseases such as osteoporosis. In addition, physical fitness leads to a lower risk of illnesses like obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and even cancer. Exercise can also release happiness hormones and can reduce the risk of depression. Fitness, if you do it properly, is a sustainable way of dealing with your own body and health. However, exercise and sport in nature do not only serve health. It can create awareness for the protection of the natural foundations of life and the preservation of nature at the same time (BMU; The bird’s new nest). 

By Marie Klimczak

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