Andrea Ebdane

Published: June 11, 2024

MANILA, Philippines — Everyone loves a good sports game. The magic and theatrics of a quality match draw millions to sports. Brimming with action, thrill, and energy, these games and tournaments often seem larger than life — it is no wonder they effortlessly keep loyal fans on the edge of their seats. 

Bryan Bagunas, 26, understands this completely. The professional volleyball player and Batangas native is currently an import for Taichung Win Streak in Taiwan. He is a stellar player on the court, having been awarded Most Valuable Player (MVP) in the first Taiwan Volleyball Cup in 2022 — the first Filipino volleyball player to be lauded for the title abroad.

Bagunas works hard off-court, too. Dubbed by the Philippine Climate Change Commission (CCC) as “a climate champion in the making,” Bagunas has been campaigning for his personal advocacy of curbing improper waste management, especially for the Filipino youth. 

If there is anything he understands, it is how to wield sports’ unifying power, universal interest, and enormous global platform by communicating realities about climate change. 

2023 marked the world’s hottest year on record, according to an analysis by NASA. The effects of climate change are becoming more pronounced with each passing year, and the sports industry is no exception to this onslaught. 

The relationship between the sports industry and climate change goes both ways, through means that the public may generally overlook.

“Sport both affects and is affected by the climate system,” according to a 2023 study published by researchers from the United Kingdom, citing examples like venues’ adaptability to climate conditions or heat impacts on spectators and athletes. 

Despite recent growth in climate reform initiatives within the sports industry, the Philippines lacks direct legislation mandating eco-friendly practices. Moreover, the sports industry still has to contend with the implications of its relationship with big corporations, on top of the large amount of indirect emissions from spectators traveling to major sports events. 

Cashing in on the climate

Sports games themselves are not the issue. But because of the huge environmental impact of the sports industry’s tight-knit relationship with business and advertising, these games become platforms for some of the corporate world’s heaviest emitters.  

For instance, let us take Formula One Racing (popularly known as F1). The highly popular motorsport has faced scrutiny in the past for its significant carbon footprint, which results from factors such as fuel consumption and freight.

According to its official website, F1 has made great strides in transitioning to more climate-friendly practices, such as switching to more sustainable fuel, modifying its calendar to reduce emissions from freight logistics, and vowing to have net zero carbon emissions by 2030. 

These decisions are notable steps towards curbing the motorsport’s overall emissions. However, sponsorships with companies like Aramco, a major oil producer considered to be one of the world’s biggest polluters, create a contradiction. According to environmental law charity ClientEarth, Aramco is responsible for 4.38% of the world’s historic carbon emissions.

Aside from sponsorships, advertising also greatly contributes to the emissions generated by sports matches. For example, Super Bowl advertisements in 2021 generated around 2 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions—the same amount emitted by 100,000 Americans, according to ecosystem restoration company DGB Group

While the venue of this year’s Super Bowl, Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, ran on 100% renewable energy for the game, fan travel remains a major challenge.

Global pop icon Taylor Swift was criticized for taking her private jet from Tokyo to Las Vegas to support her boyfriend Travis Kelce, the tight end for the Kansas City Chiefs, right after her Japan stop for her billion-dollar grossing Eras Tour. 

The 12-hour flight reportedly produced an estimated 40 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions — equivalent to powering 7.1 homes for a year.

Swinging into the climate conversation 

“Sports in general and sports events, in particular, can be [great venues] for spreading awareness and starting conversations about sustainability and climate action,” said Dr. Jane Delfino, assistant professor at the Institute of Environmental Science and Meteorology, University of the Philippines – Diliman. 

The rapt global interest in sports imbues the industry with significant influence over its millions of fans worldwide. For instance, the international football association FIFA estimated estimated that as of 2023, a staggering five billion people around the globe considered themselves football fans – nearly half the world’s population.

Locally, the past year saw thousands of Filipinos traveling to Metro Manila to catch their favorite basketball teams in person. The Philippine Basketball Association Game 7 finals drew a record-breaking 54,589 attendees, while the Philippines’ co-hosted FIBA World Cup saw 38,115 at the Philippine Arena.

Thus, there is no denying the influence that the sports industry has on its audience — a ready platform with huge potential to raise awareness about environmental issues like climate change. 

Planet Earth’s star players 

Undated photo shows volleyball player Bryan Bagunas. (Bryan Bagunas’ Instagram account)

Delfino affirmed this sentiment, sharing that athletes and teams have the potential to be “influencers or role models” who motivate their fans to take action on sustainability and climate change. 

For instance, Filipino Olympian pole vaulter EJ Obiena is a representative of the World Athletics Champions, a group of six high-profile track-and-field athletes who have vowed to raise climate awareness in their respective games. 

Veteran paralympic swimmer Ernie Gawilan has also involved himself in coastal cleanup efforts in Batangas.

Of course, there is Bagunas, who makes sustainable living a key part of his image and platform. Taking inspiration from the environmental practices of the countries he has played in, he frequently stars in short-form videos that explain good waste management practices. 

“As an import, I found [other countries’] local practices to be very good… they are very strict when it comes to segregating waste. In transportation, there are many scattered bikes that can be rented by anyone. I want Filipinos to adopt that, especially the youth,” he said in Filipino during an interview with the CCC.

Sports facilities are also beginning to prioritize climate sustainability in their layout, design, and overall maintenance. 

At the Clark Freeport Zone in Pampanga, the Mimosa Plus Golf Course claims that it actively incorporates environmental advocacy into its facilities. This is amid criticism of golf’s negative environmental impacts such as excessive water usage, chemical use, habitat loss, soil erosion, energy consumption, waste generation, and land use.

Mimosa Plus has switched to grass turfs that require less water, fertilizer, and chemicals for maintenance, and adopted stingless bees to enhance its courses’ ecological quality and biodiversity. It has also geotagged its trees in a bid to encourage golfers to learn more about them. 

Organizers of sports events are also beginning to strive towards being not just carbon-neutral, but also being “climate-positive.” This entails going beyond achieving net zero carbon by actively reducing more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than what is emitted, thereby creating an environmental benefit. 

One major sports event leading the charge is the Brisbane 2032 Olympics in Australia, which plans to set a budget for how much carbon it can emit during the event. 

The next play call 

Sports fans have every right to enjoy the thrill of watching their favorite teams play live, even if this entails occasionally traveling from far places to see them. But there are ways for fans to minimize their footprint.

“They can start by assessing their current practices and [seeing] where they can make changes — big changes — to make their events and the totality of their sport more climate-friendly and more sustainable,” said Delfino. 

Power, water, food consumption, waste generation, and transportation are common areas wherein spectators contribute to the carbon emissions generated from a sports event.

Switching to low-carbon travel options has yielded significant results for fans traveling to games. A 2009 study found a 36% reduction in emissions in Beijing after investing in mass transit and stricter traffic management measures for the 2008 Olympics.  

In the grand arena of sports, where everyone comes together in earnest, the industry cannot afford to leave climate resilience on the bench. 

Fortunately, more sports organizers, officials, and athletes — like Bagunas — are leading the charge in the game of climate action, all in the hope of a greener playing field. 

“I’m at the age when I can have my own family, and I want my future children and future generations to experience living on a fresh and clean planet,” said Bagunas in Filipino. “I want future generations to feel responsible for taking care of the environment.” 

Bagunas’ dream is not as far out of reach as we think. With collective action, touching down on significant environmental change in the sports industry is possible — people just need to be willing to play the game. 

 

This story was supported by the U.S. Embassy in the Philippines