Viewpoint: Athletes tackle emissions and the environment scores

These days, it seems like everything is going green. Carbon and sustainability are sexy new buzz words.

Polls have shown for years the environment outranks the economy and even health care in terms of importance to Canadians.

So it’s no surprise Ottawa’s sports scene is about to go green too.

The Ottawa-Carleton Ultimate Association, for example, has proposed a ‘carbon flip.’ Instead of the traditional disc flip to determine who receives or throws the disc first, the team with the fewest cars wins the toss.

The idea was born in Peterborough last summer to encourage players to carpool, cycle and walk to games.

Connecting sport and the environment is not a big leap for ultimate players, according to Neil Saravanamuttoo, president of the Ottawa-Carleton association. Environmental awareness is part of the culture of the game.

Members of the Ottawa Hostel Outdoor Club share that sentiment. Making sure their hiking, canoeing and skiing trips are environmentally-sound is part of the club’s constitution. That might mean taking waste-free lunches or keeping a rumbustious dog on a leash.

It isn't really that much of a stretch. Environment and sport make good bedfellows.

After all, poor air quality, water pollution and global warming affect an athlete’s health and performance.

In the Southern Hemisphere, ozone depletion has reached a point where it isn’t safe to go outside at certain times during the day, jeopardizing outdoor activity. Skiing events have also been cancelled due to lack of snow.

Sport has a significant impact on the environment too.

In 2001, it was estimated Canada’s 2,300 arenas and 1,300 curling rinks consumed more than one million megawatt hours of electricity, while also leaking ammonia and ozone-depleting coolants into the atmosphere.

A typical American professional football or baseball game can add up to 50,000 disposable cups to the local landfill.

Golf courses soak up vast amounts of water annually and the improper use of fertilizers can contaminate the soil.

Can one ultimate league choosing to carpool or a litter-less outdoor club help solve a global problem? They can do more than you think.

A 2007 study of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States showed passenger cars and residential homes and appliances were responsible for 34 per cent of harmful emissions.

Choosing to carpool or installing energy efficient refrigerators does make a difference, the study says.

An incentive to carpool could also get people thinking about the environmental footprint they leave every day.

For over a decade, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has said sport could be a vehicle to change attitudes about the environment. The UN advocates using sport’s popularity and influence to promote environmental awareness.

Take the Olympics. Since 1994, environmental sustainability has been at the forefront of Olympic values.

An environmental plan was an integral part of Vancouver’s 2010 bid for the Games and the organizing committee releases annual reports on its progress towards sustainable goals, such as building energy-efficient buildings, minimizing waste and tracking carbon emissions.

Other large-scale projects include the use of battery-powered Segways at a Japanese golf course and the University of Colorado’s zero-waste football stadium.

But individual athletes and recreational leagues can also make sustainable choices.

Scheduling events during the day minimizes the use of stadium lighting; buying sturdy, long-lasting sports equipment cuts down on waste; reducing the use of non-organic pesticides and fertilizers on sports fields prevents contamination of the surrounding area.

UNEP published a how-to book in 2001 that provides sustainable solutions for recreational league organizers and big sports corporations alike.

Sustainable Sport Management is a great starting point for those who want to minimize their environmental footprint.

Whether it’s cycling to games or reusing sports equipment, environmental sensitivity is an attitude.

As small as these actions may seem, they reflect a positive change in the way we’re treating the planet.