Outdoor sports, environment and sustainability – A Virtual Seminar powered by ENOS

Dec 10th , 2020

The importance of getting active outdoors has never been more apparent. Outdoor activity is an important aspect of daily life for many people and the Covid-19 pandemic has encouraged more people to re-connect with nature and the outdoors and, in doing so, appreciate the value of outdoor sport. Recent participation studies show a growing interest from citizens across Europe to access natural and protected areas. Participation provides extensive opportunities for everyone to experience nature connectedness and sustainable human-nature interactions. However, getting active outdoors includes the use of highly vulnerable environments which are increasingly subject to pressure. Increased demand comes at a time when there are concerning reports on the consequences of climate change and degradation of ecosystems, which are increasing at an alarming rate. The key question is: ‘How do we find a balance for the future?’

The European Network for Outdoor Sports (ENOS) hosted this virtual seminar to explore the outdoor sport sector’s potential to mitigate negative impacts of outdoor sports practice and adopt environmentally sustainable behaviours at a wider level. The event was designed to generate dialogue and showcase ideas and innovation through bringing stakeholders together to learn, share and inspire each other.  The event also provided the opportunity to discuss the contribution of outdoor sports to the European Union’s long-term plans and strategies to address environmental issues, protecting nature, greening our economy and reversing the degradation of ecosystems. The content of the seminar will contribute to the development of several policy position papers highlighting the impact and further potential of outdoor sports. 

Saving our playground

By Kilian Jornet, Outdoor sports professional athlete & President of the Kilian Jornet Foundation

Outdoor sport participation can result in high carbon emissions (50% above some activities) due to the transport implications of accessing the natural environment (particularly for those living in cities and travelling to participate). Participants of outdoor sport are in most of cases aware of the potential impact of their activity, but these impacts are insufficiently mitigated. Reducing the international dimension of events and engaging more local people would also lessen impact. Within events, a lot of the ‘goodie bags’ distributed to competitors have no real use and end up in landfill. A new way of thinking needs to become the norm. Scottish events are trialling the use of environmentally friendly activities (e.g. planting a tree and offering local produce) as an alternative to traditional participant rewards.

The potential role of brands goes beyond the production and commercial elements of supplying goods and equipment – they are a powerful influencer, and their communications and actions can make a difference.  Brands and technologies have evolved, and this has enabled more environmentally friendly resources, techniques and products. However, it is not enough. Micro-plastics have been found at all areas of Everest – from base camp to the summit, and throughout our oceans too. Design and manufacture must continue to evolve, and standards should apply internationally.  Equipment needs to be recycled not replaced – to ensure a long lifecycle after production. Sustainability needs to be factored into every aspect of the process.

Over the past 50 years, 68% of Earth’s biodiversity has been lost. We are part of the ecosystem and have a role to play beyond looking after ourselves. Insight and education are not sufficiently accessible; practitioners often must work hard to find information. This needs to change and there are good examples of how to present such information in accessible ways https://zones-de-tranquillite.ch/

The UN has 17 Sustainable Development Goals (STGs) and it is possible for those involved in the design and delivery of outdoor activities to consider their role and responsibilities in relation to these sustainability goals. The outdoor sports sector should take the lead to address the environmental transition.

More information at www.kilianjornetfoundation.org

An Unlikely Champion

By Mark Held, President of the European Outdoor Group and Founder of the European Outdoor Conservation Association (EOCA)

In economic terms, the Outdoor sector is very small in comparison to other sectors. It has always been very entrepreneurial, run by passionate enthusiasts, many of whom are activists.  The majority of brands are SMEs but some are major corporations / global brands. Businesses are always looking for a competitive advantage and unfortunately competition took over and offshore sourcing began (especially from Asia). Consequently, the sector lost sight of the supply chain and the ‘halo effect’ began. There was a huge gap between imagery and hero brands and the reality of the supply chain – practices that the sector should not be proud of were taking place. This created a realisation / awakening for the industry. The sector needed to be held to account and their net reaction was to act. In 2008, EOG and OIA (US) started to focus on sustainability and developed the Echo Index – everything was transparent, and the impact was measurable. But changes within the outdoor industry could not change the world. So, Patagonia partnered with Walmart and tried to instigate global change. This is by far the largest sustainability initiative in the world across all areas of apparel. Improving sustainability goes hand in hand with other principles – giving back, minimising the environmental impact, and treating people fairly. 

In 2007 the European Outdoor Conservation Association (EOCA) was formed – funded by the outdoor sector to give grants to projects and protect the environment. The network is very active and raises awareness on environmental issues and climate change. EOG also work with ‘Fair wear’ which is a multi-stakeholder organisation, but outdoor brands form the largest proportion of the membership and sit on the Board.

Overall, the outdoor sector has ‘punched above its weight’. Practices introduced by the outdoor sector have been implemented and have made a difference across wider sectors. The key issue to address is the ‘consumption model’ itself – our rate of consumption cannot continue. The challenge is how do outdoor brands become more than just the product? How do they engage with consumers? How can practices like repairing / loaning and re-using items become the norm? Brands have huge enthusiasm for acting responsibly and are going in the right direction, and policies such as the European Green Deal can support this.

www.europeanoutdoorgroup.com  www.outdoorconservation.eu

Learning to love the outdoors, encouraging cultures of compassion and how best to mitigate our impact

Dr. Tadgh McIntyre, Environmental Psychologist in the Health Research Institute at the University of Limerick and H2020 GoGreen Routes highlighted that we need to set the agenda for the future to influence and shape how outdoor sport can contribute to all aspects of society, suggesting that being in tune with nature is being in tune with yourself. Tadgh highlighted the usefulness of mapping challenges and solutions against the UN’s STGs which was presented by Killian and is a powerful way to showcase what should be done. The sector needs a more synergistic view – transformative not transactional – and there must be a drive to go beyond appreciation of the outdoors to action.

Promoting synergies and win-win approach

Nicola Notaro, Head of the Nature Unit DG ENV European Commission described the outdoor sector as both a threat and an opportunity from the point of view of environmental conservation. Impacts are often related to the numbers of people involved – large-scale events may have large scale impacts. There is a lot of potential for synergies and creating a ‘win-win’ situation by raising awareness of the importance and value of the outdoors, which leads to a greater willingness to protect it and can also influence consumer choices. Many people have rediscovered the importance of connecting with nature during the pandemic. There is an economic benefit from increasing participation which can be used as a positive to resource protection of the environment. Environmental policy needs to be based on data – there is a potential role of participants in helping with this data collection challenge. All events need an environmental impact assessment. There needs to be a good connection to the EU policy for biodiversity and the Green Deal – along with more tightly regulated activities (organised, planned and executed). There is a very strong case for tackling the challenges and maximising the opportunities.

Paradigm shifting

Mark Held summarised the challenge by the fact that financial performance usually takes precedence for businesses. The financial benefits of synergies need to be realised in other to change ways of working. Social and environmental evaluation of company’s outputs is a lower priority than economic factors. Natural organic movement would be needed. Successful companies are still profit driven and require people to continue to consume products and goods.  Brands are very committed but is this enough?

Effective partnership working is the key

Attention was focused by Dr Noel Doyle, Researcher at Leave No Trace Ireland, when asked about innovative collaborations that can further promote important messages of responsible use of natural areas, that in other geographical areas like South America, we have seen collaborations of Leave No Trace with private organizations such as Suda Outdoors (an App to promote opportunities and trails). Dr Noel Doyle observed that there might be an area for development for that kind of innovation within Europe.

A key question is ‘do we see the world as ‘nature and us’ or are we part of nature?’ A ‘heads, hands and heart’ attitude should be taken. There is an emotive need, and a need for skills, but these must be translated into action. How can people make the right choices and make a difference? Noel attributed the success of Leave No Trace to effective partnership working – it’s all about how to we support and educate others. The programme really gained momentum by growing the partnership and collaborating widely.

Turning values into action

Carol Ritchie, Executive Director of EUROPARC Federation summarised the need to find the balance between opportunities and challenges. How can the outdoor sector contribute? Her two key words were ‘understanding’ and ‘respect’. She highlighted the need for honesty and self-reflection and praised the keynote speakers for their transparency – but these values need to be turned into actions.  Carol suggested that it all starts with individual state of mind and then working with the Federations and Organisations to change perceptions and practices. However, as Noel stated, it all requires strong partnership working: ‘our values need to intercept’. 

Top-level athletes as role models

Killian Jornet suggested that, to make a difference, there needs to be a focus on smaller scale events, with participation limited due to its environmental impacts. For this to happen, we need to create acceptance of the right kind of event. One way to achieve this is to build activities around events which encourage sustainability, capture the atmosphere, activate local people, and advocate the principles. Families and communities are a great part of the outdoor sector and have the potential to instigate change.

Targeting ‘heads, hands, hearts, pockets and families‘.

Dr. Tadgh McIntyre summarised by extending the phrase that we need to ‘win hearts and minds’ to encompass the key messages from the panel… in order to move forwards we need to influence / have an impact on ‘heads, hands, hearts, pockets and families‘.

Key message for the next 10 years

By 2030 we should be successfully on a path to recovery for bio-diversity with: small and sustainable programme of events, big companies working sustainably, and EU support for businesses to ‘Go Green’. We all need to work together to achieve this” – Nicola Notaro, Head of the Nature Unit DG ENV European Commission

Investment in infrastructure, good capacity building, a sustainable economy and living landscapes with viable economies which retain young people to live and work in rural areas” – Carol Ritchie, Executive Director of EUROPARC Federation

We can and must collaborate and communication with partners to achieve these goals. We can do more together than as individuals” – Dr Noel Doyle, Researcher at Leave No Trace Ireland

“Data, understanding, collaboration and a clear set of objectives. Working together and not duplicating efforts” – Mark Held, President of the European Outdoor Group

Important to collaborate, work together and reach across ‘bubbles’. ENOS and similar organisations are important to facilitate coordination and collective working – all towards the same goal. Helping each other despite living in a competitive world. Co-creating a vision together” – Kilian Jornet, Outdoor sports professional athlete

Working together

Eduard Ingles Yuba, Director of the National Institute of Physical Education in Catalonia (INEFC, Universitat de Barcelona) and ENOS representative concluded the seminar: We have considered whether the outdoor sector is a threat or an opportunity for environmental sustainability.  The key is collaboration. There is a strong message of responsibility and a need to bring together people from different sectors and perspectives to learn from each other.

Within ENOS we are working towards and championing this vision of collaboration.  We are working jointly Europarc and agreed the joint 10 principles (see link below). ENOS is working with the EOG, starting an Erasmus+ project to build environmental awareness into the training of coaches, instructors and guides, and communicating with the EU Sport Unit to support the promotion of green sport and exercise, greening of sport in general and contributing to expert groups. 

We need to work together – please join ENOS and work with us. https://www.outdoor-sports-network.eu/join-enos/  #Beactive #Beoutdoors 

Watch the full webinar on the ENOS Youtube Channel