Rich anthology penetrates the intricacies of the relationship between sport and environment


Daniel Svensson
Division of Science, Technology and Society, Chalmers University of Technology

Brian P. McCullough & Timothy B. Kellison (eds.)
Routledge Handbook of Sport and the Environment
467 pages, hardcover.
Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge 2018 (Routledge International Hadbooks)
ISBN 978-1-138-66615-3

Routledge’s International Handbook series goes on with impressive frequency and scope. While the word in question has been removed from the title, it is nonetheless international in its approach and authorship (though both editors are US-based). Here, the spotlight is on the relationship between sport and environment. Environmental concerns have been addressed in earlier publications in the International Handbook-series (not least in the Routledge International Handbook of Outdoor Studies and The Routledge International Handbook of Walking Studies) this is the first to explicitly center on how sport relates to environment.

As in the other incarnations of this series, we are dealing with a massive number of authors and chapters. To be precise, 34 chapters divided into six sections. Due to this, the first part of the review will be a descriptive summary of the book while the second part will be more reflective.

The first section presents an overview of the field. The introduction by editors McCullough and Kellison points out that sport is seen as a deliverer of positive societal outcomes. They argue that sport could work with environmental issues in two ways – both by managing its own environmental impact (transports, materials, arenas etcetera) and by using its platform as something that millions and millions are engaged in to influence athletes, fans and others into a more sustainable practice. If this is agreed upon, then there is a potential in sport to not only lower its environmental impact but to be a driving force for sustainability. Chapter two (by Cheryl Mallen) is an overview of the research on sport and environment. This is helpful as it shows clearly how research on sports and environment has predominantly been done within sport management and sport-related tourism. Chapter three (Allen R. Sanderson & Sabina L. Sheikh) discusses the relationship between environment and economy in sports, and they emphasize the need for better evaluation and analysis of how costs and benefits are distributed among different actors and organizations. Danny Rosenberg (chapter four) takes an ethical approach to the topic, thus adding a well-needed perspective. Rosenberg argues that while different sports have different nature ideologies, the sport community could do well to apply a certain degree of ecological pragmatism in order to get concrete change started. Chapter five (Lisa M. DeChano-Cook & Fred M. Shelley) zooms in on major events, and shows how climate change, air pollution and other environmental issues have made several earlier Olympic host cities unsuitable for hosting future Olympic Games. Chapter six (Greg Dingle & Cheryl Mallen) calls for sport-environmental sustainability (sport-ES) to be included in every sport studies/management program, either as stand-alone course(s) or as an integrated topic in all courses.

The second section of the book deals with managerial and marketing aspects. Julie Stevens (chapter seven suggest that capacity building may be a key to understanding how and why environmental sustainability work is/is not done in sports. Chapter eight (Jon Helge Lesjø & Eerlend Aas Gulbrandsen) gives an insight into how organizations (in this case the IOC) have included sustainability in their management of events. This is closely connected to the communication about sustainability and environmental issues, which Michael E. Pfahl dissects in chapter nine. He argues that transparency is vital, and that sustainability communication should not be reduced to a marketing strategy. In relation to this, chapter 10 (Galen T. Trail & Brian P. McCullough) takes the interesting perspective of how sport can market sustainability and influence sport consumers and fans. Then follows several chapters dealing with sponsorship; how sport clubs and organizations can use their environmental work to attract sponsors in general (ch. 11, Lana L. Huberty) or from the food/drink industry specifically (ch. 12, T. Bettina Cornwell & Joerg Koenigstorfer), how employees may react to social responsibility initiatives and sport sponsorship (ch. 13, Martin R. Edwards). Finally, chapter 14 (Joseph Weiler & Patrick Weiler) analyzes how the environmental sustainability strategies of the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver was used to promote sustainable development in the region after the Games.

I read this volume as one of many signs that sport can no longer escape issues of environmental impact, sustainability and climate change.

Section three includes different approaches to the implementation of sustainability in the modus operandi of sport facilities and organizations. Andrea Collins and Annette Roberts (ch. 15) compares the environmental impact of major sport events such as the FA Cup Final and the Rugby 6 Nations. Sheila N. Nguyen (ch. 16) explores the role of environmental certifications for sport facilities and events, while Kyriaki Kaplanidou (ch. 17) focuses on the environmental legacies of large-scale sport events, legacies that have the potential of being quite positive.  Eleni Theodoraki (ch. 18) provides a case study of the assessment of the London 2012 Olympic Games, and Kelly Potteiger (ch. 19) connects athletic training with environmental sustainability and develops ideas for how green techniques could be implemented in training practice.

Event management is the theme of section four. Kathryn L. Heinze and Sara Soderstrom starts off with their chapter (20) on how local contexts and stakeholder interaction affects the sustainability of sport venues and point to the need for local adaption of more general sustainability models. Andy Gillentine (ch. 21) looks at the sustainability dimension in tailgating events, while Jonathan M. Casper and Kyle S. Bunds (ch. 22) have a similar topic but with a focus on tailgating and air quality. In chapter 23, Danny O’Brien and Jess Ponting deals with sustainability certification in surf tourism.

Section five is where socio-cultural perspectives are most visible. Chapter 24 (Jay Johnson & Adam Ehsan Ali) discusses the risks that sport environmentalism ends up in greenwashing, a risk they relate to the market-driven orientation of many sport organizations and events. Vinathe Sharma-Brymer, Tonia Gray and Eric Brymer (ch. 25) show how sport participation may cultivate deeper environmental identities and behaviors, though some sports and activities may have more potential than others in this regard. Melanie Sartore-Baldwin (ch. 26) questions the anthropocentric perspective and explores an inter-species dimension to sport sustainability. This can be considered a direct part of the sport (as in horse-riding) but also indirectly as some sports may threaten natural habitats of certain species. Water consumption in/at sport facilities is the topic of chapter 27 (by Kyle S. Bunds), who highlights how certain sports (e.g. golf, skiing) consume a lot of water. Bunds shares some sad examples of excessive water usage, but also some encouraging examples of how the water issue has been prioritized. This section rounds off with chapter 28 by Karin Book, where she uses the example of Malmö to show that sport and physical activity in public urban spaces can be used to make cities more sustainable. Indeed, planning for health, recreation and physical activity may also further environmental sustainability.

The sixth and final section mainly contains contributions about law and governance. In chapter 29, Alex Porteshawver looks at the application of general environmental laws and regulations in sport stadiums. It seems as though public engagement and/or regulations may be necessary to make sustainability a priority for stadium builders and operators. Here is perhaps one area where sportification could be tweaked so that sustainability is part of the requirements for new stadiums, much like media facilities and high-quality floodlights already are. The efforts by the European Union to promote environmental sustainability in sport is the topic of Arnout Geeraert’s chapter 30. This contribution makes it clear that while there certainly are ambitions in this area, the lack of active encouragement and serious monitoring have thus far limited the impact.

Citius, Altius, Fortius can be beautiful at the sports arena, but does it work in relation to a society that needs to lower its environmental impact?

Chapter 31 (Vassil Girginov) zooms in on a specific event, namely the London 2012 Olympic Games, in order to analyze how sustainability was governed before, during and after the games. Chapter 32 (Matthew T. Bodie & Lucas D. Jackson) discusses the growing number of initiatives for sustainability in the major American sport leagues and concludes that most of these efforts have been voluntary rather than adaptions to new legislation etcetera. The section ends with a proposed model for evaluating new stadium proposals with ecological economics and law (ch. 33, Christopher M. McLeod & John T. Holden). Such evaluations could be part of a more environmentally sustainable sportification process.

In the final chapter, editors Kellison and McCullough summarize that while there are many issues remaining, there are now many positive examples of how sport organizations and other actors are actually very ambitious in their work for environmental sustainability. A problem however is the many actors that have not yet committed to sustainability, or that have committed half-heartedly and reduced environmental sustainability to a form of green-washing.

I agree with the editors that the chapters in this book show the variety of environmental issues and initiatives in sport. While many highlight how sport organization, facilities, participants and supporters still act in unsustainable ways, there is also an abundance of positive examples. I read this volume as one of many signs that sport can no longer escape issues of environmental impact, sustainability and climate change. Of course, such an escape has never been possible, but many federations and associations in sport have acted as if it were. Now, large research projects have been initiated on this topic in many countries, including Sweden (Mistra Sport & Outdoors, starts in 2020). Several national and international federations and associations of sport (among them the IOC and FIFA) have begun to address environmental issues in a more ambitious manner.

Perhaps it is in the name of sustainability and reducing the use of paper that someone decided to print this book a very modest font size? It feels unnecessary to submit it to the public in this less-than-reader-friendly format.

That aside, I would like to summarize my impressions by discussing the cover. A beautiful picture of a lone hockey player at a frozen lake against a backdrop of snowy mountains is a signal of the deep connection between sport and environment. The irony in that one of the most famous visualizations of our environmental predicament (the Great Acceleration) has the shape of a hockey stick should not be lost here (McNeill & Engelke, 2016). Nevertheless, the cover image will say different things depending on the context. To me, ice hockey is one of the most modern sports in terms of indoorization and removing environment from the equation. Other sports, such as bandy or cross-country skiing, have been much more dependent on nature both in practice and in rhetoric (Svensson 2016, Andersson 2019). This would indicate that while many of the problems concerning sport and the environment are international and global in scope, perceptions and traditions on national, regional and local level shape the way we understand them. If there is anything missing in this rich anthology, it is the role of such perceptions and ideas in the relationship between sport and environment. Even if there is a section on sociocultural perspectives on sport, I think the book would have benefited from more historical overview and more critical discussion of the environmental ideologies of sport. What this handbook brings to the table is mainly perspectives of management, governance, facilities and law. All very important, but I would argue that a fundamental problem with sports in relation to the environment and to sustainability lies in its core ideas. Citius, Altius, Fortius can be beautiful at the sports arena, but does it work in relation to a society that needs to lower its environmental impact? I guess we can conclude that not even a well-written and important international handbook can cover everything. However much the font size is reduced.

Copyright © Daniel Svensson 2019


Andersson, T. (2019). Den döende bandyn? En säregen historia om svensk natur, nationalism och nostalgi. Malmö: Arx förlag.
Hall, C. M., Ram, Y. & Shoval, N. (eds.) (2017). The Routledge International Handbook of Walking Studies. Abingdon & New York: Routledge.
Humberstone, B., Prince, H. & Henderson, K. A. (eds.) (2016). Routledge International Handbook of Outdoor Studies. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.
McNeill, J.R. & Engelke, P. (2016). The Great Acceleration: an environmental history of the Anthropocene since 1945. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Svensson, D. (2016). Scientizing performance in endurance sports: The emergence of ‘rational training’ in cross-country skiing, 1930-1980. Stockholm: Kungliga Tekniska Högskolan.


Table of Content

Section I: Foundations of Sport and Environmental Sustainability

  1. An introduction to environmental sustainability and sport
    Brian P. McCullough and Timothy B. Kellison
  2. Robustness of the sport and environment sustainability literature and where to go from here
    Cheryl Mallen
  3. Economics, sport, and the environment: Incentives and intersections
    Allen R. Sanderson and Sabina L. Shaikh
  4. Ethical foundations for sustainability in sport
    Danny Rosenberg
  5. Climate change and the future of international events: A case of the Olympic and Paralympic Games
    Lisa M. DeChano-Cook and Fred M. Shelley
  6. Sport-environmental sustainability (sport-ES) education
    Greg Dingle and Cheryl Mallen

Section II: Management and Marketing

  1. Organizational capacity and sport, the environment, and sustainability: Making the case for capacity building
    Julie Stevens
  2. The Olympics: Institutionalization and standardization of sustainability
    Jon Helge Lesjø and Erlend Aas Gulbrandsen
  3. Environmental sustainability rhetoric in sport
    Michael E. Pfahl
  4. Marketing sustainability through sport: The importance of target market insights
    Galen T. Trail and Brian P. McCullough
  5. Using sustainability to attract new partnerships
    Lana L. Huberty
  6. Sponsors as meso level actors in sport: Understanding individual decisions as foundational to sustainability in food and drink
    Bettina Cornwell and Joerg Koenigstorfer
  7. Corporate social responsibility campaigns and sports sponsorship: Employee responses
    Martin R. Edwards
  8. Vancouver, green capital: The green business branding strategy of the host city of an Olympic Games
    Joseph Weiler and Patrick Weiler

Section III: Facilities and Operations

  1. Assessing the environmental impact of economic activity surrounding major sport events
    Andrea Collins and Annette Roberts
  2. Environmental certifications of sport facilities and events
    Sheila N. Nguyen
  3. Resident input and mega event legacies: Environmental concerns
    Kyriaki Kaplanidou
  4. Third-party assurance of sustainability reporting: The case of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games
    Eleni Theodoraki
  5. Implementing environmental sustainability in athletic training operations
    Kelly Potteiger

Section IV: Event Management

  1. Sport venue sustainability: The role of local context and stakeholder engagement
    Kathryn L. Heinze and Sara Soderstrom
  2. Sustainable behaviors and the tailgater
    Andy Gillentine
  3. Tailgating and air quality
    Jonathan M. Casper and Kyle S. Bunds
  4. STOKE certified: Initiating sustainability certification in surf tourism
    Danny O’Brien and Jess Ponting

Section V: Sociocultural Approaches

  1. Sustainability, greenwashing, and the light green approach to sport environmentalism
    jay johnson and Adam Ehsan Ali
  2. Sport participation to create a deeper environmental identity with pro-environmental behaviors
    Vinathe Sharma-Brymer, Tonia Gray, and Eric Brymer
  3. Sport and interspecies equity-based sustainability
    Melanie Sartore-Baldwin
  4. Water and sports facilities: Usage, issues, and solutions
    Kyle S. Bunds
  5. Physical activity, self-organized sport, and sustainable urban development
    Karin Book

Section VI: Law and Governance

  1. Going green: Environmental review, design, and operation of sports facilities
    Alex Porteshawver
  2. A little green: The European Union’s efforts to promote environmental sustainability in sport
    Arnout Geeraert
  3. Environmental sustainability and governance in the 2012 London Games
    Vassil Girginov
  4. Law and norms in sustainability developments in the major American sports leagues
    Matthew T. Bodie and Lucas D. Jackson
  5. Steady-state economics and stadiums: Using the date of ecological maturity to conceptualize and govern sport facility construction
    Christopher M. McLeod and John T. Holden

Epilogue: A pragmatic perspective on the future of sustainability in sport
Timothy B. Kellison and Brian P. McCullough


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