Environment, climate, sustainability – challenges for the sports facility of today and tomorrow
Although the current coronavirus pandemic has to some extent silenced last year's climate debates, environmental, climate and sustainability issues remain among the greatest challenges of our era. Environmental pollution through CO² emissions and macro and micro plastics, climate warming, the destruction and containment of natural environments and the squandering of natural resources are just some of the associated problems of which there is now widespread awareness and which must be resolved or at least alleviated. While the scale of the damage done hitherto is only gradually being revealed by scientists and the pressure to find comprehensive solutions is building, economic interests in many areas nevertheless seem still to be hindering or weakening effective corrective measures.
However, environmental protection, climate-friendliness and sustainable planning and action have long since ceased to be the sole preserve of governments, conglomerates and other global players. Over the last 50 years the environmental movement has gained numerous supporters, put the environment and climate protection on the political agenda and engaged very many people with its findings. Today every individual is asked to do their bit for the environment and the climate. Environmental and climate protection begins in the private sphere, from where it extends into society, the workplace and everyday life, depending on the zeal with which it is pursued and the strength of individual environmental awareness. Members of the younger generation in particular have stepped up their commitment in recent years and are demanding the immediate implementation of significantly more stringent measures to protect the environment and the climate. Support for such action is steadily growing to the extent that it is no longer possible to shy away from the challenges we face in relation to the environment, climate and sustainability. And this is not only the result of new legislation and the demands of the movement - the environmental awareness of every individual is also constantly growing.
And the topic is also top of the agenda today in the construction, planning and maintenance of sports facilities. Key terms such as "climate neutrality", "resource conservation", "low emissions", "biodiversity" and "life cycle analysis" have now become commonplace. A high level of importance is already being attached to these considerations in sports associations and many local authorities but naturally they must also be allied with the requirements of the sport and sports people. There is not just a need for legal amendments and changes in standards, new directions and compromises - in some areas a complete rethink is required. It goes without saying that this is not always easy and that there are sometimes significant differences. This has been illustrated by the debate about microplastic granules on many synthetic turf pitches. On the one hand synthetic turf is categorically rejected by many environmental activists, in some cases based on scientific research which isn't entirely reliable. On the other there are many sports people and associations fearful that they will be unable to meet the cost of satisfying new environmental standards. And although the industry has already been working for some time on solutions to prevent microplastic emissions through granules and there are also some alternative products and technical supplements on the market, environmental associations in particular remain steadfast in their standpoint.
In recent years microplastics have become one of the key environmental concerns. It has long been known that plastic materials do not decompose easily in nature and can in fact take decades and even centuries to break down. The earth is already littered with millions of tonnes of old plastic waste. In the world's oceans, for example, there are one-square-kilometre islands of plastic waste and tens of thousands of birds and fish are dying wretched deaths because they are mistaking some of this waste for food. However, scientific research has ascertained that it is not just large items of plastic that are causing problems but also smaller ones. We are talking here not just about the plastic pellets on synthetic turf pitches but microscopically small plastic particles which are now present everywhere: in the ocean, in the desert, in the Arctic, in our drinking water and even in the air. Politics has declared war on microplastics and in Europe new guidelines are soon expected to come into force. But would a total ban on plastic, as some environmental associations are demanding, be realistic for sports facility construction. Are we to return to cinder tracks for athletics? To heavily used football pitches, which are unplayable in rain and snow? To streetball courts and mini football pitches on concrete? Plastic has proved its worth to athletes in sports facility construction. A lower risk of injury, better conditions, more pleasant to play on, usable when it is raining – synthetic turf surfaces and components offer numerous useful characteristics in sports facility construction. A complete ban would result in the disappearance of all these advantages, which cannot be to the benefit of sport. What we need to do instead is work on the negative characteristics of plastic. Preventing the release of microplastic into the environment through greater abrasion resistance and improved drainage and significant optimisation of recyclability and options for reuse would be more effective. So the industry needs to work on new developments, some of them even already exist. New legislation should give research, development and planning sufficient time and space to bring new environmentally friendly innovations to market and establish them there. Sports facility construction that benefits the sports person and the environment would be most welcome in the future.
In addition, every effort must also be made to prevent large- and small-scale plastic waste around the sports facility. This includes training materials, furniture and, above all, everyday items used by sports people and spectators. Here once again the emphasis should be on robust, recyclable and environment-friendly products. Together with the UN, the International Olympic Committee established the "Plastic Game Plan for Sport" initiative, which provides guidance on creating effective plans to reduce plastic waste such as drinks containers, food packaging, sports apparel and entry tickets. It is a very sensible initiative - however, there is no mention of sports facility construction.
A climate-friendly sports facility is one that produces little to no CO² or other harmful gases. And here it is not the material for the sports surface that is most important, even if natural turf naturally has a better climate balance than synthetic turf. For good recyclability and the creation of compensation areas in sports facility construction can certainly improve the balance of synthetic surfaces. The climate-friendliness of a sports facility can also be maximised with lots of "smaller measures", in particular with regard to energy efficiency. Energy-saving sports facility lighting, the use of motion sensors, well-insulated buildings, low water consumption, fuel-efficient heating and solar thermal installations - it is possible to conserve resources and in so doing reduce the emission of harmful gases in many areas. And climate-friendly sports facilities are not only good for the environment – financial support is also available for many reconstruction measures and exemplary facilities are certainly recognised by associations.
The theme of "sustainability in sports facility construction" is multifaceted. In 2017 the Federal Institute of Sport Science published a document online entitled "Sustainable Outdoor Sports Facilities - Approaches to the Implementation of Sustainable Development for Outdoor Sports Facilities". In this document, the authors – the scientist Jutta Katthage and Prof. Dr. Martin Thieme Hack (Osnabrück University of Applied Sciences,) introduce the "Sustainable Outdoor Sports Facility Evaluation System", presenting six different aspects of sustainability in relation to the planning, construction and maintenance of sports facilities. Within the individual aspects there are a host of evaluation criteria which then yield a picture of the sustainability of individual sports facilities.
Ecological sustainability covers requirements already listed with regard to climate-friendliness, resource conservation and emission prevention. However, environmental impacts through pesticides and overfertilisation should also be avoided and every effort made to maximise biodiversity in and around the sports facility.
Economic sustainability concerns the life cycle costs of a sports facility. With the basic question being: How expensive is an hour of play on the finished facility? This aspect is important above all in planning, for example: in the selection of surface materials or the decision on a construction method. This is not just about cost efficiency but also user- and environment-friendliness. The maintenance and disposal costs and the lifespan of the sports facility are also key here.
Sociocultural and functional sustainability covers, among other things, the user-friendliness of a sports facility. Were the wishes of users taken into account through involvement in planning, for example? Is a sports facility accessible to everyone? How is the quality of visit? Is the sports facility safe? What is the situation with regard to accessibility? In addition, aspects such as vandalism prevention and convertibility are taken into consideration.
In the evaluation of technical quality the construction method and building materials used are examined. Under consideration here are the ecological characteristics of the materials used and working methods. The existence and quality of a care and maintenance concept are also scrutinised.
Process quality focuses on the sustainability of the planning process, the execution of construction and the management of a sports facility. In doing so ecological, economic and sociological sustainability criteria are extended to these processes.
Location quality then scrutinises the local position of a sports facility. Criteria such as transport connections, noise emission and the integration of the site into the environment are also covered.
Like many other areas of our lives, sports facility construction will be required to abide by more stringent environmental and climate justice requirements in future. Global issues such as climate warming and the waste/microplastic problem will require not only new legislation but also fresh approaches to research. However, there will also be an abundance of opportunities to create pioneering sports facilities which not only satisfy many environmental and climate requirements but also enable sports people of all ability levels to pursue their sport in optimum conditions.
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