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13.08.2021 - Ausgabe: 4/2021

Sports fields in times of climate change – new challenges when it comes to planning and maintenance

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Climate change is no longer an ominous future threat, but a reality. The increasing frequency of extreme weather events, such as the recent heatwave in western North America or the severe flooding in southern and western Germany and neighbouring countries, is a clear indication that our climate is changing. We must therefore address climate change more vigorously at all levels in the future. A great deal can also be done in this regard when it comes to the construction and maintenance of sports fields. Two different questions need to be considered: How can climate protection / climate friendliness be advanced? And how can we adapt to the impacts of climate change? Both questions require a new way of thinking and new solutions. 

The long-debated question of the cause of climate change is no longer relevant today. For it is obvious that our climate is changing. This not only manifests itself in an increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, but it can also be quantified by scientists. High CO2 emissions are a driving force behind this change. If we want to at least curb or slow down the changes, then it is now high time to adopt a new way of thinking. In addition to a willingness to change and, of course, the necessary financial resources, we also need clear guidelines and measures on how to achieve climate friendliness and carbon neutrality in the future.  There are many possibilities when it comes to sports field construction and maintenance. 

Climate-friendly sports fields – a lot of measures are subsidized 

A key component of climate friendliness is energy efficiency. In many sectors, electricity generation is still a major source of CO2 emissions, so high electricity consumption is always bad for the climate. Therefore, all electrical systems in a sports facility should be designed to waste as little energy as possible. LED flood lights and LED lighting installations are to be preferred. These use significantly less energy to emit the same amount of light. Timers and motion-sensor light switches additionally save energy. It is even more effective if the sports facility itself generates electricity. For example, solar panels can be installed on suitable building roofs to provide electricity for the sports facility itself.

Just like electricity, heating is also an important starting point for reducing climate-wrecking CO2 emissions. On the one hand, the heating system itself must be considered. Energy-efficient low-carbon systems are to be preferred. The market offers a number of sensible options, from wood pellet heating systems to solar thermal systems. In addition, it should be possible to control heating times and adapt them to occupancy patterns. Indoor sports facilities and all buildings adjacent to the sports field should also be well insulated to minimize the need for heating. 

You can also save a lot of energy when it comes to water consumption. After all, drinking water is a precious commodity and its treatment is very energy-intensive. Water-saving fixtures should be installed in showers and toilets. Especially in municipal sports facilities, shower heads and faucets will often keep dripping overnight when the tap has not been turned off properly.  Appropriate installations can help to automatically shut off the water. Rainwater can be collected in cisterns and used to irrigate sports turf or green spaces, saving additional water. 

All these energy efficiency measures have two things in common. Firstly, saving energy saves you money and secondly, most measures are subsidized. The respective state sports federations provide information and assistance for municipalities and clubs in this regard. 

In addition to energy efficiency, there are many other ways to reduce your carbon footprint. Adequate cycle paths leading to sports facilities as well as sufficient and secure bicycle parking facilities encourage sportspeople to ditch their cars for bikes. The carbon footprint can also be reduced when it comes to procurement and equipment: e.g. wood products from sustainably managed forests, recycled paper, energy-saving electrical appliances, etc. Some municipalities even provide clear guidelines in the regulations governing the use of their sports facilities, for example banning the use of disposable tableware and disposable plastic in general.


Making sure that people can be physically active even in the face of climate change  

Even if it should indeed be possible to mitigate climate change by making many changes, from today's perspective, it will probably not be possible to entirely slow down or even reverse the impacts. Therefore, in addition to a climate-friendly infrastructure, one should always respond to the impacts of climate change. This may well lead to contradictions, for example in the case of energy-efficient redevelopment. As mentioned above, good thermal insulation helps you to save on your heating costs. However, it also ensures that heat is stored for a long time, even on hot days. As a result, the buildings heat up very quickly, which can be problematic especially in indoor sports halls in midsummer. So, before you have to resort to energy-intensive cooling of sports halls at some point, you should definitely take local conditions into account with regard to thermal insulation. For the hotter the summers, the milder the winters in many places. 

While physicians recommend that people should avoid exercising in hot weather, it is questionable whether this advice can be upheld as extreme heat events are becoming more common, more severe, and longer-lasting. The question will rather be how to ensure that people can still engage in sports in hot weather. In order to act in a climate-friendly manner, one must not rely on electric cooling solutions such as those in the Arab region or other desert areas. Shaded sports facilities could be a viable option. The market already provides solutions for permanently or temporarily shading sports fields, whether they are large sports areas or mini-pitches. The demand will certainly grow and, as far as possible, we should ensure that people can continue to do sports in the fresh air instead of moving to air-conditioned halls for outdoor sports.  

Appropriate precautionary action should also be taken in response to the increase in extreme rainfall events. Protection against flooding will increasingly have a role to play. In addition to the resistance of the materials, good drainage is a key factor. In the future, drainage systems will have to be more efficient everywhere, not least to protect the sports facilities and athletes. 

Climate change is a major challenge for our society as a whole. And one thing is clear: change should happen today rather than tomorrow. We cannot afford to keep waiting to act on climate. After all, it should still be possible to do a variety of sports in the future. 


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