When Sports meets Sustainability, it gives birth to SandSI

June 5, 2017

“We need to do more for our planet.” - Dr Allen Hershkowitz  

On May 23rd, I had the opportunity to represent Finn Partners at the Sport and Sustainability International (SandSI) Inaugural Congress in Paris. This event took place in the very symbolic location of INSEP which is the French National Institute of Sports, Expertise and Performance, in the Pierre de Coubertin lecture hall. Pierre de Coubertin is considered the founder of the modern Olympic Games in 1894, and he founded the International Olympic Committee. At this stage, you've already gathered that sport is going to be the centre of this post. This initiative is timely as it coincides with France’s “Sustainability week,” as well as the kick-off of Roland Garros, also known as the French Open.

First, what is SandSI? It’s a unique movement which aspires to “gather the world’s most influential sports federations, their fans, and related businesses [in order] to promote urgently needed environmental remedies. The creation of SandSI places the global sports industry and its fans squarely in support of the world’s most progressive and meaningful ecological agenda, including support for the Paris Agreement and the UN Sustainable Development Goals.”

SandSI gathers organisations, including representatives from almost 30 countries and six continents-- Europe, Asia, Australia, Africa and North and South America. Their collective goal is to “ensure that sustainability is a key business principle throughout the global sports industry and in the thousands of communities throughout the world that host sporting events.”

Their reason for being is enough to inspire. We all like to attend sports events, to watch the Olympics on TV, Roland Garros, or the World Cup. And more frequently on a local level, individuals enjoy participating in running races and endurance events, whether they be 5, 10, 15, 21 or 42km…but have you ever wondered who picks up the trash that is discarded by participants while running these events? I have! But I stopped there. SandSI and their partners, however, go further and investigate these important issues and then they turn thoughts into actions.

Last week, I discovered some of the ‘behind the scenes’ of the most prestigious sports organizations and their ethical values. Let me walk you through this enlightening event coordinated by Dr Allen Hershkowitz, a very inspirational speaker and organizing force behind SandSI.

As a way of introduction, Neil Beecroft, the President of SandSI, gave a powerful speech focusing on the sadness of the Manchester attacks which occurred the night before, followed by a minute of silence. Then, Allen Hershkowitz and Rick Fedrizzi, CEO of The International WELL Building Institute (IWBI), reviewed the need to address urgent ecological needs with to date, not any global or local laws officially saying that governments need to react accordingly. Unfortunately, nowadays we take the ecosystem for granted and neglect it. But we don’t say it enough: change is now, even if – as Hershkowitz says himself – we will no longer be there by the time the climate gets better or the water becomes more clear. But is that any reason not to try? Absolutely not.

That’s what people in charge of sustainability within their organisations such as Maël Besson, for the French Ministry of Sports, Julia Pallé for FormulaE, Didier Lehénaff, founder of Eco Games and SVPlanète, who is also Vice-President of SandSI, Julie Duffus, for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) or even Jonathan Smith for the Golf Environment Organization (GEO), to name a few*, came to demonstrate with a sample of their daily work. It was breathtaking! I won’t go into the details of each presenter** – even though they all presented impressive plans.

I’ll take a moment to touch on Julie Duffus’ presentation and conclusion. She showed us how the Olympic Committee is working hard each year to achieve sustainable growth and how it helps the host country in the long term. Duffus’ focus was on the gold medals and the total removal of mercury from the medals. She showed an inspiring video that showed how – beyond the difficulty of winning a gold medal in the Olympics – the process of making or creating a gold medal is even more difficult and dangerous. We saw that no matter the sport, being sustainable should be a part of the DNA.

As environmentalists remind us, “there is no plan B, because there is no planet B.” That’s why each organisation is working as hard as possible to reduce its ecological footprint, whether that be through carpooling, public transportation vs personal cars, recycled vs certified paper or wood, Eco-lodging and sustainable food for major events. The common observation is that there’s no proper solution to climate change, only possibilities and innovations. The best options come when people work together toward a shared goal: saving our planet! I know, I sound like Leonardo Dicaprio here, but he’s got a point and he’s showing the way in using his popularity and fame to promote a cause. He’s not the only one of his kind. That’s what SandSI aims to achieve by involving sports icons in this fight for the planet.

The objective is to influence major events to be more sustainable and show the way for smaller events and create a virtuous circle. To be honest, when we talk about our planet, the conclusion is rather negative. But when you see all this positive energy directed at healing it, you can only be swept up by it and want to join in the fight! All the people involved in SandSI are volunteers; they give time for a cause they believe in. It may be quite common in the US to do that, and some people in Europe stand out, but this is far from the majority. For the sake of the future and for our future generations, each and every one of us can and should join the fight at their own level to save the planet and humankind!

For more information, please visit: http://www.sandsi.org/index.html#/home.

*Full list of speakers:

  • Maël Besson, Head of sustainability projects, Ministry of sports
  • Julia Pallé, Sustainability manager FormulaE
  • Viviane Fraisse, Head of projects, FFT (French Federation of Tennis)
  • Didier Lehénaff, President of SVPlanète and The Eco-Games
  • Marc Bultez, Director of La Recyclerie Sportive (Sports Eco Recycling Center)
  • Julie Duffus, Sustainability manager for the IOC
  • Jonathan Smith, Chief executive, Golf Environment Organization (GEO) – Golf approach to sustainability
  • Alexis Leroy, CEO, Allcot group
  • Aurélien Sautière, Executive director FSC France
  • Jeremy Mathieu, BBC Sustainability Advisor and International Manager for BAFTA Albert

** my next post will be about Eco Games by Didier Lehénaff.


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