When it comes to sports tackling climate change, you probably wouldn’t start with rugby league.
In the Championship, the changing landscape of the sport now means teams may have to travel halfway across the world to face Toronto Wolfpack for one of their fixtures in Canada.
Whereas in the top tier of rugby league, the trip to France to face Catalans Dragons will also clock up air miles, leaving the sport with a larger carbon footprint than many others.
However, teams from across all divisions of rugby league may soon be looking to take a leaf out of Leeds Rhinos’ book.
In 2018, the club announced a sponsorship with local renewable energy firm Planet-U Energy, a partnership which meant the club’s iconic Emerald Headingley Stadium will be powered with 100% renewable energy through to 2021.
Moreover, in a Super League first, they’ve further decreased their carbon footprint by introducing reusable ‘eco-cups’ at games to reduce their plastic waste on matchdays.
Instead of fans consuming their drink from the common disposable plastic cup, the club now serve fans’ drinks into re-usable cups, which can either be kept by supporters as a souvenir or returned at the end of the match to be used again at the next fixture.
Grant Nicholson, founder of Planet-U Energy is just one of the business brains behind the green revolution and he says people are seeing the Rhinos as trailblazers for a cleaner sport.
“The impact of the deal we have with Rhinos has, in general, been huge,” said Nicholson.
“People see that Headingley has gone green and now a lot of big business people who follow Leeds Rhinos or Yorkshire Cricket think ‘if they’re doing it, why aren’t we doing it?’
“Our whole principle is that we sell 100% renewable energy, as it is now doable to run companies with clean energy.
“If you go back five years renewable energy was very expensive but because the infrastructure has changed in this country, it is now more accessible to people and businesses.”
— Leeds Rhinos (@leedsrhinos) May 18, 2018
Although Leeds may be setting the standard in Super League, rugby league in general is also taking steps to combat climate change.
The Rugby League World Cup, which will be held in England in 2021 (RLWC2021), has joined the likes of FIFA, the International Olympic Committee and Formula E in pledging its support to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and engage fans from across the world in support of the UN Sports for Climate Action Framework, which aims to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.
This is an important and much-needed step to take. However, the message that sporting organisations send to their fans are even more important than they may at first seem.
Jamie Peters, an environmental campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: “There’s lots of things that sports clubs can be doing when it comes to sustainability and tackling climate change and pollution.
“One of those things is the practical changes that organisations could be making, (i.e. changing to renewable energy and reducing the consumption of use of single-use plastics on site) and that’s exactly what Leeds Rhinos have been doing and they should be commended for that.
“But the most important thing in terms of environmental issues is the impact that these clubs have on their followers and communities. We’re a sports crazy society and some of the strongest relationships that people have in Britain are with sports clubs. The people in charge of those clubs can send out a strong message to their followers.
“If clubs can move beyond just operating on matchdays every two weeks and spread that message off the field then that would be huge.
“If a club was really spreading that cleaner message, then that has an impact much greater than just on a matchday. It’s about a whole community of people that really buy into the values of these clubs, so if the clubs meet the values of having a green transition then that could rub off on people.”
From the point of view of the more cynical onlooker, people may wonder what difference removing plastic from Emerald Headingley might have in the wider scheme of things. However, the message it sends could have that desired effect on supporters.
Rhinos supporter Alex Best says the club has influenced him to question his own lifestyle and make cleaner changes to his lifestyle.
“I’ve been a Rhinos fan for as long as I can remember,” Best says.
“The changes that Rhinos have made have definitely made myself question the habits I’ve had concerning my use of plastics. Now, I’m trying to recycle more and try a cleaner way of life.
“I think the club have a responsibility to use their platform to educate the fans on the matter. The club are trying to persuade the fans to be more conscious about their recycling decisions and I think any such initiative will be very successful due to the fans’ loyalty.”
It’s clear to see that despite Rhinos’ cleaner way of operating being in its fledgling stages, it’s already having an effect.
And with Rugby League supporters from all around the country being some of the most loyal and fanatical around, it makes you wonder what effect it could have if other clubs followed in their footsteps.
Right now, it is down to individual clubs, like Leeds, to force the issue and set the standard.
It may not be long until they’re joined by others.
By Andrew Gate