Former MP Caroline Spelman is urging sporting organisations to think outside the box when it comes to creating a carbon-neutral sporting sector.

Spelman is a current Board Member and Chair of the Sustainability Committee at Commonwealth Games England and previously held the role of Secretary of State for the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Over the past two years in her role, Spelman has helped Commonwealth Games England bring sustainability to the forefront and now hopes that Earth Day on 22nd April can act as a reminder of what sporting organisations must do to play their part.

"It requires a complete rethink about what can be done and the great thing about Earth Day is that we join together around the world in our commitment to address the need to use the earth's resources more sustainably.

"Getting other sporting organisations and countries to sign up to a net zero pledge for sporting events is a key aim."

The sporting sector faces a variety of challenges when it comes to trying to create a sustainable approach, including travel to events and the development of kit.

Commonwealth Games England tree planting

For the 2023 Commonwealth Youth Games in Trinidad and Tobago, Team England partnered with the Heart of England Forest to provide a donation against the carbon emissions of the team flights. Spelman was pleased to see the organisation’s commitment to sustainability by planting 400 trees to contribute to the growth and establishment of The Heart of England Forest woodlands in the Midlands.

"The Games in 2018 was held on the Gold Coast and that meant there was a huge amount of carbon consumption to transport the team to the other side of the world, and it was the same for Australia coming here in 2022," she said.

“The way we are showing our commitment to sustainability is through the Heart of England Forest partnership. It's not the best solution, but as long as people have to travel to take part in sporting competitions then it's one of the ways we can get to a net zero position.

Another of the key ways to address sustainability challenges for Spelman is listening and acting on athletes' concerns.

She added: "There are examples of athletes such as the cross-country runner Innes Fitzgerald who refused to compete in the World Cross-Country championships in Australia because morally she is uncomfortable with the carbon footprint involved in participating on the other side of the world.

"This is a warning signal that shows organisations that we need to take sustainability seriously.

Trinbago 2023 Team England kit donation

"Inevitably, the athletes are part of a younger generation and it's a huge challenge to live the consequences of decisions that my generation took.

"We need to address those concerns which are very real and serious by assisting young people in their sporting careers through sustainability."

Listening to athlete concerns is at the heart of Commonwealth Games England's sustainability plans, especially when it comes to kit.

However, Spelman is clear to note that there is always more to be done.

"At the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, the athletes were the ones who helped us with how to reduce the amount of kit that we provided," she said.

"For example, they suggested that we recycle one of the tracksuits used to go on the podium as a ceremonial tracksuit rather than having separate outfits for the Opening and Closing Ceremonies.

"Another example is that before the 2023 Commonwealth Youth Games, we had a seminar on the environmental implications of the Games and what could be done to improve our carbon footprint and reduce plastic use.

"So every time we go to a Games, I think it's important to note what can still be improved upon to reduce that carbon footprint and provide more sustainable products."