Celebrating Earth Day: Athletes' Commitment to Environmental Sustainability

Mon 22nd Apr 2024

The world of sport as an ally to invest in our planet - From Mathieu Flamini's green venture to Serena Williams' cruelty-free fashion line, their actions inspire us to invest in a greener future.

Earth Day provides us with a wonderful opportunity to explore how the world of sport can make a tangible impact on climate change. The annual event, celebrated each year on April 22, aims at raising awareness of the global need for environmental protection. First held in 1970, it now includes global activities and gather attended by around 1 billion people in more than 193 countries. 

This piece highlights how current and former champions are leading sustainable practices in sports, showcasing their commitment to environmental sustainability.


Mathieu Flamini's Green Chemical Venture

Mathieu played as a midfielder for AC Milan and Arsenal from 1992 to 2019. In 2008, Mathieu co-founded the company GF Biochemicals which now mass-produces Levulinic acid. The US Department of Energy has identified Levulinic acid as one of the 12 molecules that can help unlock a ‘greener’ world. Levulinic facilitates a solution to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, given that it supports a move towards low-carbon feedstock for fuel and materials. Some sources estimate that a move to Levulinic acid could reduce the carbon footprint by up to 58,5%. “We founded GF Biochemicals with the ambition of finding sustainable alternatives to oil-based products”, described Mathieu. GF Biochemicals is now the leading producer of Levulinic acid.

Additionally, Mathieu also is part of the Environmental Excellence Committee for the candidature of Paris as the 2024 Summer Olympic. In theBiojournal.com, he says about sportpeople “we have a social responsibility”, using sports to encourage change. “Growing up by the sea, I could see from a very early age the impact of plastics in the water, on the beach. If we don't change something, the place where we live won't be liveable anymore”, he adds.


Nikola Karabatić's Eco-Awareness Mission

Nikola is a French Handball legend, playing for PSG and the French National Team. He won three Olympic Gold Medals and four world championships. He was also the International Handball Federation (IHF) World Player of the Year three times in a row. Nikola argues that “as an athlete, our individual actions will inspire people, as well as our clubs, leaders and federations, to follow in the same direction”. In terms of his work in sustainability, Nikola has changed many of his personal habits, such as how he eats and his means of transport, aiming to go places by public transport or bike. Within his club, he has also championed changes such as the introduction of water dispensers to avoid using plastic bottles. Nikola believes that making these changes within his club and personal life have a wider effect in the general public. For example, the French National handball League has created a Green Zone that distributes water flasks to avoid plastic wastage.

Nikola is an Ambassador for the French NGO Fair Play For the Planet. Fair Play For the Planet aims to restructure the world of sport and create an eco-responsible approach. Additionally, he has recently invested in a protein-producing technology company called Entocycle. The company seeks to enable efficient and scalable insect farming in order to reduce our agricultural footprint and restore fragile ecosystems. His investment is supporting Entocycle to expand its rollout of black soldier fly farms and waste management facilities worldwide.


Serena Williams Cruelty-Free Fashion Line 

In her twenty-seven years as professional tennis player, Serena has been the female world number one no fewer than six times. Over the course of her career, Serena won twenty-three grand slam titles.  Furthermore, she was awarded the Laureus Sportwoman of the Year a record four times.

In the autumn of 2019, Serena launched her own sustainable clothing line ‘S by Serena’. The collection features environmentally friendly products such as vegan-leather garments. In the launch of her collection, Williams told her audience that “We have some vegan leather options, because I really believe in sustainability, and it’s our future.”

In her personal life, Serena eats a mostly plant-based diet. She is also an ambassador for Impossible Foods, a startup producing meat-free food made from plants. Serena also supported Novak Djokovic in co-producing the documentary film, The Game Changers, also featuring Lewis Hamilton. The documentary is aimed at educating the public on the benefits of a vegan diet for high-level sports players.


Julien Pierre's Rugby Tackling for Sustainability  

Julien was a Rugby Union Player for Clermont Auvergne and other French clubs from 2001-2018. He also played for the French national team 27 times. He is the founder of the Fair Play For the Planet label, the first environmental label for clubs, sites, and sports events named the FPFP label; ‘by creating the label, I chose to be an actor for the change and to take with me everyone who shares the same fight.’ Julien believes that sport has a particularly important place in society and that athletes are often held up as examples for younger generations.

Whilst at Section Paloise, Julien established a corporate social responsibility committee within the club. At the Section Paloise Stadium- Le Stade du Hameau- Julien and the CSR committee involved the fans in recycling, sourcing local food for the general public concession stands, partnerships for carpooling and elimination of all paper communications. 

Growing up in the wildlife park of Les Sables d’Olonnes, Julien reflects on how they ‘were educated to turn off the lights when leaving a room, shut off the tap water when brushing your teeth, never throw garbage on the floor, things like that. Now, my uncle supports environmental protection projects around the world.’


Christine Pedersen, Building a Sustainable Future (add-victor Placement)

During her career at Santander, Christine volunteered to be a sustainability champion. In this way, she was able to understand new regulations and played an active role in the bank’s approach to the ever-changing, increasingly problematic issue of climate change. The Norwegian swimming champion made sure to put herself in positions where she could engage in topical conversations; “we are all going to be impacted by climate change and the sooner the market recognises the risks, the sooner we will make the necessary changes.”

With this significant enthusiasm to make the world a more equitable place, athletes both in and outside sport can look at developing an expertise around Sustainability, Carbon Neutral, and Social Responsibility). We recently published a piece on Sustainable Investing as a sub-sector of Asset Management contributing to helping the world to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. In 2015, all member states of the UN agreed to sign up for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, containing 17 Goals which nations should strive towards achieving. These range from gender equality to economic growth to more affordable and cleaner energy. In helping to shift investment into more sustainable assets, as well as helping assets with a poor track record offset previous damage done to the environment, you can play a pivotal role in helping the UN achieve their goals.


So, how are these examples inspiring you? How will you invest in our planet? Perhaps, if you are in a position to do so, you may make large changes in the corporate world, just as Nikola and Mathieu did by introducing investing in sustainable products. Perhaps, you may be able to make changes within your club, as Julien did by sourcing food locally or introducing carpooling to and from training. Perhaps, you could consider changes to your own life or decide to learn more about sustainability and how to make an impact through your career. Could you have a meat-free diet, or go without meat one day a week? Could you walk to training, to matches, or to work? One thing is for sure, you are not alone in seeking to make an impact as athletes at the top of their sport are already seeking to drive the change.