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May 27, 2019

How Cricket Is Becoming Sustainable: Russell Seymour

Text by Snehal Pradhan. Illustration by Kashmira Sarode

Cricket — perhaps the ground sport most affected by weather conditions and consequently climate change — is in danger of muddying its legacy thanks to a showy capitalistic 21st-century avatar, which poses a threat to the same environmental stability it counts on. In part 1 of 4 Verve talks to Russell Seymour who is championing sustainable practices to ensure that, moving forward, spectators can expect a clean game

In September 2017, Hurricanes Irma and Maria ravaged through the Caribbean, destroying cricket grounds (besides much else) on the islands of Anguilla and Dominica. In December that same year, air pollution interrupted play during a test match between India and Sri Lanka in New Delhi. In January 2018, there were calls for Cricket Australia to introduce a heatwave policy after ground temperatures at the Sydney Cricket Ground peaked at 57 degrees Celsius, forcing the visiting England captain into hospital due to dehydration. In February 2018, all school and club cricket in South Africa’s Cape Town were cancelled thanks to a drought.

According to The Gamechanger report by the Climate Coalition, a UK-based group dedicated to action against climate change, ‘Of all the major pitch sports, cricket will be hardest hit by climate change’. It is not hard to see why; cricket is an outdoor, seasonal sport, played on grass. One of its defining characteristics is the pitch, with each venue offering different soil compositions. The pitch and the area’s climate are joined at the hip; a sudden cloudburst could mean that the ball swings more for a bit, and dry summers mean turning pitches. Yet, globally, the game leaves giant-sized carbon footprints as it expands in scope and shape. The stadiums generate heaps of garbage that fill up landfills. Matches are played with wood and leather, on grass and ground, and a few individuals and teams have realised that and are doing what they can to give back.

RUSSELL SEYMOUR
Sustainability Manager, Lord’s Cricket Ground

He holds an honours degree in ecology, two master’s degrees — in environmental sciences and in taxonomy and biodiversity — and he moved from academia to cricket about a decade ago, quite by accident. Russell Seymour is a founding member of the British Association for Sustainable Sport (BASIS) and the first, and perhaps only, full-time sustainability manager of a First-Class cricket ground.

How did you find yourself in this role?
I started working as a match-day steward at Lord’s, just part-time, while in academia. When I found that there was a full-time opportunity in security, I saw it as a fantastic chance to work at Lord’s and watch some cricket. Once there, I started to look at our carbon footprint and waste management performance. I was able to show some results and make recommendations to the (then) chief executive, who realised that this is important. And so they created the role of sustainability manager for me.

What are the measures at Lord’s you’ve taken towards sustainability?
Our sustainability policy uses the One Planet Living principles that were developed by the environmental charity BioRegional and the WWF (World Wildlife Fund), and used as the basis for the sustainability policy of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. In terms of carbon emissions, we have reduced our overall footprint by 82 per cent (since 2010), mainly by switching to 100-per cent wind-generated electricity. We have also reduced water use by 35 per cent, and we recycle around 40 per cent of our waste. We haven’t sent any rubbish to a landfill since 2010 and all the waste is instead incinerated, which leads to energy recovery. Still-edible food is donated to a food redistribution charity (we donated 1.65 tonnes last year, providing over 3,800 meals to people in need). Food waste is dewatered and sent for anaerobic digestion to create low-carbon energy, while the digestate is used as a soil conditioner or fertiliser.

There is the impression that sustainability involves large initial investments, and therefore is the purview of the cash-rich. Is that fair?
We’ve taken a position to not to do anything extreme and fit everything within our operational budget. We think we saved 1.5 million individual pieces of plastic from being used in 2018 as compared to 2017. It wasn’t a massive investment; just a different way of doing things. For example, people buying pints of beer would be given single-use cups. Now we have cups that can be washed and reused. They cost a bit more, but once they have been used four or five times, they pay for themselves eventually and can be used up to a hundred times. There was an upfront cost, about 45,000 pounds, but it would have been more costly to buy only single-use cups through the season.

Sponsors give away a lot of disposables. How does a venue balance that with sustainability?
In the UK, sponsors are more aware, and they have cut down on the amount of giveaways which they know will be used only for a few moments. But we still have these issues; it’s difficult to completely do away with the promotional items because they add to the visitor experience. People want to be waving their four and six cards. So you need the mechanisms to deal with things correctly afterwards.

How do things work on match days? England and Lord’s will be hosting the Cricket World Cup later this year….
Quite often, on match days, if the crowd isn’t getting it right, there can be contamination. They can put waste into the wrong bins and a load of recycling can get rejected. The World Cup is an International Cricket Council (ICC) event so they take over and we have to do things differently. For example, we don’t sell soft drinks or water in plastic bottles. But because of the World Cup sponsors, they allow the sale of plastic bottles. So, we need to have different processes and solutions in place. I think there was a huge opportunity to look at sustainability during the World Cup and put some messages out there, however I think that opportunity has been missed.

Read Part two with Juhi Chawla here

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