Professional golf sets positive example for CO2 balance in 2022

The 2022 Major season in golf has come to an end. With the European Tour Group announcing its intention to reduce CO₂ emissions to zero by 2040 at tournaments it hosts itself, such as the BMW PGA Championship in London, the question arises: How easy is that anyway?

A look at the Presidents Cup and the men’s and women’s major tournaments this year reveals that major golf events are largely still at the beginning of a journey toward a sustainable future. At the Presidents Cup, for example, there were no communicated programs on CO₂ avoidance, plastic reduction or the like, just as there were at the PGA Championship. Both were hosted by the PGA of America. The USGA, as the organizer of the US Open for men and women, signed the United Nations Sports for Climate Action program this year and started with the first small projects in the area of waste reduction and mobility.

European Tour launches CO₂ neutrality program

Otherwise, the European Tour took a big step into the future concerning the topic of CO₂ neutrality. CO₂ emissions including fan traffic were determined for a total of seven events in 2022, plus the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship in January. The CO₂ balances of the tournaments are expected as early as the end of the year. These can then be improved next year. Now that the European Tour Group organizes a total of around 20 tournaments and has announced that it intends to achieve a carbon-neutral balance sheet by 2040, emissions will have to be measured at all tournaments in the future to provide any basis for improvement. A look at the Waste Management Phoenix Open and the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational in the USA shows that there are now two tournaments in the USA with noteworthy projects in the area of sustainability.

By far, the R&A made the most significant impact in the area of sustainability activities in Scotland as host of the Open at St. Andrews, the Senior Open and the AIG Women’s Open at Muirfield. While the tournament at Muirfield focused largely on the water project with sponsors Mastercard and Adidas to optimize plastic bottle avoidance, the Open tackled numerous issues.

We spoke to Arlette Anderson, Director of Sustainable Golf at the R&A, about the experience of the project to identify and minimize CO₂ emissions.

This year, the R&A determined the CO2 footprint. What are the emissions results for Scope 1, 2, and 3?

Anderson: The 2022 carbon emission calculations are underway.  It takes a considerable amount of time to ensure all the correct data in scope is robust and accurate.  As an industry, we look to share emission results at the end of the calendar year.  We have been calculating the carbon footprint of The Open since 2017, and from 2019 have included scope three emissions in our calculations.

So you also included the journey of the fans?

Anderson: Yes.  As it is one of the key impact areas of any major event, we believe it’s important that we understand and measure this accurately.  It is important to note that at times we are significantly impacted by events such as public transport strikes.  This year, staging The Open and implementing our sustainable transport plans were severely impacted by the industrial action taken by rail employees in Scotland that led to a severely limited rail service during the week of the championship.  Given the immediate short notice, we were left with no option but to recommend alternative travel to St Andrews.  The impact to our emissions will incorporate this, but also explain the actions we took to inform spectators around sustainable transport alternatives.

Which number surprised you the most?

Anderson: Spectator travel has by far the biggest annual impact of our Championship and an area of emissions in which we have limited control over and is hardest to influence.  We do provide, enable and strongly encourage lower carbon transport options, including the use of public transport, for our spectators and this continues to be a priority for us as we seek new ways to further this year-on-year.

What part of emissions can be most easily reduced at a golf tournament?

Anderson: Our Greenlinks sustainability programme has been a central part of the staging of The Open for many years now and we have already taken actions to reduce our emissions.  Our switch from traditional diesel-fuelled generators to temporary solar power arrays and sustainably sourced HVO, supported by efficient battery storage technology, has significantly reduced the carbon impact of our temporary power generation.  When possible, we also try to prioritise the use of renewable mains-supplied grid electricity too.  We are now at a stage where we, with our partners and suppliers, need to work together to find lasting innovative solutions to future reduce the harder-to-tackle areas of our carbon footprint such as freight and player and spectator travel.

What about the acceptance of the projects by the fans?

95% of spectators at The 150th Open carried out at least one sustainability action while at the Championship, including recycling or composting their waste in the bins provided, using the free water refill stations and using public transport.  63% were aware of The Open’s work on sustainability.  In 2022, we ran a project with our Patron NTT Data and Cardiff University to further understand our spectators interaction with our sustainability initiatives, and the results of this project will help us to enhance engagement and participation in future years.

In what ways will the professionals be involved in the topic of sustainability at the tournament? After all, most people travel by plane and like to use their own shuttle vehicle at the tournament with only one person at a time?

Player transport does impact our emissions and therefore carbon impact, although it is important to say that we do not have control over how they travel to and from the UK.  Thanks to our patron Mercedes Benz we have been able to use electric vehicles within our fleet for transporting players during the Championship for the past few years and will strive to increase the proportion of EVs within the fleet year-on-year.  The golf buggies we use on-site are also electric.  Further engaging with players on their own choice of transport is an area we hope to explore further on as we continue our journey to host a truly sustainable Championship.