Bild auf eine Spielerin beim Chip vor einem Plakat von Scotland Golf

Women’s Scottish Open receives GEO sustainability certificate

The objective was clear: “To host a world-class event that minimizes its environmental impact while providing benefits to the local community.” That, according to the Scottish Government’s Secretary of State for Culture, Angus Robertson, is what the Freed Group Women’s Scottish Open, which concludes this Sunday, aims to achieve. With the awarding of the GEO certification as a sustainable event during the tournament week, the first step has been taken. While the Freed Group Woman’s Scottish Open is the first Ladies European Tour tournament to achieve this certification, for Scotland’s government it is just one more step on the road to making all its professional golf tournaments sustainable.

It is well known that the sustainability of major events is debatable. The journey of fans, players and staff, long supply chains and the large setups on site counteract the economic benefit for the region, the image gain for golf. Golf tourism is an essential industry for Scotland, just as it is for Spain or Portugal. This is another reason why golf tournaments such as the Scottish Open, the Dunhill Links Championship or the Women’s Scottish Open play an essential role in terms of external impact. In 2022, Scotland’s government decided to work with partner GEO – also a Scottish company – to make the tournaments more sustainable and tie them into Scotland’s goal of becoming a “Net Zero Nation.”

Certificates that deal with sustainable events or CO₂ reporting exist in several places around the world; in Europe, for example, the ISO 20121 certification for sustainable events is highly recognized in the industry. It includes environmental impacts, social influences, but also occupational health and safety. Pure CO₂ reporting, such as that carried out by England Golf at the 2022 Amateur Championship, is also offered by numerous providers outside the golf industry. GEO Certification for Golf Events, which follows the ISEAL standard, offers a good entry point for events and covers nature, resources and community. Numerous criteria are defined here, which are checked and evaluated via a points system.

Limit values, key figures or limits are not specified; rather, the standard provides the tournament organizer with an initial precise overview of the area in which sustainable operation is possible. Measures such as “avoid use of non-reusable materials in constructing site-build” do not constitute a general ban, but make it clear to the organizer that work must be done to achieve the highest possible level of avoidance. This provides an entry point and a path to improvement in the long run.

As Roddy Williams, Director of Professional Golf Engagement and Communication at GEO explains, four additional criteria are currently being added to the certification to make it more challenging.

Section 1 – Public-facing Sustainability commitments and awareness-raising

Section 3 – Responsible Sourcing of Materials

Section 4 – Pursue Energy efficiency

Section 5 – DE&I assurance for staff and volunteers

“An event now has to score 80 percent of the points, which is 46 out of a possible 58 points,” Williams said. For GEO certification, the challenge in the end is to achieve comparability with common industry certificates such as ISO, so that the golf scene avoids accusations of greenwashing from outsiders with its own certificates.

The exact numbers for this year’s Freed Group Women’s Scottish Open sustainability efforts can only be published after the tournament has finished. But last year, among other things, as much as 85 percent of its energy came from renewable sources, 75 percent of its food suppliers were local, and plastic reduction through water refill stations played a big role. This year, the tournament should now reach an improvement.

However, the critical point of the mobility of professionals and proettes remains unaffected. To date, tournament organizers have only very sporadically addressed the issue of their flight movements in their communications with the golf community, and their input on CO₂ emissions is extremely rarely presented publicly. Given that the flight distances of professionals and their companions are significant, this is a segment that is lacking for a well-rounded picture in reporting.