Sport urged to drop high-carbon sponsors

Sport teams and events have been urged to give up sponsorship from companies that promote high carbon products, services and lifestyles.

A new report, Sweat not oil, said the deals damage efforts to tackle climate change.

Team Ineos introduced before the start of the Tour de Yorkshire in Doncaster, 2 May 2019. Photo: DrillOrDrop

The authors concluded:

“High-carbon sponsorship of sport has, in many ways, replaced once common and now disgraced deals with tobacco companies.

“Today the world faces a climate emergency and sport is floating on a sea of high-carbon sponsorship.”

The report, published by four climate change groups, identified 258 sports sponsorship deals that promoted high carbon products and lifestyles. These funded 13 different sports, including football, sailing, cycling, athletics, golf and motorsport. The report said:

“Direct association with promoting high carbon products and lifestyles not only contradicts the pledges of climate action that many clubs and sports bodies are beginning to endorse, but it poses an increasing reputation risk to sport, which is meant to represent a better, healthier way of life.”

The report features the petrochemical group, Ineos, a prominent sports sponsor and the biggest holder of onshore shale gas licences in the UK. Ineos supports:

  • Ineos team UK, the official British America’s cup sailing team
  • Team Ineos Grenadiers, a British cycling team
  • OGC Nice League 1 football club in France
  • Lausanne’s football club, Lausanne-sport, and hockey team, HCL
  • Mercedes British Formula 1 team, five-year deal

There were anti-fracking protests at the first outing of its cycling sponsorship at the 2019 Tour de Yorkshire. One campaigner accused the company of “selling out cycling”. Ineos also supports the Daily Mile, an initiative to encourage school children to run 15 minutes each day.

An Ineos spokesperson told BBC News:

“Ineos’ leadership on sustainability has been recognised by Ecovadis, a world renowned sustainability ratings agency. Audits of Ineos on environment, ethics, labour and human rights, and sustainable procurement placed it in the top 4% of 65,000 companies rated.

“And Ineos was especially recognised for its environmental performance, reflecting its commitment to carbon emission reduction targets and to recycling and the circular economy.

“Our relationship with our sports teams is more than sponsorship. They are a part of our company.”

The report identified Toyota as the largest high-carbon sponsor, with 31 deals, followed by the Emirates airline with 29. Along with Ineos, Gazprom was a prominent fossil fuel company in sports sponsorship.

The car industry, spending an estimated $1.285 billion, was the biggest sponsor numerically with 199 deals, followed by airlines.

The report said companies use sports sponsorship as a marketing tool to create a positive public image or increase television coverage. Sponsorship influences consumer behaviour by creating a positive association between the brand and the spectator’s sports team, the report said. It concluded:

“Sport needs to up its game and adopt policies that reject high carbon sponsors. Clubs, competitions and institutions need to take their climate commitments seriously.”

The report recommended sport should “positively screen corporate sponsors and turn down any from companies promoting clearly high carbon lifestyles, products and services, especially those in the automotive, airlines and fossil fuel industries.” It also urged sports to sign up to the UN Sport for Climate Action Framework and, within a year, publish a 10-year plan to ensure operations are zero carbon by 2030.

After 2030, sports events that are not carbon neutral should be cancelled, the report said. It also said net zero plans should be a condition of any public funding. It urged sports to cut reliance on air travel and increase support for low carbon local grassroots sport.

21 replies »

  1. Of course, the other industries that are acceptable to the activists could sponsor as well, or instead. Wonder why they don’t? (No, I don’t, it is obvious. The customers are limited so the revenue streams are as well.)

    A car company making cars run on fossil fuel or electricity. Should that company be allowed to market it’s products?

    Wooden poles for the pole vault?

    Once again, censorship of information being proposed. Crazy.

    If you don’t like the message, don’t read it, or do so and ignore. People are not idiots, they do that every day of the year.

  2. PS:

    The sports records will show who won the Tour de Yorkshire in 2019. Not the few who had other agendas to attempt to get publicity for their own purposes-which they would not have been able to do without Ineos!

    That’s irony.

  3. “Ineos’ leadership on sustainability has been recognised by Ecovadis, a world renowned sustainability ratings agency. Audits of Ineos on environment, ethics, labour and human rights, and sustainable procurement placed it in the top 4% of 65,000 companies rated.”
    It’s rather difficult to equate this to the sustainability, ethics, employment rights and environmental credentials that I’m aware of from INEOS. Perhaps someone can explain how they got into the top 4%, unless it was perhaps the top 4% of the worst 65,000 companies in the world?

  4. Good to see the thinking behind, inter alia, the sponsorship of the Daily Mile and cycling in the UK exposed once again. The fossil fuel company in question clearly seeks to have its brand name accepted amongst the population at large, so impressed by its munificence, the thinking goes, that it will turn a blind eye to the company’s other activities whether or not these serve the public’s real interests. If the company becomes an instantly recognisable household name for activities which promote health, how much more difficult it is to discern that their raison d’être is to produce materials prejudicial to public health. A cynical and despicable ploy. Even were the company’s motives pure, a desire, say, to give back something to a society it has harmed so much, cognitive dissonance is clearly apparent. And yet, given the brouhaha when the Daily Mile was first promoted, the purity of subsequent motives is clearly in doubt. Sport and education should reject such sponsorship in much the same way that employers should ensure that their employees’ pension funds are not invested in companies whose professional activities threaten the well-being and health of society.

    • Employers should keep well clear of their employees pensions funds out with contributing to them. If the employees want to divest from certain areas of the stock market – then they have appropriate channels to do it themselves. Its a tough call as trustees must Act in the best interests of your beneficiaries. A beneficiary is anyone who is entitled to, or who might receive, a benefit from the scheme, now or in the future. Hence the trustees (surely the people being lobbied to withdraw from certain investments) may have to ignore lobbying from pressure groups who do not have the beneficiaries interests at heart.

      • Point taken, Hewes62. So it’s up to the employee if so minded to convince the trustees that it is not in the best interests of beneficiaries to invest in a company engaged in activities which will destroy life on the planet, including the beneficiaries. Shouldn’t be too tough a call but I suspect you’re right, and it still is.

        • Iaith

          Yes – that’s how it should work. But shunning companies does not do much for reducing the use of the product, as demonstrated by the tobacco companies (reduction in sale of tobacco was the key issue for them rather than pensions shedding their shares), and similar for the oil industry. Not sure if getting out of oil and gas and leaving it for less concerned investors to clean up and get the larger dividends is totally right.

          • Most companies now offer the “official” pension scheme and also the freedom for employees to buy into an alternative, with the contributions remaining the same.

            So, if employees are so minded, they can find a green pension, or whatever. That is their choice.

            But, 1720 has a flaw in his/her concerns. The employee will likely be interested in whether his pension sees him/her, and his/her loved ones, through to the end of his/her life, not the end of the world! Some might not, believing it is not all about money-but actually, that is what pensions are about!

            One thing for an employee to decide to find an alternative pension and end up with a poorer return, quite a different one for someone else to dictate that. And that is soon observed, because those paying in to a pension with revised investment criteria can easily see what previous retired employees are enjoying. If there is a big difference there will be serious consequences for anyone who made that decision and foisted it upon employees.

  5. I’ve just read Mike Potter. Like him, I agree that this statistic seems baffling and the method used in producing it should be clarified. It is of course difficult to quantify the extent to which individuals or entities have worked their way into public consciousness and acceptance, despite, (because of?) a far from laudable record. Boris, pace different political opinions, is a case in point. It is also difficult to know what roles are played by ignorance, complacency, or ‘better-the-devil-you-know’ considerations in providing evidence for such a statistic.

    • Perhaps, 1720 and Mike, you need to do a bit more research, before you decide to come to a conclusion?

      For yourself, 1720, who posted about protesting against HMG in a particular situation, which was just factually and historically incorrect, then sorry but you are part of the problem not the solution. If you don’t know what you are protesting about, why should anyone accept being inconvenienced by your protest?

      And, no, employers should not control employees pension funds. It should be the Trustees and the employees. That has been legislated for due to previous problems with employers not having the expertise, and in certain cases, honesty, with regards to pension investments and putting employees in very difficult situations. Perhaps you believe Croydon Council would be a good blueprint for your idea? What a strange, distorted, view you have around employer/employee relationships. Next, you will suggest the employer should control how the employee spends his/her wages!

      And, just a point of fact. Ineos OWN a number (4 of the 5 referenced) of the sporting companies quoted, so sponsorship is NOT the issue in those instances. And, that is not unusual in sport, where individuals who are wealthy and interested in sport decide to spend some of that wealth enjoying the experience whilst they still continue to donate money to good causes. Maybe such little (lol) details could be accurately referenced if a “report” is to be taken seriously?

      • As I asked the question about how INEOS got into the top 4%, how perceptive of you Martin to realise I need a bit of research to come to a conclusion. I have neither the time nor the inclination for such relatively pointless research, so I was hoping someone here may have the necessary expertise and interest. Perhaps someone with well balanced knowledge of the O&G and related industries and also good and reliable analytical skills of sustainability ratings. The answer wasn’t forthcoming. I hope I didn’t just miss it among the diversion and obfuscation.

      • Thank you, Hewes62. I’m indebted to you for these links. If Ineos is to be believed, and the award seems to indicate they are, then they do seem to have made strides since the Daily Mile, and appear to be taking the problem seriously. I still have a gut feeling however that they are keeping options open re fracking: I hope not. I’d be interested in what Mike Potter thinks about this.

        • Iaith

          I cannot see them going for fracked gas in the UK again. There are other business opportunities turning up for the company, enough to keep them busy.

          • Hewes62

            I agree with you regarding Ineos-although I suspect they will be looking to secure their supplies of fracked gas from elsewhere-not just USA.

            Meanwhile, as a cutting edge sports interested company they will continue to use carbon within their sporting interests otherwise they will not compete, let alone win.

            1720 knows well, that to compete he/she has to do the same.

        • A cursory glance suggests it could be interesting. However, I would need a scrupulously independent appraisal of Ecovadis’ methodology to take their results seriously, given the sort of multi-national company names that immediately jumped out of the page. The sort of companies that have large sums to spend on lobbying and PR. There’s an old saying: He who pays the piper calls the tune. As I said before, I haven’t got the time (or the expertise) for such an appraisal.

          In answer to Martin ‘Meanwhile, as a cutting edge sports interested company they will continue to use carbon within their sporting interests otherwise they will not compete, let alone win.’ It would need an astonishing number of carbon fibre bikes and hulls to offset INEOS’ carbon budget. Hardly the level of CCS required.

          • I would suggest, Mike, that if you have problems with accepting the rating, then maybe stop using the products?

            I do not have such a problem, and find it good that wealthy individuals put their money into areas to benefit others, where they feel they have benefited through their own lives. There are good reasons why Ineos invest in sports and health and the environment and nothing to do with products, but personal practice.

  6. Any chance you might address the issues underlying my post, or my argument, Martin? If your posting is meant to be a reply, it’s deficient other than in conveying a kind of irrational, inchoate disagreement. I’ve already answered your pedantic employers/trustees distinction. Let me know if you didn’t understand. Pointing to an ownership/sponsorship distinction affects the argument not at all. Finally, I do know what I protest about although the reasoning behind my points is obviously not infallible.
    You’re great at smokescreens, Martin, but this does you few favours.

  7. Your reasoning is “not infallible”!

    Sorry, 1720, you demonstrated you did not even know what you were demonstrating about. Nothing about reasoning, just that you had no concept of why you were doing what you stated you did.

    Perhaps now try and deflect that? Oh, you just tried to do so.

    So, Dyson is one of the largest owners of agricultural land in the UK. Why? Perhaps it is simply because he is a rampant capitalist? Or, maybe he is a wealthy man who enjoys the countryside.

    You have not answered the employers/trustees distinction. If you do not understand what the past situation was and why it was legislated to stop it, you can do some research. Some of us are aware of the real situation, so do not need your fantasy version.

    Perhaps if you bothered to research Sir Jim’s history of philanthropy objectively you would find an answer to your question, 1720. But, your interest is to demonstrate you are not interested in the facts, just the taking part.

  8. Will the Ospreys be cutting their links with RWE, one of Germanys Lignite miners, who (along with two others) produced a few hundred million tonnes of lignite.

    Although Germany plans to cut coal consumption (I guess they will not be going to Glasgow – while the UK worries about 1 mine, they are supporting a whole industry based on dirty coal ), they are also keen on a gas pipeline from Russia.

    Meanwhile, Environment Minister Svenja Schulze said “we’re the first country to be finally exiting from nuclear and coal”. So – killing of low carbon and high carbon activities is a winner?

    Strange times indeed – but the German compensation packages look good for those still in either industry.

    [Text added at poster’s request]

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