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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

A critical review of sustainability in sport: Investigating motivation and potential for the sport sector and football clubs to take up environmental stewardship

The need to mainstream sustainability, and the inherent link between sport and environment has led scholars to propose the concept of ‘sport of environmental stewardship’. This research investigated whether the sport sector has a strategic motivation to protect the environment. Focusing on club football a cross-case analysis of environmental strategies at three football clubs – Aston Villa, VFL Wolfsburg, and Forest Green Rovers was undertaken to determine if football clubs had attributes required for environmental stewardship. Inductive investigation revealed that environmental issues pose a threat to the viability of sports that have minimal impact and are played in a natural setting (rowing, surfing etc.). Conversely, sports with an impact (football, cricket etc.) face no short-term threats.

Adapting a framework for urban environmental stewardship to sport and interviews of sustainability practitioners in sport revealed ‘motivation’ and ‘ability to influence’ as key attributes required for sport organizations to take up this role. Football clubs occupy an influential position in society but have no explicit pressure to take environmental stewardship. Clubs with leading environmental initiatives show evidence of 3 key attributes – ‘Awareness’, ‘Evidence of actions’, and ‘Collaboration’. The most significant attribute ‘Environmental Values’ i.e. organizational motivation depends upon unique characteristics of the club – personal interests and position of ‘change agent’ and availability of external support. The research recommends that sports prioritize their response to address those issues that pose a threat. In the case of football redrawing system boundaries to the league, and providing external support to football clubs were identified as the way ahead.

Course Overview


The need to engage in better problem definition through careful dialogue with all stakeholder groups and a proper recognition of context.


An ability to work with specialists from other disciplines and professional groups acknowledging that technical innovation and business skills also must be understood, nurtured and combined as precursors to the successful implementation of sustainable solutions.


An understanding of mechanisms for managing change in organisations so future engineers are equipped to play a leadership role.


An awareness of a range of assessment frameworks, sustainability metrics and methodologies such as Life Cycle Analysis, Systems Dynamics, Multi-Criteria Decision making and Impact Assessment.