The environmental balance of the sporting goods industry in figures

It is well known that the global sporting goods industry has a massive environmental problem. However, we have prepared some numbers to capture the dimensions we are dealing with.

It may be difficult for many to imagine that sport, the most beautiful thing in the world, makes such a dramatic contribution to environmental pollution. So it is best to start with the individual balance sheet of an athlete.

It would certainly be unfair to measure the ecological footprint of ice hockey players, for example, wrapped in heavy equipment, mostly on the go on ice surfaces that are expensively cooled. Even Formula 1 drivers are certainly not the most grateful of all examples - excessively traveling the world and burning fuel. So let's start with the "greenest" athletes that supposedly exist - the runners.

The magazine Runner's World once recorded the annual climate footprint of a statistically average person who is enthusiastic about running: 3 pairs of running socks (40 kg CO2), 3 pairs of running shoes (215 kg CO2), 2 running shorts (50 kg CO2), 1 tights (35 kg CO2, 1 running shirt 25 kg CO2), 1 laundry load per week (120 kg CO2). The result is around 485 kg of CO2 that runners cause. And which only very few responsibly compensate.

Even the sports brands, as the actual producers of these emissions, do little to minimize their footprint. On the contrary. Running and fitness equipment in particular is booming. The big brands are breaking sales records after sales records. 20 billion "sports shoes" are said to be sold annually. At most 3 to 4%, mostly sneakers, can claim to follow some kind of sustainable concept - usually a recycled upper is enough.


Very few companies want to clean up after themselves. Especially not the big ones. There, offsets, i.e. measures to remove at least as much CO2 from the air as you have added yourself, would mean high costs in the millions if not billions. Not to mention how much of a precious margin would be lost if cheap plastic materials such as polyester or simple thermoplastics were replaced with sustainable materials.

In general, most sports brands like to make things easy for themselves. Although at least recycled materials are more energy-efficient and environmentally friendly, but a bit more expensive, to date just over 10% of all plastics in the textile industry are made from recycled material.

Most plastic products, such as shoes or functional shirts, are either incinerated or end up in landfills, "preferably" in the poorest countries. And because there is often a lack of infrastructure there, they quickly pollute nature, especially water bodies. Incidentally, it takes 200 years or more for a polyester textile to decompose in nature - often with chemical substances or heavy metals.

In fact, soil and water pollution is not only caused by common waste products. Plastic textiles in particular, which are washed regularly, produce tiny microplastic particles with every wash. These cannot be caught by standard filters and end up in rivers, lakes and seas. According to estimates, 500,000 tons of such plastic particles are already floating around in the oceans - unwanted fish food that later also ends up in our digestive tract.

In fact, these are only the most visible traces of the sporting goods industry. So it's up to us to choose bio-based or recycled materials over conventional products in the future, to think carefully about whether a running shoe or a functional shirt should be thrown away, or whether it can be repaired, donated or otherwise recycled. Maybe we're not doing the big sports brands any favors - but we're certainly doing our planet a favor.