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Green Tennis
by Robert Arner
Environmental Facilitator

Tennis and revolutions have a long history. Taken on a tennis court near the Palace of Versailles during the French Revolution, the "Tennis Court Oath" (serment du jeu de paume) was a solemn collective vow by French deputies to continue to meet despite a royal prohibition to do so until a constitution had been written. Today an even more violent revolution is happening-seemingly irreversible and dramatic climate change impacts due to the human footprint upon this planet. Perhaps a newer version of "Tennis Court Oath" needs to be taken:

"We swear never to separate ourselves from our connection with nature, and to reassemble whenever circumstances require, until responsible environmental best practices are enacted in the realm of tennis and fixed upon solid foundations."

Our many diversions and games offer us all a playful and entertaining manner in which to respond to these challenges those future generations and we must endure. Play is an essential component of our innate humaneness. Conservation is an essential component our collective survival. People who enjoy tennis can all lessen their impact through three key "R" actions:

  1. "Reduction" of pollutants
  2. "Reusing" resources
  3. "Recycling" of waste.

Environmental initiatives such as energy and water conservation and renewable energy sourcing can take numerous creative forms. Since environmental issues are becoming more apparent, the potential for the game of tennis to become greener is expanding. The "tennis industry" can only diminish its carbon footprint through a sustainable game plan that leads by example. What's more there are considerable public relations benefits to attract more people to the game if tennis can demonstrate that it champions conservation.

Some assume that tennis's environmental impact is not significant compared to other sports. Did you know that most tennis balls are made out of recycled rubber and that asphalt is the leading recycled product in the U.S. with an impressive 80% recycling rate? Golf, seemingly the greenest of sports, has been linked to pesticides issues, habitat destruction and water shortages on a large scale. The various golf associations and stakeholders have addressed these issues through several dedicated environmental organizations and technical developments. It's hard being green--every sport has some environmental implications. However, there are simple conservation measures and best management practices that enhance sustainability. There are ways to become more mindful and to lessen ecological impacts. There are many examples simply in new lighting products that both prevent pollution as well as diminishing the cost to the consumer.

So as global resources dwindle and government regulations increase, the tennis industry can certainly benefit by implementing measures that support more sustainable and renewable energy, minimize the use of raw materials, and reduce ecological damage. Tennis is played for many reasons, among them for better health: if the players benefit from improved health, they can also help to improve the health of our environment.

There are modest financial incentives to encourage more environmentally responsible behavior. Current environmental trends are pressuring the public to become more and more aware about the uses of energy and other resources. As in tennis there will be "winners" and "losers" depending on what current practices in the industry are adopted.

There are emerging sectors (e.g. green building) that provide rating systems of how they may become carbon neutral. It is not unimaginable that there may be some sort of ingenious 'green scoring' criteria developed in the future to provide useful feedback and to encourage responsible environmental management.


Tennis infrastructures such as clubs and stadiums can undertake simple energy audits to better protect and insulate these structures. Modest investments, with short- or long-term ROI, can be explored. Long-term investments that require more money, such as solar panels, wind turbines, or other renewable energy technologies may be also evaluated depending upon the needs and interests of facility managers and owners, as well as users. Let's simply focus on the area of lighting. Lighting consumes up to 20% of our home energy use and up to 30% of our workplace electricity expenditure. Nevertheless, changing to more efficient lighting must be addressed in a comprehensive manner. For example, mercury is an essential ingredient in energy-efficient lighting and long-lasting light bulbs. Computer monitors and lamps, when thrown away, can discharge mercury and other toxins into the environment. Fluorescent and high-intensity discharge (HID) lamps also contain mercury. We know mercury is a potent nerve toxin that damages the brain, liver, and kidneys and causes developmental disorders in children. Lamp manufacturers have reduced the use of mercury over the years. One hundred fluorescent lamps contain approximately 4 grams of mercury. If improperly handled or disposed of, mercury lamps contribute significantly to mercury emissions.

The light-emitting diode (LED) is a 45-year-old technology that delivers no heat output and delivers an average of 32 lumens of light, and LED bulbs burn about 50 times as long as the average incandescent bulb. Recent university research and other technical advancements are expected to contribute to LEDs replacing incandescent light bulbs in the next five to seven years.

Reducing, Reusing and Recycling Waste

Innovative procurement of environmentally friendly products can lessen waste by bulk purchase of products made from recycled materials or reused and refurbished goods. While making recycling easier by collecting all recyclables in one receptacle can increase participation, it can also increase contamination. There are many types of successful recycling programs all over the US that have demonstrated they can be simple as well as cost-effective.

Many tennis facilities recycle beverage containers and paper. Expanding these enterprises to concentrate on greater tonnage materials and disposal of toxins (e.g. paints, cleaners, etc.) is a great next step. Event recycling initiatives have proven to be successful depending upon the size and location of a tournament. However, truly green events require support by both the staff and public. It is essential to put the horse before the cart--concentrate on reduction and then on reuse. Creating attractive opportunities to recycle in an uncomplicated manner can be also explored. Proper design, planning, and implementation require good materials and skillful communications in order to muster public support. Reuse is in action in all four major tennis tournaments since they have permanent restaurants that use china, glass and silverware--not paper and plastic.

A number of tour events have a waste collection system involving more than one bin, so recyclable items are separated by the user. Many of these are in western European countries where environmental awareness has been prevalent for a couple of decades, and where the city authorities have established the rules.

Lawn Care

Lawn management design makes a huge difference because collectively our lawns--home, business, or sporting venues--impact significantly on water bodies. If you rely on a lawn service to maintain your lawns or use a landscaper, please request them to become more mindful of good conservation practices and help them become better stewards. In proper lawn management, grass clippings do not need to be removed from the lawn (this is termed "grass cycling"). However if grass clippings are collected and composted, they should be mixed with other yard waste to provide bulk and a proper ratio of two important plant nutrients, carbon and nitrogen (C/N). Otherwise, the clippings may compact and restrict airflow in the compost pile and cause unpleasant odors as well as noxious bacteria. Improper lawn maintenance can result in excessive lawn fertilization and is a significant source of nutrient pollution to our water bodies. So developing and implementing home nutrient-reduction strategies is critical. Better-managed lawns would reduce the amount of excess nutrients entering our water bodies and improve water quality.

Landscape Design

Take steps to replace under-utilized lawn areas or areas where grass does not grow well with other vegetation, mulch or even rocks. Savvy tree planting with good environmental planning can help reduce runoff and save on cooling costs to your home or workplace. Xerescaping or designing gardens that minimize water use is another option.

Other Opportunities

Water conservation is becoming essential in more arid locations and facilities are exploring new low-water consumption technologies. Such emerging technologies include underground watering for soft courts, waterless urinals, and water flow restrictors on showerheads and taps. Also water reuse is becoming popular where recycled water is used for lawn irrigation or water barrels used to collect roof rainwater.

Going Forth

There are many other ways tennis players can conserve and be green. The above just gives you some ideas to begin with. Developing greater incentives to be green is critical just as keeping score in tennis is critical too.

As climate change takes hold and it gets warmer, it would be wise for the tennis community to become greener and less brown. There are a number of actions that can be taken now at club/facility level, regional level, and national level and globally. The more tennis players who awake to become lean and green the healthier our game will grow. May you enjoy the many "happy returns" of taking care of yourself and our planet both on and off the courts!

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