What Is Sustainability?
“Eco-friendly,” “green,” and “sustainable”: we hear these terms thrown around all the time, and they are becoming increasingly common. Recently, producers and consumers have made a huge effort to push sustainability in their manufacturing practices and marketing. But what does sustainability mean, and why is it so important?
Sustainability, in general, refers to “the ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level.” It is often used regarding our natural environment, focusing on protecting our resources, minimizing waste and pollution, and making every effort possible to care for the health of the world around us.
It is no secret that humans can impact our environment, and our knowledge and awareness about this fact have grown through the years. Climate change, environmental pollution, and impact on natural resources are leading issues regarding the need for real sustainability.
What do Sports Have to Do With Sustainability?
Every culture around the world plays sports in some form. The sheer amount of sports gear we produce each year to accommodate the human love of sports makes it a relevant environmental issue. The global sports equipment market is valued at hundreds of billions of dollars currently and is only expected to grow—anything produced on such a huge scale will have some environmental implications.
For example, Spalding, the maker of the official NBA basketball balls, sells over 250,000 basketballs a year in the United States alone. Rawlings, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of sporting goods, makes over 2.4 million baseballs every year. The carbon footprint from these two products alone is important to consider, and that’s only a small fraction and the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the impact of the sports gear industry. Not to mention soccer balls is one the biggest seller and culprits as well.
If the sports gear industry makes sustainability-focused decisions, it can have legitimate positive effects on the environment.
What is Sport Gear Made From?
Commonly used materials in sports gear today are leather, metal, and different types of plastic.
There are a lot more components that go into sports gear, of course, but let’s go over just a few of the most significant ones.
Metal is used in everything from baseball bats to golf clubs and is one of the most commonly found materials in sporting goods. Most metal is recyclable and relatively non-toxic, but mining it and extracting it from the earth can destroy natural habitats and pollute the air and water in surrounding areas.
Leather is one of the first materials to be used for sports gear. The earliest balls used in many sports were traditionally made from leather, a durable and available material. It is still commonly used for balls and gloves today. Most of the leather used for sports gear comes from cows, which require tons of food and water to raise and release a large amount of methane into the atmosphere. Once the cow is grown, processing the leather often uses dangerous chemicals and processes that can harm the environment.
Plastic is becoming increasingly common for use in all kinds of products, including sports gear. Many helmets, pads, and gloves, originally made from leather, are now made from different plastics. Out of all these materials, plastic’s effects on the environment have recently become one of the most concerning issues in conversation regarding sustainability.
The Problem With Plastic
Global warming, pollution, and habitat loss are all familiar headlines when discussing our environmental impact. Still, the problems arising from our excessive use of plastic are coming into the spotlight recently.
Since its invention back in 1907, the use of plastic has increased exponentially. Things that used to be made out of wood, metal, leather, or natural fibers are now often made out of different types of plastic. Using plastic is usually cheaper, faster, and easier to manufacture at a large scale than traditional materials. The problem is that we use plastic for almost everything. It has flooded our environment and is becoming harder and harder to escape.
When plastic breaks down, it becomes microplastics, which are small pieces of plastic less than five millimeters in length. We are all aware that too much trash is going into our oceans, but recent studies have shown just how bad the microplastic problem has gotten.
These tiny particles can be found in oceans and lakes and even in our drinking water and food—and as a result, in our bloodstreams. Studies by environmental scientist Albert Koelmans from the Wageningen University in the Netherlands show that people worldwide ingest an astounding amount of microplastics every day. In the worst cases, some people ingest enough plastic to make a credit card in a single day.
The problem with ingesting plastic, especially in these amounts, is that plastics like PU and PVC can negatively impact the health of humans, animals, and our natural environment.
What is TPU Plastic and How Can it Help Make Sports More Sustainable
With all that said, how can we realistically mitigate problems stemming from microplastics within sports?
TPU plastic is one answer. TPU leather is a non-toxic alternative to plastics commonly used in synthetic sports gear. It is made using a solvent-free process that does not leach the same harmful chemicals as other types of plastic during its manufacturing process.
High-quality TPU products can imitate leather in a way that makes gloves, balls, cleats, and other sporting goods nearly indistinguishable. Well-made TPU products have the same durability, look, and feel as real leather products but with greatly reduced environmental impacts—for example, it is recyclable, durable, and vegan.
By switching to sporting goods made from eco-friendly TPU materials instead of real leather, sporting goods companies can greatly diminish the negative environmental impacts from sports.
Creating a More Sustainable Future in Sports
There is hope in forging a more environmentally-friendly future for sports. According to Nielson, 75% of sports fans are more interested in socially responsible brands. Additionally, according to Havas Sports & Entertainment, 87% of ‘forward-thinking consumers’ believe sports must take action to reduce their negative environmental footprint.
In 2021, the global sports equipment market was valued at $331.4 billion and is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate of 6.4% from this year to 2030. Given the scale and the realistic solutions at hand, adopting sustainable materials in sporting goods is an absolute must. One company doing this at scale is Eco Sports, a California-based sustainable sporting goods company that sells a wide variety sports gear.