Sustainable Development Practices in the Australian Football League

I thought I would take a look at some of the sustainable practices in Australian sport, particularly with a focus on the Western Bulldogs. As most of you are aware I have been working for the Bulldogs for nearly three years, that being said I will try to keep this as objective as possible – no green washing. I understand that some of our practices could be dramatically improved and would be happy to hear your thoughts on what could be some ecologically economic alternatives that could see us save money and continue to reduce our environmental footprint.

Living on the driest continent on the world (ok I know Antarctica actually is but stay with me), a major problem facing sport at all levels in Australia in the past two decades has been long drought periods (only to endure significant flooding in the past few years), I am not exaggerating when I say I hardly remember it raining in the late 90’s and early 00’s. The drought periods had a lasting effect on the way Australia managed its water resources and only earlier this year an ‘end’ to the drought was declared.


This is a picture of a lake in my hometown during the 00’s.

The droughts have had a profound effect on many industries in Australia including sport, with many grass-roots facilities closing during this period. In an ecological economic context, I understand that organised sport would be referred to as life enhancing but I am sure many fans would argue it falls into the life supporting category!

As mentioned, the way we think about water has changed dramatically since these events and techniques for saving water have become more and more common. Early last year the Western Bulldogs completed a $31 million redevelopment of its elite training facilities and head office, with the precinct also housing offices for the Department of Education & Early Childhood and Victoria University.


Conceptual drawing of Whitten Oval with (from left) the Sports Hall, office building and Elite Learning Centre.

A major focus for the project was the way the organisation managed its water usage and water storage. The Club used a water sustainability report created through its community partners – Victoria University and City West Water (who provide 93 billion litres of drinking water to Melbourne’s west),  to guide it through the process ,with the following initiatives introduced to improve efficiency:

The playing surface was replaced with a combination of drought resistant couch and rye grasses, saving 70% of irrigation water without compromising the overall quality of the surface. This is important as the playing surface soaks up around 6 million litres per year (and no trees).


Couch & Rye grass on Whitten Oval

Water usage in the precinct has been reduced to one third of the initial future usage forecasted, this has been achieved through replacing showers from 20L per minute to 9L per minute, dual flush toilets and low flow water taps – an example of refurbishing practices suggested in the 11th hour film, demonstrating throughput efficiency. The savings are significant when you realise there are 46 players in our squad – all using the shower facilities in the Elite Learning Centre each day and around 400 total precinct staff using the toilets


Elite Learning Centre at Whitten Oval

Water storage has also improved at the precinct with new water tanks storing up to 1 million litres of water, fed via underground stormwater catchments and the 4000 square metres of roof, most of which is from a new indoor sports hall housing 4 basketball courts for team and community use. The stored water is used for toilet water and irrigation, improving growth efficiency and saving money.


Whitten Oval Sports Hall, completed in 2010.

The Western Bulldogs currently use Whitten Oval for its training facility only, our match day venue Etihad Stadium has also partnered with City West Water to improve growth efficiency, with the 41,000 square metres of the retractable roof now saving a combined 17 million litres of water, caught and used through its own tanks – also with a storage capacity of 1 million litres. The catchment and storage, along with throughput efficiency strategies similar to Whitten Oval has allowed the stadium to reduce water usage by a quarter.


Melbourne’s Etihad Stadium has a 41,000 square metre retractable roof.

While the initiatives above have helped to reduce the amount of water required by the Western Bulldogs and Etihad Stadium, I understand that this is only the beginning of what the industry needs to do. The Australian Football League (AFL) have started to look at its carbon footprint, partnering with the Department of Climate Change & Energy Efficiency and Origin Energy to offset 105,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions generated from matches and the AFL head office. In 2010 the AFL Grand Final (think Australia’s Superbowl for our North American friends) was powered by 100% GreenPower source with Origin Energy putting 100% of the estimated power used for the Grand Final back into the grid via accredited GreenPower sources.


2010 AFL Grand Final

I will be interested to see more best-practice ideas for sporting teams and stadiums moving forward, it seems there is always an element of green washing with these initiatives and it doesn’t always work out as planned. A good example of this can be seen with the London Olympics, further reading for it can be viewed here.

*Views are my own

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2 comments on “Sustainable Development Practices in the Australian Football League
  1. Did you know Australia invented the dual-flush… genius

    can you please tag dual flush just in case…

  2. jeremy says:

    This all seems a far cry from the doco I saw on TV years ago about Footscray Football Club. Good stuff.

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