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Racing to zero - sustainability meets biathlon

The world of biathlon is racing to respond to the climate emergency. We’re supporting them, equipping athletes to use their influence for the good of people and planet.

Written by:
George Biesmans

One of the big inspirations for founding AimHi Earth was to expose and connect people to strong, positive role models. And with sports-people commanding an outsized influence on society today, we’ve always believed that working directly with professional athletes is a powerful medium for reaching beyond the echo chamber, when communicating about the climate and nature emergency.

In recent years, we’ve seen just how powerful this can be. Our trainings have upskilled Team GB Olympians, as well as BBC Sports and Sky Sports presenters, giving them the tools and confidence to be climate leaders and nature-first thinkers; and crucially, empowering them to share that knowledge and understanding with their far-reaching networks of fans and followers. In essence, enabling them to harness their influence for the good of people and planet.

As part of this impact-focused work, we recently delivered our flagship Climate Masterclass for athletes and staff at the International Biathlon Union.

Co-hosted by AimHi Earth Chief Scientist Matthew Shribman, olympic gold medallist Hannah Mills and GB athlete Melissa Wilson, the session homed in on the impact the climate and nature emergency is having on the world of biathlon, while equipping athletes and staff with the knowledge and tools to be confident champions for the regenerative future we all need.

Three months on, we caught up with Development Manager, Theresa Jost, to chat about the IBU’s experience with AimHi Earth and the impact the training has had on athletes and staff.

For a bit of context, could you tell us how the climate and nature emergency is affecting the world of biathlon?

As a snow-sport, biathlon is experiencing first-hand the impacts of the climate and nature emergency. This winter, in particular, we got a taste of what the future might look like, with snow guaranteed only in places at high altitudes. The lack of snow in lower altitudes makes it difficult for clubs to recruit and retain younger athletes, because they’re entirely reliant on snow conditions in their local areas. That’s why we’re eager to do what we can to ensure that current and future generations can continue to enjoy the joy of snow sports and of nature.

What prompted you to seek climate and sustainability training for IBU staff and athletes?  Were there any particular challenges or barriers you were hoping to overcome?

Our primary goal was to equip all stakeholder groups in the International Biathlon Union with a basic understanding of climate change and sustainability. We wanted them to enable them to actively contribute, within their spheres of influence, to our goal of becoming a climate neutral organisation. We also wanted the training to motivate more athletes to use their unique platforms to advocate and become role models for climate action.

Ultimately, if we’re to address the climate and nature emergency on a global scale, and achieve our own ambitious sustainability goals at the IBU, it’s critical to ensure everyone in the biathlon family is on the same page. Making the topic personal and relatable is the key to making real change happen.

What were your hopes and expectations for AimHi Earth’s Masterclass? Did the training meet those expectations and address some of those barriers?

We expected the masterclass to be entertaining, informative and interactive and to bring the topic closer to people, by making it personal and relatable.

Our hope was that the training would give attendees the opportunity to learn about the key climate concepts and how the climate and nature emergency is linked to the world of biathlon. 

We were really impressed with how professionally the training was delivered by AimHi Earth and Athletes of the World. We particularly enjoyed how interactive the session was, with opportunities for participants to constantly engage with the content.

Although more links to biathlon specifically could have been made, overall we were really satisfied. 

Something we’ll keep in mind for next time is to deliver the session outside of the winter season  - the busiest time for our athletes! - as this would mean more of them could join. That said, it’s great to have an on-demand recording available for those who couldn’t join this time around, so they can watch it at a later date.

In what way do you feel the training has benefitted the IBU? Can you give an example? Has it contributed in any way to your sustainability goals or sparked any conversations, initiatives or changes? 

The training encouraged athletes and staff to reflect more on what’s driving the climate emergency and how each of us can play a role in responding to it.  

We received positive feedback from our Athlete Ambassadors and from IBU staff. It’s sparked more discussions about climate and nature during lunch and coffee breaks at the office, and it’s definitely better equipped us to be leaders in advocating for climate action and sustainable development within the biathlon family. There is, of course, a lot more work to do.

Again, having the on-demand recording of the Masterclass available will help us to reach more people. We’re also planning to offer more sustainability education for all our stakeholders in the near future, particularly through our newly-launched IBU Academy and our E-Learning platform.

Going into the training, the IBU had an established Sustainability Ambassadors Programme. Could you tell us a bit about this? Has the training led to greater interest in the programme?

The IBU Athlete Ambassador Programme was established in 2021, giving athletes the opportunity to get involved in three particular issues: Sustainability, Gender Equality, and Integrity. The goal of the programme is to educate athletes and enable them to use their influence to raise awareness and spread knowledge about these topics.

In our first two-year cycle, we’ve had 16 athletes from 13 different countries join the programme. Our hope was that the training would inspire more athletes to come on board and join the programme as Sustainability Ambassadors for the next cycle. 

We’re really pleased that nearly all current Ambassadors have committed to carry on for another two years, and we’ve already received some new applications for the programme. We hope this only grows in the coming months!

Finally, what one piece of advice would you have for other sports organisations eager to play their part in responding to the climate and nature emergency? 

Start NOW. Sport is such a powerful platform for influencing and driving change. 

Support your athletes to use their influence, to raise awareness about the climate emergency and to communicate about how you, as an organisation, are responding to it.

Nobody is perfect when it comes to sustainability; what matters is that everyone is doing their best to reduce their impact as much as possible and to communicate openly about it. Exchange knowledge and share experiences with other sports organisations to help each other move forward on their sustainability journey.