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England athlete Joie Leigh has taken on the voluntary role as Sustainability Manager for the upcoming World Cup Photo: FIH/WSP

England star aiming to make World Cup most sustainable ever

June 20, 2018

We all know that green is a cool colour. It is the colour of nature, growth and harmony. It's also the colour of money. So for the Sustainability Manager at the Vitality Hockey Women’s World Cup London 2018 to be talking about the social, environmental and economic impact of a strong and embedded green policy makes huge sense. 

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The Sustainability Manager will be a familiar face to hockey fans in England and beyond. Joie Leigh was one of three reserve players for the Great Britain squad that won gold at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. She racked up more than 50 caps for England and Great Britain before deciding to take a break from the international scene and concentrate on club hockey in the Dutch Hoofdklasse. 

Before she heads to the Netherlands however, the midfielder has an important role to play at the Vitality Hockey Women’s World Cup and, if things go to plan, she will have been instrumental in setting up a sustainability policy that can be utilised at all international hockey events in the future. 

A conversation with someone who was involved in the delivery of the event prompted Leigh to volunteer her services. She was soon installed as the Sustainability Manager, with a specific brief to minimise the use of single-use plastic on site – for players and spectators alike – as well as limiting, if not eliminating, the use of non-degradable bags by retailers and reducing food wastage and the use of non-biodegradable cutlery in the food village. 

The specific brief was to align to and set the foundations in place for achieving ISO20121 accreditation, of which the above objectives are all part of. The beauty of Leigh’s involvement as Sustainability Manager is that her approach is down to earth and practical – under her guidance, the policy becomes something people can recognise and believe in.

“I wanted to integrate sustainability into the whole delivery of the World Cup. I didn’t want it to be an add-on but rather something that was integrated into all the various processes that go into delivering an event.” 
Joie Leigh, Sustainability Manager, Vitality Hockey Women's World Cup London 2018

Environmental issues have always been close to Leigh’s heart. “My degree was in geography, so there is a natural synergy between geography and my interest in how the natural world and the human world interact,” she says. 

“And I currently work as an intern at London and Partners which provide promotional support for the London Mayor’s Office. As the Mayor of London is a partner in the Vitality Hockey Women’s World Cup, that has made coordinating all the various stakeholders a lot easier. 

“It was a bigger job than I initially thought it would be. I spend probably the equivalent of a day a week on this role but I have to work it around my own work and training. I certainly have dedicated a fair amount of time to it.” 

Having accepted the role in September 2017, Leigh’s immediate task was to write a sustainability policy.

"I wanted to integrate sustainability into the whole delivery of the World Cup. I didn't want it to be an add-on but rather something that was integrated into all the various processes that go into delivering an event."

Besides the practical examples which everyone can buy into, such as re-filling water bottles and not using plastic bags, the concept of hosting a sustainable event has been supported by the sport’s international governing body. 

Under the International Hockey Federation’s (FIH) Quality Programme for Hockey Turf, the pitches at the Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre, provided by FIH Official Global Supplier Polytan, are designed to use 40% less water in the watering cycle. A forward move that meets the Sustainability Manager’s approval. 

The push for a sustainable legacy from this World Cup has also seen other communities benefit. The Gift of Hockey campaign is a project that is an extension of the FIH, England Hockey, African Hockey Federation and UK Sport's hockey development project - the Targeted Assistance Programme (TAP), West Africa. Under Leigh’s drive for sustainability, two UK-wide tours have taken place. 

The tours have visited more than 20 hockey clubs to collect unwanted sticks, uniforms and other equipment. So far the collection has filled two transit vans to the brim. The equipment will be redistributed to hockey clubs in Africa and parts of the UK. 

Additionally, during the Vitality Hockey Women's World Cup, spectators are being encouraged to bring their unwanted hockey kit to Fan central – the spectator area at the Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre.

The TAP project is coming to an end but Leigh hopes the provision of hockey equipment to the African and UK communities will help the next generation to find their way into hockey.

“So far the reaction to the campaign to raise awareness about sustainability issues has really been positive from everyone involved but it will be interesting to see how that translates when the World Cup is underway. So far, it has been about the background work. But I think a lot of people do value it. As a movement, the idea of our responsibility towards safeguarding the environment is reaching far more people now.”

For the World Cup itself, Leigh has been working hard to make sure her policies are embedded into every area of operation, from the media area to Fan Central. 

“We are going to work hard to make sure the messaging is clear all over the venue. There will be messages on bins, the water fountains will be well signposted. We also have a page in the programme dedicated to sustainability and I am aspiring to get all the partners and stakeholders to give a set of key quotes that shows we are taking a united front towards sustainability.” 

To ensure that everyone is on board, sustainability issues also get a regular update in the Hockey Maker’s meetings, among stakeholders and in any publicity related to the event. Leigh’s aim from the start has been to get everyone on board and to make sustainability a choice, not a chore. 

“I really want people to see the potential of making events sustainable. It is not just about putting your cup in the right recycling bin, it is far more creative and exciting than that. There is real dynamic and creative thinking going into ways we can live more sustainably. 

“I hope that all the planning and documentation that I have done can be passed onto the Hockey Pro League and the Hockey Series or other sporting events. The foundations and the principles are there. It is just one example demonstrating how events can be done with sustainability embedded throughout. It just makes social, environmental and economic sense.”

The work of Joie Leigh in her role as Sustainability Manager at the Vitality Hockey Women's World Cup is a great example of how innovation and new thinking can drive up the levels of professionalism within our sport, something at the heart of the FIH's Hockey Revolution strategy and in line with the International Olympic Committee's Agenda 2020 Recommendations.

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