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Mark Epps, ATP sustainability lead: “Travel is our priority. It also happens to be the most challenging thing to solve, because of the nature of who we are – a global tour. The most profound change we’ve seen is players have become much more confident in speaking about the issue”

By David Garrido

Over six and a half million kilometres travelled, and 1,722 tons of carbon dioxide emitted – those are just two headline stats from the first year of the ATP Carbon Tracker.

Sounds like a huge hit, doesn’t it? Like an ace from US Open semi-finalist Ben Shelton travelling at 149 miles per hour.

But wait a second… in fact, this new tool is the first step that any major tennis body has taken to tackle its travel footprint, which is responsible for 85-90 per cent of its total emissions.

It’s not the finished article, it’s not the solution to everything, but it’s certainly a start.

The Carbon Tracker is an interactive, player-only app which the ATP developed with its digital innovation partner Infosys.

“Travel is our priority from a sustainability point of view. It also happens to be the most challenging thing to solve, because of the nature of who we are – we run a global tour,” says Mark Epps, who leads on sustainability for the ATP.

The app allows players to track their tournament travel, understand their emissions and offset them using the Gold Standard, an internationally recognised and respected not-for-profit organisation that ensures that those carbon credits are real and verifiable.

All players who offset 100 per cent of their travel receive a Carbon Tracker Green Badge on their profile page, while the gamification element comes in by ranking players in a leaderboard, and they can also complete education quizzes on the app to boost their position.

“At a high level, it speaks to the fact that we are taking on the big challenges, not shying away from it and innovating to try and find solutions,” says Epps, speaking live on Sky Sports News.

“But I think the most profound change that we’ve seen is that players have become much more confident in speaking about the issue, which is so important.”

British No 1 Cameron Norrie, who filmed with Sky Sports as part of the Playing for the Planet series last summer, was third in the standings last year.

“Travel is an unavoidable part of what we do. But protecting the environment is something that’s been really important to me for a long time, and as players, we’re also conscious of the responsibility we have to take action,” Norrie says.

David Garrido caught up with Cameron Norrie at Wimbledon last summer to discuss his passion for sustainability

Mackenzie McDonald, world No 49 from the United States, finished top of the standings in 2023, offsetting travel from all 32 tournaments he played. McDonald joined in the interview with Epps, and conceded that while the app has started conversations, still more can and needs to be done.

“I wouldn’t say attitudes have significantly changed, but I think the opportunity for learning has grown. From the players’ perspective, there are a lot of players, e.g. the guys from Germany, Japan, Sweden, who are very aware of this,” he says.

Awareness, education, action – that’s ultimately what drives mindset and behaviour change. But already some of the behaviour may surprise you, drilling down into the stats.

While the general impression could be that a lot of players fly around the world in first class and by private jet, actually the Carbon Tracker reveals that in 2023, for the 201 players who engaged with the app to log their travel, only a combined 1.4 per cent of the journeys made were first class or private, with 49 per cent of flights in economy class and an encouraging 19.2 per cent of journeys made by car, train or bus.

Mackenzie McDonald and Norrie are two ATP Tour players who are setting an example on going green

Logging all that info has had an additional benefit for Donald, who, as the 2023 ATP Carbon Tracker winner, also receives $50,000 to donate to an initiative of his choice.

“It’s going to go to GreenAction based in the Bay Area in Harbour Point, San Francisco,” he says. “For me, it hits close to home – they want to do a big environmental clean up there, and it’s also a place where 40 years ago, Arthur Ashe visited and helped open four tennis courts.”

So it’s a decent start for the tracker, they’re into their rhythm, they’ve beaten their first opponent. But lifting a Grand Slam title means winning seven best-of-five-set matches back-to-back, and you sense there could be some marathon encounters ahead.

It’s a journey, as Epps says, and getting more players involved is the focus in 2024.

Beyond that, getting this out to the masses would provide the next significant challenge, but also plenty of motivation and fulfilment. “Last year we broke a record on the Tour with more than five million fans coming to our events. The choices that they make and how they travel has a huge impact,” says Epps.

“It’s longer term, but we want to look at how we can take what we’ve learnt with Carbon Tracker and apply that to something fan-facing, use the gamification elements, make it engaging – that’s what really excites me.”

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