Monday, June 17, 2024

The GEO Foundation for Sustainable Golf – inspiring, supporting and rewarding sustainable action – Irish Golfer Magazine

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Founded 16 years ago, the GEO Foundation for Sustainable Golf is an entirely non-profit organisation set up with a view to inspiring, supporting, and rewarding credible sustainability action and to strengthen and promote golf’s social and environmental value.

With partnerships across both the amateur and professional games, national governing bodies and non-golf organisations including government agencies and NGOs, the GEO Foundation have a footprint in almost 70 countries worldwide. “Our culture is very much like a caddie,” explains Executive Director Jonathan Smith, “the foundation set itself up to know the terrain, help navigate the course and to build a decent set of tools to support the golf industry’s leadership.”

There are several different forks to the GEO Foundation which can be broken down into four main tenets – advocacy, programs and solutions, innovation, and impacts – and by helping to devise strategies and practices for such a wide-ranging collection of those within the golf industry, and then collating and curating all the data, they are able to remain at the cutting edge of sustainability practices and be guided by first-hand experiences.

Golf Ireland are one such partner and through the GEO Foundation’s Sustainable Golf Pathway, golf clubs, tournament organisers and other relevant bodies can access a series of programs and tools that are vital resources in their transition to becoming more sustainable long term.

“We develop it with partners and then in a way, give it back to partners in golf so that their strategies are then hopefully implemented more effectively and more credibly,” Smith added. Clubs that start on the Sustainable Golf Pathway – and there are many Irish clubs who are already well advanced – feature on the online Sustainable Golf Leaderboard, and though GDPR restrictions prohibit exact data from each participating club being published, analysis of the data is published on the leaderboard as stories which help inform other clubs as to some of the practices that neighbouring clubs are implementing and serve as encouragement for them to do similar.

“With the data, we can analyse the industry’s performance on a variety of metrics including water, biodiversity, turf management, carbon emissions and things like that,” Smith explains, “and that data is important for the clubs and for the industry, but it’s also important for governments and regulators and the outside world to know that when golf says, ‘hey, look, not only are we working to be more sustainable and better for the environment and better for communities, here’s some of the evidence that backs that up and backs up that journey.’”

When the GEO Foundation was first set up, environmental concerns were at the forefront with the actual practicalities and financial concerns very much playing second fiddle, but that doesn’t mean that there wasn’t a recognition that there were considerable cost saving measures involved as well, and many of the early adopters are already seeing their investments paying dividends.

What’s on the balance sheet is easily quantifiable, but it’s hard to put a price on goodwill, community pride and putting a club in position for long-term favour from local authorities

“There’s so much goodwill in sustainable communities,” Smith suggests, “so many voluntary groups – when they see the club as a force for good – charity, nature restoration, beach cleans, things like that, it’s actually free marketing for golf clubs and it changes the way that the club might be perceived within the community. Going from a club that’s only thinking about itself to a club that is actually a real asset in the community and that stimulates pride towards the golf club.

“It can get local governments leaning towards more favorable planning decisions and things like that for the golf club. It’s just repositioning of your business as an asset and a force for good in the community, and it has a lot of indirect or less tangible benefits that are very important long term.”

While some of the larger, powerhouse golf clubs have professional management teams, others are run by a series of volunteers who have the good of the club at heart and the GEO Foundation Pathway is particularly useful to clubs such as these.

By visiting the GEO Foundation website, any club can begin the step-by-step process which Smith likens to the rungs on a ladder. Step one is to make the sustainable golf pledge – a downloadable certificate which outlines a club’s commitment to becoming a more sustainable golf facility, to foster nature, to conserve resources, to take climate action and to strengthen their local community.

Step two is to start creating ‘club highlights’ – sustainable practices which the club feel they do well, which gets them onto the Sustainable Golf Leaderboard.

And step three is to create an ‘On Course’ community – a cloud-based app which allows clubs to assemble a team – it could be club officials, greenkeeper, professional, external parties with an interest in sutainability – and via the app, have access to industry best practices and guidance and self-audit in relation to these and each of these three steps are entirely free of charge.

Step four is to input their own data – waste generation, energy usage, water consumption, etc. – and based on this, the GEO Foundation provide a Sustainable Golf scorecard – not to be mistaken for the Sustainable Golfer Scorecard included earlier in this magazine – plus a full carbon report, for the cost of €400, which Smith suggests would cost approximately €5-10,000 euro through proper channels.

The final step is to have a third-party audit which, if the criteria are met, allows the club to become ‘GEO Certified’ and they are then provided marketing materials to present themselves as such.

“We’ve tried to make it a very inclusive pathway and something that can become very scalable across the whole country,” Smith adds. “Every time a club participates, it’s another leadership club for Golf Ireland, it’s another best practice data point and it is content that Golf Ireland can use to represent the game as a national sport, to say that we are committed to sustainability, we’re taking action and here’s the results that we’re driving for. Not just for golf, but for society across Ireland.”

To begin the process, visit

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