UAE cricket team Desert Vipers set up willow plantation to offset carbon footprint

In July, the Vipers published an audit of their carbon emissions after their first season in the new T20 league in the UAE - and are determined to implement new policies

English batsman Alex Hales is one of the many overseas players who travelled to the UAE to take part in the first DP World International League T20 earlier this year. Chris Whiteoak / The National
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A Dubai cricket team are planting a willow tree for each of their players as part of their plan to promote environmental awareness within the sport.

Desert Vipers, who were runners up in the first DP World International League T20 earlier this year, are undertaking a number of sustainability-related projects.

In July, the Vipers published an audit of their carbon emissions after their first season in the new T20 league in the UAE.

The franchise’s total carbon emissions amounted to 570 tonnes. Around 125 players participated across the league in its first season, only 24 of whom were locally based.

As such, flying players in for the event from around the world had a substantial effect. The Vipers audit showed that travel accounted for 423 tonnes of their own carbon emissions.

Goods and services including hotel and transportation in the UAE accounting for about 114 tonnes, with air conditioning coolant contributing to approximately 32 tonnes.

In response to the calculations, the franchise have partnered with a number of different sustainability organisations.

The franchise and its partners will be investing in "cricket-themed carbon credits representing the team’s entire season one footprint".

Another of their projects is to plant trees. So the likes of Alex Hales, Wanindu Hasaranga and Rohan Mustafa will each get their own willow tree, planted at a farm in Essex in the UK.

Each tree takes around 15 years to mature and makes around 50 cricket bats. Twelve trees have been planted so far – one each for the match day players plus one sub – while the franchise hope their corporate partners will also participate in the scheme.

Sean Morris, the chief executive of 1.5 Sport, who are the Vipers’ sustainability partners, thinks the willow project will “go beyond the offsetting and invest in the future”.

“As well as their own offsetting and sustainability policies they can also partner in the willow plantation, and we think that is very much future focused,” Morris said.

Phil Oliver, the Vipers chief executive, said the audit report made for alarming reading, but said it shows they need to act.

“It’s important we do acknowledge the impact we have on the environment playing as a cricket team in that part of the world,” Oliver said.

“It is difficult. There is no doubt it is a challenge. I think it is a breakthrough to be transparent and be held accountable like that.

“I don’t think other sports teams are looking enough at themselves. All we can do is try and get our own house in order as best we can and try to inspire others to do similar.”

Ian Curtis, from the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford warned that offsetting will not be easy, and said the Vipers need to be innovative.

“We are going to have to break a lot of ideas, be constantly trying things, and things are going to fail but at the end of the day we have to go out on the pitch and try and work things out,” Curtis said.

“When [Mike Gatting] played the first reverse sweep, the [MCC] members all thought, ‘What is going on?’ Now look what is going on these days.

“In particular kids love that type of innovation. Now we are in that innovation phase.”

Gary Adlen, the chief executive of Carbon Happy World, the company who calculated the footprint of the Vipers, said the figure was “a lot of carbon, particularly for a small business”.

The company are also working with the franchise on ways to “avoid, adapt and absorb” emissions in future to help mitigate its impact.

“What it did highlight for the Desert Vipers was where that carbon was coming from, particularly around flights and hotel stays,” Adlen said.

“Playing cricket in a desert, you have a lot of energy usage. That in a sense gave an inflated figure.

“All sporting organisations should have a figure attached in their reports [about carbon emissions] and Desert Vipers doing that is important.

“From that, what we have to do is work out how they get that down. They have committed to a five-year, 50 per cent reduction and a net-zero reduction by 2040.

“We will monitor that to make sure we are in line with that, help them get their reduction plans in place and help do the reporting.”

Tom Moody, the Vipers director of cricket, likened the report to a cricket scorecard, saying: “Now we know exactly what we have used in our first year.

“It is a case of us improving on that. Being is sport, we know this is our scoreboard and we are accountable for it.”

Updated: December 01, 2023, 8:32 AM