Golf is regarded as one of the most nature-orientated sports today - enjoyed by millions around the world, and supported largely by some of the greatest brands and names.
But it is also one of the most water-consumptive activities outside of the manufacturing sector, and it inadvertently contributes to the degradation of water quality, biodiversity and even to the denial of basic services and resources to local communities. It has been said that the sport is elitist and exclusive - with courses and clubs being fenced and protected against non-players and local communities.
But, there is growing awareness by administrators and managers in the sport to change. Massive strides have been made in ensuring that courses use less water and play a greater role in conservation. Golf courses are being increasingly seen as corridors of biodiversity in a largely urbanised world, and the use of responsible turf-management techniques and products is contributing to lower contamination and waste levels across the industry. Golf is playing a greater role in community life, and outreach and development initiatives have become a standard for any respectable club. Some courses have even embraced independent certification of their environmental and social performance in an effort to maintain and grow their membership and attract corporate and sponsorship support.
But here is where the 'good news' often gets misdirected. There is a confused minority of golf course managers that believe having an ISO 14001 certification solves their problems. They stick to the belief that this 'status' gives them carte-blanche to operate as they like, and they often pay little more than lip-service to the aims of responsible course management. ISO 14001 is not - and has never been relevant to the golfing sector - or to sport in general, because of its manufacturing sector focus. Nowhere in the world is ISO recognised by the official golfing authorities, mainly because of its lack of relevance to the sport or to the challenges that golf poses to the environment.
Perhaps if they knew that the ISO organisation itself has recognised the problem and that they are working on the development of a more specific standard for golf courses, they would be less sure of their greenwashing efforts. ISO have recognised the work done by specialists in the field, and organisations and labels that have blazed a path to greater sustainability in the sport, and they are involving them in the development of a new standard - something far-removed from the 14001 standard. Those that refuse to understand the inability of 14001 to address golf course management are doing themselves - and the industry in general, a massive disservice. Ignorance is obviously bliss when it comes to sustainable golf.!
There are a growing number of recognised and emerging certification and accreditation programmes specifically designed for this sector, and each of them addresses issues that ISO was never designed to consider, but because it tends to be a handy and 'influential' label, there are still the uninformed that ignore more appropriate and workable solutions in favour of the greenwash route!
Greening golf courses is more complicated and extensive than most understand, but there is help at hand. Stop believing the sales-pitch of ISO certification bodies, and get with the programme by doing it right from the start. Independent labels provide that guidance and support, and those that are truly committed to more responsible golf need to get involved.