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By Eve Holt, Strategic Director, GM Moving | 17 May 2024 | TAGS:

Sport England have launched their first ever environmental sustainability strategy and action plan, Every Move’.

This is long over-due, having seen the sports and physical activity sector lag further and further behind in recent years, in it’s response to the climate emergency.

Whilst I’ve been willing the team on, from both the pitch and the stands, I admit I was prepared to be disappointed.  I’m pleased to say I wasn’t. 

The strategy sets out a vision for a positive and regenerative sport and physical activity sector championing environmental sustainability with every move.  

It sets some clear requirements of the sector, backed up by bold commitments about the leadership role Sport England will play to help enable action to include significant investment of £45 million.

The message from Sport England, and from Chris Boardman as Chair, is clear “we are the last generation in a position to do something” we have to act. 

Our main threat and competitor is climate change, and she won’t wait for anyone.

It’s time to pull our sleeves up as a sector and start punching above our weight. This starts with us believing we can do it. Which I, like Chris, believe we can, with a healthy dose of stubborn optimism! 

I’ve set out below a bit about why I think this is a meaningful moment, beyond the headlines, and what this means for us as GM Moving as we pull our sleeves up and look to make our every move count for a greener, more sustainable, and active Greater Manchester.

Choose your words wisely

Firstly, it’s all about the words. Yes anyone who knows me, knows I’m a fan of the famous suffragette slogan #DeedsNotWords. But in practice we need both.

Through our work at GM Moving we’ve seen the power of words, language, framing and stories. They shape what we think and do. They matter. 

It is great to therefore see the words used in the Sport England strategy and surrounding communications, including those I’ve underlined above, and the stories shared, reflect our learning at GM Moving about the need to be intentional about what we say, and make every word count.[1]

To move people to action, we need to show how the problem is relevant, how it matters to them and to us collectively, here, now, today.

And positively show how people can and are taking action, individually and collectively, and how these actions can mount up into something meaningful, powerful and transformative.

The call to action should require, inspire and enable action, so we are compelled, with head, heart, and hands to join in.

This may all sound obvious but is too often missed in climate action strategies and communications which often feel removed, remote, inaccessible, for ‘others to act on’ or too individualised and small in the face of the scale of the challenge.

Or focus so much on the threat, the ‘burning platform’, rather than the positive actions, that we feel powerless and fearful and our reptilian brains naturally send us into flight, fight or freeze mode – we get stuck in drama!

Making stuff happen - Learning, talking and doing stuff, together

The time is now.  Action can’t come soon enough.  So, what will we be doing as Greater Manchester Moving over the next few weeks as one of Sport England’s key system partners?

On Tuesday we have a full day together as a whole organisation to agree our next moves. This will include:

  • sharing our stories of what moves us personally to act (my story is here)
  • developing our carbon literacy (using the Carbon Literacy Project’s Sport’s Toolkit) and understanding of the impacts of biodiversity loss and environmental breakdown
  • exploring what is within our spheres of control, influence and concern
  • asking some questions of ourselves, as below, and committing to paper and to each other, some new moves! To include new actions we will each take individually, together, as an organisation and as leaders, connectors and influencers in the wider system.

This will require us to all look at where there is alignment, between what matters to us as individuals and as an organisation, and to our partners and stakeholders, and our shared missions.

We'll explore where and how we best grow and strengthen alignment. Find the sweet spots in our work – where our contribution towards environmental sustainability, best aligns with or overlaps with, our contributions towards tackling inequalities and enabling active lives for all.

Look for alignment

I’ve seen repeatedly that alignment is key to effective change: alignment of values, language, plans and actions. This includes alignment local to national to global, and horizontally and diagonally across different communities, sectors and systems.

I’ve personally seen and felt, the difference it makes when we align things well. Things move and flow with pace and ease.  This is our current experience at GM Moving. This doesn’t just magically happen.

It takes careful listening, designing and engineering to get everything lined up.  The scaffolding or plumbing matters and this is what a strategy and action plan should provide. And nothing stays static.

You need to keep mind, heart and hands open and ready to adapt. You need to continually read the room and the system.

So, how does the strategy and action plan align with our approach at GM Moving?

Alignment of key messages

Working with experts in framing and communications, like Nicky Hawkins and Kate Cocker, we’ve grown to understand the power of having shared key messages that can be easily repeated and reinforced in all our communications. 

Our three key GM Moving messages are:

  • Moving matters to all of us
  • Together we can design movement back into life
  • We all have a role to play

We then have versions of this for all our various streams of work.  We’ll be revisiting our key messages for the environment next week so I’ve started to test them against the Sport England strategy and communications to see how well they align.

Key message one: Environmental sustainability matters to active lives for all 

The strategy shows why this agenda matters to the sport and physical activity sector - highlighting the direct impact that climate change and ecological breakdown is already having on people’s ability to be active (see page 12), and the unequal impact on different communities.

On the pre-launch briefing call, the presenters each shared stories of how climate breakdown is already impacting on our ability to live an active life, be that flooded cycle lanes, playgrounds and football pitches, or the cancelling of events and activities due to extreme heat or loss of snow.

“three in five adults and children (60%) say extreme weather has had a negative impact on their ability to be active, with one in four of the children negatively affected, citing the cancellation of PE and games lessons.” 

And the strategy also presents the opportunity to enable more people to enjoy the benefits of moving more often, by improving access to resilient active environments, to include green and blue spaces, through supporting good active design and nature recovery; and by supporting more climate resilient community hubs and sports facilities. 

Key message two: Together we can positively respond to and impact our environment

The strategy and action plan recognises that there is no single silver bullet to tackling climate change and environmental breakdown.

Instead there are many different dials that need to be turned and levers to be pulled, all at the same time. Or in Chris Boardman’s language, lots of marginal gains to be made.

This aligns with our whole system approach at GM Moving to all the complex problems we are wrestling with, to include the challenges of inactivity, inequity, and environmental and climate breakdown.

The socio-ecological model as translated in the diagram below,  helps us and partners to operationalise a whole-system approach in practice. It underpins the GM Moving in Action strategy, our strategic thinking, our action plans and our measurement, evaluation and learning.

See fig 2 as an example of how this can be translated into practical actions and plans.

Figure 1 GM Moving Socio-ecological model unrolled. By Gaia Crocella, Publica CIC for GM Moving

Key message three: We all have a role to play

And the final message was clear – this is everyone’s business and we all have a role to play.

“We all have to start somewhere and we want people to be proud of the changes they make to be more sustainable,” Tim Hollingsworth.

Our roles may look wildly different and may change over time, but there are positive steps we can all take, today to incorporate positive action into our every move. So yes the world is on fire and we need to respond at unprecedented pace and scale, but together we can do just that.

Alignment of priorities and levers of change

The priority themes and key levers for change (see diagram on page 5 of the strategy) are well aligned with local priorities in Greater Manchester to include the priorities set out in our 2021-2031 strategy ‘GM Moving in Action, in our on-going communications and within our organisation’s Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) statement.

So my message to the rest of our team at GM Moving on Tuesday is going to be a positive one.  We are well aligned and well placed to make our every move count.

So, what are we going to do next?

We’ll have to wait until Tuesday to see. We will share where we get to afterwards.

In the meantime, here’s a few examples of the questions we’ll be asking of ourselves and each other and an illustration of how we’ll be taking a whole system approach to our action planning, using our socio-ecological model as a framework to guide our thinking.


GM Moving: Our Every Move. Some questions to ask ourselves.
Fig 2. GM Moving: Our Every Move


GM Moving: Environmental Sustainability
Fig 3. GM Moving: Environmental Sustainability


We’d love to know what your next move is and how you are making it count.

If you are not sure where to start, you can start here, now, by having a read of #EveryMove, Sport England’s new Sustainability Strategy and Action Plan: 

[1] I think ‘environmental sustainability’ as a term is problematic but that needs its own blog!


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