Interview with Miranda Wilson: Environmental protection in professional sports

Interview mit Miranda Wilson: Umweltschutz im Profisport | Airpaq UG

Miranda Wilson is a successful junior player in badminton. At the age of 21, she can already look back on a remarkable career: She has been German youth champion five times so far, secured victories at international tournaments in Poland, Croatia, Sweden and Romania, now plays for the German national team and participated in world and European championships. The sports soldier, who is based in North Rhine-Westphalia, is not only involved in sports, however, but also in climate protection. In 2019, she therefore held a TED Talk in Stuttgart on sustainability in professional sports. Besides the 'Zero Waste' principle in her everyday life, she also implements other projects for environmental protection in professional badminton sports.

Maya Kraatz: Hello Miranda! We are so happy that you found time today to tell us something about your great work for climate protection and of course about what else you are doing. Would you like to tell us a little bit about yourself? Who are you and how do people know you?
Miranda Wilson: My name is Miranda and I am a national badminton player, 21 years old. I'm a women's singles player, which means I only train women's singles and I train and live at the base in Mülheim an der Ruhr. That is one of our two federal bases for badminton in Germany. The other one is in Saarbrücken, but that is only for the doubles players. I've been living in Mühlheim since 2016, where I graduated from high school, went to boarding school, and then switched to the adult base in 2018 to pursue my dream of making it to the top and playing badminton professionally.

Eine junge Frau im lilafarbenen Shirt spielt Badminton in einem Turnier.Miranda Wilson at the German Championships 2020 (©Bernd Bauer)

The way from the Second to the First Bundesliga

Maya: In 2019, you moved from the second-league team SG Schorndorf to the first-league team 1. BC Wipperfeld, which is also a NRW club, right? But now you are stationed in Mülheim an der Ruhr, how is the contact to the club?

Miranda: In our case, we have little to do with training at the club, as is perhaps the case with team sports. I was born in Stuttgart. I grew up there and started playing badminton there when I was eight years old [Airpaq's note: at SG Schorndorf]. I played there for a total of ten years and at some point it was time for me to make the jump to the First Bundesliga [Airpaq's note: and switch to 1. BC Wipperfeld]. Stuttgart was still in the second division at that time. And then I went to Wipperfeld. Well, on match days it's a bit of a pickle, but otherwise I'm really central here in Mühlheim and - apart from match days - I only have a few trips to Wipperfeld. 

Maya: In February 2020 you took part in the European Championship for the first time and with silver you and your team were also quite successful. How is it now with Corona: Are many trainings and tournaments cancelled?

Miranda: In the beginning, almost everything fell through. The European Championship that you just mentioned was actually my last tournament before the first lockdown. After that, we had no training at all for a month and no hall. Then at some point it came back with strong restrictions: mask, distance, everyone on his own place, only five people in the hall. Under these rules, step by step, we were allowed to play the professional games again. Meanwhile, the youth still had to wait, but there, too, training gradually resumed. Even now at the moment, everyone always trains only on his own court. We always have masks on when we are not on the field. The training is staggered so that we are never all in the hall at the same time. For a few months now, competitions have been taking place again, but only very sporadically. 90 percent have been canceled or postponed. And those that do take place are only under very strict conditions. As you know from other sports, you are in a kind of 'bubble' for this time, which you don't leave. You don't leave the hotel at all, for example, unless you go into the hall. And you are always tested up and down with PCR tests - everything is super strictly regulated! It's also very difficult to get into the tournaments, because the fewer tournaments there are, the higher the rush is, of course. That's why it's very difficult for many to find motivation throughout at the moment. I think I have a really privileged situation because so many people can't go to work. I, on the other hand, can go to the gym and train every day and do 100 percent of what I did before. Only with very few restrictions, for example that we are tested every week and have a slightly different training schedule. What's missing are the competitions. In training, you're basically working towards being able to compete with others at some point.

Maya: You're also preparing for something bigger right now. Another major sporting event coming up at the end of April 2020?

Miranda: Exactly, the European Championships! These are also my very first 'adult' European Championships, so O19. My last European Championships in singles were in 2018 at the Youth European Championships, so U19. That's very positive for me that I was able to qualify as one participant in the European Championships, since only two players are going there as well. That's why I'm very happy that I now have the chance to present myself at the European Championships for the first time.

Zu sehen ist ein großer Rucksack auf dem Rücken einer Person mit blauem T-Shirt.Miranda with her new 'Biq' and the logo of her project (©Miranda Wilson)


"We produce way too much trash and we need to make a change!"

Maya: I read in an article that you had some kind of key moment in 2018 where you asked yourself "What's wrong here? We are producing way too much waste and we need to change something!". Tell me about how that came about.

Miranda: Exactly, that was at the beginning of 2018 when I was thinking about my New Year's resolutions. I didn't want to choose such boring New Year's resolutions, so I sat in the garden in Australia and just thought about it. It then really struck me as a horror, "What are we actually doing here?". We produce so much plastic and actually we all know that, at least subconsciously, but we suppress it insanely well. At that moment, however, I became so aware of it that I started researching right away: What's out there? What can I do? That's when I first came across 'Zero Waste'. I was so excited and immediately said, "I'm doing this! I'm doing that!" I was already in boarding school at the time, which meant I already had a certain independence with shopping, cooking and everything. That's why I then also radically implemented this. I said: "So, I want to live 'Zero Waste' now!" and then over the months I totally grew into this scene. I also shared more and more on social media because I noticed that the opposite is actually the case in the sports world. We consume, we don't care about anything, we are somehow fully egotistically inclined, because we naturally look first and foremost at our own achievements and everyone wants to push themselves forward. But I had the feeling that we can't do that at any price. That's why I got very involved in this area and was also with 'Greenpeace' for a short time, because I simply wanted to do something. Then I quickly realized that this wasn't quite the right thing for me and that I'd actually rather make a difference in sports. In 2019, I had the opportunity to give a TED Talk about everything I do in the field of sustainability.

2019: TED Talk about sustainability in the sports scene

Maya: How did you end up doing a TED Talk?

Miranda: You can probably also apply there, but I didn't have that on my radar. I was simply asked because the organizers were from Stuttgart and they knew me through badminton. Then they asked me if I would like to give a TED Talk myself. I already knew the TED Talk platform because I often get inspiration there myself in relation to the topic of sustainability. So I took the chance! In retrospect, it was a very important step for me, because it was the first time that I "really" went public with what I do, and it's important to me that this topic is heard in the sports scene. I also received an incredible amount of positive feedback and even more inquiries. The following year, for example, I traveled to the University of St. Gallen, which had a theme week on sport and sustainability. It was really good to form more and more connections!

"Wasteful" sports and their waste consumption

Maya: You said that waste consumption is particularly high in the sports world. Would you say that there are sports that generate a particularly large amount of waste? Is a weighting possible there?

Miranda: I think it totally depends. Of course, the big sports are also big contributors, because they have the biggest events and because they attract thousands of fans. The contrast to that are the sports that are very close to nature, because that's where there's the greatest awareness of sustainability so far. Be it wind, water or winter sports. Badminton, on the other hand, I classify as a relatively wasteful sport, because we use an incredible number of balls. The balls are made of goose feathers and cork, although cork is also a limited resource. Also, everything is glued together with glue. I've been doing a lot of research on how to recycle these balls. But right now, there's just no option there. Then we also have the rackets, which are mainly made of carbon and break from time to time. And of course the strings often break, which are usually made of plastic. In addition, it's not exactly sustainable to wear a new collection of sportswear including shoes every year. I think that many game sports are not so great at it.

Ein junger Mann ist von hinten zu sehen und trägt eine Art Turnbeutel auf dem Rücken.Co-initiator of 'BadmintONEarth' Kai Schäfer with a printed 'Baq'. (©Miranda Wilson)

Sustainable sportswear in professional sports

Maya: You probably can't necessarily choose the collection either? There's probably a lot about sponsors?

Miranda: My sponsor is launching a collection made from recycled PET bottles next year. That's a great first step, I don't want to deny that. But that's just 1 percent of everything. So there is still a lot to come. But let's go back to the sports themselves: I believe that on the one hand our high consumption - that is, that we perform a lot and thus also consume a lot - but on the other hand also our supply in itself - nutrition, for example - has a negative impact on sustainability. In addition, we athletes are always in the role of role models due to our constant presence on social media and at competitions. If we're always setting an example of what's actually not so good for the world, then young children and other fans will pick up on that. Because of this role of responsibility, sport has a lot of potential.

Sustainability in everyday life: 'Low Waste' more valuable than 'Zero Waste

Maya: How do you implement sustainability in your everyday life as an athlete and as a role model? What do you do specifically besides zero waste?

Miranda: One thing about the 'zero waste': I think 'zero waste' always sounds very nice, but actually I'm trying to convey that 'low waste' is more valuable. If one person does it perfectly and tens of thousands resign themselves to it, it's useless. What I personally do: Apart from my sportswear, I only consume second-hand and fair-trade fashion, because it is very important to me what I cause in the fashion industry. I don't think many people are aware that we cause an incredible amount of damage through our clothing consumption. As far as mobility is concerned, I also try to compensate for all my flights, of course. Unfortunately, I can't do without flying to competitions at the moment, because the sport also gives me a certain presence in terms of sustainability. That's why offsetting is the least I can do. Nevertheless, I try to avoid short flights as much as possible. In everyday life, I ride my bike and take the train a lot. Until a few months ago I didn't even have a car and now I share one with my boyfriend, but we try to use it as little as possible. What else is added for me, but not for purely environmental reasons, is a vegan diet. I also do it for performance reasons because it makes me feel better, and then there are environmental and ethical aspects to it. Also, I try to share a lot on social media about conscious choices and our consumption, etc.

Eine junge Frau im roten Trikot spielt angestrengt Badminton bei einem Turnier.Miranda Wilson at the 2020 European Championship (©Claudis Pauli)

From 'Fridays for Future' developed 'Sports for Future'

Maya: There are several projects that you are involved in. On the one hand, you have been working with 'Sports for Future' and 'Sports for Trees' for quite some time. Would you like to tell us more about that?

Miranda: That's right: 'Sports for Future' grew out of the 'Fridays for Future' movement, and with its founder Stefan Wagner, it has a very committed person behind it who is already doing a lot for the area of "sports and sustainability" independently of 'Sports for Future'. That was another awakening for me: There are people who are actually already doing something. Sports for Future is also about networking. For example, to bring together clubs and associations that would like to become more sustainable. To have them sign "Here, we want to become more sustainable!" and to publish that in turn as a statement. It's about bringing people together on a voluntary basis and showing that there is commitment and that something is actually happening. This then also gave rise to 'Sports for Trees' by Stefan Wagner. This is the parallel initiative for climate protection, where one hundred percent of donations are forwarded to climate projects. I am now also an ambassador for 'Sports for Future' and 'Sports for Trees' and, for example, I have had many discussions with the German Badminton Association to get them to include the topic of sustainability in their new guidelines. And they are also working on the decision to join 'Sports for Future'. I have been in close contact with the president and the sports director over the last month, so that we can develop concrete ideas about what measures we can take to ensure that the badminton association and the sport move in a more sustainable direction.

Reforestation as compensation for the ecological footprint in professional sports

Maya: And 'Sports for Trees' also advocates for reforestation, right?

Miranda: 'Sports for Trees' is part of 'Sports for Future', but has an open program, so to speak. That's where the donation-based money goes into multiple projects. Anyone who wants to can donate to that. A donation of just three euros to Sports for Future can plant a tree. With us [note from Airpaq: at 'BadmintONEarth'], a tree plus 10 euros is calculated. The plus refers to all additional measures that we also support: Solar and social projects. All donations go to the 'Zenaga-Foundation' and from there to the new project in Congo. Our pure badminton project, which will start soon, will also run through this foundation [note from Airpaq: project 'BadmintONEarth']. The 'Zenaga Foundation' has local partners in the African countries, quasi local NGO's, and they know what is needed there for education, solar and reforestation measures. That's where the money from 'Sports for Trees' goes. And our badminton project [note from Airpaq: 'BadmintONEarth'] is also organized via the 'Zenaga Foundation'.

Auf einer Tasche ist das Wort "BadmintonEarth" und in der Mitte ein Baum gestickt.A printed 'Baq' from Airpaq with the logo 'BadmintONEarth'. (©Miranda Wilson)

Reducing CO2 emissions in the professional sport of badminton with the 'BadmintONEarth' project

Maya: Sounds exciting, tell us about the badminton project 'BadmintONEarth'! What have you been thinking about?

Miranda: I got inspiration for this project from 'Sports for Future' and the 'Hockey Forest' [Note from Airpaq: 'DANAS Hockey Forest' is a project by the German field hockey ladies to reduce the ecological footprint]. I had a longer conversation with Stefan Wagner from 'Sports for Future' and he thought it was a great idea to do something like "Plant Your Ground" and have a reforestation project for each sport. For example, this 'Hockey Forest' has been around for two years and their goal was to reduce the carbon footprint created by sports travel and plant trees. In the meantime, there are already over a thousand.

Maya: What exactly does "Plant Your Ground" mean?

Miranda: I think that once you create an awareness of sustainability in a sport, a lot can happen. You have national players, you have youth players, we also have a national para-badminton team. We have so many teams from the district league to the national league! And it is also a popular sport in private life. Together with Kai Schäfer, it was our goal to establish an initiative, a partnership, for Badminton Germany. Kai is my training partner and is going to the Olympic Games in Tokyo this year as a representative of Germany. We thought, just by traveling we already cause so much CO2, that it really is the least we can do to offset this consumption. I believe that 'BadmintONEarth' can change a lot in the mentality, but can also change some things through the donations.

Airpaq as a sustainable companion at tournaments of Miranda Wilson

Maya: Very interesting. Airpaq is also a small, sustainable startup. How did you hear about Airpaq?

Miranda: That was almost two years ago, 2019 was about that. That was relative to the early days of Airpaq. I got an ad for Airpaq online, thought it was super interesting, and I read through everything that was behind the story of Airpaq. And was mega fascinated because it was a bit of what I live and do myself and thought it was kind of pretty great. Then came my phase where I played my first international adult tournaments, I slipped into the world rankings and fought my way up there. Then I wrote to Michael and Adrian again and said, "Hey, would you like to cooperate and support me? Because I have really similar values as you and I think it's mega cool what you have created with Airpaq! And they answered me really quickly and said that they also think it's cool what I'm doing. From then on, we had contact from time to time, and finally they sent me a backpack. That's when I posted a few pictures of it on Instagram every now and then. In fact, a handful of people were so excited, especially at competitions, that they bought an Airpaq themselves.

Maya: What products do you have from us?

Miranda: I have a 'Hip Baq' and the original 'Airpaq Backpack', one of the first models.

Big plans: climate neutrality in professional badminton and recycling option for shuttlecocks

Maya: Mega cool! I think it's really impressive, you're so young and already so active. Hats off! Apart from 'BadmintONEarth', are there any other things you plan to do in the future to implement the topic of sustainability?

Miranda: Yes, definitely! On the one hand, I would like to continue to stay involved with 'Athletes Germany' on a sport-specific level. This is the organization that gives athletes in Germany a voice and is very committed to the athletes' issues. On social media, we also had a theme week on sustainability and sport. Of course, that will continue now. My absolute dream would be to simply achieve even more in the sports world, especially in badminton, and, for example, to make a long-term plan with the German Badminton Association on how we can become climate-neutral. No other sports federation has done something like that or set a goal like that, as far as I know. I also really want to find a recycling option for the shuttlecocks. The big brands have been working for years on a synthetic shuttlecock that's not plastic, but it's very, very difficult to mimic the flight characteristics of feathers. At the world-class level, you change balls about every five rallies. You can do the math on what that consumes.

Maya: It's great that you're so ambitious and that you might be able to get other athletes on board who want to focus on this and get involved. We thank you for the interesting interview and wish you all the best!

1 Comment

  • Gunter

    Geiles Interview 😅
    Wünsche dir alles Glück dieser Welt und ein gutes Gelingen und viel Erfolg für all Deine zukünftigen Projekte
    Dein Paps

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