Case Studies

Portuguese survey highlights environmental strengths and weaknesses

More environmental training key to improving performance.

In much of Portugal, golf is played amongst indigenous vegetation.  

The results of the survey entitled “Environmental performance of Golf Courses in Portugal - Environmental Impact and Social Responsibility”, conducted by the Portuguese National Tourism Office staff, from March to June, 2015, with assistance from the Portuguese Golf Federation and the Portuguese Greenkeepers Association, have been published.

62 of the 91 golf facilities in Portugal responded to the survey, which took place between March and June 2015.  44% of Portuguese golf courses are to be found in the predominantly golf tourist region of the Algarve, 18% in the Lisbon Metropolitan Area and 15% in the North of the country.

Only 25% of golf courses report engaging with environmental management systems.  The largest representation for this is ISO14001 (6 courses), with two courses each holding GEO or Audubon certification.

Golf is a significant employer, with 59% having between 11 and 30 employees, 22% over 40 and 8% with fewer than 10 employees.  58% of the courses participating in the survey outsource work, with maintenance and restoration being the main activities that require external labour.


Golf is a significant employer

Over 60% of the clubs surveyed implement a training plan, which focus on hygiene and safety at work, handling of hazardous substances and emergency plans.  The environmental performance of golf courses, such as water management, waste and energy, are only covered in around 7% of training plans.  Golf courses (more than half of the participating golf courses) are beginning to be aware of the issue of employee training in order to host customers with specific needs, particularly in relation to motor disabilities, with around a third also providing training/information for accommodating customers with hearing, visual or intellectual disabilities.

Groundwater (bore hole) is the main source of water used by the participating golf courses in the survey for irrigation, followed by surface water which mostly originate from dams and rivers.  Only 6% use recycled water and 8% still use water from the public network.  The majority of golf courses (88%) emphasised the implementation of measures to reduce water consumption in their course maintenance.  In all regions, the golf courses expressed concern for the need of contingency plans in case of water shortages.

Overall, three-quarters of Portuguese golf courses adopt biological control measures or cultural operations, enabling a reduction in the use of plant protection products.  The Algarve stands out in this respect, with 89% of the participants in the survey adopting this good practice.

The replanting with indigenous plant species is a practice followed by 100% of courses, apart from those in the Algarve region, where 85.7% replant with native species.  Overall, about 73% of golf courses adopt protective measures for indigenous plant species, with the Algarve standing out with about 79% adopting this good practice.

Golf courses
The majority of golf courses surveyed implement measures to reduce water consumption.

Waste separation is implemented as standard practice.  All participants in the survey implement this for paper/cardboard and more than 90% follow this practice for oils and lubricants, packaging, glass, scrap metal, pesticides containers, contaminated waste, batteries, paints and solvents.  However, 46% of participants reported that green waste is simply placed in the areas of rough and the practice of composting is only implemented by 25% of respondents.

Electricity is the most common energy source to power infrastructure, followed by propane/butane.  32.7% of respondents use solar panels for heating water.  All golf courses taking the survey have electric buggies and about 60% have buggies which use fossil fuels. 

Whilst the rationale behind best practice in the management of energy resources is accepted by the golf industry, 46% of the golf respondents accept that the adoption of environmental efficiency measures will lead to cost savings and return on investment, it is the initial investment cost and the difficulty of implementing technically feasible solutions that are the key issues raised as constraints to the adoption of measures to improve energy efficiency and waste recycling.  44% of participants did point out the economic rewards of adopting measures with environmental impact, particularly with regard to the positive business impact in attracting customers.

Alexandra Almeida, Planning and Sustainability Coordinator with the Portuguese Golf Federation, believes that this report can help focus attention on shortcomings in saying: “In general, the survey results confirmed our expectations. However, there are a few unexpected results that highlight areas where the golf industry may wish to focus efforts to improve its environmental performance.  This would include the use of environmental management systems, environmental training of employees, efficient waste management and minimising energy use, and introducing renewable energy technologies.

The major constraint to introducing new technology is the high capital costs associated to the need for modernisation and renovation.”

Although this comprehensive survey is targeted to a Portuguese-speaking audience, there is valuable information in the graphs which makes it easy to follow.

The Portuguese National Tourism Office plans to repeat this survey on a regular basis in order to track progress.