An investigation into English football and the environment

* 117 min read
As the upcoming English FA Cup Final on Saturday 14th May approaches let's explore the efforts of our football clubs to improve their sustainability and environmental credentials.

With topflight English football turning over huge profits, are they using their income to make the necessary environmental and sustainability changes that are expected in other businesses? 

Sport’s role in helping to tackle the climate change crisis is under scrutiny following COP26 in Glasgow and came under criticism during the summit due to some of Premier League clubs, including Manchester United flying to domestic games. 

Football clubs are having to take things more seriously now. Changes include team coaches that are powered by biofuel, reducing the coach travel emissions by over 80%. In the future using decarbonising fuel through the use of sustainable aviation fuel which could also see emissions reduce by 80%. 

BBC Sport have worked with the United Nations-backed Sport Positive Summit since 2019, researching the sustainability of all 20 Premier League clubs, updating the rankings each year. There were 11 categories that each team was asked to provide evidence for. Two points awarded for each category, with a bonus point for the taking. A maximum of 24 points available. Below you can see the current standings

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These are the categories that football clubs are marked on. A bonus point is awarded if the club Is certified to an internationally recognised sustainability management system or if a club tracks and reports on the percentage of fans taking various modes of transport to the games. 

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Tottenham Hotspur will be thrilled to be placed joint top with Liverpool on the Sport Positive League table again, which shows their continued effort regarding their environmental policies. Joining the ‘UN Race to Zero’ is Spurs next significant step on their journey which will provide them with a clear pathway and emission reduction targets that they will endeavour to meet. 

Arsenal FC have been offering their fans a special renewable energy tariff via a green energy supplier, while Everton are working with fans to set up an ‘Everton for Change’ project group with support in helping to promote green initiatives to supporters, ideas are then fedback to the club for review.  

Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool, Southampton, and Arsenal have all committed to reduce emissions by 50% by 2030, and to be net Zero by 2040. Whereas Manchester City have set themselves an ambitious target of being net zero by 2030. 

Other projects the football clubs are rolling out include tree planting and vegetable gardens that are used by the club chefs. Working with local Hedgehog societies to protect the animals, protecting house bats by providing wildlife corridors in a guest exclusion zone at Player accommodation lodges. 

Brighton are part of the ‘On the Ball’ campaign, providing complimentary plastic-free sanitary products to fans and female players. 

So, what else are the clubs doing to improve their sustainability?

Brentford announced in November 2021that they will keep the same home kit for 2 seasons in a row, easing financial pressures on fans as well as the environment.  

194 teams so far have signed up to the ‘UN Sports for Climate Action Framework’ which guides the football clubs to specific climate change goals. Clubs also have their own sustainability strategies;. Southampton FC’s strategy is called ‘The Halo Effect’ which details not only environmental objectives, but also social and commercial responsibilities and goals.  

Chelsea has an initiative of 100% recycling at their stadium and training ground.  

It is common practise for clubs to use green electricity in their stadiums and training grounds as well as installing LED lighting which require and use less electricity. In addition, rolling out water dispensers at stadiums and helping to reduce single-use plastics.Also, an obvious and easy ban on plastic straws and cutlery within stadiums and training facilities. 

Looking lower down in the English football leagues, Forest Green Rovers of the EFL League Two, have been recognised by the United Nations as the world’s first carbon-neutral football club. This goes to show that you don’t need £billions in your bank to have amazing environmental practices. 

Around 70% of the football industries emissions are accounted for by the fans travel. So what can fans and their beloved football clubs do to reduce their impact on the environment?

Transportation to and from the game is one obvious area where fans can make a positive change Choosing public transport, car sharing or even cycling, or walking will help reduce the negative impact that is associated with football matches. In Germany, Borussia Mönchengladbach are providing free public transport to all ticket holders within a 186-mile radius of the stadium. Around 37% of their fans currently take advantage of this offer, but I wonder why there are not more that take advantage of this offer?

Be proactive, put pressure on your football clubs to improve in areas you think they currently are lacking is a great positive step forward. It doesn’t have to be the elite clubs in the Premier League, there is no reason why the lower leagues and smaller grass roots clubs can’t start to make positive changes. For example, introducing bottles and drink containers with a deposit scheme which a lot of clubs have already adopted, so why can’t they all? Some stadiums use recycled water for the football pitches and toilets and have created more spaces so you can securely leave your bike. (Interestingly, Tottenham Hotspur only have spaces for 180 bikes.) Councils already provide ‘Park and Ride’ facilities in many towns for shoppers to use, so why not football clubs? (Reducing the need for fans to drive into the towns where the stadiums are located.) Incidentally, Southampton are already providing this as a service, all you need to do is pre book your place via their website. 

Football clubs could benefit from listening more to their younger supporters and asking their opinions on areas that they think can be improved. After all, children are very aware of climate change and they will be the club’s adult supporters in the future. Hopefully getting fans on-board earlier by introducing sustainability schemes within the youth academies will benefit the clubs as well as their communities too. 

We understand that football clubs need to act responsibly with every aspect of their business. Not only what their supporters see on match days, but all that goes on behind the scenes too. At Sun Strategy we can work with you to ensure your club is aligned with today’s sustainability regulations and to understand how future legislations will affect you. Creating sustainable strategies fit for the future, reducing the negative environmental impact. 

Pioneering the right choices for you, your fans and our planet.



About the author

imageedit 1 6168940299Simon Furness – Structural Design

Simon has 30 years' experience in the packaging industry. As an experienced structural packaging designer, he has worked with major brands and retailers including Marks and Spencer, Target, Pier 1, Tesco, Remington and Russell Hobbs. Simon has extensive manufacturing experience across primary, secondary, tertiary and food packaging. He designs holistically with primary considerations being fit for purpose packaging, durability, optimisation and sustainability. He has also worked closely with Asia, India and North American markets. Over the last 10 years, Simon has worked with clients to understand and recommend changes to their supply chain to improve and reduce damages and save cost.

What’s your experience? Join the conversation on LinkedIn.