Greener Stadia

The topic of climate protection is present, no matter where you are on the planet. In soccer clubs around the globe, an increased consciousness for more sustainable handling of natural resources is developing.

Since the 2014 World Cup, the “Mineirão” stadium in Belo Horizonte in Brazil is equipped with a 1.4 megawatts photo-voltaic system. Photo: Renato Cobucci - Imprensa MG Data

Since the 2014 World Cup, the “Mineirão” stadium in Belo Horizonte in Brazil is equipped with a 1.4 megawatts photo-voltaic system. Photo: Renato Cobucci – Imprensa MG Data

These numbers are hard to believe: According to the ‘Life Tackle’ sustainability project, which is co-financed by the European Commission, the average soccer fan generates 0.8 kg of garbage per visit to the stadium. If you multiply this by all the fans who visit matches played in national football leagues across Europe, Life Tackle estimates that there is an estimated 750,000 metric tons of waste being produced per year. This is more waste than Liechtenstein generates annually. But that’s not all: In the Europa League final, which took place in the Azerbaijani capital of Baku at the end of May 2019, both participating teams came from London: Arsenal and Chelsea. Following them from the British capital to the venue were 12,000 football fans. Life Tackle estimates the CO2 consumption of this as 5,595 metric tons. By comparison: a single person produces an average of approximately ten metric tons of CO2 per year. Mere days later, two other English clubs, Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool FC, faced each other in the Champions League final in Madrid. In attendance were more than 30,000 fans who had traveled from the UK …

UEFA wishes to plant 50,000 trees

TSG Hoffenheim compensates for its CO2 emissions with a reforestation project. Photo: Uwe Grün / TSG Hoffenheim

TSG Hoffenheim compensates for its CO2 emissions with a reforestation project. Photo: Uwe Grün / TSG Hoffenheim

In view of global efforts to combat climate change, the call to increase sustainability is getting louder in professional football, as it is in all sports. For example, the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) announced in September 2019 that it would plant 50,000 trees in each of the twelve countries hosting the 2020 European Football Championship finals, in order to leave behind ‘a sustainable legacy of the tournament,’ to quote UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin. In addition, UEFA will invest in a variety of Gold Standard certified renewable energy projects in partnership with South Pole, the CO2 allowance developer, in order to offset the estimated 405,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions generated by travelling UEFA fans and representatives. Incidentally, UEFA, like the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), is a signatory to the ‘Sports for Climate Action’ initiative launched by the United Nations.

‘Sports for Future’ in the starting blocks

In Germany too, the signs of the times have been recognized. For example, in September 2019, through the initiative of Bundesliga soccer teams TSG Hoffenheim and SV Werder Bremen and second division club VfL Osnabrück, the ‘Sports for Future’ alliance was established to actively contribute to the climate debate. With six well-known football clubs – VfL Wolfsburg, SV Werder Bremen, Bayer 04 Leverkusen, FC St. Pauli, VfB Stuttgart and SC Paderborn 07 – as well as the German Football League foundation ‘Stiftung der Deutschen Fußball Liga’, a pilot project is also in the starting blocks for the 2019/2020 Bundesliga season. This is dedicated to the review and audit of sustainability in professional sports.

With the textile brand Umoja, which is manufactured sustainably in Africa, TSG Hoffenheim supports the creation of fair working conditions in Africa. Photo: Simon Hofmann / TSG Hoffenheim The entire value chain of the textiles takes place under fair and safe working conditions. Photo: TSG Hoffenheim The used cotton is grown, harvested and certified as "Cotton made in Africa" in the Kasese region. Photo: TSG Hoffenheim

For this purpose, the Basel, Switzerland-based organization sustainable///sports has developed a catalog of criteria together with DEKRA, which is used to identify the extent to which each club handles sustainability in terms of their environment, emissions and energy, management and strategy as well as stakeholders and social engagement. “This catalog comprises around 180 assessment fields and is based on international initiatives and standards such as the Global Reporting Initiative, ISO 26000 and SA 8000,” explains Peter Paul Ruschin, Team Leader at DEKRA Assurance Services GmbH, the organization responsible for auditing.

Recycling management: From old turf, grass paper is made, and with it autograph cards, for example. Photo: Sebastian Berger

Recycling management: From old turf, grass paper is made, and with it autograph cards, for example. Photo: Sebastian Berger

The rating is based on a points or traffic light system and leads to the award of a gold, silver or bronze ‘sustainclub’ label. “Clubs thereby know immediately what level they are and what they still need to work on,” Ruschin continues. One of the clubs mentioned, VfL Wolfsburg, has already been audited and received the gold award. An exemplary result, which should spur on as many other clubs as possible.

‘Perfect Image Management’

DEKRA solutions: ‘sustainclub’ is the first label for sustainability in professional sports. What exactly is it all about?

Fabian Putzing is Managing Director of sustainable///sports in Basel. Photo: sustainable///sports

Fabian Putzing is Managing Director of sustainable///sports in Basel. Photo: sustainable///sports

Fabian Putzing: Essentially, we have created a system that helps professional sports clubs treat sustainability in sports as a business matter. At the same time, the label enables clubs to evaluate their own performance in terms of sustainability, and to use the resulting benefits. For example, cost reduction potential is identified through resource savings, such as energy and water, and in terms of material consumption. Sustainability is examined not only in terms of ecology, but also in terms of economy and social responsibility. This is exactly the added value of “sustainclub” compared to other labels on the market.

What are the specific advantages of this?

Audits in line with the catalog of criteria developed by us in tandem with DEKRA provide a comprehensive status quo analysis of the club’s overall performance in terms of sustainability. At the same time, concrete recommendations are made on how to improve in the identified categories. The label is therefore an important tool for strategic planning, it also helps in internal and external benchmarking and outwardly shows the pioneering role of the club. It should not be forgotten that by bearing the label, clubs are also maintaining their image perfectly. This, in turn, can have a positive impact on broadening the fan base and opening up new target audiences and sponsors.

How has the reception been among clubs for this initiative?

On the whole, we have been met with great approval. Many clubs have recognized the immense positive impact of sustainable optimization measures but are also aware that they still have room for improvement in this area. I am therefore quite certain that we can win more clubs together with DEKRA. In the pilot phase of the 2019/2020 season, six German clubs were already on board. Ideally, we want to extend provision of this label to clubs playing in other European leagues.

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