Sustainability: Soccer Sets an Example

More and more sports clubs are focusing on holistic sustainability and looking at economic as well as social and ecological issues. The sustainClub is a recognized sustainability standard that provides orientation in professional soccer. Six clubs can boast this award from DEKRA.

Professional soccer clubs are focusing on greater sustainability. Shutterstock/ Sergey-Niven

Sustainability and professional sports: How do they fit together? More and more professional soccer clubs say: “very well.” In consultation with the German Football League (DFL), the DFL Foundation, and DEKRA, Swiss non-governmental organization (NGO) sustainable///sports has accepted the challenge and developed the first sustainability standard and orientation framework for professional sports, the so-called sustainClub standard.

In developing this standard, emphasis was placed on equal consideration of the three pillars of sustainability (economic, social, and ecological). In addition, criteria are based on internationally recognized standards (UNGC, GRI, SDG), albeit with regard to the specific role of professional soccer clubs. The result is a catalog of criteria that covers the three aspects of economy, social responsibility, and ecology in twelve categories and comprises 194 questions.

FC St. Pauli produces its own team sports line

The first six professional clubs have already been certified in a pilot phase. Among these pilot clubs were first division clubs VfL Wolfsburg, Bayer 04 Leverkusen, Werder Bremen, and VfB Stuttgart, as well as second division clubs St. Pauli and SC Paderborn. “It was very important to us to certify differently positioned clubs in the pilot phase in order to work out the specific requirements of professional football clubs regarding sustainability, and to map them in the sustainClub criteria catalog,” explains Moritz Weißleder from DEKRA Assurance Service GmbH. Progress is reviewed every two years as part of a recertification audit.

FC St. Pauli has a large fan base. Photo: Schönebeck

Only clubs that meet the minimum standards receive the bronze sustainClub certification at the end of the process. Of the six pilot clubs, FC St. Pauli and SC Paderborn can boast the bronze certificate. The Hamburg neighborhood club, for example, has joined the ranks of textile producers. The name of the first self-produced team sports line is DIIY. It was important for the club to know its suppliers and where the products and materials come from. Recycled plastic, organic cotton, and other certified materials are used. It’s a partnership at eye level, and fair wages and good working conditions provided by the manufacturer are just as much part of the agenda as the elimination of child labor and discrimination.

Silver or even gold certifications beckon if additional criteria beyond the sustainClub minimum standard are met. VfL Wolfsburg received the latter. Bayer 04 Leverkusen, Werder Bremen, and VfB Stuttgart achieved silver. The Swabians paid special attention to their carbon footprint, for example by switching to green electricity. In addition, players and officials are trying to fly less and instead travel to away matches by bus. Emissions from team travel in the 2020/2021 season totaled 91.46 tons of CO2.

VfB Stuttgart plants 10,000 saplings in Kenya. Photo: George Muiga / NABU

However, these non-reducible CO2 emissions are compensated for by tree planting campaigns, since sustainable action is part of the premier league club’s corporate culture. After consulting with the German Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU), VfB has chosen a nature reserve at Lake Ol’Bolossat in Kenya and is planting 10,000 saplings there.

VfB plants 10,000 seedlings in Kenya

The idea of certifying sustainability standards in professional sports is certainly catching on. “Many clubs are expressing interest,” says Moritz Weißleder. Talks are already being held and some audits prepared. The certificate is not yet mandatory, nor is it a requirement for league licensing. Nevertheless, the sustainClub standard will be extended to European club soccer and transferred to other sports.

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Interview: Three questions for Nico Briskorn, Head of Corporate Social Responsibility, VfL Wolfsburg-Fußball GmbH

Nico Briskorn is Head of Corporate Social Responsibility, VfL Wolfsburg-Fußball GmbH. Photo: VfL Wolfsburg

VfL Wolfsburg was the first professional soccer club to receive the “sustainClub Standard” in gold. Why is that?

We startet setting up appropriate structures very early on by establishing our own CSR department in den 2009 championship year. There are now six of us in the team and we have managed to anchor sustainability ever more firmly in den club`s DNA. All employees identify strongly with the issues. sustainClub as a management system supports this systematic process and exposes action areas.

What can you tell us about your favorite project?

A special highlight is our “Moving Together” day. Employees, fans, and players spend a day supporting charitable organizations with their labor. We`re also particularly proud of our commitment to diversity. Our teams show that origin, religion, or skin color are irrelevant to a joint performance and that different people can achieve more together.

What have you set your sights on?

We’re the first top club in Europe to support the UN’s “Race to Zero” and are committed to the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement. That’s why we’re intensively addressing the issue of fan mobility. In fact, the largest part of our carbon footprint is due to spectators’ travel to and from matches. To counter this, we’re focusing on the further expansion of e-charging infrastructure and the switch to e-service vehicles, among other things. We’re also focusing on establishing sustainability assessments of partner organizations and suppliers.

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DEKRA Sustainability Magazine

The magazine provides an overview of activities, progress and goals in the areas of environment & climate, employees & society, supply & value chain and management & governance.

With the Sustainability Magazine 2019/20 we inform about our orientation and achievements in the field of sustainability and outline how we are positioning ourselves for the future through ambitious goals and effective partnerships and initiatives.

The DEKRA Sustainability Magazine is aimed at all interested stakeholders of the company and is available here as an online magazine and as a download.

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