The study was conducted by Andrew Welfle from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of Manchester, in collaboration with BBC Sports, and commissioned by the UN-backed Sports Positive Summit, has concluded.

For the study, clubs were asked to provide information regarding their use of clean energy, energy and water efficiency performance, sustainable transport initiatives, single-use plastic reduction, waste management attainment, low carbon food options availability and communication plans.

The clubs were awarded points depending on whether they had implemented relevant initiatives to improve their performance in their stadiums, offices and/or grounds on all these eight areas. Arsenal FC, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspurs were awarded the full score.

Arsenal switched to renewable electricity in 2017, paper straws and wooden stirrers have replaced the plastic ones, 90% is the waste recycling rate on match day, has a system to reuse water for irrigation and counts on several vegan options in their menu.

Manchester City has cycle parking spaces and electric charging points across the stadium; the club achieved zero waste sent to landfill via recycling, introduced a reusable beer cup scheme that made it possible to remove 29k single-use plastic cups each matchday and managed to reduce water consumption by 83% thanks to the use of rainwater.

Manchester United has the policy to purchase certified green electricity for all facilities, the club has promoted a ‘Cycle to Work scheme’ for staff to reduce and spread the cost of purchasing a bike and accessories and whatever is not recycled on-site is used to produce energy while waste food is composted.

10% of the energy of Tottenham’s training facility is produced on-site through renewable sources, it also counts on a sedum ‘green roof’ to enable the capture and re-harvesting of rainwater. Furthermore, the club has committed to raising awareness and has dedicated part of the website to highlight its own and others’ activities.

Leicester City, Southampton, Crystal Palace and Watford are listed as the worst performers in this area.

The hard questions

The Tyndall Centre has been working to assess the sustainability of large events, including music concerts, festivals, the Olympics and the World Cup. As part of this work, they created the ‘sustainability league table.’

“We looked at this issues because the sustainability and greenhouse gases footprint of large events and sporting activities such as football is really large and something that doesn’t normally get much attention,” Andrew Welfle told EURACTIV.

“In the UK, like in many countries, we have legally binding climate change targets that are going to be hard to achieve,” Welfle explained. The UK Climate Change Act set a target for the country to become climate neutral by 2050.

At the last European Council in December, EU member states failed to reach a compromise to commit to the same goal because Poland refused to sign up and will get back to the issue in June next year.

“If we are going to get anywhere near achieving these targets we need to start asking some hard questions about our ‘business as usual’ lifestyles,” the Tyndall Centre researcher warned.

Although there are many relevant questions regarding the sustainability of sports events in general and football in particular, nobody is calculating the carbon footprint they leave. “Our work aims to try and start to do this and at the very least shine a light at the scale of actions that may be required to become carbon neutral,” Welfle explained.

“This may be through technological advancement, or it may be through totally changing the ways things are done,” he said.

Raising awareness

Claire Poole is the founder and CEO of Sport Positive Summit, an initiative that aims at bringing together sports events organisers and environmental stakeholders to explore ways for potential collaboration.

Poole praised the report as a way to highlight positive actions clubs are undertaking, which she said often do not get as much attention as they should.

“Some clubs are doing amazing work in reducing emissions, but if they don’t talk about it, we believe a huge opportunity is missed; both for other clubs/sports to understand what is happening and for fans to be proud of their clubs’ impact,” Poole, told EURACTIV.

The Sport Positive Summit CEO stressed how important it is for clubs to share the information regarding the activities they are carrying out. Furthermore, she argued that “without exception, every club has the ambition to do more.”

“We can see systemic initiatives around sustainable transport options, energy efficiency and the reduction/removal of single-use plastic across all 20 clubs,” the Sport Positive summit CEO explained, “Sixteen of the clubs have vegan food options on their concourses and water efficiency strategies in place,” she highlighted.

There are many ways in which football can help combat climate change, starting by reducing its own environmental impact.

“Ideally, there needs to be a third party organisation or structure to start analysing the environmental impacts of football, to start to better benchmark clubs against each other – to both learn lessons where good actions are taking place, and shame where they are not,” researcher Andrew Welfle explained.

“Football is a massive sector with impacts coming from stadiums, travel, fans, food etc, in each area of their business there will be opportunities for reducing environmental impacts…,” he stressed.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]