SandSI CEO Geert Hendriks believes that football is uniquely positioned to help gain popular support for sustainability goals. “Sports are a super powerful tool. The science [on climate change] is there […] but it can be quite difficult to get the message across. That’s why we want to use sports, and football in this case, to get the message across,” he explained in an interview with EURACTIV Germany.
The initiative has three core goals for the football industry. The first encourages clubs to measure, report and reduce their carbon footprints. Additionally, Football4Climate encourages clubs to eliminate single-use plastic and sign up to the UN Sport for Climate Action framework.
“Often, getting started is the most difficult bit,” Hendriks said. To help, SandSI is in the process of developing a free carbon footprint calculator for its members. If clubs want help off-setting their emissions after this initial measurement, the NGO will connect them with partners to help in these later stages.
The group is in negotiations with football clubs and associations to bring them into the programme. However, SandSI is currently working with individual players such as Morten Thorsby of Sampdoria and Arianna Criscione of Paris Saint-Germain.
Turning fans into activists
The programme is not limited to clubs and athletes. The group has simultaneously launched a Football4Climate fan club, which encourages supporters to reach out to their favourite clubs and advocate for climate action.
On the group’s website, fans can sign up with their contact details and favourite clubs and are then given concrete tasks to encourage their team to take action on climate change.
This includes pre-drafted letters in English, German, French and Italian to send to club management explaining how to get involved, emphasising the initiative’s main priorities of measuring and reporting carbon footprints and signing onto the UN Sports for Climate Action Framework.
Its first month has seen a modest start in membership, according to Hendriks, but he is hopeful to get more fans involved through their competition. Every month, the group will announce a ranking with which clubs have the most fans. In June, Manchester United edged out AC Milan and Tottenham Hotspur for the top spot.
Expanding, geographically and into other sports
While the programme targets the European football sector, SandSI is not limiting their sights to Europe alone. The group recently launched a hub in Asia covering China, Japan and India with the hope of kickstarting the discussion on climate action in those country’s football clubs.
“The debate over there is completely different than in Europe or the US,” Hendriks notes. Nevertheless, the group hopes to provide local organisations with a model that can help spark the debate.
SandSI’s Football4Climate initiative is also set to provide a model to expand to other sports including sailing and rugby, Hendriks said. All of these programmes will be under an umbrella called Sport4Climate.
[Edited by Benjamin Fox]